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Dont Take No for an Answer

When God calls, he'll help you find a way to fulfill that calling.

Editor's Note: February is Black History Month, and that's important for all of us. Together we celebrate, especially in February, the amazing contributions African Americans have made to our society. Julia A.J. Foote is a perfect example. She was a trailblazer for all the women God has gifted to lead. Enjoy this reflection on her life and what her legacy means for women leaders today. —Amy Jackson

Her momma said she shouldn’t.

Her husband didn’t like it.

Her pastor wasn’t thrilled.

But Julia Foote felt she had no choice. She was called to preach, and preach she would.

Julia A.J. Foote (1823–1900) was the fourth child of former slaves. She began her young life as many African American women in that century, facing obstacles from a society that segregated based on skin color and placed limits on women leadership roles. She grew up in Schenectady, New York, which was segregated at the time. Her family was staunchly Methodist and equally committed to education, which Foote pursued with abandon through voracious reading. Later, when Foote’s parents hired her out as a servant to a white family, she attended two years in a country school when the family used their influence to secure her a seat. Foote’s only formal education was two short years in that school around the age of ten.

She immersed herself in her Christian faith as a young girl by reading the Bible, and at age 15, she had a conversion experience that lit her fire for the Lord. Just three years later, she married. The couple never had children, and Foote poured all her energies into ministry.

Soon she felt a call to preach and wanted to speak at her church, but her pastor refused, so Foote took the ...

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Mon, 8 February 2016 08:00:00 CST
Lent for Leaders

In our effort to help others observe the season, we can fail to consider what we need.

Many leaders have mixed feelings about Lent. Perhaps you’ve noticed that some of your congregants use Lent as a way to gain God’s favor rather than repenting of sin and consecrating themselves to God. Such misguided theology can make Lent a burden rather than a tool to make us more Christ-like. What about you? Have you lost sight of what Lent is all about?

For years, I practiced Lent the way most people do. I thought of something I really liked or was dependent on and gave it up. I didn’t spend much time deciding what that sacrifice was going to be. Instead, I often chose something that seemed obvious, such as chocolate or TV.

However, I’m a pretty disciplined eater and not terribly dependent on entertainment. So while giving up chocolate or TV may be hugely important for someone else, it didn’t impact me much. That all changed, though, one Lenten season when I felt compelled to take time to pray about what I should give up. The thing that came through loud and clear was that I needed to give up fear and worry.

I have to admit this goes against the idea of giving up something you love, because I certainly have no affection for my sins of fear and worry. But if Lent is truly a time to repent of sin and walk closer with God, then it makes perfect sense.

I didn’t talk much about my decision to give up fear and worry because I wasn’t at all sure how it was going to go or if I was truly going to be able to give it up. So, I kept it mostly between God and me and asked him to give me the Holy Spirit’s power to recognize and conquer my fear and worry.

The results were truly life-changing. During the 40 days of Lent, I conquered a lifetime of fear that had plagued and harassed ...

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Thu, 4 February 2016 08:00:00 CST
On the Road to Racial Reconciliation

Valuing reconciliation is not the same as actively engaging in it.

I used to belong to a church that no longer exists. We were founded on a vision of being a multicultural worshiping congregation that was empowered by the Holy Spirit to do innovative outreach in the community. For me it was a dream come true. However, after I had been a member of this thriving church for 12 years, it folded. It’s hard to pinpoint the ultimate reason for our demise, but as I look back on it, we couldn’t successfully navigate the complexities of creating a diverse culture to facilitate lasting change. Our leadership was not equipped to help move people out of old patterns and did not empower others to deal honestly with the need for healthy systems where issues of trust could be adequately addressed.

Many churches and organizations want to promote and facilitate racial reconciliation, but most make very little progress in actually changing the intrinsic culture of their group. By examining the theology, sociology, psychology, and organizational change theory involved in reconciliation, I discovered that a journey with landmarks and distinctive phases is the best way to think about the reconciliation process. This is what will help churches and organizations and communities actually move themselves forward in the reconciliation process. Understanding this is the crucial first step in the Reconciliation Roadmap.

A Process That Works

I began the process of analyzing and explaining the reconciliation process when I was a doctoral student. My goal was to develop a viable model based on my years of experience with racial and gender reconciliation as a consultant to churches, Christian colleges, and organizations. It wasn’t enough, though, to simply document the many personal and professional ...

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Mon, 1 February 2016 08:00:00 CST
Women, Calling, and Guilt

Is seminary a waste of time?

For the first year and a half that Marcy* was in seminary, she struggled with guilt. Marcy was a full-time student at an evangelical seminary, but she was also a staff person at a para-church ministry. She worried her financial supporters wouldn’t understand, and she described their skepticism this way, “They think I’m wasting my time frivolously doing more education when I don’t have to have it.”

As it turns out, Marcy is not alone in her feelings of guilt. Among the women I interviewed at evangelical seminaries around the country, many expressed the same concerns, though for a variety of reasons. For some, seminary seemed impractical: why spend the money on school if church positions for women are scarce? For others, it was a question of motives. They wondered whether they were pursuing ministry for God’s glory or their own.

Some women were simply confused. They couldn’t reconcile their strong sense of calling with their theological convictions. As one woman put it, “I feel kind of confused because I have the giftings of a pastor, but I don’t feel like that’s . . . all my life that’s not something that the women would do.”

For many of these women, seminary seemed “impractical.” It didn’t make sense professionally or financially. Even so, they couldn’t ignore their passion for studying and teaching God’s Word. They were eager to take their first classes, to learn Greek and Hebrew (if that’s not calling, I don’t know what is!), and to become better equipped for ministry.

In the end, passion won the day, but the pursuit of passion is an emotional roller coaster whenever it’s coupled with risk. ...

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Thu, 28 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
Four Steps to Form a Personal Support Group

As you minister to others, don't neglect your own need for challenge and encouragement.

When my husband and I planted a church, our entire focus was on what we could do for others. We wanted to win people to Christ, disciple them, and send them out to do the same. We became single-minded, and we worked harder than I ever thought possible.

This was all good, but somewhere along the line, I lost perspective on what I needed. I was so consumed in what others needed and in learning to be selfless that I lost myself entirely.

I began to think about this more when my husband, Brad, visited a pastor friend of his who built a small church into a church of thousands. Since Brad was staying with him for a few days, this pastor invited him to his Bible study. Of course, my husband expected this pastor to be leading it, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, it was a group of people he had assembled who would challenge and encourage him. He chose all mature Christians whom he felt were smarter and wiser than he was. The sole focus of this group was to keep him accountable and help him grow and learn in ways he couldn’t without the help of others.

This was astounding to me, and it startled me into realizing I had no one speaking into my life. I simply blundered ahead and expended myself for others without once concerning myself with my own heart and mind.

So, I began to pray about assembling a similar group to challenge and encourage me. I wanted this group to be all mature Christian women I could emulate and learn from. Nine people came to mind, so I approached each of them with the idea of doing a Bible study that was for mutual encouragement. I was hoping to get at least four or five to commit, but all nine agreed! We are now on our third year together, and it has been the most rewarding group I’ve ...

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Mon, 25 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
Young Mom Turned Evangelist

Aimee Semple McPherson encourages us to be creative, compassionate, and courageous.

On a street corner in Ontario in 1915, a young woman jumped onto a chair, raised her arms to heaven, closed her eyes, and stood motionless for a time. The crowd around her grew, along with taunts, questions, and jeers. After a while, a man reached up to touch her arm, seeing if he could cause the “statue” to move. The young woman opened her brown eyes, glanced around her, and lept off the chair as she shouted, “People! Come follow me! Quick!”

Running down the street with the befuddled crowd in tow, she led them through the door of the Victory Mission. That night she preached to a small crowd of 50. The next night the crowd had multiplied, with people standing outside the mission to hear her preach. They came dressed in overalls and in their Sunday best. They arrived by foot, horseback, wagon, and bicycle. Soon the meetings were pushed out onto the lawn to accommodate everyone. By the end of the week, the crowd had grown to 500. Many were convicted, weeping and giving their hearts to the Lord.

The 25-year-old preacher was Aimee Semple McPherson, a young mother and widow who had remarried. While unorthodox, McPherson overcame various trials to become a pioneer evangelist and pastor, an activist for social justice and compassion, and the founder of the Foursquare Church. Later known as Sister, McPherson is regarded as a spiritual mother of the modern Pentecostal movement.

At a young age, McPherson faced several serious struggles. In 1910, newlyweds Robert and Aimee Semple sailed for Hong Kong to serve as missionaries. Within months, they both contracted malaria, to which Robert succumbed. Aimee survived, giving birth to a baby girl six weeks after burying her husband on foreign soil. In 1912 ...

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Thu, 21 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
Passion Is Not Enough

Why you need a clear vision and mission for your ministry

Many leaders mistake mission and vison, but they’re not the same. Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision—a dream—to end segregation. His mission involved various methods like marches, speeches, and boycotts to help make that vision a reality. The mission is the work to be done in order to reach the vision. Does your church or ministry have a clear vision of where it’s headed and a mission to see that vision become reality?

I hear many women in ministry sum up their purpose with a simple “I have a heart for the people.” But passion isn’t enough. We need a clear vision for what we want to accomplish, and we need a plan to get there. We like to say our vision as Christians is to see everyone find their way back to God, but the statistics tell a different story. A survey conducted by the Center for Church Effectiveness found that the average evangelical church leads 1.7 people to Jesus a year. That is an astounding number. Aubrey Malphurs, author of Advanced Strategic Planning, describes the North American church as follows: “a ship without a compass, drifting aimlessly on the ocean.” The church may have a clear vision, but we don’t have a clear plan for making it reality.

What’s Your Vision?

Many pastors say the vision for their church is the greatest source of tension. A proper vision inspires and ignites people to action. Is your vision to see the people in your community discipled daily? Is your vision to help the community immigrants learn to read? Maybe your vision is to help single mother’s attend college, or get all the homeless people in your community into housing.

We can’t look at another church or ministry and simply copy their ...

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Mon, 18 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
Diagnosing and Changing Church Culture

What you need to know about your past to move forward

What do you do when you realize your church talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk? It’s an all-too-common realization, and one I’ve had myself. I agreed with all the church’s stated values, I affirmed their mission, but in reality, those written statements weren’t backed up by any action. And that made ministry effectiveness very difficult.

Three Ways Culture Emerges

One of the key responsibilities of church leaders is to manage the church’s culture, in all its forms, which I discussed in the first part of this article. In order to manage—and even change—the church’s culture, we must understand the three ways that organizational culture emerges.

Founders' Values

The most important source of organizational culture is the beliefs, values, and assumptions of an organization’s founders. How did your church get started? What were the beliefs and values that guided the church and its leadership team, and what were the events that informed those values? These beliefs can be both theological (doctrinal statements, denominational roots, etc.) and operational (what worked).

For example, I know a church has no senior leader and allows all members to have veto power at congregational meetings. This culture is based on the time and place it was founded: a university community in 1971. The church’s culture was born out of the high mistrust of government during that era, especially in academic environments.

Many churches mirror the personality of their founding pastor. Whether the pastor avoided conflict, loved to have fun, or was highly intellectual, the church culture is often based on those values. Because of this, church planters have a critical ...

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Thu, 14 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
The Root of Ministry Effectiveness

What every church leader should know about organizational culture

The job description was a good fit. Looking over the church’s literature and noticing the symbols around the building, she felt comfortable as she walked into the interview. She agreed wholeheartedly with the values communicated during the interview, plus the vision was inspiring. Impressive, she thought.

But as this newly minted seminary grad set about the work of ministry, she realized that the actual practices of the church didn’t always match stated values. There seemed to be unwritten, unspoken expectations by members of the staff and congregation. Different ministries seemed to operate by different rules.

It wasn’t that the church hid a major sin or intentionally misled this leader during the search. It’s just that this woman experienced the power of organizational culture.

Organizational culture impacts productivity, customer service, operational efficiency, team effectiveness, openness to change, creative flow, and employee fit, satisfaction, and retention. In other words, it’s critical to almost every area of organizational effectiveness.

A church’s organizational culture might be described as the church’s DNA, personality, or simply “the way we do things around here.” It’s a combination of the visible symbols and the invisible values and expectations that are shared by the people within a congregation.

In ministry we often talk about culture in an external sense: the culture “out there” in which we live. But culture is also present within every size and type of organization, including the church. And the culture within organizations is just as powerful as the culture outside of them.

Three Levels of Organizational Culture

The ...

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Mon, 11 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
Step Out of Fear into Your Calling

How to overcome insecurity in ministry

The non-denominational church I started wasn’t even a year old when a successful church-planter declared: “Your church will never make it!”

“Why do you say that?” I asked, feeling instantly wounded.

“Because you’re way too insecure!” He thoughtlessly replied.

Ouch. All these years later, I still feel the sting from his words.

On the other hand, I feel some satisfaction now. It’s now 12 years later, and the church is not only alive, it’s also healthy and growing stronger every day. We’ve baptized over 100 people since we started the church, and last year we launched a second service because we ran out of room.

It turns out that he was both right and wrong in his brazen statement back then. He was wrong about the future of the church, but he was right that I was way too insecure. When God first called me into full-time ministry, I protested. Surely he had the wrong person, and I gave him a long list of reasons why I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor or church planter. He agreed with me when I said I wasn’t good enough. Yet he always added, “But I will be with you!” When I still wasn’t getting the point, he bluntly told me: “It’s not about you, Linda, it’s about me and my power to use whom I choose!”

Haunting Fear

As much as I understood this in my head, it took me a long time to get my heart to be at peace with it. Fear has been my worst enemy for as long as I can remember. I think it developed early on as a result of growing up in a very dysfunctional, non-Christian home.

As a child, I was plagued with frequent nightmares. Not long after my son was born, I began having full-blown anxiety ...

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Thu, 7 January 2016 08:00:00 CST
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