Decisions - A look Inside the Allen Family

Jennie Allen
May 04, 2021

Jennie Allen

Bible teacher, founder of IF:Gathering
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Welcome guys! We are talking about decision-making today. This is something we face every single day. We are going to start big picture and talk about how we know where God is leading us. How do we make decisions and spend our time? My husband, Zac Allen, is here to discuss with us! If you didn't listen to the last episode, go back and listen to his story - you'll get a sneak peek into the Allen family. We are crazy people - all with different visions, passions, gifts, and having to make a lot of decisions with our lives every single day.


So let's start with an idea about how we philosophically approach our time. Some people don't have this foundational layer, but we believe our lives belong to God and that we were made for God.


I think of the scripture that, "My life is not my own. I was bought at a price." So when I think about my life, my life belongs to God. So first of all, I am His, and so whatever He has for me is what I most want, and on my good days, that's what I'm going to do.


But there's a war. There's an enemy that wants us to live for other things. That's the trick because that is our desire, but there are a lot of things vying for our attention. There's a lot of reasons you can make a decision. You can make a decision because it gives you more power or a better job description. You can make a decision because of money. You can make a decision because of people you love. Not all of those are bad reasons to make a decision, but if they're the main reason you're making a decision, I think it is a bad reason. I think it can derail God's work in our lives. We saw in our lives that the more we surrendered to God and said, "Let's seek first the kingdom of God, and we're going to trust God with all these other things," the less our life made sense to other people and even to ourselves. We had more fun and God exploded in our lives.


Our lives became riskier and scarier, but God got bigger. We needed Him more. We were running the races we believe He set us on earth for, not other people, and not what was expected of us. Early in our marriage, we began making decisions that people we loved questioned.


Yes but we never did that without mentors and wise counsel. Our natural inclination is to run fast and not want to wait for anybody. We don't want to wait for someone to finally come back around to give us a decision or comment on a direction we're going. BUT we have always had those mentors, and we always had those wise sages that we would run everything by. It was an intentional stop, and it was an intentional pause because we always run fast.


Those mentors largely had that foundational goal the same as ours, which was build the kingdom of God, whatever you're doing, whether it's in vocational ministry or not. I think sometimes people would say, "Oh, my parents do that for me." However, even my kids know I do that with a little bit of a bias. I can't help it. When Kate's dreaming about doing something overseas, I can't help but want her to live next door to me, even though that's not realistic. You have to go to those people that are kingdom minded, and that's what they want to see you build your life around.



HOW TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS 


That being said, we just walked through a season where we did make a huge life change to live closer to family. We had been church planting in Austin, Texas. My family lives in Little Rock, and his family lives in Dallas. We left both sets of very healthy, awesome family that we love dearly to live away from them, and we largely raised our family away from them.


Then it felt like a season where there wasn't necessarily God saying, "Go do this thing." The city wasn't obvious, where before it was, we were supposed to plant a church in Austin, and that became clear. 


I want to talk about decisions where you don't hear God clearly. It was the first time in our life where we knew a change was needed because our kids school was not working anymore, but we didn't get a voice from the sky. We didn't get even a peace about it. We just knew something had to change. Let's talk about moving to Dallas and how we made that decision.


I think this decision to move to Dallas was a growing restlessness. It was a growing restlessness in us. We weren't sure what God was doing, but He was doing something. As these feelings of restlessness have happened in our lives, we have always become aware that there's something coming. We might not know what it is, but we know something is coming.


We didn't know what it was going to be and where it was going to be. Here's what we knew - all He had revealed is to be faithful where we were, to be faithful in the jobs we were at, to be faithful in the city of Austin, and to be faithful in the community we were in. Then in His time, He revealed it. There was not this amazing special revelation where we woke up one day, or there was not this real supernatural event that happened.


I think we were scared to death because we didn't have that supernatural event. Most of the time, we have known what God wants us to do next. We were moving four kids from their schools that they loved. My oldest was going to be a senior in high school, and our youngest was going into third grade. We had this very dramatic thing that was going to affect our family, but it just made sense.


I'll say this is why it made sense. It was very practical reasons. I think prior to that, we had taken these big steps of faith. This decision was simply that we needed a better school for our youngest two that had learning differences, and we were going to have to move anyway to find that for our kids. When we realized we were going to have to move to find that, we looked at where would we live, and it was near family. If God wasn't going to say, "Hey, this is where you need to go." You have a family that loves you and loves God, I think that's a good reason to make a decision. I think it's a way better reason than a job or a cool city. I think we should make more decisions around the people that love us and the community that we have. We did have family here.


It really narrowed it down. Honestly the only two things on the table were near your family or near my family. So we moved to Dallas, and it did feel scary. I wanted to start with that story because sometimes you are just shooting in the dark, and it felt a little bit like that. We were restless. We made the best decision with what we knew. We prioritized family and community. We knew we would have a healthy church here and the best situation for our kids. Then we leaped and we jumped. And thankfully, that was...


I think God knows our hearts. He knew we would do whatever He wants. We would do anything He asked us to do. So I think if we were headed in a wrong direction, we both trust God to catch us, we both trust that God would stop us if this was going to be bad for us. The surprising thing was we didn't come in with a ton of optimism. We came in a little bit scared of the fit for us. We thought it was right for our two youngest kids, but the rest of us were wide-eyed and scared. And yet God blessed us so much here, and gave us unbelievable community. All six of us would say this was the best decision we ever made.


I wanted to start with a decision like that because sometimes you don't have a lot of clarity and you just have to go with "what are your priorities?" So number 1 - it's following God. When God isn't clear, like, "Hey, I don't know whether to do medical school or law school." Then 2- you go to priorities. Throughout scripture, having a healthy community is probably the number one thing next to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It's love your neighbors as yourself, and those neighbors and that context of the local church is really the next thing that He commands us to be a part of and to serve and to love.


We really encourage people when they're making huge life decisions to ask yourself - where do you have community? Where are you going to live known? I don't care if there's a better job and you can get paid more money. If you leave your people that God has given you, you leave a little bit of a covering that He's given you and provided for you. And so, that's how we made that decision.



HOW TO MAKE SMALL DECISIONS


I want to move into smaller decisions because you and I have to choose things all the time. Whether I should take this opportunity or be home that weekend, and I think that's a decision that we face a lot. I think the principle of how we make these decisions can apply to anybody. If I get asked to go speak at one of your lovely churches, which happens regularly, those requests are sent to Chloe. She brings me three or four that she feels like would be a good fit, and then we make decisions from there. We have to sit down together with our calendar and look at our lives to make really intentional decisions.


So let's talk about how we just make a decision like, "Am I going to take this opportunity or not?"


Well, one of the things I would say within the last 15 years of our marriage that we've started doing - is at least twice a year at the beginning of each semester, go on a 24 hour essentially business retreat with the goal of taking our calendars and planning out each semester. As you start to have children, all of a sudden you now have six calendars to manage instead of two. So all of a sudden, there may be a great desire for Jennie to go speak at something, but logistically, it's just not possible.


We have to approach a business weekend with the understanding that we're for each other, we're for God using our family collectively as a whole, and we're for God maximizing our gifts and our opportunities. I'm for Jennie being utilized as much as she possibly can.


That's true, he's not just saying it.


God has given me a flexible role, and I'm in a position where I have more control over my schedule. We can ebb and flow with the demands of family. The first thing I would say is just the confidence that we're for each other, and that sets the stage for when you start talking about specific things and opportunities and logistics of how to make it happen. If we can make it happen and still have a healthy marriage and family, we're going to say yes to those things.


I think that's really helpful. Some of you are listening and we're going to talk about how we make decisions in marriage later, but if you're single and you're going, "Oh, wait, this doesn't apply to me." No, it does, and it should because you should be doing this with one or two of your closest friends or family members that love you and know you. Nobody should be making big life decisions, even small decisions, alone. You do not see a model for being alone except to be with Jesus in the scriptures anywhere. It is a collective thing. You are making decisions together with people that love you and that are for you. The reason I think that's so important is we don't work under submission to anyone or anything.


Therefore, our values and our priorities can't be checked, nobody can question us, nobody can say, "Hey, is that too much for you? Are you really building rest into your schedule?" You've got to have somebody that will be thinking that way. Otherwise we will lie to ourselves and think, "I need to say yes to all these things, because they're from God and it's ministry." Or, "They're good, and it helps people." Or, "I need to provide more for my loved ones." Or whatever. You're just going to make decisions in a vacuum, and you're going to miss the bigger picture. You've got to have a few people around you asking you those questions. 


I would say we were really bad at this in the beginning, when both of us were running harder and our kids were younger, we didn't have great decision-making processes. I would say the biggest one that changed my life was just the default answer of no. I assume it's not for me unless I can't shake it, and I feel like God is like, "Nope, this one's for you, you need to take it." I watch people all the time ask themselves questions like, "Should I serve at that PTA?" Or, "Should I do this or that?" I'm like, "Yes." All of us should have a level of service, sign up for nursery duty right now. That is pleasing to God, go do it.


We should not feel like we should be doing that everywhere. There should be obedience, and you do it because it needs to be done in your life. All of us have those things - maybe you sign up to serve in the lunchroom. If you're single, go sign up at the nursery and hold some babies. It's good and you'll bond with some people in the back and feel like a part of a family.


You're probably never going to get warm fuzzies and a call from God on those things, and you're just going to do them because they're the right things to do. We serve the people around us, we serve our churches, and we serve our communities. I'm talking about saying that about every category of your life, "I should do this. I should do that." If we say yes to all the pressures and all the volunteer things and all the ways we could help people and serve people, we will be running around like chickens with our heads cut off and causing no good anywhere. 


One way that we've done this really well is we have an incredible team of people around us that help us build a mission statement and keep a mission statement in our life. I would encourage every single one of you, before you go any further, that you land on what you are called to do. Mine is really clear, it is disciple a generation, and that begins at home, and that spreads to the ends of the earth. That is the way that God built me, and that's what He put in my heart as the goal of my life. If anything falls outside of that in any way, we don't do it.


My team had to talk me into making sweatshirts at IF:Gathering because I was like, "How does this make a disciple?" They told me how, and then I was like, "Okay, we can make sweatshirts. That's fine." I didn't ever want to do anything unless it caused discipleship to happen. Figure out what is that thing that God has put in you, that one line, and you put it on your mirror and you stick to it. And as you're making decisions, "How does that help me accomplish that purpose?"


Everyone is probably wondering what happens when we make a bad decision, or what happens when we make a decision that the other one doesn't approve of, which has happened in our lives. Zac, how would you say we handle those moments?


Probably not that well.


I disagree.


Well, I mean, I think there's grace in the relationship, for sure, but there's always more grace when you make the decision together.


Yeah.


Right. And so...


Oh yeah. He doesn't handle it well when I make a decision without him. Yeah, you're right. When we were new at running faster and harder, our kids were a little bit bigger and we had more freedom. With that freedom, we ran too fast and too hard. There was definitely a pulling back.


I think that's where those get togethers twice a year have helped! The faster we can reel it in, the faster we can notice, "You know what, I need a longer break. And these are the ebbs and flows of our year." For instance, we learned summer is a hard time for me to work. My kids are home, and there's usually travel involved in the summer with our family. It's a hard time for me to work. We built the schedule once we kind of realized, "Wow, you're going to need a lot of your summer off." However, I have to work harder in other seasons to make that happen.


We have learned to manage our year, not just manage our day, and not just manage our month, but we have learned to really look at our whole year and stand back from it and go, "Okay, this is a time we need work and ministry to ebb because our family is flowing and they're coming at us really fast and hard." My college age son is moving home to run camps this summer, and he will need me to run stuff up to him because he'll forget his snacks, and I want to be available to do that. Summer's not a time that I go to the office a lot, and summer's not a time I travel at all for work. In fact, I don't speak at all in the summer. We got into seasons where I was miserable, and this helped us learn I need rest during the summer. We rebuilt our plan at our next meeting together.


Another dangerous thing for how we're both wired - being entrepreneurs and starters - is that there is a unique energy that is required when you're launching something. Being entrepreneurs, we have learned you can't both start things at the same time and still have a healthy family and marriage. There is an ebb and flow to it, and there was a season when we launched the church where you were taking care of young kids and leading Bible studies in our house. At that point, there was no ambition for anything beyond that. As I was kind of stepping off stage, God was giving you opportunities to expand your ministry reach. There was an ebb and flow to launch IF:Gathering, and it was not a good time for me to be starting another business while I was very involved with the starter phase of IF.


One of the things that we've learned is that there's a rhythm. There's an ebb and flow, and that's going to be the case in any season of life with your kids. When our kids were younger, we weren't thinking about schools and we weren't thinking about how busy their lives would become. All we were thinking about is where can our family be in a neighborhood and live most effectively on mission. And then all of a sudden our kids started playing middle school sports, and we were 25 minutes away.


Driving all the time. Yep.


We were driving all of the time, and we realized that our lives were sitting on the tarmac that was that highway. We were moving to a season that was not any less missional, but we were moving to a season where we needed to relocate to experience healthier family together.


Yeah. Those are the things. Sometimes it's going to be a missional, "This is where God is leading us" decision. Sometimes it's going to be a very practical, "This is what we need to survive and do the life that God has called us to make." 


HOW TO PUT THIS TO PRACTICE


As we close, this is what I would encourage you to do. Decide who your teammate is. If you're single, who is that friend or family member that will commit to do this with you, and get away and plan that. If you're married, plan a weekend away where you can sit down with your calendars and really pray over them.


Then I would say, plan the year, plan the month, plan the week, and plan the day. We have rhythms to our week. I have one day every week where I go to the office, and I only meet with people that entire day. There are days where I am with God, and there's not one thing on my calendar for that day. On the days where I am with God, it is completely protected. It's a Sabbath for me. There's another day that is very focused on my home, kids, and setting up the week to go well.


Plan what your structure and your schedule is. You cannot accomplish anything if there's no structure or schedule. As crazy as we are, we are both pretty fly by the seat of our pants, ambitious people that run really hard. When we have a plan, it's not chaos. Our plan remains flexible, and that plan often gets changed. However, we head into a semester, we head into a day, we head into a month with a plan. It has changed everything.


Thank you guys so much for being part of this community. We do not take it for granted that so many of you show up week after week.

Jennie Allen

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