Whose Words Do You Believe? by Aimee Nelson

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Part of our ongoing contribution series:  Leading Ladies: Devotions for Leaders

Sitting at my kitchen table a few days ago, I hear my five year-old yell from the patio, “I am strong, I am big”. Hearing those words I stopped what I was doing and decided to listen in on the conversation he was having with his friend. I hear him say again “I am strong”, “I am big”, “I can do it”, “I can do anything”! This time I hear his voice quiver. As I continue to listen I no longer hear their voices but the stomping of little feet. Suddenly this five-year old ball of anger comes running in and stands in front of me. Arms folded, lips pursed and his eyes filling with tears. He says to me “mommy I’m not strong”.

I kneel down, scoop him up in my arms and give him a huge hug. He then proceeds to tell me how his little playmate was telling him he wasn’t strong, he wasn’t big and that he couldn’t do what they were doing. I immediately sense a teaching moment and it’s one that I don’t want to let slip by. I pull him closer and begin to tell him that he is big, he is strong and there is nothing that he can’t do. I tell him that he’s all of these things because God says he is. I let him know that he can accomplish anything because God’s word says that he can (Philip 4:13). He looks at me and smiles, sticks his chest out and walks away with a swagger that would make you think he just conquered the world.

As I was thanking the Lord for the opportunity to impart truth into my son, it was then that I felt the Lord ask me “what about you Aimee, who’s words are you believing”? I took a moment to reflect on the question. And in the honesty of the moment, I had to admit I too have not always believed God’s word. You see I have often fallen victim to the same words that tormented my five-year old. Many times I have stepped out to do something for the Lord but back tracked or failed to launch out because I believed the words of others.

Whether those words came from a well-meaning friend or have spewed from a heart of hurt I listened to them, I believed them. I believed their words over the words of my heavenly Father who commanded me to be bold, strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6). His word also says that “I am more than a conqueror” (Rom. 8:28). I have made a choice to start believing what He says about me.

Are there some negative words you have believed? Will you believe what God’s word says about you? Join me today as I choose to believe His word.

~Aimee

Stand Up For Others – Isaiah 1:17

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As we reflect back on Charlottesville, and events like it, we are often lost in a sea of wondering “what can we do?” and “how should we respond?”.

Lord, give us the hearts to do good and a stirring to seek justice.  Let us not just speak against oppression but actively correct it, being the change we want to see in this world.  Let us stand for justice, stand for others, use whatever we have to raise up and protect others.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

Some practical things you can do:

  • Donate to victim funds to cover medical and other expenses.  Donate to counter-protestor legal funds to cover legal expenses incurred.  Please use wisdom and discernment here.
  • Support anti-racism organizations through financial support or volunteer/activism.
  • Be willing to put your name to petitions and letter writing campaigns to local politicians that fight racism or call for policy change.
  • Coordinate, participate, or volunteer at local community forums to address racism in your community.
  • Use your voice to stand in the gap, advocating for those who are oppressed.  Not just with letter writing campaigns but in the grocery stores and doctors offices.  Places where we encounter every day racism, bigotry, and discrimination.
  • Hold people from political offices to your immediate family accountable for the words and behaviors they exhibit, including yourself.
  • Set a better example for the next generation by intentionally expanding your group of friends to include people from other countries and cultures.  Take time to learn about other cultures, attend festivals in your area, etc.
  • Read, read, and read.  Have a willingness to read and gain perspective from those on the other side of oppression.  Take what you read and ask your friends to share their take and experiences.

 

In the Beginning

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Mankind, made in the image of God.  Not some, but the first man… and all that have come after him.  Image bearers.  

Not made in image of one another.  Not made in lesser quality duplicates down the line.  Each precious to the potter who formed us in the womb, knitting us together, numbering our hairs, calling us by name before we were even a thought.

These image bearers made to rule over creation, not each other.  Oh sin, how you slithered your way into garden… setting up a wave of destruction that would fall upon generations to come.  

Woman made in His image, she the helpmeet and partner… not less than.

Blessed, commissioned to multiply.  Not some, but all.  There was no limit set on who could multiply, it was a blessing to His image bearers.  Oh sin, how you tainted that union and how to try to diminish His children.

Great Protector,

There has been a war on your creation since the beginning.  The moment the apple was bitten, there was enmity in the world.  Lord, we ask for your protection from all the forces that divide.  The lies that tell us that our worth, value, identity is found in anything other than you.  The lies that try and convince us that some have greater value, worth, or purpose than others.  For Your word assures us that in Christ there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female… but all are one.  Each given gifts, callings, and blessings appointed to them by the Holy Spirit to use in your service.  None greater, all yours.  Protect us, Lord.  From those who seek to harm us.  Protect us, from the schemes of the Devil.  Surround us on all sides, going before us and coming behind us; as we walk in your justice, grace, and righteousness.

We stand in victory, and pray these things in Your precious name.

Amen.

Has Much Really Changed?

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Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun.  So true.  Hate, prejudice, bigotry, racism… it is not new.  Sin is not new.  Ecclesiastes also tells us that was has been done, will be done again.  We should bear not surprise that these sins still run rampant.

This picture, was taken in 1992.  Twenty five years ago.  I look at it and I see Charlottesville 2017.  Things really haven’t changed that much, not in the heart.  But the boldness, perhaps has displayed itself in unprecedented ways.  The hoods, cloaks, and shadows are withdrawn, sin is exposed.

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For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. ~Luke 8:17 

Sin is out in the open, and with it has come a reckoning.   Parents and friends are seeing faces splashed across the news, their children and loved ones displaying their hate for the world to see.  Those secret things hidden in hearts are being confirmed as sin stares us in the face, desiring to make us meek and hide in response.  But let us not be meek, but BOLD as we stand up for what it good, honorable, holy, and righteous.

Creator God,

We pray that these wearisome things, that weigh us down… that seem too big or frightening to tackle down, let us see them diminished in to the shadow of your greatness.  Your word is true, that which has will be again.  We cling to that as a promise that Jesus will come again and overcome sin and death, destruction and division; standing victorious over his foe.  Lord, we ask for you to protect the eyes, ears, and hearts of the little children so that they may not be turned by the words of hate that others teach them.  Let them find joy, peace, love, and goodness in You.  May they have eyes to see, the way you see.  May they look upon all of your people, regardless of the color of their skin as sister and brother, created in the imagine of our Precious Father.  Bind the serpent that hisses in their ears, for he will be crushed once again.  Sin was here before my time, our time… but our future remains.  For you know the plans you have made for us, that is the future we await… waiting and yet praying LORD JESUS COME!

In this darkness, let us be light.  In a sea of hate, let us be love.  In a crowd of fists, let us be an embrace.  Let our churches and homes become a city on a hill, refuge for those who need safety, a fortress against oppressors, and a battle ground of prayer.

In Christ’s holy name we pray,

Amen.

 

Perfectly United

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Heavenly Father, 

In light of this weekend, where division cast brother versus sister, neighbor versus neighbor… we pray for unity among the family of believers.  As brothers and sisters, adopted into your family, we are called to bear witness to the love of our Father.  We are called to walk in your statutes, we are called to love as you have loved.  Every word in the scriptures falls under your heart to reconcile your people to you, united as one body, serving as one body.  Let us not fall into the temptations and schemes of the Devil, who seeks to divide and destroy.  Instead let us link arms, draw close to one another, bear each other’s burdens, and carry one another forward as we press on.  Send your angel armies to surround us on all sides, for what God has brought together let no man separate.  Let peace be on our hearts, let kindness be on our tongues.  Help us to not repay evil for evil.  Help us to love and forgive, even when it feels impossible.  As we put on the armor of God, we shall not be weary but find our strength in you, to stand up to the darkness and shed light.  Let our light shine brighter, let the lost find their way to you for comfort and healing in your embrace.  Give courage to those who will stand up and call out the sin that is racism, protect them and their families from farm, and build up the courage for others to stand with them on the front lines.  Let there be no division among us, but perfectly united under your authority… of one mind, thought, and purpose.

In His name we pray,

Amen.

Pause to Pray

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As a ministry, our core mission is rooted in unity among leaders… churches… community.  We take unity, a value, incredibly seriously.  It is threaded into every decision we make, direction we step.

As a ministry, we stand against any form of racism and hatred.  As one can not be united when racism divides, when hatred divides.

As a ministry, we do not support any movement or organization that would cause division among people or results in a threat to life, welfare, or wellbeing of those whom God loves.  His Word tells us, in John 3:16 that God so loved the WORLD.  Not part of the world.  Not some people in the world.  But the world, in its entirety.  All nations, tribes, and tongues.

As a ministry, we are on bended knee praying for the Lord’s protection and provision over those who find themselves in the wake of hatred, bigotry, and racism.  For our women who are affected by these images, know that we are praying for you and your family as you come to terms with the events of this weekend.

We will not stand for this.  We will use our voice in any way we can to help you, defend you, love on you.  Tell us how we can be FOR you and stand AGAINST this atrocious sin.

Fishers of [Wo]men

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This weekend, I attended a workshop on the topic of branding.  As the leader of a ministry, and knowing the direction we are taking in the coming years it is important that I am learning about all aspects of ministry building.  The speaker, Faith James, said something that caught my attention.  She was giving an illustration related to fishing, and pointing out that to have a successful fishing trip you must know “what you are fishing for”. 

Do you know who your ministry is fishing for?

As a ministry leader, you may be tempted to give the most obvious answers…

Everyone.  Women.  The Lost.  The Unchurched.

I am going to challenge you to take that a bit deeper.

As Faith James continued her illustration she said, “You can’t boil the ocean”.  Her point rested in that we have to have a more focused vision of who we are trying to reach because everyone is a concept that is as big as the ocean.  This doesn’t mean that there is not an ocean of people who need help, but rather it is going to be impossible for us to help everyone with our resources and time.  We need to have focus.

Putting this in terms of Women’s Ministry, let’s explore the following questions.

If every Women’s Ministry started a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, that meets during the week… who is serving our single mothers, or teen mothers?

If every Women’s Ministry was focused on serving homeless women and children… who is serving our women who have suffered the loss of miscarriage?

If every Women’s Ministry chose to stand with their local Crisis Pregnancy Center… who is supporting the women who chose life, or supporting the local foster/adoption agency to care for these children who were given this chance to thrive?

If your Women’s Ministry is spread thin trying to serve too many different organizations at once, are you really making an significant impact vs. making the choice to choose one and serve it at full capacity?

What if instead of each Women’s Ministry focusing on a broad scope of issues, we each chose one that we were going to give our full attention to?  We come together as leaders and identify the needs of the community of women we serve (in and outside of the church walls), then each Women’s Ministry leader picks one that will become their ministry focus?

Imagine a wheel with spokes.  The center of the wheel is the Cross, that is where we are trying to bring women… to Jesus.  The outer ring of the wheel is all of the women in our community.  The spokes are the individual Women’s Ministries.

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Quite simply, there are just too many needs in our communities (and within our church walls) for one ministry tackle it all.  However, if we work together and decide which needs each of our ministries will focus on… then we are working together to meet all the needs more effectively.

How do we do this?

  1. Collectively identify the needs in the community we serve.
  2. Check with other WM Leaders to determine which needs are already being served, need more help, or have not been addressed by the local church.
  3. Meet with your Pastor to determine if the church already has a focused need, that you can bring the WM under to address the women of that “need group”.
  4. If there isn’t a specific “need group” that your church is currently focused on, meet with your WM Team.  Pray that the Lord would help your team identify which need will become the WM focus.
  5. Connect to local ministries and organizations serving these need groups to determine how you can come along side their work.  Research online if there are national organizations already working in this area that you can partner with and introduce to your area.  Or, research online the ways you can begin to serve this need through your ministry directly.

 

 

Women’s & Men’s Ministries – Statistics

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In the past, I’ve spoken to the topic of successful Women’s Ministries are usually in churches that also have active/successful Men’s Ministries.  Over the last few weeks, several articles have crossed my desk about women leaving the church and what the impact of that exodus will have on the church.  I decided to do a little bit of research on the topic.

What we know, and research supports, is that post industrial revolution there was a shift in the home and thus in the church.  As the men went to work outside of the home, women began to take on a larger role in the spiritual development of their children.  They also began to take on a more prominent role in the church as leaders and volunteers.

What we know, currently is:

 

  • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.  (Some churches the % of female members can reach up to 70%)
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. (Even if their husbands profess to be Christian)
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.

There are more women attending, and participating in the active life of the church.  This is why you may see that Women’s Bible Studies outnumber their male counterparts. Or, why Women’s Ministry is still a vital ministry in the church… but Men’s Ministries are waning.

Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish

or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

 

As I try to discover the roadblocks and obstacles for Women’s Ministry, one of the first questions I have asked is in regards to the presence of a Men’s Ministry.  Until I began this research, I didn’t realize that Men’s Ministries had declined to such numbers.

But why?  We have less Men’s Ministries because we have less active men participating in the church.

 

  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.

 

We have a realization now that in order to get the family to attend church on Sundays, we need to reach the women.  When the women come, they bring their husbands and families.  I’ve heard from several Pastors that they notice when the wives are not at church due to retreat, business, etc. that the men do not come and bring the children.  They take the weekend off too.  However a healthy church needs the men to attend… married or single, with the family or not.

When I was in MOPS Leadership, one of the most common complaints that I heard from these young mothers was a deep desire for their husband to return to the role of Spiritual Leader of their home.  They didn’t want this burden on their shoulders, and the Bible tells us this was never their burden to bear in the first place. 

A study from Hartford Seminary found “that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.”

We must, as a church, begin to really understand WHY men have been on the decline in attendance and participation.  We must, as a Women’s Ministry, become advocates for Men’s Ministry in our church.  I have seen the effects of a waning Women’s Ministry on the church.  When a Women’s Ministry slows or stops functioning, we see the impact on the church as a whole.  Women’s small groups decline.  Women’s attendance and volunteerism in the church declines.  Women will begin going to parachurch events or events at churches which do have active Women’s Ministries.  This will often result in the matriarchs of the church moving to churches which do have active Women’s Ministries.

I would suggest the same could be said for Men’s Ministries.  As men’s ministries declined, the community connection or family connection of church went with it.  The men feeling less connected to their church and more connected to the people they spend 40+ hours a week with in their workplace, or people they have connected with over hobbies have taken precedence.   With their free hours, they would rather be actively doing something than seated in the pews.

New statistics are showing that one of the major reasons people are leaving the church is due to their desire to not be passive participants in church but active members.  Church has become a spectator sport for the majority as churches seek volunteers to fill the holes they need vs. allowing people in the body to use their gifts and talents as God has called them to.  They want discipleship, mentoring, and spiritual growth more than entertainment.

What can we do about it?

  1. We should engage the women who are already attending.  We are starting to see the exodus of women, and we need to stop that in it’s tracks.  Create and support Women’s Ministries that are discipleship focused, out reaching into the community with the purpose of bringing women to Christ.  Encourage the women to attend regularly and support their husbands attendance and participation.
  2. We need to encourage the creation and development of a Men’s Ministry.  This may begin with a conversation with our own husbands.  Just because they start the ministry doesn’t mean they have to stay in the leadership.  I’ve seen women take over or begin a ministry with the goal of finding and developing the eventual leader… Pauls finding their Timothys.  If your husband is willing to help get if off the ground, you can offer up your ministry skills & experience to help him.  This is not only an investment into the Men’s Ministry but the Women’s Ministry… and the church.
  3. Think ahead and work directly with your Pastors on the occasions that your women will be absent from church.  If you are taking your women to a weekend long Women’s Retreat or Conference, have a plan in place with your Pastor and Children’s Pastor about ensuring that weekend has something special for the men and children.  A post church barbeque, special kids program, special speaker for the men, etc. are all ways to entice the men to attend in the women’s absence.
  4. Begin a movement of spiritual gifts testing in your church, where you are actively helping people to identify what their spiritual gift is and figure out where they can be plugged in to the church.  The statistics suggest that men need a reason to attend church, so let’s give them one.  The same for our women who may have one foot out the door, lets find a place to help them connect to the church in tangible ways.

If the Women’s Ministry is supposed to be a ministry that supports the vision of the church, then that means the whole church.  While our focus may be on taking the vision to the women in our church, our leaders need to connect back into the church by supporting the other ministries and our Pastors.

Aimee Nelson once told me that “where the women go, so goes society”.  So, where do we want our men and children to go?  Let’s set the bar and encourage them to rise to it.  Let our Women’s Ministries be known to love women well, and the men too.

  • Our married women want their husbands to attend services.
  • Our children want their fathers to attend services.
  • Our single ladies want the single men in our community to be active members.
  • Our widowers need other men in the church that they can have community with.
  • Our older men need younger men in the church that they can mentor.

* All statistics are from http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

Eat, Drink, and Remember.

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Women are inherently emotional creation, emotional in how we connect with others and respond to the situations we are in.  Men work on a different level, entirely.  It’s why you can meet for your women’s study group every week and wish you could meet more often; yet your husband might be content with meeting once a month to check in with the guys.  It is for this reason, emotional connection, the Women’s Ministry Council has a heart for building up a broad view of Women’s Ministry.

Brunches are great, as they fulfil our need to connect personally with others.  Yet, they often lack deep instruction.  Bible Studies are a great way to find instruction and wisdom.  Yet, they often have a changing of attendees that prevents real relationships from forming.  Small Groups, of set members who change study materials, may create a community;  but too often those community groups can close out new people who bring their own wisdom and value.

A Women’s Ministry that solely relies on monthly brunches is not going to a have a long term deep impact on the spiritual growth of women in their church.

A Women’s Ministry that solely relies on Bible Studies and Small Groups is not going to connect the women in corporate worship and instruction.

We must strike balance.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

~ Hebrews 10:23-25

The same can be said about how diverse our ministries are.  A Women’s Ministry that sits in the safety of the programs and offerings it has always provided is going to continue bringing like minded women.  However, it will be a near impossibility to diversify that ministry program to include a broader representation of your church or community.

During the last WMC meeting, one point that both Aimee Nelson and Jenny Andrews was made is our common identity.  Before all things we are Christian women, daughters of the King.  This is our common unity.

I can eat, drink, and remember how Christ changed my life… regardless of what food is on my plate or drink fills my cup.  I can do this at a table in a local café, or the home of a new friend.  To sit and break bread with a fellow believer sharing our testimonies with one another is a blessing beyond measure.  Regardless of our skin color or backgrounds, we love the same God.

It can be difficult to facilitate change in a ministry where many area already accustomed to certain events. We cannot facilitate change if we do things the same way we have always done.  Yet, if you change everything you may bring in new faces and your women already invested may leave, which doesn’t help bring people together either.  Change is hard.   However we can begin to implement change in smaller measures.

What if…

What if I invited a worship singer from a local African American church to sing for the worship portion of our brunch?

What if I went to a local, family owned, ethnic restaurant and catered in dinner for our next guest speaker?

What if our next speaker was born in another country?

What if our next keynote speaker at our retreat was a woman rescued from sex trafficking?

What if our next Bible Study was written by an African American author or a woman from another country?

What if we began a series of events where we brought in women from various ethnic churches in our community to learn more about who they are, what their ministry goals are, and how we can help?

You don’t have to dismantle and rebuild a ministry to bring change via a total overhaul.  You can begin to take small steps, over time.

Eat, drink, and remember…

we are all precious in His sight.

The Starting Point

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It can be hard to come to terms with a subject that is just completely outside of your scope of understanding.  To have someone think less of you for nothing more than the color of your skin, or your country of origin.  To be treated as less than, to have lower expectations on your ability, or marginalized by how you look before someone even takes the time to get to know you.

Something else that is also hard is a willingness to call out sin for what it is, especially when it a sin you don’t want to admit is still present.  Even more so when that sin is being committed by yourself or others you know, particularly when you know that they are a good person.  From tasteless jokes to out right discrimination, we must come to terms with the fact that racism still exists in our country.  Yes, there are areas in the country that are more progressive than others.  There are people who have fought for civil rights in the past, and those who are still doing so today, because they believe in equality for all people.

Yet, there are still places where racism exists in very blatant ways.  Many more where racism is far more subtle.  If we call racism what it is, SIN… then we know exactly what we are supposed to do with that sin.  Which is tackle it head on.  It can be far easier to justify someone’s sin, by pointing out a persons checkered past or giving a good person a pass for an inappropriate joke.  Jesus never gave sin a pass.  Nor should we.

As our eyes become more open to the wounds that have not healed, we feel conviction over our thoughts and words.  We make the effort to change ourselves, to influence those around us.  For others, and for any number of reasons, their eyes are still covered by scales.  They can not see the sin, and as leaders we have a responsibility to not allow sin to go unchecked.

What are some practical ways you can be apart of change in your life, Women’s Ministry, Church, and community?  To confront sin, we must identify it and then actively work against it.

  1.  Take the time to understand the feelings of others by choosing to be quiet and listen.  Ask people who come from other cultures and ethnicities to share their experiences with you, and do not interject your opinions.  Allow them to speak, listen to what is being said, and take time to reflect on that conversation before you respond with more questions.
  2. Read.  There are plenty of books on the subject of racism and also on racial reconciliation.  You can watch interviews online, panel discussions, and more.  Google “Race and the Church” or “Racial Reconciliation and the Church” and you’ll find a trove of useful information.  I recommend “UNITED” by Trillia Newbell.
  3. Challenge your Women’s Ministry team (or church leaders) to go through “The Bridge to Racial Unity” Bible Study as a team.   You can access this through the ministry Be The BridgeEnter this study with humbleness, willingness to listen, and as the leader of the ministry set the tone of respect.  If you do not have any women of color serving on your ministry team, considering inviting a few willing women to go through this study with your team.  Women who are willing to field your questions with grace and mercy.
  4. PRAY for your own life to become open to diversity, that the Lord will bring the women to add to your Women’s Ministry team, and convict the heart of your church leaders to create a space that is welcoming to all of God’s people (even when it means getting out of our comfort zones in how we worship) including bringing people of color onto staff positions.