My entire life, I have identified as someone who does things “by the book.” I’ve always craved knowledge. Seriously, there were no adults or facilitators present for many of my learning processes. I taught myself how to count by twos, partially how to read, and even sections of algebra in high school. Sometimes to a fault, I take pride in following the book.
I cannot count how many papers I have written with every sentence completed with at least one citation. These excessive citations are partly because I’m afraid of plagiarism. At the same time, I want to credit the original creator of an idea. I would participate in panels, and my statements would usually begin by “Brené Brown wrote…” “Claud Anderson said…” or “Kelly Brown Douglass believed…” I’ve found that there is tremendous value in those who can easily read, process, and regurgitate information.
About one year ago, I realized that one voice was constantly missing. One voice was silenced. This one voice was silenced out of fear of rejection, critique, insecurity, and feelings of inadequacy. The voice that was missing was mine. The worst part, I silenced myself.
I remember the first time I heard that my voice didn’t matter. I carried those words with me from sixth grade until I was a 26-year-old doctoral student. Seeds of empowerment, courage, authenticity, and prophetic engagement were planted along the way. Finally, in January 2021, I had to own it. I had to own my voice that God had been developing quietly for years.
It’s important to note that I was already a preacher, church planter, pastor, published researcher, student, and teacher at this point. These are all things that required my voice. I always provided a voice, but I never offered my voice. The things that silenced my voice then still exist, like fear of rejection or feeling under-qualified. Honestly, it is still a complicated and ongoing process.
Amid all of these feelings, I simultaneously promised my younger self and my future self. I vowed to speak anyway. My voice is present in conversation with all the people I have quoted for years. Whether writing or speaking, I bring my entire self, including my voice, to the assignment.
I cannot speak to everything, but I can speak well to some things. Even when people, institutions, or even my inner critic tries to silence me, I embrace my ability to do all things through Christ, and I speak. I speak the truth- my truth, truths of those around me, and ultimately, God’s truth. I speak love in rooms filled with hate or fear. I speak faith to communities dying spiritually, and they may be unaware. I use a variety of sources from scripture to pop culture to music to get these messages across to God’s children across a variety of audiences.
I will list a few topics to which I recognize I am anointed to speak. Literally, God calls and favors me to talk to and from these areas, and I pray that this list will inspire you to use your God-given voice too.
- I can speak to the context of a 27-year old Black man raised in the southern states of America. This qualifies me to use my voice, housed in my Black, God-given body, to speak to and alongside issues of racism and racial reconciliation. I cannot speak to the Black experience for all Black people as a monolith; however, I can speak to my experience individually and communally as a Black man.
- I can speak to the context of a man who is a product of women who have lead and loved despite experiencing deep pains such as domestic violence, rape, molestation, or sexism. This qualifies me to speak to areas where the church has been silent, but even more importantly, it allows me to create room for women or men who have experienced this to speak, be heard, feel validated, experience love, and minister to these areas in the community.
- I can speak to the context of being a third-generation preacher’s kid who has seen his father and grandfather sacrifice everything for the church to accomplish their commitment to God, even when the local church is not as faithful in return. This allows me to speak from my experiential knowledge that not all heroes wear capes, and God can reward you in due time far beyond what man can offer.
- I can speak to the context of daily being flawed and imperfect myself. This qualifies me to speak to being in a long line of people, presently and historically, used by God to accomplish work far beyond the capacity, qualifications, and imagination of ourselves.
- I can speak to the context of being a millennial in the church, in which many of us have more reasons to leave the church than we have to stay in the church. After multiple attempts to bridge the gap in current church systems, this has allowed me to discern my calling to plant a church that targets those the church has typically overlooked or undervalued.
- I can speak to the context of feeling like an outcast in my field with no standard qualifications. As it stands, I would not qualify to apply for the majority of the churches in my faith traditions today due to not being married and only being 27. This qualifies me to speak alongside marginalized and overlooked communities from a place of empathy and understanding. Side note, if this is you, do not worry. Neither Paul nor Jesus would qualify to preach or pastor there either. I do not claim to be either, but it is really good company!
- I can speak to the context of wanting to do anything other than ministry. Still, God found a way to navigate my desires from sports, fundraising, justice and health to casting a more holistic vision for God’s church. This qualifies me to speak to God using all of our experiences intentionally for God’s purpose, which I believe God wants to do in your life as well.
- I can speak to the context of an activist who at one point wanted to do social justice work and did not know where to start. This qualifies me to speak to those needing the grace to begin their journeys, and it propels me to constantly search for words and actions that embody the politics of Jesus that was murdered for creating countercultural communities of faith and love in resistance to the empirical norms.
I engaged in a quick reflection of “I can speak to the context of ___________. This qualifies me to speak to ___________.” I encourage you to write down a few of these contexts and qualifications to discern areas where God may want to use your voice. This is not to say that the book is no longer important. For example, I read and study the Bible daily. Books are, however, no longer idolized to the point that they are a stumbling block to using the gifts that God has given both of us- our voices, our lives, and our testimony. So, speak! If you do not say it, who will?
Russell Andrew Pointer, Jr., serves as the church planter, lead servant, and pastor of Reformation Church Nashville (@reformnash). Russell is an alumnus of Morehouse College, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is currently a second-year Doctor of Ministry student at Boston University School of Theology researching the intersection between racism, cooperative economics, and group empowerment to re-imagine a kingdom economy.