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Casting Vision, Leading Up

Sue Miller is a pioneer among female leaders. She is a vision-caster, a people-builder, and a woman who knows—from the inside—how to change the church. Sue is revolutionized children's ministry in our generation, beginning with Willow Creek and expanding throughout the country with the publication of the book, Making Your Children's Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid's Week.

When I ran into Sue at a recent Orange conference, I asked her a few questions about being a woman and a leader. Here are the highlights:

Nicole: Many women in major ministry roles live in a "man's world." You mentioned that the idea of "leading up" during the Orange conference. What does that mean?

Sue: In order to influence senior leadership, you must be building something well to begin with. Do a great job with your current responsibilities in order to build integrity and credibility.

Figure out a way to connect relationally with senior leaders. Communicate positive information, key stories of life change from people in your ministry, tied to the overall mission of your church to show that you are a team player who supports the direction of the church. Don't assume others get your vision or even know what your vision is. You have to be the one to live out your vision in leadership circles over time. Give yourself time for leading up. This is not something that happens overnight. We have to be willing to go the distance on this one so that trust is established.

Get some mentoring or coaching on how to present a proposal to decision makers when needed. I wasn't trained in this area, and I realized that the men on our board processed information differently than I did. I had to learn to communicate statistical information in a better way.

N: If you could speak a few words to young women like me, relatively new to ministry, what would you say?

Read Nancy Beach's book, Gifted to Lead. Ask a lot of good questions before you take the job, so your expectations are realistic from the start. It is not an easy road to be a woman in leadership, so don't make this decision lightly. How do senior leaders view women in leadership? Will you be able to grow and develop here? Seek wise counsel from others before you jump in—and pray like crazy for God to give you clear direction. Get help from another woman who is farther down the leadership road than you are to coach and guide you.

Pray for God's wisdom and discernment as you strive to lead well. Believe that the One who gave you the gift of leadership did not make a mistake—you are not crazy! He definitely has plans for you to use it and make a difference in his kingdom with it.

N: You made huge changes at Willow Creek. What qualities do you think make for a catalytic leader?

S: In order to catalyze change, a leader must clearly see a picture of a preferred future. I could see the picture, but then I needed to verbally paint that picture in a vivid and compelling way to the volunteers and call them to action. I watched my senior pastor, Bill Hybels, inspire others to follow, and I learned from his example. I think he is one of the best at this. I wanted volunteers to feel significant in their role, so I had to call them to an important vision each week. We celebrated small wins along the way each season, intentionally noting the progress we had made toward accomplishing our ministry vision.

What I didn't plan on was the need for constant vision casting, year after year. Because things don't happen perfectly, and I am not always right, I had to admit and own mistakes in front of volunteers, and then make necessary course corrections and get back on track. It's a journey. I think our job as leaders is to make sure there is JOY in the journey for our faithful volunteers all along the way. Volunteers don't expect perfection—just honesty and integrity so they can trust us.

N: What has helped you avoid burnout?

I have a couple of safe women outside of my ministry who helped me stay on course as a Christ follower, a wife and a mom. I learned how to play hard with my friends so I had the energy to work hard when I needed to.

Figuring out how to keep my own spiritual life alive each ministry season was key. God used a combination of his Word, worship music, solitude, prayer, nature and mission trips to speak into my spiritual journey along the way. I wanted to see God work in my life in extraordinary ways, so I learned to look intentionally for those moments everyday. They weren't BIG things, but small things that reflected a very BIG God to me.

N: I can't help but ask about being a mom in ministry. What did that look like for your family? How did you balance home life and church life?

It's a tough act to juggle for sure. Andy Stanley's book, Choosing to Cheat tackles this challenge. He reminds all of us to choose our families first over our jobs. For those of you in ministry right now do not sacrifice your family or marriage on the altar of ministry, you will regret it for the rest of your life. There's always going to be busy seasons; there's always another big event to execute.

Andy reminds us that someone else will one day do your current ministry role. Your role is replaceable in ministry, but no one but you can be the wife your husband needs. Someone else will one day replace you as a ministry leader, but no one else can be the mom that your children need.

How about you? From your own experience, what's one thing you would want to share with a woman new to ministry?

October27, 2010 at 1:36 PM

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