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Living Out Your Holy Ambition
What does it mean to have a ‘Holy Ambition’? I mean what does that look like in everyday life? In this special edition of Living on the Edge with Chip Ingram, Chip sits down with best-selling author, and speaker – Jennie Allen. She’ll share how Chip’s book Holy Ambition changed her life and helped jump-start her own ministry, that impacts countless lives.More from this series
CHIP: Well, welcome. Jennie Allen here, a special time that I get to interview you. And we have something in common in that almost twenty years ago I wrote a book called Holy Ambition. And actually, before I wrote that book, your husband told me, I think it was on, like, those cassettes or something like that.
JENNIE: It was, yep!
CHIP: A million years ago! And part of our journey is kind of going back and hearing, you know, Holy Ambition is how God takes dreams that He puts in our heart and that process of turning them into reality. So, I would just, when did you first hear about Holy Ambition and maybe what kind of impact did it have on your life?
JENNIE: So, I look back and I’m going to back up just a little bit so that you hear the context of when I found Holy Ambition and what it did for me. I look back at my life and I was a good church girl, I pretty much obeyed my parents, I only tested that so far and largely was a good kid. And would have said the whole time I was a child that I was a Christian. But really didn’t come into saving knowledge of faith until I was seventeen.
When I was seventeen and I met Jesus, it was a zealot was born. Like, I was Paul. I couldn’t not talk about Jesus. I talked about Him to everybody in my life. And they were completely annoyed. They were like, “You really are out of control.” And so, I actually, because it was so obnoxious I just found, and I didn’t have a model for this, I found some younger girls to teach the Bible to and I taught the book of Revelation, which don’t recommend as a brand-new believer, as a seventeen-year-old; knew nothing.
I don’t think I knew how to use a commentary, didn’t even know those existed. Just opened my Bible and started from the beginning and thought, “I’m going to teach you girls what this is!” And who knows what I said but we had a ball, they loved God more because of it, and I went on from there to continue discipling girls and to teach the Bible.
Again, no models for this, just I had to talk about it. And it wasn’t going well in my sports teams and friends. So, I was like, I just need to find somebody that wants to learn and wants to know God like I know and love God.
So, that was just me. I was just a zealot. And I have teaching gifts and leadership gifts and I’m a visionary so all these very big gifts, big personality, big passion. And I’m a girl in a very conservative, southern church that was pretty healthy.
JENNIE: But definitely didn’t see women that had those gifts. So, I didn’t know what to do with those gifts. I certainly would have told you at that age that there probably wasn’t anything else for me to do with those gifts than to just lead a room full of people and teaching the Bible, which was awesome.
And I did for fifteen years. That was really how I spent…
JENNIE: …the next fifteen years of my life. I always just had a living room full of people, different ages, that I was discipling. And so, you know, but it kept growing and then, you know, that visionary part of me, I would have ideas. I would have really big ideas. I hated how big they were, because I didn’t feel like women were supposed to do certain things and I didn’t know, I was a young mom who didn’t work and felt convicted about that. I didn’t think I could do those things part time. You know, I didn’t have a context of what God was birthing in me.
Not to mention, at the time, Zac was kind of in agreement. We were surviving. He was in ministry, he was in youth ministry, I was supporting him, it was a hard job. We were having kids in our home all the time. And we had young kids that needed to eat and grow up. So, that’s about the time that Holy Ambition came into both of our lives. But we are both visionaries, we are both directional leaders, and we both have a lot of capacity.
And we were in a little bitty town in Cleveland, Texas. And we listened to your radio show. We loved your radio show. And so, you were, in large part, discipling us. And we heard about Holy Ambition in that way. And so, we ordered it, I don’t know how we got it, but again, I remember the box and it was this little thing you popped open with six cassette tapes or so. I don’t…
CHIP: Yeah, you got it!
JENNIE: And so, we were actually starting seminary around that time. And we were driving into town and my husband was at a place where he was like, “Yes, you are teaching a lot. I would love for you to take classes.” We were prioritizing that.
So, we are doing seminary and we are listening to this when we would drive into class. Well, it blew my mind. It blew his mind too. But how it changed my mind was, Wow, I have been terrified of the dreams God has put in me. I have completely boxed in my gifts and how I think I should be using them.
And even the series, the sermon series made me uncomfortable. Holy Ambition. I thought that word was evil…
JENNIE: …I was scared of it. I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to act like I was a big deal, I didn’t want to seem presumptuous; we’re in this little, bitty Bible church in a little, bitty town. And I was already too much for everybody, so I was so curious, but I was afraid to believe that God could do more with me. Because I was afraid of what that would mean and what that would cost.
CHIP: Well, let me pause for a second, because what I can tell you is for whoever and how many ever listen to what you just said, they are everywhere and they feel the same way. I was in a tiny, little town in Texas myself in our first pastorate, and I had these thoughts and these dreams and I would just, it was like I would wake up in a cold sweat thinking, You’re the most arrogant person in the world. How could you ever think that, Chip?
And yet, I’d pray and say, Oh, but God, I just, I see what could happen. And, and all of a sudden, I started looking at, you know, most of these people in the Bible, before they got in stained glass…
CHIP: …they were like, really regular, pretty broken, ordinary. And that was the turning point. And I just, you know, in me, same here. Because I have always been ambitious. God had to do something to get a holy ambition. And there is a fine line there, isn’t there?
CHIP: You know, it’s easy…
JENNIE: Yeah! I mean
CHIP: …to make it about yourself.
JENNIE: I mean, while that sermon series was a turning point for me, all that gave me the permission to do was just obey God. So, to hear what God was leading me to, or to see this is the direction He’s going. And, to submit to my elders and to submit to my husband, right? So, I had these coverings that were protected. But I remember visualizing myself and I thought, When I get to heaven, I’m going to be that thoroughbred that finally got a field. I’m going to be the…
Because I was kind of in a stall. I felt like I was doing the rope thing and walking in a circle. And I was fine and I was like, you know what? I love what I do and I love people and I’ve got people to disciple and I’m just going to do that until Jesus comes or I go home. So, I was fine.
But I always had this feeling that if the gate opened and I ran, I would be happy, I would be full, I would be – oh – and I didn’t even know what that was. I didn’t have some picture, because still at that point, when I’m that age, Beth Moore is not on the scene. She’s just barely, like, starting to publish. There wasn’t a category for what I do now. So, when I talk about Holy Ambition being a turning point for me, it wasn’t like, “And then I jotted down that I would have a podcast and I would speak to thousands of people,” like, I didn’t, those weren’t options or categories.
It was just this sense that I wouldn’t always be holding myself back, that I would be obeying God and running.
CHIP: And what was it about the content? I mean, for those who are thinking, Holy Ambition – what are you all really talking about? Maybe a quick review. It’s really the, it’s
the profile of Nehemiah’s life who is basically a business guy living in the lap of luxury.
And so, God takes this leader into a situation that other people had tried, nothing happened. He dislocates his heart. And then he recognizes he can’t do it. He has this broken spirit and desperate dependency of prayer.
He takes a radical step of faith, the third thing where he risked his life. And then it’s not all mystical and spiritual. He comes up with a strategic plan and organizes people and makes a personal commitment of: “What’s my role on the wall?”
And then, you know, the American version of that is then everything goes great. The biblical version is he gets personally attacked from within and without.
JENNIE: Right. People are killing him from all sides. Yeah!
CHIP: Yes. And…
JENNIE: This is my story! Yes!
CHIP: And that’s my story! I think that’s every leader’s story.
JENNIE: Right. Yeah.
CHIP: And so, as you were kind of going through first, it’s okay to be ambitious for God, Holy Ambition. And to dream and do what He wants you to do.
Well, then, there’s kind of the process. First, what - what dislocated your heart? What was it that, like, “This, I either get so mad because it’s not happening or when I think about it, I cry when I think of the need that is unmet.” And you can’t do everything, but it’s just like, “My name is on this. God, if You would let me.” What – tell me how that happened, because to me, that’s how it gets birthed.
JENNIE: Yeah. A hundred percent. And my heart was dislocated the minute I was saved. And that’s why I was so passionate was I wanted people to know Jesus. I saw – hell and heaven felt real to me. The war felt – I could just see it happening everywhere I looked. So, the bondage that I saw women specifically in and still to this day that it haunts me.
I walk into a room to speak, regardless of the size, and there’s a part of me that is going, “I feel the darkness.” Right? Like, I can sense that people are in bondage and stuck. So, I mean, I would use a stronger word than “dislocated”. I was haunted. Like, I was just, I could not escape this burden. And it is burning in my bones.
So, while the positive is like, “I can’t believe I have a Savior like this,” the negative is I’m around people every single day that don’t have that.
And so, so, I think what – that was the first thing and it was just something I lived with. And yet, I am strategic. And I am creative. And I’m A.D.D. and I think out of the box. And so, how to reach people and how to bring the gospel to people – it was like technicolor. I had ideas and I had passions and creative ways to do that.
What you did and what the content did was, like, “Hey, take the lid off.” Like, where have you just put a lid on your passions, your gifts, your dreams, your personality? Like, where have you just limited what God could do?
And I remember just going, “Oh, everywhere.” Everywhere! And so, giving ourselves permission to think differently about our gifts and our calling and how we could play parts on the wall of building the kingdom was a huge part of it.
CHIP: I was pastoring for a number of years before it dawned on me, we developed a thing called Primemovers where it’s literally we take high capacity people, get them in a room together, and sort of clear away all the clutter of influence, affluence, all that and say, “Wow, you know, why don’t you minister to one another and identify what that holy ambition is and not just talk about it or intend it or do it later. It can happen in and through your business, in and through your life right now.
And that’s why, you know, we want people to realize you don’t have to be a pastor or speak to thousands of women in – what – a hundred and forty-some countries to have a holy ambition. I mean, my wife’s holy ambition, I mean, she wrote hers out was an investment in our kids and what would happen in their life and through their life.
JENNIE: I don’t know if men struggle with this as much as women, but women do tend to go one way or the other, right? And I think that’s what we are talking about here is a tension of obedience to what God has called me to.
JENNIE: To what is He telling me to do? And so, for me, it would have been disobedient to push away the dreams and the visions that He was building up in me. At the same time, for your wife it would have been disobedient to, like, seek book deals and try to join your radio show. You know what I’m saying?
So I think what people need to hear us say is God’s story and His creativity is unique for each person. And what is ironic is so many people will ask me, like, “I want to be you. Like, what do you, how did you get to do what you do?” And I’m like, first of all I always say, “What do you think I do?” And then the next thing I say is, “Well, I spent fifteen years in a living room making disciples and when I get to heaven, I believe that will be thing that I’m probably most rewarded for.” And the lives that – and I still – I just pulled back together a group of seven. It’s been, like, a year or two that I haven’t been able to have that.
And I’ve kept that throughout my ministry growing. And I know without a doubt that stuff out there that I’m known for, that will probably burn up, right? That I’ve already received reward for. So, even when you’re called to the “big” it’s not about the “big”. And for me, it still is about that living room. And they get my priority. It’s about my office and my team.
And I tell them all the time, I’m like, “Listen, I won’t be held accountable for the million people we reach through this conference. I will be for y’all, and if y’all are growing up in the faith, and if y’all are loving Jesus more because of time with me. So, I think it’s even when it gets big, and yet, I think it’s important and especially now, Chip. Back then, that kind of ambition wasn’t readily even thought of, right?
JENNIE: But now, that is the first thing thought of with the generation coming, growing up on social media is, “I want to have a big influence. I want to have a big platform.” And I think it’ll be really powerful conversation because it’s refining that ambition, right?
I don’t look at my daughters and think they don’t have enough ambition. That’s not – people would have looked at me that way at that age.
JENNIE: But now I’m looking at them and going, “Let’s turn that ambition into something holy.” And so, I think it’s, yeah, it’s just a lot of tension, which is what it is to follow God, of just holding all those tensions and embracing them.
CHIP: And I think that second part that I work with a lot of business people – we have both men and women. And, you know, when people are very successful and they have a lot of gifts and usually when you have gifts and capacity and work really hard, you end up in positions of leadership and often with wealth. I mean, those are some things - And yet, the turning point I’ve watched so often is that’s what you can do with your energy and your gift and you make it happen. And often that missing moment of God’s hand is that moment of the broken spirit where you come to the end of yourself. And often it happens as the ministry starts growing.
CHIP: Yeah, I think this idea that I have got to get a platform is the wrong place to start but it’s everywhere. As opposed to: God, what do You want me to do? Lordship. I’ll do whatever You want me to do.
And, here’s the thing – it’s always there are costs, but there is reward. You said that word “fruit”. And you just see these ripple effects of the women that you have helped. And what happens in their marriages and guess what – those kids get a different mom. And those single people have a different hope. And so, on the one hand, of course there’s – I mean, Jesus, it was, “For the joy set before Him, but He endured the cross.”
And so, we get, I mean, I want people to know: follow your holy ambition. Of course there’s a price tag.
JENNIE: But I would not trade it. Right.
CHIP: Oh, there is exceedingly great reward.
CHIP: And I think on the journey, my, one of my – I don’t know if I have a “life verse,” but if there’s one I go back to, Hebrews 10:36 says, “You have need of endurance so that once you have done the will of God, you might receive what was promised.” And so much of what I hear you saying is it’s a calling of God, obedience is the issue, it is very challenging, you endure. And as you endure, He has probably changed you more than anyone you have ever spoken to and all the people around you and it’s the resurrection fruit that has come out of your personal journey that gives the authority and the power to how God has used you as you speak and as you write. And it is, it’s a beautiful thing.
JENNIE: Yes. Yeah, it is. And it’s fun. You know, I mean, even, would any of my ambition in my best days ever dream up what God is doing right now? No way. Not possible.
It’s just only the Spirit of God could do the things He has done.
CHIP: Well, I want to wrap it up because I’m thinking I want to make sure everyone hears, this is what we do and this is me asking, so this isn’t you telling. We heard fifteen years teaching in the living room. So, here’s your assignment, are you ready? What is the impact of IF now to the glory of God?
CHIP: Second, how in the world could someone be involved? And what is your heart? What do you long to see happen?
JENNIE: I mean, everything I do is I build tools and experiences to make disciples who make disciples. There is no other goal of my life. “Disciple a Generation” is a thing hanging on my wall. Like, that is what I want to give my life to for the rest of it. And so, and we do that through the local church, and probably your daughters who lead IF:Gatherings, they do that through local churches.
CHIP: Yes, they do.
JENNIE: So we do that. We support, we exist as a ministry to support the local church.
And so, what I love is – it is a group project.
I mean, out there, there are a lot of people like your daughters that have just said, “I will host in my place and I will have, invite my neighbors and friends.” And even our experience, our conference, is still just a tool, right? It’s a tool to help build great conversations around Jesus.
And so, we keep things simple. We cross all denominations. I mean, it’s absolutely wild, this last year, we just had our event in March and uhm, we had over sixty-five hundred people like your daughters that hosted events for us across the world. We reached a hundred and forty-four countries. We don’t know the numbers of how many people were in those, but then, hundreds of thousands of people watching individually too.
So, it’s pretty unbelievable, but what I love is that it’s not me, it’s not even our team, even though there are twenty of us in this office that give our lives to these tools and experiences. It is all of those women out there that have said, “Yes.” And they do the brave thing. We always say it, “They are the heroes of this ministry,” because they brave inviting their friends and their neighbors.
And so, anyway, it’s so fun. I love working with women, because they do get after it and make things happen. And it has just been such a fun, fun journey. So, ifgathering.com is the place and then other tools are at jennieallen.com. And, yeah…
CHIP: Okay, say both of those just a little bit slower for our visual learners like me instead of – the audio learners have it. But just say them both again for me.
JENNIE: It’s IF, and it’s I-F, gathering.com.
JENNIE: And Jennie, J-E-N-N-I-E, Allen, A-L-L-E-N, .com. And all my tools and resources are in those two places and, yeah, it’s, it is an adventure. And we love women to come of all ages that come alongside of us. We had fourteen hundred college students host this year.
CHIP: Oh, that’s awesome.
JENNIE: But then we also have women in their eighties that are IF:Local leaders. So, this is so fun because it does cross so many barriers and brings women together.
CHIP: Well, Jennie, thank you for taking the time and sharing your story. For people that want to find out, this, we have piqued their interest. What is Holy Ambition? It’s a book. And part of this conversation, I’m so grateful is, you know, I wrote that book twenty years ago. And to be able to update for people to see the stories of people like yourself just brings me great joy.
And so, there’s an app called “Chip Ingram”, you just type my name in the app store or livingontheedge.org. And we’ll have someone get with you to either listen to the mp3s for free or get it in whatever format that you want. But, could you pray for…
JENNIE: I’d love to.
CHIP: …those people that find themselves…
CHIP: “You know, I think God is speaking to me.”
JENNIE: God, I know You are. I know You are. And I know that You’re doing it in the same way You have done it since the very beginning. You and Your Spirit are leading people to obey You and I look at the Scripture and it’s ultimately a story about Jesus, but it’s also a story about a lot of humans that needed Jesus. And stumbled their way through life, and yet, they had something that marked almost all of them, which was faith. And so, God, I pray for an increase of faith. God, we need it. There are mountains to climb in this generation.
There are things that need to be built in this generation. There are ministries that need to be started in this generation. There are people that need to hear the gospel in cubicles and on college campuses and in classrooms, God, in this generation.
So, You know all the people listening. And what I love is that we work with You! That we see our purpose is to submit and obey?
I think of the great hymn, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way.” God, there is no other way, and even if that leads us into valleys, God, You will be with us in those valleys. And there is no other place I would rather be than with You, even in the darkness.
God, thank You that You will spark lots of acts of obedience because of this conversation. And we pray that You would fan into existence the things that are from You and that need to exist. In Jesus’ name, amen.
CHIP: Amen. Jennie, what a blast. So good to be with you.
JENNIE: Oh, you too, Chip. Thank you!