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April 29, 2013

How to Make the Most of Your Travel Budget

4 savvy tips to save money on your next ministry trip

It’s not uncommon for my husband, Leif, and I to spend more than 200 days a year travelling for work. We bounce from airports to rental car terminals to hotels and back home on a regular basis, and along the way we’ve discovered a few tips to stretching our travel budget—enjoying better hotels, rental cars, and amenities for a fraction of the cost.

Need an example? We recently stayed in a Westin Hotel for $52.00 per night and rented a mid-size car for $12.00 a day.

Whether you’re attending a leadership conference, engaging in educational enrichment, or organizing a much-needed staff getaway, how can you make your travel budget go further than it ever has before?

Here are four ways to save money on your next ministry trip.

1. Know the secret to bidding on your next hotel. Our favorite way to find great lodging at low prices is through Priceline.com, where we always bid for unknown hotels—but we never do it blindly.

Our secret weapon?

A wonderful site known as BiddingforTravel.com. This independent site is designed specifically to help give those using Priceline a bidding strategy. Message boards contain information on all the hotels in any star-rating in a given area, recently accepted bids, counteroffers, and free-rebids.

I recommend staying away from Hotwire.com. They base their hotel ratings on customer reviews, not actual hotel standards. We’ve bid on 4-star hotels from this site and stayed in some real dives.

2. Consider renting an apartment, condo, or house.
One of the disadvantages of hotels is that many of them don’t offer a full kitchen—which can save you money and extra weight gain when you’re traveling. If you’re traveling with a group, you may want to consider renting a house together and sharing the cost, or consider other ways of finding an unused timeshare. One helpful site is Tug1.com. Under classified ads, you can find a listing of available timeshares to rent or buy at a fraction of the cost.

Another great site that shouldn’t be missed is SkyAuction.com. The website allows you to bid on travel packages as well as individual airline tickets, hotels and rental cars. You need to read the find print as to any extra charges including the $15 fee the website tags onto the cost, but you can find some incredible deals here—particularly if you’re next ministry event is in Florida or a popular destination city. SkyAuction allows bidders to compete for unsold timeshare rentals, airline tickets, and cruises at sometimes ridiculously low prices.

The newest site that we’ve fallen in love with is Airbnb.com. You can rent anything on this site—a full apartment, a condo, a bedroom in someone’s house, a couch, a tree house, an igloo. For wild, wacky, and wonderful, check it out.

3. Remember that rental car rates are always in flux—so book early! Rental car rates are moody and often have wild swings. Always make a rental car reservation as soon as you book your airline, but check back a few days before your trip—the price could drop anywhere between 25 and 50 percent.

We recommend starting the search for the best car rental rate through a general website, like Orbitz.com, that will display every rental car option. Then select the brand that offers the best price (remember it’s often better to pay a little extra for at-airport locations). Next, Google the words “coupon code” and the name of that rental car company. The Internet is chock-full of coupon codes for rental cars. Go directly to that rental car company’s website, add in the coupon code, and save extra on the rate. This simple method will allow you to find bigger, better cars for less money. In addition, Priceline.com sometimes offers some amazing biddable rates for vehicles.

4. Grab your airline tickets early. Many people like to wait to buy airline tickets, believing the price will go down. While some low-fare airlines like Frontier and Southwest offer great last-minute prices, the majority of airlines raise fares as the date gets closer. When calculating ticket prices, don’t forget to add in extra charges for luggage, desirable seat assignments, and more. Sometimes the lowest-cost ticket isn’t really the lowest cost.

If you’re tired of being crunched in a middle seat for a four hour cross-country flight, visit Seatexpert.com and Seatguru.com. These sites help you identify the most comfortable seats on an aircraft.

And before you get to the airport, you’ll want to make sure your luggage doesn’t tip the scales past 50 pounds. If you think it might, try weighing it on your bathroom scale before you fly. If you have an awkward-size bag, simply weigh yourself, then step on the scale holding the bag and subtract the difference. If you think you may be coming home with some large or heavy souvenirs, pack an extra duffel inside your suitcase. This little addition can save you extra fees for all those catalogs, flyers, and freebies you pick up at the ministry conference.


Margaret Feinberg (MargaretFeinberg.com) is a popular author and speaker. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mafeinberg.

April 25, 2013

Kari Jobe on Worshipping Authentically

The chart-topping worship leader “doesn’t have it down yet,” but is working on becoming a genuine worshipper every day

Worship leader Kari Jobe grew up traveling with parents in ministry before experiencing a “divine appointment” at the age of 10, when she decided to commit her life to writing songs to help people communicate their feelings to God. She’s currently on tour with Chris Tomlin, but recently took a break to lead worship for 8,500 women at Gateway Church’s Pink Impact Conference. When she's not touring or leading worship at Gateway, her home church in Dallas, Kari supports various anti-human trafficking organizations. She has numerous life-giving things to say about what it means to worship authentically both on and offstage.

You’re currently on tour with Chris Tomlin. As a worship leader, how do you navigate the balance between performance and worship on stage?

That’s a good question. It took me a little while. When I first learned to lead worship, I was focused on sounding good and not missing a note. It’s natural to do that, but I think over time, practice makes permanent. As worship leaders our job is to be so in love with God that it’s contagious and catches on for other people. For me personally, I need the Lord so much. There are just everyday things I’m going through, and I have to say, Lord, give me wisdom in this.

Worship for me is such a place of connecting with the Lord and laying down my burdens. If I’m able to do that on stage in front of people and not worry about what they think, it helps me look more authentic and not be so performance-oriented. But you can’t lose people either—there are some worship leaders who don’t care at all what the congregation’s doing, and they often completely lose people. So there’s got to be a good balance. I’m working on that all the time. I don’t have it down yet.

You’ve recorded several albums in Spanish. What has that process taught you about worship in the global church?

I went to Colombia in 2005, and I just sang Hillsong songs in Spanish that I memorized. These people would come up to me and be speaking in Spanish really fast, but I’d have to say sorry, I don’t speak Spanish. They told me I sounded authentic, so I thought there must be something to this. I got a coach and had my songs translated, and it’s been cool to have that tool. I feel like in Latin culture, their hearts are so passionate, so when you meet them in worship they’re weeping and crying out to the Lord. I feel like it’s easier to lead worship in Latin countries because they’re so genuine in worship.

What are some of the biggest hindrances people find worshipping in the United States today, and how do you encourage them to overcome those hurdles?

I think in America it’s so easy to get what you need when you need it, and that translates over to our relationship with the Lord. I’ve been so accused in my own heart of not turning to the Lord until I need him. I’m often like yay, today’s a great day, but if it’s a tough day, I’m crying out to the Lord. I think there’s a desperation we miss out on because of our culture, and I pray in my own life that I’d be a worshipper every day, no matter if I’m doing great or if I’m not. I’m learning to praise him when it’s good, and praise him when it’s bad, even though that’s hard sometimes.

How did you get involved with the fight against human trafficking?

About six years ago I started working with the A21 Campaign, which is Christine Caine’s ministry. When it first launched, I said keep me in the loop all the time, I want to do what I can, I want to go on trips with you and meet these girls. From my experience going to Greece, I found a lot of the girls being put in the brothels are ones sold from other countries like Italy and Bulgaria and a lot of other European countries.

One of the girls I met had just been rescued four days before I met her. She had jumped out of a two-story window at a brothel, found the hotline for A21, then was rescued by the team. She was from Bulgaria, but ended up in a brothel in Thessaloniki, Greece. She had no idea where she was—they had to let her know where she was. It’s easy to think these people are stuck overseas, or this is way too big of a problem for us to try to tackle, but I believe we have to do what we can. I don’t want the next generation to look at what our generation did and say, why didn’t they do anything?

Movies like Not Today and Taken opened my eyes to the reality of this darkness in other countries, and how even here in the States, we have to be careful. It’s not just girls being sold into slavery in other countries—there are actually predators who want to find girls and take them here in the States. So being aware, raising awareness, and supporting the ministries that are chipping away at this one day at a time is so important.

Allison J. Althoff is associate online editor of Today’s Christian Woman. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.

For more from Kari Jobe, and to read what she’s learning about women’s ministry, see the rest of her interview at Today’s Christian Woman.

April 22, 2013

Transforming Suicide

What I learned through God’s healing after my mother’s death

The hymnist Fanny Crosby wrote these words: “Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.” I included her words in the first chapter of my upcoming book, Victory Song. Below is an excerpt describing my up-close encounter with suicide and the remnants it left behind.

I was 17 the night it happened: the single, tragic event that would shape my journey and life’s purpose from that point forward.

It happened in Hong Kong, February of 1974, five months before I would leave for America to attend Mississippi University for Women on a long sought-after scholarship. It happened just before dawn, in the dim hours when the world still wears the blanket of night. In the bedroom that I shared with my older sister, I woke up suddenly, hearing a wailing cry. I can still hear that haunting voice of my father. He was shouting my sister’s name. As I shook my sister awake, I had a foreboding sense that something dreadful had happened and life would never be the same. I followed timidly behind as my sister made her way through the living room into the kitchen. I was afraid to follow any further and stood silently in the living room, hoping for some indication that this was just a false alarm and life would resume to normal, if there was such a thing as normal. Then I heard my father’s voice say in a panting way, “Quick! Get a knife! Cut her down!”

In that instant, I knew my mother had hung herself from the rafters. My father was holding up her body to keep the rope from choking her further.

Time stood frozen as I tried to wrap my mind around what had happened. America had been my mother’s dream. Making it to America had been all she had ever hoped for, the sole devotion of her scarred and broken life. We were almost there: my sister and I had been accepted into college already, and we felt certain that we’d be able to help our parents make the crossing. After all those years of courageous dreaming and painful sacrifices, why had she given up now?

When the paramedics came to take my mother away, I still held on to a glimmer of hope that they would find a way to resuscitate her. My father left with the paramedics…About an hour later, when the phone rang, I stared vacantly at the phone as it continued to ring. When I finally picked it up, I heard my father say, “She’s gone. We lost your mother.” I’m not sure what happened after that. It was as if someone pulled down the curtain on our lives. Would there be an Act Two, or was this the end?

Her choice was the final, most terrible bomb; my mother had detonated her own lost hopes and shattered my world into a thousand pieces. Death washed over me in all its impenetrability and permanence. I fell to the floor, asking myself questions that would consume me, night after night, for decades to come.

My journey to healing began when I stumbled into Beth Moore's Sunday school class when I was 35. I never imagined that I would end up serving in her class for seven years. During that time, I was soaking in God's Word, not realizing that God's Word had the power to heal me.

Today, I am the founder and president of Inspire Women, a ministry that walks as a friend with thousands of women to help them find their spark and live at their potential to change the world. I never set out to be the founder of any ministry. I simply walked through the doors God opened with a heart that said, "God, send me where you need me."

I never imagined he would give me the freedom to shape programs and offer year-round leadership training to thousands of women so they could finish God's mission. From the mother I could not save, I now have the opportunity to help women finish God's plans for their lives. God, in his mercy, made all things beautiful in their time.

Below are some of the life lessons God taught me:

1. God has a purpose for my life.
Even my suffering is part of his bigger purpose: It was my own suffering that gave me the compassion for women who are displaced and are looking for a place to belong. My ministry was birthed from a place of suffering. I have learned that the passion that drives me comes from a source of pain in my past.

2. One tragic event does not define a life. I spent many years remembering one act, one wrong choice my mother made. But she was so much more than one event. God led me to view my mother as a woman just like myself, on the journey of life. She fought many battles, some of which she won and some she lost. She did not deserve my judgment. She needed my compassion. To appreciate her for the woman she was, I had to forgive where she hurt me while bringing the strengths of her life with me into the rest of my life.

3. When you run from your suffering, you miss your calling.
For many years, I dealt with my mother's suicide by throwing myself into my work and trying to forget my past. I thought I could just turn the page and move on. But there are some relationships in our lives that will always be part of us, and we must find a way to settle in our hearts how those relationships fit in our lives. In finding the courage to return to the past and explore the details of my mother's life, I learned about the battles she won and gained an appreciation for her as a woman. I learned that her strengths reside in me and continue in me. Instead of running from the past, embracing my mother gave me a greater sense of my own identity.

4. All God’s stories end beautifully, and as his child, I must trust in his pattern of beautiful endings. Knowing that I am made in the image of God and that the best way to reflect God is to follow his divine pattern, I was inspired to know that my best way to honor God was to write a beautiful ending to an otherwise broken story. In this I found a foundation that fueled a continuing passion for my ministry. Pitted against the mother I could not save are the thousands of lives I have had the privilege to invest in, to empower them to live at their potential. I am in awe of a God who led me to transform a dirge filled with laments into his beautiful ending and victory song.

Today I live as a walking testimony to what David expressed in the Psalms when he said, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:2-3).

Anita Carman is the founder and President of Inspire Women, a ministry that reaches thousands of women every year through citywide conferences, leadership programs and mentorship focused on awakening God's purpose in their lives and helping them find their spark. She is also a popular speaker and author of multiple books, including Making Sense of Your Life and Transforming for a Purpose. Learn more at www.inspirewomen.org.

Editor’s note: Watch for the upcoming profile of Anita Carman in the July/August digital edition of Today’s Christian Woman. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!

April 18, 2013

Edith’s Passing, Mental Illness Makes Headlines, Bombing in Boston, and a Papal Dust-Up

Four recent events that matter to your ministry

Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.

The Example of Edith

On Easter Sunday Edith Schaeffer—a woman best known for the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland she founded with her husband, Francis—died at the age of 98. She wrote more than a dozen books, on topics ranging from biblical womanhood to children and family life to human suffering to music and art. As the wife of a famous husband, she had her own voice and platform for promoting her causes.

She valued beauty and fashion, wearing pearls and Chanel No. 5 unapologetically as she championed the arts at a time when many evangelicals did not take them seriously: “A Christian, above all people, should live artistically, aesthetically, and creatively,” she wrote in The Art of Life. “If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for our appreciation.”

As the Her.meneutics tribute notes, she was not the perfect model of a female leader, as her son’s books claim she put up with years of abuse and concerned herself with maintaining an outward image of perfection. Her life is a testament to the reality that even imperfect leaders can impact the Kingdom when they consistently point back to a merciful, forgiving, overcoming, loving God.

Depression in the Church

When news of Matthew Warren’s suicide hit, reactions ranged from sorrow and sympathy to shock--though both Rick and Kay Warren had spoken of their son’s depression in the past, few outside the church seemed aware of the reality of their situation before tragedy struck. Depression and other mental illnesses impact more than a quarter of all Americans each year and certainly are a pressing issue for people in your ministry, either directly or indirectly as loved ones of people who suffer from them.

Continued silence on depression and mental illness in the church will only hurt more people, as ignorance reinforces stigmatization. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to open up conversations that help people understand, love, and support their suffering brothers and sisters. Check out this download from the Gifted for Leadership store and this download from our sister site Building Church Leaders. Both will provide an overview of what it means to minister to people in the context of mental illness.

Another lesson from this tragedy? Because Rick Warren is such a public figure, many people felt the need to chime in on what happened and what might have led the son of a prominent public evangelical to take his own life, even in some cases celebrating his pain as a judgment for his views on same-sex marriage. In response Warren tweeted: “Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest. Your notes sustained us.”


Boston Marathon Ends in Tragedy

By now you’ve certainly seen the images, read the reports, and wondered at what kind of evil would lead someone to attack a joyful community event like the Boston Marathon with devastating bombs. In the wake of shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Massachusetts, and approaching the anniversaries of attacks at Columbine, the World Trade Center, Virginia Tech, and more, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of terror.

But what we have already seen, even in the earliest moments when so little was known about what had actually happened, was a large number of people pushing back, identifying the good, pointing to hope in the form of people willing to run into smoke and fire to help others, to finish the marathon and keep running to the hospital to give blood, to refuse to allow one person’s actions to define the world in which we live. Surely over the next days and weeks many people will be seeking hope to balance the pain, and this is where we know we have something to offer.

As Christians we know it’s not just about, as comedian Patton Oswalt wrote in his much-shared Facebook note, individuals shining their own lights to defeat darkness. For us it’s about reflecting the love of a Savior who already has.

New Pope Stirs It Up

Just a few weeks into his official duties, Pope Francis I made headlines during Holy Week when he washed the feet of a Muslim woman at a youth prison in Rome. While many Catholic traditionalists chafed at this break from tradition (no Pope has ever washed the feet of a woman, much less a Muslim, as part of the Holy Week reenactment), others, including many Protestants, cheered his inclusivity as reflective of the true, revolutionary nature of God’s love.

While the Catholic church and especially its leadership have for some come to symbolize the scandals of abuse that have wracked the church in recent years, this action reminded many that the church is not about the imperfect individuals who run it but the perfect God they serve, whose only scandal is his love. Pope Francis’ actions provide a template for responding to criticism and hate with love, and demonstrate the power of a simple, loving act, one any leader would do well to follow.

Laura Leonard is the associate editor of Building Church Leaders at Christianity Today. You can find her on Twitter @lmarieleonard.

April 15, 2013

From No Experience Necessary to Your Experience Necessary

We can’t afford to make young women wait for their chance to lead

Every job I have applied for, or hired for, has required experience of one kind or another. Software experience. Task experience. Leadership experience. I can’t think of one job description I have ever written that included the line “no experience necessary.”

Because let’s face it: we don’t want to take a risk on someone cutting their leadership teeth on our projects and our teams. We know everyone has to get experience somewhere—we would just prefer it be somewhere else. And yet “no experience” may be exactly what is necessary in order to access what is perhaps the church’s greatest untapped resource: young women leaders.

Go with me for a moment. Because of the intensity of our world’s challenges and the pace at which they are changing, young leaders’ voices, ideas, and perspectives are needed now. Their collaborative, connected, and complex approach to life is a different kind of “experience.” And we simply don’t have the luxury of waiting 10 to 15 years for them to get the experience we think they need.

When I was leading the ministry to women at our church, we hired a seminary student in her early 20’s. Aubrey had zero ministry experience but was passionate about theology and eager to learn how that played out practically. She was a little rebellious and outspoken compared to her seminary peers. And yet Aubrey went silent when she joined our team.

I took her to lunch and asked her why she never spoke up in our team meetings. Her eyes filled with tears. She shared with me how her dad was a former pastor and had advised her to keep her head down, work hard, and keep quiet. He told her we were the experts and she was there to listen and learn; to be seen but not heard.

I quickly told Aubrey that success in this role depended on not taking her dad’s advice. I assured her our team not only wanted, but needed her input on decisions and ideas for improvement.

Maybe some of our job descriptions need to say, “Your experience necessary.”

So if we take the risk and engage young women leaders, how do we do so without all the “green” missteps that come with them? Simple answer: We don’t.

When Aubrey began to speak into what we were doing, she was like a breath of fresh air for our ministry. But admittedly, there were times when she misjudged her timing or audience. She was a driven, hard worker who had to learn some new “soft skills” around communication, conflict, and change. And as she benefitted from our leadership experience, we benefitted from her life experience.

The bumpy processes, the bruised egos, the leadership mistakes are unavoidable—they are part of each leader’s journey. But as the more seasoned leaders at the table, we can help bring out the best of the experience they do have. We can empower young leaders through our intentional investment in their growth.

Let me share what this looks like for me. Through one-on-one coaching, I help young leaders identify their strengths, gifts, and perspective—their unique leadership voice. And in a group context, I equip young leaders to accelerate through some of those leadership bumps by combining my experience with their potential.

Through it all, I share my leadership story filled with catastrophic mistakes and surprising successes. I share the lessons I have learned and am still learning. I encourage them that their leadership experience is drastically different from mine—and that is exactly what is needed for the Kingdom.

I believe in this generation of young women leaders. They are poised and ready to change the world. What young leaders are in your sphere of influence? Will you tell them to wait a decade, or empower them to lead now?


Julie Pierce empowers leaders to change the world through coaching, consulting teams, and communicating with groups. You can follow her on Twitter at julie_pierce or read her leadership blog at www.empoweredbypierce.com.

April 11, 2013

Leadership Lessons from a Convent

What one woman learned as an Alongsider

At her Baptist church in Toronto, Susan Murphy sits on the deacons’ board—the leadership team charged with making many of the important, grassroots decisions that affect the congregation. When her passion ignited at deacons’ meetings, she’d speak up, not afraid to push and push again…to prove a point.

Twenty years after earning her undergraduate degree, Susan felt called to pursue a master’s degree at seminary with the aim of becoming a certified spiritual director. To afford her studies, she lived for a year in the guesthouse at the convent for the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, a few blocks from the seminary. Before her time was up, these Anglican sisters had invited her to become their first-ever Alongsider. For a year she’d live, work, and worship (four times a day) alongside them in order to experience and better understand the daily life of a monastic, all while continuing her studies.

Susan jumped at this chance to enrich her vocation as a spiritual director. The former businesswoman also wanted to find the balance between the frayed busyness of her life and the key disciplines of silence and solitude. She found something else, though: a way of leading that’s challenged her assumptions about how we lead, particularly in church contexts.

Leaders Live for Timeouts…to Acknowledge God

Imagine this: As part of your 8-, 9- or 10-hour workday, you must spend two hours and 15 minutes immersed in worship and Scripture. Every day without fail, you stop during those hours to hear and recite God’s Word, pray, and sing—all in the company of women like you: busy, focused, on fire for God, human. No matter what outstanding project needs to be dropped while you pull away—yet again—to worship and pray; no matter your title; no matter that you’d prefer to plow through your work and go home. Having to stop four times a day to join the sisters in their morning prayer, noon service, evening service, and compline taught Susan her first leadership lesson: The sisters “have learned to balance out their call to leadership—their purpose—with what’s woven through the fabric of every day…their daily in-and-out of worship and prayer and Scripture.”

And what a call to leadership they’ve had. The women of the sisterhood have had a long history of groundbreaking social action in Toronto. Pioneers in the health field for more than 125 years, they opened the first hospital for women in the late 1800s and pioneered and ran St. John’s Rehab Hospital to great renown until 2011. St. John’s Rehab is home to Canada's only organ transplant rehabilitation program and Ontario's only burn rehabilitation program. It is recognized as a leader in delivering services that focus on the whole person—mind, body and spirit. Several of the sisters have acted as president or vice president and held other prominent management positions in the hospital over the years, and they remain active with its foundation.

Leaders Recognize That Everyone Leads

To this day these sisters “move and shake.” Yet despite the impact they have had and continue to have in Canada’s health-care field, their personalities and healthy egos have never sullied a key facet of the way they live: Leadership at the convent is the job of all the sisters, not just the calling of one. While each woman’s gifts and talents influence her choice of tasks, all pitch in and help as required. Susan discovered her second leadership lesson watching them work. Each sister must take into account the good of the community first—it is an expectation when she enters the sisterhood, as important as her vow of chastity. Becoming a sister means saying no to deeply intimate friendships with a few and yes to relationship with all. “They’ve stripped themselves of the pretensions and political and emotional games in which we women can get caught up at our own churches,” says Susan.

As an Alongsider, Susan was never invited to morning conference, the daily morning time when all the sisters would air their grievances, apologize, forgive, and talk things through in the presence of the entire community. “Everyone’s in on everything,” continues Susan. “It’s…a marriage that has to work because where else would you go?” Susan knows: In most churches, leaders are expected to advocate loudly and long for their convictions. She’s done this herself. “We’re not so good at putting ‘us’ aside for the good of the community,” acknowledges Susan. “We don’t have to live day in, day out with each other.”

Leaders Listen First

Susan re-calibrated her definition of leadership during her time as an Alongsider. “Now the absolute essential to leadership is my relationship with God.” God affirms her leadership and what others say or don’t say about her ministry, she’ll take to him: “God, is this what you want me to hear?” And while her responsibilities as a deacon haven’t changed, her approach to the position has. She now asks God the questions she needs to ask and is learning the grace of paying attention to his answers. She’s less apt to retreat or become defensive when her leadership is challenged. She’s learned how to listen: “God sees the bigger picture. Not everything needs to be fought for and not everything needs to be fixed. Part of wise leadership is knowing when to step in and when not to; to put God first.”

Putting God first will also define her work as a spiritual director as she chooses to interact with her clients only in the way God would have her, not out of her knowledge, experience, or desire.

Leaders Give the Gift of Vulnerability

It took an invitation to live alongside Anglican nuns for Susan to appreciate the countercultural and radical nature of Jesus’ call to all of us. He calls us to a brand of leadership that perseveres, hemmed in by the accountability of a consistent, daily pulling-away to stop and remember through worship, prayer and Scripture, the intersections of God’s story with ours. It’s a leadership fleshed out in the instant you place your community’s needs above yours…because you’ve learned to listen well. It’s a leadership that risks the unease of trying something different…and doing it with his wisdom.

That’s the leadership the sisterhood displayed when they invited Susan, a stranger, into their personal lives, not knowing if she would stay the full term or leave before her year was up. They loved her without reservation (as they do all their oblates and novices), knowing full well that they could be saying goodbye to her in the months ahead.

In that act of openness, the sisters taught Susan the most unexpected leadership lesson of all: Leaders choose to give the incredible gift of vulnerability.


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.

April 8, 2013

Women in Church Combat: A Cautionary Tale

We must move away from “engaging the enemy” and toward fighting for a common cause

Lillian was a strong, charismatic woman who founded her church’s women’s ministry. Her vibrant personality made almost anything she tried a success. She was like a beloved sergeant in the military—close to those under her care, an advocate for them with the church leaders above her, and militantly passionate about their growth and development. She had created an atmosphere in the ministry that challenged and excited women. They came just to be around her and supported anything she tried to institute in the church.

The trouble began when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to resign from her position during chemotherapy. She struggled as she saw her beloved ministry pass to other hands. Because she’d been the only head of the women’s ministry, she felt very strongly about how it should be run. She tried to communicate this clearly to church leaders, but in the end, she had no choice but to watch her position be handed to the most willing but, in her opinion, unqualified person.

Tabitha was delighted with the opportunity to take over the women’s ministry. She felt Lillian’s ideas were outdated and suited only for the older women of the church. She couldn’t wait for the opportunity to gear things toward the younger women who had never been much engaged in the activities Lillian had planned.

That’s when the battle commenced.

Instead of seeing Tabitha as a replacement sergeant for her troops, Lillian saw her as the enemy who infiltrated those under her care, intent on leading them into destruction. And instead of seeing Lillian as a wise woman with years of experience, Tabitha saw her as a sentinel who guarded her “city” so zealously that no one could go in or out, turning it into a police state.

Unfortunately, no one recognized the battle lines being drawn.

Church Battles Are a Covert Operation

Any historian will tell you that modern warfare is much more complicated because everything is covert. No longer do soldiers line up on a battlefield and shoot at each other. Instead, warfare has become a mind-bending puzzle of hide-and-seek, of gleaning intelligence, and of trying to outsmart the enemy.

The same is often true of church battles. A church battle can rage without the church at large even knowing about it. Other members of the church had no idea of the conflict between Lillian and Tabitha. Even the church leaders were largely unaware that the two women were slowly arming “troops” of their own to support their “mission.” These troops consisted of those who worked closely with them. Both women were strong leaders, so they easily convinced those around them that their ideas were right and that it was noble to fight for their cause. It wasn’t difficult for each of them to form a “band of sisters.” But everyone was in camouflage, so the larger church didn’t recognize that the troops were coalescing.

Intelligence Infiltrators Abound

Lillian saw the changes Tabitha was attempting to make and immediately wanted to know more of what was coming, so she regularly pumped information from a friend who remained on the ministry team. She gathered as much knowledge as she could so she’d know how to combat Tabitha’s ideas and restore her ministry.

Unknown to Lillian, Tabitha followed the same pattern, gleaning as much as she could from Lillian’s friends about what she was thinking. She began to see her as a threat and to plan how to disarm her. They engaged in round after round of one-upmanship.

Snipers Patrol the Perimeters

When each woman realized the other was actively collecting information about her, the retaliation began. They moved from just gathering intelligence to appointing others to fight for them. The church at large began to catch rumors of trouble when those closest to the two women began to target one another and the fighting spread. Soon the church leaders found both women and men coming to them with complaints of having been wounded in the direct line of fire or by shrapnel flying in all directions from a “bullet” going wild.

Watch Out for the Weapons of Mass Destruction

It wasn’t long before church leaders recognized that the violence was escalating and soon would be an all-out war. The church increasingly defended one side or the other, and the women’s ministry ceased to function normally as everyone battened down the hatches for the coming battle. Both Lillian and Tabitha began moving from just making their point of view known, to wanting to win at all costs. And if that meant the annihilation of the other, so be it.

Call a Peace Conference

So what hope is there when a church conflict has reached this point? Of course, the best thing would have been if those closest to the two women had recognized the first glimmer of conflict and set up negotiations to avoid all-out war. But the trouble with strong leaders is that they often don’t have anyone to keep them in check. And in a church, the problem can be even worse, because each person may feel as if God is on her side—and those who follow them begin to feel that going against them is like going against the Almighty. But a wise leader or follower will realize that everyone needs checks and balances—and correction. So if you are following someone who is drawing battle lines, be proactive enough to step in and confront that person so violence doesn’t escalate. You will find plenty of Scripture to support your efforts. “Blessed are the peacemakers” has never been so true as in church conflict.

But what if the battle has commenced to the point of annihilation? Then the destruction is going to be much greater. Just as in a real war, if it’s reached that point, the fallout will be immense. You will have to do the painstaking work of rebuilding and instituting peace initiatives to bring healing and renewal to your church. You will be wise to follow the example of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow both sides to air their grievances and to find ways to connect and move forward together. Look for further help in resources such as Managing Conflict Well from BuildingChurchLeaders.com.

After the excruciating work of rebuilding a ministry is done, make your new emphasis the fact that you are a team of soldiers laboring for a kingdom that far outweighs individual ideas of what ministry should be. And if we don’t work together for that common cause, the true Enemy will have the upper hand. Such a focus will redefine what women in church combat should really be fighting for.


JoHannah Reardon has had experience as a women’s ministry director, a pastor’s wife, and a longtime church leader. She blogs at johannahreardon.com and is the author of seven fictional books and two devotional guides.

April 4, 2013

Why Endings Matter

I’ve learned to value the practice of benediction

We sat together at my kitchen counter, conversation trickling to awkward silence. Things in her marriage had reached a breaking point, she said. She hoped I could help, she said. I listened and tried to give encouragement, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t enough. I wanted to give her something that would last, something she could cling to even in the difficult season of her life. What I needed was a benediction—the right word that went beyond what I could possibly give.

The word benediction comes from a Latin term meaning “to speak well.” Traditionally, a benediction is a short prayer for help, blessing, or guidance. Benedictions aren’t just for the end of sermons. A close study of Scripture reveals the power of the final word can do more than the entire conversation before it.

That day at my kitchen counter, I was ill-equipped to guide my young friend through a difficult time. I ended up falling back on some lame words about “everything being OK,” words neither of us truly believed. For me, that conversation sparked a desire to lead better. How could I provide a better “ending” when someone is looking for guidance or help?

Since then, I’ve discovered the power of benediction in everyday life and ministry. Knowing how to end a conversation, a prayer, or a note of encouragement can help the ones you lead refocus their hearts from their problems to the promises of our great God. Here’s what a closer look at benedictions taught me.

Benedictions Are Memorable

Social psychologists call our aptitude at remembering final words the “recency effect.” The principle of recency states that the things most recently learned are the ones most likely to be remembered. Apply that to the many endings in your day: From finishing an email to saying goodbye to our children at the bus stop, our lives are full of opportunities for “one last thing.” Unfortunately, my “one last thing” usually ends up being tired, recycled words I’ve already used or reminders about buttoning coats. This is not what I want my co-workers, children, and friends to remember! When I consider the recency effect, I feel even more certain that the words I write and speak could use a tune-up.

Benedictions Give Perspective

Consider the way the Apostle Paul ended his letters. Paul ended the book of Romans with these words: “All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27) In one sentence, Paul reminded us of the truth of a) God’s place as the only true object of worship, b) our purpose in bringing him glory, and c) our identity in Christ. He condensed the entire message of Romans into one final statement. He didn’t close his letter with one more reminder, but a powerful perspective-shaking blessing that reminds us of our positioning with the God of the universe, the only one who has infinite knowledge and is worthy of our worship.

In ministry, I need perspective. I need the constant reminder of what really matters. When the burden of others’ struggles falls heavily on my shoulders, I can repeat this phrase to myself and lift my spiritual eyes to the truth: God is wise, he is glorious, he is eternal, and I have right standing with him through Christ. Everything becomes lighter when compared to the weight of his glory.

Benedictions Remind Us of Spiritual Truths

Consider one of Paul’s standard benedictions, found in Philippians 4:23, Philemon 25, and Galatians 6:18: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Paul reminded us that no matter what struggle we face, our deepest blessing comes not from circumstances changing, but in a settled soul. It is Christ’s grace manifest in our lives that is present with our spirits—and that gives us the power to overcome any trial or struggle in this world.

So often I find myself wanting to give humanistic platitudes, “one step at a time,” or “you’ll get through this” or “it’ll get better.” The reality is, words always fail in the face of true struggle, and when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we realize that only God’s power in our spirits gives us the strength to stand.

Benedictions Are a Stamp of Personal Faith

Dick Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, was known for his personal benediction, words that spoke truth and life over all he ministered to:

“You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you there. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there…Believe this, and go in His grace, and love, and power. Amen!”

My spiritual mentor and pastor is fond of this benediction as well as his own, lodged deep within my own heart after I’ve heard it dozens of times:

“Remember, you stand before an audience of one. The one God, the with-me God. Now go in his grace.”

My pastor’s words aren’t unique to him, but they are memorable because of the passion and belief with which he speaks them. This simple closing reminds me every time of exactly where I place my hope.

Perhaps the words of the apostle Paul or the psalmist feel rote in your heart. But you, like Dick Halverson and my pastor, can let Scripture inform your own personal benediction. Making these words our own helps us re-center perspective, and it leaves those around us on a powerful and true note.

Benedictions are like the punctuation in our lives. The words inform the sentence before and give a sense of the sentence to come. Choose your words wisely.

Since studying the benedictions of Scripture, I’ve found myself pausing before ending times of counsel and care or times with my children. I’ve pondered what I can say to point others back to the only source of true life. And so I close with these words:

As babies evoke smiles to our faces, so does your heart evoke God’s delight. He has delivered you from the power of death and defeat through his Son, Jesus Christ. So go in the power of his delight and his grace today!


Nicole Unice is a ministry associate at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, and the author of She’s Got Issues, a book and DVD-based curriculum on finding God in our everyday struggles. Find out more at http://www.nicoleunice.com.

April 1, 2013

When Women’s Ministries Meet Messy Houses

A unique service idea

Professional organizers have been doing it for years. Television programs have started doing it, too. Over the years, from time to time, friends have gathered to help one another out of difficult household-organizing situations. Yes, group home-organizing has a rich and varied history.

The problem of disorganization seems to be getting more pronounced. But what are the guidelines for helping those caught in the clutches of disorganization? Until now there have been few directives for what can be a sensitive situation: entering someone else's house to help make changes. Stepping up to meet this need is an opportunity for the women's ministries of the church. They can offer support for members and outreach to the community. Like many other ministries, home-organization is an opportunity to do as Paul admonished in Galatians 6:10, “Do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”

Maybe someone in your church feels immobilized by a recent loss, is chronically depressed, has just moved from a larger place, has never learned housekeeping skills, or has just had a baby…you can fill in the reason. Those who are gifted with natural organizing skills may have been able to remain organized in these circumstances. However, not everyone has the skills necessary to stay on top when things start spinning out of control. With added pressures, the person who was previously struggling to stay in control now finds herself overwhelmed. She may feels as if she is drowning in clutter and papers. “Help!” she cries silently as she tries to rally unsuccessfully to meet the challenge.

That’s when the cavalry can come to the rescue. Some people are naturally gifted at organizing and find nothing more satisfying than bringing order out of chaos wherever they find it. They have abilities in executive functioning—they are good at setting goals, maintaining focus, determining consecutive steps, spatial relationships, and decision making. In short, they can envision what needs to be done and how to do it.

Disorganized folks march to the beat of a different drummer. Though they may be intelligent, creative, hardworking, and well-meaning, they lack one or more of the qualities required to organize easily or consistently. Oh, they may be able to hold it together when things are going well, but they cannot maintain organization when a crisis comes or the job just becomes too big.
In those circumstances, like the man robbed on the road to Jericho, they need the help of a Good Samaritan (or Samaritans) to help them get back on their feet.

Churches have always been attuned to helping those in need. However, helping with household organizing has not taken its place as one of the standard areas of support. Indeed, the whole concept of organizing is recent and was not an area of focus in the United States until the early 1980s, when our culture woke up to the increased pressure on individuals, particularly
women, to keep their organizational boats from sinking in the choppy waters of modern life. At that time, the housekeeping book Superwoman was popular, the National Association of Professional Organizers was formed (they now have more than 4,000 members), and I started Messies Anonymous, a self-help organization for people like me, who struggle with clutter. Other groups formed as well. Since that time houses have grown larger, belongings have become more prolific, and more and more people have been swamped with too many activities. Today, rarely does a women's magazine hit the stands without an article about organizing featured on the cover.

I've seen sporadic help given by churches when needed. Elizabeth rallied a group friends from her church to help her pack and remove items from her mother's apartment after her death. Ida, elderly and alone, lucked out when a group of young women from her church took on her house for regular organizing and cleaning attention. However, many needs go unmet for two reasons: For those who don’t struggle with the issue, it’s hard to believe it is such an intractable and serious problem for some people in some circumstances. And those needing help don't know where to find compassionate and knowledgeable assistance.

The book 5 Days to a Clutter-Free House, which I wrote with professional organizing veteran Marsha Sims, outlines how a group can mobilize itself to help when an organizational need presents itself. Before launching, a church ministry can break the ice of this topic by offering educational classes on organizing skills and then training a volunteer team to actually offer hands-on assistance to those who need it.

There may be a wide gulf between the way the neat people on the team and those who struggle with clutter think about the topic. The person living in the home must feel the group’s respect even though she may be embarrassed about their reason for being there. Using a predetermined and tested game plan is guaranteed to make the mess disappear in jiffy time. Rightly done, getting your team to work together can be an uplifting experience for both the team and the person receiving help.

Before you begin, be sure to consider all the aspects that need to be covered. Our book explains how to sort, where to store, how to discard, and many other details to make your job successful. Adjust as you see the need, but be sure to hit the main points that deal with understanding and communication on a personal level. Nothing makes some women happier than bringing order out of chaos. For the woman who needs help, it is her chance to get a fresh start and learn new approaches and habits that will keep her from letting her home return to its messy condition. For the team members, there is the satisfaction of a job well done and the joy of helping someone out of a difficult situation. Finally, for everyone involved there is the fun of working together as a team and solidifying the bonds that initially drew them together.

The number of people in need of organizing help is greater than what is immediately obvious. Announce a meeting to share your vision. Cover organizing principles, characteristics of the disorganized, and team dynamics. Once you have a team dedicated to this purpose who develop proficiency in how to give help, you may find word will get out. Counselors and others who offer help with organizing are often surprised at the response they get once they begin to concentrate on this issue. (By the way, the problem of hoarding is a mental-health issue and not the focus of this plan.) Social services of various types face dilemmas of how to proceed when they reach out to help some of their clients who are too disorganized to cooperate.

You may wish to develop your own approach, use the one in our book, or meld the book’s approach with yours. There is no telling how much benefit can be had when a good-hearted and educated team works together to meet such a fundamentally basic need.


Sandra Felton, The Organizer Lady®, is a pioneer in household organization. She is the author of many books on the topic, including the newest book, 5 Days to a Clutter-Free House, and is the founder of Messies Anonymous. Further information may be found at www.messies.com.

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