What happens when women gather together to love one another face to face? God shows up.
Last weekend, 75 women smashed into one room to ask the question: IF God is real, then what does it mean for our lives? We gathered from different backgrounds, different churches, different stages of life with one goal: to know God and make him known.
As part of the planning team, I watched from behind the scenes as God answered prayer after prayer to make IF:Ellensburg everything he wanted it to be. It felt like sheer grace to watch firsthand as he invited women to experience deeper love from him and through one another, love so overflowing it can’t help but spill out everywhere.
Our team was stretched beyond our capacity, to the point where our only choice was full dependence on God’s power and provision. As Jennie Allen, the founder of IF:Gathering, reminded us all, “God moves through those who happen to realize they’re not qualified.” Yup. It’s true.
Here are seven lessons I don’t want to forget from the process of planning our IF:Local:
- Giving leadership away makes it grow.
If you want to control the outcome of an event, it doesn’t make any sense to release it to the hands of thousands of women across the globe. Unless your goal is for those women to come alive and depend on God to make himself real to them—then you must simply trust those women to lead in their places. That’s how Jennie Allen and the IF:Gathering team lead—they give leadership away.
As a leader, my temptation to micromanage comes from a desire to control every aspect of how things turn out. But maybe leading isn’t really about creating a successful event or product—maybe leading is more about giving others the freedom to struggle and grow and learn how to fly.
- Doing hard things makes us stronger.
The more I exercise, the stronger my muscles grow. Similarly, the more I stretch my capacity for stress, the more I choose love when I would rather have my way, the more I walk forward into unfamiliar and uncomfortable places, the stronger my faith grows.
Our journey as a team was never easy, but we are stronger because of it. As we prayed together, made time to connect with one another, submitted to one another, and worked hard side by side, we grew in our capacity for love together. Our muscles are stronger because we persevered together toward our goal, and the satisfaction of crossing the finish line was deeper because of how much sweat was required along the way.
- Choosing to live as your truest self is costly—but worth it.
I feel most alive—most like the truest version of myself—when I’m using all my gifts, my time, my energy to love God and love others well. But love requires action, and loving with everything I have will cost me all I have to give.
Love is sacrificial, it builds others up and submits for the sake of oneness. True love requires death—death to self, death to being right, death to control, death to getting my way. Loving others like this allows me to draw nearer to Jesus, because it’s how he lived, how he loves us even now. Love like this proves God is real as he gives us the power to flesh out the kind of love that could only come from heaven.
- God multiplies whatever we give him.
Whether it was wondering if we would have enough journals and pens or enough food or even enough space for the women who just kept signing up the week before the event, I panicked every time I tried to figure out how we were going to make it all work. But over and over again, God showed us how he takes what little we have and makes it more than enough.
He multiplied our limited time. Our lacking energy. Our insufficient sleep. Our miniscule courage. Our hopelessly inadequate resources are more than enough for the One who made it all. He fed five thousand men and their families from five loaves and two fish, for Pete’s sake! And he multiplied what we gave for IF:Ellensburg with abundant generosity—we even had journals to spare.
- We all have something to teach and something to learn.
One person on our team taught me how to use my iPhone to remind me to complete certain tasks–I could never have kept my head on straight without her practical wisdom. Another gal taught me that the best leaders are the most humble servants. Another showed me the value of thank you notes and gifts of appreciation.
Our team was truly a picture of the body of Christ as it was meant to be. Each part was necessary, and each one had a unique and crucial role to play for the good of the whole. We need each and every person to function at our full potential. (Yes, even that one.) Learning from the gifts of others helps us see the pieces of God he has placed in each person.
- Producing more fruit requires more pruning.
Pruning doesn’t make sense if you think about it—why would cutting the branches off our fruit tree lead to the growth of more apples? It’s counterintuitive, but pruning removes branches that aren’t useful to the tree so energy can be spent growing fruit instead of holding on to dead wood.
God works the same way. He prunes those he loves to make us more fruitful, cutting off habits and attitudes and whatever in us might suck life away from our true purpose—loving God and loving people. More than a few of my dead branches were chopped off during this planning process, and despite the discomfort, I am freer and more productive as a result.
- I would rather have deep friendships than a big platform any day.
The reason IF:Ellensburg even happened was because a handful of women loved one another really well. Our commitment to cheer one another on, stand by each other’s side, and name the ways we see God at work in each others’ lives naturally resulted in inviting other women to do the same.
I used to think I had to write a book or have a huge blog following or do something big and seen and important to make an impact that matters. But I know Jesus because of friends who love me in real life and who prove to me over and over again that God is real and his love is free for the taking.
In the words of Jill Briscoe, may we all have the courage to “Go where you’re sent, stay where you’re put, and give what you’ve got…all the way home.”
All photos taken by Jacqueline Olivia Griffin (Facebook.com/jacquelineoliviaphotography)