Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. This Friday we are pleased to introduce Sarah Stewart. 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. 

I have been in ministry since I was nineteen years old.  I did not experience a calling like the way many others describe a moment when God spoke over their lives in a big emotional experience. For me, I kept saying yes to the doors God was opening before me. When I was in college, I was invited to volunteer with the youth group at First Baptist Church, Norman, Oklahoma. I was just a volunteer, but as I began serving and ministering, God began to draw me in. Through serving I discovered gifts that I did not know were there. The church asked me to serve as their youth intern and then eventually as their interim youth minister. Each time I said yes to God, God revealed more of my calling.

I was completely terrified of speaking in front of the church. The first time I had to hold a microphone and make announcements in “big church,” I buried my face in my notes. It was pitiful. One night, the pastor made me teach adult Bible study on a Wednesday night. I was terrified. As I stood up to teach, the Lord showed up. God gave me the words to say, the heart to say them, and incredible joy in teaching.

I knew I was called to ministry, I just had no idea what that meant for a woman in the Baptist world. I thought perhaps I would write Bible studies or maybe become a counselor. I never dreamed God would call me to pastor. Each time I said yes, God revealed a little more of my calling. By the time I was in seminary at age twenty-three, I knew deep in my soul I was called to pastor. It was a full year before I was brave enough to utter the words aloud. Others saw this calling in me, and every pastor I have had saw this calling in me. But I knew. I knew that the road to pastoring would be hard. I knew that many would not support me. I knew it would cost me relationships. But there it was, as clear as day. God had called me and was equipping me to pastor his people.

I served as the co-youth minister with my husband, Brad, at First Baptist Church Rosebud, Texas, while we were in seminary. For the last ten years I have served as the minister for young adults at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. Some of these years have been wonderful, and some have been really hard. This church allowed me to grow as a minister and taught me how to pastor. This past year, the search committee at my church asked me to submit my resume for pastor. It took me six weeks of praying and listening to God to finally say yes to this door God was opening.

I am amazed at all the ways God has gone before me and cleared the way. God spoke so sweetly over me that he had been preparing me all this time to pastor these people. This was my calling. Not to pastor someday, somewhere, but to pastor these people at this time. My call weekend at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City was beautiful. The church was filled with so much excitement and joy because we could all feel God was leading us. It is pure joy to serve as the pastor of First Baptist Church.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?

My two greatest sources of joy in ministry are pastoral care and preaching. There is something so powerful about meeting with a church member and listening as they share their story. The gift of pastoring in a place that I have known and loved for ten years is that they already know and trust me.

Preaching and teaching are my other greatest joy. I savor the process of preparing to teach. I sink down into a text and allow God to speak. Before I speak a word to the church, I wrestle with the passage and what it means in my life. By the time I stand in the pulpit, I am simply trying to convey to God’s people what God has taught me as I have lived with the text over the last week. It is life giving and life changing.

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

The honest answer is that sometimes it is hard to work in a church. Relationships can be life-giving and up-lifting, but they can also be so very hard. The church is full of people, and any time you put a group of flawed people together, it is going to get a little messy. I am currently amazed at how God has brought such joy and unity to the church I serve. It is by God’s grace that we are a family.

The greatest challenge I am facing as a new pastor is balancing ministry and family. I want to offer my best to both the church and my family, and it is just simply hard. The list of things I need to do each week at the church is far longer than I can do. It is hard to prioritize the important over the urgent. Somedays I have to choose to leave something not perfect at the church so I can make it to my son’s program at school. I am working on making space in my life for Sabbath. It is a slow work in progress.

Finally, it is a hard to be a woman pastoring in a Baptist church in Oklahoma. My very existence is controversial to some. I decided long ago that I would do my best not to carry any of the wounds with me. I would find a way to deal with them and allow God to heal those broken places so that anger would not take root.

What advice would you give to a young girl in your congregation who might be sensing a call to ministry? 

I would tell her to say yes. Say yes when God calls you. I would tell her to lean into God and see what God has for her. When God calls a person to ministry it is sometimes a booming voice and other times it is a small voice inviting you to step forward. Always say yes, even if you are scared. Even if you cannot picture how it could ever be possible. Be brave. Go to seminary and learn everything you can. I would tell her about my life changing experience in seminary, about how God used my professors and fellow students to profoundly shape my faith and who I am as a minister.

I would tell her that sometimes it is a hard and lonely path to serve God. But it is worth it. Every moment God draws so near you can hardly believe it, every time God transforms a life and you get to be a part of it, every time God provides for you in a moment of uncertainty, it is pure joy. I would tell her to show up and faithfully love the people God places in front of her, even when it is hard. Be steady, loving, and faithful, not forceful. Always remember it is about God and furthering God’s kingdom.

I would tell her about the women who have come before us.  I would tell her what a gift it is to be a part of this beautiful church that affirms men and women in their callings. A young woman in my congregation would have grown up in a place that encouraged her, loved her, inspired her, and empowered her. I would tell her what it was like for others, including me. I would tell her to not hold on to the painful moments.  Deal with them when they happen and allow God to heal those broken places. Then keep on going.  Keep on following God.

Finally, I would tell her that humility will serve her well. I would tell her to cling to Jesus each day and he will provide what she needs for each moment. Spend time with God each day. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and keep you accountable.