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Ally or Adversary?

Relationships between female leaders are often marked by competition and contempt. It doesn't have to be this way.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Change Makers,” our recent CT special issue focused on some of the ways women are influencing the church, their communities, and the world. It includes articles that explore trends in women’s discipleship, examine research on women and leadership, highlight women who are making a difference, and grapple with the unique challenges female leaders face. Click here to download your own free digital copy of “Change Makers.”

When I was in elementary school, my girlfriends and I were confident, smart, creative, and ambitious. Every day at lunch we sat together writing plays that we put on during recess. One of us cast the various parts, one directed, one took the lead role, and one rounded up an audience. My little third-grade heart beat with delight to have this circle of friends where we all belonged, contributed, and mattered. But by fifth grade, that experience was only a memory. Girls—and later women—went from being my trusted allies to my secret foes.

Years ago when I was a new ministry director, I asked to join a small group of women leaders in my church for mentorship and support. The woman in charge, whom I considered a friend, said she had concerns about my character and intent. She reluctantly let me into the group only after a mutual friend advocated for my inclusion, but emails about when the group was meeting always seemed to get lost in cyberspace. When I did attend, it was clear that I was joining discussions that were already in progress.

Below the Surface

I was confused and hurt. Wanting to uphold the image of sisterhood and solidarity, though, I kept those experiences secret and silently seethed. As women in ministry, we don’t ...

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Thu, 14 September 2017 12:00:00 CST
Personal Branding, Platform, and Pride-Management

Promoting the message of Christrather than ourselves.

The topics of personal branding and platform building permeated the conversations of a recent conference I attended, including concepts by which Christian leaders can promote their ministry and message. The advent of social media now allows people to engage in ministry faster and with more people than ever before.

When I first started in student ministry, Facebook hardly was more than a site connecting students from a few Ivy League colleges. Most of my interactions with students from high school were by text message or face-to-face, and we advertised church events through bulletins, flyers, and the occasional email. As I continued in my careerand technology advancedmy correspondence with students transformed. Now, there are countless ways to communicate with those whom we are called to minister.

The positive effect of social media for women in ministry is that we have an accessible platform to promote the message of Christ. We can connect and collaborate with those with whom we share the same passion, without having to be in physical proximity to one another. Yet, given this avenue of outreach comes the question: how do we utilize our current platforms to promote the message of Christrather than ourselvesas the messenger? Perhaps the answer lies in how we define our personal brand and build the platform upon which we stand.

Defining Personal Branding and Platforms

In a business sense, a brand helps differentiate itself from the competition, and distinguishes its quality from other companies. When customers make choices based upon a brand, the distinction is brand recognition. Similarly, a personal brand is the distinctive way someone desires to be seen by others, often emphasizing their positive attributes, such as their ...

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Fri, 8 September 2017 07:00:00 CST
Share, Listen, and Listen Some More

Every woman knows how to minimize herself, and we need to put a stop to it—heres how.

“I am not a woman, so I don’t have bad days,” Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said in an interview. Like you, I read that statement and balk. What right does he have to make such blanket statements about an entire gender, let alone debilitate women to mere stereotype?

Nevertheless, an interesting phenomenon happens when I enter church territoryI step into minimalist views of myself because of my sex. According to a 2015 Huffington Post article, it is something every single woman does, or has done, without realizing it.

“We have all learned,” writer Gretchen Kelly states, “either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable.” She goes on to say that all women have learned how to avoid angering others, how to ignore offensive comments and inappropriate come-ons, and how to swallow our anger when someone belittles us. I often adhere to a “pick and choose your battles” approach to life, not needing to fight or drum up tension for each and every littleor not so littleslight I encounter. We choose not to fight those battles we find ourselves facing on a daily basis, and by doing so, ultimately minimize who we are as image bearers. For many women who serve in leadership positions in the church, however, there comes a point at which we don’twe can’tnegate the God-given image present in every single one of us.

Whether we ascribe to a complementarian or an egalitarian viewpoint, a progressive or conservative political stance, a high or a low view of ecclesiastical authority, we must push secondary beliefs to the side in order to adhere to the highest beliefJesus believes women more than capable and worthy of ...

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Tue, 5 September 2017 12:29:00 CST
Making the Leap from Marketplace to Ministry

Five truths to keep in mind when God calls you to a big career change

My move from business to full-time ministry happened so fast, I probably should have seen a chiropractor for whiplash. I had held a litany of diverse jobs over the yearseverything from fast food cashier to customer service representative, wardrobe coordinator on a Christian nativity musical tour to a very brief stint in the technical department of a major city’s opera house.

Despite my patchy resume, I finally settled into a project manager position with a legal publisher, which lasted over 11 years. I was good at my job and really loved my team, but I always had a sense I should be doing something else. The specifics of what that something else was escaped me. I had the vague notion I should find a more creative career, but I lived in Los Angeles, a city of a thousand different assortments of creative jobs, and didn’t know where to begin. Paralyzed by options, I stayed putuntil the day I felt a firm, but gentle, nudge to explore seminary. Something inside of me clicked into place as I read the program description.

After a brief time wrestling with the decision, I applied, thinking, Well, I guess when I finish in a few years, I will…go work for a church? Doing…some kind of thing? Thankfully, God had more coherent plans. Four months into taking classes, I was encouraged to apply for a small groups position at my church. Suddenly, at the age of 36, without a lot of planning or fanfare, I found myself in full-time ministry for the first time and completely unaware of the differences between business and ministry. Here are some truths Iand other women who have made similar moveshave learned from making the transition.

1. Your work history is an asset for ministry.

So many people I have encounteredfrom ...

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Thu, 31 August 2017 08:00:00 CST
3 Ways to Maximize Co-Pastoring

Effective co-pastoring requires more than just dividing up tasks.

It was official. We were co-pastors, elected by our church to serve as a husband and wife team. Now what?

As the bright light of excitement from starting our new co-pastoring journey dimmed, and we settled into the daily grind of parish ministry, we were dismayed to discover we had no idea how to co-pastor. None at all. We both had degrees in ministry and were pursuing master’s level education. We had the tools we needed for exegesis, pastoral counseling, and leadership. Knowledge and information were not the problem—we just had no idea how to wield them as a duo. It was like being an expert at hammering nails only to be told now you must do it with a friend, at the exact same time, in front of an audience—and stay married. Brutal.

In fits and starts, we moved forward, each doing the tasks at hand, but often arguing about who should do what and how. We would iron out a system of “who’s in charge of what” and walk that path for awhile, only to have circumstances change and upset the dynamiclike one person graduating seminary while the other started, having our first child, moving to a new church, and an extended bout with depression. As hard as we tried to find a magic formula to determine the perfect application of our individual skills and gifts, we regularly felt we were coming up short. Our ministry felt stifledand stiflingto us both, bringing hurt and resentment into our marriage.

We tried to seek counsel, but as there are so few co-pastor spouses in our denomination, we had little to go on. I recall one vague suggestion by a co-pastor pair that we make a Venn diagram of our skills and responsibilities. Supposedly, this would be the magic remedy to what ailed us. However, the “big” ...

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Tue, 29 August 2017 08:00:00 CST
Sleep: The Neglected Gift

As a pastor, I learned I needed to embrace God's gift of sleep.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, high blood pressure, and severe sleep apnea, I changed my diet and began to exercise. In a year, I lost 27 pounds, resulting in a decrease in pain and 2 dress sizes. But I still dragged through each day as if there were a weight on my back.

Being a workaholic mother, wife, grandmother, speech-language pathologist, church planter, college professor, and senior pastor who refused to stop until the task was completed, I have been tired for decades. Tired of being tired, I talked to my doctor. He helped me realize that although I was eating better and exercising, I was neglecting the third pillar of optimum health—sleep.

A Public Health Problem

I found I was not the only one sleepy and tired. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared insufficient sleep to be a public health problem. The National Sleep Foundation found that “50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems.”The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that drowsy driving causes approximately 1.2 million car crashes each year, killing 8,000 people. Sleep deprivation also contributes to an increase in accidents in industries and hospitals.

Chronic sleep deprivation (five or less hours of sleep a night as a life style) is associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, increased colds, and Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of sleep impacts emotional well-being, causing anxiety, depression, flared tempers, and poor decision making.

Being in ministry and working for the Lord does not protect one from the effects of sleep deprivation. Our need for sleep must be respected, no matter our vocation.

There are ...

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Thu, 24 August 2017 08:00:00 CST
Sabbath Is More than Rest

Everyone wants a break and more time off, but Sabbath offers more.

I have struggled over the years as I’ve tried to find balance in practicing Sabbath. As a new believer, I took the Ten Commandments as gospel and thought a lot about what it means to keep it holy. For me, that easily translated into going to church, and then coming home to investigate the passage that was preached. I spent the afternoon combing the verses that came before and after, as well as investigating every cross reference I could find. This practice did, indeed, feel holy and was instrumental in my growth and discipleship as I gained a tenuous grasp on the complexity and constancy of Scripture.

As my responsibilities grew, however, the leisure of such time was shoved aside. When I married, worked, and had children, spending any time reading the Bible became rare and precious. Sundays turned into a stressful morning of getting everyone rounded up and to church in a presentable fashion as I prepared to teach, greet, and serve. (I remember one Sunday morning when a friend came up behind me to zip my dress, since I had been so frazzled, I didn’t even realize it wasn’t up all the way.) It took all my Holy Spirit-inspired courage to remain positive and not resort to grumbling like the Israelites in the desert. After church, we somehow managed to feed our tired kids and get them down for naps before my husband and I would collapse into something resembling rest.

During those mind-numbing years, I had to think again about what it meant to keep the Sabbath holy. I found some help as I once again pondered the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments are, without a doubt, God-centered. The first is “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must ...

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Mon, 21 August 2017 08:00:00 CST
Lead from Where You Are

Give to others from your own walk with God.

"You walk with God and teach others out of that." My professor's words etched themselves onto my soul as he spoke.

Over a decade later, I have yet to forget them. In fact, they have become a simple remindera scripted placard hanging on the doorpost of my mindthat have guided me through many seasons of ministry.

As women, we often put so much pressure on ourselves to perform. Our leadership must be savvy. Our teaching must be rich. Our hospitality must be endlessly cheerful. Yet amidst our striving to meet the needs of those we serve, we sometimes miss the lessons for ourselves and the opportunities to be real with others.

However, when we lead from the overflow of our own walk with God, we are freed to be ourselves and to give out of what we possess—to share our own story, to teach our own lessons, and to invite others to be honest, too.

Here are three ways we can walk with God and then teach others to do the same:

Look for your own lessons.

What was the first thing you did when you sat down in your office chair this morning? It’s almost second nature for us to open up our laptops and start checking email. Next, we fill up a Post-It note with our daily to-dos:

Finish the leadership team agenda. Start Bible study outline. Counseling appointment at 11 a.m. Strategic planning meeting at 2 p.m. Finalize next semester’s small-group curriculum.

We feel pressured to run from one thing to the next, seldom processing the difficult conversation, the spiritual dry spell, or the lesson that fell flat. Our to-do list drives our day, as do the mounting needs and crises around us.

But what if we paused for just a moment? What if we started our day not with our to-do list, but with listening to our soul’s ...

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Thu, 17 August 2017 08:00:00 CST
Disillusioned by the Church

When organizational culture makes you wonder if you belong

Lisa could not believe what she was hearing.

The worship pastor at her church was clearly a very gifted musician. On Sundays, he consistently produced the highest quality worship program she ever experienced. Unfortunately, it was evident his quest for musical perfection came at a high relational price. Simply put, Peter was a jerk. He unapologetically bullied people, using guilt and shame to manipulate others to do what he wanted.

After another member of the music program quit the ministry, Lisa finally decided to address her concerns with her supervisor, the senior pastor. “Why does Peter get away with treating people this way?” she asked tentatively. Immediately, the pastor shut down the conversation with a curt reply: “Because I don’t want to have to find a new worship pastor, and neither do you.”

Lisa was shocked, angry, and discouraged. The church’s written core values clearly stated the organization expected staff to have “proven character and proven ministry.” Yet here was Peter, assembling a superior product on the weekends that somehow excused his appalling interpersonal behavior toward others throughout the week. If even the senior pastor was unwilling to address the problem, Lisa felt powerless to serve as an agent for change. What can I do, she wondered, and how long can I keep working in this current environment?

At some point in ministry, most leaders will become frustrated by some part of their church’s organizational culturealso described as a church’s DNA, personality, or simply “the way we do things around here.” Frustration can arise from many issues, including:

  • Lack of alignment between stated and actual values
  • Inconsistent application of policies

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Mon, 14 August 2017 12:15:00 CST
Imagining the Next Generation of Women in Leadership

A conversation between a lead pastor and her daughter

I’m purposeful in how I develop my staff members as leaders. I tell them what I see in them, put them in new situations which stretch them, sit with them regularly to ask, “How do you need to vent, process, or pray with me?” And, as uncomfortable as it makes me, I let them see my own struggles so they’re not surprised when leadership is hard. Without even meaning to, I’ve been doing the same thing in my family with this leader who has been growing up right under my roof.

It’s been fascinating to raise a very smart and gifted daughter while I’m figuring out how to lead as a woman myself. This year, as my beautiful girl, Zoë, completed her first year of Bible college (interestingly, at the same college I attended), I had an opportunity to watch her blossom. So much has changed—in me and in the world—since I was a student. I wondered what it has been like for her to watch me step into my calling and how it shaped her own sense of call. So we sat down at a local cafe for a chat:

Mandy: I think you were around nine when I first became a pastor. Do you remember much about it?

Zoë: I remember being surprised because I didn’t know you wanted to do that. I just saw you as my mom.

Do you remember times when I had a hard time figuring out how to lead or preach?

Yes, I remember times you told me someone had criticized you in a blog. To me it almost felt like you were two different people: my mom who is this ethereal, super-human who is there for me, and then this other person who was having all these struggles and vulnerabilities. I remember separating that in my brain because it’s weird to know that people have a problem with your mom. I didn’t like that was ...

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Thu, 10 August 2017 08:00:00 CST
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