Rev. Karen Lucas is a wife, mother, academic, and pastor. Like so many women, she wears multiple hats, and while she admits it can be difficult to do it all, it is possible. Her story proves how God is always at work in one’s life, and a reminder that we should not be locked into what we think should happen.
Although Karen never imagined pastoring when she was younger, she has ministered to people throughout her life. From the young age of 6, she felt called. This was seen when her family moved to Falcon Children’s Home. Her parents explained their move was for ministry, and encouraged her to be an Christian example to the children they cared for. Living as a child of staff members of the children’s home also helped her develop a flexible mindset. She learned quickly that people can leave your life at a moment’s notice. That reality taught her to love each person today because they could be gone tomorrow.
Along with developing relationships with her peers in foster care, Karen’s early ministry includes music. She sang and traveled with Falcon Children’s Home group from the time she was 13 years old, and she also sang at Culbreth Memorial, the local IPHC church in Falcon. Later, while attending Emmanuel University, Karen received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. It was more than a degree: it provided access to further ministry opportunities. Karen also continued singing and serving in her local church after college. She returned to Falcon Children’s Home to become a social worker, and also began serving as a worship leader, choir director, and Sunday School teacher at her local church. Eventually, she also worked with young unmarried teen mothers at the Royal Home Ministry, and as the Outreach Coordinator for Culbreth Memorial Church, ministering to shut ins, the homeless population, and prison outreach.
Karen was a worship leader for twenty years and also simultaneously served as the Archives and Research Director for the North Carolina Conference for ten years. Soon after becoming the Archives Director, she considered pursuing a master’s degree. Dr. Vinson Synan, the main historian, pulled Karen aside: “An academic calling is the same as a ministerial one,” he shared. “It is a real call and God will provide.” It was also at this time that Dr. Dan Woods became her pastor and encouraged her to obtain her ministerial credentials saying, “You’re already working in a pastoral capacity. Why not make it ‘official’?”
Pursuing academics and ministry seemed fanciful though. Karen questioned: “What if God doesn’t provide for me?” “What if this calling isn’t real?” Of course, God answered. Ironically, the same week that Karen received her minister’s license in 2015, Campbell University called and asked her to consider enrolling in their Master of Divinity degree. Unfortunately, the cost seemed prohibitive, but financial aid opportunities kept coming. Karen did enroll and completed her degree with a 4.0 in 2020. Meanwhile, she was also granted the privilege to serve as teacher assistant to the divinity school’s professor of Christian history. That opportunity truly expanded her regarding what her future could hold. After graduation, she began applying for doctoral programs with hopes that she could one day help teach and develop ministers in her own denomination.
Baylor University offered a full scholarship and a stipend for Karen to study Christian History with a focus on Pentecostalism. It was an incredible opportunity. However, Waco did not offer job opportunities for her husband, and they could not continue living apart. So, Karen made her way back to North Carolina. Returning home required her to again step out in faith to do what she knew was best for her family. After learning that Fuller Theology Seminary was offering an online program for doctoral students, she applied. Yet, she knew the school did not usually take transfer students at the doctoral level, and that they could not offer any further financial help that year. Yet, on the day she left Texas, Karen received a phone call asking if she’d be willing to preach at a United Methodist church while remaining an IPHC minister. She accepted and served there for the summer. The opportunity not only provided financial stability, it also helped her learn that she loved pastoral ministry and would much rather continue pastoral work than do anything else to pay her way through a doctoral program.
Serving as an interim pastor allowed Karen the opportunity to develop her preaching and pastoral skills further. After several years of only doing academics, serving the people was like a breath of fresh air. The preparing, visiting, and building relationships that pastoring requires came naturally. “I realized I absolutely loved pastoring,” Karen shares.
However, another change was needed because the church was nearly an hour away. So, Karen began looking for a PH church closer to home and found Thunder Swamp PHC. At this time, she reached out to her mentor and former bishop, Jim Whitfield, who gave direct and specific guidance: “Before you put in any kind of application for the church, ask their council if they’re open to a female pastor.”
While Thunder Swamp is more traditional, they did accept Karen’s application and called her for an interview. She became their senior pastor in 2022. “I did not imagine becoming a senior pastor when I entered the School of Ministry. I was simply entering a door that I felt the Lord was setting before me to equip me for further ministry. In the years before Dan Woods became my pastor, I wrestled through whether scripture truly supported the ordination of women for pastoral ministry. I felt a passion for ministry and a boldness for spiritual leadership, but I didn’t know what I was allowed to do with my passion for ministry. I think that’s why I directed most of it into worship leading. That was safe, familiar, and acceptable territory for most people. Regardless of how they felt about a woman standing behind a pulpit to preach or sitting behind the pastor’s desk to pastor, most people were open to a woman leading them in worship,” Karen reveals.
The morning after accepting her position with Thunder Swamp, Karen received a call from Fuller Theological Seminary. They had found money to fund an entire year of her tuition. As Dr. Synan had assured her, God was providing, and as scripture had taught her, God was directing her path. Karen is currently completing her Ph. D. in theology and is continuing to focus on Pentecostal Studies. She also recently enjoyed the opportunity to serve as an adjunct instructor for Emmanuel University.
Through it all, Karen is reminded to trust the Lord because He will sort out the details. Even when circumstances were unclear, God provided, and doors started opening in both academics and ministry. “I’ve been provided for, and the Lord’s provision is confirmation,” Karen states.This further supports one of her guiding principles found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV): “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
“My inadequacy was God’s opportunity to show His strength,” Karen observes. God has also provided many supporters, encouragers, and mentors for Karen including Bishop Doug Beacham, Jr., Dr. Lou Shirey, the late Bishop Doug Bartlett, Pastor Dan Woods, Jim Whitfield, and also Janice Marshburn, who was especially inspiring because there were not examples of many women ministers to follow. Dr. Vinson Synan, Harold Hunter, Dan Woods and Cheryl Bridges Johns have served as guiding lights in the field of Christian academics. They all keep ministry and academics intertwined, giving Karen inspiration to imagine how to do the same.
Juggling academics and ministry can be challenging, but Karen carves out time for her family as well. She and her husband of 23 years, Chip, live in Falcon, North Carolina. Chip is the Executive Director of Career and Technical Education for the Cumberland County school system. They have 3 children: Noah (20) is pursuing a graphic design degree at Campbell University and is involved at Capital Church in Raleigh, NC. Haven (18) is pursuing a degree in exceptional needs children education/Special Education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Liam (12) is already very interested in ministry and had wondered what a person must do to become a Connections Pastor like Emmanuel Robinson, whom he looks up to.
The Lucas family loves to travel and save up for their next big adventure, the outdoors, community outreach, and is interested in social reform and the betterment of marginalized people.