All posts from "February 2013"February 28, 2013
The ugly truth about female relationships
Today I read an article that made me very sad. It was written by a woman whom I respect, though we disagree on some things. This particular article (about which I will not disclose any more details than what I have here) arrived at some conclusions that I do not share, but what disappointed me was the author’s tone. It was not loving toward other women. Going beyond disagreement, she was sarcastic and condescending. Rather than respectfully disagreeing, this usually mature woman in Christ chose to belittle women who take a different position than hers.
That behavior is wrong. It is not Christlike, and as women of the church we need to be better than that.
Whenever women back-bite in the name of theological or ideological difference, Satan wins a small victory. While our own sense of self-righteousness often justifies this behavior in our minds, mud-slinging and ridicule are always unfitting for the church. Throughout history, tremendous destruction has resulted from rifts between women, so we need to take this problem very seriously.
It wasn’t until I recently researched the biblical examples of female friendship that I realized just how serious this issue is. Last fall I spoke at the Fall Kickoff Event for the women’s ministry at my church, and I talked about the dynamics of female friendship. In particular, I examined the two types of female relationships that we see in the Bible: a competitive model of friendship and a Christ-centered model of friendship. For the Christ-centered model I looked at Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1), Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1), and the women at the cross and resurrection (Matthew 27-28). Each of these female friendships is so encouraging to me, and a powerful example of the legacy we women step into. These biblical women maximized their relationships for the Kingdom of God in bold and valiant ways.
On the flip side, Scripture also presents us with a competitive model of friendship. The relationships between Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16), Rachel and Leah (Genesis 30), and Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4) all unraveled due to jealousy and competition. And as a result, each competitive model of friendship had disastrous consequences.
For instance, Rachel and Leah were sisters. Both were struggling with real issues—Rachel with infertility and Leah with a loveless marriage. But rather than support one another through genuinely difficult problems, they opposed one another. They competed for the attention of Jacob and became further entrenched in their own selfishness.
In the case of Euodia and Syntyche, two leaders in the Philippian church, their fighting threatened to undermine the entire unity of the church. We don’t know the source of the problem, but we do know it had the potential to cause major division.
And finally, consider the repercussions of Sarai’s actions toward Hagar. This particular relationship is not a traditional friendship in the sense that there was a power difference between the two. What’s more, Sarai was obviously the transgressor. Even so, this female relationship was rife with jealousy, and we continue to feel the ripple effects of Sarai’s actions even today. The Islamic religion traces its roots back to Hagar’s son, Ishmael, and when you consider how much war and violence has transpired between Islam and the Judeo-Christian faiths, the negative consequences of one sour female relationship are inestimable.
As we look at the three Christ-centered models of friendship, we see many wonderful fruits: encouragement, perseverance, faithfulness, courage, intimacy with one another, and intimacy with God. Ruth became an ancestor of Christ, Mary was the mother of Christ, and the women at the cross and resurrection became the original evangelists, the first people to share the good news of Christ while the disciples were still hiding in fear.
On the other hand, the three competitive models of female relationships also have fruits: selfishness, division, and destruction.
As I compared the fruits of these two models, I was struck by the distinction. The fruits of the former model are consistent with the character of Christ. The fruits of the latter model are consistent with the character of his Enemy.
The female relationships we see in Scripture are important reminders that female conflict is not neutral. Our petty in-fighting and name-calling are not failures to achieve an ideal; they are tangibly destructive. God can use the love and encouragement and passion of female friendships to do incredible things in the Kingdom of God, but Satan can just as easily pervert female friendship to wreak havoc.
Knowing this, I want you to pause and weigh the cost the next time you speak negatively about a sister. Consider why you are doing it, whether it is consistent with the character of Christ, whether it is loving, and whether it will build up the church or divide it. Our relationships have power, so we cannot take them lightly. There is something about the female heart that seems especially prone to attack women with whom we disagree or feel jealous, and that is nothing but sin. Plain and simple. We can disagree, most certainly, but watch carefully how you do it. God is not glorified by the ugliness of pot-shots and gossip, but Satan revels in it.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a blogger, freelance writer, and PhD candidate who lives in the Chicago area. You can find her at her blog, She Worships.
What if we planted people, not just churches?
There was no commissioning or prayer of “sending.”
I held two ministry positions; I was dismissed from one, and I resigned from the other. I didn’t seem to fit the mold for ministry and I didn’t enjoy the administration. The amount of time I spent inside the walls of the church office was killing me. I found myself in trouble for spending too much time out of the office and in the community, neglecting significant church duties. Thus, my life as an urban missionary life began—although I didn’t call it that. I called it “unemployment.” Many others (and myself) also called it “ministry failure.”
What came next was six years of desert.
It was hard to break out of my full-time ministry mindset. As far as I was concerned, I was no longer “in ministry.” I would attend church, only to leave feeling unqualified. I wasn’t clergy. I was the average churchgoer with no permission to live out a mission—or so I thought. I doubted “the call” I felt God had on my life. What was he doing with me? Had he cast me aside?
Credential renewals would come every year in the mail. Each year, receiving the letter, my reaction went from great frustration to mocking laughter. Where was the box I should check for “I just love my neighbor like an average Joe”? What was I supposed to put in the “How many times did you preach” section? How many years would they accept my “in transition” status?
Money became a source of anxiety. When your only education is Bible College and you’re not “in ministry,” what are you qualified to do? You don’t get paid for loving your neighbor, volunteering in the community, or helping out at church.
Then the Concept Hit Me
One day I read a blog post by David Fitch about urban missionaries. He suggested that churches invest in planting “people” in communities, not just planting new churches. This caught my attention. I had moved from Vancouver to a low-income community in Calgary, where I grew up. Could it be that God had planted me in my community on purpose? Could I possibly do ministry without ordination? What would this look like?
I started living as a missionary would in another land. Every day I prayed for God to send me to the broken. It wasn’t long before I was overwhelmed with the brokenness around me.
Poverty reduction and awareness has now become one of my greatest passions. I have the honor of working with many great organizations in our city, such as an organization where I deliver baby items to moms in need, and one of our homeless shelters, where my sons and I serve lunch once a month. It was easy to get involved. I just researched poverty in my city, made a few phone calls, and found that organizations were more than happy to inform me of the issues and have me volunteer. I also got involved with our mayor’s initiative to reduce poverty when I produced a dance show in our city, raising awareness about poverty and breaking down the typical stereotypes associated with poverty. I was asked to be an ambassador to lead discussions creating strategies on poverty reduction around our city.
This shift in ministry has been the most exciting, fun, challenging, yet hardest task I have undertaken. We all get hyped about missional living, but to step out into the world of living it—well, I can’t say it’s easy. Financially, it can be challenging when you only have a Bible college education and when your only work experience is in church administration. I found myself stepping out into the entrepreneurial world to start my dance business. Business has opened doors to be in the community, but can also be shaky when financial storms hit our economy.
There are many others like me who have, for whatever reason, shifted from full-time ministry to a time in the “desert.” They question whether they were truly “called” at all. As frustrating as this is, through my experience I have found that a sense of mission and purpose can grow greater in these times. Kingdom innovation can happen when we can look past our ministry box and see with new eyes. The good news is that the church is starting to embrace “weirdos” like me.
How the Measurement of Success Changes
One challenge of being an urban missionary is that what once measured successful ministry in the past becomes obsolete. If you can’t count how many people came to the service on Sunday, then how do you know you’re having impact? The beginning stages of “success” become more about how many relationships are being built—trust, friendship, and inroads with the community become the reports at district conference. This creates a tension for the urban worker and supporters, who often want to hear about success through the traditional lens of “numbers.” “What do you mean, you had a block party with your neighbors? Where’s the ‘fruit’?”
The urban missionary can easily become discouraged battling through her own traditional mindset about what success looks like. At this point, it takes all the courage she has to keep going and not quit, as this is the road less taken, a road that can take years. There’s no quick fruit on this ride.
However, I have had more rich conversations about Christ and faith lately than I did while working in my church office. I have gained the respect of those I work with in the arts community and poverty-reduction circles, which can be an enormous feat for one who calls herself a Christian. My home has become a place of rest and healing for the broken in my community, and my sons believe that serving the poor is something everyone does.
The concept I have wrestled with the most is, how do I fit into the traditional church? People like me can freak the church out, because the people I want to hang out with are the ones some churches don’t know what to do with! Outcasts, narcissists, gay people, thrill seekers, mockers. Urban missionaries like me engage in arts and culture, a world the church has lost touch with. I engage through dance instruction and producing shows based on social-justice issues. I like what my friend Greg Denie from Legacy One says: “We’re called to be on the cutting edge of culture.”
In this part of the world, 70 to 80 percent of society isn’t flocking to the church. Now more than ever, it’s time to create a movement of missionaries who will flock to them. People are spiritually hungry but want nothing to do with church. The conversations I have had with non-believers have shown me that they are very much open to the message of Jesus but are weary of the church. I have been surprised at how easy it has been to build relationships and share my faith based on a respect and love for them as individuals. Those of us who are doing this are finding that the harvest truly is plentiful.
Connie Jakab is the author of the book Culture Rebel. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status-quo living and encouraging others to branch out. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab. Connie is honored to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild.
How I found my voice and answered God’s call to preach
We have embarked into the 21st century. We have witnessed amazing discoveries in science, medicine, and technology. Despite all the advancements, some churches still permeate with prohibition of women in spoken ministry.
Maturing in biblical knowledge, it baffles me how the church ever got blindsided by the “let your women keep silent” philosophy. God has always achieved miracles, deliverances, and healings through women. Who sent the memo that women were to be “muzzled”? From Sarah in the Old Testament to Phoebe in the New Testament, God used these women and many others to change the course of history. Having read the Bible from cover to cover countless times, I have never seen women forbidden to be used by God. Contrary to popular belief, it was and is the tradition of men that have eloquently crafted the muzzle made for women.
Despite what you may feel about a woman’s proper place in the church, I would like to share my story with you.
Where It All Began
Although my parents were both Christians, their worship styles ranged from conservative to charismatic. My parents divorced when I was five, and I lived with my mother. I was privileged to experience God through good old church hymn singing and energetic, exhausting worship. Our church was charismatic, possessed dictatorial leadership theories, and was very legalistic. Needless to say, wearing pants, make-up, and jewelry was unacceptable. Despite the legalism, I served the Lord and the church faithfully.
Then It Happened
At 19, I sensed a call to ministry. Well, that would seem great, right? Wrong. God was calling me to preach. In my church, that was an emphatic no-no. Women were permitted only to pray, sing, testify, and teach Sunday school. If she were undeniably gifted, a woman could have “a little ministry.” Allowing a woman to preach in my church would have been like issuing a passport to doom. We were warned God does not use women to preach. These words bombarded my brain, and the call of God pounded inside like the battle of Armageddon. If I obeyed God, I would be labeled a devil. Anyone who walked contrary to leadership was considered a devil.
How was I going to explain this? I mentioned it to my mother; she was indifferent. My father, a seminary graduate, was skeptical. I was in trouble. God was calling me to preach, and the tomatoes were already splattering on my face. I resisted for fear of rejection, but the Lord provided confirmation. In the face of obstacles, like the prophet Jeremiah, the calling burned like fire. A muzzle had already covered my mouth. I had some tough choices: Would I obey God or chicken out to please men?
Who wants to be labeled a devil? Not me. I tucked my feathers and clucked like a chicken. I continued to sing in the choir, participate in youth activities, and testify. Why? Whenever a woman “appeared” to be preaching, a carefully crafted 1 Corinthians 14:34 message was bashed into our brains. This bash-and-smash method kept us submissive. Imagine this: eager and excited about the call of God, only to have your dreams smashed to powder, using the Bible.
I knew about Deborah, Esther, Phoebe, I even knew about Priscilla. I studied them on my own. How did these women get omitted from the Bible? Well, they were not technically omitted from the Bible, just from the one that was used at my church. In my Christian upbringing, some of the most powerful women were never discussed, although they were undeniably catalysts used to usher the plan of God into motion. In traditionally legalistic environments, women are almost always viewed as inferior and could never be selected by God for gospel ministry. How can that be possible if the woman at the well ignited the revival in Samaria and Priscilla, alongside her husband, taught Apollos a more excellent way?
It’s so important that we understand the real context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Why? This Scripture has been used to keep women in bondage for many years. These Scriptures taught in improper context or without biblical interpretation have thwarted many destinies, thus hindering the real work of God in many lives. The amazing part of this diluted context is that many never read verse 36. The Apostle Paul was addressing a concern at the church in Corinth, which was known for idolatrous worship and continuous confusion. One of the major problems with the Corinthian church was they often tried to bring the customs of the day into the body of Christ.
Historically in Corinth, the women were considered second-class citizens and their places of responsibility were the kitchen and the bedroom. Therefore, according to those in leadership, they should have been regarded the same way in the church. So the Apostle Paul addressed their concern by regurgitating what they said and then rebuked them with a rhetorical question in verses 36-38. How could women be commanded to keep quiet in the service when they were permitted to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11? The only reason these Scriptures have been successfully used as they have been over the years is because many of us have failed to obey 2 Timothy 2:15 and have the guts to stand firmly on the Word of God in the face of extreme opposition and rejection.
The best defense of this erroneous teaching is to study and have the spiritual discernment to rightly divide the Word of God.
But I always heard that a woman is to keep silent. Well, if she is to keep silent, then why can she teach Sunday school and testify? Silence means no talking, right? I asked these questions silently in my head; I was too chicken to ask them aloud.
Once while in college, I bravely declared the gospel at a youth service. Well, I shared this awesome experience with my pastor; I was grossly rebuked and muzzled. I sat there for the next 12 years, forbidden to preach, fearful of rejection, doing the “permitted,” suffering in silence and disobedient to God. I tried repressing the call, but the conviction grew. God constantly asked this soul-gripping question: “When are you going to obey me?”
Painfully, I replied, "Lord, I can’t do that.”
Most Christians well never admit that we have often pledged more allegiance to the authority of man than God. I did. Regrettably, I traded the liberty of God for the chains of man.
A Way of Escape
I married a minister. We discussed the call of God on my life, but we vowed to submit to leadership. The mercy of God was ever present in my life. Despite my disobedience and fear, God prepared a way of escape through my husband.
My husband was appointed youth minister, and I assisted him. Unknown to us, God was preparing us to lead a congregation. After seven years as youth minister, God called my husband to the senior pastorate.
Three years into the pastorate, God began to convict both of us concerning his will for our lives and ministry. After a Jacob’s-wrestling experience, God made it clear that it was time for me to walk in obedience. Sitting on the side of the bed, I replied, “God, I can’t do that!” We were still connected to our home church.
When I came out of the bedroom, my husband, unaware of my conversation with God, spoke these words: “You know you must preach the gospel!”
The words of my husband delivered me. Eventually, we severed the ties to our home church. We were able to experience a freedom in Christ that is amazing. Finally, we could both walk in total obedience to his will.
As a result of fully obeying God, many women have come to find their purpose in God through By His Side Ministries, an outreach God has given me to ministry wives. God has also afforded me an opportunity to raise the foundations of future generations through teaching and mentoring young girls and women. What an awesome honor for God to deliver you from bondage and use it as a catalyst to set others free. I had a real woman-at-the-well experience.
Many women who identify with my struggle—and some who have an even greater struggle—are forbidden from speaking by their own husbands. But God always has a plan and purpose in the midst of a painful process. God sometimes allows us to be held captive so we will know he is a strong deliverer. The struggle through fear, rejection, disobedience, and suffering in silence made my calling sure. I learned God does the calling and equipping. Struggle is necessary. Struggle gave me the power and sensitivity to birth ministries for women and girls.
There were five strategies that kept me alive in the struggle. I prayed continuously, fasted regularly, studied the Bible without ceasing, trusted God when I could not trace him, and waited on his timing. I am thankful for the experience. I would not be who I am without this process. And at my church, women can preach the gospel.
Domeniek L. Harris is a freelance writer, speaker, professional educator, women's ministry leader, Bible study teacher, and founder of By His Side Ministries, a multicultural, interdenominational, and international ministry for ministry wives. She is a co-laborer in pastoral ministry, and pastor's wife, at Bibleway World Outreach Ministries in Cordova, Tennessee.
Own who you are. God already has.
“Ouch!” I breathed one afternoon in my office. Shawn (not his name), our newly hired pastoral team leader (and therefore my new boss), had just commented on how forceful and scary “women from Trinidad” could be. That hurt. I’m from Trinidad. I wondered what about me had allowed him the space to offer such a remark. More, I wondered what it said about him.
On the surface, Shawn led and communicated in the gentlest, most welcoming of ways. His sermons delivered the good news in language that made no apologies for Jesus’ lordship even as his tone and illustrative stories made Sunday morning newcomers feel safe. He picked his battles well; he consulted and collaborated with volunteer leaders and staff as issues arose; he worshipped the Lord with all his heart and soul. Yet his leadership smudged people in subtle ways…he was good at diminishing what was different from his way of doing things.
After leadership meetings between pastors, deacons, and elders, he’d caution me. I asked too many questions, was too direct, too bold, too energetic, too…much. Sure, I had to be conscious of how I shared my ideas and vision with colleagues and staff: did I invite…or announce? And yet his cautions, offered without any suggestions of how to change, began to hurt. I spent a year dissecting all I said and did at leadership meetings. Maybe my style was wrong. I couldn’t trust myself: What if my words offended…yet again?
God taught me some important leadership lessons through my working with Shawn, lessons I couldn’t appreciate at the time. I’ve learned to own my strengths and weaknesses, extend grace to the leaders around me, and embrace God as Creator.
“Own” My Strengths and Weaknesses
Shawn’s passive aggressive behavior (truly—who makes a colleague responsible for the feelings and behavior of everyone else in a meeting?) forced me to pray through the challenge of the Apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to lead out of a place of intentional availability and vulnerability—to speak up, to not be hindered by his youth, to use and not neglect the gift he’d received through the laying on of hands.
Like you, I need the white mercy of God’s Word to wash me clean every day. I trip, fall, blunder, and bludgeon my way through conversations and projects, often wondering why God’s given me this particular task, this particular moment…to lead with his voice, his compassion, his patience. I’m not perfect. And yet, when I criticize any part of me—my “difficult” temperament; my way with words; my impatience; my approach to motherhood; my intensity; my inability to suffer gadabouts gladly; my love of music; my discernment, leadership, teaching, intercession, and administration gifts; my propensity to brood; my impetuousness—I suggest to God that he’s made a mistake. Perhaps he dropped some stitches when weaving me deep in my mother’s womb. When I criticize, I choose to be unavailable or vulnerable.
Dr. Marion Goertz is former president of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. A mentor and friend, she offered up the following advice after listening to my latest “Shawn doesn’t get me” story. “Renee, can you trust that the Holy Spirit will temper your words and your style?” she asked. “Do you believe that you can speak and not hurt anyone with your words?” Her words broke through my doubt. I felt a freedom I’d never felt before—a confidence to pray quietly, open my mouth, and speak into the brittle silences at staff meetings where agendas majored on minors and my boss seemed incapable of addressing the hard issues that needed to be tackled.
Today, my self-editing skills rust from disuse. And that’s OK. What a release to trust that the Holy Spirit will give me words to say that are truth and love; words that are tempered and wise; words that won’t destroy. And how marvelous to realize that I am unique and therefore necessary to the kingdom work that God and his church are about.
Extend Grace to the Leaders around Me
All well and good. But how quick am I to extend that very grace to Shawn, to my current boss, to the leaders with whom I work? Do I trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives, tempering them? What respect do I lavish on my colleagues’ uniqueness when I’d far rather grumble about their deficiencies in leadership style, theology, administration, and people skills?
Shawn made me reconsider what it meant to be a pastor in a Baptist congregation: Could I trust the decision-making process for which Baptists are known—God’s will would be discerned through a multiplicity of voices, not in the lone ranger’s call to action? And I must say: Everything in me loves being the lone-ranger leader. Humble servant? Not so much.
I can only extend grace to the gifted leaders around me—volunteers, boss, board president and directors, communications colleagues—to the degree that I willingly lay down my rights to how and when my gifts should be affirmed. Guess what? Kingdom work needs more than me. Or you. It needs us. We need each other: your eyes, my hands, your feet, my backbone, your heart. We are one in the Spirit, leadership styles and all.
Embrace God as Creator
Finally, Shawn’s behavior gave me the opportunity to trust and obey, to recommit to the vision God had given me to build up his house. I had to trust that the gifts and talents God had deposited in me where what my church community needed at that point in their history. I had to remember and obey (over and over it seemed) God’s call for me to serve them, using those very gifts and talents.
God didn’t make any mistakes when he knit me in my mother’s womb. Then and now, he knows my strengths and my weaknesses. He knows the environments in which I thrive, and the ones in which I shrivel up like so much desiccated coconut. As I hear, again, the song he sings over me, I unfold. I breathe him in and I lay down the injured flesh of pride, bruised ego, and pressure-cooked frustration. “Yes, I belong here,” I say quietly. “I can rest because you have gifted me with all I’ll ever need” (Psalm 131).
Renee James is the communications director for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec and editor of its magazine, The Link & Visitor. She is a former administrative pastor and a regular contributor to Today’s Christian Woman and Gifted for Leadership. She blogs about change at ReneeJames.org.
It should be more than a job title
I’m often baffled when a committed follower of Christ asks, “What’s your calling?”
To me, the answer is a no-brainer. The “call” of every Christian is the same: to commit ourselves to follow Jesus and be conformed to his image. In other words, the calling on our lives is to press our noses so close into the shoulders blades of Jesus that he’s the only one we see and follow.
The real question isn’t “What’s your calling?” but “How are you specifically fulfilling that calling?” And that’s a question many of us are being forced to revisit.
Why? We’re living in the midst of a technological revolution that’s turning our world upside down. The ways we learn, communicate, and shop are shifting in mind-bending ways. Many of our nation’s jobs are disappearing. Some of us hear of friends and loved ones who have been laid off and quietly wonder when our pink slips will arrive. This forces us to revisit the question of how we live out our calling as Christ-followers.
I believe that now more than ever we need to expand our understanding of what Christ has called us to. Let me give you a practical example. I have a lovely Christian friend who, when the topic of calling pops up, answers confidently, “My calling is to teach kindergartners and show them the love of Christ.” And I love that! I adore watching the way she talks about her kids, the way she celebrates their progress, the moments she shares funny stories from the classroom.
But I also wonder, What if cutbacks begin affecting her classroom? Her job? What if she’s laid off?”
Is the fulfillment of her calling found in a job title or something more?
I believe the way she fulfills the calling on her life can’t be limited by whatever fits on a business card. My friend is called to teach—and that gift can be used in countless different ways each and every day both inside and outside the classroom.
In my own life, I can say that I fulfill my calling as a non-fiction, Christian writer. But that title sounds so narrow. If I recognize myself as a communicator—then whether I’m writing a book or an email or a blog post, I’m fulfilling my calling. Whenever I send a tweet or a text, I’m fulfilling my calling. Whenever I’m talking with friends or a small group or a large audience, I’m fulfilling my calling.
This raises questions: How are you fulfilling your calling? And is the way you’ve been thinking about your calling too small?
Margaret Feinberg (www.margaretfeinberg.com) is a communicator, and a regular contributor to Gifted for Leadership, whose latest book, Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God, released Christmas Day 2012. Follow her on Twitter or Pinterest @mafeinberg, or become a Fan on Facebook.
Myths and realities of how God calls us
She found me in the church kitchen. “I know you are busy, but…” her fingers plucked at her sweater. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I leaned on the doorjamb and leaned into the conversation. Life was hard, she said. She wondered if I could pray for her to get this new job, and she wanted to ask me about how I got to the ministry position I held at the church.
She looked down at the floor and kept picking at her sweater, and the words tumbled out. Being a mom was harder than she thought. Staying home and “just” cheering her husband on in ministry wasn’t so great. And as the words came, they became stronger and more honest. She was anxious for her future and jealous of his. “I feel like I’m wasting my life,” she said. “I just want to find my calling.”
This isn’t only one conversation I’ve had, but an echo I’ve heard from so many. And I’ve not only heard these words; I’ve thought them myself. Just how does a woman find her calling, particularly in ministry? Let’s evaluate some of the myths and realities of our call:
“Just” Never Is
If I could just get this next job…If I just had enough money for a babysitter…If I could just finish my degree…If my church would just hire me. How many of us have suffered under the tyranny of the “just?” Just is a word we should remove from our vocabulary. There is no easy or one-step path to our call. The word “calling” is defined as “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career.” Calling goes far beyond anything we find on the other side of “just.” And because of that, the path to our calling is never “just” around the next corner. Rather, calling is about a becoming a lifelong explorer. Calling is about refusing to believe that we are defined by one job, one relationship, or one season of life. And because of that, finding the shape of our call takes time, work, trial, and error.
“Find” Is too Active
I recently lost my engagement ring. I’ve been in an active search to find it ever since. I look, sometimes haphazardly and sometimes frantically, searching in the same spots over and over. This is a recipe for insanity, since I know my engagement ring can’t move itself.
We talk about “finding” our calling, and I think we give ourselves too much credit. In fact, I think it is often that our calling finds us! In the intricate dance of our will and God’s sovereignty, we find that the path to our calling isn’t about just finding anything. The path to our calling is about taking one obedient step at a time, listening for our call rather than actively finding it. When I began seminary, I had the distinct sense that I was to enjoy one class at a time—focusing not on the end product but on each step I took. As my “calling” switched from ministry to counseling, from full-time mom to part-time counselor and then into full-time ministry, I’ve found that lesson to be foundational. John Steinbeck once wrote, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it” (Travels with Charley).
My Calling Exists!
You have a calling. God is actively, certainly calling you to something. He calls in many ways. He called Moses with a burning bush. He called Miriam through her family and her gifts for song and speech (Exodus 15:20). He called Hannah through the waiting, He called Mary through an angel. He called Paul through a blinding light and Nicodemus through a conversation in the dark. He is not limited in his creativity and he’s not nervous about your timeline. He’s looking for humble hearts that are fully devoted to him and willing to do anything to move his kingdom forward. He cares about those who care about the fringes, the young, the weak, the powerless. He equips us for the work he wants us to do, not the work we think we want to do. And he uses all of our lives—our waiting places, our frustrations, our experiences, and our gifts—to shape us into women who will be strong enough for the call he will place on our lives.
So What Next?
My friend in the church kitchen that day has a calling—although it’s not yet clear what that is. You have a calling too, and no matter where you are on your journey, you aren’t going to miss it. You aren’t going to pass by one opportunity or one job or one option and be useless in God’s hands. He didn’t give up on Peter when he denied him three times at the cross, and he won’t give up on you. God’s too big for that. So don’t worry about missing it. God’s not concerned about your timeline, and he won’t be late for his own agenda for your life.
The secret of our calling, it seems, is not so much in “just finding a calling” through the expected channels, but in the unexpected detours. Calling is not about a job description, although sometimes a job description captures some of it. Calling reaches beyond resumes and positions. Calling is like personality—steady over time and through circumstances.
In my own season of wrestling with calling, I had the opportunity to hear author Parker Palmer speak. His words were helpful: “Your calling is anything that you can’t not do.” When we’re young, sometimes we think there are a million things “we can’t not do.” But with experience, with waiting, with humbling ourselves and allowing God to shape us into souls he can use, our calling becomes clearer. We begin to let go of what we can do without. And like a Polaroid picture slowly coming into vision, our calling becomes sharper, clearer. We begin to make decisions based on the broad strokes of things “we can’t not do”…like showing mercy, working for justice, or embracing our call to lead. Our calling might take us into the classroom or the homeless shelter or our own kitchens or our church offices. But it will not be limited by a job, because our calling becomes part of us, part of our spiritual DNA.
Annie Dillard once said, “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you” (Living Like Weasels).
And so I told my friend, that day in the kitchen, that her life mattered and that God had not forgotten her. I told her to persevere and ask God to open her eyes to what he was teaching her. And I told her to move forward with her life, knowing that this hidden time might turn out to be the most important part of “just finding her calling.” And that’s worth waiting for.
Nicole Unice is a ministry leader at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, a regular contributor for Today’s Christian Woman, and author of She’s Got Issues (Tyndale). You can find her blogging at NicoleUnice.com or on Twitter @nicoleunice.
Find your passion and put it into action
More often than not, you will find Yolanda staying past hours at the all girls’ school where she works as a counselor. For Yolanda, her work is not just a job, it’s her calling. She is passionate about counseling adolescent girls. Sure, she has a few bad days now and then, but usually she can’t wait to get to work. Yolanda unlocked the key to her calling, passion. Knowing your passion is the key to discovering your calling.
As a therapist and women’s ministry leader, I’m often asked, “How do I know what my calling is?” Answering this profound and life-altering question sets the trajectory of your life toward the adventure God has for you. It is my belief that once you know your passion, you will know your calling. For many of us, discovering passion can seem like a daunting task, but there are questions you can answer that will help with your quest. Grab a cup of java, dust off your journal, and begin to unmask your calling by completing the following exercises.
Listen to Your Life
Our days are filled with busyness to the point where we don’t take time to listen to our lives. Quieting yourself and answering the following questions will help you uncover your passion.
1. If money were not an issue, what would you do with your time?
2. What do you love to do? What do you hate to do?
3. What gives you energy? What drains the life out of you?
4. What do you want to change, shape, and leave better than you found it?
5. What segment of the population are you drawn to help?
6. What do you want to experience, witness, and learn?
Writing a mission statement puts a framework to your passion. For example, my mission statement is this: To encourage, direct, and inspire people to reach their full potential. It’s easy to understand and remember, helping me to say yes to opportunities that line up with my mission statement and no to those that do not.
Here are a few tips for writing your own mission statement:
• Keep it simple.
• Keep it general enough that you don’t pigeonhole yourself.
• Remember, a mission statements is changeable, a living document.
Once you have discovered your passion and developed your mission statement, it’s time to use your imagination, throw off convention, and dream. Everything you do in your external world begins in your internal world. Allow yourself to dream and dream big. Don’t think of the how; just let the ideas flow, creating a list of the ways you can use your passion. Once you have several ideas, narrow your list to two or three. Submit the ideas to the Lord and wait on him for confirmation.
Passion into Action
Now that you have discovered your passion, written your mission statement, and developed ideas on what to do with your passion, it’s time to devise a plan to make your dream reality by putting your passion into action. The first step in developing an action plan is to recognize the cages you put around yourself that hinder you from going after your passion and fulfilling the call of God on your life. Look at the list below and identify those cages that imprison you.
• Past mistakes
If you identified with one or more of these cages, ask yourself the following question: Do you want to die without pursuing your God-given passion? I know I don’t. I don’t want to settle for anything other than the adventure God has for me.
I want to encourage you to break out of your cage and step into your God-given adventure by pursuing your passion. If you need help breaking out of your cage and into your calling, seek counseling from your pastor or a Christian counselor. Don’t settle for anything less than the adventure God has for you. You will not regret it!
God is more than enough to conquer my shortcomings—and my insecurity
Inadequacy. It’s a fear that paralyzes many women. As women leaders and ministers, we are not exempt, this 20something included. While vocationally we may be successfully directing teams, managing volunteer committees, and running effective programs, all too often we fall prey to the “imposter syndrome.” We honestly think, “I’m not qualified to be here. I may appear to be a great leader, but if they knew the real me…”
If there were an anonymous group for helping women ministry leaders overcome feelings of inadequacy, I imagine the first meeting would go something like this:
Introduction: “Hi. My name is Tiffany.” Whew. Got that part over.
Statement of Need: “Despite a seminary education, an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies, and having led numerous small groups, I still feel inadequate in one aspect of my calling: my ability to share the gospel.” Wait. I just used three qualifying statements to explain my need. I can’t even express my inadequacy simply. No, instead I have to highlight to you the incongruence of it all. Can I sit down now? This is embarrassing.
Background and Objective: “I serve on the leadership team for a ministry dedicated to helping young professional women connect their faith with their career. One of my responsibilities as a leadership team member is to develop meaningful relationships with young professionals and to help connect them with a local church community. I would thus love to overcome my fear, and share the gospel with confidence.” There. It’s all out in the open. For better or worse, this is the real me.
I think such an experience would actually bring a lot of freedom and health to our lives as ministry leaders, both professionally and spiritually. Because somewhere along the ministry-as-vocation track, we’ve gotten derailed by the illusion that we are supposed to have it all together to shepherd and lead others. That the call to full-time ministry is a call to perfection. And that God’s work is accomplished in my own strength, excuse me, in my zeal to serve him.
But thankfully, our Lord is gracious. In his kindness, he gives us what we do not deserve. He uses whom he will for his good purposes. He equips those whom he has called. And he does it all regardless of our perceived inadequacies. And so despite my fear of sharing the gospel, in the past two years God has granted me the privilege of forming friendships with three women who each want to know more about God.
The first woman actually asked me to meet with her weekly to walk through the basic tenets of the Christian faith. My response? “Thanks, God. I guess this is your way of forcing me to overcome my fear. I am terrified of doing this, and so please show up.” One year later, I witnessed her prayer to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She wept with the tears of one who had been set free. I cried as I remembered an insecure eighth-grader writing on her bucket list, “Be part of someone coming to Christ.” Yes, our Lord is gracious.
Several months later I found myself having lunch with a recent acquaintance who was grieving the loss of her mother and questioning the goodness of God. Somewhat more confident in the faithfulness of God, yet still sick to my stomach at the thought of misleading her, I simply prayed, “Lord, reveal your goodness and love to her.” She and I discussed the nature of sin, the hope that is in Christ, and the unfailing love of the Father. And while she didn’t make a profession of faith, we both left with full stomachs and the encouraging reminder that the Lord sees and hears us. My fear was loosening. Yes, our Lord uses whom he will for his good purposes.
Then five months ago I met with an intelligent and committed skeptic. She had initiated the meeting but made clear that she was only asking questions. “I’m not here to be converted.” The old fear crept back up and whispered with fierceness, “You’re wasting your time. You can never convince her. You’re not even proficient at sharing the gospel with seekers, much less skeptics.”
I took a long sip of iced tea and reflected on what the Lord had taught me. She was right. I wasn’t there to convert her. I was just the messenger. My role was to be present and to respond to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.
I cleared my throat and simply said, “You’re right. I’m not here to convert you. I just want to have an open and honest dialogue about any questions you may have regarding God.” And then I smiled with the knowledge that her salvation was not dependent upon how effectively I shared the gospel. Her salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit.
After reflecting on these three lunches, I realized that my fear wasn’t so much the fear of sharing the gospel, but the fear of being exposed as a less-than-perfect and inadequate leader. And you know what? My fear was correct. I am less than perfect. We all are.
The beautiful truth is that God is enough. He uses my less-than-perfect talents and my inadequate abilities to advance his kingdom work. So as my calendar fills with lunch appointments, I go into each lunch less fearful and more prayerful. I’m growing in confidence as a ministry leader, knowing that the Lord is with me and working through me.
So when you feel that old fear of inadequacy creeping up, take a moment to pray and ask God to show himself to be enough in your situation. After all, God equips those whom he has called. And he does it all regardless of our perceived inadequacies.
Tiffany Stein is the women’s ministry coordinator at Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas. She also serves as vice president for the Association for Women in Ministry Professionals and has served on the leadership team for Polish Ministries for the past three years.