This summer as I’ve been reviewing my website and related links, I’ve discovered that an earlier article on my call to pastoral ministry is unfortunately no longer available. I had originally shared my story as part of a series on women in ministry, and called my article, An Accidental Pastor. Now that link goes to a private blog “open to invited readers only.” I don’t know when or why that change happened, but since my call story is my story, today I’m sharing an updated version below with a new title: How God Called Me into Pastoral Ministry. I hope it might encourage and inspire you to follow God’s leading in your life today.
My husband and I had moved to a new community and were just about to join a local congregation when the pastor abruptly resigned. Quite literally, he was there one Sunday, and then gone the next. It wasn’t the best introduction to a new church, but in spite of the turmoil, we decided to move ahead with our plans to join. After all, we had been getting to know the people over the last year, we both taught at the church-supported Bible college, and I had even served as a guest speaker for the congregation several times.
Without a pastor, the congregation relied even more heavily than usual on its members to do the work of ministry, and I was asked to lead a series of four worship services for Advent. I gladly said yes, and after my first Sunday planning and leading worship, a woman approached me and asked,
“How would you like to be the pastor of this church?”
I would later learn that she was part of the pastoral search committee, but my first response was to laugh! Pastoral ministry was the furthest thing from my mind. I was convinced I already had a strong calling–to teach, write, and be involved as a member of the church. Pastoral ministry was nowhere on my radar screen.
But that Advent as I continued to lead worship and to be active in the church, variations of the same question kept coming. Finally I received a call from the chair of the search committee. “We hear that you are very happy teaching and writing,” he began, “but we would like to talk with you about some interim pastoral ministry.”
By that time, I was no longer laughing–yet I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to meet with the search committee. At the time, I had a Master’s degree in Christian Studies–equivalent to a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, which is the new name for my degree. But I had no pastoral experience, and the church was still reeling from the difficult pastoral departure. If there is such a thing as a match made in heaven, I was quite sure it didn’t look like this!
Still, one of the things my husband and I have always valued about the Mennonite church is the understanding that God speaks to us in Scripture, in our own prayer life, and also in community. Here it seemed the community was trying to say something, and we agreed that I needed at least to listen.
Over those next few weeks, God’s Spirit moved among us in a powerful way.
As we continued to discern together, I went from not at all even thinking about pastoral ministry, to being willing to consider it, then curious, and then excited about a unique opportunity—to serve the church at a critical time of transition, to experience some new things for myself, and to learn and grow spiritually and personally through it all.
Would I be willing to serve part-time and continue teaching? the committee asked. Would some sort of team ministry be possible? They even had someone in mind for the other half of the team, but when that didn’t work out, one of the senior members on the search committee asked, would it be possible for me to take a leave of absence from the college and work as a full-time interim pastor?
So on the recommendation of the search committee, I asked for a leave of absence from the college and accepted the church’s call for what we all thought would be for the summer months and then the fall semester. The church would continue their search for a pastor, and I fully expected to be back at the college and teaching in January. I knew the search committee was already in conversation with a possible candidate, so surely they would settle on a “real” pastor by the time my leave of absence was over. I just didn’t know then that it would be me.
As it turned out, the church asked me to extend my interim ministry for another college semester, then asked me to candidate for the regular pastoral position. Once my on-going call was official, I went through the ordination process and became the first woman ordained to pastoral ministry in my area church denomination. As of this past Easter Sunday, I’ve now been lead pastor at my church for 24 years!
In some ways I’ve had it easy—my church had mainly resolved any questions about women in ministry before they extended a call to me, and I’ve received wonderful support over the years. But ministry has also presented many challenges. I’ve dealt with the past sexual misconduct of a pastoral candidate, financial misconduct by a member of the church against other members, difficult deaths including the loss of children and the still unsolved murder of a parishioner. As an associate pastor once said to me, “I wish you some bumps along the way so you’ll know what it feels like”—and I’ve definitely had my share.
Yet through it all, I’ve also had a deep and persistent sense of God’s calling. I may have started as an “accidental” pastor since I certainly hadn’t planned on ministry, but my experience has been so much more, thanks be to God.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: When have you most strongly sensed God’s leading? What bumps along the way have you experienced?
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