Madison Dering’s Story

Written By: Madison Dering


May 6, 2024

Growing up, vocational ministry was never on my radar. It wasn’t that I had anything against going into ministry—I just never thought about it. Throughout high school and college, my idea of what I wanted to do changed almost every year. I never felt peace or contentment when I would start looking into different career paths.

I had been extremely depressed with suicidal thoughts since the third grade. I had a great family, amazing friends, I went to church—everything that would make sense for me to have a good life. But there was always something missing. I started googling how many painkillers it would take to shut down someone’s body. I wrote a letter for my family to find, and every day I was just going through the motions of life with emptiness.

When I was 19, my entire life shifted, and I realized all my happiness and worth were found in temporary things on earth. I finally cried out to God one day and said, “I can’t do this anymore. Tell me what I need to do to not feel this way.” Immediately, I felt God repeating the phrase, “Be uncomfortable,” so that’s what I did. I put myself in situations I never would have before. It almost felt like I was a completely different person. My faith grew in monumental ways, and I finally understood the difference between joy and happiness — this change was evident in many ways in my life.

Then, when I was 20, I decided to start leading a small group with Oasis, Woodside’s middle school student ministry. I quickly became a high-capacity volunteer—launching a student leadership group, helping plan worship nights with other churches, arriving early at Oasis every week, and more. I felt peace and grace from God covering me, and for the first time in my life, I knew He was saying, “This is where you belong. This is where I have you.”

Soon, my student director encouraged me to apply for an internship through the Leadership Institute. It took me a while to finally apply, as I never felt like I was equipped to be in a leadership role at church. I’d experienced a lot of church hurt growing up, and didn’t want to put myself in a position where I could hurt someone else that way. I also felt like I needed to be fully qualified before being an intern. But then I realized that the internship is what would help equip me and show me how to be a healthy leader.

Sadly, when I applied, COVID hit at the same time. So, the summer of 2020 was a summer of growing my confidence, building relationships with other staff members, learning my identity as a leader in Christ, and immersing myself into ministry. I was at the church for almost 30 hours a week as a 10-hour intern, because it was like my second home. In the fall, I received a call from the director of the Institute offering me a spot in the residency program. This was a huge answer to prayer, meaning I could work less hours at my other job and spend more time in ministry. Throughout my residency, I was immersed in ministry at Woodside Romeo, and I loved what I was doing.

Because of the Institute and my residency at Woodside Romeo, I was given the chance to own ministry projects that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. This was largely thanks to the leadership of Ben Orr, Woodside Romeo’s former student director. He gave me opportunities to do what I was passionate about, empowered me to lead them out, and allowed me to make mistakes while encouraging me for the next time. As a whole, my experience in the Leadership Institute gave me the chance to do what God was calling me to do. The Institute was a safe place where I could learn, be encouraged, and put practical skills into action.

In 2021, I was approached to fill an interim role as Leadership Institute Coordinator because the director was stepping out on maternity leave. I was excited, but once again, felt like I wasn’t equipped or qualified. After a lot of prayer, I knew God was asking me to trust Him to take that leap, even if it was uncomfortable. When the director returned, I was asked to stay on staff at the Institute. From there, I was able to quit my job and solely focus on the Leadership Institute and student ministry at Woodside.

The Leadership institute has taught me so much, but the biggest lesson has been that God truly equips the called and that He knows our every step. I have met so many amazing people through the Institute; it has provided me with an amazing community—people I get to do ministry with every day. The Institute has equipped me with theological and practical knowledge, relationships with seasoned ministry leaders, and a deep understanding of what being a leader is—apart from the glamorous side that a lot of people can see and be attracted to.

After my residency, I was brought on staff at the Romeo campus to facilitate student ministry with Ben Orr while continuing to serve with the Institute. Today, I am the Assistant Director of the Leadership Institute. As I look toward to the future, I’ve felt God calling me elsewhere. Though I’m not sure where that will be, I’m thankful to have learned the tools I need to help me discern that calling.