Leaving Church quotes by Barbara Brown Taylor

For a book club, I was asked to share some of my favourite quotes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church. The book is the author’s journey of becoming an ordained priest, taking a small town parish, and leaving five years later. The book club facilitator was interested in my perspective as one who married a pastor and nearly two years ago, we left pastoring our church. In no particular order, here’s some of my favourite quotes from Leaving Church:

“Think hard before you do this,” one said to me when I told him I wanted to be ordained. “Right now, you have the broadest ministry imaginable. As a layperson, you can serve God no matter what you do for a living, and you can reach out to people who will never set foot inside a church. Once you are ordained, that is going to change. Every layer of responsibility you add is going to narrow your ministry, so think hard before you choose a smaller box.”

“Sometimes, when people were busy adoring me or despising me, I got the distinct impression that it was not about me at all. I reminded them of someone else who was no longer around but who had made such a large dent in their lives that they were still trying to work it out.”

“Because church people tend to think they should not fight, most of them are really bad at it.”

The following quote from page 120 comes after Barbara Brown Taylor was finally thrown in the swimming pool along with everyone else:

“I never found out who my savior was, but when I broke the surface, I looked around at all of those shining people with makeup running down their cheeks, with hair plastered to their heads, and I was so happy to be one of them. If being ordained meant being set apart from them, then I did not want to be ordained anymore. I wanted to be human. I wanted to spit food and let snot run down my chin. I wanted to confess being as lost and and found as anyone else without caring that my underwear showed through my wet clothes. Bobbing in that healing pool with all those other flawed beings of light, I looked around and saw them as I had never seen them before, while some of them looked at me the same way. The long wait had come to an end. I was in the water at last.”

“Although I never found a church where I felt completely at home again, I made a new home in the world. I renewed my membership in the priesthood of all believers, who may not have as much power as we would like, but whose consolation prize is the freedom to meet God after work, well away from all centers of religious command, wherever God shows up.”

If you haven’t read Leaving Church, I’d recommend it. Barbara Brown Taylor is an incredibly gifted writer. In the sharing of her story of Finding Church – Leaving – and Finding life again she has given us a gift. If you’ve read it, do you have a favourite quote to add?

3 things the church could be more mindful of: introverts, singles, and the coveting of young families 

The following has been on my heart and mind for some time. In no particular order, here are three areas that the church could be more mindful of in 2018:

Introverts.

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I’ve heard it said that our school system is designed for the kids in the middle of the bell curve. This means that there are lots of children who struggle to learn in an environment that wasn’t geared with them in mind.

Most churches would fall into a similar camp. Historically, the Sunday morning church service and the weekly church activities have been designed for a certain type of people: the extrovert.

In the past, it’s been thought that only 25% of the population are introverts. More recent studies are showing that the general population is closer to 50/50 (50% extroverts, 50% introverts). Real quick – introverts = people who recharge their energy best by being alone; extroverts = people who recharge their energy best by being with others.  Please keep in mind that an introvert can be very outgoing and an extrovert could be shy. Really.

Now let’s think about church. Sunday morning church service can be very energizing for an extrovert (lots of people/small talk opportunities). Since large, group activities are plentiful and promoted in the life of the church, extroverts can easily fuel up, while introverts may end up feeling drained and inferior. When is the last time you heard a sermon encouraging you to experience God in nature, or meditation or solitude? When is the last time you were told that meaningfully connecting with a believer 1:1 is just as holy and important as being involved in a small group? (Introverts tend to prefer 1:1 – Jesus did say that when 2 or 3 are gathered it is legitimate church.)

Now is a good time for us to remember, “not wrong – just different.” 🙂 The church needs extroverts. The church needs introverts. We need all. But what the church must stop doing is catering church services and activities for what would recharge an extrovert only. Nearly 50% of the congregation may be introverts, and if it’s not, then has the church lost its introverts? In 2018, let’s learn new ways that we can experience God by inviting more introverts to church leadership and planning.

Singles.

While I currently attend church with my husband and child, one day my husband or I am likely to attend church alone. My child will grow up and one day, my husband or I will walk this earth without the other. Hopefully this happens later rather than sooner but when that time comes, will we feel that we fit/have a place at church just as much as when we were attending as part of a young family? Months ago, when my husband and I were looking for a new church, a single friend said to me, “Churches will want you – you have a cute, young child. Try looking for a church as a single woman. No one knows what to do with me.” This statement opened my eyes and broke my heart.

If you attend church with your significant other, I’d challenge you to attend church some Sunday attempting to see it through the eyes of someone who attends church alone. Look in the bulletin or on the website for upcoming events. How many are excluding or inviting to singles? And what is the language like on the website or at church? Would someone who doesn’t attend church look at the website/promotion materials and conclude that this is a church for families and not a church for someone without a family?  This leads to the third area the church could be more mindful of in 2018.

Coveting young families.

The other night, an advertisement popped up on Facebook saying, “Every church can and should have lots of young families! Let us help you reach your goal.” As my husband read this to me, we both cringed. Many churches place a strong emphasis on wanting to be attractive to young families, and while every church can do some simple things that go a long way (like ensuring that the nursery is both clean & safe), I don’t feel comfortable with making young families the ultimate prize. All people matter to Jesus. Seniors. Singles. People with developmental disabilities. All people. When we prioritize one demographic (young families) above all the others, we should stop and ask ourselves why. Is it because we feel more warm and fuzzy about a young family joining our church than a single man? Are young families prized because we hope to ‘get more’ out of them in terms of money or volunteer commitments? And do we desire having more young families when we don’t even know what our neighborhood demographics are? Please hear me out, I have nothing against young families (I am one of them). What breaks my heart is when a church puts such an emphasis on getting young families that other people who aren’t in that demographic (who matter just as much to God) are missed.

For more on this topic (one of my most favourite blog posts ever) click here:
https://achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/when-churches-want-a-pastor-who-can-bring-in-young-families/

In 2018, can we be mindful of the above, and in our churches, can we be more inclusive of singles and introverts while discontinuing the coveting of young families? How do you relate to any of the above? Please don’t be shy if you have something to add to the conversation!

First time guest to church: 5 things we appreciated

In 2016, we had the experience of being first time guests at a lot of churches. If I had to guess, I’d say that we visited 20 churches. Big churches. Small churches. Middle class churches and churches where most congregation members are living in poverty. Congregations that meet in old buildings, new buildings, etc. Quite a sample platter.

A friend asked if I’d write about what some of these churches did well in regards to welcoming us as new guests. In no particular order, here are 5 things that stand out from our experience.

First up, we noticed and liked when congregation members went out of their way to greet us. Whether this was done before, during, or after the service, we remembered their efforts. The message this sent was: this is a church who doesn’t expect the pastor to do all the work of the ministry (we were only greeted by the pastor in several churches). Also, this said to us: “there’s room for more!”.

MMM. So one church gave us a bag of homemade cookies! That was a first and hasn’t been repeated since. Who wouldn’t enjoy cookies for their drive home from church? Taste buds aside, what was important was the message that it sent to us. The cookies said: this church thinks about, plans for, seeks out, and ministers to first time guests.

On another first visit, we were given a tour of the church building prior to the service. Everything from where the bathrooms are to the nursery in the basement were covered. Before the service even started, we felt comfortable and at home there.

As first time guests, one church demonstrated to us the difference between nursery volunteers who supervise vs. nursery volunteers who minister to children. (We’ve been to many a church where the nursery volunteers seem to be more interested in talking to each other than interacting with the children). At this particular church, the nursery workers got on the floor to play with our daughter to help her feel comfortable. It was evident that she was their top priority. And in addition to having a fun and safe nursery experience, she also learned about God.

For a few of the churches (read: 3 churches), we received contact from the pastor within a week or two of having visited for the first time. This took the form of one typed “standard welcome letter” and two that e-mailed us. (It was surprising to me that no church sent a personal, hand-written note. Despite his poor hand writing, this was something Derek did regularly in his ministry – which he received a lot of positive feedback for. Over the years, he was told on several occasions that the hand written note caused the guest to check out our church a second time). Whether it was a typed letter or an e-mail, we greatly appreciated hearing from the church that we had just visited. It helped us to feel noticed, appreciated, welcome. It also sent the message that the pastor/leaders don’t only focus on those who are already there but they also take the time to reach out to those not connected in, yet.

Have you recently been a first time guest in a church? Can you think of something that the church did well that helped you to feel welcome? Would love to hear about it!

 

 

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?