church, Discipleship, Musings, Relationships, theology, women

I Give Thanks for the Presence, Example, Leadership, and Gift of Women

This is a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a LONG time. I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. Not because really because of fear, though I have felt it. Not because I wanted to stay on the sidelines, though at times I did. Not because I wasn’t sure, though I have long wrestled. I waited, because I honestly haven’t even known where to begin.

But, to not begin; to not speak, I now realize is one of these things I confess each evening in my prayers: “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone.”

Without equivocation or qualification, I give thanks to God for the presence, example, and gift of women pastors, ministers, elders, professors, mentors, leaders, and teachers. Not just for those in my own life, but for those throughout time. We are better because of you. I would not be more whole and healed in my life without you. In short: we need you.

While this post may feel like a bit of a hot-take toward certain articles and posts that have been circulating recently, that is not really my desire. And, I do not desire to rehash tired arguments. I will leave that to others. I will simply say that I believe that the full-inclusion of women in places of leadership, authority, and gifting in the church and the world (and fruitful partnerships of mutuality between men and women) is the more faithful response to the full story of our Faith and a more beautiful witness to the world of God’s kingdom.

I was recently in a meeting with a group of women who are working to serve and love some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our region. I had a moment as I was sitting at the table where I just realized how blessed I was to be in their midst. These are some of the most passionate, smart, strategic, gifted, and hard-working women (and people!) I have met. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that I got to work with them; that I had a seat at their table. That I was being led by them. This feeling of blessing was then commingled with sadness for others who are missing out on this opportunity for reasons of belief or institution or otherwise.

But rather than parse out the reasons for my support and belief (which again, others have done very well) I wanted to take the space to honor and thank some of those women who have had such a profound impact on me. They have led me and modeled for me what it looks like to be fully human and a lover of what is good in the world. Note: ***I will inevitably leave far too many out, and I commit to taking more time to share consistently how women continue to challenge and bless me. Forgive me and grant me grace, especially if you are left out. But this is a start. I’m beginning…

My mom helped to instill a vibrant and intellectually honest and curious faith in me from a young age. She took note of my needs while in middle school to homeschool me for a couple years to help affirm my thirst for learning and affirm the mind God had given me. She modeled faithful service and imaginative ways of using her gifts and talents in a variety of jobs and places of service in the church and community. She created space for my questions, she entertained my wonderings, she endured (endures?) the harsher edges of my idealism and fundamentalism with grace and love.

I think of my seminary professors who have profoundly impacted me. Dr. Rebecca Hancock, my Hebrew Bible professor who opened up the beauty and significance of these texts in a way that still challenges me, and who led discussions around the Psalms which have shaped my own prayer life. I think of Rev. Amy Richter, whose deep love for Scripture and pastoral heart gave me a renewed imagination for my own vocation. I still remember hearing her preach and seeing her interact with every single one of her parishioners after the service. I saw, in a fresh way, how robust preaching and faithful shepherding can go hand-in-hand.

I think of Dr. Tracy Radosovic who helped me rediscover the Gospels as stories to be told, not simply texts to be studied. Her fervor for seeing the proclamation of these texts as fully embodied, dramatic moments has influenced my own preaching to this day. And, of course, Dr. Pat Foasarelli, the “Double Doctor” as I call her, as she hold both an M.D. as a pediatrician but also a D. Min. as a professor, Associate Dean, and trainer of seminarians (yes, all-male Catholic ones, too!). Her depth of experience in pastoral ministry in her parish, her stories of working children living with HIV and AIDS, and her way of pushing us into deeper questions about practical ministry, continue to serve as a fuel for my journey. Her matter-of-fact personality and her sensitivity to the work of God in others as a spiritual director is a gift to so many.

I also think of my own spiritual director, Jackie, who helped guide me as a sort of surrogate grandmother, helping me make sense of the rublmings in my heart around vocation and life direction. The times with her, sipping coffee at her kitchen table and listening the Spirit together will continue to shape my life for years to come.

And there are the countless women pastors and ministers who have taught me (personally or from afar) in one way or another about God, ministry, preaching, and self-care (And I will inevitably leave someone out!). Sandy Boone, Toni Draper, Cathy Oatman, Christine Parker, Michelle Rader, Christa Burns, Mandy Smith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fleming Rutledge…gosh I could go on.

And, of course, in my work now with HopeSprings, I have learned and grown so much under the leadership and direction of Erin Donovan. I am grateful for her philosophy of leadership, her passion and compassion for those we serve, and her faithfulness through challenging times.

(I have chosen not to include my wife here, because 1) that deserves its own post and 2) she is not fond of public attention from me like this! But, at the risk of violating my reasons, Kara, you are a gift, a means of God’s grace, and a wonderful life partner to me! And to my sister, Amelia…I will save my words for the endorsement or foreword on your first memoir or book, should I have the honor of being asked to write them! ;-))

So, at the risk of a reductionistic and overused phrase, I say again: thank you. And for all those women not named here who are wonderful friends and sisters: we need more than just your competence. Your competence is a given. Your qualifications are evident. We need your presence and your example. And I commit to doing all I can to honor you and open any spaces I can for you to continue to bless and teach us all. Not because you need my help, but because we need your voice.

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church, church planting, Musings, restored, theology

Restored: What I’m Learning about Church Planting from HGTV

My wife has successfully converted me to watching HGTV.

It started simply and subversively; where she would tell me about the shows she liked or the ideas she got for our house while watching. I would draw back at first, thinking, “Oh great…we can’t afford to do that to our home!” or “Is this kind of like home decorating porn?” Then I would watch an episode of Fixer Upper and would fall in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines (“It’s like they are our friends and we would hang out!”) or an episode of Flea Market Flip, where someone made $300 off of an old, dirty window frame, a can of spray paint, and an old milk bottle.

Particularly, one of the shows Kara loves is Rehab Addict. For those of you unconverted or uninitiated to the HGTV faith, the host of Rehab Addict, Nicole Curtis, is obsessed with finding historic houses and returning them to their original glory and beauty. She always tries to use original features and materials where she can find them. The idea is not simply to flip a house and make a profit. It is a labor of love, spanning months and months, whose end result is to place back on display the original beauty and splendor of houses as they were originally built.

I compare this to how I’ve noticed houses are often “rehabbed” today. In our neighborhood, houses are being bought, redone, and sold for a huge profit margin. The house that we recently bought in Highlandtown was done similarly—modern feel, new kitchen, recessed lighting, etc. But I wonder: what could we be losing in this obsession with what is new and modern?

This has been an idea that I’ve been sitting on for awhile now, and it’s related to my own story. Part of my own motivation in getting involved in church planting (starting a new church) was because I felt like the Church was in need of renovation. How many of you have lived in a house while noticing all of the little issues with it? And you long to fix what’s wrong, but as you dig deeper, you start to notice the wiring is bad, and the wood is rotted, or that ugly, fake wood-paneling has to go—and before you know it, you’ve ripped the house apart?

In my idealism and younger days (though I like to thing I’m still kinda both!), I was convinced I was right and that finally, we were going to get the church right. And I had pretty much one tool: a sledgehammer. As a church planter, you can decide what you want to do and how you want to do it without the nuisance of other people in the church telling you what they think or questioning it. So I felt like we were starting with a gutted house; a clean slate. We didn’t sing at first because I was so burned out on the worship music machine, that if I heard one more song by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong, I was going to scream. We met in an Irish pub to worship, mostly because it was free and the food was amazing, but also to make our Baptist friends nervous. I would find myself talking a lot about what we weren’t, rather than what we were. I was proud that we were stripped down; I was proud that we didn’t sing.

It wasn’t until I started actually studying the history of the church with more depth and a little more humility, and I started to read about the world-wide movement of the Church, that I started to realize, in horror, what I’d done: I had smashed it all to pieces-I’d deconstructed the whole thing. The baby was out with the bathwater, but so was the old claw-foot tub and the tile in the bathroom. And as a result, I had severed the line between me and brothers and sisters all over the world and across time.

In the past few years, I have come to see the value of re-examining the things that the church has done and still does; the things that we share with those who share our faith. Not just the beliefs, but the practices which both arise from and inform those beliefs. So that is what this series is about: I want us to re-examine some of the core elements of our ancient faith. I want us to fight against the desire that we often have to think that we are somehow more enlightened or advanced that those who have come before us.

So, I decided to try to teach on this and explore this in our church family, because I often teach to learn. We will be talking about Word, Prayer, Sin/Confession, and Table in the coming weeks and how we can restore them to practice and use in our community and life together. Check out the latest podcast stream on my page here and let me know what you think.

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church, church planting, Musings, theology

Starting from Scratch? Church Planting as Deliberative Theology

The current trend of church planting has certainly seen a revival of sorts in the last few decades. For those who aren’t hip to the way cool church terminology of the day, church planting is the process of starting a new church “from scratch”. It usually involves a lead planter who will likely become the pastor (at least for a time) and he/she will pull together a team of people to be the building blocks of this new church community, usually called a core team. These people may be seasoned Christians or new believers; they may be local or from other places. Regardless, once they begin meeting together regularly, they begin the process of becoming church (or many would say, are church). The goal is to grow numerically and spiritually, with the desire to fulfill the mission they’ve been given. This, of course, plays out in different ways and forms, but the idea is that the “making of disciples” thing happens, because Jesus told us to do that. 🙂

Now, there are so many things to talk about when it comes to this process, and I am by no means an expert. Seriously, I’m not. I was brought in to that “core team” to help plant the Gallery Church of Baltimore in 2008. Eventually, I was able to come on staff for the church, fulfill a variety of roles, and now pastor one of our neighborhood churches. It has been a blast. It has been incredibly difficult. It has been rewarding. It has been frustrating. It has been instructive. I love it.

Which leads me to the particular topic of this post (and perhaps future ones). While this desire to “share the gospel” is certainly central to church planting, or it ought to be; there is a certain novelty in seeking to “begin again” with one’s church expression. My own initial draw to church planting was, to be perfectly honest, selfish and idealistic. In my view, everyone else got church wrong, I think I have it right, and if we just start over without all the baggage, we can “fix the church”.

I’m not alone in this; at least, I don’t think I am. Even in our own city, there is a newer church community endeavor called the Slate Project. On their website, they state the following:

“We are asking, “What if we had a blank slate for being and doing church?” (That is where the “slate” comes from, get it?) What would we choose to wipe away? What would we leave behind? What is no longer working or serving us? Where do we need to confess and repent and turn back toward the path, the Way?”

I am not criticizing this process or statement at all (actually, I find what they are doing intriguing, compelling, and very honest). And I have no insight into motives and am not even trying to guess or judge them. I’m sure they are far more pure than mine were. (to be clear: zero criticism here!) However, what I want to point out is something of which I personally haven’t seen a lot written: the fact that church planting is often just as much fueled by what it doesn’t want to be; namely the same old system. And as such, this creates a different framework and even theological process.

This process, to borrow a term from Stone and Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, is called deliberative theology. Deliberative Theology is the understanding of of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions, questioning what has been taken for granted, reflecting on multiple understandings of the faith implicit in the life and witness of Christians, and identifying and/or developing the most adequate understanding possible. In short, it is the process of examining, rejecting, and accepting certain aspects of ecclesiology and tradition (in all their various forms).

So, here is my question/thought: could it be that church planting is, at least partially, an exercise in deliberative theology, writ large? Could it be that many who are even “attracted” to newer churches are in a place of doing deliberative theology themselves, their old answers and expressions no longer being satisfactory for their new questions and life situations?

Lastly, is this good or bad? Dangerous or beautiful? I hope to examine that more in a future post.

What do you think?

References:
Stone, Howard and James Duke, How to Think Theologically. 3rd ed. (Augsburg Fortress, 2013).

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