Women in Ministry Series: On Failing at Ministry

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I met Micha Boyett at a writing conference this past Spring after recently learning about her blog called Mama Monk that had been really taking off. In Micha I found someone who is deeply thoughtful, gentle, and aware of the challenges parents face with spirituality. If you’ve ever read Mama Monk, you already know that Micha has a powerful writing ministry that is touching so many. Today she writes about her ministry days before she took her “vows” as a blogger…

I stood on Mt. Princeton in 2005, overlooking the valley and the aspens that stretched out miles before me, and I sighed my surrender to God. I had just finished grad school, was newly married and moving soon to Philadelphia, my husband’s hometown. And I’d just traveled with 150 high school students on buses for two days, all the way from New York State to Colorado for camp.

I whispered, “God, I think I’m created for this work. Right here.” Nothing brought me more joy than ministry to middle and high school students. I gave myself to it.

I cried a lot my first year “in ministry.” It turned out that working for a parachurch mission meant devoting one-third of my time to fundraising. In my town, where most men were working in suits and most women were home with their kids, that meant helping to run a golf tournament for men twenty years my senior and asking for a big financial donation from an intimidating male executive over lunch. It meant constant discomfort in my skin.

I wasn’t good at developing volunteer leaders and having hard conversations with them about their choices and gifts. I wanted to avoid conflict at all costs and in doing so, I struggled to be more than a surface-level cheerleader for them. I was not good at managing my area’s finances. I was not good at not crying when faced with all the things I wasn’t good at.

But I was great at relationships. I was fairly good at speaking. And I was awesome at dressing up in spandex and dorky 80’s shorts and leading girls in the Best. Dance. Party. Of. All. Time.

Here’s the thing: I needed to be good at all of it, not simply the relational aspects of the job. But as a woman in a largely male-dominated mission, I struggled with separating my personal weaknesses from the anxiety I felt over my female brain.

I feared that I was bad at left-brained aspects of ministry because I was a woman. In truth, I was bad at it because I was Right-Brained-Micha. Relational connections and silliness and teaching came naturally to me. Administration didn’t.

What I needed was a woman in ministry, twenty years further down the road. I needed a woman to sit down with me and say: This is how to handle yourself in a fundraising setting when there are twenty fifty-year-old men and you. This is how to embrace conflict when you’re a good Southern girl who’s been raised to avoid it. This is how to encounter a room of male staff and release yourself from striving for their approval.

When I think of myself behind the desk staring at numbers or dealing with the male, ragamuffin leader, I think, Oh, I was so miserable in that job. But that’s not true. Half the time in ministry I was actually with people. And I was in love with my work.

I was at the high school volleyball game and driving kids home from the spring play. I was eating at Chili’s again with a table of freshmen girls who were trying to understand how to be Christ followers while living in families that did not support their newly found faith. I was singing to Taylor Swift on the radio with a suburban full of kids ten minutes after sharing with them the story of the cross, the story I believed could alter, was already altering, their lives forever.

Did I fail at ministry?

I find myself asking that question a lot. And then I think about the Bible study I helped lead at 6 am on Friday mornings while my baby ate breakfast at a friend’s house. How with paperback Bibles in our hands, I spoke to that room of sleepy freshmen and sophomores who opened the scripture while simultaneously trying not to fall asleep. And, rarely, I saw in their eyes a love for that passage. I saw in their faces a moment of recognition. They got it. They understood the power of a life marked by Christ.

I didn’t fail.

But I did quit.

Sometimes I think of the older woman who didn’t lead me, who didn’t exist for me, and I ache in fear that she’s just like me. I’m afraid she quit too.

Was I supposed to be That Woman for another girl who is just now hearing God’s deep call to the life of ministry? She is standing on the edge of the mountain and looking over the valley and saying: “Yes, God, I will give my life to this. Whatever the cost.”

I am praying for that girl. I’m praying that when the cost is administrative anxiety; when the cost is time away from her spouse or uncertainty about her kids; when the cost is fear of conflict: I’m praying she will be brave enough to find a woman to whisper that flourishing in ministry is possible. I’m praying she will persevere and be the woman who speaks hope to all the women who come after her.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

dsc_6468Micha Boyett (pronounced "MY-cah") is a youth minister turned stay at home mom trying to make sense of vocation and season and place in the midst of her third cross-country move in three years. A native Texan, she is mama to two blonde boys and wife to a very tall Philadelphian. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday. Follow her on Twitter at @michaboyett or find her on Facebook here.

About the Women in Ministry Series

The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:

  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Angie Mabry-Nauta

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21 thoughts on “Women in Ministry Series: On Failing at Ministry

  1. Vicki

    Micha, you have fueled what I believe is becoming God’s call on my life…developing women leaders, whether young or old. Your words have given me courage and the perspective of knowing that I am on the right path. Thank you.

  2. Jonathan

    What a wonderfully honest story. I especially liked this:

    I feared that I was bad at left-brained aspects of ministry because I was a woman. In truth, I was bad at it because I was Right-Brained-Micha.

    We are a diverse collection of people, that’s for sure, with gifts, callings and abilities that go way deeper than our gender.

    I also pray for those women. The church needs them.

    Blessings to you and your work.

  3. lisa delay

    Some powerful points here. This was a good read.

    The benefit of a mentor is invaluable. A spiritual guide, companion, advocate and advisor with maturity has incalculable worth in our lives.

    It took me 10 years to find one. A trained spiritual director, lover of Jesus and his ways, who has been companioning souls and raising 5 kids. She’s now is grandmotherly and wise. And in my corner.

    For those who seek this I have some advice:
    • KEEP LOOKING! (push discouragement aside!)
    • Ask around.
    • Find a spiritual center that trains spiritual companions (Evangelicals do not seem to have this in ANY abundance, but Catholics are really into it.)
    • Make the first move, (don’t wait to be asked by a mentor, approach him or her)
    • A directory of companions may help, but if you don’t find a good fit, keep looking.

    Here’s a large directory (international, with various spiritual traditions)
    Spiritual Directors International
    sdiworld.org/

    1. Diana Trautwein

      Amen to this. But please note that the Evangelical Covenant Church DOES have a Center for Spiritual Direction at their seminary at North Park University in Chicago IL. It’s an amazing course, spread over 3 summers. And yes, yes, yes. Spiritual directors can be those older, mentoring women – though the ministry of SD is not mentoring per se. I WAS an older woman in ministry – when I began! And I desperately needed someone to advise me….and there was no one. I am retired from parish ministry now, but have finished training in and am now offering spiritual direction on the central coast of CA. There are many older women doing the same, all around the country. Ask, and you shall find.

  4. Mark Allman

    So Micah,
    It would seem that you could be that woman for younger women. Do you have a avenue for them to reach you? I am sure you could impact many doing what you describe.

  5. Herm

    We expect everyone to be all things that we need rather than share first their offered exceptional skills. It is so much better, and far fewer casualties, when we share our special skills with a team of special skills. You were younger before and wiser after leaders forced you into performing at ministry that they obviously could not do themselves. I don’t tell my plumber to do my taxes nor do I tell my accountant to heal my toilet and neither does our most understanding Lord. You persisted and from that you learned. You are in the desert, away from formal ministry, so God can prepare you to enter into Jerusalem where the leaders need your skills at ministry for themselves.

    God is with you, has blessed you with honest observation and the nerve to question what in the heck went wrong. He will lead you through the valley of being misused rather than being accepted for what makes you unique from all other lives throughout all time. Jesus was most misused and yet showed us best how to minister to all who are receptive to His truth. Keep questioning and keep sharing your gifts. Love

    1. Micha Boyett

      Herm, I hear you: we don’t ask the accountant to do our plumbing. I think most in parachurch organizations would agree that it’s a difficult thing to ask. The problem is finances right? The people who work for parachurch organizations are already barely making enough to care for their families. How can these organizations afford to have someone with administrative gifts running the fundraising operations for that area? It’s a hard question and deserves our wrestling with it.

      Thank you for your kind words. I don’t, however, feel like I was misused. And I hope my post didn’t come across as that. I was loved and cared for within the mission where I worked. And I loved so much of my experience. What ultimately caused me to leave to stay home with my kids was my circumstances and that feeling of not being completely gifted for the organization. Not a bitterness or a misery. Does that make sense?

      It’s a hard line to balance when writing a short piece about how I felt. But I hope it’s clear that I was not mistreated or unappreciated. There was simply not the specific kind of support I think I needed.

      1. Jen

        I loved my work before kids but each ministry, each job, has its challenges. I love what you say about wishing there was a woman who had walked this road before you. I felt that often as a young mom. Wishing for a woman who was further along the path to come alongside me and help me figure out this whole new part of my life. I have found my way, and found a new work before me, but this piece reminds me to look back and grab the hand of the young moms around me who are bleary eyed and just needing a hand.

  6. Peggy

    I am on my way to your website … but you, my sister, are ripe to join me here: http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/2009/05/primer-on-abis-purple-martyrdom.html

    Just so you know — having the administrative chops doesn’t necessarily solve all our issues as women … I was an Organization Management / Biblical Studies double major….

    We are still on the leading edge with not that many years of women mentors ahead of us … I know your pain and look forward to connecting with you — a Mama Monk and a Virtual Abbess could have potential! :-)

    Be blessed, sister….

  7. Chrystal

    Wonderfully honest and powerful observations! Thank you for your transparency. From things I’ve seen on your blog, I would say that you are being That Woman with what you’re sharing there. Is that your perspective, too?

    I have seen firsthand the benefits of being mentored and of having the opportunity to mentor others. I was blessed to have a mentor/role model/second mother. For the last thirty years of her life she shared her wisdom and experience with me, making invaluable investments into my ministry and into my life. I have been privileged to return that gift to others. I love Lisa’s comments concerning spiritual directors and I’m truly encouraged to see a rising interest in this discipline. I pray that God is raising up women, and men, who are willing to invest themselves in the lives of younger women, actively pursuing relationship with them, and ensuring that we will continue to have the voices of many women freely speaking with strength into the community of Christ followers.

  8. Annie Barnett

    Micha, I don’t want to illegitimize that ache, for that dream and for the women in youth min longing for mentors. I hear your heart here. (And I never even made it into my first year of dreamed about ministry.) But I do you want you to know I have tears in my eyes because through your writing, you are that woman for this woman/artist/mom at home trying to figure out how to translate the Quotidian Mystery into a daily reality. And I’m very grateful for your voice.

    1. Micha Boyett

      Oh, Annie, thank you. For that encouragement and confirmation that I’m doing what I’m called to do in this season of my life. So grateful for your words.

  9. Micha Boyett

    Friends,

    I’m so grateful for all these comments. I have to say I feel a little heavy-hearted about this post today. 800 words is not enough room to tell the WHOLE story. And there’s always a whole story, you know?

    The truth is that I had many different mentors in many different forms. My boss in the mission is a dear friend (and a man) who has shaped me in countless ways spiritually and in ministry. His wife is a dear friend who spoke many true things in my life during that season and now. I prayed weekly with a woman who still prays for me and still encourages my ministry, even as it looks different…all the way across the country from her.

    All that to say, I was not alone. What I lacked was the example of a woman in my position who could really walk me through my biggest weaknesses. I had the spiritual and relational examples. I simply didn’t have the administrative examples. And that proved to be very difficult for me.

  10. MK @ Teach Sunday School

    I am so thankful that you decided to feature Micha Boyett for this blog post. Her writing is incredible, and she is so warm and honest. I’m now about to head over to Mama Monk, where I have a feeling I’ll be spending at least an hour reading her posts! Thank you so much for posting her article!

  11. Amy Young

    Micha. This. This brought tears to my eyes. For all the best and hardest reasons. I’m trying to be this for other young women in China. I’m in a phase where I am a bit tired and discouraged, but this puts some spiritual wind under my wings.

  12. Melissa

    Hey Micah, beautiful post! And I can say that much of what you say resonates with me–ten months now after my 7 plus years in youth ministry. I am very passionate on what it looks like for us now to be for the women young in their ministry years, what we had a hard time finding. Interestingly–I wrote about a similar struggle earlier this week on my blog (http://redefiningfemale.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/leading-like-a-girl-part-2-dressing-the-part/)…I’d love to connect sometime.

  13. kim

    I appreciate what you shared, Micha. I am further encouraged to both pursue mentoring relationships in needed areas of my life and to continue in my efforts to mentor young women who are coming after me.

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