Category Archives: church leadership

God’s Radical Hospitality Challenges The Status Quo

The following reflection was first written in honor of National Women’s Day in 2009 under the title “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality.”  I am reposting it today in response to Rachel Held Evans’ invitation to blog about scripture that celebrates women and their importance in the church.  Rachel issued the invitation as a reaction to John Piper declaring that God gave Christianity a masculine feel and urging us to work hard to maintain a masculine Christianity. 

The story of Mary and Martha that is told in Luke 10:38-42 has often been a problem for me.

The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions; and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (which, btw, seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me) And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do what?? What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant!

At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.

You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what I think Jesus was referring to.

I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was just about women’s rights. I believe it was bigger than that. It seems that through Mary, Jesus is denouncing social, political and religious structures that do not practice God’s radical hospitality – the sort of hospitality that overcomes injustice and is grounded in love and mercy and compassion. I think Jesus was saying Mary had boldly chosen to take hold of this justice he had offered to her by allowing her to join him and his disciples, the justice was hers now and he would not take it away from her. I would even go so far as to say Martha saw what was going on and wasn’t being honest with Jesus about what was so upsetting to her – perhaps she wasn’t even aware of what was causing all the anxiety she was feeling. Of course Jesus obviously knew what was upsetting Martha and that explains why he answered her the way he did. He knew Martha was being the voice of the status quo that resists change, even “just” change.

The lesson in Luke 10:38-42 is not that reading the bible or praying is superior to cooking a meal or cleaning house. The lesson is that as followers of Jesus we are not only invited to partake of God’s radical hospitality but we are called to practice it by seeking justice for those in the margins, challenging discrimination wherever we see it and transforming our relationships and institutions so that they reflect the love of Christ.

Three Things Tuesday – Anne Rice

Best selling novelist, Anne Rice, announced on her Facebook page last week that she was quitting Christianity.

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

and in a follow up post:

“I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

The response has been overwhelming…newspaper articles, television interviews, blog posts, podcasts – and has spawned many conversations.

Here are THREE THINGS that I think are worth checking out:

#1 SOME OF US DON’T WANT TO BE THROWN DOWN THE STAIRS BY THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST.

Mike Morrell’s interview with Anne Rice is available on Homebrewed Christianity Podcast for free.  This is an excellent interview with Anne as she goes into more detail regarding her announcement.

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#2 THE VERY LAST STRAW, WAS THE BISHOP OF PHOENIX, ARIZ. COMING OUT AND PUBLICLY CONDEMNING A NUN FOR AUTHORIZING A LIFE SAVING ABORTION

Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times has an excellent written interview with Rice. Anne shares some of the things that gave her the final push.  Although she says that her decision resulted from a sum total of many things, she does state that some papal announcements were last straws.

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#3 Dan Harris’ interview with Anne Rice today on “World News” at 6:30 p.m. and the full story on “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. ET

Dan Harris’ interview and the Nightline coverage will both be aired this evening (Wed. 8/11/10).  Anne mentioned it on her Facebook page and stated that it was her last scheduled tv  interview pertaining to her break with organized religion and invited comments and discussion.

Three Things Tuesday – Emergents Retreating?, Christian Women Oppressed and the PCUSA 219th GA

#1 – Has What Emerged Retreated?


I ran across an interesting series that Kester Brewin wrote about participants of the Emergent Movement in the UK returning to the institutional church and organizations.  He addresses this topic to some degree in his book  Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures (which I have now ordered and am looking forward to reading).  The series (and the comments) covered a lot of interesting topics including how spiritual maturation takes place (part 2), how institutions can become damaging and what can be done to counteract that (part 3), some  info about Vaux (a community of artists and city-lovers who sought to explore the Christian faith through the media that came naturally to their hands) and Temporary Autonomous Zones (part 4).  Jonny Baker and Andrew Jones both post responses to the series.  Of course the authors are all from Europe which is some years ahead of the US regarding emerging/emergent Christianity, but there are still many similarities.  What do you think?  Is a retreat taking place?  Is it maturation?  Has the institutional church changed?

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#2 – Happy Christian Women…Really??? and Drinking The Company Kool-Aid

Pam Hogeweide and Kathy Escobar have written posts in response to a recent Barna survey of Christian women requested by Jim Henderson of Off The Map for his latest writing project about how the modern American church treats women.  I believe that this is a very important issue and am disappointed that no woman is authoring the book with Jim on this project (Pam addresses this in her post) but do appreciate that Jim is at least asking women (here) to let him know if their experience matches the survey results from Barna (mine don’t and I let him know).  Check it out and let your voice be heard.

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#3 – Good News and Bad News

The good news is that the PCUSA General Assembly voted in favor of lifting the ban of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy.  The bad news is that they voted to not even hear or discuss the issue of same sex marriage and so it is tabled for two more years.

Soul Force held a demonstration at the proceedings and some were arrested because they refused to leave.  There seemed to be some differing opinions (check out Shuck and Jive post and comments) about Soul Force being there but I appreciated them being there to represent the voice of the oppressed and excluded.

Does Organizing Religion Defeat The Purpose?

“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH ORGANIZATION”

Dan Kimball over at Vintage Faith is asking for people’s gut reaction to the phrase “organized religion”.

Dan is writing a book and one of his chapters is about organized religion and why he believes churches need to be organized in a healthy way.  Dan realizes that the phrase “organized religion” conjures up a lot of negative vibes and he wants to take that into account.  Go by and read some of the responses and add your own thoughts…but not before you take a moment to answer my question at the end of this post.

When I hear the phrase “organized religion” I think of things like: the church caring more about numbers than individuals, more about being entertained than following Christ, worship being centered around “the sermon” rather than around God, people who are sure they have it all figured out, people who are mostly concerned with developing and maintaining their organization rather than being mostly concerned about loving and caring for others, people who are against a lot of stuff, people who want justice for their organization and the people within it but aren’t that concerned with justice for those outside of their organization, big buildings, lots of programs….I could go on but you get the picture.

Of course I don’t think that organization itself is bad, but it does seem that we have a tendency to go awry when it comes to organizing the church/religion.  It seems almost impossible for us to stop ourselves from getting so caught up in “being a successful organization” that we can’t be good followers of Christ.

Maybe our critics are saying to us in their best Col. Jessup voice:  YOU CAN’T HANDLE ORGANIZATION!!!!!!!

So my question to you is this:  Does organizing religion defeat the purpose?

Is Professional Ministry A Help Or A Hindrance To The Church?

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There’s a good post and discussion going on over at Baptimergent  regarding professional ministry.  You can find the post here.  Here’s my response: 

I’ll start out with a couple of disclaimers – I am not and have never been in full time paid ministry and I do not believe that it is “wrong” for pastors to be paid a salary.

Even though I do not think it is wrong for pastors to be paid a salary I do not think that it is the best way for the church to operate. I think that it causes the church to have to be managed like a business, the congregation to have an unhealthy dependence on the paid staff of a church and tends to silent prophetic proclamation. I know many wonderful people who earn their living by being on staff at churches but I think the system needs to be dismantled.

Many of the comments I hear  talk about “all the things” that a pastor has to do. IMO all of those things should be shared by those who are members of the community. The problem is that the present system causes the members of the community to believe that the pastor should be doing those things because he is paid and the pastor to believe that he should be doing all those things because he is being compensated. Perhaps one reason most Christian’s are unaware of what spiritual gifts are bestowed upon them is because the system we have created implies that “the working body” of the church is made up of a few people who are on staff.

I know they are far and few between, but, there are groups of Christians meeting in the world without a paid staff and where the work of ministry is done by everyone in the group. So …  it is possible to do it differently.

In addition, it appears to me that a lot of “the things that have to be done” in churches today are things that have to be done to keep “the system” running and “the system” seems to resemble a country club a lot of times with all of it’s internal programs and activities.

I am always hearing that there is a problem these days getting college aged and young adults to attend/get involved in a local church but they aren’t the only ones. Many middle aged and older adults, like myself, who have devoted most of their lives to “the church” are leaving the church (if not physically, then emotionally) because it has become more of a hindrance than a help in our spiritual journey.

True Woman Manifesto – Reading The Fine Print

 

 

The True Woman Manifesto is a document that was first presented at the True Woman conference in Chicago in October 2008.

 

The organizers of the conference describe True Woman as a movement.  In addition to the conference, the movement includes books, articles, a 30 day True Woman Make-Over, other resource material and the manifesto.

 

There is a three part process that women are invited to participate in when they join the movement.  1) Sign the True Woman Manifesto; 2) Start the 30 Day True Woman Make-over; and 3) Share the message.

 

I think you will be hearing a lot about this movement soon.  Women’s roles is a very hot topic in the church right now and I think we will be seeing a lot of activity on both sides of the issue in the near future.

 

Whatever side you find yourself on I encourage you to study both sides of the issue. This is an important issue that deserves a lot of discernment and wisdom.  My fear is that women will sign the document or join the movement blindly.

 

There is a good discussion about the True Woman Manifesto at the blog Evolving In Monkeytown  and a thorough three part response to the manifesto at Hevencense.

 

Let me know what you think.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Polls…

This post is a part of the November Synchroblog on “leadership.”
Check out the list of participants with links at the end of this post.
                               
This election year has brought up a lot of divisive issues…race, sex and age to name a few…but the one that I was most surprised to see come up was the issue of women in church leadership.

In September Dan Kimball blogged about the dilemma of conservative Christians supporting a woman as a vice presidential candidate but at the same time being against women being ordained as pastors. A week later David Gushee wrote an opinion piece for USA Today asking conservative evangelicals some tough questions regarding this issue. That started me thinking again about how uncomfortable I am with the whole idea of women not being allowed to do certain things in the church.

First, it is difficult to find anyone that totally agrees on where the lines are to be drawn. Is it only that women cannot be ordained? Or is it that they cannot preach at all? Or teach? Or speak? Serve as deacons? Teach in seminaries? What exactly is it that they can and cannot do? Who decides and on what basis?

Then there are all the irrationalities and contradictions to process. Why is it okay to teach children and other women, but not men? Why would it be okay to stand up and deliver a message to a group of people but not stand behind a pulpit? Is it really that much difference in teaching a 17 year old male and a 19 year old male? Why would it be okay for a woman to lead a whole nation but not a church that has 50 members? Why does the bible speak favorably of a woman judge who led, taught and had authority over men and women, a woman apostle, women who led church in their homes?

For most of my life I pretty much believed what someone else told me the bible said. That isn’t to say that I didn’t read the bible or study the bible – but I interpreted within the guidelines of what someone else told me it said (a pastor, a commentary, a particular author etc.). Over time I began to realize that I could not accept some of the popular interpretations and I began to dig deeper. One of the topics that I began to look into was the issue of a woman’s role in the church. I was surprised to find out that this was an issue that not only divided Christians and non-Christians, mainliners and evangelicals, liberals and conservatives but also conservative evangelical Christians themselves. I was also surprised that there were some very big words that were being used to describe the two main sides of the issue … egalitarian and complementarian.

Egalitarianism = Belief that there are no biblically mandated timeless distinctions between men and women in the church. They stress an equality of men and women, not merely for salvation or in essential personhood, but in opportunities to hold every office and play every role that exists in church life.

Complementarianism = Belief that there are certain timeless restrictions on women’s roles in the church. They stress that persons in positions of authority can function in loving, supportive ways that do not lead to the abuse of those in subordinate positions. Certain roles are altogether prohibited for women.

As I continued to dig and search I came to the conclusion that Paul was not a sexist, that women are not clearly forbidden to teach, preach, shepherd or lead in the church and/or the home and that Jesus was a liberator of women.

Here are some of the reasons I am an egalitarian:

1. Scripture affirms that women were leaders in ministry – Phoebe was a deacon, Priscilla was a teacher, Lydia was an overseer.

2. Paul calls Junia an apostle in Romans 16:7

3. If Scripture allows for some ministry roles then we can’t disallow it. The era and culture of the day prevented widespread ministry roles, but Paul doesn’t say that women can’t serve in leadership roles.

4. In I Cor. 11:5 Paul says that women were praying and prophesying in church. In I Cor. 14:34-35 Paul is not restricting women from speaking – otherwise women would not be allowed to sing, give testimony, or say anything at all in church. I believe that Paul was actually refuting the faulty sexist tradition that was prevalent in his day. For more on this read what Cheryl Schatz wrote in her post “Who Dared To Contradict Paul?”

5. In I Tim. 2:11-14 the idea of women being forbidden to teach men is not a universal rule. If we make this universal and transcultural then we have to make all the commands of I Timothy transcultural. Cheryl Schatz also has an excellent post on this point.

6. Jesus treated women different than culture. He taught them and considered them His disciples – Mary of Mary and Martha and the woman at the well are good examples.

7 Given examples of women’s ministry in the Bible it is wrong to take one or two passages that could be situationally conditional and use them to deny or substantially restrict a group of laborers. The burden of proof lies with those that are doing the restricting and I believe they fail to provide the needed evidence. Dave at Clouds of Heaven has an excellent post on this idea here.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously-
take God seriously. Micah 6:8 (The Message)

 

Check out the other posts in the “Leadership Synchroblog”:

Jonathan Brink – Letter To The President

Adam Gonnerman – Aspiring to the Episcopate

Kai – Leadership – Is Servant Leadership a Broken Model?

Sally Coleman – In the world but not of it- servant leadership for the 21st Century Church

Alan Knox – Submission is given not taken

Joe Miller – Elders Lead a Healthy Family: The Future

Cobus van Wyngaard – Empowering leadership

Steve Hayes – Servant leadership

Geoff Matheson – Leadership

John Smulo – Australian Leadership Lessons

Helen Mildenhall – Leadership

Tyler Savage – Moral Leadership – Is it what we need?

Bryan Riley – Leading is to Listen and Obey

Susan Barnes – Give someone else a turn!

Liz Dyer – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Polls…

Lionel Woods – Why Diverse Leadership is Good for America

Julie Clawson – Leadership Expectations

Ellen Haroutunian – A New Kind Of Leadership

Matt Stone – Converting Leadership

Steve Bradley – Lording or Leading?

Adam Myers – Two types of Leadership

Bethany Stedman – A Leadership Mosaic

Kathy Escobar – I’m Pretty Sure This Book Won’t Make It On The Bestseller List

Fuzzy Orthodoxy – Self Leadership

Sonja Andrews – Leadership In An Age of Cholera

Tara Hull – Leadership & Being A Single Mom

Glenn Hager – Election Day Ponderings On Leadership

Bill Ellis – Spiritual Leadership and the Re-humanizing of our World

Beth Patterson – Leadership – Being The River