A Woman Too Ambitious For Church Confesses

an ambitious woman

When I was let go from the youth ministry job I had loved so dearly, one of the Board said to me, ‘Well, it’s probably for the best, your business seems to be going well so you should probably just focus on that.’

It’s taken me seven long years to realise that he was accidentally right. With stumbling words that pricked and stung, he cut to the heart of it and said something so brutally true my idealist heart didn’t want to believe it. And in the end, the only reason it stung was because my pride was on the line. Now I’ve learned, it’s exactly what I need to focus on.

I was 15 years old when I drank the Kool-Aid and believed that my life would only be truly meaningful if I was a minister, a youth worker, a preacher or teacher. Then (and only then) I would feel satisfied and worthy. My vocation was only meaningful in so far as it was meaningful to the Church. You can hardly blame me – I sat through my share of sermons focused on how to become world-changing or the world’s greatest missionary. I did all the courses and quizzes on personality and spiritual gifts. I took every leadership course because you’re only as significant as your leadership role and I was inspired and intimidated by every testimony I heard, wondering how I was to ever live up to the expectations. Maybe not when I was 15 or 16, but by 17 years old, those inspirational programs were a weight of expectation I had set myself. And ambition. It was ambition too. That’s nearly 20 years of ambition right there.

So I did it. I’ve been youth worker, pastor, creative minister and worship leader. I’ve been in Christian ministry writing youth programs, training seminars, hosting radio shows and music festivals. I’ve done it all, relentlessly believing that I was pursuing meaning in making a difference. There are not many things I set my mind to that I don’t achieve.

What kind of significance was that? I’ve always been ambitious. I want to change the way people think – but changing the thinking of the middle-class, largely white, Western evangelical church through Sunday services and events? That’s not enough for me. It’s never been enough.

Here’s the truth: I’ve wanted it all and tried to have it both ways.

I wanted to be significant in the Church and to her people but I want it in the world too. In fact, I think I want it out there more.
My old friend’s hard truth stings me here. It’s not because the Church doesn’t please me. It’s my ego that wanted the Church to love me back.

Like an unrequited love, I wanted her to need me just a little bit more while I pursued the attention of the world. So much so that every commercial success I’ve had, I’ve tried to turn back into something for the Church. Because if the Church doesn’t find me worthy, how could God and what does any of it mean?

I’m finally accepting that we’re a bad romance because of me. It’s not that the Church doesn’t want me. The Church doesn’t always know what to do with me but the truth is I want more because the Church is not enough for me. I want the world. I want to influence world leaders and titans of industry whether it’s through the ad business, strategy, politics, TV or hospitality.

I want to be the place and person people come to ready for truth, ready to eat, drink, laugh and make decisions that really change things. I’ve got a long way to go. There’s just a spark of wisdom in me now but I intend to stoke a raging fire. The world is just beginning to catch alight.

Confession: I’ve spent many years being or trying to be bi-vocational because I’ve wrestled with my lack of meaning and significance outside of the Church. Slowly, I’ve done less and less inside the Church and the Church wants (needs) less and less of me. I’ve struggled to find a meaning. I’ve screamed, cried, raged and fought to be held on to, I’ve wanted so badly to find meaning there because I haven’t wanted to be one of my generation who have given up. All the while being almost ungrateful for all else I’ve been able to do. While I’ve wanted more from the Church, I’ve almost failed to see everything I’ve been given.

Still, here’s a little snippet of what I’ve been working on the past few years:

  • Digital strategy and lead for New Zealand’s largest global exporter Fonterra
  • I work for the greatest digital agency in New Zealand (Digital Arts Network), part of a global advertising agency (TBWA\Worldwide) that kick ass, two years ahead of my planned schedule
  • I lead the Tourism New Zealand digital work including business planning, digital and content strategy on a daily basis www.newzealand.com
  • I was able to work on and then lead the brand refresh for 100% Pure New Zealand, the longest running and most successful tourism marketing campaign in the world, in a ground-breaking piece of typography and fully integrated digital design system
  • Oh yeah, I did get to work on this amazing Bible project thanks to Marko.

To Be Good At It
I want to be good at the business of Church. I can’t stand not being good at anything I set my hand to but truthfully, it’s time I wholeheartedly accept the advice I was given all that time ago. Focus on finding – no, making meaning in what’s in my hand.

A few clarifying statements

  • I’m not leaving the Church
  • I still love the Church
  • I still want to influence the Church
  • I’ll influence from outside, not inside

We revisit the things that matter our whole lives, over and over. So truthfully, pieces of this understanding have been emerging throughout my life for a long time. I’ve written about medicine men and chiefs before, knowing full well I’m a medicine man. I’ve been hoping by some miracle, I was still going to get the ego fix I wanted and the Church would chase after me with open arms, claim me as her own. So I’m revisiting again, embracing her again – no, not the Church, but She who is I. Wondrous, mysterious, powerful, wise and intense creature that she is. Medicine woman, earth mother and messenger.

I have wanted the Church to be my ahi kaa, the home fire. Here’s the truth though – I take my ahi kaa with me and any one who gathers around my table, my fireplace, my whisky circle or round my boardtable sits there with me. There are a few other fires I want to go sit beside too.

“Kia mura tonu nga ahi kaa mo te matemateaone”
Keep the home fires burning, so loved ones will always return.

The beauty is, I think the Church will still want to hear my stories when I come through her gates.
She’ll still like my provocative, challenging ways and wrestle with what to do and say.

I’ve got a long way to go. There’s just a spark of wisdom in me now but I intend to stoke a raging fire. The world is just beginning to catch alight.

Kure kwandinoenda, asi ndichakusvika chete – Where we are going is far, but we will eventually get there.

2 Comments

  • I think I need a bigger whisky circle…

  • Andi Smith says:

    This is a brilliant, brilliant blog. I feel as thugh someone with immeasurably more courage than I could ever muster has taken my soul, my struggle, my confusion and offered it language. The language being offered has come to me with such love and humility that it enables more than the same old navel gazing, it enables moving forward into an always brighter future. Thank you.

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