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!

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Balancing the Scales: Ministry and Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Frontier For Feminine Leadership

Today’s post is foundational. For anyone who has gone to Bible College or researched the topic of feminine leadership, this isn’t anything revolutionary. I am going to simply add my voice to the conversation in value and celebration of women who have stepped up to lead in the church. For anyone who hasn’t put a great deal of thought into the subject, this may be useful for building some of your confidence. I believe you girls are God-designed and incredibly valuable. The church needs you to be free to be you.

There was a time when women had heavy demands at home. My great-grandmother was a subsistence farmer’s wife in Kentucky. She had to wash clothes by hand, kill whatever animals her family was going to eat, tend a vegetable garden, can for the winter, sew clothes, and make anything they wanted to eat—scratch cooking: no frozen or pre-prepared shortcuts. This made any outside commitments somewhere between difficult and impossible. Practical inventions like the refrigerator, frozen prepared foods, decent grocery stores, dishwashers, and clothes washers have freed up an incredible amount of time around the house—hallelujah! For the first time in the history of mankind, girls are not consumed with the necessities of simple survival.

With all this new free time, the last few generations of women started looking for other ways to contribute to their communities. Women have become the backbone of the church, working hard behind the scenes. As female commitment levels and skill levels have risen, this service hasn’t always translated into visible leadership roles.

I love the church; make no mistake. I am not ranting and I’m not angry. I’m simply recognizing that in the same way we are on a spiritual journey individually; we are on a journey corporately. Jesus is continuing to refine us, and every generation is making progress! The way we express love and devotion to God corporately is very personally important to every individual. We get very comfortable with our preferences, so change can be slow.

Another example of this slow change is that American churches are still very racially segregated. According to research by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, only 8% of American churches have fewer than 80% of their dominant race. The demographic of our churches are frequently not representing the diverse communities we are part of.

Over the course of my relatively short lifetime, however, I have seen shifts in the contemporary church. An increasing number of churches value and celebrate feminine leadership more than they used to. Women carry important leadership roles in many churches. About ten percent of all the senior pastors of Protestant churches in America are women, some denominations with higher percentages and some with lower.

I have heard people say that God only raises up a woman when there is no man to do the job. Really, that statement is silly and insulting to women and to Jesus. It limits our all-powerful God down to a scenario where He can’t get his first preference–a man—but will settle for the chick. God put leadership gifts inside every effective female leader when they were born, specifically designing them to lead. Those leadership gifts are not just to lead in a secular environment, they are there for kingdom purposes.

The hesitancy in the church to cheer on our girls comes from a few key passages in the New Testament. In I Timothy 2:11-12, Paul told Timothy how women should act in church. Paul said that he did not permit women to teach or have authority over a man. The interpretation of this pair of verses laid a foundation for feminine roles in the church that has continued for thousands of years.

When we read the Bible, we are not actually reading the original words written by Paul. We read through several layers of interpretation. The first layer of interpretation is the translation from ancient Greek (a dead language) into English. There are small discrepancies between different translations based on what the Bible translators disagreed about. Some translations are very literal, and others try to convey the original thought in a modern context. The next layer we interpret through is our own personal brand of English. Words have different meanings and nuances to different people, and English is hardly an exact science. It’s continually changing. The last filter we read through is our cultural context. We read passages through the eyes of our experiences in the world today.

Some things have the same name but were very different two thousand years ago. If we don’t understand the context, some of the meaning is lost. This means that we have to be open to the very real possibility that we may not always get it right. This particular passage of Timothy is a very good example of where we need to dig a little deeper. To understand it fully, it’s useful to get some cultural backstory about women and religion.

Christianity began as a sect of Judaism, and many of its early traditions about worship were borrowed from Jewish worship. In Paul and Timothy’s day, church services were modeled after Jewish synagogue meetings. Women sat on the second floor balcony behind a screen, and the men were down on the main floor, leading the proceedings. In Jewish-style services, there was not one teacher who lectured while everyone else listened as is common today. A man would get up and read a scripture, then the gentlemen in the room would all comment and debate about the application or interpretation of that scripture. The word translated “teach” in I Timothy 2:11 literally meant “to converse” because this was the way teaching happened—interactively.

In Timothy’s church, the women were so interested in what was happening that they were jumping in on the discussion from their second floor window. Paul said that was a no-no, and there is an important reason why he said no. According to Jewish scholars, men and women were separated because it’s easier to focus on God when you aren’t distracted by the pretty ladies. By keeping the men and women separate, the Jews distanced themselves from the sexuality of Roman religious ceremonies.

When Romans would go to the temple of the goddess Aphrodite to worship, it certainly was nothing like the church services we attend today. Pilgrims would worship by having sex with a priestess in the temple. These women were “temple prostitutes” who had dedicated their lives to the service of the goddess. Temple festivals were giant orgies. Once the deed was done, the worship was finished.

This craziness was the cultural climate when Paul was writing to Timothy. Women’s roles in pagan religions were scandalous to say the least. Wives and mothers worked hard to distance themselves from the temple priestesses. They could not even hang out in public without bringing shame on their families. This is why Paul made such a strong stance for Christian women at the time. For women to just engage the conversation at church would have taken the fledgling church over the edge into disrepute. The more a woman appeared to lead, the more she was perceived like the temple priestesses.

The way people worship is deeply ritualistic and habitual. The churches in Thyatyra and Pergamum struggled to keep pagan influences out. These churches had been established in non-Jewish cities, and they had very strong roots in popular religions of the era. The Christian church had allowed some of the pagan worship expressions to creep into their services when John wrote his prophetic correction to them in the book of Revelations. This was exactly what Paul was guarding against in his warning to Timothy.

Today, chances are we deal with some fewer occasions of women in ministry gaining the reputation of prostitutes than in Paul’s day.

If you peek around the cultural context of the day, what Paul taught about women was a very different thing. Galatians 3:28 “For there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus put things back in order the way they were meant to be in the garden of Eden. Male and female were created as two halves of the same whole, interdependent.

Today, we don’t have to worry about looking like temple prostitutes when we lead. (In case you were worried.) If our cultural context permits women to serve in leadership roles, then by all means, let’s step into our God-designed place! God would not give us the talents, abilities, and grace to fill leadership roles if he had not intended us to fit there. In different communities, this is accepted differently. We cannot force our way into opportunities. Leadership is only leadership when people are willingly following. We earn followership and respect by rocking the responsibilities in our hand now.

Paul’s instruction toward women in leadership in Timothy is actually a great leadership principle when you drill down a little farther and don’t just get stuck there or ignore the verse. The word translated “authority” in I Timothy 2:11 has a larger definition than just that one word. This kind of authority is egocentric, domineering, and harsh. That word originally meant, “one who kills others or himself with his own hand.” Paul encouraged women not to try and fight for their right to lead with a harsh, domineering fist.

This is not about the rights of women all over the world. This is not about our opportunity to make a name for ourselves or to get ahead. Ministry is fundamentally the willingness to serve. If we have a grace to lead, it should be strong, invitational and inspirational rather than harsh and demanding. Simply put, if over half of the church female, and many have leadership gifts, there are significant numbers of God-designed leaders holding back. If we are not faithful with God has put in our hands and in our hearts, then the kingdom of God suffers.

The church needs girls who are passionate about Jesus and passionate about building his church to rise up and lead. I, for one, am cheering you on!

When Mommying Isn’t the Best Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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