"Our only power and success come from God.”
2 Corinthians 3:5 (NLT)
I know I may be dating myself a bit when I say that I absolutely love the music of Barry Manilow. His simple but penetrating lyrics and haunting melodies linger gently in my heart and mind long after the song has ended. As I began writing this book, words from a favorite Manilow tune skipped through my thoughts. “This one’s for you, wherever you are.” It occurs to me that those words aptly explain the very reason this book exists – for you – wherever you are – a woman in ministry.
Being in ministry is still an amazing gift that I unwrap each day. There is no greater joy than to be used by God. To see Him change lives while allowing me to be a small part of the process, is still an astonishing reality in my life. Almost daily, I think back over the years of serving Him in churches, at youth camps, on mission trips, and now, in a speaking and writing ministry – not to mention the spectacularly ordinary details of everyday living. Like you, I revel in His calling on my life as a woman in ministry.
I also know that, at times, your days are painfully long, your nights dark and lonely. Schedule demands repeatedly overwhelm you, draining the once treasured joy of service from your heart and soul. It seems that everyone needs your time and energy, clamors for your attention and demands your presence. Solitude is swallowed up by the agenda and expectation of others. Activities fill your calendar, drawing you away from the most important thing – the unseen power source realized while sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking in His truth and being restored by His presence. People occasionally misunderstand you and hold you to an unholy standard while your own heart wrestles with condemning insecurity and paralyzing doubt.
Just when you are ready to give up, a friend writes an encouraging note, thanking you for making a difference in her life. Church members unexpectedly deliver a scrumptious hot meal to your front door “just because they love you”, saving you and your family from another paper-wrapped food experience. An elderly couple offers to take your children to dinner and a movie so you and your husband can enjoy a quiet evening at home – alone. The thrill of seeing lives redeemed and destinies altered is beyond compare.
You may be faithfully serving God in a small, country church where planting and harvesting times determine the size of your congregation. A poverty stricken ghetto or an exclusive country club community may be your mission field. Your church may sit in the middle of a foreign land or in the familiar neighborhood where you were raised. You may encourage and support your husband as he pastors or you may be the pastor. Your heart passion may be leading a bible study for the women in your neighborhood, visiting the sick or teaching a children’s Sunday school class. While our circumstances are vastly different, our needs are much the same as are the habits that make us effective in ministry.
There are times when I feel as if I have been in ministry forever. More often than not, I say those words with absolute joy and a thankful, wonder-filled heart that cannot understand why God would ever choose me for anything remotely related to Kingdom work. To be honest, there are also times when I desperately want to turn and walk away, leaving ministry to tougher skinned servants. Invariably, it is in those uncertain moments that His persistent love gently draws me back to the only place I have ever found peace and purpose – the center of His will for my life – a woman in ministry.
I started at a young age, as the director of a ten-member children’s choir, the “Junior Choir” it was called. I was soon singing solos and playing the piano for worship services in the small country church I attended. In high school, I became a summer missionary. After college, I served on several church staffs as a youth and music assistant then moved into teaching women and well, here I am today, a former youth director, a pastor’s wife, the mother of two, the director of women’s ministries, a conference speaker, Bible study teacher and author, making the last thirty-seven years of my life an incredible and anything but boring journey!
The dark times and staggering seasons of pain have yielded those precious “treasures of darkness and riches stored in secret places” the prophet Isaiah describes in Isaiah 45:3 (NIV). Mountain top experiences have left me immersed in God’s stubborn love, His unfailing power and His perpetual faithfulness to this too often faithless child. I am finally coming to the place in ministry where I can truly “count it all joy” knowing that God is enough – no, He's more than enough - for every need, every breath, every trial and every step of the way through this life passage we call ministry.
I honestly believe we all want to be successful in ministry! The problem is, we often mistakenly settle for a temporary and superficial success instead of the eternal and unfathomable success God offers, buying into the false truths and skewed perspectives of religious power brokers. Sadly enough, success in ministry is often defined by the size of the church we serve, the title and position we hold or the power and prestige we possess in the religious arena! The Apostle Paul impressively nails these base thoughts when he writes, “It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5 NLT). God does not condemn power and success - unless it is the defective human power or the shallow success that we manage to produce in our strength alone. Human success feeds human appetites such as pride, greed, lust, vanity. Instead, God offers His divine, unshakable power backed by the honor of His character and the authority of His name. His power alone can achieve the uncorrupted, genuine success that endures.
For the power of God to reign in our lives and flow through us in effective, purpose driven ministry, we must nurture certain spiritual habits. Habits can be good or bad - but they are all powerful motivators, learned patterns and spiritual choices that ultimately determine the difference between failure and success in life as well as ministry. The good news about habits is that while they are spiritual disciplines, ours to establish and ours to control, they are God’s alone to empower.
Too many women allow immediate needs and urgent demands to determine the path their ministry will take and set the life course they will run, instead of relying on God’s direction spelled out through godly habits. God’s plan and calling is always certain, flowing from a meticulous step–by–step strategy that fulfills His purpose in us and accomplishes His Kingdom work through us. Ours is a holy calling, a divine life mission that all of Hell will surely stand against. The battle is so fierce because the stakes are so high. Eternity hangs in the balance for those God gives to us in ministry.
It is my burning prayer that this book will encourage you as a woman in ministry to celebrate God’s call on your life, to abandon yourself to His plan and embrace His purpose in a fresh, desperate obedience. I invite you to join me in cultivating those spiritual habits that honor God and compel us to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. May this book lead us all to discover our highest purpose and most powerful place of service in and through Jesus Christ, the One who created us, gifted us and called us to His side as women in ministry.
Book: Experiencing God's Power in Your Ministry
Author: Mary Southerland
Discover God's purpose and plan for your life and learn how to share it with passion.
CD: Divine Surprises
By: Mary Southerland
Discover 7 habits of a successful woman