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Re-Rooting

I can remember clearly the first game we played. It was a network/web that was created through yarn tossed back and forth from person to person. We were a group of young clergy gathered together because of a generous Lily Grant and because of CBF Global’s mission to connect, encourage, and assist young clergy. In order to throw the yarn to someone, you had to find a connection to that person. I watched as the yarn went back and forth. These four people had been to a youth summer camp together. These three had been in seminary together. These two were serving college ministry in the same state.

I was the last one chosen.

I hadn’t been involved in CBF growing up. I was raised SBC with SBC roots running from both my mom and my dad’s side of the family. I was the only one from my seminary represented. I was the only senior pastor from my state. I was one of three bi-vocational ministers and one of only two female senoir pastors. I was in a whole new world. Still baptist, still connected, but for the first time I was an outsider.

This week both SBC and CBF will meet for their annual gatherings in the same city. Many people are watching and waiting to see whether the SBC will allow Patterson to preach to those gathered after his dismissal. CBF will gather for the first time after its momental decision to abandon the discrimentatory hiring policy against LGTBQ individuals. This is a historic week in baptist life.

I think back to those early days of ministry as I was coming to terms with my background of spiritual abuse. It was difficult to do the digging up of bad theology and to recognize the way spiritual abuse lingered in my own heart and mind. I didn’t feel at home in the SBC and I didn’t feel at home in the CBF because my bi-vocational life was so different than those who were called to full-time ministry positions. My lack of experience or relationships in the CBF maybe me feel even more like an outsider.

It’s taken me years to re-root myself. My fundamentalist, conservative baptist upbringing taught me to be certain of what I believed and that I was right in those beliefs while others were wrong or misguided or backsliding. I was convinced my sole purpose was to evangelize the world, even to those who called themselves Christians, but were not baptists. As I entered ministry, I was certain I was called, but my seminary education brought more questions rather than answers about biblical interpretation, interpretation history, and traditions in the church.

I don’t think you ever truly recover from spiritual abuse. I am pretty confident that I will always question and be sucipicous about hierarchy in the church, especially unquestioned, unchecked power in the senoir pastor position. I know that I will challenge and agitate to fight against systemic oppression, especially when biblical text is used to defend that oppression, but maybe these are my roots after all. Baptists have always challenged and agitated and fought for every single voice to be heard. Baptists have valued individual expressions of faith and personal relationships with Jesus Christ.

Maybe I have found my roots after all, right where they began, in historic baptist tradition.

A Season of Abundance

For the last three days, I have been a part of the MEI Grant program in Decatur, GA. As we have talked about the financial burden of young clergy, the changing dynamics of the economy, and the outlook for the role of the church and the minister on the future, I have been overwhelmed with new hope and new vision. It is so easy in ministry to be tunnel vision. We move from one week to another, especially when high holy seasons are so close together. There is always so much to do. I haven’t met a minister who says, “I think I am doing everything I can for the church.” We all want to do more and be more.

Ministers also have the pull of their families and many times other vocations (in fact, 21% of ministers, yes full-time ministers, have another job). This is not unusual to the current state of what it means to work in America, but the role of the minister is different. Whether you are full-time or bi-vocational, the ministry is a distinct profession because you are never “off.” There is no such thing as a part-time minister because of the great weight of walking people through the unexpected and predictable in order to encounter and experience the Divine. There is a reason why burnout among ministers remains so high in the first five years, not to mention that most ministers are in worse health than their congregations. Ministry is an isolated and often isolating call.

And yet it remains essential to the life and work of people and indeed to our country. While ministers carry the weight of being the presence of God through the good and bad, so too do we bear the weight of holding onto hope and holding onto to light in the midst of our current sociopolitical context. We are the ones people turn to in times of darkness and hopelessness. We are the ones offering the invitation to encounter the miraculous, transformative power of the resurrected Christ.

This time to be with other ministers who are working as hard as they can to offer this light and hope into the world has been refreshing and renewing. A certain and definite reminder that we as ministers are not alone that there is a rich abundance in fellowshipping together, learning together, and growing together during this Eastertide season of abundance.

One Year Ago…

One year ago, I accepted the Interim Pastor at New Hope Christian Fellowship. The joy in my face is evident after months and months of rejection emails from churches that led to self-doubt and uncertainty wondering whether the sharp turn I took in my life in order to pursue a MDiv and become an ordained minister was what I was supposed to be doing or whether I had indeed “heard wrong” as some suggested when I shared a call to preach.

And I know you’re out there. You ordained ministers, without a place to serve right now. I know you still check the lectionary passages and your weeks still move around sermon prep and Wednesday Bible Study prep. I know you’re out there wondering the same thing.

I had the privilege of serving on an ordination council for a young Baptist woman in ministry this week and I wanted to say so much but culled it down to this:

Hold fast. Remember this moment of affirmation and confirmation right now because you’ll need them during the restless, sleepless nights of self-doubt and uncertainty. 

Hold fast. Minister and preach the gospel any way that you can in the homeless shelter, in the lives of friends going through difficult times, to your own heart, keep doing the work God has called you to do and you’ll find your way.

The Importance of Where You’ve Been

More often than I’d like to admit, I wish there was something different about my story. I wish I was involved early on in communities of faith who welcomed and affirmed women in ministry. I wish I could have started in ministry sooner. This doubt and uncertainty leads me to wonder about the investment of both time and money in my educational career.

I worked for five years in a classroom of some sort and yesterday I found myself back in the classroom in on the second floor of a church working with students from high poverty and supporting an incredible ministry called Koinonia. As I drove to the church, there was certainly a bit of anxiety fluttering in my stomach as I wondered whether my teaching muscles were too stiff and out of practice to work, but as soon as the students walked in, I knew that teaching would always be a part of my story.

My experience teaching students in high poverty settings has led me to develop and lead a VBS for kids in government-subsidized apartment to teach ESOL and welcome strangers into the United States. Yesterday  that experience led me to model and team teach with an elementary education major who is about to head into student teaching. Now, I am sure that there are some who would look at this and say that God’s plan for me was to have me to teach and have these experiences and then to move into ministry.

Maybe.

But maybe there is a reality in which I could have lived my calling to ministry in a classroom setting and done good important work.

Maybe the journey of our lives isn’t so much about a particular setting, but about the realization and understanding we have as we are where we are. Maybe the experience of being a disciple of Christ isn’t about particular actions, but about a particular mindset of serving and loving others. Maybe God is in classrooms and churches and coffee shops and grocery stores whispering to us to see the divine interrupting our lives, changing our paths, looping our paths, inviting us to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

Maybe God is asking us to stop worry about where we are called and instead worry about who we are called to be.

On Finding New Hope

A year ago, I was in the throws of the pastor search process with two churches, both full-time, benefitted positions; both a part of what I thought was the next step in my ministry. As I waited between the first and second interviews, I began packing boxes in our house convinced that we were moving to a new phase and a new place. By the end of June, one church  went completely silent. There was no communication after months of scheduling interviews, emails back and forth, and meeting people in the church. Then, nothing. Not even a response to emails. Just silence. The second church called to let me know that they were calling another candidate, a great choice for them,  someone I knew and respected.

I was left dumbfounded and shocked. I had been so certain that I was being called to full-time ministry and a different place. It was so strange to be in the midst of dreaming and visioning what was next in exciting, new ways and then to find out so close together that neither of those were a possibility. No one told me about the hurt and disappointment that the pastor search process brings.

While I was in the search process, waiting to hear from churches, I started doing pulpit supply at a CBF church start in town called New Hope, a great community of people. I kept telling them that I could do another couple of weeks as I waited and they kept asking me to come back. In the midst of my shock and disbelief that what I thought was next was not in fact next, I kept coming to a community founded on hope, new hope.

Their story was one that was filled with their own stories of pain and disappointment as they moved from different communities of faith to form something different. They had been hurt by the church and yet they still believed that the gospel could change and transform lives. They clung to hope even in the midst of their pain and suffering. In fact, the verse they decided was the foundation of what they were creating was 1 Peter 1:3:

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

And I just happened to be doing pulpit supply for this community of faith as I encountered the uncertainty and chaos of transition in ministry.

The image of the wilderness is not one that we can ignore as ministers. God called God’s people out of slavery into the uncertain future of the wilderness. Abraham was called away from his home to the wilderness. Jesus before he began his ministry was tested in the wilderness, but it’s not something we often talk about as communities of faith.

The wilderness teaches us that there really is no way for us to plan our future if we are following God. God is always calling God’s people to new journeys, new names, new identities, and new life just when we feel we have our feet on solid ground. But in communities of faith, there is a theology of comfort and security running wild, rather than the people of God running in the wilderness.

For me, the journey in the wilderness lead me to new hope in the form of a community passionately clinging to hope as their foundation rather than comfort and security. I’m not sure I could have found this new hope had I not first experienced the disappointment as I wandered in the wilderness of the unknown.

Thanks be to God, for continuing to upset and disrupt this minister’s life in truly miraculous ways.

When Ministry Is Hard

 

Ministry is hard when you have to stand beside and pray on behalf of a mom who has lost her 7 and a half week old reminding her that she still has to take care of her postpartum body that hasn’t even healed yet.

Ministry is hard in a political climate that is divisive, filled with name calling, and high stakes.

Ministry is hard in the midst of decline church membership, declining budgets, and increased expectations on time and responsibilities.

Ministry is hard when you feel called to serve, but can’t find a place to call you to serve.

Ministry is hard when you see over and over again the hurt and pain the church has caused so many people.

Ministry is hard when you are ministering to the homeless and hear people remark about how people who are homeless are just lazy because there are jobs available everywhere and you know it’s not true.

Ministry is hard when you find your privilege exposed and your assumptions revealed.

Ministry is hard as our culture looks to our churches for guidance on how to interpret the violence we experience much too often.

Ministry is hard as you navigate what it means to be someone who is called God’s word to God’s people.

Thanks be to God for those men and women who are ministers, especially when ministry is hard.

 

Worship When Life Has Not Gone As Planned

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The call Sam and I felt to start ministrieslab to pop up in the midst of need is indeed a call from God to minister to God’s people, but I didn’t realize it was a call to question my own privilege. Privilege that blinds me to need. Privilege that causes me to think I know how to help people. Privilege that makes me believe I know how to plan an authentic and engaging worship service because I hold a MDiv.

Privilege that’s challenged me every week over the past eight weeks as I walk into Transitions Homeless Shelter. As I walked in today, our pianist was practicing, but this week it was different. He had gathered a chorus with him, a chorus that gladly agreed to sing as part of our service. As they ran through Amazing Grace, more and more people came in the open door and set down as I set the Lord’s table for communion.

And with the music, came worship.

Worship not that I had planned, but that the clients at Transitions led. Worship that came from their hearts, their concerns, their voices, their experiences, their needs. Worship led by God’s people. Worship that transformed my understanding of what worship truly is.

I come from a tradition of carefully-crafted worship services with orders of worships, written calls to worship where the leader and people’s parts are clearly labeled, and where those who lead the service often don’t worship because they are concerned about ensuring that everything goes as planned. Today, I didn’t have to start the worship service, but instead I was invited into worship with this community of faith.

There is a beautiful truth that exists in this integrated community of faith: life has not gone as planned. In this community of faith, race, gender, and sexuality don’t matter because the truth that we are all in need transcends all those labels. It reminds me a lot of our chapel experiences at Gardner-Webb School of Divinity that invited us to worship together, black and white, old and young, male and female, and all kinds of different sexuality.

Perhaps instead of planning worship so carefully, we should instead plan on placing ourselves in the midst of need. Because there in the midst of need, we will surely find the presence of God.

 

 

On Coming in Second and Competition for Open Positions

“I don’t want to be in competition with you. I want to be in collaboration, in community, in fellowship with you,” I recently admitted to a group of young baptists. It was a reflection on the realization that the open pulpits that exist are not enough for the number of talented men and women who are looking for pastor positions.

Of the 17% of people who attend church, 50% of those people attend megachurch, leaving the other 50% of that 17% who are attending all other churches. It’s a shocking realization for those of us who are in CBF because it indicates a shrinking job market. It’s even more shocking for young baptists who have answered a call to ministry hoping and praying to also provide for their families as they answer that call.

It’s another statistic that reminds us that the church is changing and reminds us that the future of the church might look drastically different than it has in the past 100 years. It’s another statistic that reminds us that bi-vocationalism is going to become more and more important. It’s another statistic that reminds us that those we called classmates and friends could very well be our competition in our next search process experience.

For those who have been down to the final two candidates and not been called, may God’s peace surround you and remind you that even when a church doesn’t call you, you are still called. Even in the midst of competition and a shrinking job market, you are still called. May Creator God inspire you to think of new ways to serve and create in this changing dynamic of church to which we are called.

 

When Partners Become Co-Pastors

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I relayed to Emmanuel this past week during our Easter celebration that Mary in John’s gospel account was in the same place. For years she had dedicated herself to being a disciple of Jesus, which was easy to define because Jesus was among them. He was literally walking among them, so following him meant walking with him, but once he died, none of Jesus’ disciples knew exactly what it meant to be a disciple anymore. How do you follow someone who no longer is walking among you?

Mary decided she was going to go to the place where she last saw Jesus: to his tomb, but what she found confused her even more. His body was not there and the stone had been rolled away. She ran to tell the other disciples what she had seen. And after the disciples saw and left the tomb, Mary let the emotion of what she had experienced and the grief over Jesus’ death engulf her and she stood at the edge of the tomb weeping. And again Mary is alone. She is alone with her grief, she is alone with her questions, she is alone. And she glances back into the tomb and with her tear-stained eyes, she saw two angels, these divine beings. And they asked her why she was weeping and she explained to them that she didn’t know where Jesus’ body was and with that statement what she was really saying was that she didn’t know what was going on or where to turn. Her whole life had been spent following Jesus and now what was she supposed to do when there wasn’t even a tomb holding the body of the one she had followed to visit or tend? She had nothing to do, but stand and stare.

In the midst of Mary’s confusion about what had happened and in her wondering what was next, there Jesus appeared to her, not as someone she recognized, but looking like a gardener, but when Jesus called her name, suddenly everything made sense. And because she is the first to witness the miracle, she is told to deliver the message to the other disciples.  And because she lingered alone, confused and frightened, she received an explanation for the empty tomb. And Mary, Mary alone who stood waiting and wondering at the tomb of Jesus  is the one who first sees and first hears from the Risen Christ.

Maybe it’s not in the certainty of the resurrected Christ, but in the uncertainty of what is going on and what’s going to happen next that we find Christ. Maybe it’s when we can’t find answers and when we aren’t sure about what we are seeing that Jesus enters the picture; a picture so confusing that we don’t even recognize him. And yes, maybe it’s when we are alone sobbing with grief, not understanding what we are seeing that we experience the Risen Christ.  

Maybe in our moments of vulnerability, of uncertainty, of not knowing what happens next, comes new life, new hope, a new chapter.

In the midst of this transitional period, I’ve had many people tell me that I had done it wrong. “You aren’t supposed to resign before you know what the next step is,” they told me, but I felt strongly that God was asking me to step into the unknown because God knows that it is the most uncomfortable and vulnerable place for me.

I’m so thankful I have a partner who dares me to dream bigger and challenges me to see more and bigger than I ever would be able to see alone.

And by partner, I mean co-pastor!

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to Work We Go

As 2015 comes to a close, there are more than resolutions on my mind. With the end of the year, my maternity leaves also ends, and I join the ranks of working moms who are trying to balance the demands of a professional life as well as a new baby. I started reading on the topic almost from the moment we found out we were pregnant. I had to stop numerous times because if you research the subject as a new or expectant mom, you’ll be overwhelmed and discouraged.

With that in mind, here are a couple of books I’ve read:

Tina Fey admits to all women that she is in a different situation than a lot because has the means to hire good help. I especially love her reference to breastfeeding and how it was the most wonderful 48 hours of her life. She is real and honest about her love for her children and her love for her work.

 

 

 Sheryl Sandberg’s admits that she was tough of working moms before she became a mom. She also admits that she was working in the hospital after she had her child, not because she had to, but rather because she needed to check in. While her viewpoint is interesting, it’s not reality for the majority of women who don’t have the means she and her husband have at their disposal.

 

This was my favorite read thus far because it is from the perspective of two working pastor-moms. They admit the times that they feel like they should be gaining theological insight from the parenting experience, but can only see dirty laundry, dirty diapers, and dirty dishes.

 

 

I am extremely lucky to be able to work from home frequently as well as having a partner who is vested in creating a life so that we can spend lots of time with Ben, but it’s still hard. It’s hard because parenting in and of itself is hard. It’s hard because you want to teach your children to be independent while wanting them to know they have a support system and a foundation that is sound and stable. It’s hard because there are so many different ways to parent and to care for a child that are good and valid and important. It’s hard because you as parents are also individuals who have desires and passions that drive and inspire you.

As I listen to Ben learning to make sounds and as I smile back at him as he begins to recognize me, I wonder what work will look like for him. I wonder if he will ever live in a world where people “go to work” for certain periods of time everyday. I’m not sure, but I hope what I am teaching him as a working mom is to go after his dreams and passions and to sculpt a life around those rather than having people dictate his life for him.

Life’s just too short to do otherwise.