Women’s Ministry Coaching

I have met a number of life coaches over the last decade, a growing trend that I admit I’ve always thought a little hokey. Hokey is the best word I can come up with, indicating a general unease or weirdness about the concept without any real data or even anecdotes attached to that weirdness. It just seemed odd and suspicious (my apologies to any who do that kind of thing for a full-time living). Without looking at any real data, I thought of it as a job for folks who liked to talk about things more than they actually liked DOING things. It made me think of that old saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Despite the critique in that saying, I know my own desire to teach is a spiritual gift, and I have embraced that gift with gusto. I am coming to see coaching in a similar fashion, and my opinion of it has changed.

The primary thing that changed my opinion on Christian coaching was (as fits a math teacher) some data on the subject. In this video, Ross Kaellner at Tailored Coaching shared interesting results from a survey that convinced me that there was more benefit to a coaching/mentor relationship (with clear parameters and accountability from both sides to persevere with the relationship) than I had originally credited to such a venture.

All that to say, I am going to coach through Tailored Coaching starting in April. The topic is Women’s Ministry and Practical Theology, with six sessions for leaders on developing a women’s ministry that is …

1. Mission Driven.

This session will lay a foundation for orienting a women’s ministry around the larger vision for discipleship in the local church of which it is a part.

2. Jesus Centered.

In Luke 24, Jesus taught His disciples that all of Scripture points to Him, including the hardest parts of the Old Testament. This session will cover what a Jesus-centered hermeneutic looks like when developing and presenting content from Scripture.

3. Gospel Focused.

As leaders develop vision, content, and strategies, even the best will fail without the gospel as the oil that keeps the engine running. Friction inevitably develops when leaders attach their identity to how well their strategies are received. The good news of Jesus offers us an identity that holds fast whether we are affirmed or critiqued in ministry.

4. Theologically Rich.

How do leaders communicate the riches of the knowledge of God in ways that women in a particular ministry can receive and apply? This session will aid in developing practical theology—content that is both doctrinally correct and relevant to women’s daily lives.

5. Relationally Relevant. 

Every individual church’s culture is at least slightly different from the next. This session will focus on understanding the language and culture of a leader’s particular church and translating into that culture in ways women in that ministry can receive.

6. Women’s Ministry Troubleshooting.

This session will help apply our understanding of the Triune God and our union with Christ to the various issues that cause frustration and discouragement in women’s ministries–gossip, family dynamics, critique, friction with other leaders, etc.

I am particularly excited about the first session, on helping folks develop women’s ministries that reinforce the larger mission of the church, working with pastors and elders to be genuine helps to their work of equipping disciples in the church. Pastors need the support of women leaders in their congregations. And women need the support of their pastors in a congregation. Building mutual relationships between pastors, elders, deacons, and deaconesses for the discipleship of the church is a great need about which I hear regularly.

If any of this sounds intriguing or helpful to you, you can find more information about it here. There is a cost, but I hope that cost feels reasonable for the time invested by all parties to make this a mutually accountable relationship. The first session begins on Friday, April 20. All monthly sessions will be on Fridays from 10 am – 12 pm Eastern. I apologize to west coast friends and hope down the road to offer sessions more convenient to those in mountain and pacific time zones.

Join us if you can!

The Head of Jack Pearson’s Family

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Biblical concept of head and headship. I’m interested in the concept in part because it is a theological point of great debate for those who like to discuss gender and biological sex in Scripture and the Church. Headship (a word not actually in Scripture) can be used as a bludgeon to keep women and kids in line, and in some cases, to justify various forms of abuse in the church and home. But on a more practical level, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about headship because I lost one head in my divorce and fell back on another (my dad) after it. Now, my dad is sitting in a hospital room, as dear to me as ever, fighting off congestive heart failure. Between tears and prayers, I contemplate all that he has meant to me as my head (a word by the way he probably has never associated with himself since it isn’t emphasized in his Christian circles). Daddy just IS a head, without being all focused on what the word means in debates about gender and the Church.

I also spent last weekend catching up on all the episodes I had missed of This is Us (SPOILERS AHEAD), including Jack’s death after rescuing his wife and kids from the house fire. The culminating episode for me was not the one with his death, but the episode about the family car, which became a metaphor for his desire to see his wife and kids happy and healthy, or as he put it, “OK.” And the final scenes showed that they were OK. For all they had experienced, Jack’s care of them in life set them on a bumpy trajectory, yet one they survived and even in some cases flourished. He gave them a financial and educational footing. He sacrificed in life to provide for them. And twenty years after his death, his legacy lived on in their lives.

In terms of a Christian story of headship, Jack’s story lacked a vision of spiritual guidance and any kind of church involvement. But it did highlight to me an important nugget of Biblical headship, one that my dad also exhibits to me. For all of our debate about AUTHORITY in the home as it relates to headship, Jack and my dad exhibit instead RESPONSIBILITY in the home as it relates to headship. There are all kinds of authorities in our lives who do not take responsibility for our well-being, for our flourishing. But Jack did for his family, and my dad has for his.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When Daddy says, “Jump,” all of his daughters ask, “How high?” Even as adults, we respect him as an authority in our lives. But Daddy doesn’t give orders much. He never has assumed an authoritarian role in our lives. And Jack didn’t either. Daddy never demanded the right to give us instructions. But he earned the right. He sacrificed for us. Over and over again, he made the hard choices he needed to provide for us, including a college education he saw as a tool to launch us out into the world without debt so that we could in turn provide for our children. Today as an adult with some life experience under my belt, I am aware of the weight he bore on his shoulders to provide for us and take responsibility for our well-being. His delight is for his family to be happy and flourishing, and when we suffer, he steps in to carry it with us as best as he can still to this day.

Black Panther and Wonder Woman gave us visions of woman as ezer and necessary ally in the image of God, but they both did so in unrealistic settings. Still, as a woman, I found both inspirational. In contrast, Jack in This is Us reminded me of the beauty and value of a father and husband who takes loving responsibility for the welfare of his family in a setting I could directly relate to. Jack didn’t seem to know Christ, but he made me think of fathers who do, my father in particular.

I have lost one head, and I have felt that loss in a thousand painful ways. But that loss highlights for me what the concept of head in Scripture represents and helps me now see it when it shows up in good and right ways. Jack was an inspiring picture of a flawed head, and the flourishing of his children (despite their scars and wounds) reminds me of the real life person sitting in this hospital room with me who has, for nearly 60 years, taken responsibility for the flourishing of his daughters and stood in the gap for us when others did not.

That, friends, is a Biblical head.

Confessing Sin in the Midst of Suffering

I’ve been on a long, hard journey of suffering. Unlike previous trials which let up over time, the last few years of my life have only had new trials added to the previous ones, culminating in a breast cancer diagnosis in July that was compounded by what we thought was a second abdominal cancer found in October (biopsy results finally showed that it is NOT cancer, thank God). Two surgeries later, I was in a really bad mood. I was angry. I was bitter. I was snarky. I could only see the lack, not the good, in people’s actions toward me. I complained to friends who kindly let me vent. And many encouraged me and prayed for me.

Finally, after a few days of wrestling with very dark emotions, the Holy Spirit broke through and strongly convicted me of my sin of complaining.

There is nothing like trying to parent complaining middle school children to remind one of all the verses against complaining. I talk with my boys regularly about facing hardship with a happy attitude, because I know (when I stop complaining myself and actually think about it) that complaining only makes hard things worse. Years ago, my pastor preached a sermon from Philippians on this subject, and it ministered great grace to me. I’ve never forgotten it.  God’s instructions to not complain are a GIFT OF GRACE from Him for us to endure in hard times.

But I had forgotten that truth.

The Lord reminded me in that way only He can orchestrate. My boys have been reading through The Journey, and as my son walked by me, in the midst of my very negative attitude, I asked him about his reading for that day.

“It was on the Israelites being bitten by snakes because they complained, and Moses making a snake on a cross.”

Oh, the arrow of conviction through my heart. The Spirit wasn’t whispering. He was shouting. Complaining destroys the soul. I’m not suffering because of my sin, but my sin certainly doesn’t help me endure in my suffering.

Now, for some, this may sound like legalistic condemnation. Except it’s not. If you listen to the sermon I referenced above, you’ll hear a compelling case for these instructions from God against complaining being help and grace to His children to navigate a harsh, sinful world. I have found them to be that for myself. The bottom line is that, in the middle of my deep and painful suffering, grumbling and complaining do not help me. They won’t help you either. Grumbling and complaining actually weigh our spirits down even more than whatever circumstances we were already facing.

So I confessed my spirit of complaining to God. I submitted to His instructions. He forgave me, and I immediately felt a release of some of the burden weighing me down.

The Bible talks of sin this way. It’s a weight. It’s a burden.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

I was tempted to ignore my sin, to justify it as if I only needed to confess sin when things were going well for me. But complaining doesn’t start or stop being a sin based on how justified I feel in my complaint. In the midst of very deep suffering, I found that acknowledging my sin didn’t create a new weight for me to carry on top of all my other burdens. Instead, it actually LIFTED some of the burden. And that is the profound beauty of the gospel of Christ.

Did Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Ecclesiology Conflict with U. S. Law?

[edited to note that Maryland began requiring mandatory reporting of abuse by clergy around 2003. Allegations of abuse in SGM span several decades, many preceding mandatory reporting by clergy. Allegations are that SGM elders covered up crimes by pressuring families not to report sexual crimes against minors to civil authorities.]

 

Conversations with wise friends (including Bekah Mason and Rachael Starke) have given me clarity on the disconnect between Sovereign Grace’s language and understanding of their “cover-up” of sexual abuse versus that of most of the rest of folks (I hope) in evangelical circles. I am not writing THIS POST to either exonerate or condemn Sovereign Grace or CJ Mahaney’s handling of sexual abuse claims. I am writing THIS POST to explore the logical disconnect between what leaders at SGM believe they did in response to allegations of sexual abuse and what others see as a cover-up.

Sovereign Grace Ministry leaders really do not believe they covered anything up because they don’t accept the premise that they were obligated to report sexual abuse in the first place.

SGM leaders interpret or define the phrase “cover-up” as the suppression of facts rooted in malicious intentions. They saw reporting at the time of these events as a choice they had, not something they were obligated to do. The essential problem then is that they put themselves above the law as a direct result of their ecclesiology and hierarchy. SGM leaders issuing these statements truly do not think they did anything wrong. Why? Because they created a hermetically sealed world in their churches and singular denomination where the elders were not submitted to anyone except themselves and CJ – including even the US government.

The key problem isn’t the scandalous details of the abuse–it’s the underlying authority structures and ecclesiology that made these elders think the right thing to do was to keep allegations in house.

CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace elders cannot admit to any wrong doing because they simply don’t have a category for it. They view themselves as apostles, receiving direct word from God Himself through the charismatic gifts. This theology then fed their understanding of their own authority as elders over themselves and others in their congregations. They can not confess anything else until they first recognize and confess failure to submit themselves to secular governing authority. Until they understand that their “apostleship” did not mean that they did not have to obey Romans 13 (which was written by actual apostles), all other reasoning to them is useless. Instead of seeing God’s law commanding their obedience to civil law, they saw themselves as above it.

In the ministry Mahaney built, some of these features were readily apparent. SGM represented a society unto itself, one that functioned parallel to mainstream culture and that distrusted that wider, secular world. “They believe God’s law comes before civil law,” as one former member says.

This is why SGM statements repeatedly use language that there was “no conspiracy.” Mahaney and elders didn’t conspire behind each others’ backs to hide allegations – these allegations weren’t hidden at all. They just weren’t reported to authorities. It was actual policy at SGM to deal with things in house. When they handled it in house, they thought they WERE handling it. Before folks criticize SGM’s ill informed techniques for how they handled abuse in house, the first issue is that they kept it in house at all. This is the stumbling block that keeps SGM from acknowledging their sin (by not obeying Romans 13) that resulted in ongoing abuse that harmed many.

In order for SGM elders to understand their complicity in ongoing abuse, one may need to break down the issue for them:

a. This is the definition of sexual abuse … Did you know sexual abuse occurred?

b. Did you report it to police?

c. If not, then you have actively covered up a crime.

d. This is the statute on mandatory reporters of sexual abuse.

e. Did you train your elders to NOT obey that statute?

f. Then you set up a church system that violated and obstructed the law.

Really, the question for CJ Mahaney and his fellow SGM elders is, “During the period in question, did you believe you needed to submit to the governing authorities concerning the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse in your congregations? Did you teach other leaders that they needed to submit to the governing authorities concerning the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse in your congregations?”

If the answer to either is “no”, that is sin, and SGM elders need to confess and repent.

Romans 13

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience.

 

*I found this article a helpful journalistic review of the SGM sexual abuse scandal.

Donald Trump and Margaret Sanger

After his vulgar comments about African nations and their immigrants, one NBC reporter called Donald Trump “racially ignorant.” I’ve heard several label his comments “insensitive.” He’s certainly not politically correct. But for thinking believers submitted to Christ and the Word, hoping to influence our world in Kingdom ways, we need to understand the philosophy behind Trump’s comments beyond the mere fact that he is insensitive.

Last night, it finally dawned on me who Donald Trump most sounded like (minus the vulgarities) on immigration.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.

“In a democratic society where the vote of one is as good as that of another, it is a dangerous procedure to accept a way of life where the poor, ignorant, diseased and mentally and socially unfit maintain the stock of the population.” Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger did some good things that women take for granted today, particularly gaining access through the courts to birth control methods that prevented conception that had been previously outlawed by congress. On the way, she also founded Planned Parenthood, which we all know to do far more than prevent conception, which we rightly lobby against as Christians for the millions of murders of unborn image-bearers.

I read an autographed biography of Sanger for a project in college. It was an old book, written before her death in 1966, though I don’t know the exact date. I always figured her autograph in the front meant she approved the book. Her early work is fascinating to study – the very real issues she grappled with, her compassion toward women dying of back alley abortions, her desire for childbirth to be as much in a woman’s control as it was in a man’s. But these real issues, removed from a Christian understanding of the image-bearing dignity of every human, reinforced her beliefs in eugenics. She didn’t believe, as Hitler did, in eugenics by race. She believed in it more around poverty and lack of education.

Put together a little of Hitler’s and a lot of Sanger’s views on eugenics and throw them toward the White House. Then watch them unfurl like a mirror on Donald Trump.

“… keep the doors of Immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feeble-minded, idiots, morons, insane, syphiletic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class … .” Margaret Sanger

Christians in the United States tend to understand uniformly the problems with, say, the murder of millions of unborn babies through Planned Parenthood or the enslavement and murder of millions of Jews by Hitler. What many don’t seem to get is that those actions started with a philosophy.

And that philosophy eventually led to those horrible atrocities.

Christians, mobilize yourselves, because philosophies like this lead to atrocities like this.

The basic philosophy held by Sanger and Hitler is one that is shared by Donald Trump – that some folks are worthy of protections and some folks aren’t, that a nation is stronger when they limit access to it by the weak and vulnerable, that some people groups are better off left to exterminate themselves.

This is eugenics. It defies basic Christian belief, and Donald Trump’s views are incompatible with Christ’s.

The Journey: A New Year’s Resolution for Your Kids

You, readers, are a helpful community to me. When I mentioned that I was writing a Bible study through Scripture for my own kids, I was surprised by how many of you were looking for something similar. After sending out weekly studies to those of you who were interested, I then tried to organize everything in one document. From there, a book emerged, and it went live on Amazon this week.

There are two covers, because my boys and their friends really liked one,

and everyone else I asked like another.

Since my boys and their friends are literally my target audience, I felt I should take their preference seriously.

This study is a 30 week survey of Scripture that subtly but surely builds a Jesus hermeneutic in your kids. In other words, it links the stories throughout Scripture to Jesus in such a way that kids can clearly see by the end what Jesus taught in Luke 24, that all of the Old Testament ultimately points to Him. I didn’t learn that important tool for reading Scripture as a kid. My spiritual life was turned on its head when I finally started seeing Jesus in all of Scripture for myself as an adult. I wanted my boys to get that at an earlier age than I did, and this is the result.

There are a number of devotionals for tweens being released this season. That is probably because a lot of the young, restless, and reformed are getting older, as are our kids. If you are looking for a simple devotional resource geared toward teens and tweens that builds the long story of Jesus throughout Scripture, I am hopeful this book will meet that need.

Happy New Year!

He’s Always been Faithful

I’ve been waiting to update readers on my health because I myself have been in a holding pattern for weeks waiting on test results. After my mastectomy September 25, chemotherapy was scheduled to begin October 27. Then, right before I was to start, a CT found a mass in my stomach that does not appear cancerous, yet may be. That prompted a train of events that included new specialists and lots of new tests, each one taking about a week or so for results, one after another, so that, here I am, seven weeks after finding the mass, finally with a plan.

The waiting for test result and doctors’ appointments nearly drove me batty. Sweet friends sent me passages on waiting that were helpful, and I can give testimony on the back end that God was kind to me in the waiting. But there is a reason that God left us a lot of promises in the Bible about waiting. Waiting is hard! And we desperately need encouragement in the middle of it.

The result of this convoluted chain of events the last few months is that new tests show I am at low risk of recurrence of the breast cancer, and chemotherapy offers negligible statistical benefit for me. In other words, I don’t need chemo after all. This is very, very good news! And, now, the waiting makes sense. I have been humbled before God through it, and I thank Him daily for this kindness to me.

Because I don’t have to complete four to six months chemo, I am now scheduled to have this new mass removed Friday, December 15. This sounds like a more involved surgery than my last one, and that one was a doozy it seemed to me. Or maybe I’m just a weenie.

After that, I’ll have five weeks of radiation, and then, there’s a very good chance that I’ll be cancer free. I’ve had enough unexpected turns in the road to know I may have some more unexpected turns ahead of me. I appreciate your prayers for this next surgery, particularly that recovery isn’t as unpleasant as they say it potentially can be. Again, I’m a weenie.

I’ve found a lot of encouragement to persevere in the stories many of you have shared with me the last few months. There is definitely a fellowship in suffering. A lot of readers have faced much longer and harder journeys than mine so far. Your perseverance has been a gift to me, helping me face something with the hard won wisdom that only comes with experience. Mostly, I appreciate that you guys keep me from running screaming from the room. Your “Buck it up, Buttercup” spirit is actually really helpful. We gotta do what we gotta do, and like it or not, I’ve got to do this. At first, I didn’t appreciate tough love in this journey, but throwing things in frustration only gets you about 15 minutes into a multi month or year journey. “Put your big girl pants on.” “You can do this.” That’s been the advice from many who’ve gone before me. God has equipped me to really believe, through Him, that I can, in fact, do this recovery too, even though the last one was pretty rough, and this one goes further and deeper than the previous one.

Maybe I am growing in strength and perseverance after all.

When I got the results of the tumor test that showed I didn’t need chemo (after waiting two frustrating weeks through Thanksgiving for the result), I felt the Spirit strongly reminding me, “I’ve always been faithful to you.”

He has. He’s always been faithful to me. In this series of convoluted turns of events, and the frustrating time of waiting between each turn, He has been faithful. I haven’t been faithful so much, but He has held me fast to Him anyway. In His covenant with Abraham involving firepots and animal parts, God took both sides of the covenant while Abraham slept. I have felt this truth deeply and personally the last few weeks. And I am thankful anew for it.

I’ve been listening to Sara Groves a lot lately, and she has helped put to words my praise and my anthem. God’s always been faithful. Though the clouds obscure His hand at times, He’s there, and He’s working. Be encouraged, friend. He has not left you an orphan to navigate your own convoluted road any more than He has me. As you get bad news upon bad news, as you wait for some answer that makes sense after a series of ones that don’t, just know that He’s faithful. And He’s good.