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.

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!

Just For Girls, Just For Fun: A Look Into My Handbag

Just For Girls, Just For Fun: A Look Into My Handbag

My top sixteen leadership-essential accessories that I keep with me in my handbag all the time:
(My handbag is pretty big.)
*left to right, top to bottom

1. Coverup, powder, mascara, lip color, eyeliner, and eyelash curler. You never know when you will need to stand in front of people and communicate. These things help your face stand out and look your best!

2. Hair spray. Useful for more than just hair! It also doubles as stain remover, bug spray, shoe polish, pet fur grabber (when sprayed on a cloth), run stopper, zipper stiffener, static eliminator, and lint remover.

3. Assortment of over-the-counter meds. Nervousness can kick in gut troubles of a wide variety, and being over-tired can cause headaches. When it’s Sunday and it’s game day, no one’s got time for that mess!

4. iPad & Bible app. You may prefer the paper version. I also have a small paper version that I used before the iPad days. This one is an absolute essential in church life and personal life both.

5. Planning Center app. This is the most useful app for managing church services that I have seen. I don’t know how we did church without it.

6. Starbucks Via packet. This is a backup for when there is no good coffee available and I really need to be alert. Sundays can be long days, and the Sunday afternoon nap is calling…

7. Tampon, Body/Clothing tape, & bobby pins. a. No explanation needed. b. We all have that really cute outfit that tends to slip on us. A little body tape will keep the gap between buttons closed while we wave our arms around on stage, keep the neckline above the cleavage, hold blouses over bra straps, & fix hems. Priceless. c. Quick hair repair or belt wiener fix.

8. Lip repair. After a long day of meetings where chances are I didn’t drink enough water, my lips are screaming. To keep talking, lube them up.

9. Ear buds. Put in your ear buds, throw on some worship music, and the world is suddenly miles away. When I need a break, or a moment alone with Jesus while in public, I reach for these.

10. Hand cream. This has become weirdly more necessary as I have gotten older. Shaking hands with dry hands is chafing and unpleasant. Shaking lots of hands requires hand cream.

11. Portable fragrance. Hugs are just not good when someone smells bad. We try to be like ducks on Sunday–gliding smoothly on the surface, but underneath paddling like mad. All that paddling can produce some scents that I need to address before getting up close and personal with people.

12. Superglue. There are endless uses for this. Shoe repair, small electronics repair, nail repair, clothing repair, jewelry repair.

13. Gum or mints. Whenever I’m going to be talking closer than two feet away, this is a necessary precaution.

14. Fisherman’s Friend lozenges and Throat Coat tea. For speakers and singers, these are invaluable. When I am fighting off a cold or infection of some sort, these can help pull a little more life out of my voice.

15. Hand sanitizer. Absolutely essential for all ministry roles. Ideally sanitize after every service to keep germ-free. Pastors and leaders get sick too often from hand to hand contact.

16. Evernote. I have had multiple occasions when I had to be instant in season speaking at a meeting somewhere. Evernote keeps all my messages carefully catalogued and easily accessible when I need to pull on something I’ve done in the past. I’m always prepared when I have Evernote.

Instagram, Self-torture, Measuring Tape, and Pineapples

INSTAGRAM AND MENTAL SELF-MUTILATION

The latest apps like Picflow or Video Story sew a bunch of photos together into one Instagram slide show—perfect for your year in review.  My photo stream is full of them today.  I can see the 2013 highlight reel of any number of friends in snapshots.  It’s funny how fantastic this makes our lives look.  It’s all the best moment of the year crammed together into fifteen or twenty seconds.  Even the worst year can look pretty amazing in an Instagram slide show!  It’s easy to look an acquaintance’s slide show and feel a twinge of envy.

For most humans, this kind of reflection is our annual tradition as the New Year turns over.  It’s time for happy memories, wishes for revisions, and plans for self-improvement.  I always experience an interesting tension between regrets that I am not where I want to be and motivation for the fresh New Year.  This self-reflection, however, is a bit of a slippery slope toward self-comparison.  There are always others around my age and experience that are so much farther down the track than I am.  Self-comparison leads to self-criticism—Get it together, Anna!

I have several friends who have had an exceptionally difficult year.  Needless to say, they did not post an Insta year-end slide show.  When your life is not on the upswing, this kind of New Year’s mental self-mutilation is even easier to slip into, particularly for leaders.  My prayer for any of you experiencing this kind of self-torture today is grace for the journey.  The Bible talks about the ups and downs we will face.  Our leadership journey is going to have fantastic seasons and others that feel very lonely and difficult.  Thankfully, Jesus promises to be with us at every step, and to bring us to a great place of vision and his presence.

“And how blessed all those in whom you live,

    whose lives become roads you travel;

They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,

    discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!

God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and

    at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!”

                                                      (Psalm 84:5-7 MSG)

This season will not last forever!

USE YOUR OWN MEASURING TAPE

The path out of self-disappointment starts with a liberal application of God’s grace.  As leaders, we tend to measure out God’s grace generously to those we minister to, but withhold it from ourselves.  Grace for the journey gives us permission to learn from our mistakes rather than disqualify ourselves.  Grace gives us permission to move at a sustainable pace rather than watch our relationships wither on the altar of our to-do list.  God’s grace gives us permission to love the strengths we have rather than hate the weakness that are part of our humanity.  Our journey is our own, and not comparable to anyone else’s.  

As leaders, we tend to measure fruitfulness based on statistical performance, opportunities, and the perceptions around our ministry.  We go through seasons when what God is building in us is bigger than what he is building through us.  Those seasons when he is strengthening the foundations of our lives and building character can look barren on the outside, but they are vital for the next season.  If we aren’t aware of what he is doing in our lives right now, we can spin our wheels chasing after success when just maybe, this season is designed for us to get healthy.  Health produces fruit, and not the other way around.

Learning grace for the journey means learning how to measure our progress in rhythm, at the right places and the right times.  Too often we measure sporadically, or use someone else’s measuring tape.  Our measuring tape should be the vision and values of the ministry we serve, not the vision and values of the church whose conference we love to attend.  If we measure our progress according to the vision God has called us to, then we have an accurate picture of our progress.  Hillsong is called to write original worship songs that the church worldwide can worship with.  If your church’s primary vision is to feed and clothe the needy in East Jahunga, then the fact that you aren’t producing original worship songs sung around the world isn’t a fail.  

Too often we measure by comparing what we have built to what people we respect have built.  Paul talked about our journey as a race, and it’s easy to get focused on winning by being more successful than other leaders.  The kind of race we are in is more similar to a marathon.  Long distance runners aren’t nearly as concerned about what place they finished the race in as whether or not they beat their PR.  Their goal is to beat their personal record, to run their personal best.  We are more like distance runners than sprinters.  Measure against your own progress, no one else’s.

Women in particular can be guilty of measuring themselves by someone else’s measuring tape.  We measure by comparing our lives to our best girl friends’ lives.  We literally compare our body measurements.  We tend to take our kids’ failures and successes and measure ourselves by them.  Girls, your kids’ mistakes do not disqualify you any more than their successes validate you.  Your kids measuring tape is not for you!

GOING IT ALONE: ALWAYS A SERIOUS MISTAKE

It’s human nature to want to withdraw from relationship with people we respect when things aren’t going so well.  We don’t want them to see us vulnerable, or maybe we don’t trust them to handle us with love and acceptance.  I have friends who have pulled away from good relationships in hard times.  They stopped attending the conferences they used to attend, don’t reach out like they used to, and they felt hurt that no one was reaching back.  It would seem foolish for me to feel hurt for something I changed, but it’s a trap many of us fall into.  I have to take responsibility for my own relationships; I can’t blame someone else for my choices.  If I disengage from relationship, then I will go through hard times alone.

One of the many things I love about my husband are his skills at building and maintaining friendships.  He is able to genuinely and wholeheartedly celebrate the successes of his friends.  Just as quickly, he gives love and support when things are going badly.  Not everyone is able to do that authentically.  I have been in leadership environments where people struggled to celebrate their friends’ successes.  Being part of a leadership community requires that we don’t give ourselves permission to think that someone else’s progress diminishes ours or that their success makes ours smaller.  If we want true friendship, we have to learn to authentically value and celebrate the progress of those we are in relationship with.  The nature of true relationship and true community is that we cheer each other on, not one-upmanship.  

At various moments over the years, I’ve caught myself watching someone else’s success, examining it for weaknesses.  I’m not sure why, but maybe their weaknesses made their success seem more achievable.  If I am cheering someone on with my mouth, but in my head looking for something to criticize, then I have made myself smaller.  The same applies to you.  We probably all have had to face this battle at one time or another, feeling inadequate in the face of someone else’s triumph.  We have to catch ourselves at it, give ourselves some grace for the journey, and then decide to value the success wholeheartedly.  After all, we win when then church globally wins.  Our friends are not the competition we need to try to outdo.

PINEAPPLES AND BELL PEPPERS ARE BOTH FRUIT

Pineapples and bell peppers may be culinary opposites, but they are both fruit.  Fruit comes in thousands of different shapes, sizes, color, and textures.  Some are sweet, some are not.  Traveling from temperate America to the tropics will give you a rapid revelation of how limited our awareness is about fruit.  We tend to categorize things neatly: apple, banana, orange, grape.  There are things out there that simply defy categorization.

The same is true about kingdom fruit.  It looks wildly different on different ministries.  We get fruitful where we put resources, leadership, and energy.  What we work toward is what we produce.  We have different passions, different styles, and different levels of resource that all produce churches that look and feel very different.  The growth in every church environment is fruit.  Fruit is found in people–numbers growth, leadership development growth, and character growth.  Fruit looks different on every ministry.  We are all filling different kinds of roles and answering the different kinds of needs that Jesus calls us to.  

Every kind of fruit is valuable and important.  Our tendency is to focus on others’ strengths but our own weaknesses, undervaluing our own fruitfulness.  We have to learn how to value the fruit we can produce!  We are uniquely capable of reaching specific kinds of people.  The church needs what you were specifically designed to bring!  Just because it doesn’t look, smell, or taste like someone else’s success doesn’t make it any less a fruit.  The fact that we have the potential of producing more fruit or healthier than we are now doesn’t make the fruit we do produce any less valuable.  Celebrate each step of the journey of fruitfulness.

If you have been caught in the torture of mental self-mutilation, comparing your year-in-review to someone else’s, pause here.  A change of focus is required, moving from the failures to the wins.  Take a deep breath in, and thank God for this year’s journey.  What he has taught us has taken us a step forward toward strength, health, and purpose.  No one else’s progress diminishes that strength.  Eyes up, shoulders back, smile in the face of the next challenge ahead, and into 2014 we go!  And good luck in East Jahunga!