By Brenna Rubio
With permission, I’m sharing quotes from two wonderful humans, one who just moved across the country to start seminary, another in the midst of church planting (a daunting endeavor!). The church needs leaders like them so badly, leaders who are bold, thoughtful, compassionate and committed to justice.
“… she asked me if I wanted to become a pastor. In her years at seminary, no one asked her that question; she now makes a point to ask it to people of marginalized genders. Growing up in a church where only straight, cisgender men could be pastors, becoming a pastor is something that is still difficult for me to imagine. Having someone see that potential in me the first time we met gave me permission to widen what little dreams I had for myself in that season.”– Laura Lacombe
“What? Did a pastor ask me if I wanted to become a pastor? I’ve known this pastor for ten minutes, and they just gave me what no pastor had given me before.
She named the deep longing within myself that I was too ashamed to admit.”– Donna Burkland
Whew. When two amazing people independently and spontaneously write so similarly about an experience they’ve had with you, and within just a few weeks of each other, it seems worth taking a moment to pause and reflect. Maybe even to share a few thoughts with others who want to be better encouragers to potential ministers they know.
I’m so grateful that a super simple question I have a habit of asking made such a difference. It stems, of course, from the grieving I’ve done about my own journey into ministry. Not that it was a bad journey – just longer and harder than it needed to be.
I entered seminary with all sorts of internalized messages about how I could and couldn’t live into my gifts and passions. And I interpreted the lack of curiosity around my interests or of challenge to my self-professed limitations as acceptance, even affirmation of them. Silence itself communicated approval – a reinforcement of the bounds.
I made statements like the following, and I hear them now from others so often! What I’m adding is how I wish people had responded, and how I try to respond these days.
“I’m going to seminary.”
“Oh – would you like to be a pastor? Or is something else drawing you?”
“I’m just going to do the two year Masters of Theology program v. the M.Div. [or some other self-imposed limit.]”
“Oh, why’s that? Do you have a different goal v. becoming a pastor?”
And perhaps the most popular (it’s so comfortably vague)… “I feel called to ministry.”
“Wow! Are you hoping to be a pastor or is there another area of ministry you’re interested in?”
You may notice these responses just seem… normal. Because they are. They are the normal responses a straight man who makes statements like mine would receive if they were talking with professors, pastors, other church leaders. But when made to those who don’t fit the traditional church mold – they’re disruptive in the best possible way. Potentially life changing.
Because they challenge the box. They call the box’s very existence into question. They assume the full range of possibilities is open to the one you’re asking, like it should be.
Two quick caveats:
- Lest you just create another box, you want to make it clear you don’t need them to say yes. There are so many good reasons for people not to become pastors, and God doesn’t give out special prizes to those of us who do! Plenty of people I’ve asked the question said no, and I’m so glad for them. The point is to open up the range of options, not push people toward one in particular.
- A fuller range of options is deeply good and also potentially disorienting! If you’re in a mentoring or leadership relationship with this person you’re talking with, please be ready to venture into the discernment process with them. More conversations with curiosity and open-ended questions, recommending resources and other potential mentors, sharing opportunities to “try out” bits of pastoring like leading a group or co-preaching a sermon… Give them the time and space to explore with your support.
I’m going to keep asking the question until it becomes normal. Enough people join me, we’ll get there sooner!