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February 27, 2014

Soul Care, Part 1

An interview with Executive Director for Engage International, Mindy Caliguire

At Gifted for Leadership, we’re all about encouraging women to understand that God has gifted many of us specifically for leadership and that if we have that gift it’s not really our choice whether or not we use it; it’s just a matter of where and how and whether we put it to good use. How has God called you to use the leadership gifts he has given you?

Like many women, I was a bit of a reluctant leader. I have a lot of ideas but I wasn’t used to being the person who was looked to. Over time, God very gently called me, through the validation of community where people were giving voice to how my input was helping either the organization or their lives specifically. People were coming to me and saying, “Why are you not stepping out? Everyone is looking to you for guidance in this scenario and yet you’re not stepping up.” So it took a bit of prodding from the community.

Eventually I did recognize God’s part in that. And the more I stepped into things, the more validated by my involvement it became. So it’s been a reluctant thing, but over time God has continued to bring opportunities my way that I probably wouldn’t have pursued but I knew it was obedience to take.

Some of what you described is pretty common for women leaders. It’s good for all of us to hear someone describe our own experiences.

Research has identified that one of the ways women are different from men is that they have to feel that they’re invited in. They’re not likely to insert themselves, whereas in a mostly male leadership culture, guys just expect that of each other. If you have something to offer, then for heaven’s sake don’t sit around waiting for somebody to say something. Get off the bench and go do it.

That is apparently a gender issue, whether it’s socialized or not. Certainly we can come up with examples of men and women who don’t default to that. But once I knew God was inviting me to it, whether or not the men or women around me were, that was all I needed. But I did need to know that God was inviting me in.

Primarily how are you using your leadership gifts now?

It has changed a lot. I started Soul Care-ish things as early as 1998, and that was just a dream to help people learn how to care for their souls. Most of what I was doing at that point was coalescing great resources, helping artists and writers give voice to things that would help people. It was kind of vague and ill-defined—a big, huge vision, but mostly a dream. Over time, as doors have opened, God has used me to be entrepreneurial to try things that nobody else would do and others would think were crazy. So it was very independent. Not fully isolated by any stretch, but very independent. Then I would get invited again into some things that were more organizational, like serving on a small elder team and finding my voice amidst the other leaders there, and loving that and seeing the fruit of the decisions we made together. Then on the staff at Willow Creek, in a structural role, a system, and having to adapt to influence with almost no authority. That took me to a kind of leadership that had to be more vision-oriented than structural.

Then especially with the writing and speaking I did for those intervening years, it was almost frustrating because there is a part of me that loves to build things, and I would go and speak and I would leave. I would try to integrate what I was doing to serve what they were trying to build, but in the end you’re a contract laborer. You come in and do what they need, and you leave. So I was mostly using the leadership to cast a vision and compel people into a different way of life, which is a big part of what I do with Soul Care. But I felt like I wasn’t building anything.

That’s what I loved about being invited to join the WCA. I was not only building things, but building some entrepreneurial things, new ways we could help church leaders lead for transformation. I was once again working with a team in an organization, and I loved that. But again it was a shift from more of a voice leadership to a structural leadership.

Now, in the last five months I’ve been asked to give some pretty strong leadership to a start-up subsidiary of the WCA. It’s more like leading the start-up phase of a business, yet it’s all about helping churches with transformation and leveraging technology to do that. So I find myself in yet another thing where I’m aligning different work projects, getting deep into some of the technology needs, developing marketing plans, having to handle situations with employees that are struggling. It’s just a very different, more direct leadership role. I still do what I do on the side with Soul Care, but the essence of my formation message is the deep undergirding of everything we’re doing.

Speaking of that Soul Care focus that you’ve had, how did God produce that passion for Soul Care in you? Where did that come from?

Most people, if they’re familiar with me at all, would know that that just emerges out of my story of some pretty deep brokenness in the 10 years that I was in Boston when we were planting a church. In a nutshell, I was severely depleted but had no clue and just kept pushing and pushing. I had no rhetoric, no way of thinking about my own soul. You know, a soul is saved, what else do you need to know about it, right? All my drivenness, my co-dependencies, led me right over a cliff of my own physical health that sidelined me from my own life for a few months. In that season, I was doing some deep reflection, deep prayer, really wrestling with God, confused. And I emerged with a very different resolve that anything I was going to attempt in my life had to come from a different place—not from my striving, my achieving, my leveraging, harnessing. I was absolutely done being so very intentional and strategic. I resolved to build as deep a relationship with God as I knew how. I had no idea what that meant, but I said, “From now on, from that place of deep relationship, God can do through me whatever he jolly well pleases. I’m done caring. I’m done trying so hard, I’m done.” And the crazy thing is, the deeper I dove into a new way of life, into authentic connection with God, with community, with my true stuff, the more doors kept swinging wide open for influence in ways that I never would have had the guts to include in a strategic plan. It seemed to validate further what God’s talking about in John 15. You abide, you remain, you trust, you freefall, you dive deep and really let the outcomes go, and if God chooses to bear fruit through you in a season, you rejoice. If there’s a season that doesn’t have any apparent fruit, you just rest in God. What a change.

So many of us come out of those deep valleys with a sense of mission and purpose.

And it was unintended. My only mission was to not be driven anymore. Everything that came by way of my leadership, my teaching, was all secondary. My mission is to build the deepest relationship with God that I know how. And He can do through me whatever he jolly well pleases.

February 24, 2014

People’s Voices Matter

An interview with Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber


She was called into ministry in a comedy club. When Nadia Bolz-Weber, working as a comic, lost a friend to suicide, her community demanded, “Well, you’ll do the funeral, right?” They’d identified her as “the religious one.” Nadia describes the experience of delivering his eulogy: “I looked out at this room of hundreds of people—comics, academics, queers—I realized that I felt called to be a pastor to my people.” Today she serves the Denver congregation she founded, House for All Sinners and Saints.

Your sense of call to ministry was atypical. Tell us a little bit about it.

Well, I think in a sense I had a very particular call to ministry. It wasn’t generic in the sense of, oh, I just vaguely feel called like maybe I should be a pastor somewhere. I felt called to be a pastor to a particular people in a particular place. I could never see myself just serving another congregation. So my call really was just basically to start a church I would want to go to because I just didn’t find many out there.

So specifically what need or void in the church’s ministry did you recognize that caused you to want to start this? What was missing in the church for you?

Well, I just feel uncomfortable, honestly, in most churches I go to. Either there is a formality to it that makes me uncomfortable or sometimes there is sort of façade of perfection and nicee nice chit-chat but I have a hard time finding accessible. I don’t work like a lot of people who are in churches, honestly, and so people may have been nice enough when I got there, but they always just feel like spaces that I have to culturally commute to in order to access.

You pastor a church that’s part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Can you tell us who worships at House for All Sinners and Saints? How do you describe that very diverse demographic?
I think most of them have a strong sense of irony. I think they are people who really just have a low tolerance for bullshit and who want a space where the truth about themselves in the world and God can be spoken out loud. And where they don’t have to check parts of who they are, or parts of their story, at the door in order to be a part of it. I think they’re people who, you know I always use that phase, they know the difference between American cheese and actual cheese as a metaphor for a lot of things. They know the difference between what is real and what is fake.

For those who haven’t experienced the life of your congregation, how would you say that it is different from the typical mainline congregation?

The interesting thing is that we are mainly doing what other Lutheran churches do. We are just doing it differently. For instance, the liturgy is really traditional, very traditional—we always chant the Psalm, and we chant the Kyrie, and the Sanctus—but it is done in a round. We can actually see each other, but the space itself has been democratized. Most churches, there is sort of the actual space for the two special people that stand up front. Right? It’s weird.

And the liturgy is led by fifteen or eighteen different people; they choose when they walk in. They can choose a booklet that says “gospel reading” or “assisting minister with the Eucharist” or “prayer of the day” or whatever. People get to decide when they walk in if they want to be readers in worship that day. Nobody deems them worthy of it, or good enough at it, or you have been around long enough to have this role. You can step in the first time and do a major musical in worship. It is really traditional liturgy done nontraditional.

I know that you would not volunteer this on your own, but I am curious what you would say that the larger church could learn from your congregation.

I think people’s voices matter. I mean that in many ways. One, it is important to have a lot of different voices saying sacred things in space together as Christians. Two, actual human voices singing matter. We don’t have a band. We don’t have an organ. We are totally a capella. All of the music you hear comes out of the bodies of the people who showed up. People know that showing up actually matters. They are produces and not consumers. I think that it is a population that generally isn’t found in church and yet there they are. We had to add a second service on Sundays because we are running out of space and chairs. Part of it is because on some level, them showing up actually really matters. I think people are looking for that kind of space in their life rather than showing up to consume religious products and professionals that produce it.

Margot Starbuck has fewer piercings and tattoos than Nadia Bolz Weber.

February 20, 2014

How I Rediscovered Joy

I was so busy serving, I lost sight of God.


When I became a Christian, the biggest thing that changed about me was my self-centeredness. Before becoming a Christian, I mistakenly thought I was an extrovert because I befriended people who I thought would be useful to me or who made me feel good about myself. After I became a Christian, I realized I was an introvert. My attitude toward people changed when I understood I was here to serve them, not the reverse. Suddenly people became draining rather than invigorating.

In spite of that, I threw myself wholeheartedly into ministry. Those who led me to Christ pounded into me that the only thing that lasted on earth was people, so if I was not investing in people, my time on earth was wasted. Even though being with people started to feel like it was sucking the life out of me, I felt compelled to be as involved as I possibly could with those in our church, which translated into volunteering for any need that was obvious. If someone needed a children’s worship leader, I volunteered, even though working with kids wasn’t my forte. When it was pointed out that we should have a women’s ministry in our church, I took it on, even though I’d had no experience in such things. Occasionally I even did things I liked, such as teaching an adult Bible study, but those opportunities were hit and miss. I just felt lucky when I actually enjoyed something I was doing. It never occurred to me that should have been the norm rather than the exception.

I also felt particularly drawn to hurting people. I suddenly understood the riches I’d been given in Christ and felt it was my duty and mission to invest in those who didn’t comprehend that yet. As a result, I was constantly drawn into situations over my head and needs beyond my ability to meet. So not only was I defying my personality—the basic way God made me—I was also trying to be a savior to those who should have been looking to the true Savior, not my poor imitation of one.

The problem was that it took me years to realize this. I continually lived on the edge of exhaustion and thought I was being a good follower of Christ as a result. I saw the weariness as a badge of honor. I was a warrior who fought to the end, even if it took my last ounce of strength.

Eventually, however, I became so tired that I was essentially useless. I could offer no one anything because I’d become so needy. What was I missing?

I recently came across this quote from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II that summed up the big hole in my approach:

"We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we’re doing it, I think we’re meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds’ song and the frosty sunrise."

Lewis’s quote is a framework for how I rediscovered who I was and how God had made me to be. Each of the things mentioned has been a delight to unearth once again deep in my soul.

Our Lord

My relationship with God had ceased to exist outside of what I could do for him. As I pulled back, I realized I was so overwhelmed with meeting needs that I’d forgotten what it meant to enjoy my relationship with Christ. Once I began to let that seep into my consciousness, everything changed. I began to listen to God and let him lead me into the ministry he had for me rather than the one I’d mistakenly carved out for myself. I remembered the joy I’d felt in the Bible when I’d first come to Christ. I threw out the way I was “supposed” to do things, such as endless prayer lists and studying the Bible only in order to teach it to others. Instead I began to spend hours just listening with an open Bible on my lap. Sometimes this turned into prayers for others, but it often just became a time of deep food from God’s Word that nourished me beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

Our Friends

Because I’d surrounded myself with needy people, I’d lost touch with those who fed and challenged me. So I formed a Bible study of all the women I admire most in our church—those I love and I want to be more like—healthy women who build me up rather than tear me down. We meet weekly and do a simple observation, interpretation, application study of a text. It has been the most fulfilling Bible study I’ve ever been a part of. These women challenge me, but mostly they encourage me. I can’t wait to see them each week and hear the richness they will open for me as we study, laugh, cry, and pray together.

I also just started connecting with these women for fun. We’ve had countless meals together, watched movies, and gone on walks together. I’m having more fun than I’ve had in years.

Our Food

Food had become a necessary evil for me. It represented temptation and a time stealer, so I depended a lot on pre-prepared meals and caffeine-laden drinks to keep me going. Now I am learning to slow down and savor the abundance God has given me. I am enjoying preparing meals for my family and friends. They are simple fares, but full of wholesome goodness and homemade, and all the more enjoyable in the presence of those I love.

Our Sleep

If food had become a necessary evil, sleep was an even more malevolent wickedness. It meant more time away from things that had to be done, and even worse, hours of wakefulness when I wanted to sleep. I was so busy that I couldn’t turn my mind off, so the wee hours of the night became a torment to me and I lived in constant exhaustion. I’d tell myself I could get through one more day, I’d make it, but the one more day stretched on relentlessly.

To remedy that, I now make sure I spend time winding down each evening. For me that means unplugging. I read to slow my mind down and redirect it to better things. A friend also told me about how she memorizes Scripture that she recites when she wakes in the nighttime watch. That practice has helped me tremendously to redirect the dark thoughts that invade when I should be resting.

Our Jokes

I have always laughed easily, but it has often been nervous laughter rather than true heartfelt belly chuckles. I’m trying to be aware of the difference, but not so much that it causes any angst. I look for the humor in my own life and in those around me. I also am drawn more now to those who make me laugh.

I also write fiction. I had written serious articles for years, but I find particular joy in making up stories. My books are light and uplifting. The great American novel may be full of angst, but I have no interest in writing that way at this point in my life.

The Birds’ Song and the Frosty Sunrise

I’ve always been aware that seeing God in nature renews me as nothing else does other than his Word, but in my busyness, I wasn’t taking time to notice the many messages of God’s love and majesty that he constantly communicates to me through his creation. I got a bird feeder and watched the beautiful little creatures God sent my way. I bought really warm clothes so I could take walks year round and immerse myself in the truly astounding scenes around me. My husband and I have taken days off recently just to go to a park and hike around, taking in dramatic as well as simple landscapes and creatures that we’ve surprised and gotten a glimpse of. Each experience has fed my soul and has felt like a personal gift from my Creator.

As I’ve concentrated on my own needs instead of everyone else’s, I’ve begun to feel freedom I hadn’t even remembered was ever a part of my existence. I’ve remembered who I am and found joy in that beyond all the service I could offer. And I’m absolutely certain that God is pleased with that.

JoHannah Reardon is still involved in church leadership, but she’s enjoying it a lot more. Find her many novels at

February 17, 2014

Why I Didn’t Write an Article about Health

…or did I?


When I was first invited to write an article for Gifted for Leadership on the topic of “health,” my initial reaction was hesitation.

It’s not that I don’t love the topic. I have long been a strong proponent of intentionality in the areas of physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational health. These areas are all interrelated. God has created us as whole persons. When one area is out of whack, the others are impacted as well. If I don’t get enough rest or don’t eat well, it affects my mood. If I have unresolved conflict in a human relationship, it troubles my soul. If I am stressed, it is difficult to experience God’s peace and my emotions will manifest themselves in physical symptoms such as sleeplessness and knotted muscles in the back of my neck.

It was precisely because I have such a strong belief in this interconnectedness, and in the need to maintain adequate margin and energy in each of these areas, that I was hesitant to write an article about it when this opportunity presented itself. The topic was great; the timing was not.

Too many times in my life, I have taken on more than I could handle, either because I thought I should in order to make others happy, or because I thought I could manage everything. I did not accept my limits. As a result, I accepted opportunities without really thinking through the ramifications to all areas of my life. After half a lifetime of trial and lots of error, I have learned to carefully weigh each opportunity in light of its impact on my life as an interconnected whole.

The invitation to write appeared in my inbox in early December. The holidays are already a busy time for most families. For a professor, ministry leader, and pastor’s wife like me, the annual flurry of activities at that time of year can easily become an overwhelming blizzard. Without even looking at my calendar, I knew I had papers to grade, spring courses to prepare, worship team rehearsals for Sunday and Christmas services, several holiday events at church, and a full schedule of seasonal parties and dinners in the weeks ahead.

All of that was in addition to my teenage sons’ activities: youth group parties, choir concerts, semester exams, basketball practices and games, and tech week and six weekend performances for a winter musical. Not to mention final Christmas shopping, baking, and preparations for a weeklong Christmas trip to visit out-of-town family. And these were the non-negotiables; I had already said no to nearly a dozen other invitations!

Not only was writing an article purely a question of whether I had enough time; by extension and interconnection, it was also a question of whether I had the emotional energy. I am an introvert. Although I am not shy or withdrawn in social settings, I do not gain emotional energy from social events. Even if I could find the time needed to write an article, I was pretty sure I would need to spend most of that time in recovery from the last event or preparation for the next one. For me, that means sleep, solitude, silence, and uncluttered space.

As I considered all these factors—time, emotional energy, mental reserves, physical toll, my unique personality and wiring, and my personal values of doing things well and not sacrificing my relationships with God or my family in the process—it became clear that I just could not add one more thing to my plate. And that is how I decided that I would not be able to write an article about health for Gifted for Leadership.

Then again, writing about how I made that decision might be helpful to readers, so it turns out that I was able to write that article after all.

Angie Ward is a mom, pastor’s wife, ministry leader, and Professor of Leadership, Education, & Discipleship at Capital Seminary & Graduate School.

February 13, 2014

Mental Illness and the Church

How many lives will be lost before we change?


I’m hidden under blankets in a bedroom of the parsonage next door to the church my husband pastors. My limbs are cinder blocks. My gut, a pool of quicksand. I hear a muffled voice. “Mom? It’s time for dinner. Mom?”

I roll onto my back and squint my eyes up at Zoya, ten years old, the easiest baby for me, the one who still crawls up in my lap and rests her head on my breast like she’d nurse if she could. “Hi.” I clear my voice. This is where it gets tricky. I don’t want my Major Depressive Disorder to scare my kids. I glob together blips of energy in my body. My mind gathers them like worn-out pieces of leftover pie crust that won’t stay together, even with a little flour and spit.

“Hi, honey. How was school?”

“OK.” Zoya’s voice is small, distant. I see fear in her eyes and work to remember if I’ve taken a shower today, or yesterday, or if I will, perhaps, take one tomorrow. “Um, Papa says it’s time for dinner. Can you come down and eat with us?” My daughter’s face is creamy and smooth, like white velvet.

I catch her sometimes, when I’m doing better, lying in her bed alone. “Whatchya doin?” I ask.

“Nothing, just resting.”

“OK,” I reply, and walk down our yellow hallway wondering if she’s sad. Would she tell me if so? I worry she’ll get whatever gene I seem to have inherited that makes life bad and hard for no apparent reason. I hope to God it isn’t so.

“No, not tonight. I’m still not feeling great.”

“Ok, do you want us to bring you up a plate?”

“Maybe a little later.”

Zoya bends towards me and wraps her soft arms around my body. Her embrace stops the ache for a second. A tear slides down my cheek, and I wipe it away before she can see it. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, Zoya.”

She leaves my bedroom, and I wriggle around on the mattress to find a way to ease the pain. The door closes. People like Joel Olsten say you can choose happy. Okay, I choose it. I choose it every day. But it doesn’t choose me. I’m sinking. I don’t want to sink. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Jesus, help. Help me. I ache. I need help.

About two months ago, Isaac Hunter, pastor and son of well-known megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, committed suicide. Although unconfirmed, people assumed mental health issues were involved. Nine months ago, Rick and Kay Warren’s son Mathew also took his life after a life-long battle with mental illness. After tragic events like these, churches, Facebook feeds, Christian magazines, and radio shows stand up and take notice of mental illness…for a couple of weeks.

I am thankful that people care, that condolences are offered, and that mental illness is acknowledged on a larger platform. But not at the cost of a life. For Christians with mental illness, our struggles are still largely met with silence or platitudes. Trust God. Pray harder. Don’t let the enemy win.

I’m a former missionary, a pastor’s wife, and a leader in ministry. My mental health history goes like this: melancholy child who thought it was normal to lie in bed for hours, frightened new mother later diagnosed with postpartum depression, struggling missionary and pastor’s wife who couldn’t understand why prayer and Scripture did not calm the storms within, mother of a child with Down syndrome who for a time gave in to self-medication with cheap Chardonnay, ministry leader who suffered a breakdown resulting in a final diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

With the MDD diagnosis came the fatalistic fear that my struggles were here to stay on this side of glory, and a relief that after 30-some years, there was a name for my war. Since my diagnosis, I’ve fought the battle to health with Prozac, therapy, Jesus, and a supportive family.

We’ve not kept my depression secret from our church. My husband, Sergei, includes mental illness in his sermons and pastoral prayers, and the Lord has brought people to our ministry who grapple with mental anguish.

But we can do more. I fear my home group doesn’t understand the extent of my situation when I ask for prayer for my depression. As a leader in our church, the sting of stigma is still present when it comes to our sister in Christ who has bipolar disorder, or the woman at church who loses touch with reality and ambles up to the communion table whenever she desires, stuffing her face with the bread of Christ. As a sufferer and a leader, I look away, at a loss for how to truly get or offer help.

A recent article in Healthline News stated that depression is the second leading cause of disability in the world. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year, about 26 percent of adults in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental illness. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have symptoms of mental illness. And yet it is an unrecognized crisis in the church.

In his article “My Take: How churches can respond to mental illness” Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research, shared a study out of Baylor University which indicated “that while help from the church with depression and mental illness was the second priority of families with mental illness, it ranked 42nd on the list of requests from families that did not have a family member with mental illness.” The Mental Health Grace Alliance says that “research reveals 30-40 percent of those with a mental illness seeking assistance from the church are told mental illness does not exist. Only 5 percent of churches were responsive.” By and large, churches are not addressing mental health.

So what can be done? Pastors and other leaders: educate yourselves. Utilize resources like The National Institute of Mental Health that provide up-to-date information and useful statistics about mental illness. Study examples from the Bible. Talk about King David and Naomi, who some say struggled with mental illness, from the pulpit. Abstain from making mental illness a spiritual problem. Help ease the stigma by acknowledging it.

Church, move away from ignorance. The Mental Health Grace Alliance offers seminars, specialized consulting, and training for churches and individuals interested in helping those affected by mental illness. The Fresh Hope support group ministry strives to “empower individuals to live a full and rich faith-filled life in spite of a mental health diagnosis.” Treat mental illness like other medical crises because it is. Offer tangible help. If you know a family battling mental illness, watch their kids, bring a meal, show up, listen, and pray for them.

To others, like me, who have faith and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, or some other illness, can I gently ask you to speak up? Too many of us struggle in silence or give up on church altogether. Chances are you have been hurt in the past from sharing. It may be scary to try again. But owning your battle and your rightful presence in the church can help change the overall view of mental illness. Micah 7:8 says, “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” Let’s all work together to shine a light on the darkness of mental illness. And let’s resolve to help before the loss of more life.

Gillian Marchenko is a wife, mother, writer, and speaker. She is the author of Sun Shine Down.

February 10, 2014

When Family Pressures Threaten Your Ministry

It took a crisis in our home to make me stop and wake me up to reality


“Does your family demonstrate a spirit of peace?” I heard the preacher say. “No!” I yelled inside myself. Little did anyone know, our family was in a state of crisis. Our oldest son’s behavior was getting worse every day; he was finally diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, and depression; and our three-year-old was picking up on our older son’s negative behavior and attitude. Having the diagnosis was a relief, but we still had no idea how to deal with our son’s mental state and bring love and peace back to our home. Our marriage was suffering as a result of exhaustion in dealing with it all. To say our home was void of peace would be an understatement. It was in shambles.

All of this was happening while I would be traveling to speak at various conferences and events, writing articles, and producing shows in my city on social justice issues. Projects that usually would energize me were exhausting me of all I had, leaving me wanting to avoid family issues when at home.

There’s a great ending to this story. Let me tell you how God is restoring peace back to our home. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we have it all together at present. We are still very much in this even as I write, but I have a whole new perspective and action plan that have put us on a path back to health.

Questioning Our Ministry Culture

Here's the problem: how do you know when you need to focus on your family’s health? How do you balance ministry tasks with family? What are the signs you can respond to before it gets out of hand? In my situation, it was obvious we needed to regroup when our son’s behavior started to spiral downward, but it’s not always clear.

Upon discovering our son’s mental issue, I started reading all I could about it. Through my readings, I discovered an interesting thread running through them: our children’s need for connection and the disconnect we create through busy lives. I could relate instantly with this.

Now if you ask me if I make time for my kids on a regular basis, I would say, “Yes, of course!” I’m a “doer,” so connecting with my kids usually includes “doing” something: an activity I have chosen like visiting the homeless, going to a play place so they can burn off energy, or going on some outing. I realized the connection time was rarely led by them. In the book The Connected Child, Karyn B. Purvis mentions children’s need for us to enter their world for child-led play. Time taken each day to sit down and interact with the child in their world is important for them to feel connected.

While I was reading this, I decided to fast for my family. I knew I needed God to give us a breakthrough in our home. But when I would go to pray, I would hear God say to me, “Go and be with your kids.” But God, I prayed, How am I supposed to get a breakthrough in this fast if I’m not taking time to pray? Interestingly, the fast turned into a fast of my time more than anything. I turned off social media, took a break from work, and allowed my children to lead in whatever they wanted to do with me. It brought more healing than I ever could have imagined.

I realize we can’t always do this. Work can’t always be pushed aside for us to make a living playing with our kids. Ministry needs direction, and our attention as well, but through this experience I’ve started to question ministry culture. We ambitiously build for the kingdom, but are we building something because “ministry culture” has told us to? Is it really necessary? Do I really need to slave away my time, energy, and resources on these things, or is reevaluation needed? This is a personal question only we can answer for ourselves as every situation is different. We need to look at what we do from an outside perspective to see if our work is producing the fruit God desires and if it creates health for our families or if it doesn’t.

Needed Connection

Connection can be a reality in families, even in ministry, but it takes intentional decisions to make it so. We need to be sure we are truly connecting with our children and not just sending them off to activities such as soccer, piano, choir, or even church, thinking that keeping them busy is going to fill their need for connection. We also can’t assume that family devotional time is the only point of connection needed. Our children need to engage with us in all aspects of life, not just spiritual.

I’ve spoken much of connection with our children, but this doesn’t dismiss the great need of connection with spouses. We need to make sure we have time to connect with them and lean into one another during times of crisis and times of blessing. The time each season lasts will vary. We need to ask God for the wisdom to know our season and respond accordingly. We can build the most amazing ministries in the world and lose our spouses and families. In the end, would that be worth it?

I have found the answers in getting back to cultivating my relationship with God first and foremost. I didn’t realize how independent I had become in my relationship with God and with my family. My spiritual health was also at stake, and I didn’t realize it. It took a crisis in our home to stop me in my tracks and wake me up to reality. This year I have decided to scale back on things God has revealed he wants me to put aside for now to focus on connecting with my family and being able to do the things in ministry that will bring fruit that will last.

Connie Jakab is author of Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives. She is active in poverty reduction in her city and the founder of WILD (Women Impacting Lives Daily) as well as Mpact, a dance company that produces shows based on social justice issues. Connie is an active speaker who lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab.

February 6, 2014

Building–and Maintaining–the Temple

Leading and serving should not come at the cost of our own health and well-being


When Solomon decided to build a temple for Yahweh, it took seven years to complete the task. And no wonder. It was both enormous and ornate. 1 Kings 6:34-35 reads, “There were two folding doors of cypress wood…decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers—all overlaid evenly with gold.” The specificity and care that went into planning and constructing the temple communicate that God cares where he dwells.

Many years later, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “[Our bodies] were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies....Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:13-19). If God dwells in us, what we do with our bodies matters—to him as well as to us.

However, Christians often elevate the spiritual realm above the physical realm—perhaps unknowingly influenced by a rogue strain of gnosticism that infiltrates our postmodern culture. As a result, we devote substantially more time and energy to praying, reading Scripture, and planning for our small groups than we do caring for our bodies. I discovered the problems with this logic firsthand.

Fifteen years ago, I was running a long-term healing program at our church, homeschooling our sons, working part-time as a photographer, and generally burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Though I did swim three times a week, that was as much time as I believed I could spare.

My off-kilter priorities cost me dearly. One illness led to another, exacerbated by my unwillingness to come to a complete stop for more than 48 hours. Eventually my body simply broke down. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and celiac disease. Gone were my über-productive 16-hour days. I actually needed to sleep for half the day and was semi-functional for the remainder.

This not only decimated my pride but forced me to acknowledge that some of my over-activity was fueled by perfectionism and people pleasing. Though the content of my days was all good and all “of the Lord,” my need for acceptance and desire to avoid conflict had become what motivated me rather than the voice of the Lord. I am now a strong advocate of the words “I’m sorry but I can’t do that for you” as well as an evangelist for balance. Balance between physical activity and spiritual activity. Balance between rest and work. I’ve also upped my commitment to more regular exercise as advised by my doctor.

Most health care providers agree that we need a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes a day (four days a week) of cardiovascular exercise that pushes our hearts into the target zone. This can be achieved through running, working out on an elliptical or rowing machine, swimming, cross-country skiing, etc. For those with physical or financial limitations who don’t have access to gyms or are unable to run, brisk walking every day can give our hearts the cardio workout they need. Local gyms, schools, and YMCAs typically offer a variety of classes from salsa dancing to Zumba to yoga. (Many yoga classes are spiritually neutral or, increasingly, led by Christians.) The Internet provides hundreds of options for in-home, no-cost workouts (check out Fitnessblender).

Our bodies also need strengthening and stretching, particularly as we age. (Again, the Web is an amazing resource here). Core strengthening exercises done for 15 minutes a day will make a notable impact. Targeting and working our core muscles results in better balance, increased back strength, and often a decrease in back pain. Post core and cardio workout, 10 to 15 minutes of gentle stretching will improve your body’s mobility and flexibility. You can actually equip your home or apartment with sufficient products to give yourself a decent workout for less than $100 (exercise ball, stretchy bands, and weights for starters). If you have ongoing health issues or chronic pain, or if regular exercise has not been part of your life, it’s wise to check in with your primary care doctor before you begin.

Eating well and getting sufficient rest are two other important components of caring for our temples. Our bodies run most efficiently when we eat a variety of foods three times a day. In the crunch to maximize our time, we can assume that washing down a Power Bar with a cup of caffeine (while driving no less) does the trick. There are tomes in the bookstores to guide you on specifics, but please hear me out: eating good, healthy food on a regular basis is no less important than running a solid children’s ministry or attending to the needs of the internationals in your congregation.

Ministry pulls us in many directions. We pick up the phone on our day off to help the parishioner in crisis. We put the kids to bed and then stay up past midnight to craft our sermons. Despite our tendency to make to-do lists of tasks which could be accomplished only with the help of multiple assistants, God designed us to sleep. We can cheat this for short seasons, but if we routinely deny our bodies the rest they crave, we will pay. If you often fall asleep when you sit down to pray or read the Bible (moms with young children and folks over 70, skip to the next paragraph), struggle not to nod off in staff meetings or counseling sessions, or are regularly cranky (if you’re not sure on this one, ask someone who lives or works with you), it’s very possible that you need more sleep than what you are getting.

Leading and serving should not come at the cost of our own health and well-being. In order to complete the race that God has set before us, we need to value and prioritize caring for our temples. Others are both watching and following us; let’s lead them in such a way that we all reach the finish line.

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

February 3, 2014

How the Church Can Support Emotional Health

If you can’t find healing in the Body of Christ, where can you find it?


Lisa is going through a divorce and she’s afraid to tell her fellow church members. She is slipping deeper and deeper into depression, with no one to talk to. John has lost his job and he’s having an emotional breakdown. He’s questioning his worth as a man since he can’t provide for his family. Sarah is in an abusive relationship and she has developed low self-esteem. Brad is being bullied at school and is suicidal. Laura doesn’t like her body and has developed an eating disorder. Sam was sexually abused last year; no one knows, but he’s smoking marijuana to cope with the pain. Keisha comes to youth group every week, but she cuts herself every night. Kyle serves at every outreach event, but he’s lonely because his wife of 25 years left him.

All these individuals* are Christians and all of them attend church regularly. They all love Jesus and have a relationship with him, but they are hurting. Who should reach out to them? Is it the church’s responsibility to help them? Is it the church’s job to support them? Is it the church’s obligation to walk with these people until they get to a place of wholeness?

I have been through a few traumatic experiences in my life and I went to the body of Christ for help. I was told by some, “It is the past; move on and get over it.” I was also told, “You need to pray more because if you prayed more, you wouldn’t be so sad.” I’ve known others who were struggling with depression and were plainly told that they must not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I also know people who have been told to read the Bible more and if they did that, they would become emotionally stable.

While I truly believe that studying the Scriptures and prayer are major parts of emotional stability, I also believe that most of the time people need other people in their lives in order to process their personal pain. We need others to help carry the load. If I hear the quote “All you need is Jesus” one more time, I may literally explode…literally. The truth is that God created us for companionship, and nine out of ten people who say things like this have more people in their circle than Jesus did.

How to Help

How do we help emotionally struggling individuals? How do we help melt away emotional pain? First, we offer support. I think it is important to have support groups, counselors, or mentors who can support church members who are fraught with depression, eating disorders, anger/bitterness, low self-esteem, abandonment issues, and addictions.

So often we respond when it is too late! An individual usually hits rock bottom before we begin to take notice. We often say, “I had no idea he/she was going through that.” When someone enquires, “Have you ever talked to him?” “Have you helped her find ways to connect with the church?” The answer is usually no. When we greet one another, we usually offer the courteous “How are you?’ and we are usually halfway out the door before we get an answer.

We may also ask ourselves, “Where did we go wrong? Could we have done more in this situation?” In some situations the answer is yes, we could have done more. I’ve had my share of nights sitting in rapt attention while listening to others vent. I also have had others who have sat with me and allowed me to pour out my heart for hours. I’ve been able to offer a safe place for tears to be shed, but I have also been the person needing a place to sob. I needed that time and place to process, and I know others do as well.

I have witnessed a few churches in my city who strive to create support and fellowship for those who are hurting in the church. One of the churches even has a recovery service. This service is for those struggling with all types of addictions. All are welcome to attend. In this same church, I’ve seen support groups for those struggling with depression and other mental health disorders. Such churches also offer support to those who have experienced divorce and abortion. These churches want to be places of healing.

How wonderful it is to go to the body of Christ to receive healing and deliverance. Many churches don’t support Twelve Step programs, medication, or counseling but fail to offer any alternatives. People need to connect deeply with others, and many times it is crucial for them to connect with people who are going through (or have gone through) the same dilemma.

Second, be present when someone is pouring their heart out to you. If you are meeting in person, it doesn’t help if you are on your cell phone the whole time or constantly looking at your watch. If you are speaking on the telephone, it is frustrating if you are constantly talking to others around you or you keep placing the person on hold. This sends a message that the person is not much of a priority. Also keeping the conversation private and confidential is essential. I don’t think anything hurts more than when you pour your heart out to someone and that person shares it with someone else. I’ve shared my deepest and most intimate thoughts with a person, only for her husband to repeat what I said to me later. I felt so violated, especially since her husband is known to gossip.

I also recommend spending time with a person just for fellowship. It really bothers me when people call me out of the blue and ask me a hundred questions about my life. I feel like I’m going through an interrogation. It appears that the person is performing a duty by contacting me, and it just doesn’t feel genuine. If you are not invested, please don’t call out of the blue or set up a lunch appointment just to grill someone. When people want to share and are ready, they will. They don’t want to feel pressured and don’t want unsolicited advice! It is really hard taking advice from someone who has never walked in your shoes. If they ask for advice, it’s one thing, but if they don’t, it can cause more pain.

It would also be helpful to just have some fun together! You don’t have to just talk about “issues” all the time. Most people want friendships and someone to share life with. They desire someone to call during times of celebration and times of grief. They desire people to break bread with them or to go see the latest movie. The church needs to be intentional in creating opportunities for people to meet and develop relationships. The lack of companionship can weigh on a person emotionally, so I believe it is the church’s obligation and a ministry opportunity to be a loving source of support for those individuals who find themselves lonely or depressed.

I believe Jesus wants us to be emotionally stable and healthy. He tells us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Lord states in Jeremiah 31:25, “I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing.” I know that God does. I am a living testimony of his renewal and refreshing. The Lord used people in the body of Christ to love me back to a place of wholeness. They loved me and cared for me. At one point in my life, I was overwhelmed with church hurt. I could not find any answers or support in the church, so I didn’t know where to go. It is at this time that most people leave the church and never return. I considered it myself. If you can’t find healing in the body of Christ, where can you find it?

You can find it in authentic followers of Jesus. In my quest to find answers and a message of hope, I found a website called Church Exiters, where I met Barb. I emailed her and shared my story of spiritual abuse. Barb emailed me the same day and has emailed me ever since. She sent me emails several times a day and allowed me to vent my hurt, pain, and frustrations. Barb telephoned me and listened to my stories. She offered Scriptures, songs, books, and sermons of love. Barb sought to connect me with trusted pastors and friends in my area, who could shepherd me through my process. She introduced me to several websites and communities of love and support. She never passed judgment and always offered the love of Christ. Day by day, God used her to keep pointing me back to his love and his true followers. God used Barb and a few other faithful friends to love me back to life. It is my hope that others who are suffering in the body of Christ receive that same type of healing love.

*The individuals are a combination of people and situations I have encountered in ministry.

Carmille Akande is a licensed minister, attorney, speaker, writer and blogger based in Dayton, Ohio. She has a heart for outreach and discipleship ministries and blogs at


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