Her New Frontier Interview: Ruth Hartenstein

Ruth Hartenstein 
Q: What is your history with being involved with the Church?

A: Well, I do not remember a time when I did not go to church. I grew up going Sunday mornings, evenings, and Wednesdays during the summer. Church was just a normal part of life.

Q: What was your motivation for being involved with the church and how has that evolved over time?

A: You know, as a kid, it was because we had to go. I remember in junior high and high school, I wanted to be there sometimes. Other times, I didn’t.

As an adult, I wanted to be there and wanted to grow. I wanted to know more about the Lord and I wanted to find community. What that led to was Chris and I being very involved in church after we got married. We volunteered for everything, Our first year of marriage we not only led youth groups, but we also led Awanas. Which was insane. We should never have been doing all of that as a newly married couple but, no one said anything. It was kind of an expectation that we would get involved and volunteer.

As we had more kids, we dropped some things but I was still occasionally singing in the choir, volunteering in the nursery, and leading junior high. We found ourselves in a place where we were paying people to watch our four kids so that we could go minister to other people’s children. Which was great in some aspects, but we were also very burnt out on a lot of levels. So when we got home our kids were not getting the best of us.

Eventually, we ended up moving, and couldn’t attend that church anymore. At that time, we had five kids and we couldn't do the hour drive and continue to be involved. So we looked for a new church. When we found one, we got really, really involved again. We continued to teach our kids that on Sundays we go to church and they continued to see us, volunteer, and volunteer. At the church we currently attend, I was not super involved because I had babies at home. But when our campus was smaller, our family was on pretty much every volunteer list we could be on.

That's kind of where we have come from. Since then, we kinda look at church less as a place where we go serve and work now. Simply because we run our own ministry. The church is more of a haven than a place where we volunteer in every capacity.

A: How has your perspective of what church is shifted? How has that affected your “role” in the church?

Q: Somewhere along the line, I heard sermons about how the church is not a place, it's a people who believe in Jesus. Church really is the body of Christ, not an organization or building. I’m not sure I really absorbed that truth until adulthood. It used to be when I missed church it was like “oh no, I’m awful. That was evil.”
But you know, when my daughter Linsley was in soccer, we spent a lot of Sundays at the soccer field. You can have church outside of a church building. You can spend time with the Father in your Bible, or even with worship music in your car. You and a group of friends having Bible study is church. Prayer time with your family is church. “Anywhere two or more people gather,” and they have Christ as a bond and in common; If they are edifying each other and worshiping the Lord and talking about where they are at - that’s church. For me, church is less the organization now than it ever has been. Church is anytime believers are together. Whether it’s virtual or in person, you can have church and build the body of Christ through that bond in Jesus.

Q: Why is that truth important in your life right now?

A: I don’t want anyone to think that I am saying, “you don't even have to go to church.” The New Testament is very clear that we do need to gather together. I’m a very task-oriented person. My focus within the church has changed my relationship with Jesus. From a very task-oriented, “you have to volunteer, you have to lead a bible study, etc.” mindset; to a “church is building a relationship between myself and the Father, and those who believe in Jesus.” Church has become more personal and intimate. It’s become more life-changing. I could go to all of the church services and conferences in the world but, if I only look at it as a task to be accomplished, I will never grow.

I'm not only task-oriented, but I'm also a people pleaser. One of the biggest shifts that I’ve had is around that. Pleasing people is a big part of my past. Being so involved in church pleased a lot of people. When, really, I just need to please the Father.  

When we realized, as a couple, that we were doing too much. It was actually hindering our family from being close and from being the best disciplers of our children. It was time for us to shift our focus. In that shift, we learned that “you can't give what you don't have.” The shift away from the church as an organization to church the body of Christ has really led me to an intimacy with God that I didn't have before. There are all kinds of voices out there. I can listen to all of them and never really know what the Father’s will for me is. So It’s shutting down all of those other voices and asking Him, “Okay, I have this opportunity to serve. Is this what you want me to do? Would this time away from my family be beneficial?” But I can’t do that if I’m pleasing people and being task-oriented. I have to spend time with the Father; praying, listening, and worshiping Him in my quiet time. If that’s not healthy, I’m not going to know what I am supposed to do.

Q: How has “keeping the voices small” in your life been impactful?

A: I’ve been hearing from the Father a lot lately about keeping my world small. This may seem counterintuitive to the great commission of going out and telling the whole world about Jesus, but the more I've jumped into it, “keeping the voices small” is just keeping my focus on His voice. Trusting Him more to give me steps that I need to take, even if it isn’t the whole picture. Trusting that He knows where I’m at and putting my trust in Him versus myself. It doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to anyone, It just means that everything goes back to the Father to get His confirmation. Even in what I say, do, think, and feel.

The verse I have claimed in my life for a long time is 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” I picked that verse because it is about the Father, not me. He calls and He will be faithful to do in me what He calls me to do. But the key is that I have to be attentive, I have to be in His presence. So my place in church right now is “wherever God has called me to be.” So If that means I am in a season of rest, I rest. If I need to volunteer, I will go volunteer, etc. When I say my “place” in the church, I’m not just talking about the organized church. I’m also talking about the body of Christ. So what He asks may not be within my church organization but, the end game is always to be obedient to the Father and to grow intimacy with Him.

Other verses that have really brought me to this place are Matthew where it talks about being in the yoke with Jesus. His yoke is light, and He is with you; teaching you every step of the way. Someone gave me a card with those verses on them a couple of years ago. It was a season where I was just exhausted. It meant a lot to me then but, it means even more to me now. Not because I'm not tired but because those voices are about being with Jesus. It’s stepping into that yoke every day and going “Okay, what are we doing?” What are we plowing today?” And that really He's got it. This doesn't mean I’m perfect at it or always like it, but it’s that the invitation is there in the body of Christ. It’s an opportunity not to live alone.

Q: What would you say to a woman who is in a similar position to where you have been? Trying to get to that place of intimacy with the Father but, is struggling to know their role and is overly busy trying to figure it out?

A: I think if you are feeling that way, I don't believe that serving in the church should make you weary. There is a difference between being tired and weary. There is a difference between being weary because you're doing so much at church that you literally don't have any time for anything else. Or if you feel like if someone asked you to do one more thing you might break but, feel obligated to say yes to everything. I would highly encourage you to…

1. Make a list of everything that you are doing and take it to the Father.
2. Ask Him what you should be doing. “What am I supposed to do? What am I not supposed to do?”
3. Make your commitments accordingly!

The hard thing about that is that you will have people criticize and question you. But then you will have people cheer you on because they have been there. There is nothing wrong with pairing down what you are doing to what you are supposed to be doing.

I think one of the big shifts for me personally has been “What are you supposed to be doing with the Father as you serve?” versus “What you think you should do because no one else is doing it.” The reality is, everything that I quit doing, God brought someone else to take it over. No one was begging and pleading for me to come back. If we are doing more than we are supposed to, we are probably keeping someone else from stepping into that role out of obedience as well.

So, with the pandemic, more and more opportunities to serve are resurfacing. It’s a great time to make a list of everything that you were doing at church and evaluate it with the Father and ask Him what He has for you?

Q: Any closing thoughts?

A: Yeah, the last thing I will say is, my identity is as a daughter of God. My identity is not based on earning any stature or place with Him. I think at one point in my life, I was trying to earn it through my role in the church even if I didn't need to. It’s a hard thing for someone like me who is a people pleaser and a task-oriented person. It’s hard to change that thought and heart posture to believe that it’s really okay to not be doing everything.

At times, sometimes I see my friends going off to church and I get a twinge of guilt and have to pray through that. Like, “God am I supposed to be doing more?” It’s always good to test that and know that the Father has good intentions for me. Right now I feel like my main focus at church is to be learning and not necessarily serving, but growing. That doesn't mean that won't change tomorrow. But when I do have a twinge of doubt, I pray against it. “Help me in my unbelief that I am not doing enough at church.” If you are the person who has ten things that you are doing just because you don't think anyone else will, you need to pray about that. Ask Him to help your unbelief that He is bigger than you and has someone to fill that role you are not supposed to be in anymore. Ultimately, your role in the church is by your Father's side and that is my desire. To be with Him doing what He has asked and getting to know Him more.

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