Esther Sanders and Leigh Anne Creekmore are “moms in ministry.”
Esther is a mother of seven and is the children’s ministry coordinator at Lawndale Presbyterian Church in Tupelo. Leigh Anne is a mother of two and is the hospitality team leader and nursery coordinator, also at Lawndale Presbyterian.
With Mother’s Day right around the corner, the two took a rare, brief break from the hustle of daily life to reflect on the struggles and the rewards of being mothers while also being involved in ministry.
Esther Sanders’ family comes first
Sanders has been working in children’s ministry for more than 20 years, and her youngest child is now 12 years old. She said while ministry has been a priority, family life always topped the list.
“My family always came first,” she said. “I always brought my kids along. They were right there with me – preparing for Bible school or sorting Sunday School literature. We just made it part of their lives. It was great.”
Sanders, who has homeschooled all of her seven daughters, said she and her husband, Greg, have tried to model ministry as a natural part of life.
“I’ve gone through periods of staying up late to get it all done,” she said. “But Greg has tried to help us focus on the importance of the ordinary in life. Church is just part of our ordinary life; not something ‘out there.’”
In spite of watching their mother sometimes struggle to get it all done, Sanders said her children are beginning to internalize the value of ministry in their own lives.
“I made my kids do things like work days and service projects,” she said. “Now that they’re in high school and college, they see that as the way they want to live as well, even if they never go into paid ministry. It’s just spilling over into their lives.”
At 51 years old, Sanders said proper self-care, both physical and spiritual, is key for maintaining ministry effectiveness over the long haul.
“You have to have a steady diet,” she said. “If you don’t it’s going to be evident. The older our kids get the more they can see through anything that’s fake.”
Looking back over her years of both motherhood and ministry, Sanders said she has no regrets.
“Leading my children to Christ will never be a mistake,” she said. “We just have to keep feeding our kids God’s word. No matter how we do it, they’re taking it in.”
Sanders said while the church operates within a culture often at odds with its message, her faith remains unshaken.
“It’s wild out there,” she said. “But the fact is that God is faithful, and his word doesn’t change. We just keep pressing the gospel into their hearts and helping them grow rich in that. At the end of the day, I can go to bed at night and rest knowing God has his hand on me and on my family.”
Leigh Ann Creekmore challenges the paradigm
Leigh Anne Creekmore is relatively new to both motherhood and to ministry. The 34-year-old Hattiesburg native moved with her husband to Tupelo from Nashville just over three years ago, and their two children are preschool-age.
Creekmore said she doesn’t always get it right when it comes to managing motherhood and ministry.
“Some days, I just don’t do it very well,” she said with a smile. “But I think it’s important that my kids see me working at church. It’s a job, but it’s a calling and a joy as well.”
As a busy and sometimes over-scheduled wife and mother, Creekmore said it’s vital to connect with like-minded others for support.
“You have to surround yourself with women who support you and your family,” she said. “Someone you can be vulnerable and share life with. It’s very important. It can be really hard when you feel alone and you feel like you’re not living up to these expectations that are set by the media.”
Creekmore said she loves her kids and her work, but her primary focus is her marriage.
“The best way to love your children is to love your spouse first,” she said. “If our kids see us love each other and love the Lord together, that’s the most important thing. I love my children, but my marriage comes first. If I thought my job was interfering with that, I’d quit in a heartbeat.”
In her work and in her home life, Creekmore said she hopes to challenge the “child-centered” paradigm of parenting.
“We see other parents doing everything for their kids first,” she said. “They set everything up for them so perfectly to have these wonderful adventures, and that’s all fine and good. But it means nothing if my kids don’t see my husband and me in a strong, gospel-centered relationship.”
Creekmore said she has to remind herself of her calling, not just in ministry, but in all of life.
“I can’t control what others do,” she said. “But this is the standard we’ve set for our family, and it’s not perfection. We’re not called to be perfect; we’re called to love God and love each other.”