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Cultivating Christ-Centered Leaders In a Storycentric Generation

March 2016

March has got to be my favorite month of the year.  Maybe it’s the promise of spring after a long winter. Maybe it’s because March usually hosts my absolute favorite holiday of the year (Easter!). Maybe March is my favorite month because it’s that point in the semester where students really start to come around (and finally understand enough to laugh at my jokes!). Or maybe it’s because of the fact that it’s usually a quiet time with no international trips, which allows us to step back, to think, and to dream together. Because we have big dreams wrapped up in this thing here at Freedom to Lead. 
Want to know another reason why March is my favorite month? Because of days like today.
Today is International Women’s Day. I didn’t even know this was a thing until my first year in China when women were given bouquets of flowers all day and kite flying in the square was a big deal. So, whether you are a flag-waving feminist who got women the right to vote in this country or you are simply a woman in rural Africa trying her best to provide for her family even if it means walking eight miles for water every day; whether you are a single working mom or a homeschooling mom of seven; whether you’ve never been married, freshly single after a divorce, or if you just celebrated your 40th wedding anniversary - the message is clear: let’s honor these women.
Therefore, it would only be appropriate for me to talk about women on this International Women’s Day. But if you allow me for a few moments, I’d like to take it a step further. In light of the fact that I work in the leadership development sphere, I’d like us to dare to imagine that this whole struggle is about so much more than “equality.”
Maybe this goes against the grain of what I’m supposed to be about, but just between you and me (and the 200 other people reading this) I don’t want to be “equal” with men. I think it was Elisabeth Elliott who said, "We are called to be women. The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman. For I have accepted God's idea of me, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be."
I don’t want to be equal with men. I want myself, this image-bearer of God with unique abilities and passions, to be able to stand alongside my brothers in Christ and complement them in life and ministry and leadership. It is to know that we can be better together, just as God intended it in the beginning. I’d like to think that we – as ambassadors of Christ together – can say to the women of the world, “I’ve got something better for you than this tiring quest for equality. I’ve got a friend named Jesus who came to set you FREE - in every way a person CAN be free.”

At the beginning of Luke it reads, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her” (Luke 1:45). When these words were spoken of Mary, mother of Jesus, I have to wonder if they weren’t spoken of all of us. And later, when the Lord said to all the believers, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36) I have to wonder what this kind of freedom looks like.
Women around the world are influencing the church in some pretty amazing ways. So, with this reality before us, what do we do to grow and encourage these women to be all that they can be for the sake of the Kingdom? How do we inspire them in their leadership?
In Hebrews we are called to “remember our leaders” (Hebrews 13:7), so on this International Women’s Day I think of the women who have influenced me. It is like the Acknowledgements section at the beginning of the book that is my life. In this list of stories are just some of the women leaders I know personally. Here’s the cool thing, though: none of these women are famous by any of the world’s standards. They are simply ordinary women who’ve answered God’s calling in their lives. In each their own way, they are all leaders and influencers in the church. And my life, for one, has been changed because of them.
So, on this day, I honor:
  • Amy, Joann, Cathy (seasoned single women in full-time ministry leadership roles who have provided the ultimate example for single women like me)
  • Peggy (a woman with a quiet faith who raised four generations of children, all while being married to one man for 62 years. She has set a leading example for all of us).
  • Tina, Audrey, Leona, Ann, Marli, Rose, Sharon, Sheila, Darlene, Ruth Ann, Connie (ultimate prayer warriors who have an incredible heart in mobilizing others to pray for suffering women around the world)
  • Jan, Leonora, Faye, and Maggie (women who go into the prisons every week to lead bible studies among the women inmates there)
  • Jenny, Joanna, Sarah, Rachel, Katherine, Jeweliann, Jennifer, Mindy, Abby, Paula, Jana, Mary Lu, Cynthia, Carolyn, Margy (women ministry teammates who labored with me in the hard places over the years)
  • Stephanie (who taught me everything I know about leadership in China and helped me see that I have the capacity for things I never dreamed possible)
  • B, A, J, M, H.S., and G (Chinese friends who are influencers in the exponentially growing church of Mainland China; they are my heroes)
  • Erica, Bethann, and Jessica and so many just like them (young single women in full-time ministry, forsaking the desire for a husband to reach students in places across Asia)
  • Kelly and Jessica (these women who work side by side with their husbands as missionaries among an unreached people group)…and Tiffany (who is preparing her family of six to cross those international waters in order to do the same).
  • Colleen and Karen (the women who invested in me when I was in high school…and who invest in me still)
  • Lisa (a school psychologist with a passion for hurting kids, the model aunt of ten nieces and nephews, leading dance teams in the local community and organizing puppet ministries in Haiti)
  • Becky (leading mountain wilderness trips on a team of men, in an effort to provide discipleship and leadership training among her students)
  • Danielle, Kim, Leslie, and Lauren (women who, through the written word, have led a larger community of sisters and co-laborers in Christ to connect with each other in solidarity and support)
  • Evie (a former pastor’s wife who continues to speak God’s truth into people’s lives and is taking on the responsibility of her family, caring deeply in the wake of her husband’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's).
  • Jill and Lori (homeschooling moms who have completely convinced me that homeschooling is not such a bad idea after all, simply because they are awesome at it and give their kids the best possible of experiences)
  • Allison, Cheryl-Lynn, Ashley, Rebecca, Bonnie, and Suzanne (working moms who find it hard to leave their children every day, but also have an outlet to do the kind of jobs they are gifted at)
  • Laura and Bekah (women who have started their own businesses to become more financially independent)
  • Cindy (juggling life as pastor’s wife, mother of seven, and associate director of a ministry for vulnerable children)
  • Lorna and France-Lise (best examples of their husband’s ministry partner I’ve ever seen)
  • Kerry and Donna (women who dedicate every single Saturday to organizing a team to provide a hot meal, bagged groceries, and a prayer to every one that walks through the doors of the church’s Food Pantry)
  • Wendy, Sara, Elise, and Tracy (Children’s Ministry and Youth directors)
  • Joy (someone who invests in young impressionable college women)
  • Jenny (Christian college instructor in biblical studies and one who mobilizes people to reach the standards of doing short-term missions well)
  • Kat, Jessica, Anna, and Janelle (women who chose “life” even when the doctors told them there was no chance; three babies graced us with their presence for a precious period of time and are now in heaven, and one baby is now six months on this earth)
  • Patty and Shelly (Member Care professionals and life coaches)
  • Miriam and Lynn (women who are passionate about incorporating the arts and storytelling in worship)
  • Beth and Helen (retired missionaries who still give tirelessly to ministry)
  • And the men who champion them
So, let me ask: Who are the women leaders in your life that have influenced you?
As a final word, much of my job these days has my team putting together the curriculum for the Freedom to Lead Women’s Initiative. As we put our heads together to create this material, the women in this list above are the ones that come to my mind. But, what also comes to mind are the women we have yet to meet; women in places around the world who have the heart, but may lack the resources.  So, if we're going to start anywhere, then let’s start with making sure that women know they are valued. Not just as members of society and not just as members of the church. But we have to start with the fact that women are valued as participants and, yes, as influencers in the church for the sake of the Kingdom. It is about believing in the highest potential of these women and challenging them to be the kind of leaders that imitate Christ.
So, on this International Women’s Day, let’s think about THAT.
Thank you for being in my corner. Next month I will have some more ministry updates for you because exciting things are coming our way!

Until All Have Heard,


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