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:
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.