Commercialized Church

“Christmas at [name of church]! Merry Christmas! We can’t wait to see you! Ride our horse carriages, take a photo at the snow booth, stop by the indoor photo booth, grab some hot chocolate or apple cider, coffee or refreshments and enjoy the trumpets in the balcony! Then join us for a great message and music in the auditorium at 10:30am!”

My heart and stomach sank when I saw this Christmas service promotional for a church. I’m also sad that “promotional” is the best word I can think of at the moment. Can we all just admit that there’s a problem when churches look more like commercialized department stores rather than places of worship, and more like places of entertainment than houses of God? Not just this particular church, but any church that feels the need to commercialize. Unfortunately, it’s occurring in many churches.

Every Barna Group and Pew Research study I’ve ever read on the topic makes it very clear that Millennials are leaving the church in droves, and Generation Z is following. Most of the younger members of Gen Z aren’t being brought up in church at all. One would think the first step to take regarding this issue would be to ask Millennials and Gen Z why it is that they’re leaving the church or are uninterested in beginning attendance.

I’ve also read many articles published where these generations were asked about the reasons for leaving and/or not attending a church. From the information I’ve gathered, the main reason is that our generations are not interested in being entertained by the church. If entertainment is what we wanted, we have a whole plethora of options besides church.

We want authenticity. Real authenticity. We want a real relationship with God. We want to be able to question and explore spirituality. We want real relationships and community with other people; not some shallow experience that begins and ends with a Sunday morning greeting.

It is my opinion that if a church has to dig this deep into the sphere of commercialism and entertainment in order to attempt to attract guests, the church seriously needs to reevaluate its strategy. If a church is this reliant on attractions and novelties, it becomes difficult to view what goes on onstage as anything other than a show. It’s distracting. Whatever happened to Jesus and the Gospel being enough? If Jesus and the Gospel aren’t enough for you, dear church, just close your doors because you’re missing the only mark that matters.

Look at the advertisement: “…in the auditorium…” Of course it’s all semantics, but when I think of an auditorium, I think of a place to go see entertainment. A sanctuary is a place where we go to worship and revere our Lord. I point that out only to demonstrate how even language is being selected in a manner to make church more appealing.

Whatever happened to Jesus and the Gospel being enough? If Jesus and the Gospel aren’t enough for you, dear church, just close your doors because you’re missing the only mark that matters.

Church, keep your glitz and novelty acts. If Jesus, the King of kings, came down to earth quietly in the night, surely you don’t need heralding trumpets. If Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, you don’t need horse and chariot escorts in the parking lot. Church, if your elaborate and extravagant schemes are one-upping the Jesus you plan to speak of, it shows that you do not truly understand what the meekness and humility of Jesusfrom birth to death and resurrectionis truly about.

Peace, Unity, and Pot Stirrers

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is very much a Social Gospel. To some of you, that may be the most controversial thing you’ve ever heard someone say about the Gospel. I suppose if the phrase “Social Gospel” just doesn’t sit well with you, we can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very much saturated in social issues. Rarely do we see Jesus not entangled in the social issues of His day. I don’t think there could have possibly been anything more socially scandalous during this time—when the Roman Empire reigned and the Jewish people were prosperous—than someone coming along and being heralded as the King of the Jews and the prophesied Messiah. It only took one scandalous incarnation to completely upset and upheave two massively powerful social orders of political and religious persuasions.

Often times, Jesus puts Himself purposefully and directly in the middle of social issues. He chose to hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He chose to associate with the Samaritan woman at the well. He chose to heal on the Sabbath. He chose to drop the stones and pardon the woman caught in adultery. Things seemed to be going just fine in the Temple before Jesus walked in, flipped the tables over, and called it a “den of thieves.” And, dare we not forget, He chose to go to the cross—a social issue of Roman execution through the pressure of the Jewish leaders. Jesus died on a Roman cross with a sign detailing His crime as “King of the Jews.”

It’s interesting because the Jews had been awaiting the arrival of a Messiah who held political power and would rise up as King of the Jews to save them from Rome. Maybe the sign above Jesus’ cross could have just as easily read “Jesus of Nazareth: Social Justice Warrior.” Wasn’t that His true crime—shaking up the social issues of His time? Jesus preached a Gospel that set the captives free from social injustice: the poor and oppressed captive, the marginalized captive, the female captive, the gentile captive. The Gospel of Jesus is ultimately about freedom from sin, but when we realize that the root of all social injustice is sin, we see why Jesus and His Gospel can’t be separated from social issues. Jesus certainly wasn’t interested in keeping the peace when doing so would have been at the expense of inequality and those being oppressed and mistreated.

It’s amazing to me how much flack social justice advocates are forced to take these days; just for advocating in churches that have clear social justice problems. My foremost area of advocating is for egalitarianism: the theological and biblical belief that men and women are equal in essence as well as in authority and leadership. There is no such thing as “gender roles.” This is sometimes known as Biblical Feminism.

When people like myself speak out in churches that embrace the false beliefs of male-headship, wifely submission, and all other things complementarian; we are accused of causing disunity. Jory Micah, in her blog post entitled “I Will Not Conform to Make False Peace,” hit the nail on the head for me when she wrote, “The thing is, I am not interested in unity that is at the expense of the oppressed. I am not interested in staying silent on behalf of the girls and women who are being treated unjustly so that I can make privileged [Christians] feel more comfortable.”

I have found myself in a similar situation. Before finally leaving, I was constantly being accused of causing disunity in my church due to my strong advocating of women’s rights and egalitarianism in a church that strongly embraces male-headship and complementarianism. The ultimatum given to me was that I needed to silence my advocating or leave. I was told that my advocating was causing disunity and that being silent about such things would be the way in which I would live peaceably with those in that church. I wasn’t interested in catering to their whims of false peace or disillusioned unity. Unity is a noble goal, but so is separating truth from error. Some things shouldn’t be “agree to disagree”—like gender equality and equal rights between men and women.

True unity isn’t the sound of silencing half of the church and leaving them voiceless. True unity isn’t leaving half of the church out of the decision making process. True unity isn’t dismissing half of the church from positions of authority and leadership. True unity doesn’t diminish the gifts of half of the church. True unity cannot coexist with the oppression of half the church. When I began thinking about ways to accomplish cultivating unity in the church, I realized that true unity will only come when we embrace women as equal leaders in our churches. Only when we remove the idea of patriarchy, and instead see men and women standing side-by-side as complete equals, will we be able to fully achieve true unity.

Jesus abandoned His place of privilege in order to become a servant of the oppressed.

May we do the same.

*This blog was originally a guest post for “Unsilenced,” and was first published on August 22, 2018. Here’s a link to the original post. Check out more while you’re there!*

A Whisper in a Manger

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NIV).

This is the very Word that spoke the universe, and all of creation, into existence. For some reason, I have a difficult time picturing that moment as being anything other than loud and explosive and filled with majesty. I imagine God’s voice booming and things coming into existence almost as quickly as He speaks. It is the voice of God thundering throughout an empty void while creation obeys His words. The Word shouted and creation bowed in worship.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).

The same Word that once echoed throughout creation now quietly, in the still of the night, made His way down to earth and became Immanuel—God with us. The Word that once shouted everything into being came to earth as a human being, and I imagine this time was more of a whisper. The Son of God came quietly in the night, swaddled in cloth, and whimpered the soft cries of an infant. The Christ child made an entrance into the very world He had spoken into existence, and His entrance was anything other than mighty and majestic. It was meek and humble, where the only room for Him to even lay His head was in a stable manger. God leaned down from His throne in Heaven and whispered intimately to earth. God whispered salvation to all of humanity through a baby—Jesus, the Son of God.

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all of His love into the womb of a young girl? —Madeleine L’Engle

“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b).

The thing about whispering is that it requires intimacy. It requires one to be up close and personal with another. When the Father sent His Son to earth, He chose the most intimate way—through the whisper of a baby born in Bethlehem. This shows just how intimate and close God was willing to bring His creation to Him. Or, rather, how God so yearned for intimacy with His creation that He left His heavenly throne, took on flesh, and went to earth to dwell among them as one of them.

One might expect a king to come with horse and chariot and trumpets heralding; with his full majesty on display. However, our King chose to come lowly, humbly, and quietly. All of His glory and majesty was tucked away—covered by flesh—blending Him in with sinful humanity. God came down to earth, to an insignificant city called Bethlehem, to a manger in a stable; and to the baby lying there, God whispered salvation’s name: Jesus. He is the One who will save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

When someone speaks in a whisper, you have to get very close to hear. In fact, you have to put your ear near the person’s mouth. We lean toward a whisper, and that’s what God wants. The goal of hearing the heavenly Father’s voice isn’t just hearing His voice; it’s intimacy with Him. That’s why He speaks in a whisper. He wants to be as close to us as is divinely possible! He loves us, likes us, that much. —Mark Batterson

Still today, I believe that God is more interested in whispering to us rather than shouting at us. God wants to have the kind of intimate relationship with us that allows Him to lean in closely and whisper softly into our hearts. We should yearn for a relationship with God that allows us to feel that still, small voice and know that it is from our heavenly Father. It is a connection between His love and our hearts. After all, this is the entire reason for the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us—to allow us a connection with God like never before.

Merry Christmas!

The Road Isn’t Always Easy

Be prepared for the not-so-nice side of advocating for equality.

I think this particular post may resonate with some more than others, and that all depends on where we each find ourselves in this journey towards equality. Where ever you find yourself, I hope that you find this helpful and eye opening.

I’m here to be honest with you and to let you know that the road to gender equality isn’t always an easy one. From my experience, this has been the rockiest journey that I’ve ever embarked on. Some of you come from traditions where gender equality in the church, home, and society was the norm. You have a difficult time imagining the set-up to be any different, because this has always been your normal. Some of you come from, or are currently in, backgrounds similar to mine. For my entire life, my church membership has been at a Southern Baptist church with a very complementarian leaning. At almost 24 years old, I still have never seen or heard a woman speak or preach from the church pulpit. I have only ever heard women speak and teach the Bible in conference settings or something similar.

Whether you have come out of a complementarian background and embraced gender equality, are still in the complementarian tradition and are here to engage and learn more about egalitarianism and biblical gender equality, or have been in the tradition of equality for quite some time; I hope that you find the following to be beneficial in understanding that this road will almost certainly not be an easy one. It may be easier for some than others, but I want you all to be prepared for the not-so-nice side of advocating for equality.

I came out of the complementarian tradition. The more I studied Scripture and examined the life of Jesus, I was led to embrace the theology of egalitarianism—the belief that men and women are equal in authority and leadership in the church, home, and society. When I became a vocal advocate for gender equality, the backlash began to come in full force.

  • I’ve been called a heretic.
  • I’ve been called a Jezebel.
  • I’ve been called a Satanist and a promoter of Satanism.
  • I’ve had strangers tell me that I’m not following the true God, rather, a false god inside of myself.
  • I’ve have strangers tell me that I haven’t actually experienced true salvation.
  • I’ve had a (now former) church friend tell me that I need to focus more on “finding a real relationship with Jesus” and less on “advocating my own agenda.”
  • I’ve been told that my ministry is not God ordained because it is “outright condemned in Scripture.”
  • I’ve been told that I need to set aside my “ego” and “humbly re-read the Bible for God’s instruction.”
  • I’ve been told that I’m “misguided and need to turn my eyes to the Lord’s Word; because my tradition is blinding me from the Bible, and I am in rebellion to the order God has placed on me. I am directly violating His Word.”
  • I’ve been told to “actually read the Bible for myself,” and that my stance is “not to further the Gospel but my own self-interest.”
  • I’ve been told that I’m only about promoting “my equality agenda” over promoting the Gospel.
  • I have an undergraduate degree in theology and some seminary schooling, yet my education is constantly attacked and degraded.
    • I have too much education.
    • I don’t have enough education.
    • I need to invest in a “real education.”
    • “Degrees don’t matter,” and just because I have a degree in the field doesn’t mean I have more knowledge on the subject than those who don’t.
  • I was told by a stranger that she would “love to be at my judgment day so that she could watch me argue with God.”
  • My home church (complementarian) of 23 years, asked me to leave due to my vocalization of gender equality.

Everything I have just listed was either said to me or written to me in response to my advocating for gender equality. I want you all to see this because, depending on the type of people you encounter who disagree with you, I want you to be prepared to encounter these kinds of situations. This is real.

I spend much of my life thinking about the gender equality issue, and sometimes I wonder if it is all just a waste of time and energy. Maybe it is, but I can’t seem to stop; because there are few things on earth which offend me more than the name of God being used to silence and oppress half of His human creation. I see too many women hurt, insulted, abused, and disrespected by complementarian theology to be able to turn away completely. So, instead, I pray that God will use me to help create change wherever I can. At times it can be frustrating to see how slowly things move forward, but for me, it is comforting and energizing to know there are other people fighting for women and their spiritual freedom.

Advocating isn’t always easy. Some people will try to hurt you and knock you down. Get back up and keep going. That’s what we have to do. If I knew this would be the result of my choice to become an egalitarian and advocate for gender equality, would I still choose to put myself in this battle? Yes. Yes, I would; because justice is not an issue with room for compromise.

Beyond an Agenda

I’m not a huge fan of the term “intersectional.” Instead, I prefer to think of the gospel and social justice as being so intertwined and interwoven that they become inseparable. We see this in the life of Jesus as He broke racial, gender, and socioeconomic barriers on a regular basis. Jesus made Himself available to minister to everyone and considered everyone worthy of possessing and sharing His gospel.

Consider the woman at the well. She not only was a woman, but a Samaritan woman. Jesus broke with traditional social etiquette by sharing the news of the Living Water with someone who was a gender and a race that He should have avoided. Because Jesus broke with tradition, the Samaritan woman went on to proclaim the Good News to her village; making her one of the first Christian evangelists. *GASP* So, that means that a woman was preaching the gospel to the women, children, and men of her village? Yes, Scripture would certainly make it seem that way.

Think also about the woman with the issue of blood. Through a crowd of people, she reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ robe. Jesus should have been angry. By Jewish Law, being touched by an unclean person should have made Jesus unclean as well. Instead, Jesus turns around, asks who touched Him, and heals the woman out of her audacious faith. How awesome is it that the unclean came flocking to the One who was able to clean them up, unafraid that they could defile the Holy God in whom there was healing and cleansing!

To Jesus, equality was not an “agenda.” Equality is simply the way humanity is supposed to function. Thus, I take issue when someone accuses me of “promoting an agenda” over promoting the gospel; as if the two were mutually exclusive. It irks my nerves when people, particularly Christians, put the gospel on one end of a spectrum and social justice on the opposite end—ignoring the fact that the two were never meant to be separated, as evidenced by how Jesus lived out His life prior to going to the cross.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:8

Should anyone ever accuse you, or the next time someone does accuse you, of promoting your feminist, women’s equality “agenda” over the gospel, I would advise you to ask that person if they would accuse Jesus of promoting an “agenda.” Jesus was in the business of raising women to the status and position that they were created to have—one of equality with their male counterparts. That’s no agenda. It’s a beautiful calling of restoration and redemption. Jesus has always been in the business of restoring and redeeming, and Christians should be first in line to emulate Jesus’ practices.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. –Proverbs 31:8-9

An open letter to the church

If the church is supposed to reflect Christ, then shouldn’t that translate into the church demonstrating unconditional love just as Christ does?

People wonder why I have issues with the church in general, and here’s something that has come to mind today: After 23 years belonging to the same local body of Christ, one would think that I would have their support in my endeavors; especially ones involving what I’m doing in ministry. One would think these people would be the first to support, encourage, and lift me up.

Instead, I get a group of people, who I thought actually loved and cared about me, turn their noses up at me and treat me like I’m invisible and disposable. This isn’t about me, but you’re commitment to me–as mine is to you–is to spur one another on to good works. Your silent treatment to me has spoken louder than words ever could. I don’t exist to you anymore. Your silence has made that loud and clear. What’s also clear is how conditional your love and support actually is. As soon as I no longer fit into your nice, neat little box of who and what you thought I should be, the love and support ceased.

I won’t try to reach out to you anymore. Not for friendship, encouragement, advice, or anything else that I should be able to get from a church community. I reach out, and no one’s there. I can’t keep processing through the rejection shown to me by those who are supposed to be the representatives of the God of unconditional love and a million second chances. If God doesn’t reject any of His children, where did His church learn to do such a thing?

I didn’t know it was abuse…

Abuse is a word that shouldn’t be flippantly thrown around, so I’ve never considered myself an abuse victim. That is, until I became more aware of spiritual abuse. It was when I finally stepped out of and away from the church that I was able to see things from the outside looking in, and I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like having to face the way I was made to feel. I didn’t like having to admit that I was a victim of spiritual abuse.

My gifts and talents of teaching and leading were never utilized in the church, no matter how much I begged to be used; because I’m a female, and females must stay in their places and set roles.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

My voice was silenced every time I tried to speak up about the issue of the inequality and oppression of women in the church.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

I was told that it was “my fault” that the other church members didn’t like me and didn’t want to be around me, because I dared to challenge the views of the church leadership.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

I was told that I was the cause of disunity, division, and strife in the church; because I was constantly trying to hold discussions about the inequality present in the church.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

The church hated me when I dared to correct the pastor when he used his pulpit as a platform to misrepresent and trash egalitarian theology. One male individual from the church even sent me nasty messages on Facebook that called me names, insulted me in every way, and even threatened to “find me” the next time I showed up for service.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

I thought I had an opportunity to discuss gender theology with the pastor one day, but about 15 minutes into the conversation, I was yelled at and commanded to get out of his office.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

After sending the pastor an email with the intention of trying to understand a theological point about marriage and gender roles that was said in his sermon, the reply I received back simply said, “I’m not going to discuss this with you,” but that was followed by several paragraphs of personal attacks against my character and explanations as to why I wasn’t liked in the church.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

Even after going to college for an undergraduate degree in Theology and continuing on to the Master of Divinity program, I was not allowed to openly voice my theological views and opinions; especially if they were contradictory to that of the church leaders. If I did, both church leadership and lay people were ready to rip my head off. When I would explain that I had the knowledge and credentials to adequately speak to an issue, the males with the higher education degrees were the first to tell me that “degrees don’t matter.”
I didn’t know that was abuse.

After quite a few comments “suggesting” to me that I leave the church, I finally left–and I left church altogether. Lately I’ve been on the outside looking in, and what I see is theology and practices and attitudes that are harming real people–people like me. I’ve had to take a good look in my spiritual mirror. What I see are bruises, wounds, and scars. There’s a lot of hurt and bitterness. This is all going to take some time to heal. Why did I let all of this spiritual abuse go on for so long? Because I didn’t know that it was abuse. I didn’t realize that I was being abused, but abuse is exactly what it was.

Are We Happy or Holy?

God doesn’t concern Himself with happy people; He concerns Himself with holy people.

The problem with culture today is that everyone is too concerned with happiness. Just be happy. Do whatever makes you happy. As long as you’re happy. But happiness really isn’t the problem. The problem is how we, as a culture, have elevated our happiness to our highest priority. We gage whether or not we should or shouldn’t do something or engage in something based on whether or not it will bring us happiness.

Where is our concern for holiness? When are we going to start striving for a standard of holiness? God doesn’t concern Himself with happy people; He concerns Himself with holy people. Does God want His children to be happy? Yes, I believe so. However, make no mistake, God will never elevate our happiness above our holiness; because it is our holiness that sets us apart as Christ-followers.

Holiness, not happiness, is the chief end of man. —Oswald Chambers

Happiness is an emotion. Like all emotions, it can easily change and it certainly doesn’t last. What may have made us happy at one point may now be the cause of great sadness and regret. Happiness is fleeting. Holiness, on the other hand, is a state of being. Translated from the Greek word hágios, holiness is defined as “set apart, holy, sacred.” As Christians, we are meant to be set apart for the purposes of God; different from those who belong to the world. We are not to compromise our holiness, our sacred purpose, for a taste of the fleeting happiness this world has to offer.

If you want to be popular, preach happiness. If you want to unpopular, preach holiness. —Vance Havner

Sure, sin is fun and you’re happy in it…until it takes you to a place where you don’t want to be, never thought you would be, and can’t get out of. Thankfully, there is a God who is able and willing to reach into the deepest and darkest of places and pull out anyone who is ready to leave and pursue a higher calling—a call to live holy. Living a holy life doesn’t guarantee a life of happiness, but God has promised His followers something better in return: Joy. Joy is just one fruit resulting from living a holy life (Gal. 5:22-23). Joy trumps happiness because joy is a state of mind and being; not a mere, ever-changing emotion.

As children of God, we are called to be conformed to His image. He is a holy God and tells us to “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 20:71 Pet. 1:16). We, in our justification as Christians, are to be sanctified into the holy image of God; striving to be blameless before Him. We, as believers are even told that our holiness will sometimes be at the expense of our happiness (Heb. 12:7-11), but we are also assured that it will be worth it in the end.

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. —1 Thess. 4:7

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” —1 Peter 1:14-16

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