Thank God for those who protect a woman’s call!
“I’m not sure I can continue as a leader in this church.”
So exhausted from lack of sleep, and reeling from the many personal life changes swirling around me, I could not believe those words had escaped from my mouth. Seated directly across from my former female clergy supervisor, Stacee, I felt defeated and hung my head in shame.
Eight years older than me, Stacee’s limitless energy is contagious. She wears high heels every Sunday morning as she flawlessly leads hundreds of worshippers in the transition from the call to worship, to the sermon, to the prayers of the people, and the benediction. As a young woman new to ministry, I remember being in awe of Stacee’s confidence and inspired by her ability to connect with people of all ages.
Today, I’m pastoring my own church, and people often comment about my “limitless energy.” But the truth is, I haven’t always had that kind of energy and confidence. And I especially did not have that kind of energy and confidence when years ago, I sat across from Stacee in her office.
I was broken, discouraged, and beaten down.
But on that day, years ago, Stacee looked into my eyes with compassion and said to me, “Sarah, I’m so sorry that you’re hurting and that you feel like your life is falling apart around you.” I winced, half expecting her to encourage me to resign from my position in the church. Instead, the words she spoke next were ones that would forever mark my ministry.
“I want you to know that in the midst of this mess, you are still called. You are a gifted leader. And I believe that God is asking me to protect your call.”
Stunned, I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to that. God was calling Stacee to protect my call? Taking my hands in hers she began to pray. Stacee fervently prayed for healing in my current circumstances. She went on to ask God for grace, health, and vitality over my call to ministry.
Looking back on that conversation and the events that followed, it quickly became clear that God was, in fact, calling Stacee to protect my call during a particularly difficult season in my life and ministry. She tilled the soil, and in the months and years that followed that conversation, I grew leaps and bounds. I began to flourish in my ministry. I fell in love with what God had called me to do.
Thank God for those who protected my call!
This practice of protecting someone’s call – of spirit-filled mentoring, of older, wiser leaders of the faith tilling the soil for the next generation of leaders – is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s an ancient one. When you dig into the stories of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, these “call protectors” abound…from Samuel with David, to Mordecai with Esther, to Elizabeth with Mary. Even the Apostle Paul had his own support system of “call protectors”.
When reading the story about Paul’s dramatic conversion in Acts 9, the focus is often placed on the supernatural encounter that he has on the road to Damascus, when he meets the risen and ascended Christ. In the midst of the excitement around Paul’s conversion, it is easy to forget about the series of events that happen immediately thereafter.
Enter Ananias and Barnabas. Post Paul’s conversion experience, in Acts 9:10-28, we discover the rest of the story. God brings Ananias and Barnabas into Paul’s life, and as Paul makes the decision to follow Christ, these two faithful “call protectors” tend to him, help him heal, believe in him, and vouch for him when no one else will.
In Acts 9:10-16, the Lord appears to Ananias in a vision and asks him to go to Paul. Ananias has his reservations. He knows about Paul’s seedy past, and the horrible things he had done to members of the early church prior to this alleged conversion. But even in his hesitation and doubt, Ananias steps up to the plate, goes to Paul anyway, and protects his call. He lays hands on Paul, he prays with him and heals him of his blindness.
Then later, after Paul’s baptism, in Acts 9:26-28, Barnabas picks up where Ananias leaves off with Paul. Although Paul has been baptized, his notorious reputation continues to precede him. In fact, Paul’s background is so questionable that the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples were afraid of Paul, doubted Paul’s sincerity, and wanted nothing to do with him!
And yet, Barnabas steps up, supports Paul, and vouches for him when no one else will.
Thank God for those who protected Paul’s call!
Several years after that fateful day when I was at my lowest point, questioning my call to vocational ministry, I finally found myself at my own service of ordination. After years of supporting me, praying for me, and cheering me on, my former female clergy supervisor, Stacee, prayed over me during the service of my ordination.
Following the service, Stacee presented me with two stoles, one red and one green. The stoles had been gifted to her years prior by her mentor, who had received them from his mentor, and she was now passing them on to me.
One day, when I have a few more years of ordained ministry under my belt, I hope to continue the rich legacy of call protecting for another young woman wrestling with her call to ministry. I look forward to the day when I will pass those stoles on to her as she begins her own journey of ordained ministry.
Thank God for those who protect a woman’s call!
May we know them. May we be them.