Have More Fun!
Christian Leadership Alliance President and CEO Tami Heim recently interviewed Mandy Arioto, president and CEO of MOPS International on the “Rooted” theme of this edition of Outcomes magazine. The theme of this edition mirrors the “Rooted” theme of The Outcomes Conference 2019 in Dallas, April 16-18, where Mandy Arioto will serve as a keynote presenter.
The MOPS acronym stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers” because it began in 1973 when a group of moms of young children banded together to share their lives and parenting journeys. Over the past 45 years, MOPS has expanded its reach to include moms with older kids, partnering with churches and organizations worldwide to equip and encourage moms in more than 60 countries.
Mandy Arioto is widely known for her unique takes on parenting, relationships, and spiritual and cultural issues. Through MOPS, which influences millions of moms through thousands of groups internationally, Mandy serves as the voice of one of the most influential parenting organizations in the U.S. and around the world.
Prior to joining MOPS, Mandy was a preaching pastor at Mosaic, a church based in Southern California. She has been featured on MSN.com, TheKnot.com, TheNest.com and Fox. She regularly speaks to national and international audiences.
Mandy and her husband, Joe, live in Denver, Colorado and have three young children, Joseph, Ellie and Charlotte. Her debut book, Have More Fun: How to be remarkable, stop feeling stuck and start enjoying life (Zondervan, 2019), is available April 9 wherever books are sold.
How do you stay rooted in your relationship with Christ amid the busy demands of leading a Christian nonprofit?
One of the most important ways I do this, is by not taking myself too seriously and recognizing that I am the conduit of my work not the source of it. When I remember this, it means that I can celebrate successes but I don’t get to build my worth on them, and when I fail, I can feel the sting and learn the lesson, but it doesn’t have to define me. Other practical things I do are reading a psalm every morning as I sit down at my desk before I do any work to help center my mind. I am also a copious reader, which really helps expand my worldview and challenges my thinking on matters of faith and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
How do your encourage your staff team in that regard?
One thing we do at MOPS is to offer our staff spiritual retreat days as part of their work rhythms. This is a day that they can spend however they want, in order to make space to nourish their soul and hear from God. Some people spend it hiking in the woods, others go to a monastery for a day to experience solitude and silence. Others have gone to Starbucks and bought coffee for people standing in line as a way to give back. It looks different for every person, but it really does help to keep us rooted and focused on prioritizing our spiritual lives.
What encouragement would you share with other nonprofit leaders on staying rooted in relationship with the Lord, and connected with other leaders/peers?
One thing I do to stay rooted with God and other people is to have more fun. Now you might be thinking that is the most frivolous thing you have ever heard, but about a year ago I got to a place in my life where I recognized that my priorities had become checking things off my to-do list, and being productive. I had spent most of my adult life waiting to have fun once my work is caught up or I felt rested, but up until that point, neither of those things had happened. As a result I can’t tell you how many moments I missed playing with my kids or laughing with my husband, in order to respond to one more email, or pack one more accomplishment into the day.
What I decided next, was that instead of creating my annual list of goals and things to accomplish over the next year, I was going to set one goal, to have more fun. And I did, and it changed everything from how I connected with God to how I connected to my husband. What I learned is that fun has a way of diffusing fear, it makes us more creative and we are better positioned to slow down and see God working in circumstances that before we would have been too productive and busy to see. So, my encouragement would be to have more fun.
What’s the core mission and focus of MOPS today?
We have one focus at MOPS and that is connecting moms with Jesus and their local church, but the nuanced part of our mission is that we do unconventional things and talk about unexpected topics in order to do it. This is why MOPS has thrived for 45 years, because we are deeply committed to talking about Jesus in non-insider ways so that women who have had a bad experience with faith or no experience at all, can encounter the message of Jesus in a fresh way.
We also provide practical help and world-class leadership training for women which is important because what we know, is that in developing countries around the world, the single most effective way to raise a community into a new level of thriving, is to resource the moms who live there. Because when moms are resourced, they use their skills, leadership and influence to improve the lives of the people around them, starting with their kids and spouse and extending out to their neighbors. Just like moms influence the emotional and spiritual health of a home, they also influence the emotional and spiritual health of communities in a way that doesn’t happen with resourcing men (we love men, just stating sociological facts).
By equipping women and providing practical training, life-long relationships, mentoring and unique faith conversations, MOPS partners with churches in order to help them utilize our decades of success in reaching young families and connecting them with their local church. We believe that while MOPS is a great starting point, it is in the context of the church where families can experience life-long spiritual formation.
Tell us about your “M Collectives.” Are those opportunities for connection and becoming rooted?
M Collectives are short, topic-based gatherings that typically meet once a week for six to eight weeks to work through one specific area of focus. Topics might include mental health, sex, healing from small trauma that we didn’t think was a big deal but shows up in our life as addiction, fear or relationship issues. We have all sorts of great topics and what we have found is that the Collective experience is incredible at helping participants get clear about the ways they might be stuck, while at the same time, cultivating incredible friendship and connection. They are a unique way to become rooted in our faith and also in relationship.
One of my favorite quotes that really sums up what happens at an M Collective comes from a participant. This is what she said, "Our group of five came from all backgrounds (Christian, Jewish, seekers, skeptics) and all walks of life (new moms, experienced moms, an ESL mom)... The “Fierce Love Warriors” (as we referred to ourselves) cheered, praised and encouraged each other in such real and genuine ways that it was hard to believe we had only spent nine weeks together! These women hold a special place in my heart and I am so thankful to MOPS for bringing the Fierce Love Collective to our community." - Audra Dezfulian
A few topics we offer are:
- The Fierce Love Collective: What To Do with the Big Emotions of Motherhood is for any woman who has experienced emotions, thoughts or moods that feel too big for her soul to handle. This collective is for any mom who has experienced anything from baby blues to postpartum depression, anxiety, scary thoughts, bipolar or panic disorder and everything in between. It offers a unique mix of practical tools and soul care.
- The Justice Collective: In partnership with International Justice Mission (IJM), this Collective talks about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed and offers practical ideas for how to confront injustice in our everyday lives.
- The Intimacy Collective focuses on sex and marriage, setting the stage for honest, life-giving conversations rooted in God’s design of intimacy. It is filled with insights to help us reclaim the priority of physical intimacy, and invites all of us to experience sex with our spouse as the beautiful gift it was meant to be.
As MOPS president and CEO, what are you most enthusiastic about as you look to 2019 and beyond?
MOPS is seeing incredible growth around the globe. We are currently working in 60 countries and translating our materials into 14 languages, and what I love about seeing groups meeting in different countries is that the MOPS experience adapts to the needs of that particular community. For example in Kampala, Uganda we have moms coming to MOPS who a year ago couldn’t send their kids to school because they were living off of $2 a month and were often going hungry so that their kids could eat. So, the MOPS leader there, decided to teach these women to sew and make soap as part of their curriculum and now these moms are entrepreneurs who have gained tangible skills and are able to provide for their families and send their kids to school. They also are learning about the love of Jesus and sharing that with their kids as well. We have stories like this happening all over the world, even in closed countries where women don’t have rights but through MOPS, they are receiving leadership training and being reminded that they have value and worth to God.