Allow Faith to Free You and Give You Courage to Follow Your Call from God

Pastor La Ronda Denise Barnes

Name: Pastor La Ronda Denise Barnes
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Ethnic Identity: Black, member of the African Diaspora
Denomination: Christian (NOT non-denominational)
Ministry Role: Pastor and Founder
Ministry Context: Affirmation Church, a church without walls
Seminary Attended: Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA; Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

Greetings Ministry Siblings,

Congratulations on your decision to pursue your call to ministry. As you move through seminary and beyond, remember your call, have confidence in that call, and value its uniqueness. I believe God calls each of us to use in ministry the unique set of gifts we have been given. Unfortunately, many institutions, especially religious ones, resist developing that uniqueness. They also tend to have limited vision when it comes to defining what ministry is and what options are viable. Some of these limitations are understandable as none of us have the imagination or insight of the God we worship. However, some of the limitations are due to an unwillingness to take risks or to offend those who uphold the status quo. As you continue on your journey, trust in your own discernment and have the courage to take risks, great and small. 

Small risks may be needed in things like selecting courses and deciding on supervised ministry sites. While there’s merit in completing required courses as early as possible, take the time to explore other course options to which you feel drawn, including those in other departments and/or sister schools. Consider additional courses and/or independent studies with professors who appear to recognize and affirm your gifts. Look for ministry placements with pastors or other professionals who are passionate about what they do. Their passion and courage in following their calls will serve as inspiration for you. And consider placements outside of so-called traditional ministry areas. For example, I served as an intern with a theatre company for one of my ministry placements. I was able to learn the language of theatre for a play about Christ I’m writing and to work with the theatre on projects that bridge the so-called sacred and secular divide. In many ways, seminary requires us to delve into a range of disciplines from pastoral care to preaching to theology and history, and to see their interrelatedness. Use that work as a foundation for exploring the interconnectedness of other disciplines and the inherent spirituality in each.

Greater risks may be required in deciding on whether to seek ordination in a particular tradition or denomination and on whether to use your gifts in non “traditional” ways. As someone who left a career as a lawyer to enter ministry and who left a denomination to start my own church and pursue additional formal education, I can testify to the fears and doubts that come with taking those risks. I can also testify to the freedom and peace of mind that come from taking those risks when one is trusting in God’s guidance and presence, regardless of the immediate outcome of the decisions made.

Most importantly continue to grow in your relationship with God. Reserve time daily for reflection. I begin the day with what I call my God time. Most days it begins with a few minutes of meditation and then journaling, reading, or listening to music. Explore spiritual avenues that may be unfamiliar but may provide you with spiritual nourishment. I feel God’s presence in nature, in listening to or reading the lyrics to songs in a variety of musical genres, and from reading the works of the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Barbara Brown Taylor, Anne Lamott, and pastor and poet Linda Faltin, among others. Once a year I also try to spend a week on a silent retreat where I can focus on feeling God’s presence through writing, reading, walking the labyrinth, and having scheduled, healthy meals. Most seminaries have opportunities for going on weekend or weeklong retreats at little or no cost. There are also monasteries that offer similar opportunities. Spiritual direction, on an individual or group basis, is another way to become more adept at discerning God’s presence and guidance as well as for finding like-minded people with whom to journey.

As a woman and a person of color, I wish I could say that ministry provides shelter from the racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination encountered in other professions. Unfortunately, religious institutions can be some of the most discriminatory places to be. This does not mean that we have been called to be martyrs or that God’s call is in any way a burden. For me, it means that we must rely on God even more. We must be willing to tap into the imagination, mystery, and wonder of our faith and of the God who sustains us. Trust in God and in your call. Be open to where that call leads you and surround yourself with people who are supportive of your ministry and of who you are as you are. Allow faith to free you and to give you the courage to help others find their way to freedom and to ever-deepening relationships with the God we love. 

La Ronda

Resources for spiritual reflection and growth:

Book: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.

Book: New Day Dawning: Everyday Encounters with the Holy by Linda Faltin. Poems for self-reflection and for use with sermons and devotionals.

Book: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Book: The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri J.M. Nouwen. And almost anything else written by Nouwen.

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