Pastors, Keep Your Door Open

If you don't know who Jen Hatmaker is, or Glennon Melton or Elizabeth Gilbert, or any of the women who seem to inform many of my sisters in Christ these days, you ought to know who they are if only because they are informing many of our sisters in Christ these days. Whether you agree with their recent decisions is between you and the Holy Spirit, but this article from Christianity Today makes a strong case for the problem of outsourcing women's ministries to the books and blogs and conference line-ups. If you're a pastor and you don't think the women in your church are sitting at the feet of these teachers, or if your perceptions about the women in your church come from what a few say they are listening or not listening to, I'd beg you to read this article with a sober and humble heart. Hannah Anderson's words at the end are particularly poignant, “If you don’t want women breaking down the doors,” she said, “simply open them for them.”

Nate and I listened to a podcast recently from Malcom Gladwell. I can't agree with all of his conclusions, but one of his points in this episode was when a group of people make one big concession, or does "one big good deed" as he called it, they are more likely to follow it with a refusal to do more. If you want more context, you can listen here.

It's easy for men in particular to believe they have opened the doors to women in their church, particularly in complementarian churches, if they have opened the door to one or two who are particularly gifted once or twice. The proof seems to be in the pudding if there is one or two scenarios in which a male pastor can point at and say, "The deed is done. I listened. My door was open to her." The problem is the circumstances haven't really changed at all. The involvement of women is not a concession, or shouldn't be, and complementarians of all people should understand and embrace that. We are, after all, those who espouse, "Equality and Distinctiveness." We should be celebrating the differences and giving equal "air-time" to women in the church. When we don't, or when we outsource our women's events to national conferences or local gatherings led by piped in speakers, we should not be surprised when women find their gurus among internet sensations and New York Times bestsellers, or, consequently, when they find their theology informed more by those leaders than they find it in one sermon once a week—especially if they're a young mom who ends up missing most of the sermon because of young children. It's easier to be led by Facebook links and pretty Instagram posts during nap time than it is to be led by a sermon on Sunday morning. Hannah Anderson, Jen Wilkin, and more have written extensively on how to employ and empower women in your congregation, and here's a long interview I did last year with a pastor in New York City on the subject.

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Practically, if you're scratching your head thinking you've done enough to open the doors to women in your congregation, here are some ways you can open them more:

1. Many young women put off seminary because they don't have the funds, they do desire marriage, and they do not want to bring debt into marriage. This is a real hinderance for them, and one many men cannot understand. If your church is in a place where they can help fund a woman's seminary education, this is an excellent way to not only invest in women, but also to provide an open door for her to return (or do distance learning) to serve your local congregation. If your local church is not in a place financially do to this, I recommend making it a priority next year.

2. Providing other education opportunities for women in your church is an excellent way to make sure women are being cared for, not just preached at. Offer to fund a CCEF course for a few counseling minded women and then, this is important, utilize the women who have shown themselves faithful in the practice of counseling, particularly in church discipline and other care cases. I've seen too many women go through certifications and call themselves "counselors" who end up giving unwise, unproven, and unbiblical counsel, or whose lives do not match up with what they're counseling. A certification doesn't mean a certainty. Vet your counselors, male and female.

3. Hire a woman who is clear thinking and able to hold her own at a table full of strong men. Don't expect her to be the women's minister, expect her to speak on behalf of women though, and listen to her. Don't mansplain things to her. I hate using that word, but it is a thing and it is common even in good, solid, faithful local churches.

4. Don't thumb your nose at women passionate about "women's ministry." It's gotten a bad rap because of lame crafts and silly table games, but if you have a woman who passionately desires to teach and is able to teach, or able to find teachers in your local congregation, see what she is able to do and help her as much as you're staffed to do.

5. Instead of sending women in your church to a big national conference every year, hold a smaller local one at your church. Bring in a trusted local teacher or utilize one from your congregation. Allocate funds to this. Don't skimp.

6. Ask women what they're reading or who they're listening to and then do your homework. Don't dismiss them after a few minutes. These speakers/authors are saying something that is grabbing the attention of hundreds of thousands of women across the country. What is it? What void are they speaking to? What gospel are they preaching? Now ask a few trusted women for some alternative authors, speakers, bloggers. Don't utilize them as your women's ministry, but read those women, quote them in your sermons, encourage women to read them or reach out to them. I cannot remember the last time I heard a man quote a woman in his sermon. Be the kind of man who does. There are plenty of women worth quoting.

One of the women I have learned the most from was a strong, somewhat abrasive woman, but her words were powerful, her testimony was true, and her life was witness. Elisabeth Elliot said this of Amy Carmichael,

“If she had been born a hundred years later, she would very likely have been encouraged to be angry, told she had a right to express her anger and her sorrow and her bewilderment and her rage, and generally to disintegrate. These were not the expectations of her friends and family. Nothing could have been further from her expectations of herself. Instead, she threw herself into serving others.” 

You have women who are being told by every voice around them to be themselves, to be angry, to express themselves, but throwing themselves into serving others is the antidote for this. I promise it is. When a woman serves others, she loses herself and finds a better One to worship, to long for, to look at, and to love. Open your doors to the women longing to serve, pastors, and don't make them fit into little molds of children's ministry or administration. These things are needed, but they are not the whole, or even a fraction, of what women are gifted to do.

We Cannot Complain About America if We Do Not Listen to Others

I went on an epic rant to one of my best friends this morning (she was raised and leans more liberal, I was raised and lean more conservative, but no subject is off limits in our friendship and it's one of the reasons I love her so dearly). It was over text message and we were both getting ready to leave for trips so not the most opportune way to rant, but when you live on opposite coasts, you do what you can to keep the spark alive. My frustration had to do with a liberal elite smugness and a GOP's smug we-told-you-so base I'm seeing in response to the election. Calls for "safe spaces and honest dialogue" and incredulity at the election outcome by liberals, and an absolute outright gloating and total blind-eye to the President-elect's foibles, failures, and future blunders by conservatives. I was grateful, in one sense, that most of the Christians I know and respect did not vote for Trump, but that alone illustrates the issue: I surround myself with people with whom I agree. It's called a confirmation bias and we all have them. The trick is to know you do and to not demonize the ones who don't know, but to instead educate them and yourself along the way.

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If you lean liberal and are simply scratching your head at the results here, read Hillbilly Elegy. It will do more to help you understand the situation at hand in one sitting, than this entire election season tried to do in one and half years.

If you were raised in a poor, predominantly white town, it would be helpful for you to understand what is actually going on in cities where perfectly normal and legal citizens of this country with varying races are simply trying to live, read: American Passage

If you were raised in a predominantly white evangelical setting and have trouble understanding the unrest by African-Americans, read: Letters to a Birmingham Jail

If you were raised in the north or the south, and are sure you aren't racist, read: The Warmth of Other Suns 

If you went to college pre-1990 and can't figure out why Millennials care so much about the cost of higher education, read: Paying the Price.

If you were raised in a home where your parent's income was considered Upper Middle Class or above, read: White Trash

If you were raised in a home where welfare, food stamps, and the food pantry was where you or your friends got food from, read: Bobos in Paradise

If you were raised in a home that leaned liberal or leaned conservative, but what you see happening today doesn't reflect what you were raised to believe, read: Strangers in their Own Land.

If you are a pacifist or think all war is unjust, read The Heart and the Fist.

If no one in your immediate family has been deployed, read Tribe.

None of these books solve the crisis of divide at hand here, but they do give us a small glimpse into what "the other side" might be thinking or processing or what has bolstered their belief in what's right. Rebecca Reynolds said it well in her post today on Thistle and Toad,

The beliefs of the average American are neither formed nor altered by reason. For the most part, our religion and our politics begin with affective impulses more than formal, cognitive research. What we believe about God and country is usually born in the gut, in the center of desire, nightmare, and imagination.

Many of us find our political and theological instincts early in life, then those instincts tend to interweave with a smattering of real life relationships. Over 15-years-worth of Thanksgivings, we hear that FDR destroyed America (or that he saved it). We hear praise or criticism of unions. We hear what happened to our aunts and uncles in California, or in rural Tennessee, or in Chicago as a result of legislation passed in D.C. All of these stories converge to form and then confirm a metanarrative that becomes a framework for how we interpret the entire world.

Few of us bother to fact check those metanarratives. They become too personal to vivisect. All of these beliefs have faces, because they are connected to people and situations we know.

None of us can truly understand what another person felt was at stake in this election or is at stake in the coming years, but we can certainly do our best to try. It's not as simple or cut and dried as the one-issue voters and die-hard Democrats want it to be, but none of us will grasp that if we continue to crave both "safe spaces" and "honest dialogue." The two are at complete odds with one another; there is safety in numbers, but not if all the numbers look, think, and act just like you.

If you turn away from those who don't think like you, you simply cannot complain about the state of politics in American today, you do not have the right to choose an America that only works for you or people just like you. Chance offense or hurt, your own or others, but actually listen to someone with intent to hear them instead of listening with the intent to change their mind. There's only one who changes minds, and thank the Holy Spirit, it isn't you.

If you have books or a category you think should be considered, comment below.

Neglecting the Holy Spirit

Yesterday a friend called to ask for advice. Another friend had told her to proceed one way, a counselor had told her to proceed another. I knew in a sense she was asking me to affirm one or offer a third way. I offered a third way by asking instead what did she think the Holy Spirit was asking of her? It turned out the Helper had shown her a way in which at the end of the scenario, she would need not only the Help of the Holy Spirit, but also the Comfort if it went as we expected. The Holy Spirit was offering a third way and, I think, the right way.

Nate and I have a saying in our house: Be faithful to the word of God and not a certain outcome. It has saved us from a mighty many scrapes and, to be honest, thrown us right in the middle of some of the hardest predicaments of our lives. To use the word of God not only as a buffer in the midst of storm or the roadmap to treasure, but also to believe the Book of Life may lead to certain death in this world, but it will not return void forever, is a risky thing to do. What seems smart, seems sufficient, seems wise isn't always what the word of God and the Holy Spirit would ask of us.

Some of us Christians don't very much like the business of leaning on the Holy Spirit, and with good cause. How many of us have been the recipients of heavy hands on our foreheads and spittle from a prophet's mouth, men who were purported to be "led by the spirit," but spewed lies leading to unmet expectations for years later? How many of us have been on the hearing end of someone claiming Jesus told them to get divorced or buy a Mercedes or their son or daughter would be saved on such and such a date, or they would get what they wanted in a certain situation? We all have hopes and we all have preferences, but pinning "the Holy Spirit told me so" onto our hopes feels more like a Get Out Of Jail Free card than the narrow road to Kingdom dependance—which looks more like "If it be God's will," than most of us give Him credit for.

What my friend, in the midst of prayer and weeping, had sensed the Holy Spirit telling her to do went against psychology and churchy ideas of tough love, but even more than that, it went against her own flesh. She was, like Paul, compelled to do what in her flesh she did not want to do.

Ah! This, my friend, tells us we're on the right track.

In an age when it's all about our stories and our preferences and our feelings, we ought to pay attention when what we are compelled to do seems at odds with what our flesh and the culture around us wants us to do. I am not saying we ought to stick around when we're being physically or sexually abused (and I know the line is fine here), but some of what we Christians call abuse is really just the brokenness of humanity in such tight quarters. People are sad and it affects us. People are grieving and it's uncomfortable for us. People are suicidal and we have to be attentive to them. People are angry and we hear them say untrue things. People are fearful and we cannot understand why. This is the sort of brokenness most of us are pressed up against every day. It's everywhere, we can't escape it, though so many do and end up building tiny castles with massive moats and standing upon the highest towers refusing to hear any criticism or complaint which makes them uncomfortable.

Paul said, "I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ." You think for a minute he would have stayed under the whip, the burnings, the shipwrecks, the lashings if the Holy Spirit had not compelled him to? No, friend, without the Holy Spirit he would have been sunk. He would have skedaddled. He would have slunk away, swam away, sprinted away. But with the Holy Spirit he was able to say, "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." II Corinthians 12:9,10

Friend, seek solace knowing the wounds you take today are for the sake of Christ—who came into brokenness in order to save to the uttermost.

The Holy Spirit Made me Do it

When the Dark Night Seems to Have No End

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.44.59 AMI've been wondering, these past few weeks, when did it become a sin to be sad? We have become little band-aid applicants, carrying them with us everywhere in the form of advice, counsel, scoldings, and, for those unwilling to soil our hands, corridor whispers. We are faster than an ambulance in our rush to clean the scene, sweep away the proof, and move on to bigger and better and happier things. Does anyone think, I think to myself, how silly it is to do such a mediocre job when what is needed is surgery only God can perform? Two verses, but mostly the same, have played on repeat for me in this year of sadness (Is it okay if I say that out loud? I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, and nothing to lose.). They are from the book of Jeremiah (that great Lamenter for whom we seem to have little use in happy, clappy modern Christianity):

From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:13-14 & Jer. 8:11)

It is against our nature, I think, to apply pressure to a wound, everything in us wants to be soft with another's and softer with our own, to handle with care or kid gloves or not handle at all. But the greater temptation is to cover a wound lightly and call it healed: out of sight, out of mind.

I don't know when exactly the gauging came, but this morning I read my husband's text in the still dark morning and send my own back. Our prayers are staccato sorts: Help. Pray. Please. Love. Sorry. Forgive. Forgiven. Love. Love. Love. Marriage is beautiful, but sin crouches at our door waiting to pounce and we must rule over it, even with staccato prayers in still dark mornings (Gen.4:6-8). But how did we get here? How did the wound grow from small and tolerable paper cuts to tears on the way home from church and pulsing guilt for the seeming missteps of our year? We both believe in a sovereign God, don't we? Why then would we falter for one second even, in our belief that He directs our every step—even if it feels like we've fallen into a ravine and there is a cliff above us and a rushing river below us—death no matter where we look.

Maybe this isn't you. Maybe you're one of those happy, clappy Christians who has never fallen into a ravine or had to scale a cliff or navigate roaring waters. I don't envy you, although I suppose I should. My pastor used to say, "Suffering is coming for us all. If you haven't experienced it yet, it's coming for you." And I used to believe it had come for me and I had gotten through it okay. I was wrong, and there's probably more ahead. The truth is I don't understand the happy, clappy Christians. I really don't. I don't understand those who would heal a wound lightly (though I've been guilty of it a time or seven), thinking it would be enough to have paid attention for a second and then washed my hands of it, having done my part smartly enough.

There are so many things this year I can't even begin to tell you but they all mount one big awful offense: God cannot be trusted. I'm horrified to say those words at all, and especially horrified that the offense hurts me worse than it hurts Him. It also isn't true, and I know this with every fiber of my being. But the arrows carrying their deceitful message come flying still. Who here hasn't felt the flaming arrows of untruth come battering down on their weary souls? If you say you have not and will not, I beg you to read the accounts of Paul again and then talk to me. What I cannot figure out, though, is how stalwart he stayed through it all.

What I am saying is the same as what Hemingway once said, "This world breaks everyone," and also "And afterward we are strong at the broken places." But to pretend the brokenness and the broken places don't happen or don't hurt or need to be fixed speedily or need some form of happy, clappy Christian healing with immediacy, is to lie, not only to the wounded, but to yourself most of all.

It is no sin to be sad. I have believed that theologically for a long time and it is being tested in the crucible of truth now. Can one be sad and still trust God? Can one mourn and still know God is good? Can one weep and still know morning is coming? Can one grope blindly in the long night without one single doubt that God stands there, somewhere and certain, in the sea of darkness?

I have thought those things might be possible and now I know they are. My sadness is not a sin, but I will not call "Peace, Peace" until the heavy hand of healing is applied all the way through.

. . .

Maybe you are sad today too, maybe the dark night of the soul has lasted far longer and been far darker than you thought, or maybe you know someone for whom that dark night is their reality. Nate and I watched a film this week where the lunacy of the main character was not portrayed as such from his perspective. To him, his friends were not imaginary, they were as real as he was. We remarked, at the stunning conclusion, how it helped us to have empathy for our friends walking through forms of depression, lunacy, and irrationality in a way we might not have had before. Their pain is as real to them as our pain is to us. I do not need to feel their pain precisely to understand its reality. I pray for this for us all.

Everyone you meet today is carrying some hidden weight, and the temptation to make your own greater in comparison, or to overlook theirs for laziness or fear, will be great. I beg you today: Do not heal a wound lightly, your own or someone else's. Do not cry, "Peace! Peace!" simply because you want their sunny disposition returned. Sit across from them and ask what hurts and don't offer counsel or advice or bandaids, ask only for the Savior to be near, because His word says He is and He is the only One who can heal all the way through to the other side.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted     and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

Four Ways Unmarried Women can Encourage Their Married Sisters

Encourage married friendsBefore I got married and was asked to write on singleness every other day, one of the questions I'd be asked often was, "How can married women encourage their unmarried sisters." I thought a lot about this question because I think it's a good one, but also because it can be easy to forget some pains of singleness once the vows are said. In order for us to truly mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, it takes a great amount of empathy—entering into the sadness, fears, and joys of our sisters and brothers in Christ. What is unfortunate, though, is that the question is rarely flipped the other way around. "How can unmarried women encourage their married sisters?" I think this is perhaps due to an incorrect view that those who are unmarried are somehow lesser than and therefore need greater amounts of encouragement than those who are married. This simply isn't true. What is true is that an unmarried person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for their season, and a married person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for theirs. No one is less than, or has less than—though it's hard to believe that as an unmarried person who longs for what your sisters and brothers have through their spouses.

I know even as I write this there are those who are saying, "Well, of course you can say that, you're married. I'll bet it didn't feel like a gift when you were single!" To which I'd reply, actually, it did, and not just in hindsight. Yes, I felt the lack, and yes I mourned the reality that I might never have children or a husband, but it didn't make my unmarried life any less rich than my married life is today. If you're still disbelieving me, I encourage you to tend to the affections of your heart; if having a spouse is the pinnacle of joy for you, then your heart has settled for idolatry.

In hindsight, though, there is still one regret of my singleness: I wish I had encouraged, or known how to encourage, my married friends better. I prayed for them, loved them, tried to be specific about helping them and encouraging them when I knew how to, but I wish I had not looked at their lives and seen a form of completion that somehow (in my mind) negated my words and presence in their lives. There was a perception that the season they were in did not need my particular brand of encouragement as a single. I was wrong. Just as I needed their prayers, encouragement, vulnerability, and friendship, they needed mine.

Here are four ways the unmarried can encourage the married:

1. Fight the lie that says to you their lives are complete in a way yours is not.

This lie is not only damaging to you, it is damaging to them. Marriage does not complete a person, but when you believe it does, you remove the opportunity for them to be vulnerable about the ways marriage presses on them in difficult ways. If your answer to their struggles in marriage is always, "Well, at least you have a husband," the lie that can play on their minds and hearts is, "They're right. I have a husband. I shouldn't be struggling with this gnawing feeling of incompleteness." Now you're both believing lies. The truth is you are both complete and whole in Christ, nothing more, nothing less. The truth is also that you are both wholly incomplete in Christ, awaiting your final consummation with Christ. This is a beautiful truth if we can truly wrap our minds and hearts around it. Complete and not complete, but both in Christ, not in marital status.

I have really struggled with this in marriage because many of my still unmarried friends so long for marriage that they assume I can't possibly understand the struggle anymore, or I feel guilty talking about difficulties in this season of my life as though I'm not allowed to still struggle. God is doing a work on me in this area and I'm trying to be faithful to holding marriage up as a source of joy (though not the pinnacle of joy) while also being honest about the very real angsts within it.

2. Ask them probing questions about their marriage.

There has been an idea that one's marriage is somehow off limits for discussion. Perhaps you grew up in a broken home and any conflict meant divorce was around the corner, or perhaps you've heard men and women alike complaining about their marriages, or gossiping about their spouses. I've experienced both. There can be a paralyzing fear that if we talk about struggles we are having or our husbands are having with anyone, that we are slandering them or exposing our marriage.

The best thing for sin is to be exposed to the light, for the Holy Spirit to minister and heal, and for reconciliation to come. But often times as unmarried people, you can feel inept at asking those probing questions without seeming like you're digging for salacious details. I'll never forget being in a group of friends with one recently married and one of the other girls asking our newly married friend all kinds of details about marriage, sex, routines, etc.. I was embarrassed, but mostly because my newly married friend was embarrassed. But years later when that marriage had dissolved, I wished I'd asked more questions along the way. I wished I'd helped to be a minister of reconciliation instead of a bystander who thought I couldn't ask probing questions. You may not have all the answers (and in fact, none of us do), but hearing honest words about the difficulties within marriage can help dissolve the Hollywood version we all have in our heads—and God may use you to help heal brokenness along the way.

Here are a few questions that would be helpful for you and her: What does leadership and submission look like in your marriage? How does it make you feel? What is the hardest thing about being a wife? What are you afraid of in your marriage? What brings you joy in it? In what ways was what you were taught in the church right about sex in marriage? In what ways was it wrong? How can I pray for you and your husband today?

3. Pray with them about their needs and desires.

Something happens when I pray. I don't mean God always answers my prayers. I mean something happens in me when I pray. My heart is softened and becomes more understanding to the plight of another. I can talk for hours about a particular angst or fear or whatever I or someone else is struggling with, but the moment I say, "Father," and follow it with an earnest prayer, my heart changes. I don't mean this in a mystical way, I just think it's the Holy Spirit in me communing with the Son who intercedes on behalf of me to our Father in heaven.

When you bring your own longings, fears, and angsts to the fervor behind a prayer for someone else, something settles within you. You are able to understand and sympathize with a friend—in whatever season of life they're in—matching your longings ache for ache.

One of my good friends has a baby right now and a tiny apartment she longs to be out of. I am renting a home but ache for a baby. We are able to have what the other longs for (in a way), but pray for the other as though we both long for the same thing because we understand what we ultimately long for is God. Pray with your married sisters—even if you think they should just be happy with what they have because it's what you want.

4. Rejoice with them when their dreams are fulfilled.

I've told this story a hundred times before but for the past six years I had three friends who all struggled with infertility. They each mourned differently and struggled in unique ways, but we prayed and cried for one another in the lack of what we desired: a baby for them, a husband for me. Within a year, we saw all of those prayers answered for each of us in various ways. I'm not saying this is a guarantee for everyone, but it was a sweet picture of God's attentiveness toward each of us and because we had been faithful to love and encourage one another in our particular season, we were able to rejoice with a fullness we wouldn't have had before.

It is much harder to look with jealous longing at a friend who has what you want when you've truly entered into her mourning when she didn't have it. The safeguard against jealousy is not coveting all the more what our neighbors have, but rejoicing with them when they get it. This is a blessed safeguard and an opportunity more of us should take. Rejoice, as fully as you're able, when God answers the prayers you've both been praying for them.

This has also been a struggle for me in marriage because most of my closest friends are still unmarried. I have struggled to rejoice around them because I fear my happiness will lead to their sadness. God is teaching me to model joy for earthly gifts while at the same time keeping Christ as my constant joy at the center.

. . .

In many ways these are things we all need to do with all of our friends, but many of us do them more easily with those who are in the same season as us. It is easier to pray for a husband with a friend who longs for one too. It's easier to understand infertility when you're walking through it too. It's easier to counsel difficult seasons in marriage when you've walked through them too. But crossing outside of those boundary lines can bring, I might argue, a better more lasting blessing.

I know it's hard to fight the lie that your married friend has everything you want and doesn't need your encouragement, but I beg you to fight through it, set your truest affections on Christ, trust He supplies every need according to His riches, and assume the position of being the answer to your friend's need. Your joy will be greater, I promise.