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Can Home schooling and God’s outrageous, extravagent Grace co-exist? I hope so.

Yesterday I posted links to two widely disparate articles that I had read in the last several days.  One is an interview with Tullian Tchividjian, pastor, author, seminary prof and grandson of Billy Graham, about the topic of his latest book: One Way Love: Inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world.  The other is an article about students (and parents) leaving behind their fundamentalist homeschooling roots. In some cases, literally needing to escape from their families and communities.

I was a home-schooler for eight years.  I wasn’t a very good one.  I didn’t have ten kids of my own, who were all Rhodes scholars in the making.  I wasn’t cooking a month’s worth of food all in one day to keep in the freezer so that I could devote all of my time to said kids.  My kids weren’t going to kiss dating goodbye,  etc.  I went to the home schooling conferences (where I felt distinctly out-of-place with my jeans and short hair.)  I read Mary Pride and all the other big names.  I had friends who were more like the cover families from the home schooling magazines, and thankfully, some who were, like me, not!

Perhaps another time I’ll blog about the whole paternalistic, misogynistic side of some parts of the home-schooling movement.  It was one of the big issues I ran into with home schooling, but isn’t really what struck me about these two articles together.

One of the things that always struck me in the home schooling community was how much was done to protect the kids from the world.  I admit, my own reasons for home schooling had much more to do with keeping them out of a really broken school system in our city than any personal philosophy that home schooling was somehow better.   But what was being done to actually prepare kids for living in this world?    Much of what was/is emphasized in the literature is about making children think and behave a certain way.  The Bible was always the rule book for behavior and thinking.   Yet, did this really prepare them for successful living in the real world?  It fostered an US versus THEM mentality, where they, “the world,” is a threat; so that what is acceptable, good, “normal” is very narrow.   It fostered a mindset that breeds hatred and intolerance.

The Bible, when used as a rule book becomes the law.  It has the same effect today that it did when Paul wrote about the Law in the book of Romans.  The Law actually stimulates us to sin!   So then we can either recognize God’s immense and wonderful grace and respond by repentance or we can beat the bad behavior out of the child.  Unfortunately, much of what I had read in the homeschooling literature chose the latter.   The literature always seemed to be about behavior modification rather than about teaching the grace of God.

This is where the interview comes in.  Tullian Tchividjian talks about how we are so afraid of really teaching grace.  The very argument that Paul addresses in Romans 6.  Essentially, “If we teach grace then people will sin more.”   Why are we so afraid of sin?  Tullian says  “Eugene Peterson has wisely said that ‘discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own.’ ”  If only I had known this twenty years ago!  If I could say that there is a place where I failed in home schooling, it would be in that I paid more attention to developing well behaved kids than kids who understood grace.

So what’s my point.  It’s not specifically about home schooling.  That was just the catalyst article.  My point is that in all our discipleship, with our little ones (I have a five year old granddaughter now) and our older ones (my job involves adult discipleship) we need to not be afraid to teach grace in all its scary messy wonderfulness.  Total forgiveness, total acceptance.  The idea that we cannot make God not love us.  God is love – he cannot do other than love, because his nature is love.  ALL wrath was already poured out on Jesus (Thanks be to God!!)  There is no wrath left.

I love my friends who are home schoolers.  I respect you!  But please, please, please, remember the Bible is about Jesus wonderful sacrifice and Grace, not a handbook for raising well behaved children!

A bit of a ramble, I know.  I’m out of practice.  Grace and peace!

Link

I have been AWOL.

My last post was just after the shootings at Sandy Hook.  For some reason, after that post I just couldn’t write.  Life was busy, job was changing a bit.  But mostly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

But I’ve been piqued by a few articles and blog posts I’ve read recently, I have things to say, that I want to say.  So I’ll be back…  Look for something tomorrow involving extravagant grace and people who have abandoned the fundamentalist homeschooling movement.   Meanwhile, read the articles that got me going again…

 

How will I be heard?

Add a season of serious busyness, some ill health, some indolence and voila: no writing.  However, the blog world has recently kicked me into gear once again.  Some recent conversations as well as some personal reflection have had me thinking about how I communicate.

Several years ago I read  The Loudest Duck by Laura Liswood.  This book helped me articulate many of the issues I was having within my workplace, where I am one of the few female pastors on a large staff at a mega church.   Our senior pastor had asked the entire pastoral staff to read the book.   It gave those of us who did not have male privilege and power some language for dialog.  Sadly, however, not much changed ultimately.   I still regularly find myself ignored when I express myself in my normal manner.  Called out for being harsh if I express myself in a way similar to my male colleagues.

In an earlier post I wrote:

As we look at current business leadership, the trend is toward teams and team building, with an emphasis on creating teams that are strengths based. From a biblical perspective, I would say that this points us to one of the first issues.   As we seek to develop leadership teams for churches, do we not want to reflect not just strengths, but God’s character and nature on our teams?  Men and women are created in the image of God, yet are often different in the ways they think about and approach issues.  As men and women, we both reflect the image of God, yet somehow differently; different aspects, different ways of looking at things, different ways of processing information.  I would suggest that leadership teams for non-gender specific ministries that are not mixed gender fall short of reflecting fully God’s nature and character in the leadership team.  Well balanced single gender teams, while they may be highly successful, might find that they are even more effective moving to a mixed gender model, although they may have to learn to operate a bit differently!

I am even more convinced of this today than when I posted this previously.  I know that there are things that I see and experience differently than my male colleagues.   I also know that God placed me where I am for a purpose.  How then can I fulfill this purpose if I am ignored or silenced when I reflect what I am seeing and hearing in our church?  If I am not to operate in the way that God has created me, then why be there at all? Honestly, I’m tired of having to put on the “man suit” to be heard and respected. I’m tired of being ignored when I don’t and damned when I do.

How can I communicate in a way that does not violate who I am as a woman and still be heard?  One truth I have recently embraced is that I do not need anyone’s permission to have an opinion, to voice it and defend it.  Do I need to speak like a man to do this? No, but I do need to be tenacious and that can be difficult.  My old complementarian upbringing had convinced me that at some level I needed permission to think and speak differently than the males around me, and to hold an opinion that is different in the face of much masculine disagreement can be challenging.  So I need to pick my battles carefully.

So, how will I be heard?  I’m still figuring it out.  But I do know this;  if I don’t speak at all, I will never be heard!

Looking back, looking forward: Journey with Jesus

I was never a consistent nor prolific journaler in years past, however, last year I undertook the Journey with Jesus, Discovering the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Larry Warner.   I was encouraged to journal on a daily basis.  While I didn’t quite manage daily, I wrote more than in the previous 5 years combined.   I found it helpful, challenging and often found myself writing things that I would have been afraid to say out loud.  It slowed me down a bit as I had to process what I was thinking in order to write it out.  But the biggest thing it did was get me writing again.  I’m a reluctant writer, I both love it and dread it at the same time.  I wouldn’t have this blog if I hadn’t started journaling more consistently last year.

As I looked back through my journal on December 31, I found things that I had forgotten about;  ideas and thoughts that I need to revisit.  They would have been lost, had I not written them down.  There are frustrations and victories at home and at work, all there, to be considered again, to see how God has moved, answered prayers, albeit often not the way I would have predicted or wanted.

The Daily Examen has made me more mindful of what I say and how I interact with people.  More importantly, I have been challenged on a daily basis to see myself through the eyes of grace and love and in so doing, my ability to see others through that lens has been transformed.  I have realized more clearly who I am and who I am not.  I have watched others on this same journey also becoming more themselves.  It has been a joy to behold.

Looking forward, I have yet to complete the exercises.  I’ve gotten stalled a few times.  But that is OK.  I’m still moving forward, and there is no right or wrong time frame for this.  I expect to be exploring Spiritual Direction from many angles this year.  As a recipient it has been life changing.  I’ll be pursuing training as a Spiritual Director in some way this year.   I expect I’ll write about that here on occasion.

I will be updating and continuing to expand my thoughts on ways that we need to be aware of the challenges faced by women in ministry.   I’ll be writing about the challenges at different life stages and some thoughts on how we need to challenge the current thinking.

I’ll be extending my annual “Holy Spirit Challenge” to you, too.  Every year I challenge the attenders of our monthly Holy Spirit Empowerment Night to an annual challenge.  Why not come along for the ride?

Above all, I want to go “Further up and further in”

Coping with yet another shooting spree…

How do we cope? What is the cause? Why did this happen? How can we stop this?

I’m processing along with everyone else (such a 21st century word: processing!). I notice everyone looking for why. Myself included.

Was the shooter mentally ill? Was he X? Was he Y? Was he Z?

We want to know a reason why he could do such a thing. Why he would do this, something that “I” wouldn’t/couldn’t do. We want a reason that makes sense of it and there is no sense. At some level we want to believe that somehow this person, was inherently different than ourselves, to somehow think that we aren’t the same.  To think that he was evil, and we are not.

I don’t have an answer – there is no answer for evil other than that we need a savior.

I also remember Matthew 5:21-22 where Jesus levels the field and calls anger and name calling on par with murder. Evil is evil, no matter the degree.

Repent in sackcloth and ashes and pray for mercy.

So weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. Pray for those affected, every child who will now react at a sudden unexpected pop or crash, every parent who will tremble at letting their child leave the house again.

And pray Come your Kingdom, Be done, your will on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

Different paths: Do women take a different journey to becoming pastors? part 1

How do women move into their pastoral calling? More importantly, how do we encourage women in the pursuit of their calling?  I don’t think the answer is as obvious as one would think.   Let me share some of my story, then I’ll draw out some observations.

I’ve had a desire to serve in ministry since I first came to know Jesus when I was 14.  However, women couldn’t be pastors way back then (at least in the churches I belonged to!)  I was fortunate to end up in a church that allowed (notice the word allowed) women to serve in co-leadership with men at the small group level.  I married and continued to serve in leadership.  We became aware of some of the work that would lay the foundations for Christians for Biblical Equality.  My spouse and I became convinced that women could & should lead as they were called to lead: pastor, teacher, whatever level.  I had 2 wonderful sons.  Here is where it gets interesting.

Our financial situation was such that if we put our little guys in the private Christian school that we had chosen, I had to work.  Son #1 had done well here from preschool on, and as he entered 1st grade and son #2 started preschool, I had the opportunity to go to work full-time with a fantastic pro-life ministry.  Sure, my kids would have to go to a baby sitter before and after school, but what a great ministry opportunity!   Within 6 months, my smallest boy had begun to exhibit all sorts of fears and anxiety.  The things that he had been thrilled by, like the train that went by at the baby sitter’s house, had gone from being something exciting to a source of fear.  So, I made a choice.  (Please notice the word choice.) I decided to bring my boys home and home school them.  I quit the ministry job and put on the full-time home schooling mom hat.

I continued to serve in leadership capacities at church; by now we were at a new church that wasn’t so progressive about women in ministry though.  So I led a women’s group, then I led children’s ministry.  I was lead teacher in the children’s church.  For 8 years I home schooled and served in children’s ministry.  Meanwhile, a slow change was taking place in the church leadership landscape.  Our senior pastor (our entire association) was being challenged on the issue of women in ministry.

After 8 years, the boys and I realized that one more year of home schooling would probably result in the death of someone (JOKE!!)  We really did need to move on.  So the guys went to school and I went to work full-time at the church in an administrative role.  Within the year, I had moved to a position that had some oversight of a couple of ministries.  Over the course of several years, the role became pastoral and 3 years ago I was recognized as a pastor.

So, not exactly the traditional way of becoming a pastor.  I didn’t do seminary and an internship and move into a pastoral role – the steady climb that you see men doing.   I did do some theological training along the way, but there was never a promise of promotion attached.   During this training I looked around and noticed the significant number of women whose kids were in high school, college or out of the nest.   I was also aware of numbers of younger women who had been active in church leadership who were stepping aside to raise their kids, as I had.

Just as I was starting to get my feet wet in a pastoral role, we had a staff meeting where the senior pastor essentially said “get ready to replace yourself, your time is done” to all the pastors over the age of 40.   My response was “What? I’ve only just started!!” This got me thinking about the life path differences between men and women.

Most men go to work, work steadily and climb the career path from young adulthood on.  Women, on the other hand, have kids.   They may work full-time with kids, stay home with kids, but still, in the vast majority of cases, women have the primary responsibility for kids.    I asked you to notice the work choice.  This was the word flung at me by one male pastor when I was first thinking about this issue.  “Women make life choices”.  Yes, I made a choice, but it wasn’t just for me, it was for my sons, my family, and really for the future of the church.  Part of my role as a leader in the church is to raise up leadership – which starts by raising up my sons well so that they can lead in the next generation.

So – lets look at what my life choice did.  I got thrown into a context where I had to really hone my teaching abilities – both individually with my kids and in the groups of kids I taught.  There is nothing like trying to create a lesson that will be understood and keep the attention of a group of kids aged 6 -12.  They can’t teach that in seminary.   I had to think theologically to evaluate the myriad of ideas that come at you through the home schooling community.   I had the opportunity to learn about group dynamics, learning styles and so much more.  All of this equipping me for my pastoral role.  No, not the traditional education, but very effective.

How many women are out there in the same place, kids older, looking for what God has next, but someone is saying to them: “You made your choice, sorry, it’s too late for you to think about professional ministry.”

Part 2 will look at some of the things I believe we need to look at if we want to encourage (and not just allow) women to pursue their gifting and calling.

Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Teacher, Evangelist: Identity or Gifts?

The church where I am a staff pastor is a racially diverse mega church. I don’t claim to have any expertise at all in terms of any church culture other than this church and one other all white church. This entry is some observation and musing in connection with some of the discussions that arise as men and women from other cultures (African American, Hispanic, African, etc) come together to live as one body.

Recently I was teaching a class in which a discussion about offices or titles came up, specifically the ones from Ephesians 4:11. (So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,)  At my church, we don’t see this passage as referring to titles, but rather as descriptive of leadership giftings that are used for the equipping of the body.  We preach and practice servant leadership.  This discussion came about because there were a number of people in the class who came from churches that had the practice of using these titles to recognize each other.

Prior to the class, a friend of mine had noted that in her experience, often the church was the only place where people had dignity, worth and value, so the titles were a way of saying “I’m somebody, I have worth”.  While in the context of our conversation, we were looking at an African American church, I don’t think this can be limited to African American culture. Rather, I think it can be traced to the roots of the early Pentecostal movement that was characterized by rapid growth in the poorer segments of society – both black and white.

As I reflect on this, I understand, but I’m also concerned, because it perpetuates the very sin that has engendered this desire & need to be recognized – the positioning of one person above another, a position of power if you will. (Perhaps I’ll blog about power another day…)

As followers of Jesus our worth and value comes from belonging to him, from being identified with him.  Our gifts, spiritual or otherwise are just that: gifts given to us to use in serving others, not to be our identities or our titles.

The outworking, too, of this culture, where one is held above others in the church because of title bothers me.  I had to think this through in the class I was talking about.  What is so different about those of us who have the title of pastor?  Is it an “office” in the way that the person asking the question implied?  Do we see ourselves and do others see us as raised above everyone else in the church?

If you were to ask any of the pastors in our church about that, at the very least you would get a disbelieving raise of the eyebrow, others would be closer to a “rending of the clothes” type of reaction, because we truly don’t see ourselves as over anyone.  We hold very firmly to a view of our jobs as servant leaders.

Yes, being a pastor is a job.  It is a job to which you are called by God and recognized by the church.  But it doesn’t suddenly put you 3 steps above everyone else around you.  It puts you under the entire church body, to raise the members up to increasing devotion to Jesus, to be better, stronger followers of him.

I remember shortly after I was first given the title of pastor, an intern at the church, who was from the tradition of “titles”, congratulated me on my “elevation”.  It made me really uncomfortable.  I honestly didn’t put 2 + 2 together as to why it had bothered me so much until I was teaching this class and had to explain how we don’t see the title of pastor as placing us above anyone. Suddenly the implication of that word “elevation” clicked.

So – where is all this taking me? I’ve been thinking about it for years – since I was a clerk in a Christian bookstore where the pastors from this tradition would come in with their entourage and couldn’t/wouldn’t speak to us in person, but would only speak to us through one of their entourage – what is wrong with this picture?

Going back to what my friend was talking about – in the culture that bred this idea of titles and elevation, the members were (and sometimes still are) without dignity or “place” in the culture at large; invisible, abused, seen and treated as less than human.  I understand where it has come from. BUT, perpetuating the idea that a title gives you worth or value is not biblical.  We have worth and value because we are created in the image of God. We are all sinners saved by Jesus.  Leaders are called to be servant leaders.  Taking our identity from anything other than Christ is sin.

The need to have titles, to be elevated in order to have worth and value is a sinful response to a sinful system.  Everyone gets to play, everyone can play, and we need everyone to play in the Kingdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 12 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 31b And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

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