A Thought Revisited…

ContemplatingHopefulness

A piece from about a year ago, The Apology I Didn’t Know That I Needed, has come to mind today.  It began when I read Beth Moore’s open letter.   It brought back a lot of thoughts and emotions I’ve had in recent years.  Moore’s letter has been a reverberating conversation among women on and offline.  Some are still afraid to speak up because they fear the repercussions.  The fact that women are even hesitant to speak openly about their feelings should be an indicator of how much work we have to do in this area.

Then, when I read a response from Thabiti Anyabwile that took me right back to that moment last year when two men who had never personally slighted me apologized…

… and how that apology did and still brings me to sobbing tears.

I’m going to step out in a level of open transparency here, that I’ve never done.  Let the consequences be what they may.  If my “official days” in ministry end here, so be it.  The Lord has not fired me yet, and I cling to His promises that whatever may come my way is just another storm that I will have to lean into Him.

Before I entered into ministry, I had a secular job.  In my company, some of my greatest assets and supporters were men.  They recognized my natural gifting for leadership, my gifts of administration, and they appreciated how my mind worked.  They took me through the ranks, taught me what they had learned over years of experience, and set me loose in our corporate world.  To this day, I still think back fondly of these men who fashioned me into a better leader than I could have ever imagined.

These guys, they didn’t need me to get a certain number of years of experience under my belt.  They recognized my potential and developed it, intentionally.  To this day, I remain the youngest person to ever be promoted to level in which I achieved (before leaving work to raise my daughters) and the fastest to promote through these levels.  My last promotion came when one of our Vice Presidents came into our location and decided to hold his conference call in my managers office.  He called in everyone of us who had promoted into middle management to sit in on the call.  When it was over, he asked for feedback on what we heard in the call.  He welcomed our ideas and criticisms.  I was one two women in the office among about 10 men.

When I spoke, he listened.  Not that he agreed with everything I had to say, but I could tell that this was more than just obligatory hearing of words.  He truly listened to what I had to say.  The meeting was concluded and we all went back to our departments. Thirty minutes later, I was called into the office.  I was offered an immediate promotion, significant salary increase, benefits, annual bonus, and so on.  I was only twenty years old.

In two weeks time, I moved to a new location for training.  By the end of my training, they asked me to stay on at that location and be responsible for training new managers coming into the position.  I was responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory, daily sales, and a team of over 150 people under my management.  I’ve hired people, fired people, and developed future leaders in the company.  I’ve written training manuals for positions I have held with them.  In a field dominated by men, I could have never reached the level I did without their support, encouragement, and their investment in me.  I learned and gained more from my time there than I probably ever could repay.

The Lord took me on a new journey.  After having our children, I began to invest my time and gifts into ministry.  Over the years my involvement with ministry grew deeper and resulted in my returning to school for a Divinity degree.  I’m thankful that the Lord has always pressed me forward in ministry, made a path for me to take, and walked alongside me when the road was rough.

And ministry has been rough.

In twenty years of ministry service, I have never been paid a dime.  I’ve never been “on staff”, nor even invited to a ministry staff meeting despite leading a ministry in the church.  I’ve never led in a ministry that has significant financial support, and quite often had zero financial support.  If you have attended an event that I have planned, more than likely the money came out of my own pocket to cover the costs.  I counted it as an offering to the church, and gave gladly.  I’m not complaining, I’m just stating the facts.

What ministries have I led in, you might wonder?

The majority of the last twenty years has been serving in Women’s Ministry.  A ministry that aims to serve at least half (if not more) of the church.  If you know me, you’ll know that despite being a “volunteer” leader… I’m giving full time hours to the cause.  I’m reading articles, researching trends.  I attend conferences, buy books, invest in resources… all of which is at my own expense.

And despite my devotion and dedication to serving women, it has been nothing but a struggle.  A struggle for funding.  A struggle for using space.  A struggle to have the Women’s Ministry seen as equally valuable as Youth Ministry, College Ministry, Children’s Ministry, etc.   A struggle to lead without being micromanaged and mistrusted.  A struggle against worries of being accused of usurping or being a Jezebel.

I came from a place in the secular world, where as a leader I was trusted with so much… to a world of ministry where I felt like I would never be trusted with anything.  A secular world, where I could find a new job or move into new positions with ease… to a world of ministry where finding a job that would hire me as a woman was like finding a unicorn.  A secular world where those who were higher up were interested in my education, background, and experience… to a world of ministry where no one even cared to ask.

It is hard to move from a place where you are implicitly trusted to one where you feel for every one step forward you make you get pulled two steps behind.

The truth is, I’ve been hurt in ministry.  I just hadn’t realized how much so until that day last year when Hunter from Serge apologized to me, when Pastor Sandy Willson apologized to us as a group.  It is incredibly hard to be an educated, equipped, woman gifted for leadership in the world of ministry.  When you are constantly told from the pulpit how much value you have to the Lord and His kingdom work… so long as your calling is Children’s Ministry, Coffee/Bagel Ministry, VBS, and working in the nursery.

I had thought these experiences were unique to myself.  However in the last umpteen months I’ve learned that this is not the case.  I’ve listened to women share how they were dismissed from their volunteer position because the church could finally afford to pay someone to do that job and hired a man.  Do you have any idea how that feels to be told that you are only valued for the free work you do, but not enough to get paid to do the same job?  It doesn’t feel good.

You can’t imagine how I felt when a Pastor, at my suggestion of using women in the church to share the load of responsibilities that were overwhelming him, said to me:

“The greatest gift the women in my church can give me is to serve their husbands and children.”

What about the women who don’t have children or are not married?  What about the women who are capable of managing their homes and serving in ministry?  How dismissive.  What an assumption that women can’t lead in ministry and serve the Kingdom at the same time?  This may have been the first time I was speechless in my life.

I’ve known to many women accused of having a Jezebel spirit or being divisive for standing up for themselves (their calling) and their ministry.  I’ve known too many women who have had their gifts and callings dismissed.  I’ve known too many women who have sat quietly despite their experience and education, simply because they knew better than to speak up.  I’ve watched churches hire men from other states when there were women in the body who could not only do the work, but even needed the income the job would provide.

To come from a world where I was trusted to oversee so much and into a world where I seemingly can be trusted with anything (for no other reason than my gender), it is incredibly saddening… and frustrating.  Women with strong leadership skills are seen as difficult and controlling, yet men with those same leadership qualities would be considered assertive and driven.

And, I think what hit me so hard about Beth Moore’s open letter was this…

If Beth Moore feels silenced, what hope is there for me?  If Beth Moore is still fighting against all of these things, what hope is there for me?  If Beth Moore has been afraid to speak up, what hope is there for me?

If the few women in the world of ministry that actually do have any real significant influence are speaking this way… what can ever change for me?  For my churches?  For my community?  For the Women’s Ministry leaders whom I serve?

If they are not even willing to listen to Beth Moore, what hope will I ever have of getting Pastors to hear my heart for Women’s Ministry?  My deep desire to disciple women, intentionally?  My calling to do Women’s Ministry differently than the preconceived notions they have in the mind of days past?  Can they even hear that?  Do they even want to?  Is it possible?

I realized the number of times over the years I have had to defend myself to people because I support Women’s Ministry.  The number of times I have had to caveat a point I was making on leadership with a disclaimer that I don’t desire nor feel called to the pulpit.  Why should I have to give a disclaimer about myself in order to speak about ministry leadership?

Why?  For the very reasons Moore states in her open letter.  For the very things that Anyabwile apologizes for in his response.  Because this is the every day battle of a woman in ministry leadership.  Moore’s letter reminded me that the wounds of ministry leadership for women are still pretty raw (even if there is healing happening).  Anyabwile’s response was another apology from someone who never slighted me… but yet I needed to hear.

And, that is the hope for me.  The hope that as more people speak up, that more change can happen.  Hope that our 30% of seminary graduates that are women will have jobs in ministry.  Hope that when jobs open at local churches that they would not only welcome but seek applications from women.  Hope that Women’s Ministry would be seen as equally valuable as other ministries in the church.  Hope that our leaders and staff would recognize the gifts of women and intentionally develop and implement those gifts into their church.

For me to have such hope, it means that I too much be willing to speak on the subject.  I can’t let Beth Moore be the only chicken willing to be fried.  We can’t let a few voices speak up and take all the heat, but instead be willing to speak up as well.  In doing so we illustrate the real scope of the problem we need to address, the hurdles we must overcome.

The more I look into the broad picture of leadership in the Scriptures, the less exclusive it appears to be.   The deeper I dig, the more I learn about the women that God trusted … that Jesus taught… the disciples co-labored with.  We can’t toss aside the gifting and anointing of half the body, or try to force those gifts into a small segment of volunteer positions in the church that we have decided are “ok” for women.

There is so much work to be done, so many people to reach, so many to serve, why are we handicapping ourselves?

So, I write this fully expecting to be added to the list of heretics and false teachers by the critics.  If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I expected this moment, I would tell you there was no way.  Yet, here I am.  Sharing the truth of my experiences (really a fraction of it), and a willingness to be part of change and growth.  For years I was in the camp of stay and pray.  I’ve prayed for change, I served outside of my calling in order to be supportive, and truly thought that this was the right pathway.

But today, after conversations and reflections… it’s a time to speak up.

We, the women who have been hurt, still love the church… local and global.  We still love our church leaders and church family.  We have been praying a long time.  We are still praying.  We will not stop praying.  Our hearts have not been bent from our mission and calling, we await the opportunity to use it in it’s fullness.

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Chronicling 40: Day 143

vision

Last night I attended a local event where we made what most people would recognize as a “Vision Board”, but it actually was a bit different.  The Vision Boards we are familiar with are big goals or dreams for our lives and futures.  Instead, this was called a Manifested Board.  The differences between this and a Vision Board is that 1) it has a specific time frame of just twelve months, and 2) you are working in the past tense.  It’s not about what you are “going to do” but rather a declaration of what is already done.

Did you know that statistically you are more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down?  Our event host, Tasha Chen, pointed out that we also make a deeper connection to that goal when we can visualize it.  I’m a big goal setter, always have been.  In preparation for this night, we were supposed to bring things like magazines to cut pictures from, etc.  I had printed a few images from my computer of things that I already have on my 2018 goal list.  This board would create the visual connection.

I was not only claiming for myself that I was going to hit these marks in 2018, but I was also sharing with others in the room what my goals were.  Sharing our goals with at least one another person creates accountability, someone will be asking us about our progress. I’m sure several of us will be sharing our accomplishments as the year progresses.  We will want to celebrate with each other as we reach these goals of health, deeper faith, improved relationships, and so much more.

Something else happened, as I prepared for the event.  I was looking for specific images that I wanted to print out to bring with me.  Something that would represent actually publicly showing some of my art.  Up until this point, while I have given and even sold a few pieces … I’ve never attempted a public showing, entered into a contest, etc. (unless you count when I applied to an art college while in High School, and received a small scholarship to the school as well).  My Uncle has been encouraging me, and I decided 2018 would be the year to do it.

That was what landed me on a few websites, and even before I went to the event… I put in 1 online application and printed out 2 mail in applications for juried art shows.  Not shows late next year, but in just a couple of months.  Which means that I need to get to work.  Nothing like a deadline to motivate someone.

Here’s the thing… sometimes the biggest dreams and goals we have (for today, tomorrow, or down the road) don’t require much more than writing it down, sharing it with someone else, and then putting your intentions in motion.   Thankful for the people in my life who give me the nudge… the encouragement… who stand in agreement… and the women who help me walk in confidence and victory.

I realized when I worked on this board, that so many of the things I wanted for 2018 were related to my creative talents.  What was holding me back all of these years was the vulnerability of doing so, it is scary to put out something you created.  I’ve always encouraged my kids to be brave and do big things… but me?  Who would listen to me?  Who would read what I wrote?  Who would want something I made?

Over 100 times in Scripture are we told not to be afraid.  Why should I be afraid to share a gift that the Lord has blessed me with?  And if I do it for Him, honoring the gift He has given me… that is sufficient.

So, when Tasha Chen asked us what word would represent our board and intentions… I said FEARLESS.

2018 will be the year that I am absolutely fearless about pursuing the course the Lord has set for me, using all that He has given me, and standing in victory that His promises for my life are already fulfilled.  I’m just waiting in eager anticipation for the moment I can see what He has already set in motion.

Chronicling 40: Day 65 of 365

How Do the Scriptures Speak of Deborah?

It is incredible how valuable Deborah is to the conversation about women in leadership, when such little is actually written about her in the Scriptures.  We are going to look at Judges 4 and 5.

As we look ahead of those 2 chapters, from the book of Judges, we see no previous mentioning of Deborah.  We do know that the judges handled disputes, and that when a judge would die the Lord would raise up a new judge.  Up until the 4th chapter, male judges were listed, then suddenly enters Deborah…

Judges4.png

Who Was Deborah:

  1.  Judges 4:4 lists Deborah as a prophet, a wife to Lappidoth, and leader of Israel.
  2.  Judges 4:5 explains that Deborah held court, and the Israelites came to her to settle disputes.
  3.  Judges 4:8 gives us a glimpse into how others viewed Deborah, she was so revered and seen as someone with God’s favor.  So much so, that once Deborah shared with Barak the Lord’s command… Barak agreed to go only if Deborah went with him.  In verse 9, Deborah makes sure that Barak understands that due to his lack of confidence in the Lord … the victory would be at the hands of a woman.
  4.  In verse 14, we see that Deborah gave the marching orders to Barak.

My Questions:

Why Deborah?  I’ve heard that the only reason Deborah was selected as a judge was because there were not suitable men.  This is not seen in this portion of scripture.  We need to find out where this idea was birthed.  Is it supported in the scripture.

Why the Order?  I noticed that Deborah’s role as a Prophet was listed first, even before her role as a wife.  When we, as women, are constantly told that our marriage/family is our first and most important calling… I think this order is very interesting.  Is this significant, that she was listed as a Prophet before wife?  I want to explore this question.

Why the Various Roles?  Deborah is listed as a prophet, leader of Israel, and a judge.  What are the differences between each of these positions?  Where do they overlap, and if/why this matters?

Judges Chapter 5:

Judges5

The Unwilling Men:

In Judges 5, we see the first mentioning of the unwilling me.  However, this piece of scripture doesn’t relate to there being no willing or capable men for leading Israel or sitting as a judge.  It specifically mentions an unwillingness to fight, which I see as a direct reflection on Judges 4:8,9 where Barak was unwilling to go into battle unless Deborah went with him.

As we begin to answer the questions I mentioned prior to the excerpt from Chapter 5, I think we are going to need to keep this piece of scripture in our pocket.  As we discern if there is (or is not) a difference between prophet, leader, and judge this (5:7) could be very important.

Tomorrow, we will set forward to answer these first questions.

 

Chronicling 40: Day 58 of 365

bythebooks

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

findingfocus

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.