“There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long. But now I think I'm able to carry on. It's been a long, a long time coming, But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.” Sam Cooke, 1964
Hi There, Free Agents! Today is my first day off in several months, and I am spending much of the day reading Rev. Dr. Deborah Jackson’s book Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7 Rs of Sanctuary for Pastors. Rev. Jackson is the first ever Director of Lifelong Learning at my Divinity School alma mater, Yale Divinity School. I am reading her book, in part to prepare for a presentation I am doing this Monday on Maintaining Your Mental Health in Ministry. However, I am also reading the book to remind myself that busyness is not a spirituality. In Scripture, we see Jesus taking retreats, and even sleeping through storms. God’s grace is abundant and all-sufficient for us.
Let me make this post more specific: female leaders are especially prone to fall into the trap of making busyness our spirituality. We have convinced ourselves that we have something to prove, and we are proving our point. We are cracking the glass ceilings that we were told women never could or would, but at what expense? Are our families, organizations, and ministries really any healthier because they have an exhausted woman at the helm? The truth is, mainline churches are declining. The other truth is that this phenomenon is not new, and many of our churches will not reverse the trend simply because their pastor has not taken a day off in months.
A couple of days ago, the senior pastor of my church (who is a woman) and I talked at length about the problems faced by so many of our churches today. My pastor is a member of “Generation X.” When she first began pastoring twenty years ago, churches did not look the way they do now. As a millennial, I am entering churches that are declining and “dying.” She has another fifteen to twenty years ahead of her in this vocation. Her work has become praying that with the help of God she can make dry bones live again. Last week I celebrated my two-year anniversary in ordained ministry, and I have decisions to make. Maybe is because I am young and naïve, but I believe The Church is not called to sit around and wait to change, I believe the role of millennial ministers, especially millennial women in ministry, is to stand at the intersection of the pastoral and prophetic. I believe young ministers are the Joshua’s who remember and celebrate what we have been and move us forward into something new and unknown. The time is ripe for change.
Here are some of the changes I have up my sleeve:
1. Self-love. If you follow my blog, you might know that I love the work of Alice Walker, a brilliant writer who coined the term “womanist.” Part of the definition of a womanist is a woman who has learned to love herself, regardless. The journey to self-love is one I have been on for a while, and no doubt one that I will continue to pursue for decades to come because it is not easy. As a woman of color, I so often allow the world to define me. I am so reliant on others telling me that everything I am doing is acceptable. We cannot self-define by the way we are perceived in the eyes of another. Self-love is not just an individual thing. What the world needs now is some womanish leadership! Our businesses, ministries, and families are not always where we want them to be, but that does not mean they have no value to the world. Even in the brokenness of our organizations, let’s love them, regardless.
2. New Wineskins, New Wine. Change is painful. It hurts to break off comfortable relationships that are no longer working. It hurts to leave jobs that no longer fit our career aspirations. It hurts to turn away from lifestyles that bring us comfort. Change is painful but necessary. I do not advocate change for the sake of change. However, the state of our world, of the United States as a nation and our communities demands that we discern, communally and individually, what changes must happen and make them happen without delay.
3. Rediscovering My First Call. We all are called to something. What are you called to do? The language of call has a distinctively religious bend to it, and we usually use it in relation to the vocational journeys of people who are called to ordained ministry. But, if I have learned anything in the past two years as an ordained minister, it is this, I minister among ministers both lay and ordained to bring Kingdom come. My first “call” came when I was ten years old, and it was not to ordained ministry. When I was ten, I read a book about Thurgood Marshall, the first black United States Supreme Court Justice. I was inspired by his career with the NAACP, and by the ways he used his intellect and skill as a lawyer to bring about change for people of color living in the United States. I was encouraged to know that marginalized people, can change the system from within and, in some cases, that our work can be honored. So, Free Agents, my first call was to challenge and dismantle the systems of oppression that terrorized black communities. Now, I was ten, so I didn’t use that exact language to describe my call, but, just ask my parents, it was my holy work. It was another five years before I knew that I was called to ordained ministry. I often treat that first call as unimportant or as though it is in some way at odds with my ordained ministry. But, God reminds me on days like today when I have the ears to hear because I am practicing the “7 Rs of Sanctuary” that my first call, to love the systematically oppressed, is aligned with the Gospel, and it is work that The Church can and does do. It is my work, and the work of so many other black Christian women both today and through the ages, to challenge The Church to do this work.
A change is going to come, my friends, will you be part of it? What is your first call? Take the time for reflection, rest, release, and retreat so that you can reengage in the work of creative resistance. Peace to you, today and always! See you soon.