Equal in His Sight

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The world is aching right now.  Pain throbbing deep beneath the surface.  In some places everything looks ok, but small cracks are starting to appear.  In other areas the existing cracks are becoming deep caverns.  Pain that runs deep is seldom able to be healed with platitudes and promises.  And, much like the tremors near a volcano … it is a signal of an eruption.

When a volcano erupts, great amount of pressure that had been contained finally breaks through the surface.  It shows no regard for it’s surroundings, the animals and people who call the area home.  It shows no discrimination but destroys with complete abandon.

Humanity is like the volcano, as it builds up pressure of pain… hurt… oppression… discrimination… hatred…  it is bound to erupt.

When watching the news lately, one can’t help but think that the world is erupting.  It can’t take much more.  Whether we are watching the fallout of terrorism on distant shores or watching a nation tearing itself apart on our doorsteps… there is friction.

Reflecting on our recent news, and the contents of my Facebook news feed, I see the friction.  I also know that an object or a person can only take so much pressure… so much friction… before they break, before they erupt.

I see the hurt and pain of a marginalized people who have faced oppression and unfair treatment for far too long buckling under that pain.  Who do not want the whole to be profiled based on the actions of the few.

I see the hurt and pain as our men and women who serve on our police force are burying their own, too.  I hear their cries that this is not an answer… and they too do not want the many to be penalized by a broken society based on the actions of a few.

I’m watching on Facebook as people are being forced to take sides and God help you if you don’t pick the right one.  I am watching friends divide.  I watch wives in fear as their husbands leave to work another patrol.  I witness mothers of brown little boys and girls try to get the world to acknowledge their greatest fears every time their children walk out of their site.  I see communities who are saying ENOUGH and men/women in blue who are shouting THAT IS NOT ME.  I see the prayers and pleas from both sides who simply want their loved ones to come home tonight.

We were all created equal in His site.  Image bearers who are less than perfect.  All of us have past decisions that are less than stellar… for some even illegal.  Lord let me not judge the worthiness of a life TODAY based on a mistake made YESTERDAY.  Let me not judge the worthiness of a life TODAY based on how different a person looks or acts from me.  Let me stand in the way in injustice, be a voice for the voiceless, a shoulder to lean on.  Let me be ears capable of hearing, arms capable of lifting, and feet willing to walk beside.  Let me see the value you have given your creation, where you know the number of hairs on their heads…. you call them by name… those who are worth far more than rubies and pearls… more valuable than the sparrows to the God who loves them.

Forgive me for the times I failed to see… the times I didn’t want to hear… the disbelief that such pain was a deep and warranted.  Forgive me for the times I stayed silent when I should have spoken up.  Forgive me.  Give me your eyes for the hurting, broken in spirit, broken in body, broken in trust, broken in anguish, broken in anger.  Give me your heart, and break it for what breaks yours.

#BeTheChange for me starts with a prayer of forgiveness… that results in a softening of my heart and opens my eyes to see in a new way.

YOU are seen.

YOU are valuable.

YOU are loved.

Your life matters, greatly.

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I’m Asking for Trust, Not Power

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I’ve spent a little over a year doing some self examination, particularly in the area of leadership.  I came to a realization today, and jumped right to the keyboard to share it.  What I realized was my greatest struggle in leadership (now, and in the past) has always fallen in the difference between POWER and TRUST.   This applies to my management background and even within my ministry work.

Men, generally speaking, are looking for power and authority.  They climb the corporate ladder because they want to be top dog.  This isn’t true for all men, and this doesn’t negate that they work really hard and make sacrifices to get there.  It is that drive to “be their own boss” that makes men want to elevate their position or even start their own company.   Even in the church there is usually a progression:  Youth Pastor => Associate Pastor => Head Pastor.  In ministry it is common for a man to work his way up too, he may start out as an usher and then become head usher.  This forward movement is normal for men.

Women, I contend, have a different motivation.  Most women are not looking to be in power or have ultimate authority, but instead they want to be trusted to get the job done.  Women will stay in the same role for years, even a lifetime, if they find the job fulfilling.  In ministry, you can see this displayed in Sunday School teachers or Women’s Ministry leaders who have happily been serving for decades.  For many years the predominant use of women in the church came down to very domesticated roles, like rocking babies in the nursery, teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, decorating the church, secretarial, and acts of hospitality (coffee on Sunday mornings, or food for the sick).  Historically, that is a fairly accurate role… but as time passed and women became educated and entered the workforce, there was a shift.

Women have become innovators and inventors, they write software, perform surgeries, run multi-million dollar organizations and corporations.  They have become college professors with doctorates, leading experts in many fields, politicians, business owners, and entrepreneurs.  Women have contributed significantly to the world through art, music, and literature.  When they raise their hand to volunteer at church, they are looking for a way to use those talents and skills to help the church in it’s vision.  However it is pretty common to usher her toward the children’s ministry director or hospitality team.

After my first was born, I chose to become a stay at home mom.  In nearly seventeen years, and multiple churches as we moved, there has not been a single conversation regarding my professional background among church leaders.  Not one.  Yet many of those skills would benefit any church or organization I have worked with. 

Not a single one could tell you that I was the fasting rising, and youngest manager in my company.  Nor, that my numbers were the best in our region (and in some instances our state).  They wouldn’t know that I wrote training manuals on how to more efficiently execute certain positions in the company, and was moved to a training location to prepare future managers.  That I managed a staff off one hundred people, nearly a hundred thousand dollars per day in sales, and nearly half million dollars in inventory on any given day.  I have hired people, trained people, and fired people.  I have negotiated commissions, raises and contracts.  I have experience in marketing campaigns, organizational structuring, etc… etc.

I don’t list this as a source of pride, but simply a fact… a short resume of experience that goes continually untapped in multiple arenas.  I know that I am not the only one, I am not the only woman who has sat in the pews from week to week and knows deep down she could be doing more. I’ve talked to women who have approached their Pastors offering up their experience, only to be brushed aside. 

I spoke with a woman recently who lamented that her church hired a young barely experienced guy for a job that she had thirty years of experience in.  She would have VOLUNTEERED to do the job, but she had no clue her church was even hiring.  When I asked her if the church knew she had experience in that field, she said YES.  Apparently on numerous occasions she volunteered and every time was told her services were not needed.  She wasn’t even given a chance.

I know that feeling.  I’ve offered my services and been told “no thank you”, I have been mirco-managed too.  I also know what it is like to be in a leadership role with the total support and trust.  As I reflect upon those experiences I realized it really had nothing to do with being in authority, power, or being the top dog.  Knowing that those whom you are working or serving with TRUST you is the game changer.

If a woman in your church has experience running a multi-million dollar organization, her gifts are better utilized on a finance committee, building committee, or even on staff versus putting out coffee and donuts each Sunday.  The woman in your church who has been a hiring manager is a great person to include on your Pastor/Staff search committees, creating clear cut job descriptions, and listing your job postings.  A woman in your church who has a background in hospitality is a great person to consult when the church wants to throw a large event to ensure nothing is overlooked.  My great aunt was an accountant for a major corporation, and served as the treasurer of her church for decades. 

It would be irresponsible to not consider that some of these women who left a given field may NOT want to do the same job in the church.  Or, they may be happy to be consulted with for major projects but have no interested in full time commitment to a particular role.  This is especially true for our retirees who are using this time to travel and spend time with their growing families.  However, even some of our retirees are happy to share their experience and knowledge, so we can’t discount them either.  In as much, you may find the corporate CEO who never had a family of her own is happy to rock babies every chance she can get.  We shouldn’t assume the best place for women to serve in the church.  Instead we should be proactively placing them based on their experience, spiritual gifts tests, and speaking to them in regards to their area of interests. 

Women in church leadership want the staff members to trust that they are capable to do the job and to allow them to lead, not without accountability of course… but with support.   Women want the church leaders (and this includes women’s ministry leaders, and other subministry leaders) to talk to them about their professional or educational background.  Then work together as a team to find where you are best suited to serve.  I recently read that there is growth in the number of women who are leaving the church, and I can’t help but think this may be the reason why.

Generally speaking, when you give a person a job or a role within a church that uses their gifts and talents… they become invested.  They will remain part of the body long term.  However, when a person feels overlooked, unappreciated, or undervalued they tend to leave and find a place where they are.  If we want to slow down or even stop the departure of women from the church, we need to be proactive in connecting them to the church in a meaningful way.

#Write31Days – Post 20 – Subjective Value

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If you know me well, then you know where I stand on the subject of abortion.  I have always considered it a non-option, the baby is a life, and ending a pregnancy is ending that life.

You will also know that I don’t take this subject lightly, or to hyperbole.  I recognize that for most women who walk into an abortion clinic… this wasn’t an easy choice.

I don’t know what the circumstances were that led to their pregnancy.

Nor am I aware of the circumstances that led them to believe this was the best choice.

I am keenly aware that for many people the “best choice” is not one they are necessarily happy with.

I have made a point that I will never shame a person who has walked that road.  I can only speak against the industry itself, the society that has led many to believe that this is not only ok… but in many cases their “only choice”.   Society, even parents, have pressured teens to have an abortion in order to avoid shame.   Some churches will scream against abortion, as they tear down the women who get pregnant out of wedlock.  It leaves some thinking there is no other choice.

When I was in high school,  I know of three particular girls who got pregnant.  The first two were kicked out of their homes, one was kicked out of her church, and the third had an abortion.  At the time, I understood the choice the third girl made… because I saw what happened to the other two girls.

Let’s face it, with our judgment and condemnation we have never made it easy for the unwed mother.

But, let me clue you into something…  A BABY IS NEVER A SIN.

Yes, the act of having sex outside of marriage is not part of God’s plan, it is sin.   The resulting baby, is not.  It is a blessing.  Until we can take the shame off of pregnancy, women will go to abortion clinics to avoid shaming themselves and their families.

Until we can take the shame off of pregnancy, babies will not be considered a blessing.  Even those babies who were planned for, or the parents were excited about conceiving are shamed.

“You know how that happens, right?”

“Don’t you think two is enough?”

When we had our third daughter a family member actually said “She’s really pretty, but tell Gena she can stop now.”

Which brings me to “subjective value” and what taking an economics class taught me about abortion, and babies.

In economics the value of an item is based on how desired that item is.  The more people who want a particular item, the higher it’s value… thus the higher it’s price.

The interesting thing about that value is that it is totally subjective, and we don’t even need to be able to explain WHY we value one item over another.

I’ve always found it interesting that the value of a baby, among society as a whole, is not based on the baby’s  actual value at all.  Few are looking at the intrinsic value, or long term value of what that child will bring to the world. Instead the value of a baby is totally subjective.

It is why we can say, “sorry you lost your baby” when someone has a miscarriage.  However, call it a “lump of cells” when the baby is aborted.  The difference is value.  The “baby” was wanted by parents.  The “lump of cells” was not.

You would never hear ANY person (no matter their abortion beliefs) tell a grieving mother… “sorry you lost your lump of cells”.  NO!  Because, despite their personal beliefs… they know this woman WANTED this baby, and she is grieved over losing it.

You can have a baby of the exact same gestational age… but if a mom delivers the baby at home, and discards it in a trash can… she is a monster.  However, if that very same morning she went to an abortion clinic, we talk of her rights.

Value is subjective to the person making the decision.  What is more important to the person, this baby or whatever motivated them to consider abortion?

Not every abortion is “selfish” in the sense that they are doing it for their own gain.  Many women look at the world they would bring that child into and see it is as unsuitable.  We have failed to fully educate on the options available other than abortion, as a whole, in many communities.  More so, we have failed to remove the shame and stigma on the unwed mothers.  Even more importantly, we have failed to shape people’s idea of children to a place where their “subjective value” of life is one to be protected at all cost.

If we want stop abortion, we need to affect the subjective value of babies.  Society needs to not only stop shaming the unwed mother, but also needs to change it’s opinions of children.  When we value and celebrate every child, we value and celebrate every baby.  When we value and celebrate every baby, we will make abortion moot.

Women need to know that it is ok to put their career on hold, to stay home… without being condemned by their contemporaries.

Women need to know that it is ok to have a career and be a mother… without being judged by those who choose to stay home.

We need to make sure that as we are discussing abstinence, that we are also not just pushing against abortion… we also discuss the beauty the gift of adoption can be.

Parents should make sure that our children know that we may disappointed by their choices, but we are not disappointed in them.  Our disappointment should never cause shame that results in an abortion.

Society should stand behind the single women who have chosen life, and the church should be doing whatever we can to help them succeed.

#Write31Days – Post 13 – When the Church Says No

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I was reading the above article, on the website for The Gospel Coalition.  The gist of the article was that members of the body with artistic talents are often discouraged in using their gifts within the church.  It could be an art form that is not really understood, or that the church staff don’t know how to actually include it into the service of the church.  It isn’t always that they don’t want to, they just may not know how to.

But I would challenge that is discouragement isn’t just for those who have artistic gifts, but any gift or talent that isn’t being utilized.  I have been in churches that were welcoming of gifts and talents & would utilize them if the person was willing to commit.  I’ve also been in churches that will dismiss the gifts they don’t understand or can’t seem to figure out how that gift fits in to the vision of the church.

From an artistic standpoint, I can totally understand.  As a professionally trained actress, who also has ample back stage experience,  I have offered my gift to churches in the past.  Some embraced it with open arms, others dismissed it as something not relevant.  Dismissed so quickly that I never even had the opportunity to explain that expertise.  In 2005, I directed a Christmas musical for the church we were attending at the time.  It just so happened that at one showing there was a television producer in the audience.  He loved the show, and they came back and filmed it.  They ran it every few days, where they had an empty slot, all the way through Christmas Day.

That was an exciting day for me.  Yet, too often, when I share with a church or ministry that I have a theater background they instantly want to put me in charge of a children’s production.  That is NOT my specialty, it is not my gift.  They do not understand the impact that LIVE performance can have on a group of people.  Perhaps this is because too few churches have trained professionals, maybe they haven’t enough trust in the quality or commitment.  What saddens me is to be shot down before you even get a chance to try.  The Lord blessed me with a gift, specifically a talent, one that I want to use for HIS glory.   It is sad to see it get brushed aside because someone else doesn’t “get it”.

Being dismissed and discouraged is not only an issue with the arts, but can come about in many different forms.  I watched my husband’s spirit get completely squashed by a men’s ministry leader because he made an assumption about my husband without even getting to know him.  What most don’t know about my husband is that he has the ability to talk to anyone about God.  It’s really amazing.  I envy his boldness at times.  Every day he is out among the community, doing his job, and sharing the gospel where he can.  He has prayed with people, give them encouragement, and even his own Bible if they didn’t have one.

He can do this because God gifted him in that manner.  My husband also went through Evangelism Explosion training to learn how to present the gospel to every day people in a way that they would understand.  Bringing them through the steps from accepting Christ, to getting plugged into a church, and more.  When we were married and our family was growing, a huge burden was on my husband’s shoulders.  He became lukewarm, going through the motions.  One weekend he went with a men’s ministry to a conference, and my husband was ON FIRE.  He was ready to get back on the horse.

The leader of the ministry didn’t know my husband that well.  He assumed that my husband was caught up in emotions.  Since he didn’t take the time to really listen to my husband, to ask any questions about his experience… the man quickly extinguished that fire.  My husband said “I’m ready to serve.  Where can I plug in????”

The ministry leader patted him on the shoulder and said:  “No brother, where can we serve you.”   My husband wasn’t even given the chance to share who he was, or the gift that God has given him.  To this day, my husband has not stepped forward since.  He was rejected.  Instead, he has become my biggest supporter and advocate.    Instead, he has continued to share the gospel in his every day encounters.

One church damaged my husband, and he just hasn’t recovered.  Over the years, he has had ideas for ministries where he could serve people in our church or community.  However, that inspiration is fleeting.

I believe that we have to be very cautious as a church to NOT allow our vision for the church become tunnel vision.  We must be open to see how the different gifts and talents of the body can be used in that vision.  It is easy to see things our way, within our own understanding and abilities.  It is easy to see how things ought to go and progress, and make a list of what gifts and talents are needed to move that vision forward.  It isn’t always easy to see how the gifts of others can fit into that vision, or be molded into that vision.   If we see things too black and white, we miss the many gifts that fall in the middle.

As leaders we need to be careful with the gifts and offers of service from others.  We need to not just immediately dismiss a person because at first we can’t see how their gift fits the vision.  We need to not dismiss a person as a capable kingdom worker without taking the time to get to know them.  We may be throwing away the most amazing gifts… and affecting people in ways we never realize.

This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, accepting any and everything.  We can be judicious and gracious at the same time.

  •  Thank the person for offering their gift or talent to the church/ministry.
  • Ask them questions about their experience or training.
  • Get an idea of how they think their gift or talent could fit within the vision of the church, or help the ministry/community.
  • Take some time to really think about the conversation, pray about it.  Is there room for this ministry idea?  If not, is there an existing ministry that we can plug this person into that fulfills their desire to serve with their gift.
  • Follow up with the person, and be honest.  If you are not sure how it fits the vision, talk to them about it.  They may see something you don’t.  If now isn’t the right time, agree to revisit it in 3 – 6 months.  If you require more information, ask for it and take the time to review it.
  • If this is a brand new member of the church, and you are uncertain of commitment, have them go through the new members class and plug into a small group.  Let them know you want to get to know them better, and let them get acquainted with the church first.  Then you can talk ministry work.