n. A destructive process that leads to enlightenment
When God called me into ministry, I was apprehensive, and my apprehensiveness surprised me. I knew almost immediately that my ideologies and passions weren't a natural fit in most evangelical spaces, and I was aware that navigating these spaces would be tough on me. One thing I learned about God during this time, is His uncanny way of calling us into the desires of our heart at times where we feel the least prepared. Here I was battling my sins, feeling like I'd hit a wall in my relationship with God when I was unexpectedly presented with the opportunity to take over a ministry. Naturally, I wanted to say no, but instinctively, I knew I had to say yes. If there was one sure thing, it was how much I knew I would need Jesus as I walked this out. I wasn't walking into this shame-free, in fact, I was carrying it around, but regardless, deep down it was a sure and confident, "Yes Lord you've chosen me."
That was almost two years ago, and it has been the best and worst decision I've ever made. The best, because I've seen God show up in new ways, and the worst because life has been very uncomfortable at times. I have learned so much about myself, others, and that has opened my eyes to the complexity of leadership, especially as a single woman of color being on a predominately white leadership team. This journey has given me a new found respect for church leaders. It isn't easy, and we are human beings battling our insecurities and yet carrying around the pressures of doing what is right, whatever that means.
When I first started ministry, I struggled and still do at times with a great deal of anxiety and not feeling good enough. The church I attend, at the time, was indifferent in their viewpoints and approaches to Race, Faith, and God. They hadn't quite jumped the gun in realizing the true effects racial tensions have on Black congregants. It was around this time that I slowly began seeing the need to research how this silence affected people of color in a predominately white church space, and so began my grad school thesis on racial identity and sense of community of Black congregants in White church spaces. Unsure of how God intended to use my research, this would begin my journey down an unfamiliar path of recognizing my "calling." I had just come out of being in the same place for ten years first as a student, and then a grad assistant, graduated with my MA, started a new job with a colleague I was still getting to know, and subsequently took over a ministry that was undergoing re-branding and rebuilding. It wasn't the fear of busyness that affected me as much as I lacked the confidence needed to push through the tension. Racial tensions are inescapable, they make living life and having a work-life balance very complicated, which made that first year of ministry rough. I felt like a failure and alone for so much of it, and I was internalizing so many fears while lacking the ability to trust those around me. Some relationships dissipated when I said yes to ministry. Others I didn't feel had the same vision to see the change I believed possible in church, and others I didn't think could understand my genuine fear of being tokenized by leadership and then labeled a sell out by my community.
I was experiencing firsthand the church divided and found myself in the eye of the storm. You can only imagine how that cupped with feeling ill-prepared for the call created chaos in my life. Around this time Christian artist Lecrae was under scrutiny for denouncing the evangelical church, and I was questioning the church as an establishment itself. I couldn’t come out and say this. Not after all the backlash, Lecrae was receiving, I wasn’t nearly as big of an icon as him, but in my realm, I felt so visible, that it wouldn’t go unnoticed if I took a similar stance. However, my community was grieving, and many of us wondered if we were members of the wrong house, wrong place, false religion. Many of us wondered if this was what it meant to be a follower of Christ and if the silence was, in fact, God's will, and if it was, we were not sure if we wanted to subscribe to this faith at all. I recall sitting, thinking, and wondering if there was a solution or an answer. So I began to pray, and I remember telling God, "Well, God, if this bible is, in fact, the blueprint of life, then I have to assume you talk about racial issues. If not, I think I’m done, done with religion". I’m sure we’ve all been there, and I know that for some of us we are still waiting for an answer. Maybe it’s regarding the healing of a loved one, a promotion, or something as simple as direction. I understand because there are things I've been praying about for years now. However, for every time I’ve received "not yet", or "no" as an answer, what has kept me going is realizing that none of those answers compare to all the blessings and things I have to be thankful for right now, and with that in mind I was determined to hold on and wait for an answer.
I'll be honest, I was hopeful but wasn’t expecting an immediate response, because sometimes when you pray you don't get an answer right away. Sometimes the answer comes like a billboard and other times it is a still small voice called the Holy Spirit (God's personal presence) which sometimes feels like my conscious. Then there are times where an answer comes from some good ol' common sense. I didn't get my answer right away, but I felt a deep sense to revisit a book I started before writing my Masters thesis, "The Autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.." I wanted to know how a leader like him dealt with the issues of the time. Did he struggle? Did he have doubts? How did he remain faithful to the cause? All I knew was that I was called to stay and push the needle, solve the problem. I had no idea how, but I was going to try, and here is what I learned about his life:
I was both encouraged and discouraged by reading this.
What his autobiography taught me was that cultural change and reconciliation isn't waiting for perfect people. It's just waiting for people to go out and catch a glimpse of their God-given purpose and potential and to pursue that wholeheartedly. To use that gifting to better the world. That dream you have to start your own business, or that burning desire to write that book or plan that event, that’s not accidental but purposeful. If a below average public speaker can become one of the most prolific speakers and change makers of the 20th century, then you can dream and go after your purpose. Sometimes talent will catch up to your purpose if you take that first step of obedience.
Lastly, what his life taught me was this, being a trailblazer, or choosing a new path has a cost, and along the way, I would experience hard times and have to question legalistic ideologies I was taught religiously and from society. I would have to go there to serve people better. However, I couldn’t stay there, I so desperately needed a higher power, God, to help me navigate murky waters. How did I know this? I didn’t at the time, but MLK Jr. and those who inspired him in his early years inspired me, and one thing that connected all his influencers, wasn’t just their crazy belief to see a better world but was each influencers connection to something greater than themselves. Those values and the value of love and God made them committed to the greater good and committed to the hardships of the process. All were far from perfect human beings, and some of these change makers didn't start there. They had to get over some personal biases. Many of us will have to do this as well too, myself included. I'll talk more about that in Part II.