Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Sarah Stevens. Sarah IS what a minister looks like!
Sarah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
After I came to know the Lord at nineteen years of age, I began sharing with family, friends, and strangers how God had changed my life. The Lord used my testimony to bring many to the faith and from that, I began to question whether I was supposed to continue my education to become a psychologist or not. I knew I wanted to share the gospel for a living but I didn’t know if that was a “thing” any more.
After some conversation, prayer and encouragement from my pastor (Perry Hanley of Oromocto Baptist Church in New Brunswick, Canada), I checked out Acadia Divinity College for a master’s degree. I saw that the school offered a certificate in prison ministry, and after a year of discerning God’s will, I applied, was accepted and began working towards being a prison chaplain. I did several hours towards my certificate, participating in Kairos Marathons at Springhill Penitentiary and later volunteered for a few years at the Waterville Youth Centre, a jail for young offenders, doing counselling, Bible study, visitation, co-leading services, and baptisms.
It was into year two of my M. Div. program when I had to take my mentored ministry course (formerly known as the SFE – supervised field education) placement. I was encouraged to do this in a church and branch into the areas not known to me before (as I had not grown up in the church). With some reluctance (as I was an evangelist on a mission to help save those on the streets and other marginalized places in society), I decided to do my placement at Kentville United Baptist Church in Nova Scotia under the mentoring of John McNally. It was there, that God really opened my heart for the church as I felt in my spirit God saying to me, “People in the churches are just as broken and imprisoned as those who are in jail,” and my heart and desire to serve in the church grew in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
In the summer of 2012, I applied for my very first church position as the summer student at Bethany Memorial Baptist Church in Kentville. I took on organizing, planning, and helping to lead the Daily Vacation Bible School program among many other tasks. One of the other roles I had during that summer was to assist in any youth programs and events going on under the leadership of the associate pastor. Bethany’s youth group had many community teens who were unchurched.
When the summer came to an end, the associate pastor was moving on to a different chapter in his ministry, and he said to me, “You should really consider applying for the associate pastor role.” I thought he was out of his mind! I wasn’t ready! I couldn’t be a pastor! I didn’t know the first thing about being one and was still trying to understand this “working in a church thing.” Again, after other people’s affirmations, prayer, and a few nudges from God, I applied, was called, and began my ministry at Bethany in a new way for six beautiful years. Bethany ordained me for ministry in November of 2014, one of the most memorable nights of my life. What a journey it has been to look back and reflect on all that God has done!
In those six years of being an associate pastor/youth pastor, I learned a lot. I worked alongside Thelma McLeod from whom I learned a lot and still carry many of her lessons with me today into my ministry. I held a weekly youth group where several community teens would gather, hear about God and have great discussions about their lives, their families, and most of all we created a family of our own. Many of my teens would come in and hear about God for the first time, some atheists, others from different religions, and God used our time together to lead them to Jesus and many were baptized over the years in Christ along with their parents. I still have connections with these teens who are now young adults and with their families. God has done amazing things at Bethany.
In 2017, Rev. Thelma resigned as Bethany’s lead pastor, where she had served faithfully for over twelve years, and it was then that I began to practice some spiritual gifts that I had not yet used in new ways. I, along with others, filled in during the time of transition, and I was at the place in my ministry where I was ready to move into a new position where I could blossom and continue this journey of maturity and growth that God had begun in me.
After much prayer, wisdom, wrestling, and affirmation from the body and others, I applied for the lead pastor role at Bethany. I remember feeling excited and terrified and anxious as I knew God was leading me out of my associate role, whether I was to be called to Bethany or somewhere else, and I was thrilled for whatever it was that God had in store for me to do next.
In August 2018, Bethany called me to be their lead pastor and I have been praising God for it ever since! What a blessing it has been to continue the relationships with those in the church, to continue the connections that have been made in the community already, and to preach the word of God each week to those who are eager to grow in their faith and understanding of the Lord!
We have come together in ways over this past year that have been indescribable! It has been a year of relationship, spiritual growth, and character building. I have learned so much just in this last year alone, that I am overwhelmed by the lessons that God can bring to us, in such a short time. It has been a full year with many exciting things yet to come for Bethany as we discern together the vision and the plans God has for us at the church. I am so blessed to be their pastor.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy in ministry have been to share the gospel with non-believers and to see them commit their lives to Christ. There is no greater joy for me than seeing people come to know Jesus’ love for them. I have also drawn great joy in ministry from watching people grow in their faith. I love thinking of ways to help people do that, whether it is through sermons, Bible studies, workshops, and more. I also love to empower people to lead and use their God-given spiritual gifts, which in turn, gives them a great sense of joy in serving where God has called them to Kingdom work.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
The greatest challenge I have found so far is to work out what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of a flock and to watch over the people that God has entrusted me with. People have several ideas of what a pastor is, how they are to be, what they are to do. My greatest challenge has been and will be to lead in the ways that God calls me to lead. Living out the call to preach, teach, protect, correct, encourage, love, empower, and lead a group of people in the ways that the Holy Spirit would have me to do it is not an easy task and certainly only one that God can do through those He calls and empowers. But it is a life-giving one, that I wouldn’t change for the world, even in the midst of challenges and heartbreak that can come from leading people.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl discerning a call to ministry?
It actually wasn’t long ago that I received a message from a youth pastor on behalf of their young female teen who was thinking about going into the ministry and wanted me to share my story and call with her. She was being discouraged by some who didn’t believe that women were to lead in certain ways within the church.
So, I met with this young lady, and I shared most of what I shared with you above and more and I left her with these words, “No one wakes up one day and decides they are going to be a minister. Being a pastor and working in a church is the last thing I ever thought I would do, but there were too many confirmations, dreams, visions, answered prayers, and communal affirmations inside and outside of the church for me to ignore that God was calling and that I was to go. We don’t choose the calling, God does.
And it will be the same for you. Listen to the confirmations around you, the everyday answers that God leaves for you. Listen to the Holy Spirit that lives within you, who is there to teach, to lead and to guide you into the ways Jesus would have you to go and make sure you have peace about it. God always leads us into His peace when we are discerning His will for our lives. It will be scary, you may not always feel ready for what God will call you to do, but there will be a sense of peace amidst all of the many emotions that being called by God can bring and it will be so, so worth it.