Saturday, November 28, 2015

Women in the Church: Praying as Life Givers


Excerpt from Prayers of the Bible: Equipping Women to Call on God in Truth by Susan Hunt (pp. 24-24)

LIFE-GIVING PRAYER

In his church newsletter, Pastor Glen Knecht wrote about attending a church service in Ukraine after the fall of communism.

How mistaken the Communists were when they allowed the older women to continue worshipping together! It was they who were considered no threat to the new order, but it was they whose prayers and faithfulness over all those barren years held the church together and raised up a generation of men and young people to serve the Lord. Yes, the church we attended was crowded with these older women at the very front, for they had been the stalwart defenders and maintainers of Christ’s Gospel, but behind them and alongside them and in the balcony and outside the windows were the fruit of their faithfulness, men, women, young people, and children. We must never underestimate the place and power of our godly women. To them go the laurels in the Church in Ukraine. 3

Several years after I heard this I was in a church in Ukraine, speaking for a women’s conference. I told the story, and my translator looked at me in amazement. “My grandmother was like that,” she said. “I was a communist so she never spoke to me about Jesus but somehow I knew. Her home and her marriage were different. Now I am a Christian. I know I am an answer to her prayers.” We celebrated. We knew we had heard a life-giving story.
.................................................................................

Dear Older Women in the church: Your wisdom, your faith, your prayers, and your presence matters!
24 

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’ (Numbers 6:24-26)







Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Willowback or Caluther?

A rambling repost from back in 2009:

This article at IMONK brought to mind how my thinking has developed over the past few years with regard to spiritual gifting. My view is perhaps a bit oversimplistic, but I wanted to share some thoughts here and see if anyone else might have anything to add.

According to the writer and in my experience, there are at least two major ways of thinking on how we might use our spiritual gifts as members of the body of Christ.

One of the models is that of the Saddleback/ Willow Creek megachurch model (which I'll refer to as the Willowback Model) where every member is encouraged to volunteer for service opportunities in the church by using their strongest gifts as a way of becoming mature disciples. The other model is a reformed model introduced by Martin Luther as the doctrine of vocation, and adopted by other early reformers, such as John Calvin. I'll refer to this model as the "Caluther Model." If you are not as familiar with this one, think "Protestant Work Ethic."

Under the Willowback Model, the way church members become mature disciples is essentially by being put to work by the church. Based on their S.H.A.P.E. (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience), members are 'plugged into' ministries where they can contribute to the mission of the church's voluminous programs. A member's spiritual growth and maturity is linked directly to his or her participation in or leadership of various ministry opportunities.

When the Caluther Model is practiced and taught, the emphasis is on church members living as members of four various estates: the church, the home, the state and work (initially work was grouped under state, but was later separated from the state and includes school and other such 'occupational areas.' )

Under this model, there are two significant differences with regard to church ministry and the understanding of "the priesthood of all believers." Under Caluther, the priesthood of all believers primarily means direct access to God for prayer and forgiveness through our Mediator and Savior, Jesus Christ. And even though the priesthood of all believers in the reformed model rebukes the idea of papal authority, it does not mean that every single Christian is called to (or trained for) ministry leadership. Some men are called and ordained to lead and teach and maintain the purity of the Church. They are responsible and hold the authority of these positions, whether in full-time or voluntary status. As members we gladly submit to their authority and their shepherding. This is very unlike the Willowback Model, where the "priesthood of all believers" defers teaching and leading within the church to essentially anyone willing to volunteer and commit their time.

The second outworking of the "priesthood of all believers" under the Caluther Model emphasizes the equipping of the members of the body of Christ to serve in all four of the estates where God has sovereignly placed them. Think about the radical nature of this concept in the context of today's pragmatic churches. For instance, when I think of utilizing my abilities, talents, and gifting to serve God, am I immediately thinking: "Maybe I should teach that Bible Study that I was asked to teach?" Or "perhaps I should say yes to that committee that I was asked to lead?" Or "Should I be going to the homeless shelter to serve with other members of my house church?"

Or...shouldn't I rather be built up in the faith by the gospel and the Word in order to be a steward of the grace of God in how I:
  • serve my family and at home.
  • perform, serve and honor my boss and coworkers in the workplace (or teacher and fellow students in class.)
  • participate as a citizen in the city, state and nation where I live.
  • participate in and support the mission of my church.
This may lead to me serving on a committee on church, but how I minister as a priest or ambassador of Jesus Christ is not limited to the activities that I do at church.

Unfortunately, the Willowback Model sucks energy and time from people to support all of the programs of the church and very often causes them to de-emphasize the other three estates of life, resulting in broken families, poor job prospects, and apathy with culture. Or, on the other hand, the model can also promote a program-heavy style of ministry that tries to take on all four estates, creating a sort of "Christian Ghetto" in the process.

I wonder (and this one is really out of left field, I know), has the Willowback Model perhaps actually created the conditions whereby ordaining women does look like a good idea? In other words, 1) if the priesthood of all believers means that every believer can and should serve and lead in ministry, why should only men be ordained? Or why should we even ordain anyone? And 2) if the church creates a subculture so that members have a place to exercise all of their gifts and talents, then it becomes a home away from home, a work away from work, a community away from culture, whereby leaders must be good at more things than just teaching the Word of God, preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments and church discipline. When that happens, why not ordain women? Who else is better at administering the affairs of the home, keeping the workplace running, and creating a lively society and community?

Rather, I think the Caluther Model is correct -- which stays focused on the Church's core missions and acknowledges their members are sovereignly called into all four estates of vocation where they are specifically placed to live as neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers as they are built up in the knowledge of Christ. The challenge is how do we as the Church enter into these vocations with one another? How much greater is the need for prayer and for sharing our requests and concerns with one another? Thoughts to consider pondering...




Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

Monday, November 16, 2015

More Blogging Chronicles

A few days ago, I contributed to a bit of the back and forth and back and forth over what might have happened to some of the mature women writers.

In my original "Blogging Chronicles", I left off with an observation of the shift that was occurring back around the 2009 timeframe, when The Jolly Blogger (David Wayne) and The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer) were both diagnosed with cancer. Concurrently, there was a significant rise in commercialized blog sites like Challies.com and The Gospel Coalition. The unity of the blogging community seemed to unravel, either fragmenting into special content interests or expanding into electronic bastions of the Christian media and publishing subculture.

I was honored to have Tim Challies reply to my post by mentioning that many of the women bloggers seemed to lead the way in migrating from blogs to newer social media modes, such as Facebook and Twitter. The trouble is, Facebook and Twitter serve very different purposes for most of us than our blogging ever did.

This was certainly true for me, as I found that Facebook greatly contributed to my ability to connect more personally with family members and friends. While Facebook started out as a great supplemental add-on to my already existing relationships, in 2009 it became a real lifeline for me. By regularly connecting me to friends, family, and church contacts, those interactions would help me through one of the toughest times of my life. My blogging tapered off, but I was dealing with many painful circumstances. My time shifted away from blogging and onto these other things.

It was during this painful time that I learned how vital my church family had become, as I was providentially and personally ministered to by the body of Christ. I dove into church life in my local church -- and my denomination as a whole. If I come across sometimes like a spokesperson for the PCA, it's because I've been a direct recipient of immeasurable grace because of our denomination's intentional focus on discipleship and care for the flock -- especially its women.

I believe the tide is shifting back toward more women blogging again, though. Facebook and Twitter serve specific and important purposes in terms of keeping us connected with one another. However, blogging serves something different, in some ways, something greater. The act of processing one's thoughts and working out various ideas by writing more than 140 characters at a shot is a growth opportunity. To do it in conjunction with other writers is a privilege.

Lately, I've had the privilege of interacting with some truly awesome women bloggers. These women are gifted, amazing writers and have been real encouragers to me personally. Women bloggers are on the comeback!

I've missed blogging regularly and would love to commit to it again. I'd love to migrate to Wordpress, as I'm not particularly fond of blogspot and dislike the template options available here. However, I don't want to lose all of my content here or take the time to recreate it over there.
Much to ponder. Guess I'll take it one day at time for now.

Here is a quote I'll leave with you:

"God became one of us, not to erase every shadow or to undo the difficulties of humanity, but to be with us in the midst of it, to transform our spectrum of darkness by bearing a truer depth of light, and to enlarge us with the joy of expectancy until the fullness of time when every hope has come to pass."
- Jill Caratinni for Slice of Infinity (December 2011)


Thank you for reading and God bless!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Weary - Five Minute Friday

Work makes one weary when it feels like whispering in the wind.
As I reflect, I remember and believe that our labor is not in vain.
What we do for the Lord matters. It has and will reap a harvest of righteousness.
Because the Lord is faithful.
His ways are not our ways, but they are so very much better than all we can ask or imagine.
This is not pie in the sky.
I have seen it happen in my life and in the lives of those around me.
These days of weariness are light and momentary in comparison to the eternal glory that lies ahead of us.
So I press on toward the goal. Today I fix my eyes on Jesus, the rock of salvation, and continue to press forward. Day by day. Step by step. Breath by breath. I place my weary mind, heart, and body into His tender care and trust completely that He will complete the good work that He began in me.

 Five Minute Friday

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Titus 2 Women in Reverse: Naomi and Ruth

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said (to Naomi), “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

I've always had a particular affinity to the redemption story in Ruth, where the kinsman redeemer, Boaz, restores the line of Elimelech and Naomi by taking Ruth as his beloved wife. Reading that such a noble man as Boaz would be willing to risk his inheritance so that the inheritance of a deceased family member would be left intact is mind boggling to understand. This is a man who understands love and covenant. And learning that the son of a Gentile widow would not only become the grandfather of King David, but eventually would even be named in the bloodline genealogy of the Messiah, is truly an inspiration for those of us who were not born into the covenant (and raised in the church). 
The other aspect of Ruth's story that has equally inspired me in my walk with Christ has been the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. Both women  had suffered devastating losses. Ruth and Naomi had both lost their husbands during a famine in Moab. Naomi's suffering was even greater, since she had also lost both of her sons as well. Several times in the first chapter of Ruth, Naomi states that she believes the Lord's hand has gone out against her. She even tells Ruth and the other women not to call her Naomi any longer, but to call her "Mara" instead, which meant bitter, because she was bitter and because the Lord had dealt bitterly with her in her calamity.

As Naomi pleads with Ruth to return to her own family and her Moabite god, the younger woman, Ruth, responds by binding herself to the older woman, Naomi, to Naomi's people, and to Naomi's God - the only One, true God.  As an older woman, Naomi seems to have forgotten her true identity as being a child of the God of Israel. Naomi's example is far from the ideal as an older woman of the covenant. Because of Ruth's commitment to and covenant with Naomi, God provides a kinsman redeemer to bless them both -- and eventually to redeem the rest of us, too


This was no mere friendship. The younger woman, Ruth, demonstrated real covenant commitment through active faith, love, and encouragement not only to the older woman, Naomi, but to her people -- and most especially to the Lord. Because of Ruth, the Lord redeemed  the devastation that Naomi and Ruth experienced in Moab, while Elimelech and Naomi were separated from the covenant community, in the days of the Judges. Because of Ruth, we see the Lord transform Naomi's life from an untimely tale of death and discouragement to a phenomenal epic of life-giving rescue. 


In this regard, the text speaks for itself:  


Ruth 4:14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
We could use a new generation of younger women like Ruth who make the active decision to commit to the covenant community and to the older women, like Naomi, who are experiencing trial and suffering. Whether it is loss of a loved one, ill health, or just lagging faith, most older women could really use the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement that younger women often to bring to their interactions. I'm a middle woman. So, I feel the tug to be both a better younger woman, committed to the older women and the church, as well as the tug to be a better older woman who is willing to open up my life and share it with those who are newer in the faith. 

Thanks for reading!!! 



(note: This is a follow-up article to the previous Blogging Chronicles article, in which I attempted to write my background experience over the past ten years blogging.)



Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Blogging Chronicles: My Take on Where the Mature Women Bloggers Went

Recently Lisa Folmer Spence started an interesting bit of dialog with her article entitled Writing from the Middle Years. Aimee Byrd picked up on the theme, inquiring "Where are the Mature Women Writers?" Lisa is one of the gifted and faithful bloggers over at Out of the Ordinary and Aimee is one of a small band of bloggers over at The Mortification of Spin, a ministry of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

In both Lisa's and Aimee's posts, Tim Challies is mentioned as a sort of bellwether marker for what's going on in the world of reformed blogging. Given the current trends in reformed blogging, I'd say that is a fair and accurate assumption. The other highly visible, and uber popular blogging presence is housed at The Gospel Coalition website. There are many others that probably deserve mention, but far beyond the others, Challies and TGC are the most widely known.

Yet, for many of us reformed bloggers, who've been out here in the blogosphere for a very long time, we know that the blogging landscape has changed immensely in the past 10 years or so.

An Overview of the Past

When I started blogging in late 2005, I did it mainly for my own personal thought processing and as a devotional endeavor. However, in 2006, I learned about some other women who were blogging and got connected with them via blog comments and discussion forums. From their blogs, I learned about about two popular blogging aggregators: League of Reformed Bloggers and the PCABlogs. The League of Reformed Bloggers was co-hosted by Tim Challies and David Wayne, the JollyBlogger. The PCABlogs blog roll was hosted by and managed by David Wayne, the JollyBlogger.  Both were set up originally by Adrian Warnock and the prerequisite to have one's blog added to the blog list was for the blogger to subscribe to the five sola's of the reformation, the appropriate confessions, standards, or creeds and to send their link to Mr. Wayne for approval. These aggregators pulled together blog posts from all across the spectrum of reformed writers and members in the PCA, including men and women alike.

Our posts would go up simultaneously, right along side the top bloggers of that time, such as Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds (pre-Gospel Coalition, when Justin Taylor was arguably bigger than Challies.com), The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer), and others. The contributions varied from missional and evangelistic to more formal practice, and every thing in between.

Participation was encouraged by men and women alike. The feed served, more or less, as a self-correcting process, whereby one writer's blog post would often be countered by another writer's post on the same subject, but from a different angle or viewpoint. As one of the regular, almost daily participants to these aggregators, I interacted quite a bit with other men and women bloggers, and as a result, learned quite a bit along the way. And I had the opportunity to provide a unique voice and perspective that was valued in these blogging communities (including this testimony from 2007).

Nothing New Under the Sun

As I was reviewing the old posts from the JollyBlogger site this morning, a scan of the content confirmed one of the reasons why some long-time bloggers may have dropped out of the field in the last few years. Most of today's "hot topic" issues are the same as they were seven, eight, or ten years ago. So, most bloggers who've been writing for a while have seen, heard, and read all the angles more than once. It's no longer a "new thing" that we need to process to understand. As King Solomon has told us before, there is nothing new under the sun,

Here are a few examples of genres that the younger people are still chattering about today:
In 2008, David Wayne and others blogged about the issue of Women Deacons in the PCA. The General Assembly committee produced a full study and report on the issue which dealt with the scriptures and the Book of Church Order. Today, younger women bloggers are attempting to re-tackle the issue female deacons, but for the rest of us who've been there before, we feel that we've already studied all the angles and the issue has been fairly settled (in the PCA). 
As early as 2006, The Jollyblogger was addressing issues of Women in the Church head on, by engaging with both the complementarians at Together For The Gospel (pre-Gospel Coalition), and with the egalitarians alike:
Women's Roles in the Church In the comment section, you will read engagement from Ligon Duncan and Joel Hunter (not an uncommon thing, btw, back in the earlier bloggy days!!)  
The Jollyblogger held a solidly complementarian position, but recognized luminaries like Dr. Roger Nichole at RTS and others who did not buy into the idea that one's stance on complementarianism is a Gospel issue, per se. Furthermore, The Jollyblogger was cautious to warn men of how the remaining stain of our sinful human nature can often lead to oppression in some complementarian church cultures.
 This is just one example of how issues and topics recycle, and why some of us who've been blogging for a while can easily lose motivation, as most of things have been done before. A few other re-hashed themes I came across include:
Illinois Legislature to Pass Law, Adding Sexual Orientation to Protected Class (2005)
Beth Moore and Lifeway publishing - a conspiracy to take over your church? (2004!) 
The Mystery of Joel Osteen (2005) 
Media and Culture(2008).
On Politics and Society (2008 Election). 
Vladimir Putin Jokes and Tim Tebow Facts (2007)
The Curse of Individualism in the Church (2010) 
Sin as a Disposition (2009) 
 "Some Jolly Good Links" - David Wayne's predecessor to Challies' A La Carte  today  

A Blessing to the Church

All in all, The Jolly Blogger was blessing to the Church and the aggregators served as a catalyst for robust dialog on a variety of issues. Mr. Wayne did not shy away from engaging with all manner of bloggers, and didn't succumb to propping up the "big name" people (like John MacArthur or Tim Keller) or turning guys like Justin Taylor (again, possibly the most popular blogger back in those days) into celebrities. The main emphasis was about how we engaged with one another. To that end these were some of the resources quoted and referenced frequently:
As a result of the focus and emphasis, the Jollyblogger and the blogging aggregators turned out to be a tremendous boost for the voice of women bloggers and really enabled us to network with one another. I remember some of the key women bloggers in those early years, like, ConsiderableGrace (Tara Barthel), SoloFeminity.com (Carolyn McCulley), PalmTreePundit (Anne), Recovering Legalist (Emily), and many, many others! Most of these women no longer blog, but I still enjoy one or two of them!

The Year that Rocked the Blogosphere - 2009

Within the backdrop of mega conferences and coalitions forming, Mr. David Wayne was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and had to give up his ministry efforts of serving the reformed blogging community. The Jollyblogger, along with Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) and Matt Chandler of the Village Church, contracted cancer in 2009. Few remember Spencer's predictions of "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" from early 2009, just prior to finding out he had cancer. You can read him here: Part 1 "Why is it Going to Happen?", Part 2 "What Will be Left When Evangelicalism Collapses?" and Part 3 " Is This a Good Thing?" Essentially, the break up of the aggregators coincided with major shifts in the blogosphere that actually mirror Spencer's predictions quite a bit.

Timing wise, Justin Taylor had linked up with folks at Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition and transitioned his blog over to their website as their first official blogger. Tim Challies had moved front and center with his Free Stuff Fridays promotions, A La Carte linkage love, and Reading the Classics Together, which were staples by 2009.

The two key branches of change blogging wise were 1) an increase in tribalism, on the one hand, and 2) a move toward commercialization and consumer-oriented approach on the other.

Many bloggers, previously connected via the broad reaching aggregators set off to create blogging networks that focused on particular affinity areas, like missions and outreach, or promoting a more serious orthodoxy with a confessional focus. Some bloggers, seeing what Spencer saw about the coming changes within Evangelicalism, went off and cultivated a network of "discernment" focused websites. Eventually, most of the little people disappeared from the public conversation and the mammoth, highly-commercialized models superceded them. In 2009, The Gospel Coalition and Challies.com would come to mostly own the reformed sector of the interwebs from a content perspective.

Under this system of commercialism, newer bloggers largely see their work as a commodity. They are often inadvertently set up as a sort of 'Issue Avatar", where the work of one or two specific people emerges as representing the particular viewpoint or experience of a whole demographic.

Whether readers are still welcome to comment or not, the former community and atmosphere of participation has been largely discarded -- exchanged for click-throughs and shares. As a result of the consolidation of authors into mega-blogs, newer bloggers tend to be primarily be interested in seeking to grow a "platform" where their work can be seen by as many "consumers" as possible, and perhaps, even as a place where they can monetize their content. Cultivating community, dialog, and participation is no longer seen as a desirable outcome.


Additionally, these changes in the reformed blogging community since 2009 greatly improved the opportunity for many men bloggers and men authors. However, the changes have had an overall negative impact on women bloggers and authors. The majority of my former bloggy women friends no longer blog.

My Personal Reflection


For me, I mostly feel that because of the current context, anything I blog is just whispering into the wind. At other times, it is just a matter of not getting worked up anymore over a topic that has been discussed to death already. So many things that younger writers see as something novel has already been settled by previous generations in council, committees, or creeds. Unless it personally concerns me, I don't feel the need to spend time on it anymore. Maybe I should? And finally, as I get older, I just don't feel as driven to take sides on every little thing that crosses the computer screen. Besides, the things that are troublesome are more like overarching themes, such as the tribalism and commercialism that I mentioned earlier or the few recent issues I've engaged like the nature of sin and redemption in Christ.

I certainly don't speak for mature women overall, as I would hope to read and learn from more mature women than myself!! However, there is a touch of conviction in writing this that perhaps I have more to share than I even know.

And this may be the biggest thing standing in the way -- convincing the older women that they actually do have the wisdom and experience that we need! 

In which case, maybe what we need most is a generation of Ruth's... (keep reading)....