Family and Ministry: The Great Marriage & Ministry Sync-Up

John and Anna MorganMINISTRY COUPLE

If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had about pastors looking for great, married couples for their leadership team, I’d be well on my way to affording my first pair of Jimmy Choos.  Respected couples in leadership, both of them passionate about Jesus and ministry, are actually kind of rare.  One half of the couple may be ready for greater leadership, but the other half is not.

The Bible is a pretty lean source of information about married couples doing God’s work together.  If Bible writers couldn’t scrape up many examples, then if you struggle, I’m pretty sure you’re okay!  The examples I have found are not traditional male/female church roles.

The Bible says so little about Peter’s wife that we don’t even know her name. Even though she was anonymous, she wasn’t invisible, however. Paul told us that she traveled with Peter on his missionary journeys. (1 Corinthians 9:5)  They must have had a sense of partnership about spreading the gospel.  Legend has it that she was martyred with Peter, dying just before he was crucified upside down.

Isaiah was married to a prophetess.  The two of them evidently shared a unique ministry and relationship together.  Isaiah chapter eight describes how the Lord gave Isaiah a word.  The Bible tells us that Isaiah immediately made love to his wife, the prophetess, and they conceived and had a son.  Isaiah named his son after the prophetic word, a name that meant quick to the plunder.  His wife was definitely all in to be willing to make a prophetic statement to the nation out of her children’s lives! (Also, how awkward must that have been for her husband to write about their sex life and it wind up in the Bible?)

Acts eighteen gives us a glimpse of perhaps the most successful ministry couple in the Bible.  Priscilla and Aquila were friends of the Apostle Paul, tentmakers with him.  They were all leaders in the early church together.  Priscilla and Aquila together introduced a man called Apollos to the gospel of Jesus.  Apollos went on to be a major soul-winner in the early church.  This would be like leading Billy Graham to the Lord.

Scholars believe that Priscilla had equal status to her husband.  She wasn’t considered property or inferior.  This partnership extended into their leadership, and she was likely considered to be a teacher in the early church.  Some scholars even believe she anonymously authored the book of Hebrews.  Either way, the Bible gives us a tangible sense of their partnership. They co-owned their business and in the same way, co-owned their work for the church of Jesus Christ.

As wonderful as these couples were, the Bible shows us far more examples of solo ministries.  Jesus, Paul, Anna the prophet, and the list goes on.  Jesus said that more often than not, your family is not going to be supportive of your ministry efforts.  Every individual is on his or her own journey, and married couples frequently aren’t synced up.  They are moving forward at a slightly different pace or started the journey at different times.  This means that usually, one is pushing a little harder and one is pulling back a bit.

So what do you do if one is further on in the journey? Church girls in particular can get caught up in private analysis and worry about how ministry is impacting their marriages and families.  Are we doing it right?  Is this okay?  How do I know for sure?

HE LEADS

Sometimes he is a bit farther down the track.  Girls who marry men who are already leaders in the church are usually facing this.  John and I had lunch with a pastor last week that is getting married next week.  He’s been in ministry his whole life, and knows he’s going to pastor his dad’s church eventually.  His wife-to-be is a business administrator from out of state who is uprooting her whole world to marry him.

His eyes got a little wide and panicky as he described their conversations leading into the wedding.  She has lots of questions about what her role will be, what the expectations are for her.  He found those questions really difficult to answer since they had never even been in the same church.  She serves in her church now, but in an area she isn’t passionate about.  She’s ready for something new in her new church. He wants her to be happy, but he recognizes how long it will take her to build the same influence he has.  He asked us, “What do I tell her?”

They may struggle, at least for a while, because she is trying to sync up to something he is already doing.  It would be like she walked up behind her man while he is digging a hole, and grabbed the end of his shovel to try to help him dig deeper.  She’s in the way, slowing things down rather than helping.  She ends up feeling useless.  She may wind up on the sidelines because he feels burdened by her desire to help.  To him, this will probably seem easier for both of them, because he doesn’t recognize that he not only could use her help—he needs her help.  

If you are married to a man who seems married to ministry, chin up.  Things are not what they seem!  You are not like some second wife to your man.  You don’t have to hang out on the sidelines, waiting for a project you can help on!  God uniquely created and gifted you.  Those gifts may still be seeds, or tender little shoots, easily trampled.  But get some iron in your spine, because your husband needs you and who God has designed you to be—whether he sees it yet or not.  Don’t wait for him to figure out what you can do.  Look for the needs in church life and in church people’s lives.  If you just jump in and keep your skin thick, your gifts will make room for you.  Don’t worry about whether you fit a certain type of church girl.  It takes all kinds, including your kind!  Bring your babies and jump in.

SHE LEADS

Sometimes she is out front.  A friend of mine, who I will call Amy, serves the equivalent of a full-time job for her church.  She and her husband have been financially blessed, so she has been able to commit most of her time to building the church, just getting part-time jobs here and there over the years to fill in the gaps when it was needed.  Ministry is her whole life and she absolutely loves it.

Her husband is a good man.  He takes care of her, loves her, loves Jesus, and supports her.  Over the years, he has hovered on the edges of the work that she does at her church, sometimes serving, sometimes not.  He has struggled to understand how she could put so much time and energy into something she isn’t getting paid to do.  Now, after many years, he has begun to develop resentment toward their church leaders.  He doesn’t understand why they have not decided to employ her and give her the compensation she deserves.  It’s not that they need it, but he believes they should honor and show appreciation toward her financially.  He has pulled away from serving completely because of this frustration.

Amy is one of many women who find themselves pushing toward kingdom building while their husband seems sort of dragged behind.  They don’t work together in church because they couldn’t. One would be pushing the plow with all their might, working toward one goal, and exhausting themselves because they are also dragging their plow partner along.  (Who is resenting not being able to chart their own course and pulling away toward other goals.)

The girls who handle this situation best are pretty special.  The thing they have in common is that they are chilled out.  They refuse to give into worries about this, because worry leads to nagging.  Nagging erodes the marital bond.  They have decided to trust in Jesus for their husband’s journey.  They have intelligent, non-emotional, non-manipulative conversations with their husbands about God and the church.  These conversations start with stories from her day, or sharing her passions and goals.  She has great emotional intelligence.  She can read the moment, read his responses correctly, and knows when to listen instead of argue.

These girls have taken the pressure off themselves and off their husbands and have learned how to be patient.  I think in that the secret to being chilled-out is that confidence is at the bottom of it all.  I see a confidence that Jesus has it all in hand.  We may not see the work the Holy Spirit is doing, but we can trust it, both in ourselves and in our husbands.  “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT) They have learned to view the journey as a whole, instead of just seeing the moment right now.

These amazing women know their purpose: to build God’s kingdom.  They have chosen their place to do it.  They serve with strength and dignity, even when it means sitting alone at church in a room full of couples.  They seem to have discovered a secret about partnering with Christ in the meantime.  The twinkle in their eye and the purpose in their stride show off a beautiful soul at peace.

WE LEAD (MARRIAGE & KAYAKS)

These elusive power couples I began by referring to, have somehow managed to align their marriage and ministry goals.  They are leveraging their partner’s strengths to push each other toward the same place.  I’ve observed three things that couples that lead well together have mastered.

I’ve been in a two-man kayak a few times.  It was not cute.  I’m awkward, sweaty, sunburnt, sore, and irritated mostly.  On the occasions that I have ventured out with someone, it has taken most of our time and my energy for us to just figure out how to synchronize our movements.  If you don’t work together, you literally go nowhere.  It takes work to find a rhythm of communication and paddling perfectly in unison.

Marriage is like that kayak.  It can be a vehicle that takes us forward, or it can be a frustrating waste of energy.  For John and I to sync up, it takes good communication, and equal effort on both our parts.  Lastly it takes a jointly chosen destination.  Without all three elements working together, we will wind up paddling against each other.  For us, it’s church or bust.  We both live-and-breathe love church and the flawed but growing people who make it up.

  1. Good Communication

Good communication starts with mutual respect.  Respect is an attitude that you choose to take, not something your husband earns as some kind of reward for good behavior.  Before I open my mouth, I have to make a decision to speak to him with respect and love.  John and I have a positive-speaking culture in our marriage.  If I get negative about something, John goes really quiet.  It gets awkward enough that I know I’ve crossed a line, and I backpedal.  He doesn’t back every bad decision I make, but encourages the best from me.  Same applies in the reverse.

When we are leading well together, we include each other in major decisions, even if it’s just a heads up.  We navigate crises together.  Nothing gets hidden.  When we communicate to each other in public, we speak respectfully.  It can get easy for married couples to get overly familiar with each other and disrespectfully disagree in front of other people.  For us, this is a major no-no.  If I want someone else to value my husband’s leadership, then I’d better value it first.  Again, the same applies in the reverse.  He champions my leadership to other people.

For most of our marriage, John and I worked in the same church on different teams.  I don’t think you have to be on the same team to be in sync.  We were able to cross-pollinate each other’s ministry efforts by providing an outsider’s fresh perspective to challenges as they arose.  We were each able to give wisdom to the other because we were outside of the situation.  We stayed mutually interested, despite our different focuses.  When a couple has very different gifts or interests, then this kind of ministry partnership is probably going to be ideal.

  1. Equal Effort

You can’t co-lead if you aren’t co-working.  Your marriage kayak is going in circles when only one of you rows.  Too many girls let their husband take the lead and then coast behind.  He needs you, and you need him.  Your gifts are designed to complement each other.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  Babies are an amazing season.  If you give yourself permission to disengage from the church world when your kids are young and stay home most of the time, it will bite you in the butt later.  We all can figure out some way to connect to the church at every season of life.  The kingdom of God is like this massive train that chugs forward with our without us.  If you get off, for any reason, trying to catch up is difficult.  Your spouse will have developed stronger leadership muscles in that time, and you may find it difficult to run at his pace or emotionally deal with his pressure if you have been on the sidelines for a few years.

I love how my friend, Lindsey Stewart, is navigating this season of ministry.  She is mom to a gorgeous toddler and wife to a church consultant.  He travels all over investing in churches.  She made the decision to take her little girl and go on the road with Brandon, her husband.  It absolutely would have been easier for her to stay home with the baby and let him go do his thing.  She made a decision that ministry isn’t his thing, it’s their family’s thing.

Equal effort means that both partners are running in their own lane, using their unique gifts to do the works God specifically designed them to do. Sometimes we girls wish our spouse were passionate about something else or gifted in a certain way. God designed him around what He wanted him to do.  Strong-arming your shy guy into getting on the stage is going to leave you both frustrated.  But if we chill out and encourage our spouse in what they do well, and help celebrate the wins right where they are, that’s where the magic happens.  We find mutual strength and support that comes from understanding we are in this together, both carrying the weight.

The roles don’t have to fit the traditional expectations.  It’s one of the amazing things about the church today.  So many different ways to serve the church and serve people are available to us.

  1. Joint Goal

Couples that successfully lead side-by-side have aligned their lives’ mission.  She is not out doing girl stuff while he does guy stuff, with different sets of friends.  It’s not my thing or his thing.  It’s our thing.  John and I have allowed vision to grow between us.  It has taken years for us to see how we complement each other and where our dreams align.  Sometimes it means deciding to care about what your husband is passionate about.  The end results are goals that are co-owned, one hundred percent.

Good conversations about this can start with questions like: What do you want your life’s legacy to be?  I want more than a comfortable standard of living and early retirement.  What do you want?

If I can align my vision with my husband, then the challenges that arise along the way are far less stressful.  We both know and want what is waiting on the other side.  The church never becomes the enemy or the tolerated competition.  We are in this together.  Our marriage kayak has one destination, and we can get to it because it’s the direction we are both paddling toward.

If we get all three of these things aligned: communication, equal effort, and a joint goal—there is nothing we can’t do.  My prayer for you is that your partnership will quickly speed you toward a goal of building Jesus’ kingdom here. Here’s to the making of more Priscilla and Aquila partnerships!

Parenting and Blending Families

Blending familyBLENDING OUR FAMILY

I am flying to New Zealand this week to watch my daughter Chloé graduate.  She’s worked hard, and I’m very proud of her double major in Psychology and Education from the University of Auckland.  There is something about seeing your kid graduate that makes you let out an internal sigh of relief.  We finished our duty of forced education, and the result has been good.

All three of our girls are my stepdaughters. I don’t like the term “step.” It makes me cringe on the inside. It seems to verbally create a separation that we have worked hard to eliminate. Even the term “blended family” can sound violent. It works okay if you think of it less like an electric blender and more like an artist’s soft blending brush. These terms are harsh, but creating a new family has actually been a very satisfying journey for me.

To celebrate Chloé’s success this week, I want to share some of the things John and I have done to parent our girls.  All three of them are gorgeous, sweet, and strong.  They are easy to love.  Like all kids, they have had their share of struggles and mistakes, but they have navigated life quite well.

Before John and I got married, he ran a household of fun.  The Ping-Pong table enjoyed a permanent setup in the living room, roller skates were perfectly acceptable indoors, and the pantry was stocked with an array of sugar-packed junk food.  Bedtimes were non-existent, and church youth leaders came through at all hours.

As a single woman, I had a quiet, ordered and neat condo, where every kitchen bowl and fork had an assigned location and my closets were organized by color and type of garment.  When the two of us married, we had to meet in the middle, starting with the double mountain of laundry: clean vs. dirty.  The girls had no choice but to adapt to the compromises John and I made.

GETTING MY HEAD AROUND ITArtist brushes with a half finished painted canvas

John and I read several books on blended families before we got married, but one in particular had really practical advice and struck us as great sense.  Ron Deal wrote the book, The Smart Step Family, which I highly recommend that anyone parenting a blended family read.  The major points of the book have stuck with me over the last nine years.  They really helped us be successful.

The first piece of advice was to chill out, and lower your expectations.  It takes a long time for a kid to see their stepparent as a parental figure.  Mr. Deal says to view the relationship as a crockpot, not a microwave.  Use low heat over a long time.  It’s pretty much the opposite of the passionate love affair you have with that child’s parent.  The experts say if your stepchild child is seven when you marry, they will not likely see you as a full parent for another seven years.  You can’t rush it.  Just like any leadership relationship, it takes years to get close.  Connecting to a child takes even longer because you have very little in common.  Calm patience that stretches over years is required.  The demands of cultivation and such slow germination mean that the relationship becomes incredibly precious when it finally flowers.

The second bit of advice we followed was to allow the biological parent to be the disciplinarian and to lay down the rules.  We determined together what the rules were, but when it came to the hard conversations, John took the lead.  When discipline was needed, we discussed it, but John handled its dispensation.

I had to mentally prepare myself to financially take on children who were too young to appreciate the sacrifices I was suddenly making for them.  When I was single, I spend my money on what I wanted or needed.  As a stepparent, you don’t have the hormonal instincts to put your kids first.  Instead of being a biological imperative, it’s a decision to love.  In this respect, step parenting was one of the most unselfish things I have done.  I had to love them way God does, giving with no expectation back.  This was not easy, and I certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but it deepened my character in important ways.  Parenting made me less self-centered.  For so many, this requirement of step parenting comes as a surprise that may take out their marriage.

PUTTING OUR MARRIAGE FIRST

John and I have been able to communicate really well about our thoughts and feelings.  We had a deal between us that I would never put him in the position where he had to choose between his girls and me, and in exchange, he would prioritize my needs first.  He is an amazing father and husband.  He worked hard to include me in his parenting rather than make decisions about his girls in isolation.  I have tried to be aware of my emotions and as honest with him as possible about my feelings and what the real issues are.

I have heard some real blended family horror stories.  These girls are just as responsible for our successful blend as John and me.  They wanted me in their family, and that has made all the difference.  When John and I started dating, the girls were away.  Sharayah was fifteen at the time.  She told me last year that when she came back home, her dad was happier than she had ever seen him.  Before she ever met me, she told herself that whatever was making him this happy had to stay.  She was determined that we would work, for the sake of her father’s happiness.  That’s one remarkably selfless fifteen year-old! Chloé and Brooke have been just as open and welcoming. None of the girls have ever pushed me out or been defiant.

PARENTING AS LEADERS

Parenting in a leadership environment can be tricky.  Everyone has an opinion about your kids’ behavior, and most of the time, they are held to a higher standard than normal kids.  We have done our best to talk through these moments as they arose, encouraging the girls to view people through eyes of grace.  We trust that most people mean well, even when they are misguiding or hurtful in their advice or comments.

I have a friend who is a pastor’s kid who remembers being told as a kid to shape up because people were watching.  If we teach our kids to behave because of leadership pressure, chances are they will wind up resenting the church.  I believe a better approach is to teach our kids to make good choices both for their own good future and to please Jesus with their character.

two arms of lovers and young daughterA CULTURE OF TRUST

We have worked to create a culture of trust in our family.  We trust our girls, and honesty is a vital part of maintaining that trust.  Trusting them meant we haven’t violated their privacy by digging through their things or their communications.  When you believe the best about people, they want to live up to your standards.

Kids want to make us proud.  I’ve seen the hurt in our girls’ eyes when they felt like they had disappointed us.  I remember feeling that with my parents.  We create the identities of our children by the way we treat them and speak to them.  If we treat them like hooligans, that’s who they will believe themselves to be.  If we treat them with respect and value, that’s who they will be.  Like all parenting, this is built over a long, long time.

My parents were impressively good.  Now that I’ve had to figure stuff out, I’ve tried to imitate their parenting style.  When I was little, they were very restricting about what I could do or watch or listen to.  As I became a teenager, they let go of many of those rules and focused on consequences instead of rules.  They had conversations with me like this: “The consequence of staying up late is being tired in school the next day.  Exhaustion means you don’t absorb information well.  Lower grades mean you don’t get scholarships for college.  College loans haunt you for decades.”

These conversations helped me understand that small decisions can have significant impact.  I made good decisions most of the time, but I didn’t always.  My parents were never enablers of poor decisions.  I had to fix my own mistakes.  When I got in so deep I couldn’t get myself out, they would help me, and because I wasn’t expecting help, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

I’ve tried to help our girls see that the little decisions add up to big consequences.  It’s a delicate balance, however, because we try to love a whole lot and lecture very little.

For this week, however, I couldn’t be prouder of the choices Chloé has made.  All three girls make me proud, but this week is for Chloé.

The Purple Velvet Hammer

TheVelvetHammer

My husband is a boxing and MMA fan.  This means that from time to time, to be a loving wife, I am subjected to a few hours of wincing and mild nausea.  Every so often, there will be a pair of girls who jump into the cage and try to tear each other apart.  It just feels awkward to watch them going at it—sensitive body parts flashing across the camera in between blood sprays, swinging hair and swelling faces.  I do not enjoy it.

I’m not the only one.  Female fighters aren’t really embraced by womankind.  Fighting is not really a feminine characteristic, unless its in defense of your babies.  Most girly images are soft and gentle and sweet.  Femininity and confrontation just seem to be an uneasy marriage.

Whether it’s a friendship that is going sour or a team member that is sliding further away from their commitment, we all face potential confrontations at some point or another.  We have two choices.  Walk away, or have the awkward and costly conversation.  Most of us girls lean away from smell of a fight and want to back away slowly.  The tension in those conversations is stressful and unpleasant, and we don’t want to make things worse than they already are.

It can be tricky finding the sweet spot between being a pushover and being a b****.

In Judges four, the Bible described two women who went to battle.  The first was Deborah, a judge in Israel.  In Deborah’s time, the people began to have a defeatist attitude.  They had been defeated by Jabin, king of the Canaanites, and as victims of these circumstances, their warriors began to be half-hearted and lazy.  They did not even attempt to defend what they had, much less move forward.  Deborah stood up as a prophet and rallied an army to go and win back their independence.  She literally went into battle with the guys, but she was still fully female.  She is referred to as a mother in Israel, not as Xena, the warrior princess.

The Bible describes four things that Deborah did as a foundation for her leadership.  We can use these principles today to help us find the right balance between strength and sweetness.

In the time of Shamgar son of Anath,

    and in the time of Jael,

Public roads were abandoned,

    travelers went by backroads.

Warriors became fat and sloppy,

    no fight left in them.

Then you, Deborah, rose up;

    you got up, a mother in Israel.

God chose new leaders,

    who then fought at the gates.

—Judges 5:6-8 MSG

Be willing to mother more than your own gorgeous rugrats.

The Bible says Deborah rose up as a mother in Israel.  She got involved in people’s lives at the level a mother would.  Deborah spent somewhere around 30-40 years sitting under a palm tree nearly every day, available to chat with people and help decide their disputes.  Mothers are involved—loving, looking after, training and directing.  They get incredible joy out of their children’s successes, and are willing to sacrifice for them.

For us to lead well, we have to be as involved as a mom is in people’s lives and be willing to be accessible.  The level of our confrontation needs to be at the level of connection we have to people.  As a leader, I have to be able to recognize at what level I’m leading an individual and moderate my confrontation to the level of my leadership.  If someone is distantly connected to me, the tension of heavy confrontation is going to tear the fragile threads that connect us.  For someone else that is in my world daily and I’ve invested heavily in, the complex web of our relationship can handle more pressure.  It takes time and investment to earn people’s trust.

Let God rise up new leaders around you.

Deborah’s leadership produced more leaders.  God chose new leaders who fought in place of the old, tired ones.  The people who came with us this far may not go the next leg of the journey with us.  Confronting half-heartedness in old leadership is risky—those team members may not make it through the conversation.  If we haven’t made room for new leadership, the thought of losing those old leaders may make us hesitate to confront where we should.  Making room for new leadership and trusting new leaders isn’t easy for us.

My Chinese sister-in-law, Ying, observed to me recently that “best friend” to Americans really means, “oldest faithful friend.”  We place high value on relationships that have stood the test of time.  The process of building and leaning on new relationships is long hard work full of awkward conversations.  Our attitude about that journey makes all the difference.  We can be open and engaging, or keep our world small and insular.

Be willing to rise up and confront sloppiness.

More times than I can count, I have been up late at night, thinking or worrying about a situation that needs addressing.  I can try to ignore it, but it just wriggles in the back of my brain trying to get my attention.  In my early years of ministry, I relied on my husband to do the confronting for me.  He would sense my distress or discomfort and would rally to my defense.  The thing is, when he got involved, it never actually helped people buy into my leadership at any greater level.  Those moments established his authority and his leadership—not mine, even though the conversation was with someone in my area of responsibility.

If I am going to wear the title of leader, I have to do what Deborah did, and get dirty with the conflict.  It’s up to me to sort things out, as uncomfortable as it may be and as unprepared as I may feel.  If we don’t confront at all, we will hesitate to give people responsibilities that really matter in case they mess it up.  If we over-confront, people resist our leadership.

I frequently get asked the question, “What should I confront or not confront in my new team members?”  Confront new team members and new leaders at the level of their commitment.  This requires clear conversations about expectations early on, from attitudes to preparation.  Tension arises when people don’t deliver on what they have committed.  Deborah confronted the warriors who gave themselves permission to become fat and lazy.  They were not doing what they had committed to do—defend Israel.

If someone committed ten hours and is delivering five, have a conversation about it.  If they have committed to come to a rehearsal prepared, knowing their songs, and they don’t; let’s talk about it.

Be the purple velvet hammer

So how strong should we be in those conversations?  How intense should we be?

Deborah leaned on the people’s commitment to God in her conversations.  The way we serve reflects on our relationship with Jesus.  I do not confront anyone without reminding him or her about why we serve.

I love the story of Jael, another fierce chick from Judges five.

Most blessed among women is Jael,

The wife of Heber the Kenite;

Blessed is she among women in tents.

25 He asked for water, she gave milk;

She brought out cream in a lordly bowl.

26 She stretched her hand to the tent peg,

Her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;

She pounded Sisera, she pierced his head,

She split and struck through his temple.

27 At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;

At her feet he sank, he fell;

Where he sank, there he fell dead.

 –Judges 5:24-27 NKJV

Jael was the purple velvet hammer.  She was gentle and hospitable, and when it came time, she handled her business without any excess drama.  We can be purple velvet hammers too—soft and pretty, but with an iron core.  We don’t have to confront harshly or argue.

The point of confrontation is not that I’m right and you’re wrong.  Good confrontation offers a truth, a tool that will help you become who you already want to be.  We can be gracious in these conversations because every one of us has blind spots that need someone else’s coaching to overcome.  As female leaders, our femininity can be disarming and help lower defenses so that the truth can be welcomed.  We can tell people difficult truths, but with a lovely smile and a hug.

Deborah’s song encourages us to be like the sun. It’s warm, bright, and nourishing, but it’s also unrelenting and incredibly strong.

But let those who love Him be like the sun

When it comes out in full strength.

 Judges 5:31 NKJV

 

Girls, we can be both strong and sweet!

Balancing the Scales: Ministry and Family

Figuring out how to be both a good mom and a good leader has been a challenging journey for me. I made a calculated change to my lifestyle last spring when I resigned from my staff role at church after twelve-plus years. My husband John and I now travel full-time together with our youngest and the only one left at home, Brooke, who is fourteen. We put her into an online homeschool program so that she could travel with us. She’s at an age when I really have to be tuned in. Lucky for me, she is a total joy. I love the intimacy of our life on the road together as a family.

Brooke told us recently that she is enjoying the fact that she sees me more than once a week now. It took me aback for a minute, because she has never complained about my schedule. The reality was that we did have seasons when our schedules were so divergent that I didn’t see her for days at a time. I think I was subconsciously sort of hoping that she didn’t notice. No such luck. On the other end of the spectrum, when taking time away from ministry for family, I felt the weight of my responsibilities, especially when it meant missing a major event.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get asked by girls in church leadership is, “How do I balance ministry and my family?” I can’t give anyone an easy answer, because the balance is different for everyone, and it varies from season to season. Sometimes the demands of our families or our ministries make us lean a little in one direction. Unfortunately, neither side is going to take the other as a good excuse for my lack of attention if I live out of balance continuously. It’s always going to be a little bit messy, and we just have to be okay with that. Every now and then we may reach that perfect state of Zen where we feel like both are in balance and happy. Enjoy it while it lasts. What works one year may not work the next. It’s a continual adjustment. If we are aware and tuned in to both sides, however, we can teeter-totter on the scale between the two demands as needed.

Where family is concerned, the absolute must-dos have to be customized to the kid. Gary Chapman wrote an important book called, The Five Love Languages. If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out. Gary developed a little online quiz that kids can take so parents can figure out what their child’s love language is. If kids aren’t receiving love in their preferred “language,” they are going to feel disconnected. Moms have to know what is important to their kid and deliver on that.

Kids who are involved in our ministry are going to feel far more connected to us. Can they do something to help out? It might be a really simple job like making copies or sorting things, but it will help them feel like they matter. Ministry has some significant benefits. Our kids get access to things that other kids don’t. Don’t be shy about giving them opportunities, access to green rooms, or access to relationships with great people. When our kids are connected to the fun parts of ministry, they are far less inclined to be resentful about our involvement.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t vent about ministry in front of the kids. If we bleed all over our kids, they are going to hate whatever got us hurt. Several years ago, I was rushing some food prep on Christmas Eve. I was under the gun because I had to get to church to play for Christmas Eve services. In my hurry to chop some onions, I sliced my hand open. It bled for over an hour before I grabbed Brooke and went to the emergency room for a quick stitch to make sure I wasn’t going to bleed all over my keyboard. It wasn’t serious and I was more annoyed by the inconvenience than anything. I didn’t realize until later how much of an impact that had on Brooke. She has brought the story up several times over the years and still gets nervous when I handle knives. Seeing me hurt traumatized her. The same is going to be true for ministry. We take bumps and bruises along the way, and if we are healthy leaders, we learn something, heal, and keep moving. We forget all about whatever the issue was once we have moved on. It’s much harder for our kids to move on if we have exposed them to our pain in the moment. For our kids to love the church, they don’t need to see every injury we take on our leadership journey.

If your spouse isn’t involved in church leadership, the same thing applies–don’t vent to him. If the only perspective our family has about ministry is what frustrates or hurts us, they are going to see it as a bad thing. I’ve been very guarded about the conversations I have around our kids, particularly where it concerns our pastors. I don’t want them to ever see pastors as anything but awesome. Pastors are major pipelines, bringing Jesus to our families. If kids feel guarded toward their pastors, they are far less likely to receive from them.

There are two sides to this scale. If we say that family is always priority and drop our ministry responsibilities at the first sight of the school calendar, we will do damage to our leadership. Both sides need consistent attention and energy to flourish. The call of God on our lives is not so narrow to make us choose either/or, but it’s both. We can be good moms and wives and be good leaders at the same time.

There are also a few must-dos on the leadership side of the scale. Consistency is critical for earning people’s respect. If we bite off more than we can successfully execute, we move backward, not forward in our leadership. Before committing, we need to think through our schedules and be realistic about family and job obligations. Commit to what can actually be accomplished well. People trust leaders that they can count on. When we engage our leadership environments or our teams, we have to come prepared. This means be on time and do the homework before arriving. If we come in disorganized, late, or without knowing our stuff, we lose leadership credibility. It’s very hard to respect someone who leads unprepared.

Girls, if we jump in and out of visible leadership roles and fail to consistently presence ourselves in leadership environments like staff meetings or leadership meetings, people will mentally sideline us to the non-essential areas of responsibility. If I don’t create a perception that I am mentally present and involved, people will assume that I don’t want to be. It’s my responsibility to create people’s perception of me. Whatever we commit to do, we have to do it consistently in order to earn respect.

If you have totally disengaged for a season because of an infant or some other reason, the way you reengage matters a great deal. I’ve seen girls who came back from an extended season out and struggled to reestablish their leadership, even when the position was waiting for them. Some came back in with an iron fist, trying to stamp their authority all over their teams. This was met with resentment and resistance. It’s much easier for everyone if we ease our way back in, with low pressure and high affirmation. Team dynamics change continually. It takes a little time to watch and learn what works differently now. Reengaging effectively requires that we relearn our awareness of the team’s morale and level of buy-in. We only learn this by listening and watching. In the early stages of reengaging, we have to ask more questions than we answer.

We don’t have to keep the lines clean between the two sides of the scale. In fact, mixing family with ministry is the best solution. The most effective female leaders I know meet with people around their kids’ schedules. They will do a ministry-based meeting on the sidelines at their kids’ games, at their house while their kids are doing homework, or at the dance studio while their kids are getting a lesson. Others set up rooms at church for their kids to work or play in next to their offices and bring them along. The Bible says a three-strand cord is not easily broken. Ministry life can lend strength to family life, and family life definitely lends strength to ministry. When ministry is our life, not an extra thing we do, it extends into every part of the way we live. Doing ministry with other families then means that we are doing life together, and the lines between family and church get very blurry. I have found this to be the best way for us.

I know that some of you who are reading this are seasoned leaders. Please post any thoughts you might add to the conversation or suggestions for ways you have found to balance the two sides of the scale or to bring them together.

When Mommying Isn’t the Best Way

Women have actually always been leading. Females may be relatively new to professional leadership environments, but leadership is nothing new to us. We’ve had to develop some serious leadership chops for parenting. Moms everywhere have had to learn how to lead.

We have used a variety of leadership skills, both great techniques and some maybe-not-so-great ones. Our mothering leadership toolbox has historically included some useful tools: bribery, (I’ll give you a cookie when we get home if you stop it now), manipulation, (it makes mommy so sad when you do that), nagging, (how many times do I have to tell you…), and the all-powerful, “because I said so!” Unfortunately, these tactics that may work reasonably well at home are resented in adult leadership environments.

Because of these mothering habits, many women find it difficult to figure out how to get what they need out of people without resorting to this style of leadership. Unfortunately, men resent it, and women hate it. Almost everyone already has a mother. Few need or want another naggy one. One of the biggest challenges facing women leaders is learning how to lead as a woman without mothering.

Effective female leaders inspire rather than demand. When we lead from vision, inviting people to build something great with us rather than railroading people, the teams we build are much healthier and happier. This type of leadership takes more time, because it requires us to show people the big picture while we ask them for specific tasks. Women wear many different hats and carry a variety of roles. In our busy lifestyles, with so many demands, we tend to breeze over the big picture because of time constraints.

Leading through inspiration means I am helping my teammates see how the unique task I am asking for connects to the greater cause, the reason why. People are inspired when they understand how partnering with a greater cause gives our lives greater purpose and significance. It may be a repetitious or boring task, but it is vitally important, and we explain why. Inspired people will work harder and more creatively than loyal people. We don’t have to bribe, manipulate, nag, or demand in order to get the job done!

I’m definitely not suggesting that we need to abandon our girlyness to become better leaders. Some women try to mask their femininity to fit into the masculine leadership culture. We will wear suits, pull back our hair and pretend we have no emotions to fit in. Women will intentionally behave more gruffly to be “one of the guys.” This may feel like an easier way to connect, but it is not necessary getting better results.

The fact that we are different gives us an edge. We are unique! It is what makes us stand out in the crowd. Not only that, our femininity is disarming to men and we can use it to break down walls. Our emotion makes us more intuitively empathic leaders. If we will manage it well, it’s an asset, not a liability. They key is for us to manage our emotion instead of our emotion managing us.

There is a very wide range between Gloria Steinem-style leadership and Princess Catherine-style leadership, but somewhere in the middle is probably the healthy place to fall. God made us feminine, and we can be well-respected and inspirational without surrendering our strength or our sense of style. We are all different, and leadership will look different on our various personalities and styles. The best expression of leadership is going to come out of the most authentic, best version of ourselves.

Everyone buys into a leader at a different rate. Not everyone is universally behind you, just because you got a job or a role. This doesn’t mean that those people are against you and should be viewed squinty-eyed with suspicion. Followership is not black and white, it’s a gradient that is different for every individual and can change in different life seasons.

If you are mothering instead of leading, you may be leaning on the negative tools of the trade to get folks in line who aren’t 100% all-in yet. Usually, this gets greeted with push-back and resentment. Give it some time. We have work to do to get people to follow us at greater levels. It takes a long time–months to years, even!–to earn the leadership respect of high-capacity people, but it’s well worth the effort.

Everyone is on a journey and is at a different point in engaging our leadership. Making “because I said so” demands on men who are early on their followership journey with us will send them backwards. Using other tools, like listening, smiling, engaging, sharing the wins, and gratitude, will coax them forward. Above all, inspire rather than demand. This moves people towards us instead of away from us.

The love and loyalty that moms have for their kids is always appropriate in leadership. Great leaders see potential in their team members and believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves, just like great moms do. To all the awesome moms of this world–we need you and value you. (Shout out to my mom!)

When He Isn’t As Into Church As She Is

My dad called me today about a sticky situation. One of the young women who leads in our church is having marriage trouble, and not the infidelity kind or the abuse kind, but more of a respect issue. She’s been growing in her leadership and her personal identity through the last ten years, went to college and got a degree, and has morphed from a timid, shy girl to the strong, confident woman she is now. Her husband doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Now that she knows herself, she knows what she wants from her marriage, and he evidently is not delivering that. Poor guy, he’s gone through a hard couple of years and felt the effects of our shrinking economy, etc, and furthermore, he sits on the sidelines at church, involved in nothing and is apparently perfectly satisfied to simply attend.

Churches are dominated by women, many of whom have spouses who don’t attend church or are not saved. This same trend is moving into leadership levels as well. I have three girlfriends I’ve thinking about after that conversation today. They are in ministry roles in different churches. They are super passionate about serving Jesus and building his kingdom, and both have great leadership strength, but their husbands, though they love Jesus, do not share the same passion for building His church because of various life experiences. It seems like they are always struggling with their husbands apathy. Whenever there is a project or a decision to be made that requires a little bit more of them, their husbands don’t cheer them on. I have sat over coffee with these girls and watched tears roll down their cheeks as they communicated the pain they felt over their very loved husband being so distant from serving in God’s house as they should be. Their husbands all have different reasons for it, and some quite understandable, but in the end its all the same.

I’ve seen women through the years whose response that unequal passion was different. Some women will shelf that call and drive inside them thinking that submission is a holy and godly route, and that they need to defer to their spouses wishes as to how they spend their time and energies, which just drives me nuts. Here’s my issue with that thinking–God clearly wants to be first priority in his life. He asks us to show our worship by offering our lives as “living sacrifices”. That means time, money, heart, passion–the works! How could God, who asks for nothing less than our all, say okay, I get it. The man in your life wants you to slow down and take his priorities on over mine, so that’s cool. He’s more important. NO WAY! I just don’t believe that God’s definition of submission includes putting your husband before God. The original language speaks of submission as a loving deference. Its the same unselfishness that is required for any mature adult relationship to survive long-term. Submission does not mean losing one’s identity in the desires and priorities of someone else. These women die a little on the inside every day I think, and have deep resentments toward their husbands-all in the name of their attempts to be obedient to a very misunderstood Bible verse.

Some women respond by creating separate lives from their husbands. It seems like some of them successfully navigate this and it works okay, but for others, the gulf deepens between husband and wife and there is a break in relationship. This seems like an enormous sacrifice that God is not asking for. God is FOR successful marriages! I have another friend who lives this balancing act between ministry life and married life, doing her best to side-step crises by compromising when her marriage seems in imminent danger. She lives essentially at the mercy of her husbands threats, and when he threatens, she has to drop everything to rescue the situation. This scenario just breaks my heart. How do you choose every day between two things you love? How unfair for her husband to force the choice! In my mind, it’s like being forced to choose which of your two children you love the most. It’s simply not possible!

The best possible scenario is one like mine where both partners are equally invested and there is shared passion and interest. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t favor this arrangement.

Here’s the thing that I can’t get my head around. In today’s circles, a man’s leadership in the church is not hampered by the wife’s level of leadership or involvement. Why does it seem like my dear friends are limited in their opportunities because of their husband disengaged attitude? Is it a road block in their own mind or is it an unspoken expectation that women let their husbands lead, and wherever they are leading is the right direction?

So back to my original conversation with Dad–what to advise? Should she back off of her church commitments and be whoever he wants her to be, or should he change? And after her ten years of development, would it be possible for him to catch up? In my experience, the most fundamental need of a man is to feel respected. Is it possible for her to respect a man who is not as bought into church life and the kingdom of God as she is? I am concerned. I feel a mysterious pressure from I don’t know where to advise her to back off and make her marriage the priority because God is for marriage. But on the other end, I feel a conviction that backing off from building God’s kingdom is always the wrong choice!

I believe the right answer, in spite of the pressure I feel, is for her to show leadership and step up to the plate in her household as an equal partner. The best picture of life as God intended is Adam and Eve in the garden. Eve was made from his rib, from his side, created to stand next to him as an equal. When mankind fell, this arrangement fell apart. Jesus died to redeem us from the fall and to put womankind back where they belong…at the side of men. Men need women to be complete. It’s interesting that in the news this week they have been discussing how men have run our financial industry since its inception and have made such a mess of Wall Street that now, companies are realizing that women are the missing element and are hiring women to lead in that environment! This precious lady has a God-designed purpose to live out. How horrible would it be for her to live her whole life trying to please her husband but never to have pleased God by finishing her assignment.

Women need to learn to lead sideways. This means inspiring their husbands to serve God, not nag them. Women need to stand with grace and strength as examples to their husbands of how to love God, not wilt and cringe. Women need to live with joy and peace in their homes and not attempt to manipulate their husbands into doing the right thing. When we are at peace with ourselves and know who we are in Christ, we are irresistible to men! Power struggles are not necessary when you know who you are. Leading sideways means clearly communicating our desires, our thoughts and feelings, and our expectations without making assumptions about what he should already know. Leading sideways means being willing to have the risky conversations without getting defensive or escalating. This also means leading with strength in church without feeling guilty or feeling insecure because he isn’t there with us.

I believe that we can never underestimate the importance of two things. One, prayer absolutely changes things. And two, ladies, if you have that leadership itch in you, be VERY careful about who you marry. Warm fuzzies and attraction aren’t going to make the journey.