When I accepted God’s invitation to be commissioned as pastor of discipleship in May 2012, I entered the role with an understanding that I am called to be a disciple maker. That was, and is, my passion to this day.
In June 2012, I attended a county meeting that would lead me on a path of personal spiritual discovery and revelation. That day, a county agency had asked churches to help brainstorm ways to keep people off the streets on extremely cold winter nights. Together, we were asking, “How do we invite churches to open their doors to the homeless community on life-threatening winter nights?” I was one representative of five different churches around the table that day. Together, across denominational lines, we gathered to answer that question. And out of that meeting, Severe Weather Shelter Network was born.
Seven years later, I am astounded by all that God has done through this ministry that provides emergency shelter on life-threatening winter nights. We are meeting and engaging more than 350 individuals each year and hearing their stories. Gaps in city and county services are being identified, and I find myself becoming more and more of an advocate and a mobilizer on behalf of our guests as I meet with leaders in all branches of the local government, leaders in the social service industry, and leaders in the church community.
This was not my dream when I accepted the call to be a commissioned pastor in the Reformed Church in America. No training or class equipped me to do what I do or be who I have become as a leader. Instead, I find myself digging deeper into Scripture and asking myself these questions:
How did Jesus build and sustain his identity and relationship with the Father?
What were his life patterns and habits that allowed him to sustain the work to which he was called?
What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus Christ who willingly denies myself, daily takes up my cross, and follows after him?
I am confident in this: I cannot lead where I have not been. I cannot equip others with what I have not practiced. I cannot keep my eyes and my spirit focused on the kingdom goal unless I constantly seek the face of the One who calls me daughter and sends me out with his authority and power.
I know that I am serving God through Severe Weather Shelter Network. Every shelter night, I look into the face of Jesus. Sometimes the eyes looking back at me are bleary with alcohol. Sometimes they are bloodshot with the effects of other abused substances. Many times, the arms that reach out for a hug have not seen a shower in more than a week. Yet the smile that comes when they hear their name always reminds me that each heart longs to be known.
I lead others by taking them with me. I lead by asking them the same questions I ask myself and by encouraging them to listen intently for Jesus’s voice and direction. As we serve together, it is an opportunity to encourage, to correct, and to remind people of the person to whom they are ultimately accountable.
Our key passage, to which we refer often and on which our ministry training is built, is Matthew 25:34-40. This passage reflects the heart of the Father. Meet first the immediate need as you identify and see it. Welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked. Relationships become possible after that. Care for the sick, visit those in prison. We can only care and visit once we know not just the faces, but the names and hearts of the people whom God inscribes on our hearts.
Again and again, I have seen new volunteers grow from people who follow into people who lead others. Isn’t that really what we are all called to be? We’re all called to be sheep who follow the Good Shepherd and have other sheep following behind us. I believe the nature of leadership to be one of personal submission and elevation of others. Always pointing to Jesus as the perfect example. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.