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February 8, 2007

Aren't We Always at Church?



home.jpgMy sister is a very busy woman. She has four kids (ranging from infancy to 10 years old), works part-time from home, maintains a spotless house, and manages to follow the Holy Spirit through an active and ongoing ministry to people around her.

She and her family are actively involved in their church, and she serves where she can. God has given her obvious spiritual gifts in mercy, encouragement, administration, and discernment. But most of the time, she doesn't exercise these gifts in the church building. Instead, she more often finds herself doing ministry at home, at her kids' school, at the park, and at Wal-Mart.

She tells me she sometimes feels guilty because she doesn't seem to be meeting other people's expectations. She doesn't attend all the social events her friends do. She doesn't teach a Sunday school class (even though she's been asked several times). And when another couple asked her if she and her husband would lead a small group because they want to join one but don't want to lead, she said no.

But every time she starts feeling guilty, thinking that she should be giving more time to "church ministry," God brings someone into her life - someone in need of her ministry. A friend is facing a tragic end to a pregnancy. A neighbor is grieving a loss and needs a meal. Another mom needs a babysitter and can't afford to pay. A teenage girl needs a listening ear and a discerning heart to help lead her through a tough decision. So my sister uses her spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. Every time I talk to her, she tells me about a way she's helping to bear someone else's burden. I don't think she even realizes how much her heart for ministry pervades her speech and attitudes.

I think a lot of women feel the same kind of guilt that my sister feels. Perhaps it's because we're such a "doing" culture, heavy on formal titles and organizational roles that help us prove we're doing something. We tend to think of spiritual gifts as something we use "at church" or when we're doing stuff "for the church." And so these gifts feel like burdens - obligations we'll never be able to satisfy.

But perhaps spiritual gifts are more about being than doing. Instead of obligating us to fill formal roles within the church, perhaps our knowledge of our gifts should help us to seek the Holy Spirit's direction in spotting the ministry opportunities in our path. After all, as they say, the church is not a building. We are the church - all the time, everywhere. So we never really stop being "at church," right? Is there a realm in which we are not to use our spiritual gifts?

As my sister puts it, "I may think I know what my job is, what I'm good at, where I could be most useful. But when I humbly just let God put me where I'm useful to him, I'm much more successful. It works a lot better than when I just jump into something because it sounds attractive or because someone else thinks I should do it."

My sister is finding the church around her, and her ministry in the lives of the people God brings her way. And her ministry makes a difference (as it always does when we use our spiritual gifts under the Holy Spirit's direction). Maybe that's why a friend recently told her, "I know I've never told you this, but when I drive down your street, I always look to see if your van is there. When it is, it's a ministry to me - I see that you're staying home instead of running around somewhere, distracting yourself by doing things. You're doing ministry at home. It encourages me to do the same."

I suspect many of you can relate to this. What do you say?

Comments

I am a Chritian, African American, Women, wife and mother who hold a leadership position at my church. I thank God for the opportunity. I have to ask God often should I go to that, or should I go to that and my Father God is always so clear when He speaks to me.
Love your neighbor as your self. I find that I am giving out of me old revelations because I did not get my time with God. New mercies each day and when I take the time to spend with God my day and the people I care for and about are blessed with the over flow of God’s grace
I pray that each woman who God has blessed with life today will:
1 give God his time: He is a jealous God
2 take time for yourself as a leader you are a role model how God loves us and wants us to take care of the temple of the Holy Spirit
3 love with God pure, sweet and true love
Be Blessed.

I absolutely relate. It's only when I am less busy with churchianity that I find the time to relax and enjoy being who God has made me to be in my community. As a result, I have new friends who have come to church and are gobbling up quality Christian literature.

Thank you for this post. An example from Scripture just jumps out at me.

When Jesus illustrated the Second Greatest Commandment, his protagonist, "the Good Samaritan," was not acting under the organizational auspices of any Search and Rescue Committee, but on his own initiative. This character also was, in every conceivable way of the time, "religiously incorrect." Samaritans didn't worship at the "right" place, nor would they have even -(gasp)- tithed. It was the religiously correct who passed by the hurting man. How Jesus must have shocked his audience!

Times change, but people don't. Professionals and a religious hierarchy reign today as they did then, but it's still personal ministry that reaches a heart, because it comes alongside in the midst, meeting real needs in real time without fanfare. It's why the Church really is the people who are God's own -- not the building, the program, the spotlight or the organization.

Thank you for your insightful article. It is a message that more women need to hear today. The Holy Spirit has been reminding me over the last couple of yars that NOT ALL MINISTRY HAPPENS IN A CHURCH! So many churches today, especially the larger ones, run much like a corporation; titles and "ministries" are exaulted. Yet, most of Jesus' ministry was conducted OUTSIDE of the established "church" (temple) of His day. (I think our Lord's ministry was quite effective.) We ladies, directed by the Holy Spirit and serving where He directs us to serve, are really being His hands and feet in this dark and dying world. Your article is a great encouragement to me. Unless the LORD builds the house, the workmen labor in vain. When we say "yes" to even good and worthy things that are not God's best for our lives, we can quickly become over-burdened and operate on "over-load." But, when we step out in the Lord's direction, the task is easy and the burdens light. He knows what is best for us. We just have to trust Him. He will open the right doors and place the right opportunites in our path. Ministry is not necessarily a "church-sponsored event" or an organized, committee-driven machine. Most ministry happens in our ordinary day-to-day encounters. We will probably all be surprised when we get to Heaven and see the results of these seemingly mundane happenings and the ways other's lives were impacted for God's Kingdom.

I am a Ghanaian Christian young girl. Leaving and working in Ghana. I discovered your community and I have decided to be one of you.

I am a school Sunday teacher since I was 15 and for 10 years I have learnt skills that has made me do a bit more for my church I belong to my youth executive body which added responsibilities like attending meeting as a representative and also a prayer warrior.

Thank you very much for the forum you have created for women with leadership roles.

But my problems is I recently accepted to marry my friend who is also a prayer warrior and also gets involved in most church activities but not as much as I do.

We do not spend much time together becuase most of the time we are busy with church activities.

But I am now contemplating whether I have to minimize the number of activities I get involved in at Church in other to spend a bit more time together.

I am too sure if I will not be doing my God giving job and if GOD will be happy with my decisions.
CAN YOU PLEASE BE OF HELP? Thank you

Post by Abigail

Abi (above)... life has so many seasons... singleness often means we can be in the church building more, doing "church things." But, love and marriage, and, later sometimes children, bring a different season. And this has a beauty of a different sort... a beauty ordained since the Garden of Eden.

Also, I'm curious. What does your friend think? Does he see a need to spend more time together?

Dear Abigail,
Apostle Paul said, When you are single,you live for the Lord but you get married, you live for the Lord and your spouse. That means there are only 2 persons we are to please. It's GOD and our spouse. It is not a question if you and your friend would want to spend time together when you get married but how much time you are to spend on building up your relationship. We ought to spend time with God and our spouse to really get to know them. Doing ministry is not in particular spending time with God. I am not saying you quit church activities and ministry, what I am saying is that married people have a very different set of priorities compared to single people.

Hello Christians Sisters:
I thank God I came across this online opportunity to share my heart about my concerns involving leadership in ministry.
I am the current president of my church's women's ministry.I was asked to take this position because the current president became ill and no one was willing to take on the responsibility. This was about nine years ago. Since that time we have been through many peaks and valleys. My problem is that I find when everything is going well and our ministry is deemed to be moving forward, I receive nothing but praise and support. However, when problems arise and things go wrong everyone points the finger at me and I become the scapegoat and a target for everyone's frustrations. I'm starting to feel like I am merely the "patsy" for the group. If I don't deliver the goods, they turn on me. Can anyone share with me how they dealt with this problem?
Yours in Christ
A Women's Ministry President for now

Abigail,
I agree with the above posts. Paul says he wishes all could be as he- single.(I Corinthians 7:8) That means he only needs to consider God in making decisions - such as how to spend his time. Once we become married we also need to take the needs of our husband into consideration after we seek God's will. The beautiful thing is that now, many times your service for God can overlap. You can often serve God together. While I sing in the choir, my husband works on the sound system. He is not singing, but we are at church at the same time and are in close proximity to one another. It gives us a good feeling to be working together serving God.

Amy - your sister sounds great! She is an example of the difference between "being at church" and "being the church". A lot of us (myself included!) find ourselves being asked to "be at church" so that org charts can be filled, programs can be run and staff positions can be justified. Those things are not bad in themselves, but sometimes, leaders (and our own need to be needed) push us into committments that become a kind of enemy of the kind of missional ministry to which all of us are called, which your sister is doing with such grace. Her "no's" have made space in her life for some great big yesses.

Thanks, Michelle. You're right about my sister: she's great. And so is the encouraging discussion here. It's great to see all of these helpful responses to Abigail, and women sharing their questions.

Carmena, I suspect many people in leadership struggle with the same thing you do: the fickle nature of people's appreciation. It's one of the reasons we must lead with a motivation to serve God rather than merely to please people. At the same time, I recognize that it is hurtful and stressful to face this kind of pressure. One thing that can help is to surround yourself with a team who is helping to lead alongside you (in fact, one of the most helpful things you can do is to recruit your most vocal opponents to be leadership roles). Are you delegating to others, or do you find yourself doing most of the work alone?

(Had a great sermon on humility today, so maybe that is part of the background for this post!)

Carmena and Amy--sometimes our biggest stumbling blocks seem to be other members, especially women, of the church. But then I have to turn the spotlight on myself and ask whether I am, even unconsciously, holding unrealistic expectations for other women in the church. Amy, is your sister feeling guilty because of her own expectations or is she getting some kind of subtle messages from others that her work should be more "inside" the church?

There is this ongoing struggle that all of us have probably experienced at times, the need for more involvement of more members if our ministries are going to go forward. At the same time we recognize the many ways that women already are reaching out in Christ's name to others in the community.

I think we each need to pray more in this area. First, asking God for guidance in where He sees our primary "mission field" at this season of life. Then, we also need to pray for the other women in our congregation, that they will also be able to find the appropriate area of service. We need to ask forgiveness if we have unduly pressured women into roles that are centered on our own programs and needs rather than the furtherance of God's kingdom. And finally, we need to pray that God will lead us to those women who may be seeking more involvement but don't know where to begin or are not confident that their gifts are "good enough" to pick up some new role. Yes, there really are women out there who are under-utilized! We just need to be asking God to help us find them.

As with all matters, it is good to examine the heart. On one hand, your sister is setting a great example of the church-loving, meeting needs, and especially living and working with unbelievers where she lives.
On the other hand, it is a valid question to ask-does she have accountability and fellowship with other women in the body some way somehow-otherwise, she is a lone ranger and no, that is not good. Only she can answer that question. That is why a Jesus never gave us a "model" of serving, only a "heart" to serve. But He did give us clear direction about "serving" in the context of a local church with appropriate fellowship, communication, leadership, support, prayer, and help within the church body. Anything less is simply self-directed activity.

First of all, your sister sounds wonderful! I wished that she lived on my street. I can totally relate because in the last area I lived in, I hadn't realized that I was a missionary on my street until the very last day. My parting words to a neighbour were, "I'll see you in church on Sunday," and that's when it finally hit home.

Nearly every child (but two) on the block made a commitment to have a relationship with Jesus. And as some are young adults now, I see that they are still serving God. God can and does use us where we are today--whether it be a stay-at-home mom or a far away missionary.

I'll pray for your sister that God will bless her for her obedience to the faith.

Carmena...I sympathize with your situation as I too am a Women's Ministry President. I have found the key is to surround yourself with a good committee. Sit with them regularly, bounce ideas off them and plan your events and pray together. Acknowledge them before the group at the events. Make sure you and they know that you could not function as a ministry without them. Then you will not be the scapegoat because it will be "all for one and one for all" whether things are going well or not.

A fun mini-movie that illustrates some of our frustrations as today's woman is

www.theNumbersmovie.com - go see that!

While it isn't "church-related" - it sure speaks to our issues of worth and value as women! AND ALSO to how we can minister even in NON-official ways!

We have a problem at our church in that our pastor believes that everyone must be actively involved in church ministry to be considered an active Christian. He has been critical of young families for not being more involved. Although he is the father of two young children and his wife is a stay at home mother, he doesn't seem to understand the challenges of families with young children or the "ministries" that we serve by being involved in our children's schools, after school activities, and with their friends. His wife is not actively involved in the church either. A couple of us have talked with him about the attitude toward young families, but he still doesn't "get it" that his pressure on these families is actually pushing them away.

I am very active in the church choir and serve on several committees, but I also realize that I am very fortunate. My mother lives close by and is always very willing to babysit and my youngest son is very well behaved in meetings, so I have the opportunity to attend meetings that many other young mothers are not able to do.

One question I have for those of you with young children - how do you attend Wednesday night church activities? We have not been able to attract young families to Wednesday night. Families in which both parents work find it hard to attend. I know that church across the country have very active Wednesday nights - how do they do it?

I am Amy's sister - I am so proud of the impact she is making with this website. I appreciated the points that Trisha made. I agree that we do need to be involved where we can in the church, so that we are serving, and so that we get the fellowship we need. I am able to help weekly with our Wednesday night children's program (Awana) and occasionally in the church nursery. I have needed to learn that it's okay to say no to many of the other serving opportunities that come my way. Because I often say no, I have more time to spend serving my own family at home, attend a weekly women's Bible study and host a mothers' weekly prayer group in my home. It is so exciting to see the ways God uses me and my gifts when I am available for the opportunities He brings to me.

Thanks Amy thanks Pattie for your helpful comments. Pattie, I usually do exactly as you reccommend. I also think part of it is that the Lord has gifted me in the areas of creative writing, teaching and singing. Those of us with any type of artistic inclination often get carried away in our captivating visions and love to bring them to life. This alone sometimes creates friction among people. I was most recently criticized by my committee as taking too much time while leading a devotion and prayer time. However, some of those in attendance talked about how powerful it was. Believe me, there's a definite down side to having spiritual gifts. At this point I am so hurt and confused, I'm thinking it would be better if I resigned.

Carmena

Amy, I liked the article, it resounds with my own lifepath. The only thing I would think about changing in this article is the reference to her "maintaining a spotless house" while raising 4 children from birth to 10 and working part time. Most of us have felt that if you are raising preschoolers and your house is spotless, then your focus is wrong. I doubt that is the case for your sister, but it does make her out to be a bit of a saintly superwoman. (Maybe every time you visit it is spotless. That's how a lot of us operate.)

The sentiment of your article is true, however, and depicts well the idea that we are leaders no matter where we are if leadership is defined as "influence" or "mission".

Carmena - you should only resign for the right reasons. Maybe it is time to let someone else take over leadership. Could you let someone do that and allow them the freedom without resentment? If you do, I would urge you to consider first where God is leading you on to. I think you should only quit if you are sensing a new area God is calling you to.

Also consider the word "perfectionism". Many of us struggle with it. We are only called to do our best, and when we feel we've done less than our best we beat ourselves up. The comment you received about going too long resonated with me because I had a similar comment yesterday. I worked hard practicing and putting together something and when I dared ask someone how they felt it was (meaning what did they get out of it), the comments were it was too long, the music was too loud and it would have been better with different music. I was unable to hear the other affirmations she offered as all I could focus on was the negative comments and annoyed at myself that I didn't do it better. In my perfectionistic mind I reasoned the morning was "a failure". Yet instinctively I know that is wrong thinking. I was frustrated (and still am) because had I known the results ahead of time, I could have changed things - and then maybe things would have been "perfect". You see, I am always seeking to do things perfectly, so I will probably always be frustrated because there will always be someone out there with a different idea of how it should have been.

Still one of the verses we had just read that morning was

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a [wo]man's heart,but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.

If we have prayed over our presentations, perhaps the Lord himself led it to go the way it did. We can't please everyone, and maybe there were some in the group that needed it to go long.

As for you taking the brunt of the women's comments, it seems that only when we get into leadership roles do we feel the full impact of critical thinkers. Many women out there are perfectionists too. Some critical thinkers(me included) think we are being helpful by bringing up negatives thinking we are doing so out of a desire for "constant improvement". We don't realize how hurtful our comments can be, until we are on the receiving end (as with me yesterday).

Also, sometimes a person's criticism stems from something else in their life and they are unknowingly projecting on you.

I guess I'm saying, don't take it personally but as a bigger picture issue.

This is a message that all Christians need to hear, men as well as women. After all, the Good Samaritan was a man. Ministry outside the walls of a church is perhaps even more vital to a lost and dying world than the "let's-be-there-every-time-the-doors-open" variety.

Carmena & others: It is lonely at the top (meaning in leadership). We can't please every one. As long as we are ministering with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we are doing the right thing - even if others don't see it that way. When God gives us a vision, we must be obedient and follow through - with His divine plans. We will ALWAYS have opposition. Sometimes I know that I'm on the right path, because Satan attacks even more at those times. And usually attacks through people - hurt feelings, misunderstandings, lack of communication and mostly lack of others truly understanding my heart. Show them your heart- all of it, be open and honest - then they will follow, even if they don't understand. Don't give up on a calling from God - That's exactly what Satan wants to happen. Remember our fight is not against people - but Satan himself. Fight the good fight - run the race to win the prize set before us and praise God in EVERYTHING!

Whether doing ministry in church, in the home, or in your community, the right tools are essential. A great resource is Christians For Biblical Equality at cbeinternational.org, for equipping women as well as men for the Lord's work in all it's aspects.

Carmena,
Some people are addicted to complaining. You will never be able to please these people.

Meanwhile, the ones who are open and need to hear what you have to say are often overshadowed by these negative people. Ask God to put a shield of protection around you to shelter you from the complainers' barbs. And then focus your energies on the quiet ones who need your ministry.

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