My journey with Jesus and his still small voice has fine- tuned my definition to include "joyful surrender" and "courageous influence." It's not enough to surrender. It can mistakenly have residues of martyrdom, control, and passivity. It's not enough to influence. It takes a Joshua 1:9 kind of influence to coexist with being Spirit-filled. As I share four stories in my journey, reflect on your journey and definition of a Spirit-filled leader. For me, one unifying thread seems to be, "The position seeks the person. The person does not seek the position.
“The board wants to start a preschool,” said my husband, Karl, as he returned home from a board meeting. What a great way to bridge into the fast- growing neighborhoods being built around the church. “They want you to do it, Anita,” he said. But I told him I wasn’t qualified.
I grew up in a family with over-achieving parents who received their GEDs, yet were natural teachers. My father used his creative teaching passion as the Sunday school superintendent, and my mother was the PTA president and on the school board. At the time the church asked me to do this, my children, Aaron and Bethany, were ages 5 and 3. I was in full- scale preschool mode at home, but I didn’t think the professional population around us would want what I could offer. While I was confident with my private leadership in the home, I was scared to stick my neck out. Karl and the board persisted. I prayed, the Spirit pressed, and I surrendered. It was up to God to be with me through the process, but I had to be courageous.
I dug right into planning the philosophies of a loving classroom environment and curriculum. Within two years we quit advertising. The waiting list was too long. I was in my stride, directing and teaching children, and relating to parents in a Christian setting. I loved influencing whole families by serving them in the foundational years of their lives. It became part of my calling to “go and make disciples.”
On April 21, 1993, Karl and I attended the annual banquet for a Christian crisis pregnancy center, where he gave the invocation.
Minutes after a trip to the restroom, he returned, whispering about a lady holding a baby in the foyer. She shared a prayer request with him. As a pastor, did he know of a black professional couple interested in adopting a baby? I noted the urgency in Karl’s voice and face. I knew he was not sharing this with me merely in the form of a prayer request. I was listening to a daddy talking passionately about his baby! Later, he told how he held out his finger to the 4½-month- old to hold, instantly bonding with her as the woman talked. At this time, Aaron and Bethany were 10 and 8 years old. The only baby item left at our house was a wooden high chair for future grandchildren!
For a month, we waited and wondered if the birth mother would choose us for her baby, going through all the necessary interviews, paperwork, and prayers. After that month, Rachel became ours. Karl often reminds Rachel yet today that the moment he met her at the banquet at 4 ½ months old was when she captured his heart.
I assumed I would quit my job and stay home with Rachel—just like I did when Aaron and Bethany were little. I was in my stride at church, but I was glad to give it up. However, a still small voice told me not to be so fast to assume I knew the mind of God. The more I thought about it, I debated what people would expect me to do. The more i prayed, read the Bible, and listened to the still small voice, the more I heard God say he knew what was best for this little life. Ironically, it was an easier decision to adopt her than make the decision about employment. Ultimately, I chose to continue working after we adopted Rachel. God challenged me: Did I love him and want to do his will completely, or did I fear people more and want to please them? It was then he gave me the mantra, “please God, love people.”
Leaders influence more through our actions than through words. Rachel’s adoption did influence some people—almost all for the good. She is currently finishing her college senior thesis on trans-racial adoption. Karl and I are committed to the call to “make disciples of all nations.” The bottom line: If courage was easy it wouldn’t be called courage.
The year 2009 held many surprises and transitions for our whole family. Bethany and Joe were expecting our first grandchild. Aaron married Lauren and moved to Charleston, S.C. Karl was asked to be the CEO of World hope International (WHI), meaning Rachel would finish her last two years of high school at a new school. We would say good-bye to twenty-two years of fruitful ministry at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Williamsville, N.Y. By then, I had been ordained and was part of the executive team, supervising senior level staff and directing the congregational care ministry with hundreds of volunteers. What would I do now? One Saturday morning, my phone rang. The night before, the World Hope board had finalized the decision to hire Karl. Rev. Stan Hoover, superintendent of the Chesapeake District, asked if I would be willing to pastor a church in the district. I was ordained, but serving as a lead pastor had never been on my radar. I was caught off guard, as being the lead pastor had always been Karl’s place. Did I want to put my neck out again in a brand new way? Only with a Proverb 3:5-6 prayer, along with a Philippians 4:13 promise, could I choose to joyfully surrender and be willing to lead.
I truly loved my congregation: the people, the vibrant ministry environment, and the influence of joyful surrender. On my last Sunday, Stephanie, a young teenager, thanked me and said God wanted her to be a pastor, and she would not have known it had I not been her pastor for three years. Her father was a board member who initially did not want a woman pastor, but who ended up telling me that I was the best pastor he ever had. Two people (de-churched and with a painful past) started attending because they said they felt they could trust a woman. Joyful surrender. Courageous influence. As a pastor it was a privilege to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The bottom line: courage is not courage because it is the easy way but because it is the only way to keep reaching “all nations” of Matthew 28:19.
Currently, we are in the Penn Jersey District because Karl was called to become the district superintendent in 2012. This past spring, we picked up Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church, from the airport, as she was in town for a meeting. We took her to dinner, and she administered Karl’s evaluation for his role. After all the affirmation and compliments, she suggested the vote of the district board the next day would probably be to recommend an extended call. But we were surprised when she asked us to pray about whether we would be willing to serve as co-district superintendents. We looked at each other. The question hung in the air.
You can imagine our conversation in the car on the way home after dinner. Karl had a headache, and I was flustered. We had been ministry partners for 30 years. But never “co.” What did that mean anyway?
The next morning, we agreed that Karl would tell Dr. Lyon that we would submit to whatever she and the district board of administration decided and receive it as the Lord’s plan. We were out of the room for only a couple minutes when we received a unanimous “yes.” Can you say whirlwind?
Karl and I spent the first two years in Penn-Jersey loving the people and churches as Dr. Harry Wood, former district superintendent, handed off a healthy, generous, and dynamic group of 76 churches. The last five months have deepened our love for the new journey God has surprised us with. We thought it was going to be harder than it really is. God miraculously gave Karl new grace for the growth that it called for. He was only familiar with the solo lead for all these years. And me? The further out on the limb, the more grace I have experienced. Do you want grace? It is most plentiful way out on the limb. I have certainly learned that Christ will be with me “to the end of the age.”
The bottom line: the journey of a Spirit- filled leader requires joyful surrender and courage to influence.