Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister. This Friday we are pleased to introduce Stephanie Nash. Stephanie IS what a minister looks like!
Stephanie, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
My professional ministry journey began in December of 1999, at the age of forty-seven. I experienced a dream that led me to apply to serve as the pastor for adult education at Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas. Prior, I had enjoyed a twenty-five-year career as an Advanced Placement high school English teacher and had been an active member of Second Baptist for twenty-three years. The church graciously supported me in my new calling, and I was licensed and ordained to pastoral ministry in 2002. In December 2014, I received my Master of Divinity degree from Logsdon Seminary. My job description changed systematically throughout my nineteen-year tenure on Second Baptist’s staff, and I officially retired as the first female senior pastor of Second Baptist last October, a position I held for nearly a year as interim pastor.
How did you prepare yourself and your church for your retirement?
Having experienced three pastoral interims while serving on our church staff, I had some idea of the strategic importance of smooth transitions in pastoral leadership. When our Leadership Team invited me to serve as interim senior pastor in August 2017, I told them I would accept the position with the understanding that I would retire when the new senior pastor had arrived and settled in. The search for our new senior pastor, Jake Maxwell, took nearly a year, so that gave me plenty of time to prepare myself and the church for my retirement. I worked to stabilize and cross-train our staff, to hand off an array of my tasks to either staff or committees, to plan programming throughout the fall and into the spring, to train lay leaders for specific or challenging tasks that lay ahead, and to have plenty of conversations with members, committees, and staff about how needs would be covered after my departure. Not knowing how the vacancy of my position would eventually be filled after Jake arrived, I tried to anticipate any immediate needs so that church life could continue smoothly once I retired. Once Jake was on board, we spent many hours in delightful conversation and problem solving for nearly two months before my departure. My goal was that my first day of retirement would feel just like the last day of employment for myself as well as the church. I am so grateful to have had the gift of this time in this transition.
What are the best gifts you received during your years of ministry?
The support and encouragement of both my church and my family were invaluable gifts. I will always consider the privilege of ministering to the spiritual and personal needs of my church family a gift of a lifetime. They gave me their trust in walking alongside them in grief and joy, their patience and understanding through many congregational and staff transitions, their support while I attended seminary, and their enthusiastic celebration of my gifts for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. Memories of these crystalized moments in my journey will forever define my professional experience and the privilege of being called “pastor.”
My family’s support was even more precious. My husband, Paul, offered encouragement on the day I awoke from that dream in December of 1999 and that encouragement continued without hesitation for nineteen years. I felt his reassurance, pride, and faith in me at every step. Our two daughters, Sarah and Rachel, shared me with our church family throughout their growing up years and they remained amazingly faithful throughout each phase of our involvement in church activities and ministries. Especially during the ten years it took me to finish my Master of Divinity degree, while I worked full-time, my family was patient and understanding, allowing me the time I needed for study and travel. We didn’t do it perfectly, goodness knows, and we certainly had our share of eye rollings or deep sighs when Mama had to go back up to church for still another meeting, but no pastor could ask for any stronger or more loving family support than I received.
Quite honestly, however, the most surprising gift I received and that I still wonder about with almost every day is the unconditional companionship and guidance I received throughout my ministry career from the Spirit of God. My words fail me each time I try to describe or explain the unfailing Presence that inspired, provoked, prodded, nurtured, and carried me through every new challenge and hurdle. Each time I dreaded a difficult encounter or challenging new task, I found myself numb with gratitude on the other side of it, wondering how it was possible that the Unforeseen could have made a way where there was no way. And yet with time I grew so accustomed to this Constancy that I began to assume it as my normal state. In the early years, it seemed I had no time to question it before the next crisis demanded my attention, but as the years progressed, I grew to rely so on this steady Presence for my daily bread and breath. This deep and holy assurance and love continues to define my journey.
What advice would you give to a young seminarian who is preparing for ministry?
As you work part-time or find your first full-time ministry position, find ways to keep learning. Give yourself a personal book budget or ask the church for funds to support your reading and study. Use podcasts, blogs, or social media connections to keep yourself inspired and challenged. Read or listen to sermons online, call a mentor when you have a bad day, or plan ahead to attend helpful seminars or conferences. And don’t just reinforce your current thoughts or beliefs; challenge yourself to engage in diverse thinking and conversation. Listen carefully to those who disagree with you and learn from them. Let God stretch you and shape you into the minister you were created to be.
Make an appointment today with a financial planner to begin saving even a few dollars a month for your retirement. The earlier you start the better, and you cannot assume the churches that employ you during your career will be able to provide those funds for you. As you interview for each new position, do not hesitate to ask about their retirement plan and if the church will match your contributions. A financial professional can also help you understand housing allowances and tax implications for ministers.
Be honest with yourself about your need to be needed as a minister. You will have to find a healthy balance in any ministry profession between taking care of others and taking care of yourself and your family. You are the only one who can set emotional boundaries for yourself, but you will need the support of your congregation to honor them. Compassion fatigue is a very real threat for all caring professions and you must be careful not to burn out.
Surround yourself with supportive friends and colleagues outside of your church. These friends might be found in professional or civic organizations or might be a counselor or professional coach. Create your own women’s ministry support group that meets regularly for coffee or sermon planning conversations. These supporters will help keep you honest and balanced. If your community does not have other female ministers available, find them through social media or Baptist Women in Ministry or denominational connections. Look for female ministers who can mentor you through the tough times, which will inevitably come.
As you begin interviewing for ministry positions, ask the committee about expected workdays and days off, vacation or personal days, sabbatical policies, and overtime compensation. You must be your own advocate. Churches by their very nature will need your full attention all the time, but they will not know it. You can help them understand your limitations by setting specific office hours and guarding your overtime.
Wake up every morning with the firm assurance that God is already ahead of you on your daily path, that you do not need to beg or plead for support or guidance. There are no wrong steps, only new opportunities to learn.
What’s next for you? How will you be spending your time in these early days of retirement?
Since Second Baptist’s loving and overwhelming farewell for us at the end of September, Paul and I have split our time between mountain living and grand-parenting, spending long lovely days reading and enjoying the cool pines or engaged in lively outings and super hero birthday parties. Freedom and travel are amazingly joy-filled, and I’ve slept more in the past four months than I could have dreamed possible.
When friends ask me “What’s next?” I hesitate, telling them I’m still taking one day at a time. I have found that emotional and physical retirement from ministry is not as easy as I expected it to be. I had allowed so much of my identity and self-worth to be tied up with my profession that I was a bit lost at first, finding it difficult to turn off that perpetual availability peculiar to pastors. I had thought that the great challenge would be handling the continuing calls or demands on my time. Instead, I find that I am myself the real problem, slipping quickly into my “fixer” mode any time the phone rings. It helps so much that our new pastor is so skilled and gifted for ministry. He knows I am available if needed, yet our transition has been so smooth and without any real demand on my time at all. This is a great tribute to the church and to its ongoing leadership. It is a great blessing to me. I anticipate leaving plenty of space, perhaps a whole year, before returning to Second Baptist as a regular member in the pew, and I’m hoping that both the church and I will have moved far enough down the road to make it possible for us to feel comfortable in a new relationship, worshiping side by side.
As for any specific plans or goals, I expect to find new ways to return to that dance I so love with God’s Spirit but in new rhythms and keys. I think my first challenge is to learn a new sense of time and pace, a patient and attentive silence, a holy space that already feels overwhelmingly peaceful and restful. For that gift, I am deeply grateful.