For Laura Smith, a newer believer who came to faith at Courageous Church in Bellevue, Washington, the local church provided a partnership in new life and a new calling to serve others.
Laura didn’t see herself leading in the church context or even attending; not because she had real antipathy toward the church but because church seemed like an “extra,” an unnecessary add-on to a life already pointed in a relatively moral direction.
“I didn’t feel like a sinner,” reflected Laura. “I thought, ‘I’m a good person, a good mom; I pay my taxes, I pay my bills; I do everything I’m supposed to do — I go to work, I don’t cheat, I don’t steal.”
But at an Easter meal, when her brother-in-law opened the Scriptures and read, something came alive — a gospel beyond the “bad news” of being a sinner and needing to repent — a gospel that was authentically “good news”: inviting Laura into greater wholeness, freedom and love.
Because Laura knew Hannah Klopfenstein, lead pastor of Courageous Church, she talked with Pastor Hannah and hoped for an invitation to church. Pastor Hannah eagerly invited her; Laura attended and, in the process, met with God through services at Courageous.
This meeting with God was a tremendous paradigm shift for Laura, who had long seen God as distant, passive and aloof. “The God I envisioned was way out there — somewhere back in time in history, or in the future after we die — but not someone that I thought could play a part in my daily life.”
Through Courageous, Laura found a community of people committed to loving and serving as Jesus does. Before long, she found that community working together to love, support and help her use her gifts to shepherd others.
Since joining the congregation, Laura has been involved in small groups, in connecting with others in the congregation and (now) leading the Courageous hospitality team.
“Laura has contagious joy,” said Pastor Hannah. “God has gifted Laura to carry this contagious joy to other people … you see that in everything she does. She’s tremendously gifted in hospitality; you see that in the way she opens her home … and you see that in hospitality now at the church, too. When you come into the church, you can feel the welcoming nature of the church has been increased, and a lot of it is her attention to detail … she sees things that others don’t see, in how we can make Courageous Church an inviting space.”
Having led in other spaces throughout her career, Laura says she has regular opportunities to hone leadership gifts — including hospitality and connection with others — the difference, she says, is in the sincere love God has given her for those she serves.
“Externally, I’ve always been friendly and nice — so I don’t have one of those stories where I was a horrible person; now I’m still friendly and nice, but I actually mean it,” said Laura. “I want to show people love.”
That desire to love the community through the local church has led Laura to pursue a call to vocational ministry — making her the first in her friend circle to cross the line to faith and the first in her friend circle to accept a call to ministry.
“She went to places where faith had never been part of the conversation and had to take the step to tell people that she had a major life change and was being transformed … and then there was another layer of having to go back to people who had known her for decades and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to become a pastor.’”
Every step of the way, Laura has found Courageous Church partnering with her, guiding and providing her with a place to step into ministry and leadership. But the underlying reasons she’s come to faith and to ministry are the same: a sense that the gospel is actually good news for her life and Courageous Church’s willingness to let her have a part in sharing good news with the community.
“I didn’t get the point of going to church before, because there wasn’t real transformation,” said Laura. “At home and on a day-to-day basis, believers I knew behaved the exact same way as nonbelievers, it didn’t make sense to me! Wesleyan belief makes sense to me because of day-to-day holiness; actively pursuing Jesus, and pursuing being more like him … that just makes sense to me, and religion makes sense to me. God put me in the right place.”
For more stories of transformed lives, churches and communities, visit wesleyan.org/news.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.