Through decades of “specialized” ministry, Andrea Godwin-Stremler has learned to listen to God’s voice and to trust and obey God’s plan. She’s learned, too, that these callings, though perhaps unexpected, are also affirmed in relationship. This personal calling story is part of a series on purposeful living.
T he very first thing we hung on the wall in our current home was a gift from a friend and board member for the new ministry we moved here to plant. The gift contains the words of Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and he will establish your plans.” Those are words to live by.
On January 2, 2016, I wrote in my journal (brand new and something I was mysteriously led to start), “I sense God calling me to something new, but what is it?” The military service chapter of my life was coming to a close. What was God calling me to do next? My husband, Ted, had been speaking with me about possibly doing something with college students. Early, early, stirrings of a calling are often quite unfocused.
Since then, many have said to us that they are amazed we would start something at such a time as this in our lives. Translation: “Aren’t you a little old to be starting a new ministry?” Most people at a juncture like this truly retire, kick back, relax, go on cruises, enjoy the grandchildren, and such.
In many ways, I’ve heard this questioning and amazement all my life. Someone like you in ministry? Handicapped? Female? This is an area in our churches where there is a huge gap. We profess with our mouths that we are a people of the Word of God, but we are often surprised by the many different people God uses to proclaim the Word. The Word of God shows us over and over that God uses all people in all situations for kingdom work. The Psalms, full of earthy humanity that I love, reveal to us a relationship between God and his children that begins at conception and continues throughout life (Psalm 139). Yet, unfortunately all too often, we respond to God’s will with, “Yea, but…” Perhaps we can all be more like the Old Testament priest Eli, who encouraged young Samuel to listen to God’s voice. We should encourage one another to listen for God’s voice and to answer with faith.
Related: Elizabeth and Mary: Called to Encourage (a #SheIsCalled Women of the Bible study)
I’ve never been limited by “accepted practice” and by what can be seen. Recently on a Zoom prayer call, a colleague in ministry gave me a wonderful compliment when she called me “Ever-positive Andrea.” (Thank you, Rev. Liz Testa!) When I was growing up, good little girls were never asked, “Have you considered going into the ministry?” Instead, after a church service during which I tried to copy every movement of the preacher, I had to sit in a straight chair for an hour to remember how good little girls sit in church. When I conducted neighborhood worship services at home, that was simply called “cute.”
During my last Sunday evening with the college group at church before leaving for seminary, a recent seminary graduate shook a Bible, opened to 1 Timothy, under my nose and asked how I could be doing such a thing as going to seminary. We’d known each other all of our lives through church, so he tried to be polite. But the question was out there. The only thing I knew to say to him was, “I haven’t been to seminary yet, so I can’t give you scholarly answers that will satisfy you. I only know God is calling me, and I must listen, trust, and obey.” I referenced this song we had sung together, along with many others, all of our growing up years: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
After my journal entry and as we began to get clarity around what God might be calling us to, Ted and I started to ask friends and family to join us in prayer. Then colleagues and acquaintances joined. Soon, over 200 people were prayer partners. They enthusiastically supported us, saying, “Yes, we can see God at work, and yes, there is a need for this ministry.”
Early on, it felt like a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces were scattered on the table. We could see the colors and the shapes, but we had no idea what the picture was. We didn’t have the top of the puzzle box to guide us! Through prayer, the voices of our prayer partners, the discernment of colleagues, and faithful, blind steps forward, the pieces slowly came together, one at a time. Gradually, the picture came into focus.
In the summer of 2018, we moved into this house on the ten acres of wonderful, abundant land God had revealed to us to buy. That fall, the first student moved in. We weren’t ready with the program, but she needed a place, and we had room.
There were many obstacles and hurdles early on: finding land and location we could afford, forming a board of directors, getting our 501(c)(3), developing the vision, mission, and program, networking and getting the word out, and COVID and the resultant prohibition to networking. Obstacles and hurdles come with the territory in ministry, and they continue. Our actual experiences with students help us rewrite and refine what we do and how we do it. We ask others with knowledge, experience, and expertise to join us in ministry as resource people from different areas, especially the areas we lack. Strategic plans or mission statements were not covered in seminary.
On May 17, 1987, the day that I was ordained as a minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA), the pastor preached on Esther and charged me “for such a time as this.” Over the years, following God’s voice has led me to many different “callings” and different times. I don’t need a paycheck or a title to feel validated or to feel that I’m fulfilling my calling. My identity is in Christ. My life is a response to God’s voice calling me “beloved child.”
Related: Esther and Vashti: Embracing the Roles We’re Given (a #SheIsCalled Women of the Bible study)
The RCA’s formula of ordination, the oath to God and the church, does not contain a retirement clause. I have served most of my years as a pastor in a “specialized ministry” category. This is a generous category for those of us answering God’s calling and serving outside the traditional church. It is also the most rapidly growing ministry area.
This newest calling that Ted and I are obediently living is New Revelations Collegiate Mission, forming leaders actively engaged as Christ’s presence in the world. We aim to form tomorrow’s leaders today. Our prayed-for, desired outcome is professional leaders fully aware of their role as Christ’s presence in and for the world. Students live in intentional Christian community while they attend the state colleges in the area. Right now, students live with us in our house (yes, please pray!).
The vision is to make our 10 acres home to 60 to 100 students through 10 houses. We also hope to build two houses for leaders, as we earnestly pray for co-workers in the field. Moses and Jesus didn’t work alone but had a team. So should we.
Callings happen in relationship: God with individuals and with groups. The first time Samuel heard God calling to him, he didn’t understand it was God; he went immediately to his mentor and leader, Eli. Eli encouraged him to listen, discern, and respond. And together, the disciples followed Jesus in their three-year training program. Together, we follow, learn, and discern in our communities of faith.
In the Reformed Church in America, when an individual announces that they feel called by God into an area of ministry or service, we look for two particular aspects of this calling: internal and external. The internal call is something like, “I believe God is calling me to …” The external portion of that same calling is the affirmation of that call by the community of faith. “Yes, we affirm this. We see that God is working in you in this way, through you, at this time.” It’s about faith. And it’s about relationships.
I love gathering people together. For me, hospitality is creating space. It is as simple as that: creating warm, welcoming, loving space for people to come together in God’s presence. I love preparing that space—utilizing my cooking and baking hobbies to find and make yummy recipes and menus—and I love participating in that space with others. In this space of hospitality, relationship happens. In this space, we meet each other and God. Intimacy, compassion, care, and joy are found. We restore and are restored. Together, we are transformed from individuals into the family of God. God speaks, and we listen.
In the church, we have the calling and ordaining of those set aside in service to God and God’s people. I believe that the priesthood of all believers means all God’s people are called by God to serve. We need to be like Samuel and say, “Here I am, Lord,” then listen. You may be surprised what God has to say to you.
Are you living your purpose?
Rev. Dr. Andrea Godwin-Stremler
The Reverend Doctor Andrea Godwin-Stremler is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and a licensed therapist. Currently, she serves as CEO of New Revelations College Ministries, a ministry of Central Plains Classis, which she and her husband, Ted, are planting in Northern Texas, forming leaders actively engaged as Christ’s presence in the world.
She pastored churches in Michigan and Nevada before she and her family moved to Germany for her husband to serve as Army chaplain. During the Army “chapter” of their ministry life, she served in senior executive positions with families and soldiers in the Army Chaplaincy in Europe and the USA, provided counseling services to soldiers and their families, supervised chaplains training as counselors, and pastored a Filipino National church in Hawaii.
She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Western Theological Seminary, the RCA/CRC Disability Concerns Advisory Team, and the RCA Restructuring Team. She is married to retired Army Chaplain COL Ted Godwin-Stremler. They have two daughters and four granddaughters.