Monday, 29 September 2008


The Need for Ministry Relationships
By Cheri Stevenson Cheri Stevenson is the associate youth pastor at Central Assembly, Springfield, Missouri.

As ministers, we often focus on investing in others to the point of ignoring our own needs.
I had an exciting day a few weeks ago. It was one of those days where everything clicked for me. I had a few big breakthroughs, and during my drive home, I could barely contain myself thinking about the day's events. Then I got home and realized no one was else was there. I paced back and forth from my kitchen to my bedroom. I was anxious and confused; something was bothering me. It took me a minute to put my finger on it, and then I realized what it was. I had no one to tell about my day.

Why is it that we have such a strong need for relationships, for people to tell about our day Scripture tells us that God's character is knit into each one of us. "You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13, NIV). At the time of our conception, there was more knit into us than our hair and eye color. At that moment, a desire for relationships was also created in us by a Creator who himself desires strong relationships with His created ones. We need for those around us to love and care for us. We desire to have friends who, when we have an exciting or a rough day, are there to hear about it. We are created with the desire to live with close family and friends.

Psalm 139 continues to say, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful" (verse 14). Many times we forget to stop and praise God for our need for relationships that He instilled in us. It is very easy for us as strong women in ministry to neglect this need in our own lives. It is much easier for us to give and to take care of others, and even feel guilty for having the need for significant relationships ourselves.

Recently, I had an incredible and life-changing opportunity to be a part of an experience called The Cadre. The Cadre is a youth pastor mentoring program with well-known youth pastor Jeanne Mayo, founder and president of Youth Source Ministries and director of Oxygen Youth and Young Adult Outreach. Through The Cadre, I not only had the privilege to learn up-close from one of the greatest youth pastors in the nation, but I also formed friendships with other women serving in youth ministry that I will value for a lifetime.

I have known God's calling on my life since I was a senior in high school. However, I have always questioned if it was really my calling or when I get married it would become just my husband's calling. I think God knew how desperately I needed to know that it was possible for a woman to be a wife, mother, and a minister, and to do them all well. Through my experience with The Cadre, I have found the importance of having someone in my life who is a few steps ahead of me and who can help shed some light on the journey I am beginning. Before The Cadre I didn't realize how much I need women in my life who understand what it is like to be in ministry.

Relational Pitfalls of Women in Ministry

Life is relationships; the rest is just details. These eight words say it all.
As I have talked with other women in full-time ministry, I have found three common relational pitfalls that most of us can relate to.

1. Feeling isolated by the sense that no one else can relate or understand. In the past it was easy for me to isolate myself and end up with the feeling that I didn't have "true"; friends. When I first started in ministry, it felt helpful to distinguish between my two sets of friends. I had friends who were connected to my ministry and friends who were not. It felt comforting that I had friends who I wasn't "Pastor Cheri" around, but simply "Cheri." Now I've come to realize that my need for this came from the desire to be loved for who I am, and not just for what I do.

2. Constantly giving relationally to others but not receiving any relational investment from others. As women, we give so effortlessly through relationships that it seems only natural that we would also need to replenish ourselves through relationships. But as ministers, we often focus on investing in others to the point of ignoring our own needs.

3. The uneasiness of having no "true" friends; longing for friends that we feel safe enough with to be real with. I'm sure many of you, like me, have had moments that you just so desperately needed someone to understand you. I need a friend who won’t look differently at me because I'm not "perfect" or even close to perfect. Someone whom I can vent to when I need someone to listen and not react. Someone who understands why I care so much about the people to whom I pastor. Who understands how miserable it is to watch someone I've personally invested in make wrong choices in his or her life. That's why I need the friendships of other women in ministry.

Forming Friendships with Women in Ministry
But how do we avoid the pitfalls and find those relationships? You can start with the following steps.

1. Pray and determine what it is that you are looking for in a friendship. Pray that God will bring the right women into your life. Ask God to help you to discern what void you need to fill with these relationships. For me, I realized my need for peers who were involved in and passionate about my area of ministry. For you, it might be a need for friendships with women your age, or who are also balancing being a wife, a mother, and minister. Whatever your needs, begin by defining what they are and speaking to God about them.

2. Begin looking. It may be that you need to look at other churches in your town, or at churches outside your town. For a valuable relationship with another woman in ministry, it is worth an hour's drive to be able to meet for coffee and conversation. If the person you find is farther away, there are many avenues of communication that make it possible for intimate and lasting friendships, even over long distances. For some of us, it might be as simple as rekindling an old friendship, someone you grew up or went to college with.

3. Build your friendship on authenticity and safety. Begin with the foundations of authenticity and safety in your friendships. When we feel safe, our hearts open and intimacy takes place. As women, one of our heart's desires is to be open and connected. The best way for that to take place is to form a friendship where you can be yourself. It needs to be a relationship where you are not protecting your image or trying to get people to accept and like you. It should be a friendship that makes you feel loved and accepted no matter what. We have to be willing to be real, touchable, and vulnerable.

4. Commit to staying in touch. Life is relationships; the rest is just details. These eight words say it all. If we cannot stop to care about the significant relationships in our lives, we will lose so much. We have to fight the tendency to allow all the other details and busyness in our lives to win out, and be committed to the friendships that will energize us so that we can continue to minister to others.

I remember as a little girl riding with my dad in the car. As he drove, I chattered on and on about my day. (I'm sure I was filling him in on every single detail). With as much love and patience as my dad could muster, he said to me, "Cheri, you know it's okay just to be quiet sometimes."
I replied, "I know, but I just have so much to tell you!" And without taking a breath, I continued telling him all about my day.
Though men may never understand, women do recognize the need for someone to really listen to the details. We need for someone to truly hear what we are experiencing. It is no different for us because we are serving in ministry. Now, the only difference is that we have to become far more strategic and committed to forming and keeping relationships with those in our lives who really listen and understand.


the truth behind the smile
by Jenifer Peterson

Sunday had dawned crisp and clear that sunny, December morning. Behind the closed door of the bathroom, however, I was in for a storm. Waves of nausea and dizziness threatened to drown me while a fierce headache took residence behind my eyes.

"You can't do this, it's a terrible idea. Nobody is going to understand. You will be sorry."
The voice was clamoring in my head as I struggled to get ready for church. I had to get myself dressed, makeup on, and hair done so that I also could get my two children fed, cleaned, and dressed and out the door in time for the morning service. "What were you thinking? Are you crazy? You can't do this, you can't..."

As I pushed myself up from the floor, the nausea having knocked me to my knees a third time that morning, my heart pounded and I cried out, "Get away from me Satan, I am doing this and you won't stop me! Lord, help me!"

My husband had already left for church as usual, before the sun came up. It was up to me to get myself and the children there on time. This was not just a typical Sunday morning, however. In the service this day my husband and I were going to stand before the congregation where he had served as youth pastor for eight years and announce that we were taking a leave of absence. We also planned to share some painful, not-so-pretty truth about our lives.

I fully realized I was under direct attack from the Enemy to prevent me from doing this. To be perfectly honest, there was a part of me that wanted to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers. However, Satan was not going to win this one! Jesus Christ was getting the victory on this December morning! It was time to take off my mask and reveal the truth behind the smile. My life was spiraling downward in a dangerous cycle of depression and alcohol abuse.

I was leading a double life that only a very few of my closest friends even had a clue about—my secret struggle with alcohol, my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression, thoughts that became so dark at times I even thought about taking my own life. In the weeks leading up to this moment, I had been arrested for drunk driving, spent a night in jail, and lost my driver's license. You might say I was in the pit of despair. In a rare moment of clarity, God had shown me the first step in His plan of restoring the situation; I had to confess my sin to the congregation. As a couple, we had to admit that we needed support and prayers from our church family. My husband needed to take a break from the youth ministry and minister to his first and most important calling—his family.

My husband and I had finally come to the understanding that our life was completely out of balance and out of control. On my husband's part, he had sacrificed time with family to build a vibrant and thriving youth ministry. To deal with my growing sense of isolation and feeling abandoned by him, I had turned to alcohol. In the evenings and weekends when he was off ministering to students, I would nurse my self-pity and loneliness with a bottle of wine. As time went on, I found myself growing more and more dependent on the numbing, anesthetic effect alcohol had on the feelings of bitterness and resentment I was beginning to harbor towards my husband.

My mantra became, "Church gets the best of him, the kids and I get the rest of him."
At the same time, I would show up at church Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings wearing my "everything is fine" disguise. I sang in the choir. I would help out as a youth sponsor at different times. I even started a small group for stay-at-home moms, which met regularly for five years! The ever-growing gap between my public life and my private life was eating me alive inside.

When I would allow myself to think about the hypocrisy of this existence, I was flooded with feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust. Keeping up with what I saw as my double life was exhausting physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I so desperately wanted to stop using alcohol to deal with the difficulties of life. I knew I was living in sin and allowing alcohol to become an idol in my life. I knew this sin was getting in the way of the kind of intimate friendship Jesus wanted with me. Ultimately, I knew that this would lead to death and destruction. Yet, I continued to allow this stronghold to entice and entangle me (James 1:14-15). I had shared bits and pieces of these struggles with a few women in my moms' group, but always left out the "gory" details. I was keeping too many secrets, and they were keeping me in bondage to mental anguish and addiction. I read somewhere, a long time ago, "you are only as sick as your secrets." That is so true! My secret was about to be revealed...

I battled through the morning, through my physical and emotional weakness. I knew that God was providing me with a way to end this madness or, at least, to start correcting the course I was on. I had to get out the door and make it to church that December morning. Satan had too much at stake; he wasn't giving up without a fight. However, somewhere in me I clung to the promise of Psalm 8:6 that put Satan where he belongs—under my feet!
I held on tightly to my legacy in Christ, my anointing as His beloved daughter. I had to get up in front of that congregation. God was calling me out of the darkness. I had to step into the light.

That winter Sunday morning, I poured my heart and soul out in front of the people my husband and I were called to serve. As the words spilled from my mouth, I could feel a supernatural cleansing occurring within my heart. Like an open wound it hurt, it stung and burned, but I continued to go deeper. I confessed my sins of addiction, and the legal trouble I was in as a result of poor choices. I revealed my spirit of bitterness, anger, and depression. My husband admitted that he often had pursued ministry goals and success at the expense of his family. He announced that he would be temporarily stepping away from his role as youth pastor so that he could lead his family with no distractions. As we stopped speaking, there was a heavy silence in the sanctuary.

The lead pastor stood up and invited anyone to come forward who wanted to lay hands on my husband and me in a time of prayer. Within seconds, members of our congregation were on their feet and coming forward to lay their hands on us and to pray for us. My husband and I were seated with our heads bowed, but we could feel the warmth and weight of many hands touching us as prayers started rising up around us. Men and women, young and old, spontaneously spoke their petitions on our behalf. Later we would be told that nobody was left sitting in the pews. Every person in the church that day came forward, each one laying hands on the person in front of them in a human chain that ended with my husband and me receiving the power of the Holy Spirit through their touch.

Four years later I keep that Sunday morning close in my mind. It was through that experience that I learned an important lesson on community, confession, and restoration. First, we are designed to live in community and to share life with other people. Isolation is dangerous and will squelch the joy from your life. Second, confession is a necessary part of living in community. It may involve risk, it may be painful, but it is necessary to begin the healing process (James 5:16). Sometimes the deepest, darkest part of oneself is what needs to be uncovered in order to produce true, authentic community.

Everyone has a story! Finally, God has the power and desire to restore any life, any sinful situation. On my journey that gift of restoration could only be received once I embraced the community I was in and I practiced the discipline of confession. Only then was I able to receive the beginning of true and lasting healing in my life!!


Can you identify with the author of this poignant article? The desire to stop hiding in and from pain is a God-given desire. The tricky part for many people is how to begin to come out of hiding. Following are some steps and resources that can help get you started on this sacred journey.

Tell God the extent of your pain. Expose your secrets to Him. If verbal prayer is difficult, write it out. God knows it all, loves you unreservedly; sharing this with Him is an act of trust and worship. This step fosters self-understanding and assists us as we go to others with our pain.

Choose another person to share your pain and struggle with. Prayerfully consider the best person for this! It ought to be a person who is loving, empathetic, able to keep a confidence, and non-controlling.

If you are unable to find the person described above, think outside the box. Are there churches or other Christian organizations that have a reputation for competent, compassionate care? If so, place a call and explore some options.

Consult some of the national resources below if you are unable to find help in your area.
Keep in mind that confession to an entire congregation is not always necessary, and may not be wise, depending on the health of the congregation and church leadership. Those first people who walk with you can help determine the best path, if needed, for more public confession. Much damage has been done in the name of "confession" when done unnecessarily or with people who are unable to receive a courageous confession.

During the process, remain open to avenues God places in front of you for healing. Professional therapy, medication, sabbatical, and deep spiritual friendships can all work together on your journey to freedom.National ResourcesAmerican Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) — www.aacc.netOpen Hearts Ministry — Recovery —
Jenny HeckmanM.S. in Marriage and Family Counseling
Jenifer Peterson serves alongside her husband in student ministries in Holland, Mich. Additionally, she is a trained Pastoral Care Specialist. Jenifer and her husband have been married for 16 years and have two children.




You may not know her as well as you think.
by Stuart Briscoe

Also read:• Are You Good To Go?Double Life

Atlantic Monthly in a recent article asked today's "20-somethings" questions about the Ten Commandments. On average they didn't know more than two of them, but they didn't like "Honor Thy Father and Mother" or "Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy," and they said they preferred "Thou Shalt Not Drink and Drive" and "Thou Shalt Love the Environment." When asked if they thought a revision would be a good idea and, if so, who should oversee the revision, the resounding answer was—Oprah Winfrey.

Now if you have spent the last 20 years in hiding somewhere you may not be familiar with Oprah, so let me bring you up to date. She was born a little more than fifty years ago to unmarried teenage parents in a poverty stricken part of Mississippi. Poor, black, and female, her opportunities in life were limited. Raised by her grandmother, she attended church regularly and participated in church activities with great poise and ability. Uponreturning to live with her mother in Milwaukee, Wis., however, her teenage years were wild and full of abuse. Her father, who lived elsewhere, stepped in, imposed a rigid discipline including schoolwork and regular reading, and Oprah began to blossom.

At 19, she burst into the media world. In a remarkably short time, The Oprah Winfrey Show was breaking records in the tough Chicago market. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, she is probably the highest paid entertainer in the business; her abilities as producer, performer, writer, promoter, and philanthropist are legendary. TIME magazine listed her in 2006 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Her television program, voted the number one talk show for more than 20 consecutive seasons, reaches 46 million people weekly and is released in 134 foreign countries, while her magazine, XM Radio show, and website reach millions more, not to mention her book club that only has to mention a book to send sales rocketing over one million. Oprah is a huge success in her wide and varied fields of endeavor!

But a strange thing has been happening to Oprah. Over a period of years, she has developed a warm friendship with Marianne Williamson, author of a book called A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles." This "course" was purportedly scribed years previously by Dr. Helen Schucman through a process of inner dictation by a "voice" she identified as coming from Jesus. Williamson became a regular on Oprah's show and gradually the talk turned more and more to the material contained in the Course in Miracles until it was recently announced that the course would be taught on the Oprah & Friends XM Radio Channel in daily segments for 365 days throughout 2008. This course being made available to millions of people in the U.S. and around the world announces clearly on its web page, "Even though the language of the course is that of traditional Christianity, it expresses a non-sectarian, non-denominational spirituality. A Course in Miracles therefore is a universal spiritual teaching, not a religion." Non-sectarian and non-denominational it certainly is, but is it non-Christian too? Judge for yourself.

The course literature states, "The course can be summed up this way: Nothing real can be threatened, Nothing unreal exists, Herein lies the peace of God. Among other things, the course teaches that "The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself," "God's Name is holy, but no holier than yours. To call upon His Name is to call upon your own," and "There is no sin."
If that leaves you a little mystified, you're not alone, but a quick perusal of the 365 lessons reveals that the object of the course is mind training leading to thought reversal, which means unthinking everything you've thought and believed thus far, and embracing what the course teaches. And what does it teach as it uses biblical terminology and totally reinterprets the terms to mean on occasion the opposite to the original biblical meaning?

It rehashes elements of first and second century Gnosticism, teaches New Age emphases, overtly rejects the fundamentals of the Christian faith concerning Christ as Savior and Lord and the meaning and means of salvation, redefines the work of the Holy Spirit, and remains ominously silent on fundamental subjects like sin and repentance. Oprah seems to have embraced all of this and is now actively propagating it. Capitalizing on her enviable reputation, marshalling her vast resources, and mobilizing her undeniable communication skills, she has enthusiastically committed herself to an endeavor that Williamson claims is not only the key "to changing one's personal life" but is the "key to changing the world."

Should there be any remaining doubt about what has happened to Oprah, an incident on A New Earth web seminar on March 3, 2008 sheds interesting light. A caller, noting Oprah's emphasis on New Age teaching, asked her why she has departed from the Christianity of her Mississippi youth. Oprah candidly answered that she began to get out of the box of biblical doctrine in her late twenties when her pastor was preaching the characteristics of God. When he said that "The Lord, thy God is a jealous God," she turned away from Him, thinking that if He was jealous of her (a total misunderstanding!) she had no desire to follow Him.

Tragic as this misunderstanding and its aftermath for Oprah undoubtedly are, the fallout from her missionary zeal to take her new message (she calls it "my greatest purpose and calling") to the world cannot be measured.

Why am I bringing this to your attention? Because at the same time I was becoming aware of this dramatically significant event taking place under our very noses, I met some women who were Oprah fans and who clearly had no understanding of what she was teaching. At that time I was teaching from Paul's second letter to Timothy, a letter containing the warnings of an aged apostle to a young pastor concerning dangerous trends he should expect in his day. It is clear the apostle was addressing following generations, such as ours, too.

One of the trends he talked about focused on the work of false teachers who, coming from a Christian background and claiming to have received special enlightenment, "worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women," (now don't jump ship yet, we all struggle with having the strength and will to make right choices) "who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Tim. 3: 6-7).

OUCH!! We need to be aware of those around us who are confused yet hungering to know, but are unwilling to call truth, truth. All of the adjectives describing women in this passage—in other versions "gullible women" is used—are very displeasing to our intellectual palates. Paul actually used the term "little women" which probably meant women who were vulnerable because of moral and intellectual shortcomings.

Another unflattering label, but the point is that deception abounds and many women were the targets of the teachers and their attractive but dangerously wrong message in the first century and they are the ones who in my view are vulnerable today.
We should ask ourselves some pertinent questions here. Are there any women watching television each afternoon who are so inadequately versed in biblical truth that they are very vulnerable to well-produced expertly presented alternative views? Yes! Are many of them "loaded down" with depression and guilt even if they do not relate their problems to sin, either theirs or someone else's? Do they know they're burdened? Yes! Are they being fed a regular diet of moral relativity on the soaps that confuses them about desire and longing and its satisfaction? Yes! Are they eager to learn about spirituality that doesn't lead to the truth of life in the Spirit, the essence of biblical spirituality? Yes!

Here's the crux of the issue. Millions of women (the vast majority of Oprah's listeners are women) are being introduced to a spirituality that uses the language of Christianity but intentionally neuters the truth of that language—a spirituality that is at fundamental odds with the historic biblical faith. The gospel of our Lord Jesus is being misrepresented and women are being misinformed and misled. And the women of the church need to be aware and concerned. So what can they do? First, Christian women should pray for Oprah. Sadly, I have never met Oprah, but one can only admire what she has achieved and applaud many aspects of her life. However, we must fear for her spiritual well-being and be concerned about her vast influence.
Secondly, the women of the church should acquaint themselves with the mind altering that is taking place in the lives of many of their relatives, associates, and friends and redouble their efforts to provide loving, caring, informed, neighborly ministry to many of their gender who are eagerly learning without acknowledging the truth.

Oprah's magazine is called O. Its title reminds me to say "O Oprah!" with a genuine heartfelt concern for her and the women she is influencing.

Oprah's Spiritual Mentors

Through her talk show, Oprah has launched many New Age authors into super-stardom. As a result, she is pushing her New Age philosophy into tens of millions of households across the globe every week. Over 2,000,000 people from 139 countries have participated in her recent web-based seminar featuring Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth—Awakening Your Life's Purpose. Oprah's most significant role is increasingly becoming that of spiritual leader to millions of women. Here are some of her mentors featured on her media outlets.

Eckhart TOLLEMinistry: Worldwide teaching of his New Age philosophy. His books are published in over 30 languages and his teachings are distributed via books, videos, CDs, online learning intensives, and talk, retreat, intensive, and teacher series.Books: A New Earth—Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, The Power of Now, Practicing the Power of Now, Stillness Speaks, and Stillness Amidst the World.Teaching: His religious philosophy is a combination of Buddhist and Islamic thought, with some measure of what he calls "Christianity" (a few New Testament verses misapplied and quotes from Jesus and others in the Bible are sprinkled throughout his books in an attempt to show that this philosophy is consistent with "true Christianity"). He has said, "When challenges come, as they always do, make it a habit to go within at once and focus as much as you can on the inner energy field of your body."

Marianne WILLIAMSON (also referred to in the article)Ministry: Leads the Church of Today in Warren, Michigan, one of the largest "New Thought" churches.Books: Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles" (1992).Teaching: Reinterprets Christian doctrines within a New Age framework. For example, "Christ" refers to the common thread of divine love within every human mind.

Gary ZUKAVMinistry: The Seat of the Soul Institute—dedicated to assisting individuals in the alignment of the personality with the soul—the creation of authentic power.Books: The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1979): An Overview of the New Physics, The Seat of the Soul (1989), Soul Stories (2000), The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness (2002), and The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice (2003).Teaching: That we should dwell in the company of our non-physical teachers and guides (spirit guides). Teaches the alignment of the personality with the soul.

Deepak CHOPRAMinistry: The Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California.Books: The Deeper Wound: Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering (2001).Teaching: An enlightened human consciousness can heal the body, based on Hindu principles.Source: Compiled from the above individual's websites.

Stuart Briscoe is a minister-at-large at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wis., serving ministry couples and missionaries around the world. He and his wife, Jill, have three grown children and 13 grandchildren.

BetweenYou and Me

BetweenYou and Me