Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are thrilled to interview, Laura Levens. Laura IS what a minister looks like!
Laura, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I started exploring ministry possibilities while I was in college. I tried all sorts of things, from backyard children’s ministry, youth ministry work, and summer camps. I enjoyed so much about these experiences, but I also was drawn to the decision-making tables. I wanted to be where people were asking questions about the purpose of our ministry work, the reasons why things were done a certain way, and what hopes people in leadership had for the long term. God bless my first internship supervisor, Becky Speight, for painstakingly listening to and explaining all of these questions.
The drive to ask questions and think about ministry practice is probably what led me to Duke for both of my graduate school degrees. My questions didn’t always match everyone else’s questions, but I appreciated the general attitude of asking tough questions for the sake of the church and ministry to the world. While I was there, I explored more ministry internships and opportunities and tried to fulfill the purpose of that moment. I spent a summer thinking about my calling while in Clinical Pastoral Education training at Norton Hospital. I highly recommend CPE for everyone. I spent a yearlong internship preaching at rural churches every Sunday and participating in a homeless ministry every Wednesday. We would worship and eat potluck together on the side of bypass between Durham and Chapel Hill. That ministry of presence grew by joining with the homeless and advocating for their housing needs, but it remained grounded in eating together in the place that felt most comfortable to the most vulnerable in the ministry community—outside, by the road.
For a long time, I did not want to be a doctoral student or a professor. I was going to be a minister of missions or run an NGO. After I entered the ThD program, I sought ordination to make sure my ministry calling would remain the priority. It took a long time for me to be able to see how as a scholar and professor, I can continue doing the portions of ministry I have always been drawn to and provide those spaces for my students and others. I love generating energy and precision for ministry service by asking those same questions about purpose, the reasons why, and the hope for the future. I also love to preach and speak publicly! Having a classroom where I can balance teaching and conversation, and being a part of an institution that is committed to formation and the flourishing of people in ministry and service to Jesus Christ—it’s a sweet spot for me right now.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Scholarship, like other types of ministry work, can be a very lonesome, isolating situation. As an extrovert, I used to joke/whine at God for calling me to a job that required so much time being alone and still. But honestly, I am blessed by the friends and colleagues I have met along the way. It brings me joy to know that there are so many wonderful men and women pursuing their callings in ministry and academics with passion and excellence. It brings me joy to offer the wealth that network to my students, whether they need to hear from justice advocates, ministers, scholars, and other people doing interesting and important work.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
In short: people with savior complexes. They believe they the stand in for Jesus; they are the hero of the situation. They sell the diagnosis to the problem and the solution is 100% them. In crisis, vulnerable groups like churches and educational institutions can choose to follow this type of person—and it can be disastrous. It almost was in my case.
The alternative is reaching for visions and dreams and building a coalition that is sensitive to the vulnerable. This type of coalition draws upon the wisdom of the collective whole. I find great joy in these types of challenges, even when there is difficulty and failure along the way.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The best advice has come from the people who saw my potential and gave me the road map to get there on my own. Becky Speight pulled me aside and said, “I could see you doing that all the time,” after I preached half of a sermon for college Sunday. Carey Newman finally got through to me about doing doctoral work when he said, “there’s going to be something you want to lead in your future, and a doctorate will open the door for you to do just what you want.” That is advice very specific to me, and it has stuck with me because it spoke truth about the core of who I am. It’s the type of advice I aim to give to others.
Laura Levens is assistant professor of Christian mission at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.