Just say thanks
A sign loomed outside my son's Sunday school class: "Room closed (unless someone wants to jump in and help today)." Fortunately, it was propped near a door but wasn't yet pulled out into the main area of the hallway. Apparently there were enough volunteers to staff that at that point in time, but if too many kids came and ratios were exceeded, the doors would be closed and the sign would get pulled out. I was grateful my little guy could still do his craft and hear a Bible story on that particular morning, but the sign offered a menacing warning: Volunteer or else.
Most anyone in a leadership role knows the value of relying on volunteers. The benefits are enormous, such as multiplying manpower, staffing positions that aren't allowed for in the budget, and so much more. Yet the problem that doesn't need to be stated is that volunteers are just that: volunteers. There is no guarantee they'll be there when they say (hopefully they will!), but worse yet, there is nothing that obligates volunteers to keep giving their time to your cause.
I don't want my son to be turned away from Sunday school any more than you want to cut programming because of a shortage of volunteers. So what are we to do?
People of God, we must speak up and out against abuse
Years ago when I served as an assistant prosecutor, I was approached by a few coworkers (on different occasions) who were working on cases where children were sexually abused by someone in the church. Prosecuting cases where children are abused are the toughest cases to prosecute, in my opinion. Children are among the most vulnerable members of our society, and someone taking advantage of them pierces my heart.
One of the most troubling aspects of those cases was when the churches took sides with the offenders. On more than one occasion they tried to keep the offenses "in house" without going to the proper authorities. Many times the parents didn't go to the police until the church failed to appropriately respond. As a believer, it broke my heart when my coworkers asked me why church members would side with offenders and demonize the victims. They often received phone calls from angry church members who pronounced that the offenders' sins were forgiven. They told us that our office was wrong for prosecuting these cases.
I didn't know these Christians, so it was easy to write them off as crazy. It did bother me that fellow Christians would respond this way, but I subconsciously wrote them off as unbelievers. This is how I processed it. That way, I was able to make sense of it and make peace with it—until I met Taylor* and Bobby*.
How do you spell team?
We hear it said often, "There's no "I" in team." Yes, that's a fact, but unfortunately some clichés are said so much they lose their power. We know team means working together effectively for the common good, a joint project with shared vision and goals. But the question is; do you really care about working together for a team goal—especially in ministry? Do you really have the team on your mind? Are you really excited about what your team is about to accomplish? Are you thinking about how hard your team has worked to save souls? Or are you more excited about all the praise you'll receive at the end of day? Are you wondering when the current leader will step down so you can take over? Are you happy that the new person with the MBA in Leadership Structure, who kept trying to join the team, finally left the church?
Become a minister of presence
My husband and I couldn't eat or sleep. We couldn't think clearly enough to work and yet couldn't imagine being home with the walls caving in around us. We had cried until we were surprised there were any tears left. The news we had received was devastating. We found ourselves in one of those time-stands-still experiences that we had seen happen to others but never expected to happen to us. There was no fix or solution or possibility of wishing it away.
And then my parents showed up. They dropped everything in their lives after our call that morning and made the five-hour drive to our door. Not telling us ahead of time, knowing we would try to talk them out of it, they came not to make it better, but to simply be with us.
Building a team of very different minds
The outreach team at our church had a daunting task. We were responsible for attracting the unchurched, making newcomers feel welcome, and helping reach out to our community in practical ways. All of us were enthusiastic about doing just that, but not all of us agreed on the best methods to accomplish such a herculean task.
Robert* was a man who loved charts. He immediately wanted to graph the different people groups in the community and map a strategy to reach them. He felt that everything should be in writing and that the team should develop concrete, measurable steps to take in reaching out. In his estimation, each month's activities should be planned at the outset of the year and then we should stick to that plan like glue. His approach to outreach involved a comprehensive door-to-door evangelism strategy that would leave no one untouched.
Contrary to popular mythology, everyone is an artist
If you spend five minutes scrolling through your Facebook feed, you are bound to come across at least one post that promises to help you determine whether you are right- or left-brain dominant. The lateralization theory explains your thinking and behavior based on which hemisphere calls the shots: the left (making individuals more rational, logical, precise, and having a strong preference for dogs) or the right (edging others toward being intuitive, subjective, and creative, which apparently translates to a general avoidance of printed directions and a predilection for cats).
However, according to Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller, authors of Top Brain, Bottom Brain, this idea is little more than "a dominant pop-culture story" which has never "stood up to careful scientific scrutiny." Recent work done by neuroscientists seems to indicate that both hemispheres of the brain work together in complicated processing tasks.
Sometimes following God means being a really bad politician
"Politics is a fact of life," the leader said. He meant, "Politics is a fact of life in this church-related structure." He added, "Maybe you need to be more of a politician."
A few days later, Henry Blackaby stood before us, addressing a chapel service. "We don't need politicians in the church," he said. "We need statesmen."
To see how a statesman thinks and acts, look at Caleb. One of 12 spies Moses sent into Canaan, Caleb saw the fortified cities and the giants in the land. Returning to the Israelite camp, he heard the other spies' fear-filled report. He saw the terror in the people's eyes.
What a healing response produces
By all measures, Tom* was an A-list pastor. He had charisma, humor, and huge musical skills, and he grew the start-up church into a robust congregation. Around year 8, a few of us began to notice subtle changes. Tom's sermons got a bit flat and curiously unreflective. He then became controlling, in one instance telling my husband that he was not allowed to get mad at him.
Our red flags were waving long before we were called to an "urgent" meeting at the assistant pastor's home. Surrounded by 20 of the top leaders, Tom stated flatly that he needed to step down because he had been having an affair with a married woman in the church.
Sadly, Tom's fall is far from unique. Among the participants of one study done in 2005-06 by the Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, "Thirty percent of the male pastors said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner." And sexual sin is but one of many ways a leader can disqualify himself/herself.
Metabolize your leadership experiences
The mere mention of her name would bring back the knots in my shoulders and the twitch in my eye. I lay awake countless nights reliving our heated conversations. I kept beating myself up with the "what if" and "should have" scenarios.
The six-month ministry crisis had taken its toll on me emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually. When it was all said and done, I continued to experience the side effects of such a season: fear, distrust, doubt, and exhaustion would shake my confidence time and again.
I was a hot mess.
Can we get on with what matters?
Leaving church one afternoon, I was talking to "Nancy," a leader I served with. A new leader, "Sally," stopped to ask Nancy a question. Sally had just completed her training session and noticed one of the requirements of all leaders was to have a relationship with Jesus so they could help lead other women to Christ. Sally mentioned to Nancy she did not have a "real" relationship with Jesus and she wanted to know if it was okay to continue on the leadership team. Nancy replied that it was okay without offering Sally any further assistance in developing a relationship with Christ.
I did not find the conversation odd at the time because I too was asked to be in leadership without my salvation coming into question. Although I thought I had a relationship with Jesus, I now know I did not. How was I going to lead other women to Jesus? My area of service was quite large, yet I did not pray daily, study my Bible, or live in obedience. How were Sally and other women on the leadership team going to lead women to Jesus if they didn't have a relationship with him either?
The One Thing Every Leader Needs
We all have moments, as leaders, when we want to give it up. Maybe you just want to hide after someone critiques your event or questions your decisions, when you're weary from holding others up as they fall apart, or when you feel dry and disconnected from God even as you give it all to serve him.
When those moments come, all I want is a one-way ticket out of my zip code—and a really long nap. But what I truly need in those times is something to cling to when leadership gets tough. And it's in these moments when I ask myself, "Why am I doing this, anyway?"
When I resisted handing the reigns to others, I risked worshipping the ministry rather than the Master.
There is no job security in the Kingdom. Jesus promised we'd have both trouble and blessings. He said that we could ask and receive. He told us not to be fearful or anxious. In fact, Jesus had a great many things to say to his followers—but not once did he guarantee tenure to those who were doing Kingdom work.
If we truly want our efforts to have a spiritual impact, the where, when, and how of that work must be left entirely up to God. Yet all too often, extended service in volunteer leadership can result in spiritual value being derived from works rather than Christ.
When I kept my mouth shut, the Holy Spirit led my team to a new depth of unity
Christians are not distinguished from others by our faith. Faith can be found throughout a variety of religious sects. Rather, God intended for us to stand out to this struggling world by our love.
The deep and powerful commandment of the Lord to "love one another" has often been interpreted in one of two ways: either it's the "love is patient, love is kind" crowd who believe that we must be soft toward each other regardless of circumstance or the "missions and martyrs" contingent who believe that Jesus' love is best displayed through vaulting into perilous conditions with a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.
For my group of women leaders, the real challenge was not getting to a place of vulnerability; it was going beyond
Vulnerability. Transparency. Authenticity. Words so trail-blazing a scant decade ago are now on the verge of becoming little more than the latest ingredients in a cookie-cutter formula for producing modern-day Christian leaders.
Why would I make such an audacious claim? Because these terms are so ingrained in the day-to-day language of current church development that we're losing sight of the fact that how these God-honoring truths are applied is far more important than merely applying them.
Getting raw and real isn't a one-size-fits-all leadership track where we encourage everyone to admit they're flawed, pat each other on the back for being honest, and sing contemporary worship songs to drive home the point that we're different from previous generations.
I learned I could lead with my strength or be led by the Spirit
It wasn't until I began attending my new church that I realized much of my ministry life has been directed by my own ideas and capabilities and not by total reliance on God. I have always endeavored to "do good" or to "lift a helping hand." While my motivations were inspired by my love for God and people, I often signed up for ministries and assignments based on my desire to help out or because someone asked me. I was a people pleaser, so instead of seeking the will of God for my life, I did what was expected of me. I often allowed my bleeding heart to say yes without counting the cost. What did that lead to? It led to a burned-out lady who was tired, frustrated, undependable, and exhausted.
All of this continued for years until I met Pastor Lyons. At first I was really excited to hear his teaching. I could so resonate with the topics and I was so excited to hear good biblical teaching; that was until the messages started stepping on my toes. We have all had those moments when we've felt that the preacher was just preaching right to us. At my church, the messages feel like I just had surgery; I know I will be better for it in the future, but when I walk out the door I am in pain (and the praise and worship didn't provide enough anesthesia to numb the pain). I feel I have been sliced, diced, and exposed at the same time. One night after Bible study, I walked out feeling overwhelmed. I said to the pastor and to myself, "I quit...it's too much...I can't do this."
An interview with Sue Edwards, associate professor of educational ministries and leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary
Tell us about your role at Dallas Theological Seminary.
I've been there full time about 10 years now. That's been a wild and crazy journey, something I never, ever expected. When I got my doctorate, I didn't ever think I would do this.
I teach, but I am a practitioner. I teach how-to courses: how to create ministries that are transformational, how to teach the Bible in Sunday school context, how to use resources that are not just lecture, that engage particularly younger audiences with a variety of methods. I teach "Women Teaching Women," which is a preaching course for women. In other words, how you prepare to teach the Scriptures. Pull truth out of Scripture and connect that with what women need to hear for the word to really transform them. And then I teach courses in adult ministry. It's a variety but all pretty practical.
Recognize how impatience hurts your leadership
We are an impatient culture. Our hyper-fast technology has wired us to expect everything instantly—even transformation. While it's understandable to demand hyper-speed from our electronic devices, it's utterly unreasonable—and ungracious—when we have those expectations of ourselves or of the people we lead.
Though we all wish that it wasn't the case, profound and lasting change happens slowly. This complicates leadership. In order to lead well consistently, we need to be mature in our faith, "needing nothing" (James 1:4). We need to love well and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. However, all of us—as in all of us—are lacking and need to change. Regardless of how smart we are or how much motivation we have to grow, this change takes exponentially more time than any of us would like to admit.
A devastating diagnosis showed me how God uses weakness
I wept as I heard the diagnosis four years ago: “You are losing your hearing.”
Questions about my job, relationships, and life in general permeated my brain. Every “what if” plowed over me, and they were mowing me down quickly. Everything seemed a blur that day. But God spoke to me in a way I was sure to hear.
I’d spent eight years in the classroom, and both the doctor and I were stunned that I had done so without complication. The doctor stated, “Your brain adjusted to your loss. Although you couldn’t hear, your brain taught you to read lips and monitor body language so that you believed you were hearing what was happening.” It still amazes me that my brain knew to do that. But it shouldn’t be a shock. God did not create us as simple beings. He created us to know him, reflect him, and hear him. He created us to crave him.
To make an impact with women, we have to be willing to connect on a personal level
You spend hours in planning meetings, trying to put together wonderful events for the women
in your church with the hope of helping them live productive Christian lives. Yet time and again, they don’t show up. Your leaders have done all they can to get the women in church excited and nothing seems to be working. You’ve prayed and you’ve fasted and the only logical conclusion left is to dissolve women’s ministry altogether—after all, there’s no need to separate men and women; Jesus didn’t appoint a director of women’s ministry to assist him in feeding the five thousand.
In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John C. Maxwell illustrates the points of success, which boil down to connection. How well we connect is the foundation that relationships are built on, and that includes relationships with our spouses, children, co-workers, business partners, and people in ministry. If we want to make an impact we have to be willing to connect on a personal level.
Something Is Missing
A while ago, I attended a church that produced weekly bulletin announcements for the congregation. I would often respond, with much anticipation, to requests for people to serve in women's ministry. However, my anticipation turned to aggravation while I waited for responses. I finally contacted the church secretary to find out why I was not hearing from anyone, and I was told it was due to the busyness of the year. Okay, I can certainly understand busy seasons at church; however, I was slightly confused as to why announcements were created, printed, and distributed if no one was prepared to respond to people interested in serving.
It’s one way to avoid toxic situations in your church
Because of a lifetime battling depression, Johanna’s mom had difficulty coping with the challenges of raising a child. Spending hours in bed, she became detached from her daughter. The depression began a chain reaction in the family—Johanna’s dad worked long hours so he didn’t have to engage the painful situation at home. Consequently, Johanna grew up with parents who were emotionally unavailable for her.
With no encouragement and little interest from her parents in her day-to-day activities, Johanna felt invisible. Her self-worth plummeted and she began acting out, mostly for attention. Unable to verbalize her feelings to her family, classmates, or teachers, she began having angry outbursts in elementary school. The attention she received—though from negative behaviors—fed a hole in her soul, and she persisted in negative attention-seeking behaviors.
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.
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’s power in men and women working together
The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) posters hanging all over Ryerson University’s campus caught 17-year-old Miranda Hassell’s eye. “Make up…or concealer for bruises?” read the text on one poster, images of a compact and a brush.
Started by men for men in the 1980s, WRC works to engage men in ending men’s violence against women, while inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves. Today it runs workshops on gender and language in 60 countries. WRC offers specific resources geared to male mentors working with boys, and it works vigorously to highlight the need for male involvement in ending all violence against women through innovative campaigns like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and What Makes a Man conferences.
What I’ve learned from negative examples
We all know those leaders: the bosses we’ve had who’ve made us think, “How did they get to be where they are?”
For more than 18 years, I worked for such leaders at two of Canada’s largest advertising agencies. After my ad-agency career, I pastored for seven years alongside those bosses at one of the oldest Convention Baptist churches in Toronto, Ontario. And as I climbed the ladder during those nonstop ad-agency years and sweated through the sticky years of church pasturing, I wondered if I too would turn into one of those leaders—short on thanks and trust, long on politics and power plays.
Laura (not her real name) directed the agency division at which I last worked. As her associate account director, I ran her group, managing a team of media buyers and planners who worked with million-dollar ad budgets for a stable of retail clients. Laura was scary smart: She knew the ins and outs of Canada’s advertising landscape. Every day she married those smarts with pointed strategic thinking about how to better plan and spend our clients’ budgets. She was almost fearless in her dealings with powerful television and radio executives and equally bold in suggesting out-of-the-box ideas to our clients. For her, the client mattered (at least in public).
What really matters in reaching kids
In my last post, I wrote about a few hang-ups I have with children’s ministries. As a parent, I honestly care less about the trappings of any ministry and much more about how it helps my kids see Jesus. There are a few key things I like to see in a kids’ ministry, but I hope my thoughts will spur other ideas also.
Let There Be Extras!
Kids don’t need expensive decorations, loud music, or intricate crafts. They need adults who love them and want to be there. They need hugs and laughter and acceptance, quirks and all. These essentials can come in different packaging, but they should be the starting point for any real ministry to children.
At the moment, the church we attend meets in a bar. (Er, excuse me, “concert venue.”) The children’s ministry is happily ensconced in some old offices on the second floor, and yes, we decorated up there. With simple materials like scrapbook paper, tissue paper, and string, the space has been transformed into a colorful, fun place.
The children’s space is a great place to get design-oriented people involved. In these days of Pinterest and DIY, it’s not hard to find inexpensive ideas for making the space fun and inviting. We shouldn’t have to spend a fortune here.
Why my kids may not visit your church
On a recent visit to a new church, my oldest son brought home one of those sheets with Bible verses and talking points. I looked it over as we drove and read aloud the big, bold print.
“You can be trusted when you choose the right words.”
“What does that even mean?” my husband asked, risking a puzzled look away from the road.
I laughed, and we more or less dismissed the whole thing.
Only not really—because this is what my child learned at church. It’s not that the message was untrue, exactly, only that we failed to see what it had to do with Christ.
As my children move from nursery to grade school kids’ ministry, my husband and I grow increasingly wary of what they learn at church. This is prime time for impressing upon them the love of Christ, yet many of the messages they hear are, at best, unclear and, at worst, moralistic, legalistic warnings about displeasing Jesus.
The joys and challenges of being executive pastor: an interview with Karen Miller
Because Gifted for Leadership serves women in all kinds of church leadership roles, we have a great opportunity to learn from each other. I thought it would be helpful to occasionally highlight a leadership role and learn more about what it involves—plus receive some leadership lessons from a gifted woman.
Enjoy this interview with Executive Pastor Karen Miller.
What does your role as executive pastor look like?
As executive pastor, my first role is to be second chair to the senior pastor, to be sure he is freed to focus on his greatest gifts—leadership, vision, prayer, and preaching. I make sure that he has the ability to focus. And at times I serve as a brainstorming partner for him. So we partner in ministry.
My other major role is to oversee and manage all the staff. I may not be the direct supervisor for everyone, but I hire and fire and do all the personnel tasks as well as give weekly supervision. I help with the growth of the staff and the growth of the church. My goal is really to make sure the staff is healthy.
Start by addressing stereotypes
I am currently a student pursing a PhD in educational studies. I have a great passion for women in our churches, and I hope my research will one day serve them, so I love to share what I’m learning from time to time. Especially when I think it can help church leaders.
In recent months I have studied a phenomenon called stereotype threat. This term refers to the pressure individuals feel in the classroom or workplace due to perceived stereotypes about themselves. For instance, women are sometimes stereotyped as being less capable at math, which can influence the way young girls perform in their math classes. If they believe they are worse at math, they are likely to perform worse regardless of natural ability.
Numerous studies have shown that the simple presence of a stereotype can inhibit academic performance, but it creates an additional obstacle. If a student or employee anticipates being stereotyped, some will actively try to undermine the stereotype. For example, a businesswoman may fear being perceived as overly emotional by her male colleagues, so she intentionally minimizes her emotions and conducts herself stoically. Unfortunately, the cognitive energy she puts into combating the stereotype also inhibits her performance. Likewise, students who find themselves resisting a stereotype in a classroom setting are less able to learn and engage the subject matter.
An introduction to a better way to train church leaders
Throughout history, if someone wanted to learn a particular skill, he or she would find a master or mentor to guide them. This person seeking to learn and grow is called a protégé. And like any skill or trade, ministry leadership involves a set of abilities that must be developed and cultivated.
There are countless protégés simply waiting for an experienced master of their trade or wise mentor, but they so often become lost in the deficit of strong and developmental leadership that is so absent and misprioritized in today’s culture, and in today’s church. Where do these hungry protégés go to learn the skills and character they long to develop so that they can maximize their impact in the world? Who do they seek out to guide them on this critical journey?
A large majority of protégés within the church currently seek development from the educational system, predominantly from seminary. Others search for guidance from an influential, but distant, church figure, perhaps looking to imitate their success from afar. Although these tracks of learning and development are important, there are significant limitations when someone chooses either of them as their primary, even sole path.
We may need to work with them before we can expect them to step up to leadership.
It was a beautiful spring weekend for a beach retreat with our volunteer student ministry staff, most of whom are in their early 20s. We worshiped, we discussed, we ate. We shared stories from a year of student ministry. We prayed for vision and growth in students’ lives. And I slept less than I did after bringing home my newborns. Even in my exhaustion, I found myself refreshed and exhilarated by their passion and potential as leaders.
It can be daunting to open up your life and ministry to the next generation. Just when you think you’ve figured out how to run a small group or women’s ministry or even your own meeting, this lively bunch shows up with energy and enthusiasm, zany ideas and young skin. They text each other while in the same room, they tweet a picture of you before you even know it was taken. They change their minds and change their careers with dizzying speed. They are sometimes impulsive with their choices. At times they seem like peers, other times like preschoolers. Pundits say they are entitled and adolescent.
Yet regardless of how you feel about the next generation, they are just that: the next generation. They are the church of tomorrow and the church of today. They are our next pastors, ministry leaders, elders, writers, and communicators. Working with them is a biblical mandate, as we are called to commend the works of God to the next generation (Psalm 71:8).
Four recent events that matter to your ministry
Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood, the new book in which popular Christian blogger and writer Rachel Held Evans charts her attempts to follow all the Bible’s instructions for women, made news this week when LifeWay bookstores announced they will not carry it. The chain objects to the use of the word “vagina,” which Evans’ editors at Thomas Nelson urged her to remove to avoid offending Christian booksellers. After readers found out about the request, via an Evans blog post in March, they petitioned the author to put the word back in. She did, and the chain will not carry the book in any of its 160 bookstores.
In response to the controversy, Evans said, “I often hear from evangelical leaders, ‘Oh we’re really eager to have more female leaders.’ I want to say, ‘This is my voice. This is what it sounds like.’” While conversations may begin with whether LifeWay made the right decision, or whether Evans should have removed the word to avoid offending more conservative readers, they can provide an opportunity to move toward a dialogue about what it means to be a Christian woman in the public sphere.
You can’t keep going on empty
You are a leader. A leader is defined simply as someone who guides or inspires others. You figure out where you and your team need to go and then you help them envision the future. You empower them to make a plan to get there together. You take care of your team members, pour into them, pray for them, take care of their souls.
But who takes care of yours?
I was introduced to the concept of leading myself at a Willow Creek conference a few years back. Senior Pastor Bill Hybels talked about the importance of leading the most difficult person in your ministry—you. You cannot lead others where you have never been or are maybe even not willing to go. So leaders need to work on setting up disciplines for ourselves that will put us in a posture where we are more able to hear and be led by God.
Mentoring makes a difference, even from afar
Not long ago, I messed up something for a client. She emailed me about it and I emailed back an apology.
And then I waited.
I watched the clock tick. No response.
I burned with stomach acid and shame.
It was an idiot mistake. Anyone with a little professional savvy would’ve known better. Sorry or no sorry, she was going to fire me. I knew it.
I went to bed that night chanting, “I will not worry. I will not worry.”
The next day my iPhone pinged mid-morning. It was her. She sent a simple word.
Cultivating and wielding female strength
Not long ago, when I was pregnant with my now-infant son, I must admit that it came as quite a shock to me when I found out I was having a boy. I was sure that I was having a girl. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. And because I was so certain of my child’s gender, I had already begun to think about how to raise a faithful Christian woman.
As I thought about my future with a daughter, there was one fear that weighed heavily on my heart, as well as my husband’s. In fact, it weighed so heavily on my husband that he secretly wanted to have a boy!
Although it is probably sheer coincidence, my husband and I both had negative experiences with “bossy older sisters.” Within our own families and others, we observed a recurring family hierarchy in which the first child, a daughter, reigned over her siblings like a queen. And to be perfectly honest, I was that sister. I have one sibling—a younger brother—and for reasons I cannot explain to you now, I was bossy. Really bossy. In fact, I think my 30-year-old brother still has flashbacks whenever I raise my voice too loud.
I repeated Hezekiah’s mistakes—and learned the same lessons
How does one start with passion to serve Jesus, fearless, strong, and ready to take on large challenges, and have a heart of pride growing inside? It’s easier than you think. In Part 1 of this article, I mentioned two triggers to watch for, which encouraged the growth of pride in my personal life and ministry and can lead to the downfall of a leader. My struggles were similar to what I noticed in the life of Hezekiah, King of Judah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 38-39. The final two triggers to watch for are outlined in this second part of the article.
Trigger 3: Good Intentions
I had a disconnect between my intentions and my actions. We tend to judge others by their actions rather than intentions, while we judge our own actions by our intentions. This is particularly dangerous to the life of a leader if she can’t distinguish between what she intended to do and what she actually ended up doing. I was one who couldn’t distinguish the difference.
My intentions were to serve God with a pure heart and love people, but my actions were fed by underlying pride and approval addiction, producing artificial results. Yes, I could produce numbers that looked good from a church-growth perspective, but the quality of my heart was neglected as I looked to further ambitious outcomes rather than cultivate a well-balanced spiritual diet of introspection and authenticity.
I repeated Hezekiah’s mistakes—and learned the same lessons
I was in my early twenties when I took my first ministry assignment. I soon experienced what I call quick fruit—favor and multiplication of my ministry. I had many offers for highly influential positions at a young age. For example, I was appointed a district leader to more than 180 churches in British Columbia.
My heart was full of love for my Savior and passion to serve him. I was fearless, strong, and ready to take on large challenges—but I didn’t see a heart of pride growing inside me. It eventually destroyed my heart and ministry.
Now years later, after repentance, transformation, and needed restoration, I can watch for key symptoms of pride in my personal life and ministry. I see these same symptoms in examining the life of Hezekiah, the King of Judah written of in 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 38-39. Hezekiah tore down the idolatrous high places and brought Judah back to her God. Yet four triggers in his life made him susceptible to pride’s destruction. Perhaps you’ll find these same four triggers in your own life.
Keeping volunteers happy
I have been an unhappy volunteer. I have felt unappreciated and underutilized. I have also felt humiliated and used. Because of some of my earlier ministry experiences on the receiving end as a volunteer, when I began leading women’s ministry at my sweet church, I vowed to be a different kind of leader.
Ephesians 4:11-12 is pretty clear. Christ gifted us to be leaders for the sole purpose of equipping “God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”
As a leader, we are not to do the work of the ministry on our own. This means we need help. Not slaves. Not minions. Not secretaries. And certainly not mini-me’s. We are to find and train women for works of service to build up the collective body of Christ together.
Avoid these sure-thing saboteurs
You’ve worked hard to prepare for your first small group: the invitations have been sent, the curriculum selected, the brownies baked. Everything you need for an amazing small-group experience! Except…it’s not that easy. It takes much more than good marketing to make a small group actually thrive. And if you aren’t careful, you can kill yours in three easy steps:
Step #1: Misread Purpose
Kill your group fast by misreading its purpose. Take a bunch of women who’ve never met and expect them to be really vulnerable in the first meeting. Or take a group of women who’ve never studied the Bible and ask them questions using words like “atonement,” “predestination,” or “lexicons.” Or you can take a group of thoughtful, educated businesswomen and tell them you’ll be making a magnet craft with puffy paint every week.
Through intentional relationships, everyone learns
After more than 10 years of teaching the Bible, 14 years of discipling and mentoring women, and launching two women’s mentoring ministries, I realized two things are needed for ministry: a clear focus and training. Our women’s mentoring ministry provides a focus and intentionally unlike any other church ministry I have witnessed. Throughout a 10-month mentoring season, our groups meet once a month for a period of three hours at each gathering. This gives the women opportune times to complete their required reading, memorize Scripture verses, journal, intercede for their sisters in Christ, and most important, spend quality time with the Lord in personal reflection concerning what it is he is teaching them throughout the month.
I have to be honest with you, not everyone takes advantage of this time. We still have some women who wait until the last minute and cram their “homework” in at the final hour before their group meeting times. Those women have not getting the most out of the experience. On the other hand, there are other women who are doing the hard work, meeting with group members and/or mentors outside of their monthly mentoring gathering, and those women are experiencing life-change. The leaders receive regular testimonies from them, and my ministry partner and I hear feedback from these ladies as well as their parents, friends, and spouses about the amazing work God is doing in their hearts.
Counting the cost of following Jesus Christ
After teaching Bible study for more than 10 years, I noticed that the Christian women who attended often did not live any differently than the women who never cracked open a Bible. I struggled while trying to figure out the disconnection between what the women claimed to know in contrast with their daily life choices. After careful study of Scripture, observations within the church, and reflecting on my personal life, it dawned on me that generally within the timeframe of my ministry, discipleship and mentoring had not been a priority in many American churches.
Three years ago, I partnered with a few women to launch a small group ministry to meet this need. Within one year of launching that ministry, we had more women commit to small groups than we had leaders to serve them. Now, after moving to a new location, I have worked with a ministry partner to lead a team of ladies who intentionally mentor approximately 60 women and have been doing that successfully for one year. Women are hungry for discipleship and understand the blessings that can come from committing to it.
Three recent events that matter to your ministry
To God Be the Olympic Glory
Among the female U.S. athletes already gaining attention are the five members of the newly announced women’s gymnastics team, including current world champion Jordyn Wieber and gold-medal contender Gabby Douglas, both making their Olympic debuts at age 16. Despite its relative obscurity during non-Olympic years, women’s gymnastics has become one of the most popular events of the Summer Games, and former Olympic champions have become household names—who could forget Kerri Strug’s final vault in Atlanta, or Mary Lou Retton’s perfect 10? More recent Olympians, however, have taken strides to associate their names not just with their gold medals but also with their faith—both Dominique Moceanu (a member of the 1996 gold-medal team) and Shawn Johnson (all-around and team silver medalist in 2008) recently published memoirs detailing not just their experiences in the highly demanding sport but also with their Christian faith.
Women and Relational Leadership
Sharon and Tracy had worked extremely well together for many years. Both were surprised when Sharon was promoted, effectively leaving Tracy under her supervision. Sharon didn’t notice the initial subtle changes to the relationship, she was just so pleased about the promotion and the opportunity to try out her ideas. So it took her a while to recognise the signs of aloofness and the slightly cutting comments Tracy made to any of Sharon’s suggestions. These days it felt as if Tracy was actively avoiding her, spending as little time as possible in her company. In addition, Tracy always seemed to be in conversation with others when she should be working. It was beginning to affect the entire team who were also becoming increasingly uncooperative. Sharon knew she would have to do something soon or risk an all-out revolt, but Tracy was her friend, they had been through a lot together and she felt awkward about pulling rank at a time when Tracy probably needed her friendship more than ever . . .
Three thought patterns that keep us from speaking up
Feeling underappreciated and overlooked, I decided to talk with my team leader. I'm embarrassed to tell you I allowed my frustration to fester for several weeks before I said a word. I didn't want to be "that" girl¬—whiny, needy, and demanding.
As I nervously asked for what I needed and even wanted, I was surprised to hear “yes” to many of my requests. Why hadn’t I asked sooner?
I'm not alone. In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about asking for what they want, whether it be help with household chores or childcare, a higher salary, or even a better price on a car.
As I've reflected on my own discomfort in asking, I’ve discovered three thought patterns that prevent me from asking friends, my husband, my boss, and yes, even God, for what I need and want.
What leaders need from young women
As I mentioned in my previous post on Gifted for Leadership there’s a movement rising up within this generation of young adults. Among these young people are committed Christians who are determined to remain faithful to Jesus and make a positive difference among their peers. Not all of us know what this movement is calling us to do, but we do know we have an itch to participate.
I would like you to meet my small group of young women leaders. We’ve all stepped into various roles in our respective communities, given the call on our lives to rise up and make Jesus famous. Stephanie followed God’s direction and uses her communication skills to mentor and speak truth to teen girls. Nicole loves pouring into lives of abused women, and her sweet spirit is like a balm of comfort to broken people. Lindsey desires to increase her in-depth knowledge of the Bible and attends seminary full-time. We are a band of women, part of a greater movement.
This common itch to rise up as leaders and servants strengthens our bonds as we encourage and exhort each other. Ministry is tough. We need each other. We also need to cling tightly to those leaders––those women––who have paved the way for us to rise up. We face some cross-generational challenges, yes, but we must not let this deter us from the ultimate goal.
The right focus can bring a new perspective
Fresh out of college and full of hope, enthusiasm, and confidence, I was ready to change the world, one pimply teenager at a time. As the school year crawled by, the demands of teaching 125 high school students wore on my optimism. Those kids seemed impervious to my influence, and there were so many things I needed to change to get my classroom running more smoothly.
By Christmas break, I was a disgruntled teacher battling a serious case of discontentment (and considering a new line of work!).
Leadership, both in ministry and at home, can leave us with a bad case of discontentment as well. Seeing what could be done better is the hallmark of an effective leader, but the constant focus on what’s wrong can also lead to unhappiness. Instead of seeing what God can do, we see what’s not possible. Rather than noticing the resources God’s given us, we see only what we lack. We’re blind to our team’s strengths.
Understanding how we undermine ourselves
Over the years I have met many fantastic women leaders. I lean forward to hear their every word and am always grateful to spend a spare hour with them over a cup of coffee or on a walk. I have also met some not-so-great female leaders—the kind whose staffs live with a low-grade fear in their eyes. How can you ensure you fall into the first category and not the second?
This is the second in a two-part series on ways women can undermine themselves as female leaders:
Understanding how we undermine ourselves
Over the years I have met many fantastic women leaders. I lean forward to hear their every word and am always grateful to spend a spare hour with them over a cup of coffee or on a walk. I have also met some not-so-great female leaders—the kind whose staffs live with a low-grade fear in their eyes. How can you ensure you fall into the first category and not the second?
Here are seven things that, if left unchecked, can undermine you as a female leader:
1. Allow “It’s because I’m a woman!” to slip into your thinking. This subtle shift in vocabulary can slide into our lives when we’re not paying attention and change the way we see ourselves and others. We can start to perceive criticism as discrimination due to gender when gender doesn’t have anything to do with the issue at hand.
How do you exercise authority without pretending you have it all together?
Sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit that I would rather jam out to My Chemical Romance than contemporary Christian music. “His Banner over Me,” frankly, gives me heart palpitations. But “Welcome to the Black Parade”? Now that preaches. This may seem inconsistent with my profession as a writer and professor of Christian spiritual formation and leadership, but actually, nothing could be more emblematic of the changing leadership paradigms in the church.
Out of the shadows of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans started looking for a new kind of leader. We’d already begun to move from the “control and command” style of leadership that characterized some of history’s greatest leaders—like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher—toward a type of leadership that focused on people’s needs rather than the objectives of the leader. This transformational leadership style focused on modeling the way, enabling others to act, inspiring vision, and encouraging the hearts of followers.
But September 11 changed that. Frank Rich of the New York Times aptly summarized the national ethos: “On a day when countless children in America lost their fathers, the rest of us started searching for a father, too. When a nation is under siege, it wants someone to tell us what to do, to protect us from bullies, to tell us that everything's O.K. and that it's safe to go home now.”
How solitude fills us
Leadership can be a lonely assignment, as a recent post here on Gifted for Leadership explored. By definition, leaders are often self-reliant and achievement-oriented. We can easily let tasks and strategy become more important than the people accomplishing those tasks or implementing that strategy.
That recent post offered some great strategies for engaging in authentic community. While making time for relationships is an important step toward alleviating loneliness, I believe it is insufficient. To address core loneliness, leaders must engage in what seems like a counter-intuitive strategy: spend time in solitude. The cure for loneliness is a balance of solitude and community.
As a leader, you may work alone. You may spend time preparing sermons or lessons, studying, strategizing. This can sometimes look like time alone with God, as you pray for his help in exegeting text and seek his wisdom for counseling those you lead. You may even have a daily “quiet time” that, ironically, is full of words—books, study guides, even words of worship and supplication. But very little quiet—in which you are silently listening to God.
I am talking about a deeper sort of solitude—a place where we go without tasks, without agenda, just to be alone with God, to rest in his presence. It is more than just time alone by default. Rather, solitude is time alone with God, entered into with no other intention than tending to that relationship by listening to him. It is a place leaders sometimes believe they don’t have time to visit. As a result, leaders are lonely.
Effective leaders learn to embrace who God has made them to be
My words, meant to compliment, betrayed how intimidated I felt. My predecessor was as good a leader as her reputation boasted. As she slid the mantle of leadership from her shoulders to mine, I simply knew I could never lead as well as she did.
Too often as leaders, we spend our effort trying to fit into someone else’s shoes. We strive to live up to the high standards of our predecessors, exceed the expectations of those around us, and meet our own dreamed-up ideals.
But the most effective leaders learn to wear their own shoes. They embrace their own personalities, operate out of their strengths, and learn to grow as leaders.
Even on the narrow way, there is room for people walking side by side.
But power corrupts, and ultimately, while decisions get made and orders are carried out, those decisions are often bad ones. Great execution of a bad decision is still, well, a mess. Dictatorship, even benevolent dictatorship, is neither healthy nor biblical.
One of the greatest gifts women bring to leadership within the church body is our social conditioning toward collaboration. The difference between “do it this way!” and “What if we did it this way?” is subtle but important. One of our greatest ways to influence the church is by modeling collaborative leadership, which is what all believers—men and women—are called to in the New Testament.
A caveat: leadership that builds consensus and collaboration does not necessarily come naturally to anyone, male or female. We are all human beings and therefore, at least a little selfish. We all need to improve our skills in collaborative leadership.
The Leader and Decision-Making
The phrase itself has become so overused—and misused—that I wonder if “God’s will” is just “the best plan I could think of” dressed up in spiritual clothing. Can we really know God’s will for our decisions? Should I expect God to give specific guidance in every decision I need to make?
Searching Scripture reveals five simple truths we can rely on when making decisions:
Getting real and leading authentically
Last summer my stereotypes were shattered through a course called “Substance Abuse and Society,” which gave me a firsthand glimpse into the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Like the church, AA encourages people to seek healing and growth. But sometimes unlike church, AA prizes authenticity—in a Jesus kind of way. I was surprised at how much I gleaned about leadership in those church basements. Take a journey through a few of the Twelve Steps to examine your authenticity as a leader:
A list of the most popular GFL content in 2011—and a re-introduction to a new editor
I know it’s a little late to be serving up a 2011 retrospective. The new year? That was so three weeks ago.
Well, I would have done this earlier, but we’ve been making a big transition here at Gifted for Leadership, and quite honestly, it’s taken me a few weeks to figure out where everything is. Now that I have found my way to the computer, I’m actually writing this post for two reasons: to tell you which blog posts and downloads were most popular among our readers in 2011 (as promised in the title) and to (re)introduce myself.
Second things first.
Some of you may recognize my name; many of you are new to Gifted for Leadership since I last served at the editorial helm. Back in 2007, when Gifted for Leadership launched, I was the editor who started and oversaw this blog. I also wrote frequent posts myself. During the next few years, other editors took responsibility for Gifted for Leadership while I worked on other projects in my role as an executive at Christianity Today.
The answer helps me keep my ambition in check
Recently, a friend shared a conversation she’d had with another woman in leadership. “All she talked about is how no one will support her preaching, and how she’s having a hard time getting ordained. Not once did she talk about serving, or call, or God’s direction.”
Ambition isn’t unique to women. Men strive to get ahead just like we do. But within women’s leadership circles, I’m noticing a troubling trend: In our rally cry to gain a place in the pulpit, we may be losing something else—our heart for servanthood.
It pays to be honest about our shortcomings
Christian leaders love to talk about strengths. Want proof? Just ask your pastor to list her spiritual gifts, talk about his areas of passion, or tell you her Myers-Briggs profile (any other ENTJ’s out there?). You’re sure to get an enthusiastic response. But ask that same leader to tell you about her areas of weakness, and she might be slightly less excited to engage with you.
Don’t get me wrong, most of us are happy to preach about weakness, write about weakness, and even encourage others to be open about their weakness. But something about the public nature of our leadership roles, or perhaps our own pride, makes it harder for us to be honest about our own shortcomings. After all, what would people think if they learned that you and I are light years away from having it all figured out?
Doing for one what I wish I could do for all
“I understand how to tell people that I can’t meet with them soon,” I said to my pastor over coffee several years ago, “but how can I possibly tell them I can’t meet with them ever?” I was experiencing my first round of influence-itis, the toxic, nagging feeling of being needed by too many people.
The first time I asked this question, I was a volunteer women’s director with three children under six. Now, I’m on a church staff, but the demands of the role and my family continue to make it impossible to reach everyone. I struggled then (and still do) with understanding how to care for so many needs with such limited time.
So when Andy Stanley spoke directly to my influence-itis at the Catalyst Conference, I listened. His message was simple:
Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
The hurricane may have knocked us off the grid, but we were far from powerless.
Hurricane Irene blustered her way up the East Coast, downing trees, toppling cars, and leaving seven million people (including our family) in the dark. We were without power for four days. I missed it desperately—my laptop, smartphone, televisions, refrigerator, hair straightener, and garbage disposal. (Yes, I missed my garbage disposal.) But now that I’m back on the grid, I also miss our blackout. Because what I saw happen without power that first post-storm Sunday morning was powerful without one amp of electricity.
Despite the blackout across our community, we decided to move forward with an “informal” worship service. With no lights, soundboards, microphones, or PowerPoint, we moved outside, dragging chairs and an upright piano onto the patio. The worship team scrambled to rearrange a simple set of songs for unplugged music—just guitars, piano, bongos, and voices. Lyrics were printed in black, block letters on a flipchart.
Two ways to keep your church connected
So you want to get your church into the Facebook social media world? But, alas, some well-meaning individual in the church has already created a Facebook page on behalf of the church.
Sigh. This can be really frustrating, when multiple Facebook Pages and Groups exist for one church. Plus, they may or may not accurately represent what the organization is about.
You can attempt to find out who “owns” a Page or Group and contact them directly. Problem solved. Right?
But wait…what’s the difference between a Facebook Page and a Group? Which one is right for your church? I am so glad you asked! Here is a quick rundown of the difference (from Facebook's perspective) between Pages and Groups.
How your team does without you says a lot about you
"The test of your leadership is not what happens when you're there, but what happens when you're NOT there." Ken Blanchard
Just reading that quote makes me a bit anxious. How about you? Have you ever found yourself creating exhaustive notes for your team or maybe even your family in preparation to be away for a few days? Have you ever feared what's waiting for you after an unexpected day out of the office?
As a leader, it's sometimes difficult to let go. There's a part of our psyches that feels a need to control—even when we're absent. But eventually our inability to let go will hold us back from continuing to grow as leaders. And not only will our growth be limited but the growth of our team will suffer as well. Leading others to succeed, especially when you are gone, is the mark of a growing leader.
So what do we need to do to pass this test of leadership that Blanchard talks about?
Rookie year reflections
Next month marks my one year anniversary of working in paid ministry. It's been a year full of joy, surprises, and challenges of all kinds. Here are five things I've learned in my rookie year:
1. If it was easy, it wouldn't be leadership.
I wasn't expecting every decision that I made to be so difficult. Despite my years as a volunteer in ministry, I was shocked by the number of variables that affected my every move. I assumed my analytical skills would help me make good choices for a program or person. Yet I was surprised to find that when I weighed the pros and cons of a decision, they often came out even. A year in, I now realize how many decisions require discernment, courage, and a desperate need for God's guidance to move forward.
You're bound to be tested
It didn’t take long to face opposition once I started a career in ministry. Of course, I had a lot of strikes against me from the start. First of all, I was young, fresh out of college, and in my first-ever paid ministry role. On top of that, I was a woman, the only woman serving with the pastoral staff. And, probably most significant, I was hired to launch a brand new ministry—church-wide adult small groups, a ministry most in the church knew nothing about and had no interest in.
After working at the church for a few years, our team decided on a new approach for small groups. I began training new leaders for small groups so that I, then, could serve as their "coach" in the fall instead of leading groups myself. I spent the summer meeting with a group of potential leaders—training them, laying out expectations, and modeling how to lead a small group.
As fall approached, I met with each of the potential leaders to get a feel for whether or not they wanted to lead a group. Most of the meetings over coffee went smoothly—some individuals expressed a desire to move into leadership, while others felt they weren't quite suited for the position. All, though, affirmed their trust in me and were grateful for the time and effort I had put forth that summer. All, that is, except one.
The key to cultivating exceptional leaders
Things change continually in ministry, for better and worse. One area that seems to have improved drastically over the past 15 years or so, though, is the emphasis placed on mentoring and its role in creating fully engaged employees.
Being good stewards of resources goes far beyond just dollars and cents. Mentoring allows us to be good stewards of one of the greatest resources we have in ministry—people.
Mentoring is the practice of connecting an individual with someone who has “been there and done that.” It can play a key role in the development of a staff member into an exceptional employee or leader. Many people spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else, and this can be especially true in ministry. If people only learn how to technically perform their job, they are missing out on a much more balanced, well-rounded approach to their role.
Here are five tips for a successful mentoring program:
Focusing on the right community ministry
I frequently work with churches that are located in communities with multiple needs and issues. In urban neighborhoods, and more frequently now in suburbs and rural communities, you might find the following issues:
- high levels of unemployment, with families struggling to meet basic needs as a result
- an achievement gap between children who live in poverty and those who don't, resulting in lower graduation rates and college attendance for youth from poor families
- a lack of affordable housing that has driven some people into homelessness
Trying to meet all the needs that you see is counter-productive. It's likely your church won't be good at responding to them all, and if you try, your impact on the community will be minimal. So a critical step in developing effective community ministry programs is focus: making good choices about the one or two areas in which your congregation will work.
A five-day church fast revealed a different hunger.
Recently, my church experienced its first-ever Five Day Challenge, an initiative launched several years ago by Willow Creek Community Church. The Challenge encourages people to eat only small portions of rice and beans at each meal as a tangible experience of the hunger that the bottom economic half of the world endures daily.
Like any good leader, I prepared my team in advance. We marketed the event, provided information and meal plans, We inspired our congregation and set a fundraising goal. With an expectant tone, I stood before my own ministry area, high schoolers, and asked, “Who will be participating in Meals With Hope?” Scattered hands tentatively went up, while one high schooler in the front thrust her arm in the air and shouted, “It’s a great way to lose weight!”
The power of social media for ministry
I swore I wouldn't sign up for Twitter. It seemed like a nuisance. I had already given in to Facebook and started my personal blog. I didn't need one more thing!
But I quickly realized that as a leader in a church with a population of primarily Generation X and Y, I needed to engage this medium if I intended to influence them. Little did I know that less than a year later Twitter would become a key tool for responding to one of the greatest tragedies our city has ever faced.
Using your weaknesses to be a better leader.
Have you ever led a small group in which the following type of scenario took place?
You’re excited because you invited a new person to your small group—perhaps a young co-worker or a student you met on campus—and this person is not a believer. He or she lives with their boyfriend or girlfriend and is very much immersed in the secular world, but you’ve had some promising conversations with them lately, and they’re definitely curious.
What Moses and I had to learn.
“What you are doing is not good.”
Has anyone ever said that to you?
For a performance-based, people-pleaser like me, those words were painful to hear—even though they were told in love—because they were true.
Now I know how Moses must have felt when Jethro, his father-in-law, said these same words upon evaluating his leadership. Here’s how their conversation went:
What we can do to keep kids safe.
Thirty-some years ago, someone I love was sexually abused by a trusted adult. Although this incident occurred when we were kids, time has done nothing to heal my friend. All it's done is stolen peace, freedom, and wholeness from him. Harboring hatred has a way of eating away at one's soul.
Child abusers are the most reviled people on the planet. Even hardened criminals view child molesters with particular disdain. And so did I. For years I harbored a deep hatred toward the perpetrator who violated my friend in an unthinkable way.
But then over the course of the last few years, I started to wonder whether all my righteous anger was really just a way for me to withhold forgiveness from someone who most certainly didn't deserve it. Could the blood of Christ cover someone as horrible as a pedophile? And if it could, would I ever bring myself to say to the worst of the worst—child abusers—you, yes even you, are saved by grace!
Is the church in danger of losing its next generation of women leaders?
A couple of years ago a leadership mentor challenged me with a tough statement. She said, "Jenni, how you steward your influence as a leader will directly impact the rest of the women in your church." That statement has haunted me ever since.
I'm ashamed to admit that up until that conversation, my leadership had been very me-centric. I was worried about me instead of being intentional about developing other leaders, especially the young women leaders around me. In fact, I wasn't even sure who the young women leaders were in our church. There were hundreds of 20- to 30-something women coming in and out of our doors each week, but I was seeing very few of them lead.
Hint: It wasn't by blazing a new trail.
A couple of summers ago while my husband and I were in Las Vegas, we decided to enjoy a bit of the great outdoors. This is not uncommon for us. We love the thrill of exploring new places!
On this trip we opted to tackle Turtlehead Peak at Red Rock Canyon. Turtlehead Peak is a 2,000 foot mountain that you ascend at a pretty steep grade. We had our work cut out for us in the triple-digit temperatures, but we were excited about the beautiful view that was in store.
As we were climbing, I couldn’t help but marvel at the barrenness of the West. I began to realize how at ease I was because I could clearly see my destination.
As I was hiking, attempting to distract myself from the mountain in front of me and the fact that I didn't appear to be getting to my destination as quickly as I'd hoped, I began making some parallels to leadership. In this case I was following along behind my husband not questioning his leadership or direction. I'd like to say that I never question his leadership and direction but, well…I'd be lying. Frankly, I'm not a good follower. I like to be confident the leader knows where he is going and I'm not quick to trust if I can't see the destination for myself. In this case, I could clearly see that the leader was on the right track. Rewind to a previous family adventure when we were hiking in the woods of Tennessee and you wouldn't have seen such a calm, compliant follower.
So What If It Fails?
When is the last time you acted on a dream that could fail?
Six months ago, I made the switch from professional volunteer to paid church employee. Along with my bank account, something else changed too: my appetite for change. With the weight of now being paid for my position, I had lost some of my hunger for being an agent of change at our church.
Intuitively, I knew I had ideas that were worth discussing. I knew it would be beneficial to apply my fresh eyes to the established ministry program. And yet I hesitated to share too much or dream too big. What if it doesn't work? What if people don't like my ideas? What if the leadership above me second-guesses hiring me? What if I'm naive? What if the students don't like it? What if it fails?
What spiritual leadership looks like.
I began my career working for a large secular corporation. In those days I had very little positional influence. I was at the bottom of the ladder trying to climb my way to the top just like every other poor soul my age. But what I quickly discovered was that I was earning influence with my peers in an area that I hadn't anticipated. Some of the people I worked with were also Christians and we naturally gravitated to one another to discuss spiritual things. Out of our relationships flowed the opportunity to speak into each others' lives about what God was teaching us and where he was stretching us to grow in our faith.
But the moments I remember most vividly are the chances I had to share with those who were not believers. As we got to know one another, I learned more about their families, their dreams and their fears. I took it as a great compliment when one of these individuals would show up at my door and say, "Hey, can I ask you something?" This usually was followed with a concern or frustration that they wanted counsel in navigating. Sometimes these were work-related; other times, family issues. Regardless, it gave me an opportunity to share truth—to speak God's Word into their lives.
Have you ever thought about exactly what the angels said when they proclaimed Jesus’ birth? Of all the words that could have been said or sung, they chose to proclaim this good news:
“…a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
That one statement proclaims the answer to three questions of the human heart:
Can I be rescued?
Am I worth it?
How should I live?
The tinsel and ribbon and comfortable traditions may obscure our view of the cosmic proclamation that night. The angels proclaimed more than just a birth. They proclaimed an answer.
What if this truth informed your leadership all year long? It is a shift of great proportion when a leader moves from solving problems and “managing” to discerning a person’s deepest longings and pointing them toward God’s work in their life. Even if we spend the majority of hours dealing with strategy or budgets or programming, the real call of every leader is shepherding human hearts.
Here’s how to make it practical:
One of the ways I lead within my church is to teach a spiritual class for women. For ten years, I have taught a weekly class, often taking a group of 50 to 60 women through a spiritually challenging book. We dive in deep, spending several months going through chapter by chapter, taking time to discuss, to reflect in solitude, to learn.
The best thing about this class, hands down, is that I do not lead by myself. Two other women and I equally divide the teaching responsibilities and share other tasks based on our giftedness. We have another group of women who each facilitate a small group within the class. Every person who serves in some capacity is essential and necessary, valued and loved. I think this team approach is what has kept me fresh and focused for a decade.
The church has often, to its detriment, embraced and enfolded the culture of competitive individualism that surrounds it. While Christian faith typically begins with a personal, individual decision, a believer is not meant to stay isolated. We are meant to be a body—a collective whole made up of many parts, each distinct in character and purpose. As leaders, being part of a team keeps us grounded, and prevents the loneliness that often plagues those who try to lead alone.
It seems that everywhere I look, I see an example of bad leadership. And it’s not just in the realm of business or politics, either. I’ve seen pastors and Christian leaders make poor decisions, or make good ones and implement them badly. It’s not a problem limited to our day, either. Reading the Sermon on the Mount, it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t mince words as he describes to his followers what the religious leaders of their day are doing poorly. Setting out to obey God, they’ve become taken in by their own hype. They pass extra laws, push the boundaries of sin to the nth degree, and blow their own horns—literally!—when giving alms or praying.
But Jesus sees their behavior for what it is—self-interest. He explains to the people that this kind of behavior—leaders doing what makes themselves look and feel good—is wholly inappropriate for the Kingdom of God. God has a whole different way of doing things, and the religious leaders of the day are way off base with their self-centered approach to leading.
What about us? To what extent have we come to resemble the religious leaders of Jesus’ day?
Sue Miller is a pioneer among female leaders. She is a vision-caster, a people-builder, and a woman who knows—from the inside—how to change the church. Sue is revolutionized children’s ministry in our generation, beginning with Willow Creek and expanding throughout the country with the publication of the book, Making Your Children’s Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid’s Week.
When I ran into Sue at a recent Orange conference, I asked her a few questions about being a woman and a leader. Here are the highlights:
Nicole: Many women in major ministry roles live in a "man's world." You mentioned that the idea of "leading up" during the Orange conference. What does that mean?
Sue: In order to influence senior leadership, you must be building something well to begin with. Do a great job with your current responsibilities in order to build integrity and credibility.
Figure out a way to connect relationally with senior leaders. Communicate positive information, key stories of life change from people in your ministry, tied to the overall mission of your church to show that you are a team player who supports the direction of the church. Don’t assume others get your vision or even know what your vision is. You have to be the one to live out your vision in leadership circles over time. Give yourself time for leading up. This is not something that happens overnight. We have to be willing to go the distance on this one so that trust is established.
Get some mentoring or coaching on how to present a proposal to decision makers when needed. I wasn't trained in this area, and I realized that the men on our board processed information differently than I did. I had to learn to communicate statistical information in a better way.
Making the call about when and how to step out of a leadership role tops my all-time list of “Things I Hate.” I would venture to guess that you’ve been there; that the struggle leaders face over when, how and why to step away—although circumstantially unique—are somewhat common.
Earlier this year, I stepped out of a role that played a significant part in my development as a leader. Having traveled the transition road before, when I stepped out, I anticipated the internal battle: guilt (now others had to pick up my slack), ego (would they really be okay without me?), loss (but the relationships…). What I didn’t expect, however, was for a voluntary stepping away to leave me feeling like a complete failure.
The decision came during a “conversation” my husband and I had been having for the better part of three years. While I knew this particular role was utilizing my gifts, growing my skills and making a difference, the investment of time and energy was taking away from other areas of my life that I cared deeply about. So when my husband suggested—again—that maybe it was time to take a break, I put on my gloves and prepared—again—to be declared the victor. But midway through the conversation, something unexpected happened. I found myself agreeing with my husband. It was a rare moment of clarity for a girl whose family-of-origin-motto is “Let’s wait and see.” I knew I needed to quit, and I knew it had to be soon.
One of the greatest monsters that I wrestle with in my leadership is being confident in the calling and gifting God has for me. I battle the usual suspects of insecurity, fear and the obsessive need to compare myself to others. These enemies to my confidence can get the best of me if I let them.
One of my favorite leaders from Scripture is Deborah. I love to unpack the layers of her leadership and study the confidence she displayed in her calling.
If you need a refresher on the story, hop over to Judges 4 & 5.
Reading Deborah’s story always encourages me to keep my focus on God, his calling and his voice in my life. When I’m doing that, fear, insecurity and comparison quickly take a backseat.
Here’s what I observe to be the keys to Deborah’s confidence:
Have you ever thrown down the God Card? Playing the God Card happens whenever one uses “God told me” as the ultimate justification for a decision that requires group consensus. Picture a meeting about budget allocation or using space in the building or ministry direction, and someone goes “all-in.” They might say: “I really feel like God wants this to be happening.” Or: “God told me we should make my announcement first on Sunday morning.” At best, the God Card is an expression of passion and heart having a difficult time explaining itself. At worst, it’s a manipulative tool, a power play to get one’s way.
I think people use the God Card too much, ministry or not. And yes, God told me to say that. (God Card Alert!)
Making difficult decisions in the church is nothing new. The entire book of Acts is devoted to the development and spread of the early church. Acts is about explosive growth of the church, the Spirit showing up with many miraculous signs and wonders, and people converted faster than Paul and his crew could baptize them. I imagine the folks in leadership meetings could hardly keep up.
Can you relate?
Last week (on August 26) Women’s Equality Day—a day commemorating the contributions of the women’s suffrage movement—got a lot of news coverage. In our modern age with numerous nationally recognized female political figures, we may find it difficult to remember that less than 100 years ago, women could not even vote in the U.S. And yet, while we have made progress in attaining measures of equality in some areas such as the right to vote, at the same time women lag behind in many other areas.
Take, for example, the recent list that was propagated all over the Internet, entitled “Top Books Every Young Influencer/Leader Should Read?”. The question was posed by marketing consultants Daniel Decker and Jason Young, who sent it largely via Twitter to their followers and to other key influencers they knew, resulting in more than 200 responses from people who picked their top 5 choices.
As I scanned the list, I saw the typical business-management-leadership books that tend to top these kinds of surveys, such as Jim Collins’ Good to Great, as well as the names of prominent Christian leaders and thinkers such as Bill Hybels, John Maxwell, and C.S. Lewis. Newer books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers made the list, as well as those considered time-management classics (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey.) I internally nodded at the choices, tweeted the list to others, and moved on with my day.
My more astute sisters in Christ, however, picked up on the fact that of the top 33 books that made the list, none were written by women.
I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old when I first watched Wonder Woman on TV, but I remember specifically thinking,
She is awesome.
I want to be her.
She’s so strong.
She’s so pretty.
She quickly became my super hero. I even sported Wonder Woman Underoos until I could no longer fit in them. (Don’t judge; I know you had your favorite super-hero Underoos too!) Known for her super human strength, speed, reflexes, stamina and durability, Wonder Woman became an icon in my fragile little 3-year-old psyche. Little did I realize how much that subtle influence would frame the expectations I’ve put on myself now as an adult.
When I was a freshman at Calvin College (closer to 20 years ago than I like to think about) I got mono just before the start of the January interim. Being the conscientious (if babyish) 18-year-old, I asked my dad to call the professor and see if there was anything I could do so I didn’t have to drop the “Food and Culture” class I was supposed to take.
The professor, Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige, allowed me to read some books and write a paper and still eek out a “pass” in the class. I’d always appreciated that measure of grace she extended me.
In this morning’s plenary session at the Synergy Conference in Orlando, I learned a whole bunch of new reasons to appreciate for my almost-professor.
Among the wonderful insights and challenges Dr. Loyd-Paige shared with us, here is a list of her “Thou Shalts” when it comes to following a calling as a woman. I love these (and these are direct “quotes” from her PowerPoint):
“If you had a whole day free what would you do?”
The question came to me in a small group setting, and the answer came immediately to mind: “I’d go somewhere beautiful to sit and think.” You see, I’m addicted to thinking.
Though I can’t go somewhere beautiful for the day right now I have been thinking. Thinking about conflict. I’ve googled for the definition, for quotes, and for concepts. I’ve asked people what comes to mind when they hear the term and interestingly enough there are a lot of different answers.
One insight recently came when I noticed the words combined with conflict like “manage,” “avoid,” “quickly resolve.” I bring this up because all writers and readers know that conflict is essential to the plot when you talk about story. Without conflict there’s no plot, no movement, and nothing interesting in the story.
But I don’t typically think that way about the story of my life or the plotline of my leadership. I’ve tended to spend large amounts of energy managing, avoiding, and quickly getting rid of conflict.
Since I’d heard some buzz about the book, I was happy to accept the invitation for GFL to part of its “blog tour” along with our sister site, SmallGroups.com. After reading the following passage from chapter 17 of Sticky Church, I became even more excited about sharing this with you all.
In it, author Larry Osborne describes “a common trap,” and certainly one that has kept me—as a leader who has to manage time wisely between motherhood, writing, speaking, and other responsibilities—from getting involved in certain leadership positions I might otherwise enjoy.
Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this excerpt from Larry Osborne’s Sticky Church:
When we at North Coast Church began our small group ministry, we fell into a common trap.
One of the greatest shames of my life is that never once during my first job out of college did I share the Gospel with any of the people I worked with. While my friends there certainly knew I graduated from a Christian college, went to church, and believed in God, in several years of working together that was all they knew about faith in my life. At the time, my focus was so much on learning the ins and outs of magazine publishing and meeting my earthly achievement goals (after all, this was my dream!), that I failed to see the people around me as lost souls in need of a Savior and instead saw them as people to laugh with and learn from.
Though I know I'm forgiven for this sin, to this day I can't think of certain colleagues without wincing - and praying that they are surrounded by Christians, who, unlike me, dare share their faith at work.
It's almost impossible to talk about gender issues without crashing into all the stereotypes about work-obsessed men, overly sensitive women, and the nasty label that gets attached to assertive women in the workplace. So let me say this from the get go: Each sex has its strengths and weak spots, and the issues we face when we work together are the result of these strengths and weaknesses. The more we understand about the relational dynamics between men and women, the more effectively we can work together.
Here's what every woman needs to know about working with men: