thick skin & ministry

This post is one that I have been wanting to write for a while now, but it is a post about a topic that I am very much still growing in and learning about each day, so, I urge you – instead of reading this and thinking, “Oh, you don’t know the half of it” try reading it with the knowledge that I acknowledge I have far more to learn and experience, and many more thick layers of skin to develop in life and more specifically in ministry. I am well aware that I am, “only 20” 😉

When you are a leader of any kind, you may find yourself in this mindset – you desire so badly to seem strong, all of the time. Especially if you’re young, you may strive for this because people so often look down upon people who are younger. If you’re in a leadership position, or taking on something that requires a lot of you, you may find yourself wanting to seem as though you are tough, all the time, as though you basically don’t have feelings, nothing bothers you, and if it does, it’s “no big deal,” because, “you can handle it.” I can recall numerous times where I have found myself with this mindset in the church setting, sweeping things under the rug instead of allowing myself to feel them and have them make me better. The hard thing about being that type of person though, is that, those things you tell yourself, don’t always work. You’re not as perfect as you want people to think you are. You do let things get to you. You can’t handle it all on your own. You do have feelings, and guess what? Your feelings are valid. The hard part is actually believing that and accepting that. It’s hard to understand that while, yes, thick skin is needed in pretty much every aspect of life, you can’t be strong all of the time. Thick skin is something that develops over time. It’s a process. You aren’t born with the thickest skin that you will ever have, and, the thing about thick skin is that it only develops by going through tough experiences – you get tough by feeling what it is like to endure trials. I think that one of the hardest lessons I have learned thus far since hearing God’s call to ministry and pursuing that call, is learning how to have thick skin, what that means, and what it looks like.

My freshman year of college, I developed a layer of thick skin that I never knew I needed. That layer of thick skin was so that I could handle people’s condemnation of my pursuit to full-time ministry due to my gender. And I can do that now – I can let such comments and rejection roll off me like rain – it’s a piece of cake, because of that whole year spent developing such thick skin. It has helped me more than I could ever tell you, and I am grateful. But as I have continued along in my journey towards ministry, diving into different areas of the Church, and interacting with different people, experiencing it all, I have seen all kinds of sides to ministry – the good, the bad, the ugly, and then some. Seeing all those sides has continuously made me realize my desperate need (for God) and for a whole new layer of thick skin that I lacked; a layer that I am still developing, day by day, experience by experience, hardship by hardship. As I said, it’s a process.

I, like many others, wish that I could look at a mentor, pastor, parent, or anyone older and wiser than me, and have them tell me that it gets easier. I wish that I could have someone who has lived longer than me, look me in the eyes and tell me how, somewhere along the line, it gets easier to have thick skin. But that’s not going to happen. It’s just not. No pastor will ever be able to tell me that and actually mean it, and I know that, because I’ve had pastors admit that to me. But, I did have one pastor say that, “you have to be so deeply rooted in your call that it sustains you through the hurt.” You learn how to handle it all better, but that doesn’t at all mean that it gets easier. You just get stronger, and your skin, thicker.

Now, before I jump into the post, I will admit before you that I am not by any means ‘qualified’ to write a blog post full of “how to’s” when it comes to ministry and having thick skin. Everyone in ministry knows that you need thick skin, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we all have an equal amount of. With my admittance of my not being ‘qualified,’ I do believe that God has used my experiences in ministry thus far to equip me to share these words with you all. I am still very much an amateur, I do not have all of the answers, and I still let things get to me way more than I should – I’m still growing, as lifelong learners do. With that being said, I’m thinking of all of the ministry experiences and encounters with people, both negative and positive, that I’ve had thus far (which I’m grateful for!) and maybe you and I share in some of those experiences or encounters. If so, I want to share some of what has helped me and what continues to help me. These are not nearly all of the ways in which I cope and learn to have thick skin, but nonetheless, these are things that God has helped place on my heart, because, the Lord knows full well that I could not do any of this without him. If I tried, I undoubtedly would have given up on my pursuit towards ministry a long time ago.


Consistent prayer. First and foremost, prayer is key. You and I know both that. When life has you down on your knees because you cannot bear to stand any longer, pray. When you’re sky high on life and all is well, also pray. When you’re struggling and finding that comments, obstacles, or people are getting to your head, and most of all to your heart, pray. I don’t think I have ever fallen before God with my arms stretched out for him to come and pick me up, more than when I am feeling as though I am in desperate need of him and of that thick skin we’re supposed to have. Thick skin is something that I have prayed for and longed for, and while I have it, I’m still developing it. It doesn’t come overnight. And know that God’s answer to your prayer for thick skin very well could be another battle or obstacle. May we learn to be okay with that, and keep ours minds open to that possibility. And do not stop praying.

Don’t take things personally. I cannot say enough how much easier said than done this is. As human beings, our desire and our human nature is to let things get to us. We overthink comments that are said to us, especially the unnecessary and sometimes rude ones. Thick skin is needed if we’re going to refuse to take things personally. ‘Let unnecessary or hurtful comments role off of you like rain’ is some of the best advice that I have ever been given. Similar to likely everyone reading this today, I have had things said both to my face and behind my back in various settings, including Church, that I have let get to my heart – I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not crazy for overthinking that one thing that that one person said to you; that comment which left you feeling offended, discouraged, and hurt. You’re not overreacting. But it’s also important to remember that what people say to you or about you can often be a reflection of themselves and how they feel or think about them, not necessarily you. Remember that. And remember this:

Pray for those who hurt you. This is probably one of the hardest things you will find in this post. I have found myself before God in prayer, literally in tears, because I knew that I should be praying for the people whom I was hurt by, but I just could not bring myself to do it. But friends, God wants to hear about it. He wants to hear about your hurt and he wants to hear that you have the Christ-like love to rise above your hurt and pray for that person who is likely hurting, themselves.

Have a tender heart. I know that we have all heard this quote before: “Have thick skin and a tender heart.” We are all undoubtedly capable of having a tender heart. So train your heart and train your mind to be tender when it comes to tough situations, especially situations that involve a person or persons. And I know that it’s hard. I know that is never what we want to hear. It’s much easier to resent people or situations that make us feel low and discouraged. But again, it’s what Jesus exemplified for us in the Bible. In the Church, doing ministry with so many other people, we have to follow his example, and his example shows us compassion, empathy, and tenderness. He has called us to have those very attributes when it comes to interacting with our fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus did it, and as a follower of him, we can do it, too.

Get used to it. You may have read those four words and thought, “This is awful advice, Ashley.” I debated putting those words into this post, but I wanted to, because it’s something that I’ve told myself, and something a lot of other people have blatantly told me, too, including my own mom, over and over and over again. If I’m ever struggling with a comment that someone said to me, or a tough situation, especially in ministry, being told to, “get used to it” actually helps. You’re always going to have that. Always. That’s a harsh reality. Learn to let comments go in one ear and go out the other. You’re always going to encounter difficult people. That is not limited to the Church. You’re going to encounter difficult people in every job field, in every area of life, everywhere you go. But you’re also going to encounter really beautiful people. If we’re being honest, everyone has beauty in them. So even when you encounter someone you would consider to be ‘difficult,’ show them love. Try to search for their internal beauty. We all have it.

Step back. There is no harm in taking a step back. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need time to process whatever it is that’s testing your thickness of skin (AKA whatever you’re struggling with), stepping back can be good. You don’t want to get burned out. Go have church on a mountain if you’re like me and love to hike and be in creation. Go visit a different church that you’ve never been to before and worship there. Have quiet devotion time by yourself instead of going to Bible study at your church if time alone is what you need. Take Sabbath. Sabbath is important (and I can and will write a whole other blog post on the importance of that). When you step back from a ministry setting, or whatever setting it may be, that’s presenting you with challenge, a hurt heart, or exhaustion, you’re giving yourself time and space for renewal and rest. So, when you’re done and ready to step back in, you’ll be re-energized and ready to take on whatever gets thrown your way.

Pray prayers of thanks & praise to God for tough experiences. These tough experiences that you have gone through, are going through, and will go through – they grow you. They strengthen you. They prepare you for the next tough experience. I know it’s very difficult to sit there before God and say, “Thank you” for trials when what you really want is to look up at him and ask, “Why, God?” But I guarantee you, you will eventually know why, and that ‘why’ will be revealed to you the next time you encounter a tough situation, when you’re able to handle it 10x better than you were able to the last time. I know that it stinks to realize, but yet another harsh reality is that you cannot always dodge crappy experiences. You can learn from them. You can allow them to make you better. When you open yourself to that kind of vulnerability and rise above the hurt in order to have it contribute to your development of thick skin, you’ll thank yourself, and you’ll thank God for the growth it caused.

Seek the wisdom & counsel of those who ‘get it.’ Think about the people whom you trust. Think about your mentors. I encourage you to let go of any fear that you may have of being vulnerable, and seek wise counsel, as the Bible instructs, when you’re in need of some guidance. It’s okay to admit that you do not know everything! Nobody does. But there are people who love and care for you, and who are willing to offer you guidance about how to get by – these are people who understand and have walked or are walking where you are walking now. Personally, if I had a dollar for every time that I have called my pastor or another mentor of mine and straight up said, “I need help” or “I need wisdom” I would be rich, because I am still growing, and when you know you have people who are ‘there,’ you learn to use your resources and seek their help, knowing that they have been where you are and can help you. This has saved me in so many situations; being able to get off my high horse and admit that I need help dealing with a difficult situation or difficult encounter with someone. If nothing else, it helps to know that you’re not the only one who has dealt with what you are dealing with. There are other people around you who have developed thick skin from fighting and getting through exactly what you’re going through. So do not hesitate to reach out, knowing that there is zero shame in doing so.


So friends, those are just some suggestions from a mini preacher who has learned a lot and still has a ton left to learn. I want to note that I am indeed incredibly grateful for the beautiful and messy parts of ministry that I have witnessed thus far, as I acknowledge developing thick skin down will help me later (though that growth will never stop!) And even after witnessing the ugly sides of ministry that have sometimes left me hurting and discouraged, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, because the beautiful parts and the passion far outweigh those negatives. (So, bring it on, world). And while this post itself was geared towards those in the ministry, you can apply these points to really any job setting, career aspiration, or life situation. No matter what you do in life, you’re going to be encountering people. No matter what you do, you’re going to encounter tough situations.

Know that you – yes you – have thick skin, and you are continuously developing thicker skin. Believe that, okay? I know how ridiculously hard it is to believe that and I know how easy it is to think to yourself, “Wow, why in the world can’t I handle this?” But it is in those moments you must pray and talk to God about it. I know that I put prayer in that list three times, and that was intended in order to show the significance of prayer when it comes to ‘having thick skin.’ 

To my brother or sister reading this today, remember: you’ve got this. There is nothing you cannot handle with The Almighty by your side.

Guest Post: “Why, God?” by Jason Stanley

There are a lot of interesting stories in the Bible. And sometimes you are invited to preach about them. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was asked to preach on Genesis 22:1-14 for a church’s midweek service. Genesis 22 is often referred to as “The Binding of Isaac.”

Or, it can be referred to as that time God told a dad to sacrifice his child. (There’s a reason you won’t find this story in a children’s Bible.)

As a dad myself I struggled with this story differently than I had before. How could a loving God ask a dad to give up his son as a sacrifice? What would God ask Abraham to kill his son?

And I wrestled with just how I would preach this text. It is not an easy story. It makes us uncomfortable and we feel anything but safe. It’s not one of those warm and fuzzy children’s Bible kind of story.

And maybe that’s the point?

Perhaps the Genesis writer, who can span generations of families in a single chapter, slows down in the Abrahamic narrative to tell this story (with all the detail) for the simple reason that it makes us uncomfortable – that is causes us to wrestle with it a bit, not unlike how we, from time to time, wrestle with our faith.

And as I wrestled with this text, I tried to imagine what Abraham the dad was thinking. I imagine that when Abraham was chopping wood that day his thoughts ranged from anger to awe. Did he release what anger he had towards God with every swing of the axe? Or did he remember all the times God provided and kept his promises?

I think when crazy things come up in life – like God asking you to sacrifice your child – we tend to search for explanations as to why these things are happening. Why did my dad get cancer? Why did the car break down THIS week? Why does this professor hate me so much?

The problem with seeking explanations, is too often it leaves frustrated because of the answer we get, don’t get, or it leaves us with more questions.

Even though God has asked something crazy and tragic of him, Abraham chooses to be faithful, focusing, not on the explanations – in fact he never asks why –but on the promises of God. Abraham understood that God’s will never contradicts God’s promises.

Our assurance of faith does not stand on explanations; instead it stands on the promises of God.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life, but I imagine that there are days that aren’t as great as others. I imagine that there are some relationship tensions or work place drama that you could do without. There is a lot of crazy going on in our world that may leave us wondering, “Why, God?”

But we must not take our eyes off the sacrificial lamb God provided in Jesus Christ – the fulfillment of promises that God made.

God promises, one by one, are never broken. Unlike the frailty of humanity, God keeps his promises.

When we stand on these promises we, like Isaac, are unbound from the things that hold us down. When we stand firm on the promises of God, we can overcome and weather any trial and test that comes our way.


 

Rev. Jason Stanley is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, chair of the Order of Deacons in the Virginia Conference, and currently serving as the Coordinator for Church Revitalization on the Elizabeth River District in Virginia. Jason is married to Rev. Megan Saucier and dad to Jayne Carter. Jason is also an avid blogger so be sure to check out his blog here and like his blog’s Facebook page here.

from the pulpit to the pews

Is it hard to go from the pulpit to the pews? 

Today at church, a few minutes before the service began, I had someone come up to me and ask me this question. This was my first time ever being asked this question, but it is something that I think about often. It’s something that I have struggled with, even as someone who is not even a pastor. I think anyone who has led any part of a church service before can relate to this, so I thought today, I would write about it for anyone who may be able to read it and say, “hey, I know that feeling, too.”

I do want to clarify before I write any further, that this post is for my fellow leaders in the Church, whoever you may and whatever you may lead, and that the intention of this post is not to complain, nor to sound ungrateful. It is simply me writing about a struggle that I know many leaders in the Church have. I have said it before and I will say it until the day I die, no words of mine that I write or speak will ever be able to sum up to the fullest my gratitude for the ways in which I have been able to lead in the Church at age 20 and well before. Though I attempt often, I cannot begin to express how humbling it is to have been able to lead different church services and preach to the number of congregations I have, and I will never quite get over how blessed I am, or how much joy it has brought me. I am reminded by others and I remind myself often that it has been and continues to be a gift that I am never to take for granted. With that gift, like any journey of pursuing something, even something that you love, there are challenges, and so, today I am here to write about one of those little challenges. This post is actually the beginning of a ‘series’ if you will, of what I’m going to be calling ministry’s hardest lesson’s (acknowledging I have many hard lessons ahead of me to learn in ministry).

So, is it easy to go from the pulpit to the pews? Or in my case, and maybe your case, too, from the pulpit, to the pews, back to the pulpit, then back to the pews, and repeat.

I would not say that it is easy to go from leading to sitting in the pews. I would say you almost have to train your mind to be able to focus as a congregant and not as someone who is supposed to be running the service. I would say that it is easier to sit down in the pews and pay close attention to things that matter more to you because you know how things are ‘supposed’ to go, but things that really don’t matter much in the grand scheme of why you are at church. It’s easy to sit down and analyze the service, especially if it’s similar to one you’re used to leading or helping to lead. It is easier to do all of that than it is to sit down in a pew with the same mindset as someone who has never led in a service before. It is easy to pay mind and notice when something doesn’t go right. When I attend church services when I am out of town, I am definitely guilty of sitting down and thinking, “wow they shouldn’t do that or say that, or, they should do this or do that.” It’s hard to sit down and fully take in the service sometimes. It’s hard to keep your mind focused on the words being spoken when, in your head, you’re thinking about the more technical aspects of the service, the order of worship, or maybe even thinking about how you could better yourself as a leader at your home church by doing something that the church you’re visiting does. It can be difficult not to compare services or churches. While there’s nothing wrong with attending other churches and getting new ideas, there’s a fine line between that and comparing so much that you are unable to focus on the service’s purpose – worshiping God.

So, how do we make it not so hard? How do we sit down in a pew, listen to what is being spoken by the people who are leading, and take in the service for all that it is, focusing on the right things and not the things that, in reality, don’t matter?

As I said, because this is something that I have struggled with, I therefore do not have all of the answers that someone who has been a pastor for years and years will likely have, but these are some questions that I have found helpful to ask myself when I catch my mind drifting away from what really matters in a church service.

Why am I here?

Why are you attending church? Why are you there, sitting in the pew? I know, it sounds like the simplest thing in the world to ask yourself. I don’t know why you attend church, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it has something to do with Jesus. When you attend a church service, you are in a safe place where you are able to worship our Lord and Savior with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When you’re leading a church service, whether you’re leading the whole service, leading the music, reading scripture, serving communion, or serving in whatever way it may be, you’re doing so likely because you feel called to, or because that is your way of serving God; it’s the way you love and choose to serve Him. But when you’re in the pews, really ask yourself why you’re there. I urge you to take a step back and evaluate why you attend church, even when you’re not participating in serving in the service. This is something we should all do every so often, whether you ever lead in the service or not, because it is helpful for us to refocus ourselves, right? When you’re sitting down in a pew, listening to the Word of God being spoken, listening and singing along to the music being played, or listening to the sermon being preached, really taking it in, thinking of how you can apply it to your life, you are worshiping. You’re experiencing God’s presence. You’re being taught. You’re learning. It’s not easy to experience God’s presence, be taught, learn, or take anything away if your mind is occupied with the position of the pulpit up front, whether or not there’s communion and why, what the order of worship is, which prayers are being read when, and if the service is running over time. It’s not easy to experience worship and be present and aware of what is going on around you if you’re hyper-focused on the logistics. So I urge you, as I urge myself, remember why you are at church. You know why you lead in the Church. I know why I lead in Church. I know why I get behind the pulpit and preach. It’s for God. It’s me pursuing God’s call upon my life. I know that, and you know why you lead; you know why you get behind that pulpit, behind that microphone, into that choir loft, behind that lectern (if you do not, that is something to pray about and discern – feel free to email me, we’ll talk!)

Your worship experience is much different when you are leading a church service than when you are sitting in the pews. Neither is better than the other. They are both very beautiful experiences. It is important to find the balance between being aware of what’s going on and paying attention to what matters and why you are there, at church, whether you’re leading in the service or not.

Another question I have found my mind asking my heart:

Does it really matter?

Remember that you are not perfect; as a leader, as a member, as a Christian, as a person, perfect you are not. Remember that. Remember that no church is perfect, and remember that no leader is perfect. Even knowing those truths, it is easy to notice when things are not ‘perfect’ in the service. But remember, things are not perfect when you are the one leading either. Yes, it is easy to notice when something going on in the service does not align exactly with what is written in the bulletin. It is easy to notice when the pastor does not use hand sanitizer before serving communion, or when he/she switches something around in the service. When you’re familiar with how a church service goes, particularly the church service at your home church, it is easy to pick up on things that don’t go quite right. If we’re being completely honest, it’s easy to knit pick the smallest of things that probably make God sigh and face-palm. Other congregants may never pick up on the things you pick up on, but you’ll see them, and they’ll bug you. When it comes to those little things  that bug you, ask yourself – does it really matter? It’s amazing how ridiculous some of those little things can be, yes, but sometimes, that’s how it is. You notice things other people are oblivious to (lucky them). When you get involved in helping to lead the services, you open yourself to a whole other aspect of worship that those sitting in the pews don’t always see. Something that always helps me with noticing those little things that don’t quite matter, however, is remembering the flexibility that is so needed in ministry. Leave room for the Spirit to work, amen?! As ministry leaders of any kind, I think that’s something we all know; you can only plan so much. When you’re sitting in the pews, similar to when you’re leading in the Church, take it in, for what it is, embrace it, acknowledge the Spirit, bask in the thought of his presence with you in that service, whether you’re in the pew or in the pulpit. Wherever you are in the church, you’re there to worship God, because let’s face it, he’s amazing, and he deserves it. God deserves the attention during church more than the

Last but (definitely) not least:

Pray pray pray pray. 

There is no question when it comes to this one. Ask God to help you focus. If I had a penny for every time that I have needed to ask God to clear my mind of worrying about pointless things in the service so that I could focus on Him and His words being spoken through the pastor, lay reader, and worship bands praise music, I would be one rich gal, my friends. It’s okay to admit that you need help focusing on such things. God know’s your heart. He knows your love for leading in Church and yes, he knows that your knowledge of how services “are usually run” can get in the way of your worship experience. Simply ask him to help you focus. Pray for him to give you clarity so you can focus on experiencing God’s presence with your brothers and sisters. My fellow ministry leaders, young and not so young, the Lord rocks. He will help you out. He won’t get angry at you because your mind happens to slip away from the preachers sermon and onto how he or she forgot to pray at a specific time in the service, or how their stole is uneven.

Always, always, always remember that your worship and the praise you give God for all that he has done in you and through you is what makes you able to lead. Him and his strength and call is what enables you to lead. So, you leader, next time you find yourself sitting in the pew, and not behind the pulpit / lectern / choir loft / alter etc, be present, maybe ask yourself these questions, focus on what matters (worshiping Jesus) and never forget to thank Him for both worship experiences – both when you’re in the pews, and when you have the complete privilege of being in the pulpit for Him.

Nothing ever surprises God.

There are many words one could use to describe ministry, but a few words that I find myself saying and thinking often, are that, when it comes to ministry, there is only so much that you can plan. God has got a completely different agenda than you and I do, and boy, does he make that known in the funniest of ways.

This past Sunday, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead my home church’s worship services while my pastor was away on vacation. I had had this date on my calendar for over a month – way over a month, and I was so excited. There is something so very special about preaching in the church you grew up in; the church that has watched you grow and learn and become confident in God’s call upon your life.

I prayed each day the week leading up to this date that God would keep me healthy and prepare me to lead these services. I’m thinking maybe God’s response to those prayers was, “hm, you need a challenge,” or, “you need to rely on me more than you are now.”

We can all attest to the fact that God has a sense of humor, amen?

Thursday night, before the Sunday that I was scheduled to preach, I got home from Vacation Bible School and my throat felt a little funny, I was unusually tired, and my chest was feeling a little tight. I thought that I was simply exhausted from a busy week, so I went to bed early with the hope that it would pass. When I woke up Friday morning, however, I had an uncomfortably scratchy throat and barely a voice. I loaded up on cough drops to soothe my throat, babysat all day Friday, got home that evening feeling awful, so I took some ibuprofen to help my throat, and went straight to bed, again, with the hope that sleep would be the cure.

Then Saturday rolled around.

Saturday I woke up and my throat hurt so bad that I was in tears, and I could barely talk. I walked downstairs, with tears streaming down my face, and told my parents how poor I felt, thinking for sure that I would have to call my pastor and tell him I couldn’t do Sunday. I thankfully got into see the doctor Saturday morning, and they did a strep test (it did not end up being strep). The doctor told me about some remedies that would help my throat and get me through Sunday, so I went home, threw back some more ibuprofen, and rested up. Sunday, I woke up feeling rested, but still with a very uncomfortable sensation when I would swallow, and my voice still felt as though it was strained. I was a little worried about my voice, but at that point, it was Sunday morning, and I was ready to give God all that I had in those services. I have to say, I don’t think you ever think about how much you use your voice as a pastor (or as someone filling in for the pastor) until you have it in your head that you could potentially lose that voice at some point during the service. But, despite all of this, with lots of water and ibuprofen in my system, I went into those services knowing that the Lord would get me through it one way or another.

My voice ended up giving out on me 20 minutes after leading both church services Sunday morning. Praise God.

It’s Wednesday now and I am still without a voice; as frustrating as it is, I have to say, I have enjoyed laughing at myself, as have I enjoyed my voice being the source of laughter for those around me. Along with this, I have been thinking a lot about what all I could take away from this whole ordeal.

I have especially been thinking a lot about this truth that nothing ever surprises God.

I personally am not one to believe that there has to be a distinct reason as to why every single little thing happens in this life. I don’t believe for one moment that God just decided one day, “okay, I’m going to make Ashley super sick now, right before she has to preach.” I do, however, believe in God’s timing, and I believe that nothing that happens ever surprises God. That doesn’t mean everything that happens, God ordains. I believe we have free will, and that sin still exists, and therefore certain things that happen, God disapproves of. I just can’t bring myself to believe that the things that do happen in this world and in our lives, surprise God.

This whole ordeal definitely surprised me. It made me fear, and it triggered a great deal of worry. I had never been so afraid of making such a phone call to my pastor and feeling as though I would have to let him down. I was so unbelievably worried, I was angry, and genuinely concerned that I would be without a voice when Sunday morning rolled around. I was surprised at how this all played out during such an important time, but God, with his calm spirit, was there every moment to remind me of his truths and comforting presence. It is in these types of ordeals that we have the opportunity to place our whole trust in God. It’s ironic, because our church is in the middle of a sermon series titled “Jesus Calls…” and the sermon I preached was about how we are called to trust.

I placed my trust in God on Sunday morning; I trusted him to provide me with a voice and with the words to say, and sure enough, as always, he did not fail me. He came through for me. I could have easily not trusted God in this situation, and there were moments I definitely did not want to, and moments I definitely did not fully trust him, if I’m being honest. From the beginning when my pastor told me he wanted me to preach on trust, him and I both knew it would be tricky because trust is something I’ve struggled a lot with in recent months, so I can’t help but think, being the optimistic person I strive to be, maybe this was God’s way of teaching me to trust, as I taught the congregation about Christ’s call to trust.

Before this past weekend, I had never lost my voice before in my life. I had never filled in for our lead pastor before and I had not been sick at all since August of 2016.

It would have been very easy for me to get angry at God, and try to handle it on my own and not rely on him in this situation, but I was reminded, as people came up to me after the service, that God is the one who has called me, and therefore God is the one who has and who is going to equip me to handle these types of situations in ministry, hectic as they may be. God taught me to trust in this situation because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the strength, physical or mental, to get up there and do what I’m called to do. I would have been too fearful and worried. But friends, trust in God changes things. It changes your whole mindset. We get to place our trust in a God who is never surprised when things don’t go as planned!

Situations such as this one are opportunities for us to place our whole trust in God. When situations feel out of our control, as this one did for me, we’re able to place our trust in the God who is in control, and that’s a pretty great feeling.

God was faithful, as he always has been and always will be. God wasn’t surprised by these events. He used it to teach me to rely on him more than I think I ever had before when leading church. I had to rely on him because I physically and mentally would not have been able to get through those services without his still small voice in the back of my head telling me he was with me. It’s humbling, really; when you’re left in a situation where you know you have no option but to rely on God, sit back, and watch what He does, trusting it all in his hands.

That is the key: trust.

When you have something planned for a long time, and something suddenly seems to get in the way of those plans, or change those plans in some way, don’t dismiss it right away. Don’t think that it’s the end of the world (as I did Saturday morning with a sore throat). As hard as it may be, don’t get angry right away, especially not at God. Try to find the lesson God could be trying to teach you. Try adjusting your plans and God will without a doubt reveal to you what he had in mind, being even greater than what you had in mind. When situations arise that surprise you, remember God is not surprised. While you’re surprised, God is already figuring out your plan B.

I encourage you to go about pursuing your passions and loves knowing that God has got you, and he won’t let you down. He will be faithful, he will love you, he will watch out for you, he will walk with you, never abandoning you.

 

VAUMC conference 2017 reflections

A motto of mine when it comes to writing is that though sometimes I may struggle to find words to write, I will never refuse to try, so that is what I am doing for this post. This post is my attempt at combining, to the best of my ability, the Spirit-filled weekend that I just witnessed and experienced at the Virginia Annual Conference. While there is much to process from this past weekend, and I am still in the process of processing it all, I have been so eager to write about it and share it all with you, and I do so with the hope and the prayer that maybe you would get a feel for how powerful the Holy Spirit is, and how much potential all of our Churches have.

This was my third time attending annual conference, and I went into the weekend with great anticipation because of passed years, and because of our new Bishop. I went in excited to see how our new Bishop, Bishop Sharma Lewis, runs things, already knowing that I loved and have been inspired by her. I went in knowing that I would be reunited with the many pastors and laity who have had a tremendous impact on my life, and I knew that I would experience God’s presence among us, seeing as he never fails to show up. I did not know, however, the change and growth within my heart that God would do over the course of the weekend. I did not know just how much the Spirit would be at work through my Bishop and through the conversations and hugs that I shared with people, as well as the tears shed with them.

Annual conference in general holds a special place in my heart because of the memory that I have from my first time ever attending annual conference. I attended the ordination service when I went to conference for my first time, and after the service was over, our Bishop at the time asked everyone who was sensing God calling them into ministry to come forward and pray with one of the newly ordained clergy. I walked up with confidence I can’t quite describe, as though Christ himself was walking right alongside me holding my hand (and maybe even tugging/shoving me up there a little). This was and is such a significant part of my call story that when the Bishop called everyone up at this annual conference, while I didn’t walk up this time, I remembered, in detail, the time that I did. I went back to my hotel room and cried – tears of joy because I love so dearly this call, but also tears due to doubts that the enemy has often placed in my head of why I can’t or shouldn’t pursue God’s call to the pastoral role. But then I prayed. I prayed and God was, I kid you not, screaming in my ear the rest of the weekend, “this is for you!!” Friends, every single time you are discouraged or think that you cannot do something, God is always going to be there to remind you, “yeah, you’re right – you can’t, but I can.”

I guess you could say that this conference affirms your call in a way. Not only a call to ministry but also your call as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Maybe some people find this conference dreadful, and maybe someday I will, too (hopefully not), but speaking for myself, and maybe for others, it affirms your love for the Church. You may be thinking, “how in the world is that so?” And I would tell you that it affirms your call and love for the ministry you’re in because though it is exhausting, you wouldn’t want to do anything else. It affirms your call because you love the Church you serve enough to go and represent it with attentiveness, care, and concern for the present and future of that Church. So, just as I think that my friends who love math, or my friends who want to be nurses and don’t mind blood are crazy, I guess you could say that loving these conferences and loving spending my life in the Church, is my form of crazy.

So, needless to say that while annual conference is certainly a time where our conference gets together to discuss serious matters, vote on important things, and have vital church conversations, it is also a time to be filled up, to worship, and to praise our God for all that he is doing within the life of our messy, beautiful Church.

Ministry is a crazy, beautiful thing. That is something I found myself thinking and talking with people about a lot over the course of the weekend, and it is a way that I think I will always describe it. It is not perfect. While Christ, the One whom Church is all about, is perfect, we, the body, who make up the Church, are not. No church, no person, no conference, no denomination is perfect, and never will be. Ministry has its ups and downs, and then some. I have seen the ugly sides of ministry, as well as the wonderful, beautiful ones. I’m very grateful for having seen both sides and everything in between at my age, and I believe that knowing and having seen the ugly sides will help me maybe even more as I prepare for pastoral leadership than the not so ugly ones will. But today, I’m not focusing on that. Today I’m focusing in on the beauty, and the power of the Holy Spirit that myself and everyone else witnessed at this conference.

I can say, and everyone I think will agree, that this conference was proof that, like in ministry, things will get out of order, and that is okay. It is okay to go off script. We had an alter call that was not planned at all, but it was beautiful. During one of the sessions, we ran out of time for certain things, and we had to move those discussions to another day. My Bishop and another Bishop preaching this weekend both ran off of the stage during their sermons and into the crowd of clergy and laity. Bishop Lewis hopped up on a chair, in high heels, and preached. She preached. There was a lot of preaching this weekend, and it was hands down one of my favorite parts of the weekend, because that is where I saw and heard the Spirit speak and move the most. My Bishop, you all – my Bishop preaches in a way that has you convinced and left with no doubt that the Holy Spirit is using her as a vessel to speak directly through her. Like I said, she literally ran into the crowd of all of us, got up on a chair and continued to preach. She is a woman of faith, she is a woman of grace, passion, strength, wisdom, courage, power, and she is someone who is clearly open to the Spirit’s voice and movement at all times. Witnessing her preaching, and even simply hearing her speak with the grace and the passion that she does is something that can only be credited to God because of how Christ-filled her language and actions both are. And do not even get me started on how inspiring and beautiful it is to see her up there as Bishop. Bishop Lewis became my Bishop right after I completed an academic year at a university that told me and taught me each day that I could not pursue my call to be a pastor because I was a woman. Being able to watch her be Bishop (and kill it) is more inspiring than I have words to describe to you all. So, of course, I couldn’t write this post without expressing my gratitude to the denomination that has my heart, despite its flaws, the United Methodist Church, for its inclusion and affirmation of women in all areas of ministry.

Speaking of people supporting people, it was funny, I had tweeted at one point during the week leading up to conference something about annual conference being like a giant family reunion, and then my Bishop said that very thing when we all got together on Friday, and boy, it really is. This weekend made me think a lot about the importance of faith communities, networking, mentoring one another, and having support systems. Right when I walked into the convention center, left and right, I was seeing people who I either knew very well, knew of, or simply recognized, and it was a joy. I got to see former pastors of mine – pastors who have left everlasting impacts on my life, pastors who were by my side during very dark times and very happy times, pastors who have mentored me, loved me, and prayed for and with me. God is so gracious to have allowed such amazing ministry leaders to walk into my life, who have impacted me for the better, who have challenged me, who have given me opportunities, and who have encouraged me in some way, whether big or small, since hearing God’s call to ministry. (Shout out to Rev. Davis, Pastor Will, Pastor Rob, Jason, Pastor Larry, Pastor Marc, Pastor Megan, Bob, Bishop Cho, Pastor Fuss, Chelsea, Pastor Steve, Bishop Lewis, Emma, Rachel, Danny, and for the many others who I am forgetting but love!)

The theme of the conference this year was “A New Thing” and I have been sitting here thinking about how I can incorporate some important notes from this conference into a sermon I’ll be delivering in a couple weeks, because this is a message we need to bring back to our churches, both clergy and laity.

God is doing a new thing! He is doing many new things, and we are probably aware of about two or three of them right now, but man, he is working. He is working, and we get to be part of the new thing or things in which God is doing – Get excited!! But as Bishop Lewis said, we need to take our excitement and use it. Use it to assist God in doing new things. Use your excited spirit’s to do the Lord’s work. Go out and make disciples, remembering our new vision:

Disciples of Jesus Christ are lifelong learners who influence others to serve.

 

Friends, let us remember that God is big. God is bigger than the Virginia conference. God is bigger than the United Methodist Church. God is bigger than you and God is bigger than me. The new thing(s) that he is doing are going to be great – may we listen intently, wait when necessary, work hard always, and do good each day.

At this conference, we prayed, and we prayed a lot. It sounds like the most cliche thing in the world, but there is so, so much power in prayer, friends. So much power!! The prayers heard at conference we evidence of the Spirit working and now that conference is over, there is still so much prayer to be done! My prayer, following this conference, is that we would all hold tight to the feeling we have right now. The exhaustion from a busy weekend will fade, but the joy and the hope and The Spirit we felt present, does not have to. I pray that we would take what we learned at conference, back to our home churches – the churches we love and adore. I pray that we would apply what we learned to our churches and I pray for the ability to communicate to the people back home the power and lively Spirit that we witnessed at this conference.

Friends, personally, I was exhausted after this conference, and I know that if you were there and you’re reading this, you probably were or are too (thanks for reading though) Emotionally, we may still be drained, but spiritually, I know that I am filled up. My soul, and I’m sure I am not alone in this, is so on fire, and ready to go out and use that fire for the good of God’s kingdom. Let’s be ready to talk about conference with anyone who asks, but more importantly, let’s be ready to talk about Jesus and apply what we’ve learned at conference to the churches we love and to our daily lives, with every encounter we have.

Church, we’ve got work to do. Let’s get started.

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The featured header photo was not taken by me, but by the live-stream from the Virginia Conference of the UMC.

 

a prayer for chaotic times

Brothers and sisters,

I know it has been forever and a half since I last posted, and truly, I apologize. I have genuinely missed blogging while I have been away from it. Rest assured, however, I have been writing constantly! Those thoughts have simply not made their way onto the blog yet. I have been busy and life has been a bit chaotic, leaving me with little time to breathe, let alone sit down and put my whole heart into writing a meaningful post for you all as I love to do, and as you all deserve. I promise I will be back posting regularly as soon as things calm down just a bit. This evening, I sat down knowing I wanted to write something to post, and a prayer came to mind. I wanted to share this prayer with you all because I know that I am nowhere near the only one who has recently found herself amid some chaotic times. We all know that life is full of chaos (amen?) Sometimes, beautiful chaos. Other times, straight up stressful and overwhelming chaos. Whatever chaos you have found yourself in recently, I hope and pray that this prayer helps you to feel God ever so close to you (because he is!!) I also pray that you would know you are being held by Him all of the time, but especially when you are overwhelmed and find yourself amid what we often fall chaos. So, I will be back very soon, I love all very much, and may God’s grace and peace be with you!

 

 

Father God,

Thank you for being our firm foundation. Thank you for being a constant help in times of trouble, anxiety, worry, and busyness. God, today we pray for your peace, for your comfort, and for your strength as we go about our days and our weeks. We confess that we so often neglect to acknowledge your presence when life becomes busy and chaotic. We confess that sometimes, amid the busyness of our lives, our focus does get taken off of you; we become more consumed by our worries and plans than we do by you. Lord, help us to keep our eyes on you. We pray for the wisdom to know what and who is worth our time and our attention. We pray that you would hold us in the palm of your hand. Speak to us words that assure us of your presence in our lives, even amid chaos. Wrap your safe, loving, fatherly arms around us, and help us to remember that you never ever leave our side. Help us to know that you are ever-present, even when our vision becomes unclear and we don’t see or feel you here with us. Calm us, Lord. Help us focus our eyes, our hearts, and our minds on you so that you are at the center of our lives, especially when chaos strikes. Today, God, we pray that you would take all our burdens – our cares, worries, and stresses – take it all so that we may rest and be reminded of how powerful, capable, and strong you are. We pray for the strength and wisdom to trust that you are capable of handling it all so that we do not have to. And we know that means not that we can sit back and do nothing but that regardless of what happens, you love us, you care for us, and you will not leave us. We thank you, we love you, and we praise you always.

In your Son Jesus’ name,

Amen

childlike trust

This afternoon, I sat nervously in the waiting room of my dentist’s office. If you read my post a few weeks back titled, Clinging tight to You, you may be thinking to yourself, “wait, why were you back at the dentist today – you were just there!” You would be right. I got a filling in one of my teeth about two or three weeks back, and that same tooth had been bothering me recently with major cold sensitivity (literally couldn’t drink water it hurt so bad) so I went back to the dentist today to get it checked out. If you did not read the post that I am referring back to, it is important that I note, as I did in my previous post, that one, if not my biggest fear, is the dentist. So, as I was anxiously waiting there in my chair for my name to be called to get my tooth looked at, a young girl, maybe one or two years of age, came up and sat herself down in the chair right next to mine. Her dad, sitting in a nearby chair, laughed, and watched as her and I made conversation, and by conversation, I mean – me saying things to her, and her giggling at everything I said.

This girls dad said to me, “she is very trusting of strangers – especially women” and that could not have been clearer by how quickly and easily she came up to me, smiled, and proudly (and continuously) showed me the bright blue toothbrush she was holding.

After my encounter with this girl, I thought about this:

How puzzling is it that some young kids can be so trusting of people they don’t even know, yet we, as adults, so often struggle to be trusting of a God we know so well.

The ability to place full trust in God is something that I have definitely struggled with before, like every Christian, and along with that, it’s ironic that before this dental appointment, I had been talking with someone about an upcoming sermon I am going to be writing about Jesus’ call to trust.

Clearly, God has definitely been wanting me to learn the importance of placing my trust in him, and while I never thought that reminder, or lesson, would come to me through a kid who could barely even talk yet, to throw a quote out there, God works in mysterious ways.

This young girl first helped me get my mind off of my tooth that was in pain, and therefore calmed the anxiety I had walking into my appointment, and then, her and her dad, without even knowing it, helped speak a truth to me that I needed to hear. I kept thinking about the father’s words to me, about how trusting she is of strangers.

Man, if only we could be so trusting of God.

If only we could always have that pure, childlike trust in Him.

We read in Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Become like little children.

What does that mean? To become like children. And what does that look like? To have childlike trust.

Well, this young girl I met today paints a pretty great picture of what that looks like.

In my opinion, far too often we underestimate just how much we can learn from young kids. Personally, I like to believe that I learn something new every day, and I would definitely go as far as to say that many days, I learn those lessons from people who are younger than me.

I babysit a lot, and each time, I am so quick to notice how care-free kids are, and how trusting they are of you simply because you are an adult, and you’re supposed to keep them safe for the sole reason that that is what adults do. Kids trust people they don’t know, but we struggle to trust a God we claim to know so well, and follow.

So how do we trust God like this little girl trusted me so easily today?

It’s important to acknowledge that trusting God isn’t easy.

We may never know what makes some kids so trusting of strangers, but why it’s so hard for us to trust God, when we know exactly who he is is the real question we care to venture. We know how loving, caring, and steadfast God is. We know the promises he has made to us in scripture. We know the stories of all the times he has been faithful in the past.

The key, I believe, is to get to know God more.

If you think about it, the more that children get to know a person, the more they trust them. Think of a time you met a kid for the first time, and minutes after meeting them, they already wanted to show you all their toys, all their secret hideouts, and maybe even refused to let go of your hand.

We can learn from that, you know. We should have that kind of childlike trust.

The more you know God, the easier it is to trust him.

So, pray. Pray constantly. Seek God each day. Dive into his Word. Get to know him more and more, acknowledging that you can never know too much about God. He is one great God – he is a God who is available to you all hours of every day. He is there for you to put your whole trust in. He wants you to entrust your whole life into his hands.

If children can trust a complete stranger, you can trust a God who is no stranger to you.

So will you?