This interview was done in 2007. This is a repost of the exchange.
I want to thank Wendy Alsup for her time and thoughtful answers to my questions. Wendy is a member of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. I believe this Q&A will be a blessing to you as it is to me.
Q1: What are some challenges you face ministering in Seattle, Washington? Compared to South Carolina?
A1: Well, some might call it a challenge. I call it refreshing. But growing up in SC, everybody claimed to be a Christian but nobody acted like one (I generalize of course). The Apostle Paul uses a child’s expected growth as an illustration. When a baby drools, it’s an expected result of their stage of growth. When an adult drools, we know it represents some type of disability. That adult isn’t functioning as expected for its years of life. Growing up in the Bible belt, I knew a bunch of Christians who had been believers (in theory) for many years but still acted like toddler Christians. I admit that I have lost my patience with believers who should have long since learned better. It was God’s wise hand that moved us to Seattle at the time He did. Here, people either are or are not Christians, and their lives pretty consistently testify to the truth of their claim. There are many hostile unbelievers here. Our papers, politicians, and cultural figures tend to be much more frank in their opposition to Biblical truth. On the flip side, most of the new Christians in our church are blissfully ignorant of the concept of a lukewarm believer. When they came to Christ, it radically changed their lives. Christianity here isn’t a culture–it’s a radical change of life based on a completely new identity in Jesus Christ. There are still plenty of immature believers, but as they grow older in the faith, godly maturity follows.
Q2: What advice do you have for other women who are also trying to juggle ministry in marriage, family, and church?
A2: You need to have your priorities in a godly order. I used to drive to church praying that God would bless my ministry to women there. Then one day I was convicted that I never prayed the same as I was driving back toward home afterwards. Ministry at church had become exciting and fulfilling, and I rightly wanted to be a good steward of those opportunities. However, I have an even clearer calling to ministry in my home. It’s less glamorous, so I have to constantly fight to keep my husband and boys my first priority. I’ve learned to give my husband first right of refusal when a new opportunity arises for ministry at church. I’m also learning to not make him feel guilty if he doesn’t want me to take on a ministry opportunity that excites me. He knows better than anyone the stresses I am currently facing and has a good perspective of which opportunities would end up being a distraction from my true calling. Generally speaking, it is much better to do a few things well than a lot of things halfway.
Q3a: What has your church done to prepare you for “Deacon in Charge of Women’s Theology and Training”?
A3a: Honestly, I became a deacon before we had a streamlined training process. Back then, training consisted of extended conversations over coffee with whichever leader was available at the moment. We have a more formal process for deacon training in place now, which includes reading books, answering discussion questions, writing out statements of doctrinal belief, and apprenticing with a current deacon or elder.
Q3b: What responsibilities does “Deacon in Charge of Women’s Theology and Training” entail?
A3b: The analogy I use to illustrate the ministry at our church is that we are building the plane while it’s flying. With that said, it’s highly probably my responsibilities will change between the time I send this to you and you actually publish it. But right now, I help organize women’s teaching events, both our small weekly Capstone training and our quarterly large group events.
Q4: I know Elisabeth Elliot is one of your female heroes of the faith. Who else has influenced you? Why?
A4: I did a lot of Bible reading on my own growing up. At some point, I read the greatest command and took it to my pastor (I was probably around 18 at the time). I was curious why I had never heard a sermon in my fundamentalist church on the command to love–after all, it was the GREATEST command and therefore one would think it should be covered at some point. My pastor answered that I was reading neo-evangelical stuff and that they had an overemphasis on love and therefore our church didn’t like to talk about it. That seemed really odd to me, but that pastor and his cohorts were the only spiritual authorities I knew at the time. Then a few years later, someone gave me Desiring God by John Piper. It was the first confirmation I got that what I was seeing in Scripture in the Greatest Command wasn’t some evangelical compromise but the heart of the gospel itself. So I have great appreciation for John Piper–he gave me confidence that I was reading Scripture correctly. And I of course love Spurgeon, Luther, and Pascal.
Q5: Was there a single point in time or series of points in which you began to understand the Gospel is for all of life AND for the believer, not just for the unsaved?
A5: It’s been ongoing. I would have said quite boldly that I understood it years ago. Then last month I reread Ephesians and was hit with it again in even deeper ways. I think it’s something we get layer by layer, slowly with meditation and experience over time. I’m burdened anew that women need to really get this. We are the worst at comparing ourselves to each other. We feel shame if we don’t measure up and pride if we do. We compare ourselves on looks, husbands, education, career paths, children, cooking expertise, Martha Stewart decorating abilities, and so forth. And that path is SLAVERY. But when we find our identity in Christ and our self-esteem at the foot of the cross, we can start walking the path of freedom from both the shame and pride of comparison living.
Q5a: You said, “when we find our identity in Christ and our self-esteem at the foot of the cross, we can start walking the path of freedom from both the shame and pride of comparison living. ” Do you have any advice for women (and men!) on how to combat comparison with the Gospel?
A5a: For me, it started by getting a grasp on the idea that the gospel was something I needed to meditate on and apply to my life DAILY for the rest of my life. The only advice I can give to someone is to meditate on Scripture. John 15 was key for me (I am the Vine, you are the branches … Apart from me you can do nothing). It was life-changing when that last phrase finally settled into my psyche–apart from Jesus I can do NOTHING. Understanding the implications of Christ being the vine and I the branch and of Christ being the Head and I part of His Body were key. Meditating on Ephesians has also been life-changing. The phrase “in Christ” dominates chapter 1. And everything else in the book, including the call to Christian unity and principles for marriage and family life all flow from this first chapter.
I was taught to read the Bible as a young person, but I read it much like the Pharisees (John 5:38-39). I missed how all of Scripture testifies of Jesus. I’m learning to seek the Word whenever I read the Word. I love Luke 24:25, “…then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Him (Jesus) in all the Scriptures.”
When I don’t get the Word and my identity in Him, I inevitably look to find my identity in whatever else I can. For me, it was boyfriends and popularity as a teenager and young single adult. Did people notice how I dressed? What about my hair? After marriage, it started to be how well I kept my home. The worst for me was realizing that when I signed up to take a meal to a sick church member, I decided what to take based on what made me look like the best cook. And it’s opposite reflects the same wrong thinking–I felt condemned by Satan after the birth of my 2nd son when all my friends brought over GREAT meals that I could never replicate myself. Why did that matter? Why was I comparing myself to them and either finding status or self-condemnation by how well I measured up? It’s ridiculous, but when I’m not meditating on my identity in Christ, I can follow that line of comparison thinking on a 1000 different issues. I’ve noticed that if I don’t deal with how I think about myself in relationship to Jesus, I just keep going from thing to thing to thing to bring me comfort, find status, and generally make me feel good about myself.
Q6: In what ways does Andy minister at your church? Do you have a ministry in which you participate together?
A6: We participate in all our ministries together, whether our names are both listed or not. Andy is a private person, and most of his service in the church is never seen by the masses (though many benefit in my humble opinion). He takes seriously his ministry to the boys and me and is a constant source of wisdom and discernment to me in my public ministry at church.