Preach the Gospel to Yourself

PREACHTHEGOSPELTOYOURSELFDuring my trip to The Gospel Coalition Conference this year, I had an opportunity to meet with a mentor via Serge.org .   This mentoring session was very fruitful for me personally, but I also wanted to share more about something that was repeated a few times throughout the conference.

It was a reminder to us as leaders that we must preach the Gospel to ourselves daily.  But why?

Through my Serge.org mentor, I was introduced to the idea that leaders can get so caught up in the success and failure model in regards to ministry that we can forget the Gospel.

Have you ever said or thought:

Well, I must be doing a good job because God has blessed our ministry with success.

God must be blessing our work, because He has been providing for our needs.

The Lord’s blessing must be on our ministry, because we have seen an increase in numbers.

I must be doing something wrong, I just can’t seem to get any momentum on this project.

The Lord’s favor must not be on this ministry, because we are not growing… we are shrinking.

What is the problem with these thoughts?

They are works based, not faith based.  They imply that success or failure is a result of God being pleased or displeased with something we are doing.   Scripture says that the Lord’s favor falls on righteous and the unrighteous alike, that he raises the sun on the good and evil each day (Matt 5:45,46).

When we run our ministry under the measure of success and failure based on our perception of God’s favor; we are suggesting that we (individually, as a team, as a church) are doing something that God will reward, or God will withhold from.

There is no freedom when you are bound up measuring your ministry by success and failure.  That is a worldly measurement.  Instead our freedom lies in that we are adopted children of God, before we are leaders.  We have His favor because He has given it to us according to His goodness, regardless of how well we run our ministry.  He loves us.  Plain and simple.

When we love Him, and seek to do His will…

When our eyes are set on Him, and our Hearts are in tune to His heart…

When we become His hands and feet…

We serve and we serve well, whether we are serving one woman or one thousand.

When we allow ourselves to get trapped in the success failure model, when things are going well… we feel good.  We feel in God’s favor, we feel as if we are pleasing Him, we feel joy and hopeful.   On the other hand, when our ministry is in a valley and we feel like a failure, then we don’t feel good at all.  We feel like we have disappointed God, or that we are doing something wrong that He wouldn’t reward our work and ministry.  We can even take on guilt that others are not being blessed because of our failure.

We can get so buy sharing the Gospel to others, that we can forget the Gospel is meant for us.  The Freedom of the Cross is a gift for us, too.  So, as much as we need to share the Gospel with others and we can do this through our ministry (in fact, it should be our primary goal)…

… we must share the Gospel with ourselves every morning.

The success or failure of my ministry work has nothing to do with God’s love for me or approval.

His love for me existed before I was in my mother’s womb, and will exist through eternity.  Nothing can separate that.

Ministry work is the icing on the cake, where we celebrate the Gospel with others.

Mentor Value

By Gena McCown, Women’s Ministry Council Co-Founder

pile of hands isolated on white, Caucasian, African American, Hispanic race.Mentorship is important, it is something that the Women’s Ministry Council has encouraged through our meetings and website articles.  When we can put together formal mentoring programs in our Women’s Ministries, we are equipping the women in the church and it trickles outward to those who are in their sphere of influence.

As leaders, we need mentoring as well.  While it may be harder to meet with a mentor on a weekly basis, as we juggle the balance between home life, work life, and ministry life; mentorship is not something to be neglected.  Your mentor may be the overseeing Pastor, a Pastor’s wife, an older woman in the church, or even a Women’s Ministry leader hundreds of miles away that you connect with periodically.

Mentors serve as a landing place where we can not only talk about the practical ins and outs of ministry work, but where we can also come to face some uncomfortable truths.  At the beginning of April, I attended The Gospel Coalition conference.  As part of the conference, there were a few opportunities to attend other events.  One was a breakfast event, sponsored by Serge.org, for Pastors and ministry leaders.  In addition to listening to two amazing speakers, everyone had the opportunity to sign up for a one hour mentoring session with a Serge Mentor.

My intentions were to take advantage of the mentor opportunity in reference to the future of the Women’s Ministry Council.  I signed up with a mentor who had experience as a Pastor, in the mission field, and organizational backgrounds.  We began our conversation with my sharing about what the Women’s Ministry Council is and the long term vision for the ministry; where we were at currently and some of the obstacles we are facing.  I was looking for someone who would give me practical ideas to overcome those obstacles.

What I got was someone who was more interested in ME and less about what I was doing.  He asked questions like:

  • How is your marriage right now?
  • How do you feel about these obstacles?
  • What about your ministry work brings you joy?

Then he hit me with a hard punch….   “I want you to close your eyes and imagine God talking to you right now, what would He say to you?”

I wasn’t prepared for that question.  Or, what my answer would mean.  I was grateful for the conversation that would come from it.  This is what a mentor does, it’s not just about practical steps and problem solving, but an investment in the person.  Asking the questions, getting to the deeper issues, being able to see what may not be obvious to the other person.

This is also why, as leaders, it is important that we have a mentor speaking into our life.  Peers are great for accountability, but mentors are speaking from experience.  Whether you have a regularly weekly meeting or a quarterly check in session, mentors help us see beyond the obvious from a neutral position.  This is why it is best to have someone who is not directly involved with the ministry work.

The Pastor that oversees the ministry can give you perspective from the outside looking in and within the parameters of the church vision.  A long term (or retired) Women’s Ministry leader in another state can speak to you from experience.  A neutral third party may help you see beyond the actual ministry and how the work is affecting your life.  Prayerfully consider how having a mentor involved in your life will not only bless YOU but also those you lead.

A Leader’s Heart by Trish Jones

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So thankful that Trish allowed me to share her heart for Women’s Ministry with you all.

~ Gena McCown, Co-Founder WMC

Our newly-rebooted women’s ministry leadership team met recently with Jenny Andrews to learn more about mentoring. The day before that meeting, I was moved to spend several pre-dawn hours trying to put into words what God had placed on my heart. This was an unedited letter sent to my team, with certainly no idea of sharing it with a larger audience – who would know or care? I did, however, copy Gena on it as another means of further introducing myself to the Women’s Ministry Council. To my surprise, she asked if I would allow for its publication. This is pretty much as it flew off my fingers – meaning it’s quite long and wordy – but it does express my firmly-held beliefs about women’s ministry – beliefs that appear to be shared by many. So, I offer it without apology, with the prayer that you may find it challenging and helpful, and for the glory of our King and Lord Jesus Christ.    ~ Trish Jones

Dear Sisters: To use perhaps an overworked “Christianese” term, but an apt one – I’m heavily burdened with many things that right now are all connected, in one way or another, to “women’s ministry.”

I don’t know about you, but the events in this country over the past two weeks have left me almost literally nauseous and terribly sad. The hatred and division that is spewing forth from multiple sources and appearing in full blown color on our TV screens – indeed, everywhere we turn – is ugly and frightening. And growing. The women’s marches that took place across the US the day after the Inauguration were breath-taking in their scope of lostness, vitriol and perversity. But – if we were to engage any one of those woman on an individual basis, we would have found someone just like us – lost, hurting, angry, with brokenness and pain in their lives, just looking for hope and peace in the only ways they know or believe in.

The open war that has been declared and is increasing daily between “conservative” and “liberal” viewpoints, values, opinions, and stances is growing bloodier and more vicious, as the media – and I mean both sides of it – have taken off the gloves of even rudimentary politeness. There is no such thing as “news” anymore – it’s simply slanted headlines delivered by talking heads who have their own agenda. And yes, that’s just as true of Fox News as it is CNN. And it is tragically but increasingly true of “conservative, Christian” news sources.

Our country is staggering towards – what? Only God knows. But the pace of change and the bloody carnage it is leaving in its wake touches each of us, whether we choose to believe that or not. We may try very hard to pull the comforting blanket of our own church-based, family-oriented little worlds tighter around us to ward off the ugliness and protect our children and our grandchildren – but it isn’t going to work. It’s here. And it’s growing.

And it should not surprise us at all.

 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

You know one of the things that has struck hardest at my heart, oddly enough? The recent deaths of famous people – people who have entertained me, who are of my generation. Most recently, Mary Tyler Moore. She was 80. I’ll be 70 in April. She appeared to be – because of the characters she played – sweet, loving, wholesome, kind – a woman to be admired. Really? Where do you suppose she is now? She’s alive – somewhere. Where?

Alan Thicke. He was only 69. Again, apparently one of the good guys. Where is he now? And Debbie Reynolds, for goodness sake! Dying one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher – who admittedly led a fairly rough life. Golfing’s greatest, Arnold Palmer. A good guy, to be sure. Florence Henderson, Hugh O’Brien. John Glenn – the American hero. George Michael: a great musical talent who led a dark and twisted life. And then there’s Fidel Castro. Where are they now?

Their achievements, their careers – their movies, the pleasures, fun, entertainment they brought to our lives – what do they matter now? How important are they now? Oh, it may have been fun while it lasted – but was it enough – for eternity? Fidel Castro – his destiny is fairly obvious. But Debbie Reynolds? Mary Tyler Moore? Robin Williams?

I don’t know why their deaths have impacted me so, except to say they have reminded me of my own mortality and the swiftness with which my life here can end. I’m not afraid of death at all; it’s nothing more than a welcome door to eternal happiness with my Lord. But what about everyone else? Death is real – but what lies beyond that doorway is even more real – and everlasting.

So what does that have to do with women’s ministry? Well – everything. As I’ve been seeking God’s will and direction through prayer and His (living!!!) Word for such a ministry at our church, I keep coming up against one major question: What’s the point? What are we trying to do – and why?

Let me share two more verses from that same passage that hit me like a ton of bricks. And keep in mind, Sisters, I didn’t write them – God spoke them:

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6,7)

Whoa. This letter isn’t meant to be an exposition of this passage. There is much here to be learned by careful study, comparison with other Scripture, and the wisdom God has given other commentators. But those are pretty strong words – about us. Women. There are 1,000 things that can – and probably should – be said about this, but there’s one phrase that sticks out to me: “let astray by various passions”.

As I’ve been wrestling (correct word – this has been and is a battle) with the idea of “women’s ministry” and what it is supposed to be (in God’s will) for our church, I literally wrote down the names of many women I know who attend there. I won’t share them – you could make your own (in fact, I encourage you to do exactly that). I wrote them down as fast as they came to me – women from all ages, lifestyles, and spiritual maturity (as much as I can discern). Every one of them I know personally, some better than others. But I know their lives and at least some of what they wrestle with and what they are suffering – their “various passions:” sinful strongholds, financial difficulties, physical ailments, relationships gone wrong, family pains and tragedies, fear, anxiety, lack of knowledge of and faith in a sovereign, loving God, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, defiant, rebellious living, the consequences of past sins, repented of but the consequences remain, loneliness, sexual desires and sins – the list goes on. You may know many of the names on that list; women whom you may think “have it all together.”

I wrote them down – I sat back – I studied the list, I pictured each woman – and I asked: what do they need? I added myself to the list: what do I need?

Wham! Good question – but wrong question to ask first. Is a women’s ministry – or any ministry – supposed to be based upon what people need? Really?

Why are we here? What is our purpose in this life, on this earth? Why did God leave us here after He saved us? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Combine that with Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 and you have the basic structure of women’s ministry:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,38)

I picked up several books on women’s ministry, but started with one from The Gospel Coalition called Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, edited by Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson – two major names and leaders in women’s ministry. I would strongly encourage each of you to get one and read it. But here are a couple of quotes that I highlighted:wfwm

“Women’s ministry is ultimately not about women. Nor is it about programs. It’s about the glory of God and the health of his church.” (Melissa B. Kruger, Women’s Ministry Coordinator, Uptown Church)

“Profitable ministry among women is grounded in God’s Word, grows in the context of God’s people, and aims for the glory of Christ.” (Kathleen Nielson)

What do all those women need? What do I need? To be about the Father’s business. To be part of having His will done on earth as in heaven; to see and be a part of His Kingdom expanding. To know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and to share in His sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

How do we do that – in women’s ministry, or any other area of “Body life?” Back to 2 Timothy:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:16,17)

If our Women’s Ministry – in fact, if our Life Groups, our Bible Studies, our church services, our service to our community, our evangelistic trainings and church-planting efforts, our children’s ministry, our youth groups, our church itself – if any of that is not based upon the personal, God-breathed, living Word of God, taught and practiced and obeyed for the glory of Jesus Christ – it is an absolute waste of our time and efforts, is outside the will of God, and will be consumed by fire on that Day. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

Well. As usual, when I get started writing something, I’m off to the races. I’m a fast typist, so I can get a lot done in a relatively short period of time – but then I wind up with pages and pages. But – if you’ve stuck with me this long, I’ve got a few more things to share that – for me – have set the tone of why I’m even involved with this leadership team and where I think God is leading us – and why.

I’m simply going to quote what I have written in my “Women’s Ministry Journal” (I set aside a specific one for this very purpose). Some are questions I asked myself; some are my thoughts and beliefs. I offer them as starting points for your own reflection and comments. As I’ve already said (for three full pages!) – I had to wrestle with why I was even involved in this; was this something God wanted to do; if so, why? and what was the point of it all? You’ve seen the answer I came up with. What forms that will take, what that will look like, in practical ways, is still to be determined. But I had to lay a foundation in my own mind before I could go any further.

What do I want in this ministry? What do I believe God wants?

    • For women to see Jesus as central to their lives, regardless of circumstances
    • For women to have a hunger for the Word of God – to know it, study it, live it
    • For American women to be focused on the Kingdom – not our comfort; focused on the Glory of God, not us
    • For women to live with eternity in view – in our lives, the lives of our children and families and our world
    • For women to be instruments of healing, of reconciliation, of peace – across racial, socio-economic, political lines
    • For women to look up and out – to be the hands and feet of Jesus (example of Dorcas, Acts 9:36-42)

Why a specific women’s ministry?

  • Women used to (and in many other cultures, still do) congregate around a communal well, or river, or fire pit – to draw water, cook, wash clothes
    • They “did life” together naturally
    • Older women naturally shared/mentored/trained younger women
    • Life stories were shared, lessons learned
  • American life just a generation ago was still very much this way, especially rural American life – quilting bees, church socials, active neighborhoods – in and out of church, women knew one another and shared life
    • This is no longer true in our Western, American culture. We are withdrawn, independent, separated
  • We all need supported, encouraged, loved, nurtured, admonished, trained, held accountable and made to feel safe with each other

How do we live for the glory of Jesus Christ; the expansion of His Kingdom; and the service of His people through the women’s ministry of our church? That’s what we need to determine – in that order.

“Women’s ministry must be first and foremost grounded in the Word. We must not start with the needs of women – although we must get to those needs. As in the case of any church ministry, in women’s ministry we must start with the Word of God at the heart of everything we do.” (Kathleen Neilson)

So. On this early Friday morning, as I prepare for our meeting tomorrow – this essay is just to share what’s on my heart. I hope it helps in some way to spark your own passions and thoughts and prayers for what we are doing. But even more importantly – for the why of what we are doing. Or to be even more exact: the WHO. He is able – and He is worthy.