What Pastors Should Know About the Women They Shepherd

I had a chance to sit down with Michael Crawford, the state director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. He asked me what pastors should know about the women they shepherd. Here is a snippet of what I shared.

I really want to encourage pastors to know that women actually want to learn. We want to know theology well. We want to study it. We want to be invested in our own path of growing in our own faith and making that not just a matter of doing a woman’s Bible study, there are great women’s Bible studies out there, but include us in just the general teaching and training that you would for men because there really is no gender difference when it comes to learning solid, deep theology. 

Click HERE to listen to the full the podcast.

When You Don’t Know What To Do

There have been times in my life where I have felt overwhelmed by what I was facing. The circumstance or situation felt too big or too difficult and I really had no idea what to do. My guess is that I am not the only one who has felt that way.

We face things in this life that lead us to that hopeless place where we cannot see a way through. Life can be that hard.

Let me tell you what has transformed my heart and given me hope in the midst of those “I don’t know what to do!” times of life. Take a listen to this ten minute podcast as I share what has helped me. I hope and pray it will encourage you when you find yourself in that place.

Let’s Parent on Purpose with Jay Holland

Recently I had the privilege to be invited to speak with Pastor Jay Holland of Covenant Fellowship Church about parenting teens. Jay seeks to provide parents with resources and direction on topics relevant to raising kids in today’s culture.

In our time on the podcast we were able to discuss the contents of my book Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World. We explored the reality that at this stage of parenting, our kids need us more than ever. Our roles do change but we are needed in their lives.

Raising teens can be a wearisome season for parents. That is why we wanted to take some time to bring encouragement and help on the very challenging subject that all teens face. How to best parent in a world bombarded with sex is no easy task but it is not impossible. Trusting the Lord to help you be as prepared as possible will give you the courage to face some of the most challenging conversations.

It was our hope that this podcast be useful as you continue to faithfully parent your children. Take a listen!

3 Deceptions of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to expose. People who have been victimized have said they wished their abuser would have actually hit them because then they would have evidence of the painful injuries they’ve endured. Emotional abuse is hard to see, and one who emotionally abuses is equally shadowy.

It is hard for friends, family, counselors, or pastors to spot emotional abuse. Often, the one being abused does not fully see it either. Often, it is not until distance from the abuser has been made that clarity begins to come. However, even then, others may not see the abuse and the victim can end up taking the blame for the relational challenges faced. This reality is a terrible tragedy and doubles the pain of the abused. It can keep them trapped in the cycle of abuse and sadly they too can become convinced they are to blame.

To be better helpers, we must be aware of the deceitful yet all-to-common characteristics of a person who is abusing someone emotionally. So what are some of the characteristic one should be aware of regarding emotional abusers.

LIKEABLE

You will like the abuser. They are winsome and engaging. They can carry a conversation well and are often willing to serve and listen to other people. They seem to share their life with others and want to be a part of the faith community and church life.

You have engaged an abuser and walked away from the conversation thinking what a great person they are. You have been fooled. This is not to say that every likable person is an abuser but very often, a person who emotionally abuses others will be likable to those they are not abusing.

REMORSEFUL

When an abuser is exposed they are remorseful. They cannot always keep their likable persona on full display. When something happens that reveals a surprisingly attacking response, an outburst of viscous anger, or a hurtful interaction, the abuser will be initially remorseful. Exposure is a major threat to the abusers control and remorse is a means to gain back that control.

Christians are especially vulnerable to this response and will often give greater support to the abuser than the abused when this is seen. Accepting the abusers sorrow can actually ensure abuse will happen again. Instead we must hold the remorse with caution and allow time (a lot of time) to sow the true fruit of repentance.

BELIEVEABLE

This is where things get really tricky. An emotionally abusive person is believable. They have mastered the art of deception. The deception starts with themselves, and they have been deceiving themselves and others for a long time. They are convinced they are not the problem and they do an excellent job convincing others of this as well. Their deception has already done its work on the abused causing confused judgement of what are right and wrong behaviors. The abused quickly lose their voice and so rarely defend their stance against the abuser.

If you work with couples there is a chance you too have believed an abuser. It is not because you lack discernment, but because they are incredibly believable. However, this characteristic keeps abusers with full power over those they abuse and those who could help the abused. It is a dangerous trait.

What can you do?

Learn

Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to detect. It changes a person in ways that keep the cycle of abuse spinning smoothly. One of the most important things you can do is get educated. Learn about the signs and effects of emotional abuse. Resources such as Peaceworks University and the upcoming Church Cares curriculum are helpful. Read books about emotional abuse. Diane Langberg and Leslie Vernick have done extensive work on this topic. However, one way we can bring better understanding is to simply talk to those who have come out of emotional abusive relationships.

Listen

One of the most important things you can do is to listen. When you see the couple together listen for how they interact. If one dominates the conversations continually, take note. If one usually gets the blame for things that have gone wrong, be aware. If one has greater ability to articulate both their feelings and the feelings of their spouse, clue in.

The other thing you want to do is listen to the weaker partner. If the above characteristics are happening, separate the two in your counseling. Give plenty of space to the less articulate partner. Create a safe place to allow them to share how they have felt in situations that have come up. Explore the potential of emotional abuse, even if you are not completely sure. The abused will rarely know they are being abused until someone from the outside helps them to see it. Once someone points it out they begin to see and may say something. If they say something, believe them. Consider doing an assessment to explore emotional abuse. You can find one here.

Without understanding these things you can unknowingly help the abuser. You can be deceived yourself and cause life-long harm. The church needs to be a place that those who have been emotionally abused are believed. Sadly, because of the aforementioned characteristics, the church can end up being a tool the abuser uses to keep control of the relationship and fortify the idea of the abused as being the main source of the problems in the relationship. This has sadly kept many abused people in toxic situations causing damage to the deepest places of their lives, including their faith.

Let us be committed to being advocates for the vulnerable and give a voice to those who have been painfully shaped by emotional abuse.

What is a Biblical Counselor?

What is biblical counseling? That question has been asked, defined, debated, and reconsidered many times. The mere fact that the question continues to be asked speaks to the reality that words are not easily contained within the constructs we give them. They are often more fluid that we prefer, with adjectives being the most frequent to shape-shift. Biblical counseling has not been something that easily fits into one definition as evidenced in the alphabet soup of acronyms that identify the various equipping ministries and models.

In seeking to answering the question, “What is biblical counseling?”, looking at modality or method of care is not sufficient. Why? Because the application of the model or method allows for a significant amount of subjectivity. For example, if we say biblical counseling must be rooted in Scripture, promoting sanctification, or grounded in love, fleshing out what that looks like will be unique to the circumstance and people in the room. I do believe these descriptions are useful and helpful. However, there is a far better way to answer “What is biblical counseling?”

Seeking to sketch out what biblical counseling is must start with the counselors themselves rather than the modality. Biblical counseling will not happen unless there is a biblical counselor. Am I saying that if the person doing the counseling is a Christian they are automatically a biblical counselor? No. If that were the case, then I would have to call my lawyer friend a biblical lawyer because she is a Christian who practices law. We don’t call the nurse who is a Christian a biblical nurse, a professor who is a Christian a biblical professor, or a waiter who is a Christian a biblical waiter.

Defining biblical counseling should be directly tied to the counselor. Biblical counseling will mean the counselor is a Christian, but it will mean more than that. The letters after their name or the acronym of modality they follow do tell us something. They give hints of the emphasis that will flavor the counseling process. They point to who has influenced or mentored the counselor. They give credibility to equipping that has taken place. However the litmus test to defining biblical counseling ought to go beyond these things. Defining biblical counseling must describe the counselor.

Is the counselor anchored to the Word? Are they attune to the Holy Spirit and yielded to the Father? Do they live with biblical perspective? Has their own life been one of humble alignment to the Scripture? Is their commitment in counseling an avenue to love God and others? Have they been open to correction or receptive to their views being challenged? Can they discerningly engage resources, tools, methods of care in a way that aligns with Scripture?

These questions are key if we are seeking to answer what is biblical counseling. Biblical counseling is something done by a biblical counsleor.

So in essence the question we should be asking is “What is a biblical counselor?” When we start there we are in a better place to confirm whether something is biblical counseling or not. The methods may vary but confirmations must be found in the the life of the one bringing care. Asking the question, “What is a biblical counselor?” leads us to explore what essential qualities a counselor must possess in order to determine whether or not what is happening is “biblical counseling”.

This focus emphasizes the counselor rather than the method or approach. With specific qualities affirmed in their life, the biblical counselor will be able to look at every practice, method, resource, training, skill, tool, description, and prescription discerningly, and determine how to engage, adapt, or, if needed, refute it. They will love and care for people as they have been loved and cared for by Jesus. They will walk with others, beggar to beggar, yet with confidence in where to find bread. What is a biblical counselor? This is the questions to be asked. Answering happens by looking at the person’s life.

I rub shoulders with many amazing biblical counselors and there are times when I walk away from a conversation with them and say to myself, “That is someone who I would go see when I need counseling.” What makes me say that is not their degree, certificate, or license, but their life. They model, often without even knowing it, a life captivated by Jesus, a heart compassionate toward others, and a wisdom drawn from a dependence on the Scripture. “What is a biblical counselor?”, may we strive for living a life that answers this question well.

Three imperative topics parents must discuss with their kids regarding phones.

Since writing Raising Kids in a Screen-saturated World, I have had many conversations with parents about issues with children and smartphones. The conversations often include a level of regret from parents. They wish they would have been more proactive in what having a phone would look like for their child. In these conversations, three topics surface with regularity.

These imperative topics I call the 3Cs. They are Confidentiality, Conditions, and Costs.

Parents can avoid regret and conflict by addressing these topics early. The best plan is to have these talks before you give your child their own smartphone. However, if you have already given your child a smartphone, don’t worry! You will find help here, it is never too late to have these conversation. In fact they may be more necessary now than ever before.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality is a big issue. For our purposes, confidentiality is about privacy and hiding, both of which can lead to unhelpful and even dangerous realities for your child. So parents must talk about it.

Establish first that privacy is a thing of the past. Children must understand that their activity on a device, including a password protected smartphone, is not private. Your child’s activity on their phone is discoverable and recoverable.

The conversation about confidentiality should include a discussion about privacy and hiding. The scope of your parenting includes your child’s personal activity with their smartphones. Access to your child’s phones is a parental responsibility. Establish ways you will engage with them and their phones that is reasonable and respectful.

Teach them what wise interaction looks like with social media, texting, browsing, and app use. Help them understand the weight of sending something that can never be unsent. Instill in their thinking that even though they may feel a certain level of privacy it is a a penetrable illusion. Walk with them in understanding that hiding is a dangerous path.

Conditions

This conversation is about limits and boundaries. The conversation about conditions answers questions regarding with whom your child gives their number. What social media apps will they use? Where will the phone be kept when not in use? Are there times or places that will be “no phone zones”? Should they have data limits? What will those limits be?

Parents and kids have expectations regarding conditions so it is best to have the conversation right away. This will set the course and help to avoid conflict that regularly arises on this issue. Remember you are the parent and this is a topic where your children need your guidance, even if they push back against it.

Parents must set the stage for what the conditions will look like. If your child really wants a social media app, and you feel it is reasonable, explore it with them. Engage it with them. Your involvement should be a regular condition to them having a phone. Your involvement should be positive as well. If your engagement only comes in the form of punishment or consequences, you are paving a path of resistance.

Costs

What are the expenses and how will your child be a part of them? Most kids will be added to their parent’s phone plan. It will be the most affordable option for everyone. However, just because they are being added to your plan doesn’t mean your child has no responsibility.

Getting a phone is a long-term decision. I have rarely heard of a kids who, after getting a smartphone, willingly reverts back to a cheaper non-data flip phone or no phone at all. So have a conversation about costs right from the start. This conversation helps you child avoid a sense of entitlement and allows them to view a phone as a privilege.

I encourage parents to give their children some skin in the game. Discussions about costs should be age and resource appropriate. If you have given your child a phone as a gift, discuss how and when they will begin contributing to the monthly cost. If you plan on paying for their full phone bill, talk about when that will change. Parents who have not had that conversation will often find that they are still paying for their son or daughter’s phone bill even after they have launched on their own.

Continuing the Conversations

Giving your child a smartphone opens up uncharted territory for most parents. If you have read this article you may have more questions on how to better engage your child regarding wise cellphone use. Maybe you haven’t given your child a phone and are wondering what is the appropriate right-of-passage age. Maybe you have concerns about guarding them from concerning issues like sexting or bullying. Or perhaps you want to learn more about how to wisely walk with them in this world where everyone carries a mini computer in their pocket.

These and other questions are answered in Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. It provides age appropriate questions to engage conversations with your child. You will also find plenty of other resources in the “for further reading” portion at the conclusion of the book. Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World is available from 10ofThose.com.

Lessons from a Challenge

Last month I shared some pictures on my Instagram story that got people asking me questions. The pictures were from an experiment I did for 90 days.

If you know me, you know I like challenges. I have done food challenges, where I abstain from certain foods for 30 days. I’ve tried fitness challenges that had me hiking miles and miles of trails and terrains. Month-long reading challenges and screen fasts I did made for interesting evenings and new habits. Challenges are ways I learn about myself, and this last one was no exception. It was a clothing challenge.

Let me share what I learned form this challenge and perhaps, in the future, take you along on my future challenges. (I am currently in the middle of a challenge that has me learning a new language. Check out the Duolingo app.)

But first, here’s how this particular challenge came my way.

One evening my oldest son encouraged me to watch a documentary he said he had watched three times. The thing about having older kids is they do know you well, so when he said I would like it- I watched.

The show, The Minimalists, is a documentary about two guys who sought to live more meaningful lives with less. It is full of interesting ideas about multi-utilization, tiny living, and prioritizing. One concept shared had to do with clothing. I don’t need to quote stats to convince anyone that people own a ton of clothes. Instead,take a glance at the next clothing donation drop-off and notice how it cascades with our clothing rejects. Americans clearly have plenty to wear.

The clothing challenge came from something highlighted in the film. It is called Project 333. The goal is to wear only 33 items of clothing for 3 months. A major closet clean out!

I didn’t do the project exactly as described, but I did reduce my clothing to just over 40 items and stuck with it for 90 days. For me that was a challenge! There may have even been a few moments of grief, especially when I started eliminating the shoes! But I did it. And after 90 days, here is what I learned.

  • It is much easier with less.
  • Nobody notices.
  • I saved time and money.
  • Quality matters.
  • I have more than I need.
  • I focused on appearance more than I realize.

I could go into detail on each of these points but I actually think it is better, and in the spirit of minimalism, to simply share what I learned and let you to fill in the blanks.

Did I miss some things? Absolutely! Options are not always bad. If I were to ever live as a minimalist, I would likely fail due to my love of shoes alone. There was much I realized I could live without, and living without it was actually more valuable than having it.

This experience affirmed why I do challenges in the first place. I grow when I break out of the familiar routines of life. Every challenge is a learning experience. When I step into what is hard, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar I become more open to ways I need to change. That is a lesson always worth learning.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. -Mahatma Gandhi

When Counselors Disagree

Have you ever disagreed with someone’s counsel or counseling approach? Have you ever disagreed with someone else’s approach to care? Counseling is about caring for others in the discord of life. As counselors, we transact with dissonance. When someone disagrees with your counsel, or you disagree with theirs, you find yourself in that dissonance.

What to do with concerning counsel

Perhaps you have had situations where people share “biblical counseling” they have received that raises an eyebrow of concern. What should you do?

When this happens, try and keep in mind that what you are receiving is the person’s recollection and interpretation of what they heard their counselor say. Also keep in mind that most likely, the Christian counselor is seeking to care. Despite what might sound like concerning counsel, presume they meant well, are trying to honor God, and want the best for those with whom they are counseling.

Your own counsel could raise concern when shared in sound bites or through the interpretive grid of another. What do you do when someone disagrees with your direction of care? With your methodology? With your application of ministry? How you respond is your counsel in practice.

Truth and Love

Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” This quote by Warren Wiersbe captures the essence of why we must approach difficult conversations with both truth and love. It is important to take time to look closely at what it means to hold both truth and love in balance. We don’t want to be bristly or harsh but we also don’t want to be solely sentimental or people-pleasing. Jesus balanced these perfectly. In his interactions with people he was a champion of truth and, at the same time, he was a loving friend of sinners.

In his book, Speaking Truth in Love, David Powlison shares a story where this occurred in his own life. Below are words someone shared with David at a significant time in his life.

“’I love and respect you as a person, and I want what is good for you. But you are destroying yourself with what you believe and how you are living.’ Those were precisely the words that changed my life (says Powlison). The cruise missile of wise love blew apart the bunker of self-will in which I lived. My friend’s words were not a product of technique. They were artless. But they had four things going for them. They were true, loving, personal, and appropriate.”

There is significant wisdom for us in this excerpt, but I want to highlight three words easily missed. “My friend’s words.” These three words are so important to how we interact with colleagues or anyone with whom we disagree. It is the phrase that brings the needed balance. “My friend”- speaks of investment, of knowing, of commitment, of love. “Words” mean that there is active and engaging truth shared.

There were not just words, there was friendship– loving friendship. There was not just friendship, there were words– true words. This is a picture of truth and love.

When counselors disagree are we equally committed to being a loving friend as much as garrisoning truth?

United on essentials while valuing differences

When working with married couples in conflict I often share a bit of wisdom that was once shared with me. “If  two people in a marriage are exactly alike, then one is no longer needed.” This phrase has served me in my own marriage when my husband and I disagree. We both have strong opinions about a lot of things. Despite the declaration in our dating years that “we have so much in common,” we often see things quite differently. Many of these differences are in the application of issues on which we actually agree. We are united in essentials, yet varied in practicals.

What if my goal is to get my husband to be just like me, or vise versa? If either of us succeed then it would mean that one of us is no longer needed. But I need him. And he needs me. Without him, our children would have painted our hardwood floors to satisfy their budding artistic expression, without me our home would likely be managed by spreadsheets and run like well oiled machine. Each of us may feel differently about which of those ideas would actually be a good thing, but we need each other.

We need our unity on the foundation of love we want our home built upon, and we need our differences in how life plays out practically. Our marriage needs my grey and his black and white. I am the bend in his straight path and he is the guard rail that keeps me from falling off the cliff. We are different and necessary. When counselors disagree yet remember the unity of essentials we share, it is then that we are open to the value and helpfulness of our differences.

Can you see value in the different approach of counsel you are hearing? Can you help others see this value? Where does it bring balance? Where might it bring creativity to care? What might you learn from their different approach? Are you open to have loving conversation with a colleague that differs with your model or method of care?

As biblical counselors (or anyone giving counsel, advice, or care), we must be committed to speaking the truth in love and not compromise on either. We hold on to the fact that the Gospel is the most unifying element for all of us. We cling to the Scripture to lead us as we care. In that unity we seek out the value in our differences believing that the Lord actually uses are differences as well as our similarities.

How to prepare to counsel someone.

Walking with someone in their struggle is not easy. If you are in the role of counselor, mentor, or friend and are asked to speak into someone’s life what can you do to prepare for those conversations?

Recently I was invited to speak at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation’s national conference on this very topic.  I spent time looking at what the most important things you can focus on as a biblical counselor.  In this talk I covered the following:

  • Why Prepare?
    • We are ministering the word and it deserves appropriate handling.
    • We are ministering to people and they deserve appropriate handling.
  • Why we don’t prepare?
    • We don’t fully realize our need.
    • We don’t fully realize our call.
    • We are busy, distracted people.
    • We have been successful without it.
  • What does preparation look like?
    • Focused time in the Word.
    • Looking at who God is.
    • Looking at who you are.
    • Prayer.

So much of our time in preparation might look very different than we think. In my talk I bring to light vital things that keep us ready to care for people. These are things that bring hope to us as caregivers as well as to those we care for. The teaching audio is available along with many other helpful messages at CCEF.org

Meditation- An Exercise for Christians

Mention the word meditation and you will get differing understandings of what you are talking about. To say it in a conversation with a millennial may get you on the topic of eastern religious practices. To talk of it in a conversation with a yogi or health coach you might find discussions of inner peace and unity.  To mention it in Christian circles could get a variety of responses from a questioning raised eyebrow to a affirming nod or “amen”.

As mentioned in my previous post about mindfulness, our culture has a heightened value on wellness that gives comprehensive and integrated attention to more than just physical well being. The understanding that our bodies are only a portion of our total health actually fits well with Scripture. Consider 3 John 1:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for example. We also know that a well-bodied person may be spiritually sick just as much as a person whose physical body is failing can be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally well.

Meditation is a part of holistic health and should be something every believer gives attention to. But just like mindfulness we must be clear as to what we are talking about.

Meditation is thinking. When a person meditates they are focusing their thoughts on a particular subject. Meditation is not the suppression of rational thought, it is the practice of focused thought. It is the drawing of the mind to a specific target. As believers that target is truth, ultimately the truth found in Scripture. The value of mediation is clear throughout Scripture. Psalm 119 gives many examples of the importance of this. Here are a few passages that are worth reading.

Psalm 119:15-16 points out that meditation on God’s precepts bring a person to consider God’s way and delight in them.

Psalm 119:23-24 tells how meditation on the decrees of God in the midst of conflict brings counsel and delight.

Psalm 119:99 says that meditation leads to great insight.

Psalm 119:148-149 shows how meditation on the promises of God give helpful purpose to sleepless nights leading to reminders of God’s love are protection.

We see in these verses the value of meditation. The focused fixing of your thoughts on truth is something Christians need to engage daily. Meditation can be practiced by taking a passage of Scripture and focusing your thinking on it through prayerful rehearsing of the words. It is the mental holding of truth while pushing out warring thoughts. It can be the singular focus on one word, the calling to mind rich promises, or the intentional focus on the manifold character of God. Meditation is focused thinking.

There are other places in the Bible that talk about mediation. But Psalm 1:1-3  is one of those places that highlights the connection between meditation and health.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

 

The words there explain that daily meditation on Scripture is what brings blessing and produces a life that is strong and stable like a tree planted by streams of water. This passage alone ought to encourage us to make meditation a regular practice. As we meditate on God’s promises, there is no doubt that our inner spirit is helped but we can also see the value that meditations brings to our whole person. The focused attention on truth brings about well-being that encompasses all of who we are.