To the Leaders of Just a Few

If you are in ministry, you will inevitably be asked the question "So, how big is your church?"  It may come in another form, a more subtle one, like, "How many people does your ministry reach out to?" But it's really the same; people want to know how big your organization is. In the world's eyes, that is what equals success.

For a long time my own church was on the smaller-end, ministering to about 150 each weekend.  When I replied with that answer, I often felt like people felt sorry for us.  Our staff would go to large church conferences and sometimes I would leave feeling discouraged, like maybe we missed something somewhere.  Yet I knew that we were being effective and ministering to many hearts, even beyond our four walls.

Our church recently merged with another church (it's actually a consolidation - because it is 2 churches forming 1 new church).  We now average 300-400 people on a given Sunday, and it's a big change.  Suddenly we have a budget in areas we had no budget before; we have space where we had no space before, we have enough parking, we have more people to staff ministries - it is great.  On the other hand, there are more possibilities for interpersonal challenges, conflict, and different views on how things should be done. Overall, however, the changes have been positive.

Yet one example will always remind me that bigger is not always better.  In September I started a women's Bible study (at the old, unconsolidated church).  Normally I was used to anywhere between 15-25 women signing up for a study, which was a good response for a smaller church.  This time, though, only 3 women signed up. I admit that I took it a little personal at first.  I thought about backing out and waiting for a time where there would be more "interest."  But I knew in my heart that this study should happen.

On the first day, I arrived early and set up, and waited for the women.  One, two, three women came in and sat down. Then there was a fourth.  You might be expecting me to say that a fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth woman came in through the door, but that didn't happen.  There were just five of us all together over the 7 week study.  I was quickly humbled and recognized clearly that God wanted me to learn from these women, to glean from their lives and spiritual depth.

On the first week, there were no pretenses.  These women got deep, fast.  They had nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of, and shared from their own pain and experiences like we were life-long friends.

One woman was a recovering alcoholic. One woman had been widowed at a young age.  One woman had desired to be married her entire life, but was still single. One woman didn't want to have children, but had 2 grown daughters and had been a stay-at-home mom for over 18 years.  Their lives didn't turn out the way they had planned, but they were richer because of it.

These women were all older than me by a good 10-30 years.  Each week I showed up, and instead of leading them, they led me.  I may have been the facilitator, but they were the teachers.  After 7 weeks, we felt such a strong bond, and we were sad to see each other go.

My life was richer because of these 4 women, and in this case, smaller was better. I don't believe a bigger group would have opened up as freely.  The depth that came out of that small group was tremendous, and I was reminded again that bigger is not always better.

If you are ministering to just a few, be encouraged today; you do make a difference.  Even though you may be wondering if you are really effective, because the numbers don't reflect it, you are right where God has called you to be.  God doesn't seem to be concerned about numbers like we are. He doesn't care how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers we have, how big our platform is, or how many seats we're filling on a Sunday morning.   As long as your heart is in the right place, you could have a church of 1 and He would be pleased.  Sometimes smaller is a lot better.

Why We Need Women's Ministry

I read an article last week [which had been re-titled] "Why We Don't Need Women's Ministry." Of course the title jumped out at me, which I'm sure was the point, and so I clicked on the link to see what it was all about.  Unfortunately the whole point of the article was missed by many due to the bad title, which was originally published as "In Which I Write a Letter to Women's Ministry."  I encourage you to read it (especially since this whole thing might not make sense without it). :)

In her letter to women's ministry, the author writes about longing for authenticity, for depth, for a place that will challenge each of us to come out of our comfort zones. Instead, women's ministry is often about the food, wearing your cutest outfit, painting a smile on your face and pretending you are something you're not.  While that is true, some readers felt that through her post, she was saying that women's ministry is failing and is not needed. 

This was one of the best quotes from her article, in my opinion:  "You know what I would have liked instead of decorating tips or a new recipe? I would have liked to pray together. I would have liked the women of the church to share their stories or wisdom with one another, no more celebrity speakers, please just hand the microphone to that lady over there that brought the apples."

As a former women's ministry leader for over 5 years, I agreed with all of her points in the article. To say (as churchleaders.com unfortunately put it) that we don't need women's ministry, is completely missing the point.  Women's ministry is needed - not for the women that want to make crafts and eat cinnamon rolls. It is needed for the broken and the hurting, the abused woman who feels alone, the single mom who is desperate to connect with others.  It is needed for the woman in chronic pain who just needs to smile for a few hours.  It is needed for the woman who struggles with depression and almost talked herself out of going to the women's event that night. 

Women's ministry provides a place for these women to come together.  It needs to be a safe, real and healing place, though. It needs to be a place where a woman can cry a snotty, ugly cry and be embraced.  It should also be a place where a woman can leave her problems at the door, if needed, and just laugh with others.  It shouldn't be a club; it should be a community of Jesus-lovers who will wash each other's feet.

I am fortunate that the women's ministries that I have been a part of exhibited these characteristics. Yet I know that is not the case everywhere.  So what do we do if we have a lame women's ministry?

Most of us would say that it begins with the leadership.  Yet I find that some women would rather complain about their women's ministry than actually do anything to change it.  They place the blame on their leader and gossip about her behind her back.  They don't realize that they are the biggest problem.  If a leader is not supported, encouraged and prayed for, how can we expect things to change? 

If the leader truly is the source of the problem; if she is not real, she is not accessible, she is not open to change, she is not willing to "get dirty" and deal with issues, is the answer to start a revolt behind her back?  The answer here lies in our own hearts and attitudes. The answer lies in our own humility. What can we do to help?  Where can we serve?  How would Jesus want us to respond?

Or maybe the problem lies more with the women in the ministry who are not open to change, not open to vulnerability, and prefer that things stay stale and artificial.  Maybe the leadership wants things to change, but finds resistance.

In either case,  rather than place all the blame on the leadership or on the other women, let's start with ourselves.  Let's begin with our own hearts and see if our perspective changes.  If we are the church, and we are all ministers, let's do women's ministry the way Jesus has called each of us to, in our own unique and glorious way.  Let's stop worrying about how everyone else is doing ministry wrong, and focus on how God wants to use us instead.  Maybe when we stop worrying about everyone else around us, the real ministry will begin.

Jealousy - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It has been creeping back into my life as of late.  Jealousy is sneaky like that.  One minute I'm happy with my life and making my thankfulness lists like Ann Voskamp; the next I am frustrated and angry, feeling like life isn't fair.

She got the job.

Someone gave her the money she needed.

Her kids are perfect.

Why can't I dress like that?

Ugh, she is so happy.

Her husband helps her.

They bought their first home.

She didn't have any trouble getting pregnant.

She was offered a book contract yesterday.

Why does she get all the opportunities?

Whether we admit it or not, jealousy often runs through our veins like an artery-clogging bad meal.  It comes in waves.

When is it good?

Rarely, except when it moves us forward to pursue things that we dream of.  Maybe a friend reached a goal, like running a marathon, and your own jealousy propelled you to work harder so that you could do it, too.  "If she can do it, I can do it!"  It can be good if it challenges us to work harder, to speak up when we're not being treated fairly, to try one more time.

But that rarely happens.  Jealousy is usually bad and ugly.  The root of jealousy is unthankfulness.  It is being ungrateful for what we already are blessed with.  Jealousy causes rifts in friendships and in family relationships.  Jealousy breeds anger and resentment; it breeds unhealthy competition.  Jealousy also becomes obvious to those around us; it leaks out of us.  The thoughts inside of our heads become slight comments, sideways looks and quiet scoffs.  They know - others know when this is our sin.

If this is your struggle today, confess it for what it is.  Lay it all out on the table.  This jealousy does not bring about the life that God desires; it does not profit our soul; it does not breathe a grateful heart.  It will destroy us from the inside out.

Who are you jealous of tonight? What opportunities are you frustrated that others are getting which you are not?  What possessions do you covet that make you forget what you have?  Whatever they are - He has grace for you, and for me.  The jealousy can be replaced with his contentment and peace.  Let that be His gift to your heart this Christmas season.