Barbara Pimentel is defeating obstacles so elders, deacons, and laity can lead in her church and across the RCA.
Barbara Pimentel wasn’t going to make it. She was supposed to run the audiovisual system for her church, but the service at Church of the Redeemer (known by its Spanish name, Iglesia del Redentor) was about to start, and she was still stuck at a denominational meeting. Pimentel needed to find a replacement—fast.
Fortunately, she knew just the 11-year-old for the job: Christian Illas.
Pimentel talked him through the Brooklyn church’s service over the phone, and “he did fine by himself,” she says. “People couldn’t believe it when they found out.”
Pimentel wasn’t surprised. She was the one who asked Illas to join the AV team in the first place.
“I approached him because I was recognizing that you’ve got to get people involved in the church for them to feel part of it,” she says. “He wasn’t really involved before.”
Pimentel, who is an elder, runs the Sunday School program, and has even filled in at the pulpit, knows firsthand the difference being involved in the church can make.
“Lay leaders are really key to a lot of churches,” says Pimentel. “They’re the ones holding churches together during transitions. When a pastor leaves, the [other] leaders offer stability.”
So Pimentel believes it’s important for these other leaders to develop their gifts. Yet finding leadership development opportunities that aren’t targeted to pastors has proven difficult.
Pimentel explained the problem to Liz Testa, the RCA’s coordinator for Women’s Transformation and Leadership, who then offered two yearlong leadership development processes for women—one for ministers and one for other leaders. One of the first people she invited to participate in the second group was Pimentel.
“The journey helped me recognize certain things I normally do and see that these are leadership traits,” Pimentel says. “Identifying these things in me helped me utilize them much better.”
Through the process, Pimentel discovered she had a gift for inclusion. Now she intentionally invites uninvolved church members like Illas to participate in ministry.
“You really can’t count anyone out,” Pimentel says. “You have to look beyond age, gender, personality—all the things you normally focus on. … There are so many people that really do want to participate but don’t know how, or more importantly, don’t think they have something to offer.”
Pimentel asks new church members what ministries they might want to be involved in. She remembers one woman telling her, “I’m just a housewife, and I don’t really have anything to offer the church.”
These days, that woman helps run both the soup kitchen and flea market at Iglesia del Redentor.
“You have to be creative and find ways to show people they do have something to offer,” Pimentel explains. “It isn’t easy, but how wonderful it is when you see that the Holy Spirit has taken the reins, and you start to see the changes in a person.”
One way Pimentel encourages women to get involved: kickboxing club. Open to women from both the church and community, the club is much more than an exercise class.
“We always start with devotions, and the ladies really like when we get into an in-depth discussion about our faith,” says Pimentel, who helped start the club. “It’s been nice because there’s been times where [the women] have been able to share really personal things in this safe space. People who don’t come to church on Sundays will come, and they’ll say, ‘You know, I do feel God’s presence here.’ … Hopefully God takes that and does something with it. Our job is just to plant the seed and let God do the rest.”
Pimentel’s model for her efforts: Little House on the Prairie.
“In that show, the church was also the schoolhouse, and it was a place for community meetings,” Pimentel explains. “It was at the center of the community, at the center of life. There’s something healthy about that. I’d love to see my church become more like that.
“The more people that are participating in ministry, the better and healthier the congregation is.”
Visit www.rca.org/women to discover how you can grow as a leader.
Connect with other RCA women at www.facebook.com/groups/RCAwomen.
Invite someone at your church to be involved who hasn’t been involved before.