||Kelly Preston: The Worst Time Was God’s Time
Kelly Preston’s ('13) acceptance letter for the AGTS Women in Leadership cohort seemed to come at the worst possible time. Her husband Greg had just lost his job, and the family was depending on the income from Kelly’s job at the Ohio Ministry Network. Plus, she had recently learned that she was three months pregnant—after five miscarriages.
“Needless to say, I was scared!” Kelly admits. “I had no idea how I would take classes, travel to Missouri three times a year, and do papers.”
And then there was the issue of money. How would the growing family pay for Kelly’s education now? She talked to her Father, who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” The next day, He sent His answer: GO! A family member, who wanted to invest in what God was doing through Kelly, gave her a full scholarship to AGTS. “It was a total surprise,” Kelly explains. “I knew that God’s timing was perfect even if it didn’t make sense.” This was just the next step in God’s evolving plan for her life.
After graduating from Central Bible College, Kelly and Greg served for eight years as missionaries to the Muslim world. Among other tasks, Kelly taught job interviewing skills and English as a second language to adults. Although she found it rewarding to help people better their lives, the restrictions associated with living in a Muslim country made Kelly feel hidden. Frustrated at not having a voice, she found creative outlets for ministry and leadership. “I learned to seek other venues of ministry, such as writing,” Kelly recalls. “I felt hidden from opportunities to use my skills in leadership, preaching, and teaching, but I learned to pray and be ready for ‘smaller’ opportunities that allowed me to share my love for Christ.
“Looking back,” Kelly continues, “those hidden years shaped my character, humbled and directed my zeal, and prepared me to appreciate the responsibility of having an open door of ministry as a lead pastor in the States.”
Perhaps most telling, Greg and Kelly planted a church, passing the baton of leadership to a national couple before returning home in 2007. “We knew God had been stirring our hearts, but we had no idea what He had in mind,” Kelly recalls. After fasting and praying for three months, they knew God was calling them to move to Columbus, Ohio. They had no specific ministry direction, only a location.
For two years, Kelly and Greg volunteered in various ministry roles while she worked at the Assemblies of God district office and he was a manager at a local store. Kelly loved her job, believing that serving Ohio’s pastors was fully a ministry, but her heart for ministering to people continued to grow. She applied to AGTS because she wanted to further her education and she loved the idea of learning the art of leadership.
“At first, I thought my desire for leadership and influencing others was just a dream. I even felt perhaps I was out of line for wanting to minister in a leadership role as a woman,” Kelly admits. But God sent uplifting mentors at key points in her journey to encourage her and nurture the potential they saw in Kelly’s life. Many of these key moments came through her AGTS experience.
In Dr. Debbie Gill’s class on the Biblical Role of Women in Leadership, Kellie found herself weeping. “I realized that God’s plans for my life were bigger than I had previously imagined. I was aware for the first time that the God of the universe intentionally pursued me and designed me to be part of His grand plan for connecting humanity to himself.”
In another class, taught by Professor Mel Ming, the Holy Spirit spoke to Kelly: “Shepherd my people.” The message was unmistakable.
From that moment forward, this calling gripped Kelly and drove her thoughts and prayers. “For the next two years, pastoring was all I could think about,” she says. “I felt like a caged animal. I wanted the doors to open.”
The Prestons interviewed for several open pastoral positions, but those churches were looking for a traditional pastor with a wife rather than a co-pastoring couple. Confident in God’s calling, Kelly and Greg were not discouraged. They simply viewed it as an opportunity to knock on a different door: they started a new church, Eastside Community Church, in Gahanna, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus).
Difficulties with the co-pastoring concept quickly surfaced, as neither Kelly nor Greg knew exactly who should be taking the lead in any given instance. “We took a close look at our individual strengths and passions and concluded that I was better suited to the lead pastor role and Greg was better suited to the executive or assistant pastor role.” Kelly explains. “This decision was an immediate blessing for both of us. We were relieved to define our roles and put our efforts into developing our strengths.
“My husband specifically blessed me and urged me to take the lead pastor role because of my leadership skills. He told me that he would serve on my team and support the vision that I cast.”
Perhaps building on the foundation built by other women in leadership (Gahanna’s mayor is a woman, and the community has many professional women and leaders), the response to Kelly’s leadership has been positive. She has received overwhelming support from her husband, family, friends, church, and the Ohio Ministry Network. Better yet, the church is healthy and growing. Since its launch in September of 2012, attendance has tripled, more than 30 people have been saved, and many have been baptized in water and the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Preston is quick to give credit to God for doing amazing things at ECC. “We have seen physical, emotional, and spiritual healing taking place,” Kelly reports. “I am in awe at the generosity demonstrated on a regular basis through the people at ECC. I see a beautiful community of people who love Christ and share His love freely with others.”
Eastside Community Church’s mission statement is “to love, liberate, lead, and launch people into their God given potential.” To Kelly, love comes first no matter what. She explains: “Loving others means building relationships and getting involved in people’s lives. As missionaries in two Muslim countries, we learned that relationships were the primary way to evangelize. We could not openly share our faith in public, but we could build relationships. This caused me to understand the importance of getting to know people and hear their life stories; also, to become vulnerable and build a relationship together. This means evangelism and growth is slow at times, but it most certainly has the potential to run deep.
“I see potential in people and immediately begin to think about who I can introduce them to so he or she can get plugged into a church family and start growing. In these last days, I am motivated to encourage everyone I meet to find God’s plan for their lives and dig in wholeheartedly. I don’t want anyone to be held back by their fears or insecurities or gender. I don’t want the enemy to have the upper hand in people’s lives. He is the father of lies, and he knows his time is running out. I regularly meet people who don’t believe in God or in what He wants to accomplish in their lives. They are broken in many ways and believe in lies that suffocate their dreams. I have personally encountered the freedom and unconditional love of Christ throughout my Christian journey, and I want to point others to Him. I want them to be free to live out their dreams and be fulfilled by their contribution to the Body of Christ.”
It has been quite a journey for a woman who, prior to starting at AGTS, felt stuck.
“I had dreams,” Kelly says, “but no idea how to put legs to them. Through my classes, reading, and interaction with other students, I began to see new possibilities for living out my calling. Our cohort adopted a motto from H. Richard Niebuhr: ‘To think thoughts we had not thought before.’ That is exactly what I experienced at AGTS.
“I had no idea it would change my life and deepen my spiritual walk with Christ. I have become deeply confident in the calling God has placed on my life. I have gained friends who stand with me in prayer and encourage me to keep putting my faith and hope in Christ when I forget or feel overwhelmed. I have learned that God can do the impossible through me.”
If anything, Kelly has become even more acutely aware of God’s timing through her years of seeing God’s work. She lives out her belief that there is no time to worry about traditional gender roles; ALL men and women are needed in God’s harvest field. “Because the time is short,” Kelly says, “it is imperative that everyone step up and do what God has called them to do. It’s not acceptable to hold back because of fear or tradition. Each of us has a responsibility to follow God’s calling. My husband would not allow me to stand behind him. He pushed me out in front and affirmed the gifts and skills he saw in me. I do the same for him in his skills and calling. When Christ returns for His Bride, we ALL need to have done our part.”
Written by Tammy Bicket
Eastside Community Church website: http://www.eccag.org
Contact information: 417.268.1000 • firstname.lastname@example.org
AGTS Office of Institutional & Alumni Relations, 1435 N. Glenstone Ave.,
Springfield, MO 65802
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 9:10 AM