Category Archives: Theology & Culture

7 Reasons Church isn’t for You

church-clip-art-2As a Pastor, a lot of people tell me their thoughts about church. My parishioners, my friends, my family, strangers, young, old and everyone in between. People tell me what they like and what they don’t like. People tell my what should be changed and how to do things differently. They tell me what they are looking for when they ‘church shop’. People tell me why they aren’t attending as often and when they plan to get back in the habit.

Like just about everything else in world, Christians and non-Christians are consuming church. More and more, churches and pastors feel pressured to attract and captivate people – code language for entertain the people into the pews.

Well… maybe I am the first to say, out loud, what a lot of pastors would like to say:

Church isn’t for you.

Here are 7 reasons why church isn’t for you:

  1. The Music isn’t for you. We all have opinions on music. Contemporary or Traditional. Praise Songs or Hymns. Piano or Organ or Worship Band. Upbeat or slowed down. Music has a powerful effect on us, and so we want to hear the music, hymns, songs, and styles we like. But the music isn’t to appease our preferences. Music supports the bible readings. Music speaks to the church season or occasion. Music is supposed to help us tell God’s story, not be the same stuff we choose to hear all week on our iPods.
  2. The Preaching isn’t for you. Preaching is supposed to be funny, interesting, and attention grabbing. Sermons should make us laugh and cry, learn and think. All in 20 minutes or less so that we are not late for lunch. Sermons are a central part of worship, and we want them to be things we want to hear. But preaching isn’t to appease our need to be entertained. Preaching opens up the scriptures to us. Preaching draws us into the unfolding story of God’s mighty deeds in the world. Preaching reminds us that we are sinners, which is hard to hear. Preaching reminds us that we are dead, which is even harder to hear. But Preaching also reminds us of God’s mercy for sinners. And Preaching reminds us of God’s promise of new life in Christ.
  3. The Building isn’t for you. Buildings are supposed to fit all our needs with comfortable pews, big gyms, space for youth, Sunday School classrooms,  nice bathrooms and lots of space for coffee after worship. Churches build, renovate and adapt their spaces to meet our demands. Often a few volunteers toil away, year after year to keep buildings in good repair. I once heard a church member say, “Being at Church should feel like being in your living room”. But Buildings are not for serving our comfort. Buildings provide space for people to gather. Buildings allow communities to be together. Whether it is hard pews or folding chairs, whether it is a rented school gym or a re-purposed store front, buildings help us tell God’s story by giving us a place to tell it. The Church is the people, not the building. Imagine if we put the same effort into caring for each other as we do for our buildings.
  4. The Staff isn’t for you. Churches spend most of their budgets on staff, and so we often have high expectations. We want staff to be always available, ready to drop anything and be at the church to attend to the needs of members, renters, or visitors. Staff are expected to always be courteous and kind, yet they get a lot complaining and criticism. But church staff are not the hired help for churches. The staff’s job is to support the congregation as they live out God’s mission. Staff does the in-between jobs that allow people to serve Jesus. Church staff remind us that God’s work is done with our hands and feet, and that God’s work never ends.
  5. Communication isn’t for you. Churches are expected to make us aware of everything that is going on. We all want to be in the know, and we want to be kept informed. We expect Church communication to be working well – all the time. Whenever we feel out of the loop, we complain about ‘communication problems’. But church communication isn’t for keeping us in the gossip chain. Most churches these days inundate people with communication: Inserts in bulletins, announcements before and after worship, newsletters, poster boards, emails, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and more. Communication is a two-way street, there needs to be senders and receivers. Churches communicate to let their members and their communities know what God is doing in their little piece of the Kingdom. Churches communicate so that God’s mission can be lived out by members between Sundays.
  6. Visitors aren’t for you. We all want our pews full and offering plates overflowing. We want visitors to come and give money, become new members, serve on committees, and volunteer at the soup kitchen once in a while. And still, visitors are glared at for sitting our pew. Visitors are whispered about, yet not greeted when they come to worship. But visitors aren’t for making us feel better or doing our work. Visitor’s are people. People who have come to us seeking a community. People who are seeking God. Visitors are people who give us the opportunity to tell about the ways that God is working in our lives. Visitors are people with whom we can begin relationships with and people that we can invite into our lives.
  7. The Pastor isn’t for you. This one is a little personal. As a pastor I am expected to keep track of hundreds of families. I am supposed to know who is in the hospital, who is sick, who is shut-in at home without being told (because God is supposed to tell me directly). I am supposed to be on call 24/7, 365 days a year. I am supposed to be at every meeting and every church event. I am supposed to remember birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. I am supposed to celebrate every baptism and wedding, and grieve every funeral. I am supposed to have a great sermon every Sunday. I am supposed to attract the youth and get all the inactive members back. But Pastors are not for being Christians on behalf of the congregation. Pastors proclaim the good news and give out the means of grace in the sacraments. Pastors equip people for their ministry. Pastors help people to hear God’s call in their lives. Pastors help congregations live out God’s mission in the world. Pastors do what is good for the congregation, not what makes people happy.

Sometimes we forget why we are ‘The Church’ in the first place. Sometimes we treat the church like all the other things we consume daily in our lives, and so we try to shape and form the church in our own image. We want a church that meets our preferences, like personalized settings on our computer.

Yet, despite all that – despite us – God is still using The Church for God’s purposes. God is still doing God’s work in world, with or without us. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that. Sometimes we just need to hear again:

Church isn’t for you.

You are for the Church.

So what do you think? Is Church really not for you? Are there other ways in which the ‘Church isn’t for you’? Share in the comments, or share on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Want more lists of churchy things?

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

10 More Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

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12 Years a Slave – Why Women should be Equal in the Church

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVEIn the past couple of days, my blog post 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better, has gone viral. It has been viewed 40,000 times. I think it must have struck a chord with many people. The comments have been overwhelmingly positive. They have been humbling too. I thought that my wife and I were just sitting down to spit-ball a satirical list of reasons pastoring is easier for me than for her, at times, simply because I am man and she is a woman. What we didn’t expect was so many who would find affirmation in our ideas. Affirmation of their experience and affirmation of their call to ministry. I am floored by what has been shared.

I followed 12 reasons with ‘10 More Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better‘, and I know there could be hundreds of points to add (so keeping adding in the comments)! Even so, reason 10 from the second post has been on my mind.

  •  “10. No one will ever tell me that, because of my gender, God will not call me into ordained/pastoral ministry. I am not excluded from any role in the church, simply because a biological coin toss gave me certain plumbing. I will never be told that my gender is the cause of all sin and therefore I can’t even teach the other. My gender doesn’t relegate me to “silence” in church or “submission” in the home. I will never be told that the Bible “clearly” explains (when it doesn’t) that I can’t be a pastor simply because it “says so.”

It has been on my mind as I read articles by important writers and theological thinkers, most of whom come from denominations that don’t allow women to be pastors. Writers who are all women. Writers who are put down because they are women (see links to a few at the bottom of this post).

 Last night, Courtenay and I saw 12 Years a Slave. It is a powerful movie, set in the 1850s, about a free African American man, the real Solomon Northup, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. I won’t give away any more plot, but there were some vivid scenes that made me think of the issue of gender equality in the church.

The first image that caught my attention was how the plantation/slave owners – white males – would gather their slaves and wives to read from the bible on Sunday. In one scene, the white male, standing in front of a group of slaves reads from Luke 12:47 (KVJ) –

“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

“Many stripes” he repeats, warning the slaves, human beings that he considers to be his property.

“This is scripture!”, he declares, as if it cannot be contradicted and that beatings are God’s will.

It is a powerful symbol.

It is a familiar symbol.

White men, telling ‘others’ that they are less than human. White men declaring that God has different plans for these ‘others’ than the privileges that God grants to white males.

And yet, most Christians now agree that slavery is wrong. Owning another human being is sinful to us now. We have agreed, even though Jesus said it is okay to beat and whip a disobedient slave, that slavery is wrong. We say slavery is wrong because verses like Galatians 3:28 take precedence, “There is neither slave, nor free”.

Yet, when it is suggested that Paul’s or 1st Timothy’s instructions might not fit with a theology that should take precedence, like Galatians 3:28 “There is no male, nor female”. Accusations of picking and choosing, of contradicting God’s word, rain down.

We can agree on slavery, we can see that it is not the primary theology of the Bible or Jesus. We know that we can still uphold the Bible as authoritative, we can still believe in Jesus and take God seriously. But we can also not take Jesus’ own words about slavery as gospel. We can make this step.

So, why is that so many Christians are having such trouble doing the same when it comes to the role of women in the church?

It is the same reason that the slave owner reads the Bible to his salves AND his wife every Sunday. It is the same when white, male pastors stand in front of congregations, write books, hold conferences, and pontificate on social media about the role of women – they are trying to keep the slaves AND the women in their place so that they can hold onto power and control.

And this effort to hold onto power and control is why women can’t be pastors in some churches. It is why women pastors are treated like second class citizens, 3/5 of a pastor, in other denominations, including my own. It is why we can come up with dozens of points of male privilege in the church. It is why when, complementarians, or others who would relegate women to roles of subservience and submission, speak of ‘Biblical Womanhood’, they rarely mention that ‘biblical’ women were owned by their ‘biblical’ husbands. That sounds too much like slavery, which we don’t do anymore.

But there is hope. 

There was another scene in 12 years a slave that deeply moved me. After a slave died while picking cotton, he was buried in the cemetery full of unmarked graves. As the rest of the slaves gather to mourn, an old woman, presumably the matriarch, begins singing a gospel song – Roll Jordan Roll. This black woman begins preaching – in song – to her community. She preaches to her marginalized, oppressed and suffering community. It is a complete contrast in power. She is surround by her community,  she is not preaching down to them. She leads them in song together, she doesn’t tell them what to think. Her words are beautiful music, not words that strike their hearers like a whip. She is the opposite of the white male slave owner.

This is not a co-incidence of images. This is the juxtaposition of a power imbalance.

As the community sings, the main character, Solomon, is standing there looking totally lost, totally broken, totally hopeless. With nothing left, the only thing he can do is sing. And you can see the hope beginning to well up inside of him. It doesn’t replace his brokenness, but the hope comes along side it. He sings with his community, and finds some hope in these words of faith. The same faith that is used to condemn him to slavery.

What a contrast, indeed.

Those songs of faith, they began the fight for freedom. The same faith that condemned the slaves, is the faith that compelled them to work for freedom.

It the same for us now. The faith that is used to condemn women to subservience and subordination, is the faith that compels us to fight for equality. It is the same Christ who said, “shall be beaten with many stripes” and the same Bible that says, “Let women keep silent in church” that compels us with “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is not a co-incidence that Paul put slaves, gentiles and women all in the same list.

While the white men are working harder than ever to push women, and any ‘other’ down, the end of white male privilege is in sight. Change is on the horizon. The songs are compelling us to sing. The oppressed people are speaking out. Equality is only a matter of ‘when’.

Roll Jordan Roll.

__________________________________

For women who are speaking for equality, here are some, and follow the links on their blogs:

Rachel Held Evans – On Being Divisive… because she spoke about against a sexist christian “Leadership” conference with over 100 speakers, but only 4 women.

April Fiet – When God Calls a Complemntarian Woman into Ministry… because she followed God’s call, even when her theology said it was not possible.

Sara Bessey – In which I am still hopeful because… she wrote a book about called Jesus Feminist!

Kate Wallace at the Junia Project – The Incomplete Gospel of Biblical Womanhood … because she and they are advocating for equality in the church.

10 More Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

12If you haven’t read the first post, 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better, read it here.

So when my wife, Courtenay, and I came up with the first 12 reasons “why being a male pastor is better”, I did not expect my little blog to get shared so widely. Many readers submitted even more reasons in the comments. Some are funny, others are heartbreaking, others will make you shake your head, still others are infuriating. Naming them all is important, otherwise they will continue to be the way of silent privilege for men in the church. You can find all submissions for the list in the comments section of the first post, “12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better”.

Courtenay and I have come up with 10 more. The first 4 are ours. The 5 after that are our favourites compiled from the comments. Number 10 is the biggest reason of all.

1. People will never tell me “how professional” I look in a collar. In public, people are only weirded out because a pastor/priest is near by, not because my gender “doesn’t match” who traditionally wears my uniform.

2. I am never asked to be on larger church committees so that there can be a “representative man”. My role on larger church committees is never to constantly remind the group “him, he, his” are pronouns that apply to pastors too.

3, I get invited to the men’s breakfast AND the ladies’ bible study. No one thinks it is weird for me to show up at the men’s breakfast because of my gender, and it is also not weird that I lead the ladies’ bible study. Weird.

4. I can write blog posts on ‘women in ministry’ and even the nay-sayers are fairly respectful in the comments. The best part is that my thoughts about a gender, which I have no experience being and struggle to understand most days, is considered more authoritative.

From the comments on the first post. (some of have been edited or re-written to fit the style of the list)

5. My style, wardrobe or clothing are not up for public judgement. My clergy shirts by default, do not look like a woman’s blouse that I am trying to hide my maleness under. I will never get more comments about my shoes, my hair, my nails, or my makeup than comments on my sermon on any given Sunday. How I dress has never been an item for discussion by a church committee. In fact, my physical body is not the first thing used to describe me when my parishioners talk about who I am with their friends. No one tells me I have ‘nice legs’.   – Nadia Bolz Weber, Amanda Zentz-Alo, Wendy

6. No one expects me to cook or bake. I am not expected to provide cakes or cookies for the bake sale, or salad for a funeral dinner or potluck. If I do supply a dish for a church event, it is OK for me to pick up something at the store instead of making it myself. Most people don’t expect me to be a good cook just because of my gender.  – Dixie Anders, Rev Lisa Jo, Sandy

7. No one treats me like I am not well read, less intelligent or not as professional simply because of my gender. No one questions my scholarship or intellect – “Does the Bible really say that?” “Where did you read that?” – because a man would not know these things as well as other genders might. –  David Corliss

8. It is tolerated, even thought acceptable, for me to show anger. I am not prevented from being direct and passionate in the pulpit because it is unlike my gender. I can disagree with people or call out bad behaviour without being dismissed as divisive or emotional. – David Corliss

9. Most people won’t judge me publicly about my family life. My parenting skills and work/home-life balance is not publicly questioned simply because my gender is supposed to raise children. Yet, when I show openness to children, I am praised for being nurturing, not simply expected to be. I am not expected to be the Martha Stewart of the parsonage because that should come naturally to me. – Kathleen Lambert

And finally, the biggest reason why being a male pastor is better:

10. No one will ever tell me that, because of my gender, God will not call me into ordained/pastoral ministry. I am not excluded from any role in the church, simply because a biological coin toss gave me certain plumbing. I will never be told that my gender is the cause of all sin and therefore I can’t even teach the other. My gender doesn’t relegate me to “silence” in church or “submission” in the home. I will never be told that the Bible “clearly” explains (when it doesn’t) that I can’t be a pastor simply because it “says so”.

This, of course, is the ultimate in male privilege in the church. And this last one is the most aggravating for me. For liberal and progressive Christians, this is one of the ‘big elephants’ in the church. Except that, I see myself as liberal, progressive AND orthodox AND apostolic AND in keeping with the tradition of the church. Because radical equality is the theology of Jesus and Paul. Patriarchy is 1st century cultural baggage…  baggage that men still force women to carry 20 centuries later. For church leaders who claim that the bible prevents women from being pastors – it is a convenient way to exercise control and conserve power.

But institutionalized patriarchy is not faithful to the over-arching theology of the New Testament. It is not faithful to the way Christians have understood how we interpret scripture as a community and with our greatest theologians including Thecla, St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, and now Pope Francis. It is not faithful to the witness of Sarah, Miriam, Esther, Ruth, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Junia, Phoebe and all the others who preached the good news.

For those who want to keep women out of the pulpit, it isn’t about being faithful – it is about the fact that being a male pastor is “better”.

For more on women in ministry check out – 12 Years a Slave – Why Women should be Equal in the Church

So what do you think? What points still could be added to the list? Share in the comments!

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

priestA few days ago I wrote about the issue of women in ministry. While I don’t think I have ever hidden my views on the topic (I married a female colleague, after all), I also have never written about it on the various blogs I have maintained over the last few years. And maybe recently, I didn’t see it as my place to comment on women in ministry. I am still not sure… I don’t see it as my place to comment on anyone’s “right” or “place” to be a pastor. If anything, I think it is my place to talk about my experience of being a Lutheran pastor or a millennial pastor or a Canadian pastor. It is also to my place to talk about being a male pastor.

So let’s talk about that.

Being a male pastor is kind of like Louis C.K.’s description of “Being White”. (Warning: The video contains offensive language).

Like Louis C.K. says, male pastors aren’t better. But being a male pastor is clearly better.

Like all the advantages of being white and male in North America, there are advantages when it comes to being an ordained pastor. Here are some of the obvious ones:

  1. No one ever defines my ministry by my gender. No one says, “wow a male pastor or a man in ministry, good for you.” I always get to be just a pastor. I don’t have to constantly live with a qualifier in front of “pastor”, and I am not forced to bear someone’s inappropriate shock that I am my gender and I am a pastor.
  2. People expect me to be direct and tell them what I think. They want me to lead them somewhere. I am rarely challenged or expected to defend or make a case for my ideas. I don’t have to apologize for having strong opinions or constantly defend my ideas.
  3. People think twice about fighting with me. I always have a leg up in conflict, bullies find it harder to push my buttons because I have fewer to push. I am never automatically second class because of my gender, so conflict is on equal terms or tipped in my favour. I don’t have to suffer being called “boy” or “son” as way of dismissing my point of view, and I am not accused of being divisive if I disagree with something or anything.
  4. People are used to pastors of my gender. There are no congregations that are unsure of male candidates for ministry, no parishioners who think it is alright to say something like, “I will never be buried by a man.” I don’t have to endure questions about whether I will take paternity leave, or what will happen when I have kids.
  5. People almost never assume that I have a particular gift for ministry before they know me. They don’t automatically think that my gender is suited to particular areas of ministry like preaching or administration. No one assumes that I am not good at pastoral care or being nurturing. People don’t say that I have the gift of speaking with a voice that men can relate to.
  6. I don’t have to worry about my safety. I don’t think twice about being alone in the church or if I am safe on my own. If a man asks to meet with me one on one, I don’t have to question my physical safety or his motives. Men don’t try to share the peace with me by hugging me (or grabbing my ass).
  7. No one assumes that I am the church secretary or the pastor’s spouse. I am never told, “You don’t look like a pastor or you are took young to be a pastor” even thought I am built like a football player and at times have had long hair and a beard like a hell’s angel. And I have a tattoo. And I am 30 (two decades younger than the average age of pastors in our denomination).
  8. Churches are built for men. Pulpits, altars, pastor chairs, vestments are all designed my size and body type in mind. I don’t look ridiculous because the standard garb of my profession is made for my gender, and I don’t look like a cross dresser in a clergy shirt.
  9. All the pronouns are for my gender. God is a he. Jesus is a he. Pastors are almost always referred to as he or him or his. I don’t have to correct people because they never use the wrong pronoun to refer to me.
  10. Being male is the norm in the church. I didn’t have to take classes in seminary about men’s issues, there is no post-modern male theology, male pastors where never brought in to speak about being male pastors as if it was special or odd or a novelty.
  11. I could join the Old Boys Club if I wanted to. Leadership in the church is still overwhelmingly male, and there are no glass ceilings for male pastors in the church. No one pretends it is, “all in good fun” to make sexist jokes about my gender, and none of my colleagues treats me like I am second class because of my gender.
  12. I don’t have to walk on egg shells in ecumenical situations. I don’t have to justify my position and call to my conservative colleagues, because they all have male pastors in their denominations. I am not an oddity or the token male at ministerial events.

All the advantages of being a male pastor are only advantages because women suffer the opposite. So many of my colleagues have to contend with these annoyances, insults, and frustrations each day because they are the reality of life in the church. This fact makes me very angry. I pray for the day when these will not be male-pastor advantages, but the reality for all pastors, regardless of gender.

*** Special thanks to my wife, Courtenay, for helping me write this post, since she knows much more about the struggles women in ministry face than I do. You can follow her on twitter @ReedmanParker ***

Read a Christmas Post here:

I am at War with Christmas

See some more posts:

Putting My Jesus Feminism to the Test

10 More Reasons Why Male Pastors are Better,

So what do you think? Are these true? Are there more advantages to being a male pastor? Share in the comments.

Follow me on Twitter: @ParkerErik

A young male pastor’s thoughts on women in ministry: What is the problem?

WomenPreach2So in my routine, daily internet rounds, I am often on the lookout for articles, blog posts or news stories on the church, ministry, millennials, leadership, social justice, theology, Jesus… basically anything faith related. And lately, I have come across blog posts by women about the role of women in the church. Quite a few blog posts, in fact. This comes on the heals of a book written and published, recently, by my fellow Lutheran pastor and colleague, Nadia Bolz-Weber called: “Pastrix”… a pejorative term for a female pastor. Apparently some Christians don’t like the idea of women being pastors, or preaching in church, or teaching boys over the age of 12 or really doing much else than serving the potlucks. How 1750 of them.

All I can say is… What the hell? Did I miss something?

The idea of “Complementarianism” has come up over and over. As far as I can tell, this is basically a nice word for, institutionalized and indoctrinated, patriarchy. Here are some excellent articles on the topic (written by three women who would be fantastic pastors in orthodox and mainline denominations):

Now, I understand the history of patriarchy. I understand the biblical argument for the “submission” of women (a tenuous argument at best). I have studied the scholarship, the greek and the history of the Bible and Church – a couple of theology degrees worth.  And ultimately, the evidence shows that patriarchy is contextual, cultural baggage. It is not Christ’s design for the church. It is sad that it has taken centuries to figure this out.

Women in ministry my whole life

When I started my Bachelor’s History and Theology degree in 2001 and my seminary MDiv in 2005, I knew that Rome didn’t ordain woman. And I knew those other Lutherans called the Missouri Synod didn’t either. And I knew that some other brands of Christians, called Evangelicals, ordained women and some didn’t.

But my kind of Lutheran had been ordaining women since before I was born. We elected women bishops more than decade ago. One of my friends growing up was confirmed by his Anglican Bishop – a woman. I met United Church of Canada women who were pastors. My Roman Catholic theology professors felt that the ordination of women was on its way to Rome… but it might take a few decades – which is fast for Rome. There were even some wacky Baptist and Pentecostal kids in high school who had women as pastors. For my whole life, as far as I could tell, women in ministry was a completely normal and unquestioned  part of being a Christian. This made complete sense to me.

Not to mention that my grandfather was a pastor, and my great-uncle the Evangelical Lutheran Church Canada president (read: National Bishop) for 15 years starting in 1970. They were the ones that introduced women’s ordination. To me this was hearing about TV or airplanes being first introduced. This was history… not an issue for debate.

Wow. Was I wrong.

For some reason we still have problems with women’s ordination

I remember sitting in a seminary class, where 3 seasoned female pastors were invited to tell us about their experience in ministry. They told us about parishioners struggling with the idea of a woman being their pastor. They talked about condescending comments, bad behaviour, and people having trouble with change.

Hearing their stories made me so mad. I wanted to go back to their churches with them and take these offending parishioners out behind the church to let them know what I really thought of their behaviour. I knew it was of course not a real solution, but it is what I felt. So if people (usually older) having trouble adjusting women pastors was the worst of it… I could begrudgingly accept, and work to change, this reality.

Now, nearly 5 years into ministry, I am now married to a seminary classmate – also a pastor. Whenever I hear about her parishioners treating her with any less than the respect and deference that I can unthinkingly expect as a male, it makes me insane. In fact, when I hear stories I have to work hard to keep myself from wanting to intervene with a few choice words for her badly behaving church members. I know this isn’t the solution. I know that she has to fight her own battles.

But I also know that as a male pastor I have to hold my congregation, my colleagues and all Christians to a higher standard of theology, ecclesiology, biblical scholarship and basic human decency. I, also, have to expect the same from my male pastoral colleagues.

A responsible view of women in ministry

Sarah Bessey, who I mentioned above, has a crowd-sourced project called #Jesusfeminist. She invites people to come out as Jesus feminists. Well, I will certainly come out as Jesus Feminist. And I think it is a noble attempt to claim space for women in ministry. I laud theses evangelical women who are making the case that there is room for women to take on leadership roles in their churches, especially pastoral roles.

But I don’t think making space, for women in the church, is enough. That position implies the old patriarchal model is acceptable.

Well, I disagree.

So I am pulling a Stephen Colbert and putting a few people on notice.

If you are Christian and you think the bible says women can’t be pastors, you have been mislead.

If you are a pastor and you are telling women to go back to abusive husbands, you should resign your call.

If you are a husband and you use the bible to keep your wife in line or to make her obey you, you are a sad man.

If you are a teacher of matters of the church or theology, and you take the “complementarian” view, you are not reading the bible seriously. You are not reading Paul right, you don’t really know what the New Testament is about and you are not listening to Jesus.

And guess what… I didn’t miss anything.

So what do you think of women in ministry? Am I taking too harsh a stand? Share in the comments. 

Want to kill your church? Start a program!

fail-poster-i6ru6okjjf-SUNDAY-SCHOOL

What do programs do anyways?

Every Church I know wants to teach faith to their members, and often struggle to figure out what that looks like. But I am sure that most of us would agree that these things probably don’t work:

  • preventing people from attending worship
  • dumbing down faith into perverse moralisms
  • having ill-equipped leaders lead
  • providing an experience that doesn’t reflect the vast majority of life in the community of the church
  • segregating  members until they are deemed worthy of being a part of the rest of the community

But this is exactly how the most widespread program in churches operates – Sunday School. We just don’t think about what Sunday School is actually doing, and how it is often doing the exact opposite of what we think it is doing. Sunday School is just one of many dreaded “programs” that we use as churches and it is killing us.

Church as Corporation

Churches and Church institutions have been adopting the structures and behaviours of secular organizations for a long time… maybe since the 4th century when Constantine put Christianity in charge of his empire.

In the 20th century and into the 21st century, churches are looking more and more like corporations than ever. Pastors and Bishops are being treated like CEOs. CEOs of companies that don’t pay well and expect a lot. Council meetings are more and more business oriented than community and vision oriented. And it is not surprising. Our North American world is becoming more “corporatized” everywhere we turn.

Besides constitutions, bylaws, policies, budgets, goal-achievment-strategies… the “program” is probably the most pervasive corporate strategy to infect churches. Programs have become the most important thing that many churches think they are doing. We have programs for everything: Sunday School programs, youth programs, young adult programs, young families programs, women’s programs, men’s programs, seniors programs, worship programs, bible study programs, soup kitchen programs, confirmation programs, evangelism programs, volunteer programs, stewardship programs, maintenance programs, VBS programs, music programs, singles, programs, couples programs, AA/NA programs, seeker/new christian programs, and so on…

So here is the thing about programs. They don’t work.

Programs Don’t Work – Communities Do

Programs are for communities that have forgotten how to be communities. Programs satisfy our deep fears about being sufficient on our own to “attract” people to church. I have heard the question so often, “What can we do to (fill in the blank, get the youth back, have a worship band, build a Sunday School, reach out to young families, work with seniors, serve the homeless etc…)?” And the real question being asked is, “What can do we do to avoid the real issue of why we have forgotten how to be a diverse community of real relationships?

Programs seem like silver bullets or magic wands that will solve our problems. But really programs are the best at helping us to avoid being a real community. Programs, literally, give us words to say instead of our own. The map out our activity, our time, or goals and objectives. Only communities that have forgotten how to be real communities need that kind of help.

Programs need to be viewed as what they really are. Crutches for community. Communities that can’t walk on their own use crutches… but only until they are walking again. If we keep using the crutches, we will never walk.

Churches and church leaders should be deciding on their own what the vision, value and goals for community are. We should map out our own activities, time and objectives. We should speak our own words, the words passed on in faith through scripture and the timeless Body of Christ to each other. We need to speak with words specific to our context, our time and place. Programs are killing our community much more often than they are helping us to be a community. So let’s give them up.

Do I mean that churches need to stop doing all those things I listed above? No. But programs don’t teach our faith or serve the poor or “attract” youth to church or help different generations integrate or deepen our relationship with God and others.

Let’s Be a Community

Instead, let’s be churches or communities that teach each other faith and learn together. Let’s serve our neighbour together. Let’s help our young find their place among us together. Let’s grow in faith as we worship and share in fellowship together. Oddly enough doing these things as community might look a lot like a program. And if we do these things well as a community together, other communities might look at us and say, “hey, you guys are doing that well, tell us how” and that is how programs are often started.

Yet, doing these things together as a community means that we are figuring out how it will work – and work here. It means thinking about our people, not any people. It means planning what things will look like here. And we will start looking more and more like a real community that doesn’t need crutches. Because here is the thing about crutches… Jesus didn’t like them. Jesus just created a community that did stuff together… no program required.

One last thing.

Why programs need to die

A word about programs and generations, this blog is called “The Millennial Pastor”, after all.

Programs are a very post-WWII phenomenon. The G.I. generation started all kinds of programs for their kids. Sunday Schools, youth groups, choirs, service clubs, couples groups, singles groups, mom groups, ladies’ groups, etc… And many congregations have a hard time giving up these programs. Soup kitchens, women’s groups, Sunday Schools often have elderly people driving them and doing the work. As often as I am asked the question, “How do we get the young people back?” it is followed by, “They need to come and do their part around here”. Churches and long time members expect their kids and grandkids to come and carry on with the church. Not just carry-on in faith, or gathering for worship, but carry-on the Sunday School, the ladies’ group, the property care, the volunteer programs, the choirs (and their music), the committees and the the financial burden.

But the G.I.’s and the Boomers forget that they had the privilege of founding churches, starting programs from the ground and enshrining their passions in the bylaws of the congregation. These pet projects might have to die for the church to survive. Disbanding Sunday School isn’t a failure, it the realization that something needs to die for something new to start to grow.

So want to kill your church? Start a program or, even better, keep with the ones that aren’t working. Want to see new life in unexpected places? Start killing programs.

What do you think? Are programs bad for churches? Or do we need them? Share in the comments. 

Christians are not good at asking, “why?”

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First off, if you are looking for more reading on Millennials there is a lot out there. If you are looking for some of the ones I find most interesting, click on “Articles on Generations” in the tabs above. 

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Questions are bad

Sometimes I forget that most Christians, most people even, think that questioning something is disrespectful or aggressive on the one hand, or a sign of weakness on the other. We have all been in group situations either at school, work or in the community where a leader, teacher or presenter asks if there are questions in regards to the topic being presented. Often no one does. And it is not because the material has been presented so well that there are no questions, but no one wants to sound like they don’t understand something or don’t know what is going on.

Well, in the Church and among Christians we take this idea to a new level.  In my experience, most Church members really don’t want to appear like they have faith related questions. Worse yet, when they do know something about the bible or faith doesn’t seem to make sense, many believe that questioning it might cause them to lose their faith. Often when I do pre-baptismal visits with families who are bringing their child to be baptized (too many times because grandparents want them to, not because they are active church folk) they end up asking questions about the Bible and God and the Church. Usually I am told that grandma and grandpa, other older relatives, previous pastors or other church folk have to told them not to ask questions – just “accept it on faith”.

A new generation asks why?

In an article I recently read on Hiring Millennials for tech startups, it suggests that Millennials are more likely to ask “why?” than previous generations, and therefore more valuable in helping companies finding focus and direction. I have no idea if this is true or even measurable, but some of my experience supports this claim.

As a strong ENTJ on the MBTI, my deep need and compulsion to ask “why?” may very well be a personality trait more than a generational trait. However, my need to ask “why?” is precisely why I am still a Christian. The fact that I asked “why?” and questioned my faith is at the foundation of why I became a pastor.

Even from a young age I had the feeling (or idea) that the Bible didn’t always make sense. As a teenager, I knew that things like creation, the flood, jonah and the whale, and many other biblical stories as presented by some fundamentalist church members didn’t jive with science class at school. Fortunately, Lutheran doctrine and a pastor who didn’t want to take a stand on anything, allowed the rest of us in my home congregation to feel like it was okay to be members and not buy into the literalism stuff.

But still, I could feel the questions beginning to stack up when it came to the bible and faith by the time I was finishing high school. I had great youth leaders who were introducing us to all sorts of ideas like helping the poor, the effects of poverty and our systems of wealth that enable it. They were one of the important pieces that kept me in church. I also stayed connected by being involved with music in worship, going to the Lutheran Student Movement in university, and working at Bible Camps in my summers.  My family was great, they left my questions room to be asked, even when my parents didn’t have the answers.

Questioning the questions

University was sometimes a struggle to keep up my faith. It seemed very ‘in vogue’ in 2001 for historians, political scientists and other liberal arts profs to dump on Christianity and the Bible. And if I hadn’t been fortunate to grow up in a church and family that was steeped in scripture, I might have believed their criticisms. But as much as my questions were stacking up in regard to the contradictions in the bible and contradictions in the church, the criticisms weren’t making sense either. I was taking history and religious studies, and I could tell that I wasn’t getting the whole picture. I would feel sick as profs described Christianity, not because my beliefs were being questioned, but because a fundamentalist Christianity, that wasn’t the faith I knew, was being questioned.

I soon became tired of religious studies and searched the course catalogue for something that I wanted to take, something about faith. And then I stumbled onto the small Roman Catholic faculty of theology at the University of Alberta. Half way through my Bachelor’s degree, I started taking as many classes as I could. Classes from professional theologians (not historians and religious studies profs). Classes on science and religion not science classes that referenced the bible. Classes on Christian doctrine and theology not a social science of Christianity. Classes on real biblical scholarship not English literature that included the bible. Classes on real church history, not history in which the Church was marginally present.

The profs and classes made me feel like I finally had a reference point for my questions. It was like they gave me the box with picture on it of the puzzle I had been working on. I finally knew what I image I was putting together.

Theology became a serious discipline. Biblical studies finally showed me a hermeneutic that made sense. Church history filled in gaps of the secular history I had been studying. But most importantly, no question was disallowed. Everything was on the table. And the questions we couldn’t answer, like “does God exist?”, were given a framework to know why we couldn’t answer them.

My last two years on my undergraduate degree were like the last half of a Survivor puzzle, everything was coming together faster and faster.

Questioning Faith

Add a Master of Divinity and 4+ years in the parish, and I know that I don’t have all answers, I never wanted them. What I do have is the tools to ask the best questions and then make my way through them… which usually leads to more questions.

What makes me so sad is meeting people my age who are only loosely connected to their faith because their questions were shut down. They were told to fall inline and stop causing trouble by questioning the bible, the church, faith. I don’t know if that tactic really ever works, but I think Millennials have wanted to ask “why?” more than our parents. I think it is growing up in a world where we have been bombarded with media, marketing and sound bytes. I want something deeper, something with meat. Something that has room for questions.

Ask Us Anything

The Church has led the way in the “Don’t question us” department for decades. Maybe one of the things politicians and corporations have learned from us is that it is a lot easier to suppress questions than it is to answer them.

Maybe it is time for the Church to lead the way in “Ask us anything” department for a while. Maybe some of my Millennial peers might find getting the chance to ask “why?” is a compelling reason to try church.

Just remember, “just accept it on faith” is always a bad answer.
“I don’t know, so let’s find out together” is always a good one.

If we are serious as about sharing our faith, it is time for the church to allow room for a lot of “why?” questions. Everything has to be on the table… and it is not just Millennials who need to have some “why?” conversations – we all do.