Tamala P. Kelly ’09, M.Div. ’14
Pastor and Founder of Empower 2 Purpose
How did you get here?
Such a short and seemingly simple question, but there can be so much involved in answering it. For Tamala Kelly ’09, M.Div. ’14, “here” involves co-pastoring a church with her husband, running a women’s ministry, and being a mother of four. It also involves asking that same question of others—people who are hurting, broken, lost, or otherwise in need of what only Jesus can provide.
Do you come from a religious background?
I’ve never known a time when I did not believe in God. When I was a child, my mother took me and my siblings to church on Sundays, and I sang in the Sunshine Choir. That left an impression on my little heart that serving God was fun. But my parents divorced when I was 7, my father moved out, and my family stopped going to church. I started to view God as distant and not concerned about the everyday struggles of His people.
What came next in your faith journey?
My mother died when I was 16, and I had to go live with my father in Chicago. He had become a Baptist minister, and I went back to church. While attending Sunday school, I developed a deep hunger and love for Scripture. I learned that God speaks to His people through His word. As I read Scripture, and immersed myself in our local church community, I saw myself growing. Christlikeness was being formed in me throughout my teenage years.
After I graduated high school, I came back to California to join a program called Youth with Purpose through a nondenominational church that a relative attended. That’s when I heard the phrase “receiving Jesus into your heart,” and it was there that I saw and experienced an altar call. I learned about my spiritual gifts, and I developed a very deep and personal relationship with God during that season. The program encouraged me, trained me, and sent me into the mission field. For the first time I became keenly aware that God sends us to engage with other people in a way that will advance His kingdom.
“God is using our church to transform lives by using our ministry to make disciples who make disciples.”
And that’s how you and your husband approach your ministry work?
We believe that the church is the people, not the building, so we are to be aggressively seeking and loving people, delivering the Gospel message not in word only but in deed, and bringing wholeness into the lives of broken people by sharing and demonstrating God’s redeeming love. We want to make disciples who make disciples—who are the hands and feet of Jesus within their families and communities, at their jobs, at the coffee shop.
You also have a women’s ministry that was born out of an incredible experience you had; can you describe what happened?
Seven years ago, my husband and I were at a gas station one day and I witnessed a young lady being beaten up by who I later learned was her boyfriend. We jumped out of the car, and I called 911 while my husband tried to calm the man down. As this was happening, I began to pray: “God, open up a door so I can let the young lady know that You have a purpose for her life and it is greater than what she is experiencing right now.” By His grace, a door opened within the chaos and I was able to ask her: “How did you get here?” She shared with me that no one cared about her, so I shared with her that she was fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and that she had a purpose she was perfect for. The compassion I felt for her that day really propelled me to do something about it, and Empower 2 Purpose was born. We’re transforming lives by empowering women of all ages with the Word of God, to pursue their purpose with passion.
How did you become a pastor?
I became a disciple of Christ at 19 and have followed Him passionately and consistently since that time. I served faithfully in my local church in various capacities and was ordained as a deacon at 29. After my husband and I spent 20 years serving in our former church, we were called to another ministry—we were ordained as pastors and sent out to start Abundant Living Family Church–San Gabriel Valley five years ago. We started with a vision to “Win the World for Jesus Christ One Family at a Time.” I received my B.A. in Organizational Leadership from APU in 2009, then felt God leading me to the M.Div. program, where I learned the building blocks of understanding the Bible and how to interpret Scripture, how to do practical ministry.
And your whole family serves in your church?
We are blessed that our whole family serves side by side in ministry. Our oldest daughter, Ty, is the children’s church director; our second daughter, Rhena, is the worship leader; our son, Tre’, serves in children’s church and on the worship team; and our daughter Selah serves on the worship team.