Letter to the church as a millennial: set your women free!

Dear Church,

I love you. And I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that you’ve not only been responsible for historic oppression of women, but currently, so few of you have set your women free. As long as women are told to “play small” in church, we won’t see the Kingdom come on earth like it is in heaven. And we’ll continue to see less and less millennials in our pews or chairs. Millennials are good at picking up scents of oppression and running the other way. More than just attracting millennials to our churches, we want to be churches that are busy about loving God and others well. With love as the motive, here are three areas that you can work on as a congregation to help set your women free:

1)Let’s start with the “first lady” of your church, if you have one. The Pastor’s wife. Oh how Pastors’ wives need to be set free. They must not be seen as a 2-for-1 package.  Just like everyone else in the church, the pastor’s wife needs to be free to serve out of her unique gifting, passion and personality. When you do this, you will be a church that appeals to millennials. Why? By setting your pastor’s wife free to be who God created her to be, your church will be a refuge. You will be demonstrating that this is a safe place for all – even, and especially, the pastor’s wife. And you’ll be ridding your congregation from a yucky part of church history that involves sexism in how pastors’ wives have been pigeonholed and unfairly treated.

2) Women need to be free to serve in positions of leadership in the church and encouraged to do so. If we study the life of Jesus, keeping in mind historical context, we see that Jesus was a radical in his inclusion of women in his life and ministry. And women were in positions of leadership in early Christianity , building and growing the church alongside the apostle Paul. If you already are a church that supports women in leadership on paper, great! Just make sure that you demonstrate this support in practice, too. Millennials want to experience evidence to the effect, not just a statement on paper.

3) The third area of consideration is mostly for the pastors and teachers in the church. How you can help is to be intentional about using examples of women from the Bible and throughout history in Sunday School lessons, Bible Studies and in Sermons. Millennials don’t desire for biblical and historical lessons of men to be pushed aside, rather, they ask that leaders in the church remember to teach about female role models, too.

I realize that it’s a bit bold of me to write a letter to the Church on behalf of millennials. And yes, I know that I don’t speak for every millennial who is connected to a church. But I’m also not the first millennial to think of or express these thoughts. Not the first to ask for our churches to do a better job at setting women free. And I’m fairly certain that I won’t be the last.

With best regards,
a church-loving millennial

Bless your church: be an encourager

17022434_392797244417018_4624015130509281860_n

Facebook reminded me that on this day in 2014, my status update said the following: “I believe this is universal: people are more likely to take the time to make a complaint than to go out of their way to express appreciation. Let’s change that.” The post received quite a few likes and comments in agreement. A couple of people stated that they were going to try to be better at expressing appreciation and complaining less.

The church is one place where criticism can be dished out as easily as mints and appreciation expressed sparingly. If you don’t believe me, have a heart-to-heart with any pastor or ministry leader. Whether the church is the biggest one in town or the smallest one, they all can relate in regards to criticism. Put a group of pastors together and you’ll find that they have heard it all.  And even though most of the criticisms are so very trivial (in light of eternity), they can wear church leadership down.

This is where you come in. There is hope! There is something that you can do to help offset the criticism that pastors and ministry leaders regularly face.  You can go out of your way to express appreciation. Don’t be a bystander (assuming someone else is doing the encouraging) but instead, take every opportunity to compliment, express appreciation, and to remind your pastor/leadership that you’re with them. I’m not saying that you’ll never disagree. Just make sure that your lips aren’t found to have more criticism on them than encouragement.

I don’t think that most congregation members in a church are critical and bitter. Rather, I believe (and some brief research has shown) that the opposite is true. It’s often 90% that are positive and 10% that are negative in a church. The problem is that it’s the 10% that are the most vocal. The 10% will talk (aka gossip) to anyone who will listen. And they are loud. It’s time for the 90% to rise up. To not assume that your pastor or leadership “just knows” how you feel. The 90% must balance out the 10% by taking every opportunity to express appreciation. To live out Hebrews 3:13 which calls Christians to “encourage one another daily.”

Lent is as good of time as any to start doing the things we know we ought to do. Why not take these 40 days to grow in the art of encouraging others. It may feel uncomfortable and unnatural at first, but it will get easier with time. Practice helps. What a difference we may see in our churches when the pastor(s) and leadership are encouraged regularly. What a difference the world may notice when the body of Christ is found to be generous with encouragement and careful with criticism. In this season of lent, let encouragement rise: in our own hearts, in our churches, and in our circles of influence. Each one – encourage one. Starting this day.

-R

Women in Church Leadership

img_20170222_095831_180

Our daughter has a set of toy people who are each of a different occupation. We weren’t sure which occupation this lady is. Teacher? Hubby suggested, “Pastor”. Yes. Yes, of course. She’s a Pastor.

As a young girl, I remember asking my dad why he was so committed to attending a Free Methodist church. His reply was, “I have 4 daughters. I want each of you to fully understand that you can serve in leadership at church, too.”

In the little and big ways, we desire for our daughter to know that she can serve in leadership and even be a pastor one day, too (should she feel called). Today that lesson comes in the form of a toy woman with the occupation of pastor.

Why I’m rethinking the crucifix and you should too

Last month, after much searching, I purchased a nativity set that fit the following criteria: 1) one that our toddler could play with 2) one that I’d also like to display when she’s grown (this ruled out the Little People set – plus we couldn’t find one that wasn’t being sold for $80+!) and 3) a nativity set that had more than one shepherd. You’d be surprised how many nativity sets come with 3 wise men (who likely weren’t even visiting Jesus in a manger but as a toddler or young child) and only have 1 shepherd!

The nativity set that I eventually found is hand-crafted, wooden, and beautiful. It’s perfect except for one thing: it came with a manger but no baby Jesus! This oversight was my fault. The product never advertised it coming with a baby Jesus, but did say that it came with a manger.  Disappointment aside, a manger with no baby Jesus inside of it got me thinking.

Why has contemporary evangelical Christianity told me that a crucifix is wrong? The main argument that I’ve heard against having a crucifix is that Jesus is no longer nailed to the cross–he is risen!  We worship a living Lord. But if this is the reason why displaying an empty cross is superior to a traditional crucifix, then why do nativity displays in most evangelical churches have a baby Jesus in the manger? We all know that Jesus is no longer an infant child in a manger. He grew up to be a man, he died, and he rose again. Why then is it acceptable to have Jesus in the manger but it’s not acceptable to have him displayed on a cross? I have never heard of anyone questioning the need to have baby Jesus displayed in the nativity scene because “Jesus isn’t a baby anymore!” But I have heard of Christians being told by other Christians that displaying a crucifix is wrong because “Jesus isn’t there anymore!” Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters (among others) understand fully well that Jesus is no longer on the cross–they, too, worship a living Lord. So why is it “right” in evangelical circles to have baby Jesus in the manger but it’s “wrong” to see him displayed on the cross?

The crucifix isintended to depict what He endured for our salvation long ago on Calvary. Though it seemed a shameful, humiliating defeat at the time, Jesus’ death was actually a glorious triumph of love and obedience. His crucifixion brought about our redemption; this is why Catholics love it and portray it in sacred art”.

This quote was taken from a short/thought provoking post that you’ll want to read: Should Christians Use a Crucifix?

Could it be that the evangelical objection to crucifixes has more to do with how uncomfortable it is to be so visually reminded of Jesus’ suffering for our sake? I’ve attended a Good Friday service every year for as long as I can remember. While Jesus’ crucifixion is why we gather, I’ve been to many a service where there is little room or space to sit in this reality. The heartbreaking truth is quickly washed away with, “BUT SUNDAY’S COMING!” This reminds me of people who say to a grieving person at a funeral, “BUT EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON!” It takes appropriate grief and quickly sweeps it under the rug so that things don’t feel too sad or uncomfortable. Yes, it is incredible, amazing news that Jesus rose again! But let us never, ever forget the severe suffering that Jesus endured. Seeing a visual of Jesus hanging from a cross screams: YOU ARE SO LOVED!!                                                                                                                                                                           Jesus came as an infant in a manger. And he was also a man hanging on a cross. Seeing a visual of either one in your home or church doesn’t lessen the reality that Jesus also rose again!
traditional_lrgIf Jesus is present in our nativity scenes as a way of remembering, shouldn’t he also be present on our crosses for the same reason? Maybe crucifixes are not only “OK” for a Christian to display but maybe they are…dare I say…the better way?

5 reflections on 2016 & hopes for 2017

1913799_148475484670_3661941_n

This blog was started in 2016. In addition to the blog; twitter, instagram, and a fb page were created. I gave them all a trial and will be keeping active on instagram & fb and hopefully write more in 2017 on this blog! It was mostly me (R) writing and posting in 2016…maybe D will join me more in 2017. One can dream 🙂

As I begin to briefly reflect on 2016, I will share the following. I recently read my FB Memories from years past re: my new years reflections. Year after year, I wrote something to the effect of the previous year having its share of really difficult moments & good ones. I guess the saying from Ecclesiastes is true: there’s nothing new under the sun. With that said, I’ll pause to reflect on 2016 and offer some hopes for 2017.

2016

2016 certainly had a theme of loss. While we felt peace about our decision to resign from our church, I mourned the loss of those relationships in 2016. We also said good-bye to our dog, Mowgli, and our cat, Storm in 2016. I miss them.

2016 had a theme of personal growth, too. It wasn’t until the end of 2016 that I realized something: I grew a lot this year in the areas of grace and forgiveness. In 2016, I purposed to “feel all the feels” as well as to let go. Being hurt but not growing bitter is hard work! This could be a whole other blog post. Suffice it to say, I’m entering 2017 feeling light and free.

2016 was a year of growth as a couple. We grew in emotional intimacy and spiritually. We prayed more together in 2016 than ever before.

2016 was the year that I grew closer to my co-workers than ever before. I don’t know why this is. I wonder if my heavy church commitments (being married to a pastor & serving in my own way(s) in the church), caused me to be “less available” when at work. I know that I used to use my breaks at work to do church related things (like update the church fb page, read a book for book club, etc). It could also be the fact that several co-workers have gone through super stressful times this year and it’s more natural for me to “show up” for that than to do small talk. For whatever reason, I’m thankful for new and deepening friendships outside of church walls in 2016.

2016 had us feeling tired & so happy as we watched out daughter grow from a baby to a toddler. We feel tremendously blessed that dad was able to stay home with our girl from summer 2016 onward.

2017

2017 will be the year that we plug into our new church. We visited over a dozen churches in our area in 2016. We are praying about where to put down roots. I am so looking forward to having a church family in 2017!

2017 may bring us closer to discerning what’s next for us in pastoral ministry. Or not. We’ll see! The key is to remain open to whatever comes next. And to also enjoy the season that we are in (we are enjoying it!).

2017 is a great time to do all the new years resolution type things: lose weight. eat healthier. purge items from home. work on projects. read more. travel. I would like all of these! But most of all, I desire to grow in relationship with others this year. Family, friends, co-workers, church goers, strangers, etc. To make time even when you think you don’t have any time.  If I spend more time with people, if I’m more present with people, if I’m more vulnerable with people, and if my “people time” decreases online and increases in other ways, 2017 will be a success.

Do you have reflections on 2016 & hopes for 2017 that you’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear them! Truly.

Love,
– R.

Difficult December: Come thou long expected Jesus!

1132628-charles-wesley-quote-come-thou-long-expected-jesus-born-to-set-thy

December feels like a blur. In our household, at least one of us has been sick at any given time this month. And when you have a toddler who is sick – no one is sleeping. Suffice it to say, we are not ready for Christmas. And we are hosting Christmas at our house! Eek.(I have to stop and remind myself: the shopping, cooking, cleaning, card writing and even the gift giving is not what Christmas is ultimately about. To neglect to prepare MY HEART for the birth of the Christ child would be the biggest shame of all).

Besides feeling physically run down, my heart has felt heavy this month. I think of Aleppo. I think of the infant baby who was beat by his own father in Napanee (the child is on life support). I think of a family who lost their home and all their possessions in a fire. And I know several who are experiencing significant stress due to job loss at this time of year. My heart is heavy.

December has been a difficult month. A struggle. I haven’t been feeling very merry.  Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if the struggles of this month are providing me with a different perspective of this season. When I read the lyrics of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, the words hit me in a new way.

Come thou long expected Jesus.
Born to set us FREE.
Free from fears and sins.
Release. We find our REST in thee.
You are the hope of all the earth!
The joy of every longing heart.

A longing fulfilled. The birth of our saviour! The one who provides freedom, rest and hope is Immanuel, God is with us.

Whether this month has been mostly happy or mostly difficult, let us make time to focus on the long expected Jesus.

Love,
R.

Thanksgiving: when you’re feeling anything but happy

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. More Americans will make it a priority to be with their family & friends tomorrow than any other holiday (yes, even Christmas!). The day before Thanksgiving can be filled with anxiety that has nothing to do with baking or traveling. There’s a type of anxiety that is present for those who have seen heartbreaking changes since last year’s gathering. Death. Job Loss. Divorce. Diagnosis. These are just a few examples of what has happened to too many families over the past year. Individuals and families have been rocked to the core. Things don’t look or feel like they did a year ago. People are holding their breath and hoping for the best for tomorrow.

Thanksgiving can sting more than any other holiday because the focus seems to be pretty much all about family. The message society gives is one of showing up at Thanksgiving as a happy, happy family. To prove this point, what is the greeting that is said at Thanksgiving? HAPPY THANKSGIVING! But we know that for so many, tomorrow does not evoke happy feelings. For several, sadness or anxiety seems more appropriate than “happy”.

If you or your family are struggling on Thanksgiving eve, remember that you aren’t alone. Remember to take it one hour, one moment at a time. Take deep breaths. Hold a hot beverage in your hands all.day.long if that’s soothing. Go for a walk. Leave the party early if you need to. Do whatever will help you. Thanksgiving is about family but remember this: you are a branch in the family tree! You need to stay healthy so that you can bear fruit, too. You matter just as much as anyone else.

Instead of wishing you a “Happy Thanksgiving”, my hope is that you are able to find little & big things to be grateful for in the midst of the sad. Don’t deny your sad. But don’t miss seeing the good, too. With this perspective, show up tomorrow in the best way that you know how while also taking good care of you.

Lots of love,

– R.