Listening to the Stories of Others

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

In this series of 4 devotions, Liz shares lessons from her journey as a visionary leader called to create a Spirit-led movement that encourages, equips, and empowers women of all backgrounds to live into their God-given gifts and callings, and helps faith communities create healthy ministry environments where sisters and brothers can serve together, freely and fully. 

Vibrant Leadership

Devotion #2

Written by Rev. Liz Testa

Women’s Transformation and Leadership and 

Equity-Based Hospitality 

Reformed Church in America

 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.   2 Timothy 1: 5 (NRSV)

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.  Psalm 107: 2a (NIV)

Being obedient to a both/and sense of call, to lead with one’s gifts and strengths, AND to do so in collaboration with others – this all sounds well and good, but how to get started?

One of the first lessons I learned from Rev. Dr. Ken Eriks, who became my supervisor once I joined denominational staff, was the importance of taking initial time to listen. Yes, simply listen. This was brilliant advice because it gave me permission to move forward slowly, to guard against jump starting and bull-dozing over what God had already been doing among His people. This exercise can be a form of Sankofa journey; looking back in order to move forward. And so my first 90 days were spent meeting with a broad diversity of women and a few men, too. I approached these conversations with a posture of humility and openness to learning what I didn’t know, which was pretty much everything! I asked questions about their joys and challenges in ministry, listening with empathy and compassion, leaning into my love of people and God-given gifts of hospitality and community-building. I also shared a bit of my own hopes and asked what they thought about those. 

Haltingly at first and then more freely as trust was built, the stories started to flow. The Loises and Eunices of the church had tales to tell! I heard amazing stories of resilience and overcoming; of beautiful relationships, flourishing ministries past and present, and hopes for the future. I also learned some painful history that needed healing, unearthed some places of disconnect and even feelings of betrayal. It was a blessing and an honor to sit, listen, and in some cases weep as long-tucked away stories came to light. The Holy Spirit met us in these conversations; transforming hearts, healing past hurts, and inviting us to consider new possibilities. Undergirding these stories was this sense of a deep and abiding faithfulness – to God, God’s people, and the ministries these women had been called to. 

This all helped shape our next best step: to create intentional spaces for women to share stories of joy and struggle, and explore their God-given gifts and callings. Our team of two, myself and Lesley Mazzotta (a certified spiritual director), got to work developing a process. We continued to prayerfully gather wisdom and creative input from leaders across a broad variety of ministry contexts and cultural backgrounds, and slowly but surely, “Honoring our Stories” was born. This retreat-like transformational experience includes honoring the legacy of leadership and faith of our foremothers; celebrating the gifts of women; sharing the joys and struggles of life and ministry; and courageously embracing what God is calling us to, individually and communally. 

None of this would have been possible without listening carefully to the stories, collaborating with others, and paying attention to how God’s Spirit weaves the old and the new together, building on each generation of faithful leadership. 

Whatever type of ministry God is calling you to, be sure to take some to listen. There’s no telling what amazing inspiration the Spirit will provide!