Serving God Faithfully
by Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook
For the past four decades, I have been called a trailblazer in ministry. Faithfully, I have tried to serve God and be a good steward of God’s creation and God’s people. I can say wholeheartedly that God rewards faithfulness. I’ve had a fruitful, faithful, and faith-filled ministry. Yes, there have been some ups and downs, but more ups! This book, The Sister’s Guide to Survive and Thrive in Ministry, is filled with suggestions, wisdom, and experience, resulting from the marvelous opportunities and relationships afforded me in this journey.
From humble beginnings in a five-story walk-up in Harlem, to accompanying and advising two US Presidents on Air Force One, my ministry has been rich, rewarding, and increasingly reflective. As I share, I also want those who are wrestling with or answering the call to Christian ministry to get an eagle-eyed view from a woman’s perspective. The journey is different, but it does not have to be difficult.
As a fourth generation of female ministers enters the world stage, this Guide is a pocket manual of lessons learned, lived, and loved. It is not to replace anyone’s journey, for each one must tread her own path, but it is a sharing of where the landmines are found, where the “bodies” are buried, where the Holy Spirit dwells, and where the joy is!
In my church we used to sing a song, “This joy that I have, the world didn’t give to me….” There is a sweet joy in serving God, even if it takes others time to catch up to what God is doing in and through and with you. If there is one theme throughout this book and my life, it is that I want women in ministry to keep going and to keep growing.
When David says of God in the twenty-third Psalm, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .” I think it could be a preamble for female faith leaders. Yes, we regularly find ourselves in the presence of those who set themselves up as our enemies. Yes, there are many tables at which we may be forbidden to sit, or where others may refuse to serve us. And yet, in the midst of anything thrown at us—sexism, racism, ageism—God still prevails. So, God is saying, and I’m trying to say through The Sister’s Guide, “Come on, take your seat at the table.” Do not worry about the tables to which you have not been invited. Seize and squeeze the God-given opportunities placed before you.
My own favorite chapters in this little book are the first chapter, “It’s Not about You, It’s All about God,” and the last, “Select Your Own Village Mothers: The Value of Wisdom.” The opening chapter is a reminder to keep your perspective, to stay “level-headed” so you can be faithful, and faith-filled. When one of us goes out of her lane, she ends up in a ditch on this highway called life. God should be our driver. We are merely the passengers, fortunate enough to be asked to assist.
No one owes us anything in ministry, so it’s best to be thankful, and bloom where you are planted. Never forget those who are beloved and special in your life, such as your family. During most of my pastoral service, I was married and raising two young children. Who is counting on you at home? A spouse? Children? Aging parents? Do not lose your precious relationships.
The last chapter on finding “Village Mothers” is appropriate, because this generation of female ministers may embrace the benefit of experienced role models and living examples, that my generation of trailblazers simply didn’t have. How blessed you are to be surrounded by great wisdom! But now that we have advanced in years, you are the leaders we’ve been looking for.
That’s one of the reasons I lead an annual retreat for Christian women leaders. I want those who are new to the “walk” to find themselves in the company of other female faith leaders whom they admire—perhaps sharing a meal, enjoying a long walk, or sipping a cup of coffee in a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere.
The Sister’s Guide is your tool kit, your guide to enjoy the journey as you learn and glean along the way!
Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook is the first African American woman to be elected senior pastor in the 200-year history of the American Baptist Churches USA. She was faith advisor to President Bill Clinton, and during the Obama administration, she served as the third US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. She can be followed at Ambassador Sujay Johnson Cook on Facebook and LinkedIn, and iamdrsujay on Twitter and Instagram. Her email address is AmbassadorSujay@gmail.com.
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