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Episode 20. Wait, Does This Mean I’m In Ministry Now?

May 17, 2021

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Episode 18. Freeing Women from “Biblical Womanhood” with Beth Allison Barr

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I'm Morgan Strehlow - writer and host of the Sanctuary Woman podcast.

Meet Morgan

I’m learning some things about ministry these days. Not because I want to be a minister. I want to be a writer. But I recognize that God can use my writing and my story to minister to others – and, to my surprise, God has. I don’t take that lightly. It actually scares me a little bit, and in a healthy way.

When I started Sanctuary Woman, I experienced a lot of imposter syndrome in the first month or so of writing and recording episodes. And I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t experience it just a little bit every time I sit down to write – whether it’s a book proposal, a short-form piece, or a podcast episode. I’ve learned to find comfort in the imposter syndrome, though, because it serves as a reminder that I’m not equipped to go this road alone. It keeps me humble, but I don’t let it keep me paralyzed. It keeps me dependent on God and others, but I don’t let it keep me quiet. It reminds me that my woundedness, my weaknesses, and all that God has brought me through and taught me through, is precisely why I should keep writing, and keep talking, and – if God insists on using me in such a way – keep ministering.

Since we’re 20 episodes into Sanctuary Woman, I thought I’d spend a moment reflecting on the concept of ministry, in a very basic, informal sense. What is it? Is that what I’m doing? And if so, what business do I have doing it?

I had a call last week with a woman I went to college with who is now in full-time ministry as a chaplain to college students at one of the largest universities in the United States. We were mostly catching up – she was sharing about her ministry, and was asking about my work and about my podcast. Midway through our call she made a comment about me being her colleague in ministry. Then she paused to ask: Wait, do you consider yourself to be in ministry?

I laughed, because isn’t that the question?

I may not be in “professional ministry” or vocational ministry, nor do I really desire to be, but I think I’m coming to terms with the ministry I have and have no doubt been called into by the simple fact that I’m a follower of Christ. I suppose ministry can look a lot of different ways, and I suppose that what I do is a form of ministry. Ministry, after all, is the action of ministering to someone. And to minister is to attend to the needs of a person, to provide, to help or to care for.

I started this podcast because as I was discerning and praying through my next right thing as a writer and a learner and an avid podcast listener, it made a whole lot of sense to bring to life my writing and learning in the form of a podcast that I could share with others as a fellow sojourner, as an alongsider, a companion on this spiritual journey.

Just a week or two into launching Sanctuary Woman, I recall very much feeling the imposter syndrome set in. WHO AM I to do this? To speak into the ears and hearts and lives of those who just happen to listen? I suppose I was beginning to realize the power of my words and my voice, or perhaps the power of God to use me for such a thing, and in many ways would feel like a fraud.

Have you ever felt like a fraud when God was using you in powerful ways that were beyond your understanding? 

Instead of pretending I had some special qualifications or credentials that I didn’t have, that imposter syndrome – which could easily derail me at any point and cause me to throw in the towel on this thing – I leaned into it and voiced it and processed it out loud. I see evidence of the imposter syndrome in episode 8 when I was processing through Galatians 5. But rather than a confident posture that communicated that ‘I’ve got this all figured out and let me teach you’ I took a posture of a fellow learner and sojourner with the listener who could admit my limited understanding of scripture. I normalized the frustration that could happen when we open up the Bible and things don’t quite make as much sense as everyone else around us and our pastors pretend that they do. I was just listening to a podcast this morning where the podcast host and their guest were both way confident and certain of themselves in how they interpreted a few passages in scripture that aren’t as clear to me as they seem to think they are. I mean, on one hand, good for them? But on the other hand, it wasn’t so comforting. I don’t know – I thought surely no one would listen to me after that episode and I admitted my lack of qualifications and confidence. But y’all kept listening. And I became more comfortable in my role as an alongsider. I think I can be a leader of sorts in the alongsider kind of way. An amateur wayfinder, navigator and spiritual guide. Someone without all the answers but someone with plenty of arrows, a lot of questions, and a lot of hope.

It’s hard work, this podcast is. It has been a weekly practice of self-awareness and humility, just as it has been a big commitment to continue to be consistent and faithful with. When someone asks me about starting a podcast, most of the time I tell them not to do it – it’s a lot more work than I would have ever imagined. And I spent a solid year learning about the technical side of podcasting before I ever recorded my first episode. I could have kept learning and planning for a podcast for another couple years, in a true Enneagram 5 fashion, but at some point I just had to do it. And do it imperfectly and learn the rest as I go. (Not all that unlike ministry.)

It’s a lot of work, yes, but I have seen so much fruit come from it. And as long as I see evidence that this podcast is producing fruit in both myself and in those who listen, I will do my best to stay faithful with it as a tool in my own spiritual formation as well as a personal ministry.

Okay, so if I’m being honest with you – like really honest – I would tell you that ministry is something I have always felt drawn to. I was the churchiest of church girls growing up after all, so that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But still, I have archives and archives of blogs and writing drafts and journal entries and written prayers that evidence a heart for ministry that traces back to a young age. And I’ve always viewed my love for writing as my ministry, and in seasons of my life it has been. But in the spirit of honesty, I’ll also tell you that i’ve spent most of my adult life running from Christian ministry. I became an ambitious career woman in a competitive industry, and I was determined to get to the top of it. And I was headed there. I was strategic in positioning myself around powerful people. I convinced myself that my access to and influence with powerful people was a sort of ministry in a twisted way – it’s actually really impressive to me the extreme amount of intellectual gymnastics I had to perform to convince myself I was doing more good in the world than not. I did very little personal or spiritual writing during that career, and the little I did was certainly kept to myself because my online presence had to give off a very professional future-athletic-director vibes. And I didn’t want a Google search to land a future headhunter on a silly little blog when they Googled my name. I had a lot of opportunities to off ramp my career in sports and do something that I knew would feel more aligned with my spirit, but I convinced myself that as long as I was on the upward trajectory towards power that I had to ride it out as long as possible because I could do so much more good among powerful people than I could possible do among ministry people, church leaders or non-profit do gooders. I eventually took the off ramp – well I built a make-shift off ramp and then very dramatically swerved off my career path and into what I thought would be “just a job”. Little did I know that this just a job would lead me back to my first love – God and ministry. But it wasn’t a clear path this way. There was a lot of crisis and heartbreak and loneliness and frustration and despair and deconstruction along the way.

I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, in the middle of a devastating crisis, processing with a friend who had driven 8 hours to sit with me in my time of grief and confusion. She was a friend, but also a mentor to me, a minister to me, and a fellow writer who had published a book a few years before. In a moment of comic relief I looked at her and said…this is it. This is my book. I was referring to my crisis as being material to inspire an eventual book. As a writer, of course I’m an aspiring author. And the best writers, like Taylor Swift, are inspired by their own personal crises right? Okay, so I’m not writing a book about that. But I tell you this to tell you that my pain and grief have certainly inspired parts of what have become my ministry, and that because of my pain and grief – which, by the way, I wish I’d have never experienced – but because I have, I believe that I can be so much more effective in gospel ministry than I would have been before.

I just finished reading a book by Henri Nouwen called the Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, where the whole thesis of the book is that in our own woundedness, we can offer ourselves as spiritual guides, and become a source of life for others.

Nouwen writes, “For a deep sense of our own pain makes it possible for us to convert our weakness into strength and to offer our own experiences as a source of healing to those who are often lost in the darkness of their own misunderstood sufferings”

“Like Jesus, those who proclaim liberation are called not only to care for their own wounds and the wounds of others, but also to make their wounds into a major source of healing power.”

His writings reminded me a lot of what we read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.

I have come to realize that ministry is less about leadership, though leadership can be part of it, it’s not the primary part. Ministry, rather, is about the willingness to come alongside one another – to assure one another that we are not in this alone. We’re not in this faith deconstruction, spiritual confusion, frustration with religion, alone. We’re not in this pain and loss and suffering and grief alone. We’re not navigating our way out of body shame and sexual shame alone. As an alongsider, we get to experience what it is to be an actual neighbor, a compassionate partner in suffering and a partner in hope.

Nouwen says that “the tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministers distant people who do not want to burn their fingers.”

These words were published in 1972 – almost 50 years ago. Before Christian celebrity was as widespread as it is today. Before American churches became mega and before pastors became untouchable elites. Before the illusion of ministry became mass produced. “The tragedy of Christian ministry,” he said “is that many…find their ministers distant people who do not want to burn their fingers.”

Oof.

May that not be, God. May that not be us.

What is ministry to you?

Do you welcome the idea of ministry?
Do you avoid the idea of ministry? Or do you reject it altogether?

Do you consider yourself to be in ministry? Or called to ministry?

What is your ministry? Or what would it be if you had one?

Or maybe I should rephrase the question: What do you care about?

Is there something you have gone through in your life, that you feel like you could tend to the needs of others going through that same thing? What would that look like?

Now let’s respond to a present God using the practice of Lectio Divina, an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture.  Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.”

As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I will read Acts 1 verses 6-11 three times. This is the passage on the Ascension of Jesus. After each reading, there will be a moment of silence.

In this first reading from Acts, listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention.

In this second reading, consider how this passage touches your life today.

In this third reading of the scripture, consider if there is an invitation for you in this coming week.

Acts 1:6-11
The Ascension of Jesus
6
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” 7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

PRAYER

Ever-present God
Who has sent your Holy Spirit to dwell among us
To empower us for your work in this world

Help us to remember that we have been given the power by you, God,  to do the very work we are   we are praying for.

Help us to remember that we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to be makers of the peace we are praying for. 

Help us to remember that we have been given the power of the Holy spirit to be caregivers of the wounded we are praying for.

Thank you, God, for your presence in us and your power through us. Might we steward the power you’ve given us to be perpetual bringers of hope.

May our presence in ministry and in daily life be a presence that produces invitation and liberation, rather than hostility toward humanity or impersonal demands to change before one is deemed worthy of our attention or our nearness. 

Draw us near to you God. So that we can draw near to one another. 

Amen.

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