Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Leah Anderson Reed. Leah IS what a minister looks like! 

Leah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.

After graduating from Campbell University Divinity School, I worked with my parents, LaCount and Anna Anderson, who are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Eastern North Carolina. In 2010, my parents started the Eastern North Carolina Poverty Network in order to help CBF churches in North Carolina address poverty in their own backyards. The network was part of CBF’s rural poverty initiative, Together For Hope. My role was to serve as a chaplain and to walk alongside women who were living in poverty, to advocate for them in the community, to help them find affordable housing, and to develop long-lasting relationships.

In my years of ministry, I have also served in three different congregations in North Carolina as minister of youth and as minister of children and youth. I loved the time I spent in age group ministry and never grew tired of being with young people as they grew into their identity as God’s beloved, unique creation.

At some point, the rhythm and pace of life of youth ministry moved from being exhilarating to deeply exhausting. I knew my passions were shifting and that God was growing something new within me. The feeling is kind of like an old pair of jeans in the back of your closet. They fit so nicely at one time, so you hang on to them thinking you might be able to squeeze your growing body back one day. But any time you put the jeans back on you feel the sinking, uncomfortableness of a body that has changed. Squeezing back into something that no longer fits you is actually more painful than simply giving it away. I knew that I was not a career youth minister, but I still felt the most grounded and fulfilled serving in the local church.

Being in ministry roles both inside and outside the church walls developed this passion within me for community engagement. Serving in rural poverty, I saw the transformation that happens when churches collaborate and partner together to meet the needs of neighbors in their community. Serving in churches, I saw the transformation that happened when walking alongside congregants as they discovered their identity as followers of Christ through service to others.

Last year I joined the staff of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina as minister with community. In my current role, I help generate opportunities for our church to engage in the life of our local community, especially our downtown neighbors. I wear a variety of different hats in this role that involve overall responsibilities with hospitality, communications, visitors, and assisting our neighbors living in poverty. Some days I feel like a social worker, a public relations/marketing specialist, an entrepreneur, and a minister all rolled into one! It’s a beautiful, unique blend of the passions God has given me for ministry.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?

For me, joy comes in little moments every single week: sitting by the bed of a 95-year-old man who has been married for 70 years, hearing his well-earned marriage advice; watching congregants embrace new, creative, bold ideas, while bravely proclaiming, “we’ve never done anything like this before;” listening to a group of people ask questions about the best way to help someone without doing damage to their sense of dignity or self-worth; laughing with a congregant over lunch about how awkward Sunday School small talk can sometimes be; getting a hug from a woman and her special needs son as they leave our clothing ministry with two full bags of new-to-them clothing; having an honest conversation with a friend from our African American sister congregation about racism, white privilege, and how our faith communities might partner together in the work of reconciliation; receiving frantic, hilarious text messages from my colleagues about how to fasten my wireless mic to the inside of my robe when I forgot to wear something with pockets; seeing the relief on someone’s face when I’m able to say, “we’ll pay your light bill this month.” And that was just this week!

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?

Honestly, my greatest challenge is not getting in my own way. For many years, I took every bit of conflict or criticism personally. I doubted myself, internalized everything, and repeatedly heard an inner critical voice that shouted, “you’re not good enough.” Through the help of a wonderful counselor, mentors, close friends, and a deeper self-discovery through the Enneagram, I’ve been able to recognize and change that narrative. Through the years, I’ve also realized that very little is actually about me. People come to church with their own individual expectations, priorities, and agendas, searching for different felt-needs. Because people are messy, church can unfortunately become a dumping ground for all kinds of toxic dynamics that quickly turn political. Self differentiation can be a constant challenge, but it is the absolute key to peace. I’ve had to learn that as a minister, it is not my job to make everyone happy. I’m not peanut butter, ice cream, or tacos. It is my job to pay attention, tell the truth, love people without an agenda, and not be so attached to the results that I miss the beautiful journey unfolding.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?

Take your days off, and find a good counselor. In my first church job while in divinity school, I learned very quickly that no one was going to tell me to go home at the end of the day. One of the most challenging parts of ministry is that the work is never done. Sometimes I get so much satisfaction in going home and unloading the dishwasher, or doing a task that I can simply start and complete. Ministry can become all consuming if you let it, and knowing when to rest is the key to balance. I try my best to disconnect completely on Fridays, doing something that is unrelated to my job, but brings me joy. When I’m able to take time for sabbath, I’m more present, grounded and ready to serve. I’m a strong proponent for destigmatizing mental health counseling, and it’s not just because my husband is a licensed professional counselor! Every single person can benefit from having a neutral, trusted, non-judgmental person to talk with about any and everything. For me, that’s a counselor. For someone else, that might be a mentor, a coach, or a trusted colleague. I just know that you need someone, because this work can be incredibly heavy and lonely. Also, find a little tribe of people that celebrate and cherish your authentic, weirdest self! Life is too short to be tolerated, and especially in ministry, you need a group of people committed to cheering you on.