Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Laura Stephens-Reed. 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.
When I graduated from seminary in 2002, I imagined that I would serve as an associate pastor or solo pastor in various congregations for five or ten year increments. God guffawed at that tidy plan. I started out as the minister of education at Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a church that was a great theological match and offered a lot of opportunities for a newbie in ministry to grow. I didn’t stay there long, however, because the long distance separating my seminary sweetheart (who was serving as a United Methodist pastor in Alabama) and me prompted us to talk about marriage. I was ordained, and he wasn’t yet, so I packed up and moved from a university town and a welcoming and affirming congregation to a small city dominated by a very conservative denomination.
It took me a long time to regain my ministry footing. I pastored a tiny Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church, worked at a domestic violence shelter, was a chaplain, developed pastoral care training programs, and stepped outside the Baptist world to be a children’s minister in another denomination at different times during that long and confusing but formative season. When my children’s ministry position ended painfully, I suddenly had clarity: my God-given call was to promote well-being and hope in clergy and congregations. That mission has guided me for the past eleven years as I have trained and served as an intentional interim minister/transition facilitator, congregational consultant, and clergy coach (primarily with clergywomen), which are the main aspects of my ministry today.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I love my work. Specifically, I enjoy listening to the ways clergy are using their wisdom, experiences, and talents in innovative ways, helping them see the goodness in their leadership, and thinking with them about how to meet goals and overcome challenges. My favorite aspects of working with congregations are unearthing the range of gifts at their fingertips, working with them to harness the opportunities of (often anxious) transition times, and asking questions to prompt wondering about what God is inviting them to consider. I believe clergy and congregations have powerful words to speak into this cultural and political moment, and starting from strengths and a posture of discernment prepares them well to be faithful to this important task.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Leaving my first church position set off a crisis of pastoral identity. It took a lot of support from my spouse, investment from colleagues and mentors, experimentation with different ministry roles, and finally an embattled tenure in a difficult environment for me to own my gifts and the shape of my call. I wouldn’t go back to that difficult time, but I also wouldn’t trade it. All those experiences brought me to where I am now, and I am delighted by the ministry I get to do each day.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The best advice I’ve received from multiple mentors also happens to be scriptural: “be wise as serpents, gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16b). It reminds me to ask questions and seek information (in other words, not be naïve) while also accepting–or trying to accept–that we are all doing the best we can in a particular moment. This approach lays the groundwork for moving important conversations forward and building relationships in the process.