I know it’s already 2017, but last summer God led me through a process that I’ve been meaning to write down for the last six months. I think it’s important to record the stories and lessons we experience, even if it’s just to remind ourselves over and over again of God’s goodness and faithfulness.
The story I want to tell is that of my journey from powerlessness to being Free & Responsible (one of Bethel’s core values). It was not easy learning this lesson (and I’m definitely still in the middle of it), but I hope that my account of this journey will bless you as it has blessed me.
“A Grand Vision”
On June 12th, 2016, I went to a coworkers meeting for our church’s young adult intensive school. Near the end of the meeting, one of our pastors began sharing her vision for the school. “In the future, I envision expanding to even more countries and starting new schools with specific focuses, such as creative arts! We’re going to do so much more; this is just the beginning.”
We were already doing six schools a year, 60 days a year. (And this wasn’t part of my job–I was just a very dedicated volunteer.) I couldn’t imagine what “more” would look like. I was exhausted just thinking about it.
I looked around at the faces of everyone, trying to decipher what they were feeling as they were hearing this—mainly because I was super confused by the emotions that were being wrought up inside of me. I thought, “Anyone else hearing this must be super excited about our pastor’s vision. It’s expanding the Kingdom and encountering the lives of young people all over the world… But why is it that all I want to do is cry?”
And not a ‘touched by God’ sort of cry. I wanted to crawl up into a ball and ugly cry.
My Car ‘Episode’
After the meeting, I went into my car and just sat there. It was late at night so the parking lot was empty. Only yellow light from the street lamps streamed through my windows.
I felt anger. I felt desperation.
Finally I let it all out. It started with yelling. I grasped the steering wheel and clenched my gut, shouting at the top of my lungs. “Why?!” Tears were streaming down my face. “Why?! It’s not fair!”
As I replayed the words of the pastor in my head (“We’re going to do more schools in the future, in many more countries…), I couldn’t help but feel like a bird in a cage and the cage was growing smaller and smaller. In my mind, I couldn’t rejoice in the grandeur of her vision, I could only imagine what it entailed for me: more hours of my life and time that could have been spent pursuing my own dreams. What about me! What about what I want!
I started heaving and crying and sobbing. “It’s not fair! I never signed up for this!” Anger turned into frustration, and frustration turned into a puddle of despair.
“What’s Going On With Me?”
I was shocked by my outburst of anger and hopelessness. “What is going on with me?” I said to myself.
It’s not that these emotions were strange; no, they were familiar to me, in the sense that I’ve been harboring these emotions deep underneath the surface for years. However, never before had they been so exposed and out in the open. It surprised me.
Years and years of serving in ministry and being a ‘pastor’s kid’ had created a chasm inside of my heart—it was the chasm between expectation and reality. Over the years, and disappointment after disappointment, I had come to fill up that chasm with bitterness and frustration. I was familiar with the pain, but I was not familiar with what it sounded like out in the open, the sound of my yelling and sobbing.
Realization of Powerlessness
Suddenly it was as if my spirit was disconnected from my body and was watching myself from above. I could see me sitting in the car, and for the first time I saw myself for the mess I really was. It wasn’t just the snot and tears.
I thought, “Oh my god… Where did all of this self-pity come from?” It’s like I could see myself wallowing in a ditch full of mud, relishing in my own self-pity and misery.
The realization of my powerlessness hit me like a semi-truck. My frustration began to sound less and less rational and more like a spoiled kid whining and flailing her arms about on the floor.
I was blaming my pastor and leaders for making me feel oppressed and overused, when the reality was I was operating out of a powerless mindset.
At that moment I remembered Chad Dedmon’s testimony, which he had shared in class just a couple weeks before (Chad Dedmon is a revivalist and evangelist, and he currently serves as an itinerant speaker and pastor at Bethel. He also grew up as a ‘pastor’s kid,’ like me, and his mom is my mentor Theresa Dedmon.):
Taking Back the Keys (Chad’s Testimony)
Many years ago, Chad had been a youth pastor at a church in LA. At the beginning, he had a really hard time connecting and communicating with his senior pastor; he constantly felt unheard and unable to spread his wings. He had many dreams and ideas for the youth group but never felt empowered by the senior leadership to pursue them.
During one of his visits back to Bethel Church in Redding, he met with Danny Silk, a pastor at Bethel, and shared with him his struggle.
After letting Chad vent his frustrations, Danny Silk just responded with a question, “Why did you give your key away?” Chad looked at him puzzlingly.
Danny continued, “You are powerful. You hold the key to your heart, and you get to decide who has the privilege of going in and out. You get to choose who or what ultimately affects you. When you gave your key away, you became powerless and anyone could offend you and frustrate you easily.”
Danny looked squarely at him. “You are not in a prison, Chad.”
With that, Chad understood what Danny meant. This whole time Chad had imagined himself in a prison, built by his senior pastor and leaders meant to confine him and restrict him. But the reality was, he was in prison by his own will. If he held the key, then that meant that he was able to step out of prison at any time. The only thing keeping him there was his own illusion of powerlessness.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). As Christians, one of our greatest virtues is freedom, and it’s not circumstantial. Even when Apostle Paul was in prison, he was free. Prison bars could not keep him from praising his God and singing hymns that shook the earth. Freedom is our internal reality, and if ever we find ourselves in prison again we know that it’s just an illusion.
We need to take back our keys.
Chad’s Breakthrough: Brave Communication
When he went back to LA, Chad’s relationship with his pastor completely changed for the better. He stopped blaming his leaders for feeling powerless and instead took responsibility for his attitude and actions. Rather than bearing silent grudges, he chose brave communicate instead.
At one time, his senior pastor asked him to do something that, in the past, would have offended him. But instead of taking those feelings in stride (i.e. stuffing them down like a pressure cooker), Chad decided to honor his pastor and obey what he asked. Then later that day he found time to speak with his pastor in private.
Instead of coming at him from the offensive, he positioned himself so that they were on the same team. “Hello Pastor __, I know your heart is to love me and empower me. I just want you to know that when you asked me to do this __, I felt __. In the future, maybe we can do it this way __?”
To his surprise, the pastor responded very graciously. He said, “Oh yes, of course! I’m sorry. I didn’t know that that would make you feel this way. I’ll try to keep that in mind in the future!”
From then on, Chad was no longer afraid to communicate with his pastor. As a result, their relationship flourished, along with Chad’s youth ministry. By the time Chad decided to move back to Redding, their youth group had experienced revival and was one of the most on fire churches in LA. Many of the their young people went on to become missionaries and evangelists. The senior pastor had become their biggest supporter, even saying publically, “If you want to experience revival, go to our youth group!”
The Missing Puzzle Piece – “I Am Powerful”
When Chad was sharing this lesson in class, I remember thinking, “It’s like he’s speaking to me. I can totally relate to his struggle.” I took many notes that day, and they all came flooding back to me as I sat in my car, wondering why I was so angry and frustrated, piles of tissue paper next to me.
I said to myself, “I need to take back my keys.” My eyes grew bigger. It was as if I had found the last lost puzzle piece.
I said it again, “I need to take back my keys.” The words rang out and echoed through my mind. The clouds were parting, and I felt as if my eyes were enlightened for the first time. Even the darkness of night around me seemed brighter than it was a couple of minutes ago.
“I am powerful.” I began to declare it with a little more conviction and volume, “I am powerful!”
Taking Back Full Responsibility
That night I poured out my heart before the Lord, and He showed me just how self-centered and powerless my mindset was. He took me out of the miry clay and placed my feet upon the rock. The night ended with me declaring who I was and making the decision to take back full responsibility for my attitude and actions.
No longer will I blame my leaders for feeling powerless. They don’t have the power to take away my freedom—that’s in my hands. I hold the key, and I have to be powerful and responsible for my attitude and actions.
It’s up to me to communicate with my leaders so that they understand my heart.
It’s up to me to make my commitments and stay true to them—no one can force me to sacrifice anything if I offer it up gladly.
Putting It To Practice – “I Want to, not I Have to”
The very next morning, God gave me the opportunity to put it into practice. I was walking around the neighborhood when I saw a leader walking towards me from the opposite direction. My first reaction was to turn around and pretend I didn’t see her, but I stayed put. Inwardly I was repeating over and over to myself, “I am powerful… I am powerful. I take back the keys.”
As soon as she saw me, she pulled me over and, as I suspected, was hoping I could do something for her, another “ministry opportunity.” In two days, the young adult intensive school would be starting, and she was hoping I could help lead an activity because apparently “there was no one else to help lead.”
The old familiar feeling of powerlessness and oppression wanted to creep back, but I kept saying to myself, “I am powerful. I take full responsibility for my actions. My leaders aren’t forcing me to do anything if I do it gladly.”
So I responded to her, “__, Thank you for this opportunity to serve. Yes, I will do it for you, but not because I have to—because I want to. I’m learning to take responsibility for my own actions and not feeling like I’m forced to do things. I can say No, but for you, I will say Yes.”
It sounds super blunt to me now as I write this, but at the time it felt like a huge breakthrough. For the first time, I was honest to a leader about my process and choosing to take full responsibility for my decisions, rather than blaming them and feeling used in the aftermath.
Honest Talk With My Pastor
Within the same week, I also had the privilege of meeting one-on-one with my pastor, the one who shared with us her vision at the coworkers meeting. I was able to share with her honestly about how that meeting had affected me and what God was teaching me about being powerful and ‘taking back the keys.’
As I imagined, she had no idea that I had all of these struggles, because I had never told her before. I was so used to stuffing down my emotions like a pressure cooker until my heart could handle it no longer.
This was the first time she was hearing it, and she responded so graciously. She said to me, “Melody, my heart is to support you and empower you. I’m sorry that you feel this way. You totally have the right to say no. I don’t want you to feel forced to do anything.”
She gently added, “In fact, if I remember correctly, you were the one who told me that you wanted to serve at the school.”
Yes, it was true. Isn’t it funny that we often do things and then blame others when we reap the consequences? Sometimes I think I have short-term memory loss.
The email she was referring to was a letter I had crafted a couple of months before, which expressed my desire to travel with them over the summer and serve at the young adult intensive schools (we have six 10-day intensive schools every year in three different locations, i.e. U.S., Taiwan, and China, totaling 60 days a year).
In fact, my mom was the one who encouraged me to write this email, but write it I did. So whose decision was that? It was mine. It was my decision to commit to the ministry, so it was my responsibility to steward that decision and have a good attitude about it.
I am free and responsible. I am powerful.
The Rest of My Summer
That summer, for two whole months, I led worship and taught workshops at three different schools, plus three separate conferences, in three different countries. I also ended up sharing this very testimony (about learning to be powerful and ‘taking back the keys’) various times that summer, e.g. at the young adult school, at my church for a Sunday service with Pastor Grace Chiang, and even on stage at the Homecoming conference in Hong Kong before 20,000 people.
I’m grateful for what I learned and experienced. The summer could have been a bummer, even with all of the fun travelling (which I love), had I not learned to appreciate my pastors and take back responsibility for my own attitude and actions. I would have gone through the motions with a stony look on my face constantly feeling tired and irritable.
God Looks At The Heart
Not to say I never feel tired and irritable now. I’m still learning this lesson. It’s easy for me to fall back into “ministry mode” and focus on what I’m doing rather than how or why I’m doing it, which has to do with my heart and attitude.
My mom often tells me, “Melody, if you serve with a grudging heart, then you’re serving in vain.” And the reason is that God looks at our heart, beyond what we do externally.
He cares about who we are and why we do what we do. He doesn’t just want our words. He doesn’t just want our sacrifices. He’s looking at our hearts. He wants our love.
It’s All About Relationship
And that is why, at the end of the day, cultivating intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing I could ever do, on a micro and macro level. To simply be with Him for the sake of love, not because it’s my good Christian duty—this is the only way I will be able to sustain joy in ministry and, really, health in every area.
If I constantly come to God for the sake of ministry, e.g. to get some good revelation to preach about or to write a song to lead in worship, then I will easily experience burnout. But a fire that is fueled by love never goes out, because love never fails.
I sing because of love. I serve because of love. I do all things because of love. And it is no sacrifice, because I do it willingly and joyfully.
Love loves to love.