All posts from "August 2012"August 14, 2012
Not all churches underchallenge women.
Like an enthusiastic bobblehead, I found myself rambunctiously nodding in agreement as I read Amy Simpson’s “A Challenge to the Chronically Underchallenged.” I resonate with Simpson’s passion for the church to more fully empower women to actively minister to others and to address the world’s needs. Like Simpson, I bemoan the tendency for women to be relegated to nice, cutesy, tame little roles in the church. Part of me hollered out an enthusiastic “Amen!” of agreement.
But I also found myself nodding in agreement with another sentiment—a commenter who responded to Simpson this way: “I would simply have to say: ‘Come to my church. There’s plenty for you to do in ministry and you would be most welcome to do it.’”
Though I concur with Simpson’s overall sentiment, not all churches underchallenge women. In fact, I’ve regularly felt profoundly challenged by my own church.
Recently I’ve been challenged to:
• Stop traffic. One friend, Debi, has led the charge in drawing our church’s attention to human trafficking. Debi taught a class on the subject, continues to raise awareness through conversation and bringing in speakers, and has helped connect our church with a broader network of organizations concerned about this issue. Church members were actively involved in anti-sex-trafficking work during the Super Bowl in our city last year; as a result of the efforts of many Christians working together, several young women were rescued from forced prostitution and returned to their families.
• Live justly. I know there is poverty in our city, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned devastating details about how tough things really are in a specific area of Indianapolis. I learned these specifics from Mechelle, who shared with the congregation about her involvement in a Christian ministry that provides basic necessities, tutoring, encouragement to young moms, and much more in a struggling part of Indy. I, along with the rest of the congregation, was challenged to pray about getting involved. I’ve been similarly challenged to grow in active justice and compassion work by the examples of women like Shirley who volunteers at a downtown homeless shelter and Emily who ministers at a crisis pregnancy center, helping vulnerable women discover a “choice” other than abortion.
• Go global. What started as a small ministry to a specific group of immigrants living near our church has now ballooned into a full-scale program. On Tuesday nights, the classrooms are brimming full with immigrants from 32 different countries who are learning English and building cross-cultural friendships. Dawn heads up this ministry, galvanizing our church to love the world right in our backyard, while Anna mobilizes church volunteers to care for the immigrants’ children. The challenge to live and love globally also comes regularly from missionaries—from women like Kim, Emily, and Elena who are willing to forego the comfort of home and answer God’s call abroad. I’m inspired by their work: training indigenous church leaders, providing medical care to AIDS victims, offering job training and friendship to those who’ve escaped the sex-trafficking industry, and more.
These are just three of the many ways I’ve been challenged in my church and women’s ministry recently—and I bet you can think of similar examples from your own.
Like many GenXers and younger, I’m not as “into” traditional women’s ministry events (such as a tea, a brunch, or a craft-making experience) as my older counterparts may be. And as much recent discussion online reveals (such as here, here, and here), a traditional approach to women’s ministry can leave some women feeling frustrated, disconnected, and underchallenged.
But in my experience, surprisingly, it’s often when I’ve participated in more “traditional” events that might not be my preferred cup of tea (pun intended) that I’ve been profoundly convicted and inspired in my walk with Christ. The power hasn’t come from a cutesy craft or a pleasant program—it’s come from the people I’ve been privileged to interact with. As I’ve gotten to know women who are different from me, I’ve been both blessed and challenged by their life stories: A physician who established a hospital in a conflict-torn region of the Middle East. A retired missionary who described the adventurous life of jungle aviation and showed me a video of herself skydiving. The countless women with more “normal” life stories who’ve convicted me by their examples of perseverance through tragedy, passionate evangelism, grace for the hurting, wisdom for family relationships, and devoted commitment to the gospel and the church.
Sometimes the church’s biggest challenges for today’s women are hidden in surprising places: like in the lives of seniors from whom we can learn an awful lot. If we value learning from older women and building intergenerational fellowship, we must be willing to accept and value other women’s interests (such as traditional women’s ministry events), even if these interests are vastly different from our own. (Likewise, a healthy church will recognize the unique and diverse needs of younger women as well.)
So does the church at large underchallenge women? Probably yes. But does yours? Does mine? Not necessarily.
I’m thankful for the challenging examples set by women in my church. Spiritually-speaking, these women keep me on my toes! And among all the lessons I’ve learned from these women is this one: Don’t judge a women’s tea by its doily—because powerful ministry can take place in many contexts, even those that may appeal more to one generation than another.
How have you been challenged by your church lately?
The legacy of a joyful life
I asked for my grandmother’s table because I vividly remember all the years of our family around it. The meals we ate and the games we played. The mess she always made in the kitchen. Her alto singing that plays in the background of every memory I have of her. But mostly, I remembered the great joy of being at my grandmother’s house. While I was driving home, I decided that I wanted to pass the joy of being around her table to the next generation.
Maybe some would argue with this thought, but I believe the most powerful gift I can give to the next generation is a true and vibrant joy in the Lord.
Joy. Even more than academics. Even more than experiences or inheritance. People who possess real and abiding joy will live powerfully and for the glory of God—no matter their purpose, calling, or path. From generation to generation, I long to leave the legacy of joy.
What if we allow ourselves to be transformed by the joy promised through the indwelling Holy Spirit? And then what if we intentionally teach our children, through spirit and deed, what it feels like to live a life full of joy? Could there be any great gift to leave for the next generation? I think not.
We have lived in our house for three years and never once have we eaten a meal in the formal dining room. Not even a snack. Honestly, I don’t think anyone has even had a conversation in that room, but things are about to change. I hauled a 60-year-old table down the mountain so that every day we would remember. We’re going to pull up our chairs, open the pizza box, and I’m going to tell my kids about their grandmother of great joy and the God that she loved.
Don’t know where to start?
To begin shaping your own legacy, implement these four ideas:
- Have you given any thought to what you’d like your legacy to be? What do you want people to say about you? How would you want them to imitate you? Jot down some ideas.
- Is there a cycle of “joy-less-ness” that needs to be broken in your life? We transfer to others what and who we are. Without an intentional choice to grow in joyfulness, a life without joy will be passed to the next generation. What three things can you do to intentionally turn away from areas of joy-less-ness?
- Think about Proverbs 22:6: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” If the path you choose is the path of joy, does this ancient truth still hold? How can you model this to the children around you?
- Leaving a legacy of joy for the next generation is about learning to enjoy every mile of the journey. Are you enjoying today? What about the miles you are currently walking? In the next few days, spend some time thinking and praying about your legacy of joy and jot down what God brings to mind.
Joy can become a legacy, but it begins today with you and me. We either choose to give the things we have been given or we choose to live a life that can be multiplied in others.
Angela Thomas is a speaker and author of numerous books including Choosing Joy, from which this blog post was adapted by permission of Howard Books. Copyright © 2011 by Angela Thomas. Check out our interview with Angela at www.todayschristianwoman.com/digital.
My frantic pace cannot be helping my relationship with God.
As she was dying and slowing down to a snail’s pace, my life, in contrast, was crazy. For example, I remember spending a slow and tedious weekend with her. Then on Monday I was thrown back into my ridiculous schedule. After an hour-long commute each way to work, I fixed a large meal for a group of people and entertained until late in the evening. The next day, I had a doctor’s appointment after work and ran errands to do all the things I don’t have time for during the day. As I straggled into work on Wednesday, I almost laughed aloud at a Bible study I had to edit called, “The Gift of Boredom.”
As I read over this study, I realized how valuable such a gift is. It made me think of the time I’d spent with my mother the weekend before. Because her schedule was so relaxed, I relaxed too. When I sat with her, we often had times of silence and my mind drifted over many things. I felt bored when I was with her because her life was such a contrast to mine, but it forced me to slow down and listen to God. In my harried world, this was a much-needed time.
Now that she’s gone, I’m having trouble slowing down in the same way. I tend to pack every minute with activities. Even when I have a devotional time during the day, it’s often filled with reading and journaling that fills my mind with more thoughts and conviction of things that I should do. And I often want God to do something amazing in those times. I want to be wowed by some new insight or challenged to some great ministry that will change hundreds of lives when what I really need is just to be quiet and listen. And in order to do that, I need to be bored—something I tend to avoid like the plague.
This fear of boredom floods over into every part of my life. I find that I have trouble even watching TV without doing another task, such as folding laundry or doing something on my computer. Just sitting and watching often seems beyond me. There has got to be something wrong with that. Productivity is necessary, but for me it’s an obsession. I need to realize that sometimes doing nothing is the most spiritual thing I can do.
What do we miss by not allowing ourselves a moment to be bored? I think of the apostle Paul, who comes to mind as the greatest church planter ever and the author of much of our New Testament. And yet he spent the majority of his ministry years in prison. If he’d been constantly caught up in the day-to-day running of a church, would he have had the mind-numbing boredom that produced the depth of a book like Romans or the joy of a book like Philippians?
God allowed some of our greatest scriptural heroes to have years dominated by boredom. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem about Moses (who spent much of his life in boredom in the wilderness):
Earth is crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
I’m terribly afraid that I spend way too much time plucking blackberries. I need to take off my shoes and sit still long enough to notice the bush is afire with God.
JoHannah Reardon is the managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com. She blogs at www.johannahreardon.com and is the author of seven fictional books and a family devotional guide.