Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in the Church

So much of our leadership capacity is wrapped up in emotional intelligence. In fact, this episode’s guest, Dr. Irini Fambro, whose dissertation research focused on this subject, believes that stewardship of emotions and emotional intelligence will improve your leadership and the health of your organization.

In this episode of the Women in Ministry Leadership podcast, hosts Dr. Rhonda Davis and Julie Cole speak with Irini about how her own experience led to her research and ultimately to the launch of her business, Intelligent Leadership.

Dr. Rhonda Davis: Hey everyone, and welcome back to our podcast. We’re so excited to be here with our friend, Dr. Irini Fambro.

Dr. Irini Fambro: Yes.

Rhonda: I want to tell you a little bit about her before we get started. She is a wife and mother, teacher and student, speaker and listener. I love that. She and her high school love, Kenneth, have two children, Kalila and Kenneth. Kenneth Jr.?

Irini: Well, the third, actually.

Rhonda: Kenneth the third. Okay.

Julie: Whoa.

Irini: Yes.

Rhonda: Her passion is to increase the contributions within organizations through valuing a greater definition of intelligence. We’re going to talk about that today. Out of that desire, Intelligent Leadership was birthed from her dissertation work on multiple intelligence and leadership. Her experience includes a BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Management from the University of Alabama. Roll tide.

Irini: Roll tide. And for those who are just offended, it’s okay. Keep listening. Hang in there. Hang in there.

Rhonda: She was ordained through the Wesleyan Church and gained a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School. We love your work and love your heart for the next gen. Even more, I see that as you mother and as you champion other voices, so we’re excited. Currently, she’s consulting into churches on intelligent leadership content. She teaches here at TKU as well as preaches at churches. Dr. Fambro, it’s a delight to have you with us.

Irini: I am so excited to be here. How are you guys?

Rhonda: We’re great.

Julie: We’re good. Are you going to do your listener role here?

Irini: I’m going to do my listener role. Yes, yes, yes.

Julie: No, we ask the questions here. I kind of like the balance in that. That’s why I put it in there, because I feel like you’re never all the way at some place. If you are, I think you’re imbalanced.

Rhonda: That’s true.

Julie: If you’re only the teacher and you’re never a student, then you miss it.

Irini: True.

Rhonda: That’s right.

Irini: True.

Julie: You’ve got to sit in the posture of a student. If you’re only the speaker and you never listen, which I definitely can land in that space, but…

Irini: I love that.

Julie: Well, I’m going to ask you the obvious question. We heard about leadership intelligence. What is it and what caused you to get interested in that?

Irini: Well, I went back to get my PhD much later in life, which I was thankful for. I think that I had seen a lot in leadership. I’d been a junior high pastor, so go ahead and give me my marks on me.

Rhonda: Right.

Julie: Truth.

Irini: I got my war wounds.

Rhonda: You did your time.

Irini: I did my time. No. Those of you who are junior high pastors, hang in there, and if that’s what your lifetime calling is, God bless you.

Rhonda: Yes.

Irini: But I was a junior high pastor, then I was a college pastor, and had really seen some beginnings of things. I knew I wanted to go back and do my PhD, and it was exciting to do it after having seen things.

Julie: Right.

Irini: Because I think it gave me eyes to look for something. I was on the hunt for something as far as… And I really couldn’t tell you. This was not on my radar. What I did become attracted to initially was emotional intelligence, and it was popular on the scene. I just was thankful emotions were being validated. But if I had to be honest, the forefront of my life, I did not really accept my femininity in ministry and I’d really shut it down, because it was a mainly masculine environment. I just felt like, just adapt.

Rhonda: Wow.

Irini: Just don’t make your feminine so obvious, and can even think of times where I was in the middle of a meeting… And I’m not going to say emotions are just feminine. That’s another misconception about emotional intelligence is that they’re not relegated just to the feminine, but I remember I had gotten teary, and everybody around the table was able to say it straight. And I don’t know what it was, but I had really connected into the story I was telling. But I remember going to the bathroom and just thinking, “I’m such a girl,” but it wasn’t in a positive way. It was more like, “You got to pull this together.”

I heard phrases even from my supervisor that was like, “Don’t wear your emotions on your sleeve,” and just things that… I don’t think it was their intent, just in their limited information. It was like maybe you missed the fact we’re wrapped in skin, which is a response system. We’re enveloped in ability to respond and we were made to respond. So I was attracted to it because I was waking up to it personally, but then I realized I don’t want to be the chick that does emotional intelligence. I know that sounds really bad, really deep.

Rhonda: I get that.

Irini: But I think the other part was, I know there’s more too as well. That can’t be the only one, because then you just become kind of the seller and pusher of just that. And so when I was talking to my committee chair, he was asking me, he was like, “Well, have you ever looked into multiple intelligence?” Now here, I’d gone, this is three years. I had never even heard of it. I was like, “What does that mean?” Such a God story, he happened to be just working on a popular press article on it. He was like, “Just read this,” and I fell in love.

There was this guy in the ’80s. His name’s Gardner. He wrote a book named Frames of Mind, titled Frames of Mind. I love the fact he just started just undoing the idea of what intelligence meant. This one notion, especially in our western culture that is maybe something like knowledge intelligence, where we get our IQ or logic mathematical, which it is numbers and it can be financially-related, but it’s also patterns, that’s how predominantly. There’s certain ones that have a predominant, “Yes. Oh, you’re intelligent if you operate in this.”

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: But then he started breaking it open, and once somebody paves the path for that, everybody’s like, “Well, what about this? Well, what about that?” I got to choose seven that I thought were related to leadership, and so I chose linguistic intelligence, which is just language, words, and it’s the non-verbal as well. It’s just the value of that. And then there’s logic mathematical intelligence, which is the one that I already described. Knowledge intelligence is where we get our IQ testing from.

Then you have emotional intelligence and then you have temporal intelligence, really fun because it has to do with timing, recognizing the past, present and future and what that brings to the… Really, this is practical in the brainstorming, problem-solving tables that we bring. It’s like, how can I draw the most out? Then we get to, there’s also cultural intelligence. Global, yes, understanding and adapting to those scenarios, but recognizing your own culture, like your organizational culture.

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: Like when this decision happens, how does that affect accounting? How does it affect operations, all those places?

Rhonda: Wow.

Irini: And then spiritual intelligence. That one’s a big, talk about creeping onto the academic scene. And so Gardner actually alludes to it probably in the late ’90s, but he doesn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. He’s like, “Yeah, I think it’s there,” and then somebody kind of mentions it. I was able to interview Bill Johnson, Christine Kane and Robert Morris. What I did specifically… This is nerding out, so hang in there.

Rhonda: That’s all right.

Irini: I know it’s just…I’m going to be nerding with you. So the idea was that I would interview each of them individually, and then someone that actually watched their decision-making, and then one of them called a lie detector test. We all meet together and it’s to triangulate the data. In data collection, triangulation is good. For anybody who’s in counseling, you’re like, “Whoa.”

Rhonda: I thought we weren’t supposed to have triangles.

Julie: Right.

Irini: No. No triangles. Only in your data. It’s just a verification. It’s kind of like a checks and balance system. And so you do that and thankfully, although this process was fun, but thankfully, there was enough data saturation, meaning you get to a point where you’re getting the same data, that all three of them utilized all seven, maybe not to the same degree.

Rhonda: Sure.

Irini: There were some that had higher emphasis than others, but you could see it, that it was a part of their highly effective leadership. And so really walked away… I remember meeting with my committee and telling them, and I’d broken down some questions that each intelligence, you could ask under it to try to draw it out. And to their shock, they were like, “Irini, you could really use this practically.” And I was like…

Julie: Really!

Rhonda: Wow.

Julie: Right. Most dissertations go and they just live online.

Rhonda: I wanted this to be not useful at all.

Irini: Exactly. I was like, “Oh.” They’re like, “No, really.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. This is exciting.” So that birthed, I created a consulting company, Intelligent Leadership. And so I just love coming to teams and honestly, it’s like I have a thing but I don’t, because really, they’re the thing, the human resources all around you. And so I just begin to teach them how to garner it out. How do you enlarge the table of contribution? Which to me is, how do we bring the body of Christ together? Most leaders aren’t maliciously leading their brainstorming, problem-solving meetings just like, “It’s only my way.” It’s just the way that they see it.

A logic mathematical will ask, “How have we done it in the past? What are the budget that we have?” And those are great questions. You still need that at the table. But I may have to ask, “Hey guys, where are we at with emotionally for our team? Or what are the emotions of the people we’re trying to reach?” You can talk about it globally where we are to your own hemisphere. You can keep shrinking it so that you get a bigger understanding of, how do we intersect what we’re doing with the person that’s there? That’s for the emotional intelligent person. Or how’s it going on in our culture of our organization?

And I love the temporal one. I love them all. I mean, it’s not equally loving your children, but when you spend this much time talking about them all, you’re like, “Oh, but I like you too. You’re really important.” But with temporal intelligence, it’s so beautiful to be able to say, “Okay, what would happen if we wait? What’s the harm of 30 days?” Because everything feels like it was supposed to be done yesterday. So what happens if we don’t act? What are the consequences that move forward with it? It was really-

Julie: You kind of stumbled onto it.

Rhonda: Yeah.

Irini: It was. And I love the fact that there was more, and I think that I see the places that I wanted to contribute and maybe there just wasn’t necessarily an understanding of how to bring that intelligence diversity to the table. And so I think you find this space and you go, “Wow, this is a beautiful place of seeing opportunity for the places that maybe along my journey were missed for me, but I can create that space for others.”

Rhonda: I love that. People that are listening to this podcast are mostly women in leadership. They’re female leaders. So I’m just curious to ask, as you were mentioning it a little bit earlier, but is there one of these intelligences that you see female leaders more responsive to or less responsive to?

Irini: Oh, I can’t say that I’ve observed it from a gender perspective.

Rhonda: Sure.

Irini: I think I’ve noticed that probably more of where people want to stereotype females into, so definitely the emotional intelligence. And I have met some really emotionally unintelligent women, where you’re like, “Oh, you’re shut down. Oh, you won’t let anything…” And I know that sounds harsh. It just means I can have emotions and not use them intelligently.

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: I mean, we all can. I can have them and they can be very present, and that means that I can either shut them down or I can let them loose without guiding them out, stewarding that emotion.

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: And I think that, to me, is the intelligent part is, did I steward it? Because all of them, I can be aware of. I can have knowledge, but I can use it unintelligently. I can weaponize my knowledge.

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: I definitely can do it because I favor linguistic intelligence a lot. And so I can have my language and I certainly can use it unintelligently, when I feel real defensive in a conversation and I realize I’m starting to want to trumpet by maybe adding some information I know they don’t know, and so then I can be a conversational bully with my words. I would never peg one to a gender, because I’m thinking, “Wow, God, there’s so many different ways you make us that I could see that each can operate in them.” More so, I’m seeing where people want to stereotype a gender in it. And you see that with a push for trying to get more women into STEM professions, and it’s the stereotype, “Oh, men do well at science and math.”

Rhonda: So maybe we need to come out from behind those stereotypes and embrace multiple intelligences, like you’re saying.

Irini: Absolutely. When I talk about logic mathematical, I tell everybody, “Can you just for a second put a pause on your encounter with your math teacher?” Right? We all have somebody.

Julie: I would love to do that. Thank you.

Irini: I would like to pause that one, because I have this encounter and I actually, I operate a lot in logic mathematical. I see patterns a lot, but logic mathematical gets lumped into just math. “How good were you at math?” But you may be a person that sees those patterns and you don’t realize that’s what math is. It’s patterns, because it’s the same formula that gets plugged in. No matter what gets plugged in, a pattern is produced, a very predictable one. So once I realized, hey, you know what? That encounter I had with my Algebra 3 teacher… No, this is not personal, and if you are her, I’m so sorry. I’ve gotten freedom, so you’re okay.

But if that encounter that made me feel less than, that I didn’t understand, that I didn’t have this, that maybe they didn’t teach me about having a growth mindset versus a fixed one, then I can shut down in intelligence that I have just based upon a relational encounter in your experience.

Julie: That’s right. That’s right.

Irini: And so I wonder what’s inside of us that hasn’t gotten healed, that is suppressing the gift in the calling and the intelligence we’re to bring to the body of Christ.

Julie: I wonder about your own journey, because you started out talking about going to the bathroom and saying, “I am such a girl” when you cried. Can you tell us a little bit about your own journey of opening up and being okay with your femininity at a table where you might be the only woman?

Irini: Yes, yes. Oh man. I’m Egyptian, and so what we’d like to say is we’re just a passionate people. We’re not loud or angry for no reason. We’re just very passionate. And so I think you begin to witness, like many in their family, between my mom and my dad, two totally different stewardship of emotions. My mom’s definitely more expressive, and my dad, two PhDs, he’s like, “I’ll let you know when I have something to say.” But because he is Egyptian, when he has to say it, it’s going to be passionate.

And so it was very strange working out… Nobody, we didn’t talk about emotions, in stewarding it the same way we would do about finances, like, “Hey, you need a budget. Hey, you need to know how to work,” those kind of things. Nobody sits you down. You just are a casual observer of them. And then you start seeing people and you think, “Oh, I want to be like that,” but you’re only seeing one aspect to it, right?

Rhonda: True.

Irini: Okay, I want to be reserved, or I think quiet people are listened to more, and I failed on all accounts on that one. And so the realities were, I began to make a choice and I thought because I wanted to, I just didn’t see men expressing their emotions in ministry unless there was an altar call, and then we were all crying. I think I got saved like 50 times in the ’90s, but-

Rhonda: So that translated as emotions make you less of a contributor at the table.

Irini: Yes, because they had a specific place and a role. They’re definitely utilized here when you want to be passionate about preaching on something, when you want to invoke an alter call and connect to an emotion so that you can connect with people, but at the table of contribution, you should keep them in check. And so when I was told that I wore my emotions on my sleeve, I was like, “Oh, okay. I need to wear a long sleeve shirt.”

Rhonda: Long sleeves.

Irini: Okay, no sleeve. And you pick up on it. Just the places that I wanted to naturally express something, you can feel people’s discomfort and it teaches you a lesson. “That’s not okay. We don’t want that. That’s not there.” And so it becomes really hard to show up fully, and you learn places to shut down and you learn places to say, “This is not okay.” And what I realize is that I feel like our pain and our burden sits so close to each other, and the places that I’m willing to go after and heal my pain will actually increase the territory of my burden.

Julie: That’s good.

Irini: And so it’s worth going after, not just for the territory for my burden, but it helps me understand even some of the underlying connections of my burden most often sit really close to my pain. So I can pick up on things that maybe people won’t pick up on because of my pain. I’m very familiar with a controlling spirit. I’m very familiar with certain things that I’ve encountered in my life. Now my question is, how will I respond to what I see? How will I steward that? Is it going to be from my pain or will I respond out of my burden? And my burden’s from a healthy place, so I know how to respond to it in a healthy way.

You’ll know if I’m responding out of my pain because it won’t be the fruits of the spirit. There will be no love, no joy, no self-control for sure. It’s all the things Paul talks about, actually right above that in the same chapter where it talks about hostility, outbursts of anger, division. There’s still a seed being planted. A fruit will come.

Julie: That’s right.

Irini: And so I just know for me, it was no one sat me down, but I think we have to recognize it’s like they only knew what they knew as well. But once I encounter it and I intersect that information, now it’s my question of, am I going to steward what I see? Am I going to steward what I know, and how do I move forward in that? And that becomes it’s really hard to navigate when you are picking up things that maybe other people aren’t. I think that’s the idea with the intelligences, especially spiritual intelligence. It’s the one everybody gets to operate in. The others you can see, hey, I operate in that sometimes. Sometimes I don’t. But this one supercharges all of them.

It actually can defy all the other intelligences and you go for it, but it’s the one that people may call their gut or their instinct or their sixth sense and you’re like, “Nope, that’s the Holy Spirit talking to you.” It’s your spiritual intelligence that’s saying, “I’m going to show you something that’s… Let me pull away the natural and let you see the supernatural and bring that unseen into the seen.” And so I watch that grow and develop along the way, but a lot of times, even in ministry environments, you can have a spiritual intelligence informing you.

You can have the Holy Spirit informing you, but then people will say, “Well, what’s the numbers? How do you back that up?” And you’re like, “Um, Jesus? I don’t know what to say. I just don’t feel a peace. I know that we’re all saying we could all get on board with this, but I don’t feel like we’re all in unity with this, and the Holy Spirit just has me in check.” And it’s really hard to be the person in the meeting to say that, because most of the time, even in ministry settings, you have group think, which is a legit study of what happens to people when they all come together. Whatever predominant personality, and it differs in different settings, states their opinion first or more passionately, then everybody’s like, “Yeah, I agree with that.”

Rhonda: What has that looked like for you as you’ve become more comfortable at the table? You’re less running to the bathroom, complaining that you’re a girl, less of that. What has that looked like for you personally? When did you realize, “I am comfortable at the table with the intelligence that I bring?”

Irini: Is it going to be disappointing to say that the discomfort doesn’t always go away?

Julie: That’s honest.

Rhonda: No, that’s real. Yeah.

Irini: I remember I was sitting around a table and it was actually people, they were celebrating that I had finished getting my PhD, and a lot of them were telling these stories about how excited… Not excited, but they were just like, “Oh, Irini, when I think of you, you say things other people won’t say.” It literally was all these different stories around that and I was like, “Oh, wow,” and it was cool to see people’s perspective. And of course, I didn’t just take it in. I had to say something, and I said, “I hope you guys understand that for every time you’re mentioning, I drove home and rattled that in my brain for hours about what I said, or should I have said that, or was I supposed to, did I say too much?”

And so there’s this place that I know it’s like… What’s hard about it is it burns inside of me. I’m like, “Oh, forget it. I’ll either go home with this burning or just a couple of worries about what I said, so I might as well just say it.” And so what I’ve noticed, because of that linguistic side for me, and I do feel like it’s a connection to other ones, but for me, it’s like I need to verbalize. Like, “This isn’t okay. I’m having a hard time with this. Is this complicated for someone else? Does this feel crunchy? Does it…” I tend to be the person that says things that people are thinking that nobody wants to say, and that role is hard. I keep hoping that I’m like, “Yeah, I said it. I don’t care what you think.”

Julie: I don’t care.

Irini: But you do. I spent most of my life worried about being rejected, and then when I was like, “Okay, God, I belong. I belong at least in my own skin. I’m okay with me.” But what it meant early on defensively is that I would say things, this is where I would unintelligently use my linguistic intelligence, but is that I would say things because I immediately wanted them to feel shocked so that I rejected them before they rejected me. “Let me just say something. That’s fine. It’s cool. I’ll just do this. I’m going to create my own bubble. I don’t want to feel you reject me.”

And so then it was like, “Irini, you cannot just come in and just shoot off your words as a defense mechanism.” So it’s like, “Let’s listen. Let’s see where…” And this is where that stewardship of it. “God, do you want me to share this? Does this have value? Is this from my pain or from my burden?” If I’m getting triggered, triggered versus a burning flame… I’m thinking of the passage where it’s like, “I’ve got a burning in”-

Julie: My bones?

Irini: My bones. I was like, my belly. Yes, linguistic intelligence is high right now. But the reality of going, “What’s the difference? Am I being triggered by this or is it really a burning in my bones? Is it something you’re asked me to say?” In those moments, I’ve made it and I’ve missed it. And sometimes I have to just, especially if I know it’s a trigger, I will say this, let me just at least acknowledge it inside of you and go, “I feel that.” You might have to write it down on a piece of paper, the moment a word… Because words matter to me. Somebody can say a word and I’m like, “Oof. Ouch. That hurt.”

And so I need to put it down and just kind of say to myself, “I know that hurt, and we will go after this together with the Lord.” I have to reassure myself. I’m not going to shove it down, abandon it, forget about it, because that trigger, it’s like, “I got to get out. I need to voice this.” And if I’m not careful, I will trigger all over them. It will just be a massacre right there, and I’m like, “Oh,” and there’s a lot of regret in that.

Rhonda: But it’s come with practice, it sounds like, the more you’re willing to put it out there and practice.

Irini: Absolutely, and I want a permission. I think that’s why the Bible did not hide how messy people were. I would not write the Bible that way. It’s so messy. I’m like, “Really? Abraham, you keep lying? I get it. You’re kind of related to Sarah, but come on. I mean, the Bible even presents it like this is just your thing. You just can’t stop. Stop lying.” Or just weird stories that are in there, that you’re just going, “Didn’t you want to clean that up a little bit, God? You wanted all this stuff out there?” I think God’s like, “I’m not afraid to partner with humanity, and your humanity doesn’t disqualify you and I don’t expect you to show up perfect.”

I’m just trying to figure out how to be okay with my humanity and not use it to permission places that I don’t want to grow in, but to say, “Hey Lord, what do you want to do? I see it. I take ownership of that. Now how do I move forward and steward what you’re showing me?” But God isn’t afraid. What’s strange is he still wants to partner with you and he’s like…

Rhonda: He keeps coming and asking us.

Irini: He keeps coming. Right. I’m like, “I don’t think I made it. I didn’t do it very well there, or I don’t…” And it’s interesting, because there are places… As a woman, I’ve probably been hurt the most in ministry environments, and it’s-

Rhonda: Tell me about that. What does that look like?

Irini: Well, what I was going to say is, and that’s a place I’m called to and I’m like-

Julie: It’s your burden and your pain.

Irini: It really is. I’m like, “God, you’ve got to be kidding.” It is really hard to realize that I could go further in marketplace than I can in the church.

Rhonda: Why do you think that is?

Irini: Oh, I think it goes all the way back to the garden. I think that enmity between my seed and the enemy, I know it is a reference to Jesus, but there is something that he came after in targeting women. This is the false notion that the world’s giving about women and growing in our leadership and co-reigning together, is that it will have to come at the cost of men.

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: That’s the lie.

Rhonda: Right.

Irini: Watch all the things that are coming out. Like in The Incredibles number two, the wife has to come in because the father’s incompetent.

Rhonda: Yes, so dumb. Right.

Irini: Exactly. In the Justice League, Wonder Woman gets to take over because Batman’s a drunk. You know what I mean? You’re like, “Oh, dang.” You don’t see a healthy co-reigning.

Rhonda: Yes, yes.

Irini: It always has to come at the cost of men. It’s like, who’s going to win this? Original intent in the garden is co-reigning. You don’t have any hierarchy. You don’t have roles written out. It’s actually too simple in the garden for me. It’s just like, take dominion and multiply and eat from that one tree. No more guardrails? I don’t even leave my kid at home alone with just three things. I got like 20. “Don’t forget to clean everything!”, and I’m going off on all these places, and “Don’t do this and stay away from that.” And God’s like, “Yeah.” We don’t get hierarchy until we get into chapter three with the curses.

And now we have this place where our eyes are on man to define us, and then man’s eyes on the ground in his toil and his work to define him. We keep looping this. And Jesus came to break that curse, but yet we still operate in that. I still want man to validate me and I still… There are places. That’s why it grieves me that inside the church should be the freest place that we operate, but outside the church, they’ve caught onto it. Really, it’s like a counterfeit of an inheritance that we have. This is our inheritance. We get to live free of the curse. And so outside the church, I can run a country, a country, entire. That means men and women. And inside the church, just depends where you are.

And so that has been, it’s just difficult. It’s difficult to navigate. It makes you overfocus on your gender as your identity. I laid that really before the Lord just last year. I was like, “Lord, is my gender my identity or is my ethnicity my identity? Is my giftings and callings?” And he just began to, “Irini, anything that’s outside of relationship with me is not.” My giftings and callings, they’re the expression out of my partnership with him, but they’re not my identity. And so for me, even my gender, he was like, “Well, you’re a daughter of the king, but just your gender detached from relationship with me is not your identity.”

And that’s where you see the world swirling about gender, because gender is trying to become their identity and God’s like, “No, no, no, no. Connect it into relationship with me and that’s your identity.” Those core things, God’s just been really protective of me, like, “Mm-mm. You’re letting other things creep in as your identity.” And you can be saved and struggle with it. You can be in ministry a long time, and if I don’t look back at, what have I let creep into my identity? Is it certain successes? Is it certain measures, certain validations from certain people? What are those things that I’ve let creep in?

Because when they don’t happen, my world collapses, my inside world, not the outside. I’m smiling. I’ll be like, “I’m going to go home and cry. I’m going to bawl my eyes out all the way home.” But when my inward world collapses, I’ve connected myself and my identity to something that’s unhealthy. People just didn’t mention it, and I’ve just figured them out along the way with the Holy Spirit, of course, just going, “Yeah, you don’t have to live with that. Can I take that?” So the journey has been continuous and I still find places. I’m still at least a little bit more aware like, “You know what’s going on.” You’re like, “Yep, I’m not ready to deal with it yet.”

Julie: I want to tap into your burden and maybe your temporal intelligence and your mama heart. You have a daughter and I wonder, thinking forward, what opportunities, what world would you like her to have that you didn’t?

Irini: Oh, man. Inside the church or just in the world?

Julie: Let’s start with inside the church.

Irini: I would love her to see women as a normality in preaching, teaching, as opposed to a special feature. I would love for it to just normalize for her. My husband and I are joking, because she’s so strong as well. And so we were thinking, “I don’t know what we thought.” I don’t know any women on my husband’s side or my side that aren’t just strong women. We were like, “Yep, we’re going to get a supercharged girl.” And so for her, that’s her norm because it’s what she’s around. And so I would love for her to encounter people like her brother, who have grown up around that strength and are super comfortable with it.

Julie: That’s good.

Irini: The balance will come also in the two, because when we permission one to get healthy, it actually frees up the other gender. Because right now for the church, it’s primarily been single-parented by the father, and I want her to see the father and the mother just the way the house she’s seeing in her own home-

Rhonda: That’s so good.

Irini: – that she would see it in the church as well. But there are things, again, of course, you can see where I have a little bit of a play on language and I was like, “Well, I think right now, we’re raising transgender leaders in the church.” And my husband was like, “Do you have to do it that way?” And I was like, “Well, it’s kind of true,” because we’ve asked them to be both genders.

Julie: Wow.

Irini: And so we’ve asked them. And so once we free up and allow, this is the part that it’s still in play. I’m like, well, what does that mean? Is there certain things that are just masculine or just feminine? Have we let each gender take a territory that actually could have been shared? What would that look like?

Julie: What does co-reigning look like?

Irini: What does it look like? And I think that we would see the men are going to find some freedom too, like “That wasn’t even mine. I was trying to be something I’m not.” And for women as well, it’s like wow, that could look totally different. I want her to see the health of that. So you can kind of see, it’s like I want it for both my son and my daughter. It’s like I want to see that health that they have. Honestly, I guess maybe that’s why the Lord gave me a girl and a boy.

Julie: One of each.

Irini: I’m trying to work out the church inside my home, because if you can nail it at home, I feel like you can do anything. If I can communicate to my teenage son, I feel like I can communicate anywhere. But it’s a beautiful picture of what the house was supposed to look like with a father and a mother, and so I think that that would create a different place in the world. We would actually look like something that was appealing for the world to be attracted to, and right now, I feel like… I’ll make statements. I think what’s really hard for her, she’s Gen Z and so is my son. They’re still in Gen Z.

And so for her, it’s very hard, because you see a world slipping away that won’t create absolutes. Everything’s subjective. “Well, it’s just kind of their perspective. I mean, you don’t know their pain. I mean, you don’t…” And I was like, “Okay.” And so when I make a very definitive line, I can tell it kind of creates this “uh,” this rub in them, and I’m like, “Okay, let’s have a conversation.” I want something that they can see that their faith doesn’t have to move with the waves, that it is firm. It is a rock. Jesus is a rock to stand on, and that they can stand there comfortably and go, “No, this is where I want to be,” and not be tempted like, “Oh, that looks cool on that wave.”

Okay, get on a raft boat. That’s really what it’s like. You’re not on a cruise ship. Even on a cruise ship, after a while, you’re like, “I do not want to keep in motion. I want something firm.” And so I believe it does start in our homes. The change I’m wanting to see in the church, I need to start it at-

Julie: Home.

Irini: Well, it’s kind of like it needs to start inside of me. Am I showing that grounded place in the Lord for my kids so that now our family can operate that way, so that we can be at peace of showing how the body of Christ is supposed to operate? And then we can begin to ripple that out to the world. But the realities are the way we even just pay attention to how conversations happen at home. There’s one way to have a problem-solving meeting or brainstorming meeting. There’s whatever’s dominant, and it may be emotions even dominate. Maybe it’s even the logic dominates or just what the kids want dominate, because I didn’t get what I wanted. And so there’s all those places. Can we have differing opinions?

Rhonda: It sounds very kingdom.

Irini: It does, and it’s so messy. I like the ideal of it, but then we’re right in the middle of a dinner discussion and their ideal is not mine. I remember I was like, “It’s okay. We can all have our own opinions,” and then my son said something that was totally contrary. I was like, “Whose side are you on?” And he’s like, “I thought there weren’t sides.” I was like, “I didn’t either until you said that.” And then I’m like, “What are you doing?” And so it’s the messiness of working that out, but I think that I have to take personal ownership and then I have to begin to steward what’s in front of me. It’s like, I want to think about all the big world change that I want to create. It’s like, what are the pockets of influence that you have? It’s the little by little.

And God was specific. The word I felt the Lord gave me for this year was “possess the land.” There was some things about possessing that land that he desired, that he was like, “Okay, one, the animals will not roam unchecked,” and that it would be fruitful, and that I would defeat whatever enemies and he would defeat them for me. Whether it was helping, giving me a strategy to defeat them, or sometimes the enemy just was defeated for them. I was like, but those things, those three ideas were there so far. I’m sure there’s more. And the Lord’s like, “You want to move on, but is that land fruitful? You want more territory. You want other things. You want to be successful in other places.”

There’s so many things that you got a peek of a dream and you’re like, “Oh, I want…,” and the Lord’s like, “Be fruitful in this place.” So where I can be fruitful in the lands inside my own heart, in my family, and then stop devaluing every opportunity you have as something that’s not a big enough land. It’s like, learn. Learn how to make it fruitful. Help the animal, and there’s a lot of animals that are hard to keep in check. It’s like, “Oh, okay.” Even that reality of feeling like the enemy’s bigger, the infrastructure’s bigger, I think that lie of the perspective that they had about the giants, it wasn’t the fact that giants weren’t in the land. They weren’t lying. The giants were in the land.

The reality was, though, that God had already given them a promise it was their land. He didn’t ask them to go in and ask their opinion like, “What do you think? Should we take it?” The Lord was like, “No, no. I wanted you to go in with eyes of understanding that saw. Look at this, because I want you to see it. It’s yours.” But what their eyes became attracted to was how big and how small, themselves in respect to those giants. And I think that especially, you pick it. The thing that we would all connect to here is that as women, we can feel small in a giant infrastructure, especially that most of ministry is male-dominating. “Oh, great. I do feel like a grasshopper.”

And the Lord’s like, “What you missed is I had already defeated giants in the land for Lot and for Esau. This was actually before their story, so actually, if you wanted testimony, I have a resume of defeating giants if you really…” Nobody wanted to talk about that. But the Lord’s like, “Oh, I need you to put your eyes on who he is and not who they are.” And so no matter what situation you’re facing, no matter what, whatever it is, the enemy can have your eye on it. And so you’re just like, “It’s just never going to happen. I’m never going to be seen. I’m never going to be valued. I’m never going to be able to contribute.”

I don’t mean these as places it’s like, “Yeah, and I’ve nailed this.” It was like, I had this conversation with myself just last week. I’m like, “You’re going to be okay.” He starts shifting places of… I see patterns. “I thought we were heading this way. Literally, we’d got this done, this done, this done. This is next.” And he’s like, “Oh, let’s take a left turn.” I was like, “That is not fun,” and the Lord’s like, “Just go ahead and make sure what’s attached to your identity. Was any of this, was progress, was land, was territory?” I’m like, “Uh. Maybe. Probably.”

Rhonda: That’s a hopeful picture though, that I would hope for the same picture that you’re hoping for your daughter. I just say, “Lord, let your kingdom come and keep on coming to the church.” It’s been so great to talk to you. Thanks for your time today.

Irini: Absolutely.

Rhonda: And I just want to say if they want more about this, Dr. Fambro hosts a podcast of her own called Smarter Than You Think. You should definitely check it out. And where else could somebody connect with you if they wanted to?

Irini: There’s a website. Horrible spelling because it’s going to be my name, so you’re going to have to find it. It’s irinifambro.com, and it has other resources, teachings and things like that. I would love for them to connect, because it’s a real journey about, how do we bring multiple contribution to the table together? Because if it’s just one voice shouting it, it’s not going to happen. But I hope to ripple that influence out, so people start waking it up inside themselves, so they can see it and value it in others.

Rhonda: That’s great.

Julie: That’s great.

Rhonda: Thanks so much for being with us.

Julie: Thank you.

Irini: Thanks for having me.

Rhonda: And thanks for listening in. If you like what you heard, if you would click subscribe, it would help us so much. And we’ll talk to you next time.