Charla Dixon is Graphic Designer at Watermark, and a long-time member of our staff team and church body. Below is her response to the question, “what is one of the most impacting lessons you’ve learned in ministry?”
Maintaining passion while submitting to authority…learn to live with the tension. Character comes from this pressure – Andy Stanley
As a general rule, in areas where you’re not passionate, it’s easier to submit. In areas you care about & are more invested in, it can become more difficult. Submission to authority is no respecter of age, leadership experience, spiritual maturity, competence, etc. It comes down to “do you trust that God is not only at the helm but also at work in this person (and in you)?” Part of the mission is the growth of the leader.
Before I joined the team at Watermark, I spent about 5 years working for a college ministry here in Texas: nearly 2 years with the founding director, a year and half as we searched for a new director, and over a year and a half with the new director.
When the new director took over, he was growing in his role, and I was still growing too. We were a full-time team of 3 including him. In the process of leading part-time interns who led team leaders who led students, I was learning to adjust to a different style of leadership (including the different voices that were mentoring him too) all while he was still learning how to lead at that level.
We all loved each other, but the pace & pressure of the ministry was intense and we were all passionate about the mission. That became a recipe for conflict. I remember him saying once, “it’s like our insecurities tend to find each other like magnets creating conflict.” It didn’t help that I had some friends close to me saying, “Charla in the real world, you would just leave and find another job. You’re young and—what do you earn again? You don’t have to do this.” But the calling ran deep, and I knew God had me there.
Then one day, it was as if God gently said “Ok, Charla, I’m giving you the choice. You can be free to go and I’ll use you somewhere else and even use a lot of your other skills. But I’m going to use your boss to reach far more than you ever will, and you have the option of being an anvil I will use to shape him to the next level of leading. You can go, and I will use another, or you can stay and I will use the friction for both of your good.”
That sealed something in me that day. I saw my job not just with a generation of students but also as an anvil God could use to help my boss in his calling & leadership at that stage. Down the road, we got to a point financially where the board had to close out my position which meant losing my job. The moment my boss told me, I replied, “thanks for making the hard decision.” That’s when I knew I could trust him as a leader with the ministry because I knew it was the hardest decision for him to make at the time. God had His hand in it.
In my 10 years working at Watermark, I’ve had at least 6 bosses. And then I can feel the leadership of their bosses and their boss’ boss. And every client is like a boss in some way. So that’s a good boot camp in learning how to flex under different styles of leadership, levels of experience, ages, competencies, and conditions. I’ve found it’s possible to micromanage up as much as being micromanaged down. We can do this by over-systematizing, trying to make a boss more administrative than he or she is, or falling in love with a program that works for you but not for them. You’ve got to know your boss and discern when you’re nagging or micromanaging. In the end, figuring out together what will be effective for you both will strengthen the working relationship, which will be better for the ministry and everyone involved.
At the end of the day, God put your boss in authority (Romans 13:1, Hebrews 13:16-18). And He put you there under him or her. He was sovereign in both. Learn them. Be sharpened by them. Ask questions because you care about their success
in becoming all God intended them to be…not simply what you may imagine for them and because you care about what God is doing in this generation.
Trust that God will work in time. Keep planting seeds and cultivate the work and the relationship. And remember inefficiencies can teach a heart a lot in them and you. You were given a role that’s needed. Play it well.
“God did not give Joseph any special information about how to get from being the son of a nomad in Palestine to being Pharaoh’s right hand man in Egypt. What He did give Joseph were eleven jealous brothers, the attention of a very loose and vengeful woman, the ability to do the service of interpreting dreams and managing other people’s affairs and the grace to do that faithfully wherever he was.” – Rich Mullins