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August 29, 2013

Leadership Is Relationship

An interview with Executive Director of Renovaré, Rachel Quan


During college, Rachel Quan’s spiritual journey was shaped by the book Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster’s formative work on the spiritual life. Today Quan serves Renovaré USA—founded by Foster in 1988—as its executive director, bringing with her a wealth of experience from a rich career in church, parachurch, nonprofit, and business leadership. GFL recently spoke with Quan about leadership, spiritual formation, and her Wonderdog, Brooks.

Rachel, tell us about the work of Renovaré (a Latin word meaning “to renew”) and the role you play there.

Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Marti Ensign, Roger Fredrikson, Bill Vaswig, James Bryan Smith, and others had a vision for spiritual renewal and lifelong discipleship to Jesus, and they helped to form the ministry. We believe that the Kingdom of God is here and now and that the abundant life Jesus promised is available to everyone and anyone. We aren’t just waiting for our abundant life in heaven. We can really live into that abundant life now. Our passion as a ministry is helping people become more like Jesus. People who desire to become more like Jesus have an impact on the world they live in.

“Executive director” is just a fancy title for doing whatever it is that needs to be done to continue to promote the vision and mission of the ministry. I see my key role as one of team builder—bringing the team together that takes the message with them wherever they go. We have an incredible board, ministry team, and staff who write, speak, and share the work. They are from all walks of life, different denominational traditions, and various ages. We aren’t about one personality doing all of the writing and speaking. Richard was the one who started this—always bringing along new leadership with him wherever Renovaré was invited. We continue that to this day.

How did God gift and prepare you for your work with Renovaré?

First of all, I have had incredible mentors and friends in ministry and the marketplace, who have loved me enough to encourage the gifts they’ve seen in me, or have held me accountable for the areas I’ve needed to grow in. And I have to say that failure was one of the key components to preparing me for the work of ministry. The difficult part about failure is often the ache in my soul as I’ve learned lessons the hard way. The best part about failure has been what I’ve learned and hopefully applied. Another positive aspect has become the folks I mentioned earlier—who walked with me and loved me in spite of my failures. Those relationships continue to this day. I don’t think I’ll ever “arrive” as far as being fully prepared for my work. I’m consistently learning, growing, and making course corrections.

I will say that I feel like my history of working both in ministry and in the marketplace have been gifts given to me. Experiencing and leading in both of these worlds has been important and I’ve drawn a lot on those experiences. Whether I’ve been in official “ministry” or in the marketplace, I’ve always led from my relationship with Christ (sometimes well and sometimes not so well). There is often a misperception out there that somehow there’s a distinction between the spiritual leader and the business leader. One is always a spiritual leader no matter the setting, and that’s been important for me to remember and apply. It’s also important for me to communicate that to others. Being a lifelong disciple of Jesus doesn’t entail living our lives in silos—“now this is my spiritual life and over here is my work life.” All of it is spiritual. I am grateful for the myriad of people in my life who have fostered this view in me.

Rachel, you’ve mentioned the importance of relationships in achieving goals and accomplishing objectives. Say some more about this.

Life is all about relationship. And I would venture to say we can’t accomplish much without one another. One of my mentors early in life was a pastor named Vicky Jones. She once told me that a good leader was often seen behind the scenes, encouraging the gift of leadership in others, discipling them in their gifts, and putting them up front. Her exact words on this particular topic were, “The less people see of you up front, the better.” She didn’t mean I didn’t sometimes have a role to play by speaking or leading up front. Sometimes that’s needed. But if I am able to see in others their God-given gifts and encourage them to use them in the ministry, I am multiplying the ministry’s effect. The ministry doesn’t just stay with me. It doesn’t even depend on just me. Oftentimes the danger of being personality-driven is that when that person is no longer around, the message is gone with them.

So my job is to find as many people as I can, build relationships with them, and encourage them in their gifts. And, boy, getting to see the multiplying effect in that regard is such a gift for me! There was a small group of women I invested in early in my leadership days—about 14 years ago. I poured as much as I could into them and am blown away by what I see some of them doing today.

Relationship really is everything. I had a saying with one of my old marketplace partners, Brent Walla: “Honor relationship first and God will take care of the rest.” That was our philosophy in business and it was very true. It’s still my philosophy in ministry. When we honor relationship first, God really does take care of all of the things we need.

How is it that you lead others in the process of spiritual formation?

Wow. That’s quite a daunting thing to think about. This goes back to the whole leadership and relationship question. Spiritual formation isn’t about “leadership” in the top-down sense of the word. Dallas Willard liked to say that spiritual formation is about living our lives today as if Jesus were living our lives. And Jesus wasn’t top-down in his approach. He just genuinely lived life with people and loved people and walked with people. My hope is that that is what I am doing. I am sure some days I am better at this than other days.

Why is spiritual formation so important in the life of a leader?

I just got to spend some significant time with Bob and Alice Fryling recently, and Bob and I had a lot of conversation about this. His book on spiritual formation and leadership, The Leadership Ellipse, was something I studied with a small group last year. The book and just knowing Bob have been such encouragements when it comes to understanding spiritual formation in the life of a leader.

Spiritual formation for leaders is everything. If our inner and outer lives aren’t in sync, I truly believe we are not able to be good leaders. If our own souls are not being taken care of, we start to run on our own strength, out of our own ego’s needs. I’ve been there. And some days I revert back to that when I have failed to care for my own soul, when I’ve ignored my own formation. The joke in my house (which is not really a joke) is that if I am going to lead an organization that is all about the balanced, with-God life, then perhaps I ought to have one. And the Renovaré board and ministry team are consistently calling me to pay attention to this. I’m grateful for their promptings, and for the room they give me to ensure that my inner life is taken care of so that I can be an effective leader for the ministry.

However, it’s more than just about the ministry. I cannot be a good friend, daughter, wife, or mother without having my inner life and outer life in sync. I might be the leader of a ministry, but far greater is the impact I have with the people I live life intimately with. They’re the ones who can really tell you whether I’m leaning into my relationship with Jesus or not.

And I think the question on a lot of readers’ minds is this: Who is Brooks, and what makes her a “wonder-dog”?

Pets are good for the soul! Our “Wonder-dog” was found eating rocks from a dumpster on a movie set in Louisiana. She was just a puppy and so skinny you could see all of her ribs. The crew from the movie (my sister among them) adopted her, paid for her first round of shots, and gave her her own dressing room on the movie set. Brooks is a real-life example to us of our own redemption, and we marvel and wonder at that. Something about knowing where and how she was found and how great her life is now inspires everyone in our little family. So that’s why we call her the “wonder-dog!”

Margot Starbuck is a frequent contributor and editorial advisor to Gifted for Leadership, an author, a speaker, and a volunteer among friends with disabilities. Her most recent book is Permission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously among Sinners and Saints. More at

August 26, 2013

Church Leader: Unplugged

Just put down your phone and walk away


Shunda shares the pastorate of a mid-size church in upstate New York. Her responsibilities span preaching, the youth group, evangelism, and community activism. A multi-talented single woman (she sings, plays guitar, writes, and even paints from time to time), Shunda works unending hours.

Maybe it’s because she loves her sheep. Maybe it’s because people contact her, rather than her married colleague, during “off peak” hours. Maybe it’s because she’s a night owl. Maybe it’s a combination.

Like many church leaders, Shunda “sabbaths” on a weekday. She and I chatted online one afternoon on her sabbath day. At one point her response rate went from immediate to delayed.

“Sorry,” she typed after about 10 or so minutes passed. (This is an eternity on instant messaging.) “My social media is blowing up. A couple of peeps are poking me on Facebook, and another person is texting me—all about church stuff. Don’t they know it’s my day off?”

“Perhaps you might consider silencing or turning off your phone? Ignoring Facebook messages?” I returned.

“Hmm...” was her vague, and likely snarky, reply.

Filmmaker Alex Moore of the Official Saturday Night Live YouTube Channel fame recently released a documentary on how social media has changed the world. Scott Ross, one of the interviewees, described social media as a “machine that just sits there.”

“People have a habit, I think nowadays, of talking through these machines almost 24 hours a day,” Ross says. “They’ve got mobile phones switched on all of the time, talking to friends. And I think in a way that is difficult because it means they can’t ever get away from people” (emphasis added).

Constant chatter, information, updates, pop-ups, and notification dings demand our attention. (Squirrel!) Ubiquitous Wi-Fi and hotspots ensure connection to anyone, anywhere, even when we’re (supposed to be) on vacation. Smartphones, laptop computers, and tablets keep us in the know when we’re on the go. We’re always a mere click or send-button away from touching people and being touched by them. The hamster wheel never stops spinning.

Hyper-connection is a recipe for burnout, at best.

Everybody needs a break from people and the “machine,” church leaders included. Jesus himself withdrew at times. Lest we not forget, it “was his custom,” as Scripture relates, for him to remove himself to pray: in a solitary place (Mark 1:35), in the wilderness (Luke 5:16), on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39), on a mountain (Matthew 14:23), and of course, in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36).

Retreat and reprieve are necessary, counterbalancing aspects of a busy life. In today’s noisy and fast-paced world of the 24/7 news cycle, global community, and unbroken connectivity, we need more than Calgon to take us away. Something strong enough to tear us away from screens that beckon us when we’re not looking and suck us in when we are.


Cold turkey, if you must.

Unplugging—it’s the twenty-first century’s addition to the generations-old tradition of spiritual disciplines.

The purpose of spiritual disciplines is to draw believers near to God. Practices such as prayer, meditation, fasting, journaling, mutual abstinence from sex, silence, and Scripture reading have been a part of the Judeo-Christian faith life for hundreds of years. Aptly named, they do not come easy to us comfort-seeking creatures of habit. Spiritual disciplines require the Holy Spirit’s edification, personal commitment, and a willingness to accept responsibility and return to our course when we stray from our chosen discipline’s path.

Ceaseless stimulation threatens vivacity. Spiritual disciplines are the elixir of life for parched souls in need of attention and care.

What prevents us from unplugging?

As a rule, evangelicals tend to shy away from mystic practices and experiences, says Rachel Held Evans in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. They “can feel a bit too passive and introspective for our activist-driven, free-for-all religious sensibilities.”

And yet it was exactly a spiritual discipline, silence, that helped this vociferous sister encounter “Something much bigger” than herself, Something that assured her that everything would be okay if she could just quiet herself and quit trying so hard.

Held Evans was on a retreat at an abbey, by the way, when Something spoke to her through the silence. The lack of Wi-Fi precluded her temporary exile from her readers, who are about as connected to Held Evans as Internet acquaintances can be to a person, and vice versa.

“In the silence, I had found a reservoir of strength that, if I could just learn to draw from it, could make my words weightier. In silence, it seemed, I had finally found my voice.”

Hyper-connected minister, heal thyself from social media-related frenzy. Unplug, draw near to the Lord, and God will draw near to you.

Inside this new love, die. Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like somebody suddenly born into color.
Do it now. You’re covered with thick cloud. Slide out the side.
Die, and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running from silence.
The speechless full moon comes out now.
—“Quietness” by Rumi

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.

August 21, 2013

What Are We Teaching Our Young Women?

The church needs to Lean In to the conversation concerning marriage and singleness


The Internet is ablaze with discussions surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s national bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Early in the book she addresses age-old conversations surrounding women and their choices concerning work and their relationships. She writes, “I was twenty-four and convinced that marriage was the first—and necessary—step to a happy and productive life.” Like so many women, she “was encouraged to prioritize marriage over having a career.”

As I read those words and considered my observations in the American church, I wondered, “Are we really having a marriage versus career conversation with our young women?” And if so, is that the conversation we should be having with young women right now?

According to Sandberg, “Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and careers. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they’ll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as “work-life balance”—as if the two were diametrically opposed—practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?”

Yet the fact still remains that many Christian women—married and unmarried, young and mature, mothers and women who do not have children—are working. Many of them are working out of necessary and can’t afford the luxury of the work-life debate, which makes me think, “When Christians talk about women who work, are we simply having a conversation about marriage versus career, or are we also having a conversation about marriage versus singleness?” Considering our context effectively changes the whole dynamic of the conversation.

In some Christian circles, the first consideration of marriage versus career views a woman’s choice of having a career as selfish, particularly if she has small children. She has chosen her work over a “real” (some may say “godly”) life. On the other hand, the second consideration—marriage versus singleness, is really a conversation about God, Christian values, and how we view our relationships (beginning with the family).

Think about it…What counsel and direction is the American church providing for young single women in today’s culture? Are we expecting them to graduate high school or college and then make finding a partner and having children their number one priority? And what if a young woman’s prince doesn’t arrive right away? What if he never shows up? What should she do during her “season of waiting”? What if she can’t have children? What advice do we give her then? I hope she works, and accepts that responsibility joyfully and graciously as a beautiful gift from God.

The Apostle Paul affirms singleness as a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7) and concludes that singleness gives a person freedom for godly pursuits without the distraction and concern for having to please a spouse (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). I believe we should be honest with ourselves and each other and confess that in far too many American churches today, we still value marriage over singleness, and that has a large effect on how we minister to or ignore the single or “career” women in our churches.

We focus and minister out of what we value. But as women leaders in the church, we need to ask these questions: Are we meeting the needs of all women in our churches? What messages are we communicating (verbally and nonverbally) to the single women in our churches? How are we equipping and preparing women to live out the gospel and shine God’s light beyond their homes and local congregations? How are we helping women develop a Christian worldview that stands up to the tests and challenges of our current culture?

I understand that the debate concerning marriage and singleness is not a new issue in the church. Throughout church history, Christians have wavered from extreme asceticism to holding marriage persons in higher esteem than single persons. The difference between now and the generations of old is that we are losing a generation of Millennials from the church. Therefore, as leaders in the church we need to intentionally Lean In to the conversation about marriage and singleness and create healthy environments for single and/or career women to minister and be ministered to in the church.

Start here by evaluating the lay of your land and asking some hard questions:

1. By all means, don’t isolate single or career women like exotic animals we view at the zoo. There is no need to create a new ministry for this “special” group of women.

2. On the other hand, do give them opportunities to fellowship and connect with other like-minded women. Women should be able to connect in our churches in safe communities where they are not feeling pressure, shame, or guilt to get married or have a baby.

3. Take a look at your ministry setup and consider whether your current ministry options are inclusive of women in all walks of life. See what tweaks can be made to your current ministry offering. Carefully consider the messages in the ministry resources you currently use. Ask the question, How would a single or infertile woman read or receive this material? One of the blessings of our Women’s Mentoring Ministry is each of the small groups is diversified across generations and across personal and professional pursuits. Our individual uniqueness is what allows us to contribute to the church and bless others.

4. Get back to the basics and get creative. One of the many things the young generation needs right now is the ability to think, develop a Christian worldview, and make right decisions so they can effectively respond in word and action to the pressures they face once they leave the church building. Consider: How effectively are we preparing these young people to face the world? Would it be wrong for a church to host a Lean In small-group discussion? Or challenge our young people to learn and lead and use their passions and giftedness to serve the church? How intentional and effective are you in discipling single or career women?

I believe now is the time for the church to Lean In to the conversation concerning marriage and singleness, discuss the nature of our work and relationships, and equip women for their various choices in living out their creative calling. What do you think?

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 for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

August 19, 2013

A Guide to Addressing Fear

The first step is choosing to face it


When we feel fear, God understands, because he's the one who made us that way. In many ways, that first response is involuntary. He designed our minds that way so we could react quickly in dangerous situations without being slowed down by the rational thought process, which takes much longer.

Surprise: fear is not a sin—it's a gift.

All throughout Scripture God does talk to his people about fear. As I dug into those verses, two primary phrases appeared. God says, "Do not fear" or "Do not be afraid" almost one hundred times. That may make it seem like fear is a sin. But if you look closely, those phrases are almost always in contexts where the audience God is addressing is already feeling fear.

"Do not be afraid" appears more than any other place in the story of the Israelites going to the Promised Land. God says, "Do not be afraid," and then he gives instructions about what to do next—commands, like going into battle, that he knows will cause even more fear to spring up. In essence, he's telling his people, like a father would tell his kids when they're scared in the dark or about to jump off the high dive for the first time, "Don't be afraid. Go ahead and jump. It will be okay."

I love that the word be is in that phrase. God doesn't say, "Don't feel fear." Because he made us, he understands that would be impossible. Instead he says, "Don't be afraid." In other words, don't live in fear or make it part of your identity.

You will feel fear. More than once. But you don't have to live in fear. You don't have to make that Chihuahua your pet and carry it around in your bag like a socialite. You don't have to pet it, give it treats, and let it sleep in your bed at night.

I mentioned before that fear is a response from the area of our brains called the amygdala that bypasses our rational thought. But after that first surge, the other parts of our brain do kick in, and that's when we have a decision to make.

Our amygdala says, "Ack! A threat! Fear alert!"

Then the rest of our brain starts searching for evidence to support or disprove that initial response. Is the monster we thought we saw in our closet actually the vacuum cleaner? Is the loud noise that sounded like a gunshot actually just a car backfiring?

With examples like those above, it's easy to shoo away the fear with physical evidence. But when it comes to the heart, it becomes much harder. Because most of the time there isn't a black-and-white answer to that fear. We have to respond by faith.

One of my pastors, Matt Newman, likes to say, "When David saw how big Goliath was, he could say either, 'He's too big for me to ever win' or 'He's too big for me to miss—and my God is even bigger.'"

Pick the first option and fear takes over, David runs for the hills, and history changes forever. Pick the second and you get a boy with a slingshot who chooses to stand boldly in faith and goes on to become the most well-known king of Israel.

This is the place where we get to choose obedience or rebellion. It's a myth that all fear is sin, but it's quite true that fear can lead us into sin. We can say no to what God asks of us. We can listen to the lies more than the truth. We can compromise our calling.

Most of us already know that's true. So we say, "Hey, fear might get me in trouble. So I'll avoid anything that makes me afraid." But saying that is a bit like saying, "Hey, water is kind of dangerous—I could drown—so I'll just never go near any kind of water." A better solution? Learn to swim.

The same is true of fear. And unlike avoiding water, which you possibly could do, getting around situations that make you feel afraid is impossible in this life. The cost of doing so is also much too high. If you decide never to feel fear, then in essence you are saying you will not complete God's purpose for your life, because doing so always involves fear in some way. The first step to overcoming fear is to stop avoiding it. If avoidance is your only plan, the Chihuahua of fear will chase you down the street and nip at your heels forever. You will spend all your time and energy trying to escape fear when you could be using it to pursue your dreams instead. Stop and face the fear. Say, "Yes, I'm afraid. But fear isn't going to kill me. It's not even going to maim me. Fear has no power in my life. It's all bark and no bite. I'm going to move forward in faith. Fear may come my way, but I am not going to let it control me."

Adapted from You're Made for a God-Sized Dream. Copyright 2013 by Holley Gerth. Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Holley Gerth has just released a companion devotional, Opening the Door to a God-Sized Dream.

August 15, 2013

Let’s Take Leadership Seriously

God does not require less from women


In John C. Maxwell’s book Developing the Leader Within You, he explains that the majority of people believe being a leader is a position or title. Most often we strive for a title or status and believe that once we achieve the particular status, we become leaders. He goes on to challenge readers by asking what type of leaders they are. Hitler was a leader. Jim Jones was also a leader.

My first few years as a new believer were extremely difficult, and since then I have worked hard to become the leader that God wants me to be. The road I traveled in developing my leadership skills was fraught with uncertainty and dismay. After a year at my church, as a fairly new believer, I was asked to assume a leadership role in the women’s ministry. As you can imagine, I was thrilled. I knew that God had called me into ministry, so I believed I had “arrived.” However, it was not the arrival that I had anticipated. I was totally unprepared for the high school-like, drama-filled atmosphere that defined much of the leadership functioning in the women’s ministry.

In the megachurch that I attended, I saw hundreds of hurting people, and many among them were the women we were supposed to be serving. Witnessing the pain and need around me, I had no idea why I, as a new believer, had been asked to lead in such a large role. I could have understood it more if I had been asked and then properly trained to serve. At that time, I brought good intentions and willingness to serve, but little else in the way of training.

Unfortunately, my experience represents normal procedure in a lot of churches. Women’s ministry is marginalized and viewed as a social function rather than a vehicle to reach out to the hurting women in our communities and to train future leaders. During my first year in women’s ministry leadership, I spent a lot of time in planning meetings and not once was a woman’s salvation brought up. We never discussed who accepted the Lord each month. We never discussed who followed up with the women who did accept Jesus. We never discussed how to implement more activities to help women thrive as they began a new journey with Christ. We did, however, discuss how we could add more programs. We did discuss who was not acting in a loving way toward other women inside the body. We never prayed for the women who we “judged” as not being loving; we simply criticized them. In retrospect, the process was much like some of my high school pep club experiences. We quickly dismissed substantive topics to move on to the “juicier topics” that involved gossip, judgment, and criticism.

This first year in leadership caused me to rethink and explore the role of leadership in the women’s ministry. How do we recognize a leader? A true leader in the women’s ministry is a person of positive influence. We are called into leadership to be the hands and feet of Jesus, not to fulfill our personal agendas. Nor are we tasked with creating simple social outlets for the women in our congregations. We have a far greater responsibility to the women we serve. The living God requires no less from women than from men, and he expects women to be given the same tools to lead to their salvation.

I became so frustrated and disenchanted with what I perceived to be my failure as a leader that I removed myself from that role. However, I could not get beyond the feeling that God had called and I had not responded as he expected.

A few years later, my family relocated to a new church. It had been several years since I had served in women’s ministry. Without realizing it, I had lost the passion God gave me to serve. Unfortunately, I looked at my failure in serving as a reflection on myself when in reality, it was more a reflection on not having proper training. When I was a child, my grandmother would often say, “God gave man tools and skills so that man could build strong structures.”

The memory of my grandmother’s saying was brought back to me on a Sunday morning at my new church, when I heard an announcement that the fall session of a leadership training program called “Timothy” was about to begin. This 12-week program prepares men and women to serve in whatever capacity the Lord leads them. Only 6 people would be chosen to participate. I submitted my application and was one of the people chosen. During the 12 weeks, we read 12 different books on leadership, prayer, spiritual warfare, and being an armor bearer. We had to write a paper on each book, attended classes with the senior pastor each week, and were allowed only two excused absences.

After completing the leadership program, I understood what being a leader for God was about and I was excited again to be on this journey with him. Finally, I realized that when God calls us to serve we must answer, “Yes, Lord, I will make myself ready and worthy by using the tools and skills that you have provided.” Soon after the “Timothy” program, I began to serve on the hospitality team at church. I love being one of the first smiling faces people see as they come into the house of the Lord. In addition, I assumed a board position on the Christian homeschool group our family belongs to. I am eager and excited as I put my new training into practice.

Becoming an effective leader requires more than good intentions and the willingness to serve; it requires proper training and preparation. We owe it to God, ourselves, our communities, and those hurting in our churches to be well-trained for kingdom work.

As women, it is important that we are serious about our leadership roles. It is very easy to get caught up in popularity, and when that happens we have lost complete focus on God and what he has called us to do. Additionally, to be effective in women’s ministry it is necessary to understand that women are not the secondary or cheering section of the congregation. We are not simply to be relegated to roles as ushers, hostesses for teas, and sponsors for congregational social gatherings. Instead, as we serve in these areas, we should understand that we are a vital part of the church body and we need to be grounded and informed in the tenets of our faith and committed to actions and behaviors that lead us to our Lord and Savior.

In my new church home, I have seen God move when there is total and complete unity inside the body. Preparation and training have given us a unity of purpose and a common direction. The women in the ministry are using newly acquired skills to heal, deliver, and save. We recognized that our answer to God’s call was in the proper preparation and training necessary to do his work. If successful, we can do just as Jesus told his disciples: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Saleama A. Ruvalcaba is a wife and mother of four. She is a home educator and Bible student working toward a degree in Theological Studies at The King’s University. Saleama is an avid reader and enjoys her calling as an author, writing as the Lord leads her. She and her husband, Omar, enjoy spending their free time on family outings. They make their home in Memphis, TN, and attend Cathedral of Praise Church in Cordova, TN. You can follower her on Twitter and Facebook.

August 12, 2013

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

A book review


Why I picked up this book:

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for several reasons: 1) I had seen Sheryl’s TED Talk on why there are so few women leading and resonated with her message and style. 2) As the COO of Facebook, Sheryl consistently makes the “lists.” You know, like the Forbes and TIME “most powerful” and “most influential” lists they create each year. 3) There still aren’t a lot of leadership books written by women at this level of leadership telling not only personal stories but also leadership lessons.

Who should read Lean In:

Every leader should read this book. Men leaders should read this book for the leadership advice (it crosses gender lines) and the glimpse of what life is like for women leaders around them. Women leaders should read Lean In because Sheryl is a voice influencing change on our behalf.

What’s in store for you:

Lean In provides extensive research, experienced recommendations, and examples from real-life. Sheryl Sandberg’s writing style is like a well-educated, well-traveled cousin (not quite as intimate as an older sister). The book presents one challenge after another, so don’t expect a tell-all memoir you can put on your bookshelf and ignore when you’re done. Expect to wrestle.

Sandberg tackles some of the issues behind why women aren’t leading, like “the ambition gap” and the cultural norms we have learned and adapted (Chapter 2). She also devoted entire chapters to taking different approaches to our careers (Chapter 4: It’s a Jungle Gym Not a Ladder), mentoring (Chapter 5), and communication (Chapter 6: Seek and Speak Your Truth).

What I was most surprised by was the extensive content devoted to parenting and partnering with your spouse. I don’t know of another leadership book since the classic Choosing to Cheat, by Andy Stanley, that is as explicit about the struggle of juggling all the roles. That being said, Sandberg does not address aspects like spiritual, physical, and emotional health in leadership life and how these play into bringing your whole self to the table. She also does not offer quick and easy lists to becoming a C-suite leader: she is direct in her advice but nuanced in its application.

With discussion questions at the end of the book, you will be well equipped to have a meaningful dialogue with a team or a group of leader friends (like I did).

My personal takeaways:

When I consider the obstacles women face in secular leadership arenas, it seems a little absurd given that it’s 2013. When I add on the barriers women face in Christian leadership, like theological limitations to opportunities or gender roles in marriage, it goes beyond absurd to discouraging. Add on the fact that I live in the equivalent of the buckle of the Southern Bible belt, with all of its culturally appropriate behaviors, and I get really fired up.

The book fueled my passion for empowering Christian women leaders to lead in a ministry context. I was convicted to tell more of my story—to be honest with others about my leadership experiences in hopes that they will be encouraged and equipped to lead and pastor others. I also want to help redefine success for women leaders: as Sheryl wrote, it’s not about getting to the top of the ladder. I think it’s about leaning in to who God is creating us to be and leading with that woman in mind.

What my book club had to say:

Lean In led to some passionate discussion for an early Saturday morning. We felt the book affirmed our leadership gifts and goals in so many ways. This assertion from the book really struck us: “Staying quiet and fitting in may have been all the first generations of women who entered corporate America could do; in some cases it might still be.” If you replaced “corporate America” with “ministry,” this statement would still be true. Our group is lucky—we all have served in churches or ministries that valued our gifts and invited our voices. But we know the reality is our experience is still the minority when it comes to women leading in ministry.

Sheryl’s words challenged us to lead even more intentionally—to leverage our influence and prepare a better experience for the women behind us. We each asked what this would look like for us. For one, it was to be more visible—to put her name in the hat and not wait on someone to call on her. For another friend, her takeaway was to continue to speak up and challenge senior leadership. Just like the women leading before us, we must continue to take on the “firsts” in our leadership context so women in leadership roles behind us will move from being the exception to the expectation.

Twitter-worthy quotes:
“When negotiating, think personally, act communally.”
“Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.”
“Done is better than perfect.”

Other books I would recommend along these lines:
Tough Choices by Carly Fiorina
No Higher Honor by Condoleezza Rice

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 .

August 8, 2013

When Clergy Fashion Goes Wrong

“The Mysterious Third Nipple” and other horror stories


At a recent ministry event, I seized an opportunity to test out my favorite new party trick among clergywomen.

“I’m just curious,” I queried, “if anyone has had a professional wardrobe malfunction…”

Though the term was officially coined by TV execs in the wake of the 2004 Super Bowl fiasco, as an attempt to explain Janet Jackson’s accidental exposure, clergywomen have been well acquainted with other variations of the common malady for…ever.

I’d long suspected these stories were out there, based only on my own fashion debacles: the inch of wrapped tampon sticking out of the breast pocket of a dark denim jacket before a college chapel service; catching a weighty falling gold earring, with my catlike reflexes, during a Scripture reading; chucking an unwieldy red headband under the pulpit mid-sermon; and, of course, terrifying innocent worshipers by swooping into the women’s restroom robed like Darth Vader.

When my colleagues chimed in with their own stories, however, Vader-gate suddenly seemed like a fun day at the Super Bowl.

One denominational executive offered, “The crotch of my hose had slid down to my knees, so I had to waddle out to the communion table like a penguin.”

The Penguin received a round of knowing nods.

“While I was preaching,” another offered, “my pantyhose had fallen all the way to my ankles.”

Now it was getting fun.

“I kept preaching, slipped off my shoes, wiggled out of the hose, and put my shoes back on. Then I realized the choir was behind me and saw the whole thing.”

These vignettes only confirmed my long-held suspicion that pantyhose are of the devil.

Being Great With Child

The women who had been pregnant pastors sounded like the most miserable among all women. Yes, it’s heartwarming for your prego clergyperson to read Mary’s Magnificat while dressed in a tent—or robe…whatever they’re calling it these days—but Mary didn’t have to deal with something I’m discovering are called “pulpit shoes.” While my preferred pulpit shoes would be red Converse high tops, my fashionable diva friends seem to wear sleek stylish heels to deliver the Word.

If you can believe it, bloated pregnant women no longer fit into these death traps.

One, confident her duties would keep her behind the reliably obscuring pulpit, wore fuzzy pink bunny slippers in worship. Her secret was safe until she walked down the aisle.

Another expectant pastor, who keeps her “pulpit shoes” tucked in her office closet, found that—like Cinderella’s devious stepsisters—she could no longer squeeze her fat sausage-feet into them. (These “pulpit shoes” sound, to my ear, as horrible as walking around on…glass. Really, Cinderella?) In a pinch, she was forced to preach in flip-flops. Thankfully, they were a nice liturgical black.

When one woman was, like, 27 months pregnant, she was providing pastoral care at a Catholic hospital. At five feet high, and just as wide, she wore a white-tabbed clerical shirt. One unsuspecting older gentleman glanced up from his sickbed and, without thinking, greeted her, “Hello, father.”

This one, technically not a wardrobe malfunction, actually did afford her an accidental respect of authority.

X-Rated Ministry

Laura—name changed to protect ministerial standing—typically wore a thick black robe, in a church she describes as “super-formal.” No air-conditioning. In Michigan. In July.

I think you can see where this is heading.

After one summer wedding where, bending over bride and groom, she’d poured sweat all over them and their shiny new rings, Laura was fed up. At the following week’s nuptials, she was prepared with a plan.

With a happy glimmer in her eye, Laura explained to us, “I wore my panties and just my robe.”

Awesome, right?!

The multi-staff church was so formal, there were actually regulations about how and where to hide the base of the cordless microphone.

Laura, awkwardly clipping hers to the fabric of her robe, simply assured the concerned senior pastor, “Just trust me. It’s not going to work today.”

After she shared with our group, one baffled colleague queried, “Didn’t you have that class in seminary where they suggested you always have a collar peeking out of the robe, because men imagine you’re wearing nothing under there, anyway?”

The round of silence and horrified looks suggested that none of us had taken that weird class.

The Clergywoman’s Archnemesis

Truly, so much of clergywomen’s agony does come from (cue horror soundtrack) the dreaded cordless microphone.

Once, unrobed, I glanced down and wondered why I had a third nipple. Daring to squeeze it, I realized that the mic’s foam cover had migrated down my shirt and taken up residence near legitimate Nipple 2. Case solved.

The bigger hassle, as Laura discovered, really is where to clip these things on Lady-Clothes.

One innovative dress-wearing clergywoman, without a place to clip hers, simply removed her pantyhose (on purpose), tied them around her waist, and clipped her mic to them.

Genius, right? Kill two annoying birds with one stone.

Though the solution was a success, she’d forgotten about it by the time worship had ended, and she dropped the mic on her desk and hung up her robe.

While she was mingling in the fellowship hall, her daughter whispered, “Mom…mom…”

Engaged in ministry, the mother ignored her.

More insistently, the daughter hissed, “Mom! Mom!”

This went on for awhile before the mother scolded, “Hush, child, I’m talking!” (#southernmama)

By that time, the daughter was happy enough to huff off with a “Fine! But I’m not the one wearing pantyhose around my waist!”

That had to have been a little satisfying.

My Dream

I actually have this fantasy about appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch an innovative new line of clothing for clergywomen.

Proposed line includes the following:

• Sturdy lapel, to secure microphone. There’s a reason they don’t call them brassiere microphones. (Note to self: The Brassiere Microphone.)
• Pants with belt loops, belt, and pockets, to secure the lapel microphone’s heavy black box.
• Discreet inner pockets to stash manuscript, breath mints, loose change for fifth-grade bake sale, etc.
• Socks and comfortable walking shoes
• No pantyhose

Spoiler alert: My innovative new clothing line for clergywomen is called MAN CLOTHES.

Margot wants to hear your stories! Yes, she wants to know if anyone in your congregation has ever stroked your hair and cooed, “I love that you wear your hair back. I wish my granddaughter would.” And she also wants to hear about the liturgical banner that fell on the organist, the denominational meeting gone awry, and the Sunday you ran out of bread before you finished serving communion. If she likes your story, she’ll feature it in an upcoming post.

Send your horror stories to Margot at this address:

Margot Starbuck is the author of the recently released Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor. More at

August 5, 2013

It’s Time for the Church to Speak against Injustice toward Our Youth

An interview with Dr. Kimberlee Johnson, minister and director of the Center for Urban Youth Development at Eastern University


“Where were you when the lights went out?”

That’s the question that resonated in my heart as I considered the plight of so many minority and underprivileged youth in our country. Every day, our American youth are being destroyed because of a lack of education, lack of boundaries, lack of leadership, lack of support, all of which leads to a lack of hope. Often these hopeless children are drawn to a life of crime, violence, and gang activity. For them, the lights have gone out.

And what about us? What about all the Christians who stand idly by and do nothing because we are busy, have our own lives and responsibilities? After all, we take care of our own kids. Those children over there are not our problem. To justify our lack of compassion, we lash out against poor parenting, failing schools, broken systematic structures, and government programs; there is more than enough blame to go around. We point to everyone else’s sins but our own. We don’t ask the question “What can I do?”

Edmund Burke once wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” When we do nothing about the injustices facing our youth, sin triumphs and the devil wins. I am thankful that Dr. Kimberlee Johnson has taken the time to share her action plans and present a challenge to the church about what we can do to support our struggling youth.

Dr. Johnson, can you please take a few minutes to tell us about yourself and your ministry?

I am an associate minister at Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. I am the first woman to be licensed and ordained there, and that was after a 130-some-year history. I also serve at Eastern University; I’m on the faculty. I chair the Urban Studies Department, and I direct our Center for Urban Youth Development. Through that Center for Urban Youth Development, we sponsor the O, YES! Conference, Our Youth Enlightened about Sex, which is a Christian conference for middle school and high school students about topics related to sex, sexuality, and relationships. Additionally, I have a passion for juvenile justice.

Thank you for pursuing justice and supporting people in your local church and community. Your life is an encouragement to all of us to simply do what we can with the passions, gifts, and resources God has given us. Given your expertise, what is the church’s role, both individually and collectively, to bring reform to the juvenile justice system?

First of all, the church needs to be awakened to the issues involving juvenile justice. I think a lot of Christians, particularly those in poor, minority, or urban communities, recognize that there are people around us who are going to jail all the time, but we’re not able to understand the cause of this present reality.

There are a lot of injustices that account for why so many young people are ending up in prison and why so many of those young people are getting pretty lengthy sentences. So I think the first thing that the church can do is become educated about those issues and once that happens, there are certain things churches could do to become part of the solution.

I always direct people to partner with others who are already on the ground, doing things well, so you don’t have to re-create the wheel. Churches can align themselves with organizations like the Campaign for Youth Justice or Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

I’ve noticed that some churches address incarceration issues with preaching; we will host worship services or Bible studies. That’s charitable and helpful to people who are incarcerated, but it doesn’t address the causes for incarceration. Churches can be proactive by educating themselves on the issues and making strategic alliances. In this way, churches become more aware of policy issues and can advocate by putting pressure on politicians to bring changes to our laws. Churches can take an active role in helping poor people to get legal representation. Anyone who doesn’t have access to a private attorney is more likely to be convicted and more likely to get a long sentence.

You just addressed several critical issues. Please educate us: What are two or three specific reasons youth are unjustly treated by the justice system?

One would be transfer laws. There are three ways a young person can end up being tried in an adult court as opposed to a juvenile court. If they are transferred from a juvenile court to an adult court, their outcomes will likely be different. A judge or prosecutor can make this critical decision. On the other hand, there can be a law on the books in your state which says, “If this child commits a particular crime they will automatically be transferred to an adult court.” That’s a very serious issue. A lot of times, when young people are certified or transferred by a judge from one court to another, they end up with a public defender that may not bother to go through the process of decertification (or getting the case taken back to the juvenile court). Therefore, I believe the mandatory transfer laws are unjust because they do not allow a judge to take into consideration the circumstances of that particular person’s case.

According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, African-American youth overwhelmingly receive harsher treatment than white youth at most stages of the juvenile justice system. Latino children are 43 percent more likely than white youth to be transferred to the adult system and 40 percent more likely to be incarcerated in adult prison. Native youth are more likely to receive the two most severe juvenile justice punishments: out-of-home placement (incarceration in a state correctional facility) and waiver to the adult system. These facts alone are part of the reason I do what I do. The American church needs to remove their perceptions and understand that there is disproportionate minority representation in our juvenile justice system, and we have to begin to address these racial disparities.

Another injustice of which the church should be aware is the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole. In June of 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment (meaning it is cruel and unusual punishment) to sentence a child to life without the possibility of parole. They concluded that having such a sentence as a mandatory law was unconstitutional. Therefore, they took the sentence of “mandatory juvenile life without parole” off the books across America, but judges can still elect to give the sentence of life without parole to a child. And I think that’s quite unjust. One of the reasons why the juvenile justice was developed in this country is because all research has shown that young people have a greater capacity to change than adults do. So when we take a young person and we lock them up for the rest of their lives or we lock them up in an adult prison (which all the research shows they’re more likely to be beaten, more likely to be abused, more likely to be sexually assaulted in an adult prison), that’s another injustice. When we allow such a sentence, we are essentially throwing our kids away and giving them no hope for the future. As Christians, I hope we believe that all people are redeemable.

You present an important recommendation concerning partnerships for churches that may not be as educated in these issues. Considering the history of the black church in America, we are aware of these issues, involved in the community, paying attention to what is negatively affecting all of our youth, and have a “take care of our own” philosophy to ministry. Some of the issues you raise may be a new for our sisters and brothers in the white evangelical community, so I think it’s important that we do have conversations about race, broken systematic structures, and political loopholes, while developing personal relationships, strategic partnerships between congregations, and possibility planting more multi-cultural churches in needed communities that can prioritize these concerns. What are your thoughts about that?

Some of our churches have closed doors. When I think back to the Civil Rights Movement, churches worked with other groups—religious groups, community organizations—they came together to fight for justice. And we don’t see that in the same way anymore. I believe it would go a long way for churches to open their doors to organizations like the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Have a workshop for people in the neighborhood on a Saturday morning. Host a letter-writing campaign together with another organization. Ultimately, we need to break our silence. We can work together with other churches, across denominations, and with like-minded people who may not be part of the church.

Dr. Johnson, I thank you for your honestly and challenge to all of us. My questions for our readers today are these: Are the doors of your church open? How about the doors of your heart? Will you continue to remain silent? Please consider today what you can do to stop the silence.

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 for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

August 1, 2013

Avoiding Pitfalls in Ministry through Social Media

When we engage online, we face temptation to make too much or too little of ourselves


There has never been a time when the message of the gospel could be spread more widely around the globe than today, through the avenue of social media. I’m a mom of two small boys who uses social media to spread messages of hope. From my laptop in my living room, I can write an encouraging blog post that can go to endless lengths I will never know of, just with the click of a button. I can share freedom and truth in 140 characters on Twitter that can go through endless networks I may never meet face-to-face. I can post a status update on Facebook that can be shared with friends of my friends and their friends in a matter of minutes. All while drinking my coffee and watching my boys jump off the walls.

Who Do You Think You Are?

It’s a remarkable world we’re living in. That said, with this unlimited potential has also come an unspoken oppression over those who seek to use social media for good. I remember the first post I published on my blog and the backlash from both friends and strangers coming at me with accusations with an underlying tone of “Who do you think you are?” I was accused of narcissism and wanting the spotlight. Many saw my blogging as an attempt to get to the top. The top of what? was my thought in response.

At that point, giving up to please others was tempting. Was I really trying to be a superstar? Through contemplation I came to the conclusion that my desire was to see God’s Kingdom grow in a world in need and if I didn’t speak out, issues that God pressed on my heart such as addictions, poverty, and trafficking would remain under the proverbial rug. Considering the Internet has made expression, creativity, and writing our message open to all, I’m not convinced there’s a “top” to get to.

I recently had a friend tell me she had a secret confession. I prepared myself for a dark, soulish experience, but instead I heard her whisper her desire to start a blog. Seriously? That was it? That was the deep, dark secret? When I asked her why she felt this was such a big deal, she replied, “Who am I to start a blog?” She had felt the waves of the unheard voices telling her she had to be somebody special to blog. How did this message start, and who’s feeding it?

Follow Me!

Some face an opposite temptation to use social media to expand their influence and gain power. Obsession with “klout” scores and Google Analytics is a great example of this. When we become preoccupied with our klout scores, or with how many blog hits, likes on Facebook, or retweets we’ve had on Twitter, we’ve really missed the point.

This obsession will eat our souls and consume us as we try to up our game on our witty status updates and controversial blog posts. We can become obsessed with feedback on what we’ve written, returning to our computers, pressing “refresh” every few minutes. The more likes, the more our egos are boosted.

Unfortunately, we can also become over-occupied with comparing ourselves to others who have more likes and followers than we do, trying to do all we can to up our ante to get to their level. Before we know it, we’ve been deceived into building our own kingdoms rather than God’s. To get to this point is easier than we think.

Fear of Rejection

The trouble with social media is that as limitless as it is with getting messages out, it is also limitless and sometimes shameful how hurtful people can be in response. Because it’s not a face-to-face conversation, comments on blog posts, Facebook status updates, and replies on Twitter can be devastating and hurtful to one’s soul. No one wants to put their art on display for all to mock and throw things at. If we can overcome the “Who do you think you are?” syndrome, it’s not long before a couple of hurtful comments will shut us right down. It’s our deep-rooted fear of rejection that keeps us silent.

Silence guarantees our safety, but not others’ freedom. Yes, our silence may protect us, but the liberation that could be brought to many from our acts of courageous writing and/or speaking will never manifest under the oppression of fear.

The worst criticism of all can come from ourselves. Even with a supportive community, thoughts of self-criticism, perfectionism, and “Who do I think I am?” are always at the forefront of the mind, ready to bring the same fear and doubt. How often do we keep our thoughts and gifts of writing to ourselves because of our own egos, believing what we create is not good enough to be read or viewed by others?

All about Me

The overriding temptation we need to avoid with social media is to make it all about our own egos and followings. The problem is that we can be deceived into thinking that we are all about building the Father’s kingdom while we’ve become consumed with our own. This extreme and the extreme of allowing others to shut us down both make us overly sensitive to criticism because we’re allowing what others think of us to dictate our actions. This fear of man cannot lead to good fruit.

At the end of the day, we need to care more about justice, truth, and freedom for others than our own egos. I have to conjure up tough skin so when the messages thrown back at me are telling me I’m wrong—my thoughts are wrong, my writing is wrong, my opinion is wrong—I can stand firm in who I am and not crash and burn in flames of self-doubt. This is not for the weak of heart.

We may not be able to silence all the voices that bring doubt to those wanting to use social media for good, but one by one we can create courageous spaces for those whose voices need to be heard. We can encourage one another to continue to write and speak about things that are close to our hearts. We can challenge one another to keep the ego at bay and to remember why we do what we do. We can “like,” retweet, and make constructive, positive comments on blogs that will encourage voices to continue to raise for the sake of the gospel.

How are you encouraging voices to continue rather than to shut down? Do you see engaging in social media as ministry? If you feel you’re not in a season of “ministry” or you’re not finding a place to live out your calling, you may find that social media has opened that door for you if you’re willing to step through. As long as you don’t fall prey to its negative pitfalls, the stay-at-home-mom, the introvert, the person in transition or just trying to find an avenue for your voice can be released into ministry! It is indeed a very exciting time for anyone who can see the opportunity and seize it for the kingdom.

Connie Jakab is the author of the book Culture Rebel. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status-quo living and encouraging others to branch out. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab. Connie is honored to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild.


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