For most her life, Kim Outlaw didn’t even believe women could be senior pastors.
That’s what Paul seemed to say in 1 Timothy when he said he doesn’t allow a woman to “teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
After much prayer and convincing from God, Outlaw eventually moved on from that belief and, not long afterward, felt a calling to start her own church.
Outlaw has now been the senior pastor at Living Water Fellowship Church for a little more than 11 years. Her husband Steve Outlaw is the co-pastor.
Twenty-five years ago, the prospect of starting a church and serving as its senior pastor would have seemed preposterous.
Outlaw worked at the old Navistar International plant in Indianapolis. She was on the assembly line, making diesel engines. As a young woman in her early 20s making good money, Outlaw spent those days in the streets: selling drugs, partying, being promiscuous.
“I had a temper, and I was just an unruly person,” she said. “… I just lost my way for a while.”
Outlaw had always believed in God. She grew up attending Good Samaritan Baptist Church on the corner of East 22nd Street and Park Avenue. The foundation was there, but it took decades to build on it.
A friend invited her to Eastern Star Church in 1996. She wore a short dress, no pantyhose or stockings. It was uncomfortable.
But Outlaw remembered a young boy extending his hand to her during the altar call. The congregation was singing one of those hymns that seems like it’s meant to call out to someone in particular: “The Jesus in me loves the Jesus in you.”
“I have nothing to lose,” she told herself, “because I’m losing. I know I need to make my way back to God and give him my life.”
So she did.
That led to doing outreach work at Eastern Star — working with children and checking in on new members — before feeling the call in 1998 to join the ministry.
Outlaw remembered Eastern Star Church Pastor Jeffrey Johnson Sr. asking people to stand if they felt called to ministry, but she wasn’t certain at the time.
Then, he added something Outlaw didn’t remember him saying before: “Even if you’re not sure.”
“It’s like the Holy Spirit just made me stand,” she said.
Steve Outlaw has been there to witness the entire transformation, from selling drugs to where his wife is today, because he also worked at Navistar International.
“People questioned it,” he said of his wife’s newfound commitment to her faith. “It was like, ‘Aw, she ain’t for real,’ but I seen it firsthand because I went home with her every single day.”
Outlaw took two classes in ministry at Eastern Star and even dealt with a meningitis diagnosis at the time, an experience that made her believe “it is the enemy’s job to try to stop you” from making progress.
Outlaw joined New Life Worship Center, an Eastern Star church plant, in early 2000 and began working as a guest preacher after Navistar International closed in 2009. She was getting ready to preach at another church when she got the sudden calling to start a church and name it Living Water Fellowship Church.
“I go all over this country,” Johnson said. “What God is doing with Living Water and Kim Outlaw, you just don’t see it all the time.”
Outlaw began her journey not knowing who she was or who she wanted to be. After years of climbing out of her spiritual slump and now more than a decade as the senior pastor at her own church, Outlaw can’t help but think of the oft-cited Bible verse in Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I don’t say that just to quote a Bible verse,” she said. “I now know that I have been empowered by God to succeed. I know who I am.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.