Tag Archive | leadership

Seasons

I was sitting in church yesterday and my mind was churning. All kinds of thoughts about how much things had changed in my life.

Many of those changes are good. Wonderful. A blessing. My hubby Ben is top of that list.

Some of them are to be grieved. Seasons pass and life changes. We change. 

Community Church Fond du Lac WI Women’s Worship Team at Ostoff 2006 (?)

I used to be the lead singer for a band. I had the confidence at that time. I used to oversee all the worship programming at a church in Menomonee Falls, WI, as a staff position. I used to be a worship leader… and it’s been years since I’ve sung on a worship team at church. Now that’s not totally the fault of anyone else because I’ve not submitted to an audition for a team. There are many reasons for that but the biggest one: I lack confidence. Every time I’ve sung at church in the past few years I received shocked comments: “I didn’t know you sang.” When I sing in front of others (or play guitar) I’m hypercritical and so worried about my “performance” and struggle because I want to be worshipping in “spirit and in truth.” I find I do that better from the congregation, holding my hubby’s hand. He loves to hear my voice and if only God and Ben hear me, I’m fine with that.

Jonah’s Vacation, late 1990’s Milwaukee WI

I’ve not been asked to speak at our Mother of Preschoolers (MOPS) group in years or any other event at church even though I have taught years of theology and even keynoted a women’s leadership conference at our church and possess a masters degree in Counseling Psychology. I coordinated MOPS and also led the Women’s Ministry for many years.

The fact is, if I promoted myself, I could probably speak at places – at my church and at others, or even sing, but one of the most vicious verbal beat-downs I ever received was from someone I looked up to in ministry. And it was all because I posted on Facebook about my writing, publishing, editing, speaking… you get the picture. Apparently, that made me evil, regardless of the fact that the most common things required of authors is to beef up their social media presence. I tried to a Matthew 18 kind of meet up for the purposes of reconciliation, but the person I had requested help from bailed on me. Time passed and I needed to accept that the perpetrator was someone I needed to disconnect from for my own health and well-being.

Now it feels like none of that happened. The band, the singing, the teaching… All gone in a poof of smoke known as…time. And I even fear doing too much self-promotion lest I encounter more abuse.

Oh, boo hoo. What a pathetic person I sound like!

Grief isn’t logical. I realized quickly that is exactly what I was doing – I was grieving. Grieving hits harder this time of year, sometimes out of the blue without me even realizing the date on the calendar. I should be able to predict it – but I guess I hope that maybe, just maybe, this year I’ll escape it.

I was wrong. But why do the above hit harder? It was all surface grief that covered over one major life event.

In late November 2003, I had a miscarriage.

Anniversary reactions are painful.

In December 2004, I gave birth to my daughter, appropriately named Joy Lucille which means “joyful light-bearer.” Lucille was my great-grandmother’s name.

Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning

Psalm 30:5b, Holman Christian Standard Bible

While her birth was something to rejoice in – her five-day hospital stay as we fought for her life – was not. Nor were the medical challenges that came later. For all that she’s healthy and a delight to my heart.

In November 2017 a judge hammered a nail in the coffin of a verbally abusive marriage. A relationship I had spent years grieving over so that one doesn’t have the same sense of loss to me. That was a relief.  God rescued me. He provided for me and my kids. He sustained me and I learned I didn’t need a man to have a good life.

I still wanted one. I still believed there were good men out there. I feared dating again. I kept my standards so high I shouldn’t have been able to find anyone that would meet my criteria. But God once again showed Himself. June 2018 I started talking with this great guy, Ben.

We began dating and it was amazing. Someone began slandering me to his family, but I quickly realized it wasn’t me personally that was the issue. It was anyone who would have won his heart. He’s worth that grief of those lies. He had to make a choice between maintaining a relationship with those people – or pursuing me. He chose me. And I’m so glad he did.

In December 2018 I married Benjamin. What a wonderful journey we’ve had so far. 

I’ll grieve my losses and be grateful for all that God has done to change my life for the better. It’s not all roses, and we still have challenges we face, but I’m blessed to have someone by my side as we face those challenges together. Someone to pray with me and for me. Someone who is proud to hold my hand and tell me he loves me. Not even a best-selling novel could beat that, or lots of adulation for singing or speaking anywhere. So I’ll let that go. If God wants me to do that kind of work He can make a way.

So I will grieve because the only way is to go through it. And I will rejoice in all God has done on my journey.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Be kind to yourself and others as we enter this season – underneath our smiles, many are struggling. 

Ben and me. December 2019

 

Shoot the Messenger

Image courtesy of seaskylab / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of seaskylab / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve seen this situation many times. Someone gets upset about something in ministry and instead of going to the source they start talking about it with others.

I understand this too well. See, I’m human too. Sometimes it’s easier to complain than to actually approach a leader and ask questions or express my views.

I’ve been on the leadership side and let me give you an image. Being a leader is putting a large target on your back and silently begging people to shoot at you.

Those shots hurt. Even with the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit, they hurt. See most people don’t take issue with a decision, they attack the person making the decision.

Whether I’ve been in leadership or not, I have pledged to defend and protect my leaders.

That doesn’t mean I’m ignorant of their failings or humanness. It doesn’t mean I mutely accept every decision made or never voice my opinion. I do, with respect. And sometimes I don’t get my way and I back down knowing that God knows better than me and our leaders are held to a higher level  of accountability. They need our prayer, not our criticism.

It means that I will try to encourage others to take the high road. To not, however innocently, post veiled attacks on Facebook, or in a group. To go to the source and if that doesn’t work, do the Matthew 18 thing and take a friend or another person who is impartial to verify and hear out the disagreement.

Strange how people rarely gossip about the good things others do, isn’t it?

Anyway, time and again I have tried this method of redirection and even trying to suggest more positive re-framing that people could consider instead of jumping to suspicious conclusions or motives.

It doesn’t matter. The messenger gets attacked and called ignorant and people take the comments as personal slander even though they were never named or even thought of in comments written or spoken.

It’s sad that we can’t cut each other grace, speak the truth in love to the person we have an issue with and move on. I guess that’s the reason so many pages of Scripture are dedicated to the “one-anothers” so we are reminded this is not an us against them kind of issue, but it is about us growing as a body of believers to become more and more the bride (the church) that Christ is coming to wed.

I love the local church. I have spent years pouring myself out in service to her as paid and unpaid staff. To be honest though, sometimes, because of these “friendly fire” situations, I wish I could just walk away. The only thing that keeps me is that not everyone is like that. There are those who do take the high road and walk with integrity and regardless of how they feel, avoid the petty backbiting and gossip. Some of them have defended me against others who have slandered me behind my back and they suffered for that as well.

Jesus also suffered in a similar way (and far worse) by those who proclaimed to love God.

Sorry to use this as venue to whine. I want the Bride of Christ to shimmer and shine. I want her lace to be pure and clean. It’s just that those kinds of negative behaviors don’t show a good witness within the church or without. So maybe we can all try harder with God’s help and a lot of prayer for our leaders.

And I’ll once again pull out the arrows and slap on a band-aid of forgiveness and try again, even when it hurts. Because Jesus is worth it and so are His people and the mission He has called us to.

That Dirty “S” Word

I was reading a manuscript for a book coming out next year and kept seeing the word “submission.” Yup, that dirty “S” word. Did you think this was about something else? I know, Snickers probably crossed your mind – they taste so good but doesn’t help if you want the scale to go down in numbers.

Anyway, back to that “S” word. It is sad that we see it as dirty and uncomfortable. I understand that for many submitting to unjust authorities can be painful and hard. Submitting to that kind of thing rankles us independent free-thinking Americans. Freedom after all means making our own choices, doesn’t it?

Well, you pay taxes (maybe?) and you probably generally follow the speed limit. You try not to steal or murder. Hmm. Are you submitting to the law or to God? Perhaps both because God has given us the law for protection, for our benefit, for our greater happiness.

So too with those He places in authority over us. I have a “boss.” I cannot just go and do my own thing but I have to submit to her ultimate authority over the work I do. It doesn’t bother me at all. I see it as an opportunity to grow as I learn from her leadership and guidance.

In the church, I see the leadership I serve under as a spiritual umbrella that protects me from falling into sin. They are held responsible for my ministry before God as I serve under them. I respect the weight of that and want to honor that responsibility by responding to their authority with gratitude.

Submission does not equal doormat though. It does not equal “victim.” We are not to submit to evil or condone it.

Submission is a joy when we know that the people we submit to have our  best interests at heart and love us. Then it is far easier to submit even when doing so means letting go of some or our own desires.

Submission however is not always easy. Jesus submitted to an unjust trial, false accusations and brutal physical torture as well as the defection of the majority of his followers. For you and for me. To save us. To provide an intimate umbrella of protection from the weight and death that is a result of our sin.

In that way submission is a beautiful thing and not a dirty word.  The best book I’ve ever read on this subject is called Liberated through Submission  by Bunny Wilson. I recommend it for MEN and WOMEN, SINGLE or MARRIED. It’s the kind of book I hope my kid will read in their later teen years to help them be prepared for the reality of submission in this world and the blessings that are a part of it.

How about you? In what ways do you struggle with this issue?

Rejection is Part of the Game

I’m in the midst of some changes in my involvement in church ministry. It’s been hard being in leadership because being in a position like that is like putting a target on your back and letting everyone practice shooting arrows at you.  The hard part is that it is rarely that people criticize you for things failing or not going well – the attacks get personal.

I have been slandered over the years more times than I can count. The attacks are more on my personality or character and often judging my motives.

This kind of thing is hard. If you need affirmation and encouragement – this is NOT the place to find it. Sad isn’t it? The church, where we are to be “building one another up and encouraging one another as the day is drawing closer” can often be the place of our greatest pain.  Yet God has given me a deep love for the body of Christ.

I do get affirmation from close friends and leadership.  I am blessed by so many people I have served with. Still, it hurts to maligned and misunderstood.

Maybe that’s why I’m such a champion of respecting and praying for our church leaders. I know firsthand the pain of attacks and the difficulty leaders face in leading a group of volunteers who are trying to be “family” in the body of Christ.

But, I’m a writer too. Writing is also ministry. There is something different about rejection in writing. For instance,  I just got a rejection of a manuscript that had been requested in full. Ouch. It hurts whenever someone doesn’t think your work is good enough. But that’s just it – it’s my work. I can improve.  I can grow.  This editor was a blessing in the way she delivered  her rejection. She took the time to give me specific areas where there were problems with my writing and how to change them.  She encouraged me to submit again in the future. This is highly unusual in the publishing industry. She didn’t blacklist my name or say I was a crappy person too full of myself to see how awful my writing was.

Rejection is part of the game with writing and seeking publication. It just is. The more I’m on line the more I see how many of us are out there pursuing our dream, writing our stories and trying to honor God with our gifts. Sometimes I admit, I feel jealous of the success of others when they finally get that contract, that book art, that first box of books with THEIR name on the cover.

I know I could have those things if I self-published and ignore the opportunity to grow. But I want to give God my best effort. That takes work and I’ll admit that sometimes I fear I’ll never be good enough. I’m so blessed by my readers cheer me on.  They remind me of how God has already used my writing for His glory.

In writing the rejections are usually not personal.  My writer friends know I’m zany and crazy and fun. They believe in me because they know I desire to grow and I’m not so full of myself to think I’m the next hot thing since Stephen King.

So I’m going to keep writing and serving God here until He says no more or calls me home. I’ll still serve in the church but the way that happens is shifting, and I embrace that. The Scripture God keeps bringing to my mind is this:

How do you handle rejection? What is God doing in your life that is new and fresh?

Leadership as an Identity (book review)

Crawford W. Loritts, Jr is a wise and humble speaker. His book, Leadership as an Identity, reflects those same characteristics.

Pastor Loritts’ book challenges the view of Christian leadership as being far more than a set of skills and giftedness or even personality. It’s not a book on “how to” lead well. This book instead dares to say that leadership for a Christian is something other than that. It is an identity that a believer assumes when God calls that person to lead. This is manifested best when the leader embraces four key characteristics: brokenness, uncommon communion, servanthood and radical, immediate obedience. Crawford points to these being the four underlining character traits of great leaders in Scripture, and in the church through history.

This book is written in a very easy to read style drawing on Scripture as well as the words of wisdom from Christian leaders that have withstood the test of time and trials and exhibited these four characteristics. Loritts contends that only when a leader submits to these processes in their walk with God, can they truly be called a Christian leader and glorify God in the manner in which they fulfill that assignment that God has given.

These are not easy traits to seek and ultimately they are the calling of everyone who wants to claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The responsibilities and challenges that leaders face in the church, however, make these traits far more essential to wrestle with.

Having read many books, this could easily qualify as one of the best of any leadership book out there. If you are a leader in the church, whether you are paid staff or volunteer, whether you lead adults or children or serve in a soup kitchen, this book is for you. It is a book to be read, underlined, savored and prayed over in the pursuit of leadership that will stand the test of time and bring the utmost glory to God in the process.  Then read it again. It’s that good.

Congratulations to Pastor Loritts on obeying God in putting these thoughts on paper and sharing them with a wider audience. May the church be blessed and God glorified all the more because of the words on these pages.

Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence (book review)

I wanted to read Going Deep by Gordon MacDonald because I love the idea of becoming a person of influence. I enjoy reading leadership books. This one, however, was very different, at times frustrating and at times rewarding.

First of all the book is written like a work of fiction. I contains a journey towards developing deep people, but not in a clinical way. It details conversations and meetings and thoughts about the “big idea” of “cultivating deep people” (CDP in the book). SO where does reality begin and where is it end? If you like Patrick Lencioni’s style of elaborating leadership ideas in a fiction format, you may like this as well, although their styles are distinct.

The first part of the book where Pastor Mac comes up with this great idea, moves slowly. As a leader and a person with limited time, it seemed to drag. I wanted to yell, “Get to the point already, will ya?” But I read on. He elaborates the painstaking process of developing the idea and finally bringing it to reality.  The fact is, none of what he is saying is really all that new. The challenge to disciple others has been around since Jesus gave us the command. The methods used may have at times changed but the principles are laid out well in Scripture. Gordon goes through an elaborate process of meeting with business people and an a Rabbi and staff to flesh things out and gain buy in with the leadership of his church.

The actual implementation of the CDP was where the reading was more fun. To see people challenged, lives changed and the methods used and described on the page was good. At times it made me want to cry because I came to like these characters who were being transformed more and more into the image of Christ. To see authentic community develop at such depth made me realize how much of that I am personally missing and longing for as well. How much so many of us are missing out on and longing for in our church communities. I felt more keenly how desperately we all need it. And even if we are not to be leaders in the church we all can become persons of influence.

The church would do well to be more intentional in selecting people and developing to be the leaders for the future. To use specific training and mentoring and the kind of plan Gordon lays out has merit. I still think that parts of this book could have been a bit shorter. The book is 383 pages and most leaders really want to meat to chew on and not all the fluff because we tend to be busy. But for all that it is a book I would recommend if you are trying to figure out a way to help your church prepare the younger generation to be quality “deep” leaders for the future.

A Letter to a Dying Pastor

I haven’t posted in a long time as we prepare for  move to a new home. But Mark Steele was not only a pastor but a friend and mentor and employer for years and had a huge impact on my life. We served for years together at a church plant called Stonebridge Community Church. He is now in heaven after a short battle with cancer and my heart grieves. Here’s part of a letter I wrote to him a few days before he died. Not sure if he got to read it or not. I pray that somehow God can use me in the lives of others like He used Mark in mine.                                                                                                

June 1, 2011

Dear Mark,

I want you to know how much I appreciated you and the time and effort you put into mentoring a young woman in grad school who had been hurt by a previous church experience.  I learned so many things at Stonebridge. You just happened to be a large part of those memories although God was always the One doing the work. Thank you for your investment in me.

I remember the first time you ever asked me how my relationship with God was. I felt a little on the hot seat, like I was going to be taken to task for any slip up. But that was not the case. I soon learned that you asking about my relationship with God was an expression of love and a desire to help me continue to grow in my faith.  Over the years I have had so many people ask why I get up so early in the morning – but it is because that is one of the few times in my day when I can be alone with God and my thoughts and prayers. I still have so much further to go – but have come so far by His grace and patience with me. Thank you for caring enough to ask.

I remember when we did our Sunday mornings at the YMCA and we would pray and see God do amazing things. To see people come to Christ. To see them serve in their area of giftedness and passion. To see sacrifice and joy in the tasks before us. We were a family – one that I am still a part of in so many ways. I’m blessed to still have friends from those days who are intersecting with my life, some on facebook now and others in person at times. How amazing it all was.

I remember learning to “stay engaged through the pain.” If that wasn’t an axiom of Mark Steele I don’t know what was. I so often wanted to run when the pain got to be more than I thought I could bear. But you never let me. You didn’t tell me I couldn’t, but you let me seek God and entrusted that HE wouldn’t let me run. And He didn’t. Ministry is tough. Leadership can be lonely and painful, but you taught me that integrity was priceless and to persevere anyway. Not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes as I “grew up” in our Stonebridge family, but I learned from them and moved on and “I will never be the same again, I can never return, I’ve closed the door. . . “

Songs: “Saddle up Your horses – we’ve got a trail to blaze!” “Fear Not, for I am with you, fear not, for I am with you. . . “ “Be bold, Be strong, for the Lord Your God is with you!” (I remember Allison yelling out those words loud!), ‘Leave a light on for me. . .” oh, and so many others.  Those songs are Stonebridge to me – a precious moment in time I hope I never forget.

I remember an orange van that we painted burgundy. I remember loading that van over and over and over again!

I remember music rehearsals taking place in your home late into the night on Mondays.

I remember meeting at Hardees and later at Mayfair mall food court for our “staff meetings”.

I remember getting paid $1 for my first year of employment!

I remember you coming through a colored curtain a la Johnny Carson!

I remember being taught about protecting a marriage with firm boundaries.

I remember when you debated whether or not to shave off your mustache – and you did it and never went back!  Right after that we had more men in our church with mustaches and beards than ever before! Too funny. (You have a mustache in our wedding pictures!)

I remember you liking cherry pie.

I remember after a conference, how you would always quiz us about what we learned and took away so that our experience would stick and not just be a moment to be forgotten (I do this with my kids now!).

I remember fearing your return from study break because I knew you would come back refreshed and full of ideas that I would somehow have to put legs and feet to.

I remember your hugs. You were always a hugger. I loved that. I miss your hugs.

I miss the synergy of what we had as a team on Sundays.  There was, most of the time, something very precious and beautiful that happened.

I remember having to make sure you were presentable before going up on stage – and one day asking if your fly was zipped – and surprisingly enough you found it wasn’t!  I hadn’t noticed personally – it was just part of the routine! (giggling)

Many people will criticize Stonebridge for having been seeker-targeted. I don’t. It opened up my heart to the reality of hurting people who needed Jesus and trying to make a place where they would feel welcome. It’s a value I carry with me today.

I learned about the dangers of triangulation. I learned about confidentiality. I learned about the value of a pastor who “has your back” when times are tough.  I learned about authenticity and perseverance and spiritual warfare. I learned to submit to godly leadership (even if I didn’t always like it.) I learned to accept change better. You always said I would kick and scream at first (metaphorically) and then settle in just fine! I learned about the power of encouragement.

I learned that even serving with a limp (depression) is something that can bring honor and glory to God and no matter how unacceptable we feel we are – the church is blessed when we come and step up in faith to serve our glorious King.

I learned more about worship at New Community than I had ever learned before.

I see my time serving with you at Stonebridge as a series of life-defining moments.

I remember laughter and tears and prayer walks.

I remember camping.

I have learned it is sometimes better to take a risk and fail than to always play it safe. I learned that pushing the envelope can be a very good thing if God is behind it.

I learned that none of us are “normal!”

I remember that you always loved to be on the cutting edge of technology and always knew “just enough to be dangerous.”

I have seen God redeem pain in amazing ways. I have taught many women master’s level theology and leadership classes – and some of my lessons don’t come from a textbook .  I found that I love to teach. Because of what I have learned at your feet, Mark, I have strived to be a blessing to the leaders at the church where I serve. I’ve been blessed with leaders who strive to be “healthy.” I continue to learn so much but fear that if I hadn’t had the foundation for it, which you helped me build as a leader, I would not be as nearly effective for the kingdom.

Because of you, I value more than ever true life change – that process of sanctification we all should be embracing but many Christians don’t.  I have raised a higher standard for women in leadership that involves godly character (not as easy to find as some might think – leading women is much harder than working with men in my opinion!).

You have definitely left your “mark” on me for sure as well as on many others. (pun intended!)

I continue, Mark, to pray for your healing. Yet I felt that if God chooses to favor you with the joy of His presence face-to-face while the rest of us wait in a pain-filled sinful world, that I couldn’t not let you know, once again, how much you have impacted my life for the better.

Okay – I am sure I could write more. Heck, I write novels but you probably wouldn’t have the strength or patience to read that much! There is a nice pile of Kleenex next to me to give  testimony to the grief in my heart over what you and your family are suffering through. I know God gives grace for the journey and my own tears are more selfish than anything.

I will continue to pray for healing – even knowing that God’s view of that might be ultimate healing that comes from being in eternity with Him.

With much love and fondness, as your sister in Christ,

For His glory alone,

 Susan