Co-leadership really can work
Are two heads really better than one? Does anything with two heads really resemble a monster? It all depends on how we look at it.
English writer John Heywood actually coined "Two heads are better than one" in 1546. I am sure he did not realize he was speaking prophetically. But two heads together can work only when God is at the center. King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote, "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble" (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).
I have had the privilege and honor to share leadership with some phenomenal men and women in the body of Christ. Each of these experiences incited growth as a person and as a leader. My husband and I share the responsibility of pastoral leadership; we are as different as night and day. Making it work effectively has taken some crucifixion, prayer, fasting, and humility from both of us. It works beautifully now.
Remember hurt can make commitment scary
The book of Hebrews urges us not to forsake assembling together with fellow Christians, but it does not say I have to be a member of your church (Hebrews 10:25). We have all heard the phrase “Church hurt is the worst hurt.” I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but it has been true for me. The world is a dark place, so many seek to find light in the body of Christ. People expect love from their church families, but when they are bruised, they feel a pain that cannot be described. It pierces the soul. For a victim of church hurt, the thought of church membership can be paralyzing. It can be overwhelming and suffocating. Thus, many have opted for fellowship beyond the walls of church buildings.
Reviving the committed in a low-commitment culture
When I was growing up in the Bible Belt, Sundays consisted of church, fried chicken, an afternoon nap, and then another dose of church in the evening. My childhood memories are full of handbells, youth choir, discipleship training, visitation, and potlucks. Fast-forward 20 years and Sundays look very different around town. No longer is the church the center of the family’s social network. According to a recent Barna poll, only 2 in 10 Millennials (those age 30 and under) believe church attendance is important. Even the definition of regular church attendance has changed from those who attend several times a month to once every four to six weeks.
Membership makes a church stronger
I came to Christ through a parachurch organization as a teenager. Before that time, I had absolutely no church experience. I had attended Sunday school with a friend for a year when I was 9, but other than that, I knew nothing about how churches should operate.
However, when I became a Christian, attending a church became very important to me. I got involved in a low-key church that catered to college students. The idea was to draw in as many students as possible, so the commitment required of us was almost nonexistent. I bought into the idea that any formal church accoutrements were unnecessary and even detrimental. A popular thought bantered around in my church was that the body of Christ could exist without much of anything, even a building. After all, we could meet under a tree and do fine (which was rather odd, since we lived in a northern clime with pretty severe winters).
But as I matured in my faith, I began to notice some flaws in this approach. People didn't stay around one church but quickly flitted from one to another, trying to find something that would hit their fancy. I also noticed a lot of complaining about church, and it usually was phrased, "You should do this in your church" or "If you'd just do that at your church…"
Reasons we must go—and keep going
In Confessions, Augustine tells the conversion story of Marius Victorinus, an honored philosopher in ancient Rome whose statue stood in the Roman forum. Before his baptism as a Christian, he had vigorously defended the idolatrous Roman cults. After his study of the Scriptures, Victorinus was converted, though he did not immediately pursue membership in the Christian church. "He was afraid to offend his friends, proud devil-worshippers," Augustine concluded.
Victorinus did, however, privately announce his conversion to Simplicianus, a church leader. "Did you know that I am already a Christian?" he asked eagerly.
"I shall not believe that," said Simplicianus, "or count you among the Christians unless I see you in the Church of Christ."
This is a strange story for evangelical ears. Today we can hardly imagine refusing recognition of someone's sincere confession of faith or making salvation conditional upon church membership. Yet 1600 years ago, this was an agreed-upon formulation of obedient Christian faith: if a person wanted to follow Jesus, he or she belonged to the church.
I have a lot to learn about Jesus’ kind of love
Great psychological thrillers, combined with innumerable episodes of crime drama, have given me a healthy appreciation of the dangers of picking up hitchhikers.
In sum: hitchhikers bad. First nicey nicey and uber-friendly. Then stabby stabby and a cold, shallow grave. Generally and basically, it's not the way I want to end my life. So up to this point, absolutely and categorically no picking up strangers along country lanes.
But then there was a bright autumn week that turned out unexpectedly to be hitchhiker week.
An interview with Simone Halpin, director of women’s care at Moody Church
Simone Halpin is director of women's care, part of the women's ministry team at historic Moody Church in Chicago. She sat down with Gifted for Leadership to tell us about an inspiring new ministry to women escaping sex trafficking in her city.
Simone, tell us about Naomi's House.
Naomi's House is a new ministry of Moody Church in Chicago. It will be a suburban home for women who have escaped from sex trafficking and exploitation in the Chicago area. A lot of the women that we plan to serve will be coming straight from Cook County Jail's Women's Justice Program. We are looking for a home that will accommodate up to 15 women. We don't know that that's where we'll start—we may start with something smaller, maybe 4 or 5 women we could serve and get our feet wet a little bit, really develop the program a little more and then grow with it. We haven't decided. We just have kind of waited on God to show us: This is the house.
An interview with worship and executive pastor Gail Song Bantum
Reverend Gail Song Bantum is the Worship and Executive Pastor at Quest Church in Seattle, Washington. She is passionate about leadership development and leads seminars in diverse contexts. This is what she had to say when we sat down to talk about leadership:
As women, and particularly Christian women leaders, we talk a lot about identity and living our calling. What are some of the challenges you've faced as a woman and ethnic minority in pastoral leadership, and how have those challenges equipped you as a leader?
I am a second-generation Korean-American woman, grateful for 17 years of journeying this life together in marriage with a biracial man, and grateful for the gift and opportunity to raise three beautifully multiethnic children. I have a passion and prophetic call to pastoral ministry and leadership development particularly, in order that people and communities can live out and embody their true calling in Christ. I received my M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and am an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church. All of those things have shaped me as a person, Christian, and leader.
10 Things I’ve Learned while Walking with Wives of Sexual Offenders
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that one in six American women is a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime. Forty-four percent of victims are under the age of 18. The fact that these offenses are being perpetrated so regularly within the church should serve as a severe beacon to the Christian community. Now is the time for raw and regular conversations about healthy sexuality, sexual addiction, and sexual sin. Now is the time to ramp up our best practices and protective policies. Now is also the time to minister to the ones who remain: among them, the wives of sexual offenders.
Over the past eight years as a pastor's wife, the Lord has given me a somewhat bewildering ministry to these women. I love them heartily and consider it my great privilege to offer support and shelter. But I've yet to experience much in ministry that comes close to this kind of confusion and devastation. Lives ripped apart. Innocence shattered. Hearts broken.
Sometimes ministry feels like one long struggle toward compassion and forgiveness
He didn't say, "Take up your sofa, the really light comfy one, and follow me." He also didn't say, "Click 'like' and follow my entertaining tweets from the comfort of your own home." Just like he didn't say, "Here's an Instagram of a dead person I raised. Share if you think I'm awesome."
My Jesus is not virtual. I sometimes wish he was. I could be all up to date with his stuff and get on with my life by 8 a.m.
But the real Jesus. My Jesus. He asks hard stuff that requires me to get off my backside and say sorry. Yeugh. Not only that, but to mean it, and forgive the back stabber, to even offer the other cheek. For real? Do you know how much this hurts? To know exactly what she's said, the words she's used, the names she's called me, in public. Not. just. once. The gargantuan effort it takes daily to let her off without retribution, shame, punishment. Gosh. It's too much, Jesus.
Top 11 reasons you appreciate your audio techs
Here at GFL, we love our congregations' sound guys and gals (henceforth, simply the gender-unneutral Sound Guy.) If we're preachers, they help us bear the word to listening ears. If we're children's ministers, they help us to amplify little voices.
Basically, without them, we'd be lost.
When we asked you, our readers, to share your own ministry leadership bloopers, we heard a lot of love for our audio tech friends. Here are the top 11 reasons you're grateful for their patient and faithful service, based on your own personal stories:
We are called to be a place of healing, not a place of hurt.
I remember hearing when I was a little girl that church was a "hospital." It was a place for people who were sick and for those who needed healing. I believe this concept was adapted from Jesus' words recorded in the book of Luke: "Jesus answered them, 'Healthy people don't need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent'" (Luke 5:31-32).
In this text Jesus was responding to questions concerning his affiliation with sinners. Jesus responded to the Pharisees by telling them that he came to save sinners and to lead them to repentance. Jesus compared sin to sickness, and he deemed himself the master physician. I believe the church should be a hospital, where Jesus is our master physician. It should be a place where those who are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually wounded can come. It is a place where we should be able to check in and when we leave, we are healed or on the road to recovery.
Success is measured in obedience
Lately, I'm hearing a lot about "calling" and following wherever Jesus leads. And I've been right there on the front row, soaking it up. When I read on this site about Jennie Allen's book Restless, I bought the eBook and read it all that same day (not the pace I'd recommend; it's one to work through!). A few weeks later, I did the same with Jenni Catron's book Clout. Meanwhile, my church is focusing on what it means to really be a disciple, no matter the cost.
When we hear these calls to radical discipleship and bold leadership, a lot of us have our spirits pierced and want to sign on—as we should. "Here I am. Send me!" we say with Isaiah. "Anything! Anywhere!" We're ready to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus into even rough waters. Go to Africa? Start an orphan care ministry? Plant a church in the inner city? No matter how big, Lord, we'll do it!
But what if God asks us to do something small? That can be the hardest calling of all, especially for those of us who feel passionate about following him with abandon and making a difference in the world.
An interview with Pastor Noemi Saucedo Chavez
Noemi Saucedo Chavez is co-pastor of Seventh Street Church in Long Beach, California. She has a heart for women and the Latino church and is committed to raising up the next generation to serve their community and the future church. Noemi is also an influencer among 30 under 40 in Long Beach, a group of young leaders in the city. I sat down with Noemi to discuss leadership, mentorship, and culture.
Noemi, please tell our readers a little about yourself and your leadership experiences.
For the first 29 years of my life, I grew up in an all Spanish-speaking church. I eventually began leading as a youth pastor. I am a California State University (LA) graduate, and after eight years of teaching, God called me to ministry. Then I became an associate pastor. My husband and I intentionally planted an English-speaking church in East Los Angeles seven years ago. Los Angeles is filled with Spanish-speaking churches, but many second- and third-generation Latinos are not Spanish speakers. After a merger with another church, we now serve a healthy multicultural, socio-economically diverse congregation.
An interview with Judy Broker, Pastor of Friends to Friends Community Church
A church in Northern New Jersey has changed its name to reflect the reality which has unfolded over the last 20 years: People with disabilities are at the center of this church's ministry and mission. I spoke with pastor Judy Broker about this very unique congregation.
When did this ministry begin?
The First Reformed Church of Ridgewood was a dying congregation of approximately 40 elderly people. The interim had spent about 18 months trying to close the church, but the membership wouldn't hear of it. He told me that the church was, in effect, already dead. He said all I had to work with was a little bit of money and a building. I had started a ladies' Bible study, and during my first Advent with the church decided to focus on prayer and asking God, "Why is this church still here?"
A Book Review
The book: Reclaiming Eve: The Identity & Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God
By Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright
Published by Beacon Hill Press
Why I picked up this book:
I had several reasons for picking up this book. For starters, this book is written by three women, Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright, who all love the Lord and are faithful students of his Word. Not only do they care about the authority of the Word of God, but they also love the church, study church history, care about people, and firmly believe that God has a redemptive purpose for all women. I know this personally because one of these women is my prayer partner whom I have journeyed with through seminary studies.
Who should read Reclaiming Eve and why:
This is a book of substance. It takes what we know from Scripture and challenges us to apply those truths to our daily lives. The authors do this by first acknowledging the identity crisis that women face every day. Women are no different from men in our struggle to clearly define who we are and who we will serve. For Christians, much of those decisions are not simply determined in our homes of origin or the culture in which we live. Many Christian women desperately seek to find those answers in the truths of God's Word, as we should.
He renames and remakes sinners—and we can join him
Recently, I was a guest at a beautiful Nashville farm property belonging to a popular Christian recording artist. When the other guests were talking about life on the road as a well-coiffed Southern Gospel musician or a gospel-announcing evangelist or a tattooed Christian rock star, I could only smile and nod, very aware that I was, technically, not counted as one of their own.
At the end of that same week, I was volunteering at a chic local entertainment venue where North Carolina AIDS Awareness was raising money by hosting drag queen bingo. Whether the other guests were talking about the single lesbian bar in Durham, or gay clubs in neighboring Raleigh, or the empowerment that comes from celebrating the feminine through drag, I could only smile and nod, aware that I was, technically, not counted as one of their own.
Does camaraderie with a male colleague have to be a landmine?
I have great sympathy for the new hires at our church. Our building is a maze of classrooms and closets, navigating IT takes a decade, and recalling names of all our staff is a bit numbing. It’s a big, bustling place, a jovial family complete with fierce loyalty, inside jokes, and an expected dose of dysfunction.
One of our recent hires, new to our city, looked particularly bewildered as he walked in after his new commute. In a moment of sympathy and eagerness to get to know him, I asked him to lunch. We both stared at one another for a second. Both wondering if silently if our scooting out to lunch together was okay.
I’m the token female pastor on staff and he’s the new dude. When I said, “Hey, do you want to grab some lunch and get to know one another a bit?” I was awash in unexpected paranoia. Was I too forward? Can the girl pastor take the new guy to lunch and it not appear scandalous? Was I over-thinking this? My friends who work in corporate settings do lunch with guys all the time. What was my big fuss?
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.
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.
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?
An interview with Dr. Marguerite Shuster, Professor of Preaching and Theology at Fuller Seminary
Here at GFL we’re interested in the unique journeys of women who are called into leadership. That Dr. Marguerite Shuster, Professor of Preaching and Theology at Fuller Seminary has remarked, “I would never recommend that anyone proceed as I have if she wants to get anywhere,” has really only made us more curious.
When did you notice your first sense of calling to the ministry? Were there other voices, at the time, that confirmed it? Was that sense of call particular to either the parish or the academy?
We have no reason to apologize for using our gifts
Ambition is complicated. When related to material things it sounds like greed, so we often take the idea of “bigger and more” in our lives and boil it all down to sin. We sit in the back like my friend Jamie, who aches to dream, but says, “It always seems easier to sit on the back row and kill my dreams than to fight the sin that may be attached to those dreams.”
We are afraid of big dreams because we are afraid of ourselves.
We are afraid of greatness because we are afraid of our arrogance.
A list of our most popular reads last year
Happy New Year!
Let me be among the first to welcome you to 2014. This year, God has plans and purposes for you, works he has long planned for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). I trust you will dedicate this new year to God and resolve to do life and ministry in his name, through the expected and the unexpected.
As I look ahead to a fresh year, I pause as usual to tell you which of our blog posts and downloads were most popular in 2013. If it’s been a while since you read these resources, or if you haven’t seen them yet, follow the links to check them out. These are the ones this community of women read and downloaded most frequently during the last year¬—so they must be worth a look, right?
An interview with Stephan Bauman, President & CEO of World Relief
Since its inception, World Relief has been a convening organization of the Justice Conference, which seeks to impact a generation for justice. It was my pleasure to sit down with World Relief’s CEO, Stephan Bauman, to discuss justice, the way we perceive people, and our contributions to the world.
I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at the 2013 conference. One of the things you talked about was bending your knee to the wrong teachers, and why it is important for us as leaders to have the right people speaking into our lives. You also spoke about the importance of having a diverse group of mentors. Can you share a little bit about that for our reading audience?
Yes. I am a North American white male, and I am well-intentioned and I love people, and it wasn’t until I went abroad that I began to see things that I had grown up with that I never knew were there. That is often the life and response of those who live in the dominant culture. Initially, I learned from basically evangelical suburban churches—wonderful people. I had gone to universities and I had studied philosophy from largely European heritage. All of that stuff is not bad, but it wasn’t until I made friends with an African named Moses, in Sierra Leone, that I begin to perceive differently.
Moses and I developed a sufficiently deep enough relationship where he said candid things to me. Moses lives in a culture where the hospitality of wealth and honor is evident. The beautiful thing about most of the world is that honor to a guest is important. So until we move beyond that threshold of being a guest to the relationship of being a friend, we only hear what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. As a friend, Moses said, “Stephan, when you talk, we listen; when you give, we must receive; when you bring charity, we are the receivers; you are the benefactor; we are the beneficiary.” That statement really confronted my charity-mindedness. I mean, my intentions were very good, but I needed to rethink everything.
An Interview with Vancouver Pastor Joèl Adrienne Amzil
Joèl Adrienne Amzil is an associate pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Vancouver, a congregation known for its rich multicultural ministry. We wanted to hear more from Joel about Trinity, her role there, and how this multicultural congregation worships together.
Joèl, tell us a little about TBC.
Trinity Baptist Church has been serving the west side of Vancouver for 99 years. We are really looking forward to our 100th anniversary next year!
We certainly have seen quite a few changes over the last century, especially with regard to ethnicity. Currently, we have a large population of Mandarin-speaking Chinese, a significant number of people from the Philippines, and then our final third is made up of a mix of people who originate from a few dozen countries from all around the globe.
An Interview with Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief
Immigration was one of the hot-button issues of the last presidential election, and it continues to be a divisive issue in the halls of Washington DC today. Unfortunately, far too many Christians and evangelical churches are uneducated on this important issue or taking their “facts” from opinionated and unresearched political and media sources that do not have a holistic Christian worldview.
There is no doubt about it, immigration is a source of tension for all of us. Thankfully, World Relief has made it their mission to “empower the local Church to serve the most vulnerable” and that includes standing for displaced refugees and immigrants.
When I lost my mother, I learned a lot about how to (and how not to) comfort grieving people
Losing our parents is an inevitability. If it hasn’t happened to you already, it will. It’s how life works.
Perhaps I should reframe that. We don’t “lose” them; they pass away, depart this life, go on ahead, are called home, are promoted to Glory, are no longer with us. Oh, so many ways of not saying it. They die.
At least, their physical bodies cease functioning and life continues in a dimension we’re unable to access. Our complex history of connection is punctuated by death’s rude interruption.
After the sudden death of my father, my mother collapsed, lost consciousness, and a week later died. Any other woman would have shirked the effort it took to stay alive in that last week. Not she. She was an Island woman who had weathered many a wild winter storm. Constancy and perseverance were her watchwords even to death.
God’s mercy provides a way out…do we?
Have you been marred by the sin of adultery? Has your heart ever ached for a friend’s or relative’s marriage that has been battered by adultery? The church has ways to handle adultery, but do we handle it as Jesus did? Have you seen the church mishandle people affected by adultery? How do we extend mercy for such a despicable sin that disrupts so many marriages, homes, children, and precious lives?
No Definition Needed
Most people understand what adultery is, even if we masquerade behind false pretenses. We all understand how marriages can be affected by the sin of adultery, or worse, even destroyed. Often, we forget to delve into how the body of Christ views the sin of adultery and all the parties involved. It would seem in such a sexualized culture, with the spiritual condition of the church being what it is, that anything goes. The contrary is true. Sin has never been tolerated by God; neither should it be tolerated by the church. But for every sin that has been committed or that will be committed, the penalty has already been paid by the blood of Jesus.
How our communities might foster love instead of loneliness
In the last few years, we have seen a remarkable shift in church culture’s attitude regarding the LGBT community. Churches are wanting to be open and welcoming to these folks. In my opinion, the struggle churches and Christians have is not with “loving the sinner,” as it’s been said, but with how far that love goes without compromising Scripture.
The greatest tension in the church’s welcome and even acceptance of LGBT people comes from the desire to be faithful to Scripture. Many Christians believe the love of God extends to all, but somehow have come to believe that if they go as far as welcoming a gay person, it means they have abandoned their loyalty to Scripture.
Protect yourself from ministry predators
It all started my freshman year of college. It was my first time away from home, and I was excited. I was eager to meet new people and explore the world. I came from a small town, so with great excitement also came naïveté.
I volunteered that fall during campaign season to make some extra money; that’s when I met Pastor Brown.* He seemed to be such a godly man. He invited me to his church and even picked me up from campus. His church membership had only two adults and the rest were children, but that was okay; I didn’t mind. I was just happy to hear a message from God and worship with other believers. Pastor Brown asked me to volunteer at his church right away. I always loved serving God and the community, so I said yes! In the beginning, everything seemed fine.
All our interactions should be marked by love—plus caution and wisdom
They met at a professional conference. Valerie was a young pastor, and Charlie was a recent college graduate interning with a campus ministry organization. He mentioned that he was discerning a call to ministry, so Valerie engaged him in a conversation about his vocation. He asked her some questions about seminary. And then he invited her out for ice cream after the conference. “I said ‘of course,’ recounts Valerie, “thinking that I would love to talk through vocational discernment more with any young person. In my role as a chaplain, I understand conversations and listening to be a huge part of what I do.”
Perhaps you see it coming, though Valerie didn’t, and I wouldn’t have either. During their conversation at the ice cream shop, Valerie referenced the role of her significant other in sustaining her ministry. Charlie dropped his cone and blurted out, “You mean, this isn’t a date?”
When I asked some female clergy colleagues if men had ever mistaken pastoral attention for flirtation, the stories poured in. Valerie’s tale was the mildest; that she and her accidental date were mortified by the gaffe was the extent of the miscommunication. Several situations escalated to the point that external authorities had to be called in—bishops, lawyers, even the police.
Sometimes Christians have trouble acting as we say we will
Norman approached my husband, Brad, who spoke at an interdenominational Good Friday service. Brad learned that Norman had been involved heavily in the gay lifestyle and was now suffering from AIDS. In further conversations, Brad found out that Norman’s mother was a Christian and had been praying that he would come to Christ before he died. He did.
Never was a man more radically changed. From the outset, Norman told Brad that he didn’t know if he could change his orientation, but he knew he could change his behavior. My husband said that was good enough for him. At that moment, Norman became a part of our family. He came to a Bible study in our home each week and sang worship songs with the vigor of a man who knew he would soon be meeting the one he sang about. He soaked in Scripture as if it were his last drink of water before entering a long desert journey. We visited him frequently in his ever-increasing hospital stays.
However, we were surprised to find that not everyone at church responded to Norman as enthusiastically as we did. Older men, particularly, kept their distance—although moms with young children were a close second. Through our experience with Norm, we learned some things that I would like to have put into a sermon for our church.
How to minister to people caught in fornication
If fornication is sin, why do Christians engage in it? Why is sexually immorality prevalent among the Body of Christ? And what’s the appropriate response?
Understanding the Culture
Everywhere we look we see the word SEX. Sexual immorality is not only blatant; it is subtle too. Magazine articles, books, movies, and videogames are enticing us. Even provocative dressing in church can distract even the most consecrated minds.
With each generation we seem to have new ways to commit old sins. Now fornication is even portrayed in cartoons. This generation grapples with animated characters using perverse language and engaging in sexual immorality. Media is bold; I must screen what I watch. Fornication is an expected problem among unsaved youth. It’s horrifying when it becomes an epidemic in the church.
Should unmarried couples who live together serve in the church?
According to the National Survey of Family Growth, a government-funded study of more than 20,000 individuals from 2006-2010, the last few decades have seen a dramatic rise in cohabitation, or living with a member of the opposite sex in an intimate relationship outside marriage. Given this trend, the church must consider not only how it stands on the moral issue, but to what degree, if at all, cohabiting couples should participate and serve within the body of Christ.
What the Bible Says about Intimate Cohabitation
While Scripture is not explicit regarding the issue of cohabitation, it does have much to say in respect to sexual immorality, which includes sex outside marriage. First Thessalonians 4:3-8 says that abstaining from sexual immorality is correlated with sanctification and is a part of God’s will for believers. A continual lack of control of one’s fleshly desires is characteristic of someone who does not know God.
A former faithful Mormon and BYU professor explains
Since Mitt Romney ran for president, many are curious about his Mormon faith, with good reason. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Mormons tend to be friendly, hard-working, conservative, moral people—model citizens who want to be accepted as part of the body of Christ. Their church culture is close-knit and family-oriented. But as one who spent more than 30 years as a “good Mormon,” I got to see the inner workings of the Mormon Church.
Like many denominations, Mormons have their own religious vocabulary, dress code, grooming standards, health code, and expected behaviors. But many of the Mormon sacred beliefs, such as temple ordinances and covenants, are required to be secret, known only to those baptized in the Mormon Church.
For many Mormon families there is great pressure to have everything look great on the outside, and to do everything well, and this pressure is particularly acute for Mormon women. In my church work, I met many hurting and discouraged women. One struggled to get seven small children to church on time. Others worried that their homes were not clean enough or their children not faithful enough, smart enough, or talented enough to stand out in the outside world. Some were anxious because they did not hold temple recommends or did not have husbands to get them to the top of the celestial kingdom or were not spreading the Mormon gospel or did not have time for their callings. Some were eager to save their dead family members through genealogy and temple work. If others were going to look to us for answers and want to join Mormonism, we needed to have it all together.
God does not require less from women
In John C. Maxwell’s book Developing the Leader Within You, he explains that the majority of people believe being a leader is a position or title. Most often we strive for a title or status and believe that once we achieve the particular status, we become leaders. He goes on to challenge readers by asking what type of leaders they are. Hitler was a leader. Jim Jones was also a leader.
My first few years as a new believer were extremely difficult, and since then I have worked hard to become the leader that God wants me to be. The road I traveled in developing my leadership skills was fraught with uncertainty and dismay. After a year at my church, as a fairly new believer, I was asked to assume a leadership role in the women’s ministry. As you can imagine, I was thrilled. I knew that God had called me into ministry, so I believed I had “arrived.” However, it was not the arrival that I had anticipated. I was totally unprepared for the high school-like, drama-filled atmosphere that defined much of the leadership functioning in the women’s ministry.
In the megachurch that I attended, I saw hundreds of hurting people, and many among them were the women we were supposed to be serving. Witnessing the pain and need around me, I had no idea why I, as a new believer, had been asked to lead in such a large role. I could have understood it more if I had been asked and then properly trained to serve. At that time, I brought good intentions and willingness to serve, but little else in the way of training.
“The Mysterious Third Nipple” and other horror stories
At a recent ministry event, I seized an opportunity to test out my favorite new party trick among clergywomen.
“I’m just curious,” I queried, “if anyone has had a professional wardrobe malfunction…”
Though the term was officially coined by TV execs in the wake of the 2004 Super Bowl fiasco, as an attempt to explain Janet Jackson’s accidental exposure, clergywomen have been well acquainted with other variations of the common malady for…ever.
I’d long suspected these stories were out there, based only on my own fashion debacles: the inch of wrapped tampon sticking out of the breast pocket of a dark denim jacket before a college chapel service; catching a weighty falling gold earring, with my catlike reflexes, during a Scripture reading; chucking an unwieldy red headband under the pulpit mid-sermon; and, of course, terrifying innocent worshipers by swooping into the women’s restroom robed like Darth Vader.
When my colleagues chimed in with their own stories, however, Vader-gate suddenly seemed like a fun day at the Super Bowl.
A picture of healthy relationship between ministry spouses
Flipping through TV channels, we can see shows like The Housewives of Wherever, depicting women as backbiting, gossiping liars with a proclivity toward physical altercations. Now more than ever, women in church leadership have an opportunity to model healthy female relationships worth imitating.
Debbie Altman is one such woman. She works in a world that can be filled with both explosive relational land mines and pockets of gold: the world of church ministry. Debbie and her husband, Craig Altman, founded Grace Family Church 19 years ago. Currently, Grace Family has a weekend attendance of 6,000 people with Debbie and Craig leading a large staff, including 12 pastors. Although Debbie is not a paid staff member, she co-leads Grace with her husband and believes that part of her role as lead pastor’s wife is to minister to the other pastors’ wives.
As an observer of people, I was curious how Debbie creates healthy relationships with pastors’ wives. I also asked Kristin, the wife of one of Grace’s executive pastor’s, what Debbie does to create healthy relationships. Since leadership begins at the top, both Debbie and Kristin agree that Debbie has maintained certain values that have created healthy relationships with the pastors’ wives.
It’s not just about finding warm bodies and putting them to work
Recruiting, training, deploying, and supporting volunteers can occasionally feel like a full-time job. But as leaders, we all understand that without these volunteers, church as we know it would come to a screeching halt. For nearly 20 years, my husband (Christopher) and I have mobilized hundreds of men and women to serve on the various teams that we lead. I hope this overview of some things we’ve learned will serve both seasoned and beginning leaders.
Our role begins in much the same way that a college coach recruits athletes. Coaches understand their mandate—winning games—and choose individuals with a variety of skill sets; they don’t just need five point guards! And ministry is slightly more complicated than outscoring your opponent.
Because the needs of a church are always changing, recruiting happens year-round. For the more prominent teams (worship), this typically means winnowing down many eager volunteers to the necessary few. The long-term healing and discipleship program Christopher and I run has a worship, teaching, prayer, and small-group component. We minister to individuals in the church who would identify themselves as struggling to connect well with others and/or God. Leading in this setting requires a more intense commitment and we usually have to pursue candidates.
Or any men, for that matter.
When I was asked to join the staff of a small church as the small-group coordinator, I was thrilled. I was also naïve. Being on staff meant that I was joining two men, one 10 years my senior, the other just a few years younger than my father. I moved from working with peers in a college ministry where I'd found that my gender rarely had an effect on what I could do, to a family church with a variety of traditional values represented. I had no idea how much gender would come into play.
Take our first weekly staff lunch outing. My coworkers rushed to open all doors for me, offering me the front seat in the car while one of them drove. At the restaurant, we were seated at a booth, and there was some awkwardness as my coworkers decided it best that they sit next to each other. It was insisted that I order first (as the lady at the table) and that my coworker pour my tea for me. Later as one of my coworkers remarked on our productive lunch, he said, "Thanks, guys." He quickly blushed and apologized for calling me a guy. (For the record, I have absolutely no issue with being referred to as the collective "guys.") I chalked up these humorous interactions to new job awkwardness. But then they continued…and broadened.
In a conversation about buying new lapel mics, I asked if there were options with smaller battery packs, or battery packs that could clip on in other ways than a back pocket—something my Sunday outfits rarely had. I got blank looks from the men buying the mics.
I felt I never had enough…until I discovered a powerful secret
“Too much ministry; not enough money!”
That’s how one pastor replied when asked about the biggest hurdle in the relationship between ministry and money. I agree. Or I did in the past. I have stumbled over that same hurdle, but now I am careful to avoid it, having discovered a secret.
That secret, however, first revealed a greater hurdle that exists in the relationship between ministry and money: me.
My start in ministry was probably similar to yours: obedience to the call, commitment to serve God and people, willingness to sacrifice. Whatever it took, I was in. I’d find myself happily and sincerely singing lyrics like…
“Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
“Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”
“All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give…I surrender all!”
As years went by, however, something slow and sinister began occurring: My call became less compliant, being bullied by comparison and envy; my commitment to serve God and people grew weaker, thanks to complaining; and the sacrifice I once offered freely now teetered precariously on the altar as self-pity climbed up beside it.
Does your ministry budget reflect God’s kingdom or church enterprise?
I remember creating my children’s ministry budget for the year. This is what it looked like:
• VBS (a program inside the building): $6000
• Sunday morning celebration (a program inside the building): $10,000
• Team building and training (for the people who volunteered inside the building): $1000
• Conference and further education (so I could get better at planning all my “inside the building” programs): $1000
• Mentoring/meetings (aka lunches out on the church): $500
• Outreach (which was really all about getting the community to come to the building): $500
It was a hard reality to see that most of the money given by faithful tithers was feeding ourselves and not really doing much outside our walls. I was only doing what I was taught in Bible college. Church ministry was my life, so I budgeted based on what I had been taught should be my priorities. To me, ministry was all about how many people we had on a Sunday morning and coming up with creative ways to get them out of bed and into our pews. I slowly started to become frustrated and wondered if I was missing something. Was this really what ministry was all about? filling pews?
We must move away from “engaging the enemy” and toward fighting for a common cause
Lillian was a strong, charismatic woman who founded her church’s women’s ministry. Her vibrant personality made almost anything she tried a success. She was like a beloved sergeant in the military—close to those under her care, an advocate for them with the church leaders above her, and militantly passionate about their growth and development. She had created an atmosphere in the ministry that challenged and excited women. They came just to be around her and supported anything she tried to institute in the church.
The trouble began when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to resign from her position during chemotherapy. She struggled as she saw her beloved ministry pass to other hands. Because she’d been the only head of the women’s ministry, she felt very strongly about how it should be run. She tried to communicate this clearly to church leaders, but in the end, she had no choice but to watch her position be handed to the most willing but, in her opinion, unqualified person.
Tabitha was delighted with the opportunity to take over the women’s ministry. She felt Lillian’s ideas were outdated and suited only for the older women of the church. She couldn’t wait for the opportunity to gear things toward the younger women who had never been much engaged in the activities Lillian had planned.
That’s when the battle commenced.
A unique service idea
Professional organizers have been doing it for years. Television programs have started doing it, too. Over the years, from time to time, friends have gathered to help one another out of difficult household-organizing situations. Yes, group home-organizing has a rich and varied history.
The problem of disorganization seems to be getting more pronounced. But what are the guidelines for helping those caught in the clutches of disorganization? Until now there have been few directives for what can be a sensitive situation: entering someone else's house to help make changes. Stepping up to meet this need is an opportunity for the women's ministries of the church. They can offer support for members and outreach to the community. Like many other ministries, home-organization is an opportunity to do as Paul admonished in Galatians 6:10, “Do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”
Maybe someone in your church feels immobilized by a recent loss, is chronically depressed, has just moved from a larger place, has never learned housekeeping skills, or has just had a baby…you can fill in the reason. Those who are gifted with natural organizing skills may have been able to remain organized in these circumstances. However, not everyone has the skills necessary to stay on top when things start spinning out of control. With added pressures, the person who was previously struggling to stay in control now finds herself overwhelmed. She may feels as if she is drowning in clutter and papers. “Help!” she cries silently as she tries to rally unsuccessfully to meet the challenge.
A network of female friends is an irreplaceable lifeline in ministry
It doesn’t take a doctor to confirm that males and females have different needs. What is true in nature is also true in ministry.
Ministers, whether clergy or lay, need ministerial network groups, as discussed in my previous post. Female ministers, I say based on personal experience, particularly need to be in contact with other sisters of the cloth and call.
Yes, we have much in common with our brothers, but ours is a unique ministerial experience. How does one negotiate maternity leave and prepare her church for her absence in the pulpit while she heals from labor and delivery and nurses her new baby? How best is a female minister to handle herself when the church treasurer is faithful about paying all the church bills but too often negligent with her salary and benefits? How does she discern whether latent sexism or patriarchy is at work in a conflict with a congregant or staff member? Will she be supported in determining this? In a congregation that allows women to serve only in certain roles, what is a sister to do when she feels called to a role typically “reserved” for men?
A network of female friends is an irreplaceable lifeline in ministry
Even though I expected this question, my heart felt as if it would beat right out of my chest. I stood before the group who would either affirm or confirm my “outer call” to ministry, as we Reformed-tradition folks say. Based on the essays I wrote and upon how they experienced me that day, these fine people would determine whether I could become a candidate for Minister of Word and Sacrament. I prayed that God would help me not to see them as gatekeepers or judges to impress, only people who loved God, the church, and me enough to examine my fitness for ministry. Nonetheless, I wriggled with anxiety.
Giddy with idealism, and seeing ministry through rose-colored glasses, I gushed my answer to the question.
“I love God, I love God’s people, and I want to serve, love, and do mission with God’s people in Christ’s name.”
The biggest smile ever to cross my face took control of my mouth. I struck a confident-yet-humble pose. A passerby seeing my nonverbals may have mistaken me for a Miss America contestant. I dug into the people’s eyes and searched for approval.
What I learned in a very uncomfortable meeting
Stomach in knots, throat tightened, and holding back waves of nausea…you might think I was battling a virus. Not so. In my mind, it was something far worse: confrontation. My body was reacting to my emotional turmoil as I sat across the conference table from another woman in leadership. And it was not just the two of us. The conflict had escalated to the point where our husbands and pastors were involved. Uncomfortable, awkward, painful, yes. But the leadership lessons I gleaned that day were invaluable.
Inherent in leadership is the probability that you are going to tick someone off or offend someone to the point of confrontation. Sitting at the conference table, I knew the trajectory of this conversation would be determined by my willingness to humble myself. But how could I humble myself when I felt like jumping across the table and punching her lights out? Here are a few tips I used to prepare my heart and mind.
It’s easy—and dangerous—to get distracted by criticism
My sport of choice is tennis. I love the game. During the 2009 French Open Men’s Final, a crazed fan leaped over the stands and onto the court to taunt the second-ranked world player, Roger Federer. As you can imagine, it was quite a scene. Tennis, with its air of prestige and sophistication, is not accustomed to unruly spectators. Within those few seconds, the emotions of the fans ran the gamut from gasps of fear to humorous snickers and then cheers as security tackled the man and hauled him off the court.
While this little drama unfolded, I kept my eyes on Roger. Here he was playing one of the most significant matches of his career and what appeared to be a crazed lunatic jumped out on the court after him. I marveled at his ability to stay calm, quickly collect himself, and immediately go back to the game (he won, ultimately launching him back into the number-one seed).
That’s the power of focus: it’s what separates the winners from the losers, the good from the great. Focus can make or break you.
The ugly truth about female relationships
Today I read an article that made me very sad. It was written by a woman whom I respect, though we disagree on some things. This particular article (about which I will not disclose any more details than what I have here) arrived at some conclusions that I do not share, but what disappointed me was the author’s tone. It was not loving toward other women. Going beyond disagreement, she was sarcastic and condescending. Rather than respectfully disagreeing, this usually mature woman in Christ chose to belittle women who take a different position than hers.
That behavior is wrong. It is not Christlike, and as women of the church we need to be better than that.
Whenever women back-bite in the name of theological or ideological difference, Satan wins a small victory. While our own sense of self-righteousness often justifies this behavior in our minds, mud-slinging and ridicule are always unfitting for the church. Throughout history, tremendous destruction has resulted from rifts between women, so we need to take this problem very seriously.
What if we planted people, not just churches?
There was no commissioning or prayer of “sending.”
I held two ministry positions; I was dismissed from one, and I resigned from the other. I didn’t seem to fit the mold for ministry and I didn’t enjoy the administration. The amount of time I spent inside the walls of the church office was killing me. I found myself in trouble for spending too much time out of the office and in the community, neglecting significant church duties. Thus, my life as an urban missionary life began—although I didn’t call it that. I called it “unemployment.” Many others (and myself) also called it “ministry failure.”
What came next was six years of desert.
It was hard to break out of my full-time ministry mindset. As far as I was concerned, I was no longer “in ministry.” I would attend church, only to leave feeling unqualified. I wasn’t clergy. I was the average churchgoer with no permission to live out a mission—or so I thought. I doubted “the call” I felt God had on my life. What was he doing with me? Had he cast me aside?
How I found my voice and answered God’s call to preach
We have embarked into the 21st century. We have witnessed amazing discoveries in science, medicine, and technology. Despite all the advancements, some churches still permeate with prohibition of women in spoken ministry.
Maturing in biblical knowledge, it baffles me how the church ever got blindsided by the “let your women keep silent” philosophy. God has always achieved miracles, deliverances, and healings through women. Who sent the memo that women were to be “muzzled”? From Sarah in the Old Testament to Phoebe in the New Testament, God used these women and many others to change the course of history. Having read the Bible from cover to cover countless times, I have never seen women forbidden to be used by God. Contrary to popular belief, it was and is the tradition of men that have eloquently crafted the muzzle made for women.
Despite what you may feel about a woman’s proper place in the church, I would like to share my story with you.
Three recent events that matter to your ministry
Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.
A Fake Dead Girlfriend and Our Longing for Love
College football player Manti Te’o and the unraveling story of his fake girlfriend have been the biggest story of the past week, and as the truth begins to take shape it will continue to be a topic of conversation. What started as a too-good-to-be-true headline—“Football Player’s Dead Girlfriend Never Existed”—has morphed into a discussion of much bigger, and more interesting, questions. What forms the foundation of a relationship? What keeps someone in a relationship? Is there one right way for a relationship to look? And how should we respond to individuals who find themselves in online relationships?
While this specific situation is pretty uniquely bizarre, the desire for companionship and emotional intimacy, a drive that can lead people to do some pretty unpredictable things, is not. Vulnerability is never easy and always carries a risk—Te’o says he lied because he felt too embarrassed to admit he had never actually met or seen his girlfriend. The way we talk about this story is important, because our words and tone will also communicate to anyone who understands that desire to find love and hold onto it even when faced with challenging circumstances. It is important to uphold the dignity of all people and to come alongside those who have suffered embarrassment, disappointment, loss, or tragedy. They do not need our ridicule; they need our love.
A Christianity measured by niceness is antithetical to the gospel
I really enjoy being nice to people.
Initiating friendly small talk with my grocery-store cashier or graciously showing patience to my overworked waitress brings me happiness. There’s something about sharing a laugh with a stranger or bringing a smile to a person’s face that is nearly exhilarating. I love it. I walk away with an extra skip in my step and a part of me thinks, “I love being a Christian!”
In my mind, whenever I am kind to someone for no reason at all, whenever I extend mercy at a time when others might not, whenever I inquire about the day of the telemarketer who calls—I equate all these things with the Christian life. Christ compels us to love our neighbors and our enemies—to love everyone—so the warm feeling I get from these encounters must be related to Jesus, I reason. It is the part of my heart that is conformed to his.
And perhaps that is true. Perhaps Jesus was just as friendly and happy-go-lucky with everyone he crossed. But I would be lying if I said that this mindset can’t be deceptive. Behind my joy is also a deep desire to be liked by everyone I meet. While I genuinely enjoy encouraging strangers because I do care about them, I also want people to think I’m nice and funny and kind. It builds me up inside. It makes me feel like a good person.
I’m consumed with what it means to be called
As a preacher’s kid, my youth was all about church. We discussed ministry the way some families discuss sports. When a new pastor or leader gave his first sermon, we hoped it would include an exciting story of his “calling.” In fact, we were never as concerned about his resume as we were about his calling. We didn’t want a businessman. We wanted “God’s man.” We were confident that “the called” would not lead us down the wrong path.
I’m consumed with what it means to be called. We all have talents, and even those who volunteer to clean Sunday school rooms are “called” to be helpers. Every volunteer, teacher, and nursery worker is important to God’s work. Yet when we elevate leaders, teachers, and those who impact evangelism in the church, shouldn’t we pray for them to have a specific calling? Will their influence and ministry have greater impact because they are called? Is there a deeper calling that goes beyond just being “willing” to do the job?
The term “called” refers to the way Jesus called his disciples. Many biblical characters made important contributions, but it was the “called” disciples who delivered the most impact. Their spiritual accomplishments highlight the idea that God’s anointed work will take us down a different path.
I learned that God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called
The Greece I found that Wednesday afternoon in March 2010 was not the one I remembered from my honeymoon fourteen years earlier. There were no stunning, whitewashed buildings. No lapis-blue tile rooftops. No festive music. No outdoor market with vendors selling freshly pressed olive oil, mouth-watering feta cheese, fresh cantaloupe.
This afternoon, the streets were empty, black, wet. The normally crystal-blue Mediterranean pounded dark and rough against the Thessaloniki shipping port. Strange how fear, not just the season—this long, hard winter—changed everything.
Is this how they see it? I wondered.
“They” were fourteen young women, mostly Eastern European, recently rescued from sex trafficking. But they hadn’t begun their journey as women—they’d been mere schoolgirls when lured from homes in the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Romania, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Nigeria. Sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-olds. All girls who should have been giggling about music and basketball games, worrying about what to wear to school—not how to survive the next minute.
How the “next Christians” offer light to the world
In contrast to countercultures that separate, antagonize, or copy culture, the next Christians are a counterculture for the common good that is centered and immoveable. They don’t concern themselves with popularity, what they can achieve for themselves, or whether the masses are following. Instead, they boldly lead.
Preserving Agents in a Decaying World
Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13). For ages, salt has been understood as the key agent for preserving and protecting food from decay or spoilage. This was especially true in the ancient world where the modern technology of refrigeration didn’t exist. Jesus likely used the idea of salt to define how his followers should interact in the world.
Salt is only useful when it’s good, active, and engaged—doing what it’s supposed to do where it’s supposed to be. Salt doesn’t preserve anything by itself; it must attach to something in order to provide its life- sustaining and preservative value.
How one church reshaped a program to serve its community
We were a pastoral-size church (150 or less in attendance on Sundays) seeking to grow and trying a programmatic model to do so. We felt pretty good about our “if we provide it, folks will come” method. Who wouldn’t want to come and check out (and hopefully join) a loving and unassuming group of Christians like us?
Except the programs didn’t do what we hoped they would.
We hired a consultant to come and help us revitalize our congregation and its sense of mission.
As the conclusion of our time with the consultant drew near, we felt overwhelmed. What were we to do? Where would we begin? Would this really work? The consultant encouraged and got us moving with a simple exercise.
I’m called to oversee the corner of influence God has given me
Nearly 10 years ago I sat in an Atlanta, Georgia, arena packed to the brim with college students. I was attending an annual conference hosted by Passion, and Beth Moore was about to take the stage.
In case you have never experienced Beth Moore’s teaching outside the realm of women’s events and teaching videos, it is an awesome thing to behold. I don’t know if the co-ed environment brings out a different side of her, but she was especially on her game. She was fiery and she was powerful. She gripped each one of us with her prophetic message, and she straight-up preached it.
As a young 20-something, I had never seen a woman teach with such authority and conviction. I had never seen a woman command such a large audience with her anointed words. It was inspiring and it was empowering.
I left that day wanting to be like her.
A challenge to partner with God’s power
“My daughter’s in a rough place; can you pray for her?” says one Facebook message this week.
The man with sad eyes at church stops me Sunday with a hand on my elbow. “Our marriage is in trouble. Will you pray for me?”
The requests come in person, in email, on the phone. As leaders, the needs around us can be overwhelming. But there are five people in your life—who probably aren’t asking you to pray—who are worth devoting time to:
A new approach to impact women for Jesus
During the past decade, the landscape of key leadership positions within churches and non-profits has changed. The number of female senior pastors has doubled and there are more women than men leading non-profits.
Sadly, a strange dichotomy is occurring within the American church. While there are more women in key leadership positions than ever before, women are leaving the church at a startling rate.
As a women’s leader in my local church, this news is alarming and yet not surprising. Just this morning I was talking with an educated professional woman in her early 30s. She was vehemently stating a sentiment I have heard several times during my tenure as a women’s leader: “I hate women’s ministry. I think I will die if I hear the words ‘spa,’ ‘tea,’ or ‘girlfriend’ one more time.”
Earlier in the week I met several influential Christian women who are thoughtful and committed to making a difference in the lives of others. One is an attorney who spends her life advocating for girls trapped in human trafficking, another woman ministers to women suffering with lupus, and another spent the majority of her life establishing churches behind the Iron Curtain. Spas and teas seem frivolous in comparison.
A true story for women in ministry
Ever walked past a mirror to catch an unexpected glimpse of yourself? “Yikes, I hoped skinny jeans might make me look skinny.”
I serve in a church that projects our service onto what we call “The Jumbotron.” It’s not exactly the scoreboard at the Superdome, but it’s a jumbo enough tron to elicit a similar arresting gasp when I see myself on it.
When I’m up front leading worship, I have moments of God-honoring bliss when my soul laps up every drop of God’s glory. When song and Scripture splash together as if an angel wrote the sermon then pressed it into the palms of our keyboard player. Eyes closed. Arms raised. My heart laid prostrate.
There are also moments when I catch a glimpse of myself on that screen and wonder who let me out of the house without a proper haircut and shoes from this decade. Who listens to this disheveled mess?
Fretting over our appearance as worship leaders should not matter, but we all know it does. Just ask the hipster pastor who spent an hour making sure his hair did not look like he just spent an hour on it. Oh, vanity of vanities.
Learn to transition ordinary conversations into sharing Christ
It is far easier to introduce storytelling than traditional evangelism openers. For example, you might simply say, “I’ve been learning to tell stories. The trainer has asked us to practice each story with ten people. Would you be willing to listen to a five-minute story and tell me if you understood it?”
A friend of mine has used this approach: “I love stories. Do you? Could you tell me one and then I’ll tell you one?” This works especially well for someone working cross-culturally and wanting to hear stories from that culture. This way you can be learning language and culture at the same time as sharing the gospel.
Sue was a new Christian who wondered how God could use her to share stories. She had one skill—hairdressing—and just enough money to rent one room and cut hair. Every time she cut someone’s hair, she offered a “free story” as a gift. Many people accepted this bonus offer. Over time she saw numbers of people accepting the greatest gift of all.
Another approach is to establish a reputation as a storyteller. When someone asks, “What do you do?” you could say something like, “I’m a teacher—but what I really love to do is tell stories.” Establishing this reputation means you’ll seldom have to start a gospel conversation from scratch. People will start asking you for stories. Sometimes this is as easy as carrying a prop with you. I started telling stories in a park and discovered that carrying a small pink plastic stool with me signaled to people that it was story time.
Lessons learned from the first year of a women’s mentoring ministry
Our leadership team has learned a few lessons after one year of prayer, preparation, and leadership training; a successful launch of a women’s mentoring ministry at our church; and one year of mentoring through small groups. I’d like to share these lessons with you:
1. Trust God. Establishing and sustaining any ministry is a consistent exercise in faith and reliability on the Lord. It is a process. We give ourselves room to fail and grace to try again. We encourage each other on the journey.
2. Less is more. Some of our groups have eight mentees, but we are starting to believe that six is a more manageable number if the mentor truly wants to build relationships with the mentees, intercede in prayer, and serve them well. In his book Mentor Like Jesus, Regi Campbell suggests that if Jesus discipled only 12 and one of them was a bad egg, we certainly should be discipling no more than that at any one time.
Are you leading from a healthy place? Find out now!
Guiding others has the potential to be one of the most exhilarating experiences in life. But too frequently, the joy found in leading others becomes suffocated underneath the pile of daily demands and due dates. The pressures leaders experience today often leave them feeling drained and devitalized. Some lead from a position of physical exhaustion. Others serve while emotionally destitute.
Are you leading from a healthy place? Take the following quiz to find out:
1. You are having coffee with your accountability partners when the conversation turns toward a member of your small group. You inwardly agree with the others when they admit disliking her whiny tone and how quickly she becomes emotional.
Creating safe places for learning in community, through diversity, and across generations
In the weekly reFill column of FullFill Magazine, Anita Lustrea (Moody’s Midday Connection broadcast host and author of What Women Tell Me) wrote about women’s need for community. In an online survey of over 2,300 women, relationships were among the top three recurring macro-themes. In her article, Anita shared the fears associated with cultivating relationships, the health benefits that can result from having friendships, and the types of friends we all need. “In addition to simply finding friends, however, we need to find safe people to be in community with. Henry Cloud and John Townsend give a great grid in their book Safe People. A safe person, they say, has three characteristics: they draw us closer to God, they draw us closer to others and they draw us closer to our authentic selves.” These are the types of safe communities we create in our mentoring groups.
One of our mentors stated: “I don’t know why I continue to be amazed at the things God does rather than just expecting that he will do them, but I do, and the mentoring ministry is just another example. It’s hard for me to believe that our group has bonded so well in so short a time. One member of our group remarked that she thought God had put together the perfect group for her, and we all agreed.”
When life is tough, we need more than just sweet thoughts about God.
Do you think of yourself as a theologian? When we hear the word theologian, we often we picture some older intellectual man—a professional academic sitting behind a desk piled with thick books in ancient languages. And there certainly are professional theologians who fit this description, busily teaching at seminaries and writing books. But theologian is a label that belongs to all of us because a theologian is simply someone who knows God. Theology is what we believe about God—whether it is true or not. Every Christian—male or female, young or old—is a theologian, and we were each made for that very purpose.
Adults are forever warning children about strangers. The message is not that all strangers are dangerous, but that you can’t trust someone you don’t know. When we don’t take the time to get to really know God in deep ways, we put ourselves in the impossible situation of having to trust a stranger.
When we go through a crisis or a devastating situation in our lives, we lean on our theology—whether it is true or false. Will it be something we’ve constructed ourselves? Or will it be the result of really knowing God? When a storm strikes your life, whatever it is that you believe about God is what your faith will have to grasp. This is where it gets dangerous. What if you’re holding on to wrong ideas about God, like “He doesn’t really love me” or “I don’t matter” or “He isn’t good”? That poor theology will only make your struggle worse.
Leaning into the life you have
Scripture is full of one-liners. I’m not referring to jokes, although there is humor in the Bible. The one-liners I’m speaking of are people.
Significant people who are summarized in single sentences show up all over the Bible. But we don’t notice them the same way we gravitate toward characters whose stories fill chapters. When we talk about examples of faith, we talk about people like Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Mary, John, Peter, and Paul. We go straight to the chapter characters.
It’s human nature, of course, to spend our time considering the lives of those where the text seems to linger. More detail means more importance, right?
A missionary’s tips for a successful cross-cultural experience
You’re investing thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and numerous headaches in planning a missions trip. You hope to save the world (at least the corner you’ll be in) and return with photos, stories, and unforgettable memories of souls you’ve touched.
Nothing surges global vision in your church like team members returning from a cross-cultural experience with changed lives. Nothing snuffs the passion for global outreach like a team returning with complaining, irritated members.
What makes the difference? Having been on both sides of the experience, first as a youth pastor leading teams, and for the past fifteen years as a missionary receiving teams, I’ve learned specific keys that lead to success.
The first one is to get lost.
Four recent events that matter to your ministry
Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.
Men still outpace women in pay by 28 percent across all positions.
Results from Christianity Today's biannual survey of 4,600 churches nationwide, which are featured in the new 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, reveal the top 7 paid positions based on gender.
We are specially equipped for ministry.
Today, this is the drawback of being a stylish woman in leadership.
There, are, though, other ways in which being a woman has uniquely gifted me and my sisters for leadership. Specifically, I’ve been noodling lately on how my female-ness has equipped me to engage with a world in need. Joining Christ in his ministry to those the world considers “the least of these,” I have discovered a few particular advantages I enjoy over my male counterparts.
Read ‘em and weep, boys. (For joy, of course.)
Is this a sign that God wants us to quit?
I’m in the midst of leading a project I don’t feel particularly passionate about. It didn’t start out this way. I launched into it with great enthusiasm. I was confident I was following God’s will by pursuing the project, but as time has passed and I’ve grown less enamored with it, I’m wondering whether I misread the signs.
Truth be told, the project isn’t meeting my expectations. I feel defeated that it’s not as successful as it ought to be. In essence, my interest is waning because it doesn’t feel worth my time. My ebbing interest makes me wonder: Is passion always an indicator of God’s will? I’m pretty sure that God has called people to things they weren’t necessarily passionate about. I’m sure they felt defeated and unsuccessful too. (Insert Moses, David, or nearly any biblical character you can think of as a prime example.)
Why do we do this then? Why do we equate passion—or a lack of it—with God’s will or plan for our lives? Why do we so easily throw in the towel when we lose passion? Why are we quick to walk away from a job or project when we find ourselves a little defeated?
Keep them coming back after the holidays
’Tis the season—the season when church leaders and volunteers feel the squeeze of work and family life. From Christmas cards to gift wrapping to party planning, Christmas adds a new dimension to our already hectic lives.
And then there’s church! For weeks, volunteers have been feverishly preparing Christmas programs, organizing gift markets, coordinating food drives. Church workers have been hard-pressed on every side with little relief.
All of the extra work that comes with the Christmas season—even when it’s fulfilling and meaningful—can lead to year-end burnout. So now is a perfect time to get creative about how you show appreciation to your ministry volunteers. Here are a few creative ways to say thank you as you begin the new year.
How one young leader discovered a piece of God’s heart
When Sarah Aulie travelled to India in her mid-20s, she went seeking direction and clarity. Like so many of her post-college peers, she wasn’t sure what path her life should take. While she was in India, though, a series of unplanned events unfolded—experiences that changed the course of her life and the lives of women in India and Bangladesh.
At the same time God was opening her eyes to the plight of women in India and Bangladesh, Sarah was also learning about the folkloric tradition of kantha quilting. In kantha quilting, the material from the discarded saris of the rich is used by the poor to make quilts. Drawn to this practical and artful craft, Sarah sensed there would be a market in the U.S. for these beautiful blankets. And this would be a way to provide jobs for her precious new friends. And these jobs would provide an alternative to returning to prostitution after they left the government home when they turned 18.
Take care when telling other people’s stories
Sometimes I’m taken aback by how much gossip has become an acceptable part of our culture. Whether it’s learning the 411 on the celebrity of the hour or following the latest political gossip on Twitter, it’s hard to turn on the television or walk through the checkout lane of the grocery store without catching a whiff of some juicy news that may or may not be true.
Even though gossip has become somewhat of a national pastime, Paul advises Timothy, a young leader in the church, to protect what has been entrusted to him by avoiding empty gossip: “Guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
What to do when you see it closing in
Every once in a while...especially in busy seasons of life or ministry, I hit the wall.
I know I’ve hit the wall when:
• I’ve reached my compliant quota. When one more complaint, question, or criticism will put me over the edge.
• Questions become personal attacks. A simple question for clarity feels like a personal attack on my judgment or character.
• The idea of being with people stresses me out.
I don’t think it’s unusual for leaders to hit the wall. Leadership is relational. Leaders are faced with many decisions, problems, and concerns. In fact, leaders typically deal with the toughest, most emotionally challenging issues within the organization. But as leaders we have to be aware when we’re about to hit this wall, and we have to take steps to put on the brakes before we crash into it.
In a world of hurt, is fighting for a place at the table worth our time?
In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Cathleen Falsani asks readers to list three of the top evangelical women leaders under sixty. Falsani contends it's hard to do and the title of her post suggests the reason why: "Jesus is Still Surrounded By Too Many Men." To lend readers a hand with the question, Falsani suggests that author and speaker, Margaret Feinberg (also a Gifted for Leadership blogger), should top the list. After all, Feinberg is a prolific writer who speaks at many large events throughout the country and was dubbed as an upcoming leader in American evangelicalism by Charisma Magazine. Even so, Falsani observes, Feinberg is, “probably the most influential young woman leader in evangelicalism you've never heard of.”
In a phone interview, Falsani asked Feinberg why she was one of the only women speaking at these large Christian events. Is there a "gender ghetto" in evangelical Christianity? Falsani wondered. Feinberg didn't think so; Fienberg believes that at the grass-roots level, the situation is changing for women—even if relatively few have places of national prominence. Yet at the end of her interview, Feinberg, who I deeply admire and respect, said something I’d like to explore a bit further. It was this:
Margaret Feinberg speaks out in The Washington Post
GiftedforLeadership.com writer Margaret Feinberg recently contributed to The Washington Post in a roundtable discussion on the issue of biblical submission, servant leadership, women leaders, and the changes taking place in conservative Christianity. Her article looks at questions including:
How do modern evangelicals understand biblical teachings on women's roles?
How would a President Bachmann balance biblical submission and political leadership?
Check out Margaret's article, and then come back to this post and let us know your thoughts on this issue.
Three things to do when people leave your small group
Groups. We’ve all been in one where the numbers keep whittling down until it’s just you and the leader left.
When you’re the one leading, what do you do if people start leaving yours?
My gender-based policy revealed my spirit of fear
It would take a lot for me to change my mind about allowing men to be alone with my children.
Seven years counseling women recovering from all kinds of horrors experienced at the hands of men, a season that coincided with my first seven years of motherhood, instilled in me a firm belief that men should not be caregivers for kids. At least not for mine.
Yet this month, for the first time ever, I hired a male babysitter.
In years past, not leaving my children with a man seemed like a no-brainer: Most sex abusers are men, so I figured if I never left my kids alone with one, then the odds of victimization would go down. Easy enough.
The Internal Revenue Service announced it has increased the optional standard mileage rate that employers can use to reimburse employees who drive personal vehicles for business purposes.
The IRS increased the rate to 55.5 cents per mile for travel occurring between July 1 and December 31.
The rate was 51 cents for January 1 to June 30.
Many pastors and staff members drive their personal vehicles for church-related business, such as visitations or special events. If properly tracked, those miles can be reimbursed by churches (or pastors and staff members may be able to calculate a deduction for their annual tax returns).
Chapter 7 of the 2011 Church & Clergy Tax Guide further explains reimbursements of transportation expenses.
This post originally appeared on TheYourChurchBlog.com, a sister site of GiftedforLeadership.com at Christianity Today.
Making the most of vacations
One of the things I tend to neglect (and I know many leaders who struggle with this as well) is fully utilizing vacation time. I underestimate the value of rejuvenation that happens when I disconnect my mind from my usual routine and responsibility. I too easily miss the importance of time with family and friends, laughing, playing, and resting. And oftentimes my vacation is nearly over before I’ve really started to rest and relax.
The more complex my life and leadership get, the more I realize vacations are not a luxury; they are a necessity. In order to make the most of vacation, I’ve found I have to do four things:
Plan vacation time well in advance. I get it on the calendar early so I have something to look forward to and so that all the other demands on my time don’t edge it out.
One critical skill most leaders never master
As Christians, we live in a performance-based culture that measures success according to how much you can cram into your life. The more you do, the more you're doing, so to speak. This mentality has, by and large, infiltrated the church, and you don't have to look beyond the church's leadership to see that. Many pastors are over-worked and burned-out, and their families suffer as a result.
This over-commitment is also the reason many pastors are more susceptible to moral failures. A recent study gave each participant either a two-digit number or a seven-digit number to remember. Then, each participant was sent down a hallway, individually, where they were presented with two options: a sensible cup of fruit, or a delicious (but extremely unhealthy) piece of chocolate cake. The participants had to choose which one they would accept.
What the study found was this: The participants who were trying to remember the seven-digit number were TWICE as likely to choose the cake.
Why did this happen? According to the scientist who conducted the study, Professor Baba Shiv, "Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a 'cognitive load'—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation."
God sometimes builds our platform—and our purpose—from our pain.
I am not sure the North American church in general does the right thing on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Then again, I don’t always attend church on these feel-good holidays because frankly, they don’t make me feel so good.
As a 38-year-old woman who married in her mid-30s, my biological clock ticks on and my womb and arms remain empty, at least for now. I focus on seminary, and ministry, and family, and friends, and work, but I haven’t given up hope on the fertility front. I am in that awkward in-between place, where I get asked if I want kids while women everywhere suddenly seem to sprout baby bumps.
Out of Ur videos stir the debate.
Out of Ur, a Gifted for Leadership sister site at Christianity Today, features three videos of church leaders sharing their perspectives on women in leadership in the church.
First, Rose Madrid-Swetman, who co-pastors a church with her husband, discusses how we're missing out on half of what God has to say when women aren't allowed to lead. Part 2 features Bill Kynes of the Gospel Coalition, who unpacks his perspective on why women shouldn't be elders. In Part 3, theologian N.T. Wright gives a biblical case for the full inclusion of women in the orders of the church.
What are your thoughts on the issues presented in these videos? What are constructive ways to respond when these kinds of questions about women in leadership arise?
Let's engage in an honest, respectful dialogue and learn from each other. To see what Out of Ur readers are saying, click on the links on each person's name above.
What to do when your connections exceed your capacity.
Last week two high school girls skipped over to me and announced with smiles, "We want a small group, and we want you to lead it!" There's nothing I love more than being with faithful and available students who want to grow in their relationship with God. But something strange happened in my heart at that moment, something I've been wrestling with for several months. My heart said, turn them down.
One woman in preaching class
Entering the room, I looked up to view this semester's preaching class. I mentioned something about the lack of estrogen, to which the professor replied: "You'll need to assert yourself in class." It was then that the truth became evident. I was the only woman in a preaching class of 20 men.
I felt myself becoming unglued. God, you led me to this seminary. It's hard enough to be a woman getting a theology degree, and now I have to put up with a whole semester of men, many of whom don't believe in my call to preach?
I wanted the floor to swallow me up, to take me back to one of the familiar places where I could use some of my gifts without making waves, without standing out like a pink flamingo in a sea of blue herons.
Helping moms embrace God’s mission.
Kathy, a friend of mine who serves as an elder at her church, recently shared an issue with me that she and her fellow leaders constantly wrestle with. "We always need more volunteers in our church, but it's so hard to ask moms to get more involved in ministry," she said. "They are already so tired, so busy; I don't even want to ask them to do anything else. Maybe after their kids get older, we can get them involved again."
I wonder how often in our churches we assume that once a woman becomes a mother, she has to put her potential contributions in the church on hold for an indefinite period (with the exception of serving in the church nursery or Sunday school program).
This Sunday, just before we left for church, my daughter stopped me as I passed through the living room.
“Look,” she said. “The shepherds are headed home.”
I followed her waved out, game-show-hostess arm and saw what she was talking about: the nativity. In our house—as in many—the crèche in our living room gets a lot of action during Christmas. The characters get rearranged. They fall off tables. I dig Baby Jesus—snug in his hay-filled manager—out from under the sofa a lot. And sometimes, if they are lucky, the nativity folks get a visit from others: Barbie or Freddie, the Little People mechanic might pop in to say hey.
But, since Christmas was over, my daughter thought it was high time the shepherds get rolling. My girl had turned all the shepherds away from the Jesus, Mary and Joseph and had moved them clear across the table.
Headed home. Of course.
How long could the shepherds stay and admire the baby?
Last week in Part I of this post, I asked, "In light of the often high-running emotions of a women’s small group, how do we hold them in check? How can a leader strike a balance between saturating women with the truth of God’s Word, but also providing them with the emotional support they need?"
Many of you offered wonderful suggestions. No, as promised, here are a few of mine:
It all began with a seemingly innocent question: “Does anyone have any prayer requests?”
An hour later, the prayer requests were still going strong.
For many women’s small groups, this is a common occurrence. Prayer requests and even Bible study time can often turn into long-running therapy sessions in which women unload the anxieties and worries of their weeks onto a sympathetic group of listening ears.
While this is certainly a healthy function of a body of Christian believers, it becomes problematic when it dominates the small group’s time. I was once a part of a small group in which we tried multiple strategies for reining in the long-winded sharers. We tried shifting our prayer request time to the beginning of the meeting, and we put time limits on how long people could share. Neither of these strategies really worked, and they instead left us feeling altogether disingenuous. Cutting people off while they were crying about marital problems or their sick Aunt Melba didn’t exactly foster openness and authentic fellowship. So the problem continued.
After a while, this aspect of women’s small groups has gotten under my skin.
This fall I’ve been through one of the biggest transitions in my career, and it’s not just the job responsibilities. After spending seven years in working almost exclusively with women, I now spend the majority of my time with men.
And I love it.
For a woman as “pro-women” as I am, it’s a little hard to write that sentence. I have a stake in promoting women. I want to be part of a generation that works to bring women to the table in all areas of leadership. I think it’s time, and I think it’s good for the church.
But all too often, the pro-women conversation can get a little sharp. Conversations with women about finding their place in ministry easily morph into “what’s-wrong-with-men” gripe-fests.
Last month, at a benefit for Breakthrough Urban Ministries, my friend Arloa Sutter—its founder and executive director as well as author of The Invisible: What the Church Can Do to Find and Serve the Least of These—said their ministry goals stretched beyond feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, finding jobs for the jobless and giving hope to the hopeless. Their ministry, according to Arloa, also wants to change the way people look at urban youth. Particularly the urban youth that lives in Arloa and Breakthrough’s neighborhood, which happens to be not only one of the most dangerous in Chicago, but in all the nation.
“We need to stop looking at what’s wrong with urban youth,” Arloa said. “We need to start looking at what’s right with these kids.”
Ever have those moments where the tears just seem to flood up from nowhere? When you can barely catch your breath, let alone stop the flow of tears because something just touched your heart and head in such a profound way? Hearing Arloa say those words was one of these moments for me.
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has been one of my recently treasured reads. An intricate tale of racism in Jackson, Mississippi, that I found myself both enthralled and appalled with as I turned her pages.
Sotckett, anticipating this judgment on her home state said, “Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word around me.”
In other words: watch the criticism unless you’ve been on the inside.
In Stockett’s protective sentiment, I found words for a timely conversation that has nothing to do with domestic life in Mississippi but everything to do with upbringing and speaking into one’s native landscape.
In particular, who, among the current critics of Evangelicalism has earned the right to criticize harshly and still be heard?
If you read the GFL e-newsletter, you may recall my mention of a certain giddiness when I saw an ad for a one-day conference about “Women and Christian History” being held right in my neighborhood. Well, this past weekend, I went.
Some highlights for me included seeing archaeological evidence of women priests, deacons and elders in the early church, and that Notre Dame in Paris had women priests as recently as the Middle Ages. And I enjoyed learning about ancient Jewish and Roman marriage and divorce practices and how those related to the apparently mis-read and misunderstood story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
But my favorite moment of the day, the one that lingered and has made me smile whenever I replay it, came when Dr. Mimi Haddad talked about the women of the early Evangelical movement. In the 19th and early 20th Century, Dr. Haddad told us, Bible colleges and “institutes” sent out women to preach the gospel in big numbers. Incidentally, many of these Bible colleges she mentioned no longer send women out to preach. At least, not intentionally.
But once upon a time, Dr. Haddad said, women who were “wild-hearted” about following God’s call on their lives and “captivated” by the gospel, were trained and sent out by these institutions that “were proud of their wild-hearted daughters.”
Since I was small, I have enjoyed the idea of archaeology. Whether a fictional exposition in the movies or the images of real life expositions, I have always been intrigued—not just by the discovery, but primarily by the process. Of course, all sizes of tools are used by archaeologists during their digs for historical artifacts, but I am most captivated by the painstaking care for the treasure by use of the smaller tools and brushes that gently remove dirt, or the sifting of dirt to be sure nothing of value is accidently left behind. The process of unearthing something of value that has been buried for centuries requires a lot of gentleness, patience, and passion.
In a recent conversation with my pastor, we discussed this same idea of unearthing, and in this case, unearthing need. He explained that as he prepares his sermons each week, he keeps in mind not just the needs of the people in the church, but how during his sermon he can help unearth their need. In other words, people don’t always know what their needs are. For him, addressing the needs of the people, moving them from the theological truth to the life-changing application, is as much about the process as it is about the ultimate goal.
In 1984, I wanted to be Sandra Day O’Conner, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. I wrote to her and tacked her signed picture on my bulletin board. She was a pioneer, and even as an eight-year-old, I revered the place she had made for herself in what I considered a man’s world. This month, Elena Kagan became the fourth woman to sit on the court. Of the nine justices on the court, three are now women.
The gender shift of the Supreme Court speaks to me about how much things have changed for women, even since my time of revering Sandra Day O’Conner. And I wonder, too, how this changing landscape affects the perspectives and needs of young people desiring to follow Jesus Christ—and how the church is responding.
As a 32-year-old leader, I spend a lot of time listening to people older than me argue about what they think people younger than me need or want. There is often a general lamenting of the exodus of young people from the church and the ways to bring them back. There is a sense that the young people just need to get in line with the Bible or “biblical worldview,” stop messing around and messing up their lives. Some of that might be true. But my perspective on this generation is a little different.
Here are three things I’ve found in working with young people:
For the past few years Synergy has been turning the pages of God’s remarkable story of his plans for his daughters. Annual conferences have explored:
Your Place in the Story: The Return of the Ezer
Your Relationships in the Story: Defining the Blessed Alliance
Conflict in the Story: The Shaping of a Leader’s Soul
And on March 4-6, 2011 in Orlando the next chapter unfolds: The Rest of the Story: From Here to Eternity. You see, the Story isn’t finished. As God’s image bearers, we have work to do. As members of his Church, we have an invitation from God himself to serve, to make a difference.
Globalization, advancing technology, and seismic cultural shifts mean yesterday and tomorrow won’t look the same. The world is changing even at this moment.
The road ahead will not be smooth, but God is working to take us deeper and strengthen the Blessed Alliance between his sons and daughters.
I’ll admit that I like to pull a Scarlett O’Hara when it comes to the less attractive side of church leadership, like getting the parking lot paved or turning in a budget. “Fiddle dee dee!” I shrug. “I can’t think about that now! I’ll think about that tomorrow…”
I think the business of church can be excruciating. What do you get when you take a room full of over-committed volunteers, mix in some underpaid staff workers, and toss in hundreds (or thousands) of church-goer expectations? How about business leaders who are used to managing corporate dollars combined with under-resourced and over-ambitious “kingdom” plans? Welcome to church business.
The ministry-minded among us tend to be jazzed by relationships, not regulations. We look upon tomes of policy with disdain, fearing death by legalistic rules and passion-less programming. But it’s a fair argument to say that avoiding this church business is not being a good steward of the resources that God provides each of our communities.
We do have to make sure the plumbing runs and the paychecks get cut. We need lights and A/C and erosion control. But church business can take a toll.
I saw a shooting star tonight!
I’ve never seen a shooting star before, and I wouldn’t have seen it this time except that I was walking up a rickety wooden pier in the lake and just happened to turn my head to the right, in time to see a brilliant downward flash of light that disappeared only a second after my mind understood what it was. I’m so grateful that I saw it, and all because I was taking the time to do nothing much except give my soul a rest.
I’m taking a few days off from ministry and family time to stay by the water in a little chalet, cosy-ing up with my Bible and my laptop—a great combination. I’ve been walking, sleeping, reading, writing, sleeping some more, and generally relaxing. I’ve found myself talking more to the Lord about stuff that’s been at the back of my mind than I’ve done for ages. Praying isn’t hard, but praying about things that sit under the surface of your thinking generally happens only when you take some time out. That’s what I’m doing right now.
The problem with those of us in ministry is that we run endlessly on our “very important” treadmills, and we rarely take the time to get under the surface of our thought processes to find out what we are really thinking about what we are thinking… sound confused? Well, it’s not really—if you just take the time.
Who are you calling a leader?
John Maxwell says leadership is influence. Well, if that’s the case, I guess I’ve always been a leader. I’m the oldest child of two strong-willed, independent parents, so I may even have been born a leader! If I were in a group and no one was in charge, it was natural for me to step into the role. People often looked to me for answers and direction. However, I never recognized the patterns of leadership in my ordinary thoughts and actions until recently. As such, acknowledging that gift has been a struggle.
When my senior leaders asked me to transition into the role of executive pastor, I was reluctant. The title alone was intimidating, and I wasn’t sure I could actually lead at that level. Quite honestly, I felt completely inadequate to lead anyone, anywhere. You see, for a long time I didn’t believe I brought anything unique to our organization. Sure, I had some skill sets that added value. But I also believed there were others who possessed those same skills in greater abundance. If I were pulled out and one of them put in my place, the organization wouldn’t miss a beat.
In the last several months God has been quietly reframing the image I’ve had of myself.
Between sessions at a busy conference, I rushed through my email at a student kiosk. I clicked open an article and time stopped. Finger poised over the mouse, I read the headline about Jennifer Knapp, a million-record-selling, multiple-Dove-award-winning singer-songwriter: “Jennifer Knapp: resisting the label lesbian, but ‘in love with a beautiful woman.’”
I clicked through the article but honestly, I wasn’t that surprised. I’m a big fan of hers, the kind who’d googled Jennifer every few months when she disappeared from the music scene. I’d wondered what was going on in her life that made her make that drastic change. But what did surprise me was my constant thoughts about Jennifer over the next few weeks. What surprised me was my sadness and confusion and deep sense of loss.
In an ever-growing list of words that annoy the living daylights out of me, excellence has clawed its way to the top. It’s everywhere, and I’m sick of it.
Funny, because I used to love this word—when written in perfect grade-school-teacher cursive atop a worksheet or when my piano teacher (rarely) scrawled it on top of a page of a songbook. It meant something then because it didn’t always happen—because it recognized something rare and wonderful: achieving excellence.
And yet now in leadership circles this word has become synonymous with how we are to always be, how everything should look or feel or be perceived. While I’m sick of hearing about it in secular leadership circles, I’m actually troubled by how often I’m seeing it pop up among church-folk.
“How does a caterpillar make a cocoon?”
My three young children are incessantly curious, asking questions of nature, of people, and of God. As their mother and primary answer-giver, I find their curiosity alternately fascinating and frustrating.
“Why does Emma have two daddies and two mommies?”
I used to relish curiosity. But lately busyness and the relentless demands of motherhood have sapped my inquisitive drive. Now I spend as much time saying “Because!” as I do trying to explain or inspire.
“Mom, why can’t I put my flash drive/battery/wire invention in the electric outlet?”
“Because, honey! Just because! That’s all I can tell you!” I say, a few decibels too loud as I attempt to write this post.
I love the old hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Whether spiced up by David Crowder or belted out in the King’s English, my soul is forever thankful to St. Francis of Assisi. When his 12th century refrain pops onto the screen in our sanctuary a burgeoning desire for God have me fearlessly belting out the lyrics.
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
This hymn carries my heart to the Creation story and to God’s divine hand moving over the stillness of this planet, jolting it to life and movement and being. It takes me to Psalm 19 where “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” It carries me to Isaiah where the very mountains and hills burst forth with the life from God.
I cannot stand atop a mountain peak or soak my bare feet in the salty ocean without giving thanks to God for the blessings of Creation. Even in my youth, long before I knew the name of Jesus, my very soul would move and groan for God in nature. Several of the most poignant moments in my life have been in the fullness of God’s created world.
Last month, I guest-lectured in a Women’s Studies class at Bethel University. My topic was How Motherhood Shapes a Woman’s Soul, but I ended up talking more about how motherhood sort of mirrors God, how being a mom (or hearing from moms) helps us understand God, his relentless love, his willingness to forgive and his patience with the whiney little complainers that we are.
Frankly, I was amazed at how engaged the women (and man) in the class were. I’m used to talking about issues maternal, but usually it’s to moms. Not to 21-year-old college seniors. But either these students were actually interested or exceptionally polite. I prefer to assume the former. After my lecture, we even had a lively round of Q&A. They asked lots of great questions, but two have really stayed with me.
The first that stuck was: “Why would anyone want to have kids?”
And the other was: “Why haven’t we ever heard this before? Why is it that I’ve gone to church my whole life and never once heard that moms might have special insight into God that should be shared?”
The first question made me laugh (and made me realize perhaps I ought to be guest-lecturing in abstinence classes!). The second question made me want to cry.
Tracy is a thirty-something mom living out her faith. The embodiment of her compassion has curly hair, mocha eyes and a healthy appetite—a six-week old foster child she keeps as a volunteer in a Christian crisis care organization. Last month, I visited Tracy for a few days. I watched her care for this sweet baby boy, marveling and worrying like a true mother. Her love and service touched me deeply.
And I wanted none of it.
I pondered on the long drive home. I knew that Tracy was doing important work. She was changing a life and influencing others with a tangible expression of “love your neighbor.” But as much as I admire Tracy, I didn’t rush to fill out any foster baby forms.
My friend Anne is another big-hearted woman who loves God. She is currently arranging backyard Bible clubs—in her backyard and others—so that she can teach her children and their friends this summer. Anne expresses her Jesus-passion in songs and crafts and joy that makes children love her.
And I want none of that.
Backyard Bible clubs and foster babies? It’s just…not my thing.
Samuel showed up on a Wednesday evening about the time we were beginning our fellowship meal, insisting he and I sit at a table by ourselves. He told me that he was possessed by a demon that had plagued him for much of his life. Some of his family members experienced the same thing. He made a fist around his ear lobe, indicating the kind of excruciating pain it caused.
But then a smile appeared on his face. “Last week, when I attended your prayer service, the pain stopped. I felt a relief from it that I have never felt before.”
I was speechless (an oddity for me). “Really?” I asked, “Last week? At our prayer service?” I looked around to see if anyone was overhearing this conversation. My clergy ego told me to take pride. My modern mind told me to beware.
Leadership is lonely.
We know that. We’ve been told that a zillion different ways from a million different leaders.
But, have you ever had one of those days that is beyond just lonely? One of those days where it feels so dark, like the world is closing in and you want to just walk away?
I call those the dark days of leadership. The days when the shades of gray are so thick you can’t see hope for the future at all. The days where you question everything. The days when your confidence and commitment seem nearly gone.
Lonely days are one thing, but dark days are lethal.
I’m a lover of the future. Some live for tradition; my heart beats for the what-ifs and what’s-to-comes in life. So when I found myself using all my mental strength to analyze my future status of my current positions of leadership, I thought it was just part of my personality. Then God interrupted, via Nancy Ortberg.
Ortberg’s book, Looking for God, closes with a chapter on recognizing the sins we consider minor, that God certainly does not:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Matthew 23:25.
Ortberg says, “At least [Jesus] could have accused them of some A-list sins. You know, the ones I could never commit…I could convince myself that Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees had absolutely nothing to do with me.” I nod my head along as I read, my inner Pharisee taking over, preferring to look away—or at others—whenever a verse starts with “woe.” Yet when Ortberg points out how close to home this verse should hit, how well acquainted she is with greed and self-indulgence, I was taken. Perhaps the landscape of my heart needed a good scrubbing.
Here are three questions I asked myself about the relevance of this “Woe”:
I’m a glutton for punishment. I could have decided to slouch along the sidelines of ministry and watch the many controversies within the church zip past. Perhaps peeking over the pew on occasion and catching a slight breeze off the mini-tornadoes of debate that exist under the umbrella that is American Evangelicalism.
Public prayer, the roles of women, the role of the Holy Spirit, capital punishment, responses to poverty, HIV/AIDS, divorce, adult or infant baptism, health or wealth . . . . . .
But you see I’m optimistic to a fault so I have decided to throw myself into a few of the storms. Sort of like that completely unrealistic heifer in the movie “Twister.” I decided to ride the windy tumult on occasion. Most recently, I became a Christian environmentalist.
This month I took our four-year-old daughter for her annual checkup. She was scheduled to get two shots that day. I came prepared. My purse was stuffed with lollipops, magic tricks and a whole host of distractions.
The visit went well. At first. The doctor applauded her efforts to write her name and jump on one foot. She pronounced her a healthy, vibrant little girl. I was pleased.
Then came the nurse, quick on her feet. Before I could unwrap the lollipop that first shot was in her arm. A loud shriek resounded from every wall in that office. Then came the next shot. I wrapped my daughter in a hug and assured her it would be OK. But when our eyes met, I could see that “OK” was not what she was thinking. Refusing the lollipop (at first), she looked at me with eyes that said, “How could you?” It was the look of betrayal.
When pain is expected, it is hard enough. But when pain is unexpected, as in betrayal, it is worse. Even a strawberry lollipop cannot mend what has been torn.
Voice. It’s one of our favorite buzz words.
Unique, fresh, distinct, moving, authentic, powerful, smart. All words used to describe the kinds of voices to which we are drawn—the voices who end up stacked on our nightstands and streaming through our iPods. GFL was created by and for leaders whose pulse quicken at the actualization of leaders who find and use their (unique, fresh, distinct, moving, authentic, powerfully smart) voices to impact the world for Christ.
My resounding Amen to that statement, however, has become complicated by an increasing awareness of how gender affects the voices we—both men and women—are willing to cuddle up with late at night or sweat to for miles on the treadmill. Do our choices reflect an attachment of gender-based value to the voice or do men and women simply filter voices differently because we are made differently? Genetic hard-wiring compounded by church background, family history and cultural influence have left me scratching my head: Is it possible to listen well despite our gender differences? And is it more difficult for a man to listen well to a woman?
As a worship leader, I’m not always comfortable on stage. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. Unlike my extroverted husband, I don’t like being the life of the party, the one everyone’s looking at. I dread the thought of people analyzing whether my skirt matches my tights as I lead them in the worship of our Savior.
To be fair, I’m sure most people aren’t judging my hosiery. I fabricate most of these perceptions. And awhile ago I realized I’ve got more important concerns during a service, so I prayed that God would take my insecurities that I might focus on the fierce power of worshiping Christ as his church.
I know God has gifted and equipped me for this ministry, but that doesn’t always mean it comes easily—or naturally. I make many clumsy mistakes as I grow into these gifts that, like ill-fitting attire, often feel cumbersome and awkward on my frame.
One day, my sixth-grade science teacher announced we were about to begin a secret experiment. She immediately got our attention.
The clandestine study was an analysis of house dust. We would get to scrutinize the stuff under microscopes and find out what it contained. Stealthily, we collected dust samples from various locations in our households; the strict secrecy was necessitated by the rumor that our mothers would shut us down if they got word of this public exhibition of dust bunnies. Dust was meant to be kept in the dark, its embarrassing existence denied in the interest of maintaining the fiction that every kid had a spotless, happy home.
Like the mothers of my sixth-grade class, I’m invested in what the world thinks of me. Before company comes, I race around wiping down surfaces and committing telltale dust bunnies to the garbage can. When we’re trying to convince the world that we’re clean, it’s not only our homes that are on display. With family and friends, at work, and, for many of us, especially at church, we strive to show others a pristine life, a life that is whole.
When I thought I’d miss the upcoming Synergy Conference in Orlando, I was bummed. Yes, a teeny bit of it had to do with my longing for warmth and Florida sunshine in the long, dark Chicago winters, but really, the conference could be held in the North Pole, and I’d be thrilled to go.
That it’s in Orlando in March is really just icing on the cake. But the “cake” is what’s really yummy. In the years I’ve attended Synergy, I’ve met great friends, made good ministry contracts, and learned so much from the wonderful women and men who speak and attend. It’s the sort of place you go and just know God is present—and at work in the hearts, minds, souls and bodies of his people.
Honestly, each year I’ve gone has been stellar, but this year’s theme—“Conflict in the Story”—and speaker line-up has me pretty over the moon. Look at this lineup:
You would have thought he was in kindergarten: (Hand waving frantically) “Me! Me! Send me!”
Who was this eager emissary? The prophet Isaiah. His story is told in Isaiah 6.
He had just seen the glory of the Lord, fallen on his face bemoaning his unclean lips—and had those same lips seared by an angel with a hot coal! So when God (Father, Son and Spirit) remarked, “Who will go for us? Whom shall we send?” Isaiah was the first to volunteer.
I might not have been so quick to respond. I’m sure I would have had a few questions:
Without dispute, women’s voices in the local church have incredible significance, as these voices give way to a greater understanding of how women think and experience God and the Christian life. Any dispute generally has to do with the realm where these voices are heard, but for certain both men and women have much to learn about each other and how God is at work through these stories and experiences.
In her recent post, Tracey Bianchi wrote about the significance of women’s voices as teachers in the local church.
"…a woman proclaiming God’s Word with hands that smell like marinated artichokes can hit the heart of another woman in a way men cannot…women have stories to tell about life and God, just as our male partners on the journey do. The chance to preach from their perspectives is honoring God’s call to the community of Christ."
Though I am not committed to Tracey’s ultimate conclusions in terms of how this plays out in the pulpit, her position is clearly grounded in an authentic love for the community of believers and for God. And I embrace her core argument that there is tremendous value for men learning more about how women experience the Christian life. In further agreement, we as women teachers can reach women in ways men simply cannot—because of our shared experiences.
To what degree are women in your church equipped, encouraged, and positioned to proclaim God’s Word to one another?
My cell phone buzzes while I fix my kids lunch:
“omg my prof is telling us bout why Christians are judgmentl and there are many paths to God should I say something?? pls pray for me to b bold”
This is a text message I received from one of my favorite people: a bright-eyed, skinny-jean-wearing college senior named Jes. I think of her as my babysitter. I recently learned through a friend that she thinks of me as her “number one mentor.”
This is modern mentorship?
I preached a sermon several weeks ago. A big one for me. The biggest of my life actually. And while I do my very best not to mess up on a regular basis, we all know that some occasions press a little harder on your nervous system than others. This was one of them. “Just don’t screw this up,” I kept whispering to myself.
Of course, other, more important thoughts about preaching God’s Word also ran through my jittery little mind. Thoughts that reminded me this was really God’s sermon, not my opportunity to ramble. That the Spirit of God would use any effort, even a disjointed one, to work in people’s hearts. That less of me and more of God was all that anyone needed anyway.
And as I lived into all of these realities, I found myself in a fairly calm rhythm the night before my sermon. But what I slammed into that next morning, was the odd world that many women in ministry inhabit on a regular basis.
No matter where you are, they will find you. Flip on the television to watch your favorite show, there they are. Go to the supermarket and buy your groceries at the checkout stand, there they are. Drive down the freeway, there they are. Turn on the radio in the car or your home, there they are. Log on to the Internet and navigate to your favorite websites, and, yup, they are there. Sexual images are everywhere, and advertisers as well as media content programming executives know that “sex sells.” Yet, the most troublesome issue with these images is not their pervasiveness nor even sex itself, but rather the image of sex they are perpetuating. As Laurie Abraham, the executive editor of Elle magazine, stated, “The worst thing about women’s magazines is how much we lie about sex.”
Last month, I participated in a panel discussion at a local church on the topic of female sexuality in which over 800 women participated, either by attending the sessions in person or by logging in online. The number of attendees, along with the quantity and quality of their questions about biblical sexuality, made one thing clear: as Christian leaders, especially female Christian leaders, we need to talk more about sex and we need to talk about it more deeply.
If my life had a theme for 2009 it was this: Learning curves. Specifically, learning curves of the steep and tricky, zippy, herky-jerky type. Though this theme wouldn’t have occurred to me if it weren’t for the sales guy at the Apple store yesterday. I had gone because the screen of my current laptop is sporting a nice crack that allows me to see only the top two-thirds diagonal of the screen. And everyone and their mother seems to be telling me now is the right time to switch back to the Mac.
So, anyway, yesterday as I quizzed the sales guy on exactly why the Mac would transform my life as I know it, I leaned in to hear his wisdom above the buzz of the crowds. After pointing out various features and “cool stuff,” the poor guy just said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time: “The learning curve can be pretty steep for those coming from PC to Macs….”
Ach. My body tensed. My heart raced. The sales guy lost his sale. While normally I am big on learning and while normally I would not fear the week or two “transition” it would take for me to get used to a new operating system (and frankly, while normally I would doubt it would take me that long), I could not deal with another learning curve. Not this year.
A month or so ago, Suzanne Woods Fisher sent me a copy of her new book, Amish Peace, with a note that said, “The chapter called ‘For the Good of the Community’ might have some leadership applications for GFL.”
Although I was a bit skeptical on what a book about the Amish and peace might have to say about women in ministry leadership, since I' love Suzanne's writing and since all things Amish are pretty “hot” right now (at least in the publishing world) I cracked the book open—maybe there was an Amish leadership angle after all.
And lo and behold, at the end of this little chapter were some words that struck me—and have stayed with me since I read them. I think there is indeed some application—especially for us leaders who tend to fall in the “comparison/competition” camp more than the “cooperative” one. But I’ll share what I read and then we can discuss.
Here’s an excerpt from Suzanne Woods Fisher’s Amish Peace:
My eight-year-old daughter and I share a fault: we are both easily distracted. While on her way to washing her hands, it’s not unusual for her to get interested in something she passes along the way to the bathroom. She pauses, engages, and forgets to wash her hands. Her curiosity and wonder often account for her distracted-ness.
The reason behind my ability to be distracted is far less honorable. I’ll attribute it to a plain ol’ lack of self-discipline. Supposed to be working? Well, I’ll just check my email real quick. Trying to read while the T.V. or radio is on? Can’t do it. Tidying up the house? My husband calls my approach the “Zen method” of housecleaning, meaning that there is no easily discernible pattern to it. I pick up something in one room and take it to another room to put it away. While in that room I find something else that needs to be tidied or cleaned. Then I stroll to another room to get some cleaning supplies, and there I’m distracted from my task by something that needs to be picked up in that room. I don’t attack one room at a time. Rather, after a while, the whole house is straightened. My approach is shaped by the distractions I find hard to resist.
I walked a labyrinth for the first time a few years ago at a conference for Christian leaders. That particular labyrinth included stations with tactile activities to foster reflection. On the table of one station I found a map with a compass on it. Also on the map were some small magnets. I was to move the magnets around the compass and watch how they pulled the needle from “true north” to “false north.” The question for meditation was, “What distractions in your life are pulling you away from God, the true north?” It was a transformative question for me. My answers were not tasks but attitudes.
As Christians we’re commanded to love our neighbors, our enemies, and—as leaders—the people we’re called to lead and minister to. But what does this look like when we’re not exactly loved in return?
By definition, of course, godly, unconditional love doesn’t require love in return. I know that. God loved me first—long before I loved Him, when I was definitely living in my sins. And even after I responded to that love and accepted his gift of salvation, I haven’t always loved him well—you know, by obeying Him. But he has never quit loving me.
Parents learn this early. Even before a baby is born, they love her. And the moment they see her, they are head over heels in love. It’s a good thing. Because that baby demands everything and gives no love in return for the longest time. Fortunately they grow up and learn to love. Unfortunately, when they become teens, sometimes they break our hearts with words like, “Leave me alone! I hate you!”
Our son has been God’s gift to me to help me begin to comprehend what it means to love someone unconditionally. He came to our family just before he turned 10, from a very difficult early childhood.
When I started my consulting business, I did the obvious thing: I put up a website describing my services. Pretty standard fare. I recall a colleague calling a website an “authenticator” for a small business: you don’t have one, you don’t look legit.
Five years later I’m noticing that keeping a blog is becoming a kind of authenticator – implying that a person’s thoughtful, that she has something to say. A little tagline closing a short bio that directs people to more.
I was a late adaptor to the blogging world; I didn’t get it at first. It all seemed so forced and self-important—like a reality TV show in online journal format. But eventually I began wading into the blogosphere—first creating a private blog for family when we moved cross-country; then a public blog on parenting preschoolers when this venture began occupying most of my life and brain space. I started reading others’ blogs more regularly and was inspired, enlightened, challenged, encouraged.
Blogging seems particularly well-suited to a person with leadership gifts. A leader is by definition someone who influences others, and blogging is an ideal vehicle to communicate ideas and extend influence. So it makes sense that many who are natural leaders also blog – their doing so can benefit countless others.
The challenge, though, is in the tool itself--a method of organizing thoughts for others’ consideration.
Last Friday evening, a casual outdoor party in my neighborhood culminated with a half-dozen girls sprawled across my living room. As they compared splits and talked about the upcoming school year, I held skinny feet in the air as each attempted the perfect handstand. I remarked to the gaggle that I thought I could still break out a split if not for the dress I was wearing. A lanky blond with hair as long and straight as her nine-year-old legs leaned into me, whispering conspiratorially: “Oh go ahead, it’s just us girls.”
Just us girls. The living room could hardly contain the beauty, joy, and potential of those women in the making. I marveled at being invited to witness such life.
I love being part of a generation that esteems women like never before and passes that on to these girls. Women have reached new heights of success in every arena. The world is a better place because of our achievement and innovation. Yet often our complex nature and this broken world crash together like the girls falling out of their handstands. We are all head bumps and soul bruises.
I wonder what will become of those free-spirited females as their lives expand beyond the cul-de-sac and elementary school, when the world’s messages threaten their joy. My night with the girls gave me reason to pause and think about what voices they’ll hear as they become women:
During a recent breakfast meeting, an apparently well-meaning supporter of my husband’s campaign for State Representative told him that he really should’ve changed his name “like the Jews used to do” if he’s serious about politics. It’s a racist world, the man said, and people just won’t want to vote for a Rafael Rivadeneira. Too Latin.
My husband laughed at the offense and ridiculousness (“Maybe he doesn’t realize a guy named Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office,” Raf said) as he told me this, but the blood drained from my face. My hands burned as I clutched them together.
In the years of being married to a Latino—who certainly has run into racist jabs and slurs—I don’t think I’d ever been so angry at something someone said, at least regarding race. Because this tapped into the deepest roots of hatred, racism and ignorance. Into the part that said if he wanted to succeed, he had to make others more comfortable with who he was—by becoming someone else. That to succeed on a particular path, he had to change something central to who he was—and more importantly, who God made him to be. And that gets me. Big time.
I've spent much of this week thinking about Advent---as I've brainstormed some ideas for an upcoming Advent service at my church. I had it in my head--and in fact had it partly written on paper--to write a piece on Advent. But every time I thought of GFL and Advent, my mind went back to a post written by Bonnie McMaken last year.
“Thank you, Mother, for raising a worthless daughter.”
These words , part of a lament of a bride going to meet her husband for the first time, summed up the experience of women in China in the 1800’s, according to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. In this book Lisa See brings to light the reality of life for a female in that society: No value, no rights, raised for a husband’s family, enduring the years of footbinding torture and subsequent crippling, totally dependent on the desires of her parents/brothers/husband/mother-in-law. She had no purpose—except to bear a son—and no hope.
These words, sadly, have been echoed across countless generations and cultures. In many places a woman has a place in life only if she becomes the mother of a son. In some African nations female genital cutting is still practiced, creating unimagined agony for preteen girls and sentencing them to a lifetime of pain. In Southeast Asia and many other places children are sold—often by their poverty-stricken parents—as sex slaves.
In Half the Sky, Pulitzer Prize winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn horrify us with statistics like this:
I come from a long line of cannibals. My ancestors loved to chew up (and sometimes spit out) people. Mine was a particularly heinous group that made no distinction between “them” and “us.” Members of our own family were just as likely to fall victim as were others. Imagine the tensions that arose when we gathered—each one wondering who might be served up next.
In their defense, my family lived in darkness. Then, the frigid winter I turned 10, one brilliant, fiery flame warmed within me the hope of a different way of living—of turning away from snarling, biting, and chewing to embracing others. I became like Edward Cullen of Twilight fame, recognizing my evil heritage, engaged in a struggle with the nature of my flesh.
Unfortunately, the flame was quenched that had begun to glow within me. With no one to add the kindling of truth to the sputtering spark within, the ember grew cold. Broken bonds, wicked words, and shattered souls littered the path of my life, until one day it all became more than I could bear alone. Tired and out of fight, I found myself knocking on the door of Christendom. Surely I would find refuge there!
“It doesn’t matter what happens next, it’s not going to bother me.”
I confidently exercised my faith aloud to the disbelieving passenger next to me. He snorted, as though he understood something I didn’t.
“We’ll see about that.”
My husband and I’d been up since three in the morning to catch three different planes which would eventually land us back into the arms of our three waiting children. And they’d been waiting more than a couple of weeks for our return from the mission field.
But as God had arranged it, our second flight was delayed at take-off—delayed by more than an hour—and the likelihood of us making our last connection had nothing to do with the concept of being “likely” at all.
What would Jesus say about our cashing in on women's ministry?
While visiting a very close friend, I agreed to help with her church’s women’s ministry event. I expected to prepare hospitality tables, fill vases with flowers and serve coffee and muffins. It’s what we often do in women’s ministry.
Instead, I was directed to the makeshift market that had been set up in the lobby. Eight-foot long, cloth-covered tables were fashioned into a large rectangle. The speaker’s collection of books, teachings, recordings and—most surprisingly—jewelry covered every inch of the tables. Eight volunteers, myself included, would sell the speaker’s wares after her talk.
The speaker shared her incredible testimony in a two-hour service. Her story was heartbreaking; she had endured abuse, depression, cancer and the loss of a child. She led us through worship and gave an altar call. Over 50 women made their way to the front and stood—with raised hands and tear-stained faces—for a half hour as she encouraged them and prayed over them.
By all appearances, it was a holy night. But despite the sacred nature of the service, the ladies poured out of the auditorium and immediately began to exercise the spiritual gift of shopping. The seven volunteers and I were absolutely slammed (and I think stunned) by the crowd.
I am a firm believer in open-book management—the practice of openly communicating financial details broadly across organizations. When I took over an intact department, I sought help in establishing a good approach to open-book management from a good friend and expert in the topic, Chuck Kremer. Chuck recommended an approach for sharing success stories, setting goals, and tracking actions along with in-depth review of the financial statements. These steps consumed nearly an hour a month—taking over the agenda for one of our weekly meetings. But I was dedicated to the approach and was seeing many benefits.
About six months into the process, I sought feedback and was surprised at what I heard. Although they saw value in the process, several people expressed it took too long and involved too many steps. When I took a poll, others agreed. So I asked those most vocal to take on a project to improve the process. I gave the team a few boundaries and sent them off. The results were wonderful. The process was streamlined and allowed for other topics during those staff meetings. Also, the team had gathered broad input across the department, so everyone was committed to the new process, and we gained even more benefits.
The situation reminded me of this passage. Early in the building of the Christian church, shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the people also had a complaint:
Whether through books, Bible studies, retreats, or conferences, a central focus of women’s ministry has been on the practical dimensions of Christian living, either presupposing the theological understanding of the audience—which isn’t always wrong to do—or simply neglecting to ground the practical in a richer theological framework.
Of course, I’m not suggesting we aren’t teaching women Scripture, but in the rush to fill in the blanks, we aren’t teaching women to handle the Word as theologians. Some women’s ministry leaders have made statements that undermine the process of doing theology, suggesting that because knowing theology is not provisional for salvation that somehow it lacks practical value. We are good at teaching principles and precepts from the Word, but are we communicating interdependence between life and doctrine? Is there a place of theological education in the context of women’s ministry?
The other weekend I ran into a guy (literally) who had stopped short to turn around as we followed the masses out of a church sanctuary. “Sorry,” he said, looking disheartened and eying the crowd. “I was supposed to have a group following me.”
“No problem,” I laughed. “’Nobody behind me’ is the story of my life…..”
And it really is. I can’t tell you the number of times in my life as a leader, I’ve look around—amazed—that for once people actually sometimes follow me. Because it certainly wasn’t always the case.
Growing up, I was never the kid who always had some great thing going, the girl everyone looked to to start the fun. Instead, I was the sort to shyly suggest a game or activity and have everyone go, “Nah…. Let’s play this instead!” I wasn’t on student council in high school, and I was not the social go-to person. And in college, I sort of dug into my studies (and—okay—a bit of socializing) and didn’t lead anything.
The only inklings I had through much of my early life that I might have some sort of leader-like gifts were when I would write. Apparently, I always had a knack for “persuasive” writing—and was on more than one occasion deemed a “thought leader” by teachers and professors. Not bad, but certainly not the same as a leader leader. At least not in my mind.
Each of us wants to believe that we matter. That we have something to offer. That our contributions to building God’s kingdom are needed and valuable.
But as I travel the world speaking to women in ministry, I have found a substantial obstacle to seeing that happen. One might think the biggest barrier would be convincing men that women are needed for this assignment, but that’s not the most difficult challenge.
A greater challenge seems to be opening the eyes of women to see that we are mission critical. That the task of Kingdom building will not happen unless every daughter of God is prepared and equipped and given opportunity to make her best contribution to the mission at each season of her life.
Have you ever tried to navigate a sticky relationship via computer? Perhaps a disagreement with a friend or a dicey situation at work? You sit down, the desk chair creaks a bit, your fingers start flying. At first you type out of fear or with a good streak of indignation. The keys are clicking fast and hard. You stop, re-read it. Too harsh. Backspace, backspace, backspace. Start again.
Having this conversation face-to-face has definitely crossed your mind. Perhaps face-to-face is an impossible option due to time or distance. Or maybe it is simply easier not to have to look this particular person in the eyes. Either way, you find yourself in a moment of challenging communication. Two computer screens, cyberspace, and a chasm that opens you up to the vast canyons of misinterpretation standing between you and another person.
In our world of electronic anonymity, where screen names, nicknames, and protected passwords can hide our identities, disagreement and engagement that shows value for others and integrity has become increasingly hard to come by. Whether inside the church or out, behind the shield of a laptop we are engaging one another in new and increasingly painful ways.
In researching for Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, & Wild Honey, I spent time with a shepherdess named Lynne in Oregon. During my time in wet fields among the flock, I opened the Scriptures and asked Lynne how she read particularly passages not as a theologian but in light of taking care of her flock. Her answers changed the way I read and understand Scripture—bringing new depth and richness.
Yet some of the greatest lessons I learned simply came from being with Lynne and her sheep. One of which was simply hearing Lynne’s story of becoming a shepherd. Nearly twenty years ago, she purchased her first three sheep sight unseen. All of them were pregnant, and she had no idea what to do, yet she managed to figure it out. As the years passed, the flock naturally grew and she developed new skills along the way.
At one point Lynne said to me, “Margaret, it’s interesting being a shepherd, because a bunch of years go by and you end up being 65 years old and having a lot of young shepherds calling and asking, ‘What do I do?’ And you wake up one morning and realize you’re a shepherd of shepherds.”
Learning to Learn the Language of the Liberal City
Today we’re chatting with Kenda Creasy Dean, Princeton Theological Seminary’s Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture. Here this wise guide reveals who lasts in youth ministry, why a youth group might not be necessary, and the particular challenges women face in youth ministry.
Kenda, we’d love to hear about your calling to write and teach. How did you discern it? How has the call unfolded in your life?
I have a colleague who teases me about being an “accidental intellectual”—which is pretty close to the truth. I didn’t set out to do anything besides youth ministry. My calling was, and is, to be a pastor, and to be a pastor means to tend a flock. Whether that flock is in a church or a classroom or through the media doesn’t really matter to me; it’s still ministry, you’re still forming disciples, you’re still preparing them, as best you can, to go into the world as Christ’s envoys.
But eventually tending the flocks God had given me (which invariably included lots of young sheep) grew into helping other people tend their flocks of young sheep as well, which is where teaching and writing came in. When I started my Ph.D. program, I’d never heard of anybody getting a Ph.D. in order to teach youth ministry. Part of that was the era. I started ministry in the late 1980s, when youth ministry was still considered a holding tank for teenagers and immature pastors, who presumably would hang out together in the church basement until both grew up enough for “real” ministry. The resources that existed in youth ministry at the time tended to fall somewhere between harmless and insipid. (“The cherry on the ice cream sundae represents the blood of Christ…”) Part of my motivation for getting a Ph.D. was simply to help change people’s assumptions about youth ministry. I thought—and I still think—young people deserve theological substance.
I have a confession to make. I like pop music.
And not just the Miley Cyrus, High School Musical flavor. I like the beat thumping, chorus humming, and—dare I say it—booty-shaking kind. There it is. I am a woman in my early 30s, with three children and a minivan. I run a Christian counseling practice and a women’s ministry. People look to me for soul direction and depth, and in my spare time, I like to dance around and get low, low, low.
The best part? I think that’s OK with Jesus.
My senior pastor plays tennis on a team with my husband’s co-worker. Last week, the team finished a game and had some beers in a cooler. One of them offered my pastor a beer and (gasp!) he took it. Later, the co-worker told my husband that he cringed because his teammate must not have known he was offering a beer to a pastor. The co-worker reported. “Wow, I was surprised he had a beer with us. That’s cool.”
The door is open for my husband to invite his co-worker to our church, because he is disarmed—experiencing something that goes against his preconceived notions of Christianity. I think that’s OK with Jesus too.
At a multi-generation women’s conference in Alaska where I was about to speak, an older woman leaned over and whispered in the ear of the young girl sitting next to her, “Get ready!”
The young girl’s eyes widened. “Why? Where are we going?”
The reply? “To the edge of your chair!”
No one ever whispered those words in my ear, but several years ago, quite unexpectedly I found myself on the edge of my chair too. I was listening to an academic lecture on the Old Testament Book of Ruth. The need for a warning, in both cases, was warranted—not to brace us for a nail-biting cliffhanger, but to alert us that what we were about to hear would forever change how we view ourselves and our mission in this world. We were about to be called into the big story God is weaving, in a bigger way than we ever imagined.
For generations the church has tended to look at the women in the Bible through the wrong end of the telescope. Guided by the assumption that God does his most important kingdom work through men, we’ve seen women’s lives in a diminished perspective and, as a result, our own lives have appeared smaller too.
I closed the book after the fourth chapter. I hugged my knees to my chest, rested my chin on my knees, and let out a long, heavy sigh. I sat, conflicted, on the oversized chair in our living room while my husband was upstairs asleep, my emotions fluctuating, oddly, between compassion and rage. If the battle really was ‘every man’s,’ then my husband was no exception, which, I concluded, left me with only two options. One (compassion): kneel—weeping—next to his bedside and beg God to deliver him from the temptations of a lust-provoking world; or two (rage): pick up the baseball bat (we keep one next to our bed) and start swinging. (Don’t worry. God was genius in his design of the human body to heal).
I’m kidding, of course, but this is the pendulum on which I swing when it comes to men, women, lust, and modesty—compassion for male hard-wiring that requires frustratingly painful diligence, and irritation that the latter is true. I share Tracey Bianchi’s conviction (part 1) that both sides have a part to play in working towards the common good. Men to do, well, whatever it is men do to keep their thought lives pure, and women to not carry ourselves in a way that leads a pastor to confess his roving eyes to an applause-filled congregation. As a leader who strives to build up the body, I take my choices about what to wear seriously.
But I have to tell you, recently I was forced to pick up my modesty box and shake it, flip it, and bang it against the wall a few times. The jolt came in an email from a woman who had seen me speak to a mixed-gender crowd. Here’s what she said:
According to many in the media, last weekend is being dubbed the “weekend of outbursts.” An athlete, a lawmaker, and a musician—three distinct persons in the public eye—lost their cool. Each one of them felt injustice inflicted on themselves or another. And they made their feelings known … to everyone.
Being in the public eye might have some perks, but the heat of scrutiny is not something I desire. When I have a meltdown—as we all do from time to time—it’s in the privacy of my own home. Nobody cares, except maybe my husband. But I do enjoy the freedom to have human moments and not feel the backlash of an entire nation wagging their tongues the next morning.
Why do these outbursts surprise us? When did we start assuming that celebrities are on a higher moral plane than the rest of us and won’t make petty mistakes?
When I think of female rivalry, that is, rivalry between women, I think of Cinderella and her step-sisters. I think of the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. I think of the escapades of the women on Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives. What I’ve rarely considered in recent years is how female rivalry impacts my growth and development as a woman leader.
In 1990, Carolyn Heilbrun, a Jewish American, wrote a provocative book entitled Reinventing Womanhood. In this book, she claimed that the number one reason women failed to achieve in leadership positions was not because men kept barring their way to progress in achievement, but rather because of the failure of women to bond. For Heilbrun, a few women inevitably rose to positions of power and leadership, but because of the failure of women to bond, these women became not woman leaders, but rather honorary men.
“I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul,” sang Toby Mac, Kirk Franklin and Mandisa from my boom box as I spent a week in the basement de-cluttering. His rap’s lyrics are a call to Christ followers to stay faithfully focused in our culture’s temptation to slowly defect. But goofy me, I had misheard the lyrics as, “I don’t want to change the whole world and lose my soul.” I perked up. My auditory failure turned out to be one more “ah-ha” in my recently awakened desire toward ministry leadership wholeness.
I tend toward being a 24/7 idea machine. I often feel desperate to connect others to church/world injustices. And I sort of half believe the phrase, “I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara I could save the world” (from curlygirldesign.com). But my tendencies were causing dis-ease, boundary-less focus and acid-reflux. And I painfully discovered my successes were feeding the needy areas of my heart.
When a friend asked me recently what I knew about a certain ministry for children (that shall remain nameless), I sent back a scathing email about how much I hated it as a child. How ostracized I’d felt and how un-Jesus-y I found the whole thing to be, in hindsight. About five minutes later, however, I sent her back another email, apologizing. Because I realized after sending it that in my very cynical and strange walk of faith as a child, I never found a ministry that fit me—that ministered to who I was and what I liked to do. So, I told her, she probably she should ask someone else.
Fast forward to my life as a grown up: my view of many church ministries hasn’t changed much, frankly. I still find myself not fitting in to most places, I still feel like the misfit, and I still feel like I’m the only woman in the world who does not like crafts (though I know I’m not, since we’ve talked about this on this blog plenty before!). But it’s not only been in church ministries that I’ve felt this. So often, I’ve looked at the publications for Christian women and wondered who on earth they were for. What kind of woman reads (or watches) this? I’d ask.
Though every so often, something amazing happens: I come a resource that makes me say (to quote my 2-year-old), “Now we’re talkin’!” Which is what I thought when I first heard about GFL’s new sister site, KYRIA.
When do we stop being spiritual seekers? Certainly, through a faith commitment to Jesus, we move from the theological category “lost” to the category “found.” But does the seeking ever truly end? Should it?
I’ve often heard it said that Job was a hero because, though he suffered greatly, he never questioned God. Oh really? I wonder if people who say this have ever actually read some of the things Job said out of his anguish. Have they read his expressions of agony, his wrestling, his frustration, his sense that God was not even listening? The message of the book of Job certainly isn’t “never question God.” For me personally, one of the strongest messages of the book of Job and its inclusion in the canon of Scripture is the brutally honest acknowledgement that confusion—serious, painful confusion … and suffering … and questioning … and doubt … and inner turmoil—are part of the human experience. They are part of any human’s relationship with God. There are moments of confusion and darkness for all of us.
Yet there’s an implicit expectation in the church that Christian leaders are to be somehow immune to this. Pastors, missionaries, parachurch workers, Bible study leaders—they certainly never have doubts, right? And if, for some strange reason they did have doubts, they absolutely should never mention them to anyone.
I have noticed one exception to this general rule.
Earlier this summer, in her excellent post “Weary of the Gender Wars,” Nancy Parkhurst Leafblad presents a compelling portrait of how she was unwillingly conscripted into a war not of her making when she followed God’s call into ministry. This article carries on from her ideas.
Nancy Parkhurst Leafblad describes how she found herself in a war she never wanted, because she is a woman with pastoral gifts working in the church. She is not alone. Women may enter vocational ministry well aware of spiritual warfare yet completely unaware of gender warfare until they are already in the thick of the battle. This certainly happened to me. From early on I had a strong theological bent and was delighted when I was able to enroll in the ThM degree program at Dallas Seminary in 1986, the first year they opened that program to women students. Comments about my presence there were usually easily deflected by the reply that I was training for work as an overseas missionary. Though I didn’t know it at the time, those conversations were the beginning of an ongoing pattern of defending my call to those who thought it should be for men only.
Unlike Nancy, however, my main battles have not been fought in the academy but in the trenches amid the realities of daily ministry. (For a few stories, see my earlier post, “How We Treat the Missionary Wife.”) The academy continues to debate, as she points out, but in my trenches the battle is mostly waged by silence. The question of women in ministry is rarely mentioned and is considered as settled: women belong in home-and-family-based ministry. In the countries and churches where I have served and in the organization that sent me, I have been one of the few voices speaking out in favor of seeing missionary women as vocational workers for God’s kingdom.
You are about to read a post about women and clothing. It probably cannot get more stereotypical, but before you cringe and click out of this window, I beg you to come along. This is about the community of God—not the power of the pedicure.
I once exchanged ideas with two male seminary classmates. Graduation was near, and as we chatted about the students moving into pastoral roles, we tossed out the name of a very talented female graduate. “I wonder what Sally will do?” I said. Sally was smart, savvy, and anointed in a powerful way. She was also gorgeous and turned the heads of many men (not something she tried to do).
My colleague said this, “Sally is phenomenal, but when she preaches few men will be thinking about God. If you know what I mean.”
“So, you saying she’s too pretty to preach?”
I am a Texan through and through. It has for years been my dream to move back to Texas, but I’m pretty sure that will never happen.
So I decided to bring Texas to Florida—to my family room. I have acquired several genuine Texas items, including an old tin Texas flag, bluebonnet coasters, a wild horse sculpture, a lone star paperweight and many others.
But I needed a just right piece to go above our fireplace. I found it when I was in Galveston with my mother and sisters. On the wall of a fabulous art gallery was an awesome G. Harvey painting called “Turning the Lead.” It portrays a dark and stormy night; the moon is breaking through the clouds, reflecting in the puddles on the red dirt. Two weathered cowboys are attempting to turn the lead steer and thus stop the stampeding herd of longhorns.
I ordered a print, and when it came, I spent hours picking out just the right frame and matting for the picture and for our home. The mottled rust colored frame picked up the red dirt. The beige, suede matting provided lightness and texture. Both were perfect for displaying the beauty of the painting.
I recently had my Bible rebound. I’ve had it for more than a decade, and it’s literally travelled tens of thousands of miles with me—physically and spiritually. Its pages provided comfort during the long dark winters in Alaska, hope during times of transition when we returned to Colorado, and wisdom for various steps along the way. In the end, I spent a $123 to get the wrinkled pages of my Bible pressed, additional blank pages added to the back, five new ribbons, and a genuine leather covers that smells, well, like fresh cow skin. Yum.
But in all honesty, I was really paying for were the things money couldn’t buy: the years of notes, the prayer lists, the underlined and circled passages, the dates where particular scriptures were the most impactful. Those are the things money can’t bind. Priceless.
The whole process of having a book rebound is counterintuitive in our fast-paced, highly disposable world. Some have suggested that I should have just ordered a new Bible. From a fiscal perspective, they’re right. Most Bibles are a whole lot less expensive, and the process would have been quicker. But there’s something wonderful about that which is old, tried, and true. This whole book binding experienced has raised the question of what else should I be holding onto? What else should I try to restore?
Lately I’ve been struck at how full my life has become. Between family, friends, church, home and job as a hospital chaplain (complete with a pager that seems to go off when it’s least convenient), my calendar doesn’t have much white space. I am, in a word, busy. As a churchgoer, I’ve heard countless sermons on the dangers of being busy. But lately I’m beginning to think that maybe busyness is not the real problem. Instead, I’m moving towards identifying a different issue—a deeper one—that begs addressing. The issue of how I choose to respond to God, and others, in the midst of my busyness. In other words: Do I choose to remain available to love/serve others in those moments that are not planned, not scripted, or fail to fit neatly into my schedule?
As a woman who longs to lead as Jesus led, this question moves me to look at Jesus’ view of busyness. And as I read the Gospels, a shocking reality emerges: it doesn’t appear that Jesus had a problem with busyness. Just consider his life. Jesus was constantly on the move, traveling from town to town, engaging religious leaders, healing the sick, casting out demons, sitting with outcasts, mentoring disciples, teaching multitudes, etc. I am fairly confident that if Jesus had carried a Blackberry, or an iPhone, his calendar would have appeared full to overflowing, not to mention his email inbox. However, unlike most of us, he never allowed his busyness to trump his availability.
With every opportunity to speak at women's ministry events, invariably the women of these churches never fail to surprise me with the many gifts and talents they have contributed to the preparations. Women's ministry teams seem to know almost innately how to pull everything together: food, décor, worship, organization and all of the other fine details that go into making a brunch, lunch or similar gathering quite memorable.
But the reality is, most church women's ministries only have the energy and "manpower" to offer these gatherings a few of times a year, In a calendar year, one can expect to plan for some sort of spring event, a Mother's day gathering--often mother/daughter affair - and a Christmas tea. This would be in addition to the small groups and Bible studies. Of course, some ministries may do more because the size of their church allows for more women to be involved. But because the average church size in the U.S. is around 200 with many far fewer, the ability to plan for these three events can become quite burdensome. I do not believe any of these events should be eliminated from the master plan of any women's ministry simply because they are laborious, because I also understand they have utility--glorifying God and ministry to women. This is worthy work toward the advancement of the Kingdom.
However, the flip side of the coin is the belief that every significant gathering must include ornate centerpieces, petit fours and elegant programs.
In December of 1972 Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" grabbed the top spot on the Billboard charts. Fueled by the energy of the women's liberation movement, "I am woman, hear me roar," became a unifying slogan for a generation of women. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Personally, I've been a devotee of Reddy's words for many years as I happen to be a self-confident, sometimes over-bearing sort of gal who believes God has gifted and called women to places of leadership in our culture. It also just so happens that I was also born in December of 1972.
Most women in ministry leadership will tell us that leading as a woman is an unspeakable blessing and phenomenally exhausting. Female leaders are held to both the traditional standards of job performance and to an unspoken second standard that involves gender. When people ask "can she lead," they often mean two things. First, "Is she qualified?" And second, "Should a woman lead here?" This skeptical second guess, based solely on gender, grates on the very fibers of my soul. It pushes up a voice from inside of me that wants to scream "injustice!" It makes me want to step in and roar.
My seven-year-old son is on a freedom kick. Whenever we talk about a country (and this is often, since he and my five-year-old daughter are also on geography kicks), he'll ask: "Do they have freedom there?"
I love that he asks this. Because when the answer is "yes" it gives us an opportunity to talk about what cool things and amazing opportunities freedom allows people in whatever free country we're talking about. And when the answer is "not really" or "really limited" we talk about the injustices and oppression and the horrors lack of freedom brings about.
While this certainly isn't the most cheery mom-and-kid talk, I think these conversations are among the most important I have with my kids. I want them to grow up understanding how precious the freedom we enjoy in our country (which is, by the way, the U.S.) - how historically and geographically rare it is. I want them to understand it and appreciate it because I believe that the luxurious freedoms we enjoy falls under the "jurisdiction" of Jesus' words: "When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required" (Luke 12:48).
I grew up in the faith while "Onward Christian Soldiers" was still regularly sung at church. However, due to the Viet Nam War, it lost its appeal as we were bombarded with the images of war on the nightly news. I learned very quickly that war is costly: two members of my church youth group were killed within months of each other.
Then, through my reading of Scripture and the teaching I sat under, I came to understand that when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I entered a spiritual war against the forces of evil. I could expect persecution and rejection on many different levels. I accepted this as part of the cost of following the Lord Jesus. What I didn't know then, and would not come to understand until years later, was I also had been conscripted into a battle within the church that has now come to be known as the "Gender Wars," the women-in-ministry debate.
In the June 2008 issue of Christianity Today (GFL's sister publication), a pair of articles were published under the title, "Wounds of a Friend," one addressing complimentarians ; the other, egalitarians. Because I am in vocational ministry, these articles drew my attention---either because of a sadistic curiosity to see what's being said about women like me or an eternal hope that perhaps the discussion might change.
While checking my children into the nursery at church last week, an acquaintance of mine approached. "Susan, this is who I've been telling you about!" she exclaimed, pulling her friend behind her. She turned to me with a big smile. "I've been telling Susan all about you, how you're so good at speaking. You are the best teacher!"
I froze, not sure what to say. She continued, "I don't know how you do it all, with all you do at church, and your kids are so well-behaved and you are so thin!" I smiled and coughed out a "thanks." Inside, I was cringing. I knew she meant well, but I felt incredibly awkward. I ran through some of my possible responses:
Though it's been around for three years, Twitter hit the main stage of American culture when Oprah decided to write her first tweet. Though the site was excelling before the Oprah nod, more people are on Twitter today than ever before. So why should you consider signing up?
1. By Signing Up for Twitter, You Can Avoid the Blank Stares. In our modern age, there are some products, people, and Internet sites that everyone seems to know about. For example, most of us have heard of ShamWow and the Snuggie even if we don't own them. It's hard to check out from the grocery story without learning the latest about Brangelina (Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie) and more recently the sad news of Kate and Jon Gosselin of Jon & Kate Plus 8. There are just some things that everyone knows about, so go ahead and add Twitter to your list. It will take you less than three minutes to open a free account and send your first tweet of 140 characters or fewer. That's right: You only get a sentence or two. Then, when someone asks you if you know about Twitter, you can offer more than a blank stare - you can give them give them a warm smile and an invitation to follow your tweets.
When I walk into a roomful of strangers, I engage in what is, at best, a self-imposed test in discernment; at worst a superficial gamble. I scan the women to whom I will be speaking and instinctually begin an imprecise version of memory, flipping cards in a lame attempt to match the earnestness of their smiles with the state of their souls. I do it with pretense, albeit pretense with an asterisk. Pretense: I want to know their stories. Asterisk: I want to know their stories to know if I'll hit my mark. I toss God a prayer: Okay, You sent me here, now show me why.
Then I wait.
But at a recent event, he didn't answer. Or so I thought.
Several of us were chatting easily over dinner, typical mom small talk - number of kids, gender, ages - when a card was flipped and the match was breathtakingly unexpected.
Iâ€™m an old pro at downsizing. Itâ€™s true.
While the rest of the world has watched recent events with anxiety at the possibility of losing their job, Iâ€™m quite familiar with this life of uncertainty. A veteran of the textile industry for 15 years, Iâ€™ve spent the last five watching the companies Iâ€™ve worked and cared for slowly shrink into oblivion. Itâ€™s been difficult. Itâ€™s been unpleasant. But, itâ€™s been a learning experience like no other.
As one of the few Christians in my workplace, I often found I took a special outlook on the situation that kept me calm and gave me the ability to calm the storm in others. Not that I didnâ€™t get angry. I did. Not that I didnâ€™t get unnerved. I did. But at the end of each round of layoffs or downsizing (and there were many), I was able to step away from the situation with a larger view than most. Even when I fell into the crosshairs, at the core I knew that I would be okay.
I found that being a leader during times such as these were a very different challenge than leadership needed during other times. The type of leadership that leans on Christ more than ever before. The kind of leadership that presents the opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are desperately searching for something to hold onto. The kind of leadership for which you will one day be proud.
When I was in sixth grade, a classmate told me that his dad told him that a woman could never be president because she'd "get all PMSy and probably â€˜push the button' in one of her mood swings." This was in 1983, so that button she'd push was the "nuclear-war starting" button we all imagined on the big red phone next to the president's bed. I ended up hearing this argument more than one time in the course of my coming of age.
This was one of several comments I heard growing up that at once sickened and angered me - and definitely shaped the way I felt about women in leadership. Thanks to the truths my parents fed me, even at a young age, I recognized these comments to be sexist and ridiculous - and totally out of whack with how God equipped women and who God made women to be.
So throughout my life, I've cheered any time a glass ceiling has been shattered. Any time a woman has made it to where no woman made it before. When this happened in the political realm, I've cheered on and celebrated women on both sides of the aisle. Though I DO have a definite political preference and do not vote simply on gender, I still find myself rejoicing under the glass shards.
So I was ready to celebrate once again when I heard President Obama's nomination of Hon. Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. While she wouldn't be the first woman on the court, as the mother of a Latina, I'm always thrilled for new role models for my daughter (and sons) who share part of their Latin heritage.
I don't often have a strong reaction one way or the other to people's Twitter updates - or "Tweets" - but this one from a friend of mine got me. He wrote: "Twitter is one of the few places where you need to be a good leader & follower at the same time - a unique dynamic."
I thought about this throughout the rest of the day - because I couldn't disagree more. One of the few places? Totally unique? I have a hard time coming up with places where a good leader doesn't also have to be a good follower! I mean, how often do leaders lead at the top - in a vacuum - with no one or thing to follow? Old-world kings and new-world dictators come to mind. But even presidents and prime ministers have to follow something - the rule of law, a constitution, a code of ethics (we hope), the wisdom of advisors, perhaps the will of the people.
While good leaders certainly do need to be able to "take the reigns," "put down the hammer," or let "the buck stop" with them and while good leaders are often called to step out, go places, or do things on their own (or ahead of others), I think the best leaders are always good followers.
At Gifted for Leadership, we spend a lot of time griping about women's ministry. And I don't necessarily mean "griping" in a negative way - most of the discussions we have are constructive. We've simply been burned by the traditional systems and are looking for better ways to foster true discipleship and community in the lives of women beyond surface-level social gatherings. When we see healthy examples of these values, then, we figure we'd better share them with you.
I went on my church's women's retreat last weekend. I surprised myself by attending. I wasn't going to go, but my friend was leading worship and she asked me to come and sing with her, so I agreed. I don't know why I was so reluctant. I went through a mental checklist. Let's see? Do I love my church? Check. Do I love the women in my church? Check. Do I love retreats? Check. So, what was my problem?
By the time I was in kindergarten, I knew I was different. Not only did I stand several inches shorter than my classmates, but at 4 years of age I was also a full year younger. It was risky for my parents to send me to school so early, but they made their decision based on the potential they (and others) saw in me.
As I reflect back on that decision now, I realize my parents were putting an important leadership principle into action - "a good leader must learn to unearth potential in others." Much like Jesus saw potential in a common fisherman, a ruthless tax collector and a self-righteous Pharisee; we too must learn to look beneath the surface of what ?is' and help people explore - unearth - what could be.
"And then," the student continued, "The professor interrupted me in the middle of my presentation. He totally didn't take me seriously." My colleague and I looked at each other.
"He might . . ." I paused and began again. "You . . ." I looked at her, wrangled my courage and spit it out. "I wonder if your outfit was subliminally causing him not . . . um . . . to take your presentation seriously." She looked at me, surprised.
"You do look a little like you're going to a party," my colleague commiserated, nodding at the large flower in her hair.
"And it's cute," I said, "But inappropriate for a presentation."
Aspiring leaders long to be taken seriously. Sometimes - in some circles - we can't do much to make this happen. But we can try.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from a woman who had had reviewed my book on her blog. While she had mostly good things to say about it, she took issue with one of my first chapters (on the ways motherhood changes a woman). So, she graciously invited me to respond to her critiques.
So I went to her post, read the review, and starting mulling over my response to her. She had raised some good points, offered some valid arguments. And although she didn't sway me, she did make me think. So much so, that while I was still lost in my thoughts, I got another email from her. This time, she said she took down her post. And she apologized! She happened to be a frequent commenter on my Mommy Revolution blog and explained that she didn't "want to be divisive or create any controversy."
I didn't have to think long about how to respond to this!
I just came back from the Exponential Conference, the nation's largest conference for church planters. I loved it. Nearly 2,700 church planters, apostles, cultural missionaries, entrepreneurs, and crazy people - the kind who take "It's never been done that way before" as a dare. My friend Dave Ferguson and a team help guide the conference, and he and his brother, Jon, are geniuses at creating life-giving cultures. Exponential is one: attenders focus on reaching people far from God, so they drop sectarian emphases and doctrinal disputes and come together for vision, teaching, prayer. Speakers and attenders represent Anglo, African-American, Asian, Latino and other cultures. Plenary sessions were led by pastors from India and Indonesia.
But where are the women?
The NTSB official adamantly explained how the crew and passengers survived a near catastrophe in the incredible forced water landing of US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City back in January. The crew worked as a team, not as individuals - and that saved the lives of all 155 people aboard.
The message was clear: when individuals know how to work together as a team, it makes all the difference in the world.
The plus for women is that we to tend to move toward the team model intuitively, out of our instinctive desire for community. Let's look at characteristics of a team that can translate both to the workplace and ministry context:
I knew a woman once who, with super-spy-like verbal finesse, single-handedly took down an entire church. Ka-pow! The congregation exists no more.
I knew another woman who waged a stealth war to get her church secretary fired. Before the campaign ended, the secretary quit, left the church, lost most of her friends, and entered into a deep depression.
Oh, and I knew another woman - a stately matron of the church - whose "helpful ideas" (i.e. biting critiques) so discouraged a new Christian eager to get involved in ministry that her sense of personal value will be devastated for years to come.
What did these three women have in common? They were women's ministry leaders.
It's all about the numbers. In my line of work - program consulting for Christian nonprofits - the trends and buzzwords center on end-result statistics. Assessments, evaluations, outcome measurements - all tracking impact to determine whether a ministry's achieving its goals and making a difference. Donors care about this increasingly, requiring accountability for the funds they're giving.
It's a good trend in the nonprofit arena, but how helpful is it in our own daily lives? Because it seems to me that the average American life is also becoming pretty measurement-focused. Examples: How many followers do I have for my blog? How many comments or pingbacks did a given post elicit? How many friends do I have on Facebook? What's the ?average reader rating' for that online article I wrote? How many emails, texts, voicemails did I receive today?
The technology that now structures so much of our lives is forever counting, tracking relentlessly. And we who keep up with the digitized world tend to use the numbers as a means of gauging our day-to-day lives. They're external markers - data, if you will - by which we measure the impact we're making on other people. If we're doing anything valuable; if people care.
We sat in the intimate living room with friends and family.
"I've been asked to join the Proverbs 31 Ministry speaking team," I said with excitement.
Proverbs 31 Ministries is a strong group of women who support, encourage, and mentor faith-filled women who write and speak. It was not only an opportunity to pursue my passion of mentoring, but I was tired of flying solo. I longed for the accountability and friendship that come from working with others who share the same dreams. I shared the benefits, and then mentioned that travel might increase by one weekend a month.
"You don't like your husband very much, do you?" one woman asked.
She was dead serious.
Over and over again in my conversations with women in the emerging church movement, I hear the story of women awakening to themselves. They realize that as women they too are created in the image of God and so in theory can serve their creator faithfully in whatever way they are called. Intellectually, they understand this. They want to engage theology, attend conferences, interact online, and visit discussion groups. They want to have a say in the direction of the emerging conversation and lend their particular understandings to shape the movement. They see in this emerging moment in time an opportunity for them to be fully alive as women, to grow their faith in new ways, and to be truly respected in the church. But at the same time they have difficulty actually doing those things.
The problem isn't so much women being told that they can't participate or lead, although there are churches in the emerging movement that still set limits on women, for the most part women are fully affirmed. The men in the conversations wish there were more women contributing their voices and stepping up into leadership. But while such stepping up might seem perfectly natural to these men, I've encountered numerous women who feel they just can't do that. Even if they believe they can be leaders, the message that the church and their culture has imparted to them over the years is that nice Christian women just don't do things like that. They don't assert themselves. They don't impose themselves on others. They don't show up where they haven't been invited. They don't make a scene.
Well, Synergy 2009 is officially over, and we have to say we?re overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the life-changing messages we heard this weekend, with the blessing of being surrounded by so many gifted women leaders, by the incredible calling God has placed on his people, and by the tremendous potential of what women can accomplish in responding to that calling.
Wow. So how do we summarize the experience? Well, maybe it will help to share a few of our favorite quotes from the plenary speakers at this year?s event:
On relationships between men and women: "What do people think about God
when they see how we relate to one another?" Carolyn Custis James
On using gifts: "When women are not using gifts to the fullest extent, the
Kingdom of God suffers." Alice Matthews
Here we are at Synergy 2009, and as in previous years, this promises to be a weekend of rich encouragement, challenge, and connection. This year's theme is "The Blessed Alliance," focused on the healthy, productive, God-ordained partnership relationships between men and women in his service. What a refreshing conversation!
In this evening's opening plenary session, we heard from featured speaker Dr. Alice Palmer Mathews. She discussed the biblical basis for the Blessed Alliance and challenged us to see partnership with our Christian brothers as a biblical mandate, necessary for body of Christ to function as it should.
Today a 29-year-old woman came into the Emergency Room.
When I am not moving loads of laundry from the washer to the dryer, playing taxi driver to my seventh-, fourth-, and first-grade children, or making another meal, I work as a part-time chaplain at a nearby hospital. In the hospital setting, pastoral care is diagnostic. We are trained to understand a patient's spiritual needs with a definite, clinical assessment.
This shift I met "Sarah" from Rwanda. Her parents were killed when she was 13. She lived in a refugee camp after that. She married while living in the refugee camp. Her husband was good to her for the first year of their marriage and then he started drinking. She has spent the last 12 years of her marriage being beat up, strangled, and kicked.
In 2007, Amy Simpson wrote "Why I Don't Do Women's Ministry," citing the reasons for her struggle to fit in an essentially shallow church culture. She may have surprised a few readers, but clearly she spoke the heart of a silent, yet critical mass of women in the church.
These are women who want to fulfill the Titus 2 mandate, to mentor and minister to other women, who want to play a significant role in Christian education, but also want to escape the culture of women's ministry that they inherited from their grandmothers. They want a more substantive interaction with the women they lead, because they know that time is a priceless commodity and they want to make the most out of every opportunity. They are tired of women's ministry being the equivalent of event planning, and they want their "relationship with Jesus" to be more than an inner-circle catchphrase that accompanies the obligatory secret hug (because secret handshakes don't exist in women's ministry).
For these women, community encompasses more than fellowship around a meal or taking care of each other in a time of crisis. They want to know Jesus through the Scriptures in the deepest possible way, and they want the tools to do it. They want to think "Christianly" about every area of life, proactively thinking about how to contend with the issues women face instead of reacting to them when they surface.
My grandsons, Carter and Aidan, are growing up in their young years with a surprising truth: Grandmothers drive red convertibles. Really - both of their grandmothers drive red convertibles. Mine is an awesome Mustang, and the other grandma drives a red VW bug convertible.
So why a red convertible? I've had several people ask me, "Aren't you a little old for a mid-life crisis?" But this isn't a crisis at all. It is a statement about the future. Over the years I have driven sedans, stations wagons, vans - all big and rarely a color I would prefer. Now my kids are grown and I don't have to be sensible in my car size. I love red and I love sporty and I love wind in my hair.
But my car reflects a much more important message to me. So often when women - mothers - finish their primary parenting responsibilities (we know they don't really end), and their bodies begin to betray them some, they think it is time to relax, take it easy, put their feet up. I think the opposite is true: It is time to put on my running shoes (or hop in my Mustang) and see where God wants me to go.
One particularly summery evening last May, I headed to downtown Dallas. For me the road from my sedate suburbia to downtown entailed much more than thirty minutes of my time. It was a trip into another culture where beautiful, successful 20-somethings live, work, and love to party. Even though my well-worn NIV Study Bible sat on the seat next to me, my mind was far from memory verses or prayers. I stared down at my jeans murmuring to myself, "What were you thinking when you purchased these matronly things?" Then my eyes moved to the rearview mirror and I sat aghast at the face of a 50-year-old woman looking every wrinkle of the journey. Lastly, with a tightening in my chest I screamed, "Why did you ever agree to meet with a bunch of skinny, tan, unwrinkled 20-year-old women?"
Here's the story behind my frenzy: My 24-year-old son, Matt, dates Jill. Through their college years and now as young professionals working in Dallas, I have gotten to know Jill and her girlfriends at barbecues and birthdays. They have a close relationship, and together they adore Oprah, volunteer in the community, watch The Bachelor and have a monthly book/dinner club. Yet while most of these bright young women are Christians, most are not a part of a church family. Wondering how I might help them connect spiritually, last May I emailed Jill to see if she and her "girls" (as Matt refers to them) might be interested in meeting for a casual summer Bible study. I did not hear back for a few days, but then my inbox was flooded with unanimous reply-to-all "I'm in!" responses. We set a date. And now I found myself wending my way to our first meeting.
In part I of this conversation, I mentioned Jim Loehr. He was a performance psychologist who evaluated top-ranked tennis players in an effort to determine what made those who held the highest world rankings better than their lower-ranked competitors. What did they do as they played tennis that made them superior players in a highly competitive sport?
Loehr discovered that the strokes and techniques of all the players were infuriatingly similar. But eventually, he noticed that the difference lay in what the players did between points. Top performers, Loehr discovered, knew when to work hard and when to rest. Their strength lay not in the perfection of their strokes or their level of effort, but rather, in their ability to recover. The top tennis players, Loehr discovered, found rituals (the way they walked, breathing patterns, self-talk) that actually lowered their heart beat, calming them, and, in effect, allowing them to rest both physically and mentally between points. And the rest and recovery, even in the thirty to ninety seconds between points in a tennis game, is what made all the difference.
As I glanced over the last Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) alumni newsletter, my eye caught the announcement that the seminary had reached a significant milestone: 1,500 female alumni on their roster. As one of the first women to set foot on the DTS campus as a student, I admit my heart skipped a beat when I saw that number. The fact that DTS was celebrating this was even more satisfying.
Rock on DTS!
Here are more encouraging statistics: The latest Association of Theological Seminaries study (2007-08) reported 34% of seminary students are women. Interestingly enough, the same report indicates a significant rise in the numbers of women students between the ages of 40-64 - underscoring the happy notion that it's never too late to get started! Furthermore, women now comprise 23% of fulltime seminary faculty.
This growing trend is one of the biggest success stories of the modern church, and we should be making a lot of noise about it. I know there are still some who question (or flat out oppose) the decision to offer theological education to women and still some seminaries that refuse to admit them. Opinions divide over how far women can go with their theological training and whether or not seminaries are capitulating to the culture (and more specifically to feminist influence) by opening their doors to women. But there is strong biblical warrant for what is happening.
All of us at Gifted for Leadership are so grateful so many of you participated in our Devotional Journey! We hope it's been a great one for you.
I hope you've been as encouraged and challenged and as blessed as I was. One of my favorite things about this journey was that we took it together - in community, even if it was virtual. I loved that we got to share our stories and insights together. This community and togetherness is really what drives the Gifted for Leadership team.
Our desire is to provide a place for Christian women in leadership to voice their frustrations and triumphs as well as to find encouragement and resources to help you in your leadership. Those resources include this blog as well as other downloadable resources. We WISH we could offer them all for free as we did with this devotional, but as a not-for-profit ministry, we rely on the sales of these downloads to support our ministry (and since most downloads are $9.95 and you can make copies for up to 1,000 people, this is quite a bargain!).
Here's my up-front disclaimer: I'm not fond of Christian jokes and one-liners. I might be a terrible stick-in-the-mud, but when I pass a church marquee sign posting a "Christian" message, I wince. Although I fight the urge, I read it. And sometimes I need to seek God's forgiveness for the thoughts that enter my mind after my car has passed by.
I live in a small town where church marquee signs are prevalent. Before Election Day, one sign read, "To find God, turn right and go straight." A left-leaning friend was outraged by what she believed was a political message. Granted, the church was located on the right side of the road, but I wondered if the pastor realized that, if drivers decided to "go straight," they would eventually end up at the Davison Bacon & Sausage Works down the road. (Can God really be found between tubes of hanging salami?)
Another local church sign once read, "If God gave you the same priority you give Him, would you be saved?" My instinctive response was a low growl. I wasn't being convicted by the Holy Spirit; I simply have an adverse reaction to being smacked in the head while traveling down Main Street. It doesn't seem to reflect our Savior's style.
Serene Madonna? I don't think so
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is usually painted looking so serene, but I have to wonder if that was always the expression on her face. The advent season is all about her story, as the young virgin honored to be selected to bear the Messiah. She didn't seem to struggle too much with her yes, but did she have any idea what would be coming next?
This past spring I was in Israel driving by bus from Nazareth to Bethlehem, thinking, "This would not be fun, on a donkey - in your third trimester! Besides the inconvenient travel, she encountered a fiance who wanted to break it off, a village abuzz with gossip, and a less than optimal delivery location. And that was just in the first nine months of the story.
God calls each of us to creative acts of obedience throughout our lives.
As I write, I'm delightfully basted in the scent of lemon grass oil; I just got a massage. I've only ever had one other massage in my life, so this is a fairly memorable occasion. I'm thankful for the kind woman who spent an hour of her time trying to talk some relaxation into these stubborn, over-tightened muscles of mine.
Actually, I'm a little more than thankful. I'm downright...perplexed. I guess I'm not sure what drives a person to want to be a masseuse. I'd always thought of it as "glam"--even the word sounds cool. But after the workout this woman just went through, I'm sure I was wrong. It was more than her willingness to expend energy that got me. What I'm really wondering is: What drives a person to be willling to touch someone else?
Solve some problem right in front of you. Often vision is born by passing through the narrow and dark birth canal of problems. You see the problem, and you start to work on it. You don't necessarily feel inspired or see lights. All you are doing is trying to solve some problem right in front of you. But later, everyone else says, "What a great vision!"
Christmas is coming! The presents wrapped in fun and funky paper. The family. The homemade sugar cookies and sledding in three-feet snow. The break from school and pop quizzes! Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But did you know that the holidays are a difficult time for lots of teens? Dr. David Lowenstein, a psychologist, says that as many as one person in four battles the holiday blues this time of year.
Depression and Christmas?
It doesn’t seem like a good fit, but makes sense if dad or mom is out of the picture. It’s a bummer when the only Christmas wish is for everybody to get along, and it doesn’t happen, or if money is tight and the parents are stressing. If a student is dealing with the holiday blues, they might not understand the hype. Christmas becomes something to endure rather than a celebration.
If you work with teens or families with teens, how can you help as the holidays approach?
I used to equate "women's ministry" with things like secret pals and salad suppers. Problem is I'm a horrible secret pal because I tend to forget birthdays and anniversaries. And I'm sorry, but I like warm food.
At one particularly memorable Christmas tea, which featured a desert reception, I nervously stuffed an entire chocolate-covered strawberry into my mouth in one bite. Who does that?! The other ladies at my table giggled nervously as strawberry-chocolate juice oozed from my lips.
As a young woman trying to balance a demanding career and a growing family, I'm lucky to find time to shave my legs, much less to carve out three hours to make chit-chat with people who are apparently way better at this "lady" thing than I am. I spent years wishing I could skip the women's events and just go do fun stuff with the men's groups. I just wanted feel safe being myself but the fellowship halls of my past were filled with women who didn't get me.
Confrontation - always difficult, often necessary. And something that many of us do badly or not at all. We tend to default toward one of two paths; either we run from it or we find ourselves continually confronting everything: fight or flight. It doesn't take too long to realize that both of these methods are more often than not ineffective.
FLIGHT: Are you one of those people who will do anything to avoid a face-to-face encounter when something difficult must be discussed? You're frustrated, boiling on the inside, but when the issue is raised, you smile and nod as though you're in total agreement. Then you walk away, irritated with yourself because you had the opportunity but you didn't say the things that needed to be said.
Humility is essential for mixed gender teams because pride is so destructive. Pride leads us to presume and prejudge one another. This in turn leads to issues of stereotyping, transference, and entitlement.
How many men and women feel offended by one another based on an unfair presumption? A man presumes, for instance, that a woman is against him - when really she is trying to help him. Or a woman presumes, for instance, that a man is avoiding her - when really he is busy with a task.
It's been a while since we've talked, so I thought I'd drop you a line to catch up. Today has been exciting - a big turn out at the polling places and precincts. So much energy in the air, I almost felt as if I was connected to something living and fantastic! Even in my discontent, I think I can join with you to say "thank God for the gift of democracy!"
That leads me to a big part of why I'm writing. I'm a little discouraged these days hearing from others that you may think I'm in a faith crisis because of my politics? That I've fallen away from what is true? Or more painful yet, that I've lost my love for God? Perhaps they're just rumors, so I wanted to clear the air. There's enough that you and I are working through together to let this get in the way.
I guess you've been on my mind a bit lately because this whole election craziness has dredged up some issues that reminded me of our old times together - and also some of what ultimately pulled us apart.
"Speak," I said, as I picked up the phone. No, I wasn't talking to the dog or being rude. That's just the way you answer the phone in Spanish. "Is your Lord and Master there?" asked the cultured voice on the other end of the wire. I froze.
I recognized the voice. It belonged to one of the elders of our church. I wondered whether he was serious or joking, but given the openly chauvinistic culture, I figured he could actually mean what he said fairly literally. After quite a few years working in that country, I had come to understand that women are primarily valued for their physical and domestic service to men. Oh, and their looks.
This kind of world view can be one of the biggest aspects of culture shock to an educated, gifted woman serving overseas. Shopping on a daily basis, not having a dryer, learning to speak another language: all these challenges we can meet. But dealing with open, blatant chauvinism from the society and the local church can be really draining.
I'm one of three full time women on the faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary and during our weekly faculty meeting, I sometimes struggle to find my voice. I want to be like the woman in Mark 7:24-30 who found middle ground between silence and aggression. Her little daughter needed healing, and even though she was a Gentile, she was not afraid to tell Jesus exactly what she needed.
Jesus traveled to Tyre and did not want anyone to know he was there; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, she fell at his feet, begging him to heal her child (Mark 7:24?26). However, he was not there to minister publicly but to secure private time to instruct his disciples - so he denied her request. Perhaps Jesus did not appreciate the interruption.
In ministry, we often find we must go to male leaders for what we need. For a variety of reasons, sometimes these men are not receptive. Back in the nineties, I served as volunteer director of women's ministries in a megachurch. I was at the mercy of the male pastors for resources. But I had not yet found my voice, so during the few meetings with the senior pastor, I clammed up and did not express my needs well.
When I became a Christian, I knew I'd found my life purpose. I wanted to serve God with my last ounce of strength. I read Christian biographies voraciously and latched onto any report of modern-day Christians who were giving their all to Christ and his kingdom. I often felt that my life was too easy - that I never suffered for Christ as some people did, which to my way of thinking made me an inferior Christian. What this translated into for my life was that I said yes to everything anyone asked me to do and constantly looked for challenging people and situations to be involved with.
What this eventually led to (it took about 20 years - I'm tough) was burnout. I over-extended myself in almost every area of my life. In my false idea that only doing the hard things would please God, I worked part-time for a Christian organization, volunteered for three different organizations, and mothered three children. I wanted to do all of this perfectly, better than anyone had ever done any of them before. I also looked for practical needs all the time that I could meet. During this time, I remember telling the women in my small group that I always worry that I'm not doing enough to serve God. They looked at me shocked and said, "You worry about not doing enough?" I could tell by their expressions that I'd just put them all under the pile, but I stuck to my conviction (that I truly felt) that I wasn't doing enough.
Notice the things that energize you and seem to come naturally. Remember the quote from the movie Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell explained to his sister why he was postponing his return to the mission field in order to race in the Olympics? "Because when I run, I feel the pleasure of God."
There's a woman across from me on a wooden bench describing her life as a member of a rural agricultural cooperative in northwestern Haiti. It's hot so we're sitting in the shade of an old Brazilian military tarp that has been strung up between two trees. I'm in northwestern Haiti as a photojournalist for Church World Service, to document the stories of men and women who support each other through low interest loans. She's speaking Creole, so I'm not catching everything she's saying, but I'm careful to make eye contact, nod, scribble notes, adjust my tape recorder, and glance at my translator every once in awhile.
The truth is, I'm not fully paying attention. Instead, I'm fully engaged in a daydream about a man that I've recently fallen in love with. As the woman explains the way that her life was changed by a loan of $50 that allowed her to purchase a donkey, I'm recalling the conversation he and I had on a balcony with the sun setting over Port-au-Prince where his vulnerable confessions of affection melted into my relief. She continues to describe the distance she and her donkey travel every day to carry goods to the market. I'm on the back of his motorcycle on our way to buy dinner from our favorite street vendor. And so the interview continues.
My work in Haiti took a drastic turn when I found myself in a relationship that had a sincerity and gravitational force that made any previous interests seem like planks on a bridge I was now crossing.
One of my favorite recent reads, Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life starts this way: "I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. ?" What's not to love about a book that starts this way? I have to tell you, my life feels like Amy's. While I may certainly have survived against some odds I never knew of or lived to tell because of some intervention by my guardian angel, in reality I'm no survivor either. My life has been fairly "ordinary," and I think I lead that way.
I mean, the "risks" I take are rarely real risks. Failure or messing up in most of my leadership arenas doesn't put anyone's life on the line or anything. More often than not, dollars and cents are on that line. And it shows in the way I lead.
I never gave this any thought until I started watching the changes in my friend Kim. Last spring, at 36 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the summer, she's endured surgery, daily radiation, and is now on medicine that "promises" to keep cancer at bay.
Now she is a survivor!
How would you respond to sexual misconduct at church?
One day more than a decade ago, the senior pastor of my church stopped by my house unannounced. I had just had a baby, so I presumed his visit was pastorally motivated, although I was a little thrown off by his sudden appearance at my door. I invited him in, and we made small talk for a while. My baby began to fuss and it soon became apparent that he needed to nurse. My pastor didn't take his cue and offer to leave, so after several tense moments of trying to soothe my son without whipping out my breast to feed him, I told my pastor that we'd need to continue our conversation some other time. He finally left.
I didn't think too much of this incident—at least not until he showed up a second time uninvited. Thankfully, I was running out the door, and I told him I couldn't visit right then. As I drove away from my house, I had a sick feeling in my stomach, like something wasn't quite right. Why would my pastor drop by without calling first? And why me? We weren't that closely connected through the church. Why would he stop by my house to pay a visit? Don't people usually call first?
"It's awkward and uncomfortable - like a three-legged race. I'll have to learn to walk all over again."
I nearly fell out of my chair! Frank managed an uneasy smile. We were drinking coffee with a young friend who, in an unguarded moment, was talking with disturbing pessimism about his impending marriage. Neither Frank nor I thought of marriage as a three-legged race. For us it was more like a sprint. Astonishment turned to sadness over this young man's dismally low expectations of what a male/female relationship might promise.
Happily, not every prospective groom shares this gloomy perspective. However, his attitude points to a reality that not only characterizes a lot of Christian marriages, it spills over into working relationships between women and men in other venues. Even in Christian circles - even on ministry leadership teams - we joke uneasily about the "battle of the sexes" because, truth be told, even here relationships between the sexes can be as awkward and cumbersome as a three-legged race - or worse.
Whatever happened to the sure-footed alliance the Bible envisions?
The vice-presidential nomination of Sarah Palin has led to all kinds of interesting conversations in the media. And while many of those conversations raise plenty of pertinent questions, I've been struck by the underlying assumptions about what makes a person a qualified leader.
Granted, "qualified" takes on a whole new kind of weight when we're talking about the presidency (or vice-presidency in Palin's case) but even as these conversations trickle down into bus stop chats and water cooler debates, the operating understanding of leadership has a distinctly male bent to it. We want to know if Palin is decisive. If she's tough. If she can battle corruption and stand up to our enemies. We assume that these are all givens when it comes to making someone a leader. But are they the only qualities that count?
Those of us who have been in leadership positions for more than a half an hour know that the biggest challenge is often proving that we can lead like men, that we can be decisive and tough and wage battle for the sake of our cause.
I know about those "work" friendships.
Jan and I started chatting on the phone several years ago when our sons became good friends. Jan is caring and funny, and I enjoy our time together. But she started popping in several times a week. When she came to visit, she clearly expected me to drop everything and play hostess. Even the days she didn't drop by, she called - sometimes several times. "Just one more thing ? " she'd say. Then an hour later, my errands would still be undone and dinner would be late - again.
A new study of self-described "active Christian women" shows more than a quarter personally experienced sexually inappropriate behavior, and one fourth of those that experienced it said it happened in a church or ministry setting. The survey, based on answers given last fall by 779 American women to NationalChristianPoll.com, was designed to capture the range and extent to which women encounter unwelcome, gender-based behaviors by their male counterparts, either in the workplace or within a church or ministry setting. Commonly reported inappropriate behaviors include sexual advances, touching or sexual contact, suggestive jokes, glances with sexual overtones, and demeaning comments.
The last place we expect to get hurt is within the family of God. We assume church people are safe people. But, hurt comes with church leadership. When it happens, the wounds it brings can quickly become a breeding ground for bitterness.
Bitterness can become a gnarly vine that chokes our souls. It poisons our hearts and actions. Scripture says we and others will pay a great price if it is left unchecked (Hebrews 12:15).
What's a Christian to do? When we are wronged, justice demands that someone pay for the wrong. We know that the Lord wants us to forgive. But how can we handle the tension between justice and forgiveness?
This year's roster at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit conference includes an impressive lineup of leaders from both the ministry and secular business realms. Pastors John Burke and Efrem Smith, and Bill George (current Harvard Business prof and former CEO of Medtronic Inc.) spoke yesterday, as (of course) did Bill Hybels. Today we heard from Craig Groeschel and Chuck Colson, and later from Brad Anderson, vice-chairman and CEO of Best Buy. But for my money, the two most challenging and inspiring presenters were relative unknowns--two women who lead small but incalculably influential organizations.
When a position becomes available in most churches, leaders tend to contact those they know and trust for names of those they'd recommend for the job. The people we contact and those they recommend are, more often than not, people just like us in ethnic, economic, and educational background.
As the daughter of academics I was encouraged to be a free-thinker, especially when it came to God. My parents were not afraid of questions because their faith was so strong in the One who gives answers. Yet I lived (and still do) a paradoxical life: A home life of free-thinking and free-discussion amongst a community of "don't rock the boaters" - the Old Guard of evangelical tradition.
Amidst the Old Guard of evangelicalism, when I came out of Wheaton College in 1992, there was a group who left appreciating our evangelical roots, and willing to think bigger. One of my friends became the religious editor for the Chicago Sun Times. Another friend founded a church. It grew to over 10,000 people assembling each Sunday in less than a year - and is still going strong. This friend also started a not-for-profit, making short films with this ?new' take on Christianity. As a woman with leadership skills and a call to ministry this new direction for evangelicalism was very exciting.
There is a difference between being peaceful and being a peacemaker. A fellow pastor told me about an elected church leader who refuses to become involved with anything controversial. This leader is a no-show on big issues and justifies his behavior as "a desire to be peaceful."
Being peaceful, however, is different from being a peacemaker, which we are all called to be.
I climbed on a bright green trolley and instantly heard calls of "Suz!"
Twenty-seven freshman girls were perched in the seats, waving. The driver put the trolley in gear. And off we went.
We traveled to a refurbished theater from the 1950s and watched an independent film. Then we hopped back on the trolley and traveled to the Music Hall of Fame. The students went wild when they realized their entertainment was area musician Colton Swon, one of the Top 50 in this season's American Idol. Next we traveled to WISH, a safe home for battered woman where we ate lunch and discussed statistics and where to find help if you are a victim of dating abuse. Our last stop was at The Castle, a local Renaissance Fair building complete with history, knights, kings, and queens.
It was a special day as a community mentor with a local high school.
What does this have to do with ministry?
Even the most dedicated people often shy from being called into "leadership." So instead, when one of our current leaders (we like to call them "servants" or "coaches") sees someone passionate about a ministry, he or she approaches that person with an invitation:
"Beverly, I've watched you get passionate about God's purposes. And I've seen you display gifts of caring and evangelism. I'd like to invite you to serve with me on this missions project."
Over the years, I've discovered that the best haircuts aren't a matter of what I think when I stand up from the stylist's chair, but the feedback I get from friends (and even strangers) after I walk out of the salon. Comments like "Great haircut!" and "Love the look!" signify that that the hairstylist knocked it out of the park. Whereas questions like, "Was that the look you were going for?" and "Wow - did you want it that blonde?" leave me wondering what just happened. I want to have the wow factor when it comes to my hair - just not that kind of wow factor.
So what's this got to do with leadership? Bear with me, because just as I've been discovering secrets to increasing a healthy wow factor in my hairstyle, I've realized their application to leadership. Consider these wow factor hair tips:
Change is a constant in today's world, impacting our personal and professional lives. Change comes in all shapes and sizes: there are small adjustments that we need to make in what we are doing, then there are the more significant changes where we plot our course, thinking through what we will do and how we will do it.
And then there is transformational change: doing something we have never done before. This is the most challenging type of change because we may not even be able to reach out to others for experienced advice. Here is where I think God's principle of "little by little" applies. It can be both a comfort and helpful instruction to see us through the difficult process of change.
It was a season of transformational change where God revealed his little-by-little principle to the children of Israel. They had been delivered from slavery in Egypt and were now in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.
I walked up to the red door with trepidation. Please God, don't let anyone recognize me today.
We had just moved, and I needed desperately to meet God on his turf. I needed a church. At the same time, I dreaded the people in a church. Dreaded the moment someone would ask what my name was and what I did. Even worse, I dreaded the people who would approach and tell me who I was and what I did.
I was working for a national ministry at the time, in a semi-public position. My name and picture were on the front pages of their magazines, and my byline showed up regularly. It wasn't much, but it was enough to make me recognizable to a certain subgroup of Christian women. Well-intentioned churchgoers would assume they knew more about me than they did. They'd ask me about my children (which I didn't have). Look around for my husband (he worked weekends while going to school full time, and so he wasn't with me). Make assumptions about my spiritual life, during a season when the holes in my faith resembled Swiss cheese.
It seems like ministry today has been reduced to strategy and outcomes and production. And, frankly, that is what makes you famous - developing a new ministry strategy. If you can reproduce it and sell it, you can get a book deal.
Ministry to "the least of these" is about people, and it's messy. But there are godly people all over this country who have been loving people in the name of Jesus, and I think that's real ministry.
I married a banker. I like to remind my banker-turned-pastor husband of this when we're having a particularly difficult time in the ministry. Although I wouldn't trade his occupation (some would say "calling"), my husband's career choice bestowed on me a title I never bargained for when we walked down the aisle.
I am a pastor's wife.
While I know plenty of women who are thrilled to bear this title, I've never worn it very well. I was always confused by the girls at the Christian college I attended who said they felt "called to become a pastor's wife." Since I grew up Catholic, I was astonished to learn that pastors were allowed to marry. More shocking to me, however, was the idea that God would call a woman to be a spouse of someone's occupation.
How do we treat the women (and men) who happen to be married to our pastors? Do we balance them precariously on high pedestals? Do we set impossible-to-live-up-to expectations for them to follow? Are we quick to criticize when they fail or act (gasp!) human? Will we take the time to get to know - really know - them?
The biggest change Christ made in my life is a desire to serve others rather than myself. Before I became a Christian, it was all about me. Afterward, I was drawn to the weak and hurting and constantly looked for opportunities to minister. I took to heart Jesus' instruction that if I wanted to save my life, I had to lose it. This led me to full-time Christian work and helping to plant a church.
What I didn't know then, but am learning now, is that I simply cannot help some people. I'm sure that I understood this intellectually. I was aware of the joke: "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, if the light bulb wants to be changed," but I thought I would have a lot more success than most psychiatrists since I had help from the Lord of the Universe. And that's true. I do have help a secularist could never tap into.
I thought those who were wounded would be able to understand God's love if I just loved them enough. In some cases, this happened. Some that I loved did understand God's love and were able to move beyond the hurts of their past. However, others couldn't comprehend the love I offered and only found reasons to blame me for their lack of comprehension. I became the recipient of all their anger.
A couple weeks back, as I eyeballed the catalog for an upcoming auction held by the Christian school I graduated from, send my kids to, and serve as Alumni Board President of, a chill fell through my body, numbing it along the way. Feeling came back as I reread the chill-inducing words - which this time sparked a rage:
"Are you up to the challenge? [Club] member and [School] parent [Blankety Blank] invites you to go for it! Three gentlemen are invited to be [Blankety's] guests for 18 holes of incomparable golf at this famed all-men's course. After the game, enjoy refreshments in the traditional atmosphere of the clubhouse."
- Donated by Blankety and Blankette Blank
Anyone else see a problem here? Well, I did. An abomination, actually. I couldn't believe that this school - which I loved, which shaped me, made me think I could do anything God called me to do, and which now shaped my children - would accept money from this source that screams: "Women are a nuisance! Women aren't as good! Women don't belong!" I couldn't believe that this passed as something that supports the school's mission to develop academically prepared disciples to transform the world for Christ.
In my observation, some of the worst "troublemakers" in organizations of all kinds are women with frustrated leadership gifts.
Like all gifts, leadership can be used in positive or negative ways. Someone with the gift of hospitality may use it to build up the body of Christ--or to foster a clique. A gifted teacher may help others learn--or sit back and ridicule those who do teach. And women with leadership gifts can choose to embrace their gifts and the responsibility God has given them to exercise their gifts for his glory. Or they can reject their gifts, try to be someone else, and end up leading others in destructive ways.
Because they can't squelch God's gift, they can't help but lead. They lead others astray, seek (and often find) followers, lead rebellions, and champion pet causes that are at odds with the goals of the organization as a whole. They criticize and find fault with their leaders. They manipulate others into doing what they want them to do.
Women process pain differently than men. Women need to talk about it, to get it out in an affirming environment before receiving direction. Empathetic listening skills are critical. Understanding is essential. In some ways, women desperately need the comfort only other women can give.
Nobody likes a party pooper. Worse yet, a naysayer or "doom and gloomer" can get in the way of any one of our best laid plans for the future. But we all have had those moments in our lives when we have been convicted. And sometimes that conviction comes to us gently, nudging us to change gears, redirect our thoughts, or to have a total change of heart - to see things more clearly. Sometimes conviction may not come so easily, perhaps through intense trials, pain, and struggles. But no matter how convictions come to us, they have the strengthen a new resolve in us that spurs us onto new levels of leadership, causing us to have a wider area of influence and impact.
Yet, this "principled" leadership is costly. And it's different than being a naysayer or party pooper, whose motive may be a bad attitude or disagreeable spirit and typically has the effect of just producing guilt or anger in us - versus true conviction. Principled leadership requires, well, principles. Not thoughts, opinions, preferences, or tastes. And principles, if properly grounded in truth, become the foundation of our convictions, which allow us to stand firm, address unpopular opinions, cut through the emotional and murky waters and Lord willing, do the right thing and lead others to follow in doing the right thing.
A couple months ago in the Presidential campaign, we all saw Hillary Clinton become a little emotional when a reporter asked her a question. I was stunned by all the buzz generated by the press and subsequently chatted about beside water coolers and in coffee shops all over the country. A couple days after the event, Clinton remarked that perhaps she had "found her voice." I fully understood what she was driving at. Every leader needs to find his or her voice over time. But as a woman leader in the church, the challenge for me has been to discern what truly is my authentic voice, and what is an attempt to mimic the voices of male leaders I respect. In all kinds of settings, we have to discover what voice is the one that most accurately reflects our God-given instincts, personality, perspective, and story.
By nature I am a fairly emotional and expressive person. I don't believe this is unique to female leaders and communicators, though sometimes people assume that males will be more "in control" of their emotions and speak from the head more than the heart. Certainly there have been times both in meetings and in the pulpit when I have attempted to at least put a lid on becoming too emotional, avoiding the kind of blubbering that thwarts the ability to even choke out words. But to hide all my passion and deep feelings simply isn't me.
Stephen Ong, pastor and founder of Victory Baptist Church in Greeley, Colorado, chose to build the church on an intergenerational model. "Too many families were living Christianity only at church," Ong says. "It wasn't being applied at home. I figured if we could bring families together in their walk of faith on Sundays, it would create a mutual accountability that would stay with them throughout the week."
That was one message in today's final plenary session. And it was one overarching message of the entire Synergy conference. As humans, we tend to be afraid, to fear life's battles and even our own gifts. And as women, many of us practice fear our whole lives. But as women made in the image of God, created to fight the lifelong battle of the ezer, we need not - and must not - live in fear.
So how do we let go of the fears that bind us and keep us from fulfilling God's calling? We remember the God who created us and who he has made us to be. And we find our strength in him.
This morning, Carolyn Custis James reminded us of the ways we usually identify ourselves and introduce ourselves to others. We talk about our friends, our husbands, our jobs, our children, our homes. All important, to be sure. But all fragile. All can be taken away - as the lives of Naomi and Ruth demonstrate. Our value and identities come not from the roles we play or the people who surround us. Our identity as ezers - God's image bearers and indispensable warriors - can never be taken away. It's with us from birth. That's who we really are.
As I got ready for the final plenary session this morning, I had "chokey moment" - you know; where you get that catch in your throat and feel tears building a bit behind your eyes. I initially thought it was because I was going to see my kids this afternoon and just realized how much I had missed them. But then I remembered: This wasn't the first time I'd welled up over the weekend here at Synergy. And I'm not a crier.
At Friday night's opening session, I misted up during Carolyn Custis James's talk, "Inhabiting Your Story," as she walked us through Naomi's powerful story and opened my eyes and heart to God's love and redeeming power in ways I had never seen. I did it again during Leigh McLeroy's Saturday morning talk on the ways God can use brokenness for his story - and ours - and how we need to learn to "struggle well." Wow. That got me.
And I wasn't the only one I saw getting a bit weepy this weekend. Another woman cried while sharing her exhaustion and her fear of burnout leading a non-for-profit; yet another got choked up sharing her experience - and frustrations - in women's ministry.
When I first read Amy Simpson's blog post Why I Don't Do Women's Ministry a short while back, I remember giving an enthusiastic fist-pump toward my computer monitor. "Yeah," I said, "Why do we always call it a luncheon instead of just lunch?" More than just noon-meal terminology, Amy's words resonated with me because, like many of you, I feel out of place in traditional "women's" ministries. And with only 10 short months of marriage to my credit, I've come to realize that this extends to ministries to wives or married couples as well. As a person who loves the Lord and wants to be involved with his church, these aversions sometimes make me feel abnormal, guilty, or petty, as if I don't have the right to find fault with what someone else had diligently planned for me. Thankfully, Amy summarized my feelings exactly and I realized I wasn't alone. Her comments responded to what many of us associate with typical women's ministry: home parties, dubiously-named luncheons, or crafts.
Maybe this sensitivity is why I gravitated so quickly to the theme of the Synergy workshop I attended this morning called "What Is the Future of Women's Ministry?" Our group was diverse in ethnicity, age, profession, and family status. The panel discussion aimed to discuss about five questions on the subject of the future of women's ministry, but our dynamic group only made it through the first and most fundamental: what is women's ministry? In other words, what do we mean when we use that term? And how does that inform how we think about our hopes and expectations of this concept?
Synergy 2008 is off to quite a start!
First off, let me just say: it's so wonderfully warm here. Sunny and warm and humid?and there are flowers. Spring has been late in coming to Chicago (or at least that's how it feels to me), so I'm loving this!
Now on to the good stuff. Last night, Carolyn Custis James wowed us all during the first plenary session of the conference. She reminded us of our roles as ezers ? the word used to describe females in Genesis 2: 18: "The Lord God said, ?It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable for him.'"
But ezer does not simply mean helper?or not in the simple way we might define helper anyway. We were not made simply to help men clean up after themselves or to do the stuff they don't want to do. Ezer signifies a partnership beyond mere conveniences or even simple reproductive purposes. Ezer is not a word to be taken lightly; nor is it a word used solely (or even primarily) for women. Ezer is more often used in the Bible to describe God as Israel's helper. Or sometimes to describe Israel's war allies. This is a powerful word embodying so much more than our English "helper" would have us believe. Ezer: (pronounced azer with a long a, as in razor) is a powerful Hebrew military word. And yet it's the word God chose to twice describe the woman he created. This is not the image of a helpmate; this is the image of a compatriot, a fellow warrior in an all-important battle.
Growing up, my all-time favorite action hero was Indiana Jones, an audacious archaeologist who traveled the world looking for treasures and lost artifacts, including the Ark of the Covenant and sacred stones. On his last crusade, Jones is searching for the Holy Grail, the cup Christ reputably used at the Last Supper. To aid him in his journey, Jones uses an ancient book to help him navigate through a maze of tunnels and various obstacles that impede the way to the Holy Grail.
At the very end of the maze, Jones reaches a chasm that is deeper than the visible eye can see. He stands precariously on the edge of the rocky cliff, his face contorted with bewilderment. Had he gone the wrong way? Had he made a mistake? There was no visible way to cross the chasm; the other side was utterly beyond his reach. Gripped with fear, he anxiously thumbs through the pages of the ancient book until he understands the obstacle: it's a leap of faith, an invisible bridge. Jones scatters sand over the invisible bridge, closes his eyes, and steps out over the chasm with both feet. Once he realizes his footing is secure, he rushes across the invisible bridge to retrieve the Holy Grail.
Inevitably, every Christian leader, even those among us who appear to be the most fearless, must face their own chasm, the chasm between our calling as Christian leaders and our own personal resources.
When I was growing up, I went to Bible camp every summer. Going to camp was one of the absolute highlights of my year. It was right up there with Christmas, my birthday, the last day of school, and the first snowfall.
So what made camp so great? Well, it wasn't the activities. I could enjoy many of those things at home. It wasn't the sleeping accommodations - sleeping bags and 3-inch-thick noisy mattresses are a novelty for only a few nights. The food was?well, it was camp food. And I'm not crazy about marshmallows.
This month Gifted for Leadership, Leadership Journal, and some of our sister sites are joining to think seriously about Scripture. An exciting foray into this topic begins with an interactive assessment: The Hermeneutics Quiz, by Scot McKnight. This free quiz will give you an insightful perspective into the way in which you interpret Scripture.
For other considerations, read Scot's article on the Leadership website, or dive into Christopher Blumhofer's insightful post below.
A church's ability to minister to people hinges on its confidence in the Word of God. A low-confidence church can't teach or preach or serve with any real sense of expectation. It can't profess assurance that God speaks or that listening for his voice is worthwhile. A high-confidence church lives in another reality: a realm in which God speaks and acts, calls and sends.
While I don't understand everything, there is one thing I am solidly convinced of: a call is not a career. The pivotal distinction between the two may be the most important thing we ever understand about the call of God, especially in these times.
The words themselves immediately suggest one difference. Our English word career comes from the French carriere, meaning "a road," or "a highway." The image suggests a course one sets out on, road map in hand, goal in sight, stops marked along the way for food, lodging, and fuel.
If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
- African Proverb
Several years ago, when I was facing major surgery, I learned just how alone a person can feel and also what it means to have someone come alongside you.
At the time, I was an employee of the hospital where I was now an anxious patient. When I awoke the morning of my surgery, both my husband and my boss (an amazing woman who was also to me both a mentor and a friend) were there for me. As I was wheeled up to the surgical suite, I had an IV on one side and my friend on the other. Her hand was gently resting on my shoulder pumping courage into me.
There's more than a little truth in the African proverb that we need one another to go the distance in the battles God puts in our path.
We are confident the workshops will be a high point of your conference experience. We offer three workshop tracks that will run concurrently during three different sessions on Saturday; check our Schedule for the exact times. These cutting-edge, forward-thinking, interactive workshops will be 1.5 hours each. Click here for full details.
You will have an opportunity to register for the three workshops you want to attend at Registration and also before the conference.
Single Registration: US $195
Team Rate: US $175 per person - minimum 5 people
To register, click on this link: Online Registration
You will be re-directed to the Campus Crusade Conference Registration Tool where you will be required to set up a Login Profile with a password before you can proceed to register.
It's four o'clock and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has just begun visiting hours as Alice Rouse, a 31-year-old outreach worker for Starlight Ministries of the Emmanuel Gospel Center is buzzed through the doors of the ICU. Today her friend Adam began his 17th birthday by shooting China White, the purest form of heroin, and then stringing himself up in the shower with a bed sheet.
Adam is paralyzed with sedatives after a recent attempt to pull out his tubes and IV, but as Alice approaches his bed, he smiles and whispers, "finally." She has brought her guitar and will play "It is Well with My Soul," same as last year when she and Adam were here for the same reason. As she leaves the hospital, she weeps for him, for the familiarity of that stark scene, for the long road of recovery they have in front of them. A week later he's discharged and calls Alice in a rage, "I've been locked up in the hospital for days and will forever hate you for not visiting!" Alice explains that he must not remember, that there were sedatives, but she's making little progress because Adam is already hurt. She hangs up the phone and shrugs.
As an organization, Synergy is committed to the following...
To see women wholeheartedly following Christ and partnering with their Christian brothers and each other to build His Kingdom.
To connect, equip, and encourage women in vocational ministry to be effective leaders and laborers for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
[Deborah] also sang the praises of those who served her well - "My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people" (Judges 5:9) - and she commended Jael at length, calling her "most blessed of tent-dwelling women" (Judges 5:24). A final leadership lesson from Deborah: Acknowledge the efforts of others, rather than pat yourself on the back.
Quick confession: I google myself fairly frequently. I didn't really do this - much - until last summer, when a friend emailed to let me know she had googled me and found that I popped up as an acrostic on some random man's website. That got me wondering what else was out there.
In addition to all the usual suspects - links to the articles I've written, my blog, this blog, to other work I've done - my name occasionally pops up in a couple of less-than-pleasing places: There's a "Christian" site that attacks both me and the company behind Gifted For Leadership for a post I wrote last summer about Harry Potter (though I have to admit, I got a smile out of their calling Christianity Today, "Christianity Astray." While I disagree with the assessment, I thought the word play was pretty good. I digress?) A search of my name sometimes brings up some rather troubling "spanking" sites - all because I once wrote an article called, "To Spank or Not To Spank" about disciplining your child. Never in my life did I think my name could be linked to some freaky fetish or porn sites, but alas, it is.
Finding these reminded me of something I heard a politician say at a charity fundraiser last fall. He said he thinks people hesitate to step up to the leadership plate for two reasons: One, they don't want to bear responsibility. And two, they don't want to put themselves "out there" - for criticism, mocking, skanky fetish site, what-have-you.
As a show of solidarity with my seven-year-old daughter, I recently reread the classic Little House on the Prairie books and Anne of Green Gables. One phenomenon I noticed this time around (probably because I'm in the habit of thinking about church leadership) was that the books' good, churchgoing characters didn't have to choose between churches of various sizes and stripes. They simply attended the church in town and enjoyed (or put up with) the teachings of Reverend So-and-So every Sunday.
My, how things have changed. Along with the constant and dizzying array of choices we face every day, we have the luxury of choosing the church we like best. I know some small towns and villages in our country still have only one church. But in most of those cases, people live within driving distance of other communities and might choose to drive to one of them to attend another church. And the situation is very different where I live - in some areas I can find a church on every block. And on a recent trip to the area around Fort Worth, Texas, I thought I saw at least two churches on every block.
My name's Marshall, and I'm a male and I enjoy reading the "GFL" e-newsletter. (I feel like everybody in the room just said in unison, "Hi Marshall.")
No, this isn't an AA meeting. But yes, it's sort of a check-in. Sort of a confession. Sort of just who I am - a voracious reader, a colleague of the people who write GFL, and the husband of a staff pastor that GFL describes really well.
Last week's piece by Caryn got to me when she talked about how women don't feel like they fit in at church.
For what it's worth, most times I talk with men at church (even some pastors), the very same feeling is expressed, "I just don't feel like I fit in." Men are more relationally-challenged, perhaps, and find most social gatherings hard to "fit in." Lots of men these days tend to say the church is too "feminized," whatever that means. Often I suspect that's just another way of saying, "The women around here seem to have closer friends than I do. I wish it were as good for the men here as it appears to be for the women."
A look at current social trends bears out the experience of churches: today's women are complex. Studying these trends also provides information that can help churches design effective women's ministries.
Consider just two trends that affect most church ministries:
You don't have to strain your eyes to see them - the cracks that run down racial, gender and doctrinal lines, splintering the Church into a multitude of factions. We're good at conflict. Too good. We build our self-assured walls, oblivious to the tragedy we create by our divisions. At the root of our disunity is closed ears; we aren't hearing each other. In his book Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity, Edward Gilbreath exhorts, "As members of the body of Christ, we should be determined to hear and understand the concerns of our brothers and sisters." That means we need to engage in conversation, and not just any conversation. We need Sustained Dialogue.
I first encountered Sustained Dialogue while serving as a moderator for a small group of Palestinian and Jewish students at the university where I work. Sustained Dialogue "focuses on transforming the relationships that cause problems, create conflict, and block change." It is promoted by The International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (IISD), an organization founded by former U.S. diplomat Dr. Harold Saunders to bring peace to war-torn regions. The goal of Sustained Dialogue is not agreement. Unlike mediation or negotiation, the point is not consensus, but rather improved relationships. It is about developing mutual respect, shared interests and a greater appreciation of our need for one another.
I have a confession to make, one that I often sheepishly keep to myself: I have very rarely felt discriminated against for being a woman, but often because I am not a certain type of woman.
I stand on the shoulders of giants who labored to make inroads for women's rights, for equal opportunity in our culture, our workforce, our political system, and our churches. As a child and a teenager, my father taught me that I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. I believed him. My generation - the people I grew up with and the people I interact with even today - take it for granted that women deserve the same opportunities as men. My church assumes that leadership in the church should be based on God-given ability and vocational calling rather than gender. At both seminaries I have attended, I have been encouraged by God-honoring, conservative male professors who regularly tell me, "The church needs women leaders. One reason the church today has so many problems is because we have so few women leaders."
Donald P. McNeill in Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life offers a profound perspective: "Honest, direct confrontation is a true expression of compassion... The illusion of power must be unmasked, idolatry must be undone, oppression and exploitation must be fought, and all who participate in these evils must be confronted. This is compassion." Not quite the way we usually define the word, is it? But so very compelling.
As a woman in leadership I am almost daily aware of and impacted by the realities of power, idolatry, oppression and exploitation. Unfortunately, more times than not, when I'm confronted by such darkness, compassion (at least as I've understood it previously) has not been my intuitive, spontaneous response.
What if it were, but as defined anew by McNeill?
Earlier this year, I provided a link to a video of a fundamentalist teacher in the UK. His comments about women and what he saw as their God-created role (little more than animals, created to serve and please men) were understandably shocking to many readers. Quite a few of those who responded wondered why I had bothered to draw attention to the perspectives of an isolated extremist. No one could possibly take him seriously. This kind of primitive thinking had been "dealt with" since the ?60s, and there was no reason to spend time and energy on it now. We're well into the new millennium. Now, Christian women believe that if they've been given gifts, they have a divine call to use them, wherever God leads. End of story.
I've mused about those responses the rest of this year. Were they right? Has the perspective that women are made solely for men's pleasure and use truly been relegated to the annals of history?
This fall, The Los Angeles Times ran an article entitled, "Stubborn Stains, Cookie Baking on Syllabus." Its opening lines:
"Mentoring," says the late Fred Smith Sr. in his book Leading with Integrity, "is back in favor again, like a wonderful old story that hasn't been told for so long it sounds new."
Then he succinctly explains the danger of that dynamic.
"In some ways it has taken on the characteristics of a fad; if too much is expected too soon, it will fail."
Much like Smith, I have listened in recent years to the growing chorus of voices insisting younger people like me need a mentor, an individual who can listen and provide sage wisdom to me in my faith, my marriage, my parenting, my career, and my leadership. Almost all of those messages have come at me as I sit in the pews of the churches I've attended. Unfortunately, none of these churches effectively found ways to orchestrate meaningful mentoring relationships between older and younger congregants.
This article is Part II. Part I of this article appears here.
Someone once said of William Penn's conversion: "Conversion must not be considered simply as a change of opinion. It penetrated his moral nature: it made him a new man. He was raised into another sphere and consciousness."
I've been thinking about the way that some of us evangelicals report so easily on "conversions." "So many accepted Christ," we say. "There were hundreds of conversions." Or, "We went on a short-term missions trip and planted dozens of churches." (I actually received a letter to that effect.)
But what do we mean? Is there evidence of life following that these people have been reached and moved? Have they been internally sorrowed for the sin that nailed Jesus securely in place till he accomplished our saving? Has the Spirit done his convicting and convincing work?
Early in our marriage I gave my wife a terrific anniversary gift: a rain gauge. At least I thought it was a great gift. Susan, after all, is a farmer's daughter and keeps close watch on the weather. I envisioned her delight and nostalgia while tracking our backyard precipitation. I congratulated myself on my creativity.
Guess what? Susan was not impressed: "A rain gauge - for our anniversary?!" The rain gauge is now a family joke, a classic example of a gift enjoyed by the giver but not the receiver.
One word I hear a lot these days is authentic, as in "we seek authentic worship." Usually this means we're trying to create an experience that helps worshipers feel something. Nothing wrong with that, but if our focus is only on our experience, we may be giving God a rain gauge.
Are we offering in worship a gift we enjoy and figure God will like it?
For more discussion about this blog entry, check out the conversation on our sister site for church leaders, Off the Agenda.
As a leader, it's easy to understand and embrace your responsibility for those entrusted to your leadership. But how often do you think about your responsibility to lead your leaders? Try these 10 strategies for exercising your leadership skills in relationship to those who lead you.
1. Pray for them. This is pretty self-explanatory. Everyone needs prayer, and people in leadership often need extra doses of God's wisdom.
2. Care about them. Sometimes we're so intimidated by our leaders, or eager to get their feedback, that we forget they're real people with real lives and challenges. Think about ways to encourage your leaders. Ask them how they're doing and how you can serve them.
3. Make them look good. Servant leadership means supporting others in their efforts. Instead of giving in to the temptation to undermine leaders when their weaknesses show, find ways to compensate for their shortcomings.
After our church council made the recent decision not to hold the door open for the women to become elders and deacons (see "Let Men Get the Door" for my first post on this topic), my friend Anne suggested the main reason was because "it is easier to deal with disappointed women than angry men."
While this may seem harsh to say about the decision-making process of godly men, I think she's right (and could be right about most decisions made throughout history!). Because when I've asked about the reasons for the decision, here's a bit of what I've been told: "It's not the right time because too many people would leave" (and we're building a new church), "Where will men serve in the church if they don't have this?" and "We can't follow culture downhill."
Of the 17 out of 30 who voted against allowing women, surely one of them based his decision on Scripture (and feels comfortable defending why some verses are culturally applicable and others irrelevant), but I'll be darned if I've heard it! Instead, in this mix of offensive and ridiculous reasons, I hear echoes of some very angry male congregants who voiced their opposition to women in office during "town hall" meetings. In their rants against women in office and women in general, they made it clear, there would be hell to pay (literally) if the measure passed. (Quick note: I realize many of you reading this agree with the angry men. Great. I respect your opinion. Now, deep breath. In, out. Read on.)
In a recent interview with Rebecca Guillory Gilmer, vice president of The Impact Movement and Gifted For Leadership editorial advisor, the editors asked her what she considered the biggest pitfall to leaders in launching a new ministry. Here's what she had to say.
Whenever we launch something - in ministry particular - we tend to say we can do it because "God is leading. God is in it. This is something God is doing." At least, that's what we say. And then we go and fall in what I call "the pit" and completely ignore the contradiction between what we say and what we do.
Because you see, while we may say this - that it's up to God - we work like it's all on us, and that if we don't do it, it won't get done! And we work like unbelievers, although we talk like believers.
It was Saturday and I was at home. So I was a little puzzled when I answered the doorbell to find the church's office manager dropping by. It was near Easter, and she had used the excuse of bringing some homemade treats over for my family as her reason to make the half-hour drive to my house. But there was more.
She also came by to let me know that she had found a job at another church and would be leaving her position in two weeks. We were good friends, and she wanted to be able to tell me in person, not over the phone or email. I thanked her for that, wished her well, closed the door, and sat down on the steps in shock. This was the sixth resignation from our small church's staff in five months. We were down to just two - myself and our youth director.
Limp with exhaustion, I leaned into my husband's arms and buried my face against his shoulder. "I don't want to wait ?til heaven to not be tired." This was a pattern for me as I zealously strove to minister across the continent to women.
As women in ministry, the demand will always exceed the supply. There will always be far more ministry than we can accomplish personally. But even more importantly, we model the faith life, the trust life, for other women. When I read Jeremiah 50:6, addressed to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, my heart sank to realize my own responsibility.
"My people have been lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray
And caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
And forgot their resting place."
Who leads them astray, away from their Resting Place? Their shepherds.
As questions of Christianity and gender are placed within the deeper context of ecclesiology (what is the Church and what is it supposed to accomplish) and "missiology" (what is the church's present context), the conversation will change substantively. Where the former dialogue has centered on equal gender influence within the top-down, institutional systems of modern Christendom, the new conversation reframes questions of gender outside of those systems. In the flattened, post-institutional realm shaped by the equalizing forces of digital communication and globalization, the focus must move to the people of God dispersed, a displacement more absolute than that of the first century. And in this new landscape of radical dispersion - beyond buildings, beyond programs, beyond pedestal personalities - what leadership qualities are most needed? What are the practices and gifts of those who minister well within such a context of deconstruction, chaos, and uncertainty?
To be certain, this reframed conversation is not for the faint of heart or closed of mind. The new frame of reference most needed may indeed be skewed toward the feminine. And if that skew is accurate, traditional gender conversations in the Church, i.e., the inclusion of women in essentially male systems, will seem like preschool banter compared to what it means to shift out of those systems altogether.
The encouraging news is, this new conversation is happening - perhaps at decibels audible only over quiet coffee tables, but it is happening.
When my daughter was getting ready to enter second grade, she was really anxious. Every time we asked her how she felt about it, she said she was scared and nervous and she didn't want to go to second grade - ever.
We talked about her feelings and tried to figure out why she felt so anxious. She couldn't really explain it. Then one day, after I asked her to tell me what she thought would be the worst thing about second grade, I realized that she had no idea what second grade would be like. Between kindergarten and first grade, we had moved across the country and settled in a whole new community and (obviously) a whole new school. Everything had started over for her. She didn't realize that going to second grade wouldn't involve so much transition. In fact, it would look a whole lot like first grade.
The Church's response to homosexuality is often ambivalent. On the one hand, we talk about it all the time - pick up a Christian newsletter or magazine, and it is likely to reference current trends on the issue. On the other hand, we don't talk about it at all. The contradiction exposes our tendency to discuss the topic as an abstraction. We are comfortable talking about homosexuality as a moral or political concern, but uneasy talking to gays and lesbians. Thus, Christians will rally to fight gay marriage, but are slow to attend a conference on how to minister to homosexuals. Gay people are perceived, not as individuals with thoughts and feelings, but as a nameless, faceless group that marches in parades and has an "agenda."
The stereotype of gays as an anonymous subgroup outside the church made it difficult for me to come to terms with my own same-sex attractions. I never imagined I would end up gay. I was the good Christian girl who sang in the church choir, went on mission trips, and served as a leader in my youth group. I went to Bible college with dreams of being a missionary. Discovering my same-sex attractions, after falling in love with my best friend, shattered my world and challenged everything I believed about God and Christianity.
In her earlier post, "Rise of the Postmodern Feminine: Part I," Sally told the story of her friend Laurel's heartbreaking trauma and her life-changing ministries. This post continues her thoughts. - The Editors
Echoing the small-company, turn-on-a-dime world of Thomas Friedman's, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, Laurel is finding out just how well wired she is for the de-hierarchied, interactive landscape of the new millennium. She may have spent 30 long years burying huge chunks of her connective, collaborative self just to survive in a top-down model of religion, but no more. Here, in this incarnational space of ordinary life (i.e. stocking shelves at Target and blessing the masses with her e-devotional), Laurel is free to live and lead magnanimously, to function out of her authentic self: savvy, whole-brained, and refreshingly tuned to the now.
Laurel's field of choices and her effectiveness as a result of those choices are conspicuously off the radar in current discussions about women and leadership in the Church. Could it be that women have spent so long trying to climb the ladder inside old church and leadership systems that the very questions they're asking about gender equality, opportunity, and power are stuck?
One of my favorite luxuries is my magazines. I love to lounge, engulfed in my over-sized chair, sip a cup of tea, and page through my latest delivery. This time it was Real Simple. As I combed through the pages looking for the best way to simplify my life, I landed in the section called "Real Life." This section is dedicated to a Real Simple reader who shares part of her story.
When I came to the final paragraph, she was discussing the decision with which she was currently wrestling. Here was her dilemma: "My husband and I would like our daughter to have a strong sense of spirituality, but we prefer not to raise them with the traditional church background that we both had. How do we teach them to have a strong faith in God without a special congregation or place of worship that would guide them with formal religious customs?"
Compare modern Christianity's quest for the perfect belief system to medieval church architecture. Christians in the emerging culture may look back on our doctrinal structures (statements of faith, systematic theologies) as we look back on medieval cathedrals: possessing a real beauty that should be preserved, but now largely vacant, not inhabited or used much anymore, more tourist attraction than holy place.
Many of us can't imagine this.
If Christianity isn't the quest for (or defense of) the perfect belief system ("the church of the last detail"), then what's left? In the emerging culture, I believe it will be "Christianity as a way of life," or "Christianity as a path of spiritual formation."
I’m excited to tell you about it because we recently redesigned and upgraded the entire website to make it even more helpful to you in your ministry. If you haven’t seen Building Church Leaders, you’ll be amazed to see how many cutting-edge tools and training resources we’ve created to support you in your ministry.
In celebration of the launch of our new and improved site, Building Church Leaders has created Church Builder Challenge, a fun game where everyone wins free resources for ministry. You can try it here: Church Builder Challenge.
At five feet one, Laurel has never escaped the petite section at the local department store. But one thing is certain: Her faith does not match her dress size. Here is a woman who immerses herself in the Scriptures daily and who prays regularly for acquaintances, loved ones, unloved ones, and imperfect strangers. Laurel's faith is plus size and growing.
At face value, Laurel would seem like the poster child for one of those large evangelical women's conferences. The necessary trappings of conservative femininity are all there. At church, she wears over-the knee skirts that gather at the waist with bright but shapeless linen jackets. She's devoted to her family. Most of all, she acts the part. At least on the outside, she evidences a quiet, diligent spirit and a comfort with "working behind the scenes." In short, Laurel doesn't seem to have anything, do anything, or say anything that calls attention to herself.
That trait alone would be enough to elevate her to sainthood in some religious circles. Feminine invisibility and inaudibility may have been the battleground on which millions of women fought over the last century, but those qualities remain prerequisites to acceptability in more churches than we would imagine.
Last month, I wrote an article about Why I Don't Do Women's Ministry. It sparked quite a conversation. Obviously, women have some strong feelings and opinions on how to do women's ministry - and about their experiences in women's ministry programs.
This conversation was so lively and challenging, I knew I had to write a follow-up post in the hope that it will generate some ideas for how we might make women's ministries more effective.
Mostly, I'd like to hear your ideas. But in order to get this conversation started, let me share a few of my own:
When we are alone, it's easy to think, incorrectly, that we are spiritually advanced. I can watch a Hallmark commercial alone and find myself moved to tears. I tell myself that I am a very compassionate person. But when I spend time in community with a person who annoys me, it's amazing how quickly I experience "compassion fatigue."
In community we discover who we really are and how much transformation we still require. This is why I am irrevocably committed to small groups. Through them we can accomplish our God-entrusted work to transform human beings.
1. If you want to earn more, change denominations.
Briefly, if you want to earn more as a senior pastor, become a Presbyterian. If you want to earn more as a youth pastor, become a Baptist.
Presbyterian senior pastors earned the most in our survey - their average salary plus housing/parsonage was $78,000 - while Baptist senior pastors earned next to last--$67,000. But virtually the opposite was true for youth pastors. Baptist youth pastors earned near the top--$44,000 in salary plus housing - while Presbyterian youth pastors earned near the bottom--$36,000. Why?
We recently had a "worst or weirdest job ever" conversation among the adults in our Sunday school class at church. One friend had spent two years collecting umbilical cords for research (i.e. personally picking them up, packaging them, and taking them back to the lab in her car); another had worked the graveyard shift at a cherry-packing factory, quickly grabbing rotten cherries off the line?all night long.
My contribution to the discussion was one of my first jobs ever - a regular babysitting gig as a young teen. After several afternoons with the three kids and their "adorable" shih tzu named Buddy, I reported to my dad how cute it was that Buddy kept hugging my leg all the time. Needless to say, I nearly puked when my dad explained to me what all the "hugging" really was!
All joking aside, we all know from experience that sometimes work can feel frustrating, monotonous, exhausting, and unsatisfying. Whether you're leading meetings in a board room or are at home washing dishes, your "work" consumes at least a third of your life.
I was recently part of a think-tank discussion for a company launching a new product. One of the most compelling voices around the table was Doug: creative, master-mind in the resort industry. Manages scores of hotels and ski operations in the US and Canada.
From the get-go, Doug stood out. He seemed to occupy so little space (read: had one very intact ego.) He spoke in sound-bites, questions, and "what ifs." But most of the time, he was listening. Intently. With eye-contact, slight nodding, open body posture. Whoever was speaking received Doug's undivided attention. But it was the kind of attention that was comforting and scary at the same time. Because Doug had this way of keying into both ideas and the person behind the ideas: in a nano-second, he seemed to be able to size up what made you tick.
As the discussion progressed, there were disagreements, ranging from mild to heated. At a couple of points, the disagreements escalated to shouting matches across the table. I was curious to see what Doug saw - how he had translated those moments. After dinner on the second day, I was able to ask Doug his impressions of the skirmishes. He was characteristically laser-like but, more importantly, compassionate in his description of the individuals involved:
I just read a great news story: A woman raised over $7,000 for a local humane society by putting Michael Vick football cards, which had been chewed, slobbered, and generally destroyed by her dogs, for sale on eBay. I love this story for several reasons: 1.) I love dogs - particularly the "mean breeds" like pit bull terriers and Rottweilers (one of whom sits "purring" in his sleep at my feet); 2.) I hate dog-fighting and the "people" (monsters seems better) who participate in it even more than I hate puppy mills and the "people" who run them (as well pet stores who peddle the pups); 3.) I love anybody who supports her local animal shelter; and 4.) This woman is my kind of leader.
You know what I mean? The kind of woman who hears a story, sees an injustice, feels a pain, or gets dealt a blow, and instead of sitting back whining about it, says, "Huh. I can DO something about this." And she does. She sees the ugly and tries to make it beautiful.
My friend Betty is this kind of woman.
I really hate those "home parties." You know, the ones where you go to someone's house and hear about the latest gadgets, skin care products, or overpriced home d?cor. The hostess serves brownies and everyone talks about their kids and how busy they are. Then the sales representative stands up and gives a hyper-peppy presentation punctuated by polite gasps of delight from the women packed in the living room.
A few of the women get really giddy about the whole thing and start ordering everything that catches their eye. Some of them find just a couple of things they like, grab another brownie, and head home. I twitch uncomfortably and look for the least expensive item on the order form. I feel obligated to order something. After all, the hostess cleaned her house and made snacks for us, and if I don't order she might not get her free "hostess gift."
The purpose of my new book, What Women Wish Pastors Knew, is simple: "To help today's pastor better understand women in the congregation so the pastor can better minister to them."
My research included survey responses from women ages 18 to 92, working both at home and outside the home in numerous occupations, high school to Ph.D.-educated, married and single, with and without children/grandchildren, and from more than 30 denominations. My mailbox, and email box, were overwhelmed with an unexpected avalanche of responses! (I'm onto a new project: What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew. If you'd like to help your pastor share - confidentially - hopes, hurts, needs, and dreams with church members, email me at email@example.com and request a "Pastor's Survey.")
When I reported the survey responses to groups at the National Pastor's Convention this past February, they listened eagerly, stated some shock at the findings, and pelted me with hard-hitting questions.
I knew I had hit a nerve.
Susan Perlman, associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and president of the board of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association of North America (IFMA), once asked Billy Graham, "If a woman feels the call to mission, is gifted for ministry and leadership, and comes up against a solid wall of resistance, what advice would you give her?" He said, "If God is leading her, she shouldn't take no for an answer."
I have often pondered these two sets of verses - positioned almost as brackets at the beginning and end of Proverbs, a book that understands and describes wisdom as she:
"Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks?" (Proverbs 1:20-21)
"Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land...Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates." (Proverbs 31: 23, 31)
Given that there aren't many places in Scripture where that pronoun is used, particularly as reflective of God and God's character, it's worth paying attention to - and finding comfort in. Even so, I have been wont to discover it in these particular passages.
The kick-off presenter at Willow Creek's 2007 Arts Conference was a renowned photographer. Twenty-some years with National Geographic, Dewitt Jones wowed the audience with his photos ? people and nature in rare and breathtaking candor. As the photos scrolled, he spoke of falling in love with life. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Immersing oneself in the moment at hand and being fully, unabashedly aware.
To a few leaders looking for "the download," Dewitt's message may have seemed like a disconnect. They may have come for the latest trends in worship music. Tips to tweak their worship sets. Lessons in smooth segues. Places to get good drama scripts. New video and audio technologies.
But Dewitt wasn't speaking to any of this.
"I've had no control over so much of what's happened in the last five to six years. When Eva was 17, she ended up in an abusive relationship with a man seven years older than she. When she was 18, she was driving and had an accident with tragic consequences for her and for others. Then, after her accident, Eva got pregnant. Our son, Ethan, struggled with substance abuse, for which he received counseling. I actually remember walking down the hall at MOPS at one point thinking, If I quit, will Satan leave my kids alone? As if that would have changed all that had happened!"
--Elisa Morgan, CEO of MOPS International/Fulfill
GFL: What do women need to know about preaching or communicating gifts?
Jill Briscoe: I think they need to know everything men need to know. And I think that’s something that needs to be said because there seems to be a growing awareness that women need equipping for the speaking. They need equipping for the speaking skills to use in church and mission, but there are a lot of programs beginning to be crafted for them that don’t start with the communication basics that both men and women need.
And I think what we need to realize is that speaking, teaching, preaching are not gendered gifts. I don’t believe gifts are gendered. Therefore, women need all the training you get in a seminary or other teaching institute.
Several years ago, when I was just beginning in ministry, I conducted a workshop at a women's retreat on the doctrine of vocation - and I was petrified. It was the first time I put together a comprehensive teaching session, the first time I delivered more than a 15 minute speech, and the first time I realized the value of having solid people to surround me when in a leadership position.
Before the workshop began, I shared my concerns with two special women: Ardath and Nancy. Ardath, ever the prayer warrior, prayed with me during the hour-long drive to the retreat center and Nancy, a longtime friend, offered me the support of her presence by sitting in on the workshop. Through them, I was able to find the strength and encouragement I needed to move forward through a moment of trepidation to do what God had called me to do.
One of the great foilers of good intentions is "overwhelm-paralysis." The engulfing wave of global suffering can immobilize the most ardent leader. Gary Haugen, in Good News About Injustice, writes, "We feel like deer frozen by headlights . . . Instead of energizing us for action, the overwhelming injustice in our world actually makes us feel numb."
All of us, at one time or other, find ourselves here. When we do, it helps to learn from trailblazers who are forging ahead. One guiding light is Dr. Viji Cammauf - founder of Little Flock Children's Homes, an organization aspiring to reach orphans and widows worldwide.
Viji's overwhelm-paralysis hit after watching Bandit Queen. The film depicts the true story of a child-bride who endured savage abuse. For three days, Viji wept in despair. Until finally, she got up and asked herself, "What am I going to do about it?" At the time, she was minister of missions at First Covenant Church in Oakland, California. Her position provided a platform to rally like-minded supporters, and in 2005, Little Flock Children's Homes broke ground in Kondamangalam, India. To date, 10 cottages to house 100 children have been built. A dining hall, guest facility, and community center with library and computer lab are on the horizon. From impasse to action, Viji shares her insights:
If I were to think of myself as the model godly woman, I'd picture myself sitting at the table in my breakfast nook, steam rising from the fresh cup of coffee in my hand, reading my study Bible and Beth Moore book by the rays of the early morning sunlight that stream through my windows, the faint sound of birds chirping in my flower-filled yard.
As I've struggled for years to reach this spiritual "ideal," I've finally realized there are a number of problems with it: 1. I don't like coffee; 2. I am not a morning person; 3. I have two young boys who fill the house with noise the minute they awaken; 4. I don't do flowers, just ask my husband; 5. I don't have any of Beth Moore's books.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual formation.
Dreams are powerful things. They help propel us forward in life. They are the aspirations of our hearts, and we hope, the framework of the extraordinary. For better or worse, what we think and what we dream tends to materialize. "As a person thinks in the heart, so a person becomes" (Proverbs 23:7).
The best dreams call us to our higher selves, participating creatively in the things and plans of God. Good dreams reflect a Philippians 4:8 orientation: "Brothers and sisters, think about things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected."
The following article was first published in June 2000 in CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Wendy Murray Zoba painted a beautiful picture of what Ruth Bell Graham called her "martyrdom of a long life." All of us at Gifted For Leadership extend our sympathy and prayers to the Graham family. Ruth was a leader we would all do well to follow - especially as her life pointed so clearly to Christ.--The Editors
I told my husband the other day that I didn't want to live to be old. I told him I thought the Lord would honor that prayer, and he said, "What makes you think he'd make an exception for you?"
Ruth Bell Graham once prayed the same prayer, more or less, when as a young girl she asked the Lord to let her die a martyr's death, preferably as an old-maid missionary in Tibet. Her life has been a testimony to that unanswered prayer.
It is a simple proposition: In a culture of abundance, the greatest luxury is meaning. What does my life mean? What am I doing here? Do I matter? Is there more to existence than consumption? Are we called to improve the lives of our fellow human beings? Are we called to take care of the earth? Is it really possible for one person to make a difference?
If the above proposition is true and people in Western culture are looking for significance, then those who lead will understand this shift and will act accordingly. They will engage their staff and their organizations in higher purposes than simply making a bigger profit this year than last or beating out their competition. They will inspire people at every level of their companies and institutions to live into their potential. Not just because they want to be at the top of their game, but because how they do their job affects the quality of life in their community, nation, and just possibly, the rest of the world.
If you stay in ministry long enough, you will get hurt. In our small groups and church serving teams we can easily become close friends with those we lead. When hurt and disappointment inevitably comes, it's tempting to throw in the towel and quit, or at least to withdraw from the ones we are called to shepherd. Toxic cynicism can easily seep into our souls.
After one heart-crushing experience I was faced with a dilemma: As their leader, how was I to deal emotionally with hurtful people?
I searched through and earnestly prayed for guidance. John 13 caught my attention.
Elizabeth Gilbert, a regular columnist for GQ magazine, has written a new book -
Eat, Play, Love - that traces the spiritual quest of a modern, educated, well-employed American. When I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. As a woman, a Christian, and an anthropologist, I recommend it.
Like Liz, a lot of our friends and colleagues want a richer spiritual experience, but they aren't looking for it in the church. It's in the ashram that Liz feels that she grows spiritually. By the end of her stay (1) she forgives her ex-husband (and herself), (2) she learns to enjoy her own company, and (3) she experiences spiritual power and a brief blissful "union" with all that exists.
"Don't just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ's servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you're really serving God."--Ephesians 6:6 (The Message)
The heart is the very seat of our soul, our emotions, and our passions. It is the very essence of our being and that which drives our thoughts and our motives. No wonder God tells us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23).
The heart of a leader is the foundation of her life. It is what drives her passion for the Lord and her passion for service in the kingdom. No doubt most of us feel called to lead in a deep way from the bottom of our hearts.
In previous posts, I mentioned Henri Nouwen's book In the Name of Jesus, in which Nouwen used the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) to show how we as leaders are tempted, and how we must embrace Christ's attitude of humility and service to others.
I've already written about Nouwen's descriptions of Jesus' first second temptations: the temptation to be relevant and the temptation to be spectacular. The third temptation is this: to be powerful. Satan took Jesus to a mountaintop and tempted him to bow down and worship Satan. And in return, he promised to give Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world.
My soul felt trapped. Trapped in a life that should have brought peace and contentment, but instead brought anguish, depression, and unfulfillment. There was a passion burning inside me that I could not contain, but neither could I release. God kept stoking my internal fire by fueling two deep convictions: 1) our just God abhors the injustices of poverty and racial/cultural discrimination, and 2) as a follower of Christ, I am called, commanded, and expected to do something about those injustices.
Today, my soul knows freedom, and I am blessed to have a career at Community Christian Church that allows me to unleash my passion every day. But that journey of redemption was not a quick or easy one.
Last week, we released a new downloadable resource from GiftedForLeadership.com called "Effective Mentoring." For the many of you who purchased this, we wanted to make sure you had a forum to discuss your thoughts on it. We'll be doing this after each new downloadable resource is made available. Here's a snippet from one of the download's featured articles, "Time to Mentor" by Lesa Engelthaler. Let us know what you think! --The Editors
Much of my formative spiritual growth resulted from older Christian women saying yes to my cries for help. I was clueless about the sacrifice they made to add me to their schedules. They were busy pastors' wives, college professors, or women with careers, all deeply involved in ministry. Even so, these women took time to invest in me. Because of their modeling, I felt compelled to do unto others what they had done unto me.
Yet, as I grew older and "did the math," mentoring one woman a year didn't seem enough. In 1996, I prayed for God to show me other women in our church with the same passion. The answer to that prayer was for me to begin a program to partner women one-on-one for a one-year commitment.
Since many of us who serve in ministry end up leading volunteers, the editors at Gifted for Leadership wanted to find out how leading volunteers differed from leading paid staff. So I went to Nancy Beach, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church as well as a GFL editorial advisor, who has vast experience in leading staff, volunteers, and the staff who lead volunteers. Below is an excerpt from our conversation:
What is the difference between leading a group of volunteers and leading paid staff?
My very first reaction is there aren't a lot of differences. I think many times we think because people aren't getting paid then they're automatically motivated differently or that they need to be led differently. But what I've observed over the last several years is that in church work, the staff isn't in it for the money anyway - they are motivated by someone who is leading them toward a cause. And I think the vision of what you're trying to do and why has to be really clear for both volunteers and staff.
So it's about getting people excited about your vision, whether they're paid or unpaid.
Yes. But then the other thing that's so clear to me is that both volunteers and staff people, if they're really going to make it - go the distance and hang with you for a long time - it's going to be because of another need being fulfilled, which I think is community.
I think it's so important for both volunteers and staff to feel somebody knows them, knows their life outside of the church, cares about their personal struggles and their family and health and things like that. So I've just been very intentional about that.
In my experience at Synergy 2007, my most significant impression has been a sense of awe at how much variety is in the body of Christ, how many ways God is speaking and working through women. The women at this conference have traveled so many different paths; for some of us these paths have taken us all over the world. God has called us to different ministries and given us different passions. And yet through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship we have in Jesus, he makes us one body - the ultimate in synergy.
While I've been here, I've had the privilege of getting to know and hearing from some remarkable women.
Here I am at Synergy 2007 in Orlando. In a previous post, I mentioned this networking event, whose purpose is to connect women who are preparing for and serving in vocational ministry. This event is organized and sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, The Impact Movement, Reformed Theological Seminary, and WhitbyForum.
I'm excited and privileged to be at this event. The room was full of gifted women--who represent so much life-changing ministry happening throughout the world. The session was challenging and inspiring. God is obviously at work!
Tonight, in the opening plenary session, we enjoyed a time of "speed networking," getting to know a little bit about other women and exchanging information so that we can resume our conversations later on.
We also we heard from Dr. Alice Mathews, who challenged us to be faithful in responding to God's call by using the gifts he has given us. She raised an interesting question: When women neglect their gifts, failing to develop and use the leadership gifts God has given them, are they sinning?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
I have exciting news! Gifted for Leadership is now more than just a blog and an e-mail newsletter. As if we didn't have enough excitement around here?This week, we're launching our very first downloadable resource created specifically for women leaders. These short booklets offer collections of expert advice, biblical perspective, stories, practical ideas, and leadership tools to inspire and challenge you.
Would you would like to be rising to a higher level of leadership in your organization or ministry, but aren't? Have you ever considered what might be holding you back? To rise to a higher level of leadership, it is imperative that you hold yourself accountable for your actions so that you are ready for the responsibility that comes with new positions.
Take Janet: She's been the high school girls youth leader at the church for three years. During those years, several troubled teens have been positively impacted: remaining in school, changing their attitudes, and becoming more responsible. Because of these successes, Janet thought things were going well. However, many of the parents are upset about how the youth ministry is being handled. Most of the events on the youth calendar are posted "just in time" rather than being posted in advance, so parents don't know what to expect and can't plan for their youths' activities. Recently, Janet planned a ministry trip; however, when parents asked practical questions about what time the vans would leave and how much money to bring along, Janet didn't have the answers. This has caused much frustration.
When Janet talked with her pastor about this, he told her that she needs to focus on details and on providing information for the parents, not just on relationships with the girls. He has also asked her to work with a coach.
In my last post, I directed you to a YouTube clip of Lucas Labrador discussing the emerging church. As a follow-up, you might want to watch another clip of Lucas Labrador, addressing a different topic: A Christian Woman's Role.
As with the last clip, the views presented are extreme and controversial. So why bring them up for discussion? Because they are part of our context. To be faithful to God means to consider our whole context - the time, place, and philsophical/theological milieu in which we are born. (God always places his people in context...we can't avoid being tied to a particular time and place. See Philippians 2:5-11 for the context chosen for Jesus). Jesus paid divine attention to what was going on in the culture of his day. And this attention included the scriptural bents and interpretations of those considered on the extreme of religiosity (zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees). Why did he engage them, if they were just "lunatics" - on the edge?
The church is changing. It is changing globally and it is changing exponentially. And wherever there is change, there is inevitably reaction to change. That's what this post is about. As leaders, what do change and the reaction to change mean for us? We can talk all we want about what it means to be female and a leader inside old wineskins?old systems of operating, old ways of working in God's kingdom. But we must remember: We cannot separate how we lead from the systems within which we are all embedded. Much as we would like to, we cannot ignore our own calling as leaders to help re-form the organizations in which we work. For leadership is inextricably tied to the forms we make. To accept those forms without question is to deny calling: the creative force of God at work within us and through us.
Do you have a passion that burns deep in your core? A drive like a pile of red, hot, fiery coals that you just can't contain? I don't mean a strong desire to go shopping or an intense craving for chocolate. I'm talking about a passion to make a difference, to change the world, to impact a life, to fight for a cause. Do you feel that kind of drive?
If so, what are you doing to set it free? Or do you feel you have you waited too long - stifling your passion to raise kids or climb a career ladder?
In my previous post, I listed three ways to develop a vision when you're not a visionary. Here are three more:
4. Listen to the people you want to help. You don't have to be great at coming up with vision, if you're willing to listen to the people you want to help. If you listen well, people will tell you what they really need. In other words, the people you want to serve help set your vision.
My wife, Karen, and I are both in leadership at our church. So dinner-table discussions often come back to how to help other Christians step into leadership. Volunteers tell us, "I might be willing to facilitate, but I'm not sure I'm a leader." People don't consider themselves leaders, because when they say leader, they think of only one type: a strong, visionary leader. And they know they're not that.
But you don't have to be a visionary to lead well. We've found we can help people move forward as leaders when we say to them, "You can develop a vision even if you're not a visionary." Here are six ways that mortals like us can see where a group needs to go:
Back in 2004, I found myself in a remarkable place: sitting with a group of doctors in the government offices of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on an AIDS fact-finding trip. As a stay-at-home mom of three, this was not my usual stomping ground.
But several years ago Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, came through the Midwest on his Heart of America Tour. While it was Bono's star power that drew me that night, it was the presentation on the ravishing effects of extreme poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS that changed my life.
About 12 years ago, when my husband was in seminary, he read Henri Nouwen's book In the Name of Jesus for one of his classes. This book dramatically affected my husband, and he encouraged me to read it. So I did, and I've been thinking about it ever since.
This little book (one of Nouwen's many) presents a powerful summary of what it means to be servant leaders. Nouwen used the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) as a framework to show how we as leaders are tempted - and how we must embrace Christ's attitude of humility and service to others.
Several years ago, my close friend "Sally" began her journey toward knowing Jesus - on that same well-worn path where so many of us have met God. When she became a Christian, I was thrilled that my brave, sassy friend understood what it meant to be loved by God.
But as Sally began to know Jesus and get more deeply involved at church, I noticed something happening. To make time for all the appropriate Bible studies, small groups, and other ministries she dutifully joined, she had to drop that step class at the gym that she really loved. People from the church kept calling and asking, so she kept joining and volunteering. To make time for these commitments, she quit her extra job - the one she did for "fun money," the one at the trendy bar and grill where so many people knew and loved her.
One day I called her to see if we could meet for coffee and catch up. Nope. Sally was too busy, and it would be another week before her church schedule opened up for me. I was hurt. I felt robbed, as if the church came and snatched Sally right out of my living room and locked her in the fellowship hall.
I remember my husband saying to me one day, "It must be tiring to be you!" He was observing my intensity, and just watching me in action made him tired. Over the years, God has taught me that even though he wants us to make our moments count, what he doesn't want is for us to think that we can make life happen. The fact is, fallen humanity could not possibly accomplish anything of spiritual eternal value on its own. God's Word reminds us in Isaiah 64:6: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (NIV). Jesus tells us in John 15:5-6: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (NIV).
"I thought planning women's programs would be easier," sighs the leader of women's ministries as she sits down in the pastor's office.
"What seems to be the problem?" he asks.
"Well, the women in our church are so different. There's Barb, who runs her own company. We designed an evening Bible study for her and some others, but since she is away from her family all day, she'd be more interested in attending a couples' Bible study with her husband.
"Then there's Mary, who's home with kids all day, every day. She wants to get together with other mothers - anytime, anywhere, as long as she can get a break from her kids.
"Beth has a part-time, home-based business and doesn't know if she fits better with the career women's breakfast or the Mothers of Preschoolers.
This week, I spoke to a woman who has been given a large degree of influence in an evangelical megachurch. Lately, this influence is increasing. Terry spends most of her time in hands-on direction of eight of the most visible, crucial ministry teams in the congregation. And you guessed it. She's so good at what she does, her "superiors" can give her the toughest jobs and she'll accomplish the tasks. In spades. And if anything's going awry, she's the one who is asked to step in to fix it.
In addition to the hands-on work she does with the eight teams, Terry has also been spending a great deal of time lately in high-level visioning sessions with the head pastors of the church. Evidently, there is some serious "re-think" going on regarding the church's identity and how to do God's work in 2007, given the massive cultural shifts since the church's inception in the 1980s.
Having spent the majority of my working life in professional ministry, I can testify heartily to its rewards. Of course, the benefits of working in ministry don't come in the form of the hefty pay packages my friends in the "secular" world enjoy. The true payoff - at least for me - in ministry work has been the opportunity to use and sharpen my God-given passions, talents, and gifts for something - excuse the clich?- - I believe in. I hope that this is true for those of you who use your gifts in ministry.
But I've also seen many of my friends not so pleased with their ministry experiences - be it in church or in some other type of ministry. This surprised me most with a couple of my friends who are natural leaders in other spheres of life, but who flounder when it comes to finding their niche serving at church. That is, until I realized something: They were trying to use their leadership skills in ways that didn't match their other gifts at all.
Welcome to Gifted for Leadership! This blog is designed specifically for Christian women who are capable, called, and gifted leaders. Unfortunately, many Christian women in leadership feel alone in their calling. They need a place where they can converse about the issues they face, encourage one another, and challenge each other. They want something different from the women's ministry resources and events that discuss issues unique to women. They want tools that visit topics that are not unique to women, but that approach them from a woman's perspective.
That's why we're producing a free monthly e-mail newsletter (have you signed up?), this blog, and - coming soon - a collection of downloadable booklets. These tools will equip, encourage, challenge, and unite women who exercise leadership gifts in church and parachurch ministry, in business, and at home. They'll also build a community of women with leadership gifts who can challenge and support one another and grow together.
This site is a resource of Christianity Today International, produced in partnership with the editors of LEADERSHIP JOURNAL. I'm very excited to launch this blog and to tell you about our Gifted for Leadership philosophy:
Almost all of us agree that good character is the centerpiece of authentic first-rate leadership. Good character is the key to good leadership because people tend to follow whatever standard the leader sets. Recent studies in moral intelligence show that the level of morality exercised by a company's character consistently affects the bottom line. It takes good character to grapple with reality. It takes good character to treat people right. It takes good character to build unity among networks of people and causes. Thus every situation that a leader might face calls for the same three attributes: humility, courage, and honesty.
Most leaders have the willingness to improve their character, but so often they are not told how to do so. How do leaders learn to lead "above the line," so to speak? How can leaders grow in self-awareness? How can leaders learn to look inwardly? How can they keep themselves from becoming too defensive to accept the kind of feedback that they need?
I grew up in England with a queen on the throne and was educated at an all-girls' school and women's college in Cambridge by gifted females (and led to Christ by a female medical professional). So after becoming a Christian, imagine my dismay when I first joined a church where women weren't allowed to do any of the things in which I knew they excelled!
Later as a budding Bible teacher, I was asked by male church leaders to speak to young women and men in an outreach our congregation hosted. But others challenged my participation. I became hurt and confused. It wasn't that these challengers thought I shouldn't be exercising my gifts - that they believed "God thought" I shouldn't! This went against the very root of my identity and calling.