Leah, how did you go from theatre and music to ministry? And why?
It’s been quite a journey. It started with me meeting Jesus in college, as a theatre student at Northwestern University, outside of Chicago. Encountering Jesus in a real way was unexpected, and it turned my life upside-down for the better. Throughout college, I delved deeper into the Jesus thing, and found the results to be overwhelmingly good. I experienced healing for the first time in my life for real areas of brokenness. I was able to find freedom from an eating disorder, from the painful memories associated with childhood trauma, and more. I found new purpose for my life.
Through that process, I became able to see and admit that acting for me had been a means of escape from some of the painful realities in my life. However, once I had a spiritual grounding, no longer did I feel the need to hide in a character, embodying someone else on stage because, at my core, I didn’t like who I really was. Instead, I was able to embrace my identity as God’s wonderful creation, and longed for opportunities to tell my story and share with other broken, messy people, the transformative power of God’s affection and grace. I learned to play guitar, and started writing songs. For my senior project, I started a band and recorded a CD. And after graduation, rather than heading to Broadway, I decided to stay in Chicago and take my songs on the road as a gigging musician.
Through the years that followed, Jesus took me on a wild ride as I hung out and played in lots of rock clubs, met and married my sound guy, and also threw myself into any and every opportunity to learn and to lead in my church home, the Evanston Vineyard. For years, leaders and pastors asked me if I ever considered full-time ministry. I always answered, “No”, because in my mind to say “yes” to a vocation in the church, meant to turn away from all of those who didn’t know Jesus; the people with whom I felt most alive. I’d use the language of, “I’m called to the world; not the church.” So I played my shows, I worked my day jobs, and I led worship, started ministries, and preached “on the side”.
It took an encounter with pneumonia that had me bed-ridden for six weeks for God to change my perspective. As I lay on my couch, bored and unable to do anything I loved, I found it puzzling that the thing I missed most wasn’t my gigging, wasn’t my day job, it was all of my ministry involvement. ”Jesus, why do I miss ministry more than anything else?” I found myself praying.
The answer I heard from Jesus surprised me: “Because that’s what you were made for.”
“But I thought I was made for the world, not the church,” I responded.
“Why do you think it has to be one or the other?” he asked back. And in that moment I understood that I had spent years making a false choice. ”Church” and “world” were not meant to be separate entities. Jesus was looking for people to bring his church into the world; not to reinforce the boundaries between them. This is the kind of follower of Jesus I want to be. This is the kind of project I want to invite others into. This is why I’m on this crazy journey to launch a faith community in Berkeley. It’s because I’m chasing after Jesus, and this is where I see him: in the rock clubs, the protest rallies, the geek meetups, the schools, the neighborhoods of our cities. And I can’t wait to encounter him there.