“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13, NRSV
God bestows on each of his children gifts to help more people come to know him. Often, complementarian biblical hermeneutics regarding gender roles have resulted in telling women, “No.” While we understand all of the theological debates about women in ministry, we hold to a pragmatic perspective—people need to know Jesus, and if someone is gifted in a certain way, he or she needs to use that gift to help people come to know Jesus. The kingdom of God cannot grow if we stifle people and their callings. We believe that God calls people based on giftings, not on gender.
A Shared Calling
Having grown up in the Refton (PA) Brethren in Christ Church, Heather developed a calling to ministry during a mission trip when she was in high school. Throughout her teenage years, she was given opportunities to lead new ministry endeavors. Later, as a student at Messiah College (now Messiah University), the ministry opportunities broadened, opening doors for Heather to explore her gifts. Participating in the NextGen internship program of the Atlantic Conference, Heather spent a summer with Circle of Hope in Philadelphia, PA. During this time, God began to help Heather’s imagination for church multiplication grow.
Micah grew up in a church plant and has many fond memories. He later worked with church planting for the denomination in which he grew up. Micah was recruiting potential church planters at a job fair at Messiah College but had left the booth for a few minutes to eat lunch. During lunch, while Micah was away, Heather visited the empty booth. Simultaneously, Micah saw a poster for a ministry that Heather was helping to lead and was intrigued. We did not meet each other that day, but we would later meet, date, and put the pieces together to realize that God was beginning to stir in both of us a shared calling.
Mentored in Ministry
Knowing she wanted to serve in a local church, Heather met with Doug Sider, who was then bishop of the Susquehanna Conference. Through his guidance, Alan Robinson, at the time the senior pastor of Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church, offered Heather a one-year position as a pastoral resident. The year was devoted to learning the “nuts and bolts” of ministry, gaining skills in leading and preaching, and discerning God’s direction in ministry. During this year, we were married, and Alan and Doug, who had since become the executive pastor at the Carlisle Church, took an even greater chance by hiring both of us. We shared our desire to plant a church, and because of their leadership, we served together for several years, while discerning when and where God was leading us to plant a church.
Heather’s call to ministry has been affirmed and encouraged by many people, but her journey has not gone without challenges. People have told her directly that she should not be a pastor—not because she was not gifted, but simply because she was a woman. Both men and women have told Heather she should lead more like a man—insinuating that being a successful pastor is more attributed to gender stereotypes than someone leading in his or her unique style. People have walked out of services when Heather has preached, not because of exegetical errors, nor because the service was running long, but because she was a woman. Heather was even asked by a potential employer about when she anticipated having children because of his concern about how this would impact the church.
Branching into Discipleship
In the summer of 2016, we packed our belongings into a U-Haul truck, left comfortable jobs in a pleasant community, and ventured into the unknown world of planting a church. Initially, we decided to do this bi-vocationally, so Heather began working for the city school district, and Micah, with a non-profit organization. For the first several months, we took time to learn about our new neighborhood and city. It was also a time for us to discern our callings in a hands-on manner.
Micah began to realize that his ministry was different than he once thought. Although still committed to church planting, he discovered that his gifts could better serve the church by being a supporter of ministry, rather than as a “pastor” in the traditional sense of the term.
We knew that Heather’s gifts as a leader, being both an apostle and a shepherd, would be best used as the lead pastor of Branch & Vine, the new church community we are forming in Lancaster City, PA. Heather’s passion for seeing people come to know the life-transforming power of Jesus has led her to take a holistic approach to community engagement, seeing herself as not just the pastor of Branch & Vine, but also for our neighborhood. In this way, Heather has been able to engage with local schools, community groups, and neighbors all around us. Her entrepreneurial gifts are being used in ways that are helping people come to know Jesus.
We are still learning what it means to lean into our own gifts together. Even more so, we seek to help people lean into, and then, lead out of their God-given gifts and passions. This means investing in young and old, new and mature believers, men and women, introverts and extroverts, etc. Not to the exclusion of gifted young men, Heather intentionally looks to encourage and equip young women to pursue ministry. Becoming a pastor was not on Heather’s radar until someone acknowledged her gifts and encouraged her to consider ministry as a vocation—a reality that Micah and many other men have not experienced.
The kingdom of God expands as we encourage all people to live into their gifts to help more people embrace the love of Jesus. As pastors, leaders, and fellow brothers and sisters, each of us have a role in helping both men and women lean into their giftedness.
Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Shalom! A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation.