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Last month, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I featured Part 1 of an interview with Martha Draayer, a bi-vocational co-pastor of Maria Magdalena Reformed Church (MMRC) in Sioux Center, Iowa. MMRC is a multiethnic, multilingual congregation that aims to bear witness to God’s beloved community in Christ for the flourishing of its wider community.
I’m thrilled to feature Part 2 of this interview on today’s RJ blog. Martha also works full time as the Director of Intercultural Development at Northwestern College (Orange City, IA). She is married to Dan and they have three children: Jaylee, Emmet and Ellie. I was so blessed to have this conversation with Martha. Her reflections on call, discernment, ministry and gender roles in the church are refreshingly honest and deeply compelling. This interview has been edited and condensed to fit this format.
Martha, you’ve been ordained as a “teaching elder” and preach regularly at MMRC. You’re also currently engaged in the commissioned pastor route. Share more about your call to be a bi-vocational pastor.
Well, it’s more a story about being doubtful and reluctant and dragging my feet! I would say this call to pastor and lead a church comes out of full obedience and trust in this really big faith. This part is going to get me teary-eyed. Honestly, it just comes down to my faith in Christ—that he knows what he’s doing when I feel insufficient. How amazing that I get to have this opportunity to say “Yes” in full faith and trust, knowing that it’s not about me. What a great opportunity to point to Jesus and say, “He is my Master, and I trust that even in my shortcomings he can use me to advance his kingdom work.” This is what it comes down to for me: passion for people and for Christ, and I want to be the best I can when I share the good news with people.
And honestly, as I’ve been learning and growing in this commissioned pastor route, it’s drawn me closer to God. It continues to grow me in my faith and in my submissiveness to his plan. I’m a person who likes to plan and know things—it’s a lesson he’s been trying to teach me my whole life! “Martha, you don’t have to have all the answers!” So I would say my call is not a pretty story, but more me kicking and screaming. And God saying, “It’s up to you. You get to follow or not.” And me saying, “Fine, I’ll follow!”
You’re in good company with so many people in the Bible who received a call from God! Those who protested, “Really? You’re choosing me, God?” I think it only confirms God’s call on your life. What would you say to someone (especially our sisters out there) who sense God’s call to vocational ministry but doubt whether they can really do it or they face opposition?
First, I would say, “O, my dear sister, you are more than enough!” And the fact that you feel that calling in your heart is a clear sign that God is speaking to you and wanting to use you. Let that voice be louder than any of the other voices around you. Find people who you trust and know will be honest with you, help you discern, and ask good questions of you. Don’t just stop at the first “No” or the first sign of struggle.
And the other thing I would say, which has been encouraging for myself too, is nothing can thwart God’s will. I take so much comfort in that—knowing that I’m not going to mess up God’s plan. If it is feeling impossible, continue to ask, knock, seek, pray…because if God is calling, there will be a way. If there’s a person out there, especially in the Latino church, wondering, “Can I do this? Will I be respected?” Maybe or maybe not. It may be hard. But that doesn’t mean we get to say “no” if that’s the calling in our lives. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s so rewarding and so beautiful to watch unfold.
While I know there is so much blessing in the work you’re doing with MMRC, as you say, it’s also hard work. What sustains you in “the hard?” What is giving you hope and courage right now?
Two things. One is the stories of how God is working in the people who are coming to MMRC. I’m thinking of a young woman who hasn’t been part of a church for a long time, and now she says, “This is my church!” She has found a church home! Or a young man still in high school who wants to make a profession of faith, and he wants to do that at MMRC! It’s these stories that keep me going—stories of people who have encountered Christ or are growing in their faith or who have said, “Wow, you’ve gotten me to really think.”
The other thing is to see my family growing closer together. Having a full-time job and doing this—I had to pray a lot about how this was going to work for my family and still having the time to pour into each other’s lives. But one of the ways we’ve grown as a family is that MMRC has built my children’s capacity to be up front in church and help lead. And even how my husband’s gifts have been so overshadowed in the past by a traditional, complementarian view of what a male’s role should be in a church. This brings me to tears as well. There’s been tension in Dan’s and my life when it comes to who is the spiritual leader in our family. I’ve always felt horrible for feeling like a spiritual leader in our family because I’ve always been told I should be submissive. The way that’s been described to me so often in the past is that I shouldn’t be the one leading a bible study and talking about spiritual things.
But my husband has and probably will continue to look to me as the spiritual leader in our family. And we both felt like our roles were just not right, like we were failing. Both of us felt the same tension until we were finally able to name it and say, “Wait a minute! There is nothing wrong with me (Martha) being a spiritual leader in our family, first of all; and second, for you (Dan) to have to be the only one who brings up devotions on Sunday or whatever day.” Once our view of these roles was released (the role-reversal), he’s been able to flourish by using his gift of hospitality at MMRC! One of my good friends has said, “Wow—I get to see this role reversal of Dan as the one serving, Dan is the one hosting, and you being a spiritual teacher. And that is so beautiful to see.” And Dan is thriving in it—he is loving it. So that’s one of the things that keeps me going is seeing my family owning their gifts, owning their calling, and to not be bogged down by gender stereotypes that hinder and limit who we can be in Christ, and also in the church.
I’d like to have an entire conversation just on that—these rigid gender roles that we place on people in the church that I don’t find to be biblical. You and Dan provide such a wonderful example of what affirming each other’s gifts in marriage and ministry can look like. Martha, thanks so much for taking time to talk with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
I’m just really thankful that the steps were in place in order for MMRC to happen. It’s not lost on me that all of this wouldn’t have happened if God hadn’t strategically placed the right people in my life before hand to make it a possibility. I continue to be so humbled and grateful to God to get to be a part of this dream and to be used by him in this way.