LACED WITH GRACE
Years ago, my husband and I moved from a small town in Arkansas to west Texas to attend a local university. We were so excited when, right out of college, Mark was accepted into a management program with a Fortune 500 retailer. His career was taking off as he was promoted every year or so. With each promotion, we moved, and I found myself in search of a new job. I had done a variety of work, but nothing that I thought was cool or exciting.
Then I landed the dream job.
I went to work as an assistant to an executive in a small consulting firm that served several large non-profit Christian organizations around the nation. She was smart, polished and had been in the field of advertising for years. She was “up and coming” bringing to the company a passion and experience level that was opening more doors and producing new customers. She was powerful, a decision maker and a woman who knew how to lead. I attached my dreams to her coattails of success and wanted to be just like her.
I helped my boss establish an office in a beautiful high-rise building. We bought expensive furniture and stocked the kitchen with free drinks and snacks. Every day I wore a suit (a big deal to me in the 80’s). I unlocked the office and managed her clients and office work while she traveled all over the United States. We got along well, and I did a good job of assisting her. My skills were soon recognized in our other offices and I was promoted to a junior consultant. I began to earn my keep by learning to develop billable hours for a portion of my time.
When I was invited to travel a bit and support another consultant on the team, things started to shift. I soon found that the more others wanted my help, the more critical she became of my work. I responded by ramping up my efforts, determined to please her and prove my worth. I tried harder and harder, but things got more and more tense. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but I knew one of us had shifted.
Then one day, I made a huge mistake. I faxed (don’t laugh – it was the latest in high tech communication) a private piece of correspondence to the wrong client. That client was a competitor of another one of our clients.
Within an hour, I got a phone call from my boss asking questions that were difficult. My mistake was revealed, and I was duly embarrassed. I apologized fervently, but I did not realize how significant my error was until the president of the company called me from the home office to let me know the ramifications.
Although I didn’t lose my job that day, I did lose the support of my boss. She no longer trusted me, and within a short amount of time, I didn’t trust her either. She bore the embarrassment and consequences with the clients. As a result, she ultimately lost faith in me. I felt so ashamed and unsafe that within about six weeks I chose to quit the dream job. I left the company humiliated and burned. I blamed her. Thirty years later I can assure you it was not her fault, but I can also tell you she extended me no grace.
In my anger, I declared I would never make such a stupid mistake again. This became an impossible inner vow to keep. It led to many disappointments over the years because, of course, I made many more mistakes.
Sometimes I look back on that moment and I still feel the sting of embarrassment and my sadness at the loss of the job. However, what actually stuck with me for years were the inner vows I had made: “It’s not okay to make mistakes;” “Don’t count on others when the going gets rough;” and “Don’t trust women.” These lies, along with my already firmly rooted people pleasing patterns set me steadfastly on a path of self-sufficiency and fear of people.
Over the years I became just like that executive woman who had been my boss. I led well but withheld full trust and support. If someone began to excel, I would feel threatened. If they made a major mistake, I took responsibility, tried to correct it and harbored resentment toward them. I simply did not extend grace to others or to myself. I was harsh in my judgments and foolish in my thinking.
Looking back, I now realize that I thought my former boss owed me something more. I had worked hard to prove myself worthy, and I didn’t think one mistake should be so costly. I did not understand that people do not owe me anything. If you work and get a paycheck, it’s called a wage. That is all that is owed to you. Loyalty, favor, patience or even a promotion are not something to be expected or demanded. By their very nature they can only be given to you as gifts of grace.
I wonder what giving and receiving grace would have looked like in that situation. It certainly wouldn’t have meant that there were not consequences, for I surely needed accountability, additional training, closer supervision or even a period of probation. But what if that process had bent me toward an experience of grace? What if I had been forgiven? What if I had been given a chance to apologize to our customer? What if I had been coached in moving forward? What if I had survived it?
It’s probably no surprise to you that people do not flourish in harsh, frightening or abusive situations. They don’t respond well to know-it-alls or bullies. They leave leaders and organizations who are selfish, and they crumble under constant criticism and ungracious treatment.
On the other hand, people do grow in safe, kind and encouraging environments. They thrive when treated with graceful words or deeds. They flourish alongside a forerunner who speaks with wisdom and leads with grace.
If you have experienced significant kindness or nurture, your personal leadership bent will be toward giving grace to others. If you have experienced pain, failure or even rejection at the hands of a leader or a lover, your bent will lean toward rules, regulations, control and management.
PEOPLE DO NOT flourish IN HARSH, FRIGHTENING, OR ABUSIVE situations.
No matter what your bent, I want to help bend you toward Christ and His example so that you can see and experience everything in your life through the lens of grace. Why grace? Because I believe that grace is a powerful gift from God. Grace arrives in our lives in the form of strength or courage or kindness or care. It is the doorway to salvation and the road upon which our discipleship journey is laid. Yes, it is undeserved favor—a free gift to every believer in Jesus Christ. But more than that, grace is power. It is a divine enablement that produces an anointing in your life. It makes you powerful when you are weak and able to heal when you’ve been wounded. It makes you influential in the lives of others. It empowers you to lead people with the grace you’ve been given.
What comes to mind when you think of being a leader? Do you imagine yourself as the captain of your own fate? Do you see yourself standing in front of others, giving a charge? Or maybe you imagine yourself hiding on the back row, looking at your feet and hoping no one calls your name. Some of us are eager to be handed the reigns of leadership while others fear the responsibility. Both of those perspectives are extremes.
I am one of those eager for the reigns. I have always dreamed of leading. I can’t quite explain it. Since I was a little girl, I have had confidence in myself that I would know what to do in a situation if people would just listen and obey. As you can imagine, my leadership journey has had a few bumps and bruises along the way due to such a prideful heart. Over the years, I have had to evaluate why I want to lead and consider how I can do it more effectively.
A part of that process has been my discovery and following of some mentors who have substantially impacted my thinking, experience and expression of leadership. God has been so faithful to introduce me to these leaders at critical moments in my journey. With the advantage of hindsight, I can see how God brings people into our lives who are meant to impart gifts, share vision and challenge us to be brave.
In the very early days of my call to serve as a women’s leader in my local church, I came across a unique voice that seemed to understand the secret desires, concerns and weaknesses of my heart. Holly Wagner was an emerging force among Christian women leaders. She was already known for her leadership within Oasis Church, a diverse and thriving Christian community in the heart of Los Angeles that she co-founded and co-pastored with her husband, Phillip. She also had a recognized and growing ministry to women called God Chicks. Today Holly is a prolific author having written many books. She preaches at conferences around the world and ministers to her community of women called She Rises. I don’t remember how I first became aware of Holly, but I can remember with great clarity how her life and message impacted my journey.
When I read Holly’s book, God Chicks: Living Life as a 21st Century Woman, I knew I had found someone who “got me.” In my tiny little church in Abilene, Texas I often felt so strange and insecure. I had big passion and big dreams. In fact, they were so big that I was a little ashamed of my zeal and very intimidated by the concern that I might violate a spiritual boundary of leadership just because of my gender. Holly was powerful and deeply rooted in the Word of God. She was confident, but not arrogant. Beautiful, but not prissy. Empowering, but never condescending. I wanted to know so much more.
Holly mentored me for years from a distance, completely unaware of my existence. Both her teaching and her writing influenced me. I embraced the wisdom found in her books entitled: Warrior Chicks: Rising Strong When Life Wants to Take You Down; Love Works: Develop Healthy Relationships in a “Love Broken” World; and her most recent release, Find Your Brave: Courage to Stand Strong When the Waves Crash In. These messages changed my perspective and grew my Biblical foundation for service and leadership. She made me feel like I was a part of this community of women and that God found me trustworthy. I began to grow in confidence and in calling.
It was in this transition from a small beginning that I could see how God used my season there to prepare me for the greater responsibility to come. It is so important to not despise those small beginnings and to trust God as you grow in your leadership. Trusting Him to use every bit of everything He instills in you is part of what makes this faith-filled life so incredible.
It was during the course of this growth, that I transitioned from serving as a volunteer lay women’s pastor in a congregation of about 250 people in West Texas to supernaturally becoming a part of the women’s ministry team in a congregation of about 6,000 members at that time. In joining Gateway Church, located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I found myself right in the center of a community of women who were in love with Jesus, empowered to minister and full of huge vision. My heart was on fire, and I knew I had found a home. A church. A community where I could connect and grow.
While my responsibilities and influence were small, I was invited to contribute to the work of the ministry. As I served, I naturally became a part of the team who worked on Gateway’s women’s conference entitled Pink Impact. As a result, I was introduced to other influential female voices including Christine Caine, Priscilla Shirer, Charlotte Gambill, Lisa Bevere and so many more. It would be a few years, but eventually Holly Wagner was invited to the Pink Impact platform.
When I finally met Holly, I remember being attracted to her lack of insecurity, her ability to preach and to teach. Most of all, it was her passion to raise up other women leaders, especially those who were called to pastor within churches and para ministries. I also remember that, although my position was insignificant, Holly took the time to connect with me. She didn’t say or do anything extraordinary. She simply honored me with her friendship.
I didn’t just want you to know Holly through my eyes. I wanted you to hear from her directly. So I asked her to share her heart on grace-giving leadership.
Leadership is something that has always been a part of my personality from childhood. I was always that child who got people to follow me. That doesn’t always mean I led others the right way. In fact, I think it led a few right into trouble! But things seemed to work themselves out as I got older and I took on leadership of youth groups in high school.
After moving to California, I met my Phillip. We fell in love and married. At the time, I was acting, and he was in ministry. Being honest, I wasn’t sure what leadership in ministry looked like. It started with serving in the church and helping where it was needed, but with my leadership gifting it soon turned into leading a team of greeters, or people in children’s ministry. Whatever door opened, wherever the need was, I served.
Great leadership includes grace. As a leader, I needed to extend grace to people no matter where they were in their own journey. I needed to recognize that others had the potential to lead and should be leading. For me, leadership happened in what seemed to be a very natural progression, but that’s not the case for everyone.
After reading Titus chapter two this one time, it jumped off the page at me that I had a responsibility as an older woman to bring in the next generation. Ministry at the time though seemed to be heavier, spiritually speaking, and we were losing the younger generation. I needed to change the way I communicated. I wanted to teach truth and have Holy Spirit moments, but also have fun! And that became the model for God Chicks which has now become She Rises.
It started as a quarterly gathering at my church, and then it grew to a conference for women from all over. I felt such a responsibility for these women, but especially for the 20 women pastors who had come to that first conference. Spontaneously, I asked them all to lunch which we had in our nursery because it was the only room with chairs! And that was the beginning of She Leads. It was the moment I realized I could help speak into leaders.
As I taught these leaders, I wanted to affirm women pastors that this was not about having conferences. Leading women was about reaching others, lifting them up and inspiring them. It’s about extending grace and leading from right where you are. It’s about sharing the pitfalls of comparison and affirming women in their own gifts and talents to give to others what they have. It’s passing the baton and realizing that every leader has their part to fulfill and not being afraid to let go and release them to begin leading others also.
Grace-filled leadership is remembering that this leadership journey is about fruitfulness. It’s about the parable of the talents and growing what’s been given to us, what’s in our hand. And as we grow what’s in our hand, we can help others grow what’s in theirs.
Holly has mentored me through all kinds of seasons and challenges, and most of the time, she was probably unaware I was following her. She is a breast cancer survivor. She was one of the first women to reach out to me when she heard about my diagnosis, and she has shown me how to walk well in the face of adversity. I have learned to keep my focus and leadership on God’s promises and not my weakness. That is why I reached out and asked her to write the foreword of this book. She is a forerunner of graceful leadership, and her endorsement means so much to me.
What drew me to Holly was that, like me, she too was always eager to be a leader. But not all leaders are like Holly and me. Some leaders are more like Esther—reluctant to lead but obedient when called to do so. What I discovered as I began working under the leadership and discipleship of Pastor Debbie Morris, was how much I could learn from a woman who described herself as a reluctant leader.
Pastor Debbie is a dear friend and precious gift to me. Our journey began in the midst of a tumultuous season of transition for her at Gateway Church. I had been hired by an interim leader, and when Debbie returned to the leadership position, she really had no reason to keep me on her team. Not only did she not know me, but I was radically different and immature in my spiritual journey. It was a miracle of grace that she gave me a chance to grow and learn while serving with her. She trusted me when she had no evidence that I was trustworthy. She immediately began to lead me toward a kinder, more tender and grace-filled expression of leadership.
I can share with you that the first person who taught me about grace or being a grace-giving leader is Pastor Debbie Morris. I still have my notes from a message she taught entitled “Leading With Grace.” She defined leadership as a responsibility of stewardship and a requirement to be faithful with whatever influence God gives to you. This thrust toward Christlikeness was inspiring to me. Despite the tremendous influence that she carries, she is a servant rather than a celebrity. She lives a life of self-sacrifice and love for others. So many times, I watched her trust God with impossible circumstances, challenges and people. She has always been devoted to unity and generously shares with others the blessing that comes as a result. If Pastor Robert Morris’ life message is generosity, I like to think Pastor Debbie’s message is grace.
I had the great privilege of working directly with Debbie for about eight years. I never found her to deviate from this pattern of leadership. Debbie had quite a challenge in leading me. I needed to be seeded with humility, patience and trust. She had to uproot insecurity and mistrust within me. She taught me how to care about people over projects and how to trust leadership even when I didn’t understand a decision or a boundary. And when the time came for me to transition to a new responsibility, she blessed me, released me, and sent me out with both gifts and grace. She is still my pastor today, and I am humbled to be her friend and follower. One of the highlights of my years with Pastor Debbie was during the season she was writing her book, The Blessed Woman: Learning About Grace from the Women of the Bible. Not only did I learn so much more about her journey, but also I gained an understanding of the importance of the women of the Bible. I discovered that Esther, Mary, Hannah, Miriam, Deborah and Naomi should and could be mentors and guides for my own journey. If you want to know the heart of this gentle leader, you will find it on the pages of her book.
Although Pastor Debbie might not choose the public leadership responsibilities she holds, her impact is huge because she trusts God more than herself and embraces whatever assignment she is given with wisdom, love and grace. She understands what it took me years to grasp which is that leaders are servants—not bosses.
I’m not the only one who has been impacted by grace-giving leaders like Pastor Debbie and Holly Wagner. My friend, Amber Colberg, has become a grace-giving leader by embracing her personal passion to help others align with God’s purpose for them and their life. Using her prophetic gifts, she founded an online business named Prayerful Signs where she designs a line of custom products that utilize acrostic poetry and prayer to speak truth and encouragement into the hearts of others. You might have noticed her work at the end of the Introduction, where I shared her inspirational acrostic design for “grace.” Here’s what Amber has to say about her experience with grace-giving leaders.
I remember the grace-giving leaders that God lovingly placed in my life on more than one occasion. In a season when I felt overwhelmed by hardship and pain, I found myself searching for God’s outstretched hand to carry me through. I was so uncertain, and I had so many questions. The grace-giving leaders in my life recognized my pain, prayed with me and for me, encouraged me in my position in Christ, and offered tangible grace to me. Being a grace-giving leader goes beyond what we can see. For me, it was about the leaders extending that outstretched hand I was searching for, and I experienced the immense love and grace of God through them.
I love that Amber was propelled forward through a difficult transition by reaching out and trusting other leaders to speak into her life. Today she passes that blessing along. But you don’t need to start a business or a ministry to demonstrate grace-giving leadership.
Next, please notice how new mom and friend, Jacquelyn Beckworth, shares how she intentionally invites others into her world to connect and disciple them.
I try to be available. In this season of life, I’m a first-time momma and my time and energy pretty much all go into my family. I still try to make myself available. I invite girls over to our house and chat with them on the couch while Liam plays on the floor. My husband and I look at the calendar for the week and intentionally set aside discipleship time for both of us to invest in others. Whatever season I’m in, I try to be available and welcome others in.
There are two female pastors that I have worked with who have had the most influence in my leadership journey. These women invited me into their lives. This was huge for me. I’ve heard it said before that mentorship says, ‘take me to coffee’ while discipleship says, ‘take me with you.’ Because they opened their lives to me, I have been deeply discipled. I am so grateful.
Jacquelyn reminds me that we can be grace-giving in every season of our life. Ever since I’ve known her, she’s had a heart to encourage other young women.
Rhonda Love is a new friend from the past few years whom I divinely connected with when we crossed paths. She just retired from 40 years in human resources, and served 14 years on staff at her local church. Rhonda’s presence is powerful, bringing peace and confidence into every conversation. She’s also passionate about discipleship and prayer. Even though she’s retired, she’s not finished. As she looks forward to the next season of leadership, I asked her to share about who mentored her.
It began when I signed up to volunteer as an altar worker at church. Although I knew I had the desire and passion to pray for others, the group leader saw something more in me that I had no idea was there. I knew nothing about effective intercessory prayer. She took me under her wing, led me to the Bible, taught me how to study the word of God, and how to pray His Word over others. She poured herself into me even investing resources—a Bible and a devotional to help me become consistent. Sitting with her, opening the Word and praying together changed my life. Today, I still have both books and refer to them often.
As she began to have some health challenges, she asked me to take over the Sunday morning prayer team. I was shocked. There were others I felt were more qualified, but she said, “God qualifies the called.” And she was sure I was ready! As one of her sweetest gifts to me and one of her last prayer assignments, she met with our women’s ministry pastor. They invited me to take over her position as Prayer Team Leader for all of our women’s events and conferences. This woman, led by grace, prepared me for one of the most important responsibilities of my life. She showed me how to live with Jesus at my center and how to always point others to Him and His Word.
Sometimes grace-giving includes correction, redirection and greater discipleship. Kerrie Oles was able to humbly receive counsel and change course because she and her mentor have a deep and abiding relationship. Kerrie is an author, inspirational Bible teacher and founder of Unlocked Ministries and The Best You podcast. She passionately serves as an evangelist and teacher to a growing community of women who have experienced significant pain or trauma in their lives leading them to health and wholeness. We’ve spiritually grown up together, having started out in ministry around the same time, and we have encouraged one another all along the way. Kerrie recently shared the following with me:
I remember thinking that our ministry was ready for an “office space,” so we went forward with a plan and signed a one-year lease. I never asked my mentor for her advice in advance, but when we entered a financially challenging season, I went to her for counsel. When she found out we were struggling, she confidently and with such grace said, “I feel like your office space is draining important funds that could be put to better use.”
I resisted her counsel because I didn’t want to relinquish the space. I felt like it made us seem more of a legitimate functioning ministry. She waited until we were together in private to ask me about the reasons I desired the office space. That day she was able to help me see that if the ministry was designed to really help and heal others, then the public’s perceptions were not something I should be concerned with. We gave up the office space shortly after that. It was the best decision. Otherwise I feel sure we would have had to close the ministry. By doing so, our ministry began to thrive because we were able to give more to people. By listening to loving correction from my mentor, something that could have been a stumbling block for our future was privately and graciously addressed.
With all that’s going on in the world today, I continue to be so thankful for her guidance. Because of her grace-filled counsel, I now look through the same lens as “the office space” experience with every decision I make. I now seek counsel, consider my options and pray. I’ve become a much wiser decision maker and a better leader.
The investment you make in others and the wisdom you share can not only propel someone along in their journey, but can also rescue them from danger, missteps or threats while equipping them to become more effective leaders.
Whether you are the “raise your hand first” person or the “oh no, not me” person, you are needed as a leader. Whether you feel weak or strong, courageous or fearful, certain or insecure, God can and will invite you into relationships that are ripe for His grace. God has spotted you and he is undeterred by your concerns. He’s called you out. You can trust God. Even when man fails, God will not. Remember this verse:
BUT HE SAID TO ME, “MY grace
IS sufficient FOR YOU,
FOR MY power IS MADE perfect IN weakness.” THEREFORE, I WILL BOAST ALL THE MORE gladly ABOUT MY WEAKNESSES, SO THAT CHRIST’S power MAY rest ON ME.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:9