Some people throw tantrums over women not being pastors at Mars Hill. They assume that since I, for example, can’t be a pastor, that I’m forced to sit quietly in the corner with my head covered, never looking a man in the eye. Or maybe it means I should be at home, barefoot and in the kitchen, using my free time to sew booties for babies I don’t have yet. Ha.
Today, by God’s grace, and under the shepherding of my pastors, I get to serve Mars Hill Church as a deacon, leader of an anti-sex-trafficking ministry, and manager of Mars Hill Church Internships. Looking back, when I walked into Mars Hill Church five years ago with a freshly shaved head, and an angry scowl, I can guarantee that not one person looked at me and thought, "She’s a future ministry leader." Take a look to the right and see for yourself.
Thankfully, God always writes the best story and loves to surprise us with miracles of redemption. He has used the power of the Spirit through the community, the teaching, the counseling, and the pastors at Mars Hill to take me from being an angry, self-centered, man-hating, rebellious, bitter, and hard-hearted punk for a decade and transform me into a broken, humbled, soft, repentant, gospel-centered, bold-for-Jesus disciple for eternity.
"The more I realized my inability to accomplish God's calling, the more I got to step aside and see him at work in spite of my fear or failures."
This transformation didn’t take place overnight, but no matter what I needed, there was always something or someone available at Mars Hill that would meet me right where I was at and help to further God’s work in my life. Whether it was by going to Community Groups, becoming a member of the church, going through Redemption Groups, or learning how to counsel others, the opportunities for growth have been endless.
But the most transformative year of my life was when God called me to give up my biggest comforts—my car, my nice paying job, my cozy apartment in the middle of the city, extra spending money—and apply for an internship at the Downtown Seattle campus. I was terrified and excited all at the same time.
Within a month after I started obeying that call, God had worked out all of the details and allowed for me to sell my car, move into a cheaper place, and get a flexible part-time job which made the transition possible. In early 2010 I was accepted as an intern and officially joined the Downtown Seattle team.
It’s hard to say what my exact position was because I got to serve in so many different ways over the course of a year. As part of the Biblical Living team I was trained in counseling, led a Redemption Group and helped start up an outreach ministry to girls who are enslaved by the sex trade in Seattle. Later in the year, after becoming a deacon, I felt a greater call to help equip other women leaders. I was taught how to sponsor women through the deacon process and had the opportunity to develop a pastoral care system for women to disciple other women. I was in a whirlwind of God’s grace and the more I realized my inability to accomplish his calling, the more I got to step aside and see him at work in spite of my fear or failures.
"She told me that she saw leadership abilities in me, and that I could use them for God's glory or as sin against the Lord."
The truth is, no part of the internship was easy: it required great sacrifice, and there were some days that ministry got so tough that I wanted to throw in the towel. But God met me in those places and reminded me of his grace and sufficiency. Most interns that I’ve served with would agree that God uses internships not only to build up our skills and abilities, but also to reveal just how much we need him. Ultimately, facing those trials and learning to depend on the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus on the cross enables us to continue in the direction of God’s calling and prepares us to make disciples who will go on to make other disciples.
Today, I am a woman and a leader in my church. Over the years, God has used several godly men and women to lead and encourage me in my discipleship with Jesus, and also acknowledged my leadership gifts and helped me develop those.
When I was young, God provided female leaders in the church who taught me about who Jesus is and discipled me. At a young age, they saw my leadership. One time in 8th grade, one of them noticed that I had been leading some of the other kids in the youth group astray, just with a rebellious and divisive attitude, as teenage girls can tend to do. She sat me down and told me that she saw these leadership abilities in me, and that I could use them for God's glory or as sin against the Lord. Her words that day still stay with me, and in all likelihood will forever.
Now, these women weren't my saviors, though. I had years of hard rebellion ahead, years that took me far away from the church. But when God brought me to repentance and I came back to the church, they were there. (I even moved in with one of them for a year.) These women are still actively involved in my life, too. At every step, when I have needed a reminder of the truth of the gospel, I've been able to call on them (and call them), and they've given me encouragement and direction.
"But in whatever leadership role, I'm first God's daughter, and he's gifted me to lead and obey his call to disciple other women in Christ."
These days, my pastors, too, are the ones who care for me and help me grow: They pray for me and counsel me when I’m having a hard day. When I’ve struggled with bitterness, they’ve led me to the grace of Christ so that I could repent and love my enemies. And they’ve been humble to repent and demonstrate their own need for Jesus so that I don’t see them as infallible, but servant leaders. Pastor James, for example, doesn't let me sit on the sidelines when I'm counseling. He makes it so that I have to go to the front lines with people, speak the truth to them, and help them when they're in need. He's there when I need his counsel, but he mostly teaches me to lean on and depend on the Lord in new and hard situations, for everything and in everything. These pastors recognize God's calling on my life to disciple other women, and have encouraged me and trained me for that calling in every way.
Now, I get to enjoy seeing God make disciples through the ministry he’s called me to in the church. These days, my leadership role in the church is explicit: I'm a deacon and lead a ministry. In time, that may change and my leadership role might become more tacit. But whatever role, I'm first God's daughter, and he's gifted me to lead and obey his call to disciple other women in Christ, in whatever situation. He's also called me to trust him and the leaders he's put in my life, that he will equip me through the church for whatever that call or role is, in whatever time in my life. And it's my prayer that I will be that same encouragement for future leaders, maybe one of whom is you.
Amanda, at left above, baptizes a young man with Pastor James Noriega at Sunday's Easter Celebration at Qwest
Okay Ladies, How About You?
If you’ve sensed a similar calling and want to be discipled and trained for ministry, there is good news for you: You can learn more and apply for a Mars Hill Internship here. The deadline for the 2011–2012 year is Sunday, May 15. (And men, obviously you can apply, too. We just wanted to specifically encourage the ladies in this post.)
Amanda Hightower is a deacon at the Downtown Seattle campus, director of the REST ministry, and manager for Mars Hill Internships.