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“God knows that women can reach women like no one else can. He knows that women can nurture and disciple women in such a way that they will get it. God knows that women can lead women and that they can do it through the local church. Le’ts get back to what God’s intention was in the beginning. There is no better way.”
~~ Jaye Martin, “Women Leading Women”.
For the past several months, I have been sharing my journey of Leadership in Women’s Ministry. It’s a journey that the Lord has walked me through, and I wasn’t ready to share what He taught me until I was a good distance on the other side. Some of the best life lessons are learned not through perfect journeys, but somewhat scarred and marred ones. You see, if we never experience the battles, we will never understand and appreciate the victories. And we won’t have the real life wisdom that comes from being in the trenches, walking out our faith and our calling.
I did a Beth Moore CD study on Leadership a few years ago, and as she was describing in detail what it means to dress ourselves in the Armor of God every day, she so beautifully described the Shield of Faith, which protects us from the fiery darts of the enemy. She said (I’m paraphrasing), “Caesar awarded his soldiers after battle, some with shields full of darts. We don’t want the darts, but the beauty of a shield full of darts is not that you didn’t take a hit–the darts are the point. The beauty of it is we held up our shields.” God protects and preserves us for His good work when we trust Him and hold up our shield of faith.
To recap, here are a few reminders as we continue to walk out our leadership journey together as women!
** Sometimes our God Dreams are derailed, discarded, and delayed. We can sometimes be blindsided by relational issues that can undermine the ministry and take it off course. We need to learn how to navigate strong personalities and develop environments that lead to open, honest communication, and healthy accountability. We must remember that healthy relationships are vital to effective leadership. We must let go of what entangles us and keeps us from running the race God has set before us.
** Sometimes God takes us to the place of Something Else. Usually because He has something else for us to learn. What the Lord had to teach me had to be learned in the Place of Something Else, because the ultimate work He had for me required testing that could not be learned in the Place of Same. When God takes us to the place of Something Else, we must understand that the work He is doing there is on His timetable, and we learn to rest in that peace.
** We can learn much from Jesus’ encounters with women and from the Women of the Resurrection about our role as women who lead in the church.
Women who lead biblically and boldly:
– Can expect to be criticized.
– Are committed to walk, stay, watch, and wait.
– Are entrusted with proclaiming truth and the radical good news of Jesus to a world that desperately needs to hear it.
– Stay true to God’s purpose for their part in the story.
God has given us a message and a mission and we mustn’t relinquish our part in the story! He has charged us with completing our mission and there is no place for fear, or for remaining comfortable and secure in our religious havens. We must be Resurrection Women!
** As women who lead, we will make mistakes. But if we pay attention, adequately prepare ourselves, and plan well, we can avoid making costly ones. Nehemiah gives us such a great example of leadership, and we would do well to study his life and the story of how God led Him to lead the people to rebuild the wall, and to re-introduce God’s Word to the people of Jerusalem once again. In a nutshell, we see that
1) God had a work for Nehemiah to do for the benefit of His people, and Nehemiah followed God.
2) Satan has a plan to thwart the work of the Lord and often uses the influence of powerful and persuasive people to accomplish his plan.
Nehemiah consistently goes to the Lord immediately in each situation. He is not drawn into relational issues and conflicts that would wrongly influence his direction and take him away from God’s task. He made decisions time and again that reinforced his commitment to the work and courageously led the people to rebuild the wall in 52 days!! He did not allow the wrong people to influence his decision making and God prevailed among His people.
As leaders, we must be ready to expect attacks. If we are to be effective in our leadership as women in the church, we must soak ourselves in the Spirit, through prayer and scripture. We must be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power so that we can stand firm. Not because we want to be in charge, but because we have yielded all power of our own to the All Powerful God. I began this blog series with the title, “Leadership, Women’s Ministry, and What I Discovered When I Stopped Being in Charge.” I discovered real freedom, real strength, real beauty, and real purpose! And hey — I’m still learning:) The Lord has so much for us to do on this earth in His name — let’s come together and help one another accomplish His work together!
“Yes Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for You. Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” ~~ Isaiah 26:8
“I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”
~~ The book of Nehemiah, Chapter 6.
In my last post, I made the point that as leaders, we must be ready to expect attacks. And I introduced 2 costly mistakes I made in leadership:
1. Not being adequately prepared for battle, therefore making myself vulnerable to attacks.
2. Allowing myself to be influenced and directed by the wrong people, instead of by God alone.
If we are to be effective in our leadership as women, we must soak ourselves in the Spirit, through prayer and scripture, so that we can withstand the fiery arrows that come flying. And they will come!
Today, I want to wrap up this last point about being influenced by the wrong people. Have you ever been in a position where you knew in your gut that a decision was about to be made, and you had reservations, but because you wanted to “keep the peace”, and appease the strong personalities, you didn’t speak up? Or maybe you have had someone on your leadership team who appears weak in the faith, and to bolster their confidence or help them along, you allow them to influence the direction of the ministry, hoping that it will lead to a strengthening in the faith and a positive fruit-bearing result? But instead, it led down a path that God never intended the ministry to go.
I love the story of Nehemiah and his example of effective leadership as he stepped out in God’s call to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. It’s a fascinating read and there are so many leadership points to be drawn from his story. Nehemiah’s leadership example is hallmarked by these 2 issues that are still prevalent today for those who face leadership challenges:
1) God had a work for Nehemiah to do for the benefit of His people, and Nehemiah followed God.
2) The devil has a plan to thwart the work of the Lord and often uses powerful and persuasive people to accomplish his plan.
In the first chapter of Nehemiah, we read that he is visited by his brother, telling him that “the wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” Nehemiah was greatly saddened by this news, and wept and prayed to God. We know that the king noticed Nehemiah’s saddened countenance and Nehemiah told the king about his desire to go and rebuild the wall, and it says in Nehemiah 2, “and the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.” Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and inspects the devastation and meets with the city officials, and shares with them his vision and call to rebuild the wall, as well as his conversation with the king, that God’s gracious hand was upon him.
They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.”
You see, God had a GOOD WORK to do. But soon we see that there those who were not thrilled with the “Good Work” Nehemiah wanted to lead the people to do. Nehemiah was a bringer-together of the people and we see that his confidence, his support from the king, and his desire to strengthen the people by rebuilding the wall must have seriously intimidated and threatened those in power who were hovering like a black cloud of oppression over the people of Jerusalem. It says that when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of the plan, they scoffed contemptuously. “What are you doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” they asked. We can see they are already twisting and distorting the facts. And so Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gesham conspired to bring down Nehemiah and thwart the work God had called him to do.
Throughout the rebuilding of the wall, we see that these men attempted time after time to discourage, defeat, and distract Nehemiah and the people. They continually mocked them, and then began to threaten with attack. Even so, the people continued working with “enthusiasm”. So they escalated to manipulation and lies, as they tried to trick Nehemiah into meeting with them. I love his response, “But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you? They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination.“
Over and over again, we see these men seek to distract and deter Nehemiah through sending letters filled with lies and rumors, sending messages through people he had once trusted to try and trap him so they could discredit his name. They went to great lengths to plot and even made up a story that the Jews were going to rebel against him, and sent one of his trusted friends with this false message. It must have been so hurtful for him to realize someone he trusted was involved in their scheme. And it would have been so easy for him to believe this person. But it says, “I sensed that God had not given Shemaiah this message … he had been bribed in order to trick me and accuse and intimidate me.” It must have been exhausting for Nehemiah to deal with this threat. It would have been so easy for him to give in, to let his guard down, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to try to play “nice.” But what do we see him do? Throughout the process, we see that Nehemiah immediately goes to the Lord when he is intimidated by these men — and it even mentions a prophetess, Noadiah!
Nehemiah and the people finished the work in 52 days, and the book of the law was read among the people. God prevailed and his enemies were afraid. These men attempted to distract Nehemiah from his purpose. But Nehemiah was wise enough to know this and refused to play their game. He made decisions time and time again that reinforced his commitment to the work of rebuilding the wall, and refused to be drawn into relational issues and conflicts that would wrongly influence his direction, and ultimately by design of the enemy, take him away from God’s task for His kingdom plan.
Our decision-making is affected when we allow ourselves to be influenced by the wrong people. Bill Hybels in his book, “Courageous Leadership”, says, “The local church is the hope of the world because it stewards the only message that can impact a person’s eternal destiny. If we really believe that, how can we not want to put our best decision-making ability to work in the local church body to which God has called us?” He warns us to be careful of faulty belief systems and those who adhere to a belief system other than one founded upon God’s Word. Decisions that are informed by faulty belief systems lead to all kinds of corruption. “What you believe to be true in the core of your being will influence the decisions you make throughout your leadership life.”
What can we learn from Nehemiah? Seek God. Stand strong. Lead courageously and with conviction. Build up people. Pray specifically for guidance at every turn. Follow wholeheartedly. And to keep the big picture in view at all times. God is faithful to finish the work He has called us to do, when we remain faithful to obey His commands!
“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”~~ Ephesians 6:10-11
There are so many lessons in leadership I have learned along the way, and it’s always easy to share the positive, visionary ones. It’s a little tougher to go back and acknowledge the mistakes, but if we want to grow and develop as women who are strong, capable leaders, we must go back and take another look at some of the more painful, hard lessons we had to learn along the way.
The learning curve for women in leadership, in the church, is a steep one in most cases. There are various reasons for this, and that is a topic for another day! Suffice it to say, there are huge challenges for women who lead in the local church, and thankfully, God has given us some great biblical models of women who were strong, pivotal leaders in their time. If we take time to study these women — Deborah, Esther, Mary-Jesus’ mother, and Mary of Bethany, Lydia, Priscilla – and others, we will do well to take a few leadership lessons from the pages of scripture as we read about their lives and how the Lord used them for His purposes.
Today, I want to talk about the 2 most costly mistakes I made in leadership:
1. Not being adequately prepared for the battle, therefore making myself vulnerable to attacks.
2. Allowing myself to be influenced and directed by the wrong people, instead of by God alone.
Today, I’m only going to address the first point:
As leaders we must be ready to EXPECT ATTACKS! Beth Moore says in “Praying God’s Word”, that the “enemy is filled with fury because he knows his time is short. Scripture intimates that much of Satan’s fury will be directed specifically toward Christians as the clock ticks closer toward Christ’s return.” And those who step out to lead are especially in the crossheirs of Satan’s weapons.
Had I fully grasped or anticipated the depth of Satan’s hatred and schemes, I would have spent the majority of my energy and time building up my spiritual and mental strength. Nehemiah gives us so many great examples and word pictures as he set about to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. First of all, before he ever began the project, he sought the Lord — “For days, I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Oh Lord, listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you”. (Neh. 1:3-5). And as he began the project, and enlisted the help of the people, he encountered opposition. “But when Sanballat and Tobiah … heard that the work was going ahead and the gaps in the wall were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. BUT — we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.” (Neh. 4:7-9)
In Ephesians 6:10-18, we see Paul’s list of spiritual armor. Only one of these is an offensive weapon, and it’s the Sword of the Spirit, clearly meaning the Word of God. Beth Moore says, “I am utterly convinced that the two major weapons with divine power in our warfare are the Word of God and Spirit-empowered prayer.” This passage in Ephesians implores us to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” He begins to list the defensive weapons, and comes to this one: “In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.”
I have read commentaries on this, and the word picture here is one of a wooden shield. If a fiery arrow hits a wooden shield, it would immediately be set afire and useless. But prior to battle, the soldiers soaked the wooden shields in water. They prepared their weapons to extinguish the flames of the arrow as it hit the water-soaked shield. I like to think of this as spending so much time in prayer, that our lives are completely soaked in the Spirit, and we can withstand the fiery arrows. Confession: When I was in a leadership position several years ago, I failed to spend the majority of my time and energy as a leader on my knees before the Lord, and fiery arrows came flying. I was vulnerable to the attacks because alas, I hadn’t soaked my shield–oops! The devil gained a victory. But the beautiful thing about this war is that it’s already won and we have a Redeemer who can make all things work together for His glory, to those who He has called.
If we are to be effective in our leadership as women, we must completely grasp and understand the fact that we are entering a war. And wars are made up of battles. And the only strategy for winning these battles is being adequately prepared in our defensive weapons and ready to strike the enemy defeating blows with our offensive weapons. Had I not failed to see this clearly, and to prepare both myself, and my team, I could have avoided this costly mistake. Thankfully, the Lord does not forsake His own, and He is faithful to complete the work He has called us to do, and His hand never leaves our side! Next week, we’ll look at how to make sure we are surrounding ourselves with a “yes” team — people who say “yes” to God and not to their own agenda.
As Women of the Resurrection, we must be true to our part in the story: “… And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead … remember what I have told you. Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers … ” the account of Matthew.
I have spent the last few weeks reading along with the IF: Equip Easter study passages. Along the way I have been particularly impressed to note the women in the story. The women who followed Jesus at a time when it was certainly unconventional, if not heretical, for to be included in the company or under the teaching of a religious leader, a man designated as “Rabbi”. But oh how this Rabbi turned everything around!
“When referring to the earliest followers of Jesus, the Gospel writers often speak of two groups of disciples: the Twelve and the Women. The Twelve refer to the twelve Jewish men chosen by Jesus to be his closest companions and first apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Women refer to an unspecified number of female disciples who also followed Jesus, welcoming him into their homes, financing his ministry, and often teaching the Twelve through their acts of faithfulness and love. Just as Jesus predicted, most of the Twelve abandoned him at his death (John 16:32). But the women remained by his side—through his death, burial, and resurrection.” ~~ Rachel Held Evans.
Among the stories of women sprinkled throughout the pages of the Bible, it is in the radical account of the Resurrection that we see how Jesus valued women in His ultimate redemption story. And we can find some notable nuggets of biblical leadership principles for women.
1. Women who lead biblically and boldly can expect to be criticized — especially by people who misunderstand our motives and devotion. It comes with the territory. However, we cannot let the criticism of others dissuade us from doing what the Lord has impressed upon us to do in His name and for His glory. Notice the woman who anointed Jesus with precious oil, pouring out an alabaster jar, and demonstrating through this ceremonial act of worship her devotion and perhaps acknowledgement of Jesus’ coming death. Jesus says of this woman, after the others condemn this act, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached … this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” Mark 14. Jesus upheld and defended this woman and her bold act of devotion.
2. Women who lead biblically are committed to walk, stay, watch, and wait. All the gospels consistently mention specific women, and others who remain nameless, but who had been following Jesus throughout his ministry. Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Joseph, Salome, mother of James and John, (a.k.a. as “the sons of Zebedee”), and Joanna, a Jewish woman of means, are all mentioned in varying gospel accounts of women who stuck with Jesus. They had walked along with Jesus and heard His teaching, they stayed and watched as the tomb was covered. They went out after Sabbath was over and purchased burial spices so he would be properly anointed for burial. They were always thinking about how to serve this Savior — this man — who had revolutionized their lives. Their hearts never left Him and while they waited, their devotion never wavered. It is glaringly obvious that the men are not mentioned in these scenes, and we trust it is because they were afraid for their lives. Women who lead must be ready to walk, to stay, to watch, and to wait. Yes. It was Friday. Then Saturday. But SUNDAY CHANGED EVERYTHING!
3. Women who lead biblically are entrusted with proclaiming truth and the radical good news of Jesus’ victory over death to a world that desperately needs to hear it! The redeeming of Eve and her daughters has finally come. “Far from being easily deceived, women were the first to make the connection between Christ’s teachings from Scripture and his resurrection, and the first to believe these teachings when they mattered the most. That Christ ushered in this new era of life and liberation in the presence of women, and that he sent them out as the first witnesses of the complete gospel story, is perhaps the boldest, most overt affirmation of their equality in his kingdom that Jesus ever delivered.” ~~ Rachel Held Evans. The beloved disciple John records this account: “Mary!” Jesus said, “… go find my brothers and tell them … Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I Have Seen the Lord!” Then she gave them His message.” Jesus calls us by name, he gives us a task, and he charges us to complete the task.
4. Women who lead biblically and boldly stay true to God’s purpose for their part in the story. What if these women had stayed afraid? Had cowered and hid out of fear? Had kept the story to themselves? What if they hadn’t done exactly what Jesus told them to do? Funny thing is, they did exactly what Jesus told them to do, and no one believed them!! “And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead. The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with GREAT JOY and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And AS THEY WENT, Jesus met them and greeted them. They ran to him and worshiped him. Jesus said, “GO. Tell my brothers … “ Matthew 28. Mark and Luke both give accounts of the women telling the disciples exactly what Jesus told them to, and they didn’t believe them. “But when she told the disciples Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.” “The story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.” But guess what. The women didn’t let that keep them from obeying their Savior and following through on the mission He had specifically given them to do. They did it anyway. They didn’t let it sway them from their conviction and belief.
Like Mary, Salome, Joanna, and the women who followed wholeheartedly after Christ, we can expect to encounter criticism. We must be committed to walk, to stay, to watch, and to wait. We must receive the entrusting of His message of Good News and redemption and proclaim it boldly. And we mustn’t relinquish our part in the story. Jesus calls us by name. He gives us a mission and a message. And He has charged us with completing our mission. It doesn’t matter who believes us or not — there is no place for fear — for remaining comfortable and secure in our religious havens. Yes — it really is up to us to change the world!! As did the Marys, Joanna, Salome, and all the other women who radically lived out their part in the story, let us stand beside and challenge one another dear sisters, to live as Resurrection Women!!
“Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” ~~ (Hebrews 6:15, 17)
So there has been a span of about 4 weeks since my last post, which is indicative of God saying to me once again, “wait, my child.” Wait – for His words instead of my own. If I had stayed on the blog post timeline I had laid out myself, this post would most likely have a slightly different focus. You see, in the waiting for His prompting, He has brought about the THING He has been doing when I first went to the “Place of Something Else.”
At first, we don’t really want to go to the Place of Something Else because it’s not familiar. It usually involves a lot of being alone, isolated, apart from what has been our normal routine, both relationally and spiritually. This is especially foreign to those of us who thrive on people, relationships, and leading. It is so opposite from our wiring that we find ourselves fighting it, and saying, “God, you can’t possibly be taking me here!” It can often lead us to a place of desperation, which is really not where we like to be — we in our oh-so-comfortable-church-girl-life. You see, what the Lord had to teach me had to be learned in the Place of Something Else, because the ultimate work He had for me required testing that could not be learned in the Place of Same. A gifted speaker I recently heard shared about her journey in going through a wilderness time – a time apart – and I was reminded that when the Lord takes us to these places, it’s because He wants us to go deeper with Him, and He knows we will go there. And when we go there, what deep and hidden treasure we find. What a wonderful work of refining, of preparing, of solidifying, of bringing about the Thing He has set in front of us.
The Place of Something Else also clarified and strengthened my perception of who God is to me and that He is who He says He is in my real life. He is the Guardian of my heart, the Lifter of my head, and the Keeper of His promises to me. I will be honest, during this time of being in the Place of Something Else, I felt incredibly isolated, I was hurt by friends I felt had betrayed me, I didn’t understand why these circumstances had come about, and all I knew to do was pray, cry out in desperation, soak in His word and let Him bind up my wounds. A beautiful thing that happened over the course of time, was that He brought women into my life who had been through similar circumstances, and we were able to share together what this Place of Something Else feels like, because not every one gets to go there, you see. As sort of a reminder of this treasure, I have kept a stack of writings, devotionals, sermon notes, a couple of individual bible studies I did on my own, and a copy of Streams in the Desert that truly was like a stream of life in my desert. These were the faithful promises I would read over and over, as I walked with God in this time.
When God takes us to the Place of Something Else, we must understand that the work He is doing there is on His timetable, and we learn to rest in that peace. We must learn to wait on and count on His promises. It can be 2 years, 4 years, 6 years, or 10 or 20 years. But sister, He will act on His Promises, and when He is ready, we can know that in His time, in His way, He will accomplish what He is doing. The Place of Something Else is God’s ultimate training ground for leaders who are willing to go with God on the adventure of seeing seeing our faith truly tested, fortified, and refined!
A few weeks ago, I shared the first in a series on Women’s Ministry & Leadership and what God has taught me on this journey. I left you with a scenario that looked as though it was right out of the pages of a women’s ministry handbook — but in retrospect, it was the turning point for how God began to get this “church girl’s” attention. At this point, the direction of the ministry was just wishful thinking on my part. As a “people-pleaser”, and one who wants everyone to get along, up to this point as a leader, I had a natural tendency to avoid conflict. Which is true of most people-pleasing leadership personalities. Am I right?! As a people-pleaser, what I didn’t understand at the time, was how to navigate strong personalities and an environment that cultivated open, honest communication, and healthy accountability. And I can pinpoint the “red flags” that I ignored, out of the need to feel like I was a team player, and didn’t want to come across as bossy, because Lord knows some women just don’t like to be bossed … or led. Am I speaking some truth ladies? If I had followed God’s prompting with regard to these red flags, I have no doubt that I would have avoided the relational issues that cropped up over time.
Suffice it to say, that after having led in women’s ministry for over 10 years, circumstances changed, and I found myself in a place of feeling blindsided by conflict, and the ministry undermined. One of the most difficult things I have ever done was step out of the place of leadership, as I felt the environment was not a healthy one in which to remain. The one thing I clearly remember telling my team, was that this was not my ministry — it was God’s ministry — and the future of the ministry belonged to Him.
Some practical things I wish I had understood better: Healthy relationships are vital to effective leadership. In her book “Leadership Essentials for Women”, author Linda Clark says this: “Relationship means “the ability to relate”, to have mutual exchanges. It implies giving and receiving, initiative and respectful distance, mutuality and cooperation. Relationsip has to do with “one-anothering”. Clark continues: “Relationships do not always develop in healthy and mutually satisfying directions. When pain, fear, or distrust dominate, the relationship needs to be evaluated and corrective measures implemented.” She lists some behaviors to watch for that can hinder healthy relationships of a leadership team: “unethical, illegal, manipulative, self-serving, malicious, turf-protecting, misuse of power, apathetic, retaliatory, toxic, etc.”
So, what did I discover after all this? I discovered that letting go of what has entangled us, frees us to be who God has destined us to be. To run His race. I began the journey to what I began to call “the place of something else.” I discovered God’s peace, His presence, and His protection. “All these many people who have had faith in God are around us like a cloud. Let us put every thing out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should. Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us. Let us keep looking to Jesus. Our faith comes from Him and He is the One Who makes it perfect.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLV)