Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Stephanie Swanson.

Stephanie, tell us about your current ministry.

I am serving as the bi-vocational pastor at First Baptist Church in Smithville, Missouri, which is about thirty minutes north of Kansas City. Being bi-vocational was a new experience for me, but it has allowed me to both pastor a congregation and spend additional time with our son, Finn, while he was in his toddler years. My husband is also a minister in another Kansas City area church, so together we navigate the joys and challenges of ministry and family.

In July I accepted the call to serve as the pastor at Crossroads Church in Kansas City. I will transition to this full-time position in September as our son begins his second year of preschool. This is a bittersweet transition as I leave a congregation that I still care for, but also look forward to the new adventures of ministry ahead of me.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?

One of my challenges has been honoring my own voice, but also knowing when and how to move conversations forward in churches. Coming in like a lightning bolt, pushing one perspective, rarely ends in good results. Instead, as ministers, we need to have patience and grace as we engage in conversations with the church, opening up dialogue about how God may be challenging the church to “be church.” This is rarely easy and sometimes makes ministers feel as though they are squelching their own views, but I think it is a healthier route to embracing God’s vision for the church, rather than forcing it.

Another challenge has been knowing my limits and boundaries. I might as well be labeled as a workaholic, and I pretty regularly think that I can balance it all, both ministry and family. Throw in being married to a minister and it becomes pretty clear that doing all of this is complicated. Family and two churches makes for a busy life that can sometimes leave us beyond exhaustion. Early on in my career I sought out a ministry coach, and I have benefited in many ways from that relationship as well as from other sources of support, such as my Peer Learning Group. These relationships offer both space to be honest about my own state of health and voices of support and understanding that help me navigate better models of ministry and family. Ministry is fulfilling work and I am thankful to be in it, but I also know that it is demanding work. There is a constant push to go beyond our limits and overwork ourselves, but I think we are better ministers, more able to love and lead our congregations, if we know how to also take care of ourselves.

What brings you great joy in life and ministry?

One of my greatest joys is seeing the renewal of life within individuals, congregations, and communities. In my time in ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of helping revitalize ministries and congregations. Creating something new or sometimes giving something a “re-start” can be invigorating and life giving as you watch individuals and groups be transformed and given new purpose, new energy, and new life. In my current church, in just three years, we have gone from being a church that was just trying to hold it together, trying to keep the walls up and the people in, to a church that is re-imagining its purpose as it takes old, unused parts of the building to create new ministries that reach out beyond the doors and serve the neighborhood. We are currently taking a part of a building that had been shut down for over four years and turning it into “Bridge Street Ministries” which will house our current food pantry and add a clothing closet which is a great need in our town. This ministry will also add community garden beds in the spring of 2016. Seeing a small church find life abundant in taking on such a grand vision that God has for our church and community has brought me joy and has renewed even my own spirit in the work God calls us to.

Another joy is a memory from one day when I was substitute teaching. One of the five-year-olds in the class was from our church. As we got to circle time another student asked my little friend from church how he knew me, and with a big grin on his face he announced to everyone, “She’s my preacher.” That was pretty cool. It definitely brought a lot of joy to my life!

Who has inspired you along the way as you pursued your calling?

There have been several people who along the way have inspired, encouraged, and mentored me in my calling. Early on in my college years, Dr. Andy Pratt at William Jewell College, was a voice of guidance as I considered ministry and then again as I was torn between God’s calling in my life and my own brokenness. I was grieving the passing of my father and feeling as though I was inadequate to minister to others when I couldn’t care for myself, but Andy was the voice that helped me find my way again, back towards my calling. He has been a continued source of advice and support to me over the years as I have found my way into the life of the church and faced the challenges of ministry.

While I was in divinity school at Wake Forest University there were several teachers, ministers, and friends who renewed and inspired my faith in the church. Dr. Bill Leonard, Dr. Jill Crainshaw, and Rev. Tim Auman were three in particular who taught me to love the church, to embrace the work of the people, and to lean into our mysterious God who walks alongside us. I could not be more thankful for their inspiriting spirits and words of wisdom that guided me in my seminary time and continue to rise to the surface and give me buoyancy in my ministry.