Kelli Ward is a busy mom who loves to laugh; she is also the Connections Pastor at Forest Hills Wesleyan Church, Evansville, IN. She and her husband, Wayne, also an ordained pastor at Forest Hills, have four children, Karis – 8, Josiah – 7, Maria – 5, and Anna – 3. For Kelli, growing up, “Ministry was the only thing on my radar,” she said with a smile.
It all began when she was 12, on a mission trip to Tulsa, OK. Her youth group was hosting backyard Bible clubs, where Kelli felt, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Back in Southern Indiana, her grandfather, Jack Baumgartle, also a Wesleyan pastor, mentored Kelli. Her biggest cheerleader, Kelli’s grandfather was her example, the embodiment of sacrifice, love, grace, forgiveness, and surrender. Through Grandpa Jack’s encouragement, Kelli went to Indiana Wesleyan University to study Christian Ministries.
In college, Kelli had the opportunity to develop a robust Biblical support of women in ministry and leadership; but the question remained: After graduation, what would be next? Kelli kept missionary service open as a viable option, but felt God’s leading toward the ordained pastorate. In 2005, Kelli was ordained, a moment in her life she simply describes as, “Profound.”
While being a youth pastor in Southern Indiana seemed to be the last thing Kelli would have wanted to do, God has been using Kelli for 13 years at Forest Hills Wesleyan to deeply impact the lives of the teens there. Kelli sees the highlights of her ministry as twofold: firstly, witnessing people come to know Christ, and secondly, mentoring those whom God is calling to ministry.
However, at Forest Hills Wesleyan, tragedy struck that has shaped the Church’s life and ministry.
On January 2, 2011, the Church burned to the ground from a fire that started in the sanctuary. The loss was devastating. “The loss of a church is like the loss of a home, with lost memories,” Kelli recounted wistfully.
But God makes all things new. “We are no longer defined by the tragedy,” she says through a smile, “We are focusing on the future.”
Moving forward seems to be a theme in Kelli’s life and ministry, beyond her church’s experience with the fire. From finding normal after church fires to discerning life calling, Kelli reminds us: “The process is following God, not following a goal.”
This mantra is the same advice Kelli gives to young people sensing a call into ministry. “Allow God to affirm and direct your call. Once affirmed, walk in boldness. If you wait for [continued] affirmation [from people], you might be waiting a long time,” she says. But especially in regards to being a woman in ministry, “Let’s just go do what God’s called us to do,” she says.
Emily Hines is a licensed pastor at Brookhaven Wesleyan Church. She love to read, garden, laugh, craft, and cook. Read more about Emily and our other Staff Writers here.