Last year I was invited to guest post for Asian American Women on Leadership (AAWOL), and this year I started blogging regularly with this group of women in ministry. We are from the U.S. and Canada: pastors, writers, communications managers, therapists, spiritual directors, full-time moms, students, administrators, single, married, first-, second, and third-generation Asian North American women.
That’s only a partial description since I’ve met just a few AAWOL members so far, but I’m grateful for the breadth and depth of their experience. I’m learning from their thoughtful reflections, and appreciate the opportunity to blog together with them.
Here’s an excerpt from my first AAWOL blog post followed by links to more:
Growth as Change: Twenty-Five Years and Counting
In my years of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen a lot of growth and change. Babies have grown into young adulthood. Seekers have become baptized members of the church and active volunteers in ministry. Some older folks have become more frail, and some have passed on.
Our physical space has changed too, as we’ve added a gym, renovated the kitchen, and created some new office space. Two of our members gave my office a makeover with new carpet, lights, paint, and curtains.
Our church staff has also grown with the addition of a pastor for our Vietnamese church-within-a-church, plus part-time music, seniors, and worship ministry coordinators.
As I look back over these rich years of ministry, I’m amazed and grateful for all of the growth and changes that God has worked in our lives. The same Spirit that blew me by surprise into ministry has sustained me and sustained us in wonderful ways.
I’m also very aware of how much I have changed too.
When I was first called into pastoral ministry on an interim basis, one of the members of my congregation was already terminally ill with cancer. “Please don’t let him die while I’m here, Lord,” I remember praying. “I won’t know what to do.” I had never expected to be a pastor, had never gone to seminary, and knew I was ill-equipped for pastoral care.
Yet some months later, when his wife called to say that her husband had died peacefully at home, as I drove there to pray over his body and to be with her and the rest of the family, I suddenly realized that yes, God had prepared me to do this. My relationship with our member and his family had developed over the months of his illness as we had visited, read Scripture, and prayed together. I had learned a great deal from pastoral care training offered at a hospital in the city. God had graciously prepared me—changed me and grown me—as a pastor.
Two more of my AAWOL articles:
When I completed my pastoral ministry last fall, our Vietnamese church-within-a-church planned a special farewell service on Thanksgiving Sunday. I had been part of the ministry support team when the church was first planted, part of the visioning for the church to develop in the context of the main congregation where I served as lead pastor. We dreamed together of a Vietnamese Christian church with its own identity and practice yet part of our overall ministry. I worked closely with the pastor and other leaders, had joined them for worship and community outreach events many times, celebrating baptisms and communion, taking part in a funeral and officiating at a wedding.
For the combined farewell and Thanksgiving service, the church invited two other churches to join us. They bought twenty copies of my new book to give as gifts for their own leadership and for the leadership of the other two churches. They asked me to speak along with two other speakers. They planned special music. They planned a banquet of Vietnamese foods, including 200 handmade spring rolls because they knew the spring rolls were among my favorites. I received cards and many hugs, and the church even took a special love offering to give to me.
“All of this is too much,” I protested. “You are too generous.”
“We need to practice how to give thanks and say goodbye,” said the pastor.
“You hardly need the practice,” I said to him. “You could give lessons to other churches!” I felt overwhelmed by their generosity and love.
My opening for this article outlines two definitions of honor: (1) the personal quality of acting honorably and (2) the relational quality of other people bestowing honor. Then I give this example from my family of giving priority to the personal quality of acting with honor and integrity.
As I was growing up, I learned from my father that what makes a good grade in school isn’t a mark of 90% or even 100%. Whatever a teacher might think of an assignment, the most important thing is to do one’s best. The integrity of personal action matters more than the valuation of others, even from those with considerable position and power.
That emphasis on personal integrity and honor has served me well in life and ministry. When I worked in an office, I did my job whether or not the boss was watching. When I started pastoral ministry, a good sermon meant praying over the congregation, studying Scripture, and seeking after God, not how many people said “good sermon” afterward. As I write this, I realize now that my internal sense of honor made me less dependent on receiving any acknowledgment or honor from others.
In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, I see this same uncoupling of honor as personal integrity and honor as what other people might think.
For more on everyday acts of faith,