*Published in The Table, Iss. 21, Leading through Change, Spring 2017
(Ashland Theological Seminary)*
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens
The only way to make sense out of change is to lunge into it, move with it and join the dance! ~Alan Watts
I had the honor and privilege of being a part of the ATS Community as a M.Div and D.Min student, as well as an employee, and May 2016 marked the beginning of great change and transition in my life.
Change and transition is hard. It’s challenging, but it is a necessary part of life, especially in the life of a person in ministry. The Bible is filled with characters that had their lives turned upside by change. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Paul, and even Jesus – all had to deal with the winds of change and transition. No one who is used by God to affect change and do anything impactful in the Kingdom stays stationary too long. Without change and transition we would never grow and evolve into what we shall become.
Change can bring with it both great angst and excitement. Angst, because there is much uncertainty as to where we will land after developing friendships and having such wonderful experiences. Oftentimes we wonder if our next stop on the journey will be as comfortable as the one we are leaving. Will we be received? “How long will it take me get adjusted to a new role, position or position?” Thinking about these things can be stressful. However, change can bring excitement because something new, different and greater is on the horizon! Change causes us to cling to those things that made us comfortable, but God is teaching me a lesson in this time of transition. He is dismantling those things that I had made idols of, and putting me in a posture where He is my only expectation. During times of swift transition, we have to trust God like never before because He is the only one who can bring peace to our changing situations.
We cannot walk into the greater that God has prepared for us while straddling the fence in a place called complacency! So, He begins to do a new thing in us, and He does what is necessary to get us to a place where we are no longer wrestling with change, but we learn to embrace change and transition to greater!
God is doing a new thing in my life! A few years ago, God gave me vision for associate ministers and leaders. He has opened doors for me to come alongside pastors and churches to help them equip and develop lay leaders within their congregations. There is a great need for development and training of lay leaders. As a minister who oversees lay leadership I have the pleasure of working with leaders, and helping them get acclimated to their role. I see how overwhelmed they are when they begin to operate in their positions. Many struggle with becoming a leader after being a team member. Lay leaders are appointed to and voted in servant leadership roles, but oftentimes do not know what is expected of them. And because of the growing needs and demands of the church, pastors are often not able to invest the time needed to develop the leader.
In addition, by the time this issue of the table is printed and place in your hands, I would have hosted my first conference designed especially for associate ministers and those who serve in assistant type capacities within their ministry context entitled, “From One Associate to Another.” As an associate minister of over 10 years, I experience up close and personal the unique role of the associate minister. I noticed that in seminary and at Christian leadership conferences most of the teaching is geared toward pastors or becoming a pastor. But what if God has called you to be an associate - a licensed or ordained minister of the gospel operating in a particular area of ministry to help the pastor implement the vision given to them by God? How are associates developed? How do we find value in what God has called us to? Many associates may never become pastors, but we are still expected to be seminary trained without having the guarantee of full-time employment. But God still calls us!
In talking with many busy pastors and associates, this ministry is needed in the Body of Christ. The theme of the conference is “Strength to Lift! Discovering What Associates Need to Effectively Lift up the Arms of Pastors.” In addition to education, associate ministers need empowerment and encouragement. They need to know that their labor is not in vain. They need clarity of call in order to communicate that call and their passion to the pastor they will work alongside with to implement the vision that God has given them. They will need clarity of the vision that God has given the pastor so that they are can be a help and not a hindrance to the ministry. Associate ministers need to have good communication with their pastors, and clear lines of authority so that they can handle the responsibilities given to them. I believe that From One Associate to Another will serve as a safe place for associate ministers and leaders across the globe to discuss issues pertinent to our role. It will also serve as a place of development and training so that we can effectively lift up the arms of pastors and leaders.
In life change and transition is inevitable! I understood clearly that I was on assignment when God opened the door of opportunity to work at ATS. I wasn’t sure what the assignment would entail, but I walked through the door. I believe that part of my assignment was to be a light and source of encouragement to students who are trying to figure out the greater God is trying to do in them to better serve their constituents and places of employment. I believe part of my assignment was to demonstrate to people of color that there is a place for them here at the seminary and in higher education. Being the first African American woman administrator positioned on the seminary campus gave students of color hope that they too have something to offer. I believe that part of my assignment was being able to speak truth to power and not be afraid to be an advocate for these same students when life happened outside of the classroom and seminary setting. But every assignment must come to an end. May 31, 2016 marked the end of my journey at ATS, and the beginning of greater. Greater trust. Greater faith. Greater dependency on God. Greater plans and possibilities. Greater works.