The Leah Syndrome


My polite smile began to cramp my cheeks.  “Pastor Jones wife always worked at our pig in a blanket fundraiser. Such a wonderful way with pastry,” the chairwomen of the women’s guild chirped while smiling sweetly. A circle of expectant church ladies stared at me, waiting for my presumed, “Oh, I’d love to help out,” answer.   Their polite disappointment showed when I replied, “Well, let me check my schedule with Pastor Ken and get back with you.”

First of all, new to West Michigan, I couldn’t cipher why selling pigs wrapped up in blankets worked as a fundraiser.  Secondly, “making dough” sounded suspiciously like it involved baking somehow.  I hate baking. I do it “heartily unto the Lord,” for family and friends but that’s it.  Additionally, our responsibilities with youth and education in the church left Ken and I scant free time.  Burning it up away from him, with pie dough and pigs no less, sounded quite unappealing.

In every church and school where I’ve served, at some point I am subjected to a comparison between myself and my predecessor.  Dialogues that begin with something like, “You know, our last pastor’s wife …….” or “Our old teacher always…..”  make me feel squirmy. I know this is the prelude to me explaining or defending something I’m doing, or not doing, or not doing right.

I used to think all my predecessors possessed mythical levels of kindness, wisdom, energy, creativity and time management, based on what church members or students told me.  Then I started meeting some of them.  One teacher I replaced suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress load of the same class that left me frazzled each day.  I felt compassion for her emotional wreckage but I also felt a burden lift when I realized she might not have been quite the superwoman my students described.

It’s painful to be the Leah in a situation.  Even the description of her and her sister Rachel, in Genesis 29:17 makes me wince to read it. “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Leah never receives the best love of her husband, Jacob.  A pawn in her father Laban’s schemes, she must suffer through the rejection of Jacob being aghast that she is under the wedding veil, instead of Rachel.  Her new husband is so disappointed; he insists on marrying Rachel as soon as his wedding week with Leah is complete.  That’s a truckload of rejection.

The rest of Jacob and Leah’s marriage is a sorry tale of Jacob consistently cherishing Rachel over her sister, even though Leah bears Jacob his firstborn son, plus five more and a daughter. When Jacob is fearful that his reunion with Esau will end in bloodshed, who does he put at the very back of his caravan, farthest from Esau’s private army? Not Leah, and his firstborn son, Reuben.  No, Rachel and Joseph are placed at the rear of the caravan with Leah and her children ahead of them.  The message is clear; if wives and children are to be murdered, then Leah and her children will die before Rachel and hers.

Do you ever get that Leah feeling, like you just come up short in someone’s estimation?  Do the ghosts of the past haunt your environment?  Take comfort in the knowledge that your predecessors probably felt the same way.  You can also choose a different mindset that will help you to resist a spirit of offense or rejection when someone holds up your shortcomings to the gilded memory of someone else.

First, let’s consider Leah again.  Jacob might not have been her hero but God championed her cause.   “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.” (Genesis 29:31) Ultimately, the Lord gave Leah numerous children while Rachel only ever had two and died giving birth to the second one.  Also note, that although Jacob treasured Rachel the most, God honored Leah’s family line far more by placing her son, Judah, in the genealogy of Jesus. To this day we know our Lord as the Lion of Judah.

There may be folks in your church, ministry, or workplace that never truly celebrate you and only ever tolerate you.  Their loss.  If you faithfully serve where God positions you, rest assured His heart is turned towards you.  He will bless the work of your hands if you labor heartily for Him while dishing out grace to your detractors.  Let Him deal with those who idolize your forerunners.  Don’t’ allow your emotions to rise and fall with people’s thumbs up or thumbs down.  Trust God to be your champion, your vindicator, the glory and lifter of your head and your greatest fan.

Bright Stars in Dark Nights

Bright Stars in Dark Nights

I felt a familiar stiffness in my face while I led worship. My facial muscles ached from trying to keep joy on my face with knots in my stomach. A number of folks showed their ongoing displeasure with new worship songs by folding their arms, shaking their heads and glaring at the worship team.  Sometimes they’d even sit down, read a bulletin or ignore us altogether.  Sometimes very unhappy people verbally assaulted us after the service, in loud volume.

On the platform, we musicians worked to return smiles and joy for frowns and glares. We selected music prayerfully, thoughtfully.  Nevertheless, some members refused to sing anything written after 1950.  I continued to cast vision and pour out encouragement to our creative arts department.  Sometimes, though, depending on how many conflicts crossed my path earlier that week, I felt terribly disheartened worship services also.

In my conversations with dozens of music ministers or creative arts pastors, I’ve learned that the scenes like the one above continue to happen weekly in churches across our nation.  Maybe in your church it’s a rejection of music written after the 1990’s or a displeasure with the types of instruments your using. Perhaps they don’t like the choir numbers you’re selecting or the fact that you don’t use a choir anymore.  Music and emotion are so intertwined it’s not surprising that passions can run high when people feel like you’re messin’ with their tunes.

Conflict and criticism can create black nights of the soul where you question your calling and gifts.  Look up! Like the stars in the heavens, God’s mercies can be seen best in darkness.

For a long time, my worship team endured worship services more than enjoyed them.  I believe God allowed us to remain in the fire for awhile so He could accomplish His purposes in us.  Here’s some things we learned during our time on that particular battlefield which can apply to ANY ministry.

  • Flesh fails. Only God’s strength kept smiles on our faces, songs on our lips and ongoing forgiveness in our hearts.
  • Conflict reveals motives. We were forced to shed insecurities that desired EVERYONE’S approval.  We hunkered down under the armor of our senior pastor and board’s approval of our musical choices and then learned to sing for an audience of One.
  • Battlefields create bonds. We formed deep, agape friendships, binding one another’s wounds and covering each other’s backs.
  • Iron is forged in heat. We learned to remain steady and calm returning gentle words for hot, angry ones.

We love the starry nights of the physical world.  Beauty splashed across the deep blue heavens inspires songs, poetry and paintings.  As believers we need to be just as moved by the brightness of God’s character and activity during our spiritual midnights.

Throughout His word, glowing stars of comfort, hope and promise are everywhere to be found. How would we ever understand the profound beauty of passages like Psalm 23 if we never walk through the shadows of sorrow?  Can we truly appreciate God’s assurance we will not drown in Isaiah 43:2 if we’ve never floundered in a sea of trouble? Let me close with some of my favorite Scripture “stars,” to encourage you.

Psalm 139:12 “Even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.






What’s the Point of Being Good?


The stony silence of the congregation ushered me back to my seat in the second pew. The sanctuary suddenly felt chilly. I wanted to sneak out during the prayer before the sermon but rejected that kind of cowardice. So, I stayed through the service and quickly passed through the glare and stare gauntlet waiting for me on my way back to my car, in the parking lot.  As I drove away I felt confident there would be no future invitations for me to be guest music ministry at this church again.

In my early years as a pastor’s wife, many smaller congregations in our area enjoyed hosting “special music,” guests, from other churches, in their worship services. My full schedule caused me to resist this notion, initially.  Several of my own church members insisted that hoarding my singing voice to our church alone seemed selfish. I allowed my name to be put on an area-wide “special music,” list and agreed to sing at other churches once a month.

I offered my best efforts for each invitation. Coordinating my music with the pastor’s sermon,rehearsing, and filling the hole I left behind at my own church, added hours to my work week. The thankful, positive responses I received from most congregations I visited, however, affirmed my decision to sacrifice time for neighboring small churches, until this day.

Months later I learned that this very traditional congregation considered hymns, in their original form, to be the only appropriate music for worship.  Well, perfect.  No wonder the room turned icy when I presented an alternative arrangement of an old hymn.  The song had been well received in my church and others but was definitely verboten in this one.

The experience left me frustrated, and questioning my commitment.  I didn’t lack for work at my own church.   Why should I risk the chance of this kind of rejection again?

I’ve been frank in my posts so far, that sometimes I was the architect of my ministry troubles, but my mistakes and sins were NOT the only situations that landed me in hot water. The truth is, trouble will find you.  In fact, doing good can get you into trouble.  God led me to share my gifts with others and do so with excellence.

Consider what doing the right thing led to for Joseph.  He honored his father by searching for his brothers.  This obedience landed him in a pit and then slavery.  He refused to have sexual relations with Potiphar’s wife so his moral integrity caused him to be branded as a rapist and imprisoned.  During his incarceration of fourteen years, for something he didn’t do, he faithfully cared for the needs of other prisoners.  The reward for his compassion was to be forgotten for two years, by the cupbearer, once he returned to his position in Pharaoh’s court.

I used to think that negative responses meant I wasn’t doing the right thing. Yes, that sounds silly when you see it in print, nevertheless, I somehow developed the notion that obeying God meant I would get more “Atta boys” than raspberries.  There is no Scriptural support for that. The Bible is chock full of folks who obeyed God amidst bad reviews, in the short term.

I once felt prompted by God to call on an older church member who spent much of the visit complaining to me about my husband. At the time I responded with a hardness of heart, vowing that I wouldn’t do THAT again.

In time, I learned to respond, not react.  I gained understanding that if your life isn’t being messed with in some way it means you’re probably not on the front lines for the kingdom.  Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said we’d have lots of troubles in this life, if we faithfully follow him.

Are you disheartened by some of the responses to your ministry?  Do you feel that your efforts towards goodness aren’t producing edible fruit yet? Is hardness creeping into your soul?  Joseph spent his teens and twenties in iron shackles, watching his youthful dreams drift farther and farther away. Only hindsight showed him that God used his incarceration to change a young dreamer into a man of iron character who eventually ruled over Egypt’s national resources and saved his entire family.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) This verse is my go- to when I am misunderstood, misrepresented and mistreated.  I remember that I serve a big picture God and that I am part of his grand plans, if I’ll keep obeying Him. What we experience at the hands of others serves only to drive tenacious and gracious women towards their destinies.




Lonely Holidays


“But why don’t ­we have any family to be with?”  My kindergarten daughter looked up at me, tears brimming in her blue eyes.  She is still our favorite party otter to this day, always anticipating the next opportunity to go somewhere and do something fun with people she loves. Although my family lived only two hours West and Ken’s family one-hour North, they were all unavailable for family picnics and parades during Memorial Day weekend.  My family owns greenhouses so for them the holiday means many customers and loooooong work hours.  Ken’s family owned a large sailboat and end of May meant getting the boat ready for the summer season.

Our friends were all off enjoying camping or cottaging with their extended family “up North” “down at the lake” or “at the beach.” (That’s how we roll in Michigan during the summers.  Holidays and weekends, our cities empty out to our abundant lakefronts and woodlands.) All week, Jennifer’s classmates jabbered excitedly about “going to Nana’s cottage,” “camping with our cousins,” “boating with my aunt and uncle,” etc. etc. etc. Just hanging out with Mommy and Daddy all weekend sounded quiet and lonely by comparison.

Following God often means moving away from family, friends and hometowns. Full time ministry families frequently spend many holidays alone.  Travel expenses and vacations must be reserved for Christmas, weddings and other important life events.  Smaller holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day, etc. can be incredibly lonely when you are separated from extended family, especially if God positions you in an area like West Michigan where people stay planted for many generations.   Even in very mobile areas where few people have extended family nearby, I’ve spoken with folks who, due to their ministry demands, struggle to find enough time to build family-like circles of friends.

Abraham, Moses, and Joseph all spent decades living far, far away from any extended family.  To achieve their destinies, God separated them from beloved siblings and parents.  Surely they experienced times of great longing and loneliness for those who knew them best and loved them most.  When my husband moved me from Central Michigan to Chicago, for graduate school, (a scant four hours away) I developed intense homesickness for the first time in my life.  Except for Christmas, we missed every other holiday with our families due to our work and school schedules and tight budget.

After a very tearful Labor Day weekend, we decided to prioritize time and energy to make friends.  God graciously provided many quality, godly people who lived in the same on-campus apartment building with us.  We literally started knocking on doors and introducing ourselves, discovering that we were surrounded by a lot of lonely, homesick, newly married couples.  By Thanksgiving our circle of friends was so strong we celebrated Thanksgiving together in our tiny apartment.

Perhaps your family is all alone for this July 4th weekend.  I remember well what that feels like and I am praying God will show you some fun activities you can enjoy together.  Secondly, I’m asking Him to give you friends to spend time with on the next holiday.  God truly does provide for our needs “according to his riches in glory.” (Philippians 4:19) His wealth includes the richness of relationships.

If you are blessed to live and minister in close proximity to your extended family or lifelong friends, please look around you for those who might not, particularly families in full time ministry work.  Can you include them with your extended family or schedule a separate get- together with just your family and theirs?  Remember, we reap what we sow.  Just because you are ministering on familiar turf today doesn’t mean you will be a year from now.  Always be about the business of sowing good seed!  You never know when you might need to harvest it.

If someone extends an invitation to your family, don’t just brush it off.  God can use the most unexpected people and situations to bless us.  If no invitations are forthcoming, look around, just like Ken and I did in grad school. Did we feel kind of goofy just knocking on doors? Yup. Was it worth it? Absolutely.   There might be wonderful potential relationships right around you, just waiting for you to take the first step.  Ask God to open your eyes and heart to new people and new possibilities and trust Him to lead you.



Five Ways Leaders Frustrate People Under Them


Every time I took a spiritual gifts test in my younger days, I scored zero in the gift of mercy.  Zero. Although I enjoyed the affirmation of my administrative and teaching gifts, it concerned me that I couldn’t muster up a point or two for mercy.   People who worked with me in those days would probably give you a hearty “Amen,” on that.

God gifted me with a dreamer’s mind and the organizational gifts to bring vision to fruition. Unfortunately, my creative processes sometimes walked all over those around me. I’m pretty sure that I consistently left behind a wake of trampled, frustrated people on many of my larger projects.  What I didn’t understand back then is that God is more concerned about our process than our products. 

How you treat the people in your church or organization ultimately determines your ability to achieve shared destinies. God empowers shepherds who lead their flocks strongly, with tenderness. He disciplines careless or harsh shepherds.  Here’s some of my exasperating former ways as a cautionary tale for all you Type A sisters out there.

  1. Treat people like cogs in your ministry machine. I used to be so task oriented that I’d get ants in my pants if prayer concerns came up during strategic planning meetings. My eagerness to get down to the business at hand made people’s concerns seem like interruptions. Man, oh man, that’s cold. It also sounds like the disciples who tried to shoo away some of the people that approached Jesus.  The cares and concerns of the people in your ministry are as important as the work you are trying to accomplish together.  


  1. Act like ministry stuff is more important than anything else. Until Ken and I owned our own business I didn’t understand the stresses of the marketplace.   As lay people, sometimes we showed up late for church commitments or couldn’t make it at all for a number of reasons like, demands from corporate higher ups, unreliable employees, last minute customers, etc. etc.  I used to lack grace for these things from lay people.  Oh that I could take back so many slightly snotty looks directed at late comers who had legitimate reasons for their delays.



  1. Minimize the significant life events of your people. As a pastoral team Ken and I received invitations to countless open houses, anniversary parties, weddings, and other events. Generally, I love a good party but I accepted too many invitations then cancelled on some or over-booked Ken and I, leaving him no down time. My unintentional message? Some people count and others don’t. Prayerfully set special events boundaries and then be consistent.  When you respond “yes” to an invitation, show up to the event! Don’t decide at the last minute that you’ve had too many nights out in a row and then ditch somebody’s something. No shows with lame excuses are hurtful.   If you’re an associate, make sure your superiors are in agreement with your boundaries.  I know pastors of large churches who only attend life events for their pastoral staff.  Some youth pastors attend every graduation open house but then take extra time off immediately afterwards.


  1. Make changes too quickly. I’m the spokesmodel for this classic, rookie mistake.   Ken and I both created unnecessary tension by making right changes at wrong times or in wrong ways.  Did worship orders need updating?  Did committee structures need revamping?  Did youth group need some fresh fundraisers? Yes, yes, and yes!! However, sometimes we lacked the patience to allow people to process, reflect, or share input on the changes we believed God desired. As a layperson I observed mature Christians flee churches in droves simply because a leader effected change too abruptly. Doesn’t mean you wait for everyone to agree with you to move with God but the best way to lead people into new places is when you’re walking together arm in arm.  Dragging people towards what may very well be a God idea is exhausting for you and hurtful for everyone else.


*** As a side note, if you’re in a place where folks are resisting change at every turn, pray, pray, pray.  God will either change their hearts or move you to a different place where people are ready to receive what God is doing through you.


  1. Waste people’s time with disorganization. Here, I speak of experiences as a layperson and a member of community boards.  More times than not, I’ve languished in meetings, rehearsals and other events, desperately trying to not to jump out of my skin, because of sloppy organization.  Many years ago I served on a committee that consistently bounced on my last nerve. The meetings usually started anywhere from 30-45 minutes late.  The agenda consisted of whatever came to the mind of the event coordinator. Sometimes it turned out I wasn’t even needed at a meeting but didn’t know that until I arrived, after fighting my way through 40 minutes of heavy traffic.    If you have no natural administrative gifts, then partner with people who do!   Start and end on time and stick with an agenda that is clear to all. People are loyal to leaders who respect their time and resources.

Recognize yourself in any of these ministry faux pas?  It’s never too late to change your ways.  You might even owe some people an apology or three. Prayerfully consider the idea that you might be unintentionally driving the people under you a little bit crazy and then…..stop it!



Mud Slingers and Hole Diggers


“You don’t know what you’re doin’!  Mrs. Jones didn’t do all this flippin’ junk! Whadda  waste of time!”  My frustrated choir student struggled during a sight reading exercise.  Her coping device consisted of assassinating my character.

For the umpteenth time I explained to the choir that if they wanted to attend a competition, which they requested, we needed to do our time in the trenches with sight reading exercises.

For the next month, my chief complainer led a grim little band of 4 or 5 students who folded their arms and stared at me each time we practiced sight reading.  They chose to lose participation points rather than admit I might know a little more about music competitions. At times I’d overhear them trying to recruit more students to their merry troupe.

When the competition rolled around, the rest of the choir performed well on the sight reading portion. We still received a lower mark because, as the judge said, “I’d like to give you a higher grade in here as most of you are doing a great job, but I can’t because 4 or 5 of you seem to be completely lost and not understanding how to sing these exercises at all.”   The bus ride home was very, very quiet.

If you determine to lead according to God’s guidance, conflict is inescapable.  I know this is normal leadership stuff, but certain elements of conflict used to drag my emotions to subterranean levels.  Attacks on my character ranked numero uno. When individuals criticized my personality, leadership style or questioned my motives, I slid into a pit. Wallowing in the mud hole someone else created, it used to take numerous words of encouragement and support to bring me topside again.

Gradually, I learned that there will always be people trying to drag me down. If you are in church leadership and obeying God, that’s the deal. Read Exodus and Numbers. Considering the shenanigans Moses dealt with will put yours back in perspective.  Not everyone celebrates what God is doing through you. Some can’t even tolerate it. You must be prepared with a response plan when gossip, strife, grumbling and complaining start digging a hole for your emotions and self-esteem to slip into.

Joseph knew the pain of being verbally trashed and cast down, like, way down.  The pit wasn’t the worst of it either!  His journey to a ruler’s position in Egypt went by way of slavery and prison. Years later, during a reconciliation with his brothers, he says one of the most profound statements in the Word.  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV) God used some pretty vicious behaviors to place Joseph in power.

God used the jealousy and rage of Joseph’s brothers.  God allows humans to choose good or evil. If He gives us a free will, He cannot constantly override individual decisions to commit sin.  One of the qualities that amazes me about Him though, is His infinite ability to bring beauty from ashes.  Clearly, God desired to move Joseph to Egypt for his eventual promotion. His new position would ultimately save the lives of the very brothers who wanted him dead. I love the serendipity of them eventually bowing down before him, just like his teenage dream predicted.

God used the wickedness of Potiphar’s wife.  God could have steered Joseph into a household where the mistress wasn’t starring in her own daytime drama, but He didn’t.   Potiphar’s house became another step in the journey to test and strengthen Joseph’s wisdom and morals. I imagine it crushed him to go from his achieved position to prison.  Are you starting to see the pattern, though? Joseph’s travels to his destiny involved ups and downs between positions of honor and circumstances of lowliness.

Oh dear sisters, I know how much it hurts to be manhandled by other’s words and actions. Understand, our loving Father allows this in our lives for the same purposes He permitted His own son to be brutally assaulted.  Our ability to lead successfully is influenced greatly by our character quality and maturity level. Our strength and purity come forth through fire, just like precious metals.

Although people may intend to diminish, disrespect or destroy us, we can always choose to rise above their mudslinging and hole digging.    

I encourage you to look at your critics with different eyes.  Ask God what He’s trying to refine within you through the mud slingers in your world.  Sometimes, God will use people to make your current situation so intolerable that you will consider something else He’s prepared for you.  Study Joseph’s life and consider all the sinful behavior God re-purposed to direct Joseph’s path.  He can do the same for you, if you will seek His perspective and insights.

In my next post we’ll look at more character issues.   I’ll share five ways unhealthy leadership behaviors and attitudes can damage our fellowship with other believers and God himself.





The Grudge


Early spring air rushed through my car windows, whipping around some papers in the back seat. At a stop sign, I darted a backwards glance. My eyes recognized the bright colors of worksheets my preschool daughter loved to do, but there was also a strange black spot I assumed to be another “floater” in one of my eyes. I looked straight ahead, moving my eyes around to try to produce the same effect. Hmmmm….. where did that floater go?  At the next stop, I took a longer look into the back seat.  This was no black spot; it was a Something, a Something that hovered in the air.

Earlier that morning my mind fixated on a painful situation at church.  A few members recently behaved in some very divisive, ungodly ways.  Their actions and words cycled through my mind repeatedly, stirring up dark, vindictive thoughts, just like the vague shadow lurking in my car.

I completed the drive home, nauseated and shaking, refusing to look in the back seat and singing praise songs. I knew what this was. I didn’t understand why it was in my car! I immediately phoned an older pastor friend of ours from Texas. When I described the black shadow to him, he asked me one question in his baritone, southern drawl, “Darlin,’ is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone you maybe hate, just a pinch?”

My pride tried to answer first, and I hesitated, weighing my options.  This church girl knew full well that hatred and unforgiveness are serious sins. What would my friend think? Ultimately, my fear of what might be stalking me prompted me to answer truthfully, “Yes, yes there is.”

While I cried, this seasoned pastor explained Satan’s delight in finding an inroad into my mind. Refusing to forgive people is an open  doorway and welcome mat for him to stroll right into my thoughts.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, my spirit is sealed and set apart for God.  I cannot be demon-possessed.  However, by allowing negative emotions to camp out in my soul, I invite evil to draw close to me, oppressively.

That frightening drive remains as one of the few times God allowed me a glimpse into the supernatural world all around me.  I believe He wanted to shake and wake me out of the destructive sin of being a record keeper of wrong doings. The vividness of what I experienced that day keeps me on the straight and narrow regarding holding a grudge against those who hurt me or my family.

My friend laid out some scriptural forgiveness strategies, which became habit.  I’ve also added some of my own that you may find helpful.

  • As soon as someone sins against you, begin speaking silently or out loud, if possible, verses you committed to memory for such moments. My favorite is Matthew 5:11.  Other great ones are:  Matthew 6:14, 15, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, 32, Matthew 5:23-24 and, of course, I Corinthians 13. (Sometimes, I’ll even excuse myself to the restroom, or some other private place just so I can do this.)
  • Remember, Jesus understands. (Hebrews 4:15)
  • Allow yourself to feel painful emotions. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Don’t ignore them, they will simply express themselves in a different way. It’s what we do with our emotions that leads us to righteousness or sin.
  • For smaller things, forgive and move on. You may have to do this several times if you think of the offense, and still feel pain or anger. Keep clearing the wrong doer’s account. God will speak to this person, in His own time concerning their careless words or behavior.  “Let it gooooooooooo………” as the song says.
  • For large pains forgiveness is a process in need of time. On some occasions I’ve needed to pray for and forgive someone repeatedly until I genuinely feel no desire for retribution and can think about the person or incident without a yucky feeling in my gut.
  • Picture offenses as individual rooms in a hallway. When you are able to enter a room and look at the memory of an offense objectively, without pain, you are now able to reach back and encourage someone else who might be struggling to forgive someone for a similar sin.
  • Work towards reconciliation. Follow the Matthew 18 pattern to try to turn this person from an adversary into an advocate.  This process takes humility and patience.  You might think you are only 5% to blame in the situation, nevertheless, apologize and ask forgiveness for your part.  Often this opens the door for the other person to take ownership of their part.
  • When someone refuses to be reconciled with you, turn them over to God and continue your internal forgiveness process.
  • Seek godly counsel. Some situations, involving habitual or unrepentant sin, must be dealt with at a higher level. Another pastor in your church, an elder or deacon, or someone else who has spiritual authority in your congregation will need to be involved if someone is habitually sinning against you within your church or Christian organization or refuses to be reconciled with you.  In Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22, God bluntly says, “Don’t touch my anointed!”  Tolerating and making excuses for those who “touch” pastors and ministry leaders with wicked behavior and words, grieves the Holy Spirit.
  • Let God do His work in your heart.  Just as he did for Joseph, God uses the sinful behaviors of others to accomplish greatness in our lives.

In my next post, I’ll be exploring this last item further.  Does it feel sometimes like your ministry life is a roller coaster, rising and dropping based on the decisions and behaviors of others? What may feel like a crazy ride can be an adventure when you remember God is working the controls!


Ducks and Lions-

“Well, I simply couldn’t concentrate on the sermon at all today with the pastor’s bare feet sticking out.” This fashion review occurred a few days after my husband preached an illustrated sermon as John the Apostle.  Most of the congregation loved his costumed, first- person presentation but one member thought that, perhaps, John should use better manners and wear dress shoes instead of sandals, in the pulpit.

Ken chuckled at the comment and moved on to the next thing.  I, on the other hand, brummed about it internally for several days.  “What were they doing staring at his feet anyway? For heaven’s sake, the minor things people get all twisted up about.” And on and on my inner snarky went, criticizing this person.

As my thoughts continued to feed my anger engine, a moment of revelation occurred. My behavior was no better than the church member, “for heaven’s sake!”  Indeed, I’m sure heaven was relieved I’d suspended my own complain train. I had chucked all the encouraging comments about Ken’s sermon out the window and fixated on one foolish remark.  I should have laughed and let it go, just like Ken did.

How do you know when to be a duck or when to be a lion concerning personal criticisms?  Ducks let a lot of water roll off their backs and just keep paddling. Lions aggressively pursue anything perceived as a threat.   Our perfect example, Jesus, knew when to paddle and when to roar.

In Matthew 27, Pilate questions Jesus about who He claims to be.  The profound silence from Jesus must have been maddening to a ruler used to getting his way.  In Luke 4 a crowd from the synagogue became so angry with some things Jesus said during a service, they tried to hurl Him off a cliff.  The Living Word slipped through the crowd and walked away.   There are a number of passages where Christ’s response to personal attacks is very duck-like.

Then, there are times when the Lion of Judah roars at his critics.  In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 22 relates an incident in which Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about taxes, attempting to ensnare Him with His answer.  I believe the key to Jesus’ response, a harsh verbal lashing, lies in just a few words in verse 18. “But Jesus, aware of their malice….” (ESV).

Walking in step with the Holy Spirit is non-negotiable to determine the difference between careless words and malicious attacks. We all can toss out whiny, complainy jabs when we are tired, ill or stressed.  Often, there is no true desire to hurt the recipient of the complaint or a consistent pattern of negativity.  People in your environment may say things, without thinking, that are hurtful without any true motive to damage you.  These are careless words.  Forgive, recognize the distress in the other person’s life, and move on. Paddle, paddle paddle.

Just like Jesus’ enemies, though, some people do mean you harm and their verbal stabs are part of an agenda of strife and disunity.  You cannot take a ducky approach in these situations.  Left unchecked, this kind of divisive behavior creates conflict and confusion, hindering your church or organization’s ability to move forward into the destiny God designed for you.

I recommend this outstanding article on ­handling church conflict, if you are under fire, consistently, from certain folks.  People whose conversations frequently turn to gossip and criticism, must be dealt with in a biblical, Christ-like way.

Are you overreacting to every unkind, thoughtless word?  Ask God to help you see the person behind the words, like Jesus did. If you listen, God will share insight into people, cause you to notice circumstances in their lives and put things in a better context.   Many times I worked myself up (which, by the way, is not beneficial to your health) ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit to pray for that person and my attitude, forgive them and move on.

My next post topic will be about the nuts and bolts of the forgiveness process.  Between now and then, read some of the Gospel encounters between Jesus and His opposition.  Fill your mind with His ways and allow God to change your heart on this matter.  Don’t miss any of the great adventures God’s planned for you because your brain is obsessing over someone’s sloppy words!  Selah.







Criticism is Inevitable, Offense is Optional

The elderly church lady marched up to the grand piano, where I was playing, stuck her face by my ear and angrily hissed, “You always bang the piano so hard when you play.  It hurts my ears.” The harsh assessment came during a break in the service where members were supposed to greet one another and welcome newcomers. Dismayed, I smiled sweetly, apologized and reduced my volume, sorry I caused this dear sister any suffering.


The first part is absolutely correct.  The second part, about me, well…… that’s not quite the way it rolled out.  The truth is, I never looked up, kept pounding the keys, my gigantic 80’s mall bangs wobbling back and forth like a metronome, and gave my critic a terse nod. My insides took on a boxer’s stance. Snarky jabs jumped to mind, like, “I’d looooooove to play more softly but our antique sound board is so horrid, how else can I keep the congregation on the same beat!” The rest of the punches that piled up in my mind definitely qualify as below the belt.   Nice pastor’s wife, right? Sadly, I used to respond to criticism with less than a mature response.

This type of childish reaction is typical for many believers who lack the godly tools to process criticism. 

My inability to handle critics flowed from deep insecurities and a desire to be liked by everyone…..all the time, everywhere, without exception.  That’s normal, right? Probably not, but   I’ve known many other people who struggle with the same issue.

Insecure people don’t handle criticism well because they already feel lousy.

If the voices in your own head tear you down regularly, negative remarks from others become unbearable.   Some people wilt and shrink away trying not to poke the verbally abusive bears in their lives.  Feisty folk, like me, sometimes pop the bear right in the snoot. Neither of these responses are Christ-like, and can mess you up, in the long term.

The piano incident pales, pain-wise, in comparison to critiques of my character and motives I’ve received, over the years.  These types of comments used to slice deeply into my soul and make me question everything about myself in an unhealthy, obsessive way.

I know I’m a handful.  My artistic, melancholy and sanguine personality blend can be exasperating for those around me.  Folks never know if the party otter or the introverted worker bee will show up on any given day.  But these days, I am grounded in the knowledge of the unique person God created me to be, flaws and all.   My job is to walk uprightly before Him and let Him put his finger on the edges of my diamond that need polishing.  Criticism is simply one of the polishing tools He uses.

If you are a leader, scrutiny from others is a fact of life. People trash talked Jesus’ ministry and character frequently.  While Jesus responded, the disciples usually reacted.  How are you handling negative remarks?   Do you feel like the complaints outnumber the compliments?  How many bear snoots have you bopped?

You cannot control other people; you can only control your response to them.

Dishing out grace to our critics doesn’t happen with determination and grit. This type of maturity is the fruit of intimacy with God.  He enables you to be confident in your strengths and honest about your raggedy edges. He insists that your first priority is pleasing Him, not others.  Criticism may still wound you but you will respond to it instead of reacting to it.


How you navigate negative remarks will strengthen you, drawing you closer to Christ, or weaken and embitter you.  In the next few posts I’ll describe my personal process for handling criticism.  I’m still tempted to nurse grudges or retaliate, sometimes, but usually I don’t. That behavior grieves the Holy Spirit too much and derails my intimacy with Christ.

The first question I ask myself, when confronted with an unflattering assessment is, “Does this comment contain any truth?”   I choose to shift my mind away from instinctive reactions.  Instead, I choose to look objectively at the situation and my role in it.  Did I bang the piano too hard? Yup, and it probably did hurt some ears.  My critic’s tone and timing were poor, yet kernels of truth resided in what she said.  I could have kindly explained my challenges to her, after the service, and maybe gained support for purchasing a sound system upgrade sooner than we did.

Receiving criticism humbly and measuring our response is Christ-like and pleases our Father.  The bonus is that God can use the sharp edges of other’s words to chisel away our faults and make us more like His son.   Let Him do His work!

In my next post we’ll explore handling criticism further.  If you’ve got some tips and strategies for this common ministry challenge, please share them on my Facebook page.  Let’s encourage one another!

“Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.” Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)








Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh.

As soon as Ken and I walked into our back door we knew something seemed off.  An odd sound came from the basement and a damp smell pervaded the house.  Concerned, we immediately ran down our basement stairs, until we couldn’t.   Three feet of water stopped us from descending the last four stairs.  Tiny waves lapped our feet and continued to rise. We stared, wordless.

The thunderstorm outside wasn’t any worse than others.  Why the flood?  Turns out a nearby construction project accidentally crushed the pipe leading out from our sump pump hole.  Since water couldn’t escape, it stayed.

Sawdust from Ken’s woodshop, small toys from Jennifer’s play area and various items from our storeroom floated on top of the water.  The flood saturated the lower half of all the furniture in our finished family room. Table lamps appeared to be resting on the top of the water, their end tables fully covered.

The process of removing all the ruined possessions and cleaning the leftover molds and mildews took several weeks. Remodeling took several months.   My prayers and sympathy to those whose entire homes have been flooded.

Several years later I remembered that flood one day when I found myself face to floor, repenting.  It was 1990 something and my church experienced a profound revival which lasted several years. The carpet in front of our altar filled up with kneeling, weeping people at every service,  repenting before God. Our basement flood came to mind as I wondered how much more God wanted to remove and rearrange in my life with His rushing waters.

The revival had already re-arranged our lives and souls deeply.  Our hour and a half Sunday morning and evening services extended to three hours, sometimes more.  Our Friday date nights gave way to weekly evangelistic services, which lasted four to five hours.

People ask, “Why in the world did your services go so long?”  When thousands of people are coming to Christ for the first time or returning home to God, it takes time.  Our leadership decided to follow God’s plan rather than their service orders.

The internal changes for many of us eclipsed the outer ones.  God put his finger on habitual sins for which we previously made excuses. We forgave people who wronged us in the past.  Our dutiful prayer lives ignited into passionate conversations with God.  Our love for fellow believers deepened.  Most importantly, Jesus became our first love again.

“I want all that!” some of you might be saying right now.  God wants it for you too but be aware that flowing with the river of God’s purposes and presence comes with a price.  Revival comes when God’s people repent.  It’s that simple and that complicated.  Here’s just a few of the things I lost in our revival flood.

  • Pride- It’s a challenge to act cool when your makeup is smeared, hair is askew and you’re prostate on the floor, overcome with godly sorrow.  When you care more about God’s view of your heart than men’s view of your outer self, pride takes a whipping.
  • Time-  We didn’t want to miss a thing God was doing so Ken and I, and thousands of others, showed up to church Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.  Additionally, I had three hour rehearsals for worship team on Thursday nights.
  • Grudges- Any shepherd knows that sheep bite.  I had to stop keeping a record of wrong doings.
  • Relationships – Not everyone liked the revised Sharon. People all in for Jesus are kind of weird.  Since I’m already rather odd to begin with………
  • Control- When you commit to letting the Holy Spirit call all the shots, He will often blast through boundaries and comfort zones. For example, God planted this suburban girl in a tough, inner city school for a season.

True revival is simply giving way to God. Charles Finney, America’s greatest revivalist said, “A revival is nothing else than the beginning of a new obedience to God.”  To keep myself on track, these are some questions I periodically ask myself.  It’s usually because I’ve drifted and the Holy Spirit nudges me.

  • Is my prayer life compelling conversation or simply a shopping list of needs?
  • Is Bible study a chore or a joy?
  • Am I harboring any bitterness or unforgiveness?
  • Am I cautious with media and literature or allowing trash in my mind?
  • Am I miserly or generous with my time and other resources?
  • Is my tongue speaking life or death?
  • Am I talking to people who offend me or talking about them?

Your list is different than mine.  We aren’t tempted by all the same things.  It’s important to know your weaknesses.  That will be the foundation of your checklist.  Those are the places where Satan will seek inroads.

America and the world need American Christians to grow up and clean up.  Are you ready for the floodwaters?   I’m asking God to revive my heart again.  My friendship with the world threatens my passion for Christ.  I need him to revive me once more.  How about you?

You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?”  James 4:4 (NLT)