The Birth of a Pastor

Kate Wallace Nunneley


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The Birth of a Pastor

My call to pastoral ministry began during my first semester of seminary. I was taking 3 required courses – Greek Exegesis, Mentored Ministry, and Exegesis of Genesis.

God used Greek class to show me I was really good at this stuff and ministry class to show me that I had a lot to learn from my peers. But Genesis class was a different animal. We went line by line through the entire book of Genesis, noting themes, patterns, repetition, and story. My professor had done his doctoral work on the annunciation scenes in Genesis – the stories of God telling barren women they would conceive – and so each of our major projects was done on some passage involving God’s intervention in a woman’s life.

My husband Leif and I had started trying to get pregnant that semester, and we had been told that it would be a difficult journey for us. Infertility is usually something that makes women feel isolated from their faith communities, yet there I was immersed in the stories of God seeing and choosing barren women to mother God’s people.

God used that Genesis class to show me that struggling to get pregnant didn’t mean I was outside God’s favor, but that I was smack dab in the middle of God’s story.

Even though I had been told that it might be difficult for me to have a baby, I anticipated getting pregnant right away, planning to be no more than 6 months pregnant by the time Leif and I headed to the UK for a friend’s wedding. But as the months went by I began to realize the seriousness of my reality, and I began to struggle internally.

Summer classes came and I enrolled in a Christian Theology course. On my first day of summer school, my professor informed everyone that the course materials would be taught through two primary lenses: The Lord’s Prayer and Mary (the mother of Jesus) as a model theologian. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for more of the nitty gritty academic stuff, and these seemed like fluffy topics. But as the class went on, my fondness for Mary began to grow.

As an Evangelical, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about her, but this class challenged me to see her as a central figure of Christian theology. I read about the ways God interacted with Mary, and the uniqueness of her situation. What really stood out to me was that she was another woman in God’s story who shouldn’t have been able to get pregnant – not for lack of ability but because she was a virgin. Yet God saw Mary and chose her to mother God on Earth. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth – I began to realize that the story of the Bible is a story of God choosing women who were unable to get pregnant, to birth God’s people.

Fall came and my class work consistently revolved around my “identity as a pastor” – except I wasn’t one. Sure… Leif and I were on the Lead Team of a small church plant, and sure we were going through the ordination track of my denomination, and sure I was in seminary – but all of those things could be excused as things that would help my ministry with The Junia Project. I wasn’t called to pastoral ministry. I was called to advocacy in the Church. That was – until I was literally asked to be a pastor at our church plant.

“We want to show from the very beginning that we believe in women in leadership, and that it actually means something here,” my pastor (and friend) Josh said to me one day. He had been telling me and Leif that we were gifted to be pastors. Some of our denominational leaders had spoken into this as well, encouraging each of us to consider being volunteer associate pastors when we reached the next level of ordination.

I talked it over with Leif that night. “It’s not like I’ve never thought about it,” I said. “I love serving at our church and I think I’ve been gifted in some pastoral ways, but I haven’t heard a voice from Heaven calling me to be a pastor.”

“I think you’re called and gifted for this,” Leif told me. “The women at this church need to see you in this role. The women in this town need to see you do this. Heck, the men need you to do this! Even if I don’t take the position, I think you should.”

Being a pastor had been Leif’s dream since he was a kid. It had been a possibility for me for all of 6 hours. “You’re called to be a pastor,” I told him. “Let’s do it together”. Each of us was more confident in the other’s abilities and calling, so we agreed to pray about it.

A few weeks later, we reached the next level of ordination in our denomination and were announced as associate pastors in our little church plant. It felt weird, out of place, like the title didn’t quite fit.

I went back to school and wrestled with the questions of pastoral identity. A few weeks later, I sat in one of those “pastoral identity” lectures. As I listened to the professor talk about a pastor’s call to guide, protect, nurture, and grow God’s people, the woman next to me nudged me with her arm,
“Sounds a lot like being a mother,” she smirked. I smiled back at her, absorbing this information.

Then my phone buzzed. I looked down and saw a text from a woman in our church. It began with:

Hey Rev…

And in that moment I wanted to be a pastor. I can’t really explain it better than that. I longed for it. Something deep inside me resonated with the calling. I whispered quietly, “God, I think I want to be a pastor,” only to have God remind me that I already was one.

The story of the Bible is the story of God choosing barren women to mother, guide, protect, nurture, and grow God’s people. And that day, God called another woman struggling to get pregnant to do the same.

In January I had prayed for God to give me a baby. Nine months later, God had birthed a pastor.

Kate Wallace Nunneley

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  • May God continue to provide shalom for you (and Leif) as you listen and live God’s call.

  • Kate, this is so poignant and lovely. I love your insights on the women God used (and still uses) to build his people (and don’t forget another woman who couldn’t get pregnant: Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist).
    I also wrote about the Mothering of God this week on my blog, I’d love to have you check it out.
    Thanks again for pastoring well–both at your church and through the Junia Project.

    • Keri, your blog is beautiful! I loved the story you unfolded and the lessons about God as mother that you wove into it. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • I think you’ve been a pastor even longer than you think. The Junia Project community has required the same kind of birthing, and nurturing, and protecting. You’ve been Pastor Kate to a lot more people than your CA church. Beautiful beautiful reflection.

    • Wow, thank you for that encouragement Dalaina! I will have to ponder that for a while 🙂

  • Kate – your words not only brought tears to my eyes as I agree with you and the Holy Spirit that this is a call from God. I look forward to the many who are birthed through your mother/pastor/shepherd’s heart.

  • I love this, Kate. “Hey Rev,” and now you have the job of nurturing and protecting sheep, just like a mama. 🙂

  • Kate,
    Love your biblical insights and how your story is interwoven in them!
    Praying for you and Leif!

    • I must go to a good seminary 😉 Thanks Carmeli!

  • Beautiful. This brings tears to my eyes! So many women have had the calling to pastor crushed before it could be born. It feels so healing to know that women like you are doing the hard work, getting the degrees necessary to be respected as pastors and theologians. Our churches NEED leaders who are humble and reluctant to lead. Pastors who make sure it’s the Lord’s will before moving forward. We need to stop giving authority to those who demand it and crave it. The showmen who love attention are happy to claim that women aren’t actually hearing the call of God to pastor. I hope many people read your story and realize that women called to pastor are NOT doing it out of an inflated ego, but a sincere and humble calling from the Lord.

  • thank you for a story that brings me such encouragement

  • This was such an encouragement to read. May you continue to know God’s blessing on your ministry.
    I was not able to have children, but nurturing people in faith and their calling has been the gift that God has given me instead.

    • We walk that road together 🙂 Thank you Catherine!

  • I loved this personal story of yours; thank you so much for sharing it. And your insight into these biblical examples of women who were barren or in Mary’s case, a virgin, birthing God’s family and growing God’s people deeply ministered to my soul as I, too, struggled with infertility and heard God’s call to be a part of ‘birthing God’s people’. I just never thought of linking it to these women in the scriptures. How life-giving! Thank you Pastor Kate!

    • Kathy, I’m so glad this was life giving to you! God bless you in your calling!

  • I’ve never equated leadership ministry with motherhood like that before. I think I need to do some pondering and more than a bit of praying.

  • This is a beautiful post, Kate. Thanks for sharing.

    I am a seminary student too, struggling out my calling. I’ve told God countless times that if I am supposed to be a pastor, then God needs to give me a burning bush moment. I know pastoring will be hard, I know it will be particularly hard because I’m a woman. I want a calling so sure that no one, no fears, no hard days, will be able to talk me down from it. So far, no burning bush. So I continue to wait on God.

    Your story has encouraged me that God sometimes works in smaller and subtler ways. It is a beautiful story and one I hope you share from the pulpit.

    • We can overthink calling sometimes. God sometimes calls through our passions, through our giftings, and through the wise people around us. Kate Harris talks about how our calling is where our talents and burdens collide. I was at a conference when she said, “The tender spots that are born out of our own pain…this is where our callings reflect Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection…By His wounds we are healed…God often uses our own wounds to heal the world.”

  • I love to read your articles —they have such a wonderful message. And you are exactly what we need in this religious & political time we find ourselves in…

    • Thanks for reading Stover! That means a lot!

  • This is so so good. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Wow. I am so encouraged today as I begin to discern my own calling in the Church. Bless you.

    • I am so glad you found encouragement Erin! God bless you as you discern your call!

  • Kate, you have a beautiful story that will continue to unfold. Thanks for taking us on your journey and continuing to show us hope.

  • That was beautiful! I’m so excited for you and to see God work even more in your life! Praying for you and your journey.

  • “I whispered quietly, ‘God, I think I want to be a pastor,’ only to have God remind me that I already was one.“

    Kate, you are right where you and God both desire you to be. What a blessing for you and your church.

  • God works in mysterious ways. Thanks for sharing your story, Kate. I wish you the best in pastoring and mothering and will pray for you and Leif this morning.

    • Thank you Lindsay! And thank you for your prayers 🙂

    • My sentiments exactly, Lindsay. Thank you for being open to God’s call as it was uniquely given to you, Kate.

  • Expand those tents Kate! Beautiful story beautifully told x

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