What is your role at Westwood Church?
Five years ago, I was hired to focus on congregational care and seniors. And then COVID hit, and the priorities needed to change. A large part of what I do now is leadership discernment and development. I lead baptism and membership classes, I counsel people and preach about four times a year. And I take care of the front-of-house Sunday morning stuff.
How did God call you into ministry?
Well, I understand ministry as my whole person in all parts of my life. God has been trying to get me to pay attention to him all of my life! But in terms of working in the church and on staff, when I hit 50 and our third child was finishing high school, I was looking around to see what’s next.
Back in the late ’80s while working for InterVarsity, I took a couple of courses at Regent College. I really loved those—just show me a list of courses at a seminary, and I can’t wait to get started! (Maybe not the Greek…I left the Greek behind!) Basically, I just love learning about God’s purposes for the church. What is true, what is right, what is good? What is leadership? All these things just make my heart beat.
So I started thinking and praying about going to seminary. I didn’t know what ministry might look like — just the fact that it was possible for me. I took it a step at a time. I didn’t say, “I want to work in x role at x church.” It was more like, this is what I’m passionate about. My heart is for God’s church, I believe in the local church.
I just had open hands and said to the Lord, “I’m going to take the next step.” My husband was totally supportive, my friends were very encouraging. When I prayed about it, I just felt like, “Do the next step. Do the next thing in front of you.”
And then one thing led to another thing.
What are you passionate about within your ministry?
My passion is helping people let themselves be formed by the Lord, even in the midst of difficulty, disappointment, suffering. To help people shift from the way of thinking which is: life is good when those bad things I just described are not happening. But rather, to see that [suffering] is actually the crucible in which the Lord wants to meet us. Of course, sometimes it’s really sad and hard. But I’m very grateful when I get the honour of helping people discern what it looks like to walk with Jesus when they are in great difficulty, in suffering.
How do people respond to you as a woman leader?
Well, I was pretty nervous about that at the beginning. But I was much more worried than I needed to be. [Westwood Church] had already really delved into the topic and I had already been an elder, so people were used to me as a leader, although this was certainly a different role. There have been some times where I have purposely pulled the reins back a little bit on my style, just to help people be a little bit more at ease. If there’s a man who I’m with, and I sense that he’s feeling a bit [uneasy], then I try to be a little bit more gentle for his sake.
Louise Sinclair-Peters (Muliply’s Regional Leader for Myanmar and Central Thailand) has been an inspiration to me personally. She preaches, she disciples, she prays, she just seizes the day with all of who God has made her to
be! I talked to her personally while I was still in seminary, and she said that [being a woman in leadership] hasn’t really been a big deal. She encouraged me to pay attention to where God is leading, and go where he’s leading me.
But actually, the only place that it has really been a challenge is outside of Westwood. Obviously there are believers in my city who hold a complementarian view. I respect their view.
Or when I have gone to MB conventions, [people] always turn to my husband and ask him, “So what church do you pastor?” There have been a few younger male pastors who look quite uncomfortable when they find out my role, and don’t continue conversation. I understand.
With some of the older pastors, there’s no issue. There are a few women pastors in BC who have a variety of roles, who I sometimes get to connect with. But I think being a woman in ministry would probably be harder if I was 30. As someone in her late-50s, I’m more settled in who I am. And I hope I’m a little bit less self-conscious. I feel very accepted as a person and as a woman by my fellow pastors and by the congregation. If there are people in my congregation who don’t think that I should be pastoring because I am a woman, they haven’t told me!
Do you have any ideas about how we as an MB Conference could support women in ministry leadership?
It’s great for women who are in ministry to have an opportunity to speak out about their experience.
Another way would be to support women working together, or facilitating partnerships between churches and relationships between women pastors. For example, I know that if I said to my church leadership, “I would like to go to Williams Lake for a couple of days and shadow [lead pastor] Esther Corbett, and just ask her questions, pick her brain and watch her work,” I know that my church would absolutely go for it. It would be wonderful if that was the norm!
Also, if the local church sees gifting in somebody and the kind of character that they want to have in leadership, find out if they—male or female—need some money to help pay for schooling. Not just a few hundred dollars. For me, I did not need financial help. But let gifted leaders know you will help make it accessible.
How would you like to encourage other women who feel God’s call to leadership and ministry?
Don’t be afraid that God won’t provide a space for you. Because if you’re called, he will provide a space for you. Concentrate more on who God wants to make you as a person, be responsive to him and how he wants to form you. And let the position part take care of itself.
The other thing I would say is, go for it! Test the waters! Find a way to get to school for a year and meet some other people. Have an adventure, see where it leads, have open hands. In the end you’ll forget about how much it costs!
How do you experience renewal and restoration amidst the chaos that life in ministry can bring?
I actually had to take a couple of months off last winter because the care issues in my own family and extended family were so heavy, and there were some habits that I didn’t have in place. I was absolutely cared-out. So I took a break. And in that time, I made two changes that have been super helpful for me.
Way back, I used to be a swimmer. I now swim three times a week, in the middle of the day, which helps me to pause. The water sounds good and it feels good—it’s really good for me in many, many ways.
The other change I made is to meet with a spiritual director every month for an hour. She helps me pay attention to where God is at work. And she helps me pay attention to where I’m responsive to him, and where I resist him. Those times are just so helpful for my own growth in the Lord and life in the Lord.
How can we pray for you?
That I would keep connected to the Vine. And that I would pray for the needs that are right in front of me. Not to wait until they pile up, but right in the middle of what I’m doing, to stop and remember that the Lord wants to help me, empower me, show me, and help me be still. So that’s what I need—to just stay connected to the Vine, everyday.
Robin Bjarnason is part of the pastoral team at Westwood Church in Prince George, BC. Robin and her husband Richard have attended Westwood Church for 26 years.