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Unprepared for the Unchurched

When were not ready, new believers slip through the cracks

It’s true…I have been called naive.

Several years ago when my purse was stolen in broad daylight, we found out the police officer wrote in her report that my husband and I seemed very naive. And you know what? She was right. My husband and I were naive to the invasiveness of that experience. We were unsuspecting people!

What I never expected to discover was my naivety, or lack of preparedness, in an area of women’s ministry. It caused someone to slip through the cracks, and it was a painful lesson to learn.

I had been part of women’s ministry for years and loved leading other ladies. Having been in numerous studies as a participant, leader, and co-leader, I sort of felt like a pro when it came to the unique personalities and challenges that make up women’s Bible studies. I thought I could lead just about anyone!

Hmm…what was that about pride coming before a fall?

In my excitement that semester, getting to lead a study I had written, I was taken aback at what I encountered. It was a wake-up call that would challenge everything I knew about leading others.

I got to church early that evening to set up my classroom. I had the tables just right, the chairs lined up, and I added cute little paper cups with foil-wrapped chocolates beside the nameplates. After all, isn’t chocolate the best icebreaker?

What I didn’t bring was enough insight to be able to relate to a brand-new believer who had joined the class. I honestly hadn’t expected someone to sign up for an Old Testament study without a general, working knowledge of the Bible.

How naively unprepared I was.

This small, older woman sat nervously through my historical introduction of the Book of Haggai. ...

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Thu, 28 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Single-Souled Living

Our spiritual allegiance must not be divided

As a woman, when I hear the expression “double-minded,” I chuckle. I wish I had only two things on my mind. When I switch off the alarm in the morning, my brain flashes at least a dozen to-dos. Two would be a piece of cake.

For the past few months I have been spending time in the book of James. I like James; I always have. I like that James is plainspoken and doesn’t mince words. He starts out his book by accusing Christians of being “double-minded,” a bold term that James alone uses in the New Testament. Toward the end of the book, in case his readers might have missed it, he brings it up again.

Despite my private joke, I don’t think James is referring to the mental juggling of two ideas. Instead I think he is talking about much bigger stakes; some Bible scholars even propose that a more accurate translation is double-souled.

Perhaps I could poke fun at “double-minded,” but “double-souled” is a different matter. I often live my life double-souled, my spiritual allegiance divided. Akin to ordering a half-caff latte at Starbucks, one part God to one part Lesa, it seems a sensible partnership to me. James disagrees. In fact, James uses ugly words to describe Christians who live this way. They are words that I don’t like to use, such as war and murder. Then James goes for The Scarlet Letter: he labels double-minded living as adultery. He goes so far as to call such a person “an enemy of God.” I don’t want to be God’s enemy.

John Ortberg, in his book Soul-Keeping, describes this phenomenon as being split-souled or having an un-centered soul. If I am honest, my soul is often un-centered, split between many gods.

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Mon, 25 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
All Things to All People?

We cant keep everyone happy, and its torture to try

For several years now, I’ve participated in a private Facebook group for women in theology and biblical studies. The group started with some of my friends from graduate school and now has more than 450 members—professors, grad students, seminarians, and pastors. We ask pedagogical questions like “What readings should I assign in my intro theology class?” and personal questions like “How can I finish my dissertation with a toddler on my lap?” One recent topic, though, generated more comments than any other topic I can remember: What do women wear when they preach or teach?

Comments poured in. One woman said that the culture at her university is very masculine, so she usually wears suits. Another said the culture at her university is very masculine, so she never wears suits. “It’s become super important not to give up my more feminine self-presentation in the classroom,” she explained. One pastor admitted that she was glad her church required vestments so she never had to think about her outfit.

Some women also posted links. A Center for Teaching Excellence workshop called “You Need a Haircut and a New Pair of Shoes,” named for an actual comment on a course evaluation. An article, “What Not to Wear: Assistant Professor Edition.” Another article: “Male TV presenter wears same suit for a year—does anyone notice?” (Answer: nope.)

The whole discussion was astonishing and rather sad. These are women with graduate degrees in theology, chattering about hemlines and high heels. But they weren’t swapping fashion stories because they’re shallow. They took pains with their appearance because they were so acutely aware ...

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Thu, 21 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Back to Basics

What I learned from my husband, who trains pastors in third-world countries

My husband, Brad, was a pastor for 27 years when he resigned his pastorate to train pastors in third-world countries who would otherwise receive little or no training. He mostly goes to areas of Africa that are away from the major cities. In these small villages, a church often is started when someone has a conversion experience and realizes his or her village needs a church. What that means is the person leading the church has zero experience. And most likely the only book these pastors own is a Bible. They read their Bibles, pray for inspiration while they work their other jobs, and preach the message on Sunday.

Those my husband trains vary in their education. Some have only a grade-school education, while others have been through college. What he has discovered, however, is that even if they have been through college, few have owned or even read books in school. Their education has consisted almost entirely of rote memorization using a blackboard, since that is the only method available in a poor rural area where income is often insufficient for even the most basic daily needs.

So Brad teaches them, through a method called Pathways, what it means to read a book carefully and to consider what it meant to the original reader and particularly what context means. He offers to train a group of twelve pastors nine times, examining nine different types of literature in the Bible, such as historical, narrative, poetic, wisdom, gospel, epistle, and prophetic.

He always comes home astounded at how much they cherish this training. Some struggle greatly to understand and others pick it up immediately. He pairs the strong ones with those who struggle and commissions them to train another pastor what he has just taught them. ...

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Mon, 18 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Before You Open Your Mouth

10 tips for pre-public speaking

As a ministry speaker and part of our church’s teaching team, I still fight nerves every time I’m preparing a presentation. So I am constantly on the lookout for public speaking tips. There’s fantastic advice for the speech itself—start with a bang, use your lower register, make eye contact, use a visual aid, end with an application—but in my own experience, the most important work of public speaking begins before even taking the stage. Here are 10 lessons I have learned about the power of “pre-public speaking.”

Preach to Yourself. Before you prepare a message, have you lived it? As my friend Jen Michel told me, “You sort of know the Holy Spirit is in it when you’re preaching to yourself and crying as you go.” Anything I speak or preach on has been born out of a conviction of sin, an emotional discovery, or a story of God’s faithfulness in my brokenness. Not that I have arrived, but at the very least, I have been laid bare before God and experienced his transformative love. This helps me authentically share it with others.

Research Your Audience. Are they Millennials? Baby-Boomers? Generationally mixed? Are you teaching new Christians? Married or single? Knowing your audience in advance allows you to shape your message to their needs. Always be you, of course. (If you’re an exegete, be an exegete. If you’re a topical speaker, be a topical speaker.) But when you know your audience, you can add socially appropriate statements like “For the moms out there, you’ll love this story about going to my son’s school covered in poop” (feel free to steal that one from me) or “Some of you may be struggling to understand who Jesus ...

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Thu, 14 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Lead Me On: When Dance Moms Teaches about Trust

God has a much greater mission than demonstrating his greatness

Sometimes when my family should be Norman Rockwell-ing it with old-fashioned bonding time over a board game, we are instead hovered around an Apple TV episode of “Dance Moms: Season Two.”

It is a car-crash-esque pileup of five moms watching their seven daughters cower before one dance teacher named Abby Lee Miller, who yells sporadically at everyone.

The moms are at the mercy of the not-so-benevolent dictatorship of Abby Lee for one reason: She wins. A lot. She turns their daughters into winning dancers. Who cry. Who stuff their feelings and wear confused fake smiles. Who feel the whiplash of love then wrath of Abby Lee at every dance competition.

Latching on to a leader whose affection unpredictably comes and goes is confusing.

Just ask Gideon.

Gideon hit the Bible scene after the Israelites had been sprung from Egypt (with the help of God), survived a stiff-necked wandering in the desert (with the help of God), dispossessed the bad guys and finally scored the Promised Land (with the help of God), and enjoyed years of peace, glorious peace (thanks to God)!

Then they blew off God.

Their world came crashing in, and seven years into a crushingly oppressed and lonely time, God visited Gideon. An angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6).

And Gideon, in one of the most under-excited-to-see-God moments in Bible history, wondered aloud: God? Where have you been?

Gideon takes some hits in church circles for this seemingly whiny response. I mean, God’s here! Buck up and be glad!

But God didn’t treat him that way. Here was a man who had heard stories about God’s benevolent leadership and love, but where had ...

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Mon, 11 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Say Goodbye to Leadership Overload

And say hello to the right priorities

“What you are doing is not good.”

Jethro said it to Moses in Exodus 18. God said it to me at a time when I was experiencing major leadership overload. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself” (Exodus 18:18).

Moses had lived for decades on the back side of the desert. Now he led a people who had been slaves for generations. They had no clue how to govern themselves or to do God’s will. They faced dire situations. And they couldn’t get along.

Fresh from the Red Sea crossing, Moses tried to lead the people by himself. Everyone who had a problem came to him. Moses found himself arbitrating all day, every day.

When Moses’ father-in-law came to visit, Jethro accurately assessed the situation: “This is not good” (Exodus 18:17). Jethro suggested three new priorities. He urged Moses to confirm that these priorities were God’s (Exodus 18:19-23). In response, Moses did a wonderful thing. The man who met face-to-face with God listened and acted when the Lord spoke to him through someone else.

As I read Jethro’s counsel to Moses, I realized it was God’s counsel for me. Yet some of it didn’t seem logical or practical, and I knew I couldn’t do any of it in my own strength.

Desperate, I told the Lord I believed his word. I asked his Spirit to empower me to obey. In the years since, God has consistently affirmed: As we walk out these three principles, we say goodbye to leadership overload.

Let’s look at each briefly, from last to first.

Priority 3: Select capable people to work alongside you (verses 21-22).

Like Moses, I wasn’t born ...

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Thu, 7 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Pastoring Your Church through a Leaders Misconduct

Tips for a redemptive response

When the assistant pastor called the church’s key leaders to his house for an urgent meeting, my husband and I both suspected something serious had happened. We could not have guessed just how serious. Once all 20 of us had packed into the living room, our senior pastor came in and simply said, “I have something to tell you.”

His subsequent admission of marital infidelity made sense of his angry outbursts, controlling behavior, and whimsical abandonment of several key programs. Though we felt relief to finally understand what had been propelling his perplexing conduct over the past year, his confession plunged the church into a season of chaos.

Each year an alarming number of churches will face a similar situation. Based on a 2005-2006 study done by the Francis Schaeffer Institute, more than 30 percent of all pastors have admitted to having either an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner during their tenure. (And of course sexual misconduct is but one of the ways that a leader can disqualify himself or herself.) Despite the fact that this situation happens far too often, “pastoring your church through trauma” is not a class taught in many seminaries or church growth conferences.

Who Gets Told and How Much Do We Tell?

When a pastor or key leader is caught in or admits sin, many pressing needs manifest simultaneously. Such occasions require clear, definitive management as well as intensive, ongoing pastoral care. Before any other issues are addressed, leaders should care for and provide safety to any victims. This includes cooperating with law enforcement officials if a minor was involved or if physical abuse or violence was perpetrated.

Communication with ...

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Mon, 4 May 2015 08:00:00 CST
Where Were You When It Happened?

Helping when mass tragedy strikes your congregation

For the past century, and arguably longer, generations have self-identified with their own answer to this question. Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when news broke that Dr. Martin Luther King was shot, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, when the World Trade Center collapsed? Sadly, recent events have set up our younger generations with even more options for an answer. Whether a movie theater, high school, college campus, or elementary school classroom, mass shootings now join a tragedy landscape that includes missing airplanes, commuter rail crashes, and natural disasters like tsunamis, mudslides, and tornadoes.

We all hope and pray that our communities will be safe, but what if a mass tragedy does strike? Is your congregation prepared to navigate widespread grief or wipe tears during multiple funerals? And do you have a plan if that tragedy garners national attention and media interest?

The reality is that (thankfully) most of us will not have to navigate the intense challenges of a mass tragedy. But we would be naive to operate without at least a loose plan in place for if it happens. Mass tragedies blindside us and force previously unnoticed communities into our national vernacular. Think Columbine High School, a once little-known place that is a household name. I serve on staff at a church that has been touched by more than one mass tragedy. There is no perfect set of rules to navigate these issues—they are unexpected, they bring feelings of grief so deep we wonder if the cavern of loss has an end. They feel inexplicable and they happen in a blink. The following is not an exhaustive list of how to manage, but rather a set of starter notes for leaders on how to honor ...

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Thu, 30 April 2015 08:00:00 CST
When Church Leaders Mistreat You

It takes courage and strength to replace anger with love

The words mistreatment and church leader shouldn't be in the same sentence, but unfortunately sometimes they are. The fact is, many people on staff, as well as members of the church, are mistreated by their leaders.

My husband and I were mistreated by our pastor, and we witnessed his mistreatment of others. In a leadership meeting one evening the senior pastor embarrassingly interrupted an associate who was sharing his excitement about an upcoming event. Another associate walked past me during a church fellowship and blurted out his frustration with the pastor. On another occasion, a different associate was sarcastically corrected during Sunday morning service by the pastor. My husband, a board member, was ignored and overlooked by the pastor on many occasions.

I cannot speak for the others who were mistreated, but in our case it was hurtful. I hurt for my husband who does his best to live a moral life yet felt he wasn't valued by someone he looked up to and respected. At first mistreatment is a shock because we expect the people in leadership to be loving and tender, as Jesus was. It's hard to be in church excited to save souls yet sidetracked by this kind of behavior. When mistreatment occurs, respect is lost and the kingdom of God suffers.

How Do We Move On?

Mistreatment by leaders can be painful, but how can we continue to live for Jesus, respect those in authority, and save souls? There are many ways we can continue to live out our calling for God after we've been hurt, and one way is to pray. Paul told us to pray about everything. No matter how hurt we are, praying should not cease. We should be praying through our pain as well as for those who hurt us. First Timothy 2:1-4 calls us to pray for ...

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Mon, 27 April 2015 08:00:00 CST
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