On being first and finding change that lasts

Published: May 20, 2021

Reflections from Bethany Christian Schools’ first female soccer player, Rachel Miller Jacobs, Bethany class of 1979

Rachel Miller Jacobs (circled in blue) with her Bethany soccer teammates and coach in 1978.
Rachel Miller Jacobs (circled in blue) with her Bethany soccer teammates and coach in 1978. (BCS photo)

Rachel’s career in ministry has led to her current position as Associate Professor of Congregational Formation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

I’m 59 years old now, so it’s a little hard to remember what possessed me to play soccer in 1978, more than 40 years ago. I was a terrible soccer player, so the decision wasn’t about athleticism or the sport itself. I think it primarily had to do with my adolescent sense of justice.

This was my way of saying that girls can do this, too — not because I was skilled but just to prove the point! Most of the guys on the Bethany team treated me with equanimity; I don’t remember this being a big deal to any of them.

As a younger person, my impulse to make things right in the world took the form of protests and letter writing campaigns. This desire for things to be the way they ought to be grew partly out of my personality style and also my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. My longing for what I would now call God’s kin-dom has persisted; how I go about participating in it has shifted. So at this stage in my life, I do more what I would call behind-the-scenes activism: I’m a teacher and a mentor.

At AMBS, my particular interest is helping people to become more mature, nuanced and skilled leaders, change agents, and mentors. As a young person I tended to shame myself and others into change; now I lean more into persuading and encouraging. Having lived a number of decades beyond high school, I am more realistic about how hard change is and more patient about how long change takes. I’m aware that deep and lasting change happens when we are transformed individually and communally, and that takes persistence, openness, curiosity and love.

— Rachel Miller Jacobs, D.Min., is a practical theologian/educator with particular interest in how groups (families, small groups, classrooms and congregations) help form mature Christians. Trained as a high school English teacher, Rachel has taught at both the high school and college levels, though she spent the majority of her early adulthood as an at-home parent to three lively sons and as an active lay congregational leader. Once her children were in school, she served as a pastor of Christian formation, as worship resources coordinator for Leader magazine, and as a spiritual director. At AMBS, Rachel teaches in the areas of Christian formation, worship and pedagogy.

Note: This piece originally appeared on the website of Bethany Christian Schools, Goshen, Indiana, and is reposted here with permission.

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