Last January the Mid-America Union Ministerial Department sponsored a two-day gathering in Omaha, Nebraska for the nine women pastors serving in our nine-state territory. Here are responses to OUTLOOK’s questions from the seven who were able to attend the event.
What do you love about being a pastor?
Angel: I love working with the women of the church and helping them in their walk in life, in their parenting and their marriages. Especially the moms and children–that’s where it all began for me. It’s my favorite seeing what a difference we can make together. And when I get to have Bible studies and a baptism, that thrills my heart beyond what you could ever image.
Karen: My heart is about encouraging little churches that they can grow and seeing people’s lives transformed when they see Jesus and fall in love with Him. Having that front row seat to seeing the Holy Spirit work personally is fabulous.
Lisa: I’m passionate about the body of Christ having the opportunity to dream and set goals, to strategize and implement things so that the body of Christ is functioning well and people find a place where they can do something that they can never do anywhere else. That makes a difference in the thing that matters most on the planet.
Vanessa: I love seeing how teenagers build relationships and how over time their lives change and things fall into place and they make brave decisions and do courageous things that many adults are afraid to do in areas of spiritual growth, leadership and impacting the world. I appreciate the ability to try new things and see what will work in our community.
Ruth: I’m most passionate about discipleship growth—seeing people grow in the Lord and coaching them in their spiritual walk. I want to create bridges between generations and cultures as they reach out to other—to create a safe environment for them to be themselves, to be a builder and encourager.
Brooke: There are so many positives to being in ministry, by far more blessings than negatives in having the opportunity to serve for the kingdom in a tangible way. One of my favorite things is being able to do team ministry. We all have different strengths and God created us to fill the gaps for each other. I’m so fortunate to be able to work in team ministry that is holistic and more effective in ministering to the students and supporting each other in ministry. My other favorite thing about ministry is experiencing someone falling in love with Jesus and empowering them to find the realization of their calling in life.
Lee Lee: I resonate with what all my sisters are saying here. The two big questions in life are Who is God? and Who am I? I love to explore this with people because we can celebrate God’s awesomeness and love. I love when the realization comes of who they are, and I love being a catalyst for them to see their relationship with Jesus grow, whether in one-on-one settings or small groups or during a sermon—there is no greater joy.
What opportunities do you look for in ministry? And how can others help to strengthen your ministry?
Ruth: It’s important to be surrounded by people who are genuine about the journey of life, to share both the struggles and blessings of serving God. It’s a great opportunity the Mid-America Union has provided here for us to gather to share and strengthen each other. I appreciate that they are providing resources and opportunities to keep us growing in the call God has for us.
Lisa: One of the things that encourages me and is when people in my church say, “God really used you in my life” or “I love how you do this”—not anything out of the ordinary, but in the environment of women in ministry when someone puts language to this it’s incredibly encouraging.
Vanessa: Many pastors in our generation, both men and women, are looking for mentors in our local congregations who will come along side and share history and who understand a particular type of leadership. If Generation One and Two levels could just take that initiative we could benefit from their encouragement. We may not always ask for that, but we could benefit from it if they will take the initiative. And pray for us!
Lee Lee: I started having mentors at 20 and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without those mentors. I’ve been proactive in seeking them out because they are a vital lifeline. Because I’ve had all these mentors—men and women—that I trust, I can take doubts to them to get the encouragement that is so important. I wouldn’t have realized what I am living today without my mentors.
Karen: I agree that mentors are extremely important. Mentoring is really discipleship—being a mentor and at the same time being mentored. It’s such a vital area of how women process things because we are so relational.
Lisa: One of the other pieces of encouragement is our relationships with our male pastor counterparts. I have a positive relationship with the pastor I work with so I can be transparent and listen to feedback and hear his perception of how I am coming across to others. We are co-workers together with our male counterparts.
Angel: I still can’t believe that God allows me to work for Him in this church. We all need affirmation. There are some people who will never accept women pastors, but I am so grateful for the affirmation that comes. God sends it just at the moment when I need it. When I’m asking if I’m really doing what God wants me to some sweet person sends a note or calls or tells me at church—those are special little gifts from God. It’s His sunshine for the day. Sometimes we don’t realize the difference we make when we say an encouraging word.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
Vanessa: On a local level, I’ve been shown respect and been treated equally. What I’ve seen from other male pastors in general, if they are not already respectful and open, is just confusion. This is new and I feel awkward. How should I treat her? I’ve decided that I just feel compassion for their confusion and hope that they will realize that this is a professional career for all of us and we are all colleagues. I try to not make them feel more uncomfortable.
Lee Lee: I have had a difficult time, but it’s still ideal because the male counterpart I work with is my opposite personality. God, in His supernatural power, makes it work when we are both willing, and that is amazing and beautiful. You can see the power of God in harmony that comes from initial pain. That is ideal to me because I have a lot to learn from men and men have a lot to learn from women, and I love the fact that through the hardships there is a commitment to learning to work together. I see us moving in a good direction and that is so rewarding.
Karen: I wasn’t sure how they were going to take me at my new churches. It took awhile. They held me at arms length and I’m a Let’s all hug! person, so I really had to show restraint and build their trust. I had to do everything the first few months—cooking, cleaning, offering spiritual food and encouragement. I kept doing it and as they saw their church grow now they love me. One person told me two weeks ago, “You’re the best pastor we’ve ever had!” Now they’ve only had one other pastor, but it was still affirming to me. No one in either of my churches has said I don’t want to listen to you because you are a woman. The Minnesota Conference leadership is very supportive. Not all local pastors are, but that’s OK. You just live with compassion. I love my ministry. Every week is exciting. Every visitor is exiting. I’m living my ideal ministry.
What was your experience of being called to ministry?
Karen: In 1999 I was asked by the pastor to be a part-time Bible worker–very scary because I had no training and they would expect baptisms. I prayed, “God if this is what You want me to do, I want You to train me, not anyone else.” I struggled at first, but I humbled myself and listened to His voice and He has allowed me to be a conduit to others. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would have such fulfillment and meaning and purpose in my life!
Lisa: My first calling came in 1999 during a spiritually seeking time. I was part of a church plant where I experienced the Acts 2 church. God put in my heart a vision that I am called to do this full time. I believed it would happen because God called me. In three years my life turned upside down, followed by three years of darkness in my life. I thought that calling was so far away it could never happen. I’m not the same person, I thought. In that darkest time a phone call came with the opportunity. Out of fear I said No. Eight months later the same call came again, and I said Yes. It was a very low time in my life, but it was the perfect time because I was totally reliant on God. I’ve been here for eight years now.
Vanessa: I was working in the education field and my calling was more of a growing realization over time that this was the path God was calling me down. When things scare me I tend to say No right away, then think about it and come around to the idea. About four years ago I had people suggesting to me that I should apply for the youth pastor position when our previous youth pastor left. It was a difficult transition to come from education to pastoral ministry because they are very similar and yet so different. It has taken me beyond myself to step into this role. I have to depend on God for everything.
Lisa: When the opportunity came for me there was so much equipping from the Holy Spirit. He will equip you deeply and effectively for what He calls you to.
Brooke: I tried to do everything except be a pastor. As I teenager I went on a mission trip and was interested in medical missions—doing a nurse youth ministry. Many people kept saying, “You should be a pastor.” I didn’t want to do it but Jesus made it so that I didn’t have an option. I was stuck in a position of being unable to support myself financially and had this crazy idea to talk to my conference president and just ask him to give me a job, which is never a good idea. But a few days later he called and offered me a full-time pastoral position in campus ministries. All I had asked for was a stipend! It just landed on my doorstep when he invited me into a place where I never, ever wanted to go and never thought I would be. But ultimately I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. There is absolutely nothing else I can fathom myself doing than being in ministry.
Lee Lee: Women have always been in ministry. God has opened doors. God has provided—it’s just the reality that women have always been in ministry. But nobody told me that I could be a pastor. It didn’t even occur to me that I could be in pastoral ministry. I’ve always done ministry but pastor was never on my radar. God will open the doors. It’s not man who opens them; it’s God. That is what He did for me. He has always surprised me and I’m happy with whatever doors He is opening for me. I’m just following Jesus wherever He leads me. I don’t know what He has for the future, but it’s always good.
Ruth: I was at Antillean Adventist University in Puerto Rico finishing my degree in biology. I was accepted at two universities to do a doctoral program in physical therapy. During a chapel service I felt the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. There have been only a few times in my life when I have heard the voice of God, but that was one moment when I did. It was a shocking moment when I heard the voice of God saying That’s you! as people described what they were going to do for God as pastors. I had never actually considered doing pastoral ministry. I doubted God’s call and went to Andrews University to the physical therapy program. But He didn’t give up on me. He kept sending people to ask me to give Bible studies and preach. Again, I felt His presence as I was preaching. God was very patient with me and removed some of the paradigms that made me say I cannot do this. I feel God has called me to be compassionate, to show others the same love and patience He showed me while He was calling me.
Angel: I never had a moment where God spoke through thunder and lightening. I have just always had this desire, after finding Him as a teenager, to do something to share the good news of Jesus. Maybe I could do something for Him somehow, I thought. I got married and had babies and was pretty busy. But when we moved to Lincoln and my husband pastored, I just got involved in helping at the church, especially with the families. I am this shy person who has never wanted to stand up front and do anything. I started with a ministry to the young moms and now we have group Bible studies and prayer groups. God has called me to the women of the church. A woman understands another woman’s heart. Each of us has different ministries but that is what He has called me to. I still don’t think of myself as being a pastor. I just want to serve Jesus and help people. Many people have been reclaimed as a result of just visiting people.
Karen: My husband is my partner. He gives Bible studies to the men and we study together with couples.
Brooke: The biggest reason I didn’t want to be a pastor is because I thought all they did was sit in their offices and write sermons, and I thought that would be awful. I was raised in the Lutheran Church. But in the Adventist Church pastors are out visiting and giving Bible studies and going to the schools and doing community service and being proactive about real life ministry instead of being inward focused. There is never a day when I just sit and look at books or a computer screen. I get to be with other pastors who are genuinely interested in serving other people’s needs. Being a pastor is about being a shepherd, taking care of the flock.
What would you say to another person you think has gifts for ministry? How can we help others feel safe to answer God’s call?
Karen: When young women are confused and come up to me and ask about ministry, I ask them to tell me their story and how they sense God is calling them. If they come to me it’s almost always an affirmation that God is calling them. I say, “If you sense God is calling you, walk in that direction and as God opens the doors keep walking through them.” Our union and division are supportive of women in ministry so I encourage them to keep studying. I’ve met three people in Minnesota who are clearly called to ministry.
Ruth: From my experience I have seen what affirmation or rejection can do to female servants of God. I’ve seen ladies come to seminary who are looking for someone to acknowledge and affirm their call from God. It’s very important to affirm them. Sometimes the environment will not allow a lady to grow into what God calls her to be. It can cause bitterness, if her calling is repressed. Everyone should look for opportunities and pray for places where you can exercise your gifts. Look for mentors and get equipped to do the work.
Lee Lee: It can be a challenge if you don’t see what they are seeing. I think women should just start serving wherever they are. You have to do the work. People have to see you working and serving. I want to advocate for everyone I can, in any way I can.
Brooke: When I first experienced a call to ministry I was incredibly confused about what that meant. Campus Ministries is not a place I saw myself. I really dislike preaching and I think I’m terrible at it, but it’s God’s way of keeping me close to Him so He makes me do it. Lee Lee, what you just said is really personal for me because I’m in a place now where God has a purpose for me and I need to be a good steward of that. Some of the best advice I was given was just to pray and try to discern what God is saying to you. Also, when God opens the doors and gives opportunities to trust and have faith in Him, walk through the doors until He closes them. That’s something young women need to know because we can get confused easily about what we’re supposed to be doing. God calls us to different places at different seasons in our lives for different purposes and it’s OK to be unsure but to simply keep walking through the doors and trusting that He will lead us as long as we keep abiding in Him. That is the key.
Karen: I say to young women, “It’s not your job to figure out God’s will for you; it is God’s job to reveal His will to you. Your job is to just walk down the path and let God open the doors.”
Ruth: It is a call to give up control. God reveals to you each day His mission, little by little. A call to ministry is a call to surrender your life to Jesus and the timeline of your life to Him.
Lisa: I have four points. The first is to become familiar with God’s voice. Develop and maintain practices that position you to hear from God. And then just become familiar with knowing this was God’s voice. Second, say Yes to every opportunity and become familiar with your gifts and passions. The third thing is to observe and ask for feedback. How are people responding to what you are doing? Ask for feedback from someone you respect. And number four is to find a mentor in your field and ask for opportunities to shadow.
Angel: If you feel God is calling you to ministry keep praying and keep asking, and He will show you what He has in mind. There are many areas of ministry besides pastoring, for both men and women. Praying and listening is most important and just being available.
Vanessa: Many teens don’t feel they can minister unless they are working “for the church.” I encourage them that the call to ministry can be in any venue.
Angel: We are all ministers for Jesus.