Foursquare’s theme this year is “Sent”—a concept not limited only to Connection 2015, but an action lived out by Foursquare leaders across the nation, every day throughout the year. In this exclusive feature series, you will meet people in the Foursquare family who have been sent by the Lord to different places. Get ready to be inspired.
To make the most of the future, we have to make sense of the past. That’s the conviction that drives Leah Payne in helping prepare others for ministry by bridging what has often been something of a gap in Pentecostal circles.
A Foursquare pastor’s wife who serves with her husband, Thomas, senior pastor of Faith Center (Aloha Foursquare Church) in Beaverton, Ore., Leah works as assistant professor of theology at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, bringing together the worlds of faith and academia. She notes: “Jesus calls us to love God with our whole being—mind, soul, body and strength.”
Rather than a dusty diversion, history is “meaning-making,” Leah asserts, looking at the course of events “that go together and make us who we are, and that tell us who we are as people, both as individuals and as groups.”
Guiding students through a “warts and all” look at church history “helps us learn from our mistakes,” she says. “It can also help us appreciate and in some ways rediscover aspects of our story that might have been buried in the past.” In all this, studying its history is “an important service to the church.”
Leah imparts that sense of passion and purpose to her students. One of them posted this online verdict on her teaching, which focuses on gender and hermeneutics: “Don’t let her winsome smile fool you, Leah’s brain is on fire.”
The assistant professor views her teaching and research as a ministry calling, and her study of the past is also anchored by an understanding of the present-day realities of church life. In addition to being involved in ministry with Faith Center, Leah is one of three PK siblings. Her father, Lowell Weare, was a longtime Foursquare minister, stepping down as senior pastor of Living Way Fellowship (Sandy Foursquare Church) in Sandy, Ore., last year. Leah knew that she wanted to serve God from an early age, but was not sure where and how.
On graduating from George Fox, she worked as an assistant to respected Christian musician and producer Charlie Peacock at his Art House America in Nashville, Tenn., for a couple of years. But then she felt nudged from the studio to the studious, going back to school and reviving an interest in Foursquare founder Aimee Semple McPherson sparked by reading about her as a child.
Doctoral research led to the recent publication of Leah’s first book, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism: Making a Female Ministry in the Early Twentieth Century. It centers on the lessons to be drawn from the lives of Aimee and another women-in-leadership pioneer, Maria Woodworth-Etter.
Always looking for opportunities to mentor and encourage women in pursuing ministry with the same determination displayed by Foursquare’s founder, Leah admires all that Aimee achieved in the face of cultural challenges and opposition. But through her study, she also gained a deeper appreciation of Aimee personally.
“She is so often a symbol of women in religious leadership or celebrity preaching, but she was a regular person, too,” Leah explains. “She endured a lot; she had a lonely life in some ways. I also gained some new insights into her genuine love for the church and for people.”
Life isn’t all weighty study, though. Leah and Thomas are foster-parenting their second placements. The professor and author of papers with titles such as “Reflections on the Potential of Gender Theory for Pentecostal History” also enjoys pop culture. The Foo Fighters and Hozier feature high on her music playlist, while post-apocalyptic TV series The 100 is required viewing.
“It’s asking questions about human value that are really great,” she says. “I love science fiction because it gives people a creative, thoughtful way to reflect and think about things that are happening in our culture right now.”
Leah is part of the recently established Foursquare Church Education Commission (FCEC), tasked with ensuring that ministry development is championed and taken up more in the movement. The group is steering between the anti-intellectualism it says has “plagued classical Pentecostalism” in the past, while avoiding the “over-professionalizing” of ministry that can come with too much emphasis on formal learning.
For Leah, that balance of head and heart can be seen clearly in the lives of great Christian thinkers of the past such as Augustine, Martin Luther and Charles Wesley, among others.
“Some of those who have produced the most intellectual theology were also people who had radiant, ecstatic experiences with the Holy Spirit,” she observes. “These people also had a really vibrant relationship with God.”
Leah is glad to be part of the new FCEC “in a season in The Foursquare Church where there is a lot of openness and excitement about what God can do through study.” She feels well supported in her role by her Foursquare church family. And while Foursquare students comprise one of the larger denominational groupings at George Fox, she appreciates being able to inspire others from different church backgrounds, reflecting Aimee’s interdenominational emphasis.