Parakaleo—A Safe Space to Apply the Gospel
Parakaleo Group Guideline #1: I will allow this time to be for me. I do not have to perform, measure up, be assessed, be helpful, or even be nice. I get to bring who I am right now to this time together, whether it means showing up as a bright ray of sunshine or just curling up on the couch. Whether I am here as a participant, hostess, or leader, I will listen for what God has for me.
The first time I read the Parakaleo group assumptions and guidelines in 2019, I was attending my first Parakaleo conference. It was a BASIC Intensive in Taiwan. BASIC is a foundational course for women in ministry. The first group guideline resonated with me. Growing up as a pastor’s kid meant having spoken and unspoken rules—the most important one being, “Never let them see you.” Do not let the truth about your human, broken reality show. You must be the perfect child or the perfect wife, mom, Sunday school teacher, mentor, etc. The natural outcome of this rule meant I had no real friends within the church, because there was no one close enough to see my flaws.
I grew up, married a man serious about ministry, and suddenly turned into that paragon of virtue called, “the pastor’s wife.” Taking a hard look at the way ministry had been done as I grew up, I decided it was not always biblical. As I shed some of the “rules” and expectations I had accumulated, I did have some friends within our congregations. I also tried to make disclaimers each time a church member would put me or my husband on the “perfect pastor” pedestal. Still, most church members never saw “me.” Old habits die hard. I did and do tend to perform on Sundays or during other ministry events. This makes for very shallow connections in any faith community.
The first time I read the Parakaleo assumptions and guidelines, a light bulb moment happened. Here was a group where I could be me—with all my inglorious mess. Without intending to do so, my theory was put to the test in that BASIC meeting.
I was at the BASIC while my husband was attending a City-to-City church planting intensive. We were mixing ministry with a getaway—which is always a dangerous mix. I was the children’s minister at our church, and the expectation was that I would write a detailed weekly Sunday school lesson plan from the previous week’s church sermon for all the classes. A tall order on any given week, but it was especially stressful, because I was supposed to be in these meetings for several days. I was also supposed to be spending some quality downtime with my husband.
By the third day of the conference, I was struggling to meet all these expectations. I had a breakdown: the angry, self-pitying, crying, and exhausting kind of breakdown. I felt it coming on during a morning session. I just got up and walked out. A few minutes later, one of the Parakaleo instructors came out and asked how I was. I vomited all the ugliness out of my soul. Looking back, I realize she used the Parakaleo tool HUG w/out RESSQ with me. She did not try to “fix” my problem; she just let me have a safe space to really be seen, heard, and loved. She eventually went back into the session. I did not rejoin until after lunch.
Not all of my issues were solved but I knew that I had found a safe place within a faith community where I could come as myself. That was a major epiphany. Later that day, I shared with the group, “I wish I had been able to be part of such training twenty years ago when I first became a pastor’s wife. It would have made a tremendous difference in my life and ministry.”
I have continued on with a Parakaleo small group in the Klang Valley during the past four years. It is that same safe space. It is a group for women in ministry, who are learning tools, to help themselves and others apply the gospel to all the broken places in their lives and relationships.