Tag Archives: Church

11 Christmas Eve Sermons that often get preached, but we don’t want to hear

easter-church-coloring-106We have all been there before. It’s Christmas Eve. The church is full. A whole bunch of people who aren’t normally at church on Sunday mornings, are sitting in the pews. Perhaps you are one of them.

Christmas carols have been sung. Maybe there was a pageant with a real live Mary, Joseph and baby. Maybe the sunday school kids are singing a sweetly off-key version of ”Away in a Manger”. There are some prayers and more singing, and someone has read the familiar Christmas story that begins, “In those days a decree went out…”

But before you can hold the candles and sing Silent Night, the pastor is going to ramble on for a while. This is the part you dread. What is the pastor going to say this year?

As a pastor, I am deeply aware that most people in church on Christmas Eve are not there to hear me. It is a weird night for us who preach. I would wager a guess that many Sunday morning folks look forward to sermons, or at least welcome sermons as an important part of worship. But Christmas Eve is different. Churches are uncharacteristically full. Visitors, strangers, unfamiliar faces fill the pews. It feels like the Superbowl of the church year. Your small group of devoted fans have been watching you all year, but now the whole world wants to see the show… well not really the show, they are really there for the commercials.

I have been in the pew more than in the pulpit on Christmas Eve during my life. And I have been subjected to atrocious Christmas sermons. Sermons from good preachers that make me think… “Huh? Did I miss something?” For some reason, Pastors pick strange sub-themes for their Christmas Eve sermons, sub-texts that are really about something else… I call these Junk Food sermons because they are mostly empty calories that don’t really fill us. They are more about the anxiety of the preacher, than about the story of Jesus. Here are 11 of them.

  1. The “come to church” sermon: The pastor tries tell all the visitors that because Jesus was born in a manger, they should try out this church on some other days of year. Churches are usually described as places that are pretty to cool to hang out at, or at the very least not so bad that they should be avoided. Pastors try to be welcoming but can come across as lonely people, in need of some friends.
  2. The “come back to church” sermon: This is related to the last one but it is for all the non-attending kids and grandkids of the regulars. The Pastor stresses the importance of Jesus’ birth, and the commitment that follows. Jesus was born for you, so you better join a committee and give some money. Well, not quite that direct, but there is the awkward sense that we were signed up for a job without our permission.
  3. The “why are you here?” sermon: This is preached by the pastor who has done a few too many “come to church” sermons. It is a passive aggressive lecture for the Christmas Eve crowd. It reminds them that coming to church once a year doesn’t count as being a real church goer, and so we should all feel bad for missing any Sundays at all.
  4. The “Jesus is the reason, so Santa is not” sermon: This one is a bit of a killjoy. The pastor tries to explain the “real story” behind Christmas, by telling us that Santa isn’t real. The War on Christmas folks love this sermon, but everyone else feels a little sheepish for having the wrong kind of Christmas joy, and writing “From Santa” on the present they gave to their kids. (The War on Christmas people wrote “From Jesus”).
  5. The “This God stuff sounds implausible, but you can believe it because we love each other” sermon: This one can get a little esoteric. The pastor talks about virgin births, angels, and magi following stars. It all sounds a little fantastical yet skeptical at the same time. But the pastor assures you that it is okay because the rest of us believe this crazy stuff.
  6. The “magic of Christmas” sermon: This one has all the feelings. And nostalgia. Maybe the Pastor shares a story of a childhood Christmas complete with grandmother’s knitting and Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The only mention of Jesus is an uncomfortable apology for his awkward presence.
  7. The “chicken soup for the… huh?” sermon: This is a storytelling sermon. The Pastor pretends to tell the story from the perspective of the donkey that Mary rode to Bethlehem, or the inn-keeper’s nagging barmaid wife, or even from the vantage point of a nearby tree. It seems to be somewhat related to the Christmas story, but no one is sure why or how… not even the pastor, apparently.
  8. The “theology lecture” sermon: This one is long, dry and confusing. It has big words like incarnation, eschatology, missio dei. The pastor seems to be really explaining what all this Christmas stuff is about, but you can hear snoring, a teen playing games on an iPhone and  a baby crying the whole time. No one knows when it will end.
  9. The “anti-consumerism, let’s meet at the soup kitchen afterwards” sermon: This one is full of high-minded values, except everyone feels ashamed for having seen a Christmas commercial or accidentally singing along with a Christmas carol on the radio in the previous month. The good news is that the local soup kitchen has been informed that we all are coming to serve dinner after the service.
  10. The “christmas spirit will make you believe” sermon: This one talks a lot about faith, believing, finding the divine, opening our hearts, letting the spirit in. The Pastor says just have faith, but what we are supposed to have faith in is not quite clear. Is it Jesus? Or Santa? Or Christmas Trees? Or Holiday spirit? All seem like valid options.
  11. The “please believe in Jesus, my job depends on it” sermon: This one is from the pastor who is feeling pressure to get more members. We are encouraged to start believing in Jesus, even if it isn’t cool. But Baby Jesus was cool. Oh and join the church, even though it isn’t cool. But our youth worker is cool! This one feels desperate.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know there are a lot of great Christmas sermons that have been and will be preached. I know that many of my fellow pastors work hard to proclaim the story of Jesus born into the world for all creation and for us in particular. But I think Christmas can drive pastors, squirrelly, trying to preach a good sermon on the same story year after year. And if you do get one of the sermons above, forgive your pastor. He or she is just trying to do a good job on, maybe, the most pressure filled day of year.

To my colleagues. I don’t have the answers, I am an unrepentant story-teller. But try to keep it simple. Tell the story of God coming into the world. Don’t worry about why we should believe it or getting visitors to come back. Let God do that stuff. Just preach it like the angels:

“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”


Any stories of Christmas sermons you have endured? Are there more to add to the list? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor

***Thanks again to my wife for contributing. You can follow Courtenay at @ReedmanParker on twitter.***

Other Advent and Christmas posts:

I am at war with Christmas

Two Reluctant Prophets: John the Baptist and Nelson Mandela

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Two Reluctant Prophets: John the Baptist and Nelson Mandela

Nelson and JohnMatthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Sermon

Messiah is coming.

This was the promise that our Advent waiting began with. Each year, as we begin a new church year, we begin with waiting. As the world explodes Christmas everywhere, with sales and music, concerts and tv specials, we wait. We wait and sing hymns about preparing and getting ready. We pray for God to stir us up, for God move us as the Body of Christ. To move us with compassion and love for a world desperately in need of a saviour, desperately crying out for healing. As green and red colours dominate the  colour scape of our world, we decorate here with a defiant blue. Blue that symbolizes patient waiting and hopeful anticipation.

Today is the second week of Advent. Advent can feel at times like finishing your vegetables before getting dessert. It can seem like a punishment pastors force on congregations for having too much Christmas cheer in December. Advent is not really a  favourite of seasons for most of us. The stories in Advent are jarring. Advent always starts with apocalypse. John the Baptist’s crazy rantings mark the middle. The uncomfortable news of an unexpected pregnancy for an unmarried couple finishes Advent off. Advent is not the sweet picture of a mother and newborn in a cozy stable. Advent is very much about discomfort. We wait, we watch. We repeat the promise:

Messiah is Coming.

We acknowledge that we aren’t there yet.

Last year, the middle of Advent was marked by a mass shooting in an elementary school in New Town, Connecticut. This year, our Advent waiting will be marked by global grieving, remembering and celebrating Nelson Mandela. How very inconvenient and how very appropriate. Advent is about discomfort, and what could make us white, North Americans more uncomfortable than dealing with the legacy of a figure who challenged our position of privilege, a man who was jailed for 27 years because of the colour of his skin, and someone who then became an icon of forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is hard to not to think of Nelson Mandela as we hear John the Baptist preach this morning. John is standing on the banks of the river Jordan, out in the wilderness of Judea. He is a figure who is outside of the political systems of his day. He is not a priest preaching in the temple of Jerusalem. He is not a rabbi teaching in the synagogues. He is a prophet, a truth teller, preaching in the wilderness. And John’s message does not uphold the traditions. He is not hoping to help people learn or grow in their faith. He is pointing to the problems and injustices of the world. His message is a warning – the world, and us along with it, is going to be transformed.

We might expect that John’s warnings would be dismissed as crazy, the announcement of the change to come sounds impossible. He should have been all by himself preaching to the sand and locusts. But everyone has gone out to hear him. Those who are oppressed and suffering, the ones looking for hope, and those who are in power, the ones looking to maintain control. And his message is the same for all. Bear fruit worthy of repentance, do not rely on your position in the world. Messiah is coming and Messiah is going to turn it all upside down.

John’s message would have sounded unbelievable to his hearers. The rich were rich, the blessed were blessed, the clean were clean, the righteous were righteous. The people thought God wanted things that way, that God had chosen the powerful to be powerful. And the poor were poor, the cursed were cursed, the unclean were unclean, the sinners were sinful. The people thought that God wanted things that way too, that God had chosen those on the bottom to be on the bottom.

Apartheid in South Africa was based on the same ideology. White Afrikaners believed that God had chosen them, chosen white, rich, privileged people to rule over the black, poor, marginalized people of the continent. And many believed that this system was immutable and unchangeable. It is not just in South Africa that people have believe in a system of privilege like this. In the United States many felt white people had the right to own black slaves. Here in Canada, many felt that white Christians had the right to civilize indigenous peoples in residential schools.

And even still, we too, get caught up in believing that our world is as it should be. That the poor deserve to be poor, that the rich deserve to be rich. It is easy for us to unthinkingly assume that privilege belongs to a certain few. That we are owed something because of our gender, our skin colour, our economic status, our religion. Just like the scribes and Pharisees, we protest, “But we have Abraham as our Father.” as if we have earned our place in the world, earned our place in the eyes of God. Just like the crowds, we long for justice, but don’t believe it possible.

But today John the Baptist declares a new reality. Who your parents are, how much money you make, the colour of your skin, your ability to keep religious laws, the number of times you attend church in a year… none of those things matter to God. God is sending Messiah who will turn the whole world upside down. God is sending a Messiah who will repent us, who will transform us, who will burn our chaff away, our selfishness, our sinfulness, our sense of privilege and position. God is sending a messiah who will gather our wheat, who will gather our transformed, forgiven, renewed selves into God. God is not interested in maintaining our systems of power and privilege.

John declared that the system of power and privilege for a few were coming to an end. John threatened those in power, and gave hope to the marginalized crowds.

In the same way Nelson Mandela stood outside the systems of privilege and power, of white against black, of rich against poor. He was released from prison and began to show his people, and the world, hope. Hope in something new and different. Hope by showing us a new vision for the world, a new vision where all are treated the same and all are equally loved. Nelson preached the transformation of forgiveness and reconciliation.

John and Nelson preached a new reality, a transformed world. They preached the world of Messiah. John with stern warnings of axes and fire. Nelson with defiant humility and unwavering mercy. But neither John the Baptist, nor Nelson Mandela claimed to be the one who would bring about the transformations they imagined. They only pointed to the hope. They were prophets, prophets who pointed to the current reality and imagined a new one. They pointed to Messiah.

To the Messiah who is coming with the axes and fires of transformation. To the Messiah who is coming with forgiveness and reconciliation. To the Messiah who is coming to gather God’s poeple. Messiah who will name, claim and gather God’s people, rich or poor, black or white, powerful or powerless, clean or unclean, righteous or unrighteous. Messiah is who is coming into the world of the people standing on the banks of the river Jordan, Messiah who is coming to the people of South Africa and the world, Messiah who is coming here to us today. John the Baptist and Nelson Mandela pointed to the Messiah’s world.

For weeks now, we have been getting ready for Christmas, the songs, the decorations, the colours have been out for weeks. We have been looking forward to the big show at Christmas. But these preparations are only a small piece of Advent.

John the Baptist and Nelson Mandela get at the bigger task of Advent. The naming of reality. The prophetic word about the unjust systems that exist in our world. Systems like the temple of Jerusalem that withheld God’s love from the people. Systems like slavery, residential schools, Apartheid. Systems that perpetuate the economic, racial, gender and religious inequality of our present day. We name those things today, and then we declare, with John and Nelson, that Messiah is coming. Messiah is coming to throw out the old systems, to transform us into something new.

Today, as our Advent waiting continues. Today, as we hear anew the voice of John the Baptist. Today as we mourn the death and celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela, we are shown a vision of the Messiah. We made uncomfortable as our systems of power and privilege are threatened. We are given hope for a world that is changeable and that will not remain unjust and unfair. Today, we are declare the Advent promise anew.

Messiah is coming.

Amen.

I am at War with Christmas

war-on-christmasSomeone better tell Fox News and Jon Stewart that I really exist. I am the actual guy waging war on Christmas.

If you have been anywhere near the internet these past few days, you know that the annual “War on Christmas” meme is in full force, particularly on Fox News. Jon Stewart took advantage on Dec 3rd, to poke some hilarious fun at the idea that Christmas is under attack.

That being said, I think this year I am actually signing up. I think I  want to openly go to war with Christmas. Against Christmas. As Christmas’s enemy.

Every year as soon as Halloween is over, I see myself falling into the same patterns of avoiding Christmas. For nearly two months every year, I work hard not to have Christmas. So why not be open about it? Why not embrace the War on Christmas?

Throughout most of November and December, I do many things to keep Christmas from being celebrated. I try very hard to avoid saying “Merry Christmas”, and I prefer to be greeted with Happy Holidays. I even actually like the shorthand X-Mas. I make note of all the other holidays being celebrated in my calendar. Hanukkah, the Feast of St. Nicolas, Santa Lucia, Kwanzaa etc… I have even been able to cancel a few community/workplace Christmas pageants in the past few years and it felt great! I don’t think Christmas should be in schools, I don’t think it should be in the workplace, I don’t think it should be noted by public figures or politicians. If I could remove Christmas from most of the last 8 weeks of the year, I will have succeeded in my war.

Christmas music can be the worst! I generally don’t listen to Christmas music in my car or at home, and it irks me to have to listen to it when I can’t control the sound system. I complain when hear Christmas music in malls. The sound tracks playing in most commercial spaces make me want to thrown up. Christmas concerts annoy me, especially the ones on TV.  I get sick of Christmas music so quickly. It feels like the drummer boy is using my head as a drum. And when pop musicians make Christmas albums, I almost wish I was deaf.

When I see decorations in public spaces, a part of me wants to tear them all down. All the green boughs, the red bows, the holly, the wreaths, the ornaments, all of it could just disappear and I would be fine with it. I just don’t get why people want Christmas lights all over the place, even if it does get darker sooner in November. I often criticize stores that sell Christmas merchandise and I try not buy any. Christmas inventory is so kitschy most of the time. I scoff at people who put light displays up on their house after Halloween. And don’t get me started on those who put up Christmas trees in November… it drives me nuts. What is the point of having a giant tree up for month in anticipation of present opening day?

Often, Christmas movies make me cranky. Christmas TV episodes, specials, and Christmas themed TV are almost always awful. It is like they are trying to capture some mushy, gooey feeling  that I want no part of.  But Christmas commercials and advertising needs to be banned from existence. Another “Ho ho ho” from Santa and I think I will lose it. You will find me in some corner sobbing as I whisper “No more Santa, No more.”

In my work life, I spend a lot of time encouraging the people around me to keep from celebrating Christmas too. I try to keep Christmas from invading my workplace and I always schedule work for myself on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then after those big days, I have time with my family and friends. I am becoming more sure that the people I work with think I am the grinch who has stolen their Christmas joy, because I force them to put a lid on the Christmas celebrating.

Now with Facebook and Twitter becoming ‘War on Christmas’ battle grounds, I have become a Christmas grinch on social media. I have called out my friends for loving Christmas too much. I have advocated pairing down the celebration and toning down the cheer a notch.

In November and December most years, I just wish Christmas would go away. So when Fox News folks start complaining about the War on Christmas, I feel like saying, “Yeah, finally we are winning.” Christmas is getting what it deserves. It is getting pushed aside,  moved out of the way. I want something else to take its place, I want a new holiday for November and December.

Or rather, I want an old holiday.

For you see, I am a Lutheran Pastor.

And I love Advent. I think our world needs Advent. I think we all need Advent. When Christmas begins in November, it stops being what it is supposed to be, which is “The Feast of the Nativity.” When Christmas becomes a two-month long celebration of shopping and a chance to gorge ourselves in sentimentalism and nostalgia, it is not the “Mass for Christ’s Birth.”

Sarah Palin, one of the Popes of American Right-Wing Christianity recently said, “I love the commercialization of Christmas, it spreads the Christmas cheer.” She has missed the point. Obviously. But she has named an important reality. We just don’t want to deal with the things that Advent deals with. We want to avoid the harsh realities of life, and have a big party instead. A party that has now become the symbol of global inequality and broken social systems.

Christmas has no meaning on its own. Christmas is empty and vapid when it is a two month opportunity to increase debt and avoid real issues.

Christmas only makes sense at the end of Advent.

It only makes sense when we have waited and watched for Messiah. It only makes sense when we have longed with Israel to be released from captivity, exodus, exile, and oppression. It only makes sense when we have admitted our failings and imperfections, when we have admitted the suffering of the poor and lowly around us, the injustice of the marginalized and victimized, when we have admitted that we are complicit in perpetuating systems of violence, abuse, and death.

There is a reason, I wage war on Christmas each year. Because it isn’t Christmas yet. We haven’t got there, we have missed what needs to come before. As we long for Messiah through Advent, and discover again all the ways in which our world needs a Saviour, the Feast of the Nativity, the Feast of the Incarnation can finally take real shape. The coming of Messiah into our dark and broken world can finally be the light and hope we truly need.

Our world is still very much in need of a Saviour, our world is full of captivity, exile, exodus, oppression, conflict, suffering, poverty, systems of violence, abuse… and death.

We don’t like Advent because it means we aren’t there yet, and that feeling opens up a whole world of emotions, ideas and experiences that we don’t want. We want to be at the party, not sitting outside hoping to get in. But that is where most of the world is, sitting outside waiting to get in… and realizing they almost certainly never will.

So tone the Christmas down this year. Put out 4 candles, and wait with all those who still need a Saviour more than Christmas present.

And maybe after waiting with me, with Israel, with all those who still need saving, you will see why we don’t sing “Joy to the world” until we have  sung “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” first.

What do you think? Should we be at war with Christmas? Or is it okay to celebrate Christmas for two months each year? Share in the comments or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Interested in some more snark:

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

7 Reasons Church isn’t for You

The Heresy of Male Domination

The Heresy of Male Domination

St. Augustine and the Donatists
St. Augustine and the Donatists

A few days ago, blogger and author Tony Jones called for a Schism in the Church over the role of women, particularly that Christians who uphold an egalitarian view of men and women in the church leave and break fellowship with churches who uphold complementation views, or believe that women should submit to the authority and leadership of me in the home, in relationships and at church.

At the same time. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliated with the Centre for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said that, egalitarian couples “preach a false gospel.”

[As a side note, Rachel Held Evans, noted that neither of these two have been called “divise”, one advocates schism, the other accuses a false gospel. She was famously called ‘divisive’ for simply asking why a Christian leadership conference with over 100 speakers only have 4 women.]

It is looks like the issue of the role of women in Christianity in North American, particularly among Evangelicals, is starting to boil.

Today, Tony Jones pulled back and said that schism was perhaps too harsh a word. I think he was right to do so. But I also think I know what he was trying to call for.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) did it in 1977 in regards to Apartheid in South Africa. “The 1977 declaration of the Lutheran World Federation that apartheid constitutes a “status confessions,” this meaning that on the basis of faith and in order to manifest the unity of the church, churches should publicly and unequivocally reject existing apartheid systems.”

White South African churches were excluding Black South Africans. For the LWF, this wasn’t simply an issue of civil rights. This was a “gospel” issue. It was a gospel issue because those churches were denying the gospel to a particular group of people based on physical characteristic. The declaration is the only time Lutherans have agreed to add something to our confessions, to our unalterable doctrines of faith.

It just so happens that right around that time, many Lutheran bodies were beginning to ordain women. Co-incidence? I think not.

You see there is an important heresy that informed both the condemnation of Apartheid and the ordination of women.

Donatism.

Donatism was the claim that the moral character of a person affects the proclamation of the gospel and the means of grace. Or that only “good” or “special” or “saintly” or “chosen by God” people could lead worship, preside over the sacraments and proclaim the gospel.

The early church rejected Donatism. Martin Luther and the reformers condemned this heresy in the Augsburg Confession.

Those who advocate complementarianism or the submission of women are, essentially, Donatists. They are claiming that the Gospel is tarnished or diminished if preached by those who are not for “Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womandhood” or by egalitarian couples. This is heresy. The Gospel cannot be and is not affected by the moral character of those who preach it. The gospel is efficacious on its own.

But more importantly, the moral character (or biological character) of those who preach the gospel and administer the sacraments does not affect their efficacy. The sacraments are efficacious on their own. Men are not specially chosen to preach the gospel. Women are not specially prevented from preaching the gospel.

When people, like Russell Moore, make claims that the gospel is affected by the gender views of those who preach it, they are heretics.

That’s right, heretics.

I don’ think Tony Jones wants a schism. He said as much today. I think he, and many of us, are wanting a re-affirmation of orthodox doctrine. We want Christians and the Church to stand up and say that the rejection of complementarianism is a matter of doctrine and faith. It is “status confessionis”.

But what does that look like in practice?

Well, it is like when I go to denominations who practice closed communion, like Roman Catholics or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (neither of whom allow the ordination of women either), I go up to receive communion anyways. I dare them to excommunicate me, knowing what I consider to be matters of faith.

When I preside at the church I serve, I invite all who believe Christ is present in the meal to receive, even Romans Catholics or Missouri Synod folks (many have received communion from me).

When I work ecumenically, I talk about the ministry of my wife.  I tell my male colleagues from churches that don’t allow women in ministry about the things that she is doing.

And I write here, advocating for things that are good and right for the church.

Naming heresy is not about schism. It about the clear rejection of unorthodox doctrine. But it is also about the invitation to dialogue and the invitation the table.

So here it is. Complentariansim is to be rejected as heresy. And those who uphold it, like Russell Moore, are invited to commune with me… but it will be at a table where both men and women are free to preside.

*** Greg in the comments pointed out that since Ephesians 3:28 does talk about submission of men and women to each other, that a more appropriate title could be “The Heresy of Male Domination”. Good point Greg!***

What do you think? Is Complementarianism a heresy? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik

More posts on women in ministry:

Putting My Jesus Feminism to the Test

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

Putting My Jesus Feminism to the Test

mi728x“Well, you could just have a baby.”

I hated it when people said that to my wife.

There was a time when people would regularly make this suggestion to her. She was unemployed, or the technical term in our denomination “without call”, at the time. We were hoping that there would be a position for a pastor or chaplain coming available close to where we were living, because we both wanted to be following our call to work for Jesus in the church. While the baby comment was probably offered with the kindest of intentions, the underlying idea was that her vocation as a pastor could be, and likely should be, easily set aside for the womanly vocation of motherhood.

My wife took all these comments in stride and with grace, eventually she would jokingly say, “This is the worst time to have a baby, I am unemployed and have student loans to pay”.

My wife could make a joke, but I was never impressed, and these comments bothered me. They still bother me when I think about them.

____________

When my wife and I decided to get married, we were living 1000 miles apart, serving congregations in different provinces and synods. We had been seminary classmates, but only started dating a few years after we graduated. We informed our Bishops of our desire to be serving in the same area, so that we could live together when we got married. We were willing to go anywhere.

In the year of our engagement, waiting and hoping for possibilities to open up, we eventually decided to both move. I was called to serve a congregation 100km from my first church, where there were promises of imminent openings for Courtenay, either in parish ministry or chaplaincy. It was just a matter of time.

I was being a given a fairly prestigious opportunity. The largest church in the synod (district/diocese etc…) wanted to call me as their Senior Pastor. This was pretty much unheard of – a 29-year-old pastor with 3 years experience in a small rural congregation becoming the senior pastor of a flagship congregation.

Many colleagues let me know that I had been given a big opportunity and that I had made it to the real show now. Some were concerned that the work load would be too much. Some felt the struggles that the congregation had been having for the last few years were too much for me to deal with. Others thought I would receive a wake up call once I got there. Still others weren’t sure I could manage such a large, multi-staff congregation, with so little experience. All my predecessors had been much older and more experienced pastors. I even heard through the grape-vine that accepting a call like that, to a congregation like that, was surely a sign that I was setting myself up to be a Bishop.

The congregation had contacted me in November, and it took until June before I actually moved. 3 months before our wedding, I started my ministry as the 29-year-old, engaged to be married Senior Pastor of a large Lutheran Church. And this whole time, these promised, imminent options had not become available… there was still no call or position for Courtenay.

__________

“Now listen here Missy! You leave the business and management of this church up to us. You just deal with the ministry.”

My wife has told me about many sexist, ageist comments she has received in her time as a pastor, but that one pisses me off the most.

I always had to hear about the comments from a distance, so when we got married and moved to the same place, the comments started coming for different reasons. They were patronizing statements masquerading as support:

“You will just have to wait because Pastor Erik has a call.”

“Maybe you can get a job somewhere else, there are lots of other jobs around”

“We hope that something comes open for you, because we really like your husband.”

“You could just have a baby, we would love that here.”

“It must be nice to be able to be at home all day.”

“You could come lead the ladies’ bible study or sing in the choir, those are pastor-y things.”

“We will pray that God helps you” (for my wife to see that she should be supporting my call)

“That is just the way older men talk to women, they don’t know any different.”

The worst was when friends and colleagues offered some of this unhelpful advice. As Courtenay was waiting for a call to parish ministry or chaplaincy, many people: family, friends, colleagues, parishioners would try to be supportive.

But so often, their words ended up minimizing my wife’s call to ministry. Somehow my call, because I was a man, because I was a Senior Pastor, because I couldn’t have babies through my body had become more important. It was like God had called me double or triple, and God had given my wife options – be a lady pastor or a mom or a housewife. Those 9 years of education and the call of the church don’t really matter because your body can make babies. Oh, and you have a husband now, so you are real woman and can do womanly things.

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The leadership in the congregation was aware that Courtenay and I were waiting and were unhappy. For most people it only felt like a few months. For us, the process to find two calls had begun over a year before. When after only 6 months, I informed the leadership of the congregation that we were looking at the possibility of two calls elsewhere, people were understandably upset.

Prayer meetings were called and people were genuinely concerned. So many were starting to understand the difficulty that we faced with Courtenay being without a call and unemployed. Many people were wonderfully caring. Many people prayed for God to call my wife to something.

But for some, there was an undercurrent of frustration. There was the sense that Courtenay shouldn’t complain. Her husband was serving a church after all. Wives should support their husbands, especially if their husbands are pastors.

It was even suggested to me that I get my marriage in order, that perhaps we needed marriage advice or counselling to resolve the “impasse” between us.

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Here is the thing, though.

There was no impasse.

In fact, I was the one who suggested we contact another Bishop. We knew of an area where there were 5 churches in our denomination looking for pastors.

Courtenay is amazing. She loves me enough that if I asked her to wait without a call for longer, she would have. She had been waiting for a year, and it would have been at least another, maybe longer as far as we could tell. She would have waited to make me happy.

But I couldn’t bear that. Every day I got to go to the office, I felt guilty. We had made a promise to each other – we could be pastors anywhere, but only married in the same place. I was, now, breaking that promise. We were married but not both serving. Important early years of her career could slip away, sitting at home with nothing to do.

The guilt wasn’t all. I often had the feeling I was the only person taking her call as seriously as mine. I was the only who believed that God had called her to be a pastor in active ministry, just as much as God had called me. I know that sometimes pastors who want to serve in a certain city have to wait, but the limit on my wife pastoring a church was me. I couldn’t do that to her, I couldn’t ask that of her. And I felt God calling me to consider a change, a move so that we could both serve Jesus and be together. I mean, that is why we moved in the first place.

Throughout the whole experience, I could never shake the feeling that people would respond differently if our roles were reversed. I could never drop the idea that if Courtenay got a job at Starbucks, a lot of people would be okay with that. There would be outrage if it were me picking up a service industry job. It always seemed that ‘having a baby’ was a viable alternative for Courtenay to pastoral ministry, but paternity leave would be frowned upon for me. Becoming a “Pastor’s Wife was not out of the question for Courtenay, but not even in the realm of possibility for me.

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So Courtenay and I left, after only 9 months of being the Senior Pastor of a prestigious church. We moved to a place where we could both be pastors and serve Jesus, and Jesus’ people.

This was by far, the hardest thing I have ever had to do as Pastor, as a Christian, as a husband. It would have been much easier to go with the tide. It would have been easy to claim that my call to this prestigious church was a priority. It would have been the easy thing to do to make my wife wait, for who knows how long, to do what God was calling her to do. God was also calling her to be my wife, right? It would have been easier to buy into the privilege that so many people were implicitly offering to me, and believe my call was more important than my wife’s.

The whole way along, there were people who ‘got it’ – people who were not satisfied with other options for Courtenay. Those people were great, and we needed them. But too many others were willing to rank our calls by our genders.

Being married to another pastor has completely changed the way I understand God’s call. God can call me to do God’s work anywhere, but I can only be married to my wife where she is. Yet, maybe more importantly, being married to a wonderful woman who is also as pastor, and to a pastor who is a woman, has shown me that we aren’t there yet. We haven’t made it as a Church. Even when we have female pastors and female bishops, we still have hang-ups about women in ministry. We still see men as the ‘default’ when it comes to our image of ‘pastor’, and we are willing to unthinkingly put women’s calls into secondary categories defined by gender.

Things are slowly getting better for women in the church. My hope is that more and more church people will start to get it. My hope is that one day people saying “You have or wait” or “You can have a baby” will be just as unacceptable to tell Courtenay as it currently is to tell me. My hope is, that one day, gender won’t define pastors in the church. My hope is that all of our callings, ordained or lay, in the church, in the world, in the home will be understood as equally valid.

For more on male privilege and women in ministry:

The Heresy of Women Submitting to Men

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

10 More Reasons Why Being  a Male Pastor is Better

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

A Young Male Pastor’s Thoughts on Women in Ministry

Have you own story of your Jesus Feminism being put to the test? Share in the comments or with me on twitter @ParkerErik or follow my wife @ReedmanParker

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

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.

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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.