The Parable of the Black Eye

I am currently in the process of healing from a pretty substantial black eye. I remember telling my best friend that I knew the Lord would give me an illustration from it to share. And, here we are.

I remember as a child hearing my grandmother speak some version of a phrase that essentially meant that sometimes the Good Lord has to knock you upside your head to get your attention. At the exact moment prior to my accident, I was writing out a letter. I believe I was around four pages into it. It was essentially a documented confrontation, with a substantial amount of context before getting to the crux of it. I was unleashing my inner turmoil on the page, when my husband asked if I could help him take down some of our outdoor Christmas decor.

I didn’t really want to be interrupted. Again. This was not the first or second time over a period of 24 hours that I had been interrupted while writing this verbal deluge. So, I begrudgingly headed out the front door to quickly do whatever it was he needed from me. My mind was on this typed out onslaught of information, what I was going to write next, what have I forgotten to include, etc. I was not thinking clearly and focused on the task at hand when my husband handed me the drill.

The task was simple enough. He was going to hold the weight of this particular decorative piece, and I just had to undo the bolts so it could be taken apart and stowed away. Probably no more than 4 minutes of my time. My head was not there. So, when he handed me the drill, I went right for it. I’m still not exactly sure how it happened entirely, it was such a quick moment.

What I do know is that the drill spun out of my hand, clocking me in the face, knocking my glasses off and into the yard, and I spun on my heels and headed for the garage. My husband trailed behind me to make sure that I was ok, while trying to understand for himself exactly what had just happened to me.

In short order, my face began to swell and turn shades of blue and purple. By morning streaks of red. For several days it remained swollen. The colors began to shift into greens and yellows. It’s been 11 days, as of this writing, and my face is still tender. I can cover the discoloration in make up, but not without experiencing pain while doing so. I long for the evening I am going to finally be able to really clean my face well.

One little incident… but so many lessons. What was the point of this happening? What lesson could the Lord be trying to teach me through this?

First, I thought that perhaps this was an issue around the letter itself. The continuous interruptions meant that the Lord was trying to stop me from writing the letter. Nodding to my grandmother’s phrase, it literally took getting knocked upside the head to get me to stop. Post injury, it was several days before I even gave that letter a second thought.

Then, I considered that perhaps the lesson was about the condition of my heart. My husband had a simple request, the letter could have waited, there was no reason for me to have such an attitude about helping him out for a mere few minutes. Maybe the knock in the head was to help me get my heart back in order.

The third thought that crossed my mind, dug a bit deeper. Something to the effect of just as my make up can cover the visible signs of my wounding, deep wounds still hurt and require time to heal. We can put on a mask as we suffer through, or as we heal.

Then my mind wandered to an ever deeper thought. I know power tools, I have used them for many years. I took shop in both middle and high school. In high school and college, I was involved in building theatrical sets for our productions. Which means I know to respect the power and danger in using tools, as well as having been taught proper safety precautions when using them. In this incident, I was in such a hurry to get it done, I minimized the job and did not follow the protocols that I normally would.

I assumed that my husband handed me the drill set and ready to use. I didn’t check it first. Then when using it, I made a few other wrong choices that put me in too close proximity to the tool and unprotected. While I still can not exactly pin point what went wrong in the exact moment, I do know that had I made better decisions leading up to that moment … the drill would have never touched my face.

I likened this moment to the Lord’s gifting to us of wisdom and direction in the Scriptures, lessons that are for our good and keep us safe. We are taught them, reminded of them, and know them well and yet at times choose to ignore them. Maybe because we are in a hurry, or our hearts are not right, we might be distracted, or making assumptions, etc. None the less, when we disregard them it will result in our experiencing pain or difficulty.

I know that immediately after it happened, while my face was pounding, and tears pouring down my face (which is an indicator of how much pain I was in, as I have a high pain tolerance)…. I was praising God because I knew it could have been much worse.

What if I had taken my glasses off, and lacked that extra layer of protection that covered my eyes? What if the drill had made contact directly with my temple? What if I had been even closer?

I was attempting to read deeply into what happened for some sort of spiritual lesson. Today it dawned on me that sometimes the lesson is the consequence.

Sometimes, it is as simple as “Gena, if you don’t follow the proper procedures, you are going to get injured. “

No deep meaning. Just a tangible lesson in following shop safety procedures, so that you don’t get hit in the face with a drill.

Exit Interviews for Church & Ministry

Gena B. McCown, Author of Women’s Ministry with Purpose

For years, I have been apart of several Facebook Groups for women in ministry. This includes women who are Pastors, Ministry Leaders, or Pastors’ Wives. I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone lamented over a person or family leaving their church without saying anything. Silent exits out back and side doors, leaving the leadership feeling wounded and even betrayed. Particularly difficult when these were cultivated relationships that they considered to be personal friends.

There is an overwhelming since of loss and rejection, when those whom you have been investing your time, energy, and building with relationships with just seemingly walk out the door without a care in the world. These leaders will lament with one another placing the burden of the blame on those who left, and very few seem to take a moment of retrospection to understand if/what role the church itself may have had in their choice to leave.

It’s so much easier to cast blame and shake off our sandals versus having to consider if there may have been signs we some how overlooked or that there may be dysfunction in our ranks. Very quickly the troops rally, shouting responses that clearly indicated it’s a “them not us” issue. Grasping the notion that if someone could just leave so easily, they were “never really one of us”.

The problem with this thinking is that it not supported by any sort of evidence. Yes, a visitor may not return after checking out your church on a random Sunday. Yes, someone who just started regularly attending may leave because of any number of reasons. And, yes, these exits are usually quiet and swiftly through the back door. It’s not this type of person (guest) that are lamented over. I’ve never head a ministry leader complain about that “couple who showed up for one service” breaking their heart or leaving them in the agony of betrayal.

Yes, a member who is ornery, a troublemaker, a pot stirrer, and someone who may really not be “one of us” may also leave. However, these people (regardless of how long they were a member) rarely go off quietly into the night. It’s in their nature to make sure that everyone knows they are leaving, and why they are leaving. It’s not this type of person (contentious member) that are lamented over either.

The statistics and data share that those who are leaving, in a wake of pain for the leadership, are long term and committed members. These are the lamented exits; those who have been members for many years, served with dedication, and built relationships. To the leaders expressing loss over these exits, it appears that suddenly one day their “friend(s)” just up and left with no warning and no explanation as to why. We are left reeling with the emotional trauma of how little our relationship meant to that person, if they could just walk away. Uncaring. Unconcerned.

The reality of the data is that in the majority of the cases those who left 1) had reason and 2) had been attempting to address their concerns long before leaving their church. In fact, leaving the church was the last thing that was desired. Leaving a church is not easy for anyone, those exiting are also losing relationships that cease to exist once they are gone. For many, it’s like leaving their family and closest circle of friends, and not a decision made lightly.

When the book Church Refugees was released, the data introduced us to a group of people, part of the what is the largest exodus of the modern church… The Dones. Church people who are done with institutional church for one reason or another. The common denominator was that leaving was not something they wanted but rather a last resort. Whether the person felt invisible in their own church family or felt dismissed by church leaders, their hope was to draw attention to the issue and resolve it from within.

In their analysis, the authors of Church Refugees, noted that deep grief was common among those who ultimately made the choice to leave their church. When looking at the information from both directions, those who left would defend their actions by stating that they had been trying to address the issues directly within the church to no avail. Whereas, the church leaders felt as if this was completely out of the blue. The Dones contending that they had tried to talk with their church leaders, pray for God’s intervention, and looked for resolution. The church leaders, instead, would suggest that they had no idea that there was a problem or that a member was unhappy.

The Dones lament that they could leave a church they were dedicated to & loved, and it appeared that no one even cared they were gone. Church leaders lamenting that those whom they felt close to could leave without saying a word.

A clear indicator that communication issues are probably at the root of the silent exodus. Are the members being as direct as they think they are, when attempting to discuss their concerns with the church leaders? Are the church leaders not listening or as observant as they believe themselves to be? How do we resolve this? I can’t imagine the right answer is for everyone to silently go their separate ways.

As I reflected on all of these thoughts, readings, and exchanges a few things came to mind.

Absence is Noted, But Not Addressed

It is clear that the idea that the leadership lacks awareness that members have left or don’t care is generally faulty. They do notice, even if they don’t say anything. They care that you have left. However, what is missing is a conversation about what led to this moment. Since it’s not being addressed, it becomes the elephant in the room. Trust me, everyone notices the elephant.

Avoidance is Easier, Confrontation is Hard

It is far easier to just leave and not say anything, than to feel like you have to explain yourself one more time. If The Done feels as if they have tried to communicate their concerns and feelings to a deaf ear, why would they bother to say it to repeat themselves? If the leader is feeling wounded by a leaving member, it is difficult to face that person and ask what led to the decision (especially true if the leader is at least someone aware that the member has been unhappy).

Blaming Others Over Checking Ourselves

In Genesis when God confronts Adam and Eve, naked and hiding in a bush, Adam is quick to assign blame to anyone but himself. First, he blames Eve and then he passes the blame to God when he says “That woman you gave me..”. If I can point the finger at the person leaving then I can absolve myself of responsibility and complicity. Or, if I can wag my finger at the leadership who let me leave then I can absolve myself from having to correct someone and I steal a valuable teaching moment from them. Both of these involve a measure of pride. I don’t have to own my own mistakes, as a leader. I don’t have to accept that I may have been in the wrong as a member.

The Solution: Exit Interviews

When I worked for a major corporation, we never just let someone quit or transfer without having an exit interview. Sure, there was the occasional walk out or no show who wouldn’t take our calls… but we tried. When someone would put in their 2 week notice, we would schedule an exit interview. It served a few purposes.

  • We wanted to identify if there was a problem, circumstance, or person’s behavior that was responsible for the employee’s desire to leave. This could be negative or toxic work environment, or even something as simple as better pay. These were learning opportunities we could use to assess our workplace and make better changes for the future.
  • We wanted the opportunity to ask you to stay. If the driving force of your decision to quit was something we could resolve, compete with, or reconcile… and we wanted to keep you on our staff… the exit interview gave us the opportunity to take those measures to entice you to stay.
  • We wanted to help you exit on a positive note. This could leave the door open for you to return in the future, since no bridges were burned. It also allowed us to provide a letter of reference or recommendation for your new employment.

In church and ministry, if make it a practice to include exit interviews as part of membership process, we are setting the stage for healthy communication that we can all grow through. But, as leaders the onus is on us… not the member. It’s not the sheep that look for the Shepherd, but the Shepherd who tends to his sheep. We set the example of what good communication looks like, learn about how we could lead better, give the person an opportunity to share their burden with us, and determine if there is a way to resolve and reconcile. If not, then we are also gifted the opportunity to pray over that person’s exit WITH them.

Do not come at this conversation with pride, but rather humility. This is not a destructive confrontation but a constructive one. With the purpose of keeping the unity of believers, even if we must part ways. Perhaps this is the catalyst the Lord uses to move someone into a new body where they are needed (or need to be). We can choose for this to be a healthy move or a harmful one.

As the leader, it’s up to us to be genuine and humbled, and to lead well.

Can we chat?

For many years, I have been blessed to stay home with my kids and contribute to my local church and community as a full time volunteer.

What is a full time volunteer? This is someone who is essentially providing a 40 hour work week for no pay. Shows up every week to do their work. For me, this included serving in my local church, my work with Women’s Ministry Council, and serving with other community based ministries and NPOs.

In the last few years, as our family dynamics shifted (my youngest is entering high school, the other two are already graduated), my sights were set on vocational ministry. I had been preparing for this day for many years. First, through education. I completed a ministry degree. Second, through ongoing trainings via conferences, workshops, reading, and the like. Third, I put these two things into practice within the ministries in which I served.

This included writing my book, creating content for this blog, and building up the needed social media platforms to add to my credentials. Eventually expanding to include writing articles or being interviewed by other authors, major magazines/newspapers, podcasts, etc.

For me, this was never about building the big public platform, but actually building up my credibility for when the day would come that I would send out those resumes and seek ministry employment.

The reality is, that I would have been content spending the rest of my life as a Women’s Ministry Leader (or similar position) on staff at a church. I could put the writing aside. I could stop platform building for myself and instead focus on the church and community I was serving. I never wanted to build my own kingdom, but work towards the Kingdom.

Many of my closest counsel were just as confused as I was, every time my attempt for employment was rejected. Of all resumes sent (related to ministry), I have had only 1 official interview. Despite 20 years of dedicated service, a degree, and all the things people told me I needed… it wasn’t enough.

My husband didn’t get it either. He would say things like, “They probably already had someone lined up, and listing the job was just a formality”. Maybe.

As a woman, I realized that there are NOT a lot of jobs open to women in ministry. But there are a LOT of women who are vying for those positions. Too many fish, in too small a pond.

Then an opportunity opened up. I’ll liken it to an internship. I would be educated in the ways of the overall ministry, serving at their events, etc. It was a commitment to two years of prep, without any guarantee that at the end of the term there would be a job, or that if there was a job it would even be full time.

So, I went to someone for advice. I laid out all of the opportunities presented before me, including this one (to which she was part of this ministry).

The first bit of counsel she gave me, I readily received. She said, “What can you say yes to now?” In other words, while there are all of these various things I could be doing in the coming months…. what things could I commit to today?

The second thing she said to me, still stings a bit. “Gena, I don’t think you’ll be satisfied in vocational ministry in the church.” This was the thing I had always desired. This was my goal. Here she was telling me that she didn’t think I would be happy there. She was essentially talking me out of their internship program. Instead, pointing me toward starting up my own ministry in the community to follow my passions.

It was just another ministry rejection. But, for some reason… this really stung.

A volleying of emotions. Feeling either that I was too much or not enough to be in vocational ministry. That all the work, dedication, investment, etc. was literally for nothing. If within this place, that I called home, and served happily… I could be pushed out the doors…. then who else would want me?

It was a really low time period for me. I then made the decision that I would no longer apply to ministries, churches, or NPOs for employment. Instead, I would go back to my roots.

Two immediate interviews. One hired me on the spot. Three weeks later, they were already talking about future advancement within 6 months. Being told that my resume was “impressive” and that I am “much more than this job”.

For the first time in over twenty years, I was being seen and valued for my contributions. Having one of the upper levels asking me if I was happy working there, expressing concern that I might leave.

Also knowing that where ever I go, ministry comes with me. Meaning that the Lord would create opportunities for me to live out my calling where He would lead me… in the church or out. I show up each day, with joy for the work ahead. I’m content.

Yet, I still grieve over what I could have offered to vocational ministry. She was wrong. I could have been more than happy serving in vocational ministry. I would have done that for the rest of my life, in gladness. But, vocational ministry (the church) didn’t want me. Maybe there is a lesson to the church in that.

Or, perhaps God didn’t want me there b/c the lesson was that ministry isn’t a place but a lifestyle. I don’t work IN ministry, I AM ministry.

But, it still hurts a bit.

So, I keep pressing forward.

I love the Lord.

I will serve the people.

I write the words.

I’ll publish the books.

I’m still speaking the message.

He call’s me out.

5 Things to Help New Authors

  1. BUY THE BOOK – Even if your best friend gifts you a copy of the book, actually buy a copy too. Gift it to someone else or donate it to a library. But, even more specifically, if it is for sale online via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. buy the book through those retailers instead of directly from your author friend. When you purchase in this manner, it is recorded into a database that tracks sales. This is how an author can get a #1 status on a best sellers list or show future publishers that their books sell. Books that sell, help new authors get that second contract. In fact, you might not realize this, but getting a FIRST book contract is often easier than getting a SECOND. The first one is taking a risk, the second one is banking on loyalty sales.
  2. LEAVE A REVIEW- Almost every online retailer that you order books from will have an opportunity to review that purchase. Even if you don’t feel like writing out a detailed account of your experience with the book, simply opting to just select the stars or rating level is more than enough. This gives the author encouragement or feedback on their work, but also allows future publishers to see how readers respond to the authors work.
  3. TELL OTHERS – More people will purchase an item based on the personal recommendation of a friend verses on online advertisement or recommendation. Even going so far as providing the link to purchase can help spread the word about the book you are enjoying and the author you are supporting.
  4. SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA – Find your favorite author’s social media accounts (facebook, instagram, twitter, etc.) and follow their author account (not their personal, unless there is no author account). Once there, take a scroll through and look for promotional posts/tweets about their book, and share those to your account. This way your friends, family, and acquaintances can be introduced to the author and their work. If you have an option to recommend the author’s page to your friends (such as on Facebook) do so! Publishers are interested in the statistics related to authors social media accounts (followers, engagement, etc.).
  5. GIVE A TESTIMONIAL – If you are someone who has connected deeply with the text, let the author know. If you have means to contact them directly, great (email, direct messaging, etc). If not, you can post about it on your blog or social media accounts & tag the author. Not only do your words provide an encouragement to the author and are beneficial for future publishers to see the response to the work; your personal testimonial can help a skeptical buyer take a chance. Additionally, you are providing recommendations that the author can use when promoting their book.

It’s Been a Minute

We are saying goodbye to a strange season, of shut downs and being cut off from our lives that we would defined as normal. And, as we really just began to fully embrace and accept the new normal, things are shifting again. Personal responsibility is now at the forefront vs. government mandates for those of us in the US1.

Some are choosing to vaccinate, some not.

Some are choosing to continue wearing masks & maintain social distancing, some not.

There are so many different opinions, and I don’t want to get into that here. But rather, I want to address the shifting of our mindset.

As we walk away from our home office and back to the work place.. what are we returning to?

When our calendars begin to fill up with work obligations & social engagements… what are we inviting back in?

I want to challenge all of us to reflect on what we just experienced.

What things were you relieved to see fall from your schedule? What did you miss?

Were there meetings that have been just as effective being communicated as email/text? Were there certain people that you felt obligated to entertain but have felt relief since having to be distanced from their toxicity? Do you not miss running from one child’s activity to another all week long, and have enjoyed the time home together as a family? Do you miss traveling or conferences?

What has become part of your routine, that you might have to let go of… but perhaps you don’t want to?

Have you enjoyed a more flexible routine and you are not excited to return to a set 9-5 schedule? Lunching with your spouse and kids has been a highlight of your day, which you know will change as the world continues to open up? Has less traveling made your family feel more happy and secure, and you are not looking forward to getting back on the road for weeks at a time?

Maybe you have come to enjoy having more control of your schedule and life. Perhaps, being able to release your hour long commute every morning has brought better rest, or allowed you to make time for breakfast with the family or exercising in the mornings. You may have even noticed that you are more productive throughout your day than you were at the office.

Sit down and make a list of all the things you have been enjoying and all of the things you have missed. The evaluate what your options are. Schedule a meeting with your boss or ministry leader to discuss options and find some middle ground.

You might still need to return to the office, but the middle ground might include having a shift in your start time or allowing you to work from home 1-2 days during the week when you presence in the office is not necessarily needed. Come up with a plan for your traveling that allows you to service your customers more efficiently without having to travel as frequently, or plan your vacation time around your conferences so that your family can join you once the conference is over.

If you can provide stats on your increased productivity, and explain why those numbers improved, you’ll make far more headway with your requests.

It doesn’t begin here… at the keyboard.

In just about any movie you have ever seen about an author, the same imagery is used. S/he sits down at a small wooden desk, or lays their laptop at their dining room table. To one side you might find a legal pad with some scrawled notes. To the other is a cup of coffee and a scone, placed just so. The author sets out to write the great american novel, their memoirs, or the next non-fiction best seller. They type frantically. Words flowing from their genius. They are a wordsmith.

This is not what it looks like, as an author at all. Right now, I’m typing on my tablet. To the right is my iced coffee. I’m at the far edge of my dining room table. Directly in front of me you will find a stack of emails with some interview questions. To my immediate right, is my Bible, planner, and a stack of various survey results. Moving further to the right, of my 6 seated dining table, we have 41 different books that I have acquired for research. In front of those stacks, there are numerous pens, highlighters, legal pads, and pot it notes of assorted sizes (and purpose). Further to the right, you will find stacks of printed Bible chapters related directly to my research with notes scrawled (or to be scrawled) over them.

Two people could eat at this table. It’s been this way for nearly two months.

I’ve not written a single word of the manuscript yet.

I’m not even close to starting that part of the process.

Fallen Leaders

I took this photograph years ago. I had this beautiful resin angel that sat in my garden for years. It moved with us from home to home. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what happened to it. One day, I found it in the garden in many pieces. There were some chunks missing that prevented me from putting it back together. I kept the wings. It was a reminder to me that angels can fall, angels can be broken.

Today’s news about Ravi Zacharias is troubling, at the very… very… least. I was not aware of the accusations that were made against RZ quite some time ago, but became aware prior to the formal investigation that revealed it’s findings report today. For many, today’s news is their first hearing of these accusations. It is a lot to take in. This is hard news. Eye opening news.

Also, it’s not really “new” either. RZ is not the first leader we have witnessed fall.

How do we wrestle with this news? Why do leaders fall? How do we respond?

How Do We Wrestle with News of a Fallen Leader:

First, we are allowed to sit in our shock and dismay. It is OK to not want to believe the news. That’s our natural inclination when accusations and even proven wrongdoing related to people who we esteem becomes public knowledge. We don’t want it to be true. You are a human being, and it is completely normal to react this way. HOWEVER, in these moments that we are processing such revelations we CAN NOT open our mouths in defense of the accused without taking the time to understand the accusations, read the documentation, rest in the findings, and work our own minds through the grief we are now processing.

Second, we must be thankful… even if it is hard… that the truth is being revealed (as in the case of RZ). In cases of other accusations we must pray that truth is revealed, undeniable truth. We must desire for what is done in secret to be revealed so that there is accountability and repentance. Even more so, we must desire for these things to be revealed so that they can be stopped immediately before more damage is done.

Third, we mourn with those who mourn. We mourn with the victims who bravely step forward to expose truth. We mourn with the families of the accused who may have just had their worlds obliterated. We mourn for those who the leader impacted, because we know these failures can create a wake that washes far beyond the immediate circle. These types of things have kingdom wide impact. So, we mourn.

Fourth, we speak what only needs to be spoken. That doesn’t mean a lack of acknowledgement of what occurred or sweeping it under the carpet to be forgotten. It means that we speak only what is good and beneficial. We don’t write about these fallen leaders to prop up our own platform. We don’t gossip about them among our friends. We speak honest truth TO those leaders. We can address the issue among our own platforms with responsibility.

You can share facts without sharing your opinion. You can share resources or links for other victims to seek help. You can speak to the issue without leaning on the person as the crux of your conversation. This is not the time (as if there ever is a time) to shame victims for waiting to speak up. This is not the time to thrust your prideful chest claiming you always knew that person was a problem. Be mindful that your voice into the world is not contributing to the revictimization of those who were harmed, nor to the other extreme offering any sort of justification or downplay to what occurred.

Why Do Leaders Fall?

This is a complex question, that I don’t believe I can full answer. However some general insight from fallen leaders of the past suggest:

  • Lack of maturity, particularly for the position they have attained.
  • No oversight or accountability, a lack of measures/policies in place to protect.
  • Creating an atmosphere that inhibits questioning, surrounding themselves with yes men.
  • Idolizing the leader to the point that you loose your objectiveness to accusations or an ability to see the signs.
  • Forgetting that even the best of leaders are still fallible human beings.
  • Disregarding the change of temptations that come with elevated leadership.
  • Intentionally surrounding themselves with people who don’t object, question, or would protect at all costs
  • Pride going unchecked that allows them to believe they CAN do these things, without retribution.

How Do We Respond:

  • Read the documentation. What are the accusations, who has made them, is there a basis of truth, has there been an investigation?
  • Pray for the victims. Starting with the actual direct victims, but also remember there are other victims in the wake including their families, their church flock or ministry supporters, etc.
  • Learn from the situation. Assess how this could have happened, and then develop systems/protocol to put in place within your own ministry/organization. Determine what red flags might have been present and overlooked. Seek experts who can help you recognize red flags in your organization that may go unnoticed.
  • Pray for your leaders (including yourself if you are in leadership). Pray that that temptation would be removed, that you would have conviction over wrong doing and a desire to repent, etc. Pray for your leaders to be protected not just from those whom would tempt them, but also from their own hearts and desires of the flesh. Pray that the Lord would open your eyes to leaders within your own sphere who may be in sin, and give you the courage to address it.