All posts from "September 2013"September 26, 2013
A former faithful Mormon and BYU professor explains
Since Mitt Romney ran for president, many are curious about his Mormon faith, with good reason. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Mormons tend to be friendly, hard-working, conservative, moral people—model citizens who want to be accepted as part of the body of Christ. Their church culture is close-knit and family-oriented. But as one who spent more than 30 years as a “good Mormon,” I got to see the inner workings of the Mormon Church.
Like many denominations, Mormons have their own religious vocabulary, dress code, grooming standards, health code, and expected behaviors. But many of the Mormon sacred beliefs, such as temple ordinances and covenants, are required to be secret, known only to those baptized in the Mormon Church.
For many Mormon families there is great pressure to have everything look great on the outside, and to do everything well, and this pressure is particularly acute for Mormon women. In my church work, I met many hurting and discouraged women. One struggled to get seven small children to church on time. Others worried that their homes were not clean enough or their children not faithful enough, smart enough, or talented enough to stand out in the outside world. Some were anxious because they did not hold temple recommends or did not have husbands to get them to the top of the celestial kingdom or were not spreading the Mormon gospel or did not have time for their callings. Some were eager to save their dead family members through genealogy and temple work. If others were going to look to us for answers and want to join Mormonism, we needed to have it all together.
Due to a determined media campaign from the Mormon Church, some Christians have decided Mormons are Christians, too. But in reality, Mormonism does not represent a biblically compatible religion to be welcomed into the body of Christ. I think it is helpful to discuss just a few of the differences.
Substantial or Trifling Differences?
What are some of the basic teachings of Mormonism? First, Mormons believe the most correct book on the face of the earth is the Book of Mormon. They teach that the Bible is often mistranslated and unreliable. According to Mormonism, Jesus couldn’t keep his Word or his church together—there was a great apostasy after his apostles died—and Joseph Smith needed to restore the true church in 1830 with the true doctrine, including three extra-biblical books of scripture from Mormon prophets. In order to be baptized into the Mormon Church—which Mormons believe is the only church that can lead one to live with the Father and the Son after this life—one must accept the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and the current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, as a prophet, seer, and revelator and the only man who speaks for God on earth.
The nature of the Mormon godhead is different than the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches a triune godhead—one God, three coequal and coeternal members. Mormonism believes the three members of its godhead are three created, separate gods; Heavenly Father and Jesus began as men who worked their way to godhood. They believe any “righteous” Mormon priesthood holder who is “temple worthy” can work his way to godhood as well.
The Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 25:23) says one is “saved by grace after all you can do.” The Third Article of Faith states that one “may be saved by obedience to laws and ordinances of the (Mormon) Gospel.” Troubling for Mormons is that they never know when they have done enough and have no assurance of salvation like biblical Christians do. Because Mormonism requires numerous good works, some may feel overwhelmed. Depression and suicide are rampant in Utah. So is addiction to prescription drugs.
Part of the works for salvation/exaltation in Mormonism involves work to be completed in the temple. This work is nothing like what the Jews did in the temple anciently. I know. I worked in a Mormon temple for 10 years, where I was forbidden by a death oath (removed from ceremonies after 1990) from revealing what I learned there.
Mormons do not place crosses in their meeting houses or temples, nor do they wear crosses. The Bible says in Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In addition, the Book of Mormon believes salvation is dependent upon obeying secret temple ordinances (D&C 131:2). But Jesus boldly said that “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26-27, NKJV).
Field Ripe for Harvest
There were so many good things that drew me to the Mormon faith at the age of 25. But after 30 years as a faithful temple-attending, leadership-holding Mormon woman and BYU professor, during a family crisis, I picked up the Bible hungry for the words of Jesus and read it as a child, seeking truth.
What I found in the Bible was a gospel of grace, not of works or legalism, with an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent triune God who did not work his way from a man to a God. Then I had to choose. Was Mormonism true, or did I trust Jesus’ own words in the Bible? After a harrowing time of counting the cost, I chose the biblical Jesus who had revealed himself to me in astonishing ways. Because of the Brigham Young University honor code, although tenured, I could not stay at BYU if I left the faith. So I resigned, took up my cross so to speak, and followed the biblical Jesus.
Like the one of the ten lepers who was healed and returned in gratitude, I praise God for what he has wrought in the life of a wretched sinner like me and pray the body of Christ will equip themselves to reach out to Mormons with the gospel of grace in love. I hope my new book, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church (Zondervan), will help others on the road to truth and freedom. My husband and I started a nonprofit ministry, Ex-Mormon Christians United for Jesus. We see Mormonism as a field ripe for harvest. We, plus our children who are in ministry, reach back to our dear Mormon people because we love them and want them to know the gracious Jesus we now love. We encourage all Christians to inform themselves and to do the same.
Dr. Lynn Wilder is a former tenured professor at Brigham Young University and faithful Mormon for more than 30 years. Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church chronicles her amazing journey of faith. She and her husband, Michael, have formed the nonprofit organization Ex-Mormon Christians United for Jesus, to keep Christians safe from false Christs and to bring Mormons to know the joy of the biblical Jesus.
Stay faithful even when you can’t see the fruit
I sat at my computer and hoped the words would compose. Why am I doing this to myself? I wondered. After two years of freelance writing, I felt I had little to show for my work.
The slow progress left me frustrated and feeling alone. If this was the place where God had called me, why wasn’t he blessing my efforts? Why were my days made up of unanswered emails and unending rejection?
On days our work feels fruitless, we face a choice—will we dig down deeper, adjust our perspective, and listen as the Spirit leads? Or will we ignore our flaws, throw up our hands, and check out spiritually? Our response defines our posture and dictates our perspective.
Wrestling with Ourselves
When others seem unresponsive or our work feels unfruitful, questions inevitably arise. Is this where I’m supposed to serve? Am I doing something wrong? Why isn’t God rewarding my labor? As we wrestle with our questions, we invite God to show us personal shortcomings and cultivate character.
When I began writing, I assumed that a shower of success would follow. Surely others would see the depth of my insight and rush to publish my work. But instead, most emails never received a response. Many pieces were politely turned down.
A spiritual tug-of-war ensued as I struggled with God’s unexpected plans. With every rejection letter, he exposed my impatience. He uncovered my childish demands. And he showed me that my present season was more about character formation than career formulation.
God allows us to wrestle with ourselves so that we’ll eventually rest in him. We face our insecurities, release our expectations, and accept our situation. Through the process, we open ourselves to God’s deeper work, allowing him to produce perseverance and patience within us.
As we explore our misconceptions and welcome God’s work, our perspective changes. Before, faithfulness might have looked like larger numbers, more speaking engagements, or extra volunteers. Now faithfulness looks like deeper faith, stronger relationships, and openness to new ideas. We shift our focus from the physical and flashy to the simplistic and spiritual.
In every life stage, we strive to measure our success. As a student, I evaluated myself based upon grades, internships, and job prospects. As a church associate, I tracked event attendance, vision buy-in, and volunteer enthusiasm. As a writer, I look for ways to improve my work and add to my resume.
But once the indicators evaporate, we’re forced to reevaluate. What if physical factors are markers instead of measures? Perhaps grades reflect book knowledge. Numbers indicate people’s interests. Resumes show our superficial success. These identifiers provide markers that help us assess our situations, yet they cannot measure our wisdom, depth, or growth.
Once we’ve walked through a dry season, we learn to measure faithfulness by what lies beneath the surface. We long to know what God is doing in the deep, damp earth beneath us. As we gaze, our gauges shift and our eyes sharpen. We become aware of personal and spiritual changes taking place within us and others. We start to see successes in the small recesses of our lives and ministries. And we find freedom to consider new possibilities.
Realizing Untapped Potential
With our hearts softened to the unexpected, we invite God to show us new horizons. His mission for our ministry might not be growth but depth. His purpose for our season might not be achievement but transformation. His calling might not be children’s ministry but women’s ministry or pastoral work. Whether God changes our circumstances or simply changes us, we find ourselves in a new place because of a new perspective.
I wish I could tell you my current situation has shifted. I long for the day when my inbox will herald more acceptance letters than rejection mail. I survive for weeks on those rare moments of affirmation. I still struggle with self-doubt.
Yet on the days when I’m willing to get down on my hands and knees and gaze at my own spiritual soil, I see something new sprouting up within me. I know more about myself than I did before this journey started. I am more certain of my calling yet more open to new ways for it to play out. I more readily recognize my dependence on God and need for his daily guidance.
In times when we look at our landscape and scarcely see fruit, we’re reminded that the One who sows the seed also sends the rain and summons the harvest. He waits as we wrestle. He works underground. He celebrates each shoot that sprouts from our souls.
Faithfulness reveals itself as both a posture and a perspective as we allow God’s arduous cycle to change us. As we wrestle with ourselves, reframe our successes, and recognize new opportunities, we start to see the first signs of harvest—ripening within our own fertile soil.
So if you are laboring hard, heart and soul, in a ministry that hasn’t taken hold, schedule some time to assess your own soul. Set aside a day where your only assignment is to sit with the Lord. As you look at your life and listen to your longings, allow God to illuminate his work within you.
How has your character changed or deepened as you’ve done difficult work? Notice the ways God has cultivated humility, developed fortitude, or grown your faith. What life-giving moments have you experienced amidst challenges? Attend to these glimpses, allowing God to show you fresh passions and new abilities. Who has come behind or alongside you in this season? Even when your ministry seems small, don’t disregard the women who have watched, listened, and learned from your example. Where do you sense God stirring? Sometimes God’s tug is so slight we barely notice, so pause to consider any new desires or directions that arise.
Whether God changes your circumstances or simply changes you, celebrate the harvest emerging right before your very eyes.
Amanda DeWitt works as a freelance writer, conference speaker, and blogger for Tapestry. She has served as a magazine editor and an associate on a megachurch staff; she holds a M.A. from Dallas Theological Seminary.
I thought I was beyond redemption, but I learned to accept God’s love for me
The first time one hit me, it hurt. After multiple hits, I became numb to the pain. The stones thrown at me no longer scared or hurt me. As a twice-divorced women, I faced accusers, the greatest one being myself. To avoid the stones, I relinquished the call God had placed on my life to serve and work with others. I rejected grace and accepted the judgment of others and myself. But although I gave up on God’s call in my life, God did not.
John 8:1-11 provides my portrait, and possibly yours. A woman scorned for her lifestyle and offered no hope of redemption, or so she was led to believe as the Pharisees placed her “in front of the crowd.” Her sin was on display for everyone to see, for everyone to judge. Eager to throw stones, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” This question was met with a moment of silence. As onlookers awaited the response, the woman awaited the stones. But Jesus provided something none of them expected.
In his grace and mercy, Jesus responded not with stones, but with a shield of grace and mercy for the woman. Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
The Pharisees, ready to attack, stood stunned. Each one walked away. No stones were to be thrown on that day, only grace and mercy were to be hurled. Ready to be stoned to death, the woman wrestled with the redemption she was facing. Jesus rose from writing in the ground and asked, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
The woman answered, “No, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” She rose not as an adulterous woman, but as a redeemed woman.
Before experiencing God’s redemption, I clung to the stones in my life. I carried stones of rejection, defeat, worthlessness, and self-condemnation. Like the woman the Pharisees displayed, I felt I was always before a crowd, ready to be judged and condemned. While others placed some of these stones within my life, I gladly tied many of them to myself. Even though I accepted God’s offer of mercy and grace, I could only stare at the ground ready to be stoned.
However, God is persistent in his pursuit of us. He poured grace and mercy on me until finally I broke through the weight of rejection, worthlessness, and all the other stones heaped on me. Of course, this breakthrough did not occur overnight or in a week. It was a process to be endured, but a process I gladly accepted.
Part of the process I had to embrace was being a divorced woman in ministry and dating a minister. For the first few months of my time in ministry as well as in a relationship with a godly man, I felt like the little kid who wanted the toy displayed in the store window. I could see the good things but believed they weren’t meant for me. I could not accept the good that was happening to me because I didn’t believe I deserved it. And I didn’t. However, God doesn’t give us what we deserve. He gives us gifts: mercy, grace, hope, joy, redemption, and more. As I have continued walking in the redemption and grace God provides, I have become enamored with his grace, his mercy, his love.
I once walked in despair, believing that was my only option. I was prepared for the stones. Now I am prepared for grace and love, not because of who I am, but because of who he is. You also can be prepared for God’s grace, redemption, and love.
Like the woman in John 8, you may live with your head hung low. You may be afraid to look people in the eyes, afraid of what stones they may throw. You even may be afraid to look at yourself because of your own self-condemnation. With your head hung low, all you can hear is the rustle of hands in the dirt, looking for the right stone. However, if you listen closely today, you will hear one other sound: your Father writing in the sand. Maybe he’s writing you a love letter, maybe writing a word of hope to you, but the most important thing is that he is standing between you and the crowd. He is shielding you in love, grace, hope, and redemption.
As a woman in ministry or a woman facing the beauty in your life, you may be struggling with accepting God’s love for you. But remember Romans 8:1 tells us, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” You are free in Christ! You are his daughter bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). His grace is a gift to you. Because of the blood Christ shed on the cross, you can rest assured that “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace” (Romans 6:14).
Battle the self-condemnation and self-defeating thoughts by embracing the truth of God’s Word. It hasn’t changed in 2,000 years and neither has he! He still believes you are fearfully and wonderfully made in his image and you are a member of a royal priesthood belonging to him (Psalm 139:14; Genesis 1:27; 1 Peter 2:9).
You are a beautiful creation covered in God’s grace, mercy, and redemption. No longer do you need to listen for the sounds of the stones, but only the sounds of God’s voice. You have been called “according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Do not doubt the call God has placed on your life to minister to others or the love he lavishes upon you. He has called, and he will use you to display his glory!
Peri Gilbert is the life group coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, La.
In the genealogy of Jesus, God’s activity in and through women is obvious
In the pages of the Hebrew Bible, we find stories of women who went before us and left their mark on our history with God. In the material known to us today as the Old Testament, we read of women who were prophets, military leaders, priests, wise women, and wisdom personified. However, to study the lives of these women is no easy task. The stories as we have them were not handed down to us from the women themselves; rather, what we have is an image-rich narrative developed from a covenantal history, drawn on the map of patriarchy. The narratives are primarily concerned with the public lives of men who were in some way related to the patriarchs or were connected to the emergence of the ancient Israelite monarchy. The narratives themselves were also recorded, copied, edited, and compiled by men who lived many centuries after the women and men whose stories are found in the pages of the Bible.
The material we have in our Old Testament existed first as oral tradition in communities that were formed around story; these stories endured across the generations, eventually to be recorded in the codices which are now considered canonical by persons of Jewish and Christian faith. To do the stories of these women justice, we must unearth information about their world, status, society, and gender roles in ancient Israel. Archaeology and anthropological studies, considered in concert with the Scriptures, help us gain a clearer picture of life in ancient Israel for women.
In the Hebrew Bible, we find the stories of a people who traversed the land of the ancient Near East for more than 1,200 years. Of the 1,426 persons named in the narrative of the Old Testament, 111 are women. While this may seem like a small number, the witness of their lives is powerful and their presence in this male-dominated text is—and should be—remarkable. Though a casual reading of the Old Testament might leave us with the impression that women were confined to the home and their sole contribution to God’s people was procreation, a closer look demonstrates another dynamic. Mayer Gruber points out that women served as judges (Judges 4:4–5), officiated funerals as clergy (Jeremiah 9:16–19; 2 Chronicles 35:25), slaughtered animals in priestly and domestic rites, served as prophetesses and sages (2 Samuel 14; 20:16–22), and nursed children and read Scripture in public settings. We have accounts of women who served as priestesses (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22), poets (Exodus 15:21; Judges 5:1–31; Proverbs 31:1–9), musicians (Psalm 68:26), “queens, midwives; wet-nurses; babysitters; business persons; scribes; cooks; bakers; producers of cosmetics (1 Samuel 8:13) as well as innkeepers and prostitutes (Joshua 2).”
In the lives of the Old Testament women found in the genealogy of Christ, God’s activity in and through the lives of women could not be more obvious. In a history devoted primarily to the patriarchal narrative and the formation of the monarchy, these women hold prominent places. Their lineage will usher in the messiah. Tracing their remarkable stories, we are able to conclude that God is not reluctant to transcend the limitations and constraints of human society, often choosing women—powerless and without status or social capital—as conduits through whom to work. In the narrative history of Israel, the faith, fidelity, and righteousness of women is sometimes demonstrated over and against their male counterparts, as in the cases of Tamar and Bathsheba. In other instances, as in the stories of Rahab and Ruth, men recognize the God-ordained roles women must play and then willingly partner with them in the work of God.
The voices of these women ring to us across the ages, as we study the sacred texts of our faith. Their stories remind us once again that God has always called women and empowered them to serve God’s people—and ever shall.
Excerpted from Called to Minister, Empowered to Serve: Second Edition, ed. by MaryAnn Hawkins. Copyright © 2013 by Anderson University School of Theology. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Church of God Ministries, Inc.
A resource review
The book: Healing Waters Leader Guide: A Bible Study on Forgiveness, Grace and Second Chances
By Melody Carlson
Published by Abingdon Press
Why I picked up this book:
I have several books come across my desk every day at work. With so many books vying for my attention, a book needs to be unique and purposeful in order to grab my attention. Healing Waters was exactly that. As a Bible study that incorporates a fiction series, I was skeptical right away of its ability to bring about spiritual growth in my life. I doubted its power to use fiction in a way that could truly bring deep, biblical, spiritual transformation. Once I started the first week’s study, it didn’t take long for me to change my cynical attitude.
Who should use Healing Waters:
I would recommend this Bible study specifically to those who love reading novels. It’s a great way to strategically incorporate pleasure-reading with Bible reading. Melody beautifully weaves both together to bring forth reflection and growth—spiritually and emotionally.
What’s in store for you:
Healing Waters uses the Christian fiction series The Inn at Shining Waters as a backdrop to explore difficult topics like forgiveness, grace, relationships, and community in eight group sessions. While reading the novels alongside the Bible study is not required or necessary to learn and grow, Melody claims it will enhance your understanding of the characters used as examples throughout the study.
For participants, each day’s reading will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Each day includes sections for Scripture reading, reflection questions, prayer, and a suggestion for the day—an easy way to respond and reply to what you learned. You’ll be challenged to make yourself vulnerable as you reflect deeply and share what you learn. As a small group, you’ll learn from each other and grow closer as you share examples from your own life related to the themes of redemption and healing.
As a leader, you’ll have a comprehensive leader’s guide that will equip you with talking points and discussion questions to keep your group members engaged and encountering truth each week. Because I know how different each of my various Bible study groups are, I really appreciated that the leader’s guide offers an additional 30 minutes of material to choose from so you can easily tailor the study to your group. However, my Bible study groups rarely have enough time to discuss a topic for 25 minutes—let alone the 60 minutes originally scheduled!—so I wish the study would have offered a shorter, 30-minute option. And while there is a short video interview with the author to watch each week, I felt like the interviews were solely a promotional guide for the fiction series and for the author.
My personal takeaways:
I was surprised at how well the major themes of The Inn at Shining Waters series were combined with Scripture. The novels complemented the study well by giving examples of how grace, forgiveness, friendship, and more can play out in our daily lives.
I was especially impacted by the Week 5 theme, the value of community. It took me back to journey through Genesis 2, and I was reminded that we were not meant to live in isolation. “We were created in the image of a relational God, and we were meant to connect with and share our lives with other human beings,” Melody says. “To live in community with others is a gift, and one that we should wholeheartedly embrace.”
“Leaning into forgiveness means leaning into God for support and healing.”
“No matter our heritage…we are loved and provided for by a God who will never fail us.”
Another Bible study I would recommend on this topic:
“The Freedom of Forgiveness” from Today’s Christian Woman
How to keep the lines of communication open
If you don’t connect, you cannot achieve success. When your team cannot hear you, they cannot follow you. They need to see, hear, speak, touch, and experience you as a leader. Send them notes. Listen when they speak. Let them know when they have touched you. Let them see that leaders can stop and speak, listen, feel, and touch. Let them see that leaders are human too.
Let your team members know that you feel they are important.
It only takes a few minutes and a few words to inspire. What’s the difference between motivation and inspiration? You can motivate someone to brush their teeth so that their teeth will not rot. But when you inspire someone, you touch something within them that continues to sing each time they think of the moment. You light an inner fire that does not go out, even after you leave their presence. How much are you willing to give up to light a fire within others?
Solicit contributions from your team.
There are few things as powerful as a leader who solicits feedback. Whenever you give your team the power to step into the arena and take ownership of the process, it changes the game. When team members believe that their opinions matter, they are more willing to assist you in doing what you need to do in order to fulfill the mission. There is nothing more powerful than ownership of the process.
Always ask questions before giving orders.
When was the last time you asked your team members’ opinion about what they do? Asking questions is one the easiest ways to connect with your team. People will always surprise you if you give them the freedom to do their jobs. Ask them for ways to improve what they do and the way that they do it.
They usually know the job better because they are doing it. So go ahead and start asking questions. You will not only learn something new; you will connect with your team in a new way.
Make your team members feel important by showing your appreciation.
There are few things that touch others more powerfully than appreciation. It is one of the four most important human needs. When someone feels appreciated, they will do above and beyond what is expected without being asked.
Appreciation changes hearts, minds, and attitudes. It softens a heart hardened by past mistakes. It changes a mind once steeled by apathy. It brightens an attitude dulled by neglect. As a leader, you can overcome the past mistakes of a former leader by showing your appreciation. You soften that mind by giving that team member something to do that stimulates their intellect. You can touch that neglected attitude by giving them a task that requires tenacity. You are in charge and appreciation is one of your most powerful secret weapons.
Be enthusiastic and energized about your mission.
Enthusiasm is contagious. Even if the mission is not something that one would categorize as exciting, you can make it appear to be exciting by how you use enthusiasm. If monotony sits in the seat of leadership, then your team will become monotonous. If boredom holds you and your team captive, then discover ways to shake things up and still stay on task. If you have challenges in this area, ask your team for help. They will assist you in coming up with creative ways to complete the mission and make it more enjoyable.
If you cannot generate some enthusiasm about what you do, then it’s time to do something different. The speed of the leader is the speed of the gang! Remember that you are the example so you have to lead when it comes to enthusiasm!
It’s not just about finding warm bodies and putting them to work
Far too often, ministry volunteers receive only a skeletal training before they are released to work. For certain roles (making coffee and directing traffic), on-the-job training is more than sufficient. For pastoral care and other people-oriented ministries, there’s simply too much at stake. Over the years, my husband and I have learned how to both prepare our volunteers and offer meaningful support. In my previous article on this topic, I wrote about how to begin the process of team building. In Part 2, I would like to take this further and explore how we train, handle conflicts, and resource our volunteers.
The discipleship and healing programs we run generally require a nine-month commitment from team members. Several months before our programs begin, we typically ask each team member where they feel most—and least—competent. These self-assessments inform our three-month training module which also includes several non-negotiables that we offer annually (how to recognize transference, sharing your testimony in 10 minutes, etc.).
Our teams include both experienced and novice volunteers. This instantly creates a challenge for us since we cannot start at ground zero without boring the skilled leaders. Over the years, we have learned to take advantage of the experience in the room by assigning seasoned leaders the task of coaching and teaching the newcomers. Rather than my husband and I teaching on small-group dynamics or soaking prayer, we ask returning team members to prepare the 30- to 45-minute teaching. Not only does this free us from having to do everything, it also creates a context for us to further develop these leaders. After their presentation, my husband and I do a debrief with them which is unequivocally positive, but which also highlights areas where they may need to grow.
This practice easily carries over to other types of teams. For example, my husband will have his best musicians give workshops to new worship team members. We believe that this strategy builds confidence in our leaders and communicates that sharing the load is an essential component for a healthy team.
We also encourage those who demonstrate sustained commitment and gifting in specific areas to get further training by going to conferences and workshops offsite. Whenever possible, the church will help fund these extra trainings.
Because conflict is unavoidable, this topic has become one of the non-negotiable components of our annual training. Few of us enjoy conflict and even fewer know how to handle it well. We tend to either ignore it or blow it up, and neither of these options engenders healthy dynamics. After nearly two decades of leading, I now understand that many individuals need to be taught a completely new paradigm regarding conflict.
In light of this, we explicitly give our team permission to both feel and express anger toward us. I clearly remember the look on their faces the first time I said, “If you can’t be angry with us, we’re not doing our job well.” We do ask that team members not process any anger or frustration with a third party, but that they go directly to the specific person, assuming the best, in a posture of humility, and begin simply by communicating their experience. Teammates are held accountable to confess their sins toward one another and also offer forgiveness. Yes, this has created messes but we have also seen it bring tremendous healing.
Team members also need help understanding how to navigate conflict in the groups they lead. Haven’t we all been in church settings where conflict is palpable but the leaders deftly avoid addressing it? We have found it helpful to acknowledge the situation with a simple statement such as “There seems to be some tension in the room tonight. Why don’t those of you who are feeling angry pause for a moment and see if you can understand what’s at stake for you and then share as you are able.” This takes courage on the part of the small-group leader as well as a commitment to value honesty more than business as usual. (If you have not read Difficult Conversations, we highly recommend it!)
Supporting Your Volunteers
This is unequivocally the most enjoyable component of team leading—it’s also one that I have had to grow into. Early on, I failed to understand that my first priority needed to be seeing and caring for volunteers as my sisters and brothers, rather than my teammates. This might seem like semantics, but it’s not. Volunteers have full-time jobs, health concerns, aging parents, and perhaps young children. As such, they may need to be asked questions like “How are you faring as a single 40-year-old in the church?” more than they need input about their recent talk.
We believe that the most important method of supporting our team is through prayers. Each month, I hand out three-by-five cards and ask the team to take five minutes to write down their prayer requests. My husband and I communicate that we are the only ones who will see these so they are free to be as honest as they want. Throughout the week, we can then pray for their needs in an informed fashion. Repeatedly, our team members have communicated how loved they feel by this small act. We also set aside several nights each year to pray for an extended time (roughly an hour) for each team member. If our ranks are thin, we might invite the church intercessors or prayer team to join us. For many, this in-depth prayer is one of the highlights of the year.
Finally, my husband and I create multiple opportunities to voice appreciation for our volunteers. At the close of each season, we have an affirmation circle. (And if there is no clear program cycle, you could schedule it once a year.) We communicate that each person should be prepared to affirm his or her teammates in two minutes or less. Having someone verbalize your strengths and offer affirmation in a public setting is very powerful and without fail, there are lots of tears. Christopher and I also write each person a note expressing our appreciation. When budget permits, we may give them a small token, such as a gift card or flowers, as well.
Leading teams is much like parenting: hard work, lots of unexpected detours, but incredibly rich and fulfilling. We often have volunteers on our teams for many years, which allows us to both develop friendships with them and see them mature into faithful, well-equipped leaders, many of whom take these same lessons with them as they move on to the next phase of their lives.
Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days writing, making photographs, pastoring, and trying to keep her three teenage sons adequately fed. She and her family live surrounded by apple orchards, just outside of Boston, MA. You can find more of her words and images at www.dorothygreco.com.
Remember, we live by the power of Christ’s perfection
When I was in corporate America, my company’s leaders would use fear as an incentive to get the young consultants to work hard. I had attended an orientation session with the top graduates from Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, and MIT, which meant I was surrounded by people who were used to succeeding. The pressure to perform and the pressure to outperform myself stressed me out. I couldn’t understand why being successful was so important, yet I worked hard to achieve success in my work because I constantly feared failure.
But when God took over my life, something dramatic took place. I still worked hard, but not because I believed my human flesh could attain perfection. I worked hard as my humble act of service for a God who is perfect, knowing that He has already covered my imperfections. My freedom came from reading Romans 3:22-24: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Did you hear that? We all sin. We all fall short of God’s glory. These verses took me from the arrogance of thinking that I could do anything perfectly to realizing that only God is perfect. In fact, I learned that if I could accept my imperfections I could relax and not put unrealistic demands on myself.
Psalm 103:15-16 helped me to take myself less seriously. It reads, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower in the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” When I ask myself, “What will this matter a hundred years from now?” I find myself letting go of details that used to send me into a tailspin. The fact is that when I am gone, the world will remember me no more. The only thing that matters is that I have done my best to leave God’s fingerprints behind me.
One of the greatest truths that helped set me free is found in Romans 8:3-4: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the Spirit.”
What these verses teach us is that God’s Son was the only one who was able to fulfill the perfect requirements of God’s law. God is the only one who has succeeded in everything. Jesus lived a perfectly holy life and then went to the cross to pay the price for our imperfections. He then offers us the gift of forgiveness for those same imperfections. More than that, He gives us the opportunity to fully meet God’s standards “according to the Spirit.” We live the full requirements of God according to the Spirit by admitting that in our human flesh we cannot attain perfection. The only way we can be perfect is by simply receiving Christ’s perfection. Then by faith, we allow God to live His perfect life through us.
So how do we live our lives by the power of Christ’s perfection? First, we no longer try to be impressive. We acknowledge that we have missed the standard. We then accept the gift of Christ’s perfection and know that He has all the answers. We ask God to show us His answers, and we get out of the way by not arguing with Him. Instead, we offer our lives as a living sacrifice and say to God, “All my energy belongs to You. All my creativity belongs to You. All my diligence belongs to You. Use them as You will, and direct me to solve this problem or reach this goal.” Are you so focused on successfully completing your goals by your own power that you have overwhelmed yourself? Perhaps it’s time to focus on the perfection of Christ and then trust Him to show you day by day how to reach His goals.
The key to releasing your fear of failure is to give God your life as an act of worship and let Him control the results. If you have given God your best, then rest in knowing He is pleased with you. At the end of the day, He is the only person you work for. You exist to fulfill His purposes, not anyone else’s. Colossians 3:23-24 teaches us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Adapted from Transforming for a Purpose: Fulfilling God's Mission as Daughters of the King. Copyright 2009 by Anita Carman. Used by permission of Moody Publishers.