Leading And Loving It

mockup_standing_BookPageMy friends, Lori Wilhite and Brandi Wilson, recently published their first book for pastors’ wives and women in ministry appropriately titled, Leading and Loving It, and I, for one, am so very thankful they did.

Life in ministry – and in the public eye – brings its challenges.  Those of us in leadership certainly benefit some insight on how to respond to criticism, deal with isolation, and handle the expectations of others.  Yet, life in ministry – and in the public eye – also brings its perks.  Those of us in leadership have front row seats to all that God is doing in our churches and to the lives He is changing.  In their book, Lori and Brandi inspire us all to relish those perks even while battling the challenges of being “out in front.”

I’m honored to call both Lori and Brandi my friends, and I can truthfully say that who they present themselves to be in public is exactly who they are in private – fun-loving, encouraging, compassionate girls who genuinely want others in ministry to enjoy the ride as much as they do.

So, if you want some insight into finishing well in ministry leadership, check out Leading and Loving It.  It’s on my nightstand right now!

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Take A Stand….Because You Can

This weekend, I made some new friends.  Sam and Amy (names have been changed) are church planters from Belarus, and they are in the States for several weeks as they seek to raise money for their church plant.  Amy doesn’t speak much English, so Sam did most of the talking.  I don’t know if it was harder for me to decipher his Russian accent or for him to understand my Southern slang.  Let’s just say our backstage chat took a lot of concentration.

Nevertheless, Sam not only shared his story on stage at Mountain Lake, he shared more personal details in the privacy of my husband’s office.  He explained how difficult it is to be a pastor in Belarus.  The KGB can prevent a church from obtaining a registration permit (necessary for a church to meet; without it the church cannot gather).  He described the atmosphere of their culture….the freedoms they don’t have and the persecution they face.  His story…..his experiences…..challenged me and my view of my own life.  Oh, how I take my freedom for granted.

So many pastors across our world face struggles just like Sam and Amy.  Many face much more intense persecution.  Some churches are closed down by the government, some pastors are arrested, some believers are tortured and killed…..all for proclaiming faith in the One, True God.  While we here in America are hesitant to share our faith because we fear being labeled Jesus-freaks, our brothers and sisters around the world take far greater risks for our Lord.

In comparison to Sam’s story, our first-world problems aren’t really problems, are they? We have freedoms and privileges that millions of people around the world will never experience. And with those privileges come great responsibilities.

What will you do with your freedom today?

*Invite someone to church this weekend

*Talk about your faith

*Praise God for the church you attend

*Commit to volunteer in your church

*Become a leader in your church

*Pray in public

*Teach your family about God

Don’t allow yourself to shrink back from your faith! Take a stand today….because you CAN!

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Marriage and Ministry: Tune In This Wednesday

2408Leadership in ministry brings its challenges.  

Leading people is never easy.  The leader meets demands, resolves conflicts, maintains overall vision, manages a staff, and guides an entire congregation of people to unity.  All of that adds up to a few stressful days (seasons) and many sleepless nights.  Most of the time, the leader feels inadequate to accomplish the task God has assigned.  Ahhh, but that’s the beauty of God’s way of doing things, isn’t it? His strength is displayed in our weakness.

For those of us who are married and serve in ministry leadership, the challenges often rise to a whole new level.  We bring our work home with us – the burden of counseling others through infidelity, holding the hands of those with illness, strategizing new programs for the church, bouncing staffing ideas off of our spouse – we talk about all of it.  All. The. Time.

If we aren’t careful, doing good work (the best work there is, as a matter of fact) can actually consume us and our marriage.  In very subtle ways, we can allow our passion for ministry overshadow our passion for our spouse.  Oh, we would never say we love our work more than our spouse, but sometimes our actions tell a different story.

My husband and I are partners in every sense of the word.  In ministry and in our home.  We believe you and your spouse should be as well. This Wednesday, July 31st at 3PM, we will be talking very practically about how you and your spouse can be and stay partners in both ministry and marriage during an online Whiteboard Session hosted by the Launch Network.  We’ll share key insights, stories, and practical steps to protect your marriage in the midst of leading a growing church.

Click the links above for all the details and join Shawn and me online Wednesday at 3pm.  Your ministry and marriage will be better for it!

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A Response to Conflict and Criticism

thYesterday, I shared a friend’s request for help in a sticky situation in leadership and asked for your feedback.  As promised, today I’m sharing what I suggested she do.  See what you think. These are my actual words to her:

For the visitor: I would respond to the email. I would express sorrow and disappointment that she did not feel the love and friendliness your church is so well-known for. (Perception is reality, so if she felt unloved then she views your church as unloving). Ask if something specific happened to upset her and quickly address those issues, letting her know that you will do all you can so that it doesn’t happen again. Share the vision/mission of your church with her and assure her that your goal is to love people well because Christ loved people so well. I would most definitely apologize for her experience.

I know you are probably thinking that the lady is wrong….and she might be!  Nevertheless, I often find that by being a peacemaker and showering others with kindness and understanding I shame them OR help them gain a new perspective of the situation. In other words, give this lady a reason to believe that the leaders of the church are loving, thoughtful people. 

For the church member:  If she is a constant source of divisiveness or disunity, the pastor could schedule a meeting to discuss her ability to be part of the congregation. If she is unhappy with the vision, unsatisfied with the programs, or disappointed in leadership (for whatever reason), she is going to struggle in the church. THAT’S OK! Not every church is for every person. Explain to her that part of the membership covenant of the church body is unity and loyalty with the members AND the leadership team. If she continues to express negativity, she will adversely effect the church by stirring up feelings of disharmony. No church can continue like that. It is not good for volunteer teams, small groups, or the corporate church. Assure her that you love her and that if she needs to find another church to join – one that more closely aligns with her ideas – you will support her and still be her friend. No hard feelings. This is a conversation for whichever pastor she most closely relates to. 

The goal is to win the relationship, not to win the argument. However, wisdom knows when to let the relationship go….not because you’re tired of dealing with it, but because it is doing harm to the Body as a whole. The ministry leadership team is responsible for protecting the flock from the divisiveness that can cripple the leadership in the eyes of others. 

This isn’t the last time you will deal with disgruntled people, sadly. But, this experience will make you more prepared for the next. Be gentle as doves but wise as a serpent (Matt 10:16). Do all you can to keep peace among the brothers (Romans 12:18). And lead well. 

So there you have it.  I could have shortened and edited it, but I felt led to give you guys very specific details on one way to respond to conflict and criticism.  To be sure, there are several ways to effectively address situations like this, but I pray this post helps you.  And I pray you are better prepared to lead well!

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Conflict and Criticism

thConflict and criticism.

Those are two subjects every pastor and his wife face.  Whether it’s a misunderstanding among church members, a misconception from a guest, or a disagreement with the programming of the church, those of us in ministry leadership manage disgruntled people and grievances on a regular basis. In addition, we counsel countless people through their own quarrels and squabbles.

In short, we better have a clear understanding on conflict resolution and peace making.

But, sometimes we come up short, don’t we?  At times, it becomes personal. Our emotions come into play and it is difficult to see another person’s perspective.  Oh sure, it’s easy when we’re advising someone else on their issues.  But, responding when we’re the ones feeling attacked?  Well, that’s when the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?

I recently received an email from a pastor’s wife seeking advice for a misunderstanding in her church.  She described an angry email from someone who had recently attended her church.  The email depicted the people of the church as unloving and not compassionate.  It turned out that the writer of the email was not only a visitor of the church, but also the sister of a church member who often expresses her own negative views.

Needless to say, my friend disagreed with what she read.  She knows her church to be considerate and helpful….not at all the description of the email. Her dilemma, however, was how to respond.  Defend her church in a quick reply? Make a phone call? Schedule a meeting? Or, ignore the email altogether?

Sound familiar?  Have you dealt with similar situations in leadership?  I bet you have. Whether the issue is monumental or inconsequential, our responses matter. So, I shared my thoughts with this fellow pastor’s wife….and I’ll share them with you, too, tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you’d advise.  What would you suggest our friend in leadership do – respond or ignore?  Maybe we’ll assist each other in the process for the next bout of conflict or criticism WE face.

So, let’s hear it? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

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Mastering Our Emotions

One of my favorite quotes is from Kathy Litton, Director of Ministry to Pastors’ Wives for the North American Mission Board.  She led a breakout session at the Velocity 2013 Conference regarding the influence a wife has on her husband, and her statement still has my mind processing.  Here it is:

“The discipline of our emotions is found in the training of our responses.”

Do you, like me, ever find yourself spouting off answers or demands only to regret your words an hour later?  Have you, like me, ever wished you could go back in time and change your reaction to a challenging moment?  Like when our kids push our buttons or our husband (knowingly or unknowingly) hurts us?  Yet, these aren’t the only areas that trip us up.  Leadership (as well as parenting, marriage, friendship, etc) often brings situations that invite surly responses and negative emotions.

Recently I spoke with one woman who was dealing with a divisive faction of people who were causing trouble in her church.  She was hurt and defensive, and it showed.

Another lady at the conference was distracted during one of the breakout sessions by a few volunteers who were whispering in the back of the room.  She grew frustrated, and within moments she wrote a passive aggressive note to silence them.  She left a bad impression on the volunteers….who were mortified that they had been a distraction.

And, yet another woman shared the indignation she felt as her current church withheld its blessing for her husband to plant a new church….in the same town.  Her emotions were getting the better of her.

Ladies, leadership brings burdens.  It comes with the territory.  But, we must train ourselves to measure our responses in ways that honor God, protect our listeners, and leave ourselves blameless before God.  If we do….if we can actually train ourselves to silence our tongue until we have time to process the moment….then we just might find that our emotions no longer rule the day.

What would our ministries look like if we put this idea into practice?  What would the church (as a whole) look like if its leaders grew in maturity in this area?

So, what is our LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE this week?  Let’s discover a new level of discipline of our emotions as we train our responses to the world around us.  

THAT’S true leadership!

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Giving You Permission

Have you ever prayed long and hard about a decision?  Do you remember what it felt like when you finally heard from the Lord?  
Last week, a friend of mine shared her own story of answered prayer.  She and her husband have been researching church planting for over a year.  Lisa and Dan haven’t taken the notion lightly.  Dan currently serves as the Lead Pastor of a traditional church, and they both understand that planting a new church would require them to move away from family and friends, as well as a change in their financial situation.
Lisa and Dan have taken a few steps toward their dream: they’ve told their church of their intention to leave at some point, they’ve visited the potential city, and they’ve met potential ministry partners (another couple interested in planting a church).  Yet, even with these steps, neither of them have felt the permission to stake a claim to their dream.
Until last Tuesday afternoon.
Lisa and Dan attended the Velocity 2013 conference hoping and longing for God to speak loudly. He did.  Lisa shared the experience with me, and I wanted to share it with you.  Reading it reminded me of my own special moments when God has been loud in my life.  Read it for yourself:
As I sat in the last session of the Pastor’s Wives track during Velocity 2013, I was straining to hear from God regarding whether or not He wanted us to be a part of a plant in South Carolina. Just a year earlier, we divinely connected with another couple at Velocity and began asking God if church planting was the plan, if these were the partners, and if South Carolina was the place.  With so many life variables to consider, my husband and I wanted clear confirmation from God.
As I sat in the session, earnestly praying in my spirit, I wrote these words, “Please speak Lord!”  My sister next to me – our potential partners – leaned in and said , “Amen!”  In the next stroke of my pen God began to speak these words, “I”m giving you permission to enter into a covenant relationship with these people.”
As I listened the Lord speak so clearly in my mind, I wrote down all I heard.
He gave me the vision of a marriage. Then He said this to me, “Be intentional about courting your ministry partners. Build strong relationships with them.  Learn how to dance together.” Then I laughed because, simultaneously, Tricia was speaking those same words in her final comments about a ministry marriage, encouraging them to “learn how to dance together.”
God continued speaking to my spirit saying, “In this partnership, you will need to know each others’ tendencies, attitudes, weaknesses, and strengths.  We need to know how we best work together and minister together.” 

God’s voice was clear…be intentional in building a relationship with these new ministry partners.
He continued…”I am grafting you into a new ministry. I saw a vision of a large hollow stalk with a strong walls and His glory was shining through. Walk straight.  You will see what I have up ahead.  You won’t have to ask, ‘Will we move or will we stay?’  The way will be made for where, how, and when.”
Finally, I know that God was commanding me to prepare myself – spiritually and intellectually and emotionally.  
After God had spoken, I  thanked him then wrote this prayer: Dear God, make us strong for the journey. Protect what you’ve entrusted to our care.
 
On the drive home, I told my husband what God had spoken to me, and he wept.  It was the first time that we both realized that God was “giving us permission” to plant this church. Praise God!
So, Lisa and Dan have an answer.  And their spirits are soaring!  Join me and pray for them as they begin the journey!  And, pay attention in your OWN lives.  God is ready to speak to YOU, too!
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You Might Be A Church Planter’s Wife If…

planters-wifeI’ve recently had several opportunities to hang out with men and women in the throes of church planting.  Our talk often focused on the ways our God-sized task infiltrates every area of our lives, which makes me relive the early days of our own church plant.

I remember packing everything our church owned into an old, repainted U-haul trailer and storing it in a neighbor’s dilapidated barn each week.  I remember getting up at 4:30AM on Sundays so we could unpack that trailer and set up our church environment in Sawnee Primary School.  I remember trying to decide if I should answer my home phone, “Mountain Lake Church” or with a simple, “hello?”  I remember arguing talking with Shawn about whether or not we should count our own family in the attendance numbers.

Good times, good times.  As a matter of fact, these are the “good times” that every church planter faces.  We all walk the same road, after all.  So, today I’m having some fun.  See you have lived the same good times I have.

You Might Be A Church Planter’s Wife If….

You’ve ever invited people to your children’s birthday parties as an evangelistic outreach.

You’ve ever thought of yourself as highly called and grossly under-qualified.

You’ve ever baked cookies, cinnamon rolls or other food items for more than 100 people.

Your kids think of church as their second home.

You always have to make sure the back of your hair looks good because 99% of the church people sit behind you.

Your living room is also the church auditorium.

The church phone rings at your house.

Your life is a sermon illustration.

Your husband’s office is in your home….or is it your home is in your husband’s office?

Your garage holds storage tubs and sound equipment rather than your cars.

The words “set up” and “take down” have become a permanent part of your vocabulary.

You have 5 members: you, your husband, and your three children.

When you stay home with your kids because they are sick, church attendance goes down 40%.

You’ve trained your 7-year-old to operate the music slides during worship.

You don’t want to “make” your kids tithe, but you know that 25% of the offering will come from them tithing their allowance.

Your turn.  What do you do that pegs you as a church planter’s wife?  

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Tried and True Tips for Pastors’ Wives

I’ve been in ministry for 18 years.  That’s long enough to learn the ropes, I think.  Or, at least long enough to learn how to avoid hanging myself with those ropes.  So, in my quest to rescue others from the pitfalls of public life and the dangers of ritualistic religion, I’ve compiled a few tried and true tips that have served me well.  See what you think:

NEVER say ‘nice to meet you’ while shaking hands in the church lobby as you’ve probably already met this person 11 times.

ALWAYS use hand sanitizer after services.  Love is not the only thing being shared when you shake hands with everyone.

ALWAYS take a Sunday off a few times a year.

NEVER act like you have all the answers.

ALWAYS volunteer….but in only ONE place at a time.

NEVER find your identity in what people think about you.  People think you are better or worse than you really are simply based on your role.  Let the One who knows you best tell you who you are.

ALWAYS BE WHO YOU ARE!  Embrace the gifts God gave you, not someone else.

NEVER fear going to counseling. It is a great way to make sure you and the hubs are communicating amid the stress and busyness that comes from leading a church. It is a way for you to receive comfort instead of being the comforter and prevents burnout on ministry and marriage.

NEVER take criticism of the church personally.  Learn to separate yourself from the church so you avoid becoming cynical to the very people God called you to love.

ALWAYS have a thick skin and a soft heart. NEVER get it backward.

NEVER substitute your service to the church for your relationship with God.

ALWAYS keep in mind that not everyone is going to like you, but you’re in pretty good company . . . not everyone liked Jesus either.

NEVER present the illusion of the put-together woman without really BEING one.  Character matters.

NEVER surf Facebook or Twitter when you’re supposed to be reading You Version during worship….unless you’re trying to figure out the name of the person sitting behind you!

NEVER say everything you think.

Do you have something to add?  Feel free to add your own insights in the comments below.  I’d love to hear your tried and true tips, too!

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Velocity 2013 Pastors’ Wives Track Review

Catchy post title, huh?  I know it’s not my most creative work, but today I opted for clarity over catchiness.

Help! I’m The Pastor’s Wife! was the name of a track of breakouts at the Velocity Conference earlier this week, and I was privileged to host it.  Before I tell you some of the great takeaways that I had, let me tell you the greatest value I see in a conference track like this: community.

Certainly there is good info to learn in the main sessions of conferences like this – tons of motivation and inspiration.  And, we are privy to such practical advice and wisdom in the breakouts, smaller classes designed to meet specific needs.  But, nothing beats connecting with other women who share the same up’s and down’s as us…who understand ministry life, right?

To engage in small talk in the hallways…

To exchange stories and ideas…

To make new friends…..

Well, that’s gold for me.  Some of my closest friends in ministry are women that I’ve met for only a moment in settings like this, yet we grew in relationship as we connected via Facebook, Twitter, emailing, and texting.  These women share my life.  They understand what it is to lead and follow.  They understand my desire for God.  They understand what it is to be loved by many but known by few…..no matter what size their church.  They, like me, are privileged to sit on the front row of all God is doing in their church.  They pray.  They laugh.  They share ideas for ministry and parenthood.  For me, community is a HUGE value of attending a conference like Velocity.

This year, I wanted to offer practical help for women who find themselves a little daunted by their role as a Pastor’s wife.  And it certainly can be daunting, can’t it?  So, I invited 3 friends to join me to encourage and equip other women in ministry.  Here are the highlights of my notes:

Trisha Davis, RefineUs Ministries and co-author of Beyond Ordinary, When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough

Trisha spoke on Relational Leadership Principles.  She encouraged us to leverage our relationships – all of them – for God. In other words, to invest into people, love them well, and point them to Christ.  Here are 2 quotes that made me stop and think:

“We oversee people in our conversations.”

Relational Leaders invest strategically.”

Kathy Ferguson Litton, North American Mission Board and Flourish:

Kathy is my partner in ministry and a dear mentor in my life.  She talks, I listen.  Kathy’s message, The Sacred Art of Influence, pinpointed not only the value of a wife’s influence over her husband, but specific positive and negative ways we effect them.  Here are a few of her words:

“My character will help hold up my husband.”

“The training of our emotions is in the discipline of our responses.” (Ponder that one.  It’s deep….and we need it.)

Christine Hoover, author The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope For Her Heart:

Christine is a new friend, and I’m so glad God sent her my way.  She has learned many lessons along her own church planting journey, and she candidly shares them in her book.  Lessons that made me evaluate my own perspective on ministry and life….several times.  She challenged me with this:

“Where the leader goes, so goes the people.”

“Remember, know, and meditate on this: God will be with you.” (We so quickly forget this!)

And, lastly, good ol’ me:

I shared several of the most critical lessons God has taught me about leadership through my journey as a church planter.  Here are two:

“Never substitute your service to the church for your relationship with God.  God wants your love and devotion more than your acts of service.”

“The pastor and his wife must be strong ministry partners AND strong marriage partners.  One role fuels the other: we lead with integrity when our marriage is on solid ground, and our marriage benefits exponentially when we partner together to accomplish whatever task God has given to us.  Don’t grow further apart in one area.  Claim success in both!”

Another day of good food for thought!  I have a few more things to share about Velocity, so stay tuned.  Until then, love and lead well today, my friends!

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