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Find Your Place in God's Story

Like Esther, you may be exactly where you are for a specific purpose.

A large group of college students gathered around a wise old woman as she spoke wisdom into their lives. Now in her eighties, she had a wealth of knowledge and experience from a life well lived. They leaned in close, for they wanted to glean from any specific lessons she had learned. Her life had been a testimony to everything they believed and wanted to be.

Growing up in the early 1900s, Henrietta Mears had defied the limitations of a woman in leadership. She influenced some of the most powerful Christian leaders our country ever had. From Billy Graham to Bill Bright, Jim Rayburn to Bob Mungor, her influence was felt in books, organizations, and thousands of people who came to believe in the God she talked about and loved.

She also founded the camp where I first heard the news that would change my life.

I was 18 at the time and in the midst of a 3-week romance that illustrated the longevity of my high school relationships. My boyfriend had decided to go to a weekend camp called Forest Home, so naturally I decided to accompany him.

The God described that weekend at Forest Home was different from the one I had heard about growing up. This God didn’t just want to be there for emergencies and holidays, he wanted to accompany me in my life. But I learned it was my decision whether I wanted to let this God in. Nervously, I took the plunge and asked a good friend who was already a Christian to stand with me. Little did I know that decision would completely change the trajectory of my life. Like a compass on a sailboat, that one degree change altered my course.

Forest Home triggered that change. And Henrietta Mears was the woman who founded Forest Home. Years before I stood up to invite God to have my life, she stood in that same ...

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Thu, 27 July 2017 08:00:00 CST
My Winding Road to the Pastorate

It was an inconvenient time to begin feeling called to co-pastor with my husband.

There I sat. The good, supportive wife, watching my husband become the senior pastor of a rural church in Missouri. As various church members stepped forward to hand him symbolic items—a bowl and towel for servanthood, a Bible for the ministry of the Word, a chalice for the administration of the sacraments—I wept. Sobbed would be more honest. And they were not tears of joy, shed by a loving and faithful pastor’s wife. They were tears of anguish, regret, and anger. I knew in that moment: I should be up there with him.

But this had been the plan! I would attend seminary while he jumped into a local pastorate. It fit our personalities—me and my love for formal education and him with his love of learning by doing. I would focus on school, and he would focus on pastoring. It made sense, didn’t it? So why did this all feel so very wrong? Why did my heart feel like it was being ripped from chest? Why did I want to stand up in the middle of that sacred moment and scream, “Me too! Don’t forget me!”

It took that painful, horrifying moment to awaken me to what in retrospect should have been blindingly obvious: I belonged up there, next to him, receiving the mantle of the pastorate alongside him.

It was a long car ride home that night. My husband, bless him, was so excited, so passionate about his new role. He was eager and ready to embrace his flock with gusto. I was less then enthused. I was critical, irritable, and generally mean the entire ride home. I complained about the construction along the way, “Well, that will make my drive to seminary even longer now. Awesome.” I went on and on about gas prices, and how much the commute would cost us. In sum, I was extremely pleasant. ...

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Tue, 25 July 2017 10:15:00 CST
10 Ways to Help Single Women Flourish in Ministry

Whether single or married, we can all advocate for single women in ministry.

I am fortunate to know many amazing single women in ministry. They serve in student ministry, women’s ministry, missions, small groups, teaching roles, and church planting. I’m encouraged and challenged by their obedience to God’s call on their lives, and I have personally benefited from their ministries in countless ways. As someone who has served in several staff ministry roles, I have often marveled at how these dedicated women navigate the tough parts of ministry so well.

As one woman told me, ministry as a single woman is not for the faint of heart. On top of the usual ministry stress, single women have to worry about being treated like a minority in the church, guilt about taking time off, awkward comments about their dating life, and acute loneliness—just to name a few issues. Unfortunately, those of us who are married in ministry sometimes forget that. Ministry is hard in general, and we may forget—or not realize—that going through it alone can make it feel unbearable.

So I sat down with 11 single women in ministry, one at a time, to hear about their experiences. I felt like I already knew a lot when I embarked on this journey, but I have to be honest—I learned so much more. These women serve in different roles, in different regions of the country, in different denominations, and are in different stages of life, but there were several similarities that rose to the surface when I asked them how other leaders could help them flourish. Here’s what I learned:

1. Get to know each person as an individual.

Of the 11 women I spoke with, there was a wide variety of reasons for their singleness and how they felt about it. Some had no desire to date or marry in their current stage ...

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Fri, 21 July 2017 07:00:00 CST
You Are Enough

Singleness doesn't make you any less of a leader.

This article has been excerpted from our new resource, Navigating Singleness in Ministry.

If you are a single woman in ministry, you have probably asked yourself the question, “Am I enough?” at least onceor a hundred times if you’re anything like me. The short answer is yesyou are enough just the way you are. You are called and equipped by God to lead.

Now I wish we could just stop here, but the reality is every day we walk out into the world. The days bring numerous ministry challenges and subtle messaging that make us question if we really are enough. We run into situations that push us to believe being single is just a placeholder for something better. These messages are lies, but when we encounter them day after day, we can begin to internalize them. Before we know it, we start to believe something might actually be wrong with us.

Being a single woman leading in the church can be isolating. As a single woman in my mid-thirtieswho has spent over seven years in ministryI know the struggle intimately. Some of the most encouraging times to me are the opportunities when I am with other single women, and we begin to talk about our experiences. To me, one of the most beautiful phrases is “me, too!” I hear those words and immediately feel validated and encouraged. We need these spaces to remind ourselves we are not alone and that our presence matters. I hope to create this kind of space by sharing with you some of the situations I have experienced that caused me to question if I really am enough and how I have tried to navigate them. By no means do I have all of the answers, but I do believe the more we speak the truth, the more we can step out of the shadows and let our God-given stories shine. ...

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Wed, 19 July 2017 08:00:00 CST
How to Advocate for Singles in Your Church

Minding the margins to draw everyone in

Based on the messaging in many evangelical churches today, one might think that Christians believe that people are only able to fully practice Christianity as spouses and/or parents. This is a bit ironic because the two men whose teachings have formed the foundations of our faith practices—Jesus and Paul—were neither! Meanwhile, the last census revealed that 45 percent of the US population over 18 is single—the highest number on record, and a massive increase from just a few decades ago. This percentage is even higher in states with large cities. The median age of first marriage is also higher than it’s ever been: 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women.

With an increasing number of singles seeking out how to “do life” without the spouse their church assumes they have or should have, it’s crucial that we as leaders bring singles out of the margins, where church culture has stranded them, and into the fullness of the family of God. And since the majority of this growing population of singles is women, your advocacy as a woman in leadership is especially needed.

If you’re single, you may already know the areas where your church is potentially marginalizing singles—or maybe not. Once, during a conversation with a coworker at a large church where I worked, I discovered that a vast majority of our welcome team volunteers were single people. Because that wasn’t my department, I wasn’t aware that was the case—which got me curious about our other departments. Doing a little digging, I found out that the same was true for the volunteers who served with the nursery, children, and youth. These were people who showed up every week, and typically were involved in more than ...

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Mon, 17 July 2017 10:42:00 CST
Pariah and Paragon

Women in ministry are often held to two extremes at once.

I went to a liberal arts college for my bachelor’s degree, and while it was a great experience in many ways, I can’t count how many classes I attended where the professor asked, “Is anyone here a Christian?” Nine times out of ten I’d be the only person who’d raise their hand. I began to dread that question because my opinions or explanations were then demanded by classmates or professors:

“How could you Christians –?”

“Why do Christians think –?”

“What’s the point of –?”

It was incredibly frustrating. Because I was the token Christian, I became the example of all Christians everywhere. Imagine the incredible and unrealistic pressure of being the person called upon to represent the entirety of Christianity to a class of college students.

When I transitioned into bi-vocational ministry, I expected to experience this again with non-Christian friends and colleagues. But actually, I’ve felt this pressure mostly from Christians, especially regarding my gender. Two of the most common things I hear about being a woman in ministry are at opposite ends of the spectrum—and equally frustrating:

“Wow! That sounds hard. What does your husband think?”

“I love what you’re doing. You’re a great example to all women.”

There are nuances to these views, but I’ve heard renditions of these comments at least weekly for the last 15 years. I’m viewed either as an ungodly pariah or a saintly paragon. Of the two, though, I’d rather be considered a pariah. Being labeled a paragon has given me the most trouble.

Unfair Pressure

I can’t count the number of times my accomplishments have been reflected ...

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Wed, 12 July 2017 21:26:00 CST
Lamenting Failure

God is doing something bigger and better than your project.

I knew my idea was going to work. The younger women were complaining they needed someone to advise and help them. The older women were sad about feeling sidelined and losing their sense of purpose. So, the obvious thing was to start a mentoring ministry. We’d pair younger women with older women and everyone would benefit.

We asked anyone interested to sign up, and we gained a sizeable list. To the best of our ability, we paired people, gave each party a list of guidelines, and then turned them loose. We occasionally sent out suggestions and encouragements to help them along the way, and we even created a get-together for the entire group. We were full of hope and excitement.

Within weeks, however, we knew it was an utter failure.

Younger women were complaining that the older women we paired them with just didn’t understand the world they lived in. The older women were complaining that the younger women had no respect for the life they’d lived and the advice they had to offer. Some of the younger women were too needy, and they overwhelmed the older women. A few of the older women were so lonely that they monopolized the younger women’s time without offering practical help.

Take Time to Grieve

I felt like a failure. I knew that it was my idea that had been a failure, not me, but that’s certainly not how I felt. So I took time to let that truth sink in.

I took time to tend my soul rather than worrying about anyone else. I had to be selfish in order to be useful again. I didn’t withdraw from ministry, but I took time to just plod along faithfully as I let God heal my feelings of disappointment. I didn’t try any new ideas right away, but instead took time to heal and gain perspective. I was ...

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Mon, 10 July 2017 08:00:00 CST
From Performer to Pastor

An interview with gospel singer—and pastor—CeCe Winans Love

CeCe Winans Love is known for many roles. With her family, especially her brother BeBe, she was a longtime fixture in Gospel music before launching a solo career. Now she’s a ten-time Grammy Award winner, a wife, a mother, a friend to many, a TV personality, a book author, the subject of a documentary, and a voice of inspiration to generations. We wanted to talk with her because she’s recently added another role: pastor.

Can you start off by telling us what you’re doing with your life these days?

I am co-pastoring a church with my husband: Nashville Life Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This year we celebrated our fifth anniversary. And I just released a brand-new album titled Let Them Fall in Love. It’s my first released music in over nine years.

The last five years I've been really focused on the church. It's taken up all of my time and heart and passion. There was a call that my husband and I answered; this was something that we had not planned on doing in our lives. But we've been empowered to serve, so we are making disciples. That's our focus for our church, to make disciples. The majority of the church is Millennials, which is very exciting. It's a diverse church. You see people from all walks of life and all different ethnic backgrounds. It’s pretty awesome what God is doing. I'm really, really busy these days, but I'm really, really happy. I'm trusting in the Lord. And whenever you lay down your life for him, he always shows up in an immeasurable way.

You and your husband are co-pastors; how is your role different from his?

I’m here to support him 200 percent. I’m focused on making women disciples. And he's focused on the men. We are an independent ...

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Thu, 6 July 2017 08:00:00 CST
The Problem with Colorblindness in Pastoral Counseling

Lets talk about the elephant in the room.

The topic of racial diversity has grown louder and stronger in recent years. As a fourth generation Chinese-American woman who was born and raised in Hawaii and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, I am happy that race and ethnicity are being brought into the forefront, and that there are movements across the nation to increase awareness about these issues. What bothers me still, however, is that even though there is an increased awareness, there is also a sense of dismissal or skepticism around the importance of addressing these topics.

In my graduate-level counselor-training program, there was only a single course on social justice and culture sensitivity. Most students thought something along the lines of, “If the client doesn’t bring it up, then perhaps I won’t have to address it,” or, “This may not be important to me because I don’t plan on working with ethnic minorities.” Being in the helping profession, however, should never be centered on a client ensuring that their counselor, pastor, or confidante is the one who is comfortable. On the contrary, it is the requirement of the helper to develop a strong rapport and ensure that the help-seeker sitting across from you has found a safe environment where he or she can tell you anything without fear of judgment. But if those of us within the role of helpers are not addressing the difficult topics or calling out the elephant in the room, then how can those that seek our help ever feel safe enough to confide in us?

As I neared the end of my program, I became frustrated with the lack of race and ethnicity being spoken about openly in my classes. It was not only the lack of it in classes, but also the blissful ignorance from my classmates ...

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Mon, 3 July 2017 10:15:00 CST
The Surprising Reason Women Go to Seminary

And what it can teach churches about discipling women.

I grew up in a church with an abundance of female role models, and I enjoyed the support of two enthusiastic parents. They spotted my gifts early, and helped name my calling. When I decided to attend seminary, no one was more excited than they were, and nothing about this path seemed unusual to me.

In reality, it was.

Not many women go to seminary, and even fewer seek the M.Div., a degree designed specifically to equip students for ministry. According to the Association of Theological Schools, women constituted roughly 28 percent of M.Div. students enrolled during the 2015-2016 calendar year. That number has seen a slight downward trend over the last 10 years (when it stood at about 30 percent), and at evangelical seminaries, the percentage is even lower (21 percent).

During my doctoral research, I interviewed women at three evangelical seminaries, where the percentages of women enrolled in the M.Div. program ranged from 7.8 percent to 15.4 percent. With so few women attending seminary, I wanted to find out what motivated and empowered them, when few of their peers chose the same path. To answer this question, I asked them to tell me their stories. I hoped to discover patterns which might help church leaders identify the gifts of women and cultivate their callings accordingly. I did—and while some patterns confirmed what I expected, others were surprising.

The top three reasons women chose seminary were a powerful sense of God's calling, a ministry experience that confirmed their call, and a supportive family or church that affirmed their gifts. These women were not always confident. More often they were confused. Their calling didn't make sense to them. They wondered if they were being selfish by paying for an ...

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Thu, 29 June 2017 08:00:00 CST
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