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Feeling Anonymous in Ministry

The power of being seen, recognized, and named.

My name is Dori. But that’s not always the name I wanted. Long before Finding Nemo and Ellen Degeneres made my name popular, there were many names I wanted rather than Dori. For some unknown reason I went through a season in 1st grade where I signed all of my papers “Dor.” That’s right. Just drop the “i” and call me “Dor.” I have no earthly idea why I thought this was cool. Thankfully it didn’t last long. My brother started calling me “Window” and I realized that having “Dor” as a nickname wouldn’t actually make me popular.

After my “Dor” phase, I went through a “Jason” period. I have always been a bit of a tomboy. I preferred playing football, climbing trees and picking scabs over wearing dresses, doing my hair and anything associated with the color pink. That’s why I dreaded the annual intergenerational tea party hosted by my grandmother every December. The ritual was set: the women of our family would cook all morning, decorate the house and get dressed up—all for the purpose of drinking tea and talking with other dressed-up women. Needless to say, I didn’t get it.

Just before the tea started, the women in my family would gather in the living room for a picture. We would then turn and take a picture of the men as well. But their picture was more of a joke. They weren’t dressed fancy or anything. No, the men were comfortable in their blue jeans and t-shirts ready to go to the hardware store, the movies, McDonalds, or other adventurous “man” places.

By third grade I decided enough was enough. After my mom finished helping me get dressed and ready, I went to my suitcase and did what ...

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Mon, 24 April 2017 08:00:00 CST
A Conductor of Community

Gail Song Bantum turned a love of music into a life of ministry.

She is a phoenix, rising up out of the ashes.

Try as I might, I can’t get this picture out of my mind. I close my eyes. I attempt to quiet my thoughts. Eventually, I turn to Google to expand upon the greater idea of life stemming from death, but still the phoenix appears. Still, she rises, over and over again.

I suppose some people are like this. When faced with the seemingly impossible obstacles of life, they carry on, trusting that these are the spaces God enters in. Here, life explodes. Here, the phoenix rises. Here, as Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, we experience more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Gail Song Bantum, executive pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington, is a phoenix rising from the ashes. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Bantum dreamed as a child of becoming the first Asian American female orchestra conductor. She was a musician, through and through, but when she was eight years old, a couple of older women in the Pentacostal Korean Immigrant Church she attended spoke a prophetic word over her: “You are called to ministry.”

Their words went in one ear and out the other. Ministry was neither an alluring nor appealing option in her mind, so she fought the call until her mother unexpectedly passed the summer after her freshman year of college. This catalytic event rocked her world, as anyone who’s walked through the ebbs and flows of grief and loss can understand.

“It’s amazing to me how our desires and perspectives can change so radically when we find ourselves in the midst of desperate spaces,” Bantum wrote in an email, citing how her mother’s untimely death led her to say a hearty “yes” to God, rising out of the depths ...

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Thu, 20 April 2017 08:00:00 CST
Self-Control for the Sake of Ministry

What does it mean to say no to ourselves on behalf of those we serve and influence?

This past week I was in an ordination workshop. The class was made up of people in the process of being recognized as set apart for the ministry of shepherding God’s flock. What this all means is still being worked out both for me and for my church. For the record, I have no actual agricultural experience. The closest is of the gardening variety and pet-sitting. I feel unqualified and doubtful most of the time. Nonetheless, it’s a journey worth travelling, even if it is rather daunting and lonely.

Daunting because of the weight of responsibility (wandering sheep, wolves, treacherous terrain). Lonely because of the self-sacrifice that’s required (sleepless nights, vigilance, few social benefits). Don’t get me wrong; being a pastor isn’t the only role that’s demanding. Perhaps I’ve wallowed on rusting grass while gazing longingly at green fields a bit too often. Truth is, life can be daunting and lonely for anyone, especially at a time with a great deal of uncertainty and social anxiety.

Changing Times Call for Self-Controlled Leaders

The backdrop to our preparations is the ongoing turmoil we see evident on our social media and news. What’s happening in the United States is impacting Canadian ministries and congregations as well. As a pastor, I find that I have to tread a fine line between engaging in what I believe to be important social issues and not alienating those who may hold different viewpoints, especially those within my congregation. In calmer times, there is already enough diversity within the church to cause division. But with recent events and the unfettered access to un-vetted, unloving opinions, we are seeing the proliferation of fear, disdain, and hostility. It ...

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Mon, 17 April 2017 08:00:00 CST
Where Have All the Lamenters Gone?

No one laments more than God, so why do we as leaders feel pressure to keep a happy face?

Would King David be hired as your church’s worship pastor?

Would you share the pulpit with the weeping prophet Jeremiah?

How would the church staff respond to Nehemiah’s public display of sorrow during a staff meeting?

I don’t know how it happened to us, but somewhere along the way we lost all of our laments. We traded in our sorrow and forgot we will be sorrowful while we are rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). We have sung the happy songs in church, prayed the happy prayers, and told ourselves to always be thankful, at the expense of silencing the grief left unresolved in our hearts.

Lament is a passionate expression of grief. It’s the cry of our heart that is usually full of anguish, sadness or heartache. We know God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) yet we have forgotten how to be broken ourselves. We know that God inclines to hear our cry (Psalm 116:2), but have we let our disappointments be heard within our communities?

It’s hard to find a person in the Bible who was without grief. And from them, we learn that lament is a passionate expression of grief that God meets us in. From Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, to Esther and Mordechai, God’s children were full of laments. Sarah lamented, Jeremiah was a weeping prophet, and Habakkuk lamented even after receiving an answer from God.

Only Happy Faces Allowed

As a woman, I find it particularly hard to lament sometimes. Maybe it’s the pressure to have things all together, or the praise I receive from multitasking, but I am losing an intimacy with God when I rid my life of laments. Throughout the Bible, God uses emotion to accomplish his purposes, and so it is good for me to realize that I am not doing God any favor by withholding my ...

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Thu, 13 April 2017 08:00:00 CST
My Place in the Pulpit

Approaching that giant piece of furniture shook loose all my insecurities, doubts, and fears.

It was Saturday night, the night before I would give my first sermon, my first real sermon behind a real pulpit in front of a real congregation. Following the sermon, the congregation would vote, as dictated by our polity, on whether to hire me as a co-lead pastor alongside my husband, who had been serving as lead pastor solo for three months.

It was late on a balmy May evening, before kids and bedtimes and the perpetual fatigue of parenthood. As was my custom, I walked across the street from our parsonage to the church building around 10 pm to practice the worship songs for the following morning’s service. But on this night I brought over not only my notebook of sheet music and chord charts, but also a 5½-page manuscript of my first sermon.

I made my way to the piano bench and ran through the songs with ease, playing and singing effortlessly and freely. I went over every tricky part and even the not-so-tricky parts more than was necessary. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I realized: I was stalling. I had come over to practice the songs, yes, but really I had come over to preach my sermon to an empty sanctuary, to try out my voice, to work out the kinks. And yet, I couldn’t seem to get up from the piano.

As I sat there evaluating my hesitation, I finally made eye contact with “It.” The pulpit. It wasn’t like I had never stood behind the thing to do announcements, lead songs, or read Scripture. But this was different. It loomed before me like a dark, shadowy someone in any alleyway.

I felt as if I were glued to that wooden piano bench, as if something I could not articulate was holding me captive right there on that seat. Was it feelings of inadequacy? Nerves about speaking? Concerns about the ...

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Thu, 6 April 2017 08:00:00 CST
The Problem with Being an Authentic Leader

The delicate balance of authenticity and confidentiality in leadership.

Coco Chanel put it best: “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.” The political and marketing arenas have picked up on this need to be genuine. Entrepreneur Magazine exposed the trend of millennial women using the power of the purse to send a message, which has in effect, changed the way companies brand their products. The author writes, “Millennial women distrust traditional advertising because we know that marketers are trying to sell us on impossible ideals.” In a nutshell, they’re looking for authentic portrayals of women in marketing.

Traditionally, the word “authentic” referred to a work of art that was original to the creator. In essence, it was something that genuine or not fake. In a more contemporary frame of reference, it identifies someone who is transparent about the way they think or feel. And the desire for authenticity has crossed into what we expect from our leaders—so much so that many companies now encourage authenticity training within their management positions.

In this rising desire to be genuine and see authenticity in others, how can we as women leaders in the church reflect and rise to the current needs? We long to connect in meaningful ways and openly express how we truly feel to those with whom and to whom we minister. There are times, however, when we are privy to information that we need not divulge—both the news and our opinions about it. Below, we will look at how to balance authenticity with intentionally holding back.

Emotional Authenticity v. Strategic Authenticity

In a blog post from Psychology Today, Dr. Christine Meineke distinguishes between emotional authenticity and strategic authenticity. Emotional authenticity represents ...

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Thu, 30 March 2017 08:00:00 CST
Use Your Strength to Serve Others

How to gracefully embrace your role as the strongest person in the room

There I was, halfway through a meeting, when I suddenly realized I had done it again. Without meaning to, I’d become the de facto leader of the group, and everyone was looking at me. I could see clearly that everyone realized I was now in charge. But they weren’t all happy about it.

For one thing, I was a woman—and we all know not everyone is happy when women show their strength. Also, I was young. I was early in my career, and I had only a dim understanding of my leadership gift and the potential strength of my voice. I was using these assets without a lot of intention or awareness, and they sometimes produced results that surprised me. As in meetings like this one.

I hadn’t meant to take over. I had some passion for the topic we were discussing, and I had opened my mouth to advocate for my position. I had challenged what some of the other people said, and I had expected them to challenge me in return if they felt strongly. When they didn’t, I interpreted their silence as agreement. It hadn’t occurred to me that many people don’t meet strength with strength. I didn’t realize I had shut them down.

As I grew to understand myself better and learned from my mistakes, I developed more skill in finessing strength with grace and wisdom. Now when I realize I’m the strongest person in the room, I understand I have to take responsibility to use my strength to serve the whole group, not simply to serve myself.

Do you experience this often? If so, know this is a situation you can handle with carelessness, or with grace and wisdom. Here are some tips for handling it well.

Accept Your Strength

This can be difficult for anyone, but I believe it’s often especially difficult for women ...

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Tue, 28 March 2017 11:16:00 CST
A Dream Becomes Reality

Cathy Loerzel founded The Allender Center to help people find healing from abuse and trauma.

In the battle for restoration and redemption, you want Cathy Loerzel on your side. She is a woman of fierce compassion, an incredibly sharp creative mind, and the will and strength to get things done. She has the sparkle of conviction and ambition in her eyes. She is a force.

Loerzel is the Vice President of Advancement at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Allender Center, a non-profit organization that offers training and resources around the issues of trauma and abuse. Inhabiting the worlds of ministry, academics, and business—where there are very few Christian women in high level leadership positions—Loerzel “knows how to handle being in a man’s world without needing to be less of a woman.” In her roles, she is an entrepreneur, creating new programs, systems and opportunities. She asks questions, pushes boundaries, and dreams big. She believes “there is nothing more powerful than women who understand the cost of being a woman who are not bitter or cynical, but are moving forward and creating what they think is needed.”

Loerzel grew up in northern Virginia outside of Washington, D.C., where she discovered her love of governance. She hated the partisanship, but found great potential in effective process, innovative systems, and good leadership. After graduating college with degrees in political science and history, Loerzel went to work for IBM as a consultant in the federal government sector. There was no cap on her level of talent or success because of gender in the field. But her ministry work with teenagers called and captivated her in unique ways. She recounts how kids would confide in her. “There were more things ...

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Thu, 23 March 2017 08:00:00 CST
When Others Question Your Leadership

Parents in my childrens ministry questioned my authority because I wasnt a mom.

Fresh out of graduate school and looking like I had just graduated from high school, I jumped into a church staff role as director of children’s ministry. I had the education, the prior internship, and the experience working with kids. I was ready to make an impact. But I forgot to consider one thing: the assumption that because I didn’t have kids, I couldn’t possibly relate to parents. Women leaders are already more likely to have their authority and expertise questioned in ministry settings. On top of that, people perceived me as not having experience with kids because I wasn’t a mom. How could I minister effectively when others questioned me?

It’s often true that those who have experienced something firsthand have the best knowledge of it. But that premise is problematic when we assume that those who don’t have firsthand experience can’t possibly understand. For me, this translated into the idea that only parents understand children. While this may be true in some respects (after all, only a parent knows what it’s like to go into work after staying up all night with a teething child), it’s not always true. For instance, I didn’t need to be a parent to understand the emotional and spiritual needs of children.

Maybe you’ve experienced this as a young person who’s leading older adults, or as a married woman leading a single moms group. Regardless of your circumstances, it’s frustrating when your authority or expertise is challenged simply because you haven’t had the same life experiences as the people in your ministry. When that happens, I’ve found the following tips to be helpful.

1. Name the source of your inner struggle.

My deepest desire ...

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Tue, 21 March 2017 13:47:00 CST
How to Prepare for Speaking at a Conference

What Ive learned from 15 years of speaking at various events.

All I remember is saying an emphatic yes—over and over again.

I couldn’t believe my luck: 23-year old me had been asked to be the keynote speaker at a weekend conference. But as months went by and the event got closer, my usual last-minute way of operating in life didn’t pan out. I spent the weekend stressed out, working long hours, and sleeping little, leaving little time to connect with the women at the conference. I vowed that if I was ever given the opportunity again, I would never approach another speaking engagement in that way again.

Now, almost 15 years later, I speak at churches, retreats, and conferences on a regular basis. Along the way, I’ve learned that preparation is key when it comes to speaking at an event. As a woman in ministry, there’s a good chance you, too, will get asked to speak at a gathering. My hope is these preparation tips could help you have a better start than I did.

The Invitation

Perhaps a local church has asked you to speak to their Thursday morning mom’s group. Or your denomination has invited you to be their keynote speaker for a weekend retreat. Maybe a large Christian conference has extended you an offer to give a seminar at their three-day event. It’s normal to feel over-the-moon. You’ve been chosen! But is this a good fit?

Before you say “yes,” request a phone date, and interview the organizers of the event:

  • What are their expectations of you?
  • Do you align with their core theological beliefs, and, if not, is this something you can work around?
  • Are they willing to provide fair compensation for your services?
  • If appropriate, do the travel and lodging arrangements meet your needs?

They must be as good a fit for you as you are for them. ...

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Thu, 16 March 2017 08:00:00 CST
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