20 Things Your Leader Is Looking For If You Are Looking For Promotion

Psst….you…hey, yeah you…you over there who wants to be ordained or elevated in your position in the church…I got a message for you! There are many times when we think we are ready to do something or to step out into something and we have a leader who, for some reason, just doesn’t seem to budge or agree with us that we should receive a higher or elevated position in the ministry. Why? Sometimes leaders reference specific things, but a lot of times, leaders don’t explain a lot of why they aren’t promoting someone except to say that it isn’t the right time. This might seem like an unfair reply, especially if you feel that you are very gifted and anointed and that your abilities could be better used with a promotional elevation.

When a leader says that it doesn’t seem like the right time, the truth is that it’s probably not just one thing they are seeing within you that’s not right; it’s probably several little things that make up the work and purpose of ministry that they are hoping to see or are not seeing within you at any given time. Successful ministry work is many things coming together at once and if a leader isn’t seeing a good number of these things at work within you, odds are good they are properly assessing you aren’t ready for what’s next. While there is no question that different ministries have different requirements, there are certain spiritual and personal qualities a leader needs to see in you make and effort in doing in order to elevate you to the next level of ministry.

So consider this a bit of a “cheat sheet,” the Cliff Notes version of things a leader is looking for when it comes to promotion. Go over them and esteem yourself honestly before inquiring deeper into promotion from your leader, and if you are honestly not seeing development in some of these areas…work on them without accusing your leader of being unfair or partial.

1. An ability to handle correction. – One of the hardest things about ministry is the way that ministers are universally scrutinized. Ministers are judged by the people under their ministries, they are judged by society and the media for being too Christian or not Christian enough, they are judged by their critics, and they are most certainly judged by their enemies. If you aren’t doing things properly in your life and those improprieties are obvious – personal attire, nasty attitude, personal behaviors, inability to handle personal or familial issues, easily offended, defensive, petty, vindictive, chronically angry, rude, unseemly, or improper attitude toward authority – those issues are going to rate judgment and are therefore going to bring a bad name to the ministry. Handling correction properly means that you are mature enough to recognize that those you have chosen to have rule over you are there to see things within you that need correcting and that you handle those issues through prayer and self-discipline rather than turning on your leadership.

2. Attendance and participation at ministry functions. – If you want to be ordained or promoted, especially within the context of handling things within a church or ministry structure, your leadership needs to know they can trust you will be present at things in their absence. If you are out of church more than you are in church, have an endless parade of reasons why you are not at church services, Bible studies, classes, or meetings, or are sporadic in your attendance, don’t expect to get promoted.

3. Bringing visitors/guests to the church. – Being promoted means taking a bigger part in the ministry where you are, and that means you need to consider the ministry you are a part of as more than just your leader’s vision. You need to prove that you are a part of that vision, on board with it, excited about it, and willing to share it. If you have been in the church for ages and you never bring a visitor, recommend a guest, or are a part of getting new members, then you aren’t on board enough with the vision to take on more of it.

4. Taking initiative when it comes to assignments and projects. – One of the biggest things I look at when someone is sniffing around me for a promotion is their level of initiative when it comes to an assignment or a project. If I assign someone a project or they come and tell me they want to take one on but they never complete it or leave it half-finished to do something else, that’s how they are going to approach other ministry responsibilities, as well. I don’t know why we think we’ll be different when we get what we think we want. If you can’t step up and do what needs doing now, you will just fail to do what needs doing with different things later.

5. Personal giving, including tithes and offerings. – I have long taught that if the Bible teaches us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be, also, that is telling us clearly that where we spend or give our money shows what’s really important to us in our lives. To clarify: if you have money to go on vacation, or get your hair done and nails done, or to throw a big party, or to have a big holiday celebration, but you skimp on your personal giving to the church or skip tithes because you want to do something else, that tells your leaders that your heart is simply not with the ministry.

6. An ability to finish the things you start. – Some people chronically start things but don’t finish them. This is a serious problem in the church and a serious problem in ministries where people have been promoted before they can prove they will follow through and see projects through from beginning to end. If you are taking on a project, a work, an idea, or something of that magnitude, seeing it through from start to finish shows an ability to plan, think things through, problem solve, and commit to something thoroughly.

7. Having a proper attitude. – The proper attitude relates largely to a big word that we often use in church, and that word is accountability. Rather than blaming everyone else for where you are or are not, you need to be willing to be honest and say that you know who you are, what you’ve done or are doing, and step up with maturity to do what is right.  Thus: If you throw temper tantrums when other people get something you think you deserve…if you get nasty and petty when it’s time for correction and self-examination…if you can never apologize…if you always have to be right…if you are constantly trying to usurp authority…If you are critical of the way your leader runs their ministry…If you are nasty when you get caught doing wrong…If you are just waiting for an opportunity to get out…If you feel you are “owed” a promotion for sticking around…If you think you are more qualified than your leader…then you need to sit yourself down somewhere for a good, long time. You can be as gifted as you want but that nasty attitude of yours is going to hold you back because your leader is under no obligation to do anything for you while you are like this.

8. Seeing through right vision. – The church abounds with people who feel they have had dreams, visions, and words from God that are, in fact, not from God. Some of them are from counterfeit spirits, some are opinions, some are thoughts from observations, and some are nothing at all but a royal mess. If you want to be promoted, you need to prove to your leader that you have enough of right vision to make proper decisions and direction not just from leadership, but from God Himself, as well.

9. The manifestation of fruit of the gifts. – As a person, you are, most likely, very enamored with whatever it is that you feel God wants to do in your life and with the gifts that God has given you. This is a part of spiritual process, because it’s all new and different, and God has most likely shown you where you will be one day if you stick to the right principles and learn obedience and honor along with development of your spiritual gifts. Your leader, however, isn’t real interested in the things that you feel are going to come “one day” from being in ministry. You aren’t the first person to come to us thinking they are a great and gifted preacher, a future best-selling author, called to the nations, or “anointed” for great things. Believe it or not, we hear it all the time. The reality of how many people we really see reach this place in their lives is very minimal because too many people do not discipline themselves to the point where their gifts bear very much fruit. If you claim to have gifts, your leader wants to see those develop fruit, not personal boasts.

10. Action and an ability to be a self-starter. – I personally hate it when people talk too much, and I experience it all the time. I find people who talk incessantly and don’t listen to be people who try to dominate the conversation, thus exerting a spirit of control. I am much more interested in seeing the great things God is doing through and by you rather than hearing all about what you think He wants to do later on or will one day do. I speak for all leaders in saying that we do like people who self-start, and you never need to ask for permission to do something good for someone else: give a ride to church, volunteer at something in the community, volunteer to do something in the church, etc.

11. Loyalty to the ministry, especially the leadership. – If you are saying one thing to your leader’s face and another behind their back, never assume that you know better than they do and that you are hiding something from them. Every single time I covered someone who was speaking badly about me behind my back, God always let me know. I might not have said anything about it to that person without proper evidence, but I knew their wagging tongues were busy when I wasn’t in the room. These are also the people who always start off really gung ho and interested in things but then wane interest over time because they don’t get their way or can’t have all the control. You cannot expect a leader to give you papers or a promotion because you think you are gifted when you show a complete and total disloyalty to all things related to the ministry. If you really think so little of your leader, why do you want them to ordain or promote you in the first place?

12. Reasonable and sensible in one’s sense of order. – Let’s get something straight right now: an awful lot of the time, ministers are not being controlling with their people; they just don’t like that they aren’t getting away with the things they want to get away with, so they yell control. There are incidents where ministers do control their people, but it is not control to expect that people who desire promotion display proper order in their lives or to expect that those who want promotion participate in the ministry. You have chosen to submit yourself to the leadership present in a ministry. Let me state again: that is a CHOICE you make. That means if you believe you are supposed to be there by God’s purposes that you follow the rules as are outlined for that work and you stop trying to conform them to your own vision. If you are unhappy with a vision or don’t feel in alignment with it, then you make the choice to go to a ministry that fits better with where you are at in your life and belief system. If you are so out of line with the leadership where you are, then again I reiterate, as I did with the last point – why do you want promotion from them to begin with?

13. Being self-disciplined. – Self-discipline comes from self-examination, and self-examination comes from self-awareness. It is also probably one of the most important aspects of being in ministry. We should reach a point in time where our leaders don’t have to explain everything to us and that we should be able to recognize things within ourselves that need change or improvement without other people always having to tell us about them. It also means we should have the ability to make changes within ourselves without constant praise and hand-holding from our leaders.

14. A respectful attitude. – Respect is something that extends to more areas than I have space to list, but let’s say that a truly respectful attitude displays in every area of our lives and conduct. Someone who is disrespectful will be careless with their speech, fleshly and emotional, undisciplined, and immature. I recognize we all have our bad moments (leaders included) and that some people bring out sides of us that we otherwise would not expose; I am not talking about such situations. A general attitude of disrespect, however, on a regular basis, is most definitely a problem that will block promotion.

15. Being a good steward. – We often talk about stewardship in terms of money, but stewardship is far more than just about money or finances. Stewardship is the ability to wisely use resources and to use them to the best of one’s ability. An unfortunate reality of ministry is that money and resources alike often have to stretch over a far distance, and the ability to use resources in a creative manner goes a long way in proving one is ready to advance in ministry work.

16. The ability to apply learning. – I think we have given the false impression that ministry is all about gifts and anointing, and that God will fix us wherever we lack. Ministry does require anointing and gifts and abilities, but it is also about learning methods, tips, and purposes to execute the anointing, gifts, and abilities that God has given to us. This requires training and a willingness to learn from those God has appointed to teach us in this life. If you aren’t applying what you have learned, then you need to learn it again.

17. Humility. – Pride goes before a fall, even among ministers. If you esteem yourself more highly than you ought, you can stay where you are.

18. Patience. – Sometimes leaders see things within the people they cover but they realize that the time for promotion is simply not right. Every time it was time to promote or ordain someone, God came and gave witness to me about it. If you are having to promote the idea of your promotion, odds are good that the timing is off and it is better to be patient and wait than make it so that your leader feels you will NEVER be ready to elevate.

19. A sense of honor. – The word “honor” has multiple meanings, including a high sense of respect, esteem, privilege, or to fulfill an agreement. All of these definitions are in play when it comes to ministry promotion. Potential elevation needs to bring with it respect for one’s self, the ministry work, leadership, the church, the people one will minister to, accountability, other leaders, recognizing the work of ministry to be a privilege, recognizing the allowance of promotion to be a privilege, and the willingness to fulfill one’s duties through to the end. If you aren’t here yet, you aren’t ready for promotion.

20. Ability to do the work of the ministry. – Different people are called to do different things for the Kingdom. We are not all called to be in ministry. We are not all called to the same offices, appointments, or purposes in the ministry. This means that not everyone in the church or ministry is the right fit for every available position or promotion that comes up in a given church setting. It is very possible that the abilities and gifts you have are better suited for something other than what is available or purposed at that given point in time, and that the leadership you have recognizes who you are and the abilities you have and is, for that reason, not putting you into a position that is not right for you to handle.

(c) 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

The Sound of Silence

I recently had a conversation with someone that went something like most of the conversations I have when I encounter new people who think they are “prophets.” They introduce themselves, they are a little all-too-eager for me to tell me what they do and what office they are called to, and they then feel the need to try and give me a “word.” Over many years of discernment and many years of watching a steady decline in the quality of what we consider genuine “word,” I have taken note that there are certain standards that people always say, time and time again. The first is to tell me that I am filled with the Holy Ghost (duh), the second is to tell me how God has “so much ahead for me” in one form or another (duh), and when I don’t respond to that the way they want, I usually throw something in the mix for good measure. Something that states financial concern or other issues, to which the response is always the same: “Money is coming your way. I just heard that.”

Oh you did, did you? What a coincidence!

Sigh.

To me, it’s boring. These so-called prophets and people with prophetic gifts are reading me and my spirit, not telling me what the Spirit has to say. We are so conditioned to watch people and to tell them what we think they want to hear that we have no depth or perception to actually see or say what God wants to say to them. We are in our own way, rejecting the true prophets and entertaining the ones whose messages fill us with false hope and make us want to run around the room. We respond the same way, time and time again, to messages that are vague and misleading and are meant to read us in a clever mind game rather than genuinely discern the heart of God and lead us to a better place.

I remember talking with Apostle Yolanda Greggs some years back about Revelation 8:1, which reads: “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (GW) This passage, which is often perplexing to scholars, took on a whole new meaning when we started talking about it in terms of prophecy and prophetic time, which equates to approximately 43 years (or thereabouts, as the prophecy says there was silence for about that time). In my commentary, All That Is Seen And Unseen: A Journey Through The Book of Revelation, I talk in depth about the significance of the approximate 43-year period of time (which yes, means all those end-time chasers are wrong on their timelines) whereby heaven is silent, prophecy seems mute, God seems distant, and heaven seems still, watching and waiting for what comes next.

I don’t think it’s foreign to assume that we are, in some semblance, in a period of time that resembles the silence of heaven. In our deeply psychological world, it’s easy to be a deceiver and just as easy to be deceived. We think if we watch people carefully enough, in the same way that psychics do, we can tell someone something completely vague and turn it into a “word from God” as we supplement details and people are able to read our spirits rather than hear from the Holy Spirit. We think being over-eager, personable, extremely interested, and going what appears to be “above and beyond” will substitute for the true Spirit’s move in our lives, replaced instead with a psychological head game.

The problem is that we have gotten so manipulative, so good at this game, heaven has no choice BUT to be silent. God can’t have any part in the means or methods by which people are not discerning Him, but trying to discern His people. It doesn’t mean that God does not speak or has nothing to say, as I will speak on in a moment…but it does mean that the methods by which God’s true people are speaking are not ordinary, nor are they common…nor are many of them even eager to speak.

Disturbed is not my favorite artist, but they hit one out of the ballpark for me with their cover of “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. I love how they transformed the song with deep vocals and their stunning black and white music video, making it about more than its original context, which came in the wakeful hours following the shooting of John F. Kennedy in 1963. I believe I have blogged on the song before, about living with those quiet in-between times where God doesn’t seem real vocal and we don’t often have a lot of direction, but in this blog, I’m talking about that reality that sometimes the sound of silence we hear on spiritual matters is because we haven’t attuned ourselves to hear the Word of God in a proper context and with a proper spirituality. We are used to noise in church: loud music, loud drums, lots of enthusiasm and running around wild, and messages that throw us into fits of emotional ecstasy. We cry, we run all over the room, we scream and yell and cheer, only to find ourselves in the same exact situations and places all over again, every time.

till, there are many of us who are dealing with a true and authentic “sound of silence” echoing in our lives, in our quiet time and our situations, as we look down the corridors of our churches and our dream states and see things that just don’t seem to measure up with what people are telling us about God. It begs me to ask the question: are the people who are giving us words really hearing from God, or is it nothing more than what I spoke of earlier, where people are reading our spirits and responding to our behavior, thinking that it is God talking to them? If we look at the Bible, the people of God received many messages from God, and very few of those messages would make any of us fly around the room at warp speed. They were disciplined messages, reprimands for idolatry and injustice, leveling for hypocrisy and practicing false worship, and calls to repent, left, right, and sideways. In the Old Testament, it was usually Israel, God’s own people, who received these messages. Very few people had experiences where they went to heaven seven or eight times per day to come back and report what was going on, and even fewer started conversations with the words, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Amos 3:7-8 (GW)

Certainly, the Almighty Lord doesn’t do anything
unless He first reveals His secret to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared. Who isn’t afraid?
The Almighty Lord has spoken. Who can keep from prophesying?

Why is this relevant, you ask? Because the people of the Old Testament ALSO thought themselves “spiritual.” The book of Amos proves that there were so many so-called “prophets” running around with messages much like the ones we see today that Amos didn’t even want to be a part of the “school of the prophets.” There was so much corruption and so many false words, Amos couldn’t even bring himself to be a part of the order of his day. In our day and age, we have the opposite issue: people refuse to submit themselves to order and run renegade, each with their false words. They don’t realize that they shouldn’t be so shocked by things and they shouldn’t be so easily rattled, because the point of the prophetic is to be so deeply in the heart of God, that the prophets are able to rightly explain and discern what is going on in the world and provide explanation and hope for God’s people.

Yet I, like so many others, sit at points in my life and hear only a sound of silence when we need to hear a genuine word from the Lord. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t always hear for ourselves. This proves that God’s gifts are genuine and that we aren’t just using them for ourselves. I don’t need to hear I am going to live long, that this is just the beginning (which 20 years in, I don’t think that even makes sense), or that money is coming my way. I need to hear what God has to say to me, in this moment, in this hour, in response to where we are. There are so many things that need explanation, and need mention and notice, so many things we need to be attuned to and need the true prophets to be listening and learning about…and instead we are getting the same crap we’ve been hearing forever.

In the song, The Sound of Silence, there is a particularly interesting line:

And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”

In this interim, where we are dealing with the false and the true, sorting out wheat from tares (and, for the record, if the wise and foolish virgins prove anything, at least half of the prophets are tares), in a period of heavenly silence, it’s not that God stops speaking or revealing; it’s that it just comes in different forms and in different ways, with things we’d never consider and from people we don’t consider to be approved. It’s found in subtle ways: in signs that only we will understand, in words from people we barely know and barely would consider, looking for messages in odd places; maybe not even found in church or the pulpit, watching as those words are found in places and people we wouldn’t considered worthy of giving God’s Word. It demands we are more attentive, more careful when we feel that we have a word of knowledge, wisdom, or prophecy for someone, and that maybe even we, ourselves, find a new way to present our message in our era of silence.

Things will one day change; periods of silence do come and go, and seasons do shift. For now, we pray, we believe, and we listen for God’s voice in the midst, in the different and challenging, and in the concepts that change our very perceptions of who we are and what it means to be church.

Oh yeah, and…in the meantime…we wait…in the sound of silence.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

“The Sound Of Silence”

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

 

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dare
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grow
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”

Baby, I was born this way!

When Lady GaGa’s song, “Born This Way” came out, everyone made a big huge deal about it because the song has LGBT references within it. So, like we always do, that’s all anyone heard in the song. They didn’t hear another thing it said, not in the least, which means that we all missed an opportunity to hear something that might help us in our own place, where we are right now, and developing into what we are supposed to become. More than anything else, the song is about being different and there are many different forms of differences mentioned within the song. When I hear the song, it talks to me about being different, and that sometimes the differences we have don’t just go away because we want them to or because they might make us uncomfortable. If anything, sometimes the differences we have make us exactly who we are.

The refrain of the song celebrates this:

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, born this way

Ooh, there ain’t no other way, baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way
Ooh, there ain’t no other way, baby, I was born this way
I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way

When someone – or something – who is different comes along, how do we respond to it? Do we immediately reject it or brand it as not being of God, or do we invite the idea that maybe that person with a difference has a message for us?

We like conformity in church. We like it when people are just like us, sound like us, look like us, and are like us. In fact, conformity is such a natural expectation, we don’t know what to make of people who aren’t all exactly the same. For example, when a person has been going to church for a certain period of time, it is expected that they dress like everyone else dresses and they pick up typical speech patterns and habits. The Bible translation used by most of the members is the translation one is expected to use, and so on and so forth.

This doesn’t end when we get into ministry. Amidst cries of “We’re not church as usual!” or “We welcome differences!” or “We don’t want the same message,” we find realities that bespeak the opposite. As a minister myself who is “different” in that I don’t preach the types of messages that are typical or minister in quite the same way as most of my contemporaries, I’m not met with a response that celebrates my differences and upholds them as God-given. If anything, I am met with something much darker: ministers who try to blackball me and the work we do, refusals to support or give money, prejudice against the nature of the work and the messages preached, criticism because something isn’t typical, arguments, control, and those who think they could get little ol’ wayward me to conform if I would just become a part of them. I’m not preaching something evil, everything I teach and preach has Scriptural foundations, I’m not running off as heretic of the year. I’ve got great Scriptural education and teaching, and my foundations are solid. The problem isn’t what I teach is false, it’s that it’s true and in a world that conforms us to the false, we don’t know how to take someone who isn’t the way we are used to being.

The ultimate hope is I will feel so ashamed and out of place that I’ll hide myself away and do things the way that everyone else does them. I’ll think who I am is a mistake and that God will un-call me, or call me to do something that everyone else is already doing. The problem is that this isn’t going to happen. Let’s even say that is something I tried to entertain, even on a certain level, which at one point in time, I did do. I’m still going to be me and still going to be what God has called me to be, because like it or not, God’s deposit on my life has been here forever. Yep…I was born this way.

Galatians 1:15: But when God, Who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace… (NASB)

Ephesians 1:3-4: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (NASB)

Yes, God requires all of us to be socialized, well-rounded individuals who don’t use being different as an excuse to be disobedient or as an excuse to be sinful or defy the ways of God. That’s not what I am saying here, and not the point. The point is, however, that there are those of us who were called, long before we were born and now who are here, to do a job to point out that the conformity and comforts we often see in church are actually the disobediences we claim to be against. It’s easy to gather in a room and think everyone who is in there is right if no one ever questions or challenges that notion. It’s easy to stay disobedient, to stay comfortable, and to stay in error when nobody who is different is ever let in.

God doesn’t make mistakes and no matter what someone is doing or where someone is at, they are still created in His image. That means those who are different are beautiful in their way, because God put differences within us, on purpose, to get our attention and do different things. Instead of constantly putting down different ministers and ministries, encouraging them to hide themselves, maybe it’s time to look at the track they are on and realize there are things right about that track that conformity doesn’t afford us.

Try to change me if you must; we just won’t remain friends. I pray that any minister with a truly different message will grab ahold of the revelation that God made you different on purpose. No reason to hide, no reason to sit back, but you should embrace – and love – what God is doing in you. Don’t just keep doing it for God, although that is definitely reason enough. Keep going for yourself, too. No matter what our title or how we do it, we are born for one thing, and that is to serve the Lord. Serve the Lord as you have been called, even if it’s different.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Power For Today, Second Quarter 2016

Power For Today Magazine, Second Quarter 2016

Power For Today Magazine: Power For Today Magazine, Second Quarter 2016

Power For Today Magazine is published quarterly and is a publication of Apostolic Fellowship International Ministries. Second Quarter 2016: Finding The Place Of Grace, featuring the interview with Rev. Anthony Sluzas, founder of Your Place of Grace. Cover feature: Pursuing Peace. Articles by…

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Commitment

Genesis 47:29: When Israel [another name for Jacob; 32:28] knew he soon would die, he called his son Joseph to him and said to him, “If you love me [I have found grace in your eyes], put your hand under my leg [thigh; a euphemism for male genitalia; this was a commitment to keep a promise]. Promise me [Deal with me according to loyalty and faithfulness that] you will not bury me in Egypt. (EXB)

2 Esdras 16:74: In that time, the genuine commitment of my chosen ones will be shown, as gold that is tested by fire. (CEB)

Matthew 5:33-37: And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. (MSG)

Quiz time: What do shows like “The Golden Girls,” “Friends,” “Designing Women,” and “Full House” all have in common?

No, they aren’t all a line-up for fine evening television on cable (although this can certainly be true).  They are all excellent examples of commitment, of ways that different groups of people have made commitments to one another – and, more than anything – kept those commitments.

Commitment just shouldn’t be something for late-night, nostalgic television, it’s not something we should contemplate in misty-eyed memories of a bygone era.  It is something that, if we are Christians, we should take seriously and pursue, to be people who are as good as our word and interested in others around them.

“Commitment” is a loaded word in church.  It’s something we need to talk about, but I think many pulpit ministers are afraid to touch.  Sure, a few more politically-driven leaders might bring up the word when they want to talk about divorce rates, but we don’t hear about it in any other context.  What we hear in church is often the opposite:

“Oh, I can’t make it, but I hope it turns out all right!”

“Sorry I missed your event, I had something else I wanted to go to.”

“Is your event still happening? I wanted to go to something else so I wanted to see if you were still having it.”

“I’ll catch you next time.”

“I am not going to give to what you are doing, but I’ll come on FB and like it” (so that one isn’t actually said by most, it’s just done all the time).

As a leader who has spent most of her ministry as a spiritual covering in one form or another, I’ve experienced all the statements above, plus more, at an increasing frequency.  Rather than develop true relationship with leaders (and with others, for that matter), there is an underlying air of use.  Leaders are picked based on how much they can further someone else’s walk or ministry, and no real relationship is forged or developed, thus creating an atmosphere where commitment is rare.  People switch churches and leaders like hats,  and we are slow to see people who genuinely care about others in their lives through the form of a lasting, committed connection.

So when I heard Rachel Platten’s new song, “Stand By You,” my first thought was that we should call it the “Commitment Song.”  Not only is it accompanied by a beautiful music video, “Stand By You” is a herald of what it means to express commitment.  While we might be quick to tell people that we will always be with them or never leave them, how good are we at following through on that promise?  Are we people who can be trusted with the scars that others have, with the fears and difficulties they have, and to be willing to give that hand up so they can become all that they can be?  Even if they never find the promise they are looking for, are you willing to walk with them through that?  We talk all the time about breakthrough, well, are you willing to stay with someone long enough through the breakdown to get to that breakthrough point?

Commitment is all about us putting our money where our mouths are and being willing to do more than just give endless word (that often doesn’t mean much to hurting people) or make promises and then never follow through on them.  It’s more than just saying that we’ll catch someone later or another time, or wishing them well when we should be doing something to help out.  It’s about being a Christian, living the walk where we slow ourselves down and avoid becoming over-committed so we don’t have to confront God and the changes that we need to make within ourselves.  If we have kids, we must care for them, seeing it through to their adulthood. If we have dogs, we must care for them, seeing it through throughout their lives.  If we are employed, we must do our jobs for the duration of our term of hire.  If we are Christian, we must see our commitment to God and to others no less, as something we must do through the duration of our spiritual lives.

In Biblical times, commitment was shown as they took oaths and those oaths were considered as binding oral contracts among people.  In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t swear, neither by heaven or earth – but that our yes should be yes and our no, no.  In light of how serious people took their commitments, have we ever considered why this is?  I believe it is because God commands us to be committed people, those who take our promises and agreements seriously, and that we should not need to swear by anything to follow through and do the right thing.

If we love as we claim, we will keep our commitments.  If we love as we say we do, we won’t have to swear, promise, re-echo ourselves, or beg for cooperation, because our committed nature will speak for itself.  Love is shown in action, and if we love God and our neighbor like we should, our yes will be yes…and it will be more than just a word.  In this day and time, never say you love someone if you don’t mean it, and aren’t willing to walk with them through hell if they never find heaven this side of eternity.

(c) 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Stand By You (Rachel Platten)

Hands, put your empty hands in mine
And scars, show me all the scars you hide
And hey, if your wings are broken
Please take mine so yours can open, too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

Oh, tears make kaleidoscopes in your eyes
And hurt, I know you’re hurting, but so am I
And, love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine ’til yours can open, too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you

Yeah, you’re all I never knew I needed
And the heart—sometimes it’s unclear why it’s beating
And, love, if your wings are broken
We can brave through those emotions, too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

Oh, truth—I guess truth is what you believe in
And faith—I think faith is having a reason
And I know now, love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine ’til yours can open, too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you

I’ll be your eyes ’til yours can shine
And I’ll be your arms, I’ll be your steady satellite
And when you can’t rise, well, I’ll crawl with you on hands and knees
‘Cause I… I’m gonna stand by you

Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through (come on)
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you
Love, you’re not alone
Oh, I’m gonna stand by you
(even if we can’t find heaven, heaven, heaven)
Yeah, I’m gonna stand by you

 

16 Things I Wish I’d Been Told Before I Became A Minister

I’ve spent just about all of my adult life in ministry.  Sure, I have had side jobs and now run companies that I own or partner in myself, but my consistent, primary job for many years has always been ministry.  I didn’t know many ministers when I got started, and as a result, I didn’t know much of what to expect.  Still, some days I wish someone had sat me down and told me the following…

1. You’re going to feel unappreciated.  Much of the time. – When people think about ministry, they think about how many people they will help and all the good they will do.  What they don’t mention is that much of that time, the things you do aren’t regarded with a lot of relevance.  Because you are seen as doing what you do “for the Lord,” many people don’t take what is done for them by their minister very seriously.  It’s just expected that this is your calling, you are there to do this, and that means there isn’t a lot of appreciation or regard for it.  When you have a bad day or feel like you need someone to talk to, people assume you just take it to God and are always satisfied or all right with that, so it means you don’t get a lot of people who are ready and willing to see you through your bad days.  Which will probably make you feel more unappreciated.  The feeling does usually pass with time, but it can be a feeling that haunts you for long periods, especially if you have none or the wrong kind of support in your personal life.

2. You’re going to wonder why you ever wanted to do this. – When people first feel called to go into ministry, they are enchanted with the idea of doing God’s work.  By the tenth depressing phone call in the day that also drags you down (and spirits or not, you have to admit that it’s awfully hard to combat feeling down when everything you hear in a day is depressing), the umpteenth long day in a row, the bank account that doesn’t grow, or the days when you never want to see another person again, getting to preach on Sunday won’t seem like a fair trade-off.

3. You will be asked for money.  All the time. – We know the first culprits are usually from Africa, India, or Pakistan, and we typically learn to either ignore or handle those requests.  What we aren’t prepared for are the inboxes on a daily basis from one person or another who is asking you for money to get to church, to pay their bills, to meet their rent, or to help them out.  You will feel inundated by causes, by strange people you don’t know hoping you will give them cash at request, because people think that being in ministry makes you an easy target for giving.

4. Prepare to listen more than talk. – A large part of real ministry is listening, especially to the problems and issues people have.  It’s how people connect with you as a minister, and the truth is that after awhile, it can become a real burden.  Most of what is spoken to you is confidential, and listening to people’s personal problems as you help them sort them out can be tedious, especially when you can’t outlet your own thoughts about them.

5. Your own devotional time is essential. – Any service or cause-based job can easily cause a person to feel surrounded by demands, needs, and people who constantly want attention.  Having quiet time with the Lord spent in the Word or prayer (or sometimes just in the quiet, period) is essential to balancing out life and the demands of the job.

6. Ministers don’t keep “normal” hours. – I can’t count the number of nights I have spent awake writing, studying, praying, or waiting for whatever instruction it was that God wanted to give me.  There have been the sleepless nights because of a problem in the ministry or someone within the ministry, and how to address that problem consumed my thought life to the point where it kept me awake.  It’s easy to say “just pray,” but ministry is more than just prayer.  It’s also problem-solving, figuring, and thinking, not to mention the many spiritual aspects of the work that also keep us up late into the wee hours of the morning.

7. Someone is always going to think you are doing something wrong. – We live in a forum-based world.  The internet has created an open forum, where people are free with their opinions, reviews, and thoughts, whether any of those are relevant, or not.  Whether your skirt was too short…or your hair is the wrong color…or your fingernails are the wrong length…or you use the wrong translation of the Bible…or you shouldn’t blog…or you should give your books away free…or you preached too long…or you should have picked another topic…or your prophecy was boring…or you have the wrong gifts…or you shouldn’t have gone to school…or they don’t like the name of your ministry…or they dislike your title…someone is always going to find something wrong with what you are doing, and they will probably make it known.  The good news is the internet moves fast, and things tend to blow over relatively quickly.

8. Church people can be mean. – This is related to #7, but they aren’t just mean online, they are often mean in person, too.  It’s often more than just thinking you are doing something wrong, but that you’re not doing things their way.  Remember, people who are still going to church have often been going for awhile, and tend to be rather set in their ways as to how things should be done and don’t respond well to change or different ideas about ministry.  They think being a Christian means being staunch and unfriendly, and that being pleasant is a part of being “worldly.” Many believe they aren’t just upholding a tradition, but the true church, which they feel is being stolen from them.  Ridiculous? Yes.  It is the result of improper training for many generations.  A real problem? Absolutely.

9. People ask weird questions. – Just count on the fact that if someone has the most absurd inquiry, they will find you and ask you.  Everything from “Why didn’t you wear different socks with those pants?” to “Did the Wise Men follow a UFO to the manger?” and all that comes in between…

10. Ministry doesn’t always feel meaningful. – Like any other profession, what you do in ministry won’t always feel like a deep spiritual moment.  Some of it just feels like bookkeeping, rent-paying, writing, speaking, counseling, and general work.  There are parts of ministry done so often, they are a part of everyday life, and become ordinary.  That does make the special moments we have with God more important and more, well, special, but it does mean that everyday is not a divine vision or a trip to heaven.

11. Be prepared to become a “jack of all trades.” – If you want to survive in ministry, then you are either going to have to be a self-made millionaire and be able to pay various service people, or you are going to have to learn how to do a lot of things yourself (or have friends in a bunch of varied professions).  It is absolutely essential for ministers to have websites, business cards, professional representations such as letterhead and social network abilities, and this is just the beginning…In ministry, I have had to learn how to do all of these things myself, plus so many more, I can’t think of them all.  We can’t just shrink back and wait for help all the time.  Sometimes the help has to come from our abilities, and what we don’t know, we figure out.

12. You won’t have as much in common with most of the ministers you meet as you would think. – It should sound like the ideal connection, because when you are in ministry, there are things that you should automatically have in common with others who do the same thing.  You will connect with some ministers, and those will probably become deep friendships because of what I just said.  This won’t happen all the time, however.  Ministries are different, networks and organizations that ministers belong to are all different, and even though a ministry might seem to be the same judging by a service or a common style, there are probably differences in belief and structure that turn out to be deal breakers when all is said and done.

13. People will twist your words…and it will amaze you. – We’ve all heard people tell us that the way that people perceive things varies from person to person.  What we are never prepared for is the way that people will say that we said something, when that is not what we said, at all.  It doesn’t get less shocking. Especially when we don’t expect where it comes from.

14. Ministry is no longer regarded as a legitimate profession in the eyes of many people. – It would be easy to blame this one on scandals from people like Peter Popoff or Jimmy Swaggart, but there are a lot of factors that have changed the way ministry is perceived by people.  The entertainment factor in popular television preachers, coupled with their lifestyles, has changed the way that ministry is perceived and the distinguishable and respectable mark it once had within society.  It hasn’t helped that big-name preachers are not only taking money away from other ministries, but also the endless scandals, bad reports, and ministers who misrepresent or disgrace their offices are always headline news.  Couple all of this with the fact that most smaller ministries have leaders who also hold-down secular jobs and don’t even take salaries from their churches and you have a society where ministry is regarded more as a side interest or pursuit rather than a respectable profession.

15.People will be uncomfortable with what you do. – without even knowing you. – Before anyone climbs up on the Christian high horse, this isn’t because of persecution or being proud of Christ.  It’s because Christians in general have a bit of a reputation for being stodgy and stuffy, bringing down the party, and being unrelatable and judgmental.  Then you have the fact that many people automatically think ministers feel certain ways about issues or have certain views about things.  Couple being a minister, which is kind of regarded as being more of a permanent Christian than a lay member with judgments and assumptions about ministers, and there will be people who are going to be uncomfortable with the mere idea of being around you or being your friend, even without knowing who you really are.

16. Your life and your plans will be permanently interrupted. – I can’t count the number of times I planned on having a day or a weekend off, only to have that changed, often at the last minute, because of an emergency or a need that arises in the ministry.  Sometimes we have to consider priorities, and that means the personal time we seek to take for ourselves or for our families doesn’t always happen as conveniently or easily as we would like on the first plan or try.  Flexibility, not just for the minister, but also for those closest to him or her, is an essential.

(c) 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.

So…You Think You Want To Marry A Minister?

Over the past twenty years, I have seen an increase in the number of ministers who are looking to get married. This is for a variety of reasons, including the church push to take the plunge, divorced ministers who desire to remarry (sometimes on the third, fourth, and fifth tries), and a general consensus against single clergy. With this rise in ministers seeking to take the plunge, we find the reverse: many single individuals who, for whatever reason, desire to marry a minister. Whether they are doing it because they genuinely want to help someone who is in ministry out or for more sinister reasons, such as wanting power without having to work for the status or who have the idea that being married to a minister will help them get into heaven easier (and yes, there are these people out there), there seems to be no end to ministers marrying, remarrying, and connecting up with the hopes of marriage.

The one thing I don’t see a lot of teaching on is what it is like to be married to a minister of the Gospel. When a couple is going to get married, pre-marital counseling doesn’t typically address the issues present in relationships between ministers and those they marry. While the world of marriage to a minister may sound amazing and spiritual to many people, there are certain aspects of marriage to a minister that many don’t consider, and are often troublesome once the marriage begins.

Note: These points apply to both men AND women who marry ministers, not just one or the other, even though I might give specific examples that relate to one or the other.

The very thing that attracts you to that person is the very thing that will become a source of contention later on – Whether it’s their intense spirituality, their position of authority, or something else, the very thing that attracts someone to a minister is the very thing later on that will become the most decisive point in that relationship. The fact that they are spiritual and that means they don’t attend to natural things like you do, or the amount of time they spend in prayer or Scripture study, or the amount of time that they have to spend working on things related to ministry – those are going to be things that will have to be worked out over time, that will not only not seem so deep and spiritual at times – they will also seem like they swallow up and demand too much time away from you, the relationship, and the family

Ministers are not always who they seem to be in the pulpit – People tend to assume that the larger-than-life personalities they see in the pulpit are exactly who those people are when they go home. I can vouch for myself: as a person, it is God’s grace that puts me up in that pulpit and enables me to do what He has called me to do. In my day-to-day life, I am not larger than life. I am rather quiet, introspective, and, at times, even borderline introverted. I like to think, I like to sew, I like to write, I don’t necessarily like to talk or be real social. When I do want to do those things I make it known, I have a great time, and then I go back to being quiet again. I am not the only one. Pulpit preaching is very intense, it makes us tired, and we often really enjoy the quiet of life rather than having to be front-and-center all the time.

Ministry doesn’t mean you automatically have a great relationship – If the third, fourth, and fifth marriages of many ministers don’t testify to this fact, I am not sure what does. Even if a minister has only one marriage under their belt and has never divorced, never assume that this means they have a great marriage (even if they say that they do). Ministry is hard, especially these days, on marriages. There is a wide gap for misunderstanding and miscommunication, because the minister’s focus is on the things of God and their mate may not always see things the same way. The majority of ministers I have met have difficult marriages, many marital problems under the surface, and many relationship misunderstandings. This also means never assume that people who have been married for years automatically have a great relationship. They have probably spent years working through issues, only to replace those with new issues, and many things that they have learned to live with that will remain unresolved.

Don’t compete with God – I have often said that husbands and wives of ministers become the proverbial other “man or woman” in the relationship because the first priority and love a minister has is in their relationship with God. This means if God asks a minister to do something, they are not just going to do it, they HAVE to do it. It’s good to keep in mind that just because they know God has told them to do it doesn’t mean they want to do it, either, and that it may very well be hard for them, too. Standing in the way of a minister who has heard from God and knows they need to do something for Him is a really bad idea. It won’t make the minister scorn God, it will just make them scorn you.

Ministers have different priorities than other people – For years, people told me that I would change my mind about wanting to have children. Now that I am well over 30, I desire to have children even less now than I did when I was younger. My priority isn’t a perfectly orderly house. It’s not to be a biological parent. My priority is to finish this next book, to have what we need for our homeless outreach next month, to fill up our church for the glory of God, and to work on missions preparations. I don’t care if I ever own my own home, I am happy as a renter in an apartment where all the maintenance is done for me. It would be unfair for a mate to try and change who I am because they have different priorities. If you want to be with a minister, you need to accept the differences in priorities, not try and change that person to be someone they aren’t. There is no verse that says “marriage is your first ministry” in the Bible. While priorities are fine, trying to mold or push a minister into a type of marital role that is just not for them is unfair.

Ministers work nights, weekends, and holidays – Most services, conferences, and special events are held on nights, weekends, and over holidays. This means that the very time a minister has to work may be a time that you are off from work. Coordinating schedules is a must when you are married to a minister.

Ministers can’t always talk about their day – Most of what people say to us is confidential, in one form or another. This means that even to a spouse, we can’t talk about what is being said to us. We can’t tell a spouse about the problems someone has confided to us about, about what we see in counseling, about the things that people are struggling with, or about the struggles that these sometimes awaken within ourselves. In addition, some of what we deal with is truly heartbreaking, to the point where we can’t always talk about it for our own emotional or spiritual process.

If you don’t support them as ministers, you are getting kicked to the curb – Doesn’t matter if you are married or not. It might take longer for it to happen if you are married, but it’ll still happen, nonetheless. If you can’t get up behind someone in prayer and attention, if you can’t give an encouraging word, if you are always throwing problems in the process, like refusal of financial support or a moment or time to show them that you support what they do, then you aren’t going to stay married.

As a rule, ministers need a lot of space and time to process things – I am so astute and on-point with what is going on spiritually because I spend a lot of my free time by myself, seeking God about the things that I see. Ministers need space and time, not always, not constantly, and not to the neglect of their responsibilities in life, but they need time to process and hear from God, which means that they don’t want to talk incessantly, they don’t want to feel like they have to entertain someone else, and they don’t want to feel like they have to be a problem-solver in their relationships. They are great for being there when you need them and for giving advice when it is needed, but incessant neediness and clinginess will result in a lot of frustration for both.

Ministers deal with insecurities – It’s a fact that preachers love preaching. We love the crowds, the applause, the big offerings, the feeling of being up there. Being up there is a part of our calling, and it inspires us to continue on in our lives. This doesn’t mean that the confidence we exude in the pulpit extends to every area of our lives. Many ministers are insecure people, who experience a lot of rejection and hurt feelings, people tend to be mean towards those who are in ministry, and that can lead to personal insecurities. Also consider that ministers sometimes experience their own doubts about their calling, about what God has asked them to do (especially when things aren’t going well), and that they might receive pulpit attention, but ministers don’t often have a lot of people they can rely on to be there for them or care about them when times are difficult. Many ministers struggle with bouts of depression and loneliness, and this is definitely going to be something that one will see if they are married to a minister for any length of time.

Being married to a minister is about more than great suits, big hats, and seats in the front row of the church – I’ve met a lot of ministry couples who cite money as a serious contention in a relationship. The main problem is that today, ministry costs money rather than being a profitable source of income for most ministers. Most of the ministers I know actually put money into their ministries, and that means more money goes from jobs and households to fund ministry. A marital spouse may be the primary source of income, the primary caretaker for children or for household responsibilities (especially if a minister holds another job on top of doing ministry), and there may still be times when the amount of money a couple has will not be enough to keep the lights on at the church AND at home. Gone are the days when being the spouse of a minister is all about good looks, prestigious seats in the church, and good clothes. There is a certain level of sacrifice that comes along with being married to a minister, and some of those sacrifices will be required by the spouse as much as by the minister.

Ministers don’t always want to be ministers – Sometimes we don’t feel like being all super-deep. Sometimes a minister just wants to be a person, enjoying time with their spouse or family, or just enjoying time by themselves. It’s not always about praying, getting a word, reading the Bible, or being a spiritual guide for everyone. Maybe they want to go to a movie, watch a TV show, read a non-spiritual book, go out to eat somewhere, work on their marriage from a counseling or constructive viewpoint, be under the microscope of life, or do something fun that doesn’t involve ministry. Respecting and recognizing this balance can make a ministry spouse a true champion, especially in times when it is most needed.

© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Stay In Your Lane…?

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“Stay in your lane!” We’ve all heard it. I’ve even said it myself. It’s something we throw out there when someone appears to be changing their venue or ministry in some way. They might be advancing, they might be doing something different, but we are quick to throw out “Stay in your lane!” to express our grave disapproval of whatever it is they are doing. We give the metaphors, the so-called warnings about what happens when we change lanes: we’ll hit another car, we’ll be in someone else’s way, we’ll cause an accident, we won’t be where we should be. There is no end to the endless calamities that will result from simply changing lanes.

We all know this is a driving analogy, so after watching a program last week (which I will discuss in detail in a moment), I started thinking about the “stay in your lane” message we give to the church, especially ministers. The word that is given is one against change, against movement, against doing anything different. If you are driving, however, is staying in your lane throughout the duration of your trip even possible? Maybe it’s from driving in a metro area and through several major metro areas in the course of my life, but it’s near impossible to “stay in your lane.” Staying in your lane, at least around Raleigh and Durham, will get you killed a lot of the time. If you’re in a turning lane and you don’t need to turn, then that means you are in the wrong lane and you need to switch lanes. If you are on an off ramp, you need to merge into the interstate traffic. You can’t stay in that lane or you will run off the road all together. If you are going faster than the car or cars in front of you, you need to switch lanes so you can pass them, safely. Staying in your lane will mean you run into someone. If you are driving and the lane ends, shifts, changes, or work is done on one of those lanes, you need to change lanes. The whole point of driving, driving safe, and driving alert is the mere fact that driving conditions change and, inevitably, you need to change lanes.

Of course I am not advising that people take up the practice of being bad drivers. Swerving all over the road, being reckless or careless, texting or distracted driving, or inconsiderate of others doesn’t make a good driver. It doesn’t make a good minister, either. Yet I see tons of these ministers telling other people to “stay in your lane!” They have messy household situations, their homes look like they’ve never seen a mop or a broom, their children are out of control, they have no members to their church or ministry, and they aren’t going anywhere. But they want to make sure someone else “stays in their lane.” (Maybe these types need to find a lane…of course I really think if you don’t have a car, you don’t need a lane in the first place!)

In other words: our driving analogy doesn’t measure up. We chant “stay in your lane!” because we don’t have anything new to bring to the table because we just plain aren’t listening to God. We want to listen to what big-name preachers are doing, we want to hear what’s popular, and we hope following trends will keep us current.  It’s a bad example, with no basis in fact. It’s just another excuse for us to embrace when we get angry that people are moving on, moving ahead of us, trying something new that challenges us, or something that is just different from what we do.

On Empire last week, Jamal Lyon (played by Jussie Smollett) meets his musical idol, Skye Summers (played by Alicia Keys). When Skye talks about doing something new with her music or venturing into a new area, Lucious Lyon (played by Terrance Howard) is quick to tell her that she’s great at girl-power pop and to “stay in your lane!” As the show unfolds, however, and Skye works with Jamal, she plays the beginning of a ballad that she has been working on for Jamal, which he encourages her to continue. Even though the traditional, safe advice was for her to “stay in her lane,” the result of what she did was the song, “Powerful,” which was indeed, definitely powerful.

Even though her character was good at what she did in her own “lane,” when she switched lanes, what she did was even better. It was even more of who she was, her own abilities, her own empowerment, and gave her a voice, a creative voice that brought something out that was better than what she’d had before.

I’ve spent years operating in the “stay in your lane” mentality. I’ve always been good to other ministers. I’ve tried the networking thing, the connection thing, the fellowship thing, the event thing, the covering thing, all of it. If I am going to sit here and be brutally honest, I can’t say that “staying in my lane” has gotten me anywhere that I want to be. Every time I have an event, someone needs to be somewhere else, or is too busy, or doesn’t want to commit. Better than that, if something is wrong, I feel so brushed off by people, it disturbs me. It’s like they want to say they prayed so they can say they did something and be done with it. If I have a book, people will like the status about it, but they won’t buy it. “Staying in my lane” means that I keep doing the same things that I have always done, for the same people who don’t appreciate it, and who clearly, quite honestly, don’t even want it.

That means it is time for a change. If I want different results, I have to do something different. Just like Alicia Keys’s character on Empire, there is more within me than this. There is more within me than staying in one place forever for people who don’t really understand or appreciate me as a person or as a leader. I could spend my entire life trying to minister to those who clearly think they don’t need it. Or, I can change lanes, and offer more to those who want and need it.

If you feel that your “lane” is adequate for you, then great, stay there. But don’t tell me or anyone else that we need to “stay in your lane.” I’ve outgrown mine. Maybe other people have outgrown theirs. Maybe if you haven’t outgrown your lane, there’s a reason God wants to keep you where you won’t impact very many lives.

Think before you speak. None of us are God, and none of us have the right to impede or stop what God wants to do in someone else.

Think about that. Think about what it truly means to be “powerful.” Then go encourage someone to get out of their lane.

© 2015 by Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Getting Rid Of The Ties That Bind

You certainly said in my hearing; I heard the sound of your words:“I’m pure, without sin; I’m innocent, without offense.  Notice that he invents arguments against me;     he considers me his enemy, ties up my feet, watches all my paths.” Job 33:8-11 (CEB)

“Blessed Be The Ties That Bind” is one of the first hymns I remember hearing when I attended Presbyterian Sunday School as a child.  To make my Sunday School story very short, I, as a Catholic child, attended Presbyterian Sunday School.  In those days, Catholics had religious education (CCD) classes after school on a weekday, not on Sundays.  When I was first in school, I went to public school (I went to Catholic school when I was in 5th grade).  So every Wednesday, we’d go to religious education with Mrs. Rusin, rather than going home.  Somewhere between now and nearly 30 years ago, the laws changed, and now kids aren’t allowed to do that anymore.  Alas, in those days, I wanted to go to Sunday School, Catholics had never heard of Sunday School, so my mother found me Sunday School.  It just happened to be Presbyterian.  We would get out of Sunday School right as they would start their service, and I remember hearing “Blessed Be The Ties That Bind” one particular day.

The hymn isn’t my favorite.  There are other hymns I like a lot more, that are easier to sing.  I think it has a nice sentiment, and I like that it teaches on unity.  The bonds of Christian love and Christian unity should keep us together.  However, God knew what He was doing when I got a word from Him recently where He told me: Get rid of the ties that bind.

Recently I posted a three-part testimony that spanned the past two years.  What I didn’t mention in that testimony was the progression that has been happening all this year toward improving our flow and organizational things that relate to this ministry.  Over the past two years, a lot of changes have happened in the ministry.  Several key people left, all under less-than-ideal circumstances, and we’ve had some shake-ups, shake-downs, and shake-it-all-arounds.  Where I stand now is not where I stood a few years ago, and how I feel about some things has radically changed.  I see the need for reformation and revision, and while I am not changing the vision, I can see where our execution on some things needs to be different.

So when I finally got the sense that it was time to dissolve Women of Power as a part of the main ministry and, instead, start Sanctuary Women as our women’s ministry (and add a lot of what we were doing to Sanctuary Women, and dissolve the rest), I was curious as to why I was all right with doing that.  I didn’t even put up a fight…I just knew what it was time to do, and I had peace about it.  Yet, I was curious why I had peace.  I wondered why I didn’t feel more upset or more like I had lost something.  Women’s ministry has always been very important to me, and the work of Women of Power came at a very difficult point in my life.  It represented something I wanted, something I felt was so important, and something I wanted to do.  I wanted to bring different women together who agreed on the importance and education of women, from different ministries and perspectives, to work together and educate and empower other women.  Sounds great? Sure it does.  It sounds like that song, “Blessed Be The Ties That Bind.”  Just like it looks in the hymnal, you figure, “we got this,” until you start singing it.

That’s exactly what happened with Women of Power.  Year after year, our events were always filled with someone who just had to try and sabotage things.  Someone would seem all supportive, then show up with a mess.  Sometimes the sabotage came from speakers; sometimes attendees; sometimes both.  And it always seemed like, every year, we were subtracting rather than adding.  After every event, someone who was a part of Women of Power was no longer such, and was no longer even a part of any of our lives.  While Women of Power was great at exposing things and motives…it became a headache.

Women of Power was tied to all those people, and their sabotages.  It was tied to their visions, their manipulations, the way in which they misrepresented themselves, and the way in which they took on the vision as a part of their own lives and work.  It represented trust in the wrong people, and dishonesty on their part.  For that reason, it was tied to memories, feelings, and ideals that are no longer present here because they have been cast out of this ministry.

The ties that binded needed to be cut.  I was good with moving on because those ties: to those people, those memories, and those things, was no more.  It was fine to take the parts of the events and work that worked – and do something else with it.  But Women of Power, as an identity, was forever going to bind us all together, when we needed to be separate.

Not all the ties that bind are blessed.  Some people, considering us enemies, are binding us up through our sense of loyalty, our desire to have things go on without them, our own stubborn pride in wanting thing to stay the same and show someone else up, or our own lack of realizing that the things that connect us to them still bring back those ties, tie and time again.  Lord, in this hour, help us to see those ties that are blessed, and let us embrace them.  Let us also recognize those ties that are not, and know what to cut, and when.

(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.

Waiting On God, Part 2

Note: This is 2 in a 3-Part Testimony.

It seemed like things began to heat up, suddenly, all around. The woman from Europe started talking about me to other people and also started speaking against the people who were under my ministry. One woman she told, according to the woman’s account, that she was “going to hell” for being “fat” and eating pork. Then, all of a sudden, I got an inbox from the woman in Europe, that seemed strange to me. It was like she was alluding to a problem that I didn’t know existed, but sounded vaguely like things my apostle had been speaking to me. I didn’t respond much at the time, but it was obvious from posts that people were putting on their pages that there was some sort of undercurrent going on.

About three days later, I got an inbox from the woman in Europe, telling me that she was no longer speaking to me and that I would understand why. I was deleted and blocked by the time I got home, and when someone covered by the ministry found out, she posted a status on her page on my behalf that blew up in our faces, quickly. Her post, which simply tried to address the mess that was going on and clarifying where people should go if they were having a problem with the ministry, became a battleground between my leader and my best friend, who gave me the name and helped with the vision of Sanctuary. Despite requests for the mess to stop, the two of them went at it for well over an hour. The next day, I woke up to find myself deleted and blocked by my friend and more conniving from my leader. She told me that having a friend like that would drag me to hell and that I shouldn’t have friends like that in the first place. I knew at that moment that I couldn’t have a leader who would do that to anyone, particularly someone who wasn’t a Christian. We all know that we are called to be a witness, and that if I covered someone who had behaved like that, I’d be up one side of them and down the other. I was hurt and betrayed by my leader, who was supposed to be there for me and to support me in what I was doing. I was also deeply hurt and felt very betrayed by my friend, who I believed was mature enough to handle any disagreements we might have had and was shocked that he would so easily throw me over because he disagreed with someone I knew. He unblocked me and re-added me, but things were never the same, and somewhere in there, I learned to live with the new “normal,” without my friend. My leader, however, became another story. When I respectfully requested to be released, she did so, confirming that everything she had issued remained intact, but was very angry with me for the fact that she felt the woman in Europe “went on with her life,” but we were all still here, dealing with this mess. She never apologized for her behavior, nor for her negative witness.

Three weeks later, I received an email from the woman in Europe, accusing me of gossiping about her with my now former leader. Even though I tried to defend myself, I gave up by this point in time. She was never going to believe that I was not the instigator of what happened, even in the face of offering to send her the discussions I’d had with my leader. I was not the one who raised concerns and I even defended her at time when this woman was saying things I knew were false. But, alas, I knew that she wasn’t going to listen. I accepted that my now former leader was running around as some sort of double agent, causing problems that didn’t exist between the woman in Europe and me, and who knows who else. I accepted my defeat. I accepted that this was a battle I’d lost, I didn’t know what God had ahead at this point, and all I wanted was my life back. I was sick of the chaos that seemed to encircle me and the way that things were constantly out of control. One of the women who also was involved in the mess, accusing the woman in Europe of damning her to hell, also started attacking me and my leadership in the ministry. While she backed off, quickly initially, I didn’t have the strength to fight her at the time. I was also concerned about our finances, because so many things started to rapidly change. I didn’t know who else was going to leave or what else was going to happen, so I let things lie – and didn’t address her blatant disrespect in the way I should have.

By August, my state of chronic depression and confusion still hadn’t lifted. I had started a new book on evangelism that was flowing well, but otherwise, I seemed to be in constant disarray and conflict. I had to move because my rent kept increasing (a move I didn’t really want to make at that time) and had recently met a local minister who wanted to partner together with both of our ministries to start a local church work here in Raleigh. I knew I wanted to get better for that, but I didn’t know how to get better for it. Casually speaking about it to a minister I had licensed and ordained right before all this came up, he mentioned to me that he thought what might be going on was witchcraft. After praying with him, the problem did seem to lift and get better, although it did not go away completely. It got better enough for me to think clearly and see what I wanted to do, and from there, I started to set my sights on the invitation to join with this other minister and help start this church. I thought that maybe this would be a way to start to introduce the community to Sanctuary and to the greater work that was coming.

The minister who asked me to do it was very charismatic, albeit very young, even younger than I was, which, by many church standards, was young. I met him two days before I was being deleted and blocked by the minister in Europe and hell broke loose with my leader. I’d gone to a pre-ordination ceremony that a friend of mine from New Jersey was officiating at, and since I’d never gotten to meet him in person, I thought it was a great time to do so. The first night I met him, he was already offering to share a building he was considering up in Durham, and the woman he was with was a pastor’s wife for another church, where he would be speaking the next day. Things seemed fine – he was well-liked, people seemed to throw money at him, he was very good at handling people (which I was not and I attributed to many of the issues I’ve had over the years) and he seemed to be a decent speaker – so when I was given the invitation to work on this project, I didn’t think a lot about it. There was nothing that spoke he was anything other than he said he was…except one day, in July, when I hadn’t heard from him for several weeks. It was like he just fell off the planet. There he was, interested in working on stuff…and then there he wasn’t. Out of the clear, blue sky, I said to myself, “I wonder if he’s in jail!” Then I said, “Where in the world did I get that from?” I didn’t think much about it, again, and pushed it aside.

It turns out, that’s exactly where he was. I didn’t find that out until very far after the fact. But that’s exactly where he was. That was God Who put that thought there, I just didn’t realize it.

It was decided I would be the apostle over the church, while the other minister (he claimed to be a Bishop, so that is what I will call him, for clarity’s sake) was not coming under my ministry, but would retain his own leadership. Somewhere in here, we were supposed to be doing this together, and both groups that we had would be accountable to both of us. It sounded really good in theory, but its reality was quite different. For one, I suspected people were getting the idea that he was my leader, when that was never the case. Also, from the people that I had met this man through, it seemed like information circulated like wildfire, albeit incorrectly. I didn’t attribute that to the leader, because I’ve had people do the same for me, but I just had the feeling that this entire arrangement wasn’t going to last long. I resolved to be open-minded, because I was frequently accused of being too “to myself,” and gave it a try to see how things went.

By September, things were off and running with plans for the church. He found a church that was renting out their building for twice per week at the rate of $700 per month. This sounded incredibly high to me for a time-share arrangement on a church, especially given that the church was in one of the worst parts of Raleigh and the building wasn’t much to speak of. I also didn’t trust the woman who was renting out the space. She seemed way too interested in the money and she seemed dishonest to me. I felt like she was always pulling a “con job,” even as far as coming to me without the other minister present and telling me the only reason she wanted to let us use the building was because she liked “my vision.” I didn’t trust her. I tried to talk the other minister out of renting from her, but for whatever reason, he wanted to meet there. So meet there, we did, Saturdays at 12 PM and Tuesdays at 7:30, starting October 2013.

One month into the lease, we were already having problems. The landlord refused to provide us with a copy of the lease and refused to provide us keys to the building, even though they were promised at the lease signing. That meant every single time we were to have a service or a class, we had to wait for an elder of the church to let us in. They would show up late, every week, and cause us to wait, sometimes up to 40 minutes post service time. The people of the other minister’s church in Durham refused to leave Durham and attend the church in Raleigh. People not attending meant that we didn’t have any money, and contriving the rent out of the few people we had turned impossible, quickly. One week the pastor’s daughter came in and threw everyone out of the church during service, telling them they had been there too long and were “over time” (even there were no time restraints on our contract). We were also blamed for damaging equipment that nobody damaged when we were in there. While I don’t question that the other minister I was working with had issues and was shady, we were being blamed for things that we were not guilty of doing. After one particularly negative run-in with her, I knew that there was no way we were going to be able to stay there through the lease, whether we had the money, or not. In the meantime, our most disastrous women’s conference ever took place in Tucson, Arizona. Our host, who volunteered to have us on her own, dropped the ball quite noticeably and that meant we had a huge overhead – between travel, hotel, and venue – that we made nowhere near back. To make matters worse, one of the women who attended the conference attempted to sabotage it and work witchcraft on attendees who were present.

If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

I went home from Arizona both disgusted and disgruntled, because I was always there for this particular leader, even though I had misgivings about her when we met. I figured that, misgivings or not, I had an opportunity to train and make a difference in her life. She wanted me for her leader, she felt God was in it, and I was willing to see how things went. It didn’t help that the very next week, it was decided that back home, we would not continue to meet at the church where we had been meeting. Not only did he not make good on his promise to supply a full church and tithes, we had another leader fail to follow through on commitment and we were out of money and patience. The landlord was going to continue to treat us as she had been, admit no wrongdoing, and we both agreed to take our chances and stop using the building. She threatened to sue, but nothing came of it. According to what I learned, if we vacated the premise, she had the opportunity to re-rent it and she really couldn’t do much to us from a legal perspective. I don’t even think their “lease” was a legally binding agreement, but I was still very grateful that the matter was not pursued. I knew that if something did come out of it, I would be the one who wound up reaping the harvest, and I was not in a financial position to do so. The ministry and myself were broke at the time, due to all these changes and high expenses. I needed the matter to pass so I could sit back and think about what was next.

I decided that I was not going to move forward with this other minister. I didn’t like how he handled his business and I was suspicious by this time that the whole matter of the church was shady, at best. I did some investigation into him and discovered that he had been arrested and charged on larceny 3 times, and all of those times were within the past 2 years. I graciously stated that I would not be moving forward with them, but I wished them all the best. I took some time, sat down, and thought.

2014 was rapidly moving in, and I desperately didn’t want to have another year like 2013. It’s easy to look over all of these happenings and say “Why didn’t you” or “Why not,” but I know, firsthand, how difficult it is to make decisions when you don’t really know what to do. That was how I spent the entirety of 2013 after I got back from Europe. Everyone I was sure was really for me turned out not to be and that left me not sure who to trust…so you start to work with what you have. You take a chance, whether it’s against your better judgment, or not, and you see where it takes you. I knew, however, that I didn’t want this to continue for another year. This never-ending nonsense was causing me to be not only tired, it was causing me to want to leave ministry. It seemed like everywhere I turned, people were not trustworthy and my attempts at trying to be not so “unto myself,” as I was accused, didn’t work out. I sat back, did some new writing and published some older manuscripts, and waited.