Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Martha Kearse. Martha IS what a minister looks like!
Martha, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
In some ways, I have been in the world of ministry all my life. I am the daughter of a senior pastor, whose wife (though unpaid) did everything a children’s minister would do for many years. As a college student, I was on a Baptist Student Union summer missions team, called “Godspeed,” and I served on the traveling retreat-leadership team for my last two years of college.
After college I became a teacher and worked for the state. After I left that job to stay at home with children, the call to full-time ministry became stronger until I took the job as minister to children and families at St. John’s Baptist in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2001. I began seminary in 2002 at Gardner-Webb’s School of Divinity and received two degrees from that wonderful place of higher learning: a Master of Divinity in 2007 and a Doctor of Ministry in 2017.
At St. John’s, I served as minister to children until 2012, when the church invited me to become associate pastor—a job I relished as it gave me opportunities to preach (although I deeply missed the chances I had had, on a regular basis, to play with children). In 2018, I accepted the call to become senior pastor (only pastor actually) at Peakland Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, which is about a mile from the house where I lived as a teenager.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
For me, many of the elements of ministry bring me great joy. I love people. I love finding the gems within every person. To me, that is where God resides most clearly. In my life, I have been deeply blessed with people whose faces are the face of God to me. People who nurtured me in childhood and in my teenaged years have stayed present in my life. Friends who taught with me. Friends who raised children with me. Friends who have done ministry with me and have sung everything from silly children’s songs to sacred hymns, who trusted me with their children (despite the fact that I sometimes took their children places where we encountered bears and snakes).
I also love preaching, and, as trite as it may sound for a minister to say this, I love the Bible. I am an old English major—the stories of the Bible, the brilliance of its collection, its narrative, its genres, its scope, its practical messages, its call to be better people—all of those things appeal to me on a visceral level. It is a great joy to me to read Bible passages and listen for the message God would have me share with the people of God. I am always, always writing my sermons—fair warning to anyone who talks to me, or hangs out with me in any way, shape or form.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
The greatest challenges for me have been my own insecurities. As a female in ministry, I stepped into the role in the easiest, most non-threatening way possible—as a children’s minister. I stepped in naively, believing that if I wanted to advance, I would get the same acclamation I got when people dropped their children off with me. When this was not so, I struggled to find my own voice and my own power. I always want people to like me, and I can be deeply insecure—to the point of motionlessness—if I sense disapproval from anyone. Some age, some experience, and some great work with good counselors and loving friends taught me to believe in my own calling. I still struggle with those insecurities, and if I permit myself to do so, can spiral again. But I have a better sense of myself now, and I have learned to cultivate a few, good enemies simply by not caring if they do not like me.
One of the most fun things about being a female senior pastor is that I have the approval of the people I care about—they called me. So wherever I go, when I introduce myself or am introduced as a pastor and I see someone pull back—that look on their face which says, “I have no information on this—I am stunned and may need help responding,” I know that I am not the one who is uncomfortable.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Well, to a teenaged girl who feels that call, I would say, “Keep listening.” I would encourage her to keep finding mentors, to keep exploring, to lean into the things that she is good at and to not be limited to what she may already have seen, but rather to believe there is a specific use for her specific gifts.
I believe that every person is called by God to ministry—some of us earn our living that way, some of us choose an ordination that makes us called into serving a particular community or set of communities, but all of us have work to do. I think the teenage girls out there make it all that much more important for those of us who are adults to step into our callings, to show them our courage, our willingness to advocate for ourselves, our belief in our own gifts. The bolder we are in our own answer to our call, the more likely it is that the young women, and, frankly, the young men, will be able to answer theirs.