Tag Archives: Church Life

Stop Slandering Christ's Bride

The silence has been nearly deafening. Some Christians recognize the problem and may mention it in private, yet no one in our churches has the courage to say anything about it publicly. No one—from the pulpits to the pews—seems willing to speak out about the incessant claims that the church is unwilling to speak out.

For years it was merely an overused rhetorical trope, a hyperbolic claim that followed a predictable pattern:

Step 1: Take an issue of concern for Christians (e.g., abortion, sex trafficking, global persecution, the gospel).

Step 2: Claim that no one in our churches is talking about the issue.

Step 3: Assume the dual role of educator and Old Testament prophet by explaining why the issue matters and why the church must stand up and speak out about it.

As a tool of persuasion this approach can be useful (I confess to having used it myself, and on a regular basis). But there are two primary reasons Christians need to stop making such claims.

The first reason is because such claims are almost always inaccurate. Indeed, the surest sign that thousands of Christian in church congregations across the country are talking about an issue is that someone will claim that believers in America are not talking about it. While there may be a need for more Christians to become informed and motivated to address the situation, the mere fact that someone is driven to make claims about our apathy shows that there is already a nucleus of concern within American churches. Has anyone ever really come up with a novel and legitimate concern that Christians have across the country have consistently ignored? I can't think of a single instance in which such claims were universally applicable to American churches.

You're Not a Prophet (or the Son of a Prophet)

The second reason to avoid such claims is because they assume omniscience. I'm always amazed by how people who attend the same church every Sunday know what is being preached in pulpits across the land. But even those of us with broad experience in American religion aren't qualified.

During my 44 years on earth I've attended hundreds of churches. At one time or another, I've been a pre-post-a-millennialist, dispensational-covenantal, semi-charismatic, Reformed-Arminian, Wesleyan-Calvinist attending a Southern/Independent/Fundamentalist Baptist, Free Methodist/Evangelical Free, Presbyterian (USA/PCA), Pentecostal/Assembly of God, Bible/non-denominational church.

I've sipped grape juice from glass thimbles and red wine from gold-plated goblets while eating pieces of saltine crackers and chips of unleavened bread. I've had dinner on the ground with a pew's worth of believers and shared feasts with a stadium full of megachurch patrons. I've listened to seminary-educated pastors parse Greek verbs and heard semi-illiterate Mexican preachers deliver sermons in Spanish.

More than three-dozen churches still have me on the roles as a "member."

In other words, I've been around. I've probably attended more churches in a wider diversity of congregations than the average American. Yet I've only been in the pews of 0.00028 percent of all congregations in this nation. (The Hartford Institute estimates there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. About 314,000 are Protestant and 24,000 are Catholic and Orthodox.) Even if I attended a different church every Sunday for the rest of my life I would not even be able to visit all of the churches within a 250-mile radius of my home.

For me or any other writer to claim to know what is going on in all those churches is sheer foolishness. Only God attends every church service in America. Unless he gives us some inside scoop, let's stop claiming to know what only he knows. Otherwise, we are not helping our pet cause, we are merely slandering Christ bride.

Who Will Teach the Women Who Want to Be Taught?

It may be better to sleep on the corner of the rooftop than live with a quarrelsome woman, but friends, educate that woman and there is hardly a limit to what she can do with her mouth and mind—for good or evil.

God created woman as a helper knowing Adam would need help. What that help was exactly will be up for debate for centuries; we only know that the command to both man and woman at that point was to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth. A friend of mine confesses that at times he fears exposing his weaknesses to women in his life for various reasons. To which I replied that a woman was born to see a need, to come and encompass that need, nurture it until the time is right for it to be birthed into something more beautiful than he could imagine. We are built to help in ways men will never be able to help. That is our good design.

Disciplers on the Rise

Another friend and I were talking recently about the droves of women coming out of seminary in the coming years. These women have or will have studied biblical texts, learned Hebrew and Greek proficiently, interacted with scholars, and written theses. They have a deep and true abiding love of God's Word, and a respect for the inerrancy of it. Women make up more than 51 percent of seminary students, and we can probably expect that number to grow.

These women have taken the command to be fruitful and multiply seriously, and for many, in the absence of their own children, they have become incubators of God's Word. They meditate on it, murmur on it, pray it, speak it, and teach it. They are poised for a gracious reception of hungry souls, souls weary of milk, starving for meat. They are disciples.

And even more, they are disciplers.

They may hold a collective Master of Divinity, they may give their brothers a run for their money in both their drive and grace, but over all of it, they see a distinct need in the world and want to help it. They are like the hen who gathers her chicks, finding the odd ones out and pulling them close, covering over, receiving the broken and disillusioned. And brothers, they should not be a threat to you.

Send Me, I'll Go

These women are perfectly situated to teach other women. They are the Naomis, the marginalized taking the faces of future women in their hands and saying, "Here is how we see the kingdom built, and it will take daring women who trust and believe the Word of God, who will do beautifully vulnerable things to see the birth of a King brought forth."

As secular feminism rises, more and more women within the church will be looking for strong female voices. They are not looking for poor theology, but many of them haven't been taught how to study their Bibles, or how to discern good theology from bad. More women than ever lack husbands or godly fathers, so there is great opportunity for us to be like the women Paul wrote about in his letter to Titus: teaching what is good (Titus 2:3). Culturally it may look different from what first-century Christian women looked like, but the message is still the same: the gospel comes in, fills out, changes us, and sends us out to make disciples.

  • Has God given you the opportunity to learn the biblical languages? Teach other women so they might rightly discern what is true.
  • Have you studied church history? Teach women so they might help change history.
  • Have you been given the gift of a discerning eye and mind? Teach women to exegete the Word, instead of the proof-texting all too common in studies meant for women.
  • Has God radically transformed your heart in regard to the gospel? Extol his name to others in everything you say and do.

The question should not be, "Why can't we teach men?" but, "Who will teach the women who want to be taught?"

And our response should be, like Isaiah, "Here am I, send me!"

This article originally appeared at ProjectTGM.com.

The Joyful Pursuit of Multi-ethnic Churches

Forming multi-ethnic churches seems to be appealing at first, but unless believers grasp the profound joy of pursuing diversity, the challenges of this type of ministry will quickly deflate them.

Churches that desire a more multi-ethnic membership desire a good thing, but it's not easy. Some churches are located in areas with virtually no ethnic diversity. Other churches across the spectrum still have leadership or laity who actively fight against any mixing ethnicities in their congregation. Still more churches may have the desire but lack the resources to effectively pursue multi-ethnicity.

While these problems are real, the right motivation can help churches persist in the call to multi-ethnicity. But people often have the wrong motivations. Guilt can be a motivation---this is especially true for people in the racial majority. The argument goes: "Whites have marginalized and oppressed blacks for so long, churches need to make it right by 'reaching out' to different races and ethnicities." While guilt has its place, this emotion will hardly give churches the determination they need to persevere through the difficulties of becoming multi-ethnic.

Another common motivation is fear. Christians fear lots of things about being in a mono-ethnic church. We fear that as neighborhood demographics change we will lose people. We fear that we will become irrelevant in the community. We fear being racist, or classist, or elitist. Fear, too, has its place. But that won't keep churches moving toward a multi-ethnic vision.

We need to be reminded of the joy of diversity. We need to keep that joy before us so it can motivate us for the marathon that is multi-ethnicity ministry. Here are six joys of pursuing a multi-ethnic make-up in churches.

1. You become more racially, ethnically, and culturally savvy.

In a healthy multi-ethnic church it becomes acceptable to talk about differences in race, ethnicity, and culture. Continual interactions with people different from you makes you into a person who is more sensitive and aware of culture and ethnicity. You make fewer missteps and feel less awkward when engaging people across racial and cultural gaps.

2. Your church becomes a safe haven for lots of different people.

Regardless of one's ethnicity, everyone wants to worship in a place that feels "safe." As an African American who longs for biblical teaching and preaching I do not feel at home in church that has erroneous theology but is more culturally familiar. Nor do I feel comfortable in a church with sound theology but is culturally distant. A multi-ethnic church becomes a place where I can get both sound doctrine and an accessible cultural experience. What is true along racial lines is also true along economic, linguistic, and other lines. Multi-ethnic churches communicate that it's all right to be different, and then lots of different people start coming.

3. You begin to understand what is primary and what is preference.

In a multi-ethnic church you have to constantly work to address the diverse needs of several ethnic groups. So you start having lots of conversations about what elements of worship are primary and which ones are preference. Churches that do this well begin to hone in on the essential truths of the gospel and communicate them more clearly while at the same time demonstrating flexibility and wisdom regarding culturally conditioned opinions about worship.

4. You want to invite people to church.

How many times have you hesitated to invite a person to church out of concern that the person wouldn't "fit in"? In many churches there is an unspoken expectation that people will wear a certain type of clothes, speak a certain way, know certain songs, have a certain background, and the like. Multi-ethnic churches make it easier for different people---folks with purple hair and earrings in their eyebrows, folks who can't afford a suit and tie, folks who have never been to church and don't know how to pray, folks of a different color---to feel at home. This, in turn, makes you bolder and more confident to invite people to church.

5. Your church becomes an authentic witness in your community.

Ethnically diverse churches authentically witness the gospel's power to reconcile people to God and each other. In a society shredded by sectarian interests---political, ideological, racial, you name it---churches that demonstrate unity in diversity attract attention. Multi-ethnic churches demonstrate that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).

6. You get a glimpse of God's kingdom come.

Revelation 7:9 gives a concise depiction of the heavenly kingdom: "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands." Scripture teaches that an essential aspect of the heavenly congregation is racial and ethnic diversity---Christ is calling people from all nations to himself. Multi-ethnic churches excite God's people because they truly reflect God's people.

The Joy of Unity in Diversity

We delight in multi-ethnic churches because they reflect the essential nature of God himself. God reveals himself in the three persons of the godhead--God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Yet these three are one. The Trinity gloriously displays the unity and diversity of God. And God has so ordered the congregation of his people to reflect his three-in-oneness.

Although imperfect and incomplete, we can truly enjoy this reflection in our churches. The joy we feel in a multi-ethnic gathering of worshipers is the joy of feeling God's pleasure as we glorify him in his triune being. May God's church joyfully pursue diversity through our unified faith in Christ.