Expected to Perform At Super Normal Levels? {Book Club}

On the day I’m writing this, my small group will meet for dinner, study and prayer. I don’t think this will surprise you, but I rarely sign up to bring food, instead I’d rather prepare the Bible Study. We’re finishing up our study of Acts and I loved one commentary’s take on Acts 28:30-31:

“There is no end to the story. Why? Because the same story is repeated again and again throughout history of the church. Trusting in Jesus, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Father, the word of God will continue to spread without hindrance and continue to change lives for the glory of God. The Book of Acts really is a never-ending story.”

The Book of Acts really is a never-ending story.

If you’re familiar with the Jesus Storybook Bible, this reminds me of the language the author uses for the story of Eden and God’s love for us being never ending, always and forever. And we’ve joined that story. Sometimes excitement and awe wash over me and I have to pinch myself.

Other times, I read chapters like the two we read for today (in Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission written by Robynn Bliss and Sue Eenigenburg)  and remember this is hard. All the different players involved and areas for different expectations and tensions and I wish there was a tidier end to the story.

In the chapter on sending agencies, I starred, underlined, and wrote “yes” on basically every page. Which is to say, if you haven’t, read it. One of the phrases that jumped out to me was, “sending agencies have the opportunity to create both freedom and accountability through clarity.” I know represented in our ranks we have so many wonderful organizations who are committed to the call as well. I also know there are some not so great. Sigh. I wish that weren’t true.

But doesn’t the idea of freedom and accountability resonate with you? Freedom within standards. Standards that are broad enough so that one person or marriage or family doesn’t have to be like others. Freedom not to live in fear that we are disappointing someone (maybe we don’t even know who the “someone” is) or not living up to the unspoken standards.

Yes, freedom balanced with accountability.

Sounds so … Godly? doesn’t it? Grace and Truth.

As I read this, I wondered what your experience with communicating with your organization has been like? If you’re married do you have you own voice? Does it need to go through your husband? How are you each heard as individuals and as a couple? If you’re single, how are you heard by your organization?

I don’t think we’ll get to this at other points in the book, so I’ll bring it up here: housing and the single. Just this week as I sent out a letter to my supporters and was sharing about Connection Groups and the upcoming retreat, I got a long response from someone I’d been on a summer team in the early  90’s. She wrote at great length about how housing influenced one experience. For the most part, I’ve had my own space. How are housing decisions made in your organization? For couples, families, and singles?

I wanted to put the chapter on sending organizations with sending churches. In this day and age, I think it’s not only sending churches but also individuals. Again, a massive range exists for all of us reading this. Some are fully funded by a denomination, others by a group of churches or by one church. Some have a combination of churches and individuals and some are in a second career and are self-funded while have a solid prayer team. I have just stated the obvious, you’re welcome :).

I wanted to flesh all of this out because I can see why these can be complex subjects to write about given the amount of variables. I’m impressed that Sue was able to pack so much into such a short space. This stood out to me in the chapter: “Some women, according to the survey, think that they are expected by their churches to thrive spiritually, but are also concerned they have be occasionally judged as unspiritual if they return home or suffer extreme discouragement or burnout.”

Preach it sister. I know we’ve barely dipped out toe in these subjects. So let’s keep talking in the comments. What stood out to you or was stirred in you?

Fondly,

Amy

P.S. Next week we have the treat of author Sue sharing with us! We’ll be back to the book and our expectations of our co-workers after Easter.

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8 Comments

  1. Elizabeth March 24, 2015

    Oh, Amy, ready for a book? Then take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, and plug your laptop into its charger 😉

    First of all I think this is such an important topic — I have personally seen people burn out or approach burnout when their agency is not a good fit for them. And because my husband is the team leader for our team, we’ve had to tackle some of these issues head on. And they are tricky issues.

    For instance, the field coordinator is expected to do a LIFT (accountability email/skype thingy that’s supposed to be the first line of defense in handling any and all issues) with all his team leaders each month. Then the team leader is to do a LIFT with the team members. But who are the team members? Traditionally that’s just been husbands. But what about wives? Who’s checking on them? What about single women?

    At the same time, does my husband want to get all personal with a single woman or another man’s wife? We just aren’t super comfortable with that. We like to try to place boundaries around our marriage, and for us, that means my husband isn’t going around talking about super personal things with other women, not am I going around talking about super personal things with other men. And we want to respect the privacy of other marriages too. But then, the women can feel left out. In the words of one of my married teammates who works full time, the way our org has followed the LIFT policy “is just dumb.” LOL! She wants to be included too! Someone needs to be checking on her, finding out if she’s ok, seeing if there’s anything she needs help, prayer, or accountability for.

    (Let me interrupt and say I’ve been fine here for 3 years even though no one was checking in on me, because whenever I felt things were getting out of control or I had questions that needed answering, I contacted my member care associate, who is AWESOME and loves getting resources to people, and who happens to be a woman, so I feel comfortable talking about my issues in a way I might not if I were talking to a man. But I do have to take responsibility and reach out to her. Again, that’s fine with me, but some women would like more involvement.)

    So anyway my husband finally asked his leadership mentor (who’s in the same org) how they handled these LIFTs, especially because they were going to take so much time, and time is limited for him, because the team leader thing is on top of regular ministry. And his answer, to us, seemed brilliant. At their monthly meetings the ladies and men split up and went through the LIFT questions together as a group. Then there is accountability and fellowship for everyone, plus separation of genders if that makes some people more comfortable. And, it doesn’t mean hours each month that my husband has to block out of his schedule. So we are going to try that. Of course, the danger that our field coordinator pointed out, is that in a group there is the possibility of not being honest enough, and everyone can make themselves sound like a great overseas worker. That was interesting to me because I’m so transparent I would never even have thought of that. However I see the danger. But we’ve got to try something first, and see if it works, right?

    (I will also point out here that our org allows for “team leader couples” where the husband and wife are equally leading the team. I think that’s nice and un-sexist for couples who want to co-lead.)

    The flip side of all this, is that I think the reason the org had that tendency to ignore women in the LIFTs is that there is great flexibility in a couple’s work commitment. Basically, a family is expected 40 (or more, depending) hours of work each week. That gives families some flexibility in a wife’s role. It’s the whole +1 arrangement that Karen talked about last week. At least one full time worker, then whatever else, depending on life situations. Some places don’t have international schools to send kids to, and some schools are too expensive, etc, etc. So sometimes a woman is at home full time. Other times she works full time too (we have both these scenarios on our team). So what’s meant to give freedom (wife doesn’t have to work if it’s not good for the family at a given time), ends up taking away their voice (in having no LIFTs), if that makes any sense. I think we have to be sensitive to both sides of this coin. Give women a voice, whether that means they are working full time, part time, or at home. But it’s a tricky road to walk, and I’m only talking about moms.

    This is a pointed statement: “We receive mixed messages from our leadership. On the one hand they are supportive of homeschooling and family needs, but on the other hand they push ministry and language, so it is hard to get a clear picture of expectations.” I think this encapsulates the opposing expectations families face. It’s hard to do everything well at the same time; something has to give. What is going to give right now? It’s different for every woman, but we cannot possibly meet ALL the expectations we feel.

    “Everyone needs to be reminded that women’s work and roles overseas are more challenging than in their home country.”  Underline, underline, underline! And then later in that same paragraph, “Too many overseas worker’s wives felt that their husbands were gone doing ministry while they were left at home, fulfilling the ministry with their children alone.” As I’ve mentioned to you before, I think that’s what we’re trying to avoid personally, but it’s certainly very tricky to flesh out in real life, because it means sometimes disappointing people in ministry or our orgs.

    I love this quote: “After over 10 years on the field, I have learned to be about what God has called me to whether or not that is every publicly affirmed or encouraged by our leadership.” I love the tenacity of this statement, how devoted this woman is to trying to follow God no matter what others think and say. And 10 years is a long time. She has earned the right to say that, because she has persevered an entire decade!

    And an interesting little tid bit about too many expectations on singles. The book said that they are often expected to do all their personal care and home care on weekends, because they don’t have as many responsibilities at home. Yet in reality they do. That section really stuck out to me. I think of my own life, in which we have a part time helper in the home. That allows me to stay home full time and still get homeschooling and writing. I’m incredibly thankful for this arrangement. Yet one of my good friends here, an older(ish) single lady, does not have a helper. Because it would be sort of unnecessary, in a smaller apartment, and only cooking for 1 person. So she does all her own housework and cooking. What that means is that while I don’t have to do a ton of housework on the weekends, but she might, in addition to her work during the week. So I think it’s important to acknowledge these situations. Obviously my own experiences are as a married woman with children, but my experiences are not the only experiences people are having.

    I really appreciated the acknowledgement that all women, single and married, have varying energy levels and that we have to be sensitive to that. Not everyone can host tons of people in their home all the time (we are some of those people). And towards the end of the chapter, it was said that one of the biggest needs women have is simply RESPECT. They need to be recognized for their contributions no matter what they are. I love this finding because I hate the premise that only men need respect and women only need love. That is from a popular marriage book and I STRONGLY DISLIKE the premise. I have a strong need for respect, and my husband has a strong need for love. (I also have a strong need for love.) I think everybody needs both love and respect, and we fail to meet real human needs if we put people in a box and think men crave respect above all else and women just need love. Dumb! False! Women need respect too!

    “In summary, overseas working women must discuss their expectations and be assertive in communicating their ideas and concerns to overseas leadership. They do not have to wait to be asked for their input, but need to volunteer for committees and to contribute to leadership as they want to and are able. Women can also talk with their direct supervisors about any issues they might have as well as seek out a more experienced woman overseas worker from whom they can get practical help and advice. Overseas leadership must intentionally seek to know their women members, their giftings and abilities so they can utilize all personnel in fulfilling the great commission. They must communicate care and affirmation, recognizing the value women members bring to their organization.” I think that is a perfect little summary of what life should be like. Reality might not be quite so heavenly, but hey, at least we have something to aim for, right??

    1. Amy Young March 25, 2015

      Totally worth finding my power charger :).

      I appreciated how this chapter came at it from all angles — single, married, working, studying, whatevering. I know from having friends who started off on the field with two little ones … and then added two more and then raised them (duh) each phase of life was unique. (This is one of my fav quotes from when the kids were little — one of her kids had no idea “lunch” was a meal, he thought it means “PB and J Sandwich” because so much of life was about surviving the dailyness of it and cooking was not important for variety at lunch)

      Several years ago I did a rather extensive survey of singles and singles who had then gotten married on the field. I loved pouring over the data! And one thing that relates to this chapters (well, maybe the one on c0-workers too, so we might come back to it) was the time it took to host. Singles who then got married noted how nice it was to have someone help with either the prep, the conversational ball, or the clean-up (or all three) and how it made hosting more enjoyable than when they had to do all three parts by themselves and were exhausted 🙂

      I also laughed at underline, underline, underline and STRONGLY DISLIKE. Me too. Maybe because my life is so rich in love, the respect thing is more of a “need” “button” whatever you want to call it. I’ve never not felt loved, but I have felt disrespected. Now, if I was lacking in love, I know that might influence my thoughts. 🙂

       

  2. Emily March 24, 2015

    I’m coming from the perspective of someone preparing for my family’s first long-term commitment overseas, and I’m loving this book. As we have completed the application and research process of various agencies and gotten down to the nitty gritty with a couple, one of the biggest concerns for us has been the very vague and noncommittal explanations regarding the role that I, as the wife, play in the process. What will that look like with kids? What are the expectation for ministry while raising a preschooler? I really appreciated the chapter because it showed me that 1) I’m not alone; and 2) it’s important to get those things sorted out and clear expectations set in the beginning.

    I’m also thankful for our sending church because they have been gracious with us as we try to clarify expectations and determine what’s ahead. It has been my experience that sending churches often have big hearts and love for overseas work but don’t always know how to effectively execute and support those serving. Thankful to be part of a body that is willing to wade into the waters of really supporting those who are going.

    Great book so far! Looking forward to the next chapters!

    1. Amy Young March 25, 2015

      Emily — YES! I’m fist bumping the air. I love it that you, your husband and potential agencies talk about these topics. I also want to encourage you (and you probably know this, I just feel compelled to say it :). Captain Obvious here) — that these will be on-going talks. The fact that you (singular and plural) are building a shared vocabulary and understanding will be a fab foundation for future talks as things take a more concrete.

  3. J March 25, 2015

    Hi Amy and everyone,

    We are in the situation of being self-funding, through my husband’s job. He started off in a called hospital for 18 months but we had underestimated the rising cost of living here compared to the called hospital salary. A big cost is the children’s schooling but we feel this is something important. We did ask for, and receive a small amount of financial support when we were struggling. My husband is now working in a private hospital, not only for reasons of the salary, but also as they have better facilities for the work he does. He does miss the called hospital ethos but he still visits there whenever they need him to see particular patients. He struggles with the business model of the private hospital. Now that my husbands salary covers our needs we channel any donations for patients who cannot afford necessary treatment. Having moved around a bit before coming here our prayer support comes from quite a variety of friends from different churches, as well as family. We have a link with a medical overseas worker ending agency but they are quite small with limited staff and resources. We don’t have a team as such, as we are the only people from that sending organization here. When my husband was in the called hospital he got fellowship with the other staff there but he does not know of any Christian doctors in the new place (there are many Christian nurses but they are all female). I get to go to an international ladies bible study which has been a great encouragement but my husband does not have something similar and his work hours are also quite long.

    There is a point in chapter 5 about how we share with our sending churches. We also hesitate to share our struggles, even though we are now being supported financially. I think it is human nature to want to paint a more positive picture. I write the blog and prayer letter and would not want to broadcast publicly that my husband is finding things more difficult than expected. We do share our disappointments, doubts and struggles with close friends and family though. who pray for us.

    Would appreciate your prayers for God to strengthen and guide us too. Thanks.

    1. Amy Young March 25, 2015

      J — thank you for sharing parts of your story. I think books like Expectations are great, but they are even better when they move from theory to the reality of “what does this mean for my life? My family’s? My husband’s?” As I sit here and think about you and your family, I’m impressed with your resourcefulness and tenacity to figure out what works for your family and what doesn’t and to keep looking. I would imagine there comes a point though, that you’d just like a break :).

      I’m thankful you’ve found fellowship and a place for spiritual conversations in person — I can see why you’d want that for your husband too! Do you think he feels the need to the same level you do? The only reason I ask, is one of my good friends in the US is in a similar situation. She wants for good fellowship and iron sharpening iron kind of relationships for her husband — and it’s their “home” culture so parts of it should (?!) be easier. However, he doesn’t seem to want it :). So, she can’t really push. All that to say, and now I’m babbling to myself and don’t mean to overstep, sometimes we can’t want something for others more than they want it. BUT if he does want it, I’ll be praying for doors to open.

      Others– what do you think — I don’t think everything needs to be shared with everyone. If you’ve got a few who know and you can share with, that may be all you need. And this is a tough one because for better or worse, some struggles come ranked and are seen as more worthy/better than others. Some are attached with such shame, of course people might hesitate to share!!!

       

  4. J March 25, 2015

    Just a correction:

    It should read “We also hesitate to share our struggles, even though we are not (not now) being supported financially. “

  5. Anna March 28, 2015

    Freedom and accountability- YES!  We have a good balance of this with our organization.  We didn’t know a lot about the differences between organizations when we started this process.  But there was much that resonated with us within our denomination, so we stayed with them (in a minor branch of the organization.)  As I’ve learned more about the practical workings and the different way things are done, I’ve come to really appreciate our org.  There is no one with our org in our city, but we have a team in the same country.  We’ve really appreciated them on so many levels.  They are all more experienced than us, and have been a great group to help guide us through our time.  We have 1 official member care person, but many people who are nurturers or shepherds by nature.  🙂  Within the org, we also have someone personally assigned to us in another country, and some people outside our org that we can talk to, and are encouraged to connect with about once a year.  That way if we need someone with some distance, we already have a relationship started.  (Plus they’re just great people, and so encouraging to talk to.)

    Before moving overseas, I never really stopped to think about the importance of accountability and proper leadership.  I kind of knew, but didn’t take it seriously.  After seeing good and bad examples, I realize how incredibly important it is.  We make sure we keep our team leaders in the country, US, and our sending church current with our life & ministry.

    We don’t see all the day to day interactions on our team, being in a separate city, but there are 2 single women on the team, and they are very respected.  The other married women on the team are just as involved and have as much of a voice as the men.  (They have children, but grown already.)  Communication with them and with our leadership in the US has never been a problem.  I feel like my husband and I are seen as 2 individuals who are married, not as one unit- so not the husband +1.

    Now in our city is a different story.  We work under the umbrella of another org, and it is quite different (not so happy & healthy.)  Part of it is that there is no member care, difficult to communicate with anyone in N. America, etc.  We work with quite a few different orgs, so we’ve seen examples of good & bad, or maybe good, but not the right fit.  And then the different expectations and functioning between all the different orgs involved adds even another layer.

    It can be very difficult for single women, and housing is part of that.  It is assumed that if you are a single woman of any age, you can bounce around, you have no real needs, and you have random roommates (& once it was even a man & woman in separate bedrooms next door.) But there are those of us families who have spoken against that view, and we have seen some changes in that.  Hopefully, it will last!  We also try to take the single women under our wings as much as they want.  One younger lady who was here before was verbally abused (yelling & cursing) by a male member of the org, and to a lesser extent by a second one.  She didn’t tell anyone about it until her time was drawing to a close and the other person had moved on.  But she said she didn’t know if she could do overseas work without a husband, because she felt too vulnerable.  That made some of us aware of what the single women face, not just from the culture but inside the m. subculture, and we keep an eye on them.

    This is such a good book.  A friend here brought it with her, and after we both read it, we had a chance to talk about some of the things.  Now would recommend it to everyone!

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