A woman in my Bible class at the Pepperdine Lectures sidled up to me. “Are you the one who’s
the first woman to be paid to be a minister in churches of Christ?” she almost whispered.
“No,” I said. “I’ve never been paid to preach.”
It’s an awkward situation for everyone concerned. I was employed by the Culver Palms Church of
Christ, but not to be church secretary. And I wasn't employed to preach, either. I was called the
Community Outreach Coordinator. It was a job I’d done often in various churches. It was just the
first time I’d been paid to do it.
As Community Outreach Coordinator, I worked with community groups like the Palms
Neighborhood Council, served on the benevolence committee, planned service efforts for
homeless people and ran a program known as Life Skills Lab, which was developed to help local
people get jobs. The point was to make connections between the church and the community.
In 2005, I wrote the book God's Child in the City, describing my work as Community Outreach
Coordinator at Culver Palms. I attended Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Intercultural
Studies, formerly known as the School of World Missions and the Institute of Church Growth, to
learn better how to do my job.
Later, when I got home from the Lectures, I realized that, in some sense, in all my years as a
member of churches of Christ, I’ve never not been a minister. It was just a matter of definition. The
woman who asked the question in my class was using the word minister in the restricted sense of
a preacher, and I'd never been one of those.
I prefer to use the word in the sense Jesus did when he said, “I am among you as one who
serves” (See Luke 22:24-30).
I have always tried to serve. My constant prayer is to be useful, and God has used me in some
As I mentioned in the book called Time Management for Christian Women, which I co-wrote with
Helen Young in 1990, “My grandfather died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. My father was just a
baby, and Granny was pregnant with my Aunt Maxine. With no husband and two babies to support,
Granny never wondered whether or not she should work. She had to. She waited tables in a local
restaurant, cooked for field hands on my uncle’s farm, worked at the school cafeteria, and took in
boarders. She kept a large garden and canned food, made her own soap and candles.
"I remember walking to school with her on winter mornings, lighting our way across the frozen
ground with a flashlight. I remember the steamy windows and delicious smells as she and the
other ladies made hot rolls and cobbler.
"'Never be ashamed to do honest work,' she told me.
"My mother’s parents owned a dry goods store. They both worked long hours to earn a living. I
remember how hard it was to wait until the store closed on Saturday nights—and especially on
Christmas Eve. Before we could gather around Grandmother’s big dining table for a luscious
meal, then move to the living room to open those tantalizing gifts, we had to be sure all the farm
families had finished their last-minute shopping.
"My father owned a weekly newspaper, and my mother and my sister and I all worked on it—
running the clattering linotype machine and the big, creaking printing press. Often we worked late
into the night to make our weekly deadline.
"In our family the women have always worked. And so have the men and children. My best
girlfriend’s parents owned the local hardware store. Another friend and her widowed mother ran a
farm outside of town—driving tractors and raising cattle. Mothers who just kept house and children
who went out with their friends after school were a rarity.
“What a surprise to move to the city and discover that the role of women was a heated issue. What
some women considered a ‘traditional value’ had been a luxury we couldn’t afford. It’s wonderful
when women have the option of staying at home to rear their children. But for the sixty-two percent
of us with children under eighteen who have jobs, the question is not, Can we hold a job and still
meet the needs of our families? It is, rather, How can we do it? How can we manage our time on
the job efficiently so we can serve our employers, advance our careers, and still keep our families
as our first priority?
“Today’s working mothers have to fight for maternity leave and good child care. They have to
perform up to competitive standards on the job while maintaining a home and family. They do not
need a load of guilt as well."
Over the decades, I've known and loved many ministers.
1950s—Morgan Sturgess was a tall, lanky farmer who preached for the Happy Church of Christ
when I was a child. The back of his neck was sunburned, and I remember sitting behind him
week after week staring at that red neck and wondering if it hurt. I just realized that that must be the
origin of the term “redneck,” but Morgan wasn’t one of those. He was a modest, kind and loving
man and a great example of a minister.
1960s—Everett Ferguson at Abilene Christian had to be the best Bible teacher I ever studied under.
--Gordon Teel was our first minister at the Vermont Avenue Church of Christ in Los Angeles. He
was a sophisticated man with a British accent.
--J. P. Sanders was dean of Pepperdine College—a sweet, often distracted man who ministered
to me often while Frank was away on the ship off Vietnam and I was very lonely on campus.
1970s—Bill Green was a Bible teacher at Pepperdine University. Though he was half deaf, he
was scholarly and loving and cared both about the Word and about his students. His wife Ruby
was a great complement—outgoing and welcoming. They adopted us when we came to L.A.
--Harris Ives was a fellow student who lived at the corner of 79th and Budlong. He had been a
Catholic and a devoted Bible scholar. We enjoyed his coming this summer from Japan, where he
has lived and taught English for years.
--Carl Mitchell ministered to our whole family, first as a missionary in Florence when Frank and his
family lived in Rome in 1957-60, later at Vermont Avenue, and then when he ran the Florence
program at Pepperdine when our daughter Kathy went there in the late 80s.
1980s—Michio Nagai was our minister at Vermont Avenue through the rest of the time we were
there. A Bible professor at Pepperdine, he was a quiet, unassuming, Japanese-American man
who made a huge impression on all who knew him. He was loving and caring and accepting of
everyone who came to the church, and he and his wife Lorraine taught all of us by example to be
the same way.
1990s—In 1990, I wrote Time Management for Christian Women with Helen Young. She was my
mentor and a wonderful example of a Christian servant. Her husband Norvel preached as well,
but she was the one I admired, though I knew I could never be like her.
2000s—Mark Manassee has never failed to give me wise counsel. He visited me in the hospital
when I had my surgery, and he has guided the family at Culver Palms into greater love for God and
for each other. His calm demeanor never fails to reassure.
2010s—Ron Cox is a religion professor at Pepperdine who serves as our associate minister at
Culver Palms. He also visited me at the hospital, teaches the Bible class I attend, and wrote a
kind blurb for the back of my Victory Lap book.
A Matter of Definition