Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sometimes I want to BE Solomon!

As a Children's Minister, I pray constantly for the wisdom of King Solomon, but...

                                      Sometimes, I want to BE Solomon! 

I bet King Solomon didn't need things in writing to back up his wise decisions, but I know Children's Ministries do.  Working to establish and implement sound written policies, guidelines and procedures for a safe, organized and effective ministry with children has been a labor of love for me.  Pulling together task forces to evaluate, trouble shoot, revise and edit existing policies and procedures as well as helping churches draft, edit, ratify and put new policies, procedures and guidelines for volunteer screening and background checks was a major focus in every church I've served.

Even before task forces got busy , I dedicated myself to training our teams to understand, practice and embrace best practices even before they came together in writing.  It was more important to me than vacation bible school and age-appropriate play equipment! (That's huge!)  In some cases, I moved on to another church before the ink on those documents was dry, but in all cases, I left knowing the bulk of the work was done. King Solomon would have both proud!

Still, getting the church to rarify the documents was always approached with fears of major confrontation and much trepidation. The task force members thought old Aunt Ida would give us a fit.  I can still hear her indignation accentuated by a finger in my face.  "Background check? No way! I'll quit first!"  Seriously, I woke up in a cold sweat dreading the church wide uproar and perceived insults, but  ratification and implementation was always smooth and effective.  I guess those prayers for Solomon's wisdom were answered after all.

For the record, dear old Aunt Ida didn't quit and sheepishly admitted the background process was utterly painless and respectful. "They do it in ALL the schools, don't you know!"

With everything in writing and teams trained so everyone is on the same page, day to day ministry was  smooth sailing, most of the time.

You'd think it would continue to work well, but there was push back.  Oh, to BE Solomon! 

  • In those growing churches, and I pray all churches are growing, new people joined the church bringing new ideas and other ways of doing ministry.  "Why can't my friend help me teach? At our old church, non-members were allowed to teach Sunday school." "My child refuses to go to Sunday School because she says she's not a baby. Kindergarteners belong in the Elementary department."
  • Then there was the long time member who voted against the PP&G's, was a big influencer back in the day, or simply resist change of any kind. "Why I've always taught with my husband. These new rules are ridiculous!" or "Multi-age grouping? Good old Pastor Smith would roll over in his grave!" 
  • Let's not forget the overwhelmed parent hoping, nope praying, I'd bend the rules to make their life easier by preventing another temper tantrum.  "What's wrong with Jimmy climbing the fence? He does it at home all the time."
  • This was the one that almost puts me over the edge. "I want to enroll Susan in the three year old class.  I know she's only 12 months old, but she's extremely advanced for her age." 

Friends, those were the times I wanted to BE Solomon.  There I was caught between what our leadership has thoughtfully decided is best and responding favorably to the desires or perceived needs of the parent and child.   

In wanting to be Solomon, I'm not saying I was going to"split the baby" just to force an issue, but splitting a baby is exactly what I felt I was asked to do. It felt like no matter what I decided, one was going to give in and the other give up..... hopefully, by choice not by intimidation.

It required diplomacy, but boiled down to knowing whether to be persuasive or persuaded.  

Let me explain.

Sometimes, they just had a bad day and I was a convenient punching bag. In those situations, I found a quiet place to address concerns, then approached with grace. I learned this not a time to be persuasive or persuaded. I learned to listen, reflect and schedule another meeting when defenses were  down. I prayed with them before parting because honestly, we both needed it.

Most of the time, people simply weren't vested in the PP&G's (Policies, Procedures and Guidelines). Even if I gave them a copy, they lacked an appreciation for and attachment to all the work and wisdom poured into the ruling documents.  Usually diplomatically explaining "why we do what we do" satisfied their concerns and they are willingly persuaded to accept the status quo.

Other times, a fresh perspective persuaded me to see things I missed.  By utilizing their insights to make adjustments, the ministry improved and the persuasive person felt welcome and valued.

Inevitably, no matter how amazing I thought the PP&G's were or how well I handled those interactions, it kept happening. People saw exceptions to the rules, holes in procedures and problems with policies

In each case, just like Solomon and the baby, I had two choices.

1. Be persuasive by honoring the PP&G's through explaining and clarifying 


2. - Be open to being persuaded to embrace change where needed. 

But I struggled over which to choose in any given situation, so I pleaded.

" Please God, I want to BE Solomon!" 

And then God whispered the answer to my prayer.... 

 "The wise decisions of Solomon came from his faith in Me.   My child - BE Solomon!" 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

The dangers of letting other people define me...

Early in my ministry, I made the huge mistake of allowing others to define me. At first church members and supervisors heralded me as if I was "the golden girl".   Some said I was creative and inspired. Others praised my organization and people skills. My supervisors told me I was a quick learner and quite talented - a dedicated and hard worker.

I believed all the accolades and worked even harder and longer to please my church family. Soon I was working day and night, fueled by their favor and kind words.  It was a happy time, but I was unaware of the dangers of letting other people define me.

Children's ministry was bustling along, but the church climate was turning toxic.  Since I was working 60 hours per week to keep up with a Children's ministry growth spurt, I did not sense the danger lurking. Looking back, I was aware of mounting tension and discord among the Elders regarding a land purchase, but I clung to an altruistic belief that Christians act in love and church disagreements are resolved in a Godly manner.

To this day, I am unsure how I ended up in the crosshairs of conflict and condemnation, but all of a sudden I found myself under intense scrutiny from my supervisor.  I've been told I was used as a scapegoat to divert attention from the land debacle, but it doesn't matter. I know what man means for evil, God uses for good or in my case - God used this to teach me and I am thankful for it. 

Our leadership team was preparing a Children's Ministry evaluation survey and we invited my supervisor to attend the open meetings. Instead of participating in our self-evaluation process,  he decided he would run the meetings and told me I was not to participate.  My leadership team resisted, but he over-ruled them. He even added a secret survey/evaluation of me and announced he was going to send it to a select & secret  group of members of his choosing.

From day one, I was told you are doing a great job and was used to superior evaluations, but I thought it odd I was the only staff person being evaluated. I did think it ridiculous to ban me from the meetings, but I respected my supervisor - assuming he meant no harm.

 Here's where most folks would see the red flags, but  I went along with the plan, because all my" intel" assured me everyone would be fair and I would be better for it.  Seriously, I was THAT naive. 

Let's fast forward to my doomsday.  Called into the Senior Pastor's office, my supervisor handed me an evaluation report.  The only words I recognized as descriptive of me was my name written across the top of the page. The rest was a damning description of a most incompetent and repulsive person.  As a final blow, the summary paragraph defined me as "Arrogant, abrasive, aloof, abrupt and several other unflattering "A" words I'd never heard said about me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm perfect... far from it.  I'm saying I'd never received a negative evaluation, much less a character assassination.  People usually defined me as confident not arrogant, diplomatic not abrasive, approachable not aloof, and admittedly direct, but not abrupt.  It had always been easy and safe for me to see myself through others eyes, because it was all good.  Now, it was all bad and it felt horrible.  I was devastated, crushed and falling apart.

I fought to keep my emotions in check, but the tears in my eyes and my shaking hands betrayed me. Choking back tears, I looked into the eyes of my Pastor, once warm and encouraging, now icy and piercing and asked, Who would say these cruel things? I would like to talk with them." I trailed off saying, "I don't understand."

The Senior Pastor didn't speak, he just stared blankly at me. He let my supervisor take the lead.  My supervisor told me he could not tell me who was asked to write the evaluations. He said I was to accept their definitions as fact and immediately turn in a letter of resignation.

I didn't buy it. I couldn't accept their scathing review.  I put up a fight for my job and for my self-esteem, but the damage was too great.  Eventually,  I negotiated a severance package and left quietly, but it took me years to fully recover from the traumatic lesson in allowing others to define me.

And this is how I was finally healed.

I eventually learned to allow only God to define me.  In the weeks and months that followed, I turned to God spending hours each day in prayer and reflection. I searched the Bible and landed in Exodus, Psalms and the Gospels.  There I discovered Moses, David and even Jesus endured people's praise and scorn. Moses and David, like me, usually deserved a lot of the negative press, for they sinned... just like me.  But, unlike me, Moses and David did not crumble because they put their faith in God, not man.  Jesus, perfect from the get go endured more negative characterizations that anyone in the Bible, but He knew who He was and only God could define him.

Vowing never to allow other to define me, I started a most unusual form of prayer. I took that horrid evaluation with all it's hurtful "A" words  and burned it. As it turned to ashes, I thanked God for making me just the way he intended reading from Psalm 139, which became my anchor and my prayer.

I continue to participate in evaluations and self-evaluations.  I try to listen and learn from other's perspective and impressions of me, but I no longer let their words of praise or correction define me, color my world or damage my self-worth.

And when I slip allowing high praise to charm me, I remind myself people's favor and praise is as fickle, fallible and dangerous as people's criticism and judgment.  I instead seek the safety and security of God's favor and judgment.

Go Ahead - Google it!