09: Where to find your ministry with Aleen Stoddard
Ministry looks different for all of us. Those who follow Jesus have a light to spread to others, whether it’s with your children, spouse or church, there are so many ways to share and grow in our faith. Loving those in the margins, and joining with those who think differently than us can be tough but ultimately it’s rewarding. Take time to observe what impact you have and how you can continue to do God’s will.
Guest Aleen Stoddard joins The Commons Podcast to share more about ministry and how we can continue to grow. As she’ll tell you, being spiritually disciplined can help us thrive in our responsibilities.
Show highlights include:
- More on Aleen’s current ministry and the ministry she is passionate about.
- How she stays spiritually disciplined.
- What the Church should be known for these days.
- A few of Aleen’s real struggles in ministry.
- A few of her victories in ministry.
- A call to action for podcast listeners.
Listen and subscribe to The Commons Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
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Cassandra Amezquita: So today we’re talking about ministry and we just want to acknowledge that ministry looks different for everybody. We have a unique way that we do it in The Salvation Army, but you may not be part of that organization. And no matter how it is that you do ministry, we just want to encourage you to keep doing that. And the most important part is how we’re following Christ and how we’re sharing that with others. But we want to tell you a little bit about our own personal work and our daily lives in how we do ministry. So Meagan, would you like to share a little bit about what your daily ministry looks like?
Meagan Ruff: I was actually thinking about this on my way to work this morning. The other night we had some of our church members over, a couple, and we were just talking, hanging out outside and one of the young adults, he doesn’t have any kids, and he said, “Oh, I gotta go to work tomorrow. It starts at seven.” And my initial reaction was like, “Ooh, seven, that’s so early.” And then the more I thought about it, the more I was like, “My day literally never ends because I have kids.” And that really is a ministry like when I get up at four in the morning, because Magnolia is crying in her bed for me, and I go and sit with her and I pray with her and scratch her back until she falls back asleep. But it’s part of my everyday life, not everyday, but it’s part of my life that happens often, but it’s also a big part of my ministry. Just being there for my kids and praying for them and teaching them about Jesus.
In my official ministry, I mean, I consider that official, but my official ministry as a corps officer, my days always look different. Everything is really fast and then it’s slow. Like we’ll have a whole bunch of programs all at once, meetings online and things in person now. And then I’ll have a day where it’s like, “Wow, is it, there’s no one around! This is so weird.” So, a lot of my ministry involves stuff with kids. We have a lot of youth programs, a lot of kids in our community that come, we have a women’s program where we play games, we do devotions, and art projects. A lot of times we just kind of sit around and share about our lives and the ladies really like that. So, in that way, I think most of my ministry right now where I am in this appointment and with my family is super relational, if that makes sense.
Cassandra Amezquita: Oh, I was just thinking that word in my head.
Meagan Ruff: Yeah. It’s all about the different relationships and just being present in those. What about you?
Cassandra Amezquita: So as you all know by now, we both have small children and I think family is definitely my first ministry. What happens in my household is going to impact, not only our family, but our future. Right? I mean, I know you’re raising kids that someday, God willing, they’re able to share your faith with others and make an impact. So that’s important.
My marriage is also a ministry. I think we both work as co-pastors, co-directors, co-parents and everything co–so, I think investing into that and making sure that we’re centered with Christ is really important. But yeah, ministry looks different where I’m at. We’re in downtown LA and we’re at a rec. center, social services, and also the church. So there’s a lot going on. And wouldn’t you say that sometimes ministries are just the next projects to be done to make things function?
Meagan Ruff: Yes. And you get through one program or project or event or whatever, and you’re like, “ahhh, here’s another one.” It’s like a rollercoaster of prep and excitement and prayer, and then calm of it being done and then all over again.
Cassandra Amezquita: Yes. It never ends. And it’s not a bad thing. I think being on-call and being accessible to people. And at the same time, of course, keeping healthy boundaries with that, but just being people’s spiritual doctors is a very big responsibility. And I like it! It’s amazing, I wouldn’t imagine it any other way.
Meagan Ruff: Yeah. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, Aaron and I will do something that’s technically, you know, like ministry or it’s an official something or other with the corps and we’ll get done and we’ll be like, “I can’t believe that’s considered work.” Like, that’s part of our job and it was so fun and life-giving. That’s not to say ministry is always that way, but it is something that I love about it. Sometimes I get done with the day and I’m like, “that was just ridiculously fun. And I can’t believe that’s part of my job.”
Cassandra Amezquita: Yes. It looks different every time. Something that I learned and I think being an officer during our training time like our seminary, I feel like it was a lot about like, what are people, how can I portray an image of myself that people will want to follow. And I think now that I’ve been on the field, something that I’ve realized is letting people realize that I’m human, letting people realize I make mistakes and that they’re not necessarily, it’s not about following me. It’s about following Christ. And he accepts all of us just the way we are just kind of like that humbling way of seeing things. And someone from my corps mentioned something that really stood out to me. She said, ministry is not about finishing the race first, but about finishing the race together.
Meagan Ruff: Yes. I love that. It’s like, it’s just so good. So perfect to remember no matter what type of ministry you’re in. Today we have Aleen as our guest. We interviewed her about ministry in general. She is very involved in her church. She leads a [Bible Study Fellowship] BSF Bible study, which if you’ve ever been a part of BSF, it’s a lot of work. It’s a really, really, really cool ministry and program. And all we need is the perfect person to lead that. I would love to have her as my BSF leader. She’s married to Jordan, who is really good at Catan. Don’t play against him if you want to win, because he will kill you, just in the game, not in real life. Anyway, Aleen is a lot of fun. She’s a great friend and she has some really wise words to share with us on ministry. So with all that to say we will share our interview with her.
Meagan Ruff: We have Aleen Stoddard here today, and we’re gonna be talking about ministry. Cassandra, do you wanna kick it off with a question?
Cassandra Amezquita: Yes. We have some rapid fire questions for you. So, first of all– what is your top favorite food?
Aleen Stoddard: Oh, pizza and ice cream forever and ever. Oh my gosh. I can’t choose between the two, savory and sweet.
Meagan Ruff: There you go. Perfect!
Cassandra Amezquita: That’s an easy one.
Meagan Ruff: Yes. Now, what does a lazy night look like for you? Like your dream lazy night?
Aleen Stoddard: Oh, my dream lazy night is different from a lazy night that’s unplanned. I think an unplanned lazy night would probably be finding something to watch on Netflix or Disney+ or something like that. I’ve seen “Tangled” 10 billion times, so it’s possible that I could watch it again. And obviously ice cream and pizza would be my ideal lazy night menu items. Jordan always tells me that I’m always painting my nails. So I’d probably be doing my nails and I would have a candle. Or listening to a book. I’m all about that life.
Cassandra Amezquita: I don’t know if you babysit, but my five-year-old would have a lot of fun with you because she likes all of those things you mentioned.
Aleen Stoddard: I love reading to kids. So it’s one of my top favorite activities. So if she wants to watch Disney+ and then have me read to her, I would live for it.
Meagan Ruff: My daughter likes to plan out or she’s like, “okay, we’re going to have a movie night and I will be in charge of the snuggle nest.” And so she would get like all the pillows and blankets and the stuffed animals. And she’s like, “mom, you be in charge of turning on the TV and Magnolia, you can pick out the movie and dad, you get the snacks.” So she’s like the delegator too, which is good for her.
Cassandra Amezquita: So what is the last book that you read?
Aleen Stoddard: That I completed?
Meagan Ruff: It can be one you’re reading too, if you haven’t finished.
Aleen Stoddard: Okay. I, well, I’m reading three books kind of because also this is who I am and because I go in and out of wanting to read certain things at certain times, so I’ll come back to things. So right now I’m reading one called, “On The Jellicoe Road,” I’m listening to that actually on Audible and it’s actually set in Australia and it’s this girl who is orphaned and she’s in this house. But, it’s kind of like a perfect system where they have houses and someone’s in charge of the houses…
Meagan Ruff: Like Harry Potter style?
Aleen Stoddard: Because Harry Potter is the other one that I’m listening to. Obviously, you, probably at any given time of my life, will know that I’m also listening to Harry Potter. So I’m listening to “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” right now. As well. So I have double perfect systems going on in my brain.
Then I’m reading one that Jordan’s whole family loves and it’s called “Freckles.” And it’s a really old book and it’s about this guy who’s missing an arm and he’s an orphan also—all these orphans—but he’s like really hard working and he’s sweet and he’s genuine. And he gets hired to be in charge of this really difficult, dangerous job. I don’t really know what happens next, but he’s very into nature. So it’s kind of like a naturalist book where he loves nature and stuff like that. It’s really sweet.
Meagan Ruff: Those all sound fun. I mean, obviously, I’ve already read Harry Potter, but I’m going to have to look into the others.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah. I made myself a book list, so I’m going down it.
Meagan Ruff: Nice. I need to do that. Both books I already have so that I can just get through the ones that I already have, before I buy new ones. But, what is your go-to song lately?
Aleen Stoddard: Oh, Hmm. So, I guess I would say, I was recently introduced to a worship song that’s called “Nothing Else,” and the message of it is being in God’s presence, like I’m not here to get anything from you. I just want to be in your presence and have that be the only desire. And recently I recorded that for our Sunday morning worship and I didn’t even realize how much I loved it until I was singing it. And then I was like, “Oh yeah, this is so good.”
Cassandra Amezquita: That’s a really good song.
Meagan Ruff: Who sings it? Send it to me and I’ll put it in our show notes and then I’ll listen to it too.
Aleen Stoddard: Okay, I can’t remember the name of the guy who does it cause it’s so new to me too. I don’t even think about it. It’s so good. It’s really, really beautiful and simple. And I like that.
Meagan Ruff: I’m really bad at finding new music, especially new worship music. And we have this group of young adults that come and work at our church and I’ll put on something and they’ll be like, “Oh not again…” And I’m like, “well, I’m a little bit offended, but sure change it.” I’m like, “okay, I get it. I’m over 30, whatever. Just tell me some good stuff to listen to.”
Aleen Stoddard: Also listening to a lot of, “Into the Woods,” the soundtrack for it. My husband was listening to it the other day and then he was singing it really loudly around the house. And so I was like, “okay, well, I’m going to listen to this.” And it’s really good also. So it’s one of my favorite musicals. I can never give one answer to any question just forward notice.
Cassandra Amezquita: All right. So this one should be fun then. Oh, what’s a good memory you have from [College for Officer Training] CFOT.
Aleen Stoddard: Oh, well I was just thinking the other day about the bunny and stuff. That’s not my only memory. I just remembered I loved those bunnies at the petting zoo. And then I was thinking of Meagan, when you told me that you were pregnant with Magnolia, and it was like a really special moment to me and I was so happy.
Meagan Ruff: And I remember when we told you, because you initially came to our apartment and you were like, “you guys, I have to tell you something. And I feel really, really terrible.” And Aaron and I were like, “why? Like what’s wrong?” And you were like, “I know we’re supposed to be doing the Whole 30, but I totally cheated on it.” And I was like, “honestly, I haven’t eaten Whole 30 for like two weeks.” And that’s when I told you and then you had immediate tears and were so happy.
Aleen Stoddard: I felt so guilty guys. I cheated on the Whole 30. yeah. I also just, just thinking of like, just dinner times and meal times, always were really fun and happy. And like I was thinking of Nathan’s Darling. We wanted to have a fan club called Nathan’s Darling.
Meagan Ruff: I thought it was a great idea because Lieutenant, although now he’s a Captain, Captain Nathan Darling is awesome. And I’m like, I think he would have really appreciated us starting that club.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah. I totally, I really think he would have. And he’s a Darling, like, he actually is a precious man if you’re ever listening.
Meagan Ruff: Captain Darling, we really appreciated everything you did for us at training school. And we really did want to start a fan club for you because we thought you were that awesome. And still do so.
Aleen Stoddard: Totally, totally. Yeah. I have like a million things that I could say and I think worship teams were really fun and that was special to me too. There’s a lot of things that I feel stand out in my mind and learning moments and big life things and just a lot of really good things.
Meagan Ruff: Okay. So now that we’ve kind of gone through the rapid fire questions, we have more detailed questions. I mean, not detailed, but you know, like more specific to ministry since that’s what we wanted to talk about today. So, what is your current ministry and what ministry are you really passionate about? If they’re not the same, that’s okay.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah. So I think that I have some sort of traditional roles and non-traditional roles where I’m at now. I think more traditionally right now I lead a Bible Study Fellowship group. And I had heard about BSF for a long time. A lot of people had talked about it and I’d never really had the time because I knew that there was homework and stuff involved. So I was like, “I don’t really have time for more homework right now.” So when my husband and I moved to Los Altos, which is like an hour away from Salinas, it was a totally new community. So I was like, “well, this is kind of now my opportunity. Now I have time and I have the space and I want to find community with other believers.”
So, I wanted to join BSF. It’s an international organization, there’s always like little groups all around. So, I went online, I signed up and for my first year I was a member. And then my group leader identified me as someone who could be a leader. And so they interviewed me and I went through the whole process and signed my contract and got set up to be a group leader. And my group of ladies are in their late twenties, early thirties, up to seventies. So it’s definitely multi-generational. Most of my ladies are probably like 60 and up. Every week we meet together and we discuss a section or a couple of chapters of the Bible. So, we’re going through Genesis this year and we have like four weeks left of our study. So, that’s one of my primary roles and that’s even outside of my local community. Now that we live back in Salinas, I’m also, and throughout the pandemic, I’ve been helping to lead worship. So I do worship with one other guy, Matt, and he plays guitar and he usually is the one who helps kind of coordinate us and everything. I get to sing every single week, which is like the best. I love it so much.
Meagan Ruff: Let me say that’s obviously right up your alley.
Aleen Stoddard: Totally, totally. I’m just like, “let me do this!” And just a random side conversation about that. I think that I had been learning so much through the pandemic. We’ve had watch parties with our church, so we pre-recorded and then when we were all at home and we couldn’t go to church, we put it all together and put the recording online and streamed it. And then, since churches have been open, we are safe and socially distant, but we all watch the service together. So, we’re all in the same building. I think being a part of worship I realized that growing up singing was really important and it was also really like high stakes and it was hard to make it about like worship times because of me because of my perfectionism, but also because, you know, I always grew up around a lot of excellent musicians and I felt the pressure to do really well.
I realized that a couple of years ago that I kind of used to self-sabotage a little bit where I wouldn’t practice for things because then if I messed up, it would be because I didn’t practice. Not because I wasn’t good. And I didn’t realize I was doing that to myself. Like I never like said that out loud. It was like a subconscious realized. Yeah, it was this decision that I made, like, if I didn’t try too hard, then I could blame it on, you know, why I didn’t even try that hard or something like that. And I was like, “Oh, why would I do that instead of doing my absolute best and trying to try?” And so for maybe a couple months ago, I remember we were getting ready for worship. And I think that I had kind of fallen into some of those patterns of like, not trying or like not preparing. So, I was sitting down and getting ready and I listened to some of the songs that I was singing, preparing to sing for that week. And I was like, “I am gonna try really hard to do this and I’m going to prepare.” And when I finally got to that moment of singing it, I was like, “that was worship.” I could worship because I had prepared and I could worship because I had done my best and I did my best, not for me, but for God, to not be like a distraction. And I feel like throughout this time of recording where it’s really intimate and it’s not around a lot of people, I was able to kind of grow into this sort of a different place where I was like, “Oh, I’m going to try really hard at this. I’m going to prepare. And I’m just going to sing my head off and then just let that be what it is.” And that was really special for me, because then it allowed me to worship and like, to really let go of my stuff and be in God’s presence and really worship.
So I feel like that was a big growth moment for me. And like last Sunday was our first live service. So it was my first time singing in front of people basically. I was shaking like a baby deer. Like my legs were like knocking against other because it felt so important. I had thought about it and prepared my mind and was like, “I’m just gonna do it.” And all of us messed up a little bit, but it was fine and it was just worshipful. And so I was like, “Oh, it’s so much better to prepare and to then be able to be free to worship and not panic about what you’re doing inside of your head.”
Cassandra Amezquita: Yeah. Yeah. That’s beautiful. That kind of goes along with the next question, which is how do you stay spiritually disciplined?
Aleen Stoddard: I am big on discipline. I think that, if I don’t, if I don’t keep myself disciplined, then I can feel the difference and I can like, I’ve experienced the difference in my life. So, BSF was part of the discipline for me.
Meagan Ruff: Definitely disciplined.
Aleen Stoddard: You have to read and you respond to questions and you go to the meetings, your weekly discussions and everything. Even as a leader, I have to make weekly contact with all of the people in my group. So we have a prayer sheet, so I’m looking at their prayers and I’m contacting them and encouraging them and remembering what’s going on in their lives and connecting with them and trying to encourage them and also, you know, studying and preparing and listening to lectures and reflecting on Scripture and everything.
So that has been a big way that I’ve been able to remain disciplined and in God’s Word. And even though obviously sometimes, it feels like homework. There’s always something really beautiful that comes out of it every week beyond whatever my expectations are and beyond how tired I might be. There’s always something that comes out of it. And my group of ladies is really special too because they ask questions that most believers aren’t trained to ask. There’s, there’s a few ladies in the group who didn’t grow up in the church or who didn’t grow up in, you know, traditional learning. And their questions are so raw and so real that it kind of throws you back to this, “I’ve never thought about that in that way.” I would have never asked that question because I’ve been told that this is what this means, or this is what this is. So I feel like that’s also a way that I stayed disciplined when I’m asked to think outside of the box and outside of the questions that I would expect. I’m also part of a Bible study at my local community, a women’s Bible study, and there’s homework with that too.
Meagan Ruff: You just can’t get away from homework!
Aleen Stoddard: I can’t help myself. I’m a school person all the way. So I love doing that. Then one other thing that I’ve tried to institute in my marriage is every week we take turns coming up with a way to come close to Jesus during the week together. So, last week it was reflecting on Holy week. We’ll try to pray together every night before we go to sleep or we’ll pray for certain people or one time we would write down a poem to God. We try to do different things all the time to help us both come close to Jesus together. That’s been really special and important and something we expect to talk about every week.
Meagan Ruff: I really like that. I think I really liked that because obviously it’s something specific to your relationship, but it is a ministry itself. Like you can look at your marriage and your family as like, “Hey, that’s part of my ministry.” And the Bible studies that I do and the worship that I lead, those are important too, but also I need to make sure that I’m participating and trying to grow our ministry at home. I really liked that a lot, even if you’re not doing exactly what you want to do every single week or doing as many times, still having that heart about it is really good, I think.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah. And it gives us both agency, I think. Where we’re both kind of coming up with things that make sense to us or we relate to. And I think Jordan and I are really different people. And I think that we’ve had this conversation before, so I’m not saying anything that, you know, we both haven’t said to each other. Jordan recognizes that my strengths are in pursuing God. And that that’s something that I’m disciplined in, that I really care about. Jordan is extremely disciplined when it comes to his physical wellness and things like that. I care about those things too, but not even close to the level that Jordan does. And so, you know he recognizes that like our strengths can complement each other because I bring that desire to focus on God together and bring us both into that place. And so, we help each other be physically, spiritually and mentally, emotionally. I tend to be the more emotional wellness, spiritual wellness person and he’s the physical, mental aspect of that. So we can come together on those things.
Meagan Ruff: You can have a holistic approach between the two of you. Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. I like that.
Cassandra Amezquita: And that’s, that’s important. And I think when you can go to your spouse and balance each other out, it kind of makes everything else fall into place because it’s true that it all starts in the home.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah. And I definitely consider our relationship part of our ministry. We are both very disciplined. Every week we do a marriage journal together, that’s written by a Christian couple, and we go through different aspects to strengthen our spiritual life, but also our marriage life. And so we did it for our first year of marriage and now we’re in our second round of the same book. So, we do that every single Monday, usually. It helps us plan our week, it helps us communicate and it helps us talk about a topic that affects us both spiritually or emotionally or, or whatever. So, I appreciate that. I remember at first, when I brought up the book to him, we’d been given it as a wedding present and he was kinda like, “ehhhh, sounds lame.” And then he was like, “you know what? I actually really like this because it helps us.” We always talk about things like, there’s questions that happen. And we answer the same questions every week, but we also go through our whole week and say, then it helps us communicate like, “well, this is what I wanna do on Monday. This is what I wanna do on Tuesday. Is that okay? Do we need to figure something out?” It helps us really intentionally communicate about our activities for the week. And then it helps us come closer together to, you know, to relate, to talk about things where you might not have, you might not make the time or have the time to do that somewhere else in the week. So it helps set us up for success.
Meagan Ruff: I like that a lot. Another question that we have is what are some real struggles in ministry that you’ve had, or that you see often?
Aleen Stoddard: You know, I experienced this a lot over the course of my life, but it’s just people that you’re not like–difficult people. Yeah, people that are hard to get along with are one of the blessings of ministry from one perspective, but it’s also obviously super frustrating and hard to navigate. I think that growing up in The Salvation Army, the kind of people that The Salvation Army serves are complex. I mean, I grew up around people who were totally different from me who grew up in totally different situations. So many people who have faced struggles that I have never had to face and I will never have to face, you know? People from recovery backgrounds and people who are victims of abuse, people who have faced tragedies that are just unspeakable. And those are our people. Like, I think the most broken the most needy people, like not needy in the negative sense, but the people who are just the most broken people–those are our people.
Naturally by virtue of them having faced such difficult things and having such brokenness. I think that creatively navigating those relationships prayerfully and thoughtfully is one of the most important things that we do. Helping people feel loved and helping people feel seen. Recently there’s a difficult person that I work with in a ministry context. Difficult in the sense that they just think so differently than I do. There’s a lot of wanting to tell me how to do things their way. I think I shared this with you before Meagan, but, kind of coming into that I had to say to myself, “why does this bother me, that this person wants to tell me to do things a different way?” And I think it’s because I have never changed my mind about something because someone told me to. It’s always been because I’ve seen someone do it better and I’ve observed their success and I’ve observed the positive changes that have come from someone doing something a certain way. So I was like, “change and growth doesn’t come from someone telling me what to do. It comes from them showing me how to live.” And I feel like that’s the kind of leader I want to be. I don’t want to tell people, “you shouldn’t do it this way, or you shouldn’t think this way or you shouldn’t whatever.”
Meagan Ruff: Yeah, “Or my way is the best..”
Aleen Stoddard: …because it’s probably not. But, I want to show people how to live better. That’s the most important thing to me because I think that I can be the kind of person who really wants to tell people what’s up. But most of the time I was like, “Oh, this, I realized that it bothers me in that person because I know it doesn’t work when I do it. And because I don’t respond to that. And so I need to take that lesson onto myself and say like, well, if it bothers me, when they’re trying to tell me what to do, how much would it bother other people if I’m trying to tell them what to do.” So I think that’s an important lesson that I’ve learned from, you know, managing or trying to love difficult people, I have to see them in myself too and learn the lessons that I want them to learn so that I can show them maybe how to do it better.
Meagan Ruff: Yeah, it kind of creates some empathy there too. Trying to understand. I mean, obviously you’re not going to be exactly in their shoes, but trying to go through it so that you can lead by example. I like that.
Cassandra Amezquita: Right. And I think it goes also to like, self-awareness, emotional awareness and knowing what triggers us, because just because we’re doing ministry doesn’t mean like we have it all together means that we are trying to have it together, but still, you know, still carrying our own baggage. And sometimes people’s behaviors or actions trigger us. And before we point at them, we have to ask ourselves, “Hey, what’s going on with me?” Sometimes I’m the difficult person to get along with.
Aleen Stoddard: So that’s funny because neither of you are difficult to get along with, but that must be why we’re friends. But also because you’d be like, “Oh no, am I the difficult person?”
Meagan Ruff: That’s great insight for ministry because yeah, like you said, we all, even if you’re not in a formal vocational type of ministry, any kind of ministry that you’re involved in and even just like relationships in general, you’re going to have difficult people. Like not everyone is going to be easy to work with to get along with. And, sometimes you still have to work with people and figure out how to make that work. And I like all the ways that you gave.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah. It’s hardest if they’re in your family, it’s hardest if the ministry is in your family. I think because I was thinking of that. I have never been more angry in my life than I was with my husband one time. And I have never, I’ve never been so angry. And I remember being all emotional and just yelling and being like, “I don’t want to be mad at you. I love you.” I definitely, you know, like when you have the relationship with people that you do, when they’re your family. Ministry is so much harder, the stakes are higher too. I would always say, “this is so high stakes,” but it’s just that people are so emotional.
Cassandra Amezquita: Yeah. That’s really tough. And I think building that relationship comes with those tough moments, right? Like it’s so complex that we have to see all of those sides in order to kind of build up and grow together. But totally there, there are teaching moments too. So, that was definitely a struggle. I think all of us struggle with difficult aspects of ministry, but what are some victories?
Aleen Stoddard: Wow. I think a lot of my victories are usually mental hurdles for myself. I remember really struggling again, it was like difficult people plus like people not meeting my expectations, and I remember calling my friend Claire. I remember calling her and I remember being really frustrated and her recognizing in me that I have these, you know, high standards, perfectionist, like some of these not cool things inside of me. And she was just like, you know, “maybe shifting your thinking to, you know, the goal is not to finish the race first, it’s to finish it together.” And I was like, because I’m like “what I want to finish first?” Because that’s so me, because it’s this competitive perfectionist thing inside of me. I wanted to drag people across the finish line as well. Just hope that if I got there, then they would figure it out. I think shifting that perspective inside of myself, which is not like a one and done, but a work in progress, but shifting that perspective in myself in ministry has I think been a victory, because this connects to that difficult people piece where it’s like, if I don’t think about these other people as like holding me back or like slowing me down or, you know, tripping me up, then I can see them with more compassion and love and I can bear with them in love, and I think, you know, in our, my, one of my Bible studies, we were talking about bearing with one another and love, and I hadn’t thought so much about how bearing with one another in love means like to basically set aside, you know, your frustrations with another person and see them as they are and accept the things that are hard for them and then like give them a leg up, and like carry them with you.
And I think that shift shifting in perspective that’s happening for me allows me to bear with other people’s shortcomings, or bear with other people’s, you know, things that I don’t understand or that I get frustrated about, because I can be so unfair and so judgmental. And so I’m not willing to let things go. But I think that a major victory for me is being able to love people the way that I want to be loved, because I sure hope that people don’t hold my shortcomings against me. So, I think that that changes my whole heart for other people to be able to bear with them in love.
Cassandra Amezquita: Yeah, yeah. And that’s really hard to admit, like in general, as a leader or if you’re more of the perfectionist type, I mean, for myself, I know that’s hard to admit for me because I really, I really appreciate that perspective, how Claire put it to see it as something united, you know, and that takes a lot more work.
Meagan Ruff: Totally.
Cassandra Amezquita: Yeah. It’s definitely hard to do that. And it goes back to what Meagan said, empathy, which is kind of like being in that either dark moment or tough moment or frustrated moment with somebody. And even though it doesn’t feel good, sometimes people remember that more than like, oh, what chapter we finished in the Bible study? Or like, you know, like what, what they got promoted to at church or something like they remember those people who were with them in the tough times.
Aleen Stoddard: Yeah, totally.
Meagan Ruff: So my last question for you, and it might be a little bit challenging, but if you kind of had to boil down all of your ministry experience, good and bad, like what kind of call to action would you say to our listeners in regards to ministry? Like what would be a good, just kind of challenge you could give them when it comes to whatever ministry they’re involved in?
Aleen Stoddard: Again, I feel like I can’t give one answer to any question. But I think, I mean, just exactly what I was just saying is, you know, don’t try to finish the race first and on your own, but you know, try to make sure that everyone finishes together, bear with one another in love and let people be imperfect and let people be difficult even, and work through that with them. And I wrote down some quotes and some thoughts in preparation for this. And one of the, I can’t remember which book it is and I couldn’t find it, but it’s a Madeline Lingle book and I think it’s from her. So, but it said, “perhaps love was the greatest sacrifice of all.” I think that, love, you know, there are so many aspects of love, but I think that loving people is a huge sacrifice because it means putting down our expectations. It means putting down our desires and it means putting down our imperfections at ourselves and it means letting ourselves be vulnerable and letting ourselves get hurt, and I think that, it’s so important for ministry leaders to, you know, learn, to lay themselves down, truly, lay down their expectations and let love be a great sacrifice for them. And, you know, just as Jesus sacrificed all of himself for us, totally laying down ourselves and our expertise, expectations, and desires to, you know, let God use, use us. And I think that, you know, particularly in The Salvation Army world and having grown up in it, I think that, you know, I can honestly look at myself and say that a deep desire of mine was to shine. And I let that trip me up so many times because it’s really easy to let shining get in the way of loving people. Because you’re not at an appointment that you think lets you shine. You’re not let in on opportunities that you think are going to let you shine and you’re not in a glamorous sort of situation. You can’t go and be the person that you think you want to be and all that kind of stuff. And I think that not being overly concerned with what you think are the best parts of yourself is going to be a really important aspect of humble ministry. It doesn’t mean that you’re a doormat and you never come up against anything or, you know, challenge anything, but it does mean that not shining is okay and not being at the very center of things is okay. And being on the margins is where God is at work. Yeah, that’s, that’s where God lives is on the margins and with the ignored people. And, I think, you know, going to where God is at is more important than your gifts, because God will use those gifts in a way that’s less shiny and more honest and more true. So I think bearing with one another and love and seeking not to shine, but to be humble and let God use your light in a different way. I think those are important calls to action, I would say.
Cassandra Amezquita: That’s beautiful. So we appreciate you taking the time to, to speak with us and, for sharing your, your words with vulnerability and honesty. So thank you so much, Aleen for coming today.
Aleen Stoddard: Thank you guys. It’s been such a privilege and I know that, I was saying this to Cassandra yesterday, but I feel like I’m so proud of you guys for just using your creativity. And I feel like, this is like directly kind of related to what I was saying before, but I feel like there’s going to be a lot of people that you reach on the margins because of this kind of work. So, I appreciate you using your giftings, in this really, really special way. So I know you’re gonna encourage and touch a lot of people.
Meagan Ruff: Thank you! Like Cassandra says, I’m so glad that you came on today and thank you for everything that you shared. I think a lot of the words that you said will resonate with a lot of our listeners that resonated with me. I didn’t have a piece of paper with me this morning because it’s so early, but I’m like, “I need to go sit down and write down all the things that I want to remember from that.” At least I can always go back and listen.
Cassandra Amezquita: Well, thanks again, Aleen.
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