Thursday, February 23, 2017

Release the Women

For the past ten years, Baptist Women in Ministry has promoted a yearly event called the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. During the month of February, Baptist congregations are encouraged to have a woman preach for one of the Sundays--a minister at the church, a divinity school student, a layperson from the congregation, etc. It is always such fun to see the pictures go up on their Facebook page. It has been better to be asked to preach, at least for me.

When the event started a decade ago, our church was very good at promoting it. And for our congregation to be one of the few baptist congregations in Wake Forest, this was very good for our community as well. But somewhere along the line, the emphasis disappeared. Our pastor would turn in the name of a woman who had preached in January or February so it would appear on the list, but there was not a mention of the reason for the Martha Stearns Marshall event.

For the past few years, nothing has been said. To say how disappointing this is does not go far enough. Where is the emphasis on our women preachers? Our daughters and sons need to see their example. We need to emphasize the equal calling of both men and women as our preachers. After all, our shared values for our church say that God gifts men and women equally.

Today I was reading Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, and she mentioned a Korean megachurch pastor Dr. David Yong-gi Cho who told other Korean pastors that their churches would grow if only they released the women to allow them to do what God calls them to do. As I pondered this account--and as I think about our own small church's decline--I cannot help but see the correlation in our lack of emphasis on women preaching. Sure women do continue to preach from time to time, but the full and equal gifts that God gives have not been emphasized.

In no way do I say it is a causation. I just find it interesting in the correlation it presents.

What would happen if all churches fully released their women to find their passion for ministry? For too long churches have relegated women to the nursery, the fellowship team, etc. Our own church has a vital ministry called Sew Buddies that came about because a woman was released to follow her passion. I think that there are others in our congregation that could be released. But if there is no support, no encouragement from the leaders, then it is not going to happen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Success is Not a Christian Goal

George Barna loves to come out with a lot of statistics about Christian churches, specifically evangelical churches. For many years I have heard of his reports that indicate that churches are in decline, that people do not put as much importance on church-going as in years past, and that the way we worship needs to change in order to reach young people.

I have also heard in the past year sermons that seem to indicate that if our faith was great enough then the churches would be more successful and growing. My pastor preached a sermon titled "The Fear of Success" last year, and yesterday's lectionary text from 1 Corinthians 3 became a sermon on how we need to be mature Christians in order to grow our congregation.

But I have a big problem with this idea of success because of one fundamental question...

Where in the bible does it say that the goal of a Christian is to be successful? 

Our full-time pastors are pushed into growing congregations because their very livelihood depends on the offerings that are collected. It's either grow numbers or have people give more. As society shifts their church attendance to other things for any of a variety of reasons, we are left with churches that are struggling financially. It is no wonder I hear this topic of success come up these days.

The so-called prosperity preachers from television also preach a version of success. Most people can see through them--see through to the fact that while the preacher takes your hard-earned dollar, that same preacher is living in a mansion and owns multiple cars and/or a jet. Yet how is this different from the sermons I have heard about being a successful Christian?

If we look to the bible to see stories of successful Christians, we fall short. How many of the early Christians lost their lives--a sure indication that they were not successful. Even Jesus was killed. By the world's standards, he was not successful.

Let's stop fooling ourselves by saying a greater faith will lead to success.

The goal of a Christian is to be a devoted follower of Christ. It may mean a degree of personal sacrifice, ridicule, a path less taken. But the goal is not success. Faith is lived day-by-day; and many days we will fail. Our faith gives us courage to try again...and again...and again.

In the future, our churches will have to change. They will need pastors not reliant on a full-time salary. They will need Christians that pursue faith when the world is going to call them foolish. Our Christian worldview needs to shift from the pursuit of success to the holy and narrow path of faith. In that place, there is no fear.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

After the Confirmation

What now?

Many Americans are deeply disappointed today. Despite phone calls, letters, emails, town hall meetings, and social media blasts, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by an tie-break vote in the Senate. It seems a disgrace in itself that it is was a tie--there could be no more sign of the controversy than a tie.

What do we, the ones in favor of a strong public school system and education in general do now?

First, go make a few jokes to relieve the tension. Perhaps you can say that you are now a brain surgeon because qualifications and education doesn't matter anymore. Make some Delores Umbridge memes. Talk about grizzlies. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Then it is time to get to work.

Look and see how your Representatives and Senators voted. If they voted in favor of DeVos, see if DeVos had contributed to them. Remember how we called their offices in an attempt to influence their vote? Call them again--or email or write or Tweet--and let them know that you hold them accountable. Make sure to say your memory of their vote will be on your mind when he or she comes up for re-election--even if it is 5+ years until that election. If your Senator or Representative voted against DeVos, write a note of encouragement thanking him or her. It is important to let our elected officials know that they represent the people.

Also write or email DeVos. Let her know that she is accountable (her favorite word) for our public schools. She isn't going to care--she is looking for a return on her investment (in the campaign contributions she has spent), but it might be good to have an outlet for anger you feel.

Next, get involved with your own local school board. Attend meetings, run for open positions, at least read about what has went on in a  meeting. Your local school board affects you most. If you are paying the property taxes, they are using your monies. Learn the history of your county's school board (Wake County put out a great video just yesterday about the consolidation of Wake County and City Schools for instance).

Listen to the stories and research about why public schools matter. "This American Life" has some great episodes about where public schools are working and how they work best. Keep your ears open. If you see or hear research, learn about who financed it to see which way it will skew. Learn who lobbies for public schools and who lobbies against them.

Most of all, if you are in any way involved in a public school, support the teachers. Many are discouraged by today's vote and want to give up because the vote has been a kick in the face. It goes against everything they know and love. So get involved in advocating for our public school teachers. Join the PTA if you have a student in a public school. Volunteer in a public school and get to know the teachers and the incredible, life-changing work they do every day. If your child attends a public school, send in notes of encouragement to the teachers. Send in supplies. Send flowers and chocolate and giftcards to the local coffee shop. Never stop support of them in your discouragement. We know that any one of them is better qualified than DeVos, but they can feel your support through your voice. Use it.

Above all, don't lose hope. Millions are in the public school system and millions have been successful because of public schools. That track record is verifiable. Keep your eyes on truth and let your voice be heard.