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My Depression Is Not Wasted

What Gillian Marchenko learned when mental illness mixed with ministry

Editor’s Note: As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, we’re catching up with Gillian Marchenko to hear what she’s learned about ministering with depression. Whether or not you’ve experienced mental health issues, I know you’ll gain wisdom from her hard-won experiences. And if you do struggle, know there is hope. —Amy Jackson

Gillian Marchenko’s, second memoir, Still Life: Living Fully with Depression, recently debuted. Still Life is a stunningly honest and well-written reflection about her life—a life fraught with frequent bouts of Major Depressive Disorder, or clinical depression, in addition to Persistent Depressive Disorder, also known as Dysthymia.

In her memoir, Marchenko comes face to face with the severity of her depression and the toll it takes on her and her family. Her depression can be debilitating—at one point, she stayed in bed for weeks. In such instances, her husband Sergei, a pastor, functions as a single parent caring for her and their four girls (her youngest two have disabilities). Life becomes overwhelming.

Daily, Marchenko fights tooth and nail to keep her depression at bay and from ruling over her and her family. She will not let depression define her. No, she most certainly is not her depression—she is a child of God. So she clings to her identity as God’s child and all that a child-of-God identity entails. Love for her family, medication, therapy, healthy habits, and her faith in God—even when it is that of a mustard seed—keep her going. Even with chronic, and at times very severe depression, there’s still life (thus the title of her book). Ultimately, Marchenko’s book is a realistic and hope-filled ...

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Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
The Weight of Stress in Ministry

Women are three times as likely to experience depression.

Each person in leadership has a certain amount of stress. Stress can’t be avoided completely. However, when stress is unmanaged, it can lead to serious health problems. The impact on our health may include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, headaches, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, stomach upset, and sleep problems.

Not only does it affect us physically, but when stress goes unchecked, it can affect our mental health, too, causing anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, and sadness or depression. Our behavior can be impacted as well, and we find ourselves overeating or undereating, having angry outbursts, abusing drugs or alcohol, using tobacco, and becoming socially isolated.

Depression is a major mental health issue for women. Catherine Weber, PhD, writes in her article “Women and Depression” from Christian Counseling Today: “Women are three times as likely as men to be impacted by major depression and dysthymia, starting in adolescence and peaking between the ages of 25 and 45, during the childbearing years.” There are many causes of depression, but stress can be a major trigger.

The symptoms of depression range from feeling sad for no particular reason to feeling numb. You feel like your emotional reserves are depleted and your physical energy is low. You may have a lack of interest in things you used to find enjoyable. You feel like isolating yourself from the world. You may overeat or do just the opposite and lose your appetite. You may feel fatigue and just want to curl up in a ball and sleep all day. You may feel anxious, easily irritated, and not able to concentrate.

Seek Help Without Shame

If this ...

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Mon, 23 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
Backhanded Compliments and Cold Shoulders

The inevitable effects of envy on our leadership

When I walked off the stage after giving a talk, a woman leader came up to me with a big smile. She touched my arm, leaned in, and said, “Wow, most of the time I can’t understand your messages at all, but I got so much out of this one. And thanks for not making any of us feel insecure about our beauty by wearing that tonight.” She gave me a hug with a big “thank you” and “great job” and walked away. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had been knifed. Her comments not only spoiled my night, but they left their marks for a long time. I still fret and worry about being clear and accessible when I speak, and I try on outfit after outfit before I give a talk.

If you’re a woman in leadership, you will deal with envy. This seems to be a secret that we hide or deny as women. Wanting to uphold the picture of universal sisterhood and solidarity and not confirm stereotypes of “catfighting,” we don’t admit that envy simmers below the surface of many female relationships.

Envy creates an insidious dynamic. It’s different than jealousy and competition. Jealousy is about the fear of losing. Competition is about the commitment to win. Envy holds a darker violence. It’s not about losing or wining; it’s about spoiling. Envy is a highly charged emotion that seeks to tear away what is good and cancel out what is left as bad. It seethes in silence gaining power to accuse and attack. Envy rips and bites and marks. I have the scars to prove it.

In every leadership position I’ve held—whether it has been in a living room leading a small group, in a staff meeting as a ministry director, on stage giving a message, or in the lobby after a Sunday ...

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Thu, 19 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
The True Source of Our Authority

We cant depend on our education, willpower, or gifts.

“Study Scripture. Paul did not allow women to teach or preach in the churches. Keep studying, God is not liberal.”

It’s unsettling to get this Facebook message from a total stranger. It’s even more unsettling to receive it six times in one day. The unfortunate truth is that most women in ministry receive some version of this in their inboxes on a regular basis. In the face of such criticism and hate, how can we choose to embrace our calling with confidence?

When I first became a lead pastor, these kinds of comments made me retreat to my education, willpower, and gifts to justify my position. But none of these things gave sustainable peace in the face of opposition. As I’ve learned, this lasting peace only comes from embracing the true source of my authority.

The Anchor for Authority

Talk of leadership, even servant leadership, focuses on the relationship between the leader and the led—which is very important. But Scripture also talks about authority: Esther defending her people, prophets standing before rulers, Moses leading the Israelites. Even Jesus, the epitome of selfless, sacrificial leadership, amazed people with his authority. Leadership may be about the relationship between the leader and the led, but authority grows from the relationship between the leader and the One she follows.

While good leaders embody both leadership and authority, parenthood taught me how to distinguish between the two. When I had my first child, I often questioned my role: What gives me the authority to shape this person’s life? But now, as the mother of two teenagers, I confidently speak with authority in their lives not only because I have the title “Mother,” but also because I’ve poured ...

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Mon, 16 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
When Ministry Is Unfair

A better question than Why me?

Editor’s Note: I recently attended a large conference for church leaders. In a breakout session filled with women leaders serving in various roles, I heard heartbreaking stories of being overlooked, minimized, disrespected, and even harassed. They felt this way in their own churches, but especially as attendees at this particular conference. As the women shared their stories, many asked “Why?”—Why does God allow this injustice? Sitting together, however, holding each other’s pain, we began to move toward more helpful questions, like those suggested below. I pray that when you face the hard parts of ministry, you’ll begin to see these moments as invitations from God to join him in the work he’s doing. It’s not always easy, but it helps to know that God is already present with us in these tough situations.

When I was a child, Mom would swoop me into her arms when life didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. She would kiss my hurt places and miraculously make them better. When I was hurt by the actions of another, Mom would pick me up and comfort me by rocking me in the rocking chair as I cried, “It’s not fair,” until I was exhausted. As my world became more confusing and complicated, I stopped letting Mom comfort my heart and heal my knees. I no longer burst into tears when life hurts me, like I see my children do. And in growing up, I’ve lost some honesty. Now, my first response to pain is “I’m fine” as I busy myself with important projects, motherly duties, and spider solitaire.

Instead of asking “How can I be comforted?” when pain gets too loud to ignore, I ask, often coupled with an expletive or two, “Why did this ...

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Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
The Power of Questions

The one leadership tool youre probably forgetting.

Most influential leaders will tell you that reading, thinking, and making sound decisions are critical elements of leadership. What they might fail to mention is these exchanges are informed by how well we listen, who we listen to, and how we interact with ideas. Leadership hinges on the ability to ask good questions.

Jesus was the master of well-placed questions. “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked of his disciples after spending many days performing miracles (Mark 8:27). Upon hearing the responses, he replied with a second question: “Who do you say I am?” Jesus was prompting them to profess what they knew, and Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Getting to the heart of matters is a critical leadership and teaching tool, and anyone who knows how to ask the right questions holds this power.

In general, a good question grows out of an awareness of the end goal. What do you want to know?Why is this important? And when asking questions from a position of influence, the weight of leadership demands we determine two things: Is this information true? And why does it matter?

Finding the Courage to Question

Well-placed questions also provide clarity and focus for moving in the right direction. Whether reading, leading, building a team, integrating new processes or procedures, or interacting with a panel, I’ve learned to ask important questions. Not only is questioning a vital life skill, being informed and asking the right questions of the right people takes both preparation and boldness. There is great power in asking a well-placed question in exactly the right moment, and asking these questions often requires courage.

When I was a young lieutenant in the United States Marine ...

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Mon, 9 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
Motherhood Changed My Image of God

When my understanding of God changed, so did my leadership.

What we believe about God impacts every part of us, shaping every aspect of our lives. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our mental picture of God influences our thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions. Our assessments about God’s character—even if they’re false—form the foundation from which we build our self-identity and determine how we relate to God, others, and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…. the most portentous fact about any man (or woman) is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.

Growing up in church, I knew the basics of the Bible, and thought I had a pretty good idea of who God was. Yet when I became a mother, my mental image of God exploded from a two-dimensional cardboard cutout to a full-bodied incarnational three-dimensional being. The truths I knew in my head about God came alive in the daily process of parenting. God’s attributes as a loving father, sacrificial savior, steadfast provider, wise leader, fierce protector, relentless redeemer, gentle comforter, and constant companion became undeniably real as I experienced similar emotions as a mother on an infinitesimally smaller scale.

Motherhood Changed My Understanding of Love

As a new mom, I spent countless hours gazing adoringly at my baby girl, marveling at her for no apparent reason other than she was my daughter. Emily had done absolutely nothing to make me love her. In fact, she caused me much discomfort for nine months, pain at childbirth, constant exhaustion, and nonstop work. Yet, my heart ...

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Thu, 5 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
How Not to Lose Your Identity in Ministry

When I took a break from ministry, I realized Id lost more than my job.

“What do you do?”

I’d been asked the question a hundred times before, but this time was different.

This time, I didn’t have a job title or a paycheck to inform my answer. I no longer held a position of leadership in ministry, nor did I have a people with whom to exercise my gifts and talents, my callings, and my God-given leanings.

So I didn’t say anything. When she, a stranger I’d never meet again, asked me a second time, I gave her the most honest answer I could muster: “I’m between jobs right now.” I paused. “I’m taking care of my son.”

“Oh.” She nodded, unsure of what to say in response.

Did not having a job really make or break a conversation? Should I have told her instead who I’d been and what I’d done and how I was slated to finish my seminary degree in less than two months’ time?

But I didn’t. Our conversation ended as soon as it began, and her lack of response confirmed what I’d been feeling all along: I didn’t know who I was without a job in ministry. I felt like I’d lost my very identity. And I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ever felt that way.

Sometimes, when we’re not operating out of our most healthy selves, a position in leadership can go to our heads. I had poured myself into a job, a people, and a community, unknowingly letting them become the very essence of my soul. Sure, Jesus lived in the depths of my insides, too, but he shared the space. So invested was I in theirhearts that when I left—when they were no longer a regular part of my life and we didn’t share the common bond of ministry—I felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath ...

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Mon, 2 May 2016 08:00:00 CST
How to Lead Dominating Male Leaders

Three things Ive learned as Ive led dominant men

It’s a good thing I didn’t know all of the challenges I would face when I first became a lead pastor. If I had, I may have done a “Jonah” and ran in the opposite direction. I had no idea how many different hats I would need to wear or how many diverse personality types I would have to learn to relate to.

As a recovering people pleaser, one of the most challenging people groups for me to lead in the church are strong, dominating male leaders. In the DiSC Profile, men and women whose personalities are strong and dominating usually fall into the D category. When the score on the DiSC Profile shows people with a D personality trait that’s significantly higher than the other three, they are referred to as a “high D personality.”

One of the things I love most about people with high D personalities is that, according to DISC Insights, “they think about big picture goals and tangible results. They are bottom-line organizers that can lead an entire group in one direction. They place great value on time frames and seeing results.” They are great leaders to have in any organization, and they know how to get things done.

Still, the D stands for dominant. High D personalities almost always prefer to lead, rather than follow. This makes them a challenge to lead. One of their biggest weaknesses is that “they tend to overstep authority, as they prefer to be in charge themselves. At times they can be argumentative and not listen to the reasoning of others.”

The Gender Difference

Even though both men and women can be high D personality types, I find it easier to lead women who have this personality than men who do. I have many theories on why. First of all, men and women communicate ...

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Thu, 28 April 2016 08:00:00 CST
I Grew Up with Two Women Pastors

Seeing two women lead our church gave me the freedom to pursue the gifts God had given me.

I was brought up under the leadership of two women pastors, Sister Opal Eckert and Sister Mary Slaughterbeck. It was a small country church, and God chose these women to mentor me in leadership, especially church leadership. These women knew how to serve others, loving and caring for those around them. They knew their Bibles, not only for information but for transformation. They knew how to pray, and we spent midweek prayer night on our knees before God. It’s a rare occurrence to have two women pastors, but I’m thankful I had the advantage of having women role models that developed me for kingdom work. These women continually shaped me by their prayers and leadership. Their spirit has gone with me throughout my life and ministry.

Not only was I led by two women pastors, but also I had dear female friends who were pastors, worship leaders, evangelists, and so on. I was surrounded by the women of God, single and married, in a variety of roles, so I stepped into leadership more rapidly than may be the norm for females. Seeing these women serve the kingdom gave me the freedom to seek out what God wanted for my life. I never thought “I can’t” because I saw these women teaching and leading.

Throughout my teen years, these women mentored me in teaching and preaching. Because of their leadership, I was teaching Sunday school by age 13, teaching adults by age 14, and preaching by age 16. They gave me feedback, support, and love in the midst of mistakes. They encouraged me to be a student of the Word and to let the Holy Spirit speak to me as I studied and prepared messages. When I started to preach, one of the pastors assisted me in preparing, delivering the message, and making improvements.

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Mon, 25 April 2016 08:00:00 CST
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