Tag Archives: serve

Announcing My New Blog Series: Women in Ministry

Bookmark and Share

Figuring out my ministry and calling in life has been a struggle that sometimes left me discouraged and frustrated. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if there were a bunch of people saying, “God can’t use you in the ways you feel led. You can only serve in a few select areas.”

My reply would be, “So you’re saying that God made me a second-class citizen in his Kingdom?”

What I imagine for myself is what many women face in the real world of Christianity. I used to think that women could not teach men, hold authority over men, or even do all that much on Sunday morning. Then something shocking happened.

While attending Taylor University, a woman spoke about doing something I’d been taught women should never do: teach men.

During missions week, Marilyn Laszlo spoke about her missions work in Papua New Guinea. She ministered among an entire tribe as the only missionary. So far as I could tell, she was free to “teach” men during our meetings at Taylor. Even more eye-opening, she was the only missionary teaching the men in her village.

Some speak of God making special exceptions, calling in the JV female team when the males aren’t around—A League of Their Own for the church. The shakiness of this argument began to wear on me during missions week. Why would God make an exception if it was an absolute standard in scripture? Why were churches OK with women going to teach men in the jungle but not in the sanctuary on Sunday morning between 9 and 12 am? Should a solitary female missionary turn over authority to the men in her village when they reach a certain point of spiritual maturity?

Better yet, if women aren’t supposed to teach or hold authority over men, where do we draw the line for websites, books, and conferences? What if a female speaker at a conference begins to convict a man in attendance? Is that not a form of authority?

I dedicated myself to studying this issue. I learned about the context of the Old and New Testaments. I learned about women such as Deborah and Huldah—women God chose to lead and to teach. I learned about the Greek culture of the New Testament, the female oracles, and the rowdy female prophets that would have populated cities such as Ephesus and Corinth. I began to realize that we’re forced to either choose God’s standards for female leaders or Paul’s standards—making one or the other culturally situated.

For me, the issue of women in ministry is settled. I have no doubt that women were not only created fully in God’s image, but that women can serve in the same positions as men. Some Christians disagree with me on that one. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not interested in having this debate on my blog. There are plenty of other places on the internet to duke this out. I want to contribute something different to the issue of women in ministry: stories.

Stories That Open Eyes

When I learned about the incredible ways God used Marilyn Laszlo, I began to question my beliefs about women. God was performing miracles through this woman. Could I have been wrong? After years of studying scripture, I changed my position.

Stories about God’s work today can stretch us, force us to dig deeper into scripture, and to pursue different courses for our lives. Rather than debate theology, I want to create a place where women can tell their own stories of pursuing God’s call into ministry. I want every woman who has been told, “God can’t use you…” to read stories about women who have been affirmed by God.

Starting on January 13th, I’m launching a new series of guest posts that will go up every Friday called the Women in Ministry Series. I’ve asked some of the most talented women I know to share their stories of being called into ministry or of a woman who ministered to them. We’re going to create a new conversation about what God is doing in and through women, rather than getting lost in the debate about what women can and cannot do.

A Series That Builds Up Women

I think we’ve all seen threads of comments on blogs where an otherwise encouraging discussion is sidetracked by a peripheral debate. While I encourage readers of all perspective to check out this series, I want to make it clear that our discussions in the comments will not include debates about whether or not women can teach, lead, or speak in church—that women can teach or lead will be assumed. The goal here is to encourage women who have been told “no” for far too long, and therefore I want to create a safe and encouraging environment.

There are plenty of other bloggers out there who are eager to host debates on this topic or to advance a perspective counter to my own. It’s not like I’m suppressing anyone. Our goal is to simply create a different kind of conversation at this blog, and in order to do that on the internet, we need some rules.

For those who dislike these parameters, I have two words of encouragement. For starters, this is a great opportunity to practice  the Christian virtue of patience. Secondly, if you feel like your voice has been silenced, then you are in a perfect position to empathize with the thousands upon thousands of women who have felt the same way for hundreds of years.

How We’ll Begin the Series

The Women in Ministry Series begins on January 13th with a guest post by Sarah Styles Bessey of Emergingmummy.com. She’ll be followed by Jamie Wright of Jamietheveryworstmissionary.com. After them, I’ll share a preview for the next writer each week.

If you are a woman with a  story to tell, visit the project’s home page for submission guidelines. Stay tuned for the first post on January 13th. You can subscribe via the RSS feed or through the e-mail notification form at the top.

I pray that many will be encouraged by this new series. Thanks for reading!

When We Protect Ourselves First

Bookmark and Share

lockfence

He was a no name assistant on a team full high profile talent. His superiors were household names throughout town. They were the people everyone talked about and looked up to.

One devastating day, this no name member of the team saw one of his superiors commit a horrible crime. Usually the witness of a crime calls the police. These isn’t much to debate here. However, he didn’t reach for a telephone. He thought too much, and we’re left to speculate on what went through his mind…

If he called the police, there would be a scandal. The lowly assistant would receive criticism as a whistle blower. There would be allegations made, the superior would most likely deny them, and who knows what would happen in the midst of a trial. It was his word against the word of a superior. Who would believe him?

To make matters worse, he would most likely be fired or marginalized. Who would hire a whistleblower who didn’t know his place?

What should a lowly, assistant do if he wants to protect himself?

There are easy ways out and half measures available, and he opted for that route. He followed the kind of procedures you’d observe when dealing with financial indiscretions, not a major crime. He reported the crime to his superiors, and they followed the same strategy of doing something without doing enough.

In the process, the no name assistant was able to take some kind of action without appearing disloyal. He told his other superiors without causing a national scandal. He protected himself. Who doesn’t want to protect himself?

Selfishness shines through in this story. It is a cancer that prevents us from seeing the world through the eyes of others, the victims and the weak. Selfishness seeks to ensure our own safety and security above the well-being of others. It asks, “What’s right for me?” regardless of the consequences to others.

I confess that I often want to protect myself, to preserve my own comfort at the expense of others. I don’t like the thought of taking a stand and alienating myself among the people I like.

It never feels good to be alienated or rejected by your own people, to lose colleagues because you don’t see eye to eye on ethical matters, let alone a crime. So, instead of being rejected by my own tribe, I look for half-measures, easy ways out that can preserve a shred of my integrity without offending “good people.”

Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

The prophets demand that we pay our workers fair wages.

God tells us that he hates injustice.

I read these words and look for easy ways out. I don’t want to choose a path that is too costly. I look for half-measures. I don’t want to be the whistleblower who challenges the rest of my team.

It’s all so clear when the story involves sex abuse and a college football team, but when it comes down to my views on war, the policies I protest, the shopping decisions I make, the ways I donate money, etc… the lines become murky again.

Should they?

It may help to remember that ten or twenty years from now, we’ll all look back at our lives and begin to ask ourselves, “Did I choose the right course or did I only try to protect myself?” With the benefit of hindsight, we’ll see the fruit that comes from our decisions. We’ll see whether we benefited from self-preservation or from serving and preserving others.

May God give us the courage to protect those who are vulnerable and abused.

When Encouragement Fails

Bookmark and Share

I used to work for someone who usually ended the week saying, “Thanks for all you do.”

That used to drive me crazy. What was he thanking me for? Eating my lunch? Getting a project done on time? Checking my personal e-mail while on the job?

I know this wasn’t what he meant, but I interpreted his encouragement catch-all as: “You’re not important enough for me to take the time to find out what you do well.”

Some weeks I wondered if it would have been better if he’d said nothing at all.

Sometimes the wrong kind of encouragement leaves us worse off than we were before.

In order for encouragement to actually work, it needs to be specific.

Be Specific or Else…

I think about this a lot since I volunteer and have managed volunteers for years. A big part of appreciating volunteers and ensuring they continue to help out is to give them specific encouragement. Specific encouragement is the fuel that keeps us going.

Encouragement that affirms something a particular will empower others to keep going. It’s so critical for volunteers and for ministers that I don’t think anyone can continue to serve effectively for a long period of time without it.

I would go so far as saying that encouragement is one of the ways God’s Spirit guides us in our service—it’s an outside validation that we have heard from God correctly.

Without mentioning something specific, our words fall flat and may even communicate that we don’t care.

Critique without Encouragement

I actually have a rule I try to follow, especially in church. I don’t let myself critique anyone unless I have encouraged that person first.

This is a worthwhile goal because many volunteers and ministers don’t hear feedback from people until something bad happens. Back in my worship leading days I’d guess that at least 80% of the feedback was negative—usually critiques of my song choices.

Critique without encouragement tells others that they are probably doing something terribly wrong. Even if someone is serving in the wrong position, look for what that person does well, affirm that, and perhaps suggest that he/she may be more effective somewhere else.

Critique alone could just leave a person feeling lost.

A Practical Step Toward Encouragement

If I could make one last suggestion for a practical way forward, I’ll be teaching a course on equipping volunteers for ministry at Biblical Theological Seminary outside of Philadelphia on August 12-13.

We’ll cover a broad range of topics related to supporting volunteers for ministry, and one of the major topics will be appreciation. You better believe we’ll talk a lot more about what effective encouragement looks like.

For more information, contact the academic office at 800.235.4021 or e-mail academic@biblical.edu.

Dangerous Heretics, Irrelevant Traditionalists, and the Call to Love Them All: Authority Abuse

Bookmark and Share

While in college in the Midwest I used to attend this church that was a pretty happy, high-strung place. They had a band up front and a bouncing choir that sang as you walked in. Depending on their song choice, you could describe the atmosphere as electric.

Everything crashed when the pastors’ plans for a new building met strong resistance among a vocal minority who held up the process by voting against it, landing them 1% below the 75% majority demanded in the by-laws. The senior pastor followed this by preaching a sermon on Numbers 16 when the earth swallowed Korah and his followers who defied the decisions of God’s chosen leaders for the people.

Neither story has a particularly happy ending.

While these instances of authority abuse among leaders are easy to spot, every Christian has a a certain measure of authority and that authority can be abused. We all can and do abuse our authority at times, and that makes it quite hard for us to love one another.

This week we’re looking at the things that clutter our relationships with fellow Christians and make it hard for us to love one another. Authority abuse is at the top of my list, and I want to look at the ways the average Christian can abuse authority today.

What is Our Authority?

Jesus gave us authority to bind and loose things on heaven and earth, we are commissioned to proclaim the Gospel, and we have the responsibility of helping one another as part of Christ’s body. We can make a real difference in the lives of others, either helping God’s Kingdom advance or neglecting our roles by either inaction or misusing our authority.

How Do We Abuse It?

We all abuse our authority sometimes, but we generally only notice leaders because they’re the most visible. However, every time I have set myself up as a judge over another Christian and fail to pursue a redemptive and constructive course of action I’m falling short of my calling.

I’ve seen this kind of abuse plenty of times online as well when Christians accuse others of watering down the Gospel, call their salvation into question, or set themselves up in authority over another believer in an inappropriate way. We generally see authority abuse when one Christian assumes the role of gatekeeper for other Christians, a position that God never intended anyone but himself to occupy.

How Should We Use It?

All that to say, we have a responsibility to watch out for one another. That means we should speak up in a relational and redemptive manner when a fellow Christian is tangled up in sin or embracing troubling beliefs. However, we come alongside of them as equals who are pursuing God together and who share in the same measure of God’s authority.

Our goal is not to establish ourselves as the brilliant authority figure with all of the answers who will defend the faith, but rather to help fellow Christians attain the full measure of maturity and authority that God has given to them. We don’t want them to forever depend on us or to be alienated from God based on the way we relate with them.

We have been given authority for the benefit of others, making us servants who should automatically opt for the lowest positions, rather than using others to build up our spiritual merit badges. When we use our authority as servants we are in a perfect position to love others, to be loved, and to spot those who are abusing authority.

Understanding our proper position among fellow believers is critical in determining how we relate with the supposed “heretics” or those we deem “irrelevant traditionalists.”

Tomorrow’s Post:  We’ll dig deeper into the ways labels such as “heretics” and “irrelevant” impact Christian community and some suggestions to move beyond these labels.

How Jesus Defines Faithfulness-Part 3

Bookmark and Share

Over the past two days we’ve established that Jesus defines faithfulness according to the ways we demonstrate our love for others, particularly how we serve the least of these by our words and deeds. This raises the matter of what we should do with our beliefs and theology.

If God wants us to love him and one another, basing our faithfulness on whether or not we have imitated his service to those who are most vulnerable, isn’t theology a waste of time?

For me, this creates a sort of chicken and the egg dilemma. We are making a deeply theological statement when we say that serving others is most important to God. We can’t escape the implications of Matthew 25, but we also understand Matthew 25 by putting theology to work for us.

In putting this another way, if we want to dismiss theology in order to only serve others, we are essentially destroying the foundation that gave us the perspective we needed to see the priorities of God clearly. If we decide to move into service without a foundation of theology, we’ll end up serving without God’s leading and power, eventually losing the perspective and insight that theology provides.

Service without theology is every bit as problematic as theology without service. The two are linked.  

Our problem isn’t theology. Our problem is theology that leans in close to God, but keeps him and others at arm’s length. In addition, theology can be used to build glass walls between ourselves and God so that we can look at him but remain untouched by him and his heart for others.

Good theology connects us with the heart of God and enables us to read Matthew 25 and James 1 with the result that we take these messages seriously and put them into action.

We can try a shortcut to the action that God calls us to without theology, but in a brief period of time we’ll lose our way if we aren’t grounded in the leading of God’s Spirit and the message of scripture.

May we remain immersed in the scriptures and Spirit of God.

May we discover ways we can put our theology into practice.

And may we be refreshed with the new things God teaches us and calls us to do for him.

Surviving Church Burn Out: Seeking the Rest You Need

Bookmark and Share

 

About a month or two before I burned out from church and ministry, I had started working at a church in a basically administrative office position. We were planning to move into the same area as this church after marrying, and I figured there was a good chance we’d also attend the church.

Then I crashed.

Then I visited the church.

I knew it wasn’t going to work. So many things frustrated and offended me. I have no idea how much I actually explained to folks at the time, but I knew that I couldn’t attend this church. I was too negative. I couldn’t worship God in this setting, and the thought of volunteer ministry conjured thoughts of the church machine draining me again.

I felt like such a sinner staying home from church. I knew some people were judging me. I was frustrated. I hated the thought of not being involved in ministry.

So much of my life had revolved around the church and ministry over the years that it killed me to step away from it. But I had to. Perhaps it’s the kind of thing that defies explanation to those who have never gone through a ministry crash.

No Christian I know wants to step away from the church. This is not something done with glee and joy.

Over the following years I sought Christian community in small groups, in my seminary courses, and online. At this time I began to wonder what the heck was going with me. Was anyone else frustrated and burned out by the church?

At that time I discovered a web site called The Ooze, began reading the blog of Jordon Cooper, and even had a chance to meet former pastor and founder of the Ooze Spencer Burke in a few classes. Spencer was asking the same hard questions, “Am I the only crazy one out there?”

I drove home after my first class with Spencer feeling like something at last over the past few years made sense to me. The church machine had damaged other folks, and here was Spencer still in love with Jesus, praying over our class, and helping us rethink ways to gather in healthy Christian community.

I could breath again.

The very concept of church didn’t repulse me. I could see a faint light at the end of the tunnel. I still needed my space from traditional church and ministry, but after a few classes with Spencer, I realized that God could still build his church.

From my friends and a local pastor who first identified my burn out problem, to Spencer and my classmates in seminary, I began to heal. But it wasn’t an easy process.

There was a significant cost.

I needed space. I needed time.

Are You Hurting?

If you’re committed to processing your church or ministry burn out in a healthy way, then the next important step is to seek out a period of rest. That means stepping away from ministry and possibly even a traditional church service for a period of time.

Prayerfully consider the steps before you and seek God’s peace as you move forward.

If church and ministry only leave you frustrated and angry, then you’ll just hurt everyone by processing these emotions in the thick of it. Give yourself time and space with some select Christians who can help you along your way.

Preventing Burn Out

If you’re not feeling burned out or frustrated with the church or ministry, you’re in a great position to begin taking periods of rest now, lest you crash. Most churches are using their man/woman hours on a paycheck to paycheck basis with next to nothing in the bank.

In other words, they have just enough people serving to keep things going each Sunday, but these volunteers rarely get a rest. That is an unsustainable pattern that leaders need to address before their volunteers crash and require a long period of time to recover.

It is far better to take short seasons of rest now so that we can serve for the long haul. If we don’t, we’ll run ourselves into the ground and cause ourselves a great deal of pain.

Tomorrow’s Post: Avoiding Overgeneralizations… From “Everything is Terrible” to Redemptive Steps

Surviving Church Burn Out: Recognizing the Problem

Bookmark and Share

burnoutchurch

Pastors aren’t the only ones who burn out from church and ministry. Volunteers who serve on worship teams, in nurseries, and on maintenance teams can grow weary. Attendees who show up every Sunday and still struggle just as much each week deal with mounting frustration.

There are many reasons, but many of us at one time or another will burn out from church for a season, if not longer. How can we recognize this and what should we do about it?

Let’s begin with a look at healthy ministry before looking at the signs of burn out…

Healthy Ministry

I would define healthy ministry as using our gifts to serve others from the strength and joy that God gives to us. We aren’t able to fill others until God fills us first. While we can still grow weary and will require times of rest, healthy ministry should also fill and energize us.

Those feeling worn out by ministry should prayerfully consider the reasons for their situation. The reasons could range from a personal spiritual struggle, to serving in a place where they are not gifted and passionate, to a church that fails to support them with seasons of rest and encouragement. And the possibilities go on.

Avoid Guilt

Even those in a healthy ministry can grow weary, and to be honest, it’s quite hard to detect unhealthy patterns in our ministry when they develop. When some burn out, the inclination sometimes is to feel guilty for not being strong enough to push through.

Guilt is a terrible reason to serve, and an even worse one to persevere when feeling weary or overwhelmed. Be honest with your emotions and cut yourself some slack. Keep in mind that Jesus regularly withdrew to quiet places to pray.

Recognizing the Signs of Burn Out

In my own experience, the marks of my burn out were ongoing battles with frustration, resentment, and a sense of hopeless weariness that my ministry would never be done, appreciated, or make a difference. Of course anger does not automatically equal burn out, but as we pour more of our time and our emotions into ministry that seems to be going nowhere and passes by unappreciated, anger is completely understandable.

When it comes to attending church in general, we can also sometimes grow weary with the sense that things are going nowhere and that the Sunday gathering isn’t helping us all that much.

In brief, if we can’t bear the thought of showing up for another Sunday to serve others or to go through the motions, we may be burning out.

Exploring the Reasons

There could be personal, interpersonal, or systemic reasons for burning out, and they often mix together. We don’t have cut and dry, compartmentalized burn out most times. Obviously, if we are personally far from God or struggling with anger issues, we need to confess them to God and seek healthy connections with others.

However, there are plenty of situations in which fellow Christians can discourage us, fail to encourage us, or grind us to bits in the church system that asks a great deal of volunteers. In addition, the act of just putting on a service does not necessarily guarantee the work of God among those who show up, leading to frustration and burn out at times.

Tomorrow’s Post: Taking healthy Steps

When facing burn out, it is perfectly natural to start cutting ourselves off from the sources of our difficulties, whether that’s a volunteer ministry or a Sunday church service. Perhaps a season of rest is the right option, but we’ll look at both the short and long-term impacts of the ways we deal with church burn out tomorrow.