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June 27, 2013

How Faith and Justice Build God’s Kingdom

An interview with pastor and author Mae Cannon

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In 2009, Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, set off a firestorm with their national bestseller, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. In the book, this power couple lays out “an agenda for the world’s women focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute.” This is an agenda that evangelical women all across the country are grabbing hold of. Kristof and WuDunn write, “Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”

Through small groups, friendships, writing, speaking, advocating, and generous giving through online networks, churches and nonprofit organizations, evangelical women are taking a stand for justice and covenanting to be part of the solution to turn oppression into opportunity for women and all who are oppressed throughout the world. They are advocating and doing this work of justice with a strong conviction that kingdom building is the work of the church. I was honored to sit with author, pastor, and World Vision advocate Rev. Mae Cannon to discuss the challenges and convictions concerning justice, advocacy, and the work of women in the church.

What is the role of the church?

To consider the church’s role from a biblical perspective, we really need to look at the Scriptures in terms of what they say about God’s mandate for the church. Too often in our Christian American tradition, we have bifurcations where some churches think that the role of the church is social engagement and responding to the needs of the poor. They look to Matthew 25, which presents our responses to the needs of the least of these. They believe we should respond to those in Jesus’ name and that’s the role of the church. On the other hand, we have churches that look at passages like Matthew 28 and conclude, “Make disciples of all nations. We are going to evangelize and teach people about Jesus.” I believe the church’s role, in terms of holistic mission and engagement in justice, is the combination of those two, and we should not bifurcate them. So it’s not evangelism apart from justice, but it’s evangelism for the sake of God’s justice being manifested in the world.

In that regard, as an evangelical leader and pastor, I believe part of what the church needs to reclaim is God’s perspective concerning the kingdom of God on earth, which is inclusive of teachings about the person and work of Christ and evangelism. The kingdom of God on earth is also inclusive of responding to the needs of the least of these and being advocates for justice by looking at systemic issues that cause poverty, grief, and suffering in the world.

I see that you share the conviction of the Lausanne Congress 2010: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world. How does your experience in advocacy and as a pastor inform your view of the local church’s role in meeting the needs of our world?

As an advocate and pastor, I’ve seen a lot of Christian leaders who engage in works of mercy and justice, but it’s not sustainable because we get burned out and we take upon ourselves this mission of trying to change the world.

I address this concern in my newest book, Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action. By exploring the lives of notable Christian leaders and advocates like Mother Teresa; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Watchman Nee; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; I attempt to look at how we can stay intimately connected with God through spiritual disciplines such as Sabbath, prayer, and Scripture.

When we intimately engage with God, we can allow his presence to fuel our engagement with the world so our work can be sustainable. Ultimately, God does not need us to do his work of justice. He is a just God, he is a good God. He doesn’t need me to make the world right, but he chooses to use us in that way. So by being disciplined we can stay intimately connected with God, and allow him to work through us.

Given this understanding, What is your hope, your dream for women, particularly Christian women, and their contributions to the church and the world?

My dream is that women will be free to fully be who God created them to be, in whatever capacity—it’s not just pastoral leadership, but it does include leading the church. When considering Christianity in America, there are still so many ways that the church is suffering because women have not been set free to use their gifts. I was just having this conversation with the wife of a dear friend of mine. She said to me, “Mae, it’s not the man who runs the conference that invites you to the table. God gave you the gifts, so he’s going to give you the space to use them.” So I answer your question with a question, “How do we honor God by stewarding the gifts that he has given us, and not be confined by power structures that might limit the role women can play?”

Connect with Mae Cannon: https://www.facebook.com/justspirituality and @reverendmae.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and president of His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

June 24, 2013

Confessions of a Burned-Out Minister

10 things I did to recover and rediscover my calling

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After four years of seminary and three-and-a-half years in ministry, only two words could describe me at my graduation: burned out. When I entered school, I never thought that upon my completion, I would feel so defeated and drained. I was supposed to be at the zenith of my spiritual journey. Instead, I barely wanted to sit down to study God’s Word.

Upon graduation, my husband and I moved back to his hometown and I took a sabbatical from ministry. I knew I needed to allow God to fill me and help me understand where I’d faltered. I began searching Scripture. I studied the ministry of Paul. For all he went through, he continued to persevere with joy. Compared to the apostle, my trials had been a cakewalk. Yet I’d wilted like a pansy. Instead of dwelling in defeat, I began to glean principles from Scripture in order to prepare for the next assignment God had for me. Below is a summary of what God taught me through my own weaknesses and through an examination of his Word.

1. Maintain an active prayer life. Throughout Paul’s letters is evidence of his prayer life. (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:4). He specifically prayed for those he ministered to as well for his own personal needs. In my own journey, I noticed that at the beginning of seminary, my journals were filled with pages of prayers. However, the entries became more fleeting as my workload became more demanding. The loss of fervency in prayer directly correlated with my spiritual burnout.

2. Remember for whom you are working. Performance anxiety can often lead to working long hours and unnecessary pressure. As servants of the Lord, we must realize that we were called by God for a purpose. Not only are we called by him; we are also equipped by him to complete the task to which he has called us. Paul recognized that his calling was from God and not man. He therefore did not obsess over human approval (Galatians 1:10). His sufficiency came from Christ and he was able to move forward in ministry with that truth as his springboard. In my own ministry life, I had begun to rely on my own talents to maintain “job performance” and I was seeing each opportunity for ministry as another task to be completed. Therefore, success was measured by human standards rather than obedience to God. When I realized that I could not please everyone, I felt defeated and deflated.

3. Surround yourself with co-laborers. We are not called to be “Lone Ranger” ministers (1 Corinthians 3:9). Paul surrounded himself with people who caught his vision (Romans 16:3, 9, 21; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; 4:3). God established the Body of Christ and has gifted each of us uniquely for a reason. We would be arrogant to think we are best suited to tend to all the ministerial needs within the body. I had wrongly assumed that others would not want to participate in certain tasks, which led to exhaustion and a lack of shared ownership within the ministry.

4. Do not forget your first love. One of the most heartbreaking examples of burnout within Scripture is that of the church of Ephesus. Having been known for their love and zeal, the Ephesian church was reprimanded for having forgotten their first love merely a generation later (Revelation 2:4). Their works were merely habitual with the consequence being potential removal as a church. I realized at the end of my tenure in seminary that I had become like the Ephesians. I had persevered, but I had lost my passion. I was simply going through the motions. In order to be effective in ministry, we must first nurture our own relationship with God.

5. Keep devoted times a priority. This principle comes in tandem with the previous principle. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He went away to be alone with God (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 11:1). Many times it was right before or after a big test, decision, teaching, or miracle. If Jesus needed time alone with the Father, who are we to think we can do ministry without it? Too often, I had equated preparation for work or school with spending time with God. They are not the same because our attention is divided.

6. Learn to say no. A wise friend once told me that doing tasks God has not called you to do is just as disobedient as not doing tasks to which he has called you. In ministry, we often think that every opportunity is a God-given opportunity, which is not the case. In Acts 16, the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul and Timothy to preach in Asia or to go to Bithynia. We must prayerfully consider each opportunity that comes our way and after coming to a conclusion, not be afraid to say no.

7. Handle criticism with grace. Many people who burn out in ministry do so because they have not learned how to handle criticism (Proverbs 29:1). Either they will not accept negative feedback, or they dwell on it and consequently, the compiled remarks destroy them. As leaders in ministry, we must recognize that God uses criticism in order discipline, stretch, strengthen, and grow us and our ministry (Revelation 3:19). We must therefore weigh each statement for the truth and utilize it to enhance our ministry. We must then move on and move forward. I had allowed others’ comments to haunt me, which led to bitterness and heartache.

8. Take time to celebrate victories. Often, ministry moves at a pace that is comparable only with the speed of light. Before the curtain closes on one event, three planning meetings have already taken place for the next. However, in order to avoid burnout, it is important to recognize and celebrate what God is doing through the ministry (Psalm 9:1). For each event, you should schedule time to either meet with leadership or process on your own all the Lord did through and within the ministry. Not only will it provide you with a time of thanksgiving; it will also allow you to process procedural aspects for future events. In my previous ministry experience, I never took time to celebrate what God had done through me, so I often didn’t recognizing how powerfully he was at work in my life.

9. Maintain an attitude of humility. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” If a burned-out minister really looks deep at the heart of the matter, an element of pride probably got in the way of ministry. The Greek word for “minister” means “servant.” As a minister of Christ, humility should be a key characteristic. Otherwise, burnout will be inevitable.

10. Do not give in to grumbling or complaining. One of the hardest parts about ministry is hearing others grumble and complain. However, one of the most toxic things you can do to your ministry is give in to grumbling and complaining (James 5:9; Colossians 3:2). When I think about my downfall in ministry, one of the key elements was giving in to petty grumbling. Instead of edifying one another, words were spent complaining about what was wrong with the ministry. Soon the focus was not on building up but rather tearing down. Now one of my mottos is to have a positive ministry. Not only do I not take part in negativity, I have changed the culture so it is not allowed and it is squashed immediately.

When I first returned home, I took inventory of how I had burned out of ministry. After confessing my sin and accepting God’s forgiveness, I began to develop a discipline in order to avoid burnout in the future by applying the biblical principles I had learned to my everyday life. I realized that ultimately God wanted my affection and devotion above all else. This became my first priority. I then began to volunteer at our local church, staying mindful that God was the one leading every move in my life. Soon God began to lead my heart back into vocational ministry. I now serve as a children’s minister, an area of ministry where I never would have placed myself. But the amazing thing about my job is that I love every aspect of it. Not because I am the world’s biggest kid person or because it is the most glamorous job this side of heaven. Rather, I know that God prepared me for the role, equipped me to do the work, and sustains me each day. Ministry is an outflow of my relationship with God rather than a position I must fill. Today I minister with a sense of humility because I have gone through the trials of past experiences. However, my perspective of ministry is now one that recognizes priorities, prayer, and partnership.

Cortney is a wife and a mother of two children. She graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a masters in Theology and serves as the children’s minister at One Heart Church in Norcross, GA.

June 20, 2013

Confidence Is Key When You Work with All Men

Or any men, for that matter.

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When I was asked to join the staff of a small church as the small-group coordinator, I was thrilled. I was also naïve. Being on staff meant that I was joining two men, one 10 years my senior, the other just a few years younger than my father. I moved from working with peers in a college ministry where I'd found that my gender rarely had an effect on what I could do, to a family church with a variety of traditional values represented. I had no idea how much gender would come into play.

Take our first weekly staff lunch outing. My coworkers rushed to open all doors for me, offering me the front seat in the car while one of them drove. At the restaurant, we were seated at a booth, and there was some awkwardness as my coworkers decided it best that they sit next to each other. It was insisted that I order first (as the lady at the table) and that my coworker pour my tea for me. Later as one of my coworkers remarked on our productive lunch, he said, "Thanks, guys." He quickly blushed and apologized for calling me a guy. (For the record, I have absolutely no issue with being referred to as the collective "guys.") I chalked up these humorous interactions to new job awkwardness. But then they continued…and broadened.

In a conversation about buying new lapel mics, I asked if there were options with smaller battery packs, or battery packs that could clip on in other ways than a back pocket—something my Sunday outfits rarely had. I got blank looks from the men buying the mics.

When we had an opportunity to go to a pastors' retreat, there were two awkward interactions. First, there was a long conversation about the fact that I would need my own room at the retreat because all the other pastors were men. While this did get worked out, it was quite a topic of discussion. Then the wives of my coworkers decided they'd get together while we were gone for a pastor's wife hangout. They wondered aloud if they should invite my husband, then decided we should probably all just hang out at another time instead.

There was also confusion one day at a staff meeting when I revealed I am an introvert. "But women are so relational," one of my coworkers protested.

My husband and I learned to laugh these things off. After all, this was uncharted territory for all of us, and there was a steep learning curve. Despite the funny moments, my coworkers fully believed that God called women to ministry and that he had called me to leadership. Instead of my coworkers questioning my calling, what was more likely was questioning my own calling. And that's when I learned how important confidence in my calling is.

When we embrace our leadership callings—in whatever context we find ourselves—chances are we'll be charting new territory. Everyone will need to adjust, and even when they're willing to adjust, it simply takes time. What can make the process smoother, though, is having confidence in our calling. When we show that we have utter confidence in who and what God is calling us to, others are more likely to follow suit. And our confidence helps us navigate these funny interactions with grace and humility.

That said, I've also learned the hard way that some character attributes—like confidence and assertiveness—are a little scary when seen in women, even when they're celebrated in men. While I pray that we will see the day when that absurd unspoken gender norm is overthrown, we must also realize that we women leaders compete with it each day. I've found that I have to have confidence in my calling, humility in how I live out that calling, and a team-player attitude that assures my coworkers that I'm working with them.

We will face awkward moments as others around us adjust to seeing strong, competent, passionate, confident, called women in leadership roles. It's inevitable. Some moments will be silly, others more hurtful. In the end, though, we must rest in the calling that God has given us and lean into his wisdom for navigating healthy, fruitful relationships. Don't let others take away your confidence in your calling. Live it out with all you've got.


Amy Jackson is the managing editor of SmallGroups.com and ChristianBibleStudies.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKJackson.

June 17, 2013

Habits of the Heart, Part 2

Why Routine Spiritual Practices are Still a Good Idea, Part 2

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I knew, by simple intuition, that it was the voice of God I was hearing. He—who had named light and sky, sun and moon, male and female, the very same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—called my name one hot July day as I stood overlooking a lake in northern Ohio.

Jen.

I was 16—and planning for my prodigal return much later when I would be ripe for domestic life and repentance. And although I’d grown up in a pew and, as a little girl, wondered when my dangling legs would stretch long enough to touch the floor, as a teenager I decided I was growing out of sermons and hymns as if they were crinkled, crayoned Sunday school papers.

What for most people requires the better part of a decade (or at the very least, a four-year university experience), I had managed to accomplish in two short years, between the ages of 14 and 16. At 16, I was not old enough to buy cigarettes, but apparently, I could have regrets free of charge.

Thanks to grace, I attended summer camp with my church youth group and came back to God earlier than projected—at 16 (not 30), on that day God met me on the shores of an Ohio lake. But being warned by camp counselors of the rates of teenage summer camp flash-in-the-pan faith, I took up their challenge of forming two regular spiritual practices for the next six months: I would read my Bible every day for ten minutes and pray for five. (Yes, they quantified communion.) After that time, we all hoped the daily disciplines would have become habit and I’d be on my way to a lifetime of allegiance to Christ.

Perhaps those commitments sound legalistic—I’m sure I kept them for years in that spirit. Perhaps daily disciplines seem to reduce the desire for God into a dry, perfunctory routine. At times, these habits, I admit, have had all the explosive fireworks of a child practicing his math facts.

And although these criticisms may be valid, they do not invalidate the beautiful and nearly invisible process of transformation that was inaugurated in my life when someone commended to me the value of spiritual habits and I took them seriously.

I regret that habit is a kind of cultural dirty word. Our preference for authenticity drives a deep cynicism into practices that seem to be more rote than real. Habit conjures the sense that something is bereft of feeling. But this skepticism misses the very point of spiritual habits: when we practice something regularly, it becomes to us second nature. Habits have the uncanny ability to form the unreflective, subconscious parts of our behavior. Borrowing again from James K. A. Smith’s ideas in Desiring the Kingdom, habits are the “hinge that turns our heart.”

The idea that the transformation of our hearts is cultivated through deliberate habit is a biblical one. For example, in Ephesians 4, Paul challenged the church to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life…Put on your new nature, created to be like God.” But rather than maintain these suggestions in the abstract, Paul invited his readers to new habits of community: “Stop telling lies…If you are a thief, quite stealing…Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful” (Ephesians 4:22-29).

“Virtue…is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices,” suggests N.T. Wright in his book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. “[It] requires effort and concentration to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t come ‘naturally’—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, [it comes] ‘automatically,’ as we say…Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become ‘second nature.’ ”

Choosing truth-telling or practicing self-control in the inconsequential paves the way for honesty and restraint in more critical moments of temptation. These are the habits of Christian character. And spiritual habits—like daily Bible reading and prayer—are at work to subtly re-form our identity as they regularly plunge us into the grand story of God and remind us of our place in it.

Habits, however, aren’t always an easy sell. They stink of inefficiency; we know they are only as valuable as they are incremental and repeatable. I, like many others, would wish for a bigger bang for my buck. I like making spiritual investments today to reap transformation tomorrow. I want to see immediate benefit to my spiritual practices (and there are many more besides the ones I’ve mentioned). But the process of spiritual transformation wriggles out from under my demands of immediacy. Habits, like the hare, win for their commitment to slow and steady.

Ruth Haley Barton said it well in her beautiful and helpful book Sacred Rhythms: “I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God.”

Habits are the conditions of transformation that we create, and our routine spiritual practices are a spiritual access point of the heart. While we may be tempted to hate the drudgery of habit, we are also best reminded that God usually doesn’t arrive in the momentous moments—in the earthquakes and four-alarm fires.

It’s more likely we’ll find him in a whisper.


Jen Pollock Michel writes for Today in the Word, a devotional published by Moody Bible Institute. She is also a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s blog for women, Her.meneutics. In 2014, she is releasing a book with InterVarsity Press about the importance of desire for the life of faith.

June 13, 2013

Habits of the Heart, Part 1

Why routine spiritual practices are still a good idea

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Two years ago, our family traded our suburban conveniences for city life. We moved from our Chicago suburb to Toronto, and I remember all the clumsiness of those first several months, especially when it came to errands as simple as returning library books or getting cash from an ATM. I recall my conspicuously poor attempts at parallel parking and my awkward maneuvering of public transit, all my visible ignorance of parking meters and parking signs. Oh, how I pined for the land of drive-thrus!

It’s been only two years now that we’ve lived in Toronto, but the troubling sense that everything is new and different and that I am awkward and ignorant has finally ceded to a consoling familiarity. I realized this even more distinctly weeks ago, when we were back in the Chicago suburbs visiting friends and family for spring break. I was turning left at a stoplight, and although there was no pedestrian within sight, I inched my car forward with an instinctive slowness, hesitating to turn, waiting for the inconspicuous someone to dart in front of my car.

I guess I’ve learned to drive like a city girl. And although this isn’t something I have consciously practiced or rehearsed (notwithstanding, of course, the scores of times I’ve backed into an impossibly narrow spot in front of my favorite butcher), two years of navigating city streets and Toronto’s brazen pedestrians have formed in me a sensibility about the road that is now instinctive.

Much of our human behavior, it turns out, is subconscious and unreflective. Psychologists are now discovering just how many of our responses are conditioned by habit. It seems that only about 60 percent of the time do we actually think before we act. This should give us pause to consider what models of spiritual formation we propose.

“How many of you have ever asked God to help you love him more?” the pastor asked of the congregants in the church we were visiting.

“That’s not how you should pray,” he continued. “You’d never, for example, ask your husband or your wife to help you to love them more. That’s your job! And likewise, you shouldn’t be asking God to help you to love him more. Instead, you should be praying, ‘God, help me to know more.’ Because the more we get to know God, the more we will automatically love God.”

I agree that knowing God more can inspire a deeper affection for him, yet this isn’t exactly how I’d coach someone in her attempts to pray. A merely cognitive approach to spiritual formation misses—well, the heart of the matter.

Human personhood is bigger than the brain. We are lovers—homo liturgicus, as James K. A. Smith argues in his important book Desiring the Kingdom. Love, as lovers know, is hardly an exclusively rational response to a set of objective data. Love is the stomach’s thrilling, tangled, wobbly, inside-out feeling when your lover walks through the door or looks your way. This isn’t to say, of course, that love is only feeling, but certainly, love exists on more than a cerebral plane of behavior.

To say we are primarily lovers instead of thinkers is to acknowledge that a good deal of our behavior isn’t a result of measured, reflective thought. Much of it is instinctual and visceral. We actually live 40 percent of the time at the level of gut reaction, and the Bible has a word for the gut: kardia. English translators define kardia as either heart or mind, but the Greek word actually means both. It captures a person’s rational and irrational processes, her mental as well as moral activity.

As a consequence of the fall, sinners don’t merely think wrong things and stand in need of better doctrine. Although it is true that we have “[thought] up foolish ideas of what God was like…traded the truth about God for a lie,” (Romans 1:21, 25), our problem isn’t exclusively mental. As Augustine argued, through the fall, we’ve inherited “disordered” loves. We love wrong things, or we love them in the wrong way. Human affection for God and allegiance to God have been supplanted by trifling flings, and the human kardia suffers the effects. “An evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your kardia,” (Luke 6:45).

If we want to make spiritual progress as well as help others to move forward in meeting the demands to love God and neighbor—which, as Scripture argues, are the ultimate human obligations—we’ll need more than doctrinal data transfer. We’ll need transformation at the level of the subconscious and unreflective. We will need to seek change at the level of the gut.

“Create in me a clean kardia, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

To be continued…


Jen Pollock Michel writes for Today in the Word, a devotional published by Moody Bible Institute. She is also a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s blog for women, Her.meneutics. In 2014, she is releasing a book with InterVarsity Press about the importance of desire for the life of faith.

June 10, 2013

Get Thee a Sisterhood—Post Script

Fellowship looks different for introverts and extroverts

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“I see a blind spot in your article.”

Dan, a friend who pastors a church in Rochester, New York, wrote in response to my “Get Thee a Sisterhood” articles posted in March. (Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 2.)

“I do affirm the articles’ primary points: the dangers of isolation, that the distinctive demands of pastoral ministry require support from those who understand those demands, that such support should be intentional, and that, for women, the situation is even more distinctive, requiring that women network together,” he said.

“The blind spot is one of extroverts. The kinds of support you describe highlight groups, describing group interaction as the best way for appropriate support to happen. All that is, to an introvert, discomforting.”

Dan and I have engaged this topic several times. We laugh at the parts that we appreciate and love about one another that are completely opposite. These same parts can drive us crazy. Our differences are beyond simply “female stuff” and “male stuff.” I am an extrovert, and Dan is an introvert. These are two dimensions of personality types, and they are grounded in how a person is energized.

Extroverts, says Psychology Today, comprise 50 to 74 percent of the American population. They are “social butterflies” who draw energy from the environment around them. They thrive on social interaction, enjoy being around people, and often fill their schedules with activities. “Extroverts learn by doing and enjoy talking through ideas and problems.”

Introverts are energized by time alone and silence. People in the remaining 26 to 50 percent of the population tend to be introspective and contemplative. New relationships, loud social occasions, and intense or extended interaction with people drain them. Introverts “prefer to focus on one task at a time and observe a situation before jumping in.”

Anyone in leadership should know whether she is an extrovert or an introvert. If you know how you gain energy, and how you need to go about recharging when you’re depleted, you’ll save yourself and your flock a lot of awkwardness and need for relationship repair. (If you don’t know your personality type, fear not. Your mouse and your finger can help you figure it out. Click here to take a free personality inventory.)

More important, understanding yourself will help you better connect to God. This is crucial because we know that apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5). An extrovert might feel God’s presence strongest on a mission trip, participating in a service project, or attending a revival with 10,000 of her closest friends. Her introverted sister, on the other hand, may crave a personal silent retreat, spiritual direction, or a solitary walk with God through a wooded area.

In regard to clergy/church leader network groups, Dan’s take on them is quite different from mine.

“I've tried clergy groups before. Occasionally, I still attend them,” Dan says. “But they are not fulfilling, encouraging, or life-giving. My introversion finds them depleting, aggravating, and even exhausting.”

Touché.

Perhaps what each pastor, priest, and church leader needs is a balance of both. I am not a raging extrovert. As energized as I am by preaching, volunteering for Vacation Bible School, and leading Sunday school discussions, my soul regularly cries out for quiet time with God—both quality and quantity time. I need hours alone with God, my Bible and journal, a warm cup of tea, and a comfy place to pray and listen to God just as much as any introvert.

Conversely, an introverted friend recently told me that her group of sisters in ministry is vital to her life and fulfillment of her call. “I need safe and genuine friendships too,” she said. Social isolation is not good for anyone. Beyond that, it’s counterintuitive for the Christian faith journey that understands community as our Savior’s body. We function best, for the good of all God’s people and creation, together (1 Corinthians 12).

Extrovert or introvert, clergy or lay church leader, female or male—despite our differences, we share commonalties. And an important one is that we must care well for ourselves. “How can you lead the flock if you are sick?” asks a blog called Your Pastor Voice. “Heal your mind and soul and spirit so you can stand tall in the presence of God!”

Amen to that!


Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served as a solo pastor for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…”. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

June 6, 2013

Just Lead!

A book review

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The book:
Just Lead! A No Whining, No Complaining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church
By Sherry Surratt and Jenni Catron
Published by Jossey-Bass

Why I picked up this book:
I have known both authors for several years now and think the world of them as women and as leaders. I was excited to hear they were partnering to share their wealth of experience and wisdom. I also wanted to read it because there are so few leadership books written by women, and even fewer from a ministry context (like hardly any).

Who should read Just Lead!:
This book is going on my recommended reading list for any woman leading in a ministry context—church or parachurch, staff member or volunteer. I would particularly suggest it to those new to leadership.

What’s in store for you:
Just Lead! delivers just what it promises in the subtitle: a practical guide for women leaders in the church. Sherry and Jenni give step-by-step approaches to leading well during times of growth or challenge (like conflict or organizational change) from their collective lessons learned.

Because of its conversational style and two perspectives, the book is far from a stale list of leadership how-to’s. Just Lead! reads like you’re having coffee with two longtime ministry friends: swapping their personal stories of what worked and what didn’t come close to working. Through special guest stories in most chapters, we also get introduced to several of their leader friends along the way.

With group discussion questions at the end of each chapter, the book is perfect to read with a team or a group of leader friends (like I did). Their easy-reading chapters tackle 11 major leadership issues, including fighting off fear and loneliness as well as dealing with insecurity and conflict.

My personal takeaways:

I was struck by how refreshing it was to read a book about leading in ministry that was written from a female perspective, with a woman’s examples. I especially appreciated their devoting a whole chapter to criticism. After digesting the truths and stories they shared, the discussion question cut right to the core for me: “Do you most fear rejection (criticism of who you are) or failure (criticism of what you do)?” And then the following honest chapter focused on pride and humility—the exact issues I have been struggling with, summed up in Proverbs 11:2: “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

What my book club had to say:

My leader friends thought it was easy to read and recommend this book as a good starting place for deeper conversation about personal leadership growth. But since each of us have well over a decade leading in ministry, we didn’t seem to have as many “aha” moments reading the book as we thought new leaders would have. We mainly found ourselves nodding in agreement with the majority of what was said and being reminded of leadership principles we try to practice.

Perhaps this is why we were most encouraged by the final chapter on investing in the next generation of women leaders. And then collectively convicted by our need for more “challengers” in our lives (as discussed in Chapter 1).

Twitter-worthy quotes:
“You can lead alone or you can lead well.”
“Good leadership is not leading by authority or position, but by inspiration and empowerment.”

Another book I would recommend on this topic:
Gifted to Lead by Nancy Beach

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

June 3, 2013

A Royal Response to Tragedy

The Boston Marathon bombing reminded me what it means to be a daughter of the King

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When I read the Bible, I often feel inspired to leap over the highest mountains. The story of David defeating Goliath, Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus defying the tomb with the resurrection, fill my heart with courage to face any enemy head on.

But then I find myself shaken by news flashes of tragedy, as I did with the news of the Boston Marathon bombing. For a few seconds the scenes seem surreal, like something out of a make-believe movie. And then, like a ton of bricks, I was confronted with the daunting reality that tragedy can strike me, my children, my loved ones any day, any time, and destroy my world.

Years ago, I wanted to build my life on a foundation where I could never be shaken. I found a new identity in the title “daughter of the King” and settled in a secure place of belonging in God’s family tree. But more than just a feel-good title, I longed to put teeth to the concept of being the King's daughter and respond to life accordingly. In every family, there is an expected code of behavior. And so it is with God's family. As his daughter, I am to learn the royal family's code of behavior. I do this by following Scripture that speaks directly to my situation or looking at Bible characters not just as characters, but as my faith siblings. I am to look for parallel situations they went through and learn from their right choices. Every time I respond to life according to Scripture or the right choices of my faith siblings, I assert my identity as the King's daughter in following the royal family's code of behavior.

With regard to the Boston bombing tragedy, what faith sibling in the Bible can I learn from to get through the wrong decisions others make that impact my life? My attention was drawn to my faith brother Moses.

Moses was in such a predicament when he set out to take the children of Israel out of Egypt, only to find the Egyptian army descending upon him. I wanted to learn from Moses’ response to a decision Pharaoh made that was out of Moses’ control. Moses could not control Pharaoh and keep him from changing his mind and coming after God’s people.

Exodus 14:15-16 reads, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground’” (NIV).

What’s interesting to me in these verses was how God showed Moses the solution was something Moses already possessed. God told him to stretch over the sea the staff that was in his hands. Common sense tells me there was nothing magical about stretching a staff over a sea. The power was not in the staff. The only reason the staff had power was because God gave it power.

Whatever God puts in our hands has the power to fulfill what God has called us to do. Our faith then comes in trusting what God has already given us. Our staff may be a talent or our energy or creativity. God has already given us the resourcefulness to solve the problem. So instead of being in a panic, we must stop and look at what’s already in our personal inventory. If we are obeying God as Moses was, and we find ourselves in a crisis inflicted on us by decisions beyond our control, then we must simply ask ourselves, “What is the staff that is already in my hands?” We must begin building with our strengths and go from strength to strength.

As I was thinking about the bomb explosions in Boston, I was especially drawn to the losses of two brothers who were hurt in the bombing. This story touched me more than any other because I have two boys. What would I tell them if they had been the ones hurt in the marathon? My two sons are in their early twenties. They are 19 months apart. They are best friends journeying with each other past the many milestones of their lives. I rejoice to see them so involved with each other as brothers, confidantes, best friends.

My older son has said, “My brother has been there through all the firsts in my life.” Each brother was there through the first time we transferred to a new school, through having a girlfriend, through that first breakup, through getting that first job, through setting up their own residence.
As a mother, when I watch them take off on their adventures, I pray that God will keep them safe. I cringe to think of getting a phone call informing me they’ve been hurt.

It was, therefore, with deep empathy that I read the story about a mother learning that her two sons were hurt in the bombing. The boys were close in age. They had gone to watch the marathon together and as a result of the bombing, both were in the hospital and both would lose their legs. Oh, that they could turn back the clock. Oh, that they would not have been there at the scene.

As a mother, I wrestled with what I would do or say to help my sons get through such a nightmare. And then this thought hit me: They carry their strength inside them. They have a history of journeying together and must use that as their greatest asset. They shared the best of times together and now they will carry each other through the worst of times. That is what I would say to my sons. They would curse, they would get angry, they would wrestle with dreams that must be altered under the circumstances. But they would emerge together. And this is what I pray for the two young men in Boston. That they will draw upon their staff, which is expressed through the strong relationship they have with each other.

As a daughter of the King, I will express the royal family code of behavior by following the right choices of my faith sibling. Moses used the staff that God had put in his hands. And so must I. My staff could be the connections God has already put in my life to find a new job. My staff could be the tenacity God has given me to recover every time I am knocked down. My staff could be a friend God wove into my life years ago but I need to have the boldness to call her up and ask for help. I must trust that if God allowed a situation, he has already prepared me for it.

Though I may still tremble, at least I have a plan for how to proceed as the King’s daughter. My compass is in following the royal family’s code of behavior. And in my choice to act as the King’s daughter, I take back control of my life and fulfill my father’s purpose on earth.

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.

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