Meredith Summers: Church community: Joy in sharing life together

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Meredith Summers has been the minister to women and singles at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene since 2016. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on church and ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated minister to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?

• First Baptist Church in Hamilton, children’s minister
• First Baptist Church in Chilton, youth minister

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Abilene, Texas.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I was 7 years old. I remember driving home with my family from Sunday night church in our Ford Aerostar minivan and asking lots of questions about what it meant to be a Christian. When we got home, I went with my mom to her room to talk further and prayed that night to commit my life to following Jesus.

I know everyone’s experience is different, but I vividly remember feeling that night that my heart would burst with joy. In all the excitement, I ran out of my mom’s bedroom, grabbed this Nerf football I noticed on the floor and punted it into the air. However, it bounced off the ceiling and hit my older sister. She got mad, a sibling fight ensued, and let’s just say I rather quickly got to experience how even as Christians we will mess up but can always come to God for forgiveness—even when we smack our sister.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

• Howard Payne University, Bachelor of Arts in Cross-Cultural Studies
• Truett Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity in Missions and World Christianity

About ministry life

Why do you feel called into ministry?

I grew up in a single parent family. When I was 4 years old, my dad lost a hard-fought battle with leukemia. While I probably always will wonder what it would have been like to grow up with my dad, one thing I am grateful for is how I have been able to see the goodness of God displayed through his people in the way they rallied around my family in the days and years to come.

I completely believe I am in ministry today because the Lord instilled in me from a very early age a deep love and affection for the body of Christ because of all the many ways I have seen the church be the church. I have witnessed for myself how perseverance and healing best take place in community, and I know down deep God has called me to serve the local church as together we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?

The relationships. Often at church, we can have our “circles,” so to speak. Our close friendships usually are made up of those in our Sunday School class, small group and people in our same stage of life. However, in my role, I am able to connect deeply and develop genuine, meaningful relationships with people of all ages. I love the diverse community my job brings naturally. It enriches and blesses my life.

What one aspect of ministry gives you the greatest joy?

I love creating space and opportunities for people genuinely to share life with one another. We each have a story to tell, and most likely it is made up of deep hurts, joys, setbacks and breakthroughs.

In ministry, I love having a front-row seat to the power of vulnerability. I love witnessing the body of Christ walk through life together, grieving our deepest wounds and celebrating our greatest victories. I love seeing walls broken and hope renewed as people share the gospel, their stories and their very lives.

In a culture where we always are connected but rarely in community, it is one of my greatest joys to watch the church offer a better way of living.

How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?

I think I once believed that to be an effective minister, I needed to be an incredibly capable person, that I needed to be able to “do it all,” that I needed to preach, teach, lead every event and organize every project.

At Pioneer Drive, we often say we want to be contributors, not consumers, but when I feel the need to overdo, I am not helping us accomplish that goal. I am hindering it. I have come to realize a truly effective minister is an equipper, that I don’t need or even should do it all because I am surrounded by so many gifted people who simply need someone to help and cheer them on.

About Baptists

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

Denominationally, I believe one of the key issues facing Baptists today is how we will respond to our very polarized cultural climate.

I am reminded of the words of St. Francis and believe right now for us as Baptists, they are particularly relevant:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen

About Meredith

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

My mom. She lost my dad to leukemia when she was only 36 years old. Throughout my life, however, she always has shown me what it means to live gratefully, to be quick to listen and slow to speak, to persevere and to trust God even when life doesn’t go as planned. The character traits she modeled and worked so hard to instill in her children have been some of my greatest assets and blessings as a minister.

My former youth pastor and his wife, Chris and Blinda Raley. I remember the first time I ever taught Scripture. I was in the 9th grade and was the Bible story teacher during our youth mission trip to Mission Arlington. The first day after I finished my lesson, Blinda immediately came up to me and said, “You have the gift of teaching.”

Sometimes it can be my tendency to feel I am not qualified enough or good enough or gifted enough to do something. I think: “Someone else should do that. They would do a much better job.” But ever since that day at Mission Arlington, Chris and Blinda have never stopped encouraging me and pushing me to use my gifts in ministry. They provided me with some of my earliest ministry experience as they gave me opportunities to grow, learn and serve. I forever am grateful for the investment they made in my life.

What is the impact of ministry on your family?

I am a single mom to a 7-year-old boy. It’s funny because sometimes I will hear him talk about how “he is famous” at church. I suppose in his mind being a minister’s kid certainly has its advantages.

Much like my son, I too was raised by a single mom. Looking back, the way our church stood in the gap for my family was such a gift from God and one of my greatest blessings. Therefore, it is always my prayer my son one day will be able to say the same thing—that in the church, he saw God. Not just in the Sunday school lessons and the sermons and the singing, but in the people, the community and the way they faithfully loved us in good times and bad.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

There are so many, but I particularly love “The Valley of Dry Bones” passage in Ezekiel 37. Verses 13-14 read: “Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”

I love the imagery here and, of course, the significance these verses held for Israel. However, I cling to them all the more because I know—both then and now—my God is a God who breathes new life into dead spaces. He opens our graves. He brings us up from them. He restores. He resurrects. This is the message we get to share.

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

I always have loved Barnabas. Acts 4:36 tells us his name was actually Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas which means “son of encouragement.” Throughout the book of Acts, we find Barnabas selling a field he owned and laying the money at the apostles’ feet, advocating for the acceptance of a former persecutor of the church named Saul, and giving John Mark a second chance even after he deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey. It is no wonder why the apostles called him “son of encouragement.”

I want to be a Barnabas. I want to be found as an encourager, a person willing to give second chances and stand beside people when they need someone to hold them up.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

As a minister, I often must be in front of a crowd, whether it’s leading an event, giving the welcome or preaching the occasional sermon. However, I have a terrible fear of public speaking. Even a two-minute welcome gets my stomach all twisted in knots. I am by no means someone who naturally feels at ease in front of a crowd, but I try my best to hide my fear and discomfort.

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