Tag Archives: Church

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. 

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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.

Liturgy – The First Social Media

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So a few days ago, a blog post, by a fellow Lutheran Pastor, Keith Anderson, started making the social media rounds. The post suggested the simple idea of getting people to check-in with their smart phones prior to the service using Facebook or foursquare and to tweet using a hashtag particular to the church.

Not a bad idea. Or is it?

In the past couple years, it has been becoming clearer that social media is here to stay. People are getting more and more connected through virtual community, and more importantly social media use is becoming a seamless part of our lives. We interact with online communities almost automatically.

It has also become clear that churches will need to have a social media presence if they want to be a part of people’s lives away from Sunday mornings. It used to be that Churches would have a small ad in the local paper or phone book. Churches knew that was a given in order to be known in the community. Social media is now our local paper and phone book, Facebook pages and twitter accounts are the new given for community presence.

However, the idea of “checking-in at church” generated some interesting discussion. Checking-in at church means smart phone use at church. Smart phone use at church means checking social media during worship. And that idea is not as exciting, I am sure, for most pastors. I even wrote a post about putting down the iPhone in church recently. I don’t know if I am ready to look out into the pews and see the white smartphone glow on faces staring down at knees while I am preaching. Part of me loves the possibility for live-tweeting a sermon, and I also know that I watched a video about cats stealing dog beds this morning. 3 times. Maybe twitter can wait until worship is over.

But churches and social media are, at their core, all about community. Social media and church are only going to become more entangled over time. Understanding how and why people use social media might help churches understand themselves.

The wikipedia definition of social media is about online virtual communities. Social media is where people share content (posts, updates, comments, shares etc…) through virtual community media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Reddit etc…

I think that definition is too narrow.

“Social” is simply a word that describes human interaction in community. “Media” is the vehicle for that communication. Social Media doesn’t have to be online. Social Media really is just naming a medium through which people interact socially, or in other words, through which people share themselves and their lives with others who are sharing.

The liturgy is exactly that. It is a social or community experience. It is a medium through which we are shared with and to each other. Worship should be a similar experience to opening Facebook and seeing the updates from your community. It is medium for ritualized and filtered community. We greet each other as the whole assembly. We share in common experiences in song and prayer. We hear anew the news, opinion, and thoughts of the timeless community of faith in scripture. We share our concerns in prayer and reconcile in the peace. We open and bind ourselves to each other in the Holy Bath and Holy Meal. We promise to return to the community as we are sent out into the real world.

Liturgy is the first form of social media.

But more importantly, there is a clue to what people are looking for in community and at church. So often we think it is the medium that “attracts”. We think that if we become the newest phone or computer or website or viral video sensation that we will have people camped outside our doors three days before worship, like early adopters before an apple product launch.

Yet, take a look around you the next time you go to the mall or coffee shop or take the bus. Look at people’s phones. Some are the latest version. Most are scuffed, beat up, covered in ugly yet functional cases, sometimes severely cracked, barely functional devices. People don’t seem to care that much what their phone looks like as long as it still gets them online. One of the most popular activities on Facebook is complaining about Facebook. People hate the features of the site, but they need the community that they find there. If they didn’t need it they would be somewhere else… (Google+ maybe?)

Church people make the mistake of thinking it is the flashy screens or cool guitars or cushy pews or hip sermon references that will bring people to church. Yet, every time I ask church members why they keep coming back to their church, the first answer is always community. Everyone who is at church is there for the community yet we try to attract new members, our youth, inactive and drifted away members with buildings, music, programs, projectors and screens, staff, and whatever cool features we hope will work.

Is it that we hope the medium will be the message?

Or that most congregations find it hard to believe that they are the reason that they come, that each other and the community we form are what people are actually looking for?

When Jesus said wherever two or three are gathered, he didn’t add, “on Facebook or in architecturally post-modern buildings or wherever drop down projection screens have been installed” I am there.

And it is no mistake that the church, that our community, is called the Body of Christ.

Churches are the medium.

Liturgy is the social media of the Body of Christ. It the place where our community is hosted, updated, friend added, followed, and shared.

Community is the reason we all keep coming back… maybe it is time to give in and accept that community is what God is actually using to bring us to the Body of Christ.

Marketing Church – Boomer Brand Loyalty and Millennial Resentment

awesomechurchA few months into my 5th year of ordained ministry and 6 months into my 3rd congregation, a constant lament I have heard from Boomer generation, and older, parishioners is something along the lines of, “Why don’t young people come to church anymore?” or “What can we do to get them back?” or “Young people don’t come to church because they can play hockey or go shopping on Sunday morning instead”.

As a Pastor, you hear this enough and it certainly makes you start wondering what you are doing wrong. It is even worse when you are a “young person” yourself.

I also get to go to a lot of church conferences, conventions, seminars, educational events, etc… And sure enough, every time there is a church gathering with some kind of expert guest speaker, someone will ask that question, “Tell us, expert, how to get the young people back”.

Almost always I think these thoughts:

1. The young people you remember were here 25-50 years ago.

2. Those young people are now you – and not young anymore.

3. We never had most present day young people to begin with.

And invariably, the “expert” doesn’t want to give the answer above, and usually fumbles around some answer of not being sure what to do or hoping that things that worked for a while a decade ago might still work now. I have heard suggestions like using 80s/90s christian rock in a Friday night worship service, or having youth conferences (Boomers love conferences) or having Nickleodeon / Lazer tag, or sending youth on short-term mission trips to build houses or whatever thing kind of worked but really didn’t a decade ago. I have also heard lots of experts simply say they have no idea.

I was recently at yet another church conference where I got to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber do some “cultural anthropology”. The basic gist of what she said is that generations have different experiences… obviously. But particularly, the experience of the Boomers is one of marketing. The age of advertising and the prominence of Madison Avenue took off in the 50s and 60s, just as the boomers were growing up. Advertisers knew that if you made a product that boomers wanted, and found a way to get them to buy it, they would be loyal brand customers. From cars to cigarettes to toothpaste the marketing took place. And often today, boomers will likely stick with brands they know.

And for the Boomers’ part, their generation had immediate influence and power in their world. They were the generation of civil rights and tremendous social change. They transformed or toppled the prejudiced social institutions around them in favour of individual rights. Governments, schools, corporations and even churches were transformed. They lifted up the cause of the individual and the minority in the face of oppressive systems.

The boomers were the marketing, political and economic focus of society.

But it was also the beginning of a shift from social accountability to individual freedom.

Churches bought into the Boomer centric meme too. Figure out what people want, get them to come and they will be loyal. Church members were shifting into church consumers.

So Boomers, who have been the social, cultural and ecclesial (church) focus their whole lives, now run most churches. And they are struggling with the fact that the millennials (their kids) are absent and are turning to what they know – marketing.

The next part of Nadia’s point was that Millennials have been marketed to as well… but we resent it. We have experienced marketing as manipulation and disappointment. Now I am not the spokesperson for my generation by any means, but my sense and experience of millennials is that this is true. Yes, we are often the ones who camp out for three days to get the newest iPhone… but Apple has historically done no marketing of a product before it is launched. And maybe that is part of the point.

My sense is that millennials are more content driven. Sure it might be cat videos and inane Facebook updates or celeb-gossip. And maybe it is getting that new phone to see what the features are rather than being told how it will make you feel. But just like our parents who were the masses behind civil rights, many millennials are interested in the issues (content) of our day. The environment, wealth inequality, globalization, food security, gender issues, political corruption, wars in foreign lands – these things are most of my friends are posting about on Facebook along with their cat videos. Marketers have already caught on and are using what is called “Native Advertising” to mask marketing as content (advertising pretending to be news, opinion, facts, educational material).

At the same time, I think Churches have been reluctant to put our content out there because we have been busy being brands. We have been reluctant to engage questions and discussion about what the content of our faith, our churches or theology is. We have been good at giving boomers what they want, a product to be loyal to – a church building, a pastor, a budget, a regular worship service and in my case a Lutheran brand.

But over the years I have been surprised to hear many Boomers will say things like this to me, “Oh, I don’t know what the Bible says or understand it” or “That was a really interesting adult study, I didn’t know most that stuff (despite being a life-long church attender)” or “You are the expert pastor, you are the one who is supposed to know all this bible/church/history/faith/theology stuff.”

On the other hand, my experience of  non-church-going millennial friends is that they will ask me things  like, “well what do Christians actually believe about that” or “What does the bible say about this” or “I am not sure I agree that all Christians think that way given what I see in the media.”

The balance of my experience is that Boomers tend be brand loyal, and millennials tend to be content adaptive.

So is promoting content the silver bullet for marketing to millennials? No. We will still resent being marketed to, in my humble opinion. Is making church less about brand and more about content the trick then? Probably not, but it might be the first step. Branding is controlling the message and we like control. Yet, putting our content out there is risky, because you never know what people will do with it.

But, I also heard about this Jesus guy who put his content out there too… I should see if I can find more about that on Twitter.

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Have something to say about Church Marketing to Boomers and Millennials?  Think this post is spot on? Think I am totally nuts?

Share in the comment section below!

Trying Not to Burn it Down: Managing Change in the Church

20130701-143707.jpgYesterday was my 4th Anniversary of Ordination. Yes, as a Canadian, it is hard to share that day with the Americans, but it is still also my day.

In 4 years,  I have served 3 congregations. I love all 3 in different ways. Each has taught me different lessons. Each was a place to express my vocation to pastoral ministry in different ways.

With 4 years under my belt, there are a few things I am beginning to notice that seem to be common across the church (ELCIC for my experience). Throughout seminary I remember being warned, often, with this message: “You can’t make too many changes in a church”. “You only have ‘3 Blue chips’ or 3 big changes in a ministry – Use them wisely”. “You shouldn’t do anything new for 6 months.”

Often, congregations seems to give the same message. “We do things this way”, “This is how we do things around here”, “We have always done this”.

There are 2 things that this advice has taught me:

1. We are really good as churches and pastors at not rocking the boat. We were trained in seminary, and then we reinforce in our people a fear of change. We often seek to maintain the institution and we are suspicious of new things. We have been experts at “not burning down the church”. We are great at making sure everything stays safe, the same and in place.

I am just as guilty as anyone of over preparing my people for change. I give lots of advance warning. I tell people we are only “trying” something. I say it won’t be as painful as they think. All this for ideas and new things that I think will be great and go well!!!

Now before I get too cynical:

2. The advice on change is wrong. While I hear the refrains against change, they are the most hollow phrases that people seem to utter these days. Congregations are desperate for new things, desperate for things to be different than they are. And despite the advice, amazing things, Spirit-led things are happening all the time in little corners of the church everywhere.

Some of the best changes that I have made in ministry, are things that I didn’t ask permission for, that I didn’t forewarn people of and I just did. And they worked great!

The vast majority of changes I have made in parishes happened in the first year of ministry (well, I have only had a first year in two of 3 congregations). The opportunity for change seems ripest before established patterns and expectations are set between pastor and congregation.

Now, The National Convention the ELCIC and General Synod of the Anglican Church in Canada, are meeting in “Joint Assembly” this week. The ELCIC is considering how to move forward with Structural Changes that will help us “right size” for the future. The conversation has been going on for years, and the national plan for Synods has been rejected, in part, along the way.

From my vantage point, the ELCIC seems a little dazed and confused, particularly the National Office. I can’t really tell what the plan is going forward.

But if I can offer a theory.

As restructuring has been presented, skepticism has abounded (my own included). We have sounded like any parish, “That’s not the way we do things around here”. But the opportunity for change is probably as high as ever. We are all wanting something different than what is.

And not to sound critical, but merging synods, creating areas and making national convention every 3 years instead of 2, if it were compared to the parish level, just feels too much like cutting the copier budget, installing a high efficiency furnace and publishing 8 newsletters instead of 12 a year. Yes, this will all save money, and probably even help the environment, but it does not feel like real change.

I think if the changes were more dramatic, more sweeping and more outside the box… they might actually have been received with more enthusiasm.  The ELCIC is “re-structuring” itself into the ether of irrelevancy.  It feels like we are trying to maintain our institution, even if it is a skeleton crew. We are answering the question, “What can we still do with less?” We have not seemed to asked the question, “What do we actually need for ministry as Lutherans in the Canadian context? And what resources do we have to do that ministry?”

Now is the time to dream big, or not at all.

Or in other words, maybe we need to burn down the church?