To be honest, for most of my ministry life I sort of felt like a spoon in a drawer full of forks. A pair of flip-flops in a closet full of boots. The jellybean in a bowl of smarties. Something just didn't belong. And that something was always me. It was like being on the other side of a glass wall. Looking in but not able to break through. I often thought to myself - I wish I had one person that believed in me. One person that would see something in me, and encourage me and cheer me on. One person that would step a little into the mess of my life and help me on my journey. I didn't want someone to fix things for me, I wanted someone to recognize that with a little help I could grow and get to the next stage. I knew there were people around me that cared, but I often just felt very alone. I learned to cope and I learned to manage, but being lonely in leadership is very difficult. For my personality it's a hard place to be.
It sounds like I'm really needy.
But that is how I have felt.
So many times.
After a particularly hard season, I left my place of ministry and I wasn't sure if I would go ever go back. I took a year off and God worked in my heart and led me on some amazing adventures. But I couldn't run forever. God had other plans and I found myself again nervously embarking on another leadership journey. I entered this new role with much fear, and to be honest - I didn't let myself get to close initially. I wouldn't be hurt again. I wouldn't fully commit my heart in case I was going to be let down.
Then something amazing happened. My leader found me.
I remember my first couple weeks on Sunday mornings (the crazy time for a Family Ministry Pastor) and there was my Sr. Leader. Walking through the kid's area. Saying hi to the parents. Greeting volunteers. Encouraging me, telling me to have a great morning. Asking me how I was. Genuinely showing interest and care. I was very perplexed. It was not normal. Sr. Leaders don't do this. They have more important things to do. He must just be checking up on me. Making sure I'm qualified for the job. But on it went. I can say that for the almost 5 years we worked together, he did this every Sunday. But, it didn't stop there. He asked my opinion. He stood up for me when I was in difficult situations. As I championed for change, he had my back. He invited me into conversations, where in the past, I had been excluded. I felt like a part of the team, I was valued and I wasn't on the outside looking in.
I was included. I was accepted. I was asked.
I found a place where I belonged. I made some of my most significant ministry relationships in this season. Grew the most as a leader. Gained confidence. Learned about myself.
As I look back, one thing stands out to me.
I was invited in.
My whole life I had been looking for this.
I needed to be invited.
We all need this. Whether it's in our professional role, social settings, church, at school - no one wants to be alone. One of the greatest influencers in my life influenced me by simply inviting me into the conversation and the bigger picture. Because of that, I was a faithful follower. When you are part of the team, you don't want to let the coach down. When you are asked to contribute, you become more invested. When you are valued, you give your best work.
Being invited changed me. It created more confidence in my life. It made me a better leader. A better friend. It showed me how important inclusion is, it taught me to look around myself and see who is alone. It's made me realize that I haven't always been good at this myself. Who around me needs an invitation? I'm learning to be more of an inviter. Because I know how it feels to be alone. And I know that one invitation can be life changing.
Look around where you are. Who can you influence and whom can you lead? Each one can find one. And there are those waiting to be found.
Invite people in.
That's the first step.
The rest will happen.