For many of us, it’s the big goal: to change the world.
We dream of it when we’re young, perhaps start advocating for a cause. But often, we burn out. We take on too much, try to do it alone. We wonder if we’re really making a difference at all.
Years ago, Jennie Allen felt God calling her to reach her generation of women. She wasn’t sure exactly how. She didn’t feel properly equipped for the job, but the call was clear, so she took the first steps. She formed partnerships with others, and years later, IF: Gathering was formed. IF is a nonprofit organization that that gathers, equips and unleashes women around the world. Its reach is growing—last year, tens of thousands of women around the world were using some of the tools and training programs provided by IF: Gathering.
But Allen is clear that it didn’t come easily. We talked to her about seeing her dream come to fruition, the importance of community and how to trust God with your ideas for changing the world.
Most of us were raised with this idea that God wants to use you to make a difference, to change the world. And it can be tempting to try to do that through building up our own following and making a name for ourselves. One of your goals with IF: Gathering seems to be to empower everyone who attends, and not just highlight one special keynote speaker. Has that been an intentional part of what you’re doing?
Oh yeah. This is an individualized society—everything, whether it’s social media or the jobs we pursue, the things that we think are important, and even just the way we live. When I go to other countries, people live communally. There’s a sense that they couldn’t imagine the separation we have in our lives and how isolated I think everybody feels.
I think the lie is that there’s a lot of fulfillment in building a name and making a difference on your own. What I’ve found is we’re all craving more than that. We are craving a family. We’re craving to be part of a team and to do this together. It’s so shockingly rewarding.
It is often more fun and rewarding to be a part of something great than to try to build yourself to be great. It’s a constant surrendering, because you have to constantly lay down your own goals and your own agenda and your own ambitions. You just have to say, “You know what? I’m in this, even if it’s messy and I don’t get as much out of it as I would if I went and spoke somewhere big by myself.” I just feel like it’s killed, it’s slain the ego and the things that none of us care about or want, but we’re tempted to, if we’re honest. And it’s good to have places where that dies. It’s good to be one of rather than the thing, you know? I think that’s important for everybody.
What would you say to somebody who wants to do something great for God but they just can’t figure out what that first step is. They can’t figure out quite how you managed to take this from a dream and actualize it into an actual force, a movement?
It’s easy to look at things and think they just popped up out of the ground and were there. But it’s always built, if you look behind the scenes. It’s always built with years of conflict and years of a lot of unknowns, a lot of fear. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so afraid as some of the moments that God pushed me through to build this.
There were lots of them, as you can imagine—lots of hard conversations, lots of stories that I’ve never been able to tell because they were behind the scenes and they wouldn’t be beneficial to tell. But I think it’s important to note that this doesn’t look like, “Oh, we’re all best friends and this was easy and it just all flowed and worked.” No. There were dozens and dozens and dozens of hard conflicts and conversations and tears and misunderstandings.
And there were days that I thought, “I am hurting the Kingdom of God. This isn’t for the Kingdom of God. This is actually hurting it.” So I had those days where it felt like the soil was just hard and there was no way we were going to see any harvest here. But I felt like the thing I did through that was just keep my head down and keep tilling the soil as long as God said to stay.
There have been times in my life where I feel like there was a vision from God and I’ve been wrong. Somebody wisely told me once—I asked them, “How do you know if something’s the will of God?” They said, “When it happens.” And I thought that’s so true sadly. Because I’ve felt the same way about that vision seven or eight years ago as I did about other things as well, and they didn’t come to fruition.
But I think with all things, you kind of just stick to your road, keep your hands open, and keep saying, “God, I’m willing. I’m willing for this to fail.”
I remember the biggest thing I had to deal with in my fear in all of those years was that God was growing things, but there was no evidence. The hardest thing I had to let go of was, “What if I am publicly humiliated? What if I go and risk all of this and it absolutely flops?” Because there wasn’t much I knew. I had really never done this before. I could have just rallied all these amazing people, gotten their attention, and it just flopped.
So it was terrifying to say, “Who am I to do this?” But I think owning that and saying, “You know what, God? Am I willing to fail, to face public humiliation for You? Am I willing to fail miserably and publicly for You?”
At some point, finally my answer became “Yes.” And it wasn’t that it would have been easy. And it wasn’t that the conflict and all the things happening behind the scenes were easy, but I was willing to go through them, if that was obedience. It wasn’t for some dream. It wasn’t for some great idea. It was for Him and for His name and for whatever it was He wanted to do through me here.
I think that’s a really important difference, because if we make it about the dream, we’ll try to control the dream and we’ll put our identity in the dream and we will have to have the dream work or we’ll be miserable. But if you say, “You know what? I’m here, God, to take whatever You’ve given me and to display You in whatever way You want.” And you just kind of have this open-handedness, then you stick to something, not because you believe in the thing but because you believe that God’s worth it.
That was the thing that got me through the dark mess of those years that weren’t so pretty.