Chronicling 40: Day 26 of 365

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I have always felt called to equipping women to lead, and lead well.  Early on there were those who thought I would become a teacher, but to me that wasn’t exactly the right fit.  I spend my days working in a ministry that focuses on equipping women to be more effective leaders in ministry.

Can I tell you how hard that can be, in a time where women have been told they can be anything BUT a ministry leader.  (I’m not even talking about being a Pastor, which is another conversation for another day).  I’ve sat in rooms with women who can’t even teach or lead other women through a Bible study.  Once, I was speaking with a Pastor about utilizing the women in his church more and help take some of the burden off the shoulders of the staff.  He replied to me:  “The best thing a woman in my church can do to help me is to take care of her husband and children.”

As if women are incapable of doing more than one thing at a time, or that their family will suffer from their ministry leadership.  It was truly heartbreaking.  Not all men are this way, not all Pastors are this way.  But I have been quite shocked as to how many are, and that it is not limited to a particular denomination, age, or region.

Not that long ago, women were told that they couldn’t.  Couldn’t go to college.  Couldn’t be a doctor.  Couldn’t hold a job once they were married.

In the late 90’s I worked with a young woman from Haiti.  She was one of my most dependable employees.  Always on time, always willing to stay late to get work done.  Never an error in her work, but she moved a little slower than the rest of the world.  She was precise and methodical.  On a few occasions, based on conversations, I began to wonder if perhaps she had some sort of disability.  Even if there was, she was overcoming it and doing a great job.

I remember speaking to her about entering our training program to move up to an hourly manager.  The look on her face, was total shock.  I told her that I’d be happy to supervise her through the program, even though it meant I’d lose one of my best.  She was dumbfounded.  As we talked about it, I realized something about this sweet woman…

No one had ever told her that she could.

Not just that she could become a manager, but that she could become anything.  Her life was destined to work in our building until she got married (it was an arranged marriage).  After marriage, she would have children and be a housewife.  That was her future.

No one had ever told her that she had a choice.

She had never even been given the chance to consider the possibilities that life could offer her.  That she didn’t have to move from her parents’ home to her husband’s home.  That she didn’t have to  bear children right away, or at all.  That she could not only choose to work for as long as she wanted, but she could also rise in the workplace.

When I see women who try to lead in the church turned away, I see her face.

These beautiful, gifted, women that have so much to offer the church cast aside for no other reason than that they are female.  I have seen the defeat in their eyes, heard the disappointment in their voice, when they finally give up trying to fulfill the calling God placed on their lives.  They have no energy left to fight the battle, they are weary of praying for change that never comes.  They diminish into the back row of pews.

A friend was sharing with me a story about her own church.  There was a woman who was a CFO (chief financial officer) for a fortune 500 company who volunteered to serve on the church finance committee.  She was turned down because she was a woman.  Despite her degree, her position, and years of experience… she was disqualified simply for being a woman.  The church felt only men should serve in that capacity.

I can’t wrap my head around that.

So, when you hear me speak up boldly in support of women being encouraged and equipped… this is why.

Someone needs to speak into the void, shine light on this issue.  The gifts and talents of women are beyond domesticated chores.  The Proverbs 31 Woman is the one most touted about… yes her husband and children call her blessed.  Yes, she tends to her household.

She also made goods with her hands that she sold to merchants.  Then took her earnings and bought a vineyard.

I’m thinking there is a lot more to her than volunteering in the nursery, greeting people at the door, making the coffee, and setting out the bagels and donuts.

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Lead Me…

MBA

This isn’t going to be long, or all that profound.  Just a reminder.

Leaders need to be led too.

Your leaders are spending a lot of time leading others, make sure that someone is leading them… pouring into your leaders, on a regular basis.

Your leaders are pitchers that fill up the empty cups they serve.  Empty cups can’t be filled by an empty pitcher.  Someone must pour fresh water into the pitcher, so that it can continue to serve.

What do you do, in your church or ministry, to fill up and refuel your leaders?

Book Tour! Day 8 – Leadership Promises

Welcome to my 10 Day Book Tour.  I love to read, and I am often given books to read for review.  Over the last year, I determined that I didn’t want to turn my blog into a book review site.  However, I can’t help that I LOVE books.  I truly do.  They add so much value to my life, because I learn from them and glean new perspectives from the authors who put their hearts to the page.  So, I’ve decided that each quarter, I’m going to do a 10 Day Book Tour.  What have I been reading, what do I honestly think about the book, and to whom I would recommend it.  Each day, for ten days, you will get a peak into my bookshelf.

I received a copy of Leadership Promises for Every Day, Daily Devotional by John C. Maxwell for the purpose of reviewing.  My thoughts and opinions are my own.

DAY EIGHT:  LEADERSHIP PROMISES FOR EVERY DAY by John C. Maxwell

Leaders really do need to be encouraged.   Leaders, good ones, are constantly pouring out into others.  We can’t pour out of an empty vessel, so leaders need to have someone who is pouring into their lives.  This isn’t always easy though, especially if you happen to the be at the top of the ministry ladder.  I love this devotional, where John C. Maxwell pours a daily dose of scripture and leadership wisdom into my life.

I’ve enjoyed the book so much, I have in turn found myself giving it as a gift to other leaders.  I would have preferred a “Day 1”, “Day 2″… format over a calendar dated format.  But, that may be my OCD talking… because despite flipping through it… I literally waiting until January 1st to official start using it.

Additionally, I get a lot of great feedback from those who received it as a gift.  Which really spurs me on to continue gifting it, knowing that it’s not just me… but various leaders who are benefiting from these devotions. 

Recommendations:  Pastor Appreciation Gift,  Ministry Leader Birthday, Anniversary, or “Just Because” gift, Speaker Gifts, etc.

 

Women’s Ministry – #Write31Days

MBA

Have you noticed it, a shift happening in your church in regards to the Women’s Ministry.  Are you seeing a change in attendance and commitment, or are you caught up doing the same thing you’ve always done?  I’m sensing it, a change in the air.  Women’s Ministry leaders and teams are feeling the call for a more meaningful ministry.

When Women’s Ministry starts to fade, it is due to a lacking somewhere in the ministry.  A lack of support from the church, maybe.  An inability to meet the needs of the women in the church, possibly.  A fracture in the ministry team or ineffective leader, another viable option.  A growing, thriving, successful ministry doesn’t just arbitrarily take  u-turn and fade into oblivion.  Something was happening behind the scenes.

A Women’s Ministry that is just treading water, reminds me of the lukewarm Christian.  Doing just enough to survive, be present, placate the women with an offering of fellowship events and activities without asking too much of them.  It is a ministry that takes no risk, and goes through the motions.

The Women’s Ministry that has ignited a fire in the body of women, is a ministry that has set it’s sights on Kingdom work.  They are not afraid to challenge women and take them out of their comfort ones.  It is a ministry that cares for the spiritual life of the women it serves, and consists of leaders who die to self to serve well.

It is time, Women’s Ministry leaders, to stop seeing Women’s Ministry in the scope of how we have always done things.  It’s time to take this role given to us seriously by creating a ministry that is gospel centered, and disciple making.  Our purpose to Women’s Ministry should first and foremost be ministering to women in their need.  What do women in the church need?

  • They need to be biblically literate.
  • They need to understand how to defend their faith, not just to others but to themselves when she finds herself in a season of doubt.
  • They need a community of iron sharpens iron sisters, who bear each others burdens, provide wise counsel, encourage one another, and with whom we celebrate victory.
  • They need to know what their spiritual gifts are, and given a place to use them.

Our goal should not be to make converts, but disciples.  As leaders we need to create discipleship tracks that walk women through their faith journey, instead of abandoning them at the foot of the cross.

Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

rooted

If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

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How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

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In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.