Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Pam Williams. Pam IS what a minister looks like!
Pam, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and way you have served and are serving.
During my first year of college, I began to strongly sense God’s leadership as I struggled to determine how best to invest my life for God’s purposes. The year was 1962, and women’s roles in Christ’s ministry were quite limited. Honestly, I didn’t even consider those limitations as I sought to follow God’s spirit working within me. Members of my home church supported me in the quest and whispered words of encouragement as I publicly “surrendered my life to Christ’s ministry.” God guided me, one step at a time, in the ongoing journey.
The first big step was transferring to a Christian Liberal Arts college in southern California that offered an undergraduate degree in Christian Education. Moving from Oklahoma to California to continue my college studies was a huge step for an only child. Fortunately for me, La Mirada Baptist Church was within walking distance. As the days unfolded, I was offered the opportunity to work with the church’s youth.
Several months before graduation, I attended a World Missions Conference in San Francisco. There I became aware of a new program created by Southern Baptists called the Missionary Journeymen Program. The program allowed college graduates to work alongside career missionaries for a two-year period. Incredibly, it was as if a voice said to me “that’s for you.” The next step became clear: apply for the journeymen program. After an extensive application process and personal interviews, I received a letter of acceptance. Eight weeks of intensive training with other young adults from all over the United States followed. My home for the next two years was Saigon, Vietnam.
What a pivotal life experience those two years were for me! Living in a country at war has its harrowing days but also days of tremendous joy. How I came to love Vietnam. The career missionaries with whom I shared life and ministry were such an inspiration to me. Their greatest gift was being themselves, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, in God’s name. Their example and God’s constant “nudging” led to the next step in my ministry journey: seminary.
After a year of study, it became apparent that women could indeed receive a seminary degree, however, the doors for church ministry positions were essentially closed. Leaving seminary became much easier as an administrative staff opportunity was offered to me at First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia. The senior pastor, Dr. Vernon Davis, had sought a former journeymen for the new position. I will always be grateful for the five years of ministry at First Baptist as a staff and church member. Dr. Davis was a remarkable role model, mentor, encourager, and friend. The varied opportunities of service there only confirmed once again the calling God had placed within my heart.
Much had happened In Baptist life during those five years, enabling the doors to slightly open for women considering church ministry. The next step took me to seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. I found the open atmosphere exhilarating and affirming! My ministry position focus became education. Leading the church’s educational ministry would allow me the opportunity to work closely with all age groups–which I loved!
Westwood Baptist Church in Springfield, Virginia had the courage to embrace a woman like me as their minister of education and youth in the spring of 1978.
I was finally living the dream that God had planted in my heart. With the leadership of Westwood’s pastor, Dr. Robert Whitten, the church called for an ordination council to convene and consider my ordination to the gospel ministry.
The beautiful and deeply humbling service occurred in September, 1978.
There are no words to describe the trust, encouragement and support I received from this church community as a young minister. Dr. Whitten walked and talked me through procedures for weddings, funerals, and other pastoral duties (which were not included in my seminary degree program). When it came to preaching, I had to rely on tips I had learned in a college speech class! With God’s help, I welcomed the challenges and personal growth which these ministries fostered.
In the fall of 1985, Broadmoor Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana called me to serve as their minister of education. This would be God’s place for me to invest myself for next twenty-four years. How fortunate I was to minister alongside senior pastor, Dr. John Goodwin, during most of those years. The expectations were for staff members to minister and function as a team, which included sharing pastoral responsibilities. Much creative and meaningful ministry occurred over the years even with the inevitable ups and downs of church life. It became my beloved community.
Retirement days began in the fall of 2009 as I returned to Oklahoma to care for my mother prior to her death. A search began to find a church to worship and serve, one which truly embraced women in leadership roles. God led me to NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Today I am blessed to teach an inter-generational women’s Bible study class and to serve as a deacon.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
It would have to be the people with whom I have served and ministered. So many faces come to mind as I say those words. Faces of children, youth, and adults. People I have learned from and admired regardless of age. They have been my inspiration and joy. Thanks be to God for allowing our paths to cross and linger.
What have been the greatest challenges you encountered in ministry?
Challenges have come in many forms. However, the greatest challenge over the years for me was to stay current and effective in nurturing faith development in all ages. Encouraging the concept of life-long learning and discipleship has always been one of my goals in ministry. To see that goal become reality, yesterday and today, is a confronting challenge.
What ministry advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Keep praying. Be open and attentive to God’s Spirit working within you. Find ways to serve NOW. Start with opportunities in your church, your community, and even ministry experiences outside your everyday world. Look for a mentor to guide you in the process. God will be your constant companion on the journey.