Roundabout Path to Ministry for One Colorado Pastor

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Lee Lee Dart never aspired to pastoral ministry. But after raising her kids, taking a trip to Rwanda and then earning a local seminary degree, this stay-at-home mom is now the pastor of one of Colorado's largest churches, inspiring her congregation and community with her commitment to her calling.

Question: You are lead pastor for the Adventure Church in Greeley, Colorado, one of the largest churches in the Rocky Mountain Conference. Previously, you served as associate pastor of the church. How long have you been at the Adventure Church in both positions? 

Answer: I was hired as a part-time worship pastor in September of 2011.  I became a full-time associate pastor in August 2015 and was interim pastor for a year. Now I have been lead pastor for almost a year.

What do you most appreciate about the Adventure Church? 

I appreciate the philosophy of ministry, the unique organizational structure, and the commitment to lifting up Jesus.

Is there anything that you feel is a particular challenge? 

The education and implementation of our unique organizational structure has been a challenge. Because it is not a pastor-centric or top-down model, there is constant education of our leadership and community on how it works. 

Even though this structure was voted on a few years ago, it has only recently been implemented, and we are working out the challenges of this model.  

Having a woman pastor is a new thing, and our structure is new as well.

What parts of being a pastor do you most enjoy?

I love having a front-row seat to seeing someone fall in love with Jesus. 

I do a lot of spiritual mentoring/discipling (one-on-one and small groups). 

I love the process of preparing a sermon and then delivering it. 

One of my favorite things as a pastor is providing opportunities for individual growth and ministry. We encourage participation from all ages for preaching, organizing, visiting, and outreach. I love to help develop leaders and speakers.  I love to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in providing members opportunities to exercise their spiritual gifts. I enjoy loving, encouraging, and equipping our community.

What topics do you feel most called upon to preach about? Are there parts of the Bible that speak to you especially?

I love the whole Bible, but if I had to pick, what speaks to me the most personally is Psalms and John. And I am passionate about lifting up Jesus and the glory (the character of God). 

I also think we do not understand the role of the Holy Spirit.  I long for our church to understand the indwelling Christ, the Holy Spirit.  This is the age of the Holy Spirit’s emphasized work, in these last days.  It is vital for us to experience the indwelling Holy Spirit: the source of all power for love and righteousness. So I feel called and speak frequently about the Holy Spirit’s role in our relationship to God.

What is the Adventure Church doing in the community? 

Our model does not plan from the top down.  We are organized from the bottom up. When someone from our community has a calling for an outreach ministry, our leadership comes alongside them and supports them. 

Our outreach ministries include these areas: 

-FAITH (Feeding and Inspiring the Hungry is a ministry alongside a low-income housing area in Greeley in providing needs and friendship; 

a homeless backpack ministry (praying with and giving food and basic needs to the homeless in Greeley and surrounding areas);

-a Tool Box Ministry (simple projects of repair in the home for widows, elderly, and poor);

-a Diaper Ministry (a partnership with community agencies in providing diapers and baby items for immigrants and the poor in Greeley):

-and the Guadalupe Center (we partner with Catholic charities in providing preparation of meals and serving for their facility which helps the poor and homeless get back on their feet again).

We also have individuals out in the community giving Bible studies and sharing Christ in tangible ways through friendships.  

Our DNA at the Adventure is Friendship Evangelism.  All that we plan encourages that. 

When did you decide to become a pastor? What made you want to follow this career? Did you do something else before going into the ministry? 

I never aspired to be a pastor. I was a stay-at-home mom for almost 20 years.  I was always involved in my local church in ministry and leadership as well volunteering with other organizations. 

I have always lived and breathed ministry since I was young. My husband Jed and I went on a mission trip to Rwanda and were so moved by the experience that we thought and prayed about becoming missionaries there for a few years.  

Okay, let’s take a little detour and come back to that question. How did you happen to go to Rwanda?

The church that I was attending at the time of our trip to Rwanda in 2008 was New Day Christian Seventh-day Adventist Church in Parker, Colorado. Our church had sponsored a village (Nyamagabi) there through World Vision.  We went there to see our sponsored child and see the work that World Vision was doing.  We also visited the Adventist church and did some VBS and dental work.

I would really love to go back because I fell in love with the country and its people.  We met a young man, John Gasangwa, who worked for World Vision at the time and now has his own ministry called Arise Rwanda.  We brought him to the United States to get his Master’s at Colorado State University, and he then went back to Rwanda to start his ministry. I would love to go see what God has done through him in Rwanda.  He has built schools and helped with sustainability in agriculture and water.  

So back to how this Rwanda trip inspired your career. . .

Neither Jed nor I were in the medical field, so I thought that if I got my Master’s I could possibly teach college Bible classes in Rwanda. I have always loved studying the Bible, so I thought that was the area I could contribute as a missionary. Master’s degree in Spiritual Growth, I had no idea how I was going to use it, other than our desire to go to Rwanda.  

Well, I thought that Rwanda was God’s plan, but he opened another door at The Adventure Church, and we knew that was His will for us. The lead pastor at the time, Mitch Williams, was the person who mentored me and encouraged me to become an associate pastor.  He saw the Spirit working in me and affirmed my calling as a pastor. 

How is your work as a pastor how you imagined it would be? Has anything surprised you? 

I really didn’t imagine anything.  I just have always wanted to be obedient to God, no matter what He asks of me. And now that I have experience in the pastoral role, I see very clearly what a perfect fit it is for me. 

What has surprised me is the criticism of my obedience to God. I think I was very naive about the opposition of some.

Did you feel any hesitation about this career choice because of your gender? 

No, my hesitation was only that I wanted to make sure this was God’s will.

Do you ever feel discriminated against in any way in your pastoral role as a woman? 

Certainly not from my own community, but outside my community, at times, yes. But I know that God has called me. I have had friends and family who say I am not obeying God and that I am deceived and maligning the word of God by being a female pastor.  This has hurt me deeply. All I desire is to follow God. However, it brings me to my knees all the more.  It has drawn me closer to God and more fervent in obeying Him no matter what people will say. I have even prayed to God that if it is not His will that He will please remove me. 

Where did you earn your degrees? Did you go to Andrews?

My undergraduate degree was in Business Management at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas. 

For theology, I attended Denver Seminary, and I chose that over Andrews because I wanted to finish in a few years, and I learn best in a classroom setting. Denver Seminary was close to my house, so I could have that instructor/student interaction in person. 

My Master’s degree was in Spiritual Growth at Denver Seminary.  I have taken continuing education classes since then at Andrews University. 

When I entered Denver Seminary, I was a strong believer in our Adventist theology. After my education experience at Denver Seminary, I am even stronger in our beliefs. The Adventist movement, I believe, paints the clearest picture of a God of love. The Great Controversy theme is the only theme that makes biblical and logical sense in the big picture to me.

Where are you from originally? How do you like living in Colorado?

I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I met my husband, Jed, at Southwestern, and after we were married in 1986, his job took us to southern California. He was transferred to Denver, Colorado, five years later, and we have lived here ever since.  

Colorado is not a state I would have chosen.  If it had been up to me, I would have lived my whole life in Texas. But I have grown to appreciate Colorado and its beauty, four seasons, and the wonderful plan God had for us to move here and minister.  We have formed deep and godly friendships in the 25 years we have lived here. I am so grateful. It would be hard to move now; however, Jed and I know to follow God wherever he leads.

You said you were a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. Want to tell us a little about your kids?

I think being a stay-at-home mom prepared me so much for my role as a pastor, especially being able to work with all sorts of personalities.  My girls Caroline and Heidi are now in their 20s. Caroline and her husband attend our church.  They lead the young adult Sabbath School class and are small group leaders. Heidi is graduating with a degree in communications and business from Southwestern Adventist University, just got a job with Faith Search Partners, and will be living in Washington, D.C. They both are very active in the church and love Jesus. I am so proud of their spiritual journeys and that they have hung on to Jesus no matter what they have gone through.

What does your husband do?

Jed has worked almost 30 years for McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing. He is a salesman and his territory is Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, part of Idaho, and Alaska. He travels about half the month during the week. He is very outgoing and loves to serve people. We are a good team in ministry, and I couldn’t imagine serving in my role without him. We have been married 32 years, and I adore him!  He is the most loving person I know.

Do you feel that views on women pastors in the Adventist church have changed since you were growing up? How do you see them changing in the next five or 10 years? 

Yes.  I remember when I was attending Southwestern back then in the 1980s, I ran for Spiritual Vice President for the Student Association my senior year. I lost by a few votes.  I was told that the ministerial students were going around boycotting me because they thought a woman should not hold that position. At the time, I was upset, but it never discouraged me.  I knew that God would open and close opportunities for me.  And it never deterred me from doing ministry.  

I do see that there will be changes in the future. When? It is hard to say. But I know in Joel it was prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh in the last days. And I look forward to the day when everyone the Spirit has gifted can proclaim the good news of the gospel, no restrictions in the way!

How did you feel about the vote that went against ordaining women at the General Conference in 2015? Do you think the world church will begin ordaining women anytime? 

My personal vote was to let the local unions decide whether women should be ordained. If certain churches accept women being ordained and a woman can be effective in bringing the gospel to that community and not cause division or upheaval, then let them.  I believe that God will bless those pastors, men or women, who depend on Him fully.  They will have fruit for their ministry.  And fruit is not just numbers, but it is pastors who are faithful to God no matter the odds.  

I don’t know if the church will be ordaining women anytime soon. I just know that God is the one who ordains, not man. Could we just leave it up to Him?

Do you have a network with other women pastors? 

Yes, we have a few women pastors in our area who get together for support and mentorship. I have always had spiritual mentors since I was a teenager. And I always will. I also have men mentors, too.

What advice would you have for young women who feel called to ministry? 

Make sure your ministry calling is an outflow of your relationship with God.  If you are called, God will provide you with opportunities.  Bloom where you are planted by Him. Trust Him like Joseph did. Be an example of humbleness, love, and submission to God first and foremost.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum

Image courtesy of Lee Lee Dart.

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