you have a theology problem.

Puzzle from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Andreanna Moya Photography, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

“You have a theology problem.”

A trusted woman in my life told me that the other day.  (And by trusted woman I mean my counselor whose qualifications for saying such a thing to me are found in the string of abbreviations that represent her many professional degrees in these matters!) I cringed, but couldn’t exactly protest.  I was asking all these questions of her, looking for wisdom and counsel and frankly, some answers!  What I got instead was, “You have a theology problem.  You need to go work that out!”  Not what I was looking for.  In fact, I’m quite certain I left the conversation with more problems than what came in the door with me!

It seems that what I believe to be true for you, friend, is not what I actually believe to be true for me.  I carry around two different theologies.  One for you and another for me. Can you relate?

What I believe for the world and for you is like this:

I believe that God is good and beautiful.

I believe that you are loved and worthy of love simply because you exist.

I believe that God is first and foremost a Father;  a perfect, loving Dad who desperately wants good things for you.

I believe that the kindness of the Lord is the only thing that leads to repentance.

I believe that you are free.

I believe that for you.

I do not believe that for me.

I “know”rationally that these truths apply to me.  As it turns out, the problem is that I, along with the rest of the human population, am made up of more than just reason and logic.  (I know, I know- it was surprising for me to learn, too!) So things start to really break down for me when I’m challenged to push beyond what I know and consider what it is that I truly believe.  It’s a full on meltdown for me then when what I think in my head contradicts what I believe in my heart (or spirit or gut- let’s be honest, those are pretty tough to distinguish between).  Apparently I am not a fan of said meltdowns (can you blame me?!) so I’ve just learned to avoid them largely by ignoring my heart.  Things are tidier and more stable for everyone that way. At least that’s what I tell myself.

People are sophisticated and strong creatures– we can hold a massive amount of tension for a while.  We can subdivide ourselves.  (Some of us can do that more efficiently than others.)  We can decide what parts of us have a higher moral value, what parts of us are more socially acceptable, what pieces are “stronger” or more important or appealing about us.  For me, those rational and reasonable parts are what I offer to the world, the parts I invest in and care for and like the best about myself.  All the other pieces in there I’ve labeled as weak, intemperate, fickle, and untrustworthy.

What I have been learning the slow, long, hard way is that God made us to be whole.  He made all the parts and all the parts are needed to make me whole.

There are no spare or inconsequential parts in me.

There are no spare or inconsequential parts in you.

The painstaking process of reconciling my “theology problem” involves me being willing to hold onto all the puzzle pieces; not throwing out or dismissing half of them just because I can’t figure out where they fit right now.

It looks like carving out space in an already impossibly full day to dig deep; to find a way to name the hard things; to gently call out the fragile things hidden away.

It means confessing my unbelief to the Lord over and over and over again. It requires me writing with ink on paper what’s in my heart.  Sometimes it helps to think of someone I love and what I would say to them if the unbeliefs I hold were coming out of their mouth and not mine.  What would I want them to know?  How would I pray?  How could I bless them and deposit tender truths in their heart?

Those are the things I have to do in solitude.  But then I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing:

“The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians. Their own hearts are uncertain; those of their brothers and sisters are sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

This means I cannot fix my little “theology problem” alone.  It becomes a group project, a team sport.  The Lord mercifully recruited bringers of the message of salvation for me.  He gives me a trustworthy counselor, who I affectionately refer to as my very own black hole.  Let me tell you that there is something holy about saying whatever you need to say to someone who is trained to suspend judgement and who is bound by law to keep your confidence.  She’s an amazing bringer.  Then there are the handful of friends and family who still manage to take my calls and want to spend time with me, even though it must feel like watching a dog chase its tail for hours on end to listen to me process all of this.

Lastly, I know deep down that banishing my unbelief will mean taking some hard and scary steps in my “everyday, ordinary life—my sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” as Eugene Peterson puts it.  Honestly, I don’t know what all those will be yet.  I imagine many of them will be small and awkward- the kinds of things you think surely wouldn’t be so insignificant if they were really from God, but so hard to talk yourself into doing that they must be from God.  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?!

There will be big steps, too, I’m sure- “Peter steps” is what I’ll call those.  Because while I know it was by faith that Peter believed and earnestly wanted Jesus to call him out of the boat, the miracle we all talk about is the guy actually walking on the water, not simply him wanting to do so from inside the boat.

I guess the best way to say it is that I don’t know how much you can believe, or how much unbelief you can exorcise, from inside the boat.  That’s the terrifying truth.  It’s terrifying though in the way that really trusting God is always terrifying…and life-changing.

Knowing just isn’t enough for me anymore.  It isn’t all that I need, it isn’t all that I am inside.  I need to believe, in every sense of the word, that Jesus is for and with me in all the ways that I deeply believe that he is for and with you.  I need to be free from the weight of lugging around two different theologies everywhere I go.  I just need one really good one in which Jesus is more than enough for every part of each and every one of us.






The Girl on the Trampoline

When I was 10 years old and living in Ft. Stewart, GA my neighbors had a trampoline.  It was the first one I ever jumped on outside of gymnastics classes.  It was the coolest thing happening on our street, that’s for sure.  I learned (the hard way) front flips and back flips and handsprings.  Back then trampolines weren’t sold with those nifty net enclosures.

We did some really dumb and unsafe things on that trampoline.  We would jump out of trees onto it.  We would push it up against the house and climb on the roof to jump off.  If we were feeling really stupid and irresponsible and no adults were around we’d put a sprinkler under said trampoline that was parked near the roof.  The water made the canvas extra bouncy and slick.  All the things you want when kids are leaping off of houses on to it.

The time came when our family had to move away.  I knew I would not survive the trauma of adolescence without a trampoline of my very own.  I also knew there was no way my parents would buy me one.  However, it is hard to deny a child who is willing to pay for something with their own money.  A few short weeks after arriving in the middle of the scorching summer to Ft. Hood, TX off we went to Sam’s Club for me to fork over all the cash I had squirreled away.

I had my trampoline for only a few years.  Basically, for all of middle school.  I went to 3 different schools in 3 different cities, in 2 different countries.  My parents’ marriage cracked open that year in Texas.  Nevertheless, my family would stay intact and make the move to Mons, Belgium.  The trampoline came with us.

My parents had one very simple rule about the trampoline:

No jumping without an adult home.


My sister is almost 5 years older than me and was often left “in charge” of us.  On occasion, this would mean Trish & I would have full run of the house (and trampoline, naturally) for the weekend while they traveled out of town.  Within the first 24 hours they were gone we managed to break a girl’s ankle ON BOTH SIDES jumping on that trampoline.  And as if that weren’t enough, we thought it’d be fun to jump some more around 2 or 3am.   Someone double bounces Tony who goes head first off the trampoline and cracks his head open.  Tony then proceeds to walk all through our house holding his bleeding head and then holding onto the walls, effectively making our hallway look like a crime scene!  He ended up with stitches.  Kathy ended up with a cast and crutches.  Trish and I ended up with a LOT of explaining to do.

I had sleep overs on that trampoline.  I learned spin the bottle on that trampoline.  I made up choreography and routines to songs like Motown Philly on that trampoline.  I worked out all my tweenage angst on that trampoline.  And I had a lot.

My trampoline became my sanctuary.  It was my favorite place to be.   Ironically given what a reckless daredevil I could be on it, to me it was the safest place I could think of.

We moved from Belgium to Atlanta, GA in the middle of 8th grade.  After finishing the school year out my parents 23 year marriage came to an end.  My mom, sister and I moved 90 miles south to Columbus, GA.  There we’d get an apartment and the trampoline wouldn’t be able to come with me.  It stayed at my dad’s house and every other weekend when we would go visit, I’d spend as much time out there as I could.

On my trampoline I was free and adventurous.  I pushed myself to try things I couldn’t yet do.  I laughed, cried, slept, tanned, ate, danced, and daydreamed on that black canvas.

Last summer Nathan and I worked feverishly during naptime to put together our daughters’ first trampoline.  Before he could get the enclosure around it I hopped on.

Let me tell you, that trampoline feels a lot smaller and a lot more dangerous to me than it did twenty years ago.  Then again, so does life.

I am not the girl on the trampoline that I use to be.  At least it’s not all that I am anymore.  A lot of life has happened between then and now.  But every now and again I find my way down the hill in the backyard and climb back into my childhood sanctuary to find the wonder and to remember those parts of me I should never let myself outgrow.


A few weeks ago we took our staff on a road trip for a conference and it was a great day.  While I learned a lot, my biggest takeaway had nothing to do with the workshops or sermons I heard.  It had everything to do with the company I was in.

I sat at the conference and looked around at our team.  I thought about each of their journeys, each of their giftings, each of their callings.  I was overwhelmed– at the faithfulness of the Lord in each of their own lives and His faithfulness to our church in bringing them to us.

I stood silent before Him thinking about the great lengths He’s gone through to raise each of them up for such a time as this.  I am proud simply to be counted among them.  When I consider it’s my job and honor to lead them, it’s completely mind-blowing to me in a way that I will never be able to describe and will likely never be comfortable with!

Don’t get me wrong.  Many days I bang my head on my desk and shout, “WHAT IS THIS DAY??!!”

I get crazy emails and annoying requests.  I have meetings I don’t want to be in to discuss problems that should have already been solved.  It is not easy being a leader and certainly not any easier being a leader of leaders in ministry.  What is easy is seeing all the cracks and blemishes and mistakes and gaps and balls being dropped.  If there were a degree to be had in scrutinizing, I’d have a doctorate by now.

But it’s a beautiful, I dare say holy, moment when the Lord allows you to see things the way He sees them.  When He enables you to see people the way He sees them.  When He delivers you from walking by sight.  When He lends you His perspective.

That was the kind of moment I had that Thursday.

I am surrounded by sons and daughters of God who desperately long to see His Kingdom come and His will be done.  I am surrounded by their compassion, their faith, and their perseverance.  Our church and our city testify to their labor and creativity.  Today I testify to all of those things, as well.

I have watched each of them stretch and grow.  We’ve prayed together and laughed together, and Lord knows we’ve eaten a lot together.  We’ve car danced together, cried together, and played together.

Sadly, we’ve hurt each other at times but we’ve certainly helped each other, too.  We are the better for all of it.  Perhaps much like Flannery O’Connor, we “can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

I am surrounded and I am kept by these leaders.  They inspire me and give me courage.  They share their faith with me when mine seems to be in short supply.  Each of them is a gift to me and a reminder of God’s goodness, day in and day out.  Even the days when my inner monologue would make a sailor blush and even in the moments that make me find something hard to bang my head against.  Even then.

numbers, stories, & altars.

Someone asked me recently what role I think metrics (or numbers or data as I will use interchangeably in this post) play in healthy church growth.  I love the question more than I love the answer I’m about to give.  I generally love the questions more than the answers, though.

Data matters in our church.  And in life in general, but I’ll stick to the original scope of the question.

Here at Renovatus our leaders set goals for the church. And because goals must be measurable in order to be actual goals, we use metrics and we collect data.

Setting a goal to “grow the church” is not a goal.  Setting out to increase Sunday morning attendance by 25% by the end of the year is a goal.  At the end of the year I can measure our attendance and see if accomplished what we set out to do.

Setting a goal to “support world missions” is not a goal.  Committing to raise the funds for a $25,000 church building in India in 2013 is a goal.

That being said, I have done this just long enough to know that growing a church isn’t just about setting goals and measuring things.  Not everything that is good and healthy and beautiful and Spirit driven can fit in a nifty acronym or in tidy boxes.  Trust me.  I’ve tried really hard to make it so.

Data and metrics tell us a lot.  They help us plan and forecast and steward our resources wisely.  They tell us when we may need more children’s ministry workers and community life group leaders.  They raise good questions like “do we need to re-evaluate the parking lot between services?” and “can we afford that gear right now?”

But data isn’t everything.  More precisely, it isn’t the end.  It’s simply the means.

Researcher-Storyteller Brene Brown aptly proposes that “maybe stories are just data with a soul.”  I love that idea for so many reasons.

Any time we’ve tried conventional church growth models on at Renovatus they simply don’t fit.  Much like David attempting to wear Saul’s armor we eventually learned to be comfortable with our own slingshot.  One of our rocks is a deep conviction and commitment to building altars.  So much so that we put it in our manifesto.

It says this:

We will build altars in the world. We will collect and tell stories. We will celebrate and honor the people, places and things that God chooses to use.

So we collect the data and we measure the things as a means to build altars, as a tool to help tell stories.

I read annual church survey results to my staff so they know what they are doing is working and that it matters.

I compare this year’s offerings to the last 3 years so that I can tell our congregation what they’ve accomplished and how their generosity has enabled some pretty incredible Kingdom work.

I keep up with the number of people we baptize and I want to see monthly ministry budget reports.  Sure, I am nerdy enough to find some satisfaction in simply counting things and making line graphs and spreadsheets out of numbers.  But the numbers aren’t the headliners- the people they represent are.

If the data can help us honor and celebrate what the Lord is doing, we’d be remiss not to collect it!

Building altars in the world is the objective.  Data is simply one of the tools in our toolbelt.

So, measure away.  Set goals.  Draw up plans.  Have at it.  Just use it all to help tell a good story.

Love, Tracey-girl

I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl.  More specifically, Tracey-girl, as I was called growing up.

My father & I are the only left-handed members of our family.  Somehow this became quite the bonding point for much of my childhood.  My mother would send me to my father to learn how to do everything, thinking that lefties must have a different way to accomplish the exact same things as right handed folk.  So, Dad taught me how to tie my shoes and how to throw a ball.  I still have my first baseball glove, fitted for my little right hand.

Like my father, I like to learn and find knowledge comforting.  I appreciate knowing the rules & expectations in any given situation. I take charge if no one else does. I make lists on index cards. I assume (sometimes to my own detriment) people to reasonable and rational.  I love (LOVE) salad.  I pick and chew on the sides of my fingers and the inside of my mouth.  I hold my head up in my left hand just like him with my thumb under my chin and two fingers on my temple.  Unfortunately I got none of his self-discipline and resolve.  I got ALL of his stubbornness incidentally.

I learned to dance in our living room doing the box step standing on top of my father’s shoes as he whisked me around.  I learned math at the dining room table, usually fighting back tears–pre-algebra didn’t make a lot of sense to me and the salt and pepper shakers being used as teaching illustrations only further confused and frustrated me.  I played Miss Mary Mack with him until I couldn’t take any longer his heavy USMA class ring  hitting against my little knuckles.  On special occasions I’d share MRE‘s with Dad, which were pretty much the coolest thing I could think of at the time and utterly disgusting to conceive of now!

When I was young I would always be the first one up after Dad.  He’d make my lunch for school and give me my Flintstones vitamin along with my Pop-Tart and Tang.  The morning was our time together.  I remember even then being sad at the prospect of growing older and sleeping in, thus missing my morning dates with him.

My parents divorced right before high school.  I was devastated when they decided I would live with my mother and my sister 90 miles away.  I always wanted to be where my dad was and the idea of not being with him hurt the most.

To this day, my dad’s opinion matters more to me than almost anyone’s.  His praise goes further than he can know and his company always brings with it a great deal of comfort.  Our relationship isn’t without flaw or effort.  But I am eternally grateful that ever since I could walk or understand that he was talking to me when he called me “Tracey-girl,” that I knew I was loved and invaluable to him–even when he didn’t quite know how to say it or when the miles between us were further than either of us would have preferred.  My father’s love and belief in me taught me to believe in and respect myself.  I couldn’t ask for more profound gifts.

Now that I’m grown, whenever I am in my father’s house, my favorite thing is to drag myself to the breakfast table in the morning, eat the chocolate chip pancakes he makes for me, drink the coffee he pours for me, and talk.  All that’s missing is the Flintstone vitamin and the Tang.

My father turns 68 today.  He’s still smarter than me, in better shape than me, and way more self-motivated than me.  He still inspires me to want more for myself and to enjoy the people and things I love the most.

You still hang the moon, Daddy.



Find the yes.

I am not an overly optimistic person.  I am pragmatic and rational.  But I am a firm believer in the value of finding the “yes.”

I do not say “yes” because it’s easy or because it’s always possible.  I say “yes” because I believe good followers need to be able to find the “yes” in what their leader is asking.  Let me be clear:  I do not think good leaders need “yes men” in the traditional sense of the phrase.  Emperors need to know when they are naked!  It is not loving nor following well to allow our leaders to be blindsided or shamed or fail because we neglected to muster the courage to speak truth.  HOWEVER, I do believe that finding the yes communicates a number of important things:

“Yes” publicly affirms our leaders.

“Yes” acknowledges your position as a man or woman under authority.

“Yes” creates a culture of humility and hard work on your team.

“Yes” demonstrates loyalty and honor.
Romans 12.10 says “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
What better way to demonstrate honor than finding a way to do what is being asked of you?

As a follower, I always want to be able to find the yes for my leaders.

As a leader, I greatly value those on my team who are able to be resourceful and creative enough to find me the yes.  More often than not when someone on my team tells me “no” it isn’t because they can’t do what is being asked.  It isn’t even out of defiance or pride or stubbornness.  It’s almost always because they either aren’t trying or thinking hard enough.

It doesn’t take much discernment or intelligence to find the problems or list the challenges in any given situation.  Anyone and everyone does that.  People who can identify the problem AND execute a solution?  Those people are invaluable to me.  They are the ones I want in every meeting with me, the ones I put more weight down on, the ones I look to invest in and develop.

For those of you who are more like me- that is, off the charts in SENSING on a Myers Briggs and nowhere near INTUITIVE- and are working for a dreamer, big picture visionary, which many ministry leaders and pastors are,  it is critical to be able to find the yes.  Dreamers do not appreciate your wet blanket or excuses or Eeyore spirit.  They might be able to understand your hesitation or concern IF you can communicate those things with honor AND if you can create an alternate path to the same destination.  Those who can find the “yes” more often than not prove themselves trustworthy and capable.  So when they need to come back with a “Plan B” for consideration because “Plan A” isn’t going to work, good leaders will listen.

Finding the yes doesn’t mean throwing caution and discernment to the wind.  It certainly doesn’t mean violating your conscience.  What it does mean is effort, investment, and ingenuity.

Find the yes for your leaders because the time will come when you will be counting on others to be able to find it for you.

Rebecca Kathryn

…or Kate as the world knows her.

She is my sister-in-law, my husband’s little sister.  (Incidentally, it’s pretty great when you marry an amazing man who comes with an incredible family who loves you like their own!)

Truthfully, I started this post to push through some writer’s block.  Kate has always been an “emotional portal” of sorts for me.  You see, I’m not an overly emotional person.  I’ve been asked before if I ever cry.  I’ve been likened to a robot and had my heart compared to that of a cow.  Clearly, I’m not very sentimental.

There are many times when I desperately need to “lose it” and can’t.  When I know I’d feel better to ugly Oprah cry for a few minutes.  When I need to feel awake or alive or you know, human.  Whenever I’m really stuck, I can think about Kate and it takes no time at all for my rusty tear ducts to get to work, for the words and inspiration and feeling and life to come back.

My first memory of Kate was in the den of her parents’ home in Columbus, GA.  She was reenacting some scene from Drop Dead Gorgeous.  She was just as silly and beautiful and fun when I met her at 16  as she is now.  I don’t know anyone else like her.  She is this rare breed of fun and spontaneity mixed with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.  She is sassy and passionate as the day is long, but she is the most tenderhearted and loyal friend you could hope for.

I turned 33 a few weeks ago.  Kate surprised me with a birthday cake made from scratch.  If you don’t know her you can’t possibly appreciate that sentence.  This is the girl who just a few years ago had to call her friend to ask how to make boxed mac n’ cheese.  It’s like THAT.  She made me a two-layer homemade cake with homemade icing, y’all!  It was the sweetest and messiest gift ever.  As I sat across the kitchen table eating cake and laughing with her, my heart was full.

Kate is most known for 2 things:  dancing and laughing.  She’s been dancing for 20+ years and any time I see her on (or off) stage dancing, my heart leaps.  She’s a Rouse, so she’s been laughing from birth, I feel certain.  That laugh is unmistakeable and infectious!  It melts away self-consciousness instantaneously.

She’s one of the only people I’ve never tired of.  I’m always happy to see her and always sad to see her go.

Seems to be a bottomless ocean of love I have for that girl…even if she does keep me waiting and is always dressed better than me.

She makes me better.  She makes me grateful for life in all its beauty and complexities.  She’s one I could never do without.


Who is home to you?
Who is your “emotional portal”?
Who brings light with them on your darkest of days?
Who are the people in your life that make you feel alive?
Who are the ones who make you want to be more yourself than you’d ever dare to be otherwise?

Those are your Kates.  There can’t be many.  Probably just a handful.

In fact, one is enough to make the poorest soul rich.

rouse gallery (220 of 242)

Choosing My Own Adventure

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

My husband and I recently attended a parenting class hosted at Renovatus based on the popular book Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk.  The second week of class revolutionized my life.  It was literally mind blowing to me.  In the lesson Silk declares that we’ve all bought into the great lie that we can be controlled and that others can control us.  The longer I thought on this, the more apparent it became that I have swallowed that belief hook line and sinker.  And while the point he was making was largely confined to how we raise our children, I knew this was far bigger for me than my 2 & 4 year old.

I grew up an Army brat.  My father grew up an Army brat.  My grandfather, my father, my uncle and my cousin all graduated from the United States Military Academy.  My grandparents were married there and are buried there.  Heredity has bred in me a profound respect (dare I say fear?) for authority and a serious understanding of the value in a chain of command.  To this day my father could put his hand on his hip and point his finger at me and I feel certain he could reduce me to tears without even raising his voice!  My sister and I were never spanked because the threat of my mother telling my father on us was enough to correct almost any disobedience on our part!  Ironically, neither of my parents are particularly controlling people.  They are not manipulative or coercive or overbearing.  However, respect and obedience were core values in our home and were taken very seriously.

Now let’s take a moment to couple my upbringing with my temperament.  I am a rule follower and a people pleaser.  I like (dare I say need?) for everyone to get along and to feel cared for.  I am easily influenced by a compelling argument or an impassioned case.  While rational and reasonable, I am not overly trusting;  yet I can be manipulated  by authority or strong personalities.  I presume they must know what they are talking about in order to be so dramatic or insistent!  And in this way, I can live a lot of my life at mercy of others with their intense feelings, opinions, and pseudo-authority.

Subconsciously, my primary life goals then and now have been to avoid making mistakes, to keep the rules, and to make the people happy.  THIS IS NO WAY TO LIVE!  Don’t get me wrong- these are decent objectives.  They just aren’t compelling or healthy life goals!  There is no adventure, no real freedom nor sense of self in those pursuits.

Realizing that day in class that no one could control me honestly felt utterly scandalous.  I’m sure I have understood that logically in the past, but never in such a way that made me feel liberated to take ownership for my thoughts, feelings, and choices.  Historically those things have always been incredibly contingent on others.  And if I’m being really honest, not living so contingently on others feels selfish when I do it, though it sounds healthy & right when I see others do it!

These days I’m putting a lot more effort into acknowledging myself and owning my thoughts.  I have a voice.  And it’s just as valid as the overly dramatic person’s or the overly confident person’s.  I am in control of what can offend me.  I can choose what I like even if no one else likes it.  I get to decide how to respond in any given situation.  Much like the books we read as children, I really can choose my own adventures in many ways.  I can do all of that and be a loving wife and mother and friend and leader.  It is possible and IT IS GOOD FOR ME.

These are new muscles I’m learning to flex.  I’m grateful for the people around me who won’t let my sense of self atrophy– the people who know when I’m deferring when I shouldn’t be, the ones who know to ask me the questions sometimes as I’d much prefer to hide behind asking all the questions of you instead.  Without them I’d surely give myself away to following the rules and avoiding mistakes and trying to make the world happy.  Instead, I think I’ll flip to page 52 and see what adventures I can get into.

A Leader & A Woman

Being a woman ain’t easy.  Being a woman in church leadership, well that is a whole other thing.  However, this is no pity-post.  Because while there are significant challenges to talk about, there are also significant opportunities to be seized, as well.

Here are some thoughts on both the problems & possibilities I encounter most regularly being a woman in ministry, and specifically in leading leaders:

Leading Other Women

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” -Madeleine Albright

Challenge:  This one is probably really shocking to everyone.  At first pass, we’d all think that women would be the biggest supporters and fans of other women in leadership.  Sisterhood and all that.  But we can get awfully territorial and jealous and insecure and threatened by each other at times, unfortunately.  And even in the best of cases where there is no suspicion or mistrust, there are relational sensitivities that plague us, especially in the face of conflict.

Opportunity:  Women can get a lot of stuff done once we are on the same page and committed to the cause/person.  It can just take some work to overcome initial roadblocks (see Challenge A above).  Women can be very protective of each other and care for each other really well.  Because many of us do invest emotionally and relationally in everything that we do, there is an all-in mentality that makes working with women really fulfilling and highly productive.

Facing condescension  and hypocrisy with grace

Challenge:  I work in one of the most egalitarian and supportive church environments a woman could hope for.  Still, not everyone in ministry and if I’m honest with myself, probably not everyone within my own church, has acclimated to women in church leadership.

My favorite is when my Pastor introduces me to other ministry leaders outside of our community.  They are all very kind and warm when he starts with “This is Tracey Rouse, my Executive” and then he finishes his sentence, “Pastor” which they immediately translate into “Assistant” until they realize those 2 words don’t sound anything alike and that they heard him incorrectly.  They quickly try to either mask their shock that a woman would have the second highest seat of authority in our church and play it cool OR they play up their shock in an attempt to provide some levity in the awkwardness.  Sometimes there is a bit of “girl power” rhetoric like women’s suffrage happened 5 minutes ago and we are so radical.

Pastor Jonathan: “This is Tracey Rouse, my executive pastor.”

Traveling evangelist:  “Executive PASTOR?! WHAT?! You go, girl!”

Me to myself:  “If he tries to fist bump me I might punch him.”


Me:  “Hi, I’m Tracey Rouse.  I’m the Executive Pastor here at Renovatus.”

Visitor: “So, you and your husband do that?”

Me:  “Nope, just me.  He stays home with our 2 daughters and also runs a theater & film company.”

Visitor:  Blank stare.  Long pause.   Does not compute.  “Oh… that’s great!”


Opportunity:  What an enormous exercise of grace & faith!  Grace for the ignorant- some people have honestly never conceived of women in pastoral roles, let alone met & worked or cared for one!  Grace for the close-minded- I wasn’t the one to close it and am not responsible for opening it either.  Grace to believe the best in others.  Sure, sometimes the condescension is overt.  But most of the time it is unintentional.  People don’t usually recognize their own preconceived notions of gender roles and while women in leadership isn’t novel or new for the corporate world, it is for the Church, which is typically a few decades behind the broader culture anyway.  There will always be generational hurdles to jump, theological minefields to cross, and social expectations to handle.  In those times, I want my response, both in my heart and in my speech, to be full of grace.

I walk by faith in my calling because I know and trust the One who called me.  I am convinced that the Lord alone is my Justifier.  Each time I face condescension I have a choice to make.  I can either attempt to defend and explain myself OR I can trust that the Lord alone qualifies me and let that be more than sufficient.  I will believe that I am included in the “we” referenced in 2 Peter 1.3 and that I have been granted all things that pertain to life and godliness by my gracious Father.  What else do I need?

On a bad day, all of these things, all of these scenarios can make me see red.  They can make me question my gifts and vocation.  Luckily, those days usually happen in the company of the most amazing staff who encourage me and follow me faithfully.  On good days those stories become good laughs.  I wrote a post a few months ago called Reluctant Pioneer.  It’s my actual life title.  Some people get to end their signatures with things like MD or PhD or Esq or DMin.  I’m going to try out Tracey M. Rouse, RP.  I’m not the first woman to be in church leadership and there are godly women in ministry facing far more daunting circumstances than anything that I will ever come across.  But nevertheless, it still feels like pioneering out here and the wild west doesn’t know quite what to do with us “little ladies” who are leading with strength and conviction.

A leader and a woman.  It’s intimidating, I know.  But you’ll see soon enough that the proof is in our work and our worth is not found in the hands of man, but in the face of Christ.




The other day I determined that the biggest challenge for me about being an Executive Pastor (or any leader really, I suppose) is in the executing.  It’s much easier to talk about executing; to sketch out gameplans and org charts about what the execution would look like; to troubleshoot said hypothetical execution; to mull it over, consider all options & angles.

But alas, at some point a trigger has to be pulled.  At some point the calculated risk becomes actual risk.

The hard part is in the execution, is in making the call, in owning the call you’ve made–come what may.  And you’ll make some bad ones.  And you’ll have to take responsibility for those.  The good ones won’t move you nearly as far up the field as you hoped and it won’t be nearly long enough before something or someone else needs you to make another important decision you feel underqualified or unprepared to make.  Such is the nature of leadership.

Analysis is incredibly important.  Thoughtful decision making is an art.  I can roll it around in my brain for weeks and come to a conclusion too late.  A good decision that is no longer needed or valuable or relevant is pointless.

I don’t like being wrong.  I strongly dislike learning lessons the hard way.  I LOATHE preventable mistakes.  You can see how difficult this is when your job is making decisions- big and small- every day.

“What if that flops?”

“What if there’s a better way I’m not thinking of?”

“What if people don’t respond the way I think they will?”

Some days the “what ifs” get the best of me and paralysis and worry sets in.  Other days I muster up the courage I need to lead with some semblance of strength & confidence.

Those days I can usually find some courage in a few faithful places:

My pastor (and boss)

…who believes in me enough to entrust this really big, important job to really little, often indecisive me.  I trust that he isn’t maliciously setting me up for failure, throwing me in the deep end to watch me flail about. (Though some days I’m still not so sure!)  I trust that he won’t let me make too big of a mess and that he will support my calls publicly and correct me privately.  I trust that he is for me.

My smallness in a big, big world.  

That same pastor once shared with our team this quote from Tolkien’s The Hobbit

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

At Renovatus we talk a lot about the gift of smallness, the gift of obscurity.  In our culture, obscurity is often seen as punishment and a thing to be escaped.  But a lot of good and important stuff happens in obscurity.  Character is developed, skills are sharpened, faith is built, a solid foundation is poured.  Here in obscurity I can learn a lot even while leading.

It’s a gift to recognize I am just one person amidst billions of others.  I am one pastor among millions around the world.  I run an organization that is one of millions.  I am not nearly as unique, my circumstances & challenges not nearly as unique, as I’d like to think.  Recognizing my smallness ironically gives me confidence to embrace the new adventures that the Lord brings.

My God Who is able.

I take an awful lot of comfort in knowing that the Lord is infinitely more concerned about His church than I ever can be.  He will honor my humility and sincerity.  His plans and purposes cannot be thwarted…even when I make a bad call.  The Lord managed long before I came along and He will do just fine long after I’m gone.  I choose to believe that the Lord is sovereign and good.


Leaders, by all means, let’s do our homework.  Let’s think critically and prayerfully and be prepared.

Let’s just not get stuck there.  Let’s execute.