Stepping into the Shoes


L_DianaI’m not quite sure how I got pegged as a leader, but somehow, it happened. It didn’t happen in my school or social settings; it happened at church, after my family moved and we began attending a church with a large youth ministry.

And I went to everything. 

I loved church. I felt safe there, secure, even confident. Church attendance was always a part of our family story. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, social events, weddings, memorial services. Yeah, we went to it all. I was an eager middle school learner with a sweet, college-aged Bible leader on those Sunday evenings. And that woman was among the first to identify leadership and teaching gifts in me.

Those gifts got put on the sideline after college, at least for a few years. We served overseas together and had our three kids pretty quickly. When they were 7, 5 and 3, we shifted to a more local congregation, and it was in that place that my gifts were recognized, affirmed, identified and labelled as gifts belonging to a pastor.

A pastor? Me?

I had never seen a woman lead in worship, unless it was a visiting single missionary or the local leading layperson in youth ministry. Never.

That idea, which was in many ways the natural progression of what began when I was 12 years old, never entered my mind. So my decision to go to seminary in my mid-forties was based on what I experienced as a call to seminary, a desire to become a better Bible teacher and a more experienced worship planner. Even while there, I honestly never thought about leading a congregation in a pastoral role.

But two of my male professors called me out on that. “We see the gifts, Diana. Why not pray and consider whether or not God might be preparing you for exactly that?” 

And so a long discernment process began during the second of my four years in school. And one late afternoon in year three, while taking a long walk around my neighbourhood and earnestly seeking God’s wisdom and will, I “heard”–or more, accurately, “saw”–my answer. Scrolling across my forehead (on the inside!) I saw these words: “I want you to be my minister.”

And my life changed powerfully after that.

What is it about leading in the church that we women so often resist? I didn’t resist it as a ‘tween, or a teen, or even as a young and middle-aged mom, teaching Bible studies to women and then to their husbands, too.

But that pastoral leadership–it felt different to me somehow. Perhaps it is my age, my background, my early-married life, my parents’ modelling–I’m not entirely sure. But there was something in me that felt overwhelmed, puzzled, mystified, and downright terrified at the idea of taking that same skill set and cloaking it with the title “pastor.”

My husband and I talked and prayed about it for a long time. My younger two children were living at home during those years, both of them taking classes at the same school where I was a full-time student and a preaching T.A.

“Why not, Mom?” they asked.

“Why not, honey?” he asked.

And so I began to ask myself that same question: “Why not?” 

There were hoops to jump through to become ordained in our denomination, and I began jumping through them all. And then, there was time to be spent waiting. Waiting for the right position, the right timing, a sense that now was the time for us to make a change, for me to accept a pastoral leadership position.

It was while I was serving at our home church and in the ministerial association for our denomination, that I met a good man, a gifted senior pastor, who was looking for an associate. And he invited me to “throw my hat into the ring.” Four months later, the search committee made its decision and I was called his Associate Pastor in the fall of 1996. 

That call meant helping to lead a congregation that would undergo massive shifts in identity, numbers, staffing, even its physical plant, over the next decade and a half.

With hearts-in-throat, my husband and I moved 125 miles away, to a community where we knew no one except the lead pastor, and my husband began a weekly commute to his own job, living with our daughter and her family every week for ten years.

Pastoral leadership is both a gift and a call, one that I would not change, even though it has been challenging at points and has required some sacrifice from me and from my family. It has also been rich, rewarding, enlightening, and life-changing.

I find myself wondering: what might God be calling you to do with the gifts you’ve been given? Maybe not pastoral ministry, but I am willing to bet that some part of that call and those gifts will involve leading someone somewhere. We are all called to step out and step up, and that stepping will look different for each person. Believe me when I tell you that it may also be surprising, unexpected, and terrifying!

And that is exactly where God meets us, empowers us and leads us into the life and the good works that have been prepared for us before the foundation of the world!

“He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. – Ephesians 2:10 (The Message)


Image credit: Charles Clegg