Get to Know Joe Ella Darby | Forum for Theological Exploration

Get to Know Joe Ella Darby

By: Joe Ella Darby
November 19, 2020

One of the gifts the pandemic gave me was an opportunity to encourage new ministry strategies because there was nothing to lose.

Rev. Joe Ella Darby, an FTE Alum based in Nashville, Tennessee, where she serves as the vacation bible school coordinator for the Sunday School Publishing Board and the assistant to the pastor for discipleship at First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill. She is also currently participating in a Chaplain residency program serving the VA hospital. In her Q&A, Rev. Darby shares what excites her most about FTE’s work, how her ministry has changed during the pandemic, and advice to young adults discerning their call.

How has being a part of the FTE community helped or inspired you?

My first encounter with FTE inspired me to think critically about what I was taught and how that impacted my ministry. FTE continues to inspire me to be challenged and learn from a diverse body of knowledge and experiences, which continues to allow for growth and maturity. As I grow, my ministry becomes more effective because the people I serve grow as well.

As an FTE donor, what excites you most about the organization’s mission and work? And why is it important to support FTE through giving?

I was introduced to FTE at a time when I didn’t know I needed the organization. I remember meeting Matthew Williams and Stephen Lewis as a Congregational Fellow, and not being ready for their theological challenge of my conservative thoughts. Yet, I was drawn to their challenge, and it was what I needed as I was heading into seminary. What I appreciated about that time was the intentional care of their willingness to ask me my “why.” This has continued to excite me about FTE’s mission and work and is why I support the organization through giving. Holding a brave space for a diverse group of leaders to explore their why—whether it is why one pursues theological studies, holds certain theological perspectives, or why it’s important to discern one’s purpose or call is good work that I want to partner in.

In what ways do you think the church or the academy can better support or prepare future faith leaders?

The church and the academy should continue to hold space that allows future faith leaders to explore many possibilities of how they can join God at work. In preparing future faith leaders, I feel it’s important for leaders to explore the complexities of faith in practice and action. Especially, beyond the congregation, so they can understand faith through the lens of those who think and practice differently.

What advice would you give a young person discerning their purpose, passion, or call?

I would tell them to stay open to non-traditional paths. Discern the path that God has for you and not what God has for someone else. Do the necessary individual work of discerning where God is leading you while inviting a trusted community to affirm what God is doing in this season of your life. Be open and willing to change course if the path you are traveling no longer fits you or is no longer life-giving. Know that changing course is as much part of the process as finding the right fit. Rest assured that there is purpose in the process, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and carry ample amounts of water as you journey forward.

Before the pandemic, FTE announced Visionary Leadership as its theme for 2020. During these challenging times, how has visionary leadership shown up for you in your work?

One of the gifts the pandemic gave me was an opportunity to encourage new ministry strategies because there was nothing to lose. Helping to transition a mostly senior congregation to a virtual community was a good challenge that benefited us well. We saw an increase in participation in our Christian Education activities. And we were able to cast a vision to our core leaders of how we could still serve the community, just differently.

We identified local African American small businesses to patronize, allowing us to deliver meals and “thank you” packages to those on the front lines. We sent packages to staff at a domestic violence shelter, our local ER, a senior living facility, and staff at homeless shelters. Because of this, I’ve proposed a plan to reframe our understanding of missions to include partnering with local community organizations practicing and promoting Christian values even if Christ is not in their mission statement. It is my desire for those we serve to gain a greater vision for God’s heart and what’s important to God. This includes our congregation financially partnering and volunteering with community leaders committed to pursuing economic justice, racial justice, political justice, or other forms of justice, not limiting mission work to conversion of one’s soul but a full conversion of one’s heart.

Tags...: Inspired Leaders


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