by Carol Kent
At the age of twenty-three I attended my first women’s conference—Winning Women in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech education the year before and I assumed I would be a speech, drama, and English teacher. However, that weekend changed everything about my future plans.
I was seated in the back of the auditorium at Western Michigan University among 3,500 women who were all excited about attending this event. Jill Briscoe was speaking and the conviction of God’s Spirit was heavy on my heart as I sensed his voice saying, “Carol, one day you will be speaking for my glory and you need to get prepared by studying the Word of God.” The message didn’t come in an audible voice, but there was no mistaking it. From that point on, I began studying the Bible in a determined way.
My ministry began with a small group Bible study that included five neighbors sitting around my kitchen table. Over the next few years I became the Director of Women’s Ministries in a large church, and eventually I was asked to become a Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader. Following years of preparation, God began opening doors for me to speak at retreats, conferences, and eventually at arena events. As I prayed for direction, I just kept walking through the next open door.
Now, three decades later, these are the things I wish I’d known earlier in my speaking and writing ministry:
1) I wish I’d known that all of the small venues in those early years were exactly what I needed. They gave me opportunities to lead women to Christ, to deepen my knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, and to hone my leadership skills, my public speaking skills, and my coping skills.
2) I wish I’d known that every time I opened a door for a fellow speaker or author, God poured more opportunities into my own life. Being generous with recommending others always blessed me in unexpected ways and it gave emerging speakers and authors more possibilities for using their gifts.
3) I wish I’d known that every time the unexpected happened in a conference or a retreat, the Holy Spirit would give me the wisdom I needed to handle any situation.
4) I wish I’d known there would be years of plenty—spiritually, financially, and emotionally—when meeting planners would offer me lots of opportunities to speak, and several publishers were intrigued with my book ideas—and that there would be lean years, when no one seemed interested.
5) I wish I’d known there would be a sisterhood of authors and speakers who would become like a family to me. Often, traveling as a Christian speaker can be lonely. We are often the only people in our city or in our geographical area who make a living by going to different cities several times a month. I was encouraged and surprised that the speakers and authors I shared platforms with eventually became some of my closest friends.
6) I wish I’d known that something called the Internet would be invented and that it would make research and communication much easier, but it would also make my life more complicated. I had never anticipated dealing with hundreds of e-mails from hurting people and from numerous women longing for a mentor.
7) I wish I had known how important it was to involve my church family in understanding and participating in what God was doing as ministry began to multiply, not after it exploded. When I began traveling a lot in ministry, one of the deacons in our church said: “Carol, are you still traveling around speaking at those church women’s meetings? We’ve noticed you’ve missed a lot of Sunday morning services lately.” At that time I was beginning to speak at arena events in venues that seated from 7,000 to 10,000.
I bit my lip and said, “Thank you for asking. I do speak very often to a lot of women who need encouragement from the Bible, and I would appreciate your prayers.” I realized that Christians who are not familiar with the life of a traveling speaker could seem judgmental and I needed to be more open about what I was doing and more importantly, about what God was doing, as a result of ministry. I needed to ask for their prayers.
9) I wish I would have known that having a team of ministry intercessors would profoundly impact what God would do in my personal spiritual life and in my career as a speaker and author. As ministry began to multiply, a woman I trusted asked me if I was open to having her in charge of sending monthly updates to a team of people who were willing to pray earnestly for my ministry. I said “Yes” and I saw a visible difference in the powerful way God moved in hearts in direct answer to prayer.
10) I wish I had known that speaking and writing that furthers His kingdom agenda would be the most fulfilling way I could spend the rest of my life—that it is worth the travel; it’s worth the lost sleep; it’s worth the headaches of lost luggage and inept meeting planners; it’s worth the chicken dinners; it’s worth the sacrifice; it’s worth sleeping in a cabin at a rustic conference center in the middle of nowhere. It’s worth putting up with editors, publicists, and publishers who are sometimes insensitive, because they are going through their own personal challenges. It’s more than worth it!
Earlier in ministry, I didn’t fully understand that there is a cost when you are in Christian leadership. Sometimes the enemy targets our spouses or our children to get us distracted and “off course” in our ministries. You may know that my son, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate was arrested for murder and convicted to a life sentence. (Read the whole story in When I Lay My Isaac Down.) It was a challenging decision to “go public” with my testimony and to be vulnerable about our journey, but I have learned that people identify much more with our failures and our frailties than then do with our successes.
I wish I had another lifetime to share the astoundingly good news of the gospel and enough energy to mentor every woman I meet who has the desire to learn, grow, and lead. I wish every woman reading this blog would commit this year to finding at least three other women to build into who are younger than she is in age and/or spiritual maturity —sharing vision, networking, cheering, encouraging, listening, teaching, and modeling what it means to be a woman on influence for God’s glory. Accept the challenge from 2 Timothy 2:2 (NLT). “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”
As God blesses your ministry and when doors open for speaking and for writing, remember the advice of Dr. A. W. Tozer:
“It’s the first Palm Sunday, and here comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds begin to shout “Hosanna! Hosanna! The old donkey pricks up his ears. Some in the crowd throw their coats in the road; others spread out palm branches.
“Well!” says the donkey, switching a fly off a mange patch. “I had no idea they really appreciated me like this! Listen to those hosannas, would you. I must really be something”[i]
When people say: “You’re the best speaker I’ve ever heard. Your books have changed my life.” Just remember all you did was bring Jesus to them. If you keep that thought utmost in your mind, you’ll be on target for giving God the glory that belongs to him.
[i] A.W. Tozer, quoted by Anne Ortlund, Up With Worship (Glendale, CA: Regal, 1975), 119-120).