Thinking Outside the Box: Ministry Beyond the Pulpit

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Written by Catherine Cole

What do you want to be when you grow up?

From before I can remember, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. I was encouraged to chase my dreams, think big—reach for the stars! As with most people, my answer to this age-old question evolved as I did: a teacher, a singer, an author, a bakery owner—even an Air Force pilot (just like my grandfather).

In my senior year of high school, the answer changed again to kinesiology and sports medicine. In my final year of undergrad, another change: I applied to the RCMP, confident that I had finally figured out what I was going to do with my life. That is … until an ankle injury dictated otherwise.

I was back where I started, frustrated, disappointed, and lost, questioning my direction and feeling like I had to start from scratch, again. I had no idea what my purpose in life was going to be, but I desperately wanted to make a difference.

Ministry never crossed my mind. Not once.

Not a Last Resort

For many of us, the call to ministry only appears to come after every other door we try has closed.

Ministry was never my plan. “Ministry” meant being a full-time pastor—something that never resonated with me. And no matter how many times mentors, pastors, and leaders in my life told me enthusiastically, “You have a call to ministry!” as I served in my local church and wider denomination, I stubbornly ignored them.

I didn’t understand that ministry comes in all shapes and forms—and sometimes those shapes and forms are very unexpected.

A New Understanding

So, what did I choose to be when I grew up? (Not that I’m done growing, by any means!) To be honest, I didn’t consciously “choose” anything. A temporary position turned into a two-and-a-half-year journey that has opened doors I didn’t even know existed.

I currently serve as the manager of recruitment and admissions, and the manager of communications for Acadia Divinity College, and it took me quite a bit of time to realize that, even in this role, as unlikely as it sounds, I am serving in a ministry capacity. I journey with applicants as they discern God’s unique call on their lives; I build relationships with students who are preparing themselves to become pastors or chaplains or counsellors or something completely different. I communicate the mission of the college as we seek to equip people to serve church and world.

I may not be preaching from a pulpit on Sunday, but I’m using the gifts and abilities that God has given me to further his kingdom.

I think that counts as ministry.

Throughout my journey, I’ve been reminded of Romans 12:4–8:

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Equipped to Serve

As I settled into my new role and worked through my expanding understanding of ministry, I sought out conversations with several leaders to discuss it further. These conversations led me to the conclusion that whether it is ministry as profession or profession as ministry, we are all serving in ministry together. And no matter how we serve, we could all be taking steps to equip ourselves to serve to the best of our ability.

In certain occupations, this might take the form of professional development conferences or seminars. As followers of Jesus, it means also equipping ourselves theologically. Just because we aren’t in a “traditional” ministry role doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to represent Christ well, wherever he has placed us.

A New Chapter

Since joining the team at ADC in 2017, I have not only been serving the students who study with us, I also took the opportunity to study alongside them. From a professional perspective, this has given me personal insight into the experience of studying at ADC, which is important to my work in recruitment. From a personal perspective, however, the impact on my ever-evolving faith journey has been significant.

Through classes like “Christian Spiritual Formation,” and, “Evangelism and Mission in Contemporary Society,” I’ve learned how to think differently about what it means to be a follower of Christ in an increasingly post-Christian society. By taking a Bible survey course, I’ve delved deeper into God’s Word. But more than just delving deeper, I’m learning how to effectively communicate the gospel in a world that deems it culturally irrelevant. These are all skills that equip me to serve inside and outside the walls of the church. And I’m just getting started.

This holistic theological training has given me knowledge and confidence to dialogue openly with friends who are not believers. And, it has widened my understanding of my personal role within the mission of God.

The truth is, we are all called to ministry. It can (and does!) look different for each of us, but we must be open to thinking outside the box and be prepared for however God is calling us to serve.

Ministry is not a last resort. It’s not just for full-time pastors, and it doesn’t just happen from the pulpit. Ministry is learning. Ministry is equipping. Ministry is wherever you are.

Are you ready?

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Tidings

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catherine cole

As ADC’s Manager of Recruitment and Admissions, Catherine acts as a guide for all prospective students – answering any questions about the College or our programs, giving tours of the Acadia University campus, and walking applicants through the admission process. She also leads the Admissions Committee in admission decisions. Catherine is here to help in any way she can – if you have any questions about Acadia Divinity College, she is only a phone call or email away.  

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