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!

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Revival is Christian for Momentum

REVIVAL AND MOMENTUM 

Revival Momentum TeamI grew up in a Charismatic/Pentecostal church in the 80’s and 90’s, when revival was a buzz-word.  Church today is just not comparable to the way it was.  Creative ministry has radically changed in the last twenty years and become so much better.  We had the flag baton twirlers, the hand-held banners with the Hebrew names of God appliquéd on them, ladies who would prance around waving quilting circles with ribbons attached to them, dubbed the “glory hoop.”  We sang the imitation Jewish songs in the minor keys with no break between them.  We laughed in piles on the floor through the Charismatic Renewal of the 90’s, and started crawling our way into contemporary worship with Ron Kenoly and “Ancient of Days.”  It wasn’t snake-handling weird, but it got pretty rowdy. It wasn’t white steeples, hymnbooks, and wooden pews sedate Christianity.

Church was deeply experiential, with a focus on the idea that God isn’t distant and disengaged, but the reverse.  As we put our attention on Jesus, our awareness of just how close and how interested God is in us is heightened to the point that we could actually sense the divine in our services.  During some of our most spiritual moments in church, leaders used to come forward and prophesy that revival was coming.  It was a theme we revisited several times a year, and we were deeply passionate about it.  From my childish perspective, revival was that magical moment when people, prompted by the Holy Spirit, would spontaneously begin to flood the church, getting saved en masse.  I understood this to be something divine, a movement of people totally manufactured by God.  We were waiting for God to do something huge.

In many ways, I don’t think that much has changed in church life.  We still value the same things; it’s just the creative expression that has changed.  Churches like Elevation or Hillsong New York, which have seen rapid, massive growth are celebrated and respected.  Most people don’t label this as revival, but it’s the same concept: lots of hurting people meeting Jesus, coming to church services, finding wholeness again.

I question whether this happened as a result of a spontaneous divine movement.  I’m not even sure that this kind of revival is a real thing.  Sure, I know about the Great Awakenings, and moments in history when society moved back toward God.  I just think that there is more to it than the Holy Spirit suddenly deciding to move.  Does he love our generation any less because we haven’t seen the kind of revival that Jonathan Edwards saw?  The obvious answer is no, so there must be another explanation.

Jesus told us to go and make disciples for him.  There is nothing passive about his final instruction.  There’s nothing in there that can be interpreted as waiting in church services for people to spontaneously show up.  It’s active language—go, make.  We do all we can do, and God does what only he can do.  We go get them, give them the message of truth; and God wakes up their spirit inside them, stamps them with the Holy Spirit.  We train them, and we love them; include them in our community.

Perhaps because Christianity is based on mysterious, spiritual concepts, we tend to approach our church services the same way.  We have tricked ourselves into believing that the most spiritual moments happen in the moment, and that understanding the processes that create revival makes it somehow less spiritual.  When you boil it down, however, churches that are growing fast do certain things well.

RIDING THE MOMENTUM WAVESRevival Momentum

Growing churches know how to use momentum.  Momentum is the residual force created by the effort of the past, still working in the present.  Momentum is not magical, and it’s not supernatural, but it can multiply the effectiveness of the work we do.  God will breathe on what we do, with or without momentum.  It’s just that with momentum, we are able to speed up the pace of growth.

Force has to be continually applied to keep momentum going.  Momentum is never self-sustaining.  Even the strongest momentum will eventually fade.  We have to continually push, but momentum has the ability to exponentially increase the force we are pushing with.  With positive momentum, the same efforts will produce stronger results.  Negative momentum will limit the effects of our efforts, producing less effective results than starting from a standstill.  Positive momentum makes you look better than you are, and negative momentum makes you look worse than you are.

Momentum is not as mysterious as you might think.  We can manage the ebb and flow.  Smart leaders learn when to push momentum forward, and when to glide on top of the momentum they have created, allowing their team to breathe.  Intuitive leaders are tuned into their teams, and can sense how hard and how fast the team can push without reaching exhaustion.  On the other end, when we are riding the wave, leaders have to read momentum’s slow down and mark the right place to start pushing again.  Pushing from a standstill is much harder than pushing with the assistance of the wave of momentum.

In a church context, the push that creates positive momentum has basically three essential parts.  All three of these elements have to happen concurrently.  We build anticipation for our services, make great services happen, and then build expectation off of great services toward what is coming next. Momentum is built from event to event, from weekend to weekend, from series to series.

Church Marketing: Building Anticipation

* Advance planning for church services.  You can’t promote what you don’t know.  The best planning happens as a team, without the pressure of time, in a creative environment.  Your planning shapes what you will advertise about upcoming services.

* Advertising.  Advertise to your church attenders and to your community.  Make it a regular part of your budget, not just when you have a big event.  Advertise your Sunday service—it’s the main event!

* Branding.  You attract people like you.  You won’t attract anyone if you don’t know who you are.  Make it look good, keep it simple, and make it easy for anyone to understand.

Making Magic: In the Moment

* Leverage your talent.  Everyone is not the same; everyone is not equal.  Don’t pretend like they are.  Everyone has something they are good at, and it’s up to leaders to make sure people are able to win by doing what they do best most of the time.

* Be great. Never settle for okay.  Keep pushing for great without getting nasty.  Pay attention to the peripherals.

* Connect, both on and off the platform.  Make it feel personal, not general, even in large audiences.  Keep thinking about what makes a service experience great for your attenders.

* Be memorable.  Deliberately design memorable moments in your service.  Think about what can become a talking point for church attenders, something that might spark a conversation later.

Make Trends: Building Expectation

* Use series.  People look forward to the next installment.  It’s why the literary trilogies and film trilogies work well.  If the first one was good, we come back for number two and number three!

* Maximize the afterglow.  There is a reason Hollywood after parties are a big deal.  This happens through highlight videos on Youtube, social media feedback, hash tags for pic posting.  Celebrating what happened makes people feel good, but it also keeps people talking about it.

* Consistently be inviting.  Don’t have an event/service without inviting people to what’s next, with dates, and why it’s unmissable.

* Follow up.  Close the revolving door through repetitive, consistent, thorough, relational follow-up.  You don’t have to stalk people for it to be good follow-up.

This process may seem a little clinical or business-like because it’s straightforward, but don’t let that turn you off.  Girls especially like church life to be very relational and organic.  I’m all for that, but left to our own devices, we tend to keep to our own small circles of relationship, so we have to do practical things that intentionally broaden our potential circle of friends.

BE THE ENGINE

In most churches, multiple different teams look after all these things.  Even though we may be directly responsible for just one area, it’s better to have a sense of ownership of the whole.  If every team just focuses inwardly toward their own responsibilities, gaps happen between the teams. Tiny little details are forgotten in no-mans land, not directly assigned to anyone.  The stuff that falls through those cracks is usually the difference between good and great.

I was in a church recently that deliberately cross-supports from team to team.  Every team supplies something to another team, and is also dependent on another team to do something for them.  No team is fully self-sufficient, so they can’t isolate.  Forcing collaboration across teams means that church is far less likely to miss important details.  This interesting model has built great team relationships and collaboration.

Thinking broader can feel overwhelming if you haven’t done it before. If you are barely handling your present to-do list, then the thought of adding everyone else’s to your own can make you edgy.  God stretches us so that we can help carry the weight for more and more.  That’s one of our leadership journeys.  Some people are incredibly detailed and can manage the complex workings of this process with ease, but not everyone can.  Usually we have to work together to keep this process moving forward.

Most of us girls are not the final say in our churches.  If you aren’t the pastor, it can be easy to throw your hands up and say, “Sounds great, but I can’t make this happen; I don’t have the authority.”  I understand that feeling.  I do believe, however, that if every idea has to come from the pastor, and nothing can happen unless the pastor says so, then a church is incredibly limited.  We are all gifted uniquely.  We are God-designed to complement each other, and each one of us has something unique to bring to the body of Christ.

Team Momentum RevivalI would a thousand times rather have a team member that I have to reign in than someone I have to push.  The most high-functioning teams don’t wait on anyone.  Their leader is like a horse and carriage driver.  The team is the power that carries the leader forward, but he sets the course, making small corrections to keep everyone moving together toward the same target. Low functioning team leaders are more like donkey herders.  The leader isn’t getting carried anywhere, but is pulling the team along, trying to herd everyone toward the same target. In the best teams, the engine, the drive forward, comes from the team, not from the leader.  The direction comes from the leader.

When you understand your value to the church, it’s much easier to take initiative.  It’s exhausting for senior pastors to always have to be the first to think of everything, the first to call a meeting, or to design a campaign.  What would it look like if instead of coming to your pastor with a list of questions that need answering, or problems that need his attention, that you came with options, or solutions he can choose from.  Don’t wait for him to ask for it, just provide it like he already did.  Be the engine; make things happen.  Learn to lead up as well as you lead down.

Building Teams Not Tasks

Helping HandsSPRING CLEANING VERSUS CHORES

Some people are impeccable housekeepers.  They sweep and mop their kitchen floor every day, vacuum every other day, whether they see any dirt or not.  I’m more of a clean-the-dirt-when-I-see-it-on-the-floor kind of housekeeper.  When the job clearly needs doing, I step up.  I’m more of the spring-cleaning kind of gal.

I’m not unusual.  People will rally once around a major job that needs doing.  We can call an all-church cleanup day on a Saturday and get a pretty good turnout of helpers.  Repeat that again the next week, and participation drops off considerably.  By week three, you will probably just have a handful of people.  Why is that?  People will not regularly rally around a task.  The idea that a whole bunch of work needs doing, and we need your help doing it inspires no one.  We can appeal to people’s sense of duty, but they will only go as far as their internal duty obligation extends.

I chat with leaders all the time that need help getting their responsibilities done.  It’s repetitive work that has to be done all over again every week.  Some Christians have an innate sense of responsibility toward the work of the church and step up.  Many people, however, just don’t have that, and leaders struggle to get them to involved.  Appealing to a non-existent sense of duty will only get you resented.  If we rally people just to do tasks every week, they will wind up feeling used.

If our “team” consists of a to-do list on Sundays, we don’t actually have a team.  A team has specific dynamics that synergizes it.  There are certain elements that glue teams together.  Without this glue, we aren’t a team; we are individuals with joint to-do lists.  A disconnected team member tends to get an attitude like a teenager looking at a list of chores on a Saturday morning at 7am.  It can be a little ugly.  So what do people come out for again and again?  What makes people feel like they are part of a team?

THE CHURCH SOFTBALL LEAGUETeamGraph1

Our church used to have a softball team that participated in a local church league.  Every Monday night, the team would get together and play a casual game against some other church.  My husband played on that team, and I spend a number of Monday nights cheering on this mediocre effort of athleticism with a handful of other wives in the bleacher.  The team didn’t win often, but that wasn’t really a big deal, because the guys just liked to play for fun.  It was a hobby.

Teams that don’t care about winning, that get together only for the enjoyment of playing the game are made up of hobbyists.  These guys enjoy getting outside and tossing a ball around a field, but they are not serious about the game.  They usually just show up on game day, but they aren’t putting in time sharpening their skills, getting in shape, or practicing their skills.  They will never be professional players.  If you want to win, you have to practice.  I think most of us get that.  Hobby teams will never attract great players.  Great players want to win.  They are willing to put in the hard hours of practice in order to win, because to them, winning is the only reason to play the game.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard the phrase, “they are just volunteers; we can’t ask much from them.”  This idea is one of the most sabotaging mindsets on church teams.  It keeps us asking the bare minimum from team members—just show up on game day (Sunday), and help us out for an hour or two.  We will not build great teams if we buy into this thinking.

People will say yes to a team that wins, even if it means they are signing up for a bigger commitment.  Parents and kids say yes to long hours in practice and on ball fields for teams they think will win.  They will pay for uniforms and dues and the trips to get to out of state games—with pleasure.  This is not because watching twelve year olds play ball is so riveting.  It’s because they want to be connected to something that wins.

I have seen highly functioning teams give amazing amounts of time, resources, and energy.  Why?  Because gifted and passionate volunteers will give just about anything when their team is winning.  In the context of church, winning is far bigger than a team getting their assignment done.  If completing a task is the big win, people will only give us what their sense of duty affords.  They will give us their leftover time, not their scheduled time. Highly functional teams are built around causes that are bigger than just the jobs that we need people to do on Sunday.

We can’t communicate culture, vision, training, or build community on Sunday while we are working.  It has to start by rallying our team around a weekly team meeting that happens outside of Sunday services.  It’s pretty typical for teams that aren’t already doing this to question whether this is even possible.  After all, if you can’t get people to show up on Sunday, then why would they show up on an extra night?  As counter-intuitive as it might seem, teams that meet outside of Sunday service actually have better show up rates on Sunday.  When we are inviting people to join us in reaching for the eternal souls of humanity and easing their present suffering, no more compelling cause exists.  They will come to a meeting if they see the value in what we are working toward, their time respected, and their efforts paying off.

We don’t have to worry about managing people’s obligations.  They will do that just fine themselves.  They will tell us when they have to work, and when their family needs them.  They will freely say no.  No one is forced to do anything.  Church volunteers aren’t slave labor.  People can say no whenever they want to.  If we never ask, however, we rob them of the chance to say yes to this great cause.

TeamGraphic2TEAM BUILDING

People will keep showing up when they believe that they are working toward a noble cause.

In church life, every task, no matter how basic or menial, has a connection to the cause of Christ.  People cleaning toilets are creating a fresh, appealing, inviting environment for seekers to come to and connect with the church and connect to Christ.  People copying of children’s curriculum are investing in the next generation, training young leaders and Christians.  If leaders will keep pointing their team members back to the larger cause, then simple tasks become far less of a mind-numbing bummer.  It’s our job as leaders to show people what part they play in the body of Christ, and how their work matters to what we are doing.  The cause of Christ is simple—to seek and to save the lost.  If we will regularly remind people of the why, they are far less prone to burning out.  Good church leaders see potential in Christians before they see it in themselves, and help them connect their love for Jesus with a practical work of service.

People will keep showing up when they feel like they belong.  

Leaders can’t hand out a sense of belonging.  I can give you a membership card, a nametag, a uniform, or a sash with merit badges, but I can’t make you feel like you belong.  We can’t make people feel anything, but we can create environments that help our teams connect.  People feel like they belong when they are having fun.  Nothing makes me feel more connected to a person as when we have had a good laugh together.  When real work needs doing, however, this is hard to remember for most task-driven, middle-level managers, me included.  We feel this compulsion to keep everyone focused on the work at hand.  People feel connected when they are having conversations about real issues they face, or the real issues I face.

People will keep showing up when they know their own value to the team.

It’s easy to get frustrated with under-performing team members.  When someone doesn’t show up, or doesn’t do what they committed to do, it means that the leader has to pick that back up.  It’s easy for us to begin to treat people who do this with a little distain or irritation.  Even when people are failing their team by not showing up, it’s possible to communicate their value.  We can be smart with our verbiage, using phrases like, “we missed you,” or “you matter to this team; Sunday wasn’t as strong without you.”  I’ve said both that a no-show is not okay and that you are valued on our team.  If we just fill in their place on the team and move on without comment, they never know how much we were relying on them.  We aren’t just letting them off the hook; we are actually devaluing them.

People will keep showing up when they know that we know where we are going.TeamGraphic3

Volunteers who serve because they like their job will be committed to that one role, but they aren’t going to think beyond those responsibilities that they prefer.  Teams that catch a larger vision for what the whole church is doing will fill any gap that needs filling, even unasked.  They will help other team members, doing whatever needs to be done to make sure that the whole team accomplishes its mission.  Sharing vision is time consuming, but incredibly worthwhile.  Our teams aren’t going to catch the vision from listening to our pastor talk about it once a year on vision Sunday.  Every meeting should communicate vision at some level.  Vision helps define our strategies, helps us measure what is working and what isn’t.  Vision should make the decisions about our annual calendar.

Building a team does not happen overnight.  Team building happens one conversation at a time, and one individual at a time.  Leaders who are committed to building a great team over a long period of time wind up accomplishing great things for God.  Get ready for a slow pace. Team building is always going to be a little bit messy, and that’s both okay and healthy.  People get radically saved, but people don’t get radically discipled or trained.  It never happens overnight.  There is a reason it takes twelve years to become a doctor.  Building something that is quality takes time. Our impatience with that process only creates unnecessary pressure that puts people off, so chill out.  Chilling out doesn’t mean we sit back and wait for something to happen, it means that while we are working hard to connect, train, and build people, we do it with the fruit of the Holy Spirit—peace, joy, patience, and the list goes on.  God is doing something great and he has an eternal time frame, so hang on, my friend!

Offensive, Scandalous Grace

TRIPPING UP

Grace, the Stumbling Stone
Grace, the Stumbling Stone

I am klutzy.  I trip over the tiniest variations in sidewalks, over cobblestones, up and down steps.  Usually I can awkwardly recover before I go all the way down, but it’s still embarrassing.  My sweet husband keeps count of the number of times I stumble when we are out together.  I think I average 3-4 wobbles per outing.  I never set out to trip.  Usually when I do, it’s because I was distracted and not paying attention to my feet.  I hit a hazard that I just didn’t see, and boom—down I go.  It’s painful and humiliating.

Tripping is an accident that happens when I try to do too many things at once.  My husband doesn’t get annoyed with me when I fall down.  He doesn’t judge my ability to walk and shame me for falling.  He laughs a little when I stumble, but he always grabs my arm to stabilize me.  He gets concerned if I go all the way down.  He doesn’t walk away; he helps me back up.  I am, however, embarrassed and hoping no one else noticed.

Things are similar in our walk with Christ.  I don’t believe that Christians set out to sin; it’s an accident.  We trip over the place we didn’t see coming when we didn’t realize we were vulnerable.  Sometimes we just stumble and sometimes we go down hard.  Most of the time, these incidents are accidents, not a product of evil intentions.  The fact that someone hides their sin and got caught, however, is not an indicator that they purposefully, secretly, set out to sin.  It only means that they are embarrassed by it.  It’s a normal, human response.  This perspective should change how we deal with people.  Instead of pushing people away when they fall, we reach out to stabilize and to support.

The Bible says that grace itself is a stumbling stone.  When Jesus came, religious people didn’t see it coming.  They were caught up in appearances and in following the rules to earn moral superiority.   The free grace Jesus offered threw them for a loop.  “The Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.’” (Romans 9:30-33 NIV)

Jesus, grace embodied, is the ultimate stumbling stone.  There are parts of Jesus that can be really hard to understand.  There are things that God forgives that I have a very hard time forgiving.  It trips me up and I don’t even realize I have stumbled over grace.  Why would someone get a clean slate, free and forgiven, for major betrayals like adultery, or for swindling little old ladies?  Does God forgive a pedophile?  Does God forgive a murderer?  Is grace big enough to cover these things?  If Hitler repented on his deathbed and God decided to save him, my Jewish family would reject God because his grace is too inclusive.  Muslims who follow Sharia law reject Christianity because of grace.  It’s too loose, too free.  Things that we hold on to, God lets go of.  I’m happy for God’s grace to cover my junk, but sometimes grace looks like injustice when it covers someone else.  Grace can be a stumbling stone.

We each carry the weight of our own failures.  Most of us have secret places in our past, distant or recent, where we tripped and fell, but we keep them hidden because we are embarrassed by the errors.  These things can make us feel under qualified to take our place serving or leading in the church.  Do those things disqualify us from connecting to the church and sharing Jesus?

NAUGHTY NAUGHTY GIRLS

I noticed something truly interesting in the genealogy of Jesus.  Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews, to prove to them that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  He rattled off the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of his book because where Jesus came from mattered to Jewish people.  There are some truly illustrious men in that list—superstars like Abraham, King David, and King Jehoshaphat.  The ladies that got a mention, however, are decidedly less so.  They are kind of a who’s who of the naughty girls of the Bible, starting with Tamar, the girl who pretended to be a prostitute so she could score a one-night stand with her father-in-law, Judah.  She wanted her father-in-law to get her pregnant.  Shocking!  Then there is Rahab, the prostitute and treacherous turncoat, followed by Ruth, the shameless woman who snuck into a man’s camp in the dark and slept next to him to force him to marry her.  These are Jesus’s great-grandmas.  The virgin Mary has a lily white image, but even she was a bit of rebel if you think about it.  She would have had a sketchy reputation, having gotten pregnant and giving birth before marrying Joseph.  If Mary had been my daughter, I would have married her off as soon as possible and said as little as possible, hoping people didn’t add up the months.  Mary must have wanted to make sure that everyone knew Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s son.  That’s pretty edgy.

The Bible doesn’t explain why these are the women included in Jesus’s pedigree.  There must have been other wives that lived good, tidy lives who didn’t get a mention.  God must have included these girls in the recorded lineage of Jesus for a reason.  Perhaps it is to tell us that he doesn’t pass over girls who have made mistakes; who have stumbled trying to navigate life.  Even the girl with most checkered past can be a God-carrier.  The scandal and the babies that resulted from those scandalous relationships resulted in the most gracious perfect gift to mankind.  It makes no sense; it’s a stumbling stone, but our failures and our foibles don’t disqualify us from serving up Jesus to the world around us.

I know some of you may feel an obligation to challenge this.  There are some pretty stern passages throughout 1 Corinthians about people who sin, and some strong requirements for the people who lead in the book of Timothy.  Yes, those who lead are judged to a higher standard.  Yes.  But are those leaders any less entitled to the same grace we enjoy?  Or is their need for grace a stumbling stone for you?

WHEN LEADERS FALL

I’ve watched a few Olympic races.  Sometimes, the racer makes an error and falls.  The sportscaster will always replay the big moment in slow motion.  They show the misstep and the athlete going down, mouth open, arms and legs flailing.  Racers nearby get tripped up in the churning limbs, and the massive train wreck results in a jumble of bodies and injuries on the ground.

This is what happens when Christian leaders stumble.  Usually their error affects the people closest to them, and can cause real pain for the people closest to them.  When they stumble, they cause other people to stumble.  Untangling those train wrecks and nursing the injuries is not a small matter.  Every fallen leader has to carry the responsibility for this.  It’s the getting back up part that I am chewing on.  Jesus gives grace freely to each one of us.  It’s very clear that none of us are perfect yet, no matter what position we hold.  Do those mistakes disqualify fallen leaders for future leadership?  If we don’t actually get back up but stay committed to our funk, clearly it does.

In church, no one has any obligation to stay or to serve or to give.  People can leave at any time and go find another church.  People only follow us to the extent that they respect us.  If your life is a visible mess, people will not follow you.  Ergo, you are disqualified from leadership because you are leading no one, because no one will follow you.  I wonder if the qualifications for leadership that Paul gave to Timothy have more to do with this practical reality than anything else.  We all require the grace of Jesus to stand righteous—every one of us.  Our own righteousness did not qualify us for leadership to begin with, so it can’t later either.

God made a point by including only flawed women in his lineage.  I wonder if Tamar will be embarrassed when I meet her in heaven.  Out of her whole life’s story, the one snapshot that got included was her scandalous baby-making endeavor.  Her story makes me feel pretty good about my flubs being redeemable.  Our journey of grace doesn’t have to be a private one.  If we are willing, our grace journey can show others the way, providing a pathway people can follow.

People root for the underdog.  People love a comeback story.  People will follow a fallen leader that gets back up and learns from their mistakes.  God’s grace covered their sin the minute they put it under the blood of Jesus.  Will his grace be a stumbling stone for us, or a point of victory?

Mean Girls and Modesty

LAY OFF THE LADIES

Business Woman #425I still cringe a little bit inside, remembering.  I was in my mid-twenties and single again.  I’d dropped a few pounds, having lost my appetite for a while after my husband died.  I went into my office and found a note that had been slipped under the door.  As I opened it and began to understand its contents, I could feel a flush creep up my neck.  It was from one of the young ladies in the church.  She had written to express her disapproval of a pair of pants I’d worn to church recently.  I knew the ones she was talking about.  They were new, and I really liked them.  They were a touch on the small side, but it was the last pair in the store.  They were sort of the pants version of a mermaid dress—black, silky fabric, tight on the top, then flaring out just above the knees down to the floor.  This girl thought these pants were too tight, and apparently, when I sat down, the top of my panties had been visible in the back.  She informed me that as a pastor, I really should set a better example.  I was horrified and deeply embarrassed.  I had never intended to look seductive.  I just liked the pants, but apparently my motives and my qualifications to be a pastor were somehow in question because of my choice.  Needless to say, the pants bit the dust.

Over the years, I’ve chatted with a number of girls serving in church who have been rebuked so harshly over their clothes they almost quit.  I have a beautiful young friend in her early twenties.  She and her husband are youth pastors with an adorable little boy, and she is also her pastor’s daughter.  I was surprised when she told me that for a while she considered not being in ministry at all.  After some probing, I discovered that in her first year of ministry, she had endured three hours of harsh rebuking in a meeting with six of the women of her church.  She is one of the most gentle, sweet and gracious people you will ever meet.  She told me that she essentially was called a slut for wearing leggings on stage and showing the shape of her backside in a youth meeting.  She was so embarrassed and hurt by the attack on her motives and the attack on her credibility that she almost called it quits before she even got started.  I have beautiful friends in ministry who get fierce criticism for the way they look on their social media profiles.  These women get picked on relentlessly, especially if they posted any modeling photos.

No one criticizes men about what they wear.  I’ve never heard any man get seriously rebuked for immodesty, and some of the pants they wear these days are tighter than their wife’s.  Weirdly enough, in every story I’ve heard, a woman did the rebuking.  Men tend to get the blame for all this—we can’t cause our brothers to stumble—but it’s really the ladies that get most bothered by this, not men.  The truth is that men don’t tend to even notice what we are wearing.  They look at and admire a beautiful woman, regardless of what she wears.  My husband doesn’t know the difference between a skirt and a dress any more than he knows the difference between leggings and skinny pants.  It does not register in his brain what I’m wearing at all unless I call his attention to it to ask his opinion.  Then he just gets really confused, stalls, and tries to leave the room as soon as he can safely escape.  He has no idea!

Let’s call this for what it really is—a mean girls attack.  This kind of criticism is rooted in a religious spirit and in jealousy.  Religion starts wars—not helpful.  God hasn’t called anyone to be the official humbler of other people.  If you don’t feel good about yourself, making someone else feel small isn’t going to help anyone feel better.  You just wind up feeling worse because now you feel like a jerk too.  Girls, let’s just decide to be bigger than this kind of meanness.  Chill out, and be kind to our pretty girls.  They are going to be attractive in whatever they wear.  They can’t help it!  If you feel resentful of that, ask yourself why.

If you aren’t feeling confident about yourself, and feeling a little jealous of someone, pause for a moment.  No one else’s beauty or talent diminishes how fabulous you are.  Ask God to help you see yourself the way he sees you—the apple of his eye!  Look at the right mirror, the word of God, for your true value as his prize.  “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me against the nations who plundered you. For he said, ‘Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession.’”  (Zechariah 2:8 NLT) The value that Christ places on you, just as you are, makes you infinitely valuable.  You are a creation by the ultimate designer, amazing and fabulous at every season of life!  Walk in that and extend grace and love.  We become releasing and empowering chick leaders that way, not intimidated by the influence and beauty of other girls on our team.  Let’s celebrate and find personal satisfaction in the successes of the girls we lead with.  We are not competing!

MODESTY

Victorian dress
thank God this is not the standard

I’m not suggesting that we should wear whatever we please or not have expectations for how our teams dress.  Modesty absolutely matters.  What we look like shapes people’s perception of who we are, so we have to pay close attention to it if we are being good stewards of our leadership influence.  Modesty is certainly part of this equation.

Some of us carry roles where we do have to make sure that what the team is wearing is not offensive to people.  If you do have to have to address a clothing malfunction, try this approach instead of a rebuke.  Don’t make a big deal and pull them off into an office and close the door.  Just make it light, and humor always helps.  “Hey I know that you would want to know—when you bend over to pick up your water bottle on stage, the church is getting an eyeful of the girls.  I’ve got some double-sided tape.  It does wonders!  I can help tape you up a bit.”  This conversation comes from a place of support rather than an attack.  Focus on a quick solution and skip the lecture about setting an example, or the evils of a temptress.  It’s so much easier to receive when your motives and credibility aren’t being called into question.

 Everyone, however, has their own opinions about what is modest.  It’s 100% subjective.

I had a funny conversation with an American missionary friend of mine who recently married an Indian man.  She had to think about modesty in her wedding photos from both the American perspective and the Indian perspective.  In America, showing your arms is pretty much fair game just about universally, and showing your calves is also acceptable to most.  In India, modesty means cover the arms and cover the legs to the ankle, but a bare midriff is totally cool.  In western society, midriff is definitely off-limits for modesty!  The definitions of modesty are cultural, not Biblical.  In Bible times, showing your hair was immodest.

For me the bottom line is this: don’t show the line in your bottom.  (I know, groan.)  I don’t want my appearance to be a distraction to the message I am communicating.  I want people to think about Jesus when they listen to me.  A necklace or earrings that clank against my microphone, a flapping belt, running eye makeup, or exposed body parts all can be a distraction.  The Bible says that God expects us to be modest.  “And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing” (1 Timothy 2:9 NLT) God doesn’t define what that is.  He left that up to culture.

Not only are there societal expectations for modesty, but every church culture has different standards.  Our ability to dress appropriately and decently is entirely hinged on our ability to read the culture we are in.  I don’t normally wear a long skirt to church, but when I’m visiting some churches, I do.  In those church cultures, to wear pants or a long skirt would be such a distraction that people couldn’t focus on Jesus.  In those environments, I have to let go of my preferences about fashion to be received.  I’m not more Godly by wearing a long skirt in those churches; I’m simply being respectful of culture.

Beautiful shoppersYou will not please everyone so don’t get panicky; just do your best.  If you catch some criticism about an outfit, don’t take it to heart.  Make sure you guard your heart about these things and don’t internalize the criticism.  Roll with the punches and apologize, thanking them for bringing it to your attention.  You didn’t mean to offend them in the first place, so there is no point to offending them further by getting defensive, but end the conversation quickly.  You don’t owe them an explanation.  Then deliberately forget about it.  If you get this conversation frequently, chances are you aren’t reading your culture well enough.

After many awkward conversations and embarrassing moments, I’ve developed some basic modesty guidelines for myself in leadership environments.  I’m not suggesting what works for me will work for everyone, but we do all need to think it through.  Mine are something like this:  If I wear tight bottoms, I wear a loose top.  If I wear a tight top, I go loose on bottom.  If I’m wearing leggings, then I always wear a long shirt.  Keep all the important girl creases covered, especially on stage.  I always wear sleeves on stage.  I put a cami under delicate fabrics because what looks opaque in the bedroom light can suddenly be see-through under powerful stage lights.  It’s safer to wear tights or leggings with an above the knee skirt.  I keep the underwear covered as much as possible.  I support the jiggly bits because great undergarments make us look our best.

FINDING YOUR LOOK IS NOT FINDING YOUR IDENTITY

Stressed business womanAmerican culture has had some had some traditional expectations about what pastors’ wives and female church leaders should wear.  They aren’t especially cute.  They tended to either cover every possible inch of skin in the least flattering way possible, or put us in a suit so we blend in with the dudes.  If you like either of these two looks and feel like yourself wearing them, bravo!  For you, dressing for church is officially easy.  For most girls in leadership, finding our personal style is not so simple, and we usually feel quite a bit of pressure about getting it right.  I like a variety of styles, and I wear all of them because I like the clothes, not because I’m trying to look like anyone in particular.  We don’t have to stick to a fashion stereotype like urban, hipster, bohemian, or sporty because it’s our look.  Personal style comes from knowing what we like and what we don’t.

Our identity is established through far more than what we look like.  Our preferences determine our personal style, but our style is not our identity.  Who we are primarily is the inward person.  We don’t build our identity from the outside in, but from the inside out.  When we build strong, healthy, confident souls, it shows up on our outsides.  That’s why the Bible tells us that makeovers for the inside matter far more than the outside.  “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”  (1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT)  This kind of loveliness does not decrease with age, just ripens!  Our value does not come from our appearance, and the way we look does not change God’s love for us.  If we don’t find our identity in our appearance, then it’s easy to change it to adapt to new cultures and new seasons in life.  “I want women…in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.” (I Timothy 2:10 MSG)

We all have days when we just feel dissatisfied with what’s in the mirror.  Those are the days when we have to lean on our God identity, laugh a little bit, and throw our hands up in the air.  A smile on our face is the most beauty-enhancing accessory we have!

DRESSING FOR LEADERSHIP & THE PLATFORM

Happy employeeGod sees my heart and motives and judges me according to the real, inner me.  People are different though.  They can’t see my insides, so I have to make sure that my outsides reflect what is going on inside my heart.  “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)  What we look like matters when it comes to leadership.

 We show respect to the people we serve when we put thought into what we look like.  If you don’t feel comfortable putting outfits together, get a girlfriend who is good to help style you.  Don’t be resistant, just do it so you can look your best!  Even if you aren’t an onstage person, you meet people every week, making a first impression.  People make decisions about whether you are followable literally in seconds.  We attract people who look like us because the way we look makes them feel comfortable.

If you don’t have a strong sense of personal style, start by dressing like the people you want to attract.  If your community is full of sharp professionals, then you should probably have a selection of professional and business casual clothes.  If your community has lots of fashion-conscious young adults, then pay attention to the trends.  Classic, tailored clothing is always in style if you aren’t confident wearing the trends or can’t afford to purchase new trends frequently.  As much as our deal-hunting hearts love to buy cheap cute stuff, a few good pieces look better for much longer than a bunch of cheap trendy clothes.  They look better on you too.  Accessories can change up the look if you get bored wearing the same stuff.

When I pick an outfit for the platform I want to feel good about how I look.  A good follow-up question is, will this outfit help me connect with people or cause them to disconnect?  When it comes to the platform, we need to value people’s respect over their admiration.  That’s a tough call for us girls to make, because we love to be admired.  Leadership has a different goal.  When ministry is self-centered, it needs admiration.  We are more than entertainers.  We want people to receive Jesus through what we say or do.  We have to earn people’s respect for them to be willing to receive from us.  Earning respect starts with the visual picture we create.  If adapting your personal style for leadership is a hard ask, think about what Paul said.  “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22 NIV)  Paul was willing to change his style in different environments to make it easier for people to receive his ministry.  He recognized that when people’s eternal salvation is at stake, it’s well worth the personal cost of adjusting.

Dressing to stand on a platform in church is different than dressing for an office or a night out with the girls or hubs.  Being uncomfortable in your clothes on stage is the worst.  You need to be able to move freely if you are talking or singing.  A jacket that constricts your arm movement, or a skirt that restricts your leg movement becomes a nagging distraction.  Heels help us look good, heels that are so high you can’t move without watching where you are putting your feet look awkward.  You want to be thinking about the people you are talking to, not about staying upright or how badly your feet are hurting.  Makeup helps people see the expressions on our face. There are factors on stage that you don’t have to deal with in normal life.

When you are comfortable and confident on stage, you make everyone in the room feel comfortable. That is ultimately the goal. We want people feel comfortable enough to receive us. Then we can connect them to Jesus.

Nehemiah’s Unconventional Princesses

Shallum's Daughters

Princesses are supposed to behave conventionally.  The classic princess story goes something like this.  A good, sweet girl falls on hard times, and then meets a rich, powerful boy who rescues her.  She lives the rest of her princess life in happily ever after—private luxury, ease, and privilege.  Every now and again, however, princesses don’t follow this story line.  Great Britain’s Princess Diana was one of these.  She started out with a traditional story, but once she got to the happily-ever-after part she wasn’t content.  She defied expectations and started working to change wrongs in the world, like AIDS (unmentionable in polite society) and land mines (no place for a lady).  People still call her “the people’s princess.

The book of Nehemiah spares one small sentence for a couple of unusual princesses.  Their story starts out with the nation of Israel in exile.  The city of Jerusalem was in ruins, flattened to nothing but rubble, and its people scattered across the continent, many enslaved.  After many generations of this, God moved on the heart of the ruling emperor.  He gave two Jewish leaders permission to go rebuild their hometown, Jerusalem.  Ezra was a priest, and Nehemiah, a politician.  They gathered Jewish exiles and resources and moved their families back to this rock pile that used to be Jerusalem.  Right away, they got to work rebuilding this once-beautiful city, starting with the walls.  Many naysayers and enemies of their cause threatened the fragile reconstruction, so the protection of this wall was vital.  For these people, building a wall was the first step in rebuilding their community.  This step reestablished their national identity as a people group and a culture—a kingdom.

Nehemiah was a great leader and a gifted administrator; so much of the book of Nehemiah describes his detailed records of families, resources, and the process of rebuilding.  In good administrator fashion, Nehemiah divvied up the work between the families.  Nehemiah assigned a section of the wall to every family that came with him.  It was their job to make sure their part of the wall was rebuilt completely and solidly.  Nehemiah recorded every family that helped rebuild the wall.  Reading these lists can be brutally boring, but If you don’t mentally check out in the monotony of these records, there are some stories in the cracks.  Most of the families get a simple mention, but a few stick out because they are described a little bit differently.

Not everyone had the same attitude toward building.  One family had members that just wouldn’t build at all.  “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to work under their supervisors.” (Nehemiah 3:5) Nehemiah didn’t explain why they wouldn’t help, but we can read between the lines.  Maybe they had other things to do, things they considered to be more important.  Perhaps they didn’t like the supervisors and felt like it would be degrading to take direction from these guys.  Maybe they were lazy, or wanted to put their efforts into rebuilding their own homes rather than the wall.  Whatever the reason, they come off as selfish.

Nehemiah also described a family that built for their own self-interest.  “Jedaiah son of Harumpah made repairs opposite his house.” (Nehemiah 3:10)  This guy only worked on the wall where it provided a direct benefit to him. This was the place the wall protected his home and family.  Interestingly, Nehemiah offers no judgment about either one of these families, and he didn’t exclude Jedaiah from building because of his selfish motive.  Both families benefitted from what everyone else worked to build.

It was a third family that caught my attention.  “Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.” (Nehemiah 3:12)  Apparently, these were the only girls who worked on the wall.  All the other many workers Nehemiah mentioned were men.  Construction work today is still pretty much a dude’s world, and as far as I’m concerned, more power to them.  I have no desire to jump in there.  What’s so interesting to me is that these girls would not have been used to this kind of work, or even expected to do this kind of work.  They weren’t tomboys; they were princesses—daughters of a ruler.  What possessed them to take ownership of rebuilding a section of the wall with their father?  Did he have sons?  If he didn’t, surely he could have afforded to hire builders to help him as a ruler in Jerusalem.

These dainty, well-manicured girls were used to quiet life behind walls with attendants who catered to their every need.  They would have enjoyed fine fabrics, good food, and a cool life in the shade.  They were valuable simply by who they were.  They didn’t need to do anything to earn respect.  They were the daughters of a ruler, and so had high value for strategic alliances through marriage, and for nurturing small children into future leadership.

These pampered ladies heard Nehemiah’s appeal for families to rebuild a portion of the wall and something stirred on the inside of them.  They put aside their comfort and stepped outside of their carefully orchestrated life.  They took their place next to their father, and picked up chisel and hammer.  Small arms, unused to heavy labor, strained to shift heavy stones.  Fine brown dust sifted into every crevice of their beautiful clothing and into their carefully arranged hair.  As the hours passed, blisters began to swell in their sandals and where their delicate hands gripped unfamiliar tools.  Muscles trembled with effort.  The sun must have scorched their gentle faces, burning skin accustomed to shady breezes.  What determination kept them at these exhausting efforts?  How great a cause kept them at the wall?

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything more about these girls, but what it doesn’t tell us says as much as what it does.  These girls must have recognized the significance of that moment.  They wanted to be part of this work, to contribute what they could.  This was no ordinary wall for them.  And they were right—millions of people around the globe, thousands of years later, are still reading about rebuilding this wall.  These princesses had the ability to recognize the significance of what they were building.  This was so valuable that they couldn’t resist jumping in to help, even though it was not expected and well outside their comfort zone.  They worked because they loved the outcome.

Saying yes to building the wall meant saying no to other things.  I wonder what these girls set aside to be part of this work.  Would they have endured the criticism of the other ladies of the community?  Would coarse men have mocked their efforts?  Did they have small children who waited with nannies?  Did they have responsibilities in their own home that had to wait?  Whatever their usual occupation, it was left behind.  They put all their passion into this work, with an undivided heart.  “The people worked with all their hearts.”  (Nehemiah 4:6)

Not only did these girls jump in helping with manual labor, they also had to be prepared to fight to defend themselves when the locals got hostile.  “Each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.”  (Nehemiah 4:18)  I can only imagine the anxiety these girls must have felt, awkwardly building while knocking into things with the sword at their side.  Perhaps they were trained to handle a weapon, perhaps not, but they did not even let the threat of violence deter their efforts.

The nobles of Tekoa must have heard about this and felt ashamed.  What was happening at this little section of the wall was so unusual that every other family must have talked it about as they worked.  I can imagine men casually walking past, sneaking a look over their shoulder to check out the princesses with mud all over their arms as they filled in the chinks.  What a story to tell around the dinner table!

People are basically the same as they were thousands of years ago.  We have the same the same attitudes when it comes time to roll up our sleeves and build.  Nehemiah was rebuilding a wall around the city of Jerusalem.  We build churches that provide walls of protection around our communities, our homes, and around the hearts of people—places of refuge.  We can choose what kind of attitude we build with.

For many who enjoy the protection the church provides, to ask them for help building those walls is too much.  They hesitate to contribute their finances, their time or efforts because of the other things on their calendar.  Their own businesses and homes are more important.  Some hesitate because they don’t like the people that they would have to take direction from, or they don’t feel any connection to the team already working.  Others get in and help but only where it benefits them.  Some parents will serve in children’s ministry as long as their children are in the classes.  Some singers will serve as long as they get the opportunities they want.  Their motives are for themselves.

I want to have the spirit of the daughters of Shallum.  They caught a vision for building, and they were so passionate that they would do anything to help!  I want to have a heart that says yes, no matter what the attitudes of everyone else are.  These girls worked hard to build and they were willing to go to battle to defend what they were building.  When we catch a vision for how important our churches are for our families and our communities, being part of the work isn’t just our priority; it’s our privilege.  These are the kind of people our churches need.  This is the kind of person I want to be.

For leaders, it’s so easy for us to pigeonhole people where we meet them.  We tend to view people’s contribution around what we know they are capable of.  It’s a faith stretch for us to keep pushing those limits.  It’s always risky to give someone new responsibilities, but it is our responsibility as leaders.  Good leaders identify potential, and believe that someone is capable before they believe in themselves.  Let’s think bigger, and ask a princess to pick up a sword and a shovel.  You never know—they might be just waiting for someone to ask them.  The right help can come where we least expect it!

For me to be like these girls means I won’t hesitate to work hard when the season requires it.  I don’t have to be afraid to jump into something I don’t feel confident or comfortable doing.  Nehemiah didn’t comment on how good at building these girls were or weren’t.  What matters is not how well I perform, but that I am getting involved, part of something bigger than my own world.  My value doesn’t come from my talents or my work, but from whom I am as a daughter of the king.  We don’t know these girls’ names, but they had significance in this story because of who their father was—the same place we find our value.  Shallum’s daughters were unconventional princesses.

On Church and Change

NEW VERSUS NORMAL

In the fourteen years that I helped put together church services for Family Christian Center, we did some crazy out-there stuff.  Trying to describe to new friends what my role was like is almost comical.  People listen to me talk about the animals and their excretions, the Thriller zombies, and shooting arrows into screens and their first reaction is usually to laugh.  Some of the risks we have taken paid off with highly effective services, and some have made for great stories later.  HA!  Brooke, our fourteen-year-old, travels with us now after growing up at Family Christian Center.  For her, all these things that sound extreme to others are just normal life.  In her world, it’s just how you do church.  If you don’t have a city bus on stage, miniature horses, or human torches, she’s a little bored.  At least blow something up!  It sounds over the top, but she is growing up to a new normal in church life.

Everyone who grows up in church or gets saved in church has an idea of what they believe church should be like.  Usually it is very connected to the first spiritual experience we had in church.  The atmosphere where we first felt a God connection often defines our preferences for the rest of our lives.  We get resistant to anyone who tries to change what we enjoyed so much.  Sometimes it’s the number of songs being sung, or the length or content of the preaching that we get hung up on.  Interestingly enough, however, what seems traditional to you today was radically new to someone else in the previous generation!

The form of church services themselves has changed dramatically throughout history.  In the Old Testament, God spent entire books of the Bible explaining in great detail exactly how he wanted his people to worship him.  He gave them specific instructions about everything, from the ceremonies to the size of the room and the decorations, with no room for personal freedom or creativity at all in the expression of it.  As the years went along, it become more and more apparent that it just wasn’t working.  Throughout the books of prophecy, God expressed his dissatisfaction with the way people were worshipping.  They did the rituals well enough, but their heart wasn’t in it.  God wanted more.

THE IRRELEVANT DEBATE 

When Jesus came, something incredible happened to the way humanity interacts with divinity.  There is a fascinating conversation that Jesus had with a Samaritan woman that changed the way we do church forever.  It reversed everything that humans understood about the way God wanted to be worshipped.  Jesus began this conversation with some small talk and then abruptly switched gears by reading this woman’s mail and telling her he knew about her checkered past.  After she got over her surprise, she took advantage of the moment to ask what for her was a very pressing question.

“19 The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’”  (John 4:19-24)

This is an over-simplified explanation of a complicated history, but I think it will help you understand the premise for her question.  Bear with me for a moment.  Moses made the Tabernacle per God’s request when the Jews wandered the desert for forty years.  It was a portable church venue essentially—a tent.  Whenever they stopped for a few days, the Tabernacle was set up, and when it was time to leave, it all packed up and came with.  Once they settled in what is now Israel, the Tabernacle was permanently set up on Mount Gerazim because there was no longer any need to move it around.  The Jews would go up this mountain to worship God.  When David came to power generations later, he built himself an impressive palace in Jerusalem.  He felt guilty that he had such a nice place and God still lived in this old tent.  He decided to built a temple, which his son, Solomon, wound up building.  After they finished the temple, they moved the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the presence of God, from the tent on Mount Gerazim to the new temple.  Some of the Jews were very offended by this move.  After all, their ancestors had been worshipping on that mountain for generations!  They believed that the change was wrong.  These Jews continued to worship on Mount Gerazim, even after the ark was no longer there.  They became known as the Samaritans, and this difference of religious opinion divided them for hundreds of years from the Jews who worshipped in the Temple.  What this Samaritan woman was asking was this: Since you, Jesus, seem to be in God’s inner circle, please resolve this debate once and for all and tell us what God wants!

Jesus’s response was incredibly radical.  He told the Samaritan woman that she was asking the wrong question.  God couldn’t care less where they worshipped.  What really mattered to God was the authenticity of the heart behind the worship.  Jesus was saying that for the first time in the history of humanity, the form did not matter anymore.  This was a complete change!  The focus of worship was no longer on ritual and tradition, but based on emotional and spiritual connection first before any spiritual expression.  Jesus was saying that the way you worship, the mechanics of it, is irrelevant.  God had been given form and procedure for thousands of years, but what he really wanted was something that was heartfelt, not just a duty.  God wanted people who would worship him from their spirit, or from the very essence of their identity, and they would worship truthfully, authentically.  He changed the paradigm of the way worship would happen forever!  In essence, as long as our services are leading people toward connection with an genuine God moment, pretty much anything goes.  There is no formula, no set anything!

That day, something fundamentally changed about the way we connect to God.  It went from thousands of years of sameness to several thousand years of never the same.  Since that conversation, church worship has been consistently changing so that it always reflects a fresh creative expression of our hearts toward him.  Every generation since then has done church a little bit differently.  Today, the expressions of Christian worship all across the world are incredibly diverse.  Islam is the opposite.  No matter where a Muslim is in the world, they worship the same way.  They face Mecca, get down on their knees and pray five times a day—same prayers, same locations, the same way.  Jews are still caught up in form.  I read an article recently about how the Jews have been sneaking up onto the Temple mount to pray recently.  The third holiest Muslim site, a giant mosque, occupies that space currently.  They are willing to risk their lives trying to honor their worship tradition.

CHANGE IN CHURCH

It’s human to love our traditions.  Christians can easily get so caught up in what is familiar that it can become a lid to our creativity.  Instead of a foundation to grow on, it becomes a lid.  Even in the most creative environments, we easily get comfortable in what we have always known, connected to the ritual of doing things the way we have always done them.  It is possible to be so captivated by our history that we miss the freedom that we have to create fresh moments that help our people truly connect in worship.  To Jesus, the benchmark for quality services is that people have authentic God-connection moments.  We have no guarantees that what worked ten years ago is still going to work today.  Every new generation will worship God a little bit differently.

As a young pianist, my teacher emphasized to me that good practice establishes strong neural pathways.  The more I play a song correctly, the easier it is to do it the same way the next time.  The upside of this is that it gets easier to play it well.  The downside is that change becomes more and more difficult if I am playing something wrong.  My family listened to me play a song over and over and over and they would get incredibly sick of hearing that song.  If people are listening to the same song over and over, they get burnt out on it after a few months.

Churches that want to provide quality experiences for their people spend enormous amounts of time, energy and resources getting it right.  Our teams practice carefully to give the best experience we know how to do.  Some of us have gotten really good at it!  Unfortunately, if we do church the same way every week, the same two things happen.  The first is that we will find it harder and harder to change the way we get together corporately, and the second is that people begin to disconnect from their experience because it feels stale and overplayed.  If we allow this to happen, we will miss the new generation.  Bands that have been successful over many years learned how to reinvent themselves again and again.  Most artists aren’t able to do this and have a few years in the sun, then fade back into obscurity.  If we don’t intentionally reinvent the way we do church, particularly for well-established, older churches, we will wind up in the same boat.

Dying churches are full of older people and shrinking every year as they die.  It’s essential that we build change into our church cultures.  It’s very easy to slip into the habit of making decisions based on what we know will work, what we know our teams can pull off to minimize risk.  The bigger and older we get, the harder church leaders find change to be because of fear of losing what has been built over many years of hard work.  We find comfort in our routines, and what was once radical has become traditional.

So what needs to change?  Some things shouldn’t change at all.  Keep certain things central.  The apostles devoted themselves to doctrine.  We have to make sure we are getting it right.  It really bothers me that there are some GenX leaders are moving away from the idea of the Bible being inspired.  We don’t adapt the truths of the gospel around popular opinion. Right and wrong, sin and salvation, the cross and resurrection, the Holy Spirit and his power, the truth of the Bible—these things are foundational. The Sundays we build are only as strong as we build these foundations.

THE MILLENIALS ARE COMING

We have to watch this generation carefully to learn how they connect.  I’ve done some research and some personal observation to arrive at some thoughts about the value systems of Millenials, but these are certainly up for debate.  Purely to prime the pump of your thinking and to get the conversation going, here are my thoughts about what is valuable to Millenials, or GenY.

 

Connection to the past:  Millenials tend to get excited about old buildings being revived, old instruments revived, or old clothing revived.  Hipster culture has reconnected to folk music roots.  Churches are taking old cathedrals and renovating and reviving them.  Vintage instruments are wildly popular.  Reviving old furniture or homes is huge—there are multiple reality shows about this.  Millenials have a value for legacy and history as a point of personal identity.  Perhaps this is because of the homogenization of the cultures of the world.

Value for environmental responsibility:  We can’t ignore this as a church.  Millenials value this responsibility as significantly as they value fiscal responsibility or family responsibility.  This translates in to recycle bins in church, or community gardens and local markets in church parking lots, or composting in church kitchens.

Life is less compartmentalized:  Most people take their work with them wherever they go.  They take work to church, and they take home to work, building communities together that do life together on a broad spectrum.  We don’t go on vacation with the neighbors anymore; we go on vacation with work friends, with the community we connect with that has shared values and interests—and there is a little community for every interest under the sun.  The Millenials are mowing the parks of Detroit.  This should be a government responsibility, but they don’t have a problem crossing over this line.  As the church, we have to figure out how to make church less a Sunday event and more integrated into people’s daily habits.

Intimacy and community:  In a digital age where we are connected to hundreds shallowly online, Millenials crave the intimacy of face-to-face personal relationship. Their relationships have been reduced to a like button.  They desire genuine connection instead of anonymity.  They love being part of a team where everyone is comfortable with each other, not a stiff hierarchy where people are in competition all the time

Millenials aren’t interested in stereotypes:  They do cultural mash-ups all the time in music, in fashion, in art, and in relationships.  We can’t be afraid to cross all kinds of cultural barriers and be inclusive.

Honesty:  Millenials hate pretension or fakiness.  No one has everything a hundred percent together, and authenticity matters,  They don’t like being impressed or schmoozed, and can smell an agenda a mile away.  If we want them to come to our church, we can’t pretend we like them.  We have to actually like them!  They don’t like feeling pressured into community,  It has to happen organically, because people have something in common and genuinely like each other and want to share their lives.  Shared interest connect groups have been pretty successful for this reason.

High value for personal freedom:  They want the flexibility to do life uniquely their way.  Whether it’s in creative expression or in a work environment, micromanagement is the life sucker.  Google is the gold standard for work environments.  If we want to lead young high performers serving in our church, we have to give them some space.  They want to get the job done well their own way.

Cause-driven work:  Millenials want to know that what they are doing is a piece of a larger, important work for humanity. They want to know why their work matters, beyond just bringing home a paycheck. Hair salons are more commonly hosting free makeovers for underprivileged high school proms.  Restaurant owners contribute to community gardens where people can collectively grow fresh produce to give away to anyone who needs it.  Journalists tell stories that expose injustices to inspire change. The “social entrepreneur” is a new industry according to Forbes magazine, and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

Smaller venues:  Apparently the American shopping mall is in decline.  Outdoor village-like environments that feel like shopping at boutiques in the city are on the rise.  Millenials find connecting and doing life difficult in giant environments.  Huge venues for one-off events will never go away, but more intimate environments appeal.  They don’t like being crammed into a crowd or standing in a long line or sitting right next to (touching) a stranger.  Milllenials are building smaller venue multi-campus churches with a great community feel, many services and many options.

Financial responsibility:  This generation has grown up in the great recession.  They have seen the credit crunch and are far more wary of debt. They saw their baby boomer parents be under water in their home loans, owing more than their property was worth.  They are less willing to take on multi-million dollar building loans or pay a higher cost per square foot for a larger auditorium.  Openness about financial decisions is of much higher value.  This doesn’t mean they want to control the way their church is spending money, just that they don’t like secretiveness. 

Increased value for quality hand craftsmanship:  Millenials appreciate things that are not just mass-produced.  Pinterest and Etsy have boomed.  For a season, churches felt very corporate, and looked like business buildings.  I think that the churches of tomorrow will reflect this value for craftsmanship.  I’ve seen it in things like hand-carved beautiful wooden pulpits and guitar stands, or handcrafted lighting fixtures in church lobbies.

If these qualities are part of this generation, then we have to think through our systems and presentations from this perspective.  I’m not suggesting that we all need to grow beards and wear vintage Doc Martins.  We just have to think about our methods through these value systems, and reexamine our processes.  If Millenials don’t enjoy feeling pressured into an assimilation system, then maybe we should look at how we word our communication to new guests, or how frequently we are communicating to them.  Is it too heavy?  Does it feel like we genuinely want relationship with them, or is it overly formal and generic?

RETHINKING TO CONNECT BETTER

We need to rethink things.  If we don’t purposefully change by taking risks in areas we don’t understand well, we will stagnate.  It’s not about being cool and trendy.  We have to learn how to make the gospel come to life for every new generation.  Statistics have been telling us for quite some time that the vast majority of Christians made their decision to follow Christ as a young person.  This means that the most important God experiences in church are happening in the lives of young people.  They are important because they are the first of a lifetime of moments.  As the church, we must prioritize and design these moments and design around young people.

What’s tricky is that currently the baby boomers are for the most part leading the church.  To reach young people requires the older generation to let go of their preferences and their ideas about what is cool, and yield style and method to younger preferences.  Boomers, don’t get resentful about this.  I am GenX, looking between Boomers and Millenials.  It won’t be many years before the kids in children’s ministry will be telling me what is cool.  Give those Millenials thirty years, and it will be their turn to yield their preferences!  It is the way Jesus set up the church—each subsequent generation must change.

Just as significantly, we need the older generations.  Boomers have the leadership experience, the skills, and the emotional maturity that churches desperately need.  Just because we are changing does not eliminate the place that older generations have in the church.  Every part is valuable.  Don’t feel excluded or discarded because of the changes that need to happen.  Making space for the preferences of a younger generation does not eliminate our ability to participate in or to lead the process.  It just means that we reinvent our contribution.

We love our traditions and routines because they feel comfortable and familiar, like an old warm fuzzy blanket in front of a fire on a cold night.  They aren’t bad!  It’s just that no one else wants to curl up under your ratty old blanket with you!  It is your blanket, unique to you.  Traditions are the same way.  We can’t expect someone else to love them.  It’s incumbent on the older generations to be willing to change and give way to the styles and methods of the younger generation.  My husband John says when he was younger, his mentors were twenty years older, but now they are twenty years younger.  As leaders, church isn’t for us. It’s our opportunity to present Jesus to others.

Don’t be resentful, because give them twenty years and they will be in the same boat.  We can choose to love what’s fresh because it keeps us young.  More than that, it keeps our heart’s connection to Jesus fresh and active.  Let’s have a yes in our heart to whatever new thing our pastor wants to try.  Let’s keep measuring what we are doing, watching carefully for when systems are getting stale.  Sometimes more than a patch of a new leader is required, and we need an overhaul because that process just isn’t working any more.  We have no guarantee that because something is working now it will always work.

Above all, let’s ask God to give us his heart toward people.  The Bible says that Jesus looked at people and felt compassion.  He can keep us focused on reaching others rather than our own preferences.  If we get our head up long enough to watch people, culture, and trends, we will get genuinely interested.  People know when it’s real!  Let’s build teams that have inclusive spirits, reaching for new people and new ideas.

 

The Difference Between Crimea and the Matriarch Ruth: Cultural Realignment

CULTURAL IDENTITY

In between the pervasive news about the lost Malaysian airliner, we have had snippets of information about what is unfolding in the Ukraine.  It’s pretty fascinating to me that the Crimean people would vote to detach themselves from their country and reattach to another country.  (This particular country, oddly enough, has had a long history of abuse and repression of the Ukrainian people.)  It’s like the state of Washington suddenly deciding they don’t want to be part of America any more and joining Canada, or Hawaii deciding they want to be Japanese.  It’s a big deal!  So how does this happen?

Interestingly enough, the majority of Crimeans have (apparently) Russian ancestry.  These folks, even though they have lived as part of the Ukraine for generations, have maintained a Russian identity.  (Crimea has been part of the Ukraine before, after, and during Soviet rule)  They maintained a Russian culture, even though they are now Ukrainian nationals.  Just because we join a new country doesn’t automatically mean we have a new cultural identity.  America’s major cities are full of Chinatowns, Greek neighborhoods, Italian neighborhoods, and the list goes on.

My husband is an Aussie living in America.  There are certain parts of American culture that he had to choose to adopt when he married me.  Australians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but it’s a major family get-together holiday in America.  In the early years of our marriage, he scheduled himself to be away once for a Thanksgiving, not even registering that it was a big deal for him to miss it.  However, Thanksgiving was a big deal to me.  It’s my culture; it’s family time.  Because he loves me and he is committed to me, he made a decision to take on a value for that American holiday.  He hasn’t missed one since.

The same is true in church.  We may join a church or a leadership team, but it doesn’t mean that we have automatically adopted its new culture as our own.  We have to learn a new culture, and then decide to adopt it.  Adopting new culture is a journey of changing attitudes, values, language, and habits.  We are born into a culture.  Our early environments, parents and mentors, and life lessons shape this.  We have to cultivate our ability to read the requirements of our leadership culture, see how it diverges from what is familiar and comfortable to us, and then take on that new culture.

I travel quite a bit.  When I get to vacation in a beach resort its just amazing.  It’s super comfy and the temptation for me is to move between the pool, the spa, and the room service.  If I just stay in the resort, I have no chance of connecting to this new culture.  It’s a little scary and risky to get out there, but I download the guidebook, get out and eat the weird food (ignoring the potential consequences).  I talk to locals about what they do; learn some history, what’s important and what makes things tick in that place.  The same is true in church.  It’s a little scary and risky, but we aren’t really connected until we have immersed ourselves in learning the culture.  That’s how we learn to love what’s different and unique, and learn the language.  If we wrinkle our noses at parts of the leadership culture of our church that is foreign and refuse to engage, then we will feel stuck as an outsider and a guest in our own church.

RUTH’S REALIGNMENT

“‘Look,’ Naomi said to her, ‘your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods.  You should do the same.’  But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”  (Ruth 1:15-16 NLT)

Ruth made a decision to abandon the culture of her birth and adopt a new one.  She attached herself to Naomi as her leader with fierce loyalty.  What’s interesting to me is that Ruth could have kept her own language, religion, and traditions, but she didn’t.  She didn’t keep her own identity and culture in Naomi’s land.  She left behind her old value system and adopted Naomi’s culture, even though it was foreign to her.  This is next level loyalty!  She made a choice to follow Naomi.  To Ruth, following Naomi was a choice to realign herself with the people Naomi loved, Naomi’s language and culture and faith.  This meant she redefined herself fundamentally.  In the end, Ruth didn’t lose out; she wound up on top, better off.  The fruit of this decision was her marriage to a strong and wealthy man, and ultimately her inclusion in lineage of Jesus.  Pretty good deal!

If we will make the same kind of choice to fully immerse ourselves in the culture and heart of our house, we will find a place where we belong, a new family.  This kind of leadership loyalty is an adoption of a new set of values, even when it’s different.  Unity is not about agreement; it’s about alignment.  We may not always agree, but I make a choice to align myself with your values.  Unity is achieved not through harmony and compromise, but through deliberate decisions to align to our senior leader’s expectations, standards, and goals.  The reality is that the things that unite us are far more significant than the things that divide us.  Too often, leaders divide over the small things that don’t really matter.

What matters is not so much what we personally prefer, but what Jesus is calling us to be as a church.  Pastors have to lead according to the direction they get from the Holy Spirit, not the vast mosaic of personal values found in his church.  Leaders who attempt to satisfy everyone else’s personal values wind up chasing their tails and going nowhere.  The most effective number two level leaders recognize where personal values differ from the values of our house and make a decision to embrace these new values over our own.

Everyone loves the idea of harmony and world peace.  In all my lifetime and in all my travels, I have never met one person who told me that they love war and division.  So if everyone wants unity, why is it so hard?  Why is the Ukraine on the razor’s edge of unraveling into civil war?  Why has Syria been pulling itself apart for three years?  These nations share culture and language, but they cannot find a place of agreement.  The truth is that unity is far easier in ideals than it is in real life.

UNITY HAPPENS WHEN WE DISAGREE

Fundamentally, we all want to fit in because we want social acceptance, but we also want to stand out.  There is something wired deep into our humanity that wants to be distinguished, to be special.  There is something deep in us that wants to make our mark on the world around us, to be noticed and remembered.  The rebel gets remembered.  The dissident is a singular voice in the crowd, standing out.  The Bible tells us that the place for us to do this is letting our light shine in the darkness, reaching out to people who are far from God.  We don’t need to be doing this inside our church, but outside.

The thing about vision is that it requires unified efforts behind it to actually happen.  What’s tricky about this is that it needs all of us who are wired to desire uniqueness to come together, against our nature, into the same purpose.  People have to let go of their desire to do whatever else they could be doing and choose unified vision and values.  Just like Ruth, saying yes to new a culture and vision is saying no to something else.

If we will bring a heart and an attitude that says yes unconditionally to vision, amazing things can happen.  Unity actually happens when I disagree.  My leader may have decided to go one way after I suggested another.  My attitude in that moment determines true unity.  If I am sulky and irritated, I am producing division.  If I maintain a life-giving spirit, staying full engaged with the direction I suggested against, that’s true unity.

People are far more willing to do this when there is proven fruitfulness.  It’s easier to say yes when you have some kind of guarantee that your time and efforts are going to pay off for something good.  It’s human to hesitate when we have seen problems or to distrust what’s new.  Even if there are issues, let’s put the strength and the health of our church first.  Sometimes leaders who have had these hesitations will start to build a sub-culture inside their church.  Their teams speak differently, and value different things than the rest of the church.  These ministries become isolated, separated from the body of their church.  They think they are building something more spiritual or better, but they are actually weakening the fabric of their church.  None of us want to be caught in that trap and say or do anything that will weaken or hurt the church.  Let’s be leaders that build teams that value the house over our own area.

Sometimes leaders will join a team that they look down on, thinking that they will “fix” what’s wrong in their house.  This attitude always ends badly, with hurt and frustration.  Choose to adopt the values of your house, and you will avoid a world of ugly.  If you are in this trap, trying to grow areas of your church that aren’t part of the vision, don’t be surprised when your ministry isn’t growing or you don’t find your opportunities and influence expanding.

Leave those areas in God’s hands.  Ultimately, he has a unique assignment for every church.  We reach different facets of the world, and no one church will be strong in every area.  Focus on what your church values and does well, and be happy, loving it for what God has called your house to be.  When we choose to adopt this new culture as our own, we become sons and daughters of the house.  The church is strong when we know who we are and what our mission is, and we love it!

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!

Why Getting Paid by Your Church Doesn’t Make Serving Easier

When I was a little girl, I watched the woman who played the piano on stage and the ladies who led worship and knew that’s what I wanted to do.  Before I even knew that you needed money to live, I wanted the church to be my profession.  I started serving in church as a little girl in the children’s choir, and I never looked back.  For all of us who love the church and have been serving and leading for years, joining a church staff seems like a natural next step.  What could be better than spending all our professional time building what we love and serving Jesus with our lives?

It’s hard to consider getting paid cash money to do something awesome as a bad thing, but sometimes, the money doesn’t make your serving easier, but harder.  I have been privileged to chat with many people who have taken ministry jobs for the first time, and without fail, after the honeymoon is over, there is a transitional season that isn’t easy.  In fact, sometimes it’s so rough that people don’t make it.  I know more than one person who has come on and off their church’s staff multiple times because the transition was so difficult that they didn’t make it the first time around!

There are unique challenges for churches both from hiring from the inside and hiring from the outside.  When I first started in full-time ministry fifteen years ago, it required a move half-way across the country.  My husband was a college buddy of the pastor’s son, so we were an outside hire, not an inside hire.  Most churches would prefer to be able to hire one of their own if they can.  People we have gone the journey with and built trust and culture with slip so naturally into staff roles.  There is an easy dynamic of trust that happens when a church hires one of its own.  There are, however, inevitably some important mental transitions that we have to navigate if we accept a staff position at our own church.

These are some of these challenging thoughts that new staff, hired from within their church, will likely have to grapple with.  I have come across these struggles in leaders who answered the call to ministry both at home and in the churches that we work with. They are challenging and might give you pause if being hired by your church has been your goal.

1. A loss of freedom and control: the transition from, “I control the level of my serve;” to “My participation is mandated.”

2. A potential loss of morale: the transition from, “I get to; I want to;” to “I have to.”

3. A change in relationship: the transition from, “You’re my pastor;” to “You’re my boss.”

4. A loss in finances: the transition from, “If I could just get paid to do ministry, life would be just amazing;” to “What?! This is how much I’m getting paid to do this much work?”

5. An increase in responsibility: the transition from, “I’m a supporter;” to “I’m responsible.”

6. A loss of confidence: the transition from, “I’m the best volunteer we have; I rock this;” to “I’m super green, unsure of myself, and intimidated by successful leaders who are now my peers.”

7. An increase in pressure: the transition from, “I get celebrated as a volunteer;” to “I have to celebrate volunteers that I need, but I don’t feel celebrated.  In fact, I feel pressure now from my leader like I’m not good enough.”

8. An increase in frustration: the transition from, “Everything this church does is fantastic;” to “Can I get a little help around here??”

9. A decrease in sanctuary: the transition from, “This is my happy place;” to “This is a demanding place.”

10. A shift in motivation: the transition from, “I serve Jesus because he died for me;” to “Jesus is my career.”

(This one is subtle, but WAY important in how we view church.  When your sense of professional accomplishment depends on the church, it’s easy to let our motives slip from where it all began if we are not vigilantly guarding our heart.)

11. A loss of personal value: the transition from, “I feel valued and respected in my career by my pastor;” to “I feel owned and less valued because I work for you.”

All of the people I have talked to who joined their church’s staff have felt at least one of these things in the transitional season.  That season can last differing amounts of time for different people.  None of these feelings or thoughts of themselves are shameful, and none of them are disqualifiers if you have felt them.  They do, however, require that we process through them with Jesus and with our pastors.  If we let these thoughts and feelings fester, they will cause us to do and say things that will disqualify us.  Ministry is not easy.  Many, many pastors don’t survive it.  If we will work through these challenges and pop out the other side, things do get much better!  There is nothing more fulfilling than doing full-time ministry if we are called to it!

We just have to be very sure that God has called us, and to be very real with ourselves about the demands of the lifestyle.  Regular heart checks and motive checks are vital.  If our ministry motive is to build our personal profile or make our mark in history, we will wind up as ministry road kill.  These motives will cause us to fall, and our hearts to be trampled, if we don’t keep love for Jesus and his heart for his people at the center of what we do.

Many of the most effective leaders I know are also volunteers.  It doesn’t take a church check with your name on it to make your contribution valuable, and it doesn’t take a staff title to validate your ministry.  The apostle Paul worked many times without pay and maintained his business as a tentmaker, and he never viewed pay as any measure of his ministerial success.

“7 For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow.” 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9 NLT

For all of you who are volunteering the equivalent of a part-time job or even a full-time job, bravo!  You inspire and encourage so many, even if you don’t hear it often.  There are significant rewards for the level of service you give.  I am one hundred percent convinced that when we make God’s kingdom a priority, he will make certain that our needs are more than met.  I volunteered thirty hours a week all through my teenage years.  God made sure that I got scholarships I didn’t deserve to more than pay for my college education.  I am so grateful!

I’m sure you are living in a blessed place because of your serve.  Those blessings may or may not be overt, but you can see them if you look for them.

“31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:31,33 NKJV

When we make a priority of building God’s house, he will build our house!