Chronicling 40: Day 60 of 365

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In almost every church I have attended, the same invitation comes my way… Children’s Ministry volunteer.  If you are a woman, with children, there is some sort of natural assumption that you will serve in this area.  I’ve always been surprised by how quickly the invitation comes.  In some cases it comes too quickly.  

I remember once being asked if I was interested in volunteering as a Sunday School teacher on my very first visit.  We had just moved to a new city, we knew absolutely no one, and this was just one of several churches we were visiting as we tried to find a new church home.  No one knew me, my history, my experience.  I was a woman, who had children, and that was enough.

I recall when a member of church leadership found out that I had a theatre background, the natural invitation was for me to direct the Children’s Christmas Program.  There was a day that some church leaders, their wives, and volunteers were having a casual lunch and talking church business.  As I passed by, I heard one of the wives chime in that “anyone who has children in the Children’s Ministry should have to volunteer a set number of days per year.” 

Does Being a Woman Mean I am Gifted For Children’s Ministry?

Somewhere we have gotten the notion that just because a person is a woman, that she must have a natural inclination toward children in general.  Even more so, if she has children herself.  That being a woman and a mother, in and of itself, defines her ministry gifting toward childcare, the church nursery, and volunteering in the Children’s Ministry.  As women and families join our church, we automatically funnel the women right through those doors.   We make this decision before we even learn anything about them, what their gifts are, and how they feel called to serve.

Where Do I Belong?  How Do I Serve Here?

If you are not serving in Children’s Ministry, usually the next stop is Worship Ministry.  Can you sing? Play an instrument?  I see this assumption more often among women who have grown up in the church.  If this is not your calling either, then you are usually left with just a few options… making the coffee & bagels on Sunday morning, greeting people at the door, bringing meals to the sick, and secretarial duties.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to lead a Bible Study or participate in the Women’s Ministry.

When you attend a larger church, and statistics suggest that half or more of the church is made up of women, there are only so many people who can fill these roles.  This leaves quite a few women with no place to serve.  And, with these roles being routine (greeting at the door, handing out the bulletins, putting out bagels), there are some women who don’t feel that their gifts and talents are best used here.

What Happens When I Don’t Serve With My Gifts

In a book I recently read, Church Refugees, this was a common problem among those who had been long term, dedicated, serving leaders that ultimately led to leaving their church.  Even though they had been serving for decades, they never felt as if they were serving in their actual gifted areas.  Instead, they just felt like warm bodies plugged in to an empty spot because they were dependable.  Many felt that their offers to start a ministry, or attempts to build up an existing ministry, were hindered.  There was no place for them grow, nor trust to allow them to lead, despite their years of dedication.

What Does This All Mean?

  1. We shouldn’t assume that just because a person has a particular gender, that automatically means they are good at a stereotypical area of ministry.  Some men can be stellar in Children’s Ministry, and some women may not be.
  2. We should take time to learn about the gifts and talents of the women who join our churches.  We shouldn’t look at new members as warm bodies to fill empty spots.  Instead, we should learn about their education, skills, job, gifts, talents, and callings.  Then, find areas in the church that allow them to serve and use these gifts and talents.
  3.  Don’t discount a person’s ministry calling because you don’t see how it fits into the church vision or the immediate need.  Spend time talking with her about what this ministry calling looks like, pray over whether or not this ministry is something that can be supported by the church.  Just because you don’t personally see the need, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  4. If there is not a place in the church specifically that can use this person’s gift, consider if your church is connected to a local ministry that could.  If this is a woman with leadership skills, consider organizations that may be hiring or looking for volunteers.
  5. Have a very clear view on where women can serve in the church, help disciple women in those leadership positions, and trust the women to lead well.  If she can run a fortune 500 company, I am certain she is capable of leading a Women’s Ministry too. 

I saw this tweet the other day, in regard to women in the church.  I think it is a great place to leave off today’s post:

“Without you, the church is missing half of it’s voice, half of it’s gifting, half of it’s mission and ministry.”  Scott Lencke

 

 

 

 

 

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Chronicling 40: Day 59 of 365

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I just want to take a moment to be perfectly clear about my intentions, as we travel this road together.  I am not a woman who is afraid of conversation, nor do I expect everyone to agree with me.  My intentions as I give examples, share experiences, and even my opinion is NOT to do anything more than to challenge thought.

There are some areas where I am still learning and developing my opinions, which you may watch me flesh out on these pages.  I welcome respectful conversation, however challenging it may be.  Not everyone will agree with me, or see things from my perspective.  I am okay with that, after all who am I?  I am no final authority.  I’m willing to admit I am wrong, or see another well expressed perspective.

I only ask that if you are going to present that argument, do so with your evidence.  Give me the scripture, quote the author/speaker/etc that you heard it from.  Any talking down, accusations, etc are unwelcome because they are not helpful.  Real discussion and learning comes from sharing information, and opinions coupled with the explanation of how we came to that opinion.

One thing that I see happen often when anyone talks about women in leadership, is this weird posse that shows up accusing her of being a pulpit stealing Jezebel.  So let me set this fact in stone:  I do not seek a pulpit.  I do not feel called to be a Pastor, never have.  Nothing about what the Lord has laid before me indicates that there is any chance of me heading in that direction either.  Therefore, should I choose to delve into that specific topic it will be done from a neutral stance not a self serving one.

I’m going to explore a lot about leadership, past to present.  I will probably dream a little about what leadership for women will look like in the future.  This topic will cover leadership in the professional (secular) world and in the realm of ministry.  I’ll discuss it in theory, as well as share the practical side of it too.

My purpose will not be to tear down anyone (or any gender), but instead to tear apart to topic and dissect to it’s core… in order to better understand it.  How do we know how to keep a healthy body?  Because we learn how the body works, what does it need to survive at an optimal way, what causes it harm, etc.  Same goes for leadership, we need to understand it at the core in order to understand what works and what doesn’t.  This includes really understand what the Bible says about leadership in general, as well as in regard to specific genders.

I hope you are not willing to just come along for this ride, but be a part of the conversation… genuinely.   Reading to understand, not reading to build an argument.  Sharing facts, scripture, quotes, etc to support your stand.  Having conversations with those around you, outside of this blog to see it in real practical life experiences.

My hypothesis:  things are not as black and white, one way or another, as they appear.

Chronicling 40: Day 58 of 365

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Leadership for women is a very weird space.  The majority of our training as leaders come from men, our teachers have mostly been men, and most of the leadership books are written by men.  How many leadership books (secular or ministry related) are written by women for leading women?  Not many.  Much of what is out there is outdated, and the newer books are not exactly being promoted to us.  In fact, of the ones I personally know of… most I learned about at a national women’s conference and one was from an article on Huffington post.  How many women do you know going to leadership conferences each year?  Few.

This means that majority of our women who are leading in the world learned their skills from men who have led before them.  Which is not a bad thing, please not that I’m not seeing this as a negative thing.  I’ve learned many great things from men who were willing to invest in me as a leader. But, I want to share something that happened recently.

I was interviewing for a job in a ministry position that would oversee women, and I was asked by one of the Pastors to share what I saw as one of my weaknesses.  I was very honest, and shared that my leadership style is more akin to men due to the influences I have had in my life.   I tend to be more direct and don’t always meander around subjects like women are accustomed to.  The Pastor asked me how I would respond to someone who questioned my aggressive leadership style.

I thought that was interesting, when I shared as a woman that I led more like a man… this was seen as aggressive.  Whereas if a man shared the same attributes, would he be called aggressive?  Or, as my friend Faith suggested would they have seen it as assertive.

This is the battle the women face in leadership, if we are too strong or direct, we are considered bossy or even called a Jezebel.  They forget that Deborah was a strong leader.  She wasn’t just a judge, but a military leader.  We lift up the Proverbs 31 woman as a great wife and mother, and we often forget that she was also a business woman and investor… a woman of leadership and wisdom.  Her hospitality and demeanor were of humility, and yet she laughed in the face of the days to come because she did not fear what ever would come.  She feared only the Lord.

Yesterday, I watched a broadcast of an interview with two women who are leaders in their church.  The interview was conducted by a gentleman who was part of the staff of a seminary, and at the end of the interview he invited members of the audience to ask questions.  One of the audience members asked the panel about how men in church leadership could better encourage and support women in the church who felt called into leadership.

The first thing I noticed was the body language that changed.  The majority of the audience was men who were or planned to be in church leadership.  Until this point the women were very relaxed speaking about the roles, giving advice to women looking to a future in leadership, discussing their struggles and successes.  Now, they were a bit more tense and their body language no longer implied ease but instead much more guarded.

The second thing I noticed was how they were suddenly more cautious about how they spoke, and what words they chose.  They tip toed around the topic carefully.  Their responses were far more crafted and nuanced, careful to filter every word and thought.   You could tell that they were struggling between what they wanted to say and how to say it in a manner that would be better received.

Why must this be so?

What I appreciated, however, was that one of the women brought attention to it for the audience to notice.  Essentially, she said that if the audience didn’t realize it… the women were being very cautious about what they said, and how they said it.  She pointed out that they were filtering their responses and this was something women have been cultivated to do.  And that being aware of this, was the first key.  Create an environment where the women don’t need to do so.  That would be a huge first step in building a good support system.

In the past, I think women were grateful to get leadership positions and thus were very careful to not rock the boat and lose what took so long to achieve.  Now, I think women are looking for permission to lead to their fullest ability.  No need to filter, no need to carefully craft words, and meander around subjects.  Instead, to be treated with the same respect a male colleague would receive.  Allow women to lead in the manner in which God gifted them.  Some will have a gentler approach, as they guide others.  Some will carry much more of an authoritative stance, as they build and lead organizations and ministries.

I believe that the Lord placed me in the pathway of the men who influenced my leadership skills because I needed to learn from them.  The skills they have taught me have been invaluable to the ministry work that I am in now.  I see their fingerprints in so much of what I do, and I know that the Lord orchestrated every step of my path for this calling.

We need not discount the gifts of women, but embrace them.  The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.  Do we cut the workers in half?  Do we cut our army in half?  Or, do we come together and serve the Kingdom united in our cause?

Chronicling 40: Day 57 of 365

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Earlier this year, I attended a branding workshop.  I went because I co-lead a growing ministry and with that growth we really needed to hone in our branding.  What always amazes me about my journey with Faith James (yes, Faith… it’s a journey, you’re stuck with me for a bit) is that I learn just us much about myself and my own journey as I do for my ministry work.

About halfway through the workshop, Faith asked a question:

“What is your vision for the world and for your life?”

Faith James, Branding of Brunch Workshop

The answer I wrote in my workbook for the world was: “equipping women to lead and change the world we are in for the better”, and for my life:  “be apart of the change”.  I scrawled a few little notes about diversity and equality.  Faith shared Proverbs 29:18… Where there is no vision, people perish.  She challenged us to set our vision for the world, for our lives.   At the time, I thought this was applicable to my ministry work.  And so, the vision was set.

Then a few months later, I wrote a piece on here about a girl named Milange that I met many years ago (over 20 now) and how, even then, I had a heart for helping and equipping women.  I recall how my heart hurt for her because she simply didn’t know that she could, because so many had told her she couldn’t.  I think my heart for women goes back even further than that… to when I was a child.  That is another story, for another day.

Just this past week my friend Laura Gabriele-Enriquez, who is a missionary in Guatamala, posed a question on her Facebook page:

When you were a kid, what injustice in the world upset you most?

I ask because I believe God sees the injustice and sends each of us to the world with a mission.

My answer:  “As far back as I can remember it has been about empowering girls/women in general. As I got older, I became more keenly aware of the differences between the opportunities that white women had versus women of color. And so, it became even more important to me to be incredibly intentional about using my privilege to help lift those women up.”

If you know me, you know that I am not looking to hog the microphone or own the platform.  I look for ways to give other women an opportunity to share their gifts with the world.  I pass the mic as much as I can, because I am learning from the wisdom of others too.  I want to hear voices outside of my own.  I want to see women succeed in the endeavors whether it is business or ministry work.

As I reflected on these last 9 months, I realized that in the moment I attended Faith’s workshop… the vision was being set for ME (personally).  This was just about my ministry work through the Women’s Ministry Council but about much more than that, my everyday since I can remember calling.  The fire the Lord set in my heart.  Equipping women brings me joy.  So, the vision is set.

While I am going to continue with my #Chronicling40 series… you are going to notice a new bend which will be more about my views on leadership, equipping women, etc.  Why is this important to me, what can we be doing, where are we making mistakes, etc.  I hope you don’t mind that I am leaving the easy paved road of journaling my day to day thoughts and instead take the detour on to a bit of uneven pavement.

I pray, that the the rocky path with lead to fertile soil.

Chronicling 40: Day 56 of 365

friedchickenRecently, I was speaking with a group of women about discipleship in the church.  More specifically, we were speaking about how intentional discipleship has become the exception to the norm.  This led to a deep conversation about exactly what discipleship is, and what has caused the decline.

We ultimately defined discipleship as:

  • intentional relationship between two or more people with the purpose (directly or indirectly) of spiritual growth.
  • spiritual growth includes studying the Bible together, praying together, and giving wise Biblical based counsel to every day circumstances.
  • it happens because these people are not just teaching one another, but living life with one another; a solid long term relationship.
  • threaded through the relationship is a sharing of the Gospel, spurring one another on to make godly choices, iron sharpening iron relationships, etc.

We determined the reason why discipleship relationships are waning because:

  • we have relied too much on “press play on the DVD” style small groups, where it has become about completing a study and moving on vs. purposeful spiritual growth; these groups don’t have a plan or path way.
  • small groups have pushed out larger fellowship events that help connect people and get to know each other; thus people are constantly moving from small group to small group looking for their fit.
  • due to a lack of a true community environment in the church, people have begun filling that void with relationships outside the church.

Without a church community people are having a harder time making friendships, and without friendships they are not connecting to people in the church on a deeper level.  This lack of connection has affected discipleship relationships within the church; making them a rare occurrence versus a common expectation.

How can we change this:

  • recognize the small group model and trend is not to replace the larger community of the church; that there is a good reason to still hold church wide events and foster small group relationships concurrently.
  • be more thoughtful and intentional about our small groups, from the materials to the leaders; have a plan or pathway for discipleship.
  • look to spiritually mature leaders in your church to start the discipleship process, with the purpose of setting the standard of discipleship in the church and get the ball rolling.
  • meet with local Churches that do have a solid discipleship plan and learn from them so that you can start up a pathway in your church.

And remember… while we would love to see friendships, community, and discipleship relationships happen in our church buildings…

We are the Church.  We can begin fostering these relationships right outside our own front doors.

Chronicling 40: Day 55 of 365

I recall, years ago, in the car complaining to my husband about something. Truth be told, I was frustrated. Maybe I needed to vent. Maybe I needed to whine. Perhaps I wanted a solution or just to be heard. Whatever it was I wanted, I was talking to the wrong man.
He set me straight. “Gena, you complain about this all the time. Either do something about it, or stop complaining about it to me. I really don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
He wasn’t being rude, just honest about his feelings. He was also being truthful about my behavior.  Not only was I complaining about it, I was not attempting to change anything about it. I was at first immediately defensive.  I made excuses as to why I couldn’t do anything about it, that the circumstances would never change.
Then he pointed out choosing to not complain about it anymore WAS doing something about it.  I was choosing to not let it under my skin anymore, and I was taking power away from the situation and it’s impact on my life.
My husband is a man of few words, but when he drops a wisdom bomb… I listen.
Since that day, he’ll catch me starting to complain about something and he’ll put the kabosh on it quickly.  Either he asks me what I plan to do about it, or he ends the rant immediately.  Over the years this instances are becoming far and fewer between.  I’ve also begun to catch myself.
Recently, I overheard someone who was ranting on about something.  For a moment I considered interrupting the conversation and asking her:  “So, what are you going to do about it?”   I bit my tongue, because a Pastor had once advised that speaking truth in love works best when you are speaking to someone with whom you have permission to speak into their lives.  I didn’t know her well.  I wasn’t her friend, her family member, or mentor.  I was not someone who had permission to speak this truth to her.
As I thought about the situation, I could see how all it was doing was breeding more negativity.  The more she spoke about it, the more upset she got, and as her circle supported her indignation she became even angrier.  All over something she had no intention of trying to fix.  She was complaining to complain.  Even when someone eventually did offer an opposing view point, she fought for her right to complain.
Lord, I pray that we all can learn to let go of the need to complain for complaining sake.  And when a solution is viable, that we are more focused on the solution than the problem.  Let me be one who speaks of resolution versus stirring up dissent.

Chronicling 40: Day 54 of 365

awkwardI was a little more than frustrated.  In the last couple of months I have read some articles that have centered around women in leadership in the church.  The comments that accompanied the articles were tough.

My first observation was that no matter how broadly the articles painted the scope of leadership, the comments were always focused on one area… women in the pulpit, or as Pastors.  I get that is an area that is full of contention, but I’m amazed at the narrow focus.  As if being a “Pastor” is the only way one can lead in the church.  There is a difference between leading a church and leading within the church.  But, based on the comments, it was as if blinders were keeping out all other possibilities.

In another article, it went a bit further and discussed some bigger issues in the way women have been treated in the church.  Woman after woman sharing stories that made my skin crawl. The woman who was told that it wasn’t rape if it was her husband.  The teen told to marry the guy who raped her an impregnated her.  The woman who was told that she needed to submit more and pray harder so that her husband would stop beating her.  The teen girls who were tired of their virginity being equated to bubble gum and gifts that were utterly destroyed once they were used up, as if Jesus couldn’t redeem this part of their life.

Did the comments address this hurts and pains?  Nope, they just continued to debate women in the pulpit.  Lord, help us.  I can recount my own conversation with a Pastor (not my own) who was talking about his church calendar, and how he can’t be everywhere all the time.  When I suggested that he look to some of the women in the church to help ease the load, he replied:  “The best thing the women in my church can do to help me is to take care of their husbands and children”.

What about about the unmarried women?  What about those who don’t have children?

What about our women who feel called like a Deborah, but accused of being a Jezebel for stating they feel called to lead within the church/ministry?

We read in the Scriptures that we are created in the image of God, that we are valuable, and worthy.   We read that we are given gifts and talents.  Yet somewhere, someone decided that the gifts and talents given to women amounted to volunteering in the nursery and making the coffee.

I know of women who lead in fortune 500 companies who can’t even lead a womens Bible Study in their own church.

How does that make sense?

I know of a woman with 30+ years in an industry who volunteered her services to the church, and they said no thank you and hired a young man right out of college.

How does that make sense?

Recently, someone shared with me that she felt that her gifts and calling were hindered in the church.  And that word “hindered” stuck out at me, because I read that several times in accounts from the book “Church Refugees” from Group Publishing.  The book is about the “Dones” in the church, the ones who after years of loyally serving are leaving the church and is actually the largest percentage making an exodus from the “institutional church”.

While I don’t necessarily agree with each individuals personal account (from a doctrine standpoint) there was a common thread of feeling “hindered” in the church from serving in a meaningful way.  And, these were not people who had been in the church a little while, or just come to faith.  Rather these are the people who had been long time members 10+years, faithfully serving, and hoping/praying that the church would see their calling as valuable and support it.  Eventually, they lost hope that they could ever affect change and took their gifts and talents to a place that would embrace them.

Many of the “dones” ended up plugging into community ministries; fellowshipping and serving with other believers as they serve their community.  This is a little scary to think about, because it means that 1. the church’s largest group leaving is comprised of it’s best and 2. the church is either blissfully unaware or blatantly ignoring the exodus.

What does this mean for the future of the church as we know it?