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December 23, 2013

Giving Others the Freedom to Leave

Letting go requires compassion and self-discipline


She was leaving. I stood in my kitchen, away from the laughter ringing in the living room, and listened as a woman from our small group explained her decision. Six months earlier, she and her husband had jumped into our group, eager to connect and serve. But now they’d decided to go a different direction.

I could embrace her decision and encourage her onward. Or I could withhold compassion and withdraw myself.

As women in ministry, the struggle confronts us often. Our lives and offices often feel like revolving doors. How do we let others go? How do we keep ourselves open? It’s a process that defines our groups and ultimately dictates our growth.

Saying Goodbye

When others leave our small groups or resign their volunteer roles, we face a choice. Will we extend empathy? Will we heap up guilt? Will we bless their decision and celebrate their service?

Often we enter these conversations unaware or unprepared. A faithful volunteer surprises us with her statement of burnout. A struggling leader shocks us with her tearful explanation. As we weigh our responses, we must let down our walls and let them leave with grace.

We extend empathy, tapping into the times when we were the ones exhausted, ill-fit, or in need of change. We avoid guilt by refusing to heap our hurt feelings onto the other. We celebrate the relationships forged and work accomplished while leaving the unfinished pieces in God’s hands.

Letting go might look flawless, but the ability arises from great struggle. In the months preceding my friend’s departure, God constantly confronted and confounded my desire to control those around me. He pried my fingers open, inviting me into another possibility—letting him take the lead.

As I stood in the kitchen, I peered into an opportunity. I could love this woman well and let her go, entrust her to Another and myself to his care.

Attending to Our Soul

Even with valid reasons, leaving still stings. Instead of shutting down and stuffing the hurt, we must acknowledge it. Perhaps our effectiveness is tied up in people’s investment or approval. Maybe fear surfaces as we question who else might leave.

A day after my conversation, I procrastinated on planning a coffee date with another woman in our group. I avoided checking on a new friend. I sized up other couples, wondering who else might leave. Eventually I realized they weren’t the problem—I was. I had put up my walls and withdrawn. I didn’t want to do life with people if they were going to leave.

When we find ourselves in such places, we must attend to our souls. What feelings motivate our emotional withdraw? What fears press us to push others away? Are previous hurts twisting our present situation?

As I considered my response, I realized my fear of failure fueled my retreat. When someone leaves a group, declines an invitation, or refuses my help, I assume personal responsibility. My insecurities escalate as I revisit other times when people have departed, leaving me alone or feeling inadequate. Without even realizing it, I begin to base my leadership on someone else’s willingness to serve or stay.

As we acknowledge our emotions, they become easier to unwind. Our present situation might not be like the last one. This person isn’t the same as the one who left last time. And even if all things are equal, we aren’t the same. We’ve changed, moved forward, and grown wiser.

Instead of shutting down like normal, we attend to our indicators. We address our hurts. Then we refuse to let them define us. Instead we invite new possibilities and relationships to form.

Keeping the Door Open

Even when we let go and look forward, saying goodbye is seldom a one-time occurrence. It challenges us again and again. So how do we keep the doors to our ministries and hearts open, allowing others to come and go?

We lead from fullness, cultivating our inner life and inviting others to come alongside us. Tim Keller calls this “emotional wealth” and describes it as “a sense of being loved so deeply that when someone wrongs us we can afford to be generous, able to forgive.” What if we allowed Jesus to really fill our dry and desperate places? What if we set aside time to sit with him in silence and solitude?

On the days when I let God into my dark and dusty corners, I lead with more of myself. I don’t take things so personally. I welcome others into my life and encourage them in God’s work.

It becomes easier to relinquish ownership and embrace stewardship. I didn’t create our small group. I can’t make people volunteer or plug in. I don’t direct our future or dictate our growth. As leaders we play a part in ministry formation, vision, and development. But this isn’t our ultimate role.

We’re called to be stewards. God forms our groups. He calls the people. He guides our progress. When we lead out of stewardship—instead of ownership—we release ourselves from the pressure of making people stay and ministries grow, and we allow ourselves to simply join God where he’s already moving.

We find freedom to celebrate change as God’s provision and plan. Sometimes a new face on our leadership team breathes life back into the vision. Sometimes someone leaving is exactly what God planned to keep us dependent upon him.

Three days after my friend and her husband stepped down from their leadership role, another couple joined the team. The pair had wanted to lead and waited for an opportunity. Now the right position presented itself.

I know change doesn’t always happen so suddenly or succinctly. But every time the door swings shut, we can trust it will open again. It may surprise us, challenge us, and even change us. Yet it’s worth celebrating. God isn’t finished with our ministries or with us.

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.

December 19, 2013

Women Leading in a New Era

An interview with leadership consultant Nancy Ortberg


Formerly on staff at Willow Creek, leadership consultant Nancy Ortberg—also a speaker and author—is currently leading on staff at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. She talked with GFL about being in churches that don’t recognize women in leadership, the intersection of passion and humility, and gracefully shifting the reigns of leadership to the next generation.

Have you noticed any unique challenges faced by women leaders in the church today?

That men won’t let them lead. I think a lot of women are gifted for leadership, and I think a lot of men are comfortable with women leading in youth ministries, or the children’s department, or something involved with music, but as far as being equal peers and equal ministers together, I see a lot of obstacles that sometimes men put by marginalizing women over into those areas.

When women are in situations like that, how do you advise them to function within that situation?

That’s a great question. To keep it simple, I really do think there are only two options: one is to stay and be a part of the change, and the other one is to go and find a church where your gifts can be fully utilized. If you choose the first one, you’ve got to recognize that change will definitely be slower than you want and harder than you can imagine, and it may not work.

There is a CD series that my husband did—you can find on the Willow Creek website, in their Seeds bookstore. John did a 4-part series on an exegetical study of all the passages of Scripture that deal with men and women in ministry together.

I think having a theological foundation for what you believe is important. And ask lots of questions. Why do we not have more women on the elder board? Why do we rope women in only twice a year, to teach on Mother’s Day and Labor Day weekend? Just ask questions and be part of the conversation. That will be a slower haul, and a very, very frustrating one, but nothing changes without those things.

Another option is to go to a church that just totally embraces that, and there will be turbulence there too, but it will be a different kind of turbulence.

When our readers survey the landscape of leaders in the church today, are there a few to watch, to learn from? As you scan the horizon, who do you see doing leadership well?

Look for those leaders who are doing a couple of things: who are, first of all, leading at the intersection of passion and humility. That’s a tension that’s really necessary, but it’s difficult to manage well without God. So leaders who are passionate about the force the church can be in the world, and the difference it can make, and have humility to know they don’t have all the answers. They are one of us, not elevated over us.

Look for leaders who are helping churches to understand that, with less and less people going to church, church as usual is not going to reach people for Jesus. And that we are going to have to go out into our communities and get involved in social justice issues, and serving the marginalized, and education, and poverty, and trafficking in a very authentic way, for us to earn the right, and regain the reputation, that those who follow Jesus love those things and are involved in those things. People aren’t breaking down the doors of the church to get into churches anymore. So follow leaders who know that it’s going to take a different kind of church to reach this next generation.

Today in the church, Millennials are taking the reins of leadership from the Baby Boomers. What are your thoughts on that type of generational dynamic, in terms of leadership?

For many generations we were talking about the need to pass the baton. This is nothing new. In organizations and in churches, for generations, the baton has been passed. So what does that mean? It’s not quite a baton passing because you don’t just hand the baton to the runner in front of you and stop running.

It’s more like the picture I got, years ago, when John and I went to see the movie Seabiscuit. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, there’s a scene that’s just remarkable. Red Pollard was the jockey who rode Seabiscuit, and he had been in a terrible accident and broken many bones in his body. He was unable to ride Seabiscuit for the better part of a year. And like any good jockey, he knew that horse inside and out. He knew how to make that horse run and win. So the owner was a little bit hesitant, but had to find another jockey. So they found another jockey who sat at the hospital, at his bedside, and Red coached him. He taught him every nuance of that horse. And at one point he said, “Here’s what happens when he falls behind: He’s got to get eye to eye with another horse who’s got fire in his eye. And after just a couple of seconds of that he will take off and he will win the race.”

So toward the end of the movie, Red Pollard has healed enough to be able to ride Seabiscuit again. He is at the starting gate at the Santa Anita racetrack and the other jockey, who had to race Seabiscuit while Red Pollard was in the hospital, was there on another horse. And the other jockey, as they got into the starting gate, gave him a little tip of the hat. Kind of, “Glad you’re back on the horse.”

The race started, and the cinematography of this next section is just amazing because with sound and sight and camera angles they remind you that every bone in Red Pollard’s body is aching and creaking and not quite knit back together real well. And additionally, Seabiscuit hasn’t been ridden by him in a while, and is falling farther and farther behind. Then the other jockey saw what was happening with Seabiscuit and intentionally held his horse back, long enough for Seabiscuit to catch up with him, giving Seabiscuit that eye to eye with the other horse. Then he turned his face to Red Pollard and said, “See you at the finish line.” Then Seabiscuit pulled ahead and won the race.

And I’m telling you, I can still remember how I felt when I saw that. I think it’s very bad horse-riding strategy, very bad for the owners of the horse, I’m sure they were not pleased. But it’s a vision for me of what it means for each generation to intentionally pull themselves back a little bit and to let the younger generation come up alongside them to spend time together, for them to be able to see the fire in your eyes and then for you to be able to wish them well as they move ahead of you toward the finish line. And I think there ought to be this really intentional working alongside of, reciprocal mentoring—not just older to younger—where we’re just strengthening the church day by day, month by month, year by year, generation by generation.

What are you working on these days?

I’m working a couple days a week at our church doing leadership development, which is a real collaborative effort with all of the leaders on our staff, in a 150-year-old Presbyterian Church, trying to carve out “what does church need to look like.” So I try to really do a collaborative effort to get us to align on what we think it means to lead in that context.

I’m also doing some outside consulting with both corporate clients and nonprofit clients, churches and education systems.

And then I have a little writing project on the side I’m trying to get done. I’m not sure my editor believes I’ll ever finish it, but slowly but surely I am working on it.

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

December 16, 2013

Understanding God’s Heart for Justice

An interview with Stephan Bauman, President & CEO of World Relief


Since its inception, World Relief has been a convening organization of the Justice Conference, which seeks to impact a generation for justice. It was my pleasure to sit down with World Relief’s CEO, Stephan Bauman, to discuss justice, the way we perceive people, and our contributions to the world.

I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at the 2013 conference. One of the things you talked about was bending your knee to the wrong teachers, and why it is important for us as leaders to have the right people speaking into our lives. You also spoke about the importance of having a diverse group of mentors. Can you share a little bit about that for our reading audience?

Yes. I am a North American white male, and I am well-intentioned and I love people, and it wasn’t until I went abroad that I began to see things that I had grown up with that I never knew were there. That is often the life and response of those who live in the dominant culture. Initially, I learned from basically evangelical suburban churches—wonderful people. I had gone to universities and I had studied philosophy from largely European heritage. All of that stuff is not bad, but it wasn’t until I made friends with an African named Moses, in Sierra Leone, that I begin to perceive differently.

Moses and I developed a sufficiently deep enough relationship where he said candid things to me. Moses lives in a culture where the hospitality of wealth and honor is evident. The beautiful thing about most of the world is that honor to a guest is important. So until we move beyond that threshold of being a guest to the relationship of being a friend, we only hear what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. As a friend, Moses said, “Stephan, when you talk, we listen; when you give, we must receive; when you bring charity, we are the receivers; you are the benefactor; we are the beneficiary.” That statement really confronted my charity-mindedness. I mean, my intentions were very good, but I needed to rethink everything.

And I needed to think, “Well, what really is justice? What does it mean for me to learn from Africans? What does it mean for me to sit at the table as a peer, not the leader?” So when I say, “I bent my knee to the wrong teachers,” I meant I needed more diverse teachers. I needed to learn from Africans and Asians; I needed to learn in friendship with Africans like my friend Siprion, who we interviewed on the stage of the Justice Conference. That moment changed everything for me. And I still am working on what does it mean to lessen that power differential between dominant cultures. I don’t make apologies for who I am because God has made me who I am, but what is my role in lessening that gap so that people like Siprion and people Siprion represents—Congolese—have a place at the table.

Siprion shared a powerful story about a group of American women who came to speak with victimized women in the Congo. He said that under the conditions, the American women were moved to shame when they saw the Congolese women. Why is it important for Americans, and American women in particular, to not go about misperceiving people who are different?

Lynn Hybels, who is a leader and cofounder of Willow Creek Community Church, went to watch a friend run a marathon. As she was watching the marathon and looking for her friend, she saw another woman wearing a T-shirt that read, “Done Watching” on the front. And as that woman ran by, Lynn saw the back of her T-shirt and it said, “Doing.” So Lynn took that small message to heart. From that experience, she said, “I have to do something, I can’t just use the excuse that I don’t know what to do; it’s too far away; it’s too difficult.”

So Lynn, through a ton of prayer and on her own courage, decided to take on some very difficult issues like the Congo and Palestine and Israel. She led a team of 10 people to the Congo and she went with this attitude, which is chief to your question: We’re going to listen, we’re going to understand because we don’t know. We are leaders and we are going to do what God has called us to. We’re done watching, we’re gonna do—but there’s a way of doing that is postured in humility, it’s postured in listening. So they went and they listened.

In fact, they listened to 10 women tell their stories and shed tears for 11 hours. And they left with friendships that continue, prayers that continue, and a request from the 10 women to “please tell our stories.” Listening to someone’s story gives dignity to the other. It validates them. It humanizes people. And so what I’m saying is that in the work of justice, real change and transformation happened, as much to the women from the States as the women from the Congo. And again, it’s a flat table. We all need to learn in this together, so it’s not only what we do in the end, it’s about who we are, how we live it, and what we do.

There is great humility found in listening to the stories, heartbeats, and contexts of others. And there is also great humility in understanding who we are in Christ and knowing that whatever good gift we offer as a reasonable service will be well received by him, the giver of gifts. God will take our “good” and make it enough. In Elisa Morgan’s book She Did What She Could, Morgan references the ministry of Mary in Bethany as she anointed the feet of Jesus. It was a big sacrifice for Mary. Sometimes we look at big issues, particularly in relation to justice, and we feel that the issues are too overwhelming, but we can all do something. We simply have to make the commitment to do what we can, even when we feel it is not a huge contribution. God can and does use our small steps of obedience, along with the small steps of others’ obedience, as part of his redemptive story, which has miraculous implications for the entire world.

Sometimes all God wants us to do is listen, learn, pray, and then respond. How good are your listening skills? What are you learning? How will you respond?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a writer, speaker, advocate, Women’s Mentoring Ministry Leader, and student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A. Christian Leadership, May 2014). Connect with Natasha through her website,; blog, A Sista’s Journey; Twitter @asistasjourney and Facebook at NatashaSistrunkRobinson.

December 12, 2013

Lead Me On: Dodging Dogma

Like Moses, I must resist the temptation to add my own requirements to God’s


Over a holiday dinner once, I heard one family member tell another that drinking wine was forbidden by Jesus.

“Forbidden?” the first person asked.

Here we go, I thought.

“Forbidden,” the second person said.

“Wasn’t Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine?” the first asked.

“Oh yes,” said the second person. “But it was weak wine and anyway they drank it because back then the water was so bad.”

“Interesting,” said the first. “But let me get this straight—just to be clear—Jesus didn’t turn that water into better water.”

Like it or not, Christians are in this thing together (1 Peter 2:9-10), but that togetherness can get thorny when differentiating between truthful doctrine and personal dogmas.

Dogma is not supposed to be a bad word. Most simply, according to theologian Charles Cardinal Journet, dogma is doctrine. However, today’s Wiktionary refers to dogmatic phrases like arrogant and based on presumption rather than analysis.

Wiktionary aside, back in the day, the apostles knew dogma when they saw it. For instance, dogmatic people were harping at Apostle Paul about circumcision and he ripped into them, saying, “I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves” (Galatians 5:12).

Perhaps we should think of dogma as doctrine plus a little something extra called what-God-did-not-add. Which, FYI, God does not like.

Just ask Moses.

Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, and after a lot of ups and downs on the way to the promised land, the Israelites were complaining again—this time because the community had no water (Numbers 20:2). So God told Moses to “Speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water…to satisfy the whole community” (Numbers 20:8).

Moses gathered the assembly and said, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then he raised his arm and hit the rock with his staff two times, and water gushed out (Numbers 20:10-11).

Wait. Hitting? No hitting. God did not mention hitting. Using a staff was so Exodus 17:6, Moses! A new day brings new enlightenments, pal. And P.S. self-important much? Must we bring water from the rock?

If Charles Spurgeon was correct in saying, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right,” then we can imagine Moses was about to have a bad day.

And if Moses, even after the split Red Sea (Exodus 14:21), the manna he’d never seen before (Exodus 16:15), and the tablet do-over (Exodus 34:1), still fell prey to adding his own ego to God’s Word, then that, my friend, is a red flag of warning. We are going to need nerves of steel to avoid this nasty habit.

God told Moses, “You did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel…” and as a result, no promised land for you, Moses (Numbers 20:12).

Moses didn’t trust God enough. Is that why we get dogmatic too?

When I hear myself cajoling, pushing, emphasizing in a (teeny, tiny, just a little bit) dogmatic way, I only mean to be helpful. Because I see the situation right in front of me and let me tell you all my add-ons are necessary because GOD’S WORD IS NOT GETTING THROUGH.

Or is it?

Look at the Egyptians. At the time of Moses’ dealings with Pharaoh to get the Israelites out of Egypt, there are a few seldom-mentioned sentences that give me pause.

“All Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the LORD!” (Exodus 14:18)

Wait. Who?

The Egyptians had not been groomed to call out to God. And yet God was using his signs and wonders to demonstrate himself to them too.

A dogmatic attitude from us might reword an otherwise edifying witness just when someone is on the brink of knowing God—someone we didn’t even think would be listening.

That would be sad. Because God promises that he is pursuing “…not wanting anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV)

Just as he pursued us. He uses encouragement and “great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV) from others to draw us in from being so very alone and so very lost into being…found.

The elusive one-way ticket to freedom from bad dogma is otherwise known as good doctrine. Instruction. But as Paul put it to Timothy, “careful instruction.” The King James word for that is longsuffering.

Longsuffering. A feminine Greek noun for constancy, steadfastness, patience, endurance. Does that set a tone for our witness?

Manhattan pastor Tim Keller made a point during a 2012 New Canaan Society interview that the attitude and tone of our witness count. He said he does not like the kind of “gleefulness” found in preaching a message with a tone like “If you disbelieve, you’re gonna get it and you’re gonna be so sorry.” However, he likewise pointed out that we must tell the truth. He said, “You don’t have to do doctrinal reengineering to get the spirit and tone you want.”

His recommendation? “If a person senses that you love them…”

Do they? When we speak. How we live. Do they know that we love them? They should.

The apostle Paul agreed, “What is important is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6).

And then he castigated the agitators.

So. Our mouths should still have muscle. But where dogma may have teeth, doctrine comes with kindness, grounded in love, not to crush, but to strengthen.

Holiday dinners will never be the same.

Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has managed marketing and media relations needs for clients such as Microsoft, Wells Fargo and UPS.

December 9, 2013

Odd Woman In

God has a plan for everyone, even broken and hurting people like me (and you)


Most of the last two decades of my life have been spent as the “odd woman out”: out of love, out of hope, and out of control. As the “odd” one, I found myself either ignored by others or noticed, but regardless, I found pain waiting for me. Thankfully, I did not remain “out.” God’s mercy, hope, and love found me, leading me to become the “odd woman in.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines odd as “different from what is usual or expected.” As a 9-year-old little girl, I certainly was odd and so was my life. Having lost my father, and my mother being emotionally unavailable, my 9-year-old heart and mind were left to figure out life and love on their own. While friends played with Barbie dolls or spent an afternoon playing dress-up, I spent the day creating ways to have people notice and love me—even my friends’ parents. This pursuit continued throughout my life. In fact, this pursuit became a way of life for me.

Although I became a Christian in the eighth grade and was called to ministry at 16, my mother and I had a very strained relationship. Our time together was worse than any war. We said words that were as devastating as any bomb could be. I finally graduated high school and went to college at a Christian university to pursue my life in ministry. While at college, I found some healing for myself, but more important, my mother and I found healing for our relationship.

My senior year in college, God decided to end our feuding. I woke up one morning longing to be at home with my mother. I could not understand the urge and tried to fight it, but God won. I went home and for the first time, my mother and I talked about our hurt and, for the first time since my father’s death, talked about his death. I am so thankful God intervened so strongly. Two years after that moment, I found myself the odd woman out again as my mother succumbed to cancer. At 24 I had no one.

Desperate for love and hope, I clung to anyone who entered my life. Unfortunately, I entered my first abusive marriage, followed by divorce and a second destructive marriage and divorce. After my second divorce, I turned my back on God. To me, I was the odd one God never wanted. I convinced myself that if there were a God, he wouldn’t allow me to face such loneliness, rejection, and heartache. Life without him certainly would prove to be better, or so I thought.

I lived a life void of God for two years. In my world, I was finally “in.” I had everything I wanted and could not have cared less about what God or anyone else thought. I felt free. Then it happened again. I entered another abusive relationship.

This relationship left me more emotionally and mentally bankrupt than the others. I woke one morning finally realizing I had two options with my life: Either I was going to die or I could live. It was my choice. I knew where I could find life, but would God really allow me to be “in” after all I had done? God, so full of love and grace, proved to me that I was never out but always in: in his love, in his grasp, and in his plan.

Because of who God is, he did not allow me to remain the odd woman out. Instead, he welcomed me back to the path he called me to at 16. Today I serve in full-time ministry. The brokenness and hurt I endured have allowed me to provide comfort to others as well as do what Paul described: “We stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:6-9). God has proven to me that if he has the power to give life to the dead, he has the power to revive my life, and he has the power to revive yours.

No matter your past or current brokenness, hurt, or pain, God has a plan for you. As God’s daughter, “Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir” (Galatians 4:7). You cannot be the odd woman out when it comes to his love. He invites you in: into his arms, into his rest, into his love. No one or nothing can snatch you from the Father’s hand (John 10:29). He is forever in love with you. Nothing you can do, or have done, can separate you from God’s love and the plan he has for you (Romans 8:38-39; Psalm 138:8).

As you pursue his will for your life and walk your own journey of healing, you may encounter doubt, confusion, and guilt. Even today, I struggled with accepting what God has given me. I am finally doing what I love: loving people and helping them find hope and healing. Yet I feel as though I don’t deserve it. However, what I, what you, must rest in is not what we deserve, but in what God desires for us. God has called us into the body of Christ, and he desires to use us (1 Corinthians 12:27). Your brokenness doesn’t make you weaker; it makes you stronger. It makes you a vessel God can use for his glory (2 Corinthians 12:9)!

No longer am I, no longer are you, odd women out. Because of God’s amazing love and grace, we are odd women in: in his body, in his grace, and forever in his love.

Peri Gilbert is the life group coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, La.

December 5, 2013

Multicultural Ministry at Work

An Interview with Vancouver Pastor Joèl Adrienne Amzil


Joèl Adrienne Amzil is an associate pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Vancouver, a congregation known for its rich multicultural ministry. We wanted to hear more from Joel about Trinity, her role there, and how this multicultural congregation worships together.

Joèl, tell us a little about TBC.

Trinity Baptist Church has been serving the west side of Vancouver for 99 years. We are really looking forward to our 100th anniversary next year!

We certainly have seen quite a few changes over the last century, especially with regard to ethnicity. Currently, we have a large population of Mandarin-speaking Chinese, a significant number of people from the Philippines, and then our final third is made up of a mix of people who originate from a few dozen countries from all around the globe.

Pentecost is always a fun and meaningful day for us, as we fill our sanctuary and our fellowship space with large flags from all of the countries we have represented here. In fact, each year we are asked to add even more flags as people from additional countries join our church family. We are running out of room. The only continent we don't have represented at Trinity is Antarctica.

It is important to note that amid this diversity, we have a vision for one community of Christ comprised of people from many lands.

A lot of congregations “want” diversity, but have failed to achieve it. What would you say it is about TBC that has caused it to be such fertile soil for the kind of diversity—and unity!—that marks the kingdom Jesus ushered in?

Well, geographic location has something to do with it! Vancouver is very ethnically diverse. But beyond that, Trinity has been open to having fellowships where people of the same ethnicity gather, while still all worshiping as one body. We also have a significant ESL program that has drawn people in. Our first service is translated into Mandarin.

This vision of one church with many ethnicities is attractive to people. It's not only representative of our city, but also of God's kingdom. Also, many new immigrants to Canada want to fully integrate into Canadian life. And joining a multi-ethnic church is one way to do that. They could go to a mono-ethnic church representing the ethnicity of their home country, but some choose a church home with more diversity. Multi-ethnic ministry is not always easy, bit it is most certainly worth the effort. And we believe it is sustainable as it is the desire of the heart of Christ.

Can you describe your ministry role at TBC?

I am currently one of the associate pastors. I participate in typical pastoral duties such as preaching, teaching, and visitation. I've also presided over a number of funerals, and I officiate weddings now and then. I also oversee youth and children's ministries. Never have I known a greater group of young people than we have here at Trinity. I am far from the typical “youth pastor,” but they seem like me anyway.

Say something more about not being a “typical youth pastor!” What’s typical and how are you atypical?

For starters, I'm terrified of dodge ball. You will not catch me camping under any circumstances. I've never played laser tag, nor do I ever plan to. I have the best volunteers in the world that do these sorts of things with our youth, but it's just not me. And they seem to be more than okay with that. Instead, I connect with them in other ways.

Some of our readers are leaders in congregations that would love to be increasing the diversity in their congregations. Can you offer any advice to these clergy and lay people?

I wish there was a simple formula. But prayer is always the best place to start. Even if there is such a desire amidst the leadership, there must be a true desire that infiltrates the majority of the congregation.

There also needs to be a serious willingness to be open to change. You can't do things as you always have if you are to fully welcome diversity.

A willingness to really learn about the cultures of those who start to trickle in is important, too. Learn their communication styles. Be open to having translation available to those who need it. Really be willing to get to the root of issues and dialogue.

Also, ethnic diversity among the visible leaders helps. We have board members, ministry coordinators, staff members, and worship team leaders that represent Trinity's diversity. So our church is not just one that welcomes people from all nations to worship here, but they will be invited to lead and to minister as they are gifted and called.

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

December 2, 2013

What the Church Needs to Know about Immigration

An Interview with Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief


Immigration was one of the hot-button issues of the last presidential election, and it continues to be a divisive issue in the halls of Washington DC today. Unfortunately, far too many Christians and evangelical churches are uneducated on this important issue or taking their “facts” from opinionated and unresearched political and media sources that do not have a holistic Christian worldview.

There is no doubt about it, immigration is a source of tension for all of us. Thankfully, World Relief has made it their mission to “empower the local Church to serve the most vulnerable” and that includes standing for displaced refugees and immigrants.

What are some misperceptions about immigration that the church needs to understand?

There are a few things a lot of churches should know about refugees and immigrants. A lot of them actually come into this country having left everything behind, especially refugees who are fleeing persecution because of war and conflict, or they’re being targeted because of their faith. Literally, they step off a plane in the United States and all they have in their possession are two bags of clothes or a bag of clothes and some pots and pans. When they come here, they just need help in understanding how to manage day-to-day, transition into their new entry-level jobs, and how to get from one place to another. A lot of them need our help learning English and assistance with child care.

Since many of them have gone through really traumatic experiences overseas, they are looking for friendship and partnership, and support for their families. There’s a lot of need for them to navigate some of the legal processes and be aware of the services that are available to them. Imagine if you went to a foreign country and you don’t know the language. Think of the basic things you would want help with from a local person, and those are exactly the things that refugees and immigrants really need. So like the rest of us, they are looking for help with basic needs and a friend. They don’t need a lot.

Concerning undocumented immigrants, it’s really hard for them to get right with the law and integrate fully because they don’t have legal status. In the end, the church has to stand in the gap to speak up for better policies and laws that are actually affecting refugees and immigrants. When we have millions of people in our country who are undocumented, it’s our responsibility to speak up and call for immigration reform that will change the immigration laws so immigrants can have an opportunity to get right with the law and earn the right to stay in this country.

We can all do a better job of understanding cultures that are different than our own. For those of us who have taken the strides, I feel like we receive more from immigrants than we would ever be able to give them. In general, refugees and immigrants are really resilient people. Hearing their stories of what they went through and understanding all the ways that God is working through their lives really expands our mission of how God moves and how God works all around the world. So I think partnering with refugees provides a great opportunity for churches to welcome and to receive a lot from refugees and immigrants by expanding their view of God.

It’s my hope that churches will partner with immigrant churches and really start to understand their needs. And it’s not about us giving; it’s actually about us partnering with churches that are already there, and insuring that our relationships develop.

Thank you so much for sharing this critical information with us. In the conversations concerning justice, we often speak of changing the way we see other people and breaking down racial, ethnic, and social/economic barriers. From your perspective, can you speak to the importance of raising the Asian American voice in the church?

Yes. It’s amazing because when you look at the demographics of the United States, the Asian American population is probably one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, and because of that a lot of immigrants come to the U.S. I know a lot of Koreans come to the U.S., and a lot of them are very strong believers. So I hope that the American church is really open to learning from the Korean American or the Asian American community because the way that we understand our theology and the different ways we experience God are all ways that can expand God’s vision in the American church. I actually think God is bringing immigrants here for a reason and maybe part of that reason is to revitalize the evangelical church of the United States.

The American church needs to understand the value that immigrants bring. They’re very family-oriented, they’re very hard working. There are so many values that immigrants have which can potentially bring America back to our core values. I think immigrant churches, including the Asian American church, is going to be fundamental to Americans returning to the core message of the gospel.

You share the sentiments of author Soong Chan Rah, who made this excellent point in his book The Next Evangelicalism:

“Too often the future of America evangelism is viewed as a battle over the heart and soul of middle America (i.e. white America), when the restoration of faith in American culture may actually depend on the ongoing growth of immigrant and ethnic minority Christian communities. So what is the response of the white evangelical community to the changing face of America? So far, it has been one of conspicuous silence on the issue of immigration…How much of our view on immigration is driven by a political and social agenda rather than a biblical one?” (InterVarsity Press, 2009, page 75)

I am aware that you also have a book that can better help us understand these issues.

Yes, the book is titled Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate. I co-wrote it with Matthew Soerens, who also works at World Relief. We wrote the book together because for so many years, we were getting asked the same exact questions at churches, questions like Why can’t immigrants come the legal way? There is so much misinformation about who immigrants are, what impact they have on the U.S., so we wanted to have one resource which answered those important questions. This book has really served as a resource for churches to get their basic questions answered about immigration. In the end, we want Christians and churches to have that deep understanding based on the Bible, and we also want them to get engaged and to actually act on what they know.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a writer, speaker, advocate, Women’s Mentoring Ministry Leader, and student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A. Christian Leadership, May 2014). Connect with Natasha through her website,; blog, A Sista’s Journey; Twitter @asistasjourney and Facebook at NatashaSistrunkRobinson.


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