Do We Need More Churches?

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Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

On her first day of school, in a new town, in a new state, far away from friends she made in kindergarten and first grade, my daughter was playing a get-to-know-you game with her classmates. Their job was to introduce themselves to someone and share an interesting fact about their life.

My seven year old walked up to an adult (presumably a school employee) and gave her name followed by, “My family just moved here to start a new church.” The adult responded with a scrunched up face, “Ugh, don’t we have enough churches already?”

I’d like to set aside the rudeness this adult showed my child and address the question at hand: Don’t we have enough churches already?

As our family has begun a church planting adventure, we’ve heard this suggestion more than a few times. From friends, from pastors, from family, from strangers. From religious and non-religious people alike.

The consensus seems to be that we have enough churches in our community, and perhaps country, and there is no use for any more. While I disagree, I think there are some things we can find common ground on.

Do we have enough buildings that largely sit empty during the week? Yes.

Do we have enough inward facing groups only concerned about what’s in it for them? I’d say so.

Do we have enough congregations shuffling around the same members every few years? Definitely.

Do we have enough people whose only relationship with the world at large is to condemn it? Sadly, yes.

But do we have enough churches?

Can you ever have enough groups who actually (like seriously, for real) love their neighbors as much as they love themselves?

Can you ever have too many people who generously give their resources to help those in need?

Can you have too many groups who decide to set aside their differences to work together for the good of the entire community?

This is who the church is. We are not a building. We are not a franchise business competing for clientele. We are not a country club that exists only for the benefit of our members.

We are those charged with bringing light to dark places.

We make room for people who are messy and different and who don’t have all the answers.

We are people walking a journey together.

We are burden bearers, peacemakers, redemption seekers.

If we define church as a building where lots of dollars go to keeping the lights on, or as a group of grumpy people who gather out of fear that God will smite them otherwise, then I agree, we don’t need any more of those.

If we are intent on beating people with our bibles or becoming the mouthpieces for particular political parties, I agree again, no more of that. Add in no more legalism and no more generic, surface level self-help yuck and we have a deal.

We don’t need organizations that make people miserable and we don’t need groups that are seeking to be big and cool for the sake of being big and cool (and highly paid). We don’t need systems and structures that cover up (or cause) abuse or turn a blind eye to injustice.

But if we define church as people known for their love, well then, no we can’t have enough churches. If we are people who live purposely present in our workplaces and schools and grocery stores, seeking to bring goodness and mercy and kindness wherever we go, then no, we can’t have enough of that either.

If we are the people who will show up when no one else will, if we are those you feel safe with even when you are completely vulnerable, if we are those with whom you can finally find the ability to take a deep breath, then no, we can’t have too much of that.

The church feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger and cares for the sick. The church carries grace and truth. The church stands in the gap. The church lifts up. The church embodies hope.

The church is not a place, but a gathered people. People who are shaped and formed, then sent to bless the world. At our best the church is not a burden, but a gift.

When we forget who we are and our posture to the world, people will assume there are more than enough of us already. We will lose our children and our neighbors and maybe even consider throwing in the towel ourselves. We will become unnecessary and people will scrunch up their nose at the very thought of us. To borrow an idea from Jesus, we will have lost our usefulness and end up trampled underfoot.

I believe with all my heart that for the good of the world, we need local churches. Not necessarily churches of a particular type or style or size or even denomination, but of a humble faithfulness.

We need churches dedicated to the way of Jesus and the power of community and the reality of God’s desire for creation. We need churches who will be good news. Who will serve and bless their communities over and over again, not as a means to grow in numbers but as a way to grow in love.

And we need not shut down all our old churches and start again. We begin right where we are at with those imperfect people we’ve been surrounded by. Old churches, new churches, small churches, big churches, your church and my church. Christ’s Church.

May we remember who we are and to what we have been called. May we never lose our usefulness. And may we live in such a way that even those who don’t believe the same things we do get excited when we move into their neighborhood.

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Broken Bones and the Church

Unsplash.com, Harlie Raethel

unsplash.com, Harlie Raethel 

Imagine, if you would, that I have a broken arm and that I have had it for years. I am so used to it being broken that I don’t notice my pain or limitations anymore. But you notice. And you want me to be healthy and whole. In fact, you know I can be healthy and whole. I imagine you’d say something, in fact, I’d expect you to say something. You would be doing so for my own good. And if you just went on ignoring it, I’d question your friendship to me.

It does me no good to ignore the broken bone. It does no good to point out that the other 205 bones in my body are perfectly fine. It does no good to say, “Stop talking about the broken bone and focus on the healthy ones!”

Broken bones do not lower the body’s value, they limit the body’s ability.

Since broken bones can be fixed, ignoring them is self-defeating. Ignoring them is dangerous and will have long term complications. There is treatment and healing available, even if it means a painful re-breaking or loads of physical therapy, I don’t have to live this way.

I say all this because I’ve been told (along with many others) I am overly critical of the Church. I know there is plenty bitterness and resentment out there, but the challenges I give or the critiques I share about the Church are because I love her and want to see her thrive. I believe in the Church. I’ve dedicated my life to her. I’m fighting for her. I want to her to be well.

And I think an honest assessment shows we have some broken bones. We don’t always operate as we can or should. We don’t always reflect the Jesus we worship. I think we have gotten so numb to the pain and the limitations that we don’t realize it most of the time.

We are good at pointing out other people’s brokenness, but when it comes to ours we are much more comfortable pretending or assuming nothing is wrong.

Yes. We have some healthy bones and there are things happening in the Church worth celebrating. But there are some bones that need attention as well. There are parts of our body that are hurting or infected or neglected.

We hear over and over about women who have been mistreated in and because of the Church. We see bitter divisions between people called brother and sister. We ignore or ridicule cries from folk who tell us they are treated unjustly. We are quick to be self-righteous and proud. We’ve given ourselves over to the politics and ideologies of the world. Some of these bones have been broken a really long time.

These things hurt us. They limit us. They keep us from doing what we have been called to do. We cannot fully function with broken bones or infectious disease.

If we are going to actually love all our neighbors…

If we are going to declare that what we believe is truly good news…

If we are going to be the Church that Jesus intended and deserves…

We can’t ignore our corporate brokenness.

It is in addressing that which isn’t right that we can find healing. Healing that will lead to movement, to range of motion, to health. We can then use our Body as designed: to carry burdens, to welcome with arms wide open, to wipe away the tears, to receive and offer grace, to walk in step, to bend in service, to kneel, to follow.

I’m not afraid of giving the Church a bad reputation, I’m afraid of becoming weak and bedridden because we won’t address our own issues. I’m afraid arthritis will set in and we will be unable to move even if we want to. I’m afraid my children will look at a twisted and deformed body and wonder why in the world they would want to belong to something like that.

I love the Church. I love us with all our hurts and warts and idiosyncrasies and peculiarities and messiness. I love the expressions of the Church I see in local congregations and those living Christlike lives. I love us. Really, I do. So much so that I cannot ignore our broken bones.

May we have ears to hear when people tell us they are hurting or unwelcome or unsure. May we awake to the pain and brokenness within our cherished bodies. May we understand the unnecessary limitations we have produced. May we be willing to put in the hard work of repentance and fixedness. And may we find health and wholeness.

Jesus Is Just Too Impractical

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We like to invoke his name and wear his cross around our necks, but if we are honest Jesus is a little over the top. We want him to bless us and forgive us, but when it comes to ordering our lives we do just fine ourselves, thank you very much.

Jesus is just too impractical.

I mean, turn the other cheek? Are you kidding me Jesus? Someone hits me I’m hitting them back. In fact, I’m hitting them first if they disrespect me, my mother, or my country. That’ll teach them.

You might have said not to resist an evil person, but I can probably skip that one. I’m sure it was a metaphor.

Don’t charge interest? Lend without expecting something back? Jesus. You were a carpenter, not a banker.

Love your enemies? Don’t even get me started. How can I love a person who wants to hurt me? Our enemies are bad people and they should be blown to hell. Do you expect me to just stand there, and what, get crucified?

Bless those who persecute me? Maybe if they sneeze, but that’s about it. People who persecute me should be persecuted themselves.

Love my neighbor? Have you met my neighbors?

Blessed are the merciful? Jesus you can’t become the CEO or the president or prom king by being merciful. It’s a long way to the top and I have a car payment.

Blessed are the poor? Not in this economy.

Don’t call people names? BUT THEY VOTE THE WRONG WAY.

Seek the kingdom first? No, I gotta do me first. God helps those who help themselves (I read that somewhere in the Bible, didn’t I?).

Tell the truth? Okay, but this meme confirms all my worst suspicions about people who disagree with me, so who cares if it literally bears false witness?

Don’t lust after people? Come on, I’m not hurting anyone. Plus times are different. Liberate yourself Jesus.

Wash feet? Gross. Sell my stuff and give to the poor? I could donate this can of lima beans to a food drive.

Be cautious with my words? Sounds like some snowflakey PC nonsense.

Visit prisoners? I’m busy, they’re sketchy. Feed the hungry? They should get jobs. Welcome strangers? They don’t even speak my language. And what if they are dangerous/make me uncomfortable?

Forgive? Please. I’m not a doormat. Save the sappy sentimentality for those who deserve it.

I mean, all this stuff sounds good spiritually speaking, but Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant for us to live this way, right? Its way too impractical. This is not how the world works.

This is America. We have rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have the right to defend my house and my family and my stuff. I have the right free speech and the right to vote and the right to compartmentalize my faith as much as I want. I have rights Jesus!

You expect me to deny myself? Take up my cross? No thanks. That’s your territory.

I’ll go to a worship service on Sundays (when I have time and a full 9.5 hours of sleep and it’s not the playoffs). I’ll drop some cash in the offering plate. I’ll even consider volunteering in the nursery. I’ll try to stop lying (in person that is, social media doesn’t count) and I’ll post a verse of the day once in a while. I’ll work on being a decent person.

That should be enough. I’m only human after all.

I’m not actually interested in following you because following you looks nothing like the life I want for myself. It doesn’t look like the American Dream. It doesn’t look easy. It is the opposite of what I would choose to do if left to my own devices.

Which is exactly why I should go ahead and do it anyway.

Because left to my own devices I make a mess. Because the American Dream isn’t as fulfilling as we think. Because idols dress themselves up in things we admire. Because calling something Christian doesn’t make it Christ-like. Because the stuff that works in this broken, unjust world doesn’t work when it comes to what matters most.

Because somewhere deep down inside of me I know that those who cling to their life will lose it and those who can give up their life will find it. Because in my best moments I know that the redemption of all things includes the redemption of me. Because I believe in resurrection and know that evil does not get the last word.

I need to follow Jesus. Not just in words, but in action, in practice, in reality.

Following Jesus and implementing these teachings might get us killed, might cost us a promotion, might mean we have to give up something we really want. It might mean we put ourselves or our families in less than perfect situations. It might mean foregoing my own pleasure or my own rights. It might even mean we have to, ugh, be nice to people who annoy us.

It is all completely, perfectly impractical. And it’s just what we need to set things right. To find the freedom we desire. To find our find purpose. To discover hope and peace. To bring about justice and restoration. To defeat darkness. To see his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

May we be foolish enough to set aside practicality in order to follow Jesus. Amen. May it be so.

I Need a New Gym: A Short Parable

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I joined a gym back in May. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles and it certainly doesn’t offer Cross Fit or I’d be posting about it every.single.day (just kidding Cross Fit people, just kidding), but it has some weights and treadmills and other machines I’ve yet to attempt to use.

I don’t make it over there very often, usually only every few weeks. Randomly I get inspired to go, but honestly, I struggle to put in work while I’m there. I don’t particularly enjoy sweating or the soreness that accompanies lifting weights so I stick to low resistance and easy-to-accomplish exercises. Sometimes I don’t even need a shower when I’m done, which is a bonus.

In the treadmill area they have all these mirrors that show me how I really look, so I avoid that room completely. I’m not interested in reality, just what I want to reality to be.

And now, I am looking for a new gym.

See, after months of gym membership I am not getting any results. I’ve actually gained weight and my six year old has to open the jar of pickles for me. I expect more out of my gym.

I’m looking for a gym that will shed the pounds for me regardless of the junk food I consume throughout the week. I need a gym that can increase my strength without increasing my need to lift. I need a gym that can instantly zap off a few inches when I require my suit to fit by tomorrow.

My doctor says I need to make some healthy changes in my life, so here I am, once again, looking for a gym that can help me. Hopefully the next one will be just what I need.

The moral of this story (that is only mostly true) should be obvious. It’s not a gym problem, it’s a me problem. But it’s a whole lot easier for me to blame the gym then to take ownership of my physical well-being.

I can search high and low for a gym that magically produces results, but until I am determined and committed to put in the work, I will see no progress. Until how I eat daily changes, no amount of walking into a building occasionally will do much good. Until I push myself further than I want to go, I will not see much difference.

And this, my friends, is how many of us attend to our faith and to local church families. We want the results without the effort. We want the beach body without the sugar and carb free diet. We want to show up whenever we feel like it and still get the same results as those who hit the track first thing every morning.

And when we don’t get results, when our problems don’t miraculously disappear overnight because we went to the altar once, we look to find someone to blame.

We find a new gym. A new trainer. We try pills. We try crash diets. Anything to keep us from having to honestly examine our own role in perpetual state of ill health.

There are very good and necessary reasons why we may need a new church family or a new pastor or new mentor, but before going down that road, we should stop and take an honest inventory of our faithfulness and our effort.

Without those things, the next gym or diet or trainer will end up disappointing us as well. We will end up in an endless cycle of “not getting my needs met” while doing nothing to attempt to meet our own needs.

The gym/local church provides the tools, what we do with those tools is up to us.

  • Are we exercising our faith muscles?
  • Are we consuming lots of junk?
  • Are we taking the path of least resistance?
  • Are we showing up and participating in any kind of meaningful way?
  • Are we lifting?
  • Are we stretching ourselves?

Are we approaching our faith and church community like I approach the gym? This won’t lead to the change we hope for or the change we need.

A gym membership card in my wallet doesn’t do a lick of good until it is put to frequent use. Spiritual health, like physical health, requires action and intention and effort. If you resist sweating and stretching and soreness or if you feast on junk food more days than not, you will end up discouraged, hurt, or unhealthy.

The solution for most of us isn’t a new gym or new 90-day cleanse. It’s a new attitude, some new priorities, and a renewed effort. The solution isn’t out there somewhere, its within us.

If we want to be healthy we’ve got to put in the work to be healthy.

So show up. Serve. Read your bible. Pray. Give. Be consistent. Watch what you consume. Target problem areas. Worship. Ask for help. Be honest. Confess. Forgive. Love. Then show up again. And again. And again. Even when you’re sore. Even when your tired. Even when its easier not to.

May you and I dedicate ourselves to our spiritual well-being. May we take ownership of our faith and our circumstances. May we commit to the hard work of faithfulness and growth. And may we then see the results we so desperately need. May the pounds fall away, our strength begin to swell, and our faith be encouraged as we put in the effort to follow Jesus.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to finish this double cheeseburger before heading over to the gym.

Religious But Not Spiritual

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It is popular these days to hear people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

Many observe the stale, lackluster faith of those simply going through the motions. Or they see religion as a box too small to contain their worldview. Organized religion is often perceived as corrupt, outdated, or harmful. And we’ve all encountered a person who is both intensely religious and intensely a jerk at the exact same time.

So plenty shy away from the label and baggage of “religion.” I get that.

Even churches tend to resist the term “religious.” I regularly hear (and have probably said), “Christianity is not about religion but relationship.” When we say that we are trying to point people to something dynamic and impactful rather than something that becomes empty and heartless. We believe that checking the right number of religious boxes isn’t the thing that matters most. And the Bible certainly speaks to that repeatedly.

But here is the thing: I need religion.

The truth is sometimes I’m religious but not spiritual. Sometimes I don’t “feel” it. Sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing. Sometimes I have doubt, anger, frustration, or failure in my spiritual life.

If I can only show up when the fire is hot, I will be in trouble. If I was to rely on just my feelings, I’d have quit a long time ago.

There are times I may not feel like attending worship or loving a person who is difficult to love. There are times I am not up for singing “It is well with my soul.” There are times my prayers get caught in my throat.

When those times come, religion keeps me going. The structure built around my faith comes to my aid. The things that have been practiced and rehearsed week after week and century after century minister to my dry spirit.

When I participate in religion I eventually find the things I have been lacking. I find hope and joy and rest. I find substance and sustenance in the bread and the cup of communion. I find peace in the reading of Scripture and support as I gather weekly with my church family for corporate worship.

Even after I’ve already believed and committed. Even when I already obey and follow. Religion and its prayers and rituals and movements bring me rescue and relief. When I go through the motions of religion, I am renewed.

Though I strive to avoid an empty faith or passionless belief, though I desire to always have my heart stirred, the truth is sometimes it doesn’t go the way I want. For whatever reason, sometimes I need a push, a jump-start, a nudge.

I find the help I need in religion.

I wonder if our reluctance to call ourselves religious has been to our detriment. I wonder if we rob ourselves of the very tools we need when we turn our nose up at ritual and habit. I wonder if we’ve damaged the relationship because we have neglected the practices of religion while looking for a purely spiritual faith. 

Religion can certainly be misused, but it is a gift from God and I’m thankful for the ways it has brought newness to my faith. It need not be stale and lifeless, but the very place where grace is found over and over and over again.

So gather with God’s people, even when it’s easier to avoid them.

And say your prayers, even when the words sound hollow.

Sing the songs, even if you aren’t sure you believe them.

Read the Scriptures, even when the message seems distant.

Take and eat, even when you don’t feel hungry.

Go through the motions, especially when the motions are all you have.

And then, may God show up. May your soul find rest and encouragement. May living water quench your thirst. May emptiness give way to satisfaction. May you be formed into the fullness and likeness of Christ Jesus. And may the spiritless become Spirit filled. 

Church, We Don’t Need Religious Liberty

I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack.

I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.

The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.

The threat is us.

The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.

We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.

Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty.  I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.

I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.

I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.

What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.

What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.

Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.

Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.

He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.

He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.

And neither is ours.

The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.

The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.

I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.

I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.

Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.

Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.

We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”

Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.

Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.

So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.

Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.

Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.

God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.

We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.

May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.

A Seat at the Table: Lead Like a Girl

Note: One of my strongest convictions is that we need to hear a variety of voices. I think hearing from different perspectives will bridge unnecessary divides and cure unhealthy polarization. I think we will become more empathetic, more grounded, and have more influence in our world. I want to provide a seat at the table for those voices we may not always hear or those who can provide us with insight we would otherwise miss. I will present them unfiltered so that I can learn right along with everyone else, even if we end up disagreeing. Today I present Kristin. She leads a variety of ministries in the local church and is pursuing ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. – Chris

A number of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference geared toward women in ministry.  The opening speaker began by stating something similar to this: “As women who are called into leadership roles, we are not here with a chip on our shoulder or an ax to grind.” I hope and pray that my message is not now nor ever steeped in bitterness toward the injustices in our world. Rather, my purpose in speaking out is that a new voice might be heard. A voice that has the potential to show the world another side of the same coin. A voice that is equally cherished by God, equally inspired by God, and equally part of God’s original plan for humanity.

As a woman called to ministry, I cannot say I’ve faced a lot of blatant sexism in my life. I honestly don’t recall anyone telling me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. In fact, my experience has mostly been the opposite. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. They modeled equality in a marriage as far as I can remember. I always thought of them as two halves to a whole, each of them holding the value of exactly half, no less, no more.  I don’t remember them ever mentioning gender equality or lack-there-of, but somehow I have always believed that men and women are equal.

When I went to college as a religion major, for the first time, I realized the unusualness of my worldview on this issue. Nobody ever told me that I couldn’t be a pastor and my professors were supportive, gracious and inclusive.  Yet even in this atmosphere I encountered countless people who assumed that my role in the church would be to support a lead pastor and minister to a small portion of the congregation – youth, children, women—rather than taking the lead position. And we need good people who will fill each of these roles, but the ability to lead is not gender-specific.

You see, sometimes prejudice doesn’t show itself through nasty words or outright hatred.  Sometimes prejudice is seen in the expectations we hold or the terminology we use. Sometimes it’s the side-long glance or the questioning eyes.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a question like “Do you need to check with your husband on that theological issue?” As if my education isn’t enough. Or a determination of my value based on how well I “pastor’s wife,” as if I am defined by my husband’s job. And sometimes it comes in the form of jokes and teasing, like calling a man “Nancy” when his physical strength is deemed lacking or blaming a woman’s passion on her hormones. It may seem harmless, and it’s probably not always intended to degrade women, but it is a contribution to gender inequality none-the-less.

So for the better part of the last ten years I have questioned what exactly I can do in leadership. What role can I possibly play in the edification of the church? Am I ‘less-than’ simply because of my gender? Am I capable of speaking in public and bringing sound doctrine to the people of God? Is God really calling ME?

Maybe these questions and fears are rooted in my own insecurities.  Or maybe these insecurities have been fed by the biases of other well-intentioned, although misguided, Christians. Either way, I do not believe that God’s intention for me is to be lost in a sea of doubt. Nor do I believe that He desires for me to be silent, to be inferior, to be powerless.

In fact, the more I pray and study and discuss with other spiritual leaders, the more I am sure of it. When I read in the Bible that I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12), and that I can approach God’s throne with boldness (Ephesians 3:12) I feel the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, telling me: “Be bold. Be strong. Be exactly whom I have created you to be.”

Sometimes it’s easy to listen to the voices that say women should not be leaders among men or that a husband and wife cannot function as true equals in a marriage.  After all, those voices are often the loudest.  But just because a voice is blaring as if through a megaphone, that doesn’t make it right.  Wasn’t it Elijah who searched for God in the wind and the earthquake and the fire? And after all the other “voices” had died down, it was instead the whisper of God that spoke to Elijah.

When the voices that ring like thunder surround me, trying to lessen my credibility, I seek the one who speaks in a whisper.  And as one of our congregation’s favorite songs states “I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night. And You tell me that you’re pleased.” God is pleased. With me.  Just as I am: with a passion for leading others into His presence.

I am blessed to have a husband who believes in empowering women, and to be part of a church that celebrates women in all levels of leadership. Not every woman can say that. But a woman, just like a man, is an image-bearer of the one true God. When the voices of women are silenced, the entire church misses out on part of God’s creation. On the other hand, when women are valued and encouraged to embrace their God given gifts, the church is blessed. Inspire her to use her voice, make room for her in your circles, give her a seat at the table. You may just find that this is pleasing to God.
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Kristin Gilmore studied Religion at MidAmerica Nazarene and is a locally licensed minister at Corbin Church of the Nazarene. She is a worship leader, bible study teacher, and budding preacher. She is a mom to three who enjoys running and coffee, just not at the same time. You can find Kristin on Facebook here and Twitter here.