October 6, 2015

From Generalist to Specialist: What to Do When You're Doing it All

Prior to planting, my husband served on a large church staff where his roles and responsibilities were clearly defined. To support him and to serve in our church, I simply helped in those areas as my time and gifts allowed, and I enjoyed the benefit of being able to drop my kids in the church nursery while I did so.

Then we moved several states away to plant a church in our living room. The nursery was nonexistent, unless I took my children--the only children in our church for the first year--into a separate room to play. This was inevitably necessary in order to keep them from strumming the guitar along with our worship leader or drooling on my husband while he was teaching.
I’d gone into our church plant with excitement, my head and heart full of plans of how I envisioned myself serving in our church and community. The reality, I realized almost immediately, was that church planting would require me to be a generalist—to do whatever was needed—for the foreseeable future. My grand plans had to be set aside until we added more hands and skills, allowing me to evolve from a generalist into a specialist.

All church planting wives start as generalists. We are children’s ministry coordinators, counselors, graphic designers, web managers, worship leaders, hostesses, and the primary sounding board for the church planter—sometimes all on the same Sunday, with kids in tow. Multiply this work times years of church planting, and it can make for one exhausted woman. I know, because I was one.

In those years, I learned a few things about how to navigate the demands of church planting, specifically how to move from generalist to specialist, or rather how I released ministry areas that enabled me to serve according to my passions and spiritual gifts.

Read the rest of this post, including all my practical tips on moving from a generalist to a specialist, at the NEW church planting website, Newchurches.com. I'll be writing monthly on the site, giving voice to the church planting wife's perspective. You'll want to get your church planter hubby in on it too, because they have a ton of resources available, including podcasts, freebies, and office hours with Ed Stetzer and others. Super helpful! 

September 30, 2015

Juggling Family, Work, and Ministry

If we're committed to living a ministry-centered life, whether we're in vocational ministry or not, it's essential that we know how to juggle different roles and responsibilities. Many people call this "balance", but I don't think there is such a thing as balance, as if each role and responsibility we have will get equal time and attention at any point and time. I prefer to think of it as juggling: something gets my attention at this time and then something else gets my attention at another time. It's what's getting my attention in all that juggling that matters.
We're limited people, so when we consider how to make family, work, and ministry intersect in a God-honoring way, we must remember that we simply can't take advantage of every opportunity and every relationship presented to us. We say "yes" to some things--adding them to our juggling act--and we say "no" to other things, and this is all well and good, but the question I am often asked is how we know the difference and how we manage what we're juggling.

First, we have to know our priorities.
With life coming at us so fast, we often have to make split second decisions about what we will and won't give our time and attention. It's so helpful to know our God-given priorities, because our priorities help us sift and sort fairly quickly. Here are some questions that I use that help me pinpoint my priorities:

What has God given you? (roles, responsibilities)
Who has God given you? (relationships)
What has He asked you to do? (serve where you live in the context He's placed you)
Who are the "priority people" in your life? (discipling and investing in others)
What spiritual gifts has He given you to use?
How does He want you to use them? (church involvement)
What has God commanded you that takes time? (observe the Sabbath, meditate on His Word)

These questions have been effective in helping me streamline and simplify, because I'm prone to think I'm limitless in time, energy, and relational capacity. I find that the overarching priorities tend to stay the same from season to season, but the specifics of how I manage or pursue these priorities changes quite often. For example, as my boys get older, they need different things from me compared to when they were toddlers. They will always be high priority relationships, but how I mother them and help them changes over time. I am constantly adjusting how I manage my priorities, but my priorities don't change much.

It's important to prayerfully evaluate and know our priorities because they will be assailed from the outside--others will present us with great opportunities--and also assailed from the inside--we're prone to self-critical thoughts or comparing ourselves with the good things others are doing. It's easier to recognize that I'm being swayed by outside and inside voices when I have foundational priorities to which I can point back.

Second, we must evaluate if our schedule reflects these priorities.
We may hold priorities in our heart, but unless we act upon them they really aren't our priorities. This is where time comes in. If we want to honor God through our priorities, we have to be intentional with our schedule.

I've found it helpful to think of my typical day in terms of chunks. It's my goal that these chunks reflect the priorities God has given me. They also help when an opportunity is presented to me, because I can immediately see where that opportunity fits within my priorities, or if it is a good opportunity but probably not something God is asking of me.

For example, my typical days looks like this:

  • Early mornings: time in the Word and prayer, checking in with my husband about how we can be praying for one another
  • Mornings: kids up and the morning rush to get them to school
  • Mid-mornings: a rushed combination of work (writing and ministry), returning emails, laundry, and exercise
  • After lunch: meet up with women for coffee (ministry and friendship)
  • Afternoons: homework, time with my children, making dinner
  • Evenings: dinner with my family, time with my husband, 1-3 nights a week are ministry related activities
  • Weekly: Sabbath
That is what works for me. You may be a homeschooling mom or you may work full time or you may live in a different culture from mine where social relationships happen differently, so your chunks will look different, but the point is to consider how our schedule reflects our priorities and adjust accordingly.

One more thing: I have carved out Sunday afternoons as time to go for a walk with women in my church. This has helped me with juggling relational opportunities and has allowed me to get to know women that work full-time outside the home. 

Third, learn to say an enthusiastic "yes" as well as a grateful but unapologetic "no". 

I have to tell myself all the time that it's OK to say no. And it is! God has made us all limited people. He doesn't intend for us to do everything, only what He's given us. That doesn't mean He won't stretch us beyond what we think we can handle. That doesn't mean we're in control of our schedules and our priorities and our "yes" and our "no" belong to us alone. He will certainly put us in situations that require trust and dependence upon Him. He will sometimes ask for an enthusiastic "yes" regarding something we don't necessarily want to do. He will ask us to be faithful with the enthusiastic "yes" we've given. But He is not a taskmaster. He does not give a yoke that's too heavy and ask us to carry it all on our own.

Finally, some practical tips:

  • Don't buy a ton of stuff that you have to organize and maintain. Live simply.
  • Plan ahead. Plan a menu for the week. Have certain days you do laundry and go to the grocery store. 
  • Prepare simple, casual meals when guests come for dinner. (Find more hospitality tips here.)
  • Don't clean before people come over. Straighten. They're not going to look at your baseboards.
  • Keep paper products stocked in your house for entertaining.
  • Determine a gift you'll give at all baby and wedding showers. I give The Jesus Storybook Bible at baby showers (that I buy in bulk and when it's on sale) and a cookbook of my favorite recipes at wedding showers. 
  • Have a time each week where you and your husband sit down and look at the calendar. Look at the coming week and also the weeks ahead, not just reactively but proactively. Reactive: What do we have to do to get through this week? Proactive: Who are we going to invite over? When are we spending time with friends? What special time might we plan with our children?
  • Write letters to people. I learned this from my husband. If you are encouraged by someone at your church, write them a letter and let them know. Or if someone is hurting and you're praying for them, write them a letter and let them know. This is a easy way to touch base with people. 
  • Teach your children to help with chores around the house. Even the youngest child can put their own laundry away or help take out the trash.
  • Deal with mail and papers as soon as they come into the house. Pay the bill immediately. Sign the paper immediately and put it back in the backpack.
  • Always remember the two main things: Love God and love people. 
Now, it's your turn. What tips would you add about juggling family, work, and ministry? What questions do you have for me? I will be answering your questions in a future blog post.

September 23, 2015

When You're Weak and Needy

I am currently reading through the Psalms and my eye inevitably catches on any reference to God as our refuge, dwelling place, or shield. I love that imagery of God--something about it makes my heart sit down and relax, something about it helps me wrap my mind around the nature and character of God and the way He relates to me. He is strong. Safe. Secure. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.
But that imagery also says something about me. If He is a refuge, then I am considered by God to be a refugee seeking safe harbor, a traveler longing for a resting place, a weak warrior needing strong protection. He doesn't fault me these things; these are not characteristics to overcome or that I'm expected to outgrow. This imagery simply tells me who God is and who I am in relation to Him.

Although I revel in this imagery of who God is, I look at my life and see a disconnect. I certainly recognize that I seek safe harbor, long for rest, and have frail arms in battle. However, the disconnect is this: When I recognize my need, I don't often call upon God to be my refuge. 

I can tell you what I do instead.
I think about my need or concern, sometimes for hours.
I worry.
I call my husband at work or talk with him about it on the couch after the kids are in bed.
I write out my thoughts, because I don't know what I think until I write.
I mull it over with friends. Sometimes. More typically, I wait for them to ask the right questions.
I think about what I wish people knew regarding my need or concern.
I look for ways to meet my own need: a nap, a release of some task, a night out with friends.
I try to ignore my need, especially if it makes me feel weak.
I fill my calendar so I don't have to stop and think about it.

And then? After all that? There are times when I get frustrated with God, because I can't see how He's coming to my aid. I wonder if He cares about me, or if instead He's sent me out to do His bidding and  has forgotten that I am weak and needy.

The Psalms have reminded me of a simple and obvious truth: if God is my refuge and I am a refugee, I actually am to seek refuge in Him. My typical response has me standing out on my own or depending on other poor refugees, when all along I am invited to run and seek cover, comfort, and care in the one Strong Tower, who gives liberally and without reproach.

We need only to ask for help.
We need only to ask Him to meet our needs.
We need only to cast our cares upon Him.

For He is my willing refuge. And He is yours as well.

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper He amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.

September 15, 2015

What God Celebrates In Us

Anytime God has invited me into His work, He has asked me only for faithful obedience. 

I have, however, typically added stipulations and expectations onto those invitations. Some of those stipulations and expectations could be characterized as genuine anticipation of what God might do. My heart was hopeful, but somewhere along the way, I started imagining exactly what I'd hoped He might do. Sweet and simple faith then turned into something more subtly sinister. He'd asked me to be faithful and, in my movement forward, I'd wanted to tell Him precisely what that faithfulness should look like and precisely what should result from it.
When God gave me children, He invited me into faithful parenting. Follow Me as this little one follows you, He'd said. Before the first child was even free from the womb, I'd already encased him in my expectations of who he'd be, of what gift I wanted God to give. The little boy came and the reality of him was so different than my expectations. When I turned my questions toward God, He seemed to say, "I simply asked for your faithfulness with this little one."

When God called us to plant a church, He offered me an invitation into faithful service. I responded with obedience but also a clear and detailed plan of what would result from my obedience. My husband and I had dreams and all the dreams were big, God-sized, God-honoring dreams. What could be wrong with that? The dreams, however, were not what God had originally asked from me. He had asked only for my faithfulness.

God asks for our faithfulness, but we don't get to choose the shape our faithfulness takes. 

We simply say "yes" and God takes that "yes" and makes what He wants with it, both for our good and for His glory. If we attach expectations--what shape our faithfulness should take--or demand certain results or fruit from our "yes", we will be consistently frustrated and angry, and we will consistently miss the joy of simple obedience.

When I tried to choose the shape of my faithfulness in parenting, I felt like a failure. In church planting, my dreams created a gnawing thought that clung tightly to me: God has somehow let me down. Or perhaps I've let Him down and need to try harder. I couldn't see obedience as the gift and the freedom that it is, the freedom that leaves the shape-making up to our sovereign God.

Sometimes we just have to go back to the beginning, to the initial invitation. In every instance when God invites us into His work, there aren't stipulations and there aren't guarantees, aside from the most important guarantee: that He'll never leave us. We must remember what pleases God. It's faith--faith that leads to simple obedience.

When we return to the invitation, it's easier to see that we're often harder on ourselves than God is. 

My friend teared up recently as she told me that she didn't understand why God hadn't moved in a certain way, a way that is right and good and dear to His Father-heart. She was willing, oh-so-willing, to serve Him sacrificially and, like Abraham with Isaac, God had led her so far and then not required the final act. But, I said, you responded with faithful obedience. It seems that's all God is asking for right now. And you've done it! His heart is so happy.

I see myself in her: wanting to do everything possible to serve and honor the Lord, wanting to serve the least of these. I don't think it's true of her, but it's true of me: I also want my faith to be visible to others. Why is it that I want results to validate my faith? Why is that I want my faith to be seen and celebrated by others, but I'm not quick to listen for the sweet celebration of my God?

That's what it comes down to for me, because faith isn't always tangible in its outcome. Sometimes it's an unseen "yes", a BIG unseen "yes", and God doesn't in the end act as we thought He would. Sometimes what others see in our outward circumstances doesn't match that unseen "yes". However, every unseen "yes" is always, ALWAYS seen--and celebrated--by the God who asked for it. 

September 8, 2015

When You're Running for Cover

I'm not sure who said it, but I heard once that becoming a parent is like installing a bowling alley in your head. Now, I like bowling alleys as much as the next girl, but they are pretty loud places that are not the most ideal for having a conversation or even a salient thought. They're all strobe lights and loud bangs and funky smells and yelling.

I spent my summer in the bowling alley, not the real one but the parenting one. It was loud and smelly--I do have boys after all--but it was also great fun. We biked, we swam, we traveled, we read; we came, we saw, we conquered shoelace tying.

I enjoy my boys (minus the armpit farting), but I also enjoy having a full and uninterrupted thought, i.e. sending them off to school. As I'm writing this, they are in their third day of the new school year, which means here I am, dear readers! No more reposting (for those of you who even noticed, because who reads blogs in the summer anyway?). I hope, as my brain powers back up, that I will remember how to think and remember how to write, because I've missed you.

And I have so much to tell you.

One thing is that I'm writing a new book. Well at least I will be. So far I've written a blank screen. Bowling alley, remember? But yeah, that's fun news. I'll tell you all about it at some point.

The second thing I want to tell you is what I've been learning in the midst of my bowling alley life this summer.

It's been a strange, unexpected season--weightier than summer is supposed to feel. Summer promises carefree days, late nights, vacations, and lazy pool hours. Summer feels like childhood.

But this summer felt like responsible adulthood for me. I carried a lot of things internally and externally, and I must say that it was a honor to do so. I gladly carried responsibility. However, the dissonance of such heavy weight in summer left me feeling fragile, turned upside down, and exposed.
As we've barreled into fall, I haven't felt ready for it. I'm reaching back for summer, I suppose. What is really happening, as God is showing me, is that I'm running for cover.

In most arenas of my life, I am usually one of the coverers--the listening ear, the word of truth or encouragement, the pray-er. All gladly so. I continue to be the coverer while at the same time seeking cover. Perhaps that's why I'm feeling fragile, turned upside down, and exposed. I'm running for cover because I'm leading and responsible for things, but I also feel weak and needy, and it's difficult to give of myself when I feel as if the tears or the anger or the weariness might spring to the surface at any moment.

The reality is that I am always weak and needy, but it's these weighty seasons that force me to acknowledge my state. They push me to find cover in the Lord rather than despairing or blaming or isolating myself. In all of this, God is showing me that my fleshly tendency is to protect myself in my fragility, to put a impenetrable wall around my heart to keep from being exposed--whether to the Lord or to other people. This self-defense cannot remain.

The words of Psalm 5:10-11 are being written all over my heart and my life:
But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You.
For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor You will surround him as with a shield.

He is my defense, my wall, my shield. If I try to be these things to myself, it's disastrous, but if I allow Him to be my defender, I can expose my heart to others and I can pour myself out for others, knowing that He is carefully nurturing me and helping me in whatever state I'm in. I can take joy knowing that I'm safe even in the midst of difficulty and weighty things.

I read those words and my mind assents to them, but it's been difficult for me to relax my fisted hands and release my fears and worries. My greatest fear is that I won't be cared for, that God will throw me out into the world and ask me to care for others, but that He won't care for me.  I'm struggling to release my defensive walls and trust Him.

Oh, how I hate being weak. I hate being needy. I have to believe, however, that God meant what He said about His power being displayed in my weakness. Where else am I going to go in my fragility? I have no where else to go. I can't go to my own stores for strength; I'm weak even in protecting and defending myself.

And so I look to Him, asking for His favorable shield and asking for His tangible care in all my neediness. I believe; help my unbelief.

September 3, 2015

What To Do When You're New to a Church

My favorite way to serve in our church is to greet visitors and help new people get connected into relationships and into ministry areas where they can use their spiritual gifts. Every week, without fail, I'm standing at the church entrance ready to pounce on unsuspecting newbies and overwhelm them with love and information.
Doing this for seven years has given me a unique perspective on the church and on people. Far above anything else, I've learned what an opportunity we have to connect with people simply by thinking like a visitor, noticing them, helping them, and welcoming them into the church. That's why I recently shared my friend's story of being new and exhorted the Church to consider our visitors.

But I also now have a unique perspective on how people approach visiting churches and how they approaching connecting within them. I've seen the various ways people approach being new, and I can usually tell on their second or third visit who will be the most "successful" at connecting within the church and who will most likely struggle.

The gist of it is this: the people who tend to struggle to connect are those who are consistently hesitant to reach out for the hands that are extended to them. I used to get so discouraged about those who remained on the fringe or who gave up coming no matter what we did to include them and reach out to them, but now I recognize that, at some point, they have to reach back and there is nothing we can do to make them reach back. I do think it is the church's primarily responsibility to reach first; a visitor should not feel the primary weight of figuring out how to connect. But if the new one repeatedly rebuffs the hands that come toward them, many times even the friendliest of people will give them "space" until they're ready to jump in. That "space" is what new people can experience as unfriendliness or being unwanted.

Perhaps you're the "new one" right now--you're brand new to a church or you're looking for one because you've moved. As a person who often interacts with newbies, here are some encouragements I would offer you:

Ask Questions
I love it when first time visitors ask me, "What are the main things I should know about your church?" or "How can I get involved here?" Every church is unique and it may help tremendously to ask questions, especially in regard to connecting: "What is the primary way I can get to know others?" Most churches have a process or a path of involvement that will, first, introduce their basic beliefs and values and, second, offer you ways to commit to membership, connect with others, and serve. Make an informed choice before committing to a church; once you're fully "in" you'll be more likely to make the effort of reaching back.

Don't try to short-circuit the process.
When you've decided on a church, go with the process or path that you've discovered through the good questions you've asked. I see people struggle when they try to short-circuit the process or sometimes even try to alter the process to match the church they came from. If you're committing to a church, it will be far easier and smoother to engage the process for connecting that's already in place. And by the way, thinking a church will be perfect and meet all your needs without any effort on your part is going to severely short-circuit the process.

Do things that make you feel uncomfortable.
There are easy ways you can reach back but almost all of them, when you're new, are going to feel somewhat uncomfortable. Approach people you don't know and strike up conversation, greet someone who is alone (and maybe new themselves), respond warmly to others when they approach you, ask questions rather than letting everyone ask you all the questions, and actually go to an event listed on the church bulletin so you can meet people. As I always say, push through the awkward, because it's worth it in the end.

Make yourself available.
Don't show up late and bolt the second church or Bible study is over. No one can talk to you if you do that. And, whether it's intended or not, it gives off a signal that you're not interested in talking.

Resist the urge to quit.
Being new takes so much mental and emotional energy. And connecting takes time. So don't give up. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep praying for friends and opportunities to use your spiritual gifts. Make the sacrifices needed to be at small group with your young kids. Don't allow yourself to quit going to Bible study even though you feel uncomfortable. Don't close off from others.

And if no one is reaching toward you, take it upon yourself to reach out first. Be what you want others to be toward you. I guarantee that everyone is looking for the same thing you are: to be loved.

September 1, 2015

The Importance of Having an Eye for Those Who Are New

It's that time of year! Many people have transitioned to new places and they are popping in to visit churches in their new cities. As that is happening in our city and our church, I continue to think back to the post below. I hope it is an encouragement to you as you seek to welcome others.

In the 14 years we've been married, my husband and I have only searched for a church home one time. It was during our seminary years, when we were first married and he had not yet become a pastor. After that season, he was hired by a church and then, 8 years later, we started one, so we've experienced church a little differently than most. 

But I will never forget being a visitor and, honestly, the experience has shaped almost everything I do in our current church. 
As a visitor, I remember being nervous and uncertain, but mostly I remember being eager--eager to find our "family", make friends, hear the Word preached clearly and powerfully, eager to worship, and eager to belong. When we weren't spoken to Sunday after Sunday, our eagerness deflated quickly. It still makes me feel uncertain when I think about it. 

Until you are new, until you're a visitor, it's difficult to understand what it's like and to put yourself in a visitor's shoes at your churchbut it's so important to try. A warm, welcome, and helpful environment is one of the most essential ingredients for a person to become a follower of Christ and grow and connect within the church.

A sweet friend of mine just moved away to a different state this past summer. She wrote and told me of the loneliness and uncertainty she's feeling, especially in her and her family's efforts to connect to a local church. This is a woman who loves the Lord and, while mothering young children, sacrificially served in our church. She is eager not only to connect but to serve where God has taken her. She wrote what she wished others could see, which I'm sharing with her permission:

"It is the first day of Bible study. I am in a new town and have had a hard time making new friends. I have looked forward to today, to an opportunity to meet some sisters in Christ, hoping to find My People in the midst of a storm. Please make me feel welcome. 

I come to the steps of the church. I have a child on each side, and a stroller. You all say hello, then watch as I try to lift the stroller up the stairs. Please help me. 

I am in a new place. I don’t know where to go and don’t see any signs for where to bring my children. Please direct me. 

After dropping off my children, I meekly walk back toward the main entrance. I don’t see any signs directing me where to go. Good! There are some moms behind me! I will wait for them, smile, and ask if I can go with them.  I try to make eye contact. They continue with their laughter and conversation and walk around me. Please just say hello. 

I finally find the sanctuary, yet I don’t feel safe. I see all these sisters in Christ. But they all seem to know each other, and are not interested--or at least don’t seem to be interested--in making a new friend. Please help me find a place. 

I bow my head and pray. I ask the Lord for the strength to get through the morning, and that I will now respond to others the way I wish someone had responded to me. Please, Lord, let me feel your presence when I feel so alone.  Let me find my place at Your feet.

I see a friend, the one person who has reached out. She smiles and makes room. Thank you for being like Christ and showing love."

My sweet friend is in a time of transition, as are many people at the start of this new school year. We will all more than likely encounter someone new in our churches and our neighborhoods this very week. Let's ask God to give us eyes to see the outsider, the new person, the lonely. Let's push through the awkward and interact with them. Something as simple as a helping hand or a warm welcome can show them the love of Christ and invite them into a community of believers. We may even have the opportunity to introduce them to Christ Himself.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...