When preparation and opportunity meet

I cried like a baby after Sara Barton’s masterful keynote sermon at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures this past May. It was such a momentous occasion and she just crushed it. Truthfully, it exceeded my expectations. I have heard Sara present several times and have always found her thoughtful and interesting. But I know from experience, the big room of a lectureship is a different kind of thing. She would have to move beyond thoughtful and interesting to gripping and forceful. And she did. Boy, did she!

The truth is, Sara’s preparation and the occasion met in perfect timing. Sara has long been reflecting and pursuing her own sense of calling to preach. She’s been preparing. She extended herself in Uganda to find ways to teach. She pursued a master’s degree at Spring Arbor University in spiritual formation. She worked, first as campus minister, and then as an instructor in Bible at Rochester College. She is currently in the final stages of a DMin from Lipscomb University. All along the way, she has found ways to fan the spark of her gifting into flame, taking whatever rare preaching opportunities came her way.

When I stepped onto the platform for the first time at Pepperdine, I had hundreds of sermons under my belt. Sara had so few in comparison–a dozen? twenty? But she welcomed what she was offered and took all her preparation into that moment at Pepperdine.

A few weeks ago, I sat with friends, drinking coffee and sharing dessert. Both of these friends, husband and wife, are theologically wired and ministry oriented. She talked about how theological education would have been something she would have considered if she thought it was even remotely possible for a woman to do. It just wasn’t a consideration. Which made me sad. Even though she uses her theological gifts in productive and important ways, the fact is her perceived limitations related to gender and ministry kept her from preparing in ways that might have opened other doors and opportunities.

So, I think giftedness is an important and undeniable part of finding calling in ministry. But so is the convergence of preparation and opportunity. More and more, I know of stories in our tradition of women who have prepared themselves. We recently hired Naomi Walters (and her husband Jamey) to teach at Rochester College. We’re thrilled to have them and are impressed with the seriousness with which Naomi has taken her preparation. She did the preparation, Rochester College provided the opportunity.

I’m hoping there will be more opportunities provided for women who want to pursue ministry in our tribe. I’m convinced, however, that those opportunities will be expanded more quickly in relation to women who have prepared themselves for the opportunity.

Good preparation for ministry is costly. While we try to do things that limit the amount our grad students have to borrow, the fact is that often they pile grad school debt on top of the debt they’ve incurred to get an undergrad degree. If you’re preparing to be a lawyer or a doctor, you can justify that expense. In ministry, it’s harder. You’re never going to make a lot of money. Now imagine you’re a woman considering graduate training in ministry in a tradition in which the job opportunities are few and far between. You might be borrowing money for a ministry job that will never come.

So, we’re in a bit of a catch-22. Without women prepared, there will be fewer opportunities, yet women are preparing for opportunities that might never come. One way to address this, however, would be to make ministry preparation for women less expensive.  To do just that, we have established the Stuart and D’Esta Love scholarship for women in ministry at Rochester College. Awards will be given for women who are pursuing the master’s in missional leadership.

The scholarship is named for my parents whose lives have been committed to full gender inclusion in Churches of Christ for many years. We announced the scholarship at the Pepperdine lectureships and have already been receiving gifts.

If you care about the future of ministry, you should be giving money for student scholarships somewhere. Your church should make sure that young women like my friend know that theological training is possible for them and that you have money to help them. Any amount helps. $25 buys a text book (at least some text books), a string of $25 gifts, a laptop. You get the idea. We should do what we can to make sure that preparation and opportunity meet more often, that we have more moments like Sara’s sermon at Pepperdine.

If you want to give to the Stuart and D’Esta Love scholarship, you can send your checks to RC (800 W Avon Rd., Rochester Hills, MI, 48307) with “Stuart and D’Esta Love scholarship” written in the memo line (very important).

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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