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Love Thy (Immigrant) Neighbor

Women leaders play a unique role in helping refugees and immigrants settle into the community.

Today’s headlines say a lot about refugees and immigrants. Yet not much of what we read adequately prepares us to effectively facilitate their transition to American life once they settle down in our neighborhoods. What can we as church leaders do when they come to us for help?

Because many immigrants hail from patriarchal or machismo cultures, it’s vital that women leaders reach out to the women and children. First of all, it is the immigrant woman—not the man—who struggles the greatest in setting up a home, finding schooling options for her children, and feeding her family. Second, an immigrant woman will likely not respond, or be permitted to respond, to men trying to help her. Third, it is the woman and her children who are most vulnerable in this type of transition—and it is we as women whose help will likely be accepted and trusted more readily.

To best help immigrants in our communities, we must first set aside political opinions on the matter, and view our immigrant neighbors as fellow human beings, created in the image of God. Each one, regardless of accent, culture, or skin color possesses a God-breathed soul. Any help or service we offer must flow from the springs of compassion and love that are fed by God’s own supply. Along with prayer, there are several practical things we can do for the immigrant next door.

Practical Soul Needs

“People migrate with their cultural beliefs and practices.” —Kenneth Guest

Anyone who has ever moved, especially cross culturally, can to identify with, or have empathy for, a newly displaced immigrant neighbor during the process of adaptation and acculturation. At times, frustration, sadness, confusion, and a deep sense of loss may ...

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Thu, 23 February 2017 08:00:00 CST
My Biggest Ministry Mistake

Ten leaders weigh in to help others avoid their mishaps

As I look back on my 35 years of church leadership, I am struck by a peculiar dynamic. I struggle to recall many of the times when God has shown up and powerfully proven his love, but I remember every detail connected to my mistakes. There was the time when I organized an end-of-the-year celebratory dinner for 80 people and forgot to assign someone to bring plates and utensils. Perhaps a small mistake, but it still stands out in my mind.

Another far more consequential mistake that still makes me weep. One of our team members had been struggling with severe depression. Though we were aware of this, we did not know the depth of her depression or that we should have physically checked her in to a hospital. After a particularly stormy weekend, she committed suicide. We don't blame ourselves, but we do see that if we had known more, we might have been able to help prevent this tragedy.

Such memories bring a mixture of shame, pain, and regret—a feeling that most of us prefer to avoid. But no matter how smart or seasoned we are, we will make mistakes because we are flawed and broken creatures. Any time we can learn from someone else’s mistakes, however, we should! In the hope of helping others avoid blunders, I asked ten seasoned leaders to share their own mistakes.

Fearing My Own Strength

In my previous church, I was the Minister of Pastoral Care and functioned as an assistant pastor. In fact, congregants introduced me as their pastor. At the core of my being, I am a shepherd and theologian who loves to write and teach. I teach seminary classes to pastors and lay leaders. Yet, one of my references told those interviewing me for my current position that my weakness is not owning up to the power and influence I have. ...

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Tue, 14 February 2017 10:07:00 CST
Discomfort Clarified My Calling

Tense conversations about race led Riana Shaw Robinson to become a bridge-builder.

Sometimes God makes himself most known in the in-between moments of our lives—in times of uncertainty, tension, or waiting. This has certainly been true for Riana Shaw Robinson, a mother, wife, pastor, and seminary student from the San Francisco Bay Area. And my guess is that you’ve experienced this, too.

Born in Richmond, California, Robinson grew up in the church, but met God for the first time as a pregnant 15-year-old. Although she experienced intense feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and isolation, she felt God telling her to trust him. And it was there, in the depths and darkness of the in-between, that Riana was restored by the love, acceptance, and care of her family and community.

“Each year on my daughter’s birthday,” Robinson told me, “I am overcome with emotion as I remember all of the ways that I have [experienced] and continue to experience God’s grace, mercy, love, and provision.” Not only did the Spirit provide her with unexplainable peace during that uncertain time, he also changed the trajectory of her life by giving her a heart for coming alongside people who feel disconnected and unworthy.

Standing in the Gap

As minister of city engagement at Oakland City Church (OCC), Robinson identifies and supports opportunities for service and community engagement. But on a broader level, Robinson finds herself a bridge-builder in the multi-ethnic church, particularly when it comes to conversations of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation. In both of these roles, Robinson continues to experience waiting in the in-between—there’s a constant focus on the way things are, the way they should be, and the work it takes to move in that direction.

Raised with strong ...

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Thu, 9 February 2017 08:00:00 CST
Bounce Back After Defeat

Every leader faces failure, but it doesnt have to be the end of your ministry.

I used to believe that in ministry, no sacrifice is wasted—that our blood, sweat, and tears will always bear good fruit. When I started a new ministry, I envisioned ascending a ladder of faith, going higher and higher to reach the mountaintop. I figured if I put in the hard work, it would hold, and I could continue building on that foundation.

Imagine my shock when unforeseen situations caused pillars in my ministry to fall. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I thought I wouldn’t face any problems. In the military, the enemy always attacks the base as a strategy to eradicate the heart of your operations. In fact, the more impactful you are, the more the enemy will target your base with the intention to put you out of commission. So why would life be different for God’s spiritual armed forces—those of us in ministry?

More mature leaders have told me countless stories of rebuilding their ministries. Even Elisabeth Elliot, who translated the Bible for the Auca Indians, had to start over when someone stole her papers from her car. These stories helped me see that starting over is normal for any leader on a mission.

True Success

Then God challenged me: “What exactly is your legacy? Is it building the ministry, taking it to a specified level, getting it to a place where it will continue forever?” I wanted to say, “All of the above.” And then I saw the fallacy in my thinking. I was focused on an outcome that was completely out of my control. A personal legacy needs to be something within my own power to make happen. Otherwise, I’m dependent on someone else’s decisions, an external factor I have no control over. Beating myself up for factors that are outside of my sphere ...

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Thu, 2 February 2017 08:00:00 CST
Boundaries for Part-Time Ministry

9 steps to set healthy limits

When I meet or have the opportunity to coach people with part-time jobs in ministry, I often ask how many hours they work each week and how many they’re paid for. Almost everyone responds with a chuckle. Many have given up on trying to do the job in the hours they were hired for. The whole idea is almost a joke.

But what’s not funny is the effect this discrepancy has on these leaders and their families. They feel underpaid, undervalued, and begin to believe the message that their work is of little worth. Some extend that sense of worthlessness to themselves. Others feel like failing parents and spouses. Those who are bi-vocational feel torn between two jobs, constantly frustrated by competing demands. Others nurse growing resentment toward their employers, hurtle toward burnout, or decide to give up ministry altogether.

So what’s the solution? Boundaries. Yet setting boundaries is a risky proposition that requires real strength and determination. And ministry is one of the places where it can be really hard to enforce boundaries—after all, the work is so important! Setting and sticking to boundaries, however, is essential when there’s no way you can possibly fulfill all your responsibilities in the time you have.

If you’re in this situation, it’s time to be honest with yourself and your employer, and to be ruthless in setting boundaries and sticking to them. It all starts with the right mindset.

1. Take Off the Cape

Start by acknowledging you have limitations, just as everyone does, and admit that you are not called to save the world. Many people in ministry are tempted with a sort of hero complex, a subtle belief that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders, and they are personally ...

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Tue, 31 January 2017 08:00:00 CST
Clues for Your Calling

Understanding your spiritual gifts can help you determine the work to which God has called you.

The New Testament teaches us that God in his grace and power has poured out gifts and roles among his people. In Romans 12, Paul encourages the church community to release and use their gifts: “If it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:8).

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives examples of the gifts of the Spirit that are poured out when the people are gathered together. They include gifts of prophesy, wisdom, healings, signs, and wonders. In Jesus we see that these gifts were not limited to the church services, but were demonstrations of the love of God when people in the community encountered Jesus and his disciples. People are healed, lives liberated from demonic oppression. The outcasts are shown mercy, the guilty set free. Signs and wonders point to an eternal kingdom, and king of kings.

What gifts of the Spirit do you see at work in and through your life? Are there things that you do, ways that you serve, where you are especially aware of his power and strength at work?

Five Important Roles

In Ephesians 4, a more general letter to churches in a region, Paul writes of five roles or functions that we can expect to see alive and well among the body of Christ:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–13).

We’ve come to see these roles as job titles for Christian leaders within ...

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Thu, 26 January 2017 08:00:00 CST

We're cheering you on as you live your calling.

You know what excites me? Women leaders. Since joining this publication a year and a half ago, I’ve been emboldened in my calling, encouraged on the hard days, and empowered with sound advice as I’ve heard from readers like you, women in ministry.

This week in church, my pastor read from Exodus 17 and asked a volunteer to come on stage to portray Moses in the passage. He was given a wooden staff to hold above his head to help us visualize Moses doing the same as the Israelites fought the Amalekites. Holding that staff was important work, critical to the Israelites’ success. The problem is that this seemingly simple task is actually hard work. So strenuous, in fact, that Moses’ arms began to fall. And as his arms fell, the Amalekites gained important ground on God’s people. The volunteer on stage this Sunday didn’t last more than a few minutes before his arms started to droop. I can only imagine how Moses felt.

What’s a leader to do? After all, we all have limited strength, wisdom, time, and energy. Sometimes the weight of ministry comes from our own unhealthy ways of leading. Other times it comes from the world’s expectations, or our congregants’ expectations. Sometimes we’re discouraged by a recent failure as we try to make a new game plan. Leadership can be tough because we’re told we can’t. Or we shouldn’t. Or we better not. Sometimes leadership is tough because we haven’t been adequately equipped. Other times it’s just incredibly lonely, and the lack of support makes us doubt our calling, gifts, and abilities.

What I love about this story is that God recognizes that the weight is too much for one leader, no matter how great he or she ...

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Tue, 24 January 2017 08:00:00 CST
How to Be the Elephant in the Room

Is it possible to be yourself, or should you become one of the guys?

Esther is my hero. Thankfully, I’m rarely called to put my life on the line by entering a king’s presence uninvited. I do, however, often look to Esther for courage when I am called to step into rooms where I don’t feel comfortable.

Last week I received an invitation to a breakfast meeting for local lead pastors. I glanced over the recipients of the email to see if I knew anyone who was attending and realized I was the only woman on the list. My heart sank.

I’m with groups of pastors all the time. When I’m with leaders from mainline denominations, urban churches, or post-Christian contexts, there’s wonderful diversity—including many women. But when I’m invited to evangelical events, where I feel I most belong theologically, I’m often the only woman in the room. This leads to some awkward moments. For instance, one time someone assumed that I was there only to take minutes for the event. Another time one of the other pastors joked that the room got prettier when I entered. And, in addition to the usual discomfort of being the elephant in the room, there are some who believe “elephants” shouldn’t even be in the room. There are valid reasons I’m uncomfortable being the only woman in the room.

As I lay in bed the morning of the breakfast meeting, I realized I was rehearsing short, catchy ways to sum up my ministry and church. I’ve been to enough of these events to know the questions I’ll be asked: What’s your church brand? What’s your church strategy? These questions assume a certain management style of pastoring that doesn’t fit me. While women certainly can succeed in this style of management, the way I lead my church doesn’t ...

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Thu, 19 January 2017 08:00:00 CST
The Most Important Thing to Do When You Start with a New Team

Dont skip this critical first step.

Stepping into a new leadership role can bring a rush of excitement. When God provides an opportunity, my natural inclination is to jump in full force. In my eagerness to get started, however, I may overlook the critical first step—developing an atmosphere of trust within the group.

Have you ever been appointed to a leadership position, only to be met with opposition? Maybe you’re leading a small group in your home or a women’s Bible study at church. Maybe you’re heading up a committee or organizing an event. Whatever the role, leaders must gain the group’s trust. When my members know they can trust me, God can accomplish great things through us. So how do we inspire trust in our teams or groups?

In the book of Joshua, God gives us instructions on the importance of building trust. God called Joshua to lead the Israelites at a crucial time in history. Moses led God’s people for 40 years, and now Joshua would direct them into the Promised Land. From Joshua’s story, we can learn four important things that will help us develop trust.

1. Understand you are appointed by God.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them.” —Joshua 1:1–2

The Lord gave Joshua his charge, saying “the time has come.” Joshua heard the clear voice of God. He understood the part he would play in God’s divine plan. Can women have this same confidence when God gives us our charge to lead?

Oftentimes our inclination as women is to try to win the approval of others. We feel the need to ...

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Thu, 12 January 2017 08:00:00 CST
The Power of Women Helping Each Other

Follow the example of Harriet Tubman.

My mother was the chair of the Black History Month Committee, which meant I was enlisted in the school's program. One year, we had a wonderful play which highlighted major figures in African-American history. I put a scarf on my head and a long skirt, a blouse, and an old sweater and became Harriet Tubman. I transitioned back in time to become a powerful, fearless slavery abolitionist, humanitarian, and suffragist. I marveled at her determination to escape slavery. I was inspired by the sacrifice she made to free others.

I can only imagine how Tubman felt when she first tasted freedom. She stated, "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."

If this is true—if Harriet Tubman had a piece of heaven right here on Earth—why would she risk losing it by going back to rescue others from slavery? Tubman believed that because she was free, her family should also be free, so she decided that she must go back to get them.

Today, Harriet Tubman is considered a hero. In fact, her heroism has landed her on the forthcoming 20-dollar bill. She not only led over 300 people to freedom, but she did as a woman. Frederick Douglass, a slave abolitionist, wrote to Tubman, "The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. ... The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your ...

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Thu, 5 January 2017 10:04:00 CST
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