In an engaging interview with EEW President Dianna Hobbs, Bishop Vashti McKenzie, EEW Magazine’s 2017 “Best Book of the Year”
Award-winning author of The Big Deal of Taking Small Steps to Move Closer to God, opens up about the trials and triumphs of ministry,
overcoming the death of a child, and dispelling the “balance” myth.

INTERVIEW & ARTICLE BY DIANNA HOBBS, EEW MAGAZINE PRESIDENT
Well, when I sat down for a phone chat with
Bishop McKenzie back in May, I started out by
telling her what a blessing the book was to me
personally. I also commended the revered
leader for being transparent about the early
days in ministry and the struggles that came
along with that.

“Sometimes we forget that preachers, pastors
and leaders—whatever area you work in in
ministry—are subject to the same challenges
and crises, the same ups and downs, the same
things that human beings all experience,” she
said. “Most of the time people only see us in
the pulpit, behind the podium, on stage, on a
platform. They see us teaching, but they don’t
know what you had to do to get there.”

The wife of Stanley McKenzie and mother of
three children—Jon-Mikael, Vashti-Jasmine,
Joi-Marie—recounted the hectic nature of her
beginning stages of ministry while juggling
church demands and family obligations.

“I had to change diapers, plait hair, put on
bows and research the sermon, and prepare it,
and get everybody dressed, and get
everybody out of the house, and at the same
time, stand before a group of people and
preach the word of God,” Bishop McKenzie,
70, reflected.
“Sometimes you just have to get moving again.
Get out of bed. Open the blinds. Dry your
eyes. Wash your face. Take a hot bath. Go to
the spa. Get a massage. Take a drive. Go for
a walk in the park. Call two, three girlfriends,”
she suggested.

This is the sage and practical advice of one
who has overcome devastation and walked
away more compassionate, and equipped to
handle what she calls in her book “brick wall
situations.”

“Brick walls, they come. You hit them. It means
you’re supposed to stop. You’re supposed to
pause. This is where we recalibrate. This is
where we stop and say, ‘Is this an immovable
object? Is this object placed in my life to teach
me a lesson or to [cause me to] turn around
and make me go and change direction?” she
said.

Giving an example of how our conversations
with God should go about brick walls, Bishop
McKenzie role-played: “‘Now God, what are we
going to do about it? Are we going to sit here
for a while until you handle the wall or are you
going to equip me, and give me the tools and
experience to either go through the wall, climb
over the wall, or go around the wall?’ Or give
me the strength to remove it in Jesus’ name?’”
No doubt God has given this mighty woman of
valor incredible strength, wisdom and the
ability to handle many things. Yet, if you’re
looking for advice on how to balance it all in
the same way Bishop McKenzie seems to do
so effortlessly, you may be surprised by what
she has to say.

“There’s no such thing as balance,” she told
EEW. “We think, ‘Let me take my day, divide it
into quarters. I spend 25 minutes here, 15
minutes here, 10 minutes here, 5 minutes over
here and now I’m balanced.’ There’s no such
thing as balance. It’s prioritizing. That’s how
you make it.”

For those interested in her prioritization theory,
Bishop McKenzie goes deeper, advising us to
ask and answer an important guiding question,
which is: “What are the most important things
in your life that only you must do?”

When you identify that most important thing,
she says, “Do that. The rest can either be
delegated or delayed. Do your priorities. In
order to do that, it takes some prayer time. It
takes some sitting. It takes some studying. And
once you do your priorities, then the other
things will grab for your attention, but you’ll be
able to say, ‘That’s not my priority at this
moment and I’m going to stay focused on my
priorities.’ And only you and God can work out
that priority.”

To read more
wisdom from Bishop
McKenzie, pick up a copy of her latest book,
The Big Deal, available in stores and online
now.

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hen world renowned
religious leader and best-
selling author  Bishop
Vashti McKenzie’s book,
The Big Deal of Taking Small Steps to Move
Closer to God
, was first given to me by a staff
member for consideration to be featured in
Empowering Everyday Women (EEW) online
magazine, originally, I resisted.

As Founder and Editor-In-Chief of EEW—an
award-winning web publication for women of
faith and color—I receive so many requests
that I simply cannot fulfill.

Though T.D. Jakes called the book "profound
and practical" and April D. Ryan, White House
Correspondent  said
The Big Deal is
"anointed,” reading her book seemed to be
another “to do” item that I could not cram into
my already over-packed schedule. It wasn’t
that I didn’t want to; I just felt I didn’t have time
to.

So, I had a decision to make. Would I pass off
the assignment to a staff editor, or just say no
to it, period?

I knew she had profound wisdom, empowering
advice and inspirational tidbits to share. After
all, Bishop McKenzie is the 117th elected and
consecrated bishop of the African Methodist
Episcopal (AME)—the first woman to be
elected to the level of Episcopal office in the
AME denomination’s 200-year history. She was
also appointed by former President Barack
Obama to serve on the inaugural President’s
Advisory Council of the White House Faith-
Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Clearly, her experience, qualifications and firm
faith foundation make her a great choice of
mentor and advisor to leaders everywhere—
both established and aspiring.

So then, despite feeling stressed and pressed
for time, my editorial director’s persistent
urging and nudging to read Bishop McKenzie’s
book and personally interview her, kindled, at
best, a small fire in me to give it a chance.

When I got a free moment, away from the
noise and clutter of life, I cracked open
The
Big Deal
. In the very first chapter titled “Take
the First Step,” Bishop McKenzie shares her
personal experience of first entering pastoral
ministry. She was assigned two churches in the
Chesapeake City area with very few members,
and her attempts to grow, and cultivate the
members was not going very well.

My mouth fell open. You see, my husband,
Elder Kenya Hobbs, and I, had literally just
accepted appointments as Executive Pastor
and First Lady of a small, urban church plant a
couple of weeks earlier. It was challenging. I
had been praying for God’s guidance on how
to survive the transition, grow the start-up
ministry and reach souls for Christ. I felt like
hubby and I had been flying by the seat of our
pants!

But right there on the first few pages, Bishop
McKenzie’s transparency about her experience
both comforted and counseled me. She
reminded me through her own experience the
importance of acting on what I already know
how to do: Grow closer to God in order to
discern His will for my life more clearly.

I knew reading this was a divine assignment
and
The Big Deal was no ordinary book. It was
dropped into my lap for such a time as this. I
was so moved and impressed, I’m
recommending it to all the readers of EEW
Magazine and bestowing upon it our
prestigious “Best Book of the Year” Award
honor, which has historically been reserved for
first-time authors.

Thus, Bishop McKenzie, a six-time author,
receiving the book award from our
organization, is an unprecedented
occurrence.  

But she’s used to firsts, blazing trails and
breaking down barriers.  Bishop McKenzie is
the first woman to serve as the President of
the Council of Bishops, Chair of the General
Conference Commission and was the Host
Bishop for the 49th Session of the General
Conference of the AME Church in June 2012
with more than 30,000 in attendance.

EEW is only adding to her long lists of firsts.
President Barack Obama shares a moment with Bishop
Vashti McKenzie on stage during an Easter Prayer Breakfast
April 19, 2011 in the East Room of the White House in
Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: GETTY)
“There is a trite saying and it’s true: ‘You know
my glory, but you don’t know my story.’ They
don’t know the steps that you had to take. All
they see is the end result. They don’t see the
times when you bled, you shed tears, you got
knocked down, you stood back up,” she added.

According to Bishop McKenzie, whose
personality is warm, friendly and down-to-
earth, the reason she opens up to others
about both good and bad situations in her life
is so that, “when it happens to them in their
lives, they don’t think that’s something strange.”

In
The Big Deal, Bishop McKenzie shares one
of those “bad,” extremely hard, crushing
moments when she and her husband lost their
baby daughter. At the time, the expectant
mother had gone through seven months of
pregnancy, only to feel the bitter sting of loss.

“We couldn’t understand why she would reach
the third trimester only to die. My husband and
I wondered why I needed to go through seven
months of pregnancy to carry a child who
would not live,” she wrote in the book.

The grief hit her hard.

“When my baby died, people kept saying, ‘Oh
Vashti, we don’t have to worry about her. She’ll
be alright.’ And they all went off. And I’m sitting
there thinking, you do need to be worried.
They thought, ‘She’s saved, she walks in faith,
she knows how to plead the blood of Jesus
Christ.’”

But the usually strong-in-faith warrior for Christ
had been wounded on the battlefield and
needed assistance, which she found in the
word of God.

“I picked up the book of Job and I started
reading chapter 1 all the way to chapter 42,”
recalled Bishop McKenzie. “By the time I got to
chapter 42, pain started to lessen in my heart,
and then I figured out, if I can live from chapter
1 to chapter 42; if I can just get from the crisis
to the greater blessing, then I can make it,”
she said. “If I can get from the loss to the years
that the locust has eaten away being restored,
then I’m going to make it.”

Not only did the book of Job minister to Bishop
McKenzie’s needs after life dealt that crushing
blow, but also, the book of Mark was a genuine
comfort and true source of healing for her.

She told EEW, “In the first chapter, Jesus
meets Peter’s Mother-In-Law. He takes her
hand. He lifts her off her bed. And I stopped
and I said, ‘God, this is what I need you to do
for me.’ I need you to take my hand. I need you
to lift me up out of this pain.”

Bishop McKenzie continued telling the Lord, “I
need you to lift me up out of this grief. I need
you to lift me up out of this dark place. I need
you to take my hand.’ And I stayed in that
story. I read that scripture over and over until I
began to feel that heaviness lift… I kept going
until I got to the end of the gospel of Mark.”

The Bible and its lasting truths, awe-inspiring
miracles and living, breathing, active scriptures
that penetrate the soul and cut down to the
marrow, infiltrated every fiber of Bishop
McKenzie’s being, empowering her to get back
up again.

To those dealing with grief, she says, after
accepting what has happened, you have to
take small steps to get back into the flow of life.
Getty Images
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