-Ashley DeTar Birt
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7
What kind of person do you imagine when you think of a church leader? If “tradition” has anything to do with it, you’re probably imagining someone male, white, and aged: these are the traits often associated with pastors, God, and even Jesus. Growing up, authority figures in my church were always older, traditionally masculine men, usually white, and married to a woman. Those men taught me a lot about Christ and faith, but they accidentally taught me something else: I was not built for church leadership. As a queer woman of color, when the words “church leader” or “pastor” came up, I saw someone who wasn’t me.
God sees people a little differently. Throughout Scripture, unlikely people are called to God’s service. Moses had speech issues, yet he led his people out of captivity and slavery. Mary Magdalene did not always garner the respect of the other disciples, yet she was chosen to witness and spread the word about Jesus’ resurrection. God’s instructions to Samuel work the same way: sent to find a new king, he is told not just to look for the most physically fitting candidate but the one with the right heart.
Many of us aren’t the most “obvious” vehicles for God’s work. Who we love, how we present, and how we identify can be used by others—or ourselves—to ignore the gifts we bring. What matters most is that we have right hearts ready to serve the Lord. What others think of us shouldn’t stop us from responding to God’s call: indeed, our different identities give us perspectives and talents traditional leaders might lack. We are uniquely qualified to lead in the name of God.
As you approach the end of the week, remember that God looks at our hearts and calls us as we are. Celebrate what makes you you!
About The Author
Ashley Detar Birt is the Director of Christian Education at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City. She obtained her Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, an MA in Theater Arts from the University of Pittsburgh, and a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She serves on the board of More Light Presbyterians and blogs on the intersections of race, sexuality, and faith for Believe Out Loud.