“Being a mother while a full-time minister is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done,” says Jo Beth MacTavish, Howard Payne University graduate and youth minister at Kenefick Southern Baptist Church near Houston. “When I say there are few footsteps to follow in this field, I mean it. The books on how to be both mom and minister are still being written.”
Having grown up in church, MacTavish was called to ministry at a young age.
“As a teenager, I was given more and more opportunities to serve in leadership roles,” she says. “Between these opportunities, growth in my personal spiritual life and the encouragement of others, I found myself hearing God speak to me.”
At a youth conference at age 17, MacTavish says the Lord told her He was sending her.
“While I didn’t know what that exactly looked like at the time, I was willing to do whatever it took to follow God’s call,” she says.
That call eventually led her to HPU. After graduating from the university with her bachelor’s degree in youth ministry in 2006, MacTavish entered HPU’s then-new Master of Arts in Youth Ministry (MAYM) degree program. She became one of the first three graduates from the program in 2008.
“I began the MAYM program quickly following my undergraduate degree and my new marriage,” she says. “The great professors and modular format of the program were very appealing as my husband, Dustin (also a 2006 HPU graduate), was entering into a Baylor University graduate program which required us to live in Waco. Because of this format, I was able to live and work in Waco while still pursuing my own degree from HPU.”
While living in Waco and completing her master’s degree, MacTavish served as youth minister at Bosqueville Baptist Church. She says the MAYM program offered a good combination of mentorship, ongoing training sessions and continued exposure to real-life situations.
“Upon graduation, and still to this day, the training of my degree has prepared me for the ongoing journey that is ministry,” she says.
MacTavish has found her role in ministry has evolved as her family has grown. She and her husband are the parents of four boys: 5-year-old Dexter, 3-year-old Max and 1-year-old twins, Jaxon and Paxton.
“When you stop to think about what it means to be called someone’s ‘youth minister,’ it is pretty overwhelming,” she says. “Students and families have trusted me with much. I remember the first time I took a group of students skiing in Colorado. I just could not get over that people trusted me to take their children to another state.”
Having children of her own further emphasizes the seriousness of being entrusted with the spiritual development of young students.
“I know it is no small matter to trust someone with the spiritual education of your children as well as their physical safety, too,” she says. “This can only be done through the power of Christ who has trusted me with much. Each time I speak with a student or family, I look to encourage them. Big or small, there is something that can be said to convey ‘I’m glad you were created. Don’t give up.’”
As mom to four young boys and counselor and minister to many other youth, she has had to work hard to establish a healthy work-life balance.
“Because my family has grown very quickly, it has caused me to evaluate what is important, what is vital and what can wait,” she says. “My husband and I hope to show our sons that being part of a church family in this caliber can be a great blessing and not a burden. But we will only be able to do that if we first show them that they are just as important as my next phone call. I now take my days off pretty seriously, and the late-night phone calls, unless they are emergencies, can wait until tomorrow.”
Much as her own ministry has changed over the years, the role of women in ministry in general has evolved greatly over time.
“Women are both greatly needed but also often discounted before we start,” she says. “While I didn’t have any women role models in a vocational sense, I had many lay leaders who were women and they always encouraged me to be faithful no matter what. Upon entering HPU, I was met with the sense that I had equal value and worth at the ministry table. Professors presented Scripture in light of wisdom and truth. Women are created by God and called to be proclaimers of the Gospel the same as men.”
Coby Sauce serves as Director of Media Relations for Howard Payne University.