How Sojourn Does Women’s Ministry

Amanda Edmondson is my Executive Assistant at Sojourn Community Church, and Midtown Campus Coordinator for our Women’s Ministry. Amanda is my guest blogger this week at DanielSojourn.com:

At Sojourn, we acknowledge that both men and women are created in the image of God yet created differently; for this reason we have Sojourn Women. Over the past two years I have had the honor to co-labor with Nora Allison, with the guidance of our elders, and to think how to best help and serve our women.

Doing women’s ministry is challenging.  Add in a large multisite church and well, it’s still challenging!  We desire for our women not to be separate from Sojourn at large but to be very much a part of it. We pray that our women would be about God and what he created us for—to know him and to make him known.  This must work itself out in different ways, by each of our different women.

Regardless if she loves the color pink and wears pearls or prefers neutrals and flip flops, we desire for the women at Sojourn Community Church to be strong women whose knowledge and love of God constrains them to serve in their homes, places of work, where they play, and in their community.

How We Do This…

We pray, not only for the women at Sojourn, but for the church as a whole.  We ask the Lord to show us what the needs are. We are constantly meeting with women, hearing their hearts and doing life with them. It’s the only way for us to be able to assess how we need to grow spiritually as women.

Two years ago, we realized that too many Sojourn women didn’t know how to study their bibles apart from following a prepared study guide.  Convinced that, in order to know God deeply and personally, we must be learning about him directly from him, we started teaching women, both individually and corporately, how to sit down and study the Bible for themselves.  Now we regularly offer a class called Methods, teaching women how to ask questions of the text in order to rightly understand it and apply it.  Part of being a strong woman is being able to feed yourself on God’s word.

Multisite…

We are one church with four campuses.  Each campus has different strengths and different needs. In order to best utilize our gifts and help women at each campus grow, we plan Sojourn-wide (global) events, as well as specific  campus events/training.  Our global events are for all Sojourn women regardless of which campus they attend.  These events include our Fall One-day Retreat, our Spring Week-end Retreat and Women’s School (more info on Women’s School here).

Campus specific events/training would include our Methods classes, Christmas Gift Exchange, SEED projects, and Doctrines classes. We are gifted with many women who are capable and willing to teach and lead other women, which makes planning and implementing at a multisite much easier.

Sojourn Women is for all women in all walks of life.  As we continue to grow as a church we desire for the women of Sojourn in each season of life to be about God and His fame.

In all our planning, evaluating of events and teaching, we want to keep Christ central, making much of the Lord and less of ourselves, and maintaining our unique identity as women created in the image of God.

Visit the Sojourn Women blog here

4 Best Practices For Church Staff Assistants

While I’m on vacation, I asked a few Sojourn ministry leaders to keep the conversation going here at DanielSojourn.com. These are men and women who are leading us forward. Some of their work is behind the scenes, but it is all appreciated by me, by all the Sojourn pastors and by the many lives they have touched.

This week you’ll enjoy the perspectives of Amanda Edmondson. Amanda is a leader in Sojourn Women, our women’s ministry. She is also my Executive Assistant, and I can promise you that so much of what goes “right” at Sojourn is because of Amanda’s organizational skills, humble spirit, hard work and ingenuity.

Today she writes about what she learned as an Executive Assistant:

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When I came on staff at Sojourn Community Church just over two years ago I quickly realized that there was very little information out there for people in my position not to mention an organization that is constantly growing/changing, and a multisite church. Coming from a heavy training environment in my previous job, I was quickly discouraged to learn that I was building the plane in the air.

I quickly reached out to other churches to learn from them. It was helpful to take other peoples’ best practices and apply them, but working at Sojourn, we all wear multiple hats. For me one of those hats is being Daniel’s Executive Assistant.  Over the past two years I’ve developed a list of my top four best practices that have worked for me.

1. Boundaries-Set boundaries in proximity and time.  When you’re off be off. Don’t check emails on your day off; don’t respond to emails late at night.  When you do this you create a bad habit and it is one that is hard to break. You will also set an expectation that if others e-mail you late at night they can get a response from you that night.  Don’t be afraid to communicate these boundaries. When Daniel has something he wants to add to my to do list when I’m off he will email me instead of call me.

*I have accountability for this. My natural tendency is to be a workaholic so I have friends who will text me and ask me if I’m working when I should be resting or having fun.

2. Time Management/ Scheduling- A large part of time management is scheduling. I take an hour every Sunday to plan out my week. I plan when I’m going to spend time in the Word, exercise, eat, rest, and meet with women outside of work. During that time I write out my to do list for the week so that I know what I have to get done. Then I plan my time accordingly.  I’m naturally a laid back person so staying organized is key for me to prevent stress or burnout.

One of the weightiest aspects of my job is to guard Daniel’s time. My eyes are always on his calendar. I want to help protect his time so that he is able to be present where he is. One way to guard his schedule is by syncing his work schedule with his family schedule. What’s most helpful for me is to stay in contact with Daniel’s wife to get updated schedules as well as informing her and clearing dates with her for any overnight trips, evening, or night meetings.  I want to make sure Daniel has time to spend with his wife and children, and time to rest.

*I use Action Method to stay organized. They have an online resource that’s compatible with my iPhone and iPad. I use it to organize Daniel’s and my own action items for various events, meetings and general responsibilities.

*For Daniel’s Calendar we us Google Calendar. It’s most convenient because it’s easy to share and easy for him to access on his computer or phone.

* Managing email can be challenging. Before I even come in the office I’ll take 20 minutes at home to organize my email for the day. I have three categories I use to label them.  Those categories are

  • “Need Answer”
  • “To Do”
  • “Respond”

I will then create a priority list of which to respond, based on time sensitivity of the content in the email.  If it’s something that will take some time to get an answer on, I will try to respond just to communicate with that person that I’m working on getting them the information they need.

3. Fail Forward/Be Teachable-I learned when I worked in sales I couldn’t be afraid to fail. The same applies in being an Executive Assistant.  The biggest difference for me coming on staff was that I could no longer measure my success through sales numbers. In this role there is rarely a way to measure what is going well. Much of what I do as an Executive Assistant is behind the scenes so no one except Daniel and our team really know what I do. I can’t depend on people’s affirmation to measure if something is working.

I’ve learned that I have to ask Daniel and not just wait for him to tell me. We are always experimenting with new methods so before I become too invested in a method I like to ask Daniel and the team to know if it’s helpful.

4. Rest-When I first came on staff Daniel told me, “We work really hard, but we also rest hard.” I had no idea what this meant until I was overwhelmed and exhausted from not resting. I schedule a day (some weeks a night) of rest. This has been really helpful in allowing me to stay sane but also to be excellent and to be present where I am. When I say rest I’m not laying on the couch all day or reading my Bible for 12 hours straight. Rest for me looks different each week. I usually evaluate how I need to rest by asking myself this question:

“What is my need, and what will be most glorifying to God?”

I’ve learned that as I rest I’m able to focus and be driven by God’s glory, not my to do list at work.

These four practices have worked for me but they may not be the best for you and your boss.  Evaluate what is going well and what needs improvement and go from there. There are a lot of books out there on organization, management, and time. Do your research and experiment to find what works for you, your boss, and your organization.

Pastoral Residency: The Good, The Bad & The Life Changing

Jonah Sage is Connect Director at Sojourn Community Church, and guest blogger this week at DanielSojourn.com:

From March 2011 through May 2012, I served as the Pastoral Resident of Sojourn’s Midtown campus. Below are my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the life changing lessons I learned during that time.

The Good

The purpose of a Sojourn residency is to set aside time for specialized training in the field of pastoring and/or church planting. Training, as opposed to teaching, focuses on the man’s character and his ability to successfully and efficiently perform his duties. The pastors wanted to know how competent I was and whether or not my character corresponded to the biblical requirements of a pastor. Coming into my residency, I had a head filled with knowledge from books and seminary classes. I had been taught well but had yet to put that knowledge into action.

For most of my life, I got by without trying very hard. It took pastor Daniel about five minutes to see that in me and then another thirty seconds for him to confront my sin. He learned how to bring out the best in me and that often involved critiquing my lackluster work. My pastors helped me learn how big my plate really was, where I am gifted, and their affirmation gave me confidence in God’s call on my life.

They showed me places where my life and my beliefs were in conflict. I believed God was in control, for instance, yet lived like everything was up to me. How could I say God was in control and yet be filled with so much anxiety? How could I say Jesus’ perfect life and death in my place forever secured my worth as a son of God yet constantly fight to prove myself to others? The pastors lovingly (yet firmly) helped me get truths like these down from head and into my heart, hands, and feet.

The Bad

I was both intentionally and unintentionally pushed past my limits so I could learn how to fail. Managing my residency alongside a new marriage, full-time seminary classes, and ministry responsibilities frequently tempted me to enter the fetal position. I went for months averaging four hours of sleep.

My role was, at best, ambiguous within the organization. Outside of my direct report, no one really knew what I was doing. When word would get out that I did something well, other ministry leaders would come and ask me if I could help them on a project. Wanting to impress everyone, I always said yes.

Between my sin and Sojourn’s poor staff communication, a perfect storm of anxiety and fatigue swelled in my life. The long nights turned into long weeks. Early mornings reviewing Hebrew, off to class, a lunch meeting, a class, an afternoon meeting, a walk with my wife, a counseling session, homework, kiss my wife goodnight, a quick snack, homework, sleep, repeat. Needless to say, this pattern eventually began affecting the health of my soul.

The Life Changing

Several pastors saw what was going on. They saw the way my eyes would well up when I was asked, “So how are you doing?” During a lunch with pastor Mike Cosper I was certain I was going to be fired. I was certain I had underperformed for the last time. Instead, he confessed ways Sojourn had failed and asked for my forgiveness. He spoke into the lies I was believing, he confronted my sin, and he described a healthier way to live. He affirmed my gifts and calling. And then he gave me a week off.

I got in my car and wept. I was stunned by the humility of my pastors. I was thankful for the example they were setting for me. Most of all, I was grateful for the reality that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection freed me from needing to prove myself. Pastor Mike reminded me that I was safe and approved as a gift of God’s grace, not as a result of working myself into the ground.

I learned more in one year as Sojourn’s pastoral resident than I did in three years as a theology student. As a result of intense testing, great successes and heart breaking failures, I have a clearer picture of pastoral ministry and a greater desire to shepherd God’s people than ever before. I love God more than ever. I desire to know and be like Jesus more than ever. My residency program changed me forever and I count it as one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me.

5 Non-Christian Books That Made Me Love Jesus More

Jonah Sage is Connect Director at Sojourn Community Church, and guest blogger this week at DanielSojourn.com:

The fool says in his heart, ‘I should only read Christian books.’ Here are a few reasons why I say this (in no particular order):

  • The whole notion that a book can be “Christian” is silly because books don’t have souls.
  • The belief that only books explicitly referencing Jesus can teach you about Jesus would make Jesus cry.
  • Most of the world doesn’t read books about Jesus.
  • Beauty pushes us to experience God and there are thousands of beautiful books out there.
  • Reading from different perspectives gives us clarity on our own.

This doesn’t mean we should do something just because most people do it, this doesn’t mean you’re a “bad Christian” if you only have Max Lucado on your shelves, and this doesn’t mean you’re a fool if you don’t like reading. It just means that you might be surprised how much your love for Jesus can grow if you branch out a little. With that in mind, I humbly submit five of my favorites:

1. Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees

Martin Rees is Royal Society Research Professor at Cambridge University and holds the hilarious title of “Astronomer Royal.” That just means he’s smarter than pretty much everybody. This book discusses six numbers that hold the universe together (like the force of gravity). It helps to know a little physics but it is by no means necessary. He writes for simpletons like you and me and the results are breathtaking. I read most of this with my jaw on the ground. Naturally, there are a few thoughts here and there I disagree with, but the book, big-picture, is stunning. If you want to feel small, if you want to get a tiny glimpse of the power of God and the wonder of creation, this is a great place to start.

2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I cringe every time I read or say this book’s title, but that doesn’t take away from the gems it holds within. Don’t look at this title and think this must be a book on how to get popular. Instead, think of it as a book about communication. Many people my age (late 20s) had lackluster examples of what manhood and womanhood looked like. Simple lessons like looking people in the eyes or having a firm handshake were missed. Topics include becoming a better conversationalist, making good first impressions, and how to get along with people. The Apostle Paul encourages believers to be at peace with all men whenever possible (Romans 12:18). Learning how to interact and communicate well with people is a great step in that direction.

3. Food for thought: Resurrecting the art of eating by Robert Capon

This is kind of cheating since Capon is an Episcopal Priest. This book isn’t about Jesus though, so it’s all good. This book is about cooking, eating, and enjoying life. It discusses everything from how to equip your kitchen to picking a favorite style of cuisine. You’ll find recipes, knife suggestions, and lots of subtle jokes. This book will make you see Genesis 2:9 (And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food) in a new light.

4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

It was really difficult deciding which novels to put on here. I chose this one because it’s one of the more popular in history, it comes in plenty of inexpensive formats, and because the story revolves around two of my longest standing struggles—feelings of betrayal and entitlement. The Christian reads this and is left in awe of the love of God that takes rebels and makes them family. Dumas consistently confronts my half-hearted understanding of forgiveness and my sinful desires for worldly vindication. It’s a LONG read, but absolutely worth it. Download it for free and start whittling away.

5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This is my favorite of Steinbeck’s work, and I’m in the minority for thinking so. It raises countless questions regarding morality, right and wrong, family life, love and hate, and starting over. The real agony of this book, though, is that many of the questions are obvious yet the reader is left hunting for the answers. The story itself is beautiful, but there is so much going on underneath. Read this first for the sheer joy of the story, then go through it again letting the story “read you.”

So that’s my list. Two novels, a self-help book, a science book, and a culinary book. What did I miss?

The Seminarian’s Guide To Joining A Community Group

Jonah Sage is Connect Director at Sojourn Community Church, and guest blogger this week at DanielSojourn.com:

Horror stories abound at Sojourn—some sad, some funny, some both. Stories of seminary students in community group typically fall into the “both” category. I’ve talked to Christians all across the spectrum about this: moms, other students, new Christians, pastors, visitors…The perception of the seminary student at Sojourn is now so mixed that people often actively avoid groups if any are present.

This is so sad. Seminary is not the place where men and women go to forget how to interact with “normal” people.

We try to fight against this at Sojourn by giving the now infamous “Seminary Talk” the last night of membership classes. Even so, stories roll into our offices weekly of the silly things seminary students do in community group. As one who was a seminary student in a community group, as a seminary student who led a community group, and as a seminary graduate overseeing multiple groups, I offer my fellow students the following suggestions:

1. Don’t Talk Like a Fool

Consider Proverbs 10:

Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster… Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut… The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense. (vv 14, 19, 21)

Talking like a fool consists of talking too much and speaking a different language. If you are the first to respond every time in your group, you are quietly informing everyone that you think you have all the answers, that the Christian life is easy for you, and that you generally believe you are better than the rest of the group. If you are using big seminary words no one understands, you might as well be speaking Hebrew (don’t do that).

Learn to be quiet, to let others talk, to draw out others with good questions. Simplify your language. You don’t have to dumb it down, just put your big brain to work and speak plainly. Ask someone else (who doesn’t go to seminary) if this is you and adjust your speech accordingly. The axiom holds true: If momma don’t understand you, don’t nobody understand you.

2. Community Group is a Class

Don’t come to group with lecture notes ready to preach. They are not your congregation and the couch is not your pulpit. Maybe it will help if you think of group as “Christian Community 101: social interactions.” Go to group looking to serve, looking to make friends, seeking to experience Christian community. Group is where we can learn how to mourn together, to suffer together, to rejoice together. It’s not the time to flex your Bible muscles or talk about all you’re learning from Concise Reformed Dogmatics.

3. Repent of Your Entitlement

Too many people think that being in seminary means they deserve to be in leadership. If you are a first-semester seminary student, about all your pastor knows about you is that you can fill out an application (and that’s not too tough). So know that you don’t deserve to lead anything, you are less experienced and wise than you probably think, and most importantly that God doesn’t love you more if you lead something.

If you are settled with these truths, then you are freed to be a blessing to your group leader. Ask the people leading your group how you can serve them, how you can bless them, how you can take initiative in the group. One of the best indication of how someone will lead is how they have followed. Group is a beautiful opportunity for you to learn how to follow well.

Put yourself aside and strive to be a blessing to your community group through your words and actions. Seminary is a blessing from God, yet when isolated from strong Christian community it can actually de-prepare someone for ministry. If you graduate and no one understands you, no one in your church wants to spend time with you, and you are bitter because you were never asked to preach, then you will leave seminary looking more like an entitled child than someone molded to look like Jesus.

Jesus is your pattern and power for how to be a good member of a community group. Humble yourself, let go of your rights, and be a blessing to the men and women around you.

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