I’ve started the intro for June’s Stunningly Strong Woman at least a 100 times. Every time I would write something it seemed, I don’t know, trite. How do you describe someone like Stephanie Harrison in just a short paragraph? I guess I can start by telling you she was my first “girl crush”. When I saw her for the first time, I was 19 years old and she was singing at my church. I thought “Holy Lord, she is gorgeous, and I want to be like her.” I was OVER THE MOON when my husband I got to work with her and her husband, Ronnie, in youth ministry. Those long days and long nights are some of our fondest memories and during that time I got a front row seat, learning from Steph how to do life with grace and beauty. Distance has separated us physically, and we can go for a while and not talk, but when we do get together, there are zero gaps. We both know parts of each others stories that no one else, except our husbands know, and there’s a common bond that knits you together with someone like that. I love her dearly. I’m beyond proud of her story. She is still my girl crush, still gorgeous, still teaching me how do to do life. Here’s her story:
Gena: If someone didn’t know you and they said “Tell me about Stephanie Harrison” what would you tell them?
Steph: I would ask them to first take away the “Wife, mom, Christian, worshiper” titles. Then I would tell them that I can’t be put in a box and if you put me in one, I will kick it all the way down. I do not like to be described or thought of in a certain way. One day I might feel all edgy and rocker and the next day feel like a hippie. So in that, I think the words unbridled and free spirit describe who I am to the core. Untamed, that’s really who I am.
Gena: Have you always been untamed and free spirited or is that something that you found yourself growing into?
Steph: I didn’t grow up that way at all. I grew up in a strict, no tolerance home. It was very full of love, and I had amazing parents and an amazing childhood and there are no regrets at all. But, I was never really able to make decisions for myself. My dad called the shots. You didn’t ask questions, you didn’t buck that. Growing up I was very passionate about academics and music and church. God was a huge part of my life, and I think that free spirit started developing early on and I just didn’t realize it.
Gena: Was there a defining moment in your life where you went “THIS is me, this is who I am”?
Steph: I got married early, I was 19 years old and Ronnie was 21. My hair was really long because growing up we were never allowed to cut it, we just got trims. One day I asked him if I could cut my hair. He looked at me and said, “Why would you ask me if you can cut your hair? Do you want to cut your hair?” And I said, “Well, you’re supposed to tell me what to do.” And he said, “No, find out what YOU like, what YOU want to do.” That moment was really cool because he grew up similar to the way I did, and he very well could have taken on the same tone as both of our dads, as far as being dominate. I just thought “Wait. This is a new idea, I’m not comfortable with this way of thinking.”
Gena: Was it crippling to decide if you wanted to cut your hair?
Steph: I was little bit fearful. But, once I started walking in that freedom, that’s when my unbridled spirit began to come alive. I realized I didn’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s the way it’s always been done. I had the ability figure things out for myself . Sometimes I think “Am I doing this because I like this, or because this what I think I’m supposed to be doing?”
Gena: Has your “unbridled” way of thinking played a role in how you raise your two girls?
Steph: I want to teach my daughters that God designed all the parts of who they are. Some of those parts may be shy and then some of them may be loud and crazy. Just because they have different kinds parts, that doesn’t mean that they have to deny some areas of their personality or characteristics. I wish I would have learned that when I was younger. I’m trying to instill that freedom in them so they can be who God created them to be.
Gena: If there is one thing that you could pin point that God helped you overcome what would that be?
Steph: For as long as I can remember I was afraid of EVERYTHING. My fear was so bad, I would be mean to my sister to the point that she would cry, just so I could comfort her and be like “Here, you can sleep with me tonight.” When Ronnie and I got married, our condo had a laundry mat that you had to walk to. One night I came home from doing the laundry and there was a cat, a CAT, sitting in front of the door. I was so terrified, I walked five miles to my mother-in-laws house, with my laundry because the cat wouldn’t move. It was just ridiculous.
Another night, Ronnie went to play sand volleyball and I stayed home by myself. It was dark and I became paralyzed by fear. I went into our bedroom, got in our closet and told the Lord, “I am not coming out of here until you deliver me. I am not going to live my whole life like this, it’s crazy.” God delivered me from fear that night. Ronnie wasn’t there, I wasn’t in church, and no one laid hands on me or prayed for me. It was just me and Jesus in my closet.
Gena: Have you continued to walk in that freedom after all these years?
Steph: Yes, but I have done a lot of things to protect that, which I think is important. God will do acts of deliverance in our lives, but then we open ourselves up to those things again, and then we find ourselves right back in the place that we were before He delivered us.
Gena: As a worship pastor what was the defining moment for you in regards to how worship was being done in the church?
Steph: My dad was the music director at our church, so I grew up with music being a huge part of my life. When we got married, Ronnie was the choir director at his dad’s church, we lead the youth choir and I played the piano and sang. In that era, praise and worship was different. It was the music portion of the service and it normally consisted of a choir song, praise song, and slow song. It wasn’t the flow that we experience now where you’re connecting this themed idea of worship around Reckless Love, or the Love of God or something similar. About six months after we moved to Ohio to be the Worship Pastors at a church, Hillsong came out with their first album, as I was watching Darlene Zschech lead “Shout to the Lord” that moment was when church music was revolutionized for us.
Gena: In your ministry, you and Ronnie moved from Oklahoma to California, California back to Oklahoma, then to Ohio and finally to Kentucky where The Kingdom Center is located. Which move was the hardest for you guys?
Steph: They all had their different kinds of hard. I think the first move to California after we got married was the hardest move for Ronnie. It wasn’t that it was hard for him, it was hard ON him. His dad didn’t want us to leave the church and that was really difficult because we felt like we were being obedient to what God had said but we were disappointing other people around us. However, that move was vital to us in building the foundation for our marriage. It was just the two of us.
Of course the move from Ohio to Kentucky so we could start The Kingdom Center was hard because it wasn’t just him and I. We had four kids, a very well paying career doing what we loved, but we knew that God had given us a word. It’s definitely easier to step out on a word when it’s just you and you’re not responsible for other people, especially when there are four other little people that call you mom and dad.
Gena: Eight years ago you started The Kingdom Center in Louisville, Kentucky. What were the first 18 months like for you?
Steph: The first 18 months were filled with a lot of things. It was a re-gathering and re-prioritizing time for our family. There are a lot of things that working 60 hours a week you don’t get to do. Simple things like taking your kids to and from school and being able to spend the evenings with them. When I think about that time the word that comes my mind is organic. Nothing was forced, everything felt free and alive and healthy. For me, it was refreshing and God did a lot of rekindling of old flames and first loves within me.
Gena: Starting a church from the ground up is hard. How did you even begin?
Steph: We started out in our condo living room meeting on Thursday nights. We had what we called Core Group, it was with 12 people that we had relationships with and we talked about foundational beliefs and core systems. It was all the things we had been planning and dreaming about for the two years before we got there.
Gena: How hard where those early days of TKC?
Steph: I remember being told that the early days are the best, that you’ll remember them forever. But, they are also hard. People often ask how could the early days be fun? We were setting up at 6:00 AM in a hotel ballroom during the dead of winter in Kentucky with snow and ice. We did that for about five months before we found our first little building. But, those first five months were precious and it really is some of our best days.
Gena: How do you establish boundaries so that you’re not burning out but as the lead executive pastors?
Steph: First rule of boundaries is that you have to set them because no one else will. For me, I have to say, “At this time, our phones are off.” Which is huge for me, I’m learning that I don’t have to respond to everything immediately, not everything is a crisis, and it’ll still be there tomorrow. We also have determined that on Mondays we do not exist to the world. In the summer of course, the kids are home with us, but during the school year while they are at school it’s just Ronnie and me. We do nothing except be with each other all day. I also know when I’m maxed out and I have gotten good at saying “ I need to take a day, three days, a weekend.” When you love people you never push the pause button on ministry but there has to be a time to recharge.
Gena: Is it hard to transition from Pastor to Parent?
Steph: This is what I tell our four kids and it will always be this way, “I am your mom first. I will always be your mom first.” Our kids know that if they need me, I will stop the world and I think that it’s important for them to know that. Duty does not win over family discipleship. My kids need their mom not their pastor.
Gena: Since starting TKC what is one of the things that really sticks out to you the most?
Steph: When your life is ministry you don’t seek out job opportunities like other people do. You’re not putting in applications or sending out resumes. You’re getting a “God Said” and that’s your job opportunity. One of the coolest things for me, about being in Louisville, is even now, eight years later, people in our city will come to the church and get connected and they’ll tell us “We’ve been praying for this in Louisville.” Or “We’ve been asking God for a church like this for 15 years.” That doesn’t have anything to do with us. There was something that God wanted to establish in that city, and people were praying for it to happen. God was preparing a people in Kentucky for TKC while he was preparing us at the same time in Ohio.
Gena: A couple of years ago you started talking about Unbecoming Me. What is that?
Steph: Unbecoming started out as a personal revolution. During the first few months after we left Ohio for Kentucky, I did a lot of journaling, self-reflection and writing down my thoughts. One day in 2016 I was looking through files and I found one of my journals. In it, I had written the core statement of Unbecoming.
Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming something, but about UNBECOMING everything that isn’t really me, so I can be who I was meant to be in the first place.
And then a little further down the page I wrote
From: God To: Me “I know who you’re not, not who you are.”
I had forgotten I had written that, and when I re-read those words, it hit me hard. I realized that for about six years I had become a lot of things that I really had never intended to be. I think a lot of times we walk through situations and circumstances some are bad, some are good, and all of those things attempt to chip away at the core of who we are. In society we are always striving to become more and to be greater. Unbecoming is the opposite. It’s taking off the things that God never intended for us to be.
Gena: It started as a personal revolution for you, but it grew didn’t it?
Steph: It has grown into so much more. For the first time I felt the responsibility of a word. It has become my WHY, my reason and my purpose. So much in that word is my story, but not just my story. It is so many people’s story. WE are all the same. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, everyone has a story and as long as you keep your story to yourself there is no power or freedom in it.
Gena: Did you ever think you would be leading a women’s conference and ministering to women?
Steph: Not at all. I never had an example of a strong women’s ministry. The churches I grew up in, the women’s ministry was looked at like it was just a gossip group. I had to UNBECOME all of that.
I also think women are getting better about seeing other women as strong individuals. I believe there is a shift in women. I ‘ve never seen girl gangs like there are now, women supporting each other the way they do. It is brand new and it’s incredible that our generation of girls are celebrating each other and we are showing OUR girls, the next generation, how to do it right. If we can show them how to celebrate and support other women they won’t have to unlearn or UNBECOME the “old way” of competition and thinking.
Gena: What sums up your Stunningly Strong Story?
Unbecoming. It’s my story, but I’m not done there. It is a continuation and I don’t know that it will ever be complete. I wrote down the other day “Is it okay to publish your process?” and I think it its. People want to know that you are struggling too. A lot of times we want to wait until we have an end result or finished product before we talk about it, but that doesn’t help people. I feel like if I wait for the finished product for the whole thing to be complete, I might miss my moment in helping someone else. I have to UNBECOME the end result and minister where I am in the moment.
Gena’s PS: If you would like to attend this year’s Unbecoming Me Conference, you’ll need to get on the waitlist, you can do so at http://unbecoming2018.com/
For more information about Unbecoming and Stephanie Harrison follow her on Facebook: Stephanie Harrison or Instagram @unbecoming.stephanie and don’t forget to check out The Kingdom Center on Facebook or visit their website