Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Problem with Worship part 4: (A multi-part post...)

You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

So, my big idea is this, as we’ve commodified worship a number of unintended but detrimental consequences have occurred. The story behind Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship” illustrates one pastor and a congregation’s effort to face and overcome some of these consequences.  That a song about that church’s struggle with worship being reduced to our musical preferences became a huge successful song on the worship charts is a perfect illustration of the power of the Powers.

We will sing about not singing and the irony will be lost on us.

That’s not Matt Redman’s fault, that’s my fault, I led that song a lot without even once thinking about the irony.  The best way to worship with that song is likely not to sing it and instead, share the story and invite people to bring their own offerings.

Not thinking about what we’re singing is, for me, an issue.

In part one, I wrote, “We have neglected to pay attention to what we sing.  Our songs will shape our theology if our theology hasn’t shaped our songs.  I’m part of a movement that holds at its core a belief in an enacted inaugurated eschatology. My experience is we quite often sing songs coming from other perspectives that are inherently based on other central beliefs that are in conflict with our own.  We have sacrificed good theology for “a good beat I can dance to.”  We don’t have to, we just do. I believe that within our movement we’ll soon wake up to find the songs we sing have moved us a long way from the radical middle.”

The context of my thoughts about this is the movement of which I am a part.  But I think anyone, in any church with a statement of faith, a mission statement or even a motto needs to give this some consideration. What in the world are you saying with your songs?

I remember attending a worship service at a church several years ago that sang a song whose title I can only guess is, "Money Cometh," based on the repetitive phrase in the chorus.  I attended another church that sang Kevin Prosch's song, "Show Your Power" and found myself awkwardly singing different lyrics than the rest of the congregation when we came to the line that Prosch wrote, "We ask not for riches but look to the cross..." They would not sing, "We ask not for riches..." negative faith baby.  So the lyrics were were written so they could ask for riches while they looked at the Cross. 

A few years ago, as a church planting pastor and a worship leader, I attended a small gathering of academics and theologians – professors and smart people and such – to talk about post-modern hermeneutics.  I was the dimmest bulb in the room and my mind was blown over and over.  During a break, I was standing by two other participants and listening as they were talking about a very popular worship song at the time.  “When it gets to…” and he quoted the line, “I stop singing and look around to see if anyone else seems aware of what they’re singing.”  Having just led that song the Sunday before, it had never occurred to me to stop, nor had I really thought much about that particular line – because the chorus was awesome and I sounded really good on it too.

Considering what they were saying, I realized I didn't believe what I was singing either, it painted a very ugly picture of God if a person thought about it, and I didn't want our church singing that line either.

Overhearing their brief exchange started me thinking more about what I was singing.  It made me realize that the songs we sing shape what we believe about God as much or more than the messages I preached.  Never once did I hang out with someone during the week when I heard them unconsciously repeating lines from my message but I often heard people singing a line or two to themselves from a song from the past Sunday morning worship time. I never had someone ask me, mid-week, if I would repeat the message from a week before, but I did have people ask if we were doing that song again.

Our songs don’t reinforce the pulpit; our songs are pulpits.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Problem with Worship interlude: (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

One of my favorite stories about worship leading comes from Eddie Espinosa.

Eddie tells a story about one of the members of his worship team coming to him to complain that worship had become boring and flat.  His band member zeroed in on the problem, Eddie always had a prepared set list for worship and what he needed to do was toss the list and follow the Spirit.

Eddie listened, didn’t argue and took in what his bandmate was telling him.

And then he went home and prepared for worship the next Sunday just the same way he always did.  He prayed, listened, considered songs, listened and came up with a list.

But this time he made two small changes.  He hid the list.  He didn’t give the list to his bandmates.  The other change was that he asked God for permission not to follow His lead.  What he meant was that while he normally would drop in a song if he sensed the Spirit leading in a particular direction in the midst of worship, this time he would stick to the list, no matter what.  He felt God was with him.

Sunday morning the band sound checked, ran over a couple songs, seemingly at random and then chilled until the service started.  Once the worship service started, Eddie played his set list just as he had prepared it, start to finish.

Worship went so well that his complaining bandmate came to him after the service really excited.  Instead of complaints he told Eddie how amazing the morning worship had been and he told Eddie he knew exactly why it had been so good…because he’d thrown out the list!

And that’s when Eddie told him the truth.  He’d used the list, just like he had every other time. And he’s done the songs in the order they were on the list, just like every other time.

Eddie’s story isn’t about making a list or not making a list, but it does reveal just how subjective our singing experience can be. 

As a worship leader I’ve led some Sunday mornings where I was pretty sure God had left the building and I wished I could’ve gone with Him.  And then mid-week I’ve received an email about how “powerful” the worship time had been that week for someone there.  Other times I’ve felt like we were in the groove and if we were ever anointed it had been that Sunday, only to have another leader tell me how flat and dull worship had seemed that morning.

As a preacher, I’ve preached sermons I felt went nowhere and sermons I felt were almost worthy adding to the back of the Bible.  And just like with the worship songs, the reactions from others have been contrary to my own experience and perspective.  There’s a lot of subjectivity that takes place on a Sunday morning but to be honest, most of the pressure for how a morning goes lands on the worship leader.

They succeeded/failed to create the atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to move.
They succeeded/failed in getting hearts to open up to what God wanted to do.
They succeeded/failed in ushering us into the secret place.

It wasn’t me screaming at my wife on the way to the service, or yelling at my kids all morning to get them ready.  It wasn’t that I haven’t looked at my Bible app since we left the service last Sunday.  It has nothing to do with my total disengagement with prayer since the last Amen the previous week.  The problem rests solely with our worship leader not jiggling the right levers that got me with the feels.  It was the poor song selection.  It was the bands lack of attention to their transitions.  Or it was simply because the stupid fog machine broke down between first and second service and I can’t get my praise on without diffused light and copious amounts of fog.

Worship is a performance but it never has to be entertainment, even if we are entertained.  A performance is something we do together, share together and own together.  Entertainment is something we grade, we consume and when it doesn’t keep us engaged we move on to another vendor. 

Internal. External.

There is a subjective nature to our worship service that begs for leaders, senior leaders, who will trust their worship leaders and work collaboratively with them.  We need senior leaders to communicate with our congregations that we are all responsible for our worship experience and Sunday mornings are the summation of our experience that started on Monday morning and not a pep rally to get us through the week.

and thus I conclude this interlude...tomorrow I conclude my ranting...

on worship.

As always, leave your comments after the beep, I love to hear from you.

*Eddie's story appeared in Things they Didn't Teach Me in Worship Leading School, Tom Kraeuter, Emerald Books, 1995.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Problem with Worship pt. 3 (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

Part one is here.  Part two is here.

Let me sum up the big idea of part one and two – we have turned worship into a commodity. We leverage it to obtain market share and we treat songwriters, worship leaders and worship music like cogs in our machine.  This has created a number of unintended consequences.

Back in the day, John Wimber, who became the catalyst of the Vineyard Movement, knew music and knew musicians because he was one.  That’s exactly the kind of leader you want to lead a movement with the songs of worship and the experience of the presence of God at its core. Heart of an artist, mind of a strategist, imperfectly perfect to nurture the vulnerable and artistic hearts that gathered to sing and seek, hungry for an authentic experience of God’s presence.

John’s leadership was critical because he understood that the journey to the heart of God always had a singular result – to be propelled back out into the world to love the lost and least, to be the Church. Worship was more than the songs we were singing in the Vineyard, worship was a life laid down in surrender and obedience – a willingness to be a fool for Christ.

And then, worship became popular.

I remember when Christian radio wasn’t playing worship because everyone wanted to listen to contemporary Christian music – it was about God, it was about living for God but it wasn’t usually about God or to God.  It was more often a sermon set to music, sometimes heavy on emotion – “hey kid, who are those Christmas shoes for?” – but it moved away from worship songs.

And then, worship became popular.

The Vineyard had a lot to do with this – not exclusively, but the Vineyard was very influential in making worship (and forgive me for this expression) relevant again. John and the Vineyard influence went overseas – not to plant Vineyards at first, but to come alongside and work together with the churches in the U.K. that were hungry and open to what John and the Vineyard had to offer. It was like fanning a flame or pouring gas on a match – like all these songwriters had just been waiting for someone to say it was o.k. to give birth to new songs and new sounds.  John brought a spark but the tinder was there and ready.

And then, worship became very popular.

And then someone said, “Hey, we can make some money off this!”

Little companies sprang up and big companies bought them and worship as a commodity quickly took shape. And worship filled the airwaves again.

First we bought CDs packed full of amazing songs.  Then we bought CDs with a couple amazing songs.  Then we bought CDs hoping for at least one amazing songs.  Because when we commodify something, we lose interest in quality in our drive to have product to sell.  Eventually we saturate the market to the maximum of what it will bear. And then just a little bit more.

And we start ripping songs, trading and sharing songs because as consumers we know the man is sticking it to us with a 12 song CD that only has two tracks we really like so we’re totally justified in sharing and not paying for our tunes ‘cause, y’know, it’s the man. 

And the artists suffered.  The creators piece of the pie became infinitesimally smaller.  Getting on a CD now was just “giving people exposure” for which they should be thankful and they should stop asking or royalties.

What does all this have to do with how worship became songs?

As we commodified worship, it required us to elevate singing in order to secure our futures.  It’s like toothpaste or shampoo – in order to get your dollars, we have to make the paste about more than teeth and the shampoo about more than soap for your hair.  We’re selling you a brand, a lifestyle, a chance at romance, self-esteem and admiration.  We can’t really brand serving homeless people a meal or speaking out against human trafficking or showing hospitality to strangers or building a racially diverse community or doing most of the things that love does.  Mind you, we’ll brand it and commodify it when and where we can, but it’s just a lot harder than commodifying songs to sing.

Rather than following the Wimberism that the “meat is in the streets,” the commodification of worship has led us to believe that what we do in here is the meat.

And so we influence the Church at large to embrace the belief that songs are our worship.  When we sing is when God shows up.  Because we’re doing this song, miracles can finally happen here.  Social Justice is a code for liberal theology and works based faith, we’ve transcended that with worship and the Spirit will change the world in response to the sweet songs of love we gather to sing.  I don’t need to tell anyone about Jesus or live like Jesus with my neighbor, I just worship him and people walking by will be hit with waves of the Holy Spirit and want to follow him.

Then we started judging Sunday morning worship by whether we did that song we really like, the one that gives us the feels.  Was “Oceans” in the set? Then the anointing was present.  Was “Oceans” still in the worship set? The anointing has obviously left that worship leader/team.  And we’ve reduced our worship experience to measuring the ability of the leader and team to give us the feels rather than our ability to pour out our hearts to God, lose and find ourselves in the Father’s heart and to be compelled by his great love back out into a world full of pain and need.

Recently, I heard someone say, to oppose the powers, you’ve got to oppose the Powers.

I’m writing this as a follower Jesus who loves to worship with songs, who learned to play guitar so he could write songs and sings songs to Jesus.  I’m writing this as a follower of Jesus who has been shaped by worship music by people with last names like Barnett, Tuttle, Doerksen, Park, Smith, Ruis, Prosch, Redman, Mark, Beeching, Hughes, Houston and others.  I am not suggesting that present day worshipers don’t minister to people beyond their songs.  I am simply observing that powers have generally coopted our worship wherever possible, commodified it and marketed it to the singers of the songs by reducing worship to this single expression for which we can be charged a reasonable fee.

And our artists become baristas. (no offense to baristas, I need you too!)

I will now put on my tinfoil hat and sit quietly in my corner.

Monday, August 8, 2016

My Problem with Worship pt. 2: (A multi-post in which I offend many friends)

Since this is a blog and not a thesis, I’m going to make some observations that I won’t be able to back up with statistics or footnotes to research.  This doesn’t mean that my observations have no merit or are not true.  But they will just be observations that come from my experience.  Feel free to tell me how it really is.

In my original post I wrote, “We’ve created a culture that has mistakenly come to believe that worship is primarily songs we sing about God or to God and that loving God is best and most adequately accomplished through singing songs.”

I am convinced this belief has taken root in our church culture because we have commodified worship.  We’ve found a way to harness the winds of heaven in a way to benefit ourselves. And by “we,” I specifically mean those in senior leadership of the Church. Worship has become a commodity by which we secure market shares and fortify our positions.

I’m old enough to remember when contemporary worship started to gain traction.  I’m a veteran of the ‘worship wars.’  I can still recall when, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me…” was both contemporary and risky to sing on a Sunday morning. I’ve survived a church split where the style of worship was ground zero for the pent up frustrations of two similar but distinct groups of people.

But we’ve crossed the Rubicon, even if skirmishes continue to break out in some places.

And do you know when the tipping point came?

Ever see a gas war?  I used to drive through a small town with 3 gas stations situated on 3 corners of a 4 way intersection.  They always had the same price on gas.

Until one of them blinked.
And then down came the price for a time. First in one, then in the other two. Market driven competition.

In the worship wars, someone blinked.

Someone told their former senior pastor they were now going to another church because they used guitars and drums in their worship.  Blink.

It was less an ideological shift and more a pragmatic shift.  Not for everyone, but for the mainstream folks, we went from killing the musical prophets one month to investing in new sound systems the next.  And in most places, non-musical pastors started telling gifted musical people how to play, what to play and with whom to play.

And as soon as we pastors saw how the musical people created “the feels” for people, we both feared and adored them.  We feared them for their influence and we adored them for their influence.  The fault was not in our stars, but in ourselves.

And frankly, we still fear and adore those who lead our worship.  And so we’ve been handicapped from the start of this adventure. Senior leaders know that those who gather can just as easily scatter and often have.  So senior leaders do what every human is tempted to do when they are scared: they control.

And there are so many ways to control.

Sometimes we control with honey.  We make promises that range from paid salaries or stipends to goals of getting your music recorded and published.  We tell you how wonderful you are and valuable you are, under the umbrella of our covering. Or some other non-sense that puts you under me.

Sometimes we control with a stick.  We berate worship leaders on their song choices, the length of time the songs took that service, the lack of response from the congregation.  We wonder to our worship leaders if maybe they aren’t harboring some hidden sin.  We accuse them of building their own empires or having a “spirit of pride.” And we keep those who are wired to be sensitive and who tend towards self-doubt off balance and disempowered. Hungry for our benevolent approval or fearful of our anointed disappointment.

And so we created an us vs. them world, when really there’s only ever us.

But as soon as you’re a “them” and you’re not an “us,” it’s ever so easy to turn you and what you do into a commodity.  Rather than I/Thou, we maintain an I/It relationship which never produces life. 


What happens next?  Tuesday…how worship came to mean singing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

My Problem with Worship (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

The root of my troubles with worship is this: commodification, the source of all kinds of evil. 

As soon as we figured out a way to make money* off of Jesus and the stuff of heaven, we started dancing in the dragon’s jaws. We have to be on guard about this constantly in North America.

(I know most of my musician friends would love to make money from their music and very, very few of them actually do.  The couple that I know who have or do make money off their music also happen to be some of the most generous people that I know and they would be embarrassed to find out how the stories of their generosity have leaked out. Making a living at writing, producing or leading worship isn’t what I’m talking about.)

What I will be writing about in this multi-part post:

1) We’ve created a culture that has mistakenly come to believe that worship is primarily songs we sing about God or to God and that loving God is best and most adequately accomplished through singing songs.

2) We have neglected to pay attention to what we sing.  Our songs will shape our theology if our theology hasn’t shaped our songs.  I’m part of a movement that holds at its core a belief in an enacted inaugurated eschatology. My experience is we quite often sing songs coming from other perspectives that are inherently based on other central beliefs that are in conflict with our own.  We have sacrificed good theology for “a good beat I can dance to.”  We don’t have to, we just do. I believe that within our movement we’ll soon wake up to find the songs we sing have moved us a long way from the radical middle.

3) The intimacy, vulnerability, simplicity and honesty that was the heart (as I perceived it) of Vineyard worship is being altered by #2 above and as a result we are beginning to experience a new norm in preaching and teaching that neglects these same virtues.

4) We relate to our worship leaders, songwriters and singers as commodities. Within the worship community they find encouragement, support and understanding from one another, but seldom do they experience these things from senior pastors and leaders. Us vs. them feelings are generated by the way senior leaders relate to worship leaders and communities.  Bands and worship leaders come to our churches to play and lead worship and regularly receive, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” but we are giving them nothing or whatever is right next to nothing for what they've done.  

To be clear, it’s not the songwriters in the Vineyard that are at the root of this.  It is the diminished emphasis we are giving to worship and worship music generated in and by the Vineyard that I believe is at the heart of this. It is our propensity to commodify.

It’s a leadership issue, not an artist issue. 

As local pastors, we have adopted a new credo – growing my church is the most important thing on my agenda.  It is my only agenda.  If we’re growing, God’s blessing is on us and therefore on whatever I do or don’t do to get there. I am judged by the size of the church I attend or lead.

A friend of mine was leading worship at one of our churches during a season of personal grief as one of his children was attacked by cancer.  This season drew deep and powerful songs of lament from my friend who was kindly asked by leadership to, "stop singing the sad songs..." because it was bringing the worship vibe down on Sundays.

So much for weep with those who weep.  

And so we play to the crowd because attendance and offering equals salvation and success.  We reinforce this on so many levels that it must be true. We emulate other wildly ‘successful’ senior pastors and ignore when they crash and burn or leave a trail of broken and bloody people “under the bus.”  We ignore all the stories we know of worship leaders and worship pastors (in and out of our movement) that have been burned out and tossed aside like commodities rather than image bearers.  We stop listening to our veterans and the wisdom they have earned because we need what’s new, what’s sexy, what’s getting air time on the radio.  Because we’re competing for market share and we have to produce something better than the church(es) one block over.

And deep down, you know that’s true.

Worship has become commodified.  And worship leaders are a commodity.  And our worship services have become about the market. Again, this commodification is not the work of the artists, but the system of which we are a part.  And that atmosphere you permit is the product you will create.

The Church is at its best as a prophetic witness to the world by living with a different agenda, in a different way that looks more Cross than marketplace and looks at people as image bearers and not fodder and see worship as a way we live and not a commodity we leverage for a greater share of the market.

And thus ends my homily for today…

Feel free to comment and suggest ways to fix me or fix the problem.  
Part two will be posted Monday.

(* and money's just a symbol.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dear Friends Who Preach and Who Listen to Preaching

I’ve said before how much I love preaching as an art.

As a result, I listen to a lot of preaching, past and present, and find something beautiful in almost every message. 


There’s a contemporary trend that seems to be wildly popular and often the homiletical approach of some preachers of very large churches – as well as some very normal sized churches. 

Honestly, it has much more to do with orientation than it has to do with size.

This trend usually develops a message in one of two ways with both achieving the same broken result.

The first way which seems very popular today is the allegorical sermon.  These practitioners and artists will spend a lot of time in the Old Testament turning the narrative into allegories about modern day struggles and issues and how to overcome them, how to live in victory, be a success, get a win. 

It’s very American, very much in tune with our modern zeitgeist.

The second way which also seems very popular today is (what I will call) the therapeutic sermon.  These practitioners and artists will take a relevant, contemporary topic and piecemeal scriptures together (or sometimes not) that support their thesis about how you and I can deal with common problems, struggles and issues we face and come out as winners, overcomers and with the best life now.

Several years ago, I was part of a 3-week summer English camp in mainland China.  Our goal for the camp was to teach conversational English to teens and young adults as a means to building relationships and sharing our faith.  One method we used was to share Bible stories as English lessons and in the midst of our lesson, bring up our faith.  I was surprised, the very first time I did this, to discover that my “atheist, communist” students already knew the stories I was telling them.  Instead of being surprised by the parables or the stories, they spoiled the endings which they knew by heart.

I was confused. So I asked them to tell me more.

What I discovered was that in the same way I had been taught Aesop’s fables or tales of Greek mythology, like Pandora’s Box, these students had been taught a lot of the Bible but it hadn’t told them anything about Jesus.  The story of the Prodigal Son was, for them, a lesson on the importance of family loyalty.  David and Goliath, overcoming adversity.  Loads of Bible.  No Kingdom.  No Jesus, the Autobasileia.  It was like getting a vaccination, just enough to immunize us from the real thing.

And this is what scares me about a lot of preaching I listen to.  Lots of stories with life lessons, lots of allegories that turn the Bible into a cleverly disguised self-help book, great moments that would easily make an Oprah segment or a TED talk, but they’d play in atheist classrooms in China as easily as a gathering of saints in Chicago. As a pastor I get emails offering to teach me or sell me programs of successful preaching plans for a year.  Ways to plan your preaching around peak times of the year for visitors and ways to capitalize on the natural rhythms of holidays and special events to build interest and attendance.  I have friends who visit other churches or watch them on-line like I do and I inwardly cringe as they extol the buzz they feel coming away from these services that are obviously designed to, like Hans and Franz, pump *clap* you up.  But my taste in Germans leans much more towards Bonhoeffer than it does Hans and Franz.

My personal litmus test has become “David and Goliath.” If a preaching pastor takes that text and turns into a Malcolm Gladwellian story of triumph over adversity or any version that makes the story of David about how you and I can face down the giants in our lives, I know that the paramount goal of the message is not the Kingdom, it’s the crowd.  It’s not telling the story of Jesus, it’s telling the story of me, in which Jesus briefly appears as a supporting character.  It’s not about transformation, it’s about self-actualization.

If the medium is the message, the message is, “it’s all about you.”

Stanley Hauerwas once said, “…the story that we should have no story, except the story we chose when we had no story, it is a story that has at its heart the attempt to make us tyrants of our own lives. But no one is more lonely than tyrants. Since they must always distrust everyone around them, because they know that they want their place…” The unintended consequences of preaching us into the center of the story is, as Hauerwas observes, that we are made tyrants of our own lives. This kind of message, unintentionally, does not bind us together, it drives us apart. We’re always at odds with each other and in conflict or tension with one another as we vie for our place at the center of the story. And there can be only one.

But Jesus tells a better story, Jesus is a better story, and his Kingdom offers a better story than our self-centered services and self-centered messages tell. Jesus is the center of the story, and we’ve all been invited to join a story that formed us and forms us, we did not form it.  We become a part of the story and that story makes us open to the stranger, the other and causes us to recognize that this isn’t my story, it’s not about me, my rights, my destiny but about Jesus, the Kingdom and his story, the one he tells and the community tells together.

There is a better story than the one that’s all about you, and I’m very sure there’s a better story than the one that’s all about me. And I think the best preaching we can all do is to tell the story of the Autobasileia. That means we’ve got to immerse ourselves in our story and live that story, not just talk about it. Especially not just talk about it.  That story needs to permeate our day to day lives, our relationships, our vocations, our conversations, our calendars and our check/cheque books.

I know, I'm not the official voice on "how to preach right," I'm just a nobody who isn't impressed with the Emperor's new clothes. And I'm convinced if I let the Emperor go out like that, I'm complicit and responsible by virtue of my silence.  There is a better story.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Women: My Confession and my Credo

I don’t know if this is my philosophy or my theology but it is what I believe and what I hope is my practice.  My Credo.

When the movie, Selma, came to theaters, we were living in the States again.  My daughter went to see the movie.  I chose not to prepare her for what she was going to experience.  She came home devastated.  She asked us if it was true that white people like us had treated black people like that. In school she had learned history but those brief lessons did nothing to prepare her for a very recent story of people who have been segregated, abused and lynched here in America.

There’s another story I haven’t adequately prepared her for: her own.

When my daughter was little, she would ask me if I would turn the church I was pastoring over to her when I was finished. And as she has grown into a young woman, the sense of vocation has not left her. Of all the things she talks about doing with her life, the one constant has been full-time ministry in one capacity or another. What I don’t want to tell her is how hard it will be for her, as a woman, to live that vocation here in America.

I am part of a network of churches that is connected relationally across the U.S. and around the world.  In each country, our churches observe their geographical boundaries as the boundaries of their own orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  So in Canada, for instance, our churches had a position on women in leadership that was egalitarian in belief, if not in practice.  Egalitarian meaning that leadership roles were assigned by God based on vocation, not on gender.  In the U.S., same network but different practice: we have staked out an egalitarian position but we have no requirement that anyone in the U.S. actually has to live by it.

I attended my first U.S. National Gathering of our network of churches about 3 years ago.  It was held at the “mother ship” in California. Thousands gathered from all around the U.S. as well as others from around the world.  One main session during the day featured a message by two women. Workshops were on the schedule immediately following their message and I attended one on financial stewardship (or how to raise more money by including self-addressed stamp envelopes with your mail-outs).  Just before the session started, two guys in the row behind me were having a conversation about the previous session and they were both shocked and a little repulsed that two women had preached to us. I turned, assuming that they were being ironic or that they were old.  Very old.  But they were neither old nor being ironic.  They were late 20s or early 30s and very earnest about how troubled they were about women being turned loose to preach to men.
And I was shocked. After 30 years of ministry, it takes a lot, but that did it.

It was strange for me to feel so surprised by their conversation because I spent a long stretch of my Christian life as a complementarian.  Short version – we all share equal status before God but we have different roles and preaching and pastoring is reserved for men.  It’s hard for me to even write that last sentence now without being unfair to that position or judgmental about those who hold it…because I was one.  But after being born again again, I have come to believe that the complementarian position is wrong – not just intellectually, but morally.  And one of the things I have loved about my Canadian Tribe and my U.S. Tribe of churches is that we brought the Gospel into gender reconciliation and prevailed against the dominate culture because we have a better Story.

However, I’m coming to believe that telling women in our movement today that we are egalitarian is like telling my African-American friends that we’ve abolished racism.  Making room on the stage isn’t the same as making room in our hearts and heads.

And it’s especially not the same as putting women in key leadership roles where they will have male subordinates.

The story I still need to tell my daughter is that no matter how loud her vocation might be, as a single female, she has almost zero chance of finding a paid position as a senior pastor or almost any other kind of pastor.  There are two things against her: she is a woman, and she is single.  We might cope if she’s married and “under her husband’s authority” (stomach turn) but we really don’t know what to make of her if she’s single and feels called to lead men and women.  In fact, I think we’re suspect of single people anyway, marriage being the evangelical ideal, but that’s a post for another time.

She will be shocked. She will feel stuck.  She will feel judged.

So, here is my credo:

Single men and women are not broken or missing any pieces.  Jesus completes them, not any man or woman.

The Gospel applied will always mean that walls of division are dissolved in favor of reconciliation.  Therefore, gender is not the basis on which people are deemed appropriate for service in the Kingdom of God.

Vocation is affirmed by the Church and the Holy Spirit but not conferred by the Church.  We recognize the story you are in but we do not get to tell you what story you are allowed to be in.

Any reading of the Gospel that subjugates one gender to another is a misreading of the Gospel and it is neither beautiful or Christ-like.

If God has obviously poured out His Spirit so that “daughters shall prophesy,” who am I and who are we to tell God that they shall not? Women are gifted and called to preach to all genders.  If my understanding of other New Testament Scriptures leads me to another understanding, I must question my understanding.

We are doing violence to the body of Christ if you or I deny any woman’s vocation and gifts to the rest of the body.

I will happily follow any woman who follows Jesus anywhere our King and Savior leads.

I will not feast at the table of leadership and privilege as long as anyone is not given equal access or expected to be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the table. Therefore, I must intentionally, actively and consciously affirm and embrace the vocation of others regardless of gender.

We must stop lying to ourselves and especially to women that we are equal when our behavior, conversation and praxis communicates otherwise.  It should be women and not men who tell us when we have achieved equality and egalitarian practice.

To my daughter, I pray that you will find within the Church ways to exercise the gifts and vocation that come to you from our Father.  May your experience be one of inclusion and embrace and may you find the dividing walls truly broken and the stones that were once used to build them, turned into paving stones for a road both men and women can walk on together without worrying about who gets to choose which direction we are going.

I'm aware that I'm writing this as a male.  I would appreciate hearing from my sisters about their experience and their perspective on our beliefs and our practices in the Church towards gender and the egalitarian/complementarian argument.