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Why this Labor Day is Different

This Labor Day is different because of the Homelessness Coalition I attended last week where people all over Columbia who felt passionately about helping the homeless came together to learn. We learned about the fair housing, we tried to make ends meet through a poverty simulation (I bet you can’t make it 30 days), and we asked ourselves how we could work together to combat poverty and homelessness in the Midlands.

As a young professional who entered the job market in 2008, I understand the impact the recession had not only on me and my colleagues but also on the baby boomers who were just within reach of retirement only to find out that they had to start all over. I understand the changing dynamics of what it means to work. I also understand the negative impact of the myth of the American Dream.

The average worker has to work one month in order to make what a CEO makes in one hour. 1% of our population holds 40% of all of America’s wealth. 8 out of every 10 people only hold 7% of America’s wealth. 500,000 youth (18+) are homeless. In fact, America meets all three criteria for qualifying as a third world country: poor distribution of income, government run by the elite, political focus on stasis rather than change.

South Carolina is the 8th poorest state in the US. In order to afford housing that is livable and abides by fair housing regulations, an individual needs to between $12.5-$18.29/hour. The minimum wage in SC is $7.25 meaning that a person who is working a minimum wage job would have to work 120 hours/week in order to afford housing that abides by fair housing regulation. This is physically impossible, but again and again, the homeless population is blamed for being lazy and not trying hard enough. Four out of ten homeless people hold jobs and four out of ten have no savings, so when a big expense in transportation, deposits, or medical bills arise there is no way for them to pay for those surprise expenses.

NPR reported today: “Full-time employees have become the last resort. Companies will do anything to hire part-time, short-term, or contract positions.” In addition: “More and more people who are full-time employees need second jobs or side gigs in order to make ends meet.” Our world is not the same as it has been. The changing dynamics of the economy and the changing idea of what it means to work is changing young professionals.

If communities of faith want to be relevant to young professional, there has to be an understanding of the uphill battle they are facing when it comes to finding work and finding reliable income. Our neighbors are in need. What are we going to do to help?

Spiritual Abuse and Female Sexuality

I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach, that intuition so long questioned and quieted, that there is a seismic shift occurring. A shift that is turning back time to a society where women are overtly oppressed and discriminated against rather than the subtext of our culture and conversations. 6.5% of senior pastors and co-pastors in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are women. That number is rising even as women were called this past week to serve as pastors and co-pastors. At the same time, the gender pay gap in the White House has tripled in 2017. This is the tension and conflict that is being a woman in 2017, swinging from hope to disappointment again and again and again.

Perhaps it’s Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale that brings to life how quickly a society can turn, how quickly citizens can lose their rights. Perhaps it’s that I can’t get through a week without being confronted with false views of female sexuality that are tied to theological reasoning passed on unexamined generation after generation. The same theology recycled and reused even though technology has changed, the average age of marriage has changed, and churches are in decline.

Or perhaps it’s my own wrestling to try to overcome the lingering impact of growing up in a purity culture so stringent that my biggest fear as a high schooler was getting pregnant, which transformed into the fear of not being able to get pregnant after I was married because female sexuality was so tied into a woman’s ability to reproduce.

Attributing all of female sexuality to the ability to reproduce is spiritual abuse.

It silences expression and creativity. It silences conversation and questioning. It silences a woman’s voice and choice.

It’s not until women start listening to themselves, to that intuition long questioned and quieted, that sexuality will not be full of spiritual abuse, but wholeness and healing. I experienced spiritual abuse, especially surrounding my sexuality, but I am not a child anymore. I don’t have to keep experiencing spiritual abuse about my sexuality. I can listen to my own voice, my center, myself, the one becoming stronger and more sure-footed with God’s help.

Uncovering Spiritual Abuse: Alternative Facts

I ran across an article yesterday that there is archaeological evidence that in the early Christian Church there were female priests. Female priest administering communion. Female priests depicted with raised hands offering benediction, blessings, or perhaps even the word of God. I was shocked because I hadn’t heard this story. I was convinced that this was breaking news only to discover that the article was almost four years old.

Four years that there have been discussions about the role women played in the early church. Four years in which I have been ordained and called to pastor and I had no idea the conversation was going on. How could I, a woman in ministry, have missed something so relevant to my own life experience and calling?

Because we hear what we want to hear. Researches have discovered that the power of stating something that is false, is just as powerful as stating something that is true because:

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

Impression is just as powerful as Truth? Surely not! Doesn’t Truth win out?

Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.

The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

Evidently not. We believe what we want to believe. We don’t research to determine if what we are saying or what we are passing along is Truth and once we leak these impressions, they’re hard to shake in our own minds and in the minds of the people we’re sharing with.

If there is a place where this happens again and again, it’s in communities of faith where reason is often placed on hold and making a leap of faith is encouraged, but when faith begins to be tainted with manipulation and coercion, when false impressions are giving with the purpose of oppression and silencing people, it is not faith. It is spiritual abuse.

It’s hard to swallow the truth that there are ministers and communities of faith who are interested not in the work of God, but in increasing their own wealth and their own power and their own prestige. But there are. It’s hard to swallow the truth that there are victims of spiritual abuse who have been told they aren’t good enough and shouldn’t trust themselves on purpose to ensure adherence to dogmatic teachings. But there are.

These are not alternative facts, but real people’s stories.

Perhaps churches wouldn’t be in decline if we were able to accept this Truth rather than clinging to impressions of what we want to be true, but I know some of you won’t believe this because you don’t believe study after study that reveals the churches are in fact in decline. This is what happens when the need to cling to impressions is stronger than the desire to search for Truth.

On Teaching Communication

Having a 15 month old is….busy might be the best adjective to describe our lives right now. Just as soon as you have one sock on and are trying to remember where you’ve placed the other sock, you have to interrupt your search in order to remove the hair dryer from your son’s hands and close the cabinet from which the hair dryer was taken. You look down at your feet, trying to remember what you are looking for only to hear something banging into the bathtub, which you hope isn’t that borrowed book from your friend that you now have to air dry out. And as you go to investigate that banging sounds, you realize you still haven’t found your other sock, not to mention your shoes.

In the midst of all the quick, moment-to-moment decisions, you also look in awe at the way this little mini human who used to be so easy to contain is exploring and discovering the world. You look for opportunities to introduce him to words and objects as he points at things and calls, “da ba ma.”

“Yes, that’s right, that’s a dog with a ball,” hoping that you are encouraging the development of language in a whole and healthy way. When he looks at you and mimics the same number of syllables, you realize that he is listening and learning in a way that he never has before.

As a minister, I can’t help but wonder about the task and calling we have as proclaimers…that is one who speaks out the word. Isn’t our role the same as parents of toddlers learning to master the language heard everyday in his or her home? The great weight of bearing the responsibility of teaching a mini human to communicate weighs heavily on my shoulders as does the responsibility of teaching, or especially in our current political and social context, re-teaching the people of God how to communicate with each other and those with whom they disagree.

The examples of discourse we have heard and read in the midst of the political season we have just weathered have made it more difficult for those of us who are attempting to use language and the power of words to offer hope and healing. How can we offer love and peace when our conversations and feeds are full of hate and attack?

At times, I am tempted to repay hate-filled speech for hate-filled speech, and then the gospel lesson for the week is “You’ve heard it said, an eye for eye, but I say love your enemies.”

Love demonstrated in action. Love demonstrated in language. Love demonstrated in the frustration of trying to find your other sock. This love filtering through every word and deed will teach us how to communicate, but more importantly, how to commune with one another.

Thanks be to God for 15 month language learners who help us remember why learning to communicate with love is so very important.

A New Hope

Yesterday, New Hope Christian Fellowship called me to be their pastor and I said a wholehearted YES!

A New Hope…started a journey and ongoing battle between the dark side and the Jedi. A journey that has continued onto this generation in the form of new characters, missing story pieces, and a bond of love for Star Wars between parents and children. Perhaps new hope does just this, unites us, challenges us, and invites us to participate in a greater story.

Anew hope…If there has ever been a time that our world and our church needs anew hope, doesn’t it seem like now? As a millennial, I have certainly found myself in periods of church hopping and church knocking and church blocking. All of these stages and phases indications of my desire to find a place to serve where my experiences match the need surrounding a community, but I know so many other people who are looking for communities of faith to belong to. People to gather to worship with. People to gather around the table and eat with. People to call when life is so overwhelming that you know you can’t do it on your own.

People looking for a new hope. Thanks be to God for the community of faith called New Hope Christian Fellowship who are dedicated to learning, growing, and ministering to the community together. What a joy it is to be called Pastor by you!

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

The presidential election results have sent many into a whirlwind of emotions. For some, these emotions are of finally being heard. For others, these emotions are filled with lost hope that they are central to the fabric of American life.

In the midst of these emotions and trying to come to terms with these emotions, ministers and communities of faith are wrestling with the role they will play in helping shepherd and guide their congregations. If our country is as divided as the presidential elections revealed, then our communities of faith have deep barriers to overcome in trying to offer a word from God and trying to stay together as a communities of faith.

Would it be better if we just divided into sides? Would it be better if we avoid any talk of political discussion in our communities of faith? Or has this election cycle revealed how our communities of faith shy away from dealing with the issues that American people have passionately and publicly voiced through their vote are important to them?

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Where do we go from here?

We know the evangelical right played a critical role in the results of the election, but those claiming the identity of evangelical also share something else in common:

The key to understanding Trump’s support among evangelicals is to realize that some evangelicals’ commitment to the faith is shaky, too. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.

Or at least they didn’t in March of this year. We’ll have to wait to see if the election results changes that trend, but this isn’t surprising since church attendance and identification with a religious denominations has been on the decline and communities of faith have felt the impact of this trend in budgets, but could our communities of faith’s fear of addressing with hot button issues have contributed to the results of this presidential election? Could we have impacted the leadership of our country by addressing issues that are plaguing Americans rather than shying away in favor of safe, easy sermons? Could we have been more relevant in our teachings and in our ministries?

These are questions we will have to wrestle with as ministers and communities of faith as we desperately try to play catch up and regain our voice in the lives of millions of Americans who are now not only hurting, fearful, and angry, but are also divided into us vs. them.

We Have Vastly Underestimated The Needs That Surround Us

As we awaken to the reality that our country has elected Donald Trump as it’s next president, I hope what we have also awakened to is the reality of the needs that surrounds us. 47 million people live in poverty according to the 2014 creating a poverty rate of 15%, that’s 2.3% more than at the height of the 2007 recession. In 2015, there were 17.7 per 10,000 people who live in homelessness. In one year, 10 million men and women are victims of domestic violence.

The need for the hope of something great for many, many people is real.

These statics haven’t changed overnight because we elected a new president. These are needs that are ever-present and have become more prevalent since 2007. In this period of recession and recovery, our faith communities have lauded and celebrated legacies of white male privilege in leadership positions patting ourselves on the back for accepting applications for women to serve in leadership positions, but never actually calling them (at least we had a female presidential nominee, that’s progress!). The teachings in our communities of faith, retreats, and trainings have focused on self-care and spiritual formation rather than community-care and spiritual transformation. We have created a reality we wanted to believe: that we our communities of faith are welcoming and affirming of all people and are relevant in the changing dynamics of our society.

But our eyes have been opened this morning.

We must now wrestle with the truth that we are participants in the privileged culture that favors some and not all. We must wrestle, no matter who we voted for, with the times that we felt we should have said something to challenge and question the systemic discrimination we have encountered. We must now wrestle with the truth that as ministers, followers of Christ, and communities of faith we have failed to offer hope in real and tangible ways that connect to the deep needs that surround us.

May this morning bring heartbreak for the part we have played and resolve to play our part in bringing out real, systemic change that meets the needs of our fellow Americans.

Housing People Instead of Stuff

Sometimes sermon prep rocks you to your core…

There are 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in America, or more than 7 square feet for every, man, woman and child in the country. (An American Dilemma)

The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line…(Current US Poverty Statistics)

On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. (Homelessness in America)

What is instead of housing our stuff, we housed our neighbors?

Believing When You Cannot See

Since Easter, I have been ministering in this space of uncertainity and doubt, wondering if I heard correctly that I was supposed to step out into the unknown yet again. Sam and I are celebrating a new phase of life as he takes on a new position as Director of Marketing for a Columbia-based company and as we create ministrieslab, but this is not where I expected to be.

But this has held true for so many aspects of my life. I didn’t expect to teach overseas, I wished and I hoped, but I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect to be a private school teacher, but I was and I met my partner in life, in parenting, and in ministry. I didn’t expect to change careers, especially after investing in an advanced degree in education. I didn’t expect to find a church that would call a female pastor because of the people who told me that churches weren’t ready. And I certainly didn’t expect to be experimenting with the future of the church through a pop up worship experience.

But more than anything I didn’t expect to be living a life without a long-range, color-coated plan like the ones I made every year before I started teaching. Each time I have been overcome with the wrestling of my call to ministry, I have been asked to step into the unknown. I have been asked to confront my need for a plan and my fear of not been successful. Each time I have followed that call into the unknown, I have discovered more about myself, including my privilege, my assumptions, my stereotypes, and my past. And each time, I have found a community of faith that supports and encourages me on the journey. Sometimes those words of encouragement are dreams that the person offering them could step into the unknown. Sometimes those words of encouragement are in the form of questions and intrigue.

I can’t find evidence in scripture that we get the whole plan and get to see before we believe, before we follow, but again and again we do find crazy God and Jesus followers who are stepping out, without knowing fully what they are stepping into.

So, I’ll keep packing communion elements and taking them to people who need to hear that they are loved, that they are valued, and that they are children of God welcomed to table fellowship with God as we worship the crazy journey that is following after Christ.

When Ministry Is Hard

 

Ministry is hard when you have to stand beside and pray on behalf of a mom who has lost her 7 and a half week old reminding her that she still has to take care of her postpartum body that hasn’t even healed yet.

Ministry is hard in a political climate that is divisive, filled with name calling, and high stakes.

Ministry is hard in the midst of decline church membership, declining budgets, and increased expectations on time and responsibilities.

Ministry is hard when you feel called to serve, but can’t find a place to call you to serve.

Ministry is hard when you see over and over again the hurt and pain the church has caused so many people.

Ministry is hard when you are ministering to the homeless and hear people remark about how people who are homeless are just lazy because there are jobs available everywhere and you know it’s not true.

Ministry is hard when you find your privilege exposed and your assumptions revealed.

Ministry is hard as our culture looks to our churches for guidance on how to interpret the violence we experience much too often.

Ministry is hard as you navigate what it means to be someone who is called God’s word to God’s people.

Thanks be to God for those men and women who are ministers, especially when ministry is hard.