Pat on the Back

pat-on-backBe careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

It’s difficult to walk the line of being an example for others without calling attention to yourself. We want to encourage and challenge others, but we need to do so humbly. And that’s difficult in today’s social media-saturated culture. There are so many voices screaming for everyone’s attention.

But maybe that’s not all that different from the past. Sure, the method of delivery, speed, and availability might be different, but the inundation of voices have probably been challenging in different ways through the years.

And no matter the specific challenges, humility will always be in style. Well, perhaps not in style, but a good goal to have.

Some Evolution

024“They’ve had some evolution.”

The statement declared some growth, some change toward what the speaker believed. People were growing into what he proclaimed, so he saw it as evolutionary, productive, advance.

We need to be careful what we see as progress. We can encourage people in directions that might not be the best (or the best timing) for them.

I’m not saying anything is wishy-washy and relative and that there is no direction that is better or worse than another. There is truth. Absolute Truth. But many of the things we claim as evolutionary are more on the fringes of truth than the center of it. There is spine truth and rib truth. The spine is non-negotiable. The ribs give some structure but we can do without one or two.

Through it all, the person is more important than the issue. When we define people based on where they are or where they’ve been, we minimize them even in the context of what is intended to be a compliment. We make people about their actions instead of their motivations, reasons, potential, and purpose.

Remember and Forget Well

A newly married woman asked me what I struggled with the most when I was first married.

Um…well…hmmm…probably…I think…

I stammered through my answer. My hesitation wasn’t due to a lack of struggles. I remember struggles, but I don’t remember them well. One reason is simply the passage of time. I’m not sure when I struggled with each thing along the way. But also, I’ve tried to put some things behind me. I don’t want to remember some struggles all the time, because if I live in the past, I miss out on the present.

Yet, as I later reflected on the conversation, I realized how important it is to be able to remember well enough to share with and help others. No two journeys are the same, but we need to be reassured we’re not alone. We can’t just say, “been there, done that, and you’ll survive, honey” and expect the other person to sigh and relax from that point forward. We can’t just say, “Well, I’ve never been through that, but I know what you should do.” We can’t put on rose-colored glasses and diminish someone’s issues because of our optimism. And we shouldn’t pull someone into our muck and mire.

It’s not about us. And we can’t make it all about the other person either. God is the only one who knows what each of us needs to share and receive with each interaction. But this I know for sure:

God brings people in and out of our lives.

We need to steward each interaction well.

We won’t always feel prepared, nor should we. After all, it is in those “caught off guard moments” that we get to most completely rely on God.

Remember well enough to relate to and encourage others. Forget well enough to not get stuck.

The NAGigator

I’m a good navigator, but if I don’t watch out, I can be pretty good as a nagigator, too. nag

How about you?

Even when our goal is to help someone get from one place to another, our encouragement, reminders, and direction can go from simple to complex-and-twisted-with-accusations-and-impatience with a single wrong turn. And I’m not talking about someone else’s wrong turn. I’m talking about our own.

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m also not talking about helping someone navigate a driving route. I’m talking about leading others through life. Ministry, parenting, friendships, mentoring, and so goes on. In any situation you have an influence on someone, and that person trusts you to guide him or her well…what starts as a respectful, helpful relationship can turn into…

What are you doing?

Why aren’t you listening to what I say?

You’re making this a lot harder than this has to be!

Maybe you haven’t said those exact words, but does the tone sound familiar? Does it match an attitude you’ve had, regardless of how you’ve masked it with your words?

Leading well isn’t about nagging well. People need help. They need encourage. They need to try and fail and get back on track. They need to know they’re not the only ones who get disoriented. They need to know you’re going to stay beside them.

Are you beside the people you lead? Really? Maybe you should consider what it looks and sounds like from their perspective.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

The Doubt and Confidence of Your Calling

Today’s guest post is from my friend Gloria Lee. Enjoy!

393290_10150363917819007_140620465_n“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-12

I turned 41 this year. I have never been married. I don’t have children. However, God called me to be a children’s pastor.

When I first started out as a children’s ministry intern 20 years ago, I was intimidated by parents. They were all older than me. I was just getting my hands wet in ministry. I knew I had a lot to learn.

I went to seminary and received my masters in Christian education. I spent three years studying how I can better minister to children and families. I still felt intimidated by parents. They were still older than me with more life experience. I was young and timid. I knew I needed to build confidence, but I thought it would just come with age, life experience, marriage, and kids.

Approximately 10 years into ministry, I was convicted that my role as the children’s director included starting conversations with parents about being the primary faith leaders for their kids. I also knew my role wasn’t just about teaching the kids but it was ministering to the families, including matters pertaining to parenting. I started sharing with the parents separation anxiety tips when they drop off young children, resources to help parents lead their kids in their faith, and other information I had read in books and articles.

One Sunday, a group of parents started attacking me verbally. They told me that my job was teaching children, and I had no business telling parents what to do. I was completely taken aback by their comments. They continued to tell me that everything I had to say showed my lack of experience as a parent, and I wouldn’t be telling them these things had I been a parent. I was in a state of shock because I was only sharing with them what I had learned working in public and private schools for years, from reading many books and articles, and from classes I had taken in school. Confused, hurt, and shocked, I went home that night and cried myself to sleep convinced there is no way I could be called into children’s ministry as a single woman without children.

I was ready to throw in the towel. Things got worse, and I didn’t want to disturb my senior pastor with church matters during his sabbatical. I had weathered through some tough ministry times before… I had been attacked for being a female leader in the church, I’ve had to carry the children’s ministry through months of ugly leadership division that resulted in a church split, and I even had a pastor threaten to “blacklist” me if I didn’t do as I was told (his demands had more to do with my personal life than ministry such as not being allowed to have a roommate because parishioners shouldn’t see how pastors live outside the church—yes, ridiculous I know!). But this time, my confidence was completely shaken… and I was convinced I had completely misunderstood God’s calling and entering ministry was a big mistake. I must have misheard His calling.

I wrote my letter of resignation and got up the courage to call my senior pastor on his sabbatical. During our meeting, he looked at me directly in the eye and said “My wife and I trust you with my own children. You have played a big part in my kids coming to know Christ. I call you when I need parenting advice. I believe with all my heart that God has called you to minister to children and families. I want to affirm you of your calling. I have no doubt in my mind I hired the right person for the job.” Tears kept streaming down my face, but I wasn’t convinced. A couple weeks later, my pastor affirmed my calling from the pulpit. The group of parents that had attacked me left the church silently.

But the story doesn’t end here. That experience alone left a huge hole in my confidence. I found myself apologizing for not being a parent when I talked to parents. I found myself quoting authors and speakers, but not speaking from my own knowledge or experience. One day, a missionary I respect said, “How are your kids?” I answered back, “I don’t have any kids.” She said, “Of course you do. You have hundreds of them. You care for each one’s spiritual health, sometimes more than their biological parents. Your interaction and experience with hundreds of kids make you more experienced than most parents.” Her words were medicine to my soul, and I started my road to healing and regaining confidence in God’s calling for my life.

Since then, I have worked hard at connecting with other children’s pastors who have excelled despite not having their own kids. I have worked hard at being confident in my role. I have worked hard at leading and encouraging with God’s authority rather than apologizing for my status. I have worked hard at honing my knowledge and skills.

Earlier this year, I was at a gathering of children’s ministers in my area. During introductions, I caught several newbies saying “I don’t have any children of my own so I’m not sure if what I’m doing is correct.” I felt the strong urge to empower them and tell them to embrace God’s calling and be confident in their roles.

Today, I know with confidence that God has called me to minister to children and families. I have 20 years of experience in children’s ministry, and I have had the privilege of ministering to hundreds of children and parents. I am confident of what I know, and I continue to learn more. I don’t pretend to know and feel as parents do. But I know that God has given me the gifts and authority to equip, encourage, and support families.

I turned 41 this year. I have never been married. I don’t have children, AND God called me to be a children’s pastor. What is God’s calling for your life? How have YOU found confidence in His calling for your life?

gloriaConnect with Gloria on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Are You a Reinforcing Cohesiveness or Separation?

togetherWhat are you reinforcing in life? You’re strengthening whatever you spend the most time and energy on. We do the same within the communities in which we live, including our churches. We either reinforce the church family around us with God’s love, compassion, accountability, discipline, and support, or we reinforce the judgments, divisions, and self-centeredness. We reinforce the cohesiveness of the community or the separation of individuals.

Our arguments drive people away from the church instead of attracting them, which means they miss out on the joy, strength, and security of living for God’s Kingdom. Consider the local church, including the one you attend. What are the topics that are currently dividing individuals? How eternally important are those topics? Are projects put before people? Is too much time spent on details and not enough on dreams? Does fixing problems overshadow fixing processes? Narrow the focus a bit further. The local church is made up of individuals, including you. How are you separating others? How are you separating yourself? Sometimes we withdraw one step at a time for a variety of reasons and then wonder why no one is investing in us.

God created us for community. It’s going to be messy at times. We’re human. We’ll have disagreements, personality conflicts, and problems to solve. We’ll have to set aside our personal agendas for God’s agenda. We’ll have to set aside our pride for humility. We’ll have to reserve our energy to fight only with God’s weapons to protect only his territory. We’ll let God define the boundaries instead of us. We’ll yield in obedience instead of trying to take control.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Stop the One-Up Game

Comparison demolishes. Why can’t we encourage each other where we are instead of trying to validate ourselves by proving ourselves as more as another’s expense?

Work-from-home moms versus corporate moms. moms

Single women versus married women.

Women who have children, struggle to have children, or choose not to have children.

Women who earn six figures versus women on government aid.

Women who regularly work out versus those who don’t.

Women who cook their own meals versus those who eat out most of the time.

Women who eat organically or are vegetarians or cut carbs or drink caffeinated drinks or…any other food choice.

Women who cut coupons versus those who focus on things other than getting the best deal.

Women who organize well versus those who live in an “organized” mess.”

Women who live in a city, small town, abroad, or in the country.

Women who go to a community college, university, trade school, or other option.

Women who have work through baggage and are moving on versus those who seem stuck.

Women who make friends easily versus those are more comfortable keeping to themselves.

Women who serve in the limelight throughout the community versus those who serve in the quiet, unnoticed places.

The list could go on and on.

I’m not saying there are no standards toward which we need to encourage each other. There are. They are God’s. But we so often misrepresent God’s standards by emphasizing what we most want to emphasize. We get culturally-stunted, filtering everything through our own communities and personal experiences, so if someone chooses to do something outside what we think is the norm, we get defensive or offended. I’m not talking about right and wrong. I’m talking about the personal freedoms God gives us. Personal freedoms that really aren’t ours; because they come from God, they are God’s gifts, which means we need to use them within His will. And God’s will always, always includes other people. We don’t get to do what we want to do because of our own preference. We choose differences because God made us different. We’re unique, yet we’re connected…to God as well as to others.

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

We have a responsibility to honor God in our own lives as well as in our relationships. Comparison isn’t part of that responsibility. God is just, and He will take care of all the comparing that needs to get done, and it will be comparisons to who He intends us to be, not who we expect ourselves or others to be.

Stop the one-up game. No one wins.