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Coping with yet another shooting spree…

How do we cope? What is the cause? Why did this happen? How can we stop this?

I’m processing along with everyone else (such a 21st century word: processing!). I notice everyone looking for why. Myself included.

Was the shooter mentally ill? Was he X? Was he Y? Was he Z?

We want to know a reason why he could do such a thing. Why he would do this, something that “I” wouldn’t/couldn’t do. We want a reason that makes sense of it and there is no sense. At some level we want to believe that somehow this person, was inherently different than ourselves, to somehow think that we aren’t the same.  To think that he was evil, and we are not.

I don’t have an answer – there is no answer for evil other than that we need a savior.

I also remember Matthew 5:21-22 where Jesus levels the field and calls anger and name calling on par with murder. Evil is evil, no matter the degree.

Repent in sackcloth and ashes and pray for mercy.

So weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. Pray for those affected, every child who will now react at a sudden unexpected pop or crash, every parent who will tremble at letting their child leave the house again.

And pray Come your Kingdom, Be done, your will on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

Different paths: Do women take a different journey to becoming pastors?

How do women move into their pastoral calling? More importantly, how do we encourage women in the pursuit of their calling?  I don’t think the answer is as obvious as one would think.   Let me share some of my story, then I’ll draw out some observations.

I’ve had a desire to serve in ministry since I first came to know Jesus when I was 14.  However, women couldn’t be pastors way back then (at least in the churches I belonged to!)  I was fortunate to end up in a church that allowed (notice the word allowed) women to serve in co-leadership with men at the small group level.  I married and continued to serve in leadership.  We became aware of some of the work that would lay the foundations for Christians for Biblical Equality.  My spouse and I became convinced that women could & should lead as they were called to lead: pastor, teacher, whatever level.  I had 2 wonderful sons.  Here is where it gets interesting.

Our financial situation was such that if we put our little guys in the private Christian school that we had chosen, I had to work.  Son #1 had done well here from preschool on, and as he entered 1st grade and son #2 started preschool, I had the opportunity to go to work full-time with a fantastic pro-life ministry.  Sure, my kids would have to go to a baby sitter before and after school, but what a great ministry opportunity!   Within 6 months, my smallest boy had begun to exhibit all sorts of fears and anxiety.  The things that he had been thrilled by, like the train that went by at the baby sitter’s house, had gone from being something exciting to a source of fear.  So, I made a choice.  (Please notice the word choice.) I decided to bring my boys home and home school them.  I quit the ministry job and put on the full-time home schooling mom hat.

I continued to serve in leadership capacities at church; by now we were at a new church that wasn’t so progressive about women in ministry though.  So I led a women’s group, then I led children’s ministry.  I was lead teacher in the children’s church.  For 8 years I home schooled and served in children’s ministry.  Meanwhile, a slow change was taking place in the church leadership landscape.  Our senior pastor (our entire association) was being challenged on the issue of women in ministry.

After 8 years, the boys and I realized that one more year of home schooling would probably result in the death of someone (JOKE!!)  We really did need to move on.  So the guys went to school and I went to work full-time at the church in an administrative role.  Within the year, I had moved to a position that had some oversight of a couple of ministries.  Over the course of several years, the role became pastoral and 3 years ago I was recognized as a pastor.

So, not exactly the traditional way of becoming a pastor.  I didn’t do seminary and an internship and move into a pastoral role – the steady climb that you see men doing.   I did do some theological training along the way, but there was never a promise of promotion attached.   During this training I looked around and noticed the significant number of women whose kids were in high school, college or out of the nest.   I was also aware of numbers of younger women who had been active in church leadership who were stepping aside to raise their kids, as I had.

Just as I was starting to get my feet wet in a pastoral role, we had a staff meeting where the senior pastor essentially said “get ready to replace yourself, your time is done” to all the pastors over the age of 40.   My response was “What? I’ve only just started!!” This got me thinking about the life path differences between men and women.

Most men go to work, work steadily and climb the career path from young adulthood on.  Women, on the other hand, have kids.   They may work full-time with kids, stay home with kids, but still, in the vast majority of cases, women have the primary responsibility for kids.    I asked you to notice the work choice.  This was the word flung at me by one male pastor when I was first thinking about this issue.  “Women make life choices”.  Yes, I made a choice, but it wasn’t just for me, it was for my sons, my family, and really for the future of the church.  Part of my role as a leader in the church is to raise up leadership – which starts by raising up my sons well so that they can lead in the next generation.

So – lets look at what my life choice did.  I got thrown into a context where I had to really hone my teaching abilities – both individually with my kids and in the groups of kids I taught.  There is nothing like trying to create a lesson that will be understood and keep the attention of a group of kids aged 6 -12.  They can’t teach that in seminary.   I had to think theologically to evaluate the myriad of ideas that come at you through the home schooling community.   I had the opportunity to learn about group dynamics, learning styles and so much more.  All of this equipping me for my pastoral role.  No, not the traditional education, but very effective.

How many women are out there in the same place, kids older, looking for what God has next, but someone is saying to them: “You made your choice, sorry, it’s too late for you to think about professional ministry.”

Part 2 will look at some of the things I believe we need to look at if we want to encourage (and not just allow) women to pursue their gifting and calling.

Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Teacher, Evangelist: Identity or Gifts?

The church where I am a staff pastor is a racially diverse mega church. I don’t claim to have any expertise at all in terms of any church culture other than this church and one other all white church. This entry is some observation and musing in connection with some of the discussions that arise as men and women from other cultures (African American, Hispanic, African, etc) come together to live as one body.

Recently I was teaching a class in which a discussion about offices or titles came up, specifically the ones from Ephesians 4:11. (So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,)  At my church, we don’t see this passage as referring to titles, but rather as descriptive of leadership giftings that are used for the equipping of the body.  We preach and practice servant leadership.  This discussion came about because there were a number of people in the class who came from churches that had the practice of using these titles to recognize each other.

Prior to the class, a friend of mine had noted that in her experience, often the church was the only place where people had dignity, worth and value, so the titles were a way of saying “I’m somebody, I have worth”.  While in the context of our conversation, we were looking at an African American church, I don’t think this can be limited to African American culture. Rather, I think it can be traced to the roots of the early Pentecostal movement that was characterized by rapid growth in the poorer segments of society – both black and white.

As I reflect on this, I understand, but I’m also concerned, because it perpetuates the very sin that has engendered this desire & need to be recognized – the positioning of one person above another, a position of power if you will. (Perhaps I’ll blog about power another day…)

As followers of Jesus our worth and value comes from belonging to him, from being identified with him.  Our gifts, spiritual or otherwise are just that: gifts given to us to use in serving others, not to be our identities or our titles.

The outworking, too, of this culture, where one is held above others in the church because of title bothers me.  I had to think this through in the class I was talking about.  What is so different about those of us who have the title of pastor?  Is it an “office” in the way that the person asking the question implied?  Do we see ourselves and do others see us as raised above everyone else in the church?

If you were to ask any of the pastors in our church about that, at the very least you would get a disbelieving raise of the eyebrow, others would be closer to a “rending of the clothes” type of reaction, because we truly don’t see ourselves as over anyone.  We hold very firmly to a view of our jobs as servant leaders.

Yes, being a pastor is a job.  It is a job to which you are called by God and recognized by the church.  But it doesn’t suddenly put you 3 steps above everyone else around you.  It puts you under the entire church body, to raise the members up to increasing devotion to Jesus, to be better, stronger followers of him.

I remember shortly after I was first given the title of pastor, an intern at the church, who was from the tradition of “titles”, congratulated me on my “elevation”.  It made me really uncomfortable.  I honestly didn’t put 2 + 2 together as to why it had bothered me so much until I was teaching this class and had to explain how we don’t see the title of pastor as placing us above anyone. Suddenly the implication of that word “elevation” clicked.

So – where is all this taking me? I’ve been thinking about it for years – since I was a clerk in a Christian bookstore where the pastors from this tradition would come in with their entourage and couldn’t/wouldn’t speak to us in person, but would only speak to us through one of their entourage – what is wrong with this picture?

Going back to what my friend was talking about – in the culture that bred this idea of titles and elevation, the members were (and sometimes still are) without dignity or “place” in the culture at large; invisible, abused, seen and treated as less than human.  I understand where it has come from. BUT, perpetuating the idea that a title gives you worth or value is not biblical.  We have worth and value because we are created in the image of God. We are all sinners saved by Jesus.  Leaders are called to be servant leaders.  Taking our identity from anything other than Christ is sin.

The need to have titles, to be elevated in order to have worth and value is a sinful response to a sinful system.  Everyone gets to play, everyone can play, and we need everyone to play in the Kingdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 12 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 31b And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Effectively Integrating Women into Ministry at All Levels

My particular brand of church (Vineyard) made a decision several years ago that leadership in the church is based on gifting and calling, not gender.  However, making this decision and working out the implications of this decision are not one and the same. What does it look like to actually walk out leadership teams that consist of both women and men?  This is where my original paper begins:

Our Challenge: Integrating Women into Ministry at all levels

This is an issue that will affect not just the Vineyard movement, but every church and denomination that has decided on an egalitarian view of women for many years to come.  For these churches, the incorporation of women in leadership at every level is no longer debated, it is decided. Where the debate is over, the practical aspects still remain. As we move forward, it is essential that we look at this from a Kingdom of God perspective.  What can we do to incorporate women into effective leadership that reflects the ever increasing presence of the Kingdom of God?  How can we as a people of God operate from a Kingdom perspective in this area?   How can we reflect the advancement of the Kingdom in the ways that we work with one another, rather than the effects of the fall? As we approach leadership development of women, we need to examine our views, assumptions and vision for women in leadership in this light.  How has the fall affected women and the view men have of women, specifically in regard to leadership development.

There are several views and assumptions that I believe need to be addressed early in this process of learning to develop women in leadership.  The first has to do with reflecting God’s image in leadership.  The second issue has to do with assumptions about how people develop as leaders, and the third with the effect that these assumptions have on our views of children and child rearing in relation to women’s leadership development.  I’ll be addressing each of these issues in posts to come.  Today, I want to start by looking at the idea of reflecting the image of God in Leadership teams.

As we look at current business leadership, the trend is toward teams and team building, with an emphasis on creating teams that are strengths based. From a biblical perspective, I would say that this points us to one of the first issues.   As we seek to develop leadership teams for churches, don’t we want to reflect not just “strengths”, but God’s character and nature on our teams?  Men and women are created in the image of God, yet are often different in the ways they think about and approach issues.  As men and women, we both reflect the image of God, yet somehow differently; different aspects, different ways of looking at things, different ways of processing information.  I would suggest that leadership teams for non-gender specific ministries that are not mixed gender teams fall short of fully reflecting God’s nature and character in the leadership team.  Well balanced single gender teams, while they may be highly successful, might find that they are even more effective moving to a mixed gender model, although they may have to learn to operate a bit differently!

How I got here: Challenging the status quo

Several years ago, I started down a path of challenging the status quo at the church where I have been employed for almost 13 years.  At the time, I was just past 50, a pastoral coordinator (pastoral staff without the title of pastor).  This church has been my church home for 20 years. In this time, I have seen the senior pastor and the senior pastoral team transition from a complementarian view of women in leadership to a fully egalitarian view.  Our church is very diverse and values reflecting that diversity in our staff.  At the time I wrote my initial paper, I wasn’t seeing this reflected with regard to women in pastoral roles.  There was a clear promotional path for men, especially diverse men; yet women who had been serving in similar roles, often for longer periods of time, seemed to be passed over for promotion.

This was in the early days of Vineyard USA’s public embrace of women in leadership at all levels.  Our senior pastor had been one of the strong advocates for this position.  Yet, it seemed to me that we didn’t reflect this in practice in our own church.  I felt led to write a paper challenging what I was seeing, and addressing some of the short sightedness that I believed was contributing to the lack of promotions. For the sake of integrity, I should note that I was promoted to Pastor within 6 months of the submission of the paper.  I had not anticipated this outcome. I had reached a point of peace with the role & title I already had.  When circumstances in our church opened up the role I was asked to fill, it honestly did not occur to me that I would be asked to fill it.

So, why am I still beating this drum? Why this blog? Didn’t I get what I wanted? Not really.  I wasn’t primarily after my own personal promotion, although it certainly was a question in my mind when I wrote the initial paper. I addressed several issues beyond simply the promotion of women, having to do with leadership development, growth and how we could work more effectively with the flow of women’s lives.

I’ve met with “aren’t we done with the women’s thing?” all too often in the ensuing years. As though we had somehow arrived and could stop working on this issue. Quite honestly, I believe that we have only just begun. I care that the church and particularly my own brand of church, the Vineyard movement, continues to move forward in embracing the Kingdom role of women in a way that honors women as they are created, not expecting them to behave like men to be promoted or heard.

Ive been encouraged to get my thoughts “out there” so I’ll be posting my paper over the next several weeks in bite sized pieces.  Some of it will be the original paper; some of it will be my more recent reflections.  I invite your comments, but ask that you refrain from rehashing the question of women in ministry. Please read, knowing that my passion is for the kingdom and the release of women into kingdom ministry based on gifting and calling.

Why “Everyone Gets to Play”?

I’m sitting in a room in my dad’s house in Vermont, visiting two of the most influential people in my life: my dad and step-mom.  These two people represent one half of this theme, the half that speaks to my deeply held conviction that no one should be excluded from a career path, calling or passion because of their race, gender or physical limitations.  If you are passionate and able to do what it is that you are called to do, then do it.  Don’t let anyone stop you!  One thing I will be doing in this blog is addressing areas that speak to women in ministry and the challenges we face.

“Everyone gets to Play” is a catch phrase in the Vineyard movement.  Coined by its founder, John Wimber, it has to do with doing the work of the Kingdom of God, or as he said it, “Doing the stuff”.  What stuff? The stuff in the bible: healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting out demons.  All the stuff that Jesus and his disciples did.

One of my passions is to equip followers of Jesus to “do the stuff”.   We are all called to live a John 5:19 lifestyle; to see and hear what the Father is doing, and to do our part.  If this means praying for someone, then to pray with power, if we are called to speak a prophetic word, to speak it accurately and in love.  It can be a simple as meeting a practical need, or as complex as beginning a new ministry to meet many practical needs.  So I will regularly post about aspects of living the John 5:19 life style, the Holy Spirit empowered life.

If you have gotten the idea that this will be a bit eclectic, you are absolutely right.  My aim is to help people look more like Jesus by asking questions, equipping, challenging and I hope encouraging you to “Play”

Blessings!

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