Dr. Pamela Erwin of Bethel University has recently been appointed as department chair for biblical and theological studies. Currently a youth ministry professor, Pamela has been teaching for 15 years. This news, Mimi Haddad notes, is encouraging to us all: “Pamela’s leadership is one we’ve always regarded with much enthusiasm and appreciation.” During an interview with Pamela, I found nothing less than a humble spirit being obedient to the call God has placed on her life.
Although fully certain that this new position is in response to her obedience and trust in God, this was not Pamela’s initial reaction when considering this possibility: “I did not want to consider it—I have enough to do, right? A couple of colleagues came to me and asked me to consider it and I said, ‘No.’ But then as I moved forward, I felt this urging that I needed to at least be open to it. God said, ‘I need you to be open. Not that I need you to accept this, but I need you to be open in considering this.’ So I went back to my colleagues and said, ‘I don’t know if this is a good idea, I don’t know if I want to do this, but I’ll be open to talking about it.’”
By the time she was asked to be the department chair, Pamela confessed, she felt that this was something she needed to respond to. “I feel like there are some strengths that I have—and there are probably quite a few weaknesses too—but there are some things that I can do well.” Pamela sees this new position as “an opportunity for me to do some of the things that are a passion for me, which are to support and encourage younger colleagues—so that’s really a big piece of why I felt compelled to do it.” Pamela also notes that one of her greatest passions—whether in ministry or working with students or younger colleagues—is to be able to nurture and support people, to help them realize their potential, and to direct them in how they want to get there. “Part of that comes out of my pastor’s heart,” she says.
With such beautiful strengths, one might wonder why she would ever not want to take on this position. As a person who’s life is very full with various involvements including family, writing projects, and teaching, balance is one of her main concerns. Another concern, according to Pamela, is how the wider Bethel community might receive a female chair of the Bible department. Unsure of the possible reaction, Pamela notes, “There might be some hesitancy in not wanting to ruffle other peoples’ feathers.”
Pamela regularly talks about issues of gender in her classes and continues to find that both young women and men are “pretty unaware of the women in Scripture and how they led.” In bringing these overlooked women to her students’ attention, Pamela finds the most significant reason why students are uneducated on this particular issue is “because we’ve been culturally conditioned not to see women in Scripture—but they’re there! Not as prevalent as men, but they’re there. And they’re serving in all kinds of leadership capacities doing all kinds of things.”
When Pamela teaches these realities to her students, it is not far from her own heart: “I grew up in a Southern Baptist tradition. I was 30 years old before I ever saw a woman in a leadership position, and I was so stunned by that.” It has evidently been a long journey for Pamela in realizing her call to ministry. “I had been dealing with a personal call to ministry—to preach and teach—since I was in my early teens. But I resisted it for a whole host of reasons, but perhaps mainly because it was so contrary to my experience—not validated in any place, home, church, broader culture—at all. For me to embrace my call in what I believe God was compelling me to do meant that I had to walk away from my tradition and say, ‘I have to be faithful to what God’s calling me to do.’”
For a woman who continually answers God’s call to be obedient, Pamela has also struggled with equilibrium. “There are days, frankly, when I say ‘I’m so done with this. I don’t want to keep fighting this battle.'” She recounts her fortunate lessons from God, and how he has taught her that the work of his kingdom comes as a priority. “It can’t be about me trying to prove my point or gain recognition, any of that. It has to be about me being faithful to God. So I have to be comfortable in that center. Living in that center, living there, allows me to not make it about me, but make it about what I really think it is about, which is being faithful. God has called me to be obedient—which includes my attitude.”
Resting in this center, Pamela still jokes, “It’s a three-year role, so I know I don’t have to do it forever!”