Word of the Week

Such is the start of several conversations I've had lately with folks who wonder why I'm not serving one particular church, full-time.

"But you're good at it. Why would you not?"

"The church needs you. Why are you keeping your gifts from it by not applying for ___ job?"

"Did you really go to seminary just to supply preach?"

I know that folks don't mean to be rude or insulting with these questions. What they're saying in a round about way, "You're good at this. Why don't you do more of it?"

For it's often the struggling preachers, or the new to ministry preachers or even the older retired ministers who engage in intentional short-term ministry. (And I don't think I fall into any of these categories).

So I get it. From the outside looking in, it might appear like I'm wasting my education, ordination or even time. For it's true: I don't know many 30 something female ministers who have chosen interim ministry as a way of life or even really enjoy supply preaching.

But I do! And here's the thing, I'm not wasting time. I'm exactly in the place of life I need to be.

I'm creating what doesn't exist. 

It's great ministry to have one foot partly in the church and another foot somewhere else.

For me that somewhere else includes as much time as I can muster together thinking, writing and writing some more. It's extthe place where my book Birthed came from-- squirreling away hours of the day to loose myself in words with hopes that one day they would be of encouragement to someone else. And I would like to write more books.

That somewhere else includes dreaming, planning and working on the administrative details of a foundation I began last year. I've been quiet about it for a while waiting on my 501(c)3 status to come through before I mentioned it to you. But three weeks ago I finally got my paperwork!

stock-illustration-20123692-decorative-tree-and-rootsOur Courageous Kids was born!

Our Courageous Kids is something you'll hear a lot more about in the future. But for now, this what I most want you to know: orphan care has become a great passion of our family. And out of this passion, my hope is that Our Courageous Kids will become a collective voice of empowerment for children that you'll consider partnering with!

It's mission is to come alongside orphanages around the world to provide grants for life and enrichment opportunities as well as scholarships for secondary education and college tuition. I want Our Courageous Kids to say to brave, brave children, you are not alone: you belong to us all and we want you to have the best future possible!

And that somewhere else includes being present with my family. Kevin, my husband, has a very IMG_6551fast paced schedule over at the American Diabetes Association as their CEO. I want to be as supportive to him as I can and available to travel to uplift him and those who are living with diabetes, a horrific disease. I want to have time with the children who are important in our lives. And I want to keep the bonds strong with friends who have become our family in places all over the world. I want all of these things because I know these special people make me more human. They know and love me unconditionally. And I love every minute I get to spend with them.

While there will always be large membership congregations that require full-time staff, such I think, will become more and more rare.

When I think about where the church will be in the next generation and then the next, I think that more of us will become part-time, embodied in the world ministers than full-time staff members with health and pension benefits.

Sure, financially it can be awkward at times to piece together different kinds of work and pay the bills, but as we as ministers become less dependent on the institutions to support us, we re-gain our prophetic voices.

We can say and do things that the Church needs to hear without fearing we'll not eat if we do. And we might just find ourselves becoming more human in the process. I know this has been my path. And I'm loving it.

What do you need to create that doesn't exist?

I was taught in seminary that the most virtuous thing you can do for your whole life is to serve the church with an undivided heart. "The church needs you!" my classmates and I were told over and over again.

Sometimes our instructions included more details like this: “Take care of the church like nothing else matters. Live in the community where you serve, join every local board you can, and know your neighbors. Those who give their whole life to the church will not be disappointed."

And I tried. I really tried to become the best local church pastor I could be. I attended neighborhood meetings. I sat at the bed of the sick. I climbed into the pulpit week after week. And for a while it was my calling.

I wanted to fit into the one-size fits all church box forever. I wanted to come back to my 30-year Duke Divinity School reunion and tell stories about the pastoral life just like I'd heard out of my beloved professor, Dr. William Quick.

But after six years in full-time church ministry I found that I could not-- even as much as my heart really wanted to. My time was up.

Walking away from what I once felt was my dream job (as a solo pastor in the Baptist tradition) last Christmas became one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.

I heard recently that when newcomers ask the church I formerly pastored why I left they say that "She become a writer." While I’m flattered with being identified as a writer (and I love writing), this is not quite it.

Furthermore, the change had nothing to do with the lack of joy in little congregation as they were great people. Nor was it all about my husband’s job in another state. Or even about the grant I received from the Louisville Institute to write a book, though these reasons seemed like legitimate ones on the surface.

No, I left local church ministry last year because I was finally ready to say yes to a calling. I was ready to be a nobody (if that is what folks thought of me) in order to be the somebody that I really am.

Right now, I am following that calling (though the "what do you do?" questions at parties now are harder to answer).

In the world from which I came both as a child of a pastor and also of a local church pastor making seminary-- to leave the church for something else felt to me like treason.

But in the past several years, I come to believe that being a whole person is much more important than a respectable career even if you have to feel like an outcast upon leaving. I took some cues from Barbara Brown Taylor here.

And for me to be a whole person, this is what I know:

I am not made for a job or type of job that lasts me my entire career.

I am not made to immerse myself into a particular local church community for a long time.

I am not made to just do one thing all the time or even just one thing at once.

I am not made for denominational life or ministry that values institution building over freedom of the Spirit.

Yet, with all of this said, I am made however for bolts of energy into new projects that need a leader.

I am made for community building with the global church.

I am made to multi-task my way through a variety of vocational pursuits that often on the surface seem like they have nothing to do with each other, but actually do!

I am made to speak the truth about systems that are broken.

And in all of this, I still feel ordained. I've not stopped being Rev. Hagan. I still feel like I’m in ministry.

I’m a writer sometimes.

I find myself in pastoral care conversation sometimes.

I’m a preacher sometimes.

I’m a strategist for creating community both in person and online sometimes.

I’m an administrator sometimes.

I do the laundry all the time. And I make dinner most of the time.

I'm thankful for the chance to do all of this "outside the church" but never too far from its larger mission.

And it fits. It really fits. The restless whispers of my heart have stopped yelling at me. I'm finally at home.

I feel settled even as pace of our current travels and activities make my family’s head spin when I inform them what I'm up to.

In this non-traditional life, I am happy. Truly I am.

I love supporting the communications department of Feed The Children. I love writing in a variety of different venues. I love having quality time for friends. I love traveling alongside my husband. I love preaching in settings (like next week in Hawaii!) that a local church schedule would normally not allow. I love that I have the freedom to find God both in and outside the church walls on Sunday morning-- depending on the week.

Lesson learned: when the whispers come, listen. I’m so glad I did. I hope I have the courage listen sooner next time. It’s ok to be different. Actually it is really wonderful even if some of my friends in the church don't understand.

Today, the Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) came out with its annual report on the state of women in Baptist life at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Tampa.

In it, they reported that there have been some positive changes of women accepted into Baptist pastorates in the last year, yet the numbers are still staggering. While Baptist churches are willing to call women to second chair positions (not that there is anything wrong with associate positions as long as the woman is called to this job), few are still willing to accept women into solo pastorates or even co-pastor positions.

The recent study found that in 2010, there are only 135 women across the country who are leading Baptist churches. I feel blessed to be one of them and upset that it has to be such a big deal. There are so many sisters of mine who are willing, able and ready to be in positions like mine.

I'm not one who is normally on the "women in ministry train" because my thoughts are that when women work hard and just do a really good job at what they are called to do, the right doors will open themselves in due time. Our preaching and leadership abilities will speak for themselves. And, talking about the difficulty  just makes "us" seem bitter, and no one is served well by this.

But hearing this report today reminded me again, that the conversation of women in ministry is one that needs to continue to occur. There is much progress still to be made and many churches who have the power to make greater strides in letting there be no distance between what they believe and what they do. 

I look forward to the day when no young woman feels any discouragement toward entering ministry based solely on her gender.

I look forward to the day when young female seminarians aren't told the only way they can be pastors is to "start their own churches."

I look forward to the day when women in pastorates don't serve churches in fear-- believing that if this doesn't work out, no other church will ever consider them-- for there aren't second chances for them.

I look forward to the day when organizations like BWIM don't have to write annual reports about how amazing it is that a couple of more women got pastorates in the past year.

Though it is the ridiculous conversation that I can't believe we are still having within the Baptist family of faith, I believe it is one that we MUST keep having if we want to be open to the voice of God in our pulpits-- not just the male voice but the female voice of God too. This collective voice is what our ongoing becoming needs if it desires to speak a prophetic word to the faith seekers of today and tomorrow.