A New Year’s Celebration:
An Interview with Rev. Dr. Yaliang Zhao
Ordination is a gift of God for the people of God. Through ordination we celebrate God’s wisdom and affirm the gifts of a sister or brother called to serve the body of Christ. On November 6, 2016, Yaliang Zhao was ordained as a pastor in the American Baptist Churches USA.
M: How did the Lord call you to ministry?
Z: I first heard God’s call in 2005 when I was the chairperson of the deacon board at my previous church. For a period of time, the church did not have an active pastor or elder to lead the congregation. I felt a burden to serve, but at the time I was not trained for such a task. I was a research scientist working in a pharmaceutical company. I covered my church responsibilities heavily with prayer, but it was exhausting.
One day when I was praying at home, I sensed a voice asking me, “Can you drop your job and serve me?” I objected to the suggestion since I had a good job and argued that I could tithe a lot more if I stayed at my job.
Shortly after that, my job became more demanding and more unstable; my company was going through a rough period of senior staff change. Plus, they relocated my department, which extended my daily commute by three hours. I wanted to be available for my youngest two children, but life became extremely difficult to balance.
With all the stress at church and at work, I eventually collapsed. So I took a leave of absence from my job and later resigned. My husband, Yan, was very supportive, and it was during this season that the Lord said, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)
M: What happened next?
Z: Resting at home gave me a lot more time to pray and seek God’s will. I heard the voice again, “Quit your job and serve me.” I figured, with a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience, maybe I could teach in a Christian college and serve God’s people that way. So I taught biology courses at Gordon College and Merrimack College, both Christian liberal arts schools. My teaching mentor complimented me, saying, "You should win the Nobel prize as a first year teacher." Still, I felt God saying to me, “You're not teaching in the right place.”
The urge to enter full-time ministry grew stronger. So, at age forty, I decided to go back to school to be more equipped for ministry.
M: Why was it important for you to be ordained?
Z: I wanted my peers to confirm my calling and validate the theological and pastoral training I received. The accountability and the peer support of other clergy means a lot to me.
It was such a blessing to go through all the steps of the ordination assessment: taking courses to know the Baptist way of working and professional ethics, having a watchcare mentor to “walk” with me for 4-6 months, taking psychological tests to know myself and my spiritual gifts, and finally writing and defending my ordination paper before the delegates of 18 churches. I have made a lot of friends and grown more confident through the assessment process.
M: What’s your strategy for helping the Chinese church in North America to be more open to calling female pastors?
Z: I wrote about this issue in my master’s thesis. Besides giving the theological foundation for ordaining women, I provided a strategy that is called “Flight and Fight.” Chinese churches are predominantly influenced by the hierarchical/restrictive teaching on women in ministry, so it is very hard for a Chinese church to call a woman as her pastor. Therefore, I suggested that if a woman is very sure that God called her to ministry, it would be best for her to take “flight” from the Chinese churches and find a more supportive environment. That is what I did. I am very happy to be a Baptist minister and have so many supportive men and women as peers.
Then, we should turn around and “fight.” It is not a fight with people, but with the principalities in the spirit realm that want to limit 50% or more of the church’s talents from being fully used. We can educate people with the proper theology about gender justice. We should also pray hard for breakthroughs for women to participate in leadership.
I invited many of my Chinese sisters to my ordination service, so that they could see, maybe for the first time, that a sister can be ordained.
Rev. Dr. Yaliang Zhao is a pastor at the Lincoln Park Baptist Church at West Newton, MA, pursuing her D. Min at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Born in Xi’an, China, she became a believer in 2000 and first heard God’s call in 2005 when she was working as a senior scientist in Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (now Pfizer). She graduated with a Master of Arts in Religion from the Christian University Global Net in 2012. She is married to Dr. Yan Feng and the mother of three lovely kids: Kimberly, Samuel and Timothy. She enjoys studying, meditation and is a competitive tennis player.