5.10.2013

Women in Ministry: The Accidental Pastor

April Yamasaki's story is a powerful testimony to the fundamental conviction underpinning the Women in Ministry Series: God calls women into ministry. Period.

My husband and I had just decided to join a local congregation when the pastor abruptly resigned. Quite literally, he was there one Sunday, and then gone the next. It wasn't the best introduction to a new church, but in spite of the turmoil, we decided to join anyway. After all, we had been getting to know the people, we both taught at the related Bible college, I had even been a guest speaker at the church several times.

Without a pastor, the congregation relied even more heavily than usual on its members to do the work of ministry, and I was asked to lead a series of four worship services for Advent. I was happy to help, and after my very first Sunday planning and leading worship, a woman whom I later learned was part of the pastoral search committee came up and asked, "How would you like to be the pastor of this church?"

I just had to laugh! That was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought I already had a strong calling--to teach, write, and be involved as a member of the church. Pastoral ministry was nowhere on my radar screen.

But that Advent as I continued to lead worship and to be part of the church, the questions kept coming. Finally I received a call from the chair of the search committee. “We hear that you are very happy teaching and writing,” he said, “but we would like to talk with you about pastoral ministry at the church.”

By that time, I was no longer laughing--but I was also not at all sure that I wanted to meet with the search committee. Although I had a Masters degree in Christian Studies, I had no pastoral experience, and the church was still reeling from a very difficult pastoral resignation. If there is such a thing as a match made in heaven, I was quite sure it didn’t look like this!

Still, one of the things my husband and I have always valued about the Mennonite church is the understanding that God speaks to us in Scripture, in our own prayer life, and also in community. Here it seemed the community was trying to say something, and I needed at least to listen.

I have never felt the movement of God’s Spirit so strongly.

As we continued to discern together, I went from not at all even thinking about pastoral ministry, to being willing to consider it, then curious, and then excited about a unique opportunity—to serve the church at a critical time of transition, to experience some new things for myself, and to learn and grow spiritually and personally through it all.

Would I be willing to serve part-time and continue teaching? the committee asked. Would some sort of team ministry be possible? They even had someone in mind for the other half of the team, but when that didn’t work out, one of the senior members on the search committee asked, would it be possible for me to take a leave of absence from the college and work as a full-time interim pastor?

So on the recommendation of the search committee, I asked for a leave of absence from the college and accepted the church’s call for what we all thought would be for the summer months and then the fall semester. The church would continue their search for a pastor, and I fully expected to be back to teaching at the college in January. Surely by that time, the church would have found a real pastor, I thought. I just didn’t know then that it would be me.

As it turned out, the church asked me to extend my interim ministry for another school semester. They then asked me to candidate for the regular pastoral position, I went through the ordination process, and now, as of this past Easter Sunday, I’ve been lead pastor at my church for 20 years!

In some ways I’ve had it easy—my church had mainly resolved any questions about women in ministry before I was called, and has been wonderfully supportive. But ministry has also been extremely challenging. I’ve dealt with the past sexual misconduct of a pastoral candidate, financial fraud by a member of the church against other members, difficult deaths including the loss of children and the still unsolved murder of a parishioner. As an associate once said to me, “I wish you some bumps along the way so you’ll know what it feels like”—and I’ve definitely had my share.

Yet through it all, I’ve also had a deep and persistent sense of God’s calling. I may have started as an accidental pastor, but it’s turned out to be so much more than that!

About Today's Contributor
April Yamasaki is a pastor and writer who has published numerous articles and several books, most recently Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal (Herald Press, February 2013). A third-generation Canadian of Chinese descent, April lives in Abbotsford, B.C., with her husband, Gary, who teaches biblical studies at Columbia Bible College. Visit her website where she blogs about spiritual practice, writing, reading, faith, and life at http://aprilyamasaki.com. Follow her on Twitter @SacredPauses, and you'll be entered to win a free copy of her book.

About the Women in Ministry Series The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry and encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

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