Is there anything that can prepare you for the first time you encounter the career that you know you were created for? For some, it comes in the experience of meeting a doctor and knowing that you want to be a healer. For others, you see a student’s eyes light up with hope and your need to develop life learners calls you to education. For me, the presence and service of ministry was introduced in many forms. As with most first time encounters, the surface does not tell the complete story.
My first memory of a pastor was the very old guy that wore a robe and shoulder pads at church. Following him, the pulpit was filled by a younger man that placed a stool behind the podium. I always felt like he was trying to fill the big shoes of the tall old man. BUT, he had candy and Cracker Jacks, so what he lacked in experience and height, he made up for in excellent kid treats.
The pastoral role at a church is a curious position. As a kid that felt right at home in the church office, there was always one place that was mysteriously off limits. The Pastor’s Study was a combination library, counseling cubicle and living area. There was a private bathroom and a personal closet. All of these things seem important and special. That made the man that filled the office important and special.
I made a mental note at an early age that this unique and obviously important job was worthy of reverence. While it was not said out loud that I can recall, it was clear to me from all those that spoke of Jesus and the Church, that I failed to possess qualifying gender requirements to be the occupant of such an office. The issue of gender roles in ministry is an immensely complicated one that plagued my understanding of calling for many years. It was further complicated by the fact that the previously mentioned ill-fitting pastoral appointment was the first female ordained pastor that I had ever met. The events of this teenage encounter led to confusion and challenge, but for the time being, I looked to others for leadership. While I did not explore the role of the robe wearing boss, I was introduced early on to women that were serving in life giving, heart opening ways.
There were three women that played key roles in setting before me the fullness of calling as I began to serve in the church. When I reflect on my early understanding of ministry, I can see clearly the models of sacrifice and surrender that were instilled through the legacy of these women. In the church of my heritage, they were known as “Youth Directors.” Their formal education lacked a seminary degree and their position in the denomination did not give them access to lead in the sacraments, but their lives were every bit as pastoral as the robe wearing men of my childhood.
From their study of the Bible, to their faithful prayer life, they showed me how to do the work of ministry in my formative years. I moved from a place of dreamy admiration for all things Church, to the realistic awareness that laying your life down for others is a daily sacrifice. The countless hours of retreats and teenage drama, paired with the intense demands by the church for planning and creativity, showed me time and again that ministry was more than a job. It was something you did because you could not possibly do anything else. What I found from their example, was the desire to wrestle and dream and ask many questions. I would need the space for dreaming and these human models in the days to come. Because when you receive this kind or gift, what is the appropriate response?