Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister. Today we are thrilled to introduce Mandy McMichael. Mandy IS what a minister looks like! 

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

My life has revolved around church for as long as I can remember. Girls in Action, Bible Drill, Children’s Choir . . .I soaked up all of it. As a first grader at Camellia Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama, I committed my life to Christ, and since that time, I have had numerous opportunities to serve God’s kingdom both locally and abroad.

I remained active in Baptist life in college as a member – and eventually as president – of Judson College’s Baptist Campus Ministries. I toured the state singing in Baptist churches as a member of the Judson College Ensemble. Another particularly formative experience during this time was a summer missionary experience to Singapore through the International Mission Board. While a student at Judson, I discerned a call to Christian service, which led me to continue my theological education at Duke Divinity School.

While at Duke, I was an active member of University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. At various times during divinity school, I served as a youth and children’s minister, a pastoral intern, and even as an associate pastor. All of these experiences helped me develop my gifts as I continued to wrestle with what it meant for me to be called to ministry. Participating in ministry was a given. Accepting the title of reverend was a different story altogether.

When I teach my students about calling, we note that calls are distinct and dynamic. Scripture, prayer, experience, gifts, and community can all contribute to call discernment. For me, community featured prominently. Again and again during my discernment process, individuals named gifts they saw in me and offered me opportunities to serve. For example, while in graduate school, Tabernacle Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia (my husband’s home church) licensed me to ministry – without my knowledge that they were even considering this! That experience remains one of the greatest affirmations of my call that I have received. The church noticed, affirmed, and called me out for ministry. What a blessing; what a responsibility!

Still, because I felt called to teach, I did not believe ordination necessary and thus did not pursue it, focusing my attention on earning my Ph.D. During my graduate program, my family moved to Montgomery, Alabama for my husband’s job. Shortly after relocating, my family and I found a church home at Pintlala Baptist Church. There, I co-taught a Sunday School class and was on staff as the church organist. Eventually, I was hired to teach in the Religion department at Huntingdon College, and it became even more clear that I was, indeed, called to work with undergraduate students.

Most recently, I joined the faculty of Baylor University where I teach in the Religion department. There, I continue to combine my love of teaching with my love of church/ministry as I mentor and teach undergraduate students who are preparing for ministry. It was while pursuing this job that I finally accepted the title of reverend. Once again, someone in my community called me out. Buford Harris, a deacon at Pintlala, stopped me in the choir room and asked, “If the deacons wanted to ordain you, would you accept?” He had no idea that I had been wrestling with the idea of ordination for years, nor did he know about the many other ways I had felt God’s gentle nudging in more recent days. I knew it was time to be brave. If I was going to continue to encourage my female students to whole-heartedly accept the calls God placed on their lives, I needed to be courageous enough to do it myself.

And so, seven years after I had been licensed and twelve years since earning my Master of Divinity degree, I was ordained to the gospel ministry by Pintlala Baptist Church in Pintlala, Alabama surrounded by family, friends, mentors, teachers, and students. It was a joyous occasion, and I remain grateful that God never gave up on me.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?

Relationships. Most notably, my students bring me joy. I love helping them discern and explore their vocations. It is especially rewarding to work with students, male and female, who are preparing for careers in ministry. That they trust me with their stories and allow me to come alongside them for part of the journey is not something I take lightly. It is sacred work, and I am grateful for the privilege.

I also find joy in encouraging others. I thrive on words of affirmation and thus try to offer them to others whenever possible. Whether it’s a note dropped in the mail, conversation over coffee, or a simple compliment, I try to find reasons to celebrate the people God places in my life.

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

In some ways, I have been my greatest challenge. It was difficult for me to accept that I was called to ministry even after I believed that women could be called, even after I finished seminary, and even after multiple people affirmed gifts for ministry that they saw in me. I resisted ordination because I worried about what people would think. I worried about isolating myself from people I cared about – people who had introduced me to Jesus, taught me about scripture, and nurtured me in my faith. I did not want to be dismissed as a “liberal” or disowned by my home church.

The truth is . . .  people surprised me. I have experienced incredible support, even from unexpected people and places. So give your parents, your family, and your friends a chance to support you. Do not assume that you know how they will respond. When my mom heard me preach for the first time, she cried. When I spoke to her after the service, she said, “I don’t know how anyone could hear you preach and claim that you were not called.” She has remained one of my biggest advocates. Even those friends who have not – or could not – be actively supportive of my call have not gone out of their way to make ministry difficult or miserable for me. They have just remained silent on this particular part of my life. And, for me, that’s enough. It signals that they respect me enough not to openly or publicly question what God has affirmed again and again that I was created to do.

I am not claiming that no one has questioned my call or that no one has ever said anything inappropriate or dismissive. I have had my words reinterpreted by male leaders to make them less threatening, been forced to navigate comments about my appearance, and gotten the inevitable work-life balance question that haunts working mothers. But such outside scrutiny has paled in comparison to my self-doubt, self-critique, and inner struggles to accept my authority as a minister. I have grown a lot, but it is an ongoing journey to own, name, and use my gifts and to learn from my failures without questioning my call.

What advice would you give to college women who might be sensing a call to ministry?

Accept your calling; listen to those who affirm you; understand that your doubts are inexplicably tied to your faith.

Be proactive. Seek out mentors. Ask questions. Read. Accept ministry roles. Look for opportunities for growth and reflection. Take religion and/or ministry classes. (As a professor, I had to throw in that last one!)

Be patient with yourself and with others as your story unfolds. It takes time. Not everyone boards at the same station because not everyone’s journey is the same. Just because it was difficult for some of your mentors in ministry does not mean the road will be difficult for you. Sometimes we hear horror stories about how hard it is to be a woman in ministry and assume that if we’re not struggling, we’re not really called. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s kind of like having a baby. People are more likely to tell the horror stories than they are to recount their smooth, uneventful deliveries, but uneventful deliveries are far more common. So, remember that for every horror story, there are women out there who had positive (or neutral) experiences. Don’t make your story a horror story if it’s not. Be thankful that you don’t have to carry the same battle scars as others. Don’t be preemptively hurt or angry. Tell your story.