By Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker
There is this thing amongst clergy who say, “Once God has a hold of you, it’s hard to be let loose.” As I reflect back on my own call story, I can attest to that understanding of getting into God’s grip and then recognizing that in reality, you don’t actually want God to let you go. As a pastor’s kid, I was all too familiar with the gifts and challenges of being a family in ministry. And in many ways, I didn’t think I wanted that for me, my spouse, or my children. But, God did get a hold of me and my soul has never been settled since. The tug for me to serve God is the driving factor of my life in ministry.
The question I had to answer was, “How will I serve God?” I continued to debate with God about how I could serve God without ever pursuing a seminary degree or serving as clergy. Again, the discontent and the hunger in my soul kept growing and the more I dabbled in seminary learning, the deeper I went. I loved learning more about my faith, about my church and about religion’s influence in the world. I loved working with people and serving people. In every position that I held prior to ministry, I loved serving. From a waitress in restaurants to an account manager in an advertising company, I loved accompanying people and serving people. At the end of the day, I knew that was my calling. However, those kinds of roles never fully satisfied me.
Finally, I gave in and just relaxed in God’s grip. I no longer wanted to resist, but rather, I leaned into the visions for my life that God was placing in front of me. The themes of learning, loving and connecting constantly arose in my life experiences. Learning manifested itself in seminary learning. I couldn’t get enough of it, so I pursued the Master’s followed by the Ph.D. I never wanted to stop learning. Loving was a part of my nature as I constantly wanted to share God’s love with youth, young adults and the people on the edges who never felt God’s love. Youth Ministry, Young-Adult Ministries, and Mission were ways in which I could live out the call to love. And finally, “connecting” was something that I had been good at in both my private social life and in my working world. Connecting people across annual conferences, across the general church and now connecting people in mission. As a learner, lover, connector, God had a vision to use these gifts for God’s mission in the world.
This is my understanding of a deacon’s call. As deacons in The United Methodist Church, we have a specialized call to ministry that is unique from elders. We serve in a variety of roles and responsibilities throughout the church, but at the heart of it is the way in which we connect the church and the world. As deacons, we have many of the rights and responsibilities as elders in the church, but we take on the role of stretching a little differently in our calling by connecting. We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, directors and much more who have responded officially to God’s call and pursued the credentialing of The UMC ordained ministry process so that we can link in our workplaces the work of the church. We also take this responsibility of bringing the world to the church seriously as well. Too often, the church can be isolated and insular thinking, but because as deacons we live in both worlds, we help the church remember what the world needs from the church. Deacons are critical partners for God’s mission in the world. One of my close mentors said to me as I was discerning my call, “The church will be strengthened when one day the deacons outnumber the elders.” The way I understood that comment was we need more people with theological training, ordained ministry credentialing and a clear understanding of calling to bridge the church and the world in ways that are effective and relevant in a 21st-century mission field. By God’s grace, deacons like me and the many others serving the church are doing our best to keep that connection alive and the bridge strengthened so that God’s “kin-dom” work is known.
Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker serves as the Executive Director for the Global Mission Connections Unit of Global Ministries for The United Methodist Church. She leads a staff that relates to partners in the worldwide United Methodist and ecumenical mission network, seeking to foster collaborative interaction for church development and Christian service. She has extensive experience on the connectional level of the church, having worked for the Connectional Table, a program and policy coordinating agency, from 2010 to 2017, four years as the top executive. She is an ordained deacon in full connection with the North Georgia Annual Conference. Most recently, she completed a book with Abingdon, called “Trust By Design: The Beautiful Behaviors of an Effective Church Culture,” taking the Towers Watson Research about the denomination’s lack of trust and exploring ways in which the church needs to rebuild trust internally and beyond church relationships. You can reach her for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.