Susan Carole has been in ministry over two decades in the Caribbean, West Africa, Canada and the United States. Susan Carole is now the pastor at San Bernardino First Church.

 

CPL: Tell us about the different places and roles you have served in ministry.

I have served in the Church of the Nazarene as professor, evangelist, pastor and church planter; in the Caribbean, Canada and the United States. Over the past twelve years, I have focused on teaching theology and working in multi-cultural church plant contexts.

CPL: How have you adjusted to each new setting? What challenges and joys did each present especially as you approached the preaching task?

For me, adjustment usually means taking a fresh look at my presuppositions about how we share life as a redeemed and redemptive community. In one sense, we share common needs and joys. Yet, we live out our identity and values within very particular contexts, and from the standpoint of our unique individuality. For example, most of us care about family life, personal wellness, and serving Jesus. These are common denominators. Yet, each of us enjoys a unique experience in the way we live out these values, and in the way our individual lives enrich and are enriched by our community. The challenge I have faced in adjusting to life and service in a new community is learning to be attentive to the uniqueness of the community that underlies familiar life patterns.

In a nutshell, there is a lot of sameness, and subtle nuances of differentness woven into the sameness; and it’s important to notice and work at understanding these patterns. The adjustment strategy that has helped me the most is ‘pay attention and listen carefully.’

Preaching in diverse contexts has helped me develop a free, creative approach. Part of getting to know a community is the trial and error process of discerning the delivery style that puts people at ease. It takes a few months to shift into a harmonious pattern. The challenge of this adjustment is that it takes time to identify the specific ‘off-key’ notes, notes that resonated with a previous community, but are now in dissonance in a new community. I’ve noticed, for example, that the same things are not funny everywhere. On a positive note, I know we’re moving to a close connection, I know I’m connecting in my preaching once I can tell a joke that my congregation gets.

Another aspect of the process is to learn the unique language of a community. Simply put, the same words can mean different things. Context matters. This is perhaps the most helpful realization I’ve come to – context matters. It’s helpful for me to understand that I am always a beginner. I go into a new situation convinced that I have to re-learn everything I already know. Every time the context changes I have to learn what I know for that particular context. It’s quite like learning a new language.

CPL: How has your immigrant background enhanced your ability to pastor and to preach?

As a pastor in Southern California, I find that it is easy to connect with other immigrants. People hear my accent, and what that means for them is that I share experiences with them. I can explain how to deal with immigration regulations, Social Security, for example. I can explain how school works, and the adjustments their kids and they themselves will have to make. What I mean is, I know the way in which American life is different from elsewhere, so I can communicate the specific shift in mind-set that adjustment entails. Being able to do this has taken down a range of social barriers and helped me connect with my community.

CPL: How are you preaching in the midst of the challenging political environment we find ourselves in?

Preaching the word of God is an opportunity for God to speak into an existing human situation. The question ‘What is God saying to us now?’ is what I aim to answer in any preaching event. In this way, I’ve found that the word is always relevant; that there is no need for me, as pastor and preacher, to take up a political slant, or to communicate my own opinions, or give my own advice regarding any socio-political situation. This does not mean that I ignore these realities; instead, I think God uses the preached word to illuminate these situations so that we understand them, and respond to them from His perspective.

CPL: Tell us what your weekly rhythm looks like as you prepare to preach and teach each week.

I spend as much of Tuesday as I can studying and moving towards discerning the Spirit’s leading for the upcoming weekend. I typically preach and teach on Saturday and Sunday, occasionally on Wednesday. By Thursday, I have the broad outlines of the messages. On Friday, I take some more time to reflect and pray. In this phase, I’m seeking the single take away, the core of the message. I want to articulate in one sentence the single truth I think we should grow into, in the week ahead. I build out the message around this core truth.

On Saturday, I pray some more and let the Spirit clarify the flow of my thoughts. I also ponder the ‘so what’ of the message. In other words, how will this truth translate into the practicalities of transformed living here and now?

Ultimately, a message is never complete until it is delivered. The outline I bring to the pulpit is just that – an outline, or a frame that I trust the Holy Spirit to fill with His life and use to speak to His church. This means that every time I preach, I am a beginner, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I am way out on a limb trusting God to speak.

CPL: What encouragement might you offer to our ethnic preachers and pastors especially?

I encourage helping people connect with the story: help the congregation see itself as part of the continuing story of God’s redeeming action in and through His people. Help the congregation develop a strong identity as the people of God and a sense of belonging. I believe that as we develop a culture as the people of God, biblically grounded, modelled on the New Testament fellowship, we would be well positioned to embrace diversity in all its forms. In fact, a biblical self-understanding helps us to see that diversity is a gift. As God’s people, that is, the people who belong to the God who promised to bless all nations through Abraham; the God of our Lord Jesus Christ who melted away the dividing wall between Jew and Barbarian—as God’s people, we are called out from all nations into diversity in unity and unity in diversity.

Likewise, I’ve found it tremendously steadying to remember my own identity. Who am I? As a minority – female and immigrant—my self-understanding is key to finding fulfillment in ministry. Who am I? A servant of Jesus Christ. Who am I? A servant of the Word of God, set apart to do one small thing – preach the glorious gospel of grace. Who am I? A servant of God’s people, serving all persons because Jesus Christ loved me and gave Himself for me.

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24