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The Problem with Self-Esteem

God offers a better way.

According to author, researcher, and psychology professor Kristin Neff, the self-esteem movement was a bust. The issue with self-esteem, Neff says, isn’t in having it but in seeking it. “The problem is we're constantly comparing ourselves to others. We try to puff ourselves up.” Because boosting our self-esteem is based in comparing ourselves to others, it’s fundamentally transient and potentially harmful. Constantly seeking to build our own self-concept can lead to bullying and narcissism. When our self-esteem is based on being better than others, it quickly deserts us when our performance shows we’re not better after all.

So, if self-esteem doesn’t work, what does? Self-compassion. It turns out this is a real struggle for many women. “It's a very small difference,” Neff says, “but it's consistent: Women tend to be less self-compassionate than men.” According to her research, this is especially true for women who strongly identify with traditional stereotypes. “Women are told they should not take care of themselves; that they should always be outwardly focused.” In my experience, this can be a serious struggle for women in ministry.

When we lack self-compassion, we are quick to criticize ourselves in ways and at times we would never criticize someone else. We routinely say things to ourselves we would never say to others: You’re a failure. You can’t do anything right. You’re hopeless. We might tell ourselves we’re stupid when we would never consider saying such words to our children. Telling ourselves these words, however, is just as devastating to us as it would be to our kids.

So what does it mean to have self-compassion? ...

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Mon, 5 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
Female Insights into the Christmas Story

Women bring unique perspectives when they teach the Word of God.

Shortly after I started my first job as a pastor, I was given the opportunity to be one of the first women in our church to preach in our Sunday services. To say I was intimidated by the thought of preaching in front of the entire congregation would be an understatement—I was terrified.

After preaching that first fateful Sunday morning, I was pleasantly surprised when a man from the congregation came up to me after church to thank me for my sermon. During our conversation, he mentioned how much he appreciated the many sports analogies I used, you know, considering I was a woman.

Now, I happen to be a woman who thoroughly enjoys sports. I have been an athlete all my life, so it’s not surprising that I would make sports references in a sermon. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, if part of me defaulted to some of the typical male-focused analogies I’d been privy to over the years. Was I using more masculine examples as a way of subconsciously compensating for my femaleness?

After sharing the situation with a mentor, she encouraged me to pay attention to the unique insights that came to me when I studied the Bible. She challenged me to look for opportunities to freely discuss what I was learning from Scripture from my perspective—one made unique by my experiences as a woman, a mother, an athlete, and more.

A Second Chance

Sure enough, that chance came a few months later just after returning from maternity leave with my first child. I was asked to teach on Luke 1:39–44, the story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth while they were pregnant. While I prepared for the sermon, I was amazed at how differently I read the passage after experiencing pregnancy and childbirth myself. So many things jumped ...

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Thu, 1 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
Please Dont Make Me Feel Used

Crossing the line between friendship and ministry

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to help me with this, Cara,” Amalia* said in a voicemail, “But I’d love your insight on something.” There was a pause. Then she asked me to call her back.

I was so grateful when we finally connected. An acquaintance had reached out to her to get to know her better, asking to hang out. Amalia, who is a mother, a wife, and a Christian Marriage and Family Therapist, knows that she only has so many hours in the day. So, she offered what she could: a play date at the zoo with all four of their children in tow. But her offer was refused. The other woman wanted to meet with Amalia alone so she could tell her about the non-profit Christian ministry she runs.

“Perhaps you or someone you know can come alongside us and support our ministry, financially or otherwise,” she wrote to Amalia.

Amalia didn’t write her back. Their interaction made her feel used. Although they’d known each other for a while, they’d never spent time together one-on-one. When the other woman did finally reach out, it didn’t feel authentic. Instead, it felt like a ruse of friendship masked what she really wanted: financial support for her ministry.


Questions arose for my friend: Should I have written her back? Was I mistaken to feel she was pursuing a friendship? Had I been wrong to establish boundaries in the first place, to feel like it was my right not to engage in another intimate friendship or support an additional ministry?

Then Amalia asked me if I’d ever experienced something like this. Sadly, I shared with her, I’ve unknowingly been like Amalia’s acquaintance, making people feel used.

I wonder if this is the case for many ...

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Tue, 29 November 2016 09:20:00 CST
Did I Hear God Right?

Just because you feel like a failure doesnt mean you werent called by God.

I first stepped on African soil nine years ago. I traveled to Ghana, West Africa, for a short-term mission trip, and my heart was changed forever. After my amazing experience, I longed to be a full-time missionary. When the timing seemed right, I left my career, sold my car, gave away most of my possessions, and moved to Ghana. I loved every second of being a missionary, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. But only seven months into my time there, my dream appeared to be coming to an end. My body started ailing, but I kept working—I didn’t want anything to interrupt my calling. It was my hope that I would be there for the rest of my life. But at church one night, my pain became overwhelming. I looked to my husband and whispered, "I need to go. I’m not well."

I never quite recovered after that. Once my family learned of my illness, I was rushed back to the States within 24 hours. I cried the whole way—I still cry. One question rings in my mind: Did I hear God right? Looking back, I think I did, however, I wasn't patient enough to wait for complete instructions. I've found that just because a door is open, doesn't mean I should walk through it.

This can happen any time we’re seeking ways to serve the Lord. I once met a pastor who overheard me talking to some friends about how I missed working with children. He offered me an opportunity to serve at his church. There were many red flags after just a few initial conversations. In my eagerness to serve, I ignored the warning signs and the advice of friends. It was later confirmed that the pastor was only interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with me. I was working in an environment safe for children, ...

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Mon, 21 November 2016 08:00:00 CST
5 Essentials to Build Trust in Your Ministry Team

Lessons from the life of Nehemiah

“Trust is the currency of leadership.” This popular axiom is especially true in the highly relational context of church leadership. To be effective in ministry, you need to earn the trust of senior leadership, peers, volunteers, and most importantly, your own team. Yet, trust is not easily obtained. It’s a byproduct of healthy leadership—an intangible synergy of key elements experienced consistently over time. Even if you are in a church or staff culture currently low on trust, you can make a difference starting in your corner of the organization. As the leader, you have substantial influence in creating and developing trust within your team.

Research findings on gender differences in leadership indicate women leaders might have an advantage over male leaders in developing a culture of trust. For example, a recent study conducted by Gallup reported that female managers and employees were significantly more engaged at work than their male counterparts. This research concluded, “Female managers eclipse their male counterparts at setting basic expectations for their employees, building relationships with their subordinates, encouraging a positive team environment and providing employees with opportunities to develop within their careers.” These metrics can encourage us as women in predominately male-dominated leadership environments as we strive to increase engagement and trust with those in our sphere of influence.

Trust is earned through intentional practices, executed with a right heart and a genuine desire to serve. A natural tendency to promote trust does not excuse women from growing it intentionally. In fact, we should use this as a unique opportunity to further refine the skill. To ...

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Thu, 17 November 2016 08:00:00 CST
How to Teach the Bible So Others Understand

Whether youre teaching about Gods love or sovereignty, these four steps will prepare you to teach.

My phone flashed with a text as I began my day. “Hey. Can I come borrow some resources from you?” It was my friend Lisa, and she was preparing to teach a message to a large women’s study. I could tell she was nervous. “I’m teaching on the sovereignty of God and I’m overwhelmed. I’ve read Tozer, Wright, Lewis. Can you recommend anything else?” My first reaction to this thread of texts was sheer delight. I was getting a front row seat to my friend’s growing calling as a Bible teacher, and I loved it. My friend was being challenged in her faith and stretching to take on a thorny issue that often is treated with either Christian platitudes or not taught at all. I smiled as I considered how to reply—then decided this conversation would be best face-to-face.

Lisa grabbed a chair in my office for a quick chat. In many ways, Lisa is the perfect picture of a woman with the right stuff to teach the Bible. After spending several years as an elementary school teacher (with a master’s degree), Lisa transitioned into a ministry role directing our church’s kids programming. After passing off that role, Lisa now volunteered in our women’s ministry, taking care of every administration need. As she continued growing, she started leading the teaching team for the women’s ministry, a small group of women who take turns teaching each week. She has all the right raw gifts—a thirst for knowledge, the discipline for research, the skills for preparation, and, most importantly, a growing passion for God’s Word and its relevance for our modern world. What Lisa was working to gain was both confidence and competence in her ability to translate this ancient ...

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Tue, 15 November 2016 13:46:00 CST
Three Days Post-Election: Pause Before You Pastor

Lets make these five commitments together.

We are just beginning to unpack the extent to which the nation and church is divided and polarized. There will continue to be an outpouring of analyses, rants, articles, posts, celebrations, and laments about this unusual election, and to be completely honest I am not sure what to do with all of the noise right now. So I asked myself what I can possibly do during this time of change and uncertainty. I came up with five commitments and I share them with you, fellow women leaders, today.

1. I will allow myself to feel all the feelings. I accept and own how I feel, and I commit to being present and aware of the range of emotions, thoughts, and questions I have. I will not be embarrassed or ashamed of the intensity or numbness of my feelings, and I will not allow myself to feel shamed or ridiculed in feeling what I feel. I will not fast forward to comfort or hope without first feeling all of my feelings. Most important, I will share the full range of my feelings with God because I know that God is present with me.

2. I will resist engaging in conversations that are unsafe. I have discerned that I am too raw right now to have certain conversations, and this is okay. There will be a time when I can safely talk with people that have differing opinions, but if I engage in those right now, there is a high probability that I will be hurt and tempted to lash out in anger. I will continue to seek godly wisdom about when I am ready, but I will not rush this process.

3. I will talk and listen to my people in a safe space. I have people, both online and in person, that I can talk to without any judgment and who will help me unpack my thoughts. I consider these relationships divine friendships, and I commit to being a good friend in return. ...

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Fri, 11 November 2016 09:00:00 CST
Moving Forward After a Difficult Week

Unity may indeed be needed after the election, but its okay to grieve first.

The shocking election results have created much conversation in Christian circles, especially among women leaders. Some are feeling grief, shock, and even fear. Moving forward in a healthy way requires that we first allow ourselves to experience those emotions, sitting with them even when it’s uncomfortable. In this difficult week, we turned to women leaders to share their wisdom as we move ahead. I think you’ll find that however you’re feeling right now is completely fine. –Amy Jackson

Jen Oyama Murphy, Lay Counselor and Former Support and Recovery Director

Instead of saying anything to women leaders today, I invite lament—the guttural, primal wail of the soul that is born of suffering and loss. Community lament that involves compassion—a suffering with—requires us as women to bring our faces and bodies and hearts and minds and stories close together. Biblical lament comes through sorrow and moves toward repentance with the hope or restoration. My temptation is to analyze, shout, argue, demand, and advise on one hand. On the other, it is to retreat to silent isolation in despair and hopelessness. Before I extend my voice, I will extend my undone heart and, even in my brokenness, make room for you. I will allow your heart's cry, whatever that cry holds, to join and impact mine so that lament transforms us.

Cara Meredith, Writer and Speaker

My fellow women leaders, I don’t need your words, but I do need you to see my pain. I need you to understand what this vote means to me. It means that my life doesn’t feel like it holds value, simply because I’m a woman. It means that the lives of my husband and my children and my brothers and sisters of color don’t seem ...

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Fri, 11 November 2016 07:59:00 CST
Rise Above the Double Standard

Women leaders are forced to find an impossible golden mean between too much and not enough.

In a previous ministry, I had a fairly standard and polite disagreement over email with a coworker. It wasn’t heated or contentious, just a discussion about how to use a Greek word. I copied the others from our earlier meeting to keep them in the loop.

“Tough emails, huh?” one observed hours later.

“Which ones?”

“The ones during your catfight with S—,” he said. “I’m glad I wasn’t involved.”

I laughed it off, but catfight? I reread the emails, but I was at a loss for what had made our interaction a catfight. That word stayed with me for the rest of the day. Two men had listened in to a discussion between two women and their takeaway was that we’d had a catfight.

I am a woman in ministry.

Naming the Problem

Over the last 14 years I’ve served in various leadership roles, from youth worker to college ministry intern to church planter to hospital chaplain to adjunct Christian college instructor to working for an urban church in Chicago. In every one of these positions, I’ve encountered resistance that is baffling. It’s not that I was banned from leadership, but that people weren’t comfortable with my comfort in leadership. What made it difficult was that it was far more insidious than, “You aren’t qualified for leadership because you possess female reproductive organs.” (Don’t get me wrong; I have encountered that before—over and over again.)

A blatant double standard exists in being a woman in ministry, yet the ways we encounter resistance can be so hard to call out that most of us give up on trying. Some women give up on their call to ministry altogether or are left wondering why they felt a calling that ...

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Mon, 7 November 2016 08:00:00 CST
Bring Your Full Self to the Table

When we allow God to use our full identity, amazing ministry can follow.

Do you ever find yourself wondering how you ended up in full-time ministry—but can’t imagine yourself doing anything else? Have you ever looked back at the threads of your life and marveled at the seamlessness of God’s handiwork and precision, time and time again?

These questions are at the heart of Insil Kang’s story. A 30-something Korean-American woman who serves as the Director of Community Connections and Communications at Village Baptist Church in Beaverton, Oregon, Kang never expected to find herself called to church ministry—the word “calling” in and of itself a strange and uncomfortable sound to her ears.

Three years ago, Renjy Abraham, associate lead pastor of Village Baptist Church invited her out for coffee. What Kang assumed would be a catch-up conversation with a friend turned into a request to consider working for the multicultural church community.

At that moment, Kang realized that saying “Here I am, Lord,” has nothing to do with fully knowing or understanding your plans for the future. Rather, it has everything to do with getting out of the way of the One who does know your future. It dawned on her that all of the plans she had for her life didn’t actually make sense.

“Maybe that was the Spirit nudging me—let’s be real, it had to have been,” Kang said in an email. “It was crazy considering what I had trusted in regarding my future and being ‘set’ in life.”

So Kang left a career in higher education, quit pursuing a master’s degree in intercultural relations, and turned down a corporate job offer. Serving within the walls of the church, God gave her a heart that sides with the marginalized and the ...

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Thu, 3 November 2016 08:00:00 CST
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