By Carly Bartlett, 2007, Podcaster, Adjunct Professor, Preacher
As I prepared to step up on to the platform and preach to 10,000 students gathered at Nazarene Youth Conference 2023 in Tampa Bay, Florida, tears filled my eyes. I saw students worshiping with their hands raised, youth leaders praying for students, and then I looked up to the nosebleed section…and pictured myself there twelve years ago.
In the summer of 2011, I attended NYC in Louisville, Kentucky. At that time, I served as the Assistant Director of Admissions at NNU and attended the conference to connect with prospective students in the exhibit hall. Since I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, I was thrilled to be at what felt like a big “family” reunion and talk about the school I loved. It was a dream come true to be there. Little did I know what God had in store for me that week and how God would write a full-circle story in my life twelve years later at NYC 2023.
During one of the sessions at NYC 2011, I sat in the highest section of the arena as my friend, Pastor Brooklyn Lindsey, spoke to the thousands of students there. As I listened, I was overcome with excitement for her and gratitude that the students were hearing her, as a woman pastor, preach the gospel. As I experienced this joy for my friend in this moment, the Lord unexpectedly whispered to me, “Carly, this call to preach is also for you.” I was shocked. I hadn’t studied ministry in my undergraduate years at NNU. I earned my BA in Communication and MBA from NNU, but ministry was not on my radar. So, the feelings of insecurity crept in.
I have struggled with perfectionism for years. Even as a kid, I always wanted to do the right thing and avoided any chance of failure like the plague. My striving became entangled with my relationship with God, as I never wanted to do anything to disappoint God or others. So when this unexpected call to ministry arose, the voice of perfectionism said, “You aren’t prepared for this, so don’t do it!” The feelings of inadequacy didn’t disappear, but I am thankful that God’s grace and the kind voice of the Spirit were louder than my fears. My heart’s desire has always been to follow God’s guidance in my life, and up until this point, I felt equipped… but this call to ministry felt so out of my comfort zone. With both excitement and anxiety, I committed to saying “yes” even when I couldn’t see the big picture. As the months following NYC 2011 unfolded, and the path before me became more clear, I realized that in God’s kindness, God had been laying a foundation for my future—even when I was unaware. My supportive family, formative years as a student at NNU, and the friendships and mentors I gained from the NNU community, all gave me the courage to say “yes” to God’s call then, and continue to give me the courage to say “yes” to God’s call today.
I grew up in a loving, supportive family. My parents, Mike and Sue Peck, met at Northwest Nazarene College in the 1970s and their lives were significantly shaped by the NNC community. My grandmother, Wanda McMichael, served as the NNC registrar for decades, so my mom grew up spending her days on the campus. My dad did not grow up in a Christian home but met Jesus in the dorm prayer chapel during his freshman year. So, after high school, I decided to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother and parents and attend Northwest Nazarene University. Throughout my growing-up years, my parents reminded me that perfectionism was not my boss. While I cried when I got a B in 8th-grade algebra, my parents celebrated me and told me a B was more than fine. So, when I headed off to college, they encouraged me to relish the whole experience and the opportunity to grow academically, spiritually, relationally and emotionally.
During my undergraduate years, I asked a lot of questions and wrestled with difficult theological concepts. I still remember sitting in theology class as Dr. Diane LeClerc graciously made space for us to grapple with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In my dorm room, late at night, I remember discussing faith, Jesus and boys with my dear friends, many of whom are still my dear friends today. I am grateful for my college years, during which I was able to build on what I learned as a child, and came to stand on a firm faith foundation of my own. I also met Mike Bartlett—a cute boy studying art, whose creativity and zest for life were contagious. A few years after I initially saw him riding his longboard around campus, he became my husband and chief encourager.
All of these formational moments and relationships helped me tune into the voice of Jesus and know that I had a community that would spur me on. So, after hearing my call to ministry in 2011, Mike and I decided to take many months to pray and discern if this was the path God had for me and for our family. After almost an entire year of praying, I felt affirmed by God, friends, family and mentors that this was the path for me. I knew I wanted to pursue theological education, so I enrolled at Nazarene Theological Seminary to pursue my M.Div.
In 2014, I stepped into my first vocational ministry role when Pastor Tim Bunn invited me to be a part of the pastoral staff team at Eagle Nazarene Church. During this season of ministry, I lived into my passion as a preacher. God had called me to be a preacher and I realized that not only was preaching God’s call on my life, preaching was a gift of God to me. The more I preached, the more I realized my absolute love for sharing the hope found in God’s Word with others. Shortly after I sensed that God was calling me to ministry, Mike was offered a teaching position at NNU in the Art Department. He has now been teaching at NNU for ten years, and we are so grateful for the ways we have been formed and shaped through the connections and friendships we have. Mike and I also love investing in young adults, so for the last ten years, we have been delighted to see how my ministry in local churches has intersected with Mike’s ministry to students in the classroom.
During the early days of the pandemic, like many people, we found ourselves unexpectedly spending most of our time at home. At the time, our oldest daughter was five years old, and I had just given birth to our youngest daughter. We were working from home and helping Lucy participate in online kindergarten. We had more time to think and dream about our future, and as a result, we moved into a season of change. After seven years, I stepped away from my role at EagleNaz and joined the pastoral staff team at College Church in Nampa. I’ve been on staff there for two years now, and I’m grateful to learn from, and link arms with, so many who see the beautiful melding together of the academic world and the local church.
That season of change also came with an open door for me to start teaching at NNU as an adjunct in the Communication Department. For the last two years, I have been teaching Intro to Public Speaking. It is my absolute joy to invest in students in this way. Many students come into this required general education class anxious about speaking in front of their peers. By the end of the semester, I am always overjoyed to see that students not only have grown in their confidence but have done so because they learned to cheer each other on. They are quick to cheer and clap for one another, and I am convinced that they are carrying the culture of celebration they create to our greater community. I am being shaped by the amazing students at NNU.
In addition to my love for serving the local church and serving students, I have always had a desire to serve the greater Church through preaching and creating resources for congregations and small groups. So, Mike and I started making plans to launch a podcast. In the spring of 2022, the “Ditching Perfection” podcast was born. It really is a family project. Mike oversees the production, editing, video and graphic design, and my brother, Chris Peck—an NNU grad and music teacher—wrote the music for the podcast. Each week, I dive into scripture and have conversations with friends from all walks of life about what it looks like to pursue wholeness in Jesus rather than trying to have it all together. Many of the guests on my podcast have been from the NNU community—I truly am so grateful for the ways our friends and mentors from NNU have, and continue, to shape my family and me.
God has written a beautiful story in my life. Through my struggle with perfectionism, God has walked the road of healing with me step by step. God has also invited me to share my restoration journey with others. As I sifted through big faith questions as a college student, I now have the opportunity to sit with young adults as they sift through big faith questions of their own. It seems like a theme throughout my story has been that there are always unexpected twists and turns but the unexpected can be a gift.
This last spring, I received a very unexpected phone call from the coordinators of Nazarene Youth Conference. They asked me to speak at NYC 2023 in Tampa, Florida. I was humbled, grateful and in awe of God. I felt the weighty responsibility of this invitation, but I no longer tuned into the voice of inadequacy. In the months and weeks leading up to NYC, I felt nervous, yes, but also confident that the Holy Spirit would equip me. It wasn’t about what I could do or say. I knew God was inviting me to live open-handed and trust that the Spirit would work through me.
Twelve years ago, I sat at NYC, hearing God call me to ministry, and this summer, I had the opportunity to stand on the platform at that same event and share the good news of Jesus with 10,000 students gathered there. My husband, Mike, was on the platform with me, painting images that communicated my message. Our little girls sat in the arena, hearing the message loud and clear that they, too, can do anything God calls them to do. Our girls didn’t sit alone; they sat with my friend and mentor, Brooklyn Lindsey, who was preaching at NYC when I felt my call to ministry. Now she was sitting with my kids, cheering me on, and seeing the ripple effect of her “yes” to Jesus. I cried many tears of joy and gratitude as I looked around the arena at the sea of faces, thinking about how God was surely writing stories of restoration in the lives of everyone there, including me. I experienced an only-God, full-circle moment that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I am blown away and humbled that God would write this story in my life. As I look back, every step of the way, people have written cards, spoken words of encouragement, prayed for me, cheered me on, opened preaching doors for me and believed in the work of God in and through my life… and truly, the majority of those people have centered in one community—the family that is NNU. I am forever grateful.
You can learn more about Carly and her ministry by visiting carlycommunicates.com, connecting with her on Instagram @carlycommunicates or listening to “Ditching Perfection” on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.