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How to Grow in Flexibility

By Juli Nelson and Connie Cross

Juli serves as pastor of First Christian Church in Clever, Missouri. An ordained minister, Juli has served in a variety of ministry capacities including church organist, director of Christian education, adjunct instructor in music and biblical studies at Evangel University, and as a retreat speaker. Juli holds a bachelor's degree in music, a master of theological studies from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and a master of divinity from Phillips Theological Seminary. She and her husband Nathan are the parents of two adult children.

Connie Cross is the office coordinator for Enrichment journal at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center in Springfield, Missouri. She also serves as web-content facilitator for the Network for Women in Ministry web team.

 

"What do I do now?"

That's the first question most of us think or utter when we face a detour.


Christine Morgan

We start our journey with a sense of satisfaction because we have a plan. Our plan provides us with a sense of security. We know exactly how we're going to get there and how long it should take. So we turn on the radio, glance at the scenery, and try to relax those shoulders as we stir our way to our destination. The minute we feel the most relaxed is usually the time when a sign ahead comes into view well enough for us to read it — detour.

We have established that detours are part of every ministry journey. So what can we do to prepare ourselves for them?

We asked three women ministers several questions about detours in ministry, and how the one most important quality in dealing with them — flexibility — comes into play.

Flexibility — Nature and Nurture

First, we asked them, "Are we born with flexibility, or do we develop it?"

Christine Morgan, an Assemblies of God minister and marriage and family therapist from Fort Carson, Colorado, says she has always been a flexible person. "I think it was encouraged by my family when I was growing up, because even though we had some structure, we had permission to 'color outside the lines.' "

Sheri Ray, a hospital chaplain in Springfield, Missouri, says that she has not always been flexible, nor was it encouraged by her family.


Sheri Ray

JoAnn Butrin, the director for International Ministries for the Assemblies of God World Missions, says "As a child of a minister who didn't stay long in one place, I found it necessary to become adaptable to change. Though I didn't enjoy it, I believe it helped to prepare me for the flexibility and adaptability required for missionary life."

So it appears that while some are not born with it, they do develop it. So we asked, "How do you nurture flexibility in your personality?"

Ray says, "God provides many opportunities for me to practice. During such times, each of us has the opportunity to choose how we are going to respond to failure, conflict, disappointment, etc. A powerful concept for me is the prayer of relinquishment. This is not giving up, but seeking direction. For years I have taken comfort by praying, 'Lord, show me what you want me to hold on to and what to let go of in this moment.' "

Butrin says, "When I prepared to go to the mission field at the age of 21, I did not receive a great deal of orientation, but one of the messages that stuck in my head is, 'flexibility will be your greatest asset.' I tried to look at the changes that came most days as an adventure. It didn't work every day, and I still longed for routine and stability at times, but I often recited, 'I can do all things,' and just went forward with whatever the day would hold."

Embracing Flexibility Instead of Security

Even as we start to work on developing our flexibility muscles, we often want to resist change for the sake of security. We asked these ministers if they were ever tempted to "rein it in."

Morgan says, "No, I really haven't. I tend to be a visionary, so I am really open to new possibilities. I think it's the way God made me, so when I'm flexible, I'm functioning the way God created me. I still have to be responsible about decisions, but my bent is always toward the imaginative and adaptive. Also, ever since I've been a little girl, it has been easy for me to trust God who has felt like my best friend. It doesn't mean my life hasn't had pain and suffering, but in the midst of it, I still feel God is my friend."


JoAnn Butrin

On the other hand, Ray states, "Pretty much constantly. Fear can be such a factor — fear of making a mistake, of hindering someone else, of mishandling God's call, and sometimes even fear of success. This often translates as the fear of facing the responsibilities that come with success. There is also the factor of how to respond to God and the circumstances when He doesn't do things the way we expect. If approached from a rigid standpoint, this unmet expectation can become the basis for a crisis of faith."

Butrin responds, "I think my personality, even with years of constant flexing and adaptation, prefers the security of routine and little change. (I never move my furniture around — I think it is my one small way of controlling change). Yet, since that has not been the case, the Lord has given me the grace to not only accept but embrace change. As I do this, leaning on the security of Jesus in my life, I have learned that change, as hard as it can be at times, always brings some elements of good, and a positive impact on my life or on the lives of those around me."

How Flexibility Enhances Ministry

Lastly, they answered the question, "How does being flexible enhance ministry?"

Butrin responds, "Since the life of a leader, speaker, traveler, and problem solver is never static, it is a huge help to me personally and hopefully to my ministry to face each day with the idea that those things that come to me, that interrupt my schedule, that with one phone call can change the course of my week, are not only part of what God has called me to do, but are part of a plan the Lord knows all about. There are days when I still fuss and fret when things don't go as planned. But when I can just relax, "let God," and go with the twists and turns of the day, I find that I am less stressed and actually do get the things that absolutely have to be done accomplished — even though they not according to my plan.

Morgan says, "I think it keeps me open to what God has in store. I don't box God in. I'm excited if God changes the plan, because I believe that God will be involved in it, so I don't feel anxiety about change. I used to open my calendar (now I have a smartphone) and say each morning, "God, here is what I have planned for my day; I trust You to direct or redirect me as You wish." For me, that kind of practice is a practical way to live flexibly."

And Ray says, "I try to embrace the concept between expectation and expectancy. In a recent service I attended, a young woman explained the difference: expectation is like a white board filled with lists of what should or should not happen. When some or all of them are not met, there is a sense of disappointment. Expectancy, on the other hand, is like that same white board completely blank. God holds the markers, and we know He will create something amazing, but we have no idea how He will do it."

Conclusion

You have heard from three women in three different ministry fields on the subject of flexibility in ministry. We trust their shared wisdom and insight on how to grow in personal flexibility challenge and encourage you to do the same.