Watching and Learning

I grew up in a faith tradition that didn't have a model for a woman with leadership and teaching gifts. The roles available for women revolved around the kitchen and the home. In the church, women could display leadership by organizing potlocks and teaching children until they reached puberty. From an early age, I absorbed what would be my future. Until God surprisingly called me into youth ministry when I was 16 years old.

There was zero framework for that calling. That didn't happen where I came from. And it didn't fit anywhere in my experience, or what I saw other women doing in their lives.

By the grace of God, my parents and others began affirming my calling and I was swept into pursuing that calling. The first stop of my training began at Willow Creek Community Church.

I was 18 years old.

In those formative early days of leadership, my first boss in the church was a woman, who's since become one of my dearest friends. I also watched two Nancy's use their gifts to lead teams and ministries, teach on Sunday mornings (gasp!), serve on the management team and elder board. It was revolutionary to me.

Nancy Beach is one of those Nancy's.

Nancy's been a pioneer in her generation and mine. She was a founding leader at Willow Creek. She created and lead an arts team that revolutionized creativity in the church. People weren't using drama and so many other creative mediums before Nancy did. She was invited to teach at churches and conferences all over the world on matters of creativity and leadership. She's been one of the key women on the forefront in the evangelical church for three decades. That's a long time to pioneer something.

For nearly 20 years, I've watched Nancy from a distance. I was astounded to see a woman - a mom even - providing such significant and important public service in the church. I couldn't believe the anointing she carried when she preached on Sunday morning (and not just on Mother's Day!). It rattled my thinking to know her voice actually influenced Bill Hybels, the senior pastor. I remember her carrying a critical role in the church as they set out to raise a bazillion dollars. I stood in awe when I saw her year after year pastor a Global Leadership Summit with tens of thousands of leaders. I remember her speaking at staff meetings, giving pastoral care to a staff of over 500 men and women.

I remember Nancy's voice in my life as a young woman when she told me that my leadership and teaching mattered. It changed me. She showed me what was possible when the Holy Spirit intentionally gives you a gift.

In the past couple years, Nancy has provide a much more up close and personal role in my life. I count her among my wise counsel and I love her deeply. She's provided perspective, wisdom, care, intimate personal experience, hope, challenge, and better skills for me in challenging leadership and personal seasons. She's been quick to say "yes" to my request for a quick phone call or Skype conversation. She's been generous with me in every way.

She's shown and taught me to stay the course as a woman in leadership, even when it's so.very.hard.

Yet with all of Nancy's investment and influence - and hundreds running along beside her - there's still a gap in the church. She so articulately laments,

Women church leaders tell me stories of small ways, and larger ways, in which they have felt overlooked, excluded, diminished, unfairly compensated, and misunderstood. There are also many stories of churches where the opposite is true, where women feel valued and empowered. Yet most female leaders who cross my path feel somewhat alone in their journey, and are occasionally or often tempted to just give up, bury their gifts, and quiet their voice.

This is why the Women in Youth Ministry Campference is so important. We need each other as we journey through these challenges. We need to be reminded we aren't alone. We need our gifts to be emboldened so the church becomes all she must be. And we need to get better, stronger, smarter, more soulful as we faithfully lead and teach in our churches.

And this is why I'm beyond thrilled Nancy agreed to speak at WYMC this Spring. She was quick to say "yes" to coming and speaking and coaching to this next generation of female leaders and teachers. She's so deeply committed to pouring her life into ours and this is just one of the ways she's living it out.

What a gift to have Nancy with us. I know you'll soak up all she has to offer. I hope to see you there.