By saying no, Ashlee Alley Crawford actually said yes. As a biology major, Ashlee planned to become a physical therapist. But the summer before her junior year in college, she volunteered with her church’s youth group, connected with God and ministry in more meaningful ways, and never set up her required internship. As Ashlee served, she started to recognize her gifts and others did as well, encouraging her to pursue education and jobs in full-time ministry. Today, she serves as an elder in the Great Plains United Methodist Conference and is the Director of Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator in the Great Plains United Methodist Conference, cultivating a culture of call and directing a mentoring program for young leaders.
“Looking back, not setting up my internship was very unlike me,” Ashlee said. “I’m very task oriented and I like to get things done, but serving my church in that way was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”
After graduating from Southwestern College, Ashlee served with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Recognizing her gifts, the campus minister recommended she check out Asbury Seminary for a Master of Divinity degree. She did and fasted and prayed over New Year’s, applying shortly thereafter. Unbeknownst to her, she hit a deadline that qualified her for a rare full-tuition scholarship. She said yes to the next step in her life, but as she reflects on her current ministry, she had no idea where that yes would take her.
“I do feel called along this general trajectory and I’m going to start here and be faithful and hope and trust that God is going to yield a harvest that God wants,” she said. “I don’t think about it in terms of aspiration, but I’m attentive to the direction that God is moving me. In looking back, I see the long-term plan.”
Today Ashlee works to help others learn to hear and respond to God’s leading in their lives, oversees the Transition into Ministry program for new pastors, and in this last year, has started and co-hosts the Threshold podcast in the Great Plains UMC. She helps people come to understand their calling by helping them learn to hear and respond to God’s voice and works with young leaders to help them establish rhythms and practices that will sustain them for a lifetime of ministry.
When Ashlee talks about calling, she relates it to the article she wrote titled: “5 Cups of Coffee—Five Conversations for Calling and Discipleship.” This article underscores places where conversations about God, passions, gifts, spiritual growth, and opportunities naturally happen in order to help all learn to hear and respond to God’s voice. She invites those around her to see that a calling isn’t always to a particular place, people or job, but could be characteristics that Jesus’s followers are called to exhibit daily.
“We tend to put pressure on ourselves, and young adults do it all the time to find the calling,” she said. “There are definitely times where that becomes a specific job that you’re going to get paid to do. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s a role you’re going to play, but calling is mostly about our inner orientation to be obedient to the things God is asking of us.”
For those called to serve in ministry, the Transition Ministry Program invites young leaders into a cohort with peers and mentors to provide connection and church support. This program is designed to help leaders cultivate habits for a lifetime of ministry. Young leaders receive continuing education, but also participate in covenant groups as they transition from Seminary student to pastoral leader. Fifteen to twenty pastors, plus 5 mentor pastors, are in the 5-year program at any given time.
“I really am not sure that there is anything more gratifying than seeing other people know how to say yes to God’s voice,” she said.
Ashlee and her husband Todd live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ashlee graduated from Asbury Seminary in 2003 with an M.Div. degree and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree in the Spiritual Direction for Leaders cohort.
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