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Letting God Put the Puzzle Pieces Together

An Interview with Summer McCool

Summer McCool

Summer McCool loves what she does — and she does a lot! As a full-time staffing manager at a local staffing agency, associate pastor at Southwest Family Fellowship in Austin, Texas, wife, and mother-to-be, Summer has learned to let God put together the pieces of her life.

WIM: Summer, give us a quick snap-shot of your life in terms of work and ministry.

McCool: I work full-time as a staffing manager at a staffing agency. I love it! It keeps me busy 40-45 hours each week. At Southwest Family Fellowship, I’m one of seven staff members. Right now I head up the junior high ministry. We have leadership meetings and other meeting throughout the week and, of course, the standard preparation for Sundays. The amount of work depends on the month and what is going on. I also have my own business on the side, so I’m juggling many balls. I drop them quite a bit, but I’m trying to learn in the process. Balancing my job and work at the church is difficult and can be frustrating. But if I didn’t do it, I would be frustrated, too!

I’m married to Chris McCool who also serves on staff at Southwest Family Fellowship. And I’m three months pregnant! Our whole world has just changed, and we have no idea what things will be like when this little one is born.

WIM: Southwest Family Fellowship is an exciting church plant in Austin, Texas. Tell us a little bit about the church.

McCool: It is about as nontraditional as a church can be. We’re trying to break the stereotype many people have of church. Or motto is “belong before you believe.” We want people to understand that they don’t need to know everything about Jesus or understand everything about the Bible before they can come and be a part of our community. Everyone is on a spiritual journey. We recognize that it could take someone years to come to Christ, and we are OK with that. It is about connecting people to one another and then to God through this environment.

The church was started in September 2003. We meet in a movie theater, so the staff doesn’t have offices. We do quite a bit of work through e-mail or phone calls.

You learn a lot planting a church. Even if you have one title, you end up doing a little bit of everything. Not long ago our staff dropped our specific titles. Most of us work full time somewhere else, so dropping the titles and making us all “associate pastors” gave us the freedom to do whatever needs to be done with whatever time we can give.

WIM: Tell us a little about your call to ministry.

McCool: I never really thought of myself being in a ministry role. I was raised in the church, but it was not common for a woman to be in ministry. I went to Southwestern University and began to be heavily involved in a church during my sophomore and junior years as an associate to the youth pastor. As I served in this church, things began to fall into place. My gifts and abilities just seemed to fit. I remember starting to love what I was doing, falling in love with the students, and seeing myself develop and grow in confidence.

So, I changed my major to youth ministries even though I never saw myself becoming a youth pastor. There were only three girls with that major in my class at the time, although there are many more at Southwestern now. I became involved in more churches, filling different roles, teaching classes, and growing in several areas. As you grow, you begin to understand more of how you “fit” and that was what happened during my college years.

After graduation, I worked at Southwestern because, as I said earlier, I didn’t really want to be a youth pastor. From there I moved to the North Texas district office to work in the Youth Alive department as an assistant to the director. There I was able to work on several major projects, including the creation of “The 7 Project.”

After 2 ½ years of working at the North Texas district office, I knew I needed a change in my life, so I decided to move to Austin, Texas. I soon found out that Chris, a friend from way back, was planning to be involved in a church plant there. He told me about Southwest Family Fellowship, and I was there at its first service in September 2003. Chris and I were married in 2004.

WIM: So you’ve always been involved in Southwest Family Fellowship. How did your role transition into a staff position?

McCool: After Chris and I were married (I was working at a college in the admissions office at the time), I approached Anthony, our lead pastor, about becoming more involved. After being around leaders in ministry during my earlier young adult years, I was missing the fellowship and the challenge of working with other leaders. So I came on board in 2005 officially as an associate pastor although I had been involved for 2 ½ years.

WIM: It is interesting that you approached your lead pastor about serving the church on the leadership team. Tell us a little bit about how you did that.

McCool: When we first started as a couple involved in ministry, Chris knew I was an independent woman. It took a while to transition, learning what it meant to be wife, etc. But after several months, I felt an “itch” like I wasn’t being fulfilled and using all my gifts. I just didn’t feel like I was growing. Since most of the people in our church are new believers, I didn’t feel like I had many people to reach out to. I just knew I wanted to grow spiritually in a deeper way. I expressed this to Chris, and he could see that I was unhappy, unfulfilled, and frustrated. He suggested we visit with Anthony, our lead pastor.

Chris and I went to dinner with Anthony and his wife, Deanna. I simply said, “This is where I’m at spiritually. This is what I’m good at doing, and these are my gifts. This is where I feel frustrated and don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. Not that I want to put my burden on you, but I have something to offer the church. I’m not sure how or why, but I wanted to talk to you about it.” We talked some more about my background and then began to talk about small groups. Anthony wanted to see small groups started in the church. I said, “No problem! I’m good at coordinating and connecting people to events.” Anthony ran the idea of bringing me on staff with the other team members, and my new role was approved.

I love being a part of this staff and a part of the leadership meetings. I’ve been able to implement small groups into the church and lead a small group. I’ve had opportunities to preach, and of course, now lead the junior high ministry.

WIM: How does your full-time job compliment or enhance what you do in ministry?

McCool: Before moving to Austin, I had not worked outside of a church setting for years. Once I decided to make the move to Austin, I was ready for a massive change. I was ready to be challenged; I was ready to be immersed into a culture that I had never been in before; I was ready to develop new friendships with others different than me. I knew it would be a personal growth opportunity for me. This was something Bible college can never teach you.

So, working full time has probably been one of the best things for me. It has allowed me to continue growing as an individual and to make friendships with others who are not just like me—who challenge my thinking, lovingly disagree with me, and have discussions with me that enhance my worldview and make me a better person. I don’t know that I’d ever serve "full time" in a church environment again. I’d miss out on our culture. I’d miss out on getting to know individuals that I wouldn’t normally meet unless they stepped foot inside our church. I love that.

WIM: What would you say to younger women who’ve graduated with a degree in ministry, or even holds credentials, yet have had a difficult time finding a full-time ministry position, or even a ministry role that is satisfying?

McCool: What I’ve learned is that we need to break down the idea of looking for a title or a job description. We have to destroy the stereotype of what we think we’re going to be. We assume it is a full-time ministry position in a church, but you don’t really know what it’s going to be. Take the puzzle pieces of your life, hold them lightly, and keep walking forward as God puts them together. It will come together differently than we could ever explain or predict. We have our own desires and our own ideas of how we think those pieces should fit, but only God knows what we’re supposed to be.

I wish someone would have taught me that. There were many times when someone questioned me about why I wasn’t a youth pastor when I got my degree in youth ministry. It was very demeaning. But I had to learn about who I was and the gifts God had given me. I know I will use my gifts and talents no matter where I am. They will all come together for whatever purpose God has. That doesn’t mean I have to be on staff at a church. It may not be that way in the future for me. It is okay to feel great about your life and your ministry wherever you are!

Don’t put limits on what you think God is going to do for you. Don’t try to figure it out. Have faith in yourself and faith in God that life is going to be awesome.