Sunday, November 25, 2012

Using God’s gifts





Lisa is a daughter and wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. She is a lifelong member of the Church of Christ and grew up in the world of Searcy and Harding. She loves her spiritual heritage and is thankful to the Restoration Plea for teaching her to take God's Word seriously and to not settle for easy answers. One of her greatest joys is seeing her sons use their gifts in public worship, and she hopes she will someday see her daughters be able to do the same thing.

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What do you think about women leading in public worship? 

It's interesting that you would use the word, "lead." Over the course of my life, I've learned that some of my gifts are more public in nature. I speak well. I love sharing God's word with believers. I love words and ideas. I sing, and sharing God's love through music has been a joy to me throughout my life. However, I don't view any of this as leadership. These are gifts that God has given me and my heart's desire is to serve him and others through using these gifts. Yes, these are all roles that are more public, but when we use the gifts that God gives us, we are serving him and sharing his truth with others. 

Serving communion is one of the areas that both puzzles me and makes me laugh. From what I know about first century culture, men had very little -- if anything -- to do with food preparation and service. It's hard for me to imagine a first century, middle-eastern man suddenly deciding that he would take on a woman's role and serve food to others simply because it was Sunday. Maybe I'm underestimating the potential for egalitarian attitudes in first century Israel, but I really doubt that those first communion experiences were "led" by men.

Each week, I sit in a room in which the population is over 50% female. Many of the families in attendance are led by single moms or spiritually single mothers whose husbands do not attend church with them. These women -- from early ages into elder years -- will most likely never hear anyone who sounds like them read scripture from the pulpit. There may be gifted teachers and worship leaders who will never be able to use their God-given gifts in God's house.

So what do I think? I think that gender-based "leadership" causes us to miss the opportunity to learn and grow. Women are missing the opportunity to serve; men are missing the opportunity to learn from women's experiences. Children are missing the opportunity to see their moms share their faith and we are all losing a rich heritage of faith.

What do you think about women serving on a church ministry staff? 

I work at one of our brotherhood's institutes of higher ed. Every semester at graduation, I see capable and intelligent young women graduate with degrees in ministry. Youth and Family Ministry, Vocational Ministry, and sometimes, even a pure Bible major. My heart hurts for them. I love their courage at pursuing a degree in a male-dominated (male-exclusive?) field, but I'm very aware of the fact that their chances of being employed with their degrees are very small. Some of them may go on and pursue graduate degrees in counseling and find jobs, but the possibility of being employed as a youth minister or minister of involvement in a local congregation of a church of Christ is minimal. I'm aware of several positions in campus ministries where men and women serve equal roles, yet the men are hired as ministers and the women as "assistants," and are paid what a secretary would be paid rather than what a ministry coordinator would be paid.

If we are going to educate and graduate young women in ministry, we need to employ them in ministry. If we are going to employ them in ministry, we need to call them "ministers," and pay them equally to what we pay men filling the same role. If we cannot do this, we will lose them. They will seek employment in other religious groups. They will work for non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity or World Vision. We will lose their servant hearts and hands and we will be poorer for it.

What do you think about women serving as deacons or elders? 

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae." Romans 16:1-2. It seems that scripture has answered this question for us.

On a practical, less idealistic, note we live in a culture where people are very concerned about gender lines. If our elders continue to only be men, who will women go to with difficult questions regarding their marriages or child-raising—when they need official insight from their church? We are often warned about not discussing deeply personal issues with matters of the opposite sex because of the temptation for the relationship to move beyond the bounds of propriety. How can the spiritually single women receive the spiritual guidance they desire if all of their spiritual leaders are men? Who can they voice their concerns to? What about a woman in an abusive relationship or someone who doesn't trust men for valid reasons? How likely is she to discuss important matters with an all-male group of elders?

If we plan to reach out to the unchurched, we will have more and more of these scenarios and fewer and fewer answers. Women need women to address particularly female issues.

Monday, November 19, 2012

You should hear Gayla pray



 
Deana Nall has been writing features for magazines since 1994 and contributes to a number of nationally-distributed publications. She lives in Little Rock with her husband Chad, and their daughters Julia and Jenna. Deana would love for you to check out her professional web site at www.deananall.com, and her blog at www.deanaland.blogspot.com.

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It was a Wednesday night in Abilene, Texas, so naturally, I was at church. My husband Chad and I were members at Highland Church of Christ, and the congregation was in the middle of a series in which men and women met separately for times of worship and prayer. We women had gathered in the main auditorium, and all of our heads bowed as Gayla Pope approached the podium to lead a prayer. As Gayla’s sweet voice flowed through the sound system and filled the auditorium, thanking God for the women who had gathered there, my eyes popped open and my head jerked up. I had heard many prayers led by the male members of that church—people I loved and admired such as John Willis, Charles Siburt and David Wray. But I had never heard a praying female voice come through that sound system. Across rows of bowed heads, I kept watching Gayla as she continued her petitions to God for peace, healing and strength. Such strong words from such a sweet voice. I thought about the men across the street in the Family Life Center, who were missing out on this. “They need to hear Gayla Pope pray,” I thought.

I grew up in the Church of Christ, and my family has a heritage in the church that runs several generations deep. As a kid, I never questioned why the rules were different for women than men. In fact, I was grateful for those rules. Not long after my older brother was baptized in fifth grade, he was asked to lead a Sunday night closing prayer. He spent a week working on it and going over it as my dad coached him. As Sunday approached and his nervousness built, I thanked God for my gender so I would never have to go through such a thing.

My dad was a minister, and by listening in on my parents’ conversations when he came home from elders’ meeting every week, I knew the elders at our church had long, and sometimes heated, discussions about what women could do. Should a woman continue to teach a Sunday school class if one of the male members of the class gets baptized? Should women be allowed to wear pants while working in the nursery, since they’re not actually in church? When the song leader is taking requests on fifth-Sunday singing night, should women call out song numbers, or should their husbands do it for them? If the church has a ministry for the hearing impaired, should women serve as sign language interpreters for the preacher?

The elders didn’t seem to care what men did. Unless they were divorced. Which was a whole other issue.

As I got older, my relief at having been born female began to wear off and I started questioning some of this. At the end of worship services, boys picked up the membership and visitor cards that had been passed to the center aisle. Why couldn’t girls do that, too? Why could I pray aloud at dinnertime in front of my family, but not in my Bible class? Why could women pass communion trays if they were sitting in a pew, but not if they were standing in the aisle? Why did we cling to I Timothy 2:12 so tenaciously, while coming together to help a young woman whose husband had died—although helping widows younger than 60 is forbidden just a few chapters later? Why were church leaders spending so much time hashing these issues out when there were lost and hurting people in the world?

And why did reading the Bible only add to my confusion?

The communion issue really baffled me. When I went to a restaurant, the waiter who brought me my food didn’t have authority over me. So how was passing communion trays in church having authority over someone? Especially when the early church met in homes, and women likely served communion since men in that culture did not do kitchen work or prepare food?

I asked my dad, and I expected him to launch into I Timothy 2. But he surprised me.

“It’s an ego issue,” he said. “Men just don’t want to give up any amount of control to women.”

I had no idea my dad thought this.

“But don’t tell anyone at church I said that,” he added quickly.

Wow. My dad was a closet renegade. My respect for him went up a few notches, and I kept his controversial opinion to myself.

In the years to come, much of my experience growing up in the Church of Christ would be positive. I liked something about all the congregations my family was a part of. I can think of people at each church who helped shape my faith and contributed to my spiritual growth. But somewhere along the way, resentment began to replace my confusion about church rules regarding women. I began to suspect that women in the church were being undervalued—for no reason other than the way God created them. Once, when I voiced my failure to understand why women couldn’t serve communion, another church member told me, “Communion is just too holy.” So women aren’t as holy as men? This just didn’t line up with Galatians 3:28 to me. As much as I believed some people who hold such opinions are just trying to follow their interpretation of the Bible, I realized my dad’s words held a lot of truth.

Now, as the mother of two daughters, I believe God has equipped them with talents that will be revealed as they grow in Christ. And I wouldn’t want them to be told they can’t use those talents in a church context because of the way God created them. That’s a mixed message that I would not be able explain while maintaining any sense of respect for scripture or myself.

We left Highland in 2000 when we moved to another town. Since then, many women in addition to Gayla have voiced their prayers through Highland’s sound system. I’m glad men and women have been able to hear their prayers and be encouraged by them, as I was by Gayla’s prayer that night.

God equips people with all kinds of gifts, and a gift he has given all of us is a voice. Our society has learned in the past 100 years that when women’s voices are allowed to be heard, amazing things can happen. The same is true in our churches. My prayer for my daughters is that they will be a part of Christ’s body for the duration of their lives, and that Christ’s body will value their voices. And that they can pass the same sense of value on to their own children. I know there are tough issues they will need to wrestle with. But this should not be one of them.

And I still think everyone should hear Gayla Pope pray.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Turning over the keys




For some reason, my mind keeps coming back to certain themes.  Church-of-Christ related themes.  I don’t know why.  The Holy Spirit?

And one of these pesky themes happens to be “women’s role in the church.”

It’s weird, because my family now goes to a church where women are fully integrated into the church staff and worship structure.  But there are times, when a woman stands up and shares something, that I don’t feel 100% comfortable.  I mean, I like it … but I’m not always comfortable with it. 

And so I wanted to ask some other CofC-backgrounded people what they thought about this.  And by people, I mean women.  Because here’s the deal … growing up, I heard a few men talk about women’s role in the church, but I never heard a woman talk about it—publically or privately.  Never.

So I sent out a few Facebook messages and emails, and I got a few positive responses.  And I got a few I’ll-think-about-its too, because this takes a little bit of courage—especially for someone who rose from girlhood to womanhood in the Church of Christ.

And I’m glad for any response … to hear that other people are thinking, asking questions, engaged.  This encourages me, whatever the individual’s thoughts might be.

So, beginning tomorrow night (Lord-willing), I’m turning over the keys of my blog to a bunch of good people—women drivers.

I’m looking forward to being silent … and to hearing them speak.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A place at Harding’s table




I’m a thousand miles from Searcy, Ark., and I usually go months without bumping into a Harding University grad (with the exception of my wife), but I have gotten a few texts/emails asking me what I think about Harding’s new president.  It seems like the selection process has set off a firestorm of frustration—is that too strong of a phrase?—among a good number of Harding alumni.

And I have thought about it.  And I have read a few blogs.  And I have thought about it some more.

And I have come to this conclusion … “I don’t really know enough about Bruce McLarty (the selectee) or Monte Cox (the apparent front runner for my demographic) or any other candidate to say anything about it.”  They all seem like decent people to me.

But I am still writing here.  So as long as I have the floor, I’d like to share a little something that’s been on my mind … about the future of Harding.  And since it seems that these types of posts always carry a few caveats, I will make no exception here:

  1. I like the current Harding president, Dr. David Burks.  He’s always been extremely kind and giving to my family.  He’s done a bang-up job as president.  I’m not a detractor.
  2. I don’t know anything about the Harding board of trustees.  I don’t even know who’s on the board of trustees.  I trust that they are godly men and women.  (Are there women on the board?  I’m not kidding … I should probably ask someone.)
  3. I love most things Harding.  Harding was my first “community.”  As a kid, I cut through the backyard of Harding’s president on my way to and from school.  I’ve worn HA Wildcat and HU Bison gear for as long as I can remember.  (And even now, in Northern Virginia, I often run errands while sporting either a Bison short-sleeve or long-sleeve tee.)  I’m a lifelong Harding fan.
I believe that covers the caveats.  If I’ve left something out, please let me know.

Did I mention I love Harding?

Okay … with all of that said, here’s the deal:

Many months ago I was thumbing through a copy of the Harding Magazine, the winter 2012 edition, and noticed an article about “Reaffirming our mission” from the HU board of trustees.  My geeky brain said, “Hmm, this sounds interesting,” and I dug in.  I was surprised to see the below wording as a part of Harding’s “mission.”  (By the way, I’ve gone online to find a copy of the article, but can’t get to it.  I believe the wording is similar to this 2008 statement.)

"Harding has always been deeply connected with churches of Christ, and we reaffirm this connection as we move into the future. In keeping with this, our goal will be to continue to hire only members of churches of Christ as faculty and administrators. Though we live in a time of significant confusion over our brotherhood's identity, we are determined that Harding University will become captive to neither a rigid legalism on the right nor a formless liberalism on the left. 'With gentleness and respect' (1 Peter 3:16) we affirm on this occasion such distinctive convictions of mainstream churches of Christ as baptism for the remission of sins, a cappella music in worship, and male spiritual leadership."

I was surprised by how deeply I “felt” something when I read this.  I wouldn’t call it anger or disappointment, but something else.  I tried to put the something else into words, but I had trouble.  The best explanation that came to me was … that the statement by the board of trustees felt like an “exclusion.”  That those outside of a traditional church of Christ community, a part of the “formless liberalism on the left,” would be treated kindly by Harding … but, in effect, would be excluded from full acceptance, full fellowship.  This statement, made in 2012, sounded no different than statements I had heard in 1972:

  1. Salvation comes only at the point of baptism (immersion)
  2. No musical instruments shall be allowed in worship
  3. Let the women keep silent in the church

And I wonder, in the aftermath of HU’s presidential selection—here’s the crux of the thing for me—I wonder if there’s a place for a more progressive man or woman as Harding’s president one day?  Is it really possible, as long as the university clings to the above mission?  And I wonder—for the rest of us who will never become president—if there’s a place for us at Harding’s table as well?  A place of full inclusion?

  • A place for people who would embrace not just other CofC members as Christians, but who would also consider “baptized believers” from other denominations and even “sprinkled” Protestants and Catholics as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • A place for people who support a greater role for women in the church.  For people who believe—at the very least—that women can be active in public prayer and singing and in much of the church’s decision-making.
  • A place for people who are no longer concerned about instrumental music.  Who consider it a non-issue.  Who worship with Chris Tomlin on their car stereos on Friday afternoon, and who worship with the same instrumentally accompanied songs on Sunday mornings.

And here’s a little bit more of the deal:

I know these people are already gathered around Harding’s table.  They’re on Harding’s faculty and staff and on the President’s Council and involved with Associated Women for Harding.  Their lives are intertwined with Harding, but they disagree with its doctrinally conservative track.  And many of them are afraid to speak up, fearing a loss of job or place in Harding’s community.

And as I think about all of these things, the optimist within me rises up to say, “The day is coming.”  There will come a day at Harding where there’s less exclusion …

and more inclusion.