By Christine Howard
Every ministry will face challenges as they’re conceived and implemented by imperfect people. But no pitfall can do more damage than having unrealistic expectations – whether good or bad. Being forewarned is being forearmed, hopefully with God’s armor and the Holy Spirit’s leading. We learn from others’ examples who’ve taken the plunge into the pit of expectations – like me.
With the best of intentions, I tackled my first directorship for women’s ministry with a plethora of modern ideas and techniques. But six weeks later, I discovered my entire team had resigned. When the outrage settled, disbelief followed, and I dropped to my knees grateful God wasn’t surprised. I needed His help. My mind was blank and I waited. Where to go from here? What should I do? What had I done to promote this response from seven women I authentically loved and enjoyed working with?
After forty minutes my body informed me I had to get up. As I carefully re-read each resignation letter, I highlighted key words – that’s the English teacher in me. Repeatedly I saw phrases like, “I just can’t do what you expect…,” “I don’t think you understand what I do best…,” and “Perhaps you didn’t know I usually limit my work to…”
Amazingly, my enthusiasm to revitalize our women’s ministry turned out to be the mechanism that steam-rolled over seven wonderful women. In one fatal swipe, I had erased hours of earnest service and suggested that everything they had been doing for years was wrong, unnecessary, antiquated, and unsuccessful. Ouch!
As a college student, I had been mentored and challenged to always see new ways to spread the gospel of Jesus, and then disciple young believers. As newlyweds, my husband and I zealously served in six ministries encouraging that same idea of cutting edge venues and methods to reach the lost. Twenty years later I felt at the apex of my skill in leadership studies, renovating our VBS, writing Sunday school curriculum, and chairing our deaconess board, with the crowning glory of spear-heading the women’s ministry just handed to me. But how off-base I had become.
Repairing the Damage
Over the next several days, I devoured John Maxwell’s book on Christian Leadership and Dr. Townsend’s book on Boundaries. Both opened up my eyes to what real leadership looks like, and why safe-guard time limits must be in place before you implement modifications to existing ministries. How had I overlooked this?
Here are the steps I took to safeguard this from happening again.
Commitment to prayer and fasting.
I asked my accountability partner and dearest friend to enter into a time of covenant prayer and fasting for two weeks. Though I thought I’d been seeking the Lord’s face, apparently I was seeking to implement my own ideas. But now I was humbly determined to only hear and do what the Lord wanted in this service.
Develop a mission statement.
I took Maxwell’s core recommendation and made it my mission statement: “No ministry should ever be in place that was created by man for man. Only a ministry that was birthed from the Holy Spirit for man will ever endure. While these programs must be worked out by the physical hands and feet of members of the Body, they’re to be orchestrated by the moment-by-moment movement of the Spirit of the Living God or they’re doomed to be just a social club.” The crazy thing was I’d been very successful for two decades in operating and leading various ministries. When approached to take the reins of our women’s ministry I was ecstatic. All my ideas to rejuvenate what I’d seen as a fading service were going to blossom. That’s when the truth of Maxwell’s words stopped me cold. Obviously, I’d been putting my time in until I could get my hands on the helm of this ministry and re-design it according to my perspective. How terribly wrong and prideful.
Ask the hard questions.
On color-coordinated index cards – ever the teacher – my dearest friend and I laid out all the components of our women’s ministry. One-by-one we asked what really needed alteration and most crucially why this ministry needed changing. Two weeks later we’d found only three areas that truly needed any modifications.
I carefully re-read Townsend’s book on relationships – an area I obviously had an enormous amount of work to do. I wasn’t even sure I could properly seek forgiveness for my mistakes, let alone convince these seven precious women to give me a second chance. After all, for six weeks I’d been shoving my ideas down their throats and they were too stunned to challenge me. The hardest part was determining how to contact them. I decided to write a letter to each woman and included a tea bag, spoon, and invitation for dessert at my home. After three days, I called to see if they’d received the letter and tried hard not to beg them to meet with me. My dearest friend was praying with me before and during each call and when I’d written the letters. God was so compassionate as He touched their hearts and allowed me to correct my mistakes.
Take the Holy Spirit’s lead.
I welcomed these women into my home, trying not to push them or rush ahead, but sincerely allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us through this restoration process. He had so wondrously brought them here after being bruised by my high-handedness. I certainly didn’t want to resort to that tactic again to get them to give me another chance to serve as their director and lead them in this crucial ministry. As the women listened to my recollections of the past nine weeks they were shocked, but in a good way. Each commented that they could tell I had stepped back from my over-enthusiasm of what I called my “Energizer Bunny Expectations.” Finally, I slipped a soft pink folder in front of each woman. Inside were the revised plans for our women’s ministry program. Hesitantly, they each surveyed their individual areas and as they did their eyes grew misty and their shoulders relaxed. Securing their support had been my specific prayer confirming my role. Now I knew that I had indeed heard the Holy Spirit as I had re-designed this treasured ministry.
As my twentieth year approaches in women’s ministry leadership, I’m constantly humbled at the second and third and fourth chances God gives us when we sin by losing sight of His direction. God’s greatest desire is to see His children come to Him, surrender to His leading, serve Him, and then minister to others on His behalf.
The Holy Spirit usually always pushes us beyond what we think we can do, but as He does, He provides the grace and resources to support us each step of the way. We simply have to be willing to take that first step and let Him lead us each step afterwards.
Avoiding pitfalls is easy…stay away from the edge of self! But if you slip, God gives do-overs when we surrender to Him.