Rev. Dr. Grace May is a minister at large with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and recently launched a non-profit organization called WOW! (Women of Wonder, Inc.) to empower women to fulfill their God-given dreams. A Chinese American born and raised in New York City, she has a doctorate from Boston University School of Theology, an M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a B.A. in English from Yale University. Grace’s interests include tasting international cuisines and worshiping with brothers and sisters from around the world.
What are some ministry challenges you’ve experienced that you hadn’t expected?
First, I hadn’t anticipated how political churches are, and I wasn’t well-equipped for the brokering of power. Traditional seminaries only emphasize exegeting God’s word, but as important as that is, it’s not the only thing that you need to know. Learning some basics in management or finance would have been helpful. In fact, I sometimes think a business degree would have been more helpful and practical than seminary.
I also didn’t realize how consuming pastoral ministry can be. This is true for both men and women. Being single, I was able to focus solely on my church ministry. Then one day, my friend said to me, “Grace, you’re married to the church” – and I realized that she was right! I ate, breathed, thought about, and stressed about church all the time. It’s easy to become that way as a minister, but I also don’t think it’s necessary, or what God envisioned when he called people to be shepherds.
How do you keep your joy amidst ugly church politics?
I think there are so many ways that God infuses us with life and joy, but for me, two things that have helped the most are good friends and a lifeline with the Lord through prayer. God has been over the top with providing me with friends and community, even as people move through life stages. Pastors need to be part of small groups of friends with whom they can be real. I thank God for Skype, which allows me to keep in touch with friends, even with those who have become missionaries.
I’m also known for calling friends nationwide or overseas on a Saturday night just to ask for prayer. I beg them to pray for me, especially when I’m having trouble with a sermon. It’s great to have friends all over the world in all different time zones, because I can find somebody to pray with at any hour of the day or night. Whether with prayer partners, small groups, at the Brooklyn Tabernacle with 2,000 other people, early morning prayer, or typing out prayers – there’s nothing that does more to impact or empower my ministry. Also, I find that the times when I’m overwhelmed is when I need prayer the most.
It’s been quite a journey, but my latest breakthrough came through my spiritual director. We spoke about my love-hate relationship with preaching, and she asked if I ever prayed to God as the Artist. I was puzzled at first, but as I sat with the thought, I realized that God was the creator of the sermon and of me. God is the Potter and we are the clay. What if I saw myself as just part of the creative process, part of the work that God was already doing in the life of the congregation, knowing who would be present and what each person was going through, speaking to people through the worship as well as the sermon and applying the word to people’s lives individually and corporately? I’ve only been practicing this kind of prayer for a month, but it’s like an enormous burden has been lifted, because preaching is no longer about “getting it right,” but trusting that God will make something beautiful out of my offering, even if it is just five loaves and two fish.
Interviewed by Joy Wong