It’s been eight years since I transitioned from active duty after serving as a Marine Corps officer. I spent 12 years of my adult life training in a military environment, and growing as a leader and mentor. Basic leadership principles were engrained in me as a college student at the U.S. Naval Academy. Some of these principles were as follows:
Mentoring is a necessary requirement for great leadership.
Mentoring is critical to the success of accomplishing a mission.
Because I was willing to learn, I thrived as a leader and those in my areas of influence benefited as a result. My mentors helped me find my purpose, and I have carried their instructions throughout life.
When given the opportunity to lead at church, I was concerned that mentoring generally was not happening in many congregations. I particularly noticed this with older church members, because they didn’t believe they had anything to offer. Some neglected the responsibility because no one mentored, trained, or taught them. They simply didn’t know what to do.
I also found that others were too busy with the temporal stresses of their own lives to focus on the needs of another. All the while I was receiving correspondences about how desperately people longed for mentoring in their church. So, as a response to these soul cries, I decided to change the narrative.
What if the people of God started to approach mentoring as intentional discipleship? Mentoring does not happen haphazardly. It requires intentionality, preparation, patience, prayer, and yes, mentoring can be a lot of work. But, what if we made a commitment to mentor anyway because it is necessary for advancing God’s kingdom mission? Every Christian has a responsibility to mentor and make disciples!
Matthew 28:19-20 reads: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (NIV).”
The biblical imperative in this statement is to “make disciples.” Among Jesus’ last words was the command to make disciples of diverse groups as his followers went about their daily rituals. This is the Great Commission.
Likewise, Jesus taught his disciples that the entire law of the prophets and the Old Testament was summarized in the Great Commandment—the command to love (Matt. 22:37). The commitment to love is relational between us, God, and other people.
When we commit to mentoring as intentional discipleship, we are embracing both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. This commitment collectively builds us up as a community of believers in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). The church desperately needs every believer engaged in this mission, as does the world.
I agree with worship leader and author Darlene Zschech that, “It is my deepest desire to remind leaders everywhere that the kingdom of God is about people and that we are not here to build our own kingdoms but to bring God’s kingdom into the lives of others.” Will you make the commitment to mentor for God’s kingdom purposes? Here’s how you can get started:
Before choosing his 12 disciples, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). If you are wondering who the Lord is calling you to mentor, ask him.
Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship is a book written just for people like you. Gather with a group of friends or church leaders and go through this book together. It includes discussion questions, exercises, and resources to help you get started. Another great way to discover why and how your work matters to God is to download apps like UMI Connection for helpful resources.
Maybe you want to go a little deeper to launch or revamp a small group, discipleship, or mentoring ministry, then check out my site to download free training resources or consider leadership consulting or mentoring coaching for your leadership team.
4. Press On
Don’t let fear paralyze you. In my early days, as a young military officer, I had been adequately prepared, yet I also made mistakes. Give yourself grace as you get on-the-job training in this new adventure.
The need is urgent. You are called for God’s kingdom mission of mentoring. Will you answer?
I can’t remember not being an athlete. From the time that I could walk, I participated in sports and extracurricular activities. During my earliest years of life, I danced. I did gymnastics for several more years, though I wasn’t good at it. (I was too tall and flimsy to control my body.) By the time I was 11, I started racing competitively, and that’s where I found my niche. I was fast and strong with nearly a perfect hurdle technique. I worked hard. I won often. I grew confident.
As I reflect on those small wins in life, I think about the women Olympians I looked up to over the years … gymnasts like Dominique Dawes and Mary Lou Retton. (As a young girl, I actually met Mary Lou at a “Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Winning Without Drugs” event.) I looked up to track stars like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the late Florence Griffith-Joyner (“Flo Jo”), and of course the star hurdler, Gail Devers.
These women athletes are God’s image bearers who display his confidence and character. They remind us with their physical ability and strength that our bodies are good. With their performances, they sacrifice not only for personal honor, the team, or our country, but by disciplining their bodies, they honor their creator who is the Lord.
As they perform with neatly placed hair and perfect makeup (I never did that), they celebrate God’s beauty in the masterful creation that is the human body. They acknowledge that God does care about our bodies and participating in sports is one way we can celebrate its beauty.
Our bodies are created to worship. With so many negative images bombarding our young women today (see the video clip below), it is important that we raise our voices to share a different message. Young girls need to know that they are not simply a consequence of what they wear, their body size, what they eat, or how men (or other women) view them. The airbrushed images in magazines and commercials should not define them.
I am calling now for a release … freedom … a proclamation that young girls everywhere have a choice to take on positive images. I am not implying that we encourage more self-help or self-esteem building techniques. I am rather stating that we should encourage girls to value the mind, body, and soul, realizing that they are not separate entities from each other.
By the time I entered college, I was meditating on passages like the Apostle Paul calling all Christians to approach life as a runner who desires to win a prize. In order to win, Paul says we must all go into strict training (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Strict physical training requires countless hours of focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires personal sacrifice and a reordering of priorities if you want to win. With that understanding, this passage provides a simple truth: focusing to develop physical discipline (particularly early in one’s life) can correlate to the development of spiritual discipline. Disciplining ourselves in mind, body, and spirit is as an act of holistic worship toward God since we are called to do everything as unto the Lord.
God’s image bearers should reflect his character and the reality that his creation is indeed good. God’s image bearers should reflect his desire for creativity and honor and excellence. Encourage girls to honor God with their bodies for “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13b, NIV).
We can honor God through physical conditioning; therefore, in the words of that great motivator Edna Mode from The Incredibles, “Go! Fight! Win!” Let the girls run, jump, spike, throw, leap. Let them sweat, burn, and sacrifice. Let them honor God with their bodies. Let them play sports.
I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of graduating seniors and their families last weekend during a Community Baccalaureate Service. I shared from 1 Timothy about the importance of living godly, persevering, and being people of character.
I have just completed an intensive spring of travels and speaking, which had me thinking about the importance of preserving in every area of our lives. Specifically, I have recommitted myself to physical training and the strength conditioning of my body.
I was once a fit and competitive athlete. While serving in the military I always obtained top scores on my physical fitness tests. After transitioning to a different career, however, it was more difficult to be consistent in my workouts. I fell out of love with running. I didn’t have a goal or fitness test to prepare for, and I had lost the support of a like-minded community. I was suffering from a case of PAM:
PRIORITY – When my schedule got busy (which it often was), my workouts would be the first thing to drop from my daily routine. There always seemed like something else was more important to do. I have been really inconsistent over the past couple years. I would wake up, attempt to get dressed, and discover that I could barely fit into my jeans. I would work out consistently for a few weeks, drop the pounds, and repeat the cycle.
ACCOUNTABILITY – In addition to not prioritizing my workouts, few of my local friends prioritized their physical fitness. There were a couple friends who I occasionally worked out with, but I didn’t consistently have a partner or workout buddy. No one called to make me get up early or challenged me to make the time in my schedule.
MOTIVATION – I can’t honestly say that I always wanted to workout. I have fairly good genes. Most of the women in my family are at or below the average American weight. I’m taller than the average woman, and have always been fairly small. My motivation was never a weight issue. I also eat fairly healthy, and my vitals are always great when I go to the doctor, so I’m not all that concerned with my health. My biggest concern and the conclusion I have drawn is: This is an area in my life where I have become lazy. It is that simple and I don’t like it!
In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote:
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8 NIV).
Paul also wrote in 1 Cor. 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
In these passages and other scriptures, the Apostle Paul makes the analogy between physical and spiritual discipline. His audience lived in a very athletic and militarized society, so he spoke in a language that they would have understood. He acknowledges the importance of training and disciplining our bodies. He connects the perseverance of this discipline to motivate his hearers concerning their spiritual life. He is basically asking them to consider:
If we are not disciplined in the simple things of this world, like the stewardship of our own bodies (which belong to the Lord), how can we persevere in the more important spiritual matters?
When we make daily decisions about the priority, accountability, and motivation concerning our physical training, we are disciplining ourselves and learning to persevere in the simple things of this life. This is good steward of the gifts of a healthy body and able limbs that God has given us.
I have decided to defeat PAM. I made some changes this year, particularly over the past two months:
PRIORITY – I thank God that I have been able to join a gym that offers classes. When I am not traveling, I schedule gym classes into my day like I would a meeting or a phone conference. Once the workout is on my calendar, I don’t miss it unless I have another option in the day that will work better.
ACCOUNTABILITY – The gym classes offer a great deal of accountability because I know when I am supposed to show up. We can call this self-leadership. When I get there, an instructor has prepared and motivates me to push myself along the way. I see the instructor as my accountability partner, he or she will not allow me to rest too long between sets or quit on myself.
My husband also bought me a Fitbit for Christmas. This helpful tool gives users the ability to track daily steps, sleep, food and calorie intake, heart rate, etc. I primarily use it to track my steps. So much of my work requires that I sit in a chair. My progress (or lack thereof) on the Fitbit lets me know when I have sat too long or when I need to get up and get moving around. It is recommended that we walk 10,000 steps a day to maintain weight on the average American diet. That is my daily step goal. Entering step competitions (which can include walking or running) with friends also keeps me accountable to this challenge.
MOTIVATION – I wish I could tell you that the Word of God convicted me and motivated me to change my slothfulness in this area of my life. The truth is female soloist at American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland, was my inspiration. I follow @mistyonpointe on Instagram and am constantly motivated by her strength and physical stamina. I will never have Misty’s body, but she has motivated me to work hard for my best physical self.
I also saw a video of First Lady Michelle Obama completing a workout this week for #GimmeFive and that has motivated me. Rumor has it that our First Lady gets up at 4:30 am to workout. I’m not doing that, but I understand that she has committed to making her physical health a priority and perseveres in this effort. If she can prioritize and make time for her workouts, so can I.
My five favorite exercises right now are:
The instructors always put push-ups at the end of the workout when I am weak, but I am working my way back up to proficiency in this area that used to be a strength.
It’s your turn. In an effort to support #GimmeFive, what are five workout exercises you will attempt this month? I’m checking back for accountability at the end of June.
I heard Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham speak at The Justice Conference earlier this year and I really wanted to read this book. I also have a passion for education and often struggle with how best to address the many challenges that hinder a child’s academic success. I wanted to know Dr. Fulgham’s perspective concerning how Christians can be part of the solution and support the education progress of children in low-income communities.
Who Should Read Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can–and Should–Do to Improve Public Education for Low Income Kids:
Christians who love children, education, or justice. Christians who are educators, parents, mentors, or tutors. Christians who minister to youth. Christians who are politicians and volunteers. Christians who have financial resources. Maybe all Christians should crack open this one.
What’s in Store for You:
Some truth telling. Some education. Some conviction. Some hope.
Let there be no doubt education equality is a racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic issue. While African-American and Hispanic churches have a long history of supporting community children, “the achievement gap isn’t an issue just for Christians in African-American and Latino churches.” Education equality is an American issue. It is a humanitarian issue, and therefore, it is a universal church issue. With this understanding, we read. When we talk about education, we are also having a conversation about the value of a human life for according to Dr. Fulgham, “humans have long struggled to create societies with inherently equal systems and structures. We’ve almost always erred on the side of favoring the wealthy and slowly crushing the poor and voiceless.”
This book includes initial research conducted for Barna Frames which reveals that over the past five years, American schools are on the decline. “Only 26% of parents with children say that public school is their first choice for their child’s education.” However, “95% of pastors believe that Christians should get more involved in public schools, and 85% of practicing Christians agreed with the pastors.” If this is the case, why aren’t 85-95% of our churches consistently supporting their community school(s) as a missional, justice, or outreach program?
Dr. Fulgham also shares many stories of hope. This book is filled with success stories of teachers who have turned students around and pulled their classrooms back from the brink of disaster. There are stories of teachers who sacrifice, unwilling to accept the status quo and refuse to give up on students. The book includes stories of educational leaders and trailblazers who won’t allow our children to fail. It includes stories and a word of thanks for national faith leaders like Bill Hybels, John Perkins, Rick Warren, and Noel Castellanos who are keeping education at the forefront as an important justice issue for the church.
Dr. Fulgham also offers many suggestions for how we can become part of the solution. She first addresses some challenges that hold Christians back from education engagement. Among these include: “I don’t have children in public school (44%), I don’t think public schools want religious people to help (18%), education is too political (18%), I’m unsure how to help (17%), schools need more prayer and religious values, not academic support (16%), and public school culture is contrary to religious beliefs (9%).” In short, education and support of schools are often not on our agenda.
The simple call of the gospel for Christians is to lay down our lives and rights for the sake of Christ and others. We are called to a faithful and righteous response whether or not our biological children are negatively impacted. We are called to shine light in the midst of darkness whether or not people accept our religious beliefs or follow our rules.
At one point in the book, she shares the conclusion of an elementary school principal. When asked about a potential partnership between public schools and churches, he reflected on the limited score of some churches and said quite pointedly “Taking evolution out of my textbooks won’t change a thing for my kids. They’ll still be poor, uneducated, and stuck in the cycle of poverty.” Whether its evolution or prayer in school, Christians should always be cautious when we become more concerned about our self-interests or politics than we are about people.
With her biblical convictions and passion for education and kids, Dr. Fulgham has launched The Expectations Project. “The Expectations Project’s mission is to help engage Christians & people of faith in the broader movement to eliminate educational inequality, seeking to build a network of faith-motivated advocates.” They accomplish this mission by building “bridges between racial groups and between individuals from diverse economic backgrounds.”
The book is encouraging. It challenges churches, individuals, and national leaders to take action. It offers practical solutions. It also includes stories of what regular people like you and I can do to take small steps in our local communities.
My personal take-aways?
With this book, Dr. Fulgham is not trying to draw a line in the sand or pick sides in the education or political debates. In Chapter 5, she does what I believe is important when discussing any justice issue in which we desire to raise up Christian advocates. She provides a biblical framework for confronting the issue. Addressing education inequality requires Christians to accept:
1. God’s concern for children.
2. God’s focus on the poor and disenfranchised
3. God’s heart for justice.
I hope we can all agree on that. If we agree that education equality is indeed a problem, and if we also agree that God cares about this problem and all children, then the next point of consideration is taking proper action. What’s next?
The issue is big, and therefore, we need a movement. Jesus’ primary earthly ministry was teaching. Let’s make education equality a biblical issue that is important to the church. I agree with Dr. Fulgham’s statement, “We have yet to see a movement that expands the idea of ‘sanctity of life’ to fighting for the ‘quality of life.’ If we truly believe that all life is sacred, then the logical conclusion is that once a life is born we continue to fight for that life to have equal opportunities to live up to its potential.” Amen, sista!
There is hope for our failing public schools and the children who are stuck in them.
Here are some ideas for getting started: Can your church adopt a public school or sponsor a school for disadvantaged children? Can you encourage your friends to commit to mentoring, tutoring, or influencing one at-risk child that is not their own? Can you agree to encourage, pray for, and support the teachers that you know? At a minimum, can we all give a disadvantaged child a book or regularly read with and to them?
What are some other ways we can be a part of the solution? What actions are you taking to support at-risk children and their education?
Fact: “Poverty severely limits children’s access to high-quality early childhood #education.” @nicolebfulgham @expectproject
Fact: “Poverty and lower academic achievement are closely related.” #education @nicolebfulgham @expectproject
Through hard work, extended time in the classroom & extremely high expectations, all students could achieve. @nicolebfulgham @expectproject
Trillia Newbell, author of “United: Captured By God’s Vision for Diversity”
We were honored to include a book review of African American writer, Trillia Newbell’s first book titled, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. At UrbanFaith, we want to highlight and champion the work of African-American artists in the Christian community. However, we also want to give you the chance to know them. We are excited for the doors of opportunity we see opening for Trillia and are praying that God continues to use her as a voice of reconciliation and redemption in the church.
Natasha: You are a rising voice in evangelical leadership, writing and speaking for such organizations as The Gospel Coalition (TGC), the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) for the Southern Baptist Convention. How did you come to this place of ministry and what do you feel is your contribution to the relevant conversations of the church at this critical point in history?
Trillia: I went to the first TGC women’s conference in 2012 and met then editor, John Starke, who invited me to write for TGC. I then began working rather closely with Collin Hansen who helped guide me. From there, interactions began with other organizations like Desiring God and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. I was invited to contribute single articles and have been writing for various organizations and publications ever since.
I was surprised to receive a note from Owen Strachan about his interest in me as lead editor for the women’s blog at CBMW, but I was happy to do it. I wanted to contribute to the conversation on womanhood and prayed I could bring varied voices together. As far as the ERLC, Phillip Bethancourt approached me about joining their team as the Consultant for Women’s Initiatives. Dr. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC, and Dr. Bethancourt were assembling a team of Christians who had strong convictions but weren’t dogmatic about it…in other words, I think they were looking for gracious, loving, thoughtful believers who could write and speak to these topics.
I imagine that one thing I bring to the table is femininity, so to speak. Traditionally, these organizations haven’t had women in leadership and so to include women in some form is phenomenal. I’d also hope to bring a fresh perspective. I am female and I am also Black and therefore, I might be able to address issues and topics from an angle they may not have previously considered. I also love the gospel. This last point isn’t new to their organizations or unique to any of their writers, yet I hope and pray that with my contributions, I can share my heart and open doors for others to know and hear the Good News in everything I do.
So, how did I come to this place of ministry? I would say the Lord. God has given me opportunities to speak in areas I wouldn’t have asked for or imagined. I am truly grateful!
You recently published your first book, United, which we reviewed on the website. What inspired you to write this book and specifically what do you want your readers to come away understanding about diversity and racial reconciliation?
The book was inspired by a rather a simple story. I wrote my pastors an email sharing my thoughts on the topic and from there I wrote a blog post. The blog post garnered so much interest that I knew that a book on the topic would be helpful and prayerfully encouraging to the many men and women who seemed to resonate with what it’s like to be the only one or one of few black members of predominantly white churches. I hoped that by writing the book people would see that they are not alone. Through my personal story, I hoped to cast a vision for the beauty of diversity in the church.
I want readers to understand that racial reconciliation takes intentionality, work, grace, and love. I think so many people believe that we have “arrived” and no longer need to discuss racial issues. But I think reality dictates that this conclusion couldn’t be further from the present need for dialog. I hope readers recognize the necessity of having a robust theology of race and adoption—as in adoption into the family of God. A theological framework of reconciliation will enable us to truly fight racial prejudice and begin the long process of living as reconciled people of God. I pray readers of United would be eager to invite diversity into their own homes and churches. Mostly, I hope that we would know that the gospel transforms lives and this conversation. We can be united because of the gospel.
In your ministry experiences, you are often one of the only or very few racial ethnic minority or woman on the platform. How do those experiences impact you? What is it like being an African-American female in male-dominated ministerial spaces?
What a great question! I have been so welcomed that, at times, I do forget. Yet, I will say that I have never felt more “black” than since writing and publishing United. I’ve never had a season where I’ve concentrated so much energy on the topic of racial reconciliation. This has been a unique season and therefore I’ve felt more self-aware, more aware of my ethnicity, more aware of my perspective. I have been loved well by the leaders I serve with and for that, I am thankful. I have also encountered more ignorance and misunderstanding than ever before. This is not by the ministries or the leaders but through ministering. We still have a ways to go in understanding one another and learning to love biblically.
You spend a lot of time ministering to women. What is your message to today’s Christian woman?
My message to women would be to get in the Word of God, study theology, and serve as unto the Lord. I believe if we can do those things, we will be doing well.
Racial and women’s issues are not the only things that you think or care about? What other concerns, questions, or messages is God speaking to your heart these days?
“Racial and women’s issues are not the only things that you think or care about.” Amen to that. I care about a lot of things and I actually touched on some of them when answering the previous questions. I care about theology. I want to know about and study about God. I love to study the Word of God. I also have a desire to see people apply the Word. I’m slowly working on my M.A. at Southern Seminary in biblical counseling. I want to encourage people where they are and help provide a biblical understanding to their circumstance. I have a desire to love, serve, and care for people.
I’m also finishing up my second book called Fear and Faith. This book explores what women fear, the potential reasons for such fear, and how we can trust God in the midst of our fears.
What is your hope for the American church?
I hope the church would grow in unity and gospel-focus. As far as my book United, I dedicated it to my kids and one of the things I hope is when they become adults, they would think it strange that their mom needed to write a book about diversity. I hope that racial and ethnic diversity within relationships and worship in the American church becomes so broad and commonplace that it would seem silly to have a book dedicated to the topic.