It was Mother’s Day, 2012, after preaching a sermon on The Pursuit of Jesus, from Mark’s account of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5:21 – 31) that I first began to think about pursuing a doctoral program. After the sermon, my pastor extended an invitation to Christian discipleship and there were so many women and men who came forward, not only to receive Christ, but also for prayer. I was in awe of the power of the Word of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit to lead so many people to respond and seek transformation. Later in the evening during my typical reflection period at a local park, I reflected on the worship service as a whole, and in particular the sermon that God empowered me to preach, and the congregation’s response it. I thought that there had to be more to preaching than I was consciously aware of, and I wanted to know more. I had been preaching for 5 years, but never had any formal training. I had recalled seeing an article on the seminary’s website about a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching and Congregational Leadership, and this filled my mind as I reflected on the sermon and the outcome. I believe that this was God calling me to pursue a doctoral degree. Immediately I began to wrestle with God because I did not want to continue with seminary after completing the Master of Divinity. I wanted to finish seminary, begin pastoral ministry, start a family, and live happily ever after! As God continued to nudge me, I began praying for wisdom and discernment, and asked my weekly prayer partner to join me in this prayer as well. The following fall I enrolled in Dr. Michael Quicke’s two preaching classes.
The preaching classes had a lasting impact on how I viewed, approached, and studied scripture, not only to teach and preach, but for daily edification and understanding. The content of the readings, the self discovery, the collaboration with my classmates, the lectures, preparing and preaching sermons without notes, and the feedback from the professor and my peers all confirmed to me that there was more to learn and I said ‘yes’ to God’s leading me to pursue a Doctor of Ministry program. I believed at that time that it would be in Preaching and Congregational Leadership. Like many times before, God had different plans, and I see now that I was being prepared for what was to come next.
I recently took Dr. Scot McKnight’s Women in Ministry class. As a summer intensive, I knew that it would be intense in all sense of the word, but I never imagined the revelations that I would receive. After the fourth day of class, I sat in my hotel room and thought, ‘there are so many biblical truths that I never knew, so many half-truths that well intended preachers and teachers of my culture mislead me into believing, and I thank God that my eyes are now open’. I reflected upon the week and how we learned about theories of interpretation, biblical context, and what this means for women in ministry and the Body of Christ, and my heart began to pound. I had a great desire to know more; more about the historical context of the bible, more about Jesus, more about myself, and more about this journey that God has me on. That night I began to read more about the new DMin in New Testament Context cohort, and sent my prayer partner an e-mail asking her to join me in prayer discernment for my next steps in my ministry journey as my heart was beginning to change. All things came together for me during the last class, as we were talking about biblical love. Before I share how they came together, I have to give you the context of my ‘aha’ moment.
In 2004, I went snorkeling in the Grand Cayman Islands with my sister and a good friend. Upon jumping into the ocean with my life jacket, goggles, and breathing gear, I proceeded to laugh hysterically for about 5 minutes. I could not explain my laughter, nor could I control it. After awhile I stopped and dove under water to experience the life of those whose environment I had just invaded. After we had finished and went to shore, I bought a souvenir plate that had fish swimming and the words “God has made everything beautiful in its time” (paraphrased from Ecclesiastes 3:11). It was not until we made it back to the states that I could identify my uncontrollable laughter with fear. I was in the middle of the ocean and I was afraid for my life. In my mind, there was nothing keeping me afloat except for the life jacket, and if it somehow fell off, I was going to sink to the bottom of the ocean. I wanted to scream, but the only thing that came out was a laughter that took control. Eventually, something calmed my spirit, and I was able to enjoy the experience, however it was 2010 before I came into full awareness of the experience, just 2 years after beginning the Master of Divinity program at Northern. At that time I had no idea of what God’s ultimate plan for my ministry was, however I was certain that I was not going to be a pastor. I had recently answered the call to ministry after 2 years of negotiating and wrestling with God, and I thought that we had an understanding that I would eventually become ordained, but I did want to hold the position of a pastor. I’m not sure if my objection had anything to me being a woman, but it was clear in my mind that I would preach and teach, but not be ‘the’ pastor of a congregation. Then one morning during the summer of 2010, I looked up at my souvenir plate that I brought home from snorkeling in the Grand Cayman Islands and I began to cry and said ‘God I am scared to be a pastor’ the next thing that I heard in my spirit was ‘just as I was with you in the water, I will be with’. I wept for what seemed like hours (I’m sure it wasn’t) with a heart of gratitude for this revelation of his grace and tender care for me. I had the assurance that God will be with me in the deep waters of pastoral ministry, thus I could trust him with my fears and move forward. It was still some time before I could verbalize this revelation to anyone, but from then on, I accepted God’s call to pastoral ministry, trusting and believing that God would be with me every step of the way. This would not be the last time that the assurance of God’s presence in the physical and symbolic waters would melt my heart and lead to a revelations of the character of God.
The final day of our class on women in ministry, the lecture began with a wonderful recap of the key components of our study on the history, context and issues surrounding women in ministry, followed by strategies on how to impact the local church as servants of God. He ended the class with a lecture on biblical love, and once again my spiritual eyes were opened. His first point was that “love begins with a covenant” and gave several illustrations of the covenant formula found in scripture. His second point was “love is a command to be with; it is a principle of presence”. He proceeded to give several examples of God’s demonstration of God’s love through God’s presence; however my mind went back to my time in the deep waters of the ocean, and God’s Spirit speaking to my spirit as he revealed his demonstration of his love through his presence with me then, now, and during the time of the pastoral ministry that I have so graciously been called to. I could not hold back the tears as God’s love for me flooded my heart and mind. Certainly this was not the first time that I was felt God’s love, however it was the way in which all things came together to reveal the nature and character of God in the midst of my real life experiences. For the second time in 1 week, I had a desire to know more. I thought back to my prayer the night before on discernment for which doctoral program to pursue. I thought ‘God that was quick’, and was pretty sure that I would proceed to apply to the DMin in New Testament Context. On Sunday afternoon after church, and after a blind-sighted, painful attack on my ministry, coupled with blatant verbal and nonverbal opposition to women in ministry, I believe these attacks were confirmation that going deeper into the historical context of Jesus and the Apostles would allow my witness, pastoral leadership, and service unto God to be rooted not in my past experiences of opposition, rejection and pain, but out of the richness and foundational truth of the Gospel message, God’s ultimate plan of salvation for all people, and God’s gifting of all people to serve with a heart for and like that of Jesus. So my journey continues by the grace of God and his continuous love and presence in my life.