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Food for the Soul

Food for the Soul, devotionals to help you in your busy life, written by NEWIM board members and staff. 

Learning and Leadership

Kim Johnson

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

                                                                        —Proverbs 4:7 (NIV)

Leadership is hard work. There is always something to do, whether it is teaching, motivating, creating, influencing or taking care of smaller, administrative details. Not only that, life situations are becoming more complex and challenging every day. Taking the time to improve leadership skill sets may seem unnecessary. Lawyers, teachers, CPAs, general contractors and many other professions are required to take continuing education courses in order to stay up-to-date with the latest laws and/or guidelines. What about those in church ministry? If we are to remain relevant in our role, learning must never stop. So what can women in ministry leadership do to “get wisdom?” Here are a few practical suggestions.

Focus first on God’s Word. At the center of lifelong learning for any Christian is knowing God Himself. The best way to do this is to remain rooted in Christ through the written word of the Bible. It is not merely reading a daily devotional but exploring God’s Word, meditating on and memorizing Scripture.   

Expand Your Resources. We often limit our learning by restricting our resources. God’s Word is always first but a myriad of other sources of substance is available. Personal conversations, for instance, can hold hidden morsels of material to tuck away. Take classes, listen to different speakers or read books. There are countless ways to enlarge your options for new information.

Create a space. Most likely you are not only a woman in leadership, but a wife, mom, grandmother or sibling. Other obligations can make it difficult to find room in an already overflowing life. So it may be a challenge to create little windows of learning time. Perhaps ten minutes with a book before bed would work. Try lingering five or ten minutes more over Scripture in the morning or listening to a podcast in the car. Endeavor to peruse one article a day from an substantive online site. No matter how short the time, use it.

Upgrade your media. While holding a real book in your hands can be comforting, it is less and less practical to keep a large personal library. With the wealth of available media, be open to letting technology care for and keep your papers and books.

Become a learner. Maybe “Learner” is not in your top five from StrengthsFinder (Tom Rath). You can, however, still cultivate an aptitude for learning by always being deliberate, curious and committed to your growth.   

God has called us to our respective roles but our effectiveness is limited when we attend to the needs of everyone else and ignore our own progress. God did not create us to stagnate and it is just as important for Him to do His work in us as well as through us. Learning and leadership is your most powerful partnership.

Clearing the Air

Kim Johnson

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
                                                                                                Proverbs 15: 1 (NIV)

As a leader, it is sometimes difficult to trust God when it comes to justice—for ourselves. Although unusual, it is not uncommon to be hurt by those we work with in our field of ministry. If we believe the offense to be unjust, our human response is to want the offender punished. Left unresolved, the situation can cause bitterness and ultimately impact our relationship with that person, our team and even our Lord.

A great example of this is the little-known story behind the famous painting of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci had an adversary who was also a painter. Just before da Vinci began to paint this famous picture, he had a terrible argument with this person. It went unresolved and da Vinci was apparently beset with bitterness. So when da Vinci painted the face of Judas Iscariot, he decided to use the face of his foe as the reference for the face of the one who betrayed Jesus.

What better revenge than for everyone to see his adversary as the face of the man who betrayed the Lord. However, as he continued painting the faces of the other disciples and often tried to paint the face of Jesus, he could not make any progress. Annoyed and perplexed, it took some time but da Vinci finally realized what was wrong. His bitterness and hatred was keeping him from finishing the face of Jesus. When he ultimately made peace with his fellow painter, he repainted the face of Judas and with a humble heart was able to paint the face of Jesus.

God is absolutely just and only He can ensure justice is given. If we seek revenge based upon our need for righting a wrong, then we presume we are wiser than He. Many disagreements are misunderstandings that stem from unrelated problems. So even when we are deeply hurt, it is our responsibility as a leader to trust God and be the first to forgive. Attacks are not always personal and tempering our reaction can keep a minor matter from becoming unnecessarily monumental. It is also wise, however, to ask God to reveal sinful or selfish intentions in the situation. While forgiveness is immediate, consequences may remain and rebuilding trust can take time. Being cautious does not mean we haven’t forgiven (Proverbs 22:3). It is merely being a prudent leader, willing to clear the air and forgive an offense while guarding our heart and ministry.

“You don’t have to trust someone in order to forgive them, but you do have to forgive them in order to make trust possible again.”
                                                                                   —David Willis

Humble Confidence

Kim Johnson

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” 

—Romans 12:3 (NIV)

We live in a culture where more and more people are becoming extremely egotistic. Self-seeking and vain, they promote themselves in every way possible. God’s Word speaks often about this issue. For instance, we are warned to beware of selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3), encouraged not to be proud (Romans 12:16) and instructed to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). So it is no wonder we as leaders are reluctant to acknowledge our strengths while often over-emphasizing our weaknesses. Although it may seem we win brownie points for meekness, ignoring our abilities can cause us to feel insecure and steal our confidence to the point that we fail in our duty as leaders.

True humility does not mean discounting our talents. It means having a clear understanding of exactly where we stand with God, totally depending upon Him yet remaining highly valuable to Him in ministry. True leaders do not seek the spotlight out of pride, nor should they hide in a corner out of fear. Instead, authentic leaders pursue being firmly rooted in the place where God has put them—even if it is at the top.

There is a time and place to acknowledge our weaknesses and we must always confess our sins. On the other hand, if we are to be fully functioning, productive participants in God’s ministry we must absolutely recognize our gifts, unconditionally appreciate our strengths and categorically build on the abilities God has given us. There is a balance between humility and confidence.

To say you are good at something is not a declaration of arrogance. Self-acceptance is not pride but instead is comparatively the “sober judgment” urged in Romans that allows us to see ourselves as God sees us—His workmanship. He created us, redeemed us, called us and gifted us. We are not to apologize for our talents but use them for His purpose as He has called us to do.

Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.

                                                            —Leo Buscaglia

Counsel for the Counselor

Kim Johnson

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. 
                —Proverbs 15:22

As a leader, we know our Lord is always our first resource when it comes to wise counsel. Seeking His direction through prayer and reading His Word is the most important part of our role.  However, His Word also tells us there is wisdom in connecting with other Christ followers and by God’s design we are never to live our lives independently. Thus, every leader needs to build a council, an inner circle, of women that will add value to the ministry she leads. 

Members of your inner circle will be your biggest cheerleaders, your closet confidantes, your greatest influence and the best at keeping you accountable. You are not creating a clique, so choosing wisely is imperative. Look for characteristics like faith, integrity, intelligence, complementary giftedness, wisdom, loyalty and a shared vision. Surrounding yourself with people like this will help you continue to grow and sharpen your leadership skills. 

Leading a ministry presents challenges that are not easy and we don’t have to do it alone. Seeking wise counsel is a sign of maturity and humility, not a sign of weakness. Pursuing input from others will enable you to make better decisions and make sure your ministry continues to glorify the Lord. 

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” 
—Proverbs 12:15

Rightful Responsibility

Kim Johnson

"When Moses' father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, 'What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?'"

                                                                         —Exodus 18:14 (NLT)

When it comes to serving the Lord, many Christians are passionate in their pursuit to advance His Kingdom. Often this passion to please can cause these crusaders to take on responsibilities God never intended them to have. For leaders, this can be an even bigger problem. We love God and we love the people under our leadership, so when we see needs to be met, our first response is to do what we can to meet them. Sometimes however, those good intentions can cause more harm than good and the bigger challenge becomes determining what God does NOT want us to do.

An excellent example of this dilemma is found in Exodus 18. Moses had become painfully aware that the Israelites needed someone to help them settle disputes. After years of living as slaves and being controlled by masters, they had no idea how to live together as people of God, so Moses naturally assumed it was his job as their leader to meet this need. Suddenly Moses experienced long lines of frustrated people lining up to have him hear their case. Day after day he carried the weight of his nation’s problems on his shoulders alone. Since he was their leader it must be his job.

Then one day Moses’ father-in-law witnessed what was happening and immediately questioned the wisdom of Moses’ actions. It was clear Moses had taken on more than he could handle. At the very least it was a disservice to his people since the issues could be heard and resolved more quickly if he had help. Not only that, perhaps there was someone else God wanted to use in this capacity. By going it alone, Moses was robbing that person of an opportunity to serve.

Willingness to serve the Lord whenever possible is a natural response as leaders. Yet that desire cannot supersede the discernment of knowing God’s will for our involvement in a certain area of ministry. Even if a need remains unmet, we cannot automatically assume it is our responsibility to step in. As difficult as it is to wait on the Lord’s timing, we must, or we run the risk of hindering His will for the situation, for someone else and even for ourselves. As we seek to identify God’s will in our lives, it is just as important to recognize what His will is not. The wisdom is knowing the difference. 

             To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere.     

                                                                                    —C. S. Lewis