Who Me? God has to be kidding…

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The Lord has a very weird sense of humor, when it comes to the ways He chooses to work through my life.  I also find that when I am at church and our Pastor issues some sort of a challenge…

… inevitably I am about to be moved out of my comfort zone.

The interesting thing to me, is that the more I look at what He is doing the more I realize that it is not something He was suddenly doing in my life.  Instead, the Lord was preparing for me it long before I even knew what IT was going to be.

But, I’m jumping ahead of myself.  Let’s start here….

My Pastor began a series called “If I Wasn’t Afraid” (you can watch each of the messages on vimeo from the link above).

In the course of the series, we were challenged to “Be Brave, Don’t Cave”and:

  1. Accomplish a personal adventure.
  2. Have a God honoring and needed conversation.
  3. Take a step (or leap) toward a God honoring commitment.
  4. Make a God honoring contribution.

Those who know me would hardly consider me as someone who is afraid.  For the most part, I’m not.  As you get to know me though you’ll realize there are many things I can do… there are many situations I’m bold in… there really isn’t a conversation that I won’t have.  I’m not afraid to share my opinions, to try new things, and to even have difficult conversations.

I am, however, terrified when it comes to talking about my personal life.  I can share about how I struggle in my walk as a Christian.  I can share my parenting difficulties and whatnot.  Yet, there is a line.  When we get too close to talking about it… I get uncomfortable.  I’ll change the subject.  I’ll make a joke.  I’ll find an excuse to duck out of the room.

This would be the exact subject that God would call me to conquer in the challenge our Pastor issued.  You see, this will be a personal adventure for me.  I’m about to enter a world that I am terrified of… that one area that has been off limits.  It is going to require me to have a God honoring conversation with myself, my husband, and with women just like me.  It is going to take a commitment to see this through to the end, no matter how many times I want to run and hide.  And, it is going to be a contribution that will hopefully help other women.

By now, I am sure you are all waiting with bated breath for the big reveal….

Ya’ll the Lord has called ME of all people to talk about S… E… X…

Sweet cheese and crackers.

So this week, I’m going to be reading the Song of Songs (aka Song of Solomon).  I can’t lie… this is the only book of the Bible I have avoided.  However if I am going to stand before anyone and claim the authority of the Word of God… that all parts of it are God breathed for instruction and correction… it must include Song of Songs.

All of it… every word… is important.  Whether I ever wanted to admit it or not, God cares about our sex life.  It is no wonder we live in a world of sexual brokenness… when we are afraid to talk about it’s holiness.

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At the beginning of this post I shared that I realized the Lord had been preparing me for this long before my Pastor issued the challenge.  Did you know that the Lord does this quite often.  In the book of Nehemiah, there was a lot of preparation going on between the time the Lord burdened Nehemiah’s heart and when the Lord actually said “GO”…

For me, this process started two years ago when a book called “Pulling Back the Shades” came across my lap.  It was a simple book review, that would have profound impact on me.  A book that would cast off some scales and force me to take a hard strong look at my own past and beliefs about sexuality.  That review would lead to me becoming a part of a launch team to promote the book as the 50 Shades movie was about to release.  Thus, establishing a relationship with @AuthenticIntimacy that would lead me to volunteering for a women’s conference, launch teams for two more books (25 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Sex, Surprised by the Healer), another live event, and then a leaders training.  It would put me in touch with a network of women who have become amazing friends, and sisters in the battle to take back this ground.

I would find myself sharing with women things I never imaged I would share with another human being.  Then, the Lord pushing me out of my comfort zone, to the point that I would be leading a study on sex in marriage… IN MY CHURCH.  Having candid conversations with women in my church about how important this is (and how broken I am) and quite possibly the most awkward email I have ever sent to a Pastor… IN MY LIFE.  Why?   Because, my Pastor recognizes how important this subject is.  For our church.  For our community.

I am afraid, terrified of this subject.  I know that in short order this last hidden part of myself is about to become absolutely transparent to the women who attend the study.  The Lord has a lot to say about being afraid too.

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Isaiah 41:10

It is ok that I am afraid, that I am scared, that I am even terrified.  This means that I am going to be leaning and relying on the Lord more than ever.  Please pray for me, and the women who are going to be walking this journey with me.  Lord, bring healing. Redeem the broken.  Heal marriages.  Amen.

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When the Church Hurts

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Sometimes, we forget that the church is full of broken people.  We forget that they are sinners, just like us.  We forget that they are imperfect, prone to wander, and any other negative adjective that we could apply.  However, we do remember these things about ourselves.  And, in doing so we place some unrealistic expectations on other people.

  • We expect others to be perfect Christians.
  • We expect others to forgive us when we are not.

A season ago, I found myself in a predicament.  I consider myself an observant person.  I can usually read people well, and I really REALLY try to avoid drama.  Yet some how, there I was.  Knee deep in gossip.  What is worse, is that in my attempts to try to fix the situation… I was drowning myself.

My first mistake was that I didn’t recognize gossip for what it actually was.  What I thought I was hearing were concerns, and that I was being asked to step up and help facilitate change to happen.  Instead, what I allowed to happen was an engagement in gossip with no actual problem solving.

We need to be hyper aware that not all conversation is positive.   Even things like prayer requests can be a cover for passing on juicy gossip.  Criticism of the church, Pastor, or ministries in the church are not always constructive.  Quite often others will feed us their “issues” because they are not brave enough to say it directly to the person in charge.  Instead of being thrown under the bus, we then walk out in front of it willingly. 

My second mistake was assuming that they were coming to me because I was a person they trusted, and could help fix the problem.  I ended up woven into a web of conversations, and stepping up into role that I never should have.  It was not my place to solve their issues.

In a flurry of panic, the last thing we need to do is try to solve everything ourselves.  Especially if we are not the person who is immediately involved.  We can not become an open ear to everyone’s complaints about someone else or the way they are leading.  Instead of taking it all in, and then stepping up as a representative of the group… we should be pointing each individual voice in the right direction.  As my husband reminded me:  “If it was so important to them … they wouldn’t have called you. They would have gone right to the source.”  Clearly, it wasn’t that important.

My third mistake was the assumption that, because I was serving in ministry, that those I was serving with would be honest and upfront.  After a pretty tense incident, conversations began.  Trying to diffuse the situation myself, and find a possible solution, I engaged in the conversation and tried to pull everyone together.   Ultimately, when pressed on what happened, I was the only person who didn’t back-peddle.  This lead to a crack in my relationship with another leader, a distrust toward those I was serving with, a hit to my credibility and reputation, and influenced my attitude toward the church I was attending.

When we assume that others will be as honest and forthcoming as we would be, we are just going to set ourselves up for disappointment.  Why?  Self preservation is human nature.  What happened when Adam and Eve at the apple?  Adam blamed Eve.  Eve blamed the Serpent.  When push comes to shove, people will protect their own self interest, even at the cost of their relationship with you or risking your reputation.  Just because we are serving in a church together, we shouldn’t assume these things will never happen. 

My fourth mistake came in the form of promises that I made.  As each person approached me, conversations began with something along the lines of: “This is just between us…”   I thought I responded correctly, by giving a caveat that I would only step up if each person was willing to speak their mind openly the next time we met.  With their agreement to those terms, I felt that the promise was safe to make… because, at the right time it would all come out.    I was very, very, very wrong.  In fact, that right time never presented itself.  Now I was in between a rock and a hard place. I had opened my mouth, but I was left standing alone.

In this situation, I was left with two choices and I didn’t like either of them.  I could choose to keep my promise, and let my own reputation fall to ruin.  Or, I could break the promises I made and throw each person under the bus.  This was a no win situation, especially at the time because the question meant preserving myself or my relationships.  How could I be angry with them for throwing me under the bus, and then turn around and do the same thing?  Yet, on the other hand, if I kept that promise… I was allowing myself to go down in flames and potentially ruining any future ministry service. 

I was hurt.  Truly hurt.  Deeply hurt.  Hurt that I would be accused after having a flawless record of leadership.  Hurt that I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt.  Hurt by those who I considered friends.  It was going to have a huge impact on me over the next year, but it was also going to usher in some truths and lessons I needed to learn.

Now, I have a keener eye for gossip and the many forms it comes in.  I’ve learned how to deal with “talk and chatter” as it comes my way.  I’ve learned to never put myself in that position again, making a promise that would back me into a corner.  I’ve learned more about the need for boundaries and avoiding assumptions.

In totality, when I reflect back on that season, the biggest mark on my heart came from the assumptions I made.  If we are being honest with ourselves, this type of scenario isn’t uncommon.  It happens in school yards to corporate break rooms.  My biggest assumption was in the notion that this wouldn’t happen in the church, not among my family of believers.   Not among those whom I called friend, and served with loyally.  I was holding a group of people to a higher standard, because they called themselves Christians and we served in the church together.

My heart was broken over the situation, and it took me a long time to forgive.  To forgive those who I felt betrayed me, to forgive myself for allowing it to happen, and even to forgive those who doubted me.  But, I have forgiven.  All of us.  As the Lord walked me through this fire, and refined me… my eyes were open.   I could understand where each party was coming from and why they responded as they did, right or wrong.  Including myself.  I was able to recognize my part, finally, and ask for forgiveness.  I’ve grown from it, and become a better leader for it.

But, I was hurt.  I felt hurt by the church, and those I served with.  What you learn in these types of situations is the imperfection of the body.  Just like in the scriptures, no matter how close we are to God and how much knowledge we have about His Word… we are still human.  Just as much as others in the church failed me, I failed myself.  Just as much as I need forgiveness and grace, when I mess up… so do they.

Our churches are full of people who are in various stages of their walk, and our flesh still gets the better of us.   If Christ could die for the sins of man, why wouldn’t I forgive my sisters in Christ for being nothing more than a flawed human being.  If I want forgiveness for all the times I mess up, I set the example when I forgive.  This doesn’t mean I neglect the lessons I have learned, that I forgo healthy boundaries, etc.  Not at all, we are warned about wolves dressed as sheep.  But not every offense is from a wolf, sometimes it comes from the sheep who is a bit smudged. Sometimes, sheep bite.

When the church, or members of the body, hurt us… it is tempting to run.  We want to leave and find a better place.  We may run to a brand new church or away from the church altogether.  Let me assure you, where ever you decide to run… imperfect people are there.   They are in every church, every office building, every community center, and every home.

Let’s not assume to the worst of people, but we should be cautious to not expect perfection out of them either.  Be quick to forgive, and forgive as you would hope to be forgiven.  And, ultimately, learn to forgive those who have not asked your forgiveness.

When I reflect back on that season, to date, not one has ever apologized.  I went through all of the emotions.  I wanted to get in their face and call them to the carpet for their part.  That was when I was angry.  I wanted to look them square in the face and simply state that I was disappointed and let down.  That was when I was hurt.  I wanted to go to say that I could never trust any of them again.  That was when I was grieving.  But, I didn’t.  I simply waited.  Surely, over time, at least some would feel bad for what happened.  There would either be an admission of guilt to leadership or at the very least an apology to me.  That was when I was patient.  But, nothing ever happened… no apology or admission ever came.  So, I lingered.  I had to be willing to forgive those who didn’t believe they needed forgiveness or who were too ashamed to ask for it.

There I found freedom.  There I found peace.  It was there I could let go, more forward and reconcile my relationship to the church.

As I took a break from this post, to give it fresh eyes, I popped over to facebook.  Another writer (more well known than myself) was also writing on forgiveness today. In her piece On Forgiveness and Freedom , Jen Hatmaker quoted from a book:

In Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend wrote: “When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him forever. . . . [Forgiveness] ends your suffering, because it ends the wish for repayment that is never forthcoming and that makes your heart sick because your hope is deferred (Prov. 13:12). . .Cut it loose, and you will be free.”

The moment I finally had enough of clinging and lingering in my expectation of an apology, and forgave… it was done.  I do not believe a single person involved intentionally set out to hurt me, I don’t believe they could have known the ripple effect their choices would make.  Christ asked for God to forgive those who persecuted him, stating “they know not what they do”.   This is what I choose to believe about my experience with hurt in the church, I choose to see the best in them, letting go of my hurt by forgiving them, and then by setting my sights on the road ahead vs. the path behind me.

 

If Not Here, Then Where? Asking the right question about female leadership.

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Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone about “Female Pastors”.  I am sure at some point, you have been involved in one… overheard one… or maybe even that discussion was between Me, Myself and I as you pondered the subject.

This is a subject I have discussed with others, and myself, multiple times.  For the bulk of my Christian walk, I have found myself on the “against it” side.  This last year, my beliefs have been significantly challenged.

I looked into the scriptures, and yes there are women of notable importance in the pages.  There are clear cut leaders who are in fact women, but that doesn’t negate the scriptures that clearly indicated male headship.

RIGHT?

So began my struggle.

It is not my struggle alone.  Christians and congregations around the globe struggle with this same question.  I have spoken to women who are staunchly against it, and men who are totally for it.  I have spent time speaking with women who are Pastors, and men who are in their congregations. I’ve looked to the experts, who stand against it… and those who are starting to change their mind. Ultimately the question comes down to:

Is it biblical?  Yes, or no.

Then one day, I thought to myself:  “Maybe we are asking the wrong question…”

I am going to suggest that the answer isn’t as black and white, as we tend to think it is.  Instead I think the question we should be asking isn’t going to have an answer a simple yes or no answer, but instead an answer to a series of questions.

In fact, I think the question we should be starting with is: “If not here, then where is female headship permissible and beneficial?”

I contend the following:

  1.  In the scripture regarding the gifts of the Spirit, there is no indication that gifts are given based on gender.  So, it is possible for a woman to be gifted by the Holy Spirit with teaching, shepherding, leading.
  2.   In Galatians 3:28 we are told that in Christ we are all one. (There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.)  If we are all one in Christ, would this not also apply to the gifts of the spirit and commission into pastoring?
  3. In the OT to the NT there are occasions recorded in the scriptures of women who were called into leadership positions or referred to as specific types of leaders.  There are specific times and occasions, where God saw fit to raise a leader that was female.  We need to explore why He would do so.
  4.   As we draw closer to the day when Christ returns, God is going to pour His spirit out on everyone,  men and women.  (Acts 2:17)  Prophets, just like Pastors, are given the responsibility of rightly handling the Word of God, and conveying that message to His body of believers.  If women can be called to prophesy, what would discount them from pastoring?

Does this mean that I believe that ALL women are going to be called into Pastorship?  No, not at all.  1 Corinthians 12:28 supports that our gifts will be used in different callings, not all are called to do the same thing.  Nor is the gift of teaching, leading, and even shepherding mutually exclusive to Pastors.  I recently spoke with my Pastor’s wife about this subject.  She stated that there are many people in our church that would be considered “shepherds” yet they are not Pastors.

While I have become opened to the possibility, we have to look at the scriptures themselves to understand the WHO and the HOW.

I find myself now asking the next question:  “If a woman has been called into Pastorship, where would that calling be permissible?

Dr. Eric Mason, a Pastor, recently posted two tweets that caught my attention.

 In Titus 2 women are called to teach other women, there is no debate as to our responsibility to lead other women.  Yet, in the last year I have encountered women who are not even allowed to teach other women in their church.  Why is there such fear or trepidation about allowing women to lead?  Additionally, I’ve noticed, that when they are allowed to lead or teach, there is a great amount of scrutiny over their leadership.  They are not allowed the same freedoms in leadership as their male counterparts.

Clearly this is not something EVERY CHURCH faces, but it is something I see that swims across all denominations and even the independent/non-denominational lines.  It is not relegated to churches with senior Pastors who are on the edge of retirement, I see it among the young Pastors too.  It is not geographically pinned down either, it is common in big city churches and small country ones alike.

Last summer, I sat in a room with over fifty women who were all feeling called to seminary but hesitant because of a justification of the time and expense. Why?  They can’t see where that degree will be used.  Where are the jobs?  Where are the leadership positions?

When women are making up over 60% of our congregation on any given Sunday, and 75-90% of our volunteers that keep the ministry programs functioning… We have a LOT of women, with spiritual gifts and callings, that are going unrecognized. Their gifts are not being invested in and they are not given the opportunity to use them.

If we can all agree that at the very minimum that the scriptures call women to teach/lead/guide/shepherd other women… the conversation can begin & an answer can be found.

  In most churches we have a Head Pastor, Associate Pastor, Worship Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Children’s Pastor.    There would be absolutely no conflict to the scripture to have a “Women’s Pastor”.  A woman, gifted in the role of shepherding other women.

  • She understands the unique needs of women, and their experiences.
  • For women who need counseling, they may find her safer than speaking with a male leadership figure (particularly if her counseling is related to abuse by a male figure in her life).
  • For our male Pastors, having a female who can provide Pastoral counseling creates a place of safety in the church.  If our male Pastors are not put into the position to counsel women, they have cut off an opportunity for temptation or false accusation.

I have had several conversations with Women’s Ministry leaders across the globe, and this is something they keep bringing up on their own.  It’s happened too much for me to not notice.  They feel that having a female staff member, a “Women’s Pastor” would benefit the women of their church in many ways.

Will this be any woman?  No, not necessarily.  If a woman is going to be called into Pastorship, over anyone, she has to fulfill the same biblical requirements as the men do.  It has to be a calling from God, affirmed and supported by her spouse (her Pastor if she is single), she must be a woman who is a sound student of the Word, a Godly woman who is well respected, speaks wise instruction, lives in a way where she can not be accused… basically everything that is included in the beginning of 1 Timothy 3.

I find that from a scriptural basis, there is absolutely no reason why a woman can not step into a Pastoral position over other women.  In fact, it may be a HUGE blessing to the women in your congregation.  It can be a safe guard for your male Pastors.  It also answers the questions of how a woman can use that gift, without feeling she is contradicting the scriptures.

At this point, someone is yelling WHOA!    It may be because you think I have gone off my rocker.  On the flipside, you may be someone who is in 100% support of women as Pastors (even head Pastors) and think I am a stick in the mud.

The subject of women in the role of Head Pastor is a heated debate, and I am not interested in engaging in a topic that is going to divide our family of believers.  It’s just become more clear to me that we have allowed stereotyping to bookend what a Pastor can and can’t be, what they can do and can’t do.  We kept the subject so black and white, that we missed the glaring opportunity staring us right in the face!

If the scriptures say without any doubt that women are to lead women, then the creation of a new Pastoral position that fulfills that commission should be something we can all agree with.

And, it’s totally complimentarian.  Because, this Women’s Pastor is working as a help meet and under the authority of her Pastor.  We’ve been arguing over whether a woman can fill a certain role, without ever considering her calling may be to fulfill a NEW role entirely.   It is also egalitarian, because it allows the genders to work together in equal roles in the shaping of the church.

A Women’s Pastor is just the beginning of the creation of leadership roles for women, even staff positions, within the church.  There are churches who have “Women’s Ministry Directors” who are not and do not desire Ordination as a Pastor, but are on staff overseeing the Women’s Ministry programs.  Perhaps the “Small Groups” and “Children’s Pastor” positions are ones that we can begin to open up to women.

But what about being a Pastor over men?  What would that look like?  When would that be permissible?  That is a whole other set of questions, that I am still working through.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this!

Do you think it is permissible for a woman to hold the title of Pastor, if she is over other women?   Would you want a “Women’s Pastor” leading the women and women’s programs in your church?