What Makes a Pastor? Or Linda Horne and the Great Mystery

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“I solemnly swear…” Her lip twitched, her eye twinkled.

“I solemnly swear…” we repeated, our right hands raised to the sky, our fingers making the shape of any good scout promise.

“That I…”

“That I…” We giggled.

We were standing around a table of pretzels and Kool-Aid. It was a summer Tuesday, one of the days we spent at the church children’s program.

“Will not spill this Kool-Aid on the new carpet…”

“Will not spill this Kool-Aid on the new carpet…”

Her eyes turned mischievous. We all knew the next line and we waited for it, craved it the way any kid craves a grown-up’s silliness.

“Or there will be blood on this carpet!”

We repeated her laughing. Blood! It was the 80s. Back when children’s ministers threatened blood.

At that time in our church, the female (always female) spiritual influence of children was called “director.” After all, she merely directed children’s programs. She planned events, scheduled teachers. That’s not my memory, though.  What I recall is her friendship, the warmth and story: her deep intuition toward the hearts of children and their longing for Jesus.

My parents always said that fifty children could be playing outside, pounding ground and roaring and Linda Horne could stand in the middle of the chaos, hold up her hand and we would see her, quiet ourselves, stand around her. There are some people God has made to be pastors. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. They listen. They stand around her lifted hand.

What makes a pastor?

Is it the value of the lives guided? Do lives stop needing “directing” and require “pastoring” when we reach the age of twelve? Eighteen? Is the phrase “pastor” simply one of education? Is it one of calling?

There’s a blurry line there in the theological shouting match of “Women in Ministry.” Because, of course, women have always ministered. Women have always led others, have always taught scripture. Women have always journeyed to the mission field. They have always prayed souls into the Kingdom.

The question is, if women are not to serve in ministry, where do we draw the line? Which recipients are less in need of the ordained: children? the disabled? the elderly? (And aren’t those the very “least of these” whom Jesus refers to as Himself?) What is the age or situation when a woman can no longer serve the one in need of ministry? Where does God no longer deem women fit for the task at hand?

* * *

What makes a pastor?

Is it a denomination’s laws for ordination? Or is it the moment when we stand before the throne of God like Isaiah, begging coal to sear our unclean lips? And once purified, we cry: “Here I am! Send me!

When I stood alone during the invitation in our old-style Baptist revival, my parents both serving—Dad in the choir, mom interpreting (as she always did) for the hearing impaired congregation, Jesus came heavy to my 7-year-old chest. How could I not be drawn from my pew? How could I not move forward toward the Spirit that was pulling me?

Of course, I saw the struggle in my mother’s eyes. Shirk her duty and join me at the altar? Her baby girl who’d walked the aisle alone? No doubt she looked back toward my father, also separated from me, robed with the choir. My memory, though, has little thought of my parents. Now, I imagine their faces, the entrance of Linda Horne, the reassuring pat she would have given my mom. Linda was probably 15 years her senior. My mom was 37 then, deep in the mother-trenches.

What I recall is this: Linda beside me at the altar, her left arm around my back, her hand resting on my left shoulder.

“Let’s talk,” she whispered in my ear, led me to the sanctuary’s foyer, behind double doors, a leather couch we squeaked into.

There she spoke secrets of Jesus in a language just for me: What it meant to love him, what it was to “be saved.” I prayed aloud and together we wrote on the back of the tract she held in her hand, cream-colored with thick, gold embossed letters. I scratched, Today I asked Jesus to be my Savior. She helped me spell “Savior.” Then we wrote the date: February 2, 1987.

Two years later, she left her abusive husband and her job as Children’s Director. She moved. I never saw her again. (This is what I wonder about her leaving: Did she experience grace? Did she find love in our church? Did she leave in shame or in courage?)

What makes a pastor?

Suffering for the sake of the sheep? Loving the weakest? Speaking words of life into the heart of a seven-year-old? Teaching children how to laugh and trust and believe in the goodness of friendship?

What makes a pastor?

Calling? The gift of telling the Truest Story, the one Linda Horne whispered alone to me, light cupped in her hand?

In the upside down paradigm of God’s Kingdom, where the last are first and the first are last, I can’t help but believe that the sort of minister who will sit in the most coveted seat at the Great Banquet, must be the abused, divorced woman who loved little ones well, with little reward and a quiet exit. A woman who held up her hands while we gathered around, a woman who knew how to tell the Great Story, who offered us a true magic, the glowing light held bright above, who called us close to look at Jesus and see what it meant to be loved.

What makes a pastor?

Isn’t a pastor always the one who shows you how to cup your hands and receive the orb of light? And when you, a little girl with skinny legs and big teeth, of no circumstance or special gifts, when you come to her and say you felt God’s Spirit tugging, a pastor says, I know and offers you the secret you knew was waiting there: the magic of faith, the light placed in your chest that night that swells in your seven-year-old bed until you feel your skin burst in the glory.

Don’t tell me to call that work Directing, friends. Only Ministry can hold such mystery.

And so it has always been.

 

Linking up today with the “One in Christ – A Week of Mutuality” synchroblog at RachelHeldEvans.com. Join the conversation about women in the Church this week. Link up and spread the word…

 

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com Addie Zierman

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. This line will stay with me: “Isn’t a pastor always the one who shows you how to cup your hands and receive the orb of light?”

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thank you for this reminder that a ministry flows from what God gives us to pass on to others.

  • Susan

    Thanks, as always, Micha, for your rich words, for painting a picture of what so many of us have experienced. I shared this entry with my own “Linda Horne” (my mom!). How impoverished our spiritual journeys would have been without them.

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    oh, this made my eyes brim, micha. i hope linda reads this and knows how well she loved.

    i was a Director of Youth Ministry and hated the inadequate language. i wasn’t directing teens in some kind of theater production but loving, serving, and shepherding them as they navigated their own in/dependence and faith. my spiritual gifts always included pastor/teacher, and so what if i was 22 and the context was coffee shops and music festivals with weird and wild teenagers?

    only ministry can hold such mystery. yes, indeed, friend. this is beautiful and true.

  • http://4amfeeding.com elizabeth

    Can’t tell you how great it is to read this. I grew up R.C. in a VERY evangelical town… needless to say, I didn’t hear this truth in any corner, much as it was evident everywhere I looked.

  • http://Jasonboyett.com Jason Boyett

    I have the same fond memories of Mrs. “Horne.” Make sure she gets to read this, OK?

  • http://justabitofsilliness.blogspot.com/ Sillydoodah (Dawn)

    Tears. Beautiful tribute to all the Ms Hornes out there.

  • Kelli Bragdon

    Love this beautiful picture of ministry. As a “minister’s wife” I know full well that title does not create ministry. And sometimes the title is more important than the actual ministry to some involved. I am thankful for those who serve out of a deep conviction and love for the Savior who saved us, not the title, or lack there of, that comes with the “job.” : The ones who live it every day no matter where they are or what they are doing….I mean we are really all called to that kind of ministry, don’t you think? Very encouraging!

  • http://fionalynne.com/blog/ fiona lynne

    I love everything about this post. You have reminded me of so many women who ministered to me in my life, without title or praise, but with love and commitment. I’m grateful for their role in my life.

  • http://loveiswhatyoudo.wordpress.com Jessica

    I love this post. I have so many Lindas in my life. Thank you for pointing to the obvious–women are ministering whether they’re given the title or not.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    Oh, this is so beautiful, Micha. I can’t wait to share this with some of my favorite ministers – who just happen to be women.

    I wish I could explain the way I felt when I first heard a woman preach. It was powerful. It was absolutely of God.

    I really hope Linda gets to read this!

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    Beautiful, Micha. BEAUTIFUL. I have similar experiences and I hope I am sowing those same experiences to other girls/women now.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Yes! This is beyond words beautiful, Micha. I hope you can connect with Linda and let her know her impact on you.

  • http://Www.Tanyamarlow.com Tanya Marlow

    SO good! I really felt the warmth and love and safety in your description of Linda. Love the way you describe those precious moments of early awakening when your soul feels the pull of the Spirit.

    And thank you for celebrating not only the gifts of women but the value of Children’s ministry…

    Thank you.

  • http://www.fromtracie.com Tracie

    Yes.
    Just yes.

  • http://www.lindsaytweedle.com Lindsay

    Oh, I can’t tell you how this touched my heart. What a beautiful portrait of a pastor, a lovely description of true and godly ministry.

  • http://www.elephantgrace.com Emily

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! It was just what I needed to hear. I just left my church of 20+ years (where the last 10 years I was the Children’s Director) – and while it feels like administration was happy to see me go, you post reminds me that it’s the kids and their faith that matter more than any administrative differences. So again, thank you!

  • http://idwellinpossibility.wordpress.com Erin

    Beautiful…absolutely beautiful! I am an (ordained) children’s minister, and it’s frustrating at times when people reduce that job to event planning and babysitting – or seem to imply that it’s not as important as the pastorate (and, thus, imply that I’m not really breaking boundaries by ministering to children). Thank you for recognizing and celebrating the sacred nature of children’s ministry.

  • Dana

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much. I’ve put 20 years into children’s ministry and it seems that it is only the rare person that recognizes the truth of it. Thank you, thank you.

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  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    I’m almost in tears. Yes. You nailed it. Thanks you.

    Youare a blessing.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen

    You write incrediby well. This lifted my soul.

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  • http://thesesquarepegs.blogspot.com/ Liz Myrick

    Micha, this is so beautifully written and so true. I never understood how teaching and leading children to Christ was considered less “pastoring” than teaching and leading adults to Christ. I love how we have given these positions director titles as if we are fooling God (or anybody) into believing that the women who hold these positions are doing something clerical instead of actively ministering to hundreds of children every week. As a side note, I just realized that we went to high school together briefly. I was only there for a year, but my husband Sam was there all four years. Small world!

  • Amy B

    …and now I am crying. Possibly the loveliest thing you have ever written.

  • Michelle

    I love this. Women have always been the ones leading in the church. They lead the family (sometimes kicking and screaming) to church on Sunday, they volunteer at every level leading little hearts to God, they are the ones in the bible with the most amazing faith while others doubted and they were the ones that stood by the cross when Jesus died. I am always saddened by the way the “church” and men in general in the church have mistreated and dismissed women while Jesus treated them as just as worthy. I think women are the perfect example of the way Jesus served. They are the “least” of these serving the least of these with no recognition or respect while the male leaders bicker over legalistic aspects of the faith. That’s the way it was back then and that seems to be the way it is now. I am proud to be a woman and a Christian and blessed that I don’t need the approval of any man to serve my God.

  • Agkcrbs

    Very thoughtful writing. But, as one who has always heard and seen women preach and serve, and with acknowledgment to those who found such a new and beautiful revelation here to be moved to tears, I repeat the author’s question that I think could be further explored by some of us: What makes a pastor, indeed?
    In what ways was Linda Horne’s untitled ministry recounted above any more than the call of discipleship already borne by every believer? Has any of the service described here ever been limited to one with a title? The narrative itself rejects that idea, even while still calling for the title.
    Then, what is a pastor? What more is in a loftier office, that it should be coveted? Are we not all truly “pastors” deserving of the term, all of us who have laboured to lead another soul aright? What constitutes the label? If a title is not the needful element for ministry, what is its purpose, if anything? Is it an empty “legalism”? Is the title, perhaps, only a commodity of status and privilege? Does the esteem of one’s peers push one closer to God? Is pastorhood, in our minds, a vehicle for securing special regard and love, beyond what flows to the anonymous servant? Do we crave that popular regard?
    If the title is nothing but a key to greater respect for those denied it, then, by all means… copy the key.

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