One of my favorite evangelists is known by her place of conversion.
She is the woman at the well — the Samaritan woman — who encountered Jesus while she was filling her water pot. She had a conversation that transformed her and moved her to share her experience with others.
While I am sure she was probably just minding her business, she ends up having a divine encounter with Jesus that covers a lot of subjects, including wells, water, worship and the Messiah. When Jesus dipped into her business (“call your husband”), she realized this conversation was different.
She mistakes Jesus for a prophet, but Jesus lets her know he is the Messiah during this exchange in John 4:25-26: “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”
It is after this exchange that the disciples return to find Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, and even though they were surprised by the scene they didn’t ask Jesus — or the woman — to explain what was happening.
Besides, the woman didn’t stick around to answer questions. She left her water pot and went back into the city to invite others to come (John 4:29-30: “’Come, see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city and came to him.”)
What I love about this woman is how she invited people to Jesus without an ordination service, a Bible school or seminary education, or permission from anybody. She didn’t even ask Jesus if she could tell what happened.
She just went back to the city and preached, inviting people to Jesus — to partake of the Gospel.
My mother, the Rev. Arlene Bates, said people who proclaim the Gospel immediately after their conversions have pure proclamations: “They simply tell what has happened.” That is what happened with the woman at the well — she just told what happened because it was an experience that changed her.
Too often, when God calls people to assignments — especially ministry — others show up with a list of requirements to meet and rules to follow.
Sometimes, people will boldly ask, “Who gave you the authority to preach?”
The authority comes from God. To me, ordination is recognition of what God already has ordained and authorized. While ordination boards and other checks and balances have an important place, sharing how your life has been transformed by the Gospel doesn’t require a certificate or approval. I have learned to follow God’s voice, because people always have reservations about whether you are capable of what God has called you to do.
When I was called to ministry, it was exactly the last thing I wanted to do. I had a plan. Nothing ministry-related was on my radar. My mother is a pastor. I had a front-row seat to how women were not always treated fairly in ministry. I watched her do what God called her to do regardless of what other people had to say or what they would do.
During the time I was sensing my call to ministry, I had a long conversation with one of my best friends. We discussed the pros and cons and why even if I was called, I wouldn’t do it.
This time in my life coincided with a period of insomnia. During a doctor’s appointment, I mentioned to my physician that I was having trouble sleeping. He told me some things to do, but also gave me sleeping pills for days when I needed them. It wasn’t funny, but the first night I took a sleeping pill, it seemed I was more awaken than I had ever been. I knew God was speaking to me and trying to get my attention. I was rejecting the overtures. Over the course of a month or so, I occasionally took a sleeping pill, but it didn’t help me sleep.
One night, I called my best friend, who had just purchased a new piano and was an excellent musician. I asked him if he could play some music to help me fall asleep. He started playing the hymn, I Surrender All. I hung up on him! But when he called back, he asked me if I thought I was going to be able to run from God forever.
As I pursued my call, I heard many reasons why ministry wasn’t right for me — not because God called me — because I was a woman. I was a woman of color. I didn’t have the education. I wasn’t as committed to Christ as I needed to be.
I told God all of those excuses and reasons others had provided me with, because they sounded good to me. During an intense time of prayer and discernment, God reminded me – he called me. Other people could tell me why I wasn’t cut out for ministry, what I needed in order to do ministry, or why it wasn’t the right time, but they were not the ones who had called me — God had.
In one of my moments of doubt, I remember sobbing about not wanting to be in ministry. I heard God speak to my heart: Proclaim the Gospel. I am with you.
So now, like the woman at the well, I proclaim the Gospel. And I love telling people, come see a man.