Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 2001 and 2010
Associate Dean of Black Church Studies and Advanced Learning, Associate Professor of Black Church Studies, Louisville Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
An Elder in the UMC, Rev. Dr. Felicia LaBoy uses the words “evangelistic, community-oriented, and prophetic” to describe the essence of her ministry. Taking seriously her call as Elder to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Dr. LaBoy is deeply committed to the evangelistic obligation of the Church to help people have transformative relationships with Christ in Christian community. Thus, she believes ministry must be community-oriented: “I believe that the Church exists for those inside and for the people in the community—that group of people called to witness to the reign of God and the glory of God wherever.” Those in ministry must be sensitive to what the community says—constantly learning from the people and the place—not as a colonizer but an organizer providing a gathering place and a partnership. All of this is done to work with the people to transform their community.
Within the community, she is prophetic. In her preaching, she looks at what the text is calling the people to do both inside and outside the building in a pastoral way, especially if it is an uncomfortable truth. She boldly explores claims the text makes on the community, even if uncomfortable, and asks if these claims lead us to the cross.
In terms of faithfulness in ministry, Dr. LaBoy explains, “Without regular practice in the spiritual discipline of accountability, I’m through.” She learned early that trying to be in ministry on her own is dangerous; throughout her life, many people and groups have prayed for her and held her accountable in her spiritual life. She spends each morning in her chair with a notepad as she listens to God’s teaching about surrender, about failure, about how the volume of work may be way more than she can handle, and about letting balls drop. She may not always like God’s method, but she trusts it. Along with her personal time, she knows she has people with whom she can be honest in sharing her thoughts, struggles, and the ongoing need for growth: “I don’t know any salesperson who’s not incredibly familiar the product, and yet we try to do that with the gospel. I don’t have this right at all, but every year I’m challenged and more intrigued.”
Throughout her ministry, she has had several mentors and inspiring colleagues. One is Dr. F. Bruce Williams at Bates Memorial Church (Louisville, Kentucky), a pastor committed to education with a church open to everybody and a large ministry committed to the people. She also been blessed by a coterie of strong Black women mentors early on her ministry, including Tracy Smith Malone, Pamela Lightsey, and Lillian Gibbs—all committed to God and the community. She also draws motivation for ministry by seeing people transformed: “I think we make a mistake as teachers when we don’t allow ourselves to be co-learners with our students and to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to bring about transformation.”