28 Aug

What I Wish I’d Known Earlier in My Speaking and Writing Ministry

Published by Carol

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).

22 Feb

Grow a Wildfire Faith

Published by Carol
February 16, 2014
Guest Blog, by Diana Pintar

Dear Friends,
Diana Pintar and I have been friends for over two decades and we have both experienced unthinkable personal firestorms.  The new book, Unquenchable, was recently released and Diana wrote a blog about it.  She so captured the essence of what I want people to get out of this book, that I asked for permission to post it here: 
I have just finished reading Unquenchable: Grow a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything, by Carol Kent. I was eagerly anticipating the release of her new book and I read through it in a handful of days, sometimes responding emotionally as God touched my heart with how he has moved in her life and in the lives of others who have been utterly devastated by the firestorms of life. I plan to immediately take another journey through this book with my personal journal at my side. I need to linger longer in each chapter.
In Unquenchable Carol asks, “Why do some people weather such firestorms with their faith intact, able to heal and grow, while others become bitter, turn from God, and find themselves unwilling or unable to ever believe in God again? Why do some cling to or return to faith but merely limp along, while others soar in new boldness and strength?” I have asked these same questions—having, during one sad season, turned away from God when a firestorm burned through my life.” 
Carol continues, “These are questions we all ask. Perhaps the reason we feel so much fear when our faith falters is that we are afraid we will be left with nothing but a cold ash heap. Having been on the ash heap and back to a vibrant, bold faith, I have found myself longing to find a way to encourage others not to lose hope, but instead to endure, to thrive, and to once again burn with a wildfire faith that takes our breath away.”
Carol says, “I’ve walked through enough life to know better than to offer simple checklists and shallow action steps to transform a waning faith back into a roaring wildfire faith. There are no easy answers to such penetrating questions. But there are truths we can cling to, practices we can turn to, stories we can draw strength from, and God’s mercy that we can fall on. There is hope and help.”
Honestly, the last thing a person in pain wants or needs is “simple action steps” or “shallow check lists.” You won’t find them here. You will find a segment at the end of each chapter that Carol calls, “Come to the Fire” and “Fire-Building Challenge” where you are invited to, as Carol says, “pause and consider the implications and applications of the truths we’ve explored.” On my next read, this is where I intend to use my spiritual journal. 
So, the question remains—what is “wildfire faith?”
Carol says, “A wildfire, by definition, differs from other fires by virtue of its uncontrollable nature, massive size, the speed at which it spreads, its tendency to rapidly change direction, and its ability to leap over roads, rivers, and firebreaks. The intense heat and convection winds it produces can actually change weather conditions or even produce its own weather system, including violent tornados that send embers flying well ahead of the main fire front. These factors make wildfires notoriously difficult to extinguish. 
Imagine having a faith with those same qualities—a  faith so powerful, so massive, that it spreads uncontrollably and leaps over boundaries that try to contain or extinguish it. Such faith has the power not only to rise above the circumstances but also to change the “weather conditions” of our lives. Wildfire faith replicates itself, throwing sparks and embers far beyond its own boundaries, creating additional fires of faith that then spread in new directions. 
Wildfire faith springs from God’s Word and burns itself into your own story. It reveals the true power of the fire God has placed in you, fans the flames of your faith, stirs your passion, and emboldens you to spark new fires that will spread and forever change the landscape of this world. Such a faith does far more than simply hold on when life tries to extinguish it. It leaps in new directions, finds new fuel to keep burning, turns up the heat of a cold and deadened heart—and is unstoppable! 
I need that kind of faith. When life threatens to extinguish my faith, I need a wildfire faith that can endure anything. And I’ve discovered that we can experience that kind of faith! I am thrilled you have joined me in the adventure of living a life of faith that is unquenchable.”
I long for that kind of faith!  Unquenchable will reignite our flickering flames!  If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.  
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03 Dec

In Everything Give Thanks

Published by Carol

December 3, 2013

This would be a different Thanksgiving Day.  I carefully selected the clothes I would wear that would meet all regulations for a prison visit—nothing with Spandex in it, no sleeveless blouses, no fabrics that were thin enough to reveal the shirt worn underneath.  The forecast was for cold weather, so I placed my coat in a place where it could easily be accessed on the way out the door.  The wait outside before getting through security could be up to two hours. I set the clock for 5:30 a.m. before falling into bed.  My plan was to get to the prison early enough that my son would be surprised by getting into the visitation room earlier than he expected.

Thanksgiving Day has traditionally been my favorite holiday of the year.  My family has always made a grand occasion out of this special day.  I’m the oldest of six children and all of us are married with children of our own.  Every Thanksgiving Day as many of us as possible gather in Michigan from all over the U.S. to spend time together around a table filled with turkey, mashed potatoes, strawberry delight, sweet potato casserole, freshly baked rolls, and all of the trimmings.  After we celebrate at the table and enjoy the feast, we take a break to clean up the table. Then we gather in the family room with dessert and coffee and spend the next several hours taking turns sharing what we’re thankful for. These testimonials begin with the youngest cousin who is able to talk and move on up to aunts, uncles, and finally to the oldest, which is my 91-year-old Mama.  Some years these testimonies have included highlights of the past year; at other times there have been confessions of failure and requests for prayer.  It is always a deeply meaningful time that bonds our family together in a unique way.  We end with prayer and with singing “To God Be the Glory.”

But this year Gene and I were home, forty miles from the prison.  The plan was for me to spend the morning with Jason.  Gene would come in at 1:00 p.m., and I would then go home to cook our Thanksgiving dinner for our step-granddaughters and for Gene’s 84-year-old mother.

My son was thrilled to see me so early and the time flew by as we caught up on his activities on the “inside” and on our fall ministry in various places around the country.  But on this day, clouding Jason’s usual optimistic attitude I sensed a sadness in his demeanor.  Administrations change at prisons very regularly—and a new warden has made major changes on the compound.  Instead of getting to exercise in the yard three times a day, the inmates are only getting exercise time about twice a week.  They are “locked down” in their cellblocks for much longer periods and many educational and Christian programs have been cancelled or interrupted as newer, harsher restrictions are being put in place in the name of making the prison more “safe.” These changes have been disheartening.

Gene arrived and we enjoyed some time together as a family and then I left through the heavy double doors and started for home.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized the hopelessness of my son’s sentence—life without the possibility of parole.  Then I remembered what my precious Mama always asks me when I am feeling the weight of despair:"Have you thanked Him yet?" Then she points me to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23. “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live…May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.”  That scripture was a good reminder of how much I have to be thankful for.

What do you need to thank God for at this time in your life?