And yet…….what more powerful two words can there be? AND YET……I still have hope. Though my soul is weary and exhausted, though the storm is raging on the eve of the Leadership Summit, I still hold on to hope. Here’s just a few reasonRead More
On Wednesday, May 23, I was out of town coaching church leaders. I checked voicemails late afternoon, and listened to a message from one of the church elders who said she was with another elder. They said they wanted to start to rebuild trust, knowing they have made some missteps. She offered me the opportunity to have conversations with a third party, and gave me the phone number of a mediation group. This is the first time any of the church elders have reached out to me since I met with them in August of 2016 and told them my story.
The elders have said publicly that they are trying to reach out and “care for the women” involved. But what would true caring look like? In my view, this is not the time to enter into any kind of reconciliation process. That is grossly premature. As I have said in prior statements, truth finding must precede reconciliation. The narrative they are putting forward is that this is all about a “dispute” between the Willow leaders and former members that needs to be resolved. Fundamentally, that is not what this is about. It’s about an abusive pastor and church leadership who have not adequately investigated his behavior, have not named it as sin, and have failed to confront and address it, calling for consequences for Bill Hybels. If the elders want to truly care for the women, they would take steps such as these:
- Publicly retract all statements that any of the women are liars – and do so by name.
- Publicly retract that any of us (Ortbergs, Mellados, myself and others) were colluding to bring down the church and the WCA.
- Apologize for how this has been handled from the beginning.
- Do a true, thorough, third-party investigation into ALL of the allegations.
- Don’t just “walk with Bill Hybels and his family” – Call him to repentance.
I want to be clear that I do hope for reconciliation someday. But so much harder, deeper work must come first.
I am still sorting through my response to the update statement given by the Willow Creek elders on Wednesday evening. Some have asked me if I am encouraged by the step toward an apology. I wish I could say that I am. But instead, I find myself deeply disturbed, disappointed, and, frankly, angry. As I’ve tried to think through and pray through my response, this is the big idea that keeps coming back to me:
The weight of an apology needs to match the weight of the transgressions.
When my daughters were young and one of them had said something mean to the other, l would demand she make an apology. All too often, the tone of the way she said “Sorry” made it sound like anything but. It did not ring true. It was not genuine. That is how I felt on Wednesday evening. In just 5 or 6 minutes, the elders addressed their actions. This is in contrast to two lengthy family meetings in the church complete with timelines and bold statements calling us liars and colluders by name in very specific ways. The apology was broad and vague and, in the words of my husband, “incremental.” Even worse for me was the tone of the statement. I know this is subjective, but for me it sounded subdued and clinical. We were told that not all the stories women told were lies, which begs the question which ones were lying. We were told that not all the people were colluding, which means some of us were. Bill’s actions were described as “inappropriate.” That’s such a weak term for what took place over decades. The right word is sin. And the true extent of Bill’s sin needs to come into the light. It is far more than “misconduct.”
The elders also said their “top priority has been reaching out to the women who have made allegations against Bill.” Who were they? I know of only two women who have been contacted. I first went to the elders in August of 2016. I told them (5 of them were in the meeting) with a very shaky voice about my experience with Bill. I had not intended to share it that night, but then thought maybe I could help them see there might be a pattern to his behavior. At no time after that meeting have any of that group of elders contacted me to follow up. I live less than 15 minutes from the church, but no one asked to meet me for coffee, to hear from my perspective. Instead, Bill was allowed to speculate on why I may have told this story. He suggested that maybe I just wanted to teach more. This had nothing to do with my leaving the church. He also said he wished I could have just talked to him about how I felt uncomfortable. He failed to mention, as did the elders, that a few days after my experience in Spain, Bill asked me to stay after a meeting. He then said, “We don’t need to tell anyone about what happened in Spain, right?” I assumed he meant the elders, and I assured him I wouldn’t say anything. That is an abuse of power. He was my boss, indirectly, and should not have ever put me in that situation. At the time, like all the women I have since heard about, I thought I was the only one. I had no idea that other women would one day say “Me Too” about Bill.
As recently as October 4, 2017 Leanne Mellado made one more attempt to contact the elders. In a letter, she told them we had heard a few more stories from women coming forward. The elders went silent and never responded to her. After 4 years of keeping this under the radar, a group of us made the excruciating decision to go public. Then we were severely maligned by the elders.
My sense is that the current leaders of Willow, understandably, want to move forward into the future and put this behind them. All of us long for the day when we will be unified once again, loving one another in the way Jesus called us to love. But the path to that day is a long and arduous one that will require a lot of work, humility, pain, repentance, and truth telling.
I’ve learned a great deal about forgiveness. I believe God is calling me, always, to forgive my brothers and sisters. I am a sinner saved by grace, and I need forgiveness as well. So my job is most definitely to do the work of forgiving Bill, Heather, and the elders. Forgiveness can happen, with God’s help, no matter what the other person does or doesn’t do, no matter what they say or do not say. It is an internal process of releasing that bitterness so that we can be free and not burdened. I commit to doing that work and already am. I pray regularly for Bill, his family, and the elders.
But there is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation and reunion. Please allow me to illustrate. Back in 1990, when the struggle for freedom in South Africa was reaching its climax, a group of black and white spiritual leaders from many churches gathered in a hotel. The question at this gathering was: Could the blacks ever forgive? And secondly, could blacks and whites ever be truly united as brothers and sisters?
Bishop Desmond Tutu gave his response in a speech titled We Forgive You. “Forgive, yes,” said Tutu. But could there ever be a coming together? “Ah, that is another question,” he said. “Those who have wronged us must be ready to make what amends they can…If I have stolen your pen, I can’t really be contrite when I say, ‘Please forgive me’ if at the same time I still keep your pen. If I am truly repentant, then I will demonstrate this genuine repentance by returning your pen. Then reunion, which is always costly, will happen….It can’t happen just by saying, ‘Let bygones be bygones.”
Bottom line is I feel like the elders haven’t returned my pen. The path to healing requires a sequence:
Truth leads to Repentance which can then maybe lead to Reconciliation.
Why do I say “maybe?” about Reconciliation? Because it does not always happen and in some cases may be harmful and not advisable. In situations of abuse, reunion is not usually the result. However, there can still be forgiveness so that we can be free of the bitterness poison.
My fervent hope and prayer is that truth will be told that leads to repentance and healing. We have a long, long way to go.
This morning, following the announcement of Pastor Bill Hybels last night, I suspect most of us just want to take a deep breath, exhale, and move on. This entire situation has been heartbreaking, divisive, and, frankly exhausting. All of us have jobs to do and families to lead.
In our culture we live with a rapid news cycle and a tiny attention span. We want the big picture, the bottom line, the headlines. This story, for most people, surfaced less than three weeks ago. But we all want it to be done. We want healing and reconciliation and a new day for the church, Willow and beyond.
So why can’t we just MOVE ON? Here’s why:
- The Womens’ Stories Are Not Yet Fully Told - There can be no healing until the truth is all brought into the light. I know you don’t want to hear this…..but there’s more to come. And we must not ignore the voices of these women or they will be abused all over again. Bill Hybels is not the victim here!
- There Can Be No Healing Without Repentance – Last night I heard no confession of deceit or admission of guilt for sexual misconduct. For the church and its leaders to move on there must be full ownership of what was sinful and flawed in the process. Only then can we hope for healing and restoration, for light to come from the darkness.
The goal for me was never connected to Bill resigning. The goal is to usher in the truth, to reveal an abuse of power that spans over 30 years, with women who are scarred and in some cases, terrified to come forward.
So here’s what I call all of us to do:
- Keep Leaning In -Take only one brief exhale and then buck up and prepare to head into the fray once again. This is a very complicated story. I have been wrestling with it for over three years. I call all of us to be thoughtful, to dig deep, to ask questions, to read fully. Resist the temptation to ignore the story or sum it all up in a quick sound bite.
- Keep Praying – ask God for wisdom to discern the truth and then for guidance for next steps.
- Be Slow to Speak and Quick to Listen – All of us need to slow down our responses, especially on social media, and be much more careful with our words. Let’s speak with civility.
God wants to bring healing and wholeness to Willow Creek and to all local churches. But that will not happen if we think last night was the final chapter. Eventually, if we seek the truth and respond with humility and repentance, there can be a New Day. But Not now. Not yet.
I confess I’m going through withdrawal now that the Rio Olympics are over. For two weeks, like countless viewers, I was captivated by the inspiring stories and spectacular accomplishments of world class athletes. Just two years to wait for the Winter Olympics!
What I did not expect was an object lesson from the track and field relay teams for our work in Succession Planning. The women’s 4 x 100 team featuring Alison Felix failed in the trial race to pass the baton and were initially disqualified. Later the judges determined that Alison was bumped by another runner and the Americans were allowed to compete in the final - from the least desirable lane on the outside. In spite of these obstacles, they raced for the Gold Medal! Sadly, our men’s 4 x 100 team experienced a different outcome. After celebrating a victory lap for the bronze medal with the American flag draped over their shoulders, the team discovered they had been disqualified because the baton was passed outside the official zone. This baton passing is a tricky business! And the consequences for getting it wrong are heartbreaking. So what can we learn for churches facing the crucial process of passing the baton from one Senior Pastor to another? Here are some lessons I gleaned from Rio:
- Process Matters - No matter how skilled the runners are, the process of passing the baton is a huge factor in the result of the race. Many churches facing Succession might assume that the major challenge is finding the right next person. But Succession is about so much more than Search. Of course, the right candidate is essential for the future ministry of the church. But if the transfer of the leadership baton from the current leader to the next leader is unhealthy, moving forward to the next season can be stalled and impaired. The congregation and staff all need the process to be one of openness, appropriate honoring and grieving, celebration, and authentic support for the new leader. And as we saw with the men’s team, Timing is Everything. You can pass a baton too early and also too late!
- Practice Matters – No doubt the Olympic runners practice baton passing over and over and over. They likely studied films and learned from other teams about the best approach and potential errors to avoid. In the same way church teams facing succession should prepare well in advance, learning from other churches who can share lessons of what worked well and what surprises they faced along the way.
- Coaching Matters – I was moved by stories in Rio of coaches who have worked for years with athletes, offering perspective, training plans, discipline, encouragement, and support. One triathlete could not stop hugging her coach after winning the gold medal, acknowledging that they shared the journey and the final victory. A coach brings a steady, wise, consistent voice to the person who is on the field. And when it comes to Succession – the enormously vital movement of a church from one leader to the next – a coach is essential. At Slingshot we believe a coach should ideally begin working with a church team as soon as the “s” word of Succession is first uttered. The passing of the leadership baton does not have to be fraught with misunderstandings, serious identity issues, poor communication, and a lack of trust. With a skilled coach to guide all along the way, the Succession process can honor God and be filled with integrity, truthful and timely communication, closure for the congregation and staff, hope and excitement for the departing pastor’s next season, and a wonderful launch for the critical first 100 days of the new pastor.
The winning of a gold medal is exciting and meaningful. Yet in terms of eternity and the fruit of the kingdom, the win of a healthy Succession process is far more significant. Let’s not drop batons and damage communities of faith. May God be honored by church teams who intentionally walk into the season of leadership transition with a determination to run this crucial part of the race with grace, skill, integrity, and love.
When I was just 15 years old, two youth leaders at my church named Bill and Dave saw potential in me. They called me a “leader” and created opportunities for me to experiment, to make mistakes, and most of all, to learn and grow. They were door openers. I decided to ask some women leaders who it was who opened a door for them, because I knew they would likely have a name of a man or woman who took a gamble on them, who saw something in them, and who placed their hand on a door and nudged it open. Here’s what I heard:
Shelly: A worship pastor named Christy opened the door for me to first host and do meditations. It was my lead pastor, Jeff, who also opened a door for me…and continues to do so.
Stefenie: It was my children’s ministry director Jay, when I was 19. He threw a book at me on a Sunday morning and said, “Hey, you’re a leader…read this.” I’d never been called a leader before.
Kati: It was my youth leader, Sue, who looked me right in the eye when I was 16 years old and said, “I think God wants you to go into ministry.”
Heather: I was serving as a volunteer when we hired a new youth pastor, Scott, who saw the Kingdom good God might do through me. So Scott spent lots of time investing in me.
And finally, my good friend Melissa, who was invited as a rookie 26-year-old by her pastor, Eddie, to join the church’s senior staff team as Executive Pastor. Here’s what Melissa wrote about this bold move:
Melissa: The perceived age and gender “barriers” Eddie was willing to push through were, at the time, a demonstration of remarkable conviction and courage. I began supervising a large staff with people more than twice my age and who had served on staff longer than I had been alive. In hindsight, 7 years later, this move makes a lot of sense and has been catalytic for our church. At the time, it seemed to many to be downright risky! I often ask myself if I’d hire a 26-year-old woman for my job. If she was the right one, I hope I would! Seems pretty crazy to me, even though I’m the one living it out.
What power there is in an open door! For minorities—whether defined by gender, race, or age—a person with a hand on the doorknob is the game changer. And in most churches and companies, that means a white male. I want to be quick to say I have nothing against white males—I’ve been happily married to one for 35 years! But I can see how people who hold the power, who make the decisions, can decide to play it safe and hire only people just like them…or they can intentionally seek out potential in the less obvious person, and speak words that ennoble and envision that individual to imagine taking on a new role.
If you are a seasoned leader with the authority to assign key volunteer or staff roles, I challenge you to get your hand on the doorknob for someone who might be the surprising choice…but who has potential, with coaching and opportunity, to flourish. Here’s what I know to be true about the most effective door openers:
- They have eyes to see potential.
- They begin offering the unlikely candidate some junior level opportunities to lead and catch them doing something right. They also give constructive feedback along the way.
- They speak words of belief into that person—words that are specific and full of vision and imagination.
- They show grace when the new leader makes mistakes, not acting shocked or surprised, leveraging the situation for learning.
- They are a champion for the new leader to others who hold power, advocating along the way and persuading others to get behind the rookie.
I have two young daughters, ages 25 and 22. I see enormous potential in both of them (of course, I’m a bit biased). As they both seek to contribute, to lead, and to carve out their own path, I hope and pray there will be men and women with their hand on a doorknob, taking a chance on them, inviting them to a grand adventure.
Are you ready to open the door for someone else?
Last week we helped our daughters – ages 25 and 22 – move in to a 2 bedroom apartmentin the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. Samantha and Johanna say that this time, they are living together by choice! I’m delighted that they actually want to spend this season of early adulthood figuring out how to pay the bills, do the dishes, and carve out careers side by side.
When I came back to our suburban home, the home we have loved for 23 years, there was certainly relief from so much STUFF the girls had been accumulating for their new place. Finally, I could see the floor in our garage and basement and dining room. I walked up to their bedrooms which were clean for the first time in months…and it hit me. This time the Empty Nest is for real. There will be no more coming home for summers after college. The only visits overnight might be for a holiday. A door has closed on one season of motherhood, and a new one has begun.
We are told from the beginning that our job as parents is to offer Roots and Wings. In our heads we all know this to be true. But working its way down to our hearts, this Wings part is not so easy. I do celebrate with joy the mature steps I see my girls taking. I love to watch them make wise decisions about their finances, their part-time jobs, their emerging involvement in church, and even the design of their place largely built on garage sales and Craig’s List. I am not clamoring to be their daily guide any more. It truly is a joy to accept a new role as their biggest fan, an advisor when asked, and always, a friend.
On Sunday we took them to brunch at a fabulous place in their new neighborhood – a restaurant beyond their budget. We let them order big, and relished in the food and conversation. We laughed at their stories, and my heart was overflowing with joy. They are flourishing. I can take a deep breath and know that the “for real empty nest” will be more than just ok. All shall be well…
In the summer of 1999, when my daughters were just 9 and 6, we made our way to Soldier Field in Chicago to see a World Cup game leading up to the women’s championship. That tremendous team won on a gorgeous summer evening with thousands of fans cheering. As we sat with other families from our daughter’s soccer team, I watched the delighted, eager faces of young girls thrilled beyond words to witness the athleticism of players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. It was a glorious night. It was vision casting. Those young fans were ennobled – and given a picture of what strong young women can do when they work hard and collaborate as a team.
I thought about those young eyes again as the U.S. took on Japan for the final game, and won so decisively sixteen years later. I believe many young eyes were watching, and they will be impacted in immeasurable ways by what they saw. My own daughters are now in their early 20’s. They are confident young women who played sports in high school, but currently are pursuing a life in the arts. I believe that a part of their belief in themselves stems back to images they carry of those strong atheletes, along with other women who modeled for them a sense of accomplishment and teamwork.
Whenever we get a picture of excellence, of what is possible, we are given a hope that maybe, just maybe, we too can excel. For young girls it is vital that they see women flourishing in the business world, in the arts, in sports, in academia, in the home, in politics, and in the church. For all of us who are adult women, we must always remember that young eyes are watching. What a privilege to help paint a picture for them that ennobles and inspires and envisions young girls!
All of us in Chicago are still giddy celebrating the huge Stanley Cup victory of our beloved Blackhawks – with two million people expected to line Monroe Street for a spectacular parade. I admit to being a latecomer to the fan base – but I’ve loved cheering during the playoff games and finally feel like I can follow the puck, most of the time. But it was a moment after the final win that struck me. Jonathan Toews, just 27 years old and an outstanding captain for the team, raised the 35 pound cup high into the air. He held it for a minute or two, and then everyone wondered who he would choose to hand the cup to next. Would it be the remarkable MVP Duncan Keith? How about the amazing goalkeeper Corey Crawford? Or maybe scoring phenom Patrick Kane? All of those are great choices…but Toews went a different direction.
Character is evident in the small but significant decisions a leader makes in key moments. The Hawks captain deliberately handed the cup to a 39 year old veteran hockey player, Kimmo Timonen, who retired after this game but had never before been on the Stanley Cup winning team. What a classy move by Toews, to honor the long career of Timonen and acknowledge that every player on the team, no matter how many minutes of play they skated on the ice or sat on the bench, contributed in some way to the victory. As the Chicago Tribune editorial page stated, “The Blackhawks have given Chicago a thrilling winner of a team, but there is something else there: a reassuring knack for getting caught doing and saying the right things about teamwork, preparation and dedication.”
Church leaders, corporate leaders, and academic leaders could all take a lesson from Jonathan Toews. Do we seek to honor those who have gone before us, those who have faithfully paved the way and are coming to the close of a career or ministry? Are we the first one to, in effect, hand them the cup and acknowledge that we know we all stand on the shoulders of others? I would guess that all of us can think of at least one person who opened up a door for us, who left a legacy of wisdom and skill, who is worth a note or a moment of thanks. Let’s not assume that individual knows how deeply they are appreciated. Let’s take the time to let them know and hoist a cup of honor and praise.
I was awakened this morning at 4:42 am by the repetitive tweeting of a bird – three evenly spaced trills over and over again. The sun did not rise until an hour later. So it got me thinking about singing before the dawn, singing when the sky is still totally dark and it is not at all certain that light will come. If the birds can do that, how about us humans?
Can we sing, give praise, and most importantly trust in the goodness of God before:
- we hear back about the new job
- we get the final diagnosis
- we know how to pay the bills
- our child hears back from the application to his/her favorite school
- we find a life partner
- the pregnancy test
- we courageously initiate a crucial conversation
- our blank page is filled with creative ideas
- the medicine starts working
- the move to a new city
- we know the plan!
For most of us, the singing and praise come later, after we see how God has worked. I want to be more like my bird friends. Choosing to radically trust when I have no human evidence to hold onto. Singing before the dawn.
After a fabulous weekend of celebrating my daughter’s graduation from Wake Forest University (summa cum laude brags her mother!!!), I was tired and ready for a nap on the plane. My husband Warren graciously agreed to drive all the “stuff” home from North Carolina, and I got to fly. As I boarded, I noticed the lovely blond woman sitting next to me with yellow roses placed carefully under the seat in front of her. I asked if she was coming home from a graduation, and she said, “Yes, for Wake Forest.” But from there I discovered that her weekend experience was entirely different than mine. This was the woman (along with her 18 yr old son and husband sitting behind us) from the Chicago area whose older son was in my daughter’s class - he died in February in his sleep at the school. The University brought the family down to graduation in order to allow them to receive their child’s diploma and honor his memory.
I truly believe it was no coincidence we were seatmates. This family are followers of Jesus, and I learned about the recent months of grieving their loss. They have received amazing support from their local community, from Wake Forest, and from their local church. In fact, I discovered that I know her pastor – he was one of my favorite people at a leaders retreat I just facilitated in Albuquerque. This mom raved about how her pastor and the congregation at their church rallied around them and continue to carry them. She cannot imagine how they would have put one foot in front of the other without the love and lifting of others.
Two mothers on a plane. One on a high from celebrating my daughter’s four years of learning and growth, anticipating with great joy what she will do next. The other mom started out the college experience for her son with the exact same hopes, dreams, and enthusiasm. She was so close to her son that he chose to call her every day to check in. And now she flies home with some yellow roses and a graduation certificate – but no son to hug and hold and laugh with and celebrate. She must find peace knowing her son is awaiting her in heaven…while she grieves the loss every day.
I do not understand the ways of life and death. But as trite as it sounds, I am committed more than ever to treasuring every day I am given to love my family and friends. We must savor the moments, because we never know how much time we will have. This is not new information for any of us, but when you have the privilege to sit next to a brave woman who is trying to move forward when her heart has broken, you embrace the brevity of life with greater reverence.
Last week I had coffee with Erin, a young woman entrepreneur who is also a wife, mother, and servant in her church. She had asked me for some “mentoring time” which always terrifies me! I am still learning what mentoring involves and trying to discern how to give young leaders the gift of my presence and lessons learned over the decades. I have been struck by two distinct traits in the young leaders (both men and women) who have sought me out – they are hungry for wisdom and they are humble.
Here is a sweeping generalization, but I believe there is some truth to it. My Baby Boomer generation, back in our 20’s and 30’s, were not nearly as humble. Many of us were arrogantly thinking that our parents’ generation did not know much about leadership in the church, and we did not often seek them out. We made stuff up as we went along, with a lot of hits and misses along the way. How much failure and agony could we have prevented if only we would have humbly asked for some guidance and support?
What I am seeing these days gives me great hope for the future of the kingdom and God’s Church. Young men and women are actively asking more mature Christ followers to invest in them. There is actually a tremendous shortage of mentors! Those of us who are older need to open ourselves to a season of giving back. Mentoring does not require us to have all the answers or to have it all together. The best gift we can bring is to listen and to ask good questions, to offer perspective and support. We can let the younger leader know we are in their corner, that God will not fail them, that they are doing better than they often give themselves credit for.
This is God’s divine plan – for those who are older to come alongside those who are younger. I celebrate the hunger and humility I see in young leaders, and I challenge those of us who are getting grey hair to get over it, to offer our minds and our hearts to those coming behind us, to choose to invest and to love and to pray for them diligently. The future of the church is in their hands. Let’s not miss out on the wonder of this privilege to give back and pay it forward
Yesterday my daughters and I delighted in the wonders of Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando. We devoured the frozen Butterbeer, learned the magical process of a wand “choosing you”, screamed on the dragon roller coaster, and voted the Gringotts ride as best of all. Along with thousands of other Muggles on spring break…we had a blast. The design of the place down to every last detail is remarkable.
On our way out of the park, we made one last stop at a gift store - and for the first time, saw the series of books where all of this began. I marveled that about 18 years ago, a single mom named J.K. Rowling sat in a coffee shop and thought up the whole magnificent story from beginning to end. She was struggling to make ends meet, and then gave birth to the seeds of a vast world of characters and plot lines. In that little London watering hole, Rowling envisioned the story of a 10-year-old boy named Harry.
So here’s what I could not stop thinking about yesterday as we left the park. J.K. Rowling had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that her creative ideas would one day become a worldwide phenomenon, that 7 books and 7 movies later there would be a theme park in Orlando and a studio tour in England celebrating the entire experience known as Harry Potter World. As she put words on the page, sentence by sentence, describing wild characters like Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood, Rowling had no possible way to know what would happen in the next few decades. She simply kept working on her ideas, kept working hard to bring them to life, kept trusting that maybe someone would be captivated by her story.
So what does this mean for creative artists everywhere? Most all of us will never write or design something that will impact millions. And yet…whenever we are faithful to the ideas in our minds and hearts, whenever we discipline ourselves to do the often grueling work of writing down words or notes or choreographing a dance or editing a video or designing a set or whatever it is we make – we have NO IDEA what might come of it. We do not know when we are in that phase of hard work who might be impacted by what we create, who might be inspired or comforted or stretched or stirred by what comes out of our own coffee shop moments.
So my challenge to myself and to all creative folks like me is simply this – don’t give up on your coffee shop time. Show up as often as you can to a place where you can dream and think and create. On so very many days it will feel unproductive, frustrating, and like a total waste of time. But we truly have no idea what might happen next.
I have been a fan and faithful viewer of NBC News Anchor Brian Williams for the last decade. Throughout the recent controversy, I continue to hope that some new revelations will explain his actions and even exonerate him. But I am also sobered by the tragic downfall that has resulted from Williams’ apparent violation of God’s commandment not to lie. I think all pastors and teachers - all of us who traffic in a lot of words and story telling - should be shaking in our shoes. The wisdom of the Proverbs tells us:
When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
Whenever we are given the privilege of speaking, a temptation lurks with every illustration and story we tell. We can alter the story to be just a tiny bit more funny or dramatic or bizarre or painful. We can exaggerate that blistering hot summer day to be 101 degrees instead of the actual 90 degrees. We can alter the dialogue exchanged with our child to make a punch line punchier. We can even adjust the small details of a story to make ourselves look just a little more noble or wise or kind. And because many of us tell our stories in more than one setting, over time the telling can morph slowly until what we communicate is no longer close to the original story. Worse yet, in deceiving others we can also deceive ourselves into believing our new, shinier version of the story is actually the truth!
Pastors and teachers traffic in a lot of words. When words are many, sin is not absent. It’s impossible to completely “hold our tongues” when we are charged with the task of preaching or teaching. But we can be sober minded. We can take much greater care in the writing and telling of events. We can prayerfully ask the Spirit to convict us when we alter the details. I also recommend the accountability of a spouse, good friend, or colleague who will periodically ask us with love, “Is that how it really happened?”
Deception is one of the Evil One’s most wildly successful tools. Whenever we embellish the truth with the goal of managing our image, we are liars. Rather than judging Brian Williams, I am choosing to seek to learn from his experience and turn the mirror of God’s truth on my many words.
For the past 18 months, my husband and I have been serving and attending a young church that gathers in a warehouse in the West Loop of Chicago. About the same time we started going there, a new young worship leader arrived. His name is Patrick, and he moved his young family to the brutal Chicago winters from rural Tennessee. Along with the two Lead Pastors, I have had the privilege and joy of giving Patrick some coaching along the way. Last Sunday morning as I participated in worship, I found myself celebrating the incredible growth in Patrick. Here’s what I most appreciate and love about him:
He is humble and coachable – Never once have I felt Patrick get defensive about feedback. He is wide open to learning and sincerely wants to grow and get better every week. Patrick is extremely gifted musically, and knows far more about music than I do. He is crazy good on guitar and has a rich singing voice. Yet Patrick knows there is room for him to improve, and he welcomes and is actually grateful for the input.
Patrick is intentional with his words – This was not always the case. Early on, we all gave Patrick gentle coaching to think through more carefully what he planned to say as he welcomed people or guided us further into God’s presence. These days, Patrick doesn’t “wing it” or lean into worn out clichés when he chooses to speak. Prior to Sunday morning, he gives careful thought to the lyrics of the songs and what God might lead him to say that would propel us further.
Patrick is super prepared and has rehearsed his team well - The band and tech team all appreciate that Patrick shows up on time with a band that knows what they are doing and are ready to go. He runs the rehearsal before we open the doors with efficiency and yet with joy and warmth.
Patrick smiles a lot. – This may not seem like a big deal, but for those of us engaging in worship, we love to see the leader reflect joy when we are celebrating. I have experienced more than my share of melancholy, sad looking worship leaders who lack energy and presence.
Patrick is becoming a pastor – Over many months I have witnessed Patrick evolving from a really good song leader/musician into a true worship pastor. He LEADS our people week to week. He is gaining the trust of the community to facilitate our gathering. He establishes eye contact with us and shepherds us. He has come so far!
My hope is that you will be inspired by Patrick, whether you are a worship leader or a friend/coach of one. Now don’t try to hire Patrick away!
For several months now I have been using a diet called the 5/2 – mostly to maintain my weight and fight against mid-life gains. The way it works is really simple – two non-consecutive days a week I only get a total of 500 calories, which is like nothing. (Did you know that just 10 Peanut M & M’s are 100 calories?!!!) The other 5 days I can eat “normally” which probably means different things to different people, and for me usually involves indulging to make up for my two hungry days. Most weeks my low calorie days are Mondays and Thursdays. So today is Thursday, and let’s just say I’m a little crabby and not much fun to be around. I love to eat and greatly miss it when I am deprived!
So does it work? Studies have actually shown that this rhythm often results in overall weight loss, and I can attest that it has helped me drop a couple pounds in the last several months and keep it off. I am not sure it would be useful for those who need to lose a lot of weight. So physically, I think it has been good for me.
But the other benefit has surprised me. I wake up on the 500 calorie days, and immediately feel a sense of sadness. This has driven me to identify with the hundreds of millions of people on our planet who wake up every morning, - EVERY MORNING! - knowing they will not have enough to eat. The hungry do not know what it is like to feel ridiculously full, to choose from an overwhelming number of options in a restaurant or grocery store. Mothers of hungry children agonize every day about how to feed their family, and often sacrifice their own food for the little ones. There is no variety of food in impoverished communities – whatever they have to eat is usually the same every day.
On my low calorie days I am not only inclined to being crabby, but I also have less energy. I imagine what it would be like to live every day without the necessary fuel for physical activity, without the boost that healthy nutrients give our bodies and our minds. How lethargic and unmotivated would many of us be if we lived with chronic hunger? When I feel a stomach pang on my low cal days, I frequently offer up a quick prayer for those in extreme poverty, and deepen my gratitude for the wonder that my needs are so abundantly met for food and shelter.
Vanity led me to the 5/2 diet. But there have been even greater benefits for my soul. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but for me, there has been some good learning. As I write, only about 10 more hours until bedtime. I’m already fantasizing about breakfast tomorrow morning!
I have been working on a message for the Christmas season to preach at my church, and found myself focusing on the character of Mary, the teen-age mother of our Savior. After the angel announces to Mary her wondrous and scary divine assignment, Mary sings a beautiful song of worship found in Luke chapter 1. I especially love her comment at the beginning, …my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Our God was mindful of this young girl – he truly SAW her and decided to bless her. From the very beginning of the life of Jesus, born in a smelly cave to that young mother, our Savior ushered in a revolutionary treatment of women. In ancient days, women were property, and expected to be hidden servants who never even came close to sharing a seat at the table of discourse or leadership. If you want to be incredibly inspired by how Jesus treated women, I highly recommend chapter 4 of John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?
So much has changed in 2000 years…and yet it can still be challenging and discouraging to play a vital role as a woman leader in the church. This is true for most women leaders I have coached - even those who serve in churches with an egalitarian view. Women church leaders tell me stories of small ways, and larger ways, in which they have felt overlooked, excluded, diminished, unfairly compensated, and misunderstood. There are also many stories of churches where the opposite is true, where women feel valued and empowered. Yet most female leaders who cross my path feel somewhat alone in their journey, and are occasionally or often tempted to just give up, bury their gifts, and quiet their voice.
This is why all of us would do well to return again and again to the moments described in the gospels as Jesus ennobled and treasured the contributions of women. Jesus was a radical on many fronts, including his view of women. So as we approach Christmas, I urge women to be inspired by Mary. Know that our God SEES you, that He will not abandon you, that He has a vital role for you to play and will equip you with what you need. The road may be extremely difficult on many days, but please do not despair and do not give up! Take your seat at whatever table you are invited to join. Find your voice and speak up with that rare combination of grace and truth. Lean into other women (and men as well) for support and understanding – do not do this journey alone!
I leave you with the words of Dorothy Sayers, quoted in John’s book, the first woman to receive a degree from Oxford, and a devoted follower of our Savior:
Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle
and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man –
there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who
never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized;
who never made arch jokes about them; who never treated them
either as ‘The women, God help us!’ or “The ladies, God bless
them!”; who rebuked without demeaning and praised without
condescension; who took their questions and arguments
seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never
urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being
female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male
dignity to defend. (from Who Is This Man?)
If you are asked to serve as a host at a church gathering, how can you best prepare yourself for this vital role? When I am given a hosting opportunity, there is a process I go through to prepare. Here’s what it generally looks like for me:
Collecting Information: First it is essential to gather any information you can about the needs, focus, and intentions of this particular gathering. What is the general theme or feel of the worship time? What is the message time about, including the primary Scriptures? When I am collecting information, I look at lyrics or listen to songs online so I am aware of what the feel of the room will be. If there are videos to be shown or other art forms for that day, I look at scripts or links so I am fully up to speed. Usually I have a conversation on the phone or in person with the individual coordinating the service so he or she can give me any backstory that will be helpful.
Assess the Context of My Part: Sometimes a host comes up more than once in a gathering. However many moments I am asked to handle, I want to be especially clear on what I am following and what I am leading up to. I see myself as a bridge and a guide. There is an intellectual flow to a gathering and there is also an emotional flow. I must match my tone and attitude as much as my words in anticipation of what the congregation will be thinking and feeling. Imagine the gathering and its flow before you write down anything. Picture how God might be at work during these moments.
Write Out My Words: I don’t believe the best hosts “wing it.” To avoid clichés and choose words with tremendous care, we must be thoughtful in advance. I write out all my words, careful to note the major ideas I am asked to convey – this includes prayer, or comments, or announcements, or the reading of Scripture. I also try to time out what I have written to see if my plan falls into the limits given for hosting – often, I realize I need to do some editing! When I am writing, I attempt to craft seamless transitions from one thought or idea to another. The goal is to make announcements not feel like announcements, but like a part of the whole vision and journey of the day.
Negotiate # of Announcements: Most churches try to announce way too many events, and then they wonder why the hosting part takes 10 minutes! If I look at a list of requested announcements and feel there are far too many, I will go to the appropriate staff member and ask if we can possibly trim them down. It is best to only announce 2 or 3 events - at the most - and only those initiatives that are applicable to all or close to all of those attending.
Recognize the Significance of Any Prayers You Lead: I discovered that for many people, listening to someone else lead a prayer is a vital part of their transformation journey. Many people don’t realize they can talk to God with normal human words and openness. Remember when you lead a corporate prayer that it is just that – a group expression. Use a lot of “we” words, including everyone. Be real both real and reverent.
Write Intentional Words About the Offering: If you are asked to invite people to worship through their giving, give some thought to how you can bring a moment of inspiration or Scripture or a personal story to this part of the gathering.
Memorize! Once I have written out my words, I work on memorizing the entire piece so that I can establish connection with eye contact and heart. I bring up some small note cards just in case, but avoid like crazy reading anything except for Scripture. I will rarely deliver my words exactly as I wrote them, and that is ok. But I seek to hold onto key phrases and keep the overall flow in my mind through diligent preparation. It helps me to practice out loud, even in my car on the way to church!
Read the Room: Finally, even with all this preparation, it is vital for me to be fully present in the room during each gathering. Sometimes God surprises us with moments that don’t go quite as we imagined. Sometimes the movement of the Spirit is unmistakable, and we sense that everyone is truly on holy ground. The worst thing a host can ever do is violate a moment. Experience the gathering along with everyone else, and prayerfully seek to respond, even to funny moments, with the appropriate kind of spirit and warmth and genuine presence.
People often ask me if I still get nervous before hosting – and the answer is “Yes, still a little bit.” That is normal because what we do as a host really matters. But I try to remember above all that this is not about me. Hosting is an opportunity to serve each person who took the time to come to church – those who have known Jesus for a very long time along with those who are brand new and feeling awkward. I am given the privilege of helping to guide them all through this hour together. So take a deep breath, trust that your preparation will serve you well, and give God your very best every time you host.
Whether you watch Matt and Savannah and Al in the mornings…or some other morning show crew, you may feel as I do – that these hosts become familiar, almost like family. We invite hosts from television into our home, into our lives, and over time we trust them to not only deliver “the news’, but also to make us feel like we are a welcome part of the ongoing experience, that we are “in the know” with what is happening in culture and in our world. We learn a little about their lives, and certainly have a sense that we “know” them though we have never been introduced.
Are there any parallels with those who play a “hosting” role in a church service? I think so. Maybe at your church you call this part of your Sunday experience by another name, but whatever you may label it, I am referring to an individual who guides us along through the morning, who is or should be so much more than simply “an announcements person.” The host may be asked to invite us into the experience early on, a version of “Call to Worship.” The host may be required to play a bridging role, guiding us from a moment in worship, leading us to a time of prayer or a reading of Scripture. And yes, the host also informs us of what matters in the life of our community, and may be asked to prepare us to give our offerings. I believe this is potentially one of the most impactful individuals who serves on Sunday mornings. The most effective hosts connect with the congregation. They are warm, genuine, thoughtful, and inclusive. They identify with those who are brand new visitors as well as with the veteran attenders. They guide us along in our morning, and the best hosts make it all feel seamless and easy. Here are a few questions I am often asked about hosts:
- Who should be asked to serve as a host? The host can be a member of your staff or a volunteer. What matters most is that the host is a person who fully understands the culture of your church, and someone who has the gifts of communication and discernment to “read the room”. An effective host never violates a moment in church, but is able to extend the moment with just the right tone before moving on to whatever is next. The host is warm without being over the top or too perky. An added bonus comes if the host has a natural sense of humor, but also the ability to guide people into the presence of God through prayer and pastoral comments.
- How many “hosts” should be on our team? You don’t want to have so many hosts that the congregation never gets to know them. Depending on how many services you offer each week, you could alternate weekends with two different hosts, or have 3 or 4 available. I recommend that each host be scheduled at least once a month, or the connection to the community will not be built. Having some diversity on your host team – of age, gender, and race – is also intentional for building bridges to various people in your church.
- How can we develop our host team and help them to prepare? That sounds like a great topic for my next post…stay tuned because there is more to come!
Yesterday morning Soul City Church celebrated its 4th anniversary with abundant joy and gratitude for the ways Only God has worked among us. Powerful stories of transformed lives were told; we sang praises to the One who most deserves our praise; Co-Lead Pastors Jarrett and Jeanne Stevens reflected on the wonder of how God works among ordinary people to do extraordinary miracles. My favorite moment took place when we toasted the anniversary with about 2 ounces of sparkling cider, clicking our little plastic cups. It was all very fun and deeply significant at the same time. Celebration matters. All the planning and hard work are more than worth it for the ways these moments of commemoration remind us how God has been faithful.
The Old Testament is marked by frequent use of the simple word, Remember. We are called to pause and look back at all that God has done. This is because we tend to be forgetful, ungrateful, and even anxious about the future. Can our Heavenly Father be trusted? If only we will take the time to look at the past, at all the crossroad moments when God came through for us, at the resources and people and ideas that He lavished on us, we will be moved toward hope instead of worry. We will remind one another…our God is good!
So let’s find ways to celebrate. Often. Every anniversary, birthday, baptism, addiction recovery, debt retirement, answered prayer, holy moment. Throw a party – little ones and big ones. Raise a plastic cup of juice (or the beverage of your choice), look your comrades in the eye, and say, “Only God!”