Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an amazing minister on their blog. Last week, they interviewed Rebecca Mathis. Rebecca IS what a minister looks like!
Rebecca, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Maybe it was the in the choir room at my home church when I used to help my mother organize the choir folders. Or maybe it was listening to my dad read my Sunday School lesson to me from the quarterly before church on Sunday mornings. It could have been that mission trip to the beach or that final youth retreat to the mountains. It’s really hard to pinpoint. In fact, I’m not quite sure when my ministry journey began.
Before I left for college, a member of my home church insisted that I go to the Baptist Student Union as soon as I arrived on campus. And I did just that. A few short days after my arrival at Western Carolina University, I walked into the BSU and met the campus minister, Wanda Kidd. Not growing up in a church that ordained women, she was the first ordained Baptist woman I had ever met. Thanks be to God for Wanda’s faithful witness and her willingness to walk alongside young people as they discern who God is calling them to be.
I first felt a strong sense of call to vocational ministry during those college years, probably around 1999. And yet, it wasn’t until 2007 that I began seminary. I have not had a cookie-cutter ministry journey. And if I’m really honest, I’ve sometimes been envious of those who seem to have it all figured out. But when I look back over the past twenty years of ministry— from feeling called as a college student to the position I hold today— I can see and feel God’s abundant provision and grace along the way.
My ministry journey isn’t singular; you see, both my husband Jeff, and I are ordained ministers in the Baptist tradition. He attended a Presbyterian seminary; I later attended an Episcopalian seminary. I often joke that we are a walking ecumenical movement, helping the world find common ground in the grace of Jesus. We also have two wonderful children who are ministers in their own right, praying sweet prayers in the evening and having their first international experience be a visit to our sister church in Cuba. We’re a team. And therefore, it’s much easier to reflect on our ministry as a family.
Throughout our ministry journey, we’ve served churches in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Sylva, North Carolina— Jeff as minister and I as minister’s spouse. And we’ve served nonprofit ministries across several counties in Western North Carolina– myself as minister and Jeff as minister’s spouse. I am thankful for faith communities who have always valued our shared sense of call and understood that our call and our gifts are not identical to one another.
I now have the joy of serving as the director of development for Lake Junaluska Assembly, a Christian conference and retreat center located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am thankful to serve in a role where I can draw from my nonprofit sector experience and my seminary training each and every day. In the midst of a culture that seems to perpetuate constant busyness, I get to be an advocate for rest, Sabbath and renewal— working to continue Lake Junaluska’s mission of Christian hospitality to all of God’s beloved children.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Hands down, the greatest source of joy in ministry has been working with volunteers and encountering the abundant generosity of others. I served as the executive director of a small nonprofit organization for several years in our community and was continually amazed by how volunteers gave so much of themselves so that others could live happier and healthier lives.
So many things have brought joy throughout my ministry journey— working with college students on service-learning projects, laughing with friends on Sunday morning in our Table Fellowship Bible study class, jumping up and down with children during our downtown VBS, building ecumenical and interfaith partnerships, experiencing intergenerational mission trips, and traveling with Jeff and our children to sacred sites both near and far.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
One of the greatest challenges of ministering in the nonprofit sector is the reality of scarcity in the face of overwhelming need. Having served on a variety of boards and advisory councils in rural Appalachia, I have seen how dependent nonprofits are on grants— one grant cycle can make or break an organization’s ability to provide critical services to the least of these. It is gut wrenching to sit in a board meeting and grapple with the possibility of ending services, laying off staff members, or even closing an organization’s doors. Yet, despite these tough realities, I have seen God remain faithful and work through the creative imagination of community members who refuse to give up when faced with great challenge.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
“Give it six weeks.” It’s a simple statement, but I’ve found it to be true. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a nonprofit leadership program. During one of our retreats, we were having honest conversations about the challenges of nonprofit leadership: working with boards, dealing with personnel issues, finding resources in an economically depressed community, handling negative coverage in the local media, etc. One leader shared a vulnerable story about a sticky work situation. Another leader spoke up: “Give it six weeks. Stay strong, push forward, and it will feel better in six weeks.”
Of course I’m not suggesting that all hard situations can be resolved in six weeks, but that advice is something that has sustained me on hard days. Ministry can be grueling at times—on any given day, we encounter a world of hurt, of disappointment, and of grief. It’s important to remind ourselves that God is bigger than any one hard situation and that God will walk alongside us in tough spots and pull us through to the other side.
I don’t think my colleague was necessarily referring to a literal six weeks, but rather referring to the fact that there are seasons in ministry. There is great hope in knowing that difficult seasons are not forever. Give it six weeks and a new season may be just around the corner.