For Rachel Morton, an important part of being a Christian leader is recognizing our own fallibility and need for God’s grace as we lead others in Christian love. Read on…
What does it look like to be a woman in a leadership role? How does Christian faith impact leadership? And what happens when you put the two together?
To find out, we caught up with Rachel Morton, Assistant Worship Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, WI. Since July 2012, she has spent her time directing choirs, writing worship services & school chapel services, overseeing traditional worship services and the groups that serve in them, and overseeing the women’s retreat committee. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Parish Music (double emphasis in piano and organ) with a Theology Minor and a Master of Church Music (emphasis in choral conducting) from Concordia University Wisconsin.
We asked Rachel a few questions about her job and her views on Christian Leadership:
What’s the favorite part of your job?
I love the relational aspect of my job (and that my job allows me the time and opportunity to be relational). Working with people isn’t always the easiest thing in the world, but it’s so rewarding! I love walking with people through the joys and struggles of their lives, even if it means walking them through conflicts. I love watching them have these “light bulb moments” when they can personally connect with what it means to be a loved and forgiven child of God and the impact that has not only on their service within worship ministry and the church, but also the impact it has on their relationships with family and friends and co-workers and the impact it has on how they live their lives. There’s nothing better than watching someone know and feel God’s love and getting to be a part of that journey with them!
How would you define Christian leadership?
Christian leadership is both leading AND following. It means humbling ourselves to follow God’s will (to love Him and serve Him with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves) and then leading people to follow it as well (and to come back to it when they stray). It means leading with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, and realizing that when (not if, but when) we fall short, there is a time and place to practice repentance and forgiveness. Christian leadership is leadership with integrity that leans hard into God’s grace and love at all times and in all circumstances.
How do you bring your Christian values into your work?
You would think that working in a church would make it much easier to live out Christian values, but that isn’t always the case. The church is full of sinful, imperfect people just like anywhere else, and I am definitely one of them! I bring my Christian values into the workplace when I acknowledge that I personally need to practice daily repentance and forgiveness, to speak the truth in love (even when it’s hard or met with opposition), to respect the authority of those I work under even when I don’t agree with them (and to refrain from criticizing them when I don’t agree), and to be a godly team member and not a “glory hog.” The Lord knows I don’t do any of this perfectly, but I try to be a person of integrity and to be consistent in living out my values; they should be the same whether I’m at home or at work.
Looking back, is there a time on your leadership journey where you perhaps felt uncertain about the future, but God had a bigger plan?
I remember struggling part of the way through college with what I actually wanted to do with my life, which was strange because I’ve known since I was 12 that I wanted to pursue music as a career and since I was 15 that I wanted to pursue a calling to serve as a church musician. I struggled through a lot of personal issues and life circumstances that made me wonder if music was where God was calling me. I thought I might be better served to change my major and go into counseling or even social work because I felt this strong pull toward a profession that would allow me to help people. I sought advice from people who I knew cared deeply for me and who would support me in whatever decision I made, I spent time in prayer and in God’s Word, and in the end I had to just trust that God would guide me to where He wanted me.
I finished my degree in church music, and then the time came for some big decisions: 1) to continue on in school to get my masters in church music, 2) to go to St. Louis to get a degree in deaconess studies with a counseling emphasis, 3) to pray for a call to take me home to Texas, or 4) to accept the call that was coming in from St. John’s in West Bend (WI) to be their Assistant Worship Director. After a lot of prayer, I felt a pull to follow God’s call to St. John’s, and I have been so blessed in that decision. It has not always been my ideal and every now and then I do wonder if this what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life, but I do know that right now I am blessed. I have learned and grown so much as a leader through my job, it gave me the opportunity through proximity to complete my masters in church music at CUW, and allowed me to see that I don’t need a counseling degree to be able to help people through the trials in their life (and it’s put me in a position to do that). It wasn’t easy to trust God each step of the way, but I am glad that He led me down the path that He did.
How does working in a religious or secular setting change the way you lead as a Christian?
I don’t think that working in a religious setting changes HOW I lead as a Christian, but it definitely heightens my awareness that people watch to see how Christians lead (both inside and outside of religious settings). If nothing else, working in a religious setting helps to keep me accountable to my Christian values.
Who are your biggest role models as a leader?
I look up to people that I can see making a difference in the world or an impact for the Gospel of Christ (coincidentally, some of them are women that are speaking at the Gifted to Influence Conference or were highly involved in putting it together!). That is something that I hope and pray that I am doing or am able to do one day.
On a more personal front, my mentor from age 14 to now, Martha Garmon, has been the biggest role model in my life. When I was younger she modeled a strong work-ethic that helped drive me through high school and college. She modeled respect for my parents and those in authority, she modeled integrity in her job (as a worship director for our church) and in her personal life, and now as an adult/peer she continues to model all of those things as well as what it means to be a godly wife, mother, sister, friend, and what it means to be a woman of Christian influence. I owe so much of my character and value development to her!
Is there a passage in scripture that resonates with you as a Christian woman in leadership?
Two scripture passages come to mind when I think about my values as a Christian leader, and I cannot really choose between the two.
The first is my confirmation verse (that has become my life verse): “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17b-19). This verse reminds me of what my foundation is: the love of Christ that makes me a part of the kingdom of God. God’s love is something that fills my heart and life to overflowing and influences everything that I do. It’s a reminder of what I am working for: to spread the love of Christ that I have been privileged and blessed to know!
The second verse is one I find myself turning to when I wonder what God’s will for my life is or when I’m faced with difficult decisions (both as a Christian and as a Christian leader). “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it,” (Isaiah 30:21). No matter what I may be facing in life, I need to trust that God is leading and guiding and working things out for the good, even when I can’t see what that is yet.
What most prepared you to be a Christian leader in the workplace?
I think having Christian mentors, leaders, pastors, and teachers to look up to during my “formative years” prepared me the most to be a Christian leader once I entered the workplace. Really, those people (men and women) prepared me to be not only a Christian leader but also a “decent human being,” if you want to think of it that way. They modeled Christian living as something that affects all aspects of my life, not just my leadership.
What challenges do you face as a Christian leader in your workplace?
I think fatigue (physical and emotional/mental) is one of my biggest challenges to face in Christian leadership. I don’t think any of us should ever underestimate the impact that our words and actions—our leadership—can have on the lives of those we interact with every day. At the same time, being so aware of the people around us and then trying to figure out how to meet their needs can be tiring (or even exhausting) after a while. So it’s been an important part of my leadership to have “safe places” where I can go to talk through my thoughts or my feelings as they relate to leadership. Those conversations are usually reserved for my mentors or for colleagues who are experiencing a lot of the same issues. It’s just important to have a place of support (where I can both receive and give it) to help combat the fatigue that could lead to burnout.
What is the most important piece of advice you would want to pass along to other Christian women in leadership?
Don’t ever try to go through life alone. Leaders especially need people in their lives to give them moral and physical support, to hold them accountable, to pray for and with them, and to remind them that they don’t have to be “perfect” all the time. If we’re being transparent, I don’t know what I would do without those ladies in my life with whom I can laugh and cry and talk about anything. Sometimes we just need someone to “be real” with so we can continue to be encouraged for the tasks that God has given us to do.
Generational studies are all the rage right now. Over the past five years in particular, people have spent a lot of time speculating about the differences between generations and what impact those differences have on social, economic, and religious levels. At the moment, one of the most talked-about generations—in both positive and negative ways—is the millennial generation (our generation). Millennials are defined as anyone born between the year 1980 and 1997 (give or take a year or two depending on the study). Most recently millennials made headline news as they officially surpassed the baby boomers as the largest (by population) living generation in the United States!
You may be asking yourself, “What does this information have to do with the workplace or with ‘workplace connections’?” Well, at some point in your life you will find yourself sitting across the interview table from a millennial. You might be the one hiring or you might be the one hoping to get a job. In either of those situations, it would be helpful to know a little bit about the generation you will be working with in order to create a more positive work environment.
The thought of working with millennials might actually be something that worries you. After all, we’ve all heard the stereotypes about them: they’ve been called the “me, me, me” generation, lazy, entitled, self-obsessed, and even narcissistic. Who would want to work with someone like that? However, they also have been given some positive stereotypes. People have called them open-minded, generous, self-expressive, upbeat, definitely tech-savvy, and passionate about social causes. We promise…they aren’t all as scary as you might think!
So let’s get real. Have you ever wondered if there is any truth behind the stereotypes about millennials? Have these stereotypes positively or negatively affected your desire to ever work with this generation? Do you think these stereotypes affect the millennials’ abilities to work with other generations and vice versa? Have you ever wondered what stereotypes about older generations might be affecting the millennials’ desire to work with them? And at the end of it all, what kind of example are we setting for future generations by letting different stereotypes affect how we all work together?
Regardless of whether or not any of the stereotypes are true, the fact that they exist has already affected the ability of different generations to work together. Each generation already has a pre-conceived idea about the other. In some instances that has helped workplace connections, and in others it has hurt them. Regardless of your generation, we can all benefit from the perspective of different generations in the workplace. Better perspective allows us to more effectively connect with and support one another, creating a healthier work environment. How do we gain this perspective? By talking together.
Rachel Morton is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin’s Master of Church Music program, serves as Assistant Worship Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. She directs all traditional worship services and musical groups, serves as primary organist, collaborates in the writing of school chapel services, and oversees the Women’s Retreat Committee.
Rebekah Karolus is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin with a degree in both Theology and Lay Ministry. She currently serves as the Director of the Sr. High Youth Ministry, College Ministry, Young-Adult Ministry, and Women’s Ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin.
Come to their presentation, “Workplace Connections: The Challenges and Blessings of Being a Millennial and Working with One” at the Gifted to Influence Conference in Milwaukee, WI September 29 – October 1. There you will gain valuable perspective on generational differences as well as some practical tools that you can use right now within your various vocations to help strengthen your workplace connections.