Archive for April, 2016

Words Matter

3 comments Written on April 26th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

LizRev. Elizabeth (Liz) Jensen is an ordained Covenant Pastor serving as the solo pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Venice Isle in Venice, FL. She serves as the treasurer of Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women (ACCW). She recently completed 6 years serving on the Committee on Ministerial Standing (COMS) of the Southeast Conference (SEC) Ministerium; she chaired the committee the last three years. At their 2016 annual meeting she was elected President of the SEC Ministerium. She also serves as treasurer and chaplain for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Venice Area Chapter; her husband is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Have you heard the song “Words”? The lyrics roughly declare that words can make people feel like prisoners or can set them free. Words can make people feel like criminals or kings. Words can lift hearts to new places and drag hearts back into a pit. Words can build up and break down. Words can start a fire in a heart or put it out.

How do our words impact those who hear them? For those in ministry, how do the words of your preaching, teaching, singing and writing impact those who hear or sing or read them? We would never use derogatory language in reference to any group, yet I hear and read and sing words that ignore, diminish, overlook, and disregard half the population. Can you see it in these Scripture quotations?

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1).

Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

If you do not see a problem with these words, read on. You see, words matter! Can you see (or hear) it in these lyrics from “Be Thou My Vision”?  Verse 2:

“Thou my great Father, I Thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.” Verse 3: Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,”

Can you see (or hear) it in these lyrics from “Joy to the World”?

“Joy to the world! the Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ.”

Can you hear it in these sermon declarations?

“Man has fallen. Jesus came to redeem man.”

Can you hear it in these illustrations?

“The pastor…he. The Sunday school teacher…she. The fireman…he. The policeman…he. The secretary…she.”

These are but a few examples of what I have seen and heard – some rather recently. What message do these words send? As a woman, when scripture quotes ignore me, when sermons disregard me, when illustrations diminish me, and when songs overlook me I am lost to their message. I should not have to “suck it up” to hear God’s word and sing praises to Jesus. It is time to tune up our awareness of how the words we use in preaching, teaching, singing and writing impact half the people to whom we speak and to whom and with whom we minister. Words matter. Let’s not just tune up our awareness, let’s change our words so all are included.

Blessed are those who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1).

Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of people” (Matthew 4:19).

If I speak in the tongues of humans or of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

“Be Thou My Vision” in the Covenant Hymnal a Book of Worship uses totally inclusive language. Here it is in case you don’t have the book:

Verse 2:

“Thou my great Father, thy child shall I be; Thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

“Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise.”

“Joy to the World” is easily changed to “Let us, our songs employ.”

We can change our sermons to declare: “All humanity has fallen. Jesus came to redeem us all.”

We can change our language to remove gender specific pronouns. Or we can regularly refer to “The pastor…she. The Sunday school teacher…he. The firefighter. The police officer. And even the secretary…he.” Be bold. Be brave. My brothers and sisters in Christ, do as did Jesus. He reached out to women in ways that were counter to his culture. It suggests to me that Jesus would not want females ignored in our preaching, teaching, singing and writing today. Words matter!

Let me ask a few questions using the song “Words”. Do your words make women feel like prisoners or help set them free? Do your words make women feel like criminals or help them feel like royalty? Do your words lift women’s hearts to new places or drag them into a pit? Do your words build up women or break them down? Do your words start a fire in women’s hearts or put fires out? Words matter!


Report This Post

Empowered Women

2 comments Written on April 20th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Evelmyn Ivens works at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Chicago and graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Theological Studies. Enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures. She’s passionate about issues of immigration, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

One of my favorite podcasts is Smart Women, Smart Power from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They are usually panels or one-on-one interviews of women in politics, economics, foreign policy, and religion. I am always very impressed by the women being interviewed they are experts in national security, terrorism, politics, etc. Very smart and empowered women. However, the other day the topic was on U.S Ambassadors and their lives abroad. At one point the conversation got emotional for one of the ambassadors (Saudi Arabia) as she was telling the story of having the evacuate the country at two different times and having to let her children go back to the US, as she stayed in Saudi Arabia and continued to work for months. I cannot imagine having to do that.

Like these women with power and positions of leadership, I think of my female pastor friends who have children. I very much admire that as mothers and wives are following their calling. Much respect to those women. I think of single mothers who work long hours and miss time with their children like my own mother who was a single mother for a number of years until she remarried. As I get older and sometimes nostalgic, I think of my mother often and the things she sacrificed so that I could have a better life and opportunity. My parents divorced when I was very young and both remarried and had more children. My father moved to the US after the divorce and when I was 14 I came to live with him, that’s how I ended up here! I am forever grateful to my mother because she let me go at such a young age. The plan was for me to stay for a year and then go back to Mexico. But things happened and I am convinced that God had other plans and I ended up staying. Writing about this almost 19 years later still makes me choked up a little. I cannot imagine how painful it was for my mother, and all I can say is thank you, thank you for letting me go and for always supporting me at a distance.

I want to end with this ritual liturgy that very much describes women and mothers, and the power and strength that they carry.

The power to give life

The power of being vulnerable without being weak

The power of believing in a better future

The power of changing oppressive situations

The power to face difficult circumstances

The power of not giving up

The power of loving and claiming the need for love

The power of crying

The power that is ours because we are women.[1]

[1] Opening ritual liturgy in Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. 179-180.

Report This Post

Discovering What You Didn’t Know Was Missing

6 comments Written on April 13th, 2016     
Filed under: Book & Commentary, Testimonies and Stories

Nilwona Nowlin currently serves as the Administrative Specialist for Governance for the ECC and is a member of the Christian Community Development Association and the Redbud Writers Guild. In her “spare time,” she teaches workshops about living successfully as an introvert. Nilwona is a member of the Kingdom Covenant Church (Chicago) launch team and randomly blogs about random things at thedreamerspeaks.

I’ve been reading leadership books for years, but it was only recently that I realized something: none of the books I’d been reading were written by women. If I broadened my definition of a “leadership book,” it might allow for the inclusion of a small handful of female authors. (And I haven’t even bothered to raise the issue of ethnicity.) I am naturally quite observant, but sometimes – like in this case – it takes me a while to notice a pattern. In other cases, I miss the pattern altogether.

Last week, I participated in the ECC Sankofa Journey, and experienced quite an eye-opening surprise: both of our drivers were black women. It wasn’t until I saw them that I realized I had never seen a female coach bus driver, let alone one who was a black female. (To add to our amazement, they were also sisters.) In all my experiences riding on a coach bus, I had never stopped to wonder whether or not there were women in this business. In my moment of giddy elation, I said to a friend, “You don’t even realize what’s not there until you see it!” As I reflected on this moment, it helped me understand why I was so excited about a book I recently read.

Mentor for Life Book CoverMentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship explores the interrelated connection between mentoring and discipleship. The book’s perspective was intriguing, but what was more remarkable was that it was written by a woman of color, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in the areas of mentoring or discipleship, so I certainly haven’t read every book on either subject. But coming across Mentor for Life caused me to reflect on the books I’d read in recent years. In doing this, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen discipleship books written by women – and certainly not women of color.

There are lots of articles, books and memes on leadership that suggest that individuals should regularly be in relationships as both a mentor and a mentee. Because I sometimes fall into the trap of believing that the source of my paycheck defines who I am, I often struggle with whether or not I have anything of value to share with a mentee. We often see mentoring as a “secular” thing, but Robinson describes it as an opportunity to “partner with God.” This reframing of mentoring as discipleship helps me rethink things. While mentoring seems like a good thing to do, discipleship is a non-negotiable for Christians. In addition, Robinson focuses on mentoring in a communal setting vs. the typical 1-on-1 style. (I do think that the group model has become more popular in recent years.)

Since I’ve only recently experienced Robinson’s book, I don’t have any testimonials about how this method has worked for me. However, I’m excited about the opportunity to put into practice what I’ve learned. I’m particularly excited about the fact that I don’t have to do a lot of contextualizing/translating, because Robinson has taken into consideration how issues of diversity (age, gender, ethnicity, culture, etc.) impact discipleship/mentoring efforts. If you’d like to know more about Robinson or Mentoring for Life, check out her website.



Report This Post

The Imposter Syndrome

8 comments Written on April 6th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Jo Ann Deasy is an ordained Covenant pastor currently serving as the director of institutional initiatives and student research at the Association of Theological Schools in Pittsburgh, PA.

DSCN4879 (1)An article recently popped up on my Facebook newsfeed entitled, “Do Women Everywhere Suck at Their Jobs?” by Katy Waldman (, Nov. 2013). Of course, I had to read it.  Luckily the subheadings clued me in to the fact that this was not really about the lack of qualified women in the world.  Instead, this article was about “the imposter syndrome.”  The imposter syndrome is “the phenomenon by which high-achieving careerists feel unqualified for their jobs, regardless of the positive feedback they earn” and it is particularly prevalent among women.

As I read the article, I was particularly struck by the research on how the imposter syndrome plays out in the workplace.  Waldman cites studies that “show that female employees apologize more…  because they have a lower threshold for thinking they’ve committed an offense.  They give themselves duller performance reviews, even when their supervisors rate them more highly than their male peers…” and “that most women don’t even apply for positions unless they’re certain they meet 100 percent of the prerequisites. (Men, meanwhile, tend to send in their resumes if they possess a mere 60 percent of the job qualifications.)”

I remember seeing the imposter syndrome crop up regularly in the lives of women seminary students at North Park.  Articulate, strong, capable women who would suddenly be filled with self-doubt in the pulpit or in an interview.  Women who would not speak up in class, who would sell themselves short and seek positions they were overqualified for.  And I began to reflect on how the imposter syndrome had effected my own life.

Despite always being near the top of my class in college and seminary, I never felt smart.  I don’t think I spoke more than two words in class during my first three years of seminary.  It didn’t help that I had been overlooked for several scholarships and awards because no one had bothered to look at my transcripts.  But it was the internal doubt that was the most frustrating.  I thought I had mostly gotten past all of that in my PhD program at Garrett only to have it crop up again as I was defending my dissertation, tears streaming down my face as I struggled to respond to basic questions, but the words would not come out.  And again as I interviewed for a teaching position, having made it to the final interview, the only candidate, only to freeze up as some older male faculty members began challenging my basic Christian beliefs.

I almost didn’t apply for my current job as director of institutional initiatives and student research at the Association of Theological Schools.  I didn’t think I was qualified.  It turns out I am more than qualified.  Actually my background, experience and education are just perfect for the position.  But I couldn’t see that as I read through the job description.  Even when others could.

So, how can you help women (and others) struggling with the imposter syndrome?  First, we need to name it.  Sociologist Jessica Collett writes, “Research shows that one of the best things we can do is name impostorism, to give students the sense that what they are experiencing is more common than they believe.”  (From feeling-like-a-fraud-youre-not-alone“)

Second, we need to give women clear feedback about their gifts and qualifications.  All too often conversations around women pastors revolve around the controversy that might arise as they try to exercise their authority.  People focus on biblical arguments about gender roles and women leaders.  But women need more people to focus on their gifts and abilities, their potential, and to name that for them.  To give them a reality check and stop letting them sell themselves short.

Third, we need to stop assuming that women are not ambitious or are not interested in a position just because they show doubts or don’t seem passionate enough.  Every year the graduating students at North Park would interview with the superintendents for the Evangelical Covenant Church.  I remember watching superintendents push male students to apply for more senior positions, solo pastorates, larger churches, but when female students showed doubts or concerns about various positions, superintendents and others assumed they were not interested.  Often they were not pushed in the same way.  When search committees interview women, they often walk away because women don’t seem passionate enough in the initial interview, but often it is just the imposter syndrome getting in the way.  Women need people to push them, to advocate for them, to tell them, to tell churches, to tell anyone who will listen how qualified they are, that they are worthy of being hired.

Finally, for those of you who feel like imposters, feel encouraged.  Apparently the imposter syndrome is most common among extremely talented and capable people.


Report This Post

Report This Blog