June 15, 2016

Wild and Free in Ministry: An Interview with Jess Connolly (and a Naptime Diaries Giveaway!)

I remember exactly where I was when I "met" Jess Connolly. I was watching my kids run from Virginia to California to Texas on a huge map painted across a school blacktop in northern California, when my phone pinged. We were a few weeks into a sabbatical after five whirlwind years of planting a church, I'd released The Church Planting Wife a few months prior, and seconds before the ping I'd been thanking God for the gifts in my life (energetic kids included). The phone ping was a notice from a friend, who linked to Jess' announcement that she and her husband were going to plant a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I followed the link, wondering who this Jess girl was, and instantly fell in love with Jess and her passion for Jesus and for other women to know Him. 

Three years later, I haven't ever met Jess, but we've communicated a bit online. She was a huge cheerleader for my book, From Good to Grace, and she's just the kind of girl who, through her writing, makes you feel as if you're friends. She's also got a contagious joy that is splashed all across her just released first book, Wild and Free, co-authored with her friend Hayley Morgan. I recently corresponded with Jess about what it means to be "wild" and "free", especially in the context of church planting and ministry. I know you'll find her answers encouraging! And, Jess being Jess, she offered to throw in a $100 credit to her online print store, Naptime Diaries, for one lucky reader, so after reading her wise words, be sure to enter the giveaway below. 

CH: What does it look like for you as a church planting pastor's wife to live "wild" and "free"?

JC: Oh goodness! Man, it would be so, so hard to be a church planter's wife if I didn't feel the call to live wild and free. For us, wild means walking in the God-given identity that we've been given by our Father. So walking wild as a church planter's wife means that I feel boldness and joy in the call He's given me, as well as faith in His ability to equip me for that mission. As my husband's wife, as a leader to our women, as a servant, as a mother. I can look to Him and get my approval from Him and NO ONE else! 

Living free as a planter's wife looks like throwing off expectations or burdens that I need not carry. It looks like believing that God told me His burden is easy and His yoke is light and knowing that if I'm feeling weighed down by "should's", I'm probably listening to everyone else and not Him. It also means that I'm free from shame and condemnation. I can't be found and I can't be accused and I can't be criticized in any way that separates me from the love and grace of my Father. 

I'm wild in that I'm a daughter of the King, set free from darkness to bring others to the marvelous light I've been brought to. And I'm free in knowing I've got miles and miles to go, lots of growth ahead of me, and nothing to prove. 

CH: You speak to the fact that women in our culture live under a heavy burden of expectation. How do you resist any unrealistic expectations set by others or even by yourself so that you can remain free to be who God has asked you to be?

JC: Man, that's a great question. I think one of the best ways we can resist the temptation to live under other people's expectations is by ministering to them. If I feel there are women or men or leaders over me that are putting burdens on me that I know I'm not meant to carry - I try to serve them, love them, pray for them, and help them taste some freedom from that burden. The temptation is to feel angry or frustrated or caged - but I think we get so much further when we just want good for others. 

An example of this would be something like... Let's say there's a mom in your community who out-serves everyone! She takes all the meals, plans all the activities, and you know that subtly - she wants you to do the same. Instead of feeling angry with her or insecure beside her, I thank God for how He's gifted her and I make sure she knows that she can come undone around me. I don't shame her for where she's at, because it could be that she IS living in freedom, but I let her know that I am a safe place. 

I encourage her with the truth that she is already enough. Shoot, I'll give her a copy of Wild and Free. But I won't make her my enemy, because she's not. We're all on the same team. And if I can't love her into stopping putting burdens on me, I'll make it very clear that I'm not going to live under those burdens however politely I can. 

CH: In my relationships with church members, I sometimes find myself mentally wavering between feeling too much for them or not enough for them. In fact, I think my greatest fear is disappointing people. What advice would you give me and others who feel that way?

JC: I would encourage you to picture the Father constantly with you! Which, we know, He is! It's not enough to tell you that they really like you and you're doing a great job! Because the sad truth is - sometimes people do think we're too much and often times they think we're not enough. 

But if our Father is constantly with us, it's such a beautiful thing to picture how HE is responding to us. Is He standing arms crossed, asking us to get our junk together? Does He have pursed lips, frustrated that we just said too much or got too emotional or seemed a little too needy? Even in our sin and actual brokenness, is He ever drawing the line and telling us to just quit! Fix it! Be better! Never. 

So I'd encourage women to forget about how the people around them are acting. Think about how God is responding. Let's put our eyes on Him as the only one who can give us approval. And we already have it, in Christ alone! 

CH: In the book, Hayley says, "I feared discomfort more than I believed in God's power, and it was crippling me spiritually." You also talk about how being "wild" also means being weird or uncomfortable. How have you learned to be at peace with discomfort? 

JC: I think a great question to pause and ask ourselves is - what's the goal here? What's the goal in life? Mission? Relationships? Is it to get to the end in tact and well-liked? Is it to gain all the friends and approval? Or is it to worship God and bring as many people with us as we can on the way? When I think about that every single day - I'm left with the overwhelming sense that I'd rather get to the end a little undone, a little weird, a little uncomfortable than any other way. 

CH: What encouragement would you give a fellow pastor's wife struggling with anxiety regarding her role and influence?

Well, let's be honest. First I'd tell her to buy your book, Christine, and read your blog! I can't think of better resources. Second, I'd tell her to double down on her time with Jesus. To really, really, really seek God and seek His face and worship. Not to necessarily learn more of the Bible - but to start with getting wild and honest with God. I think if we can all commit to being real and honest and intimate with our Father - we're going to be in such a better place for it. He speaks peace better than any advice I could give. He hands out identity and calling and purpose like it's candy. And He points to our influence, giving us yearning and burden and desires to bring other people to Him. 

Let's spend time with Him. 

Grab your copy of Wild and Free now, right after you head over to Instagram to see how you can enter to win a $100 gift card to Naptime Diaries. I love these prints and even have a few (the canvases pictured below) hanging in my home right this very moment. Thank you, Jess, for your generosity!