Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Woman's Place

The day I was ordained as an elder in the Nazarene Church,
with the women of my family: mother-in-law, daughter, and
My friend is teaching a youth ministry course at a local Christian college.  He asked me if I would be interested in coming to guest lecture in a class this semester.  (First of all, holy cow.  I have never done anything like this before.  The idea of addressing college students in a classroom setting makes me feel very small and under-qualified for the task.  Just saying.)

The topic he suggested was "Women in Ministry."  You know, since I am one and all.

That got me thinking and reflecting on my experience as a woman in full-time pastoral ministry.  I belong to a denomination that fully supports, and has always supported, the calling of men and women into all areas of ministry, including the highest offices of the local church, district, and general church.  Still, growing up in this denomination, I never had a female pastor or associate pastor.  I have rarely heard women preach in the pulpit, except at a women's retreat or just addressing the other women at an event.  When I have attended large events, such as the National Youth Workers' Convention, Nazarene Youth Conference, Passion, etc., there are very few women featured as keynote speakers on the main stage (sometimes none at all).  While it is becoming increasingly common for women to serve in associate positions, often in the areas of children's/youth ministry or music, it still seems unusual, at least in my somewhat limited experience and context*, for a woman to preach every Sunday, to serve as the spiritual authority and leader of her church, and to lead in a pastoral role.

We have probably all seen "women in charge."  I'm talking about the woman who dares you to bring up her gender so that she can smack you down with how she is equal to, or even superior to, any man.  I'm talking about the female Bible professor I had in college, who seemed to be especially hard on the guys in class and had a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas directly related to her gender.  I'm talking about the woman who uses her gender as a battering ram to open doors and ensure that she gets treated fairly.  I have never wanted to be one of those women.

I have worked hard in my ministry to NOT allow my gender to dictate how I lead and serve.  I have tried to ignore those who said I would always be an inferior leader simply because I am not a man (sadly, many of those who said that were women themselves).  I never wanted to be on a crusade or start a revolution.  I just want to follow God's calling on my life, wherever that may lead me.

But many times over the years, I have been forced to admit and address the fact that I am a woman, and as such, I am different than a man.  I believe my leadership capability and style has much more to do with how God has made me, but part of that is my womanhood.  I can't escape it, nor do I want to.  I like being a wife and mother.  I enjoy taking care of my family, which means cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry for them.  I want my husband to protect me and take care of me.  (And take out the garbage, because everyone knows that's a man's job.  Ha ha, funny joke.)

As a church planter, I have often wondered how this experience might be different if I were male.  My husband works very closely with me and is my partner in every sense, and I don't know what I would do without him.  Would it be the same if I were a man?  Will people want to join us in this ministry?  Would they be more likely to join us if a man were at the head?  Thinking along these lines seems like a very destructive and dangerous path to me.  God is the one who calls and equips.  But still, sometimes I think about it.

Now, as I am preparing to address this class of undergraduates in a couple of months, I am beginning to put together my thoughts, experiences, and theology regarding being a woman in ministry.  I would love to hear your insights--whether you are a woman in ministry with experiences to share, someone who has experience (positive or negative) with a woman in a ministry leadership position, or just someone who has thoughts about the topic.  I need your help...what would you say to these students?

*I know that in other geographic areas and other denominations, this is far more common.  There are a couple of notable exceptions in my own experience: for example, Dr. Nina Gunter, who was elected general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene (the highest office in the denomination), and my good friend Pastor Grace Govenettio, who I have heard preach the Word of God plenty of times!  I am blessed to have such women, and others not mentioned here, to follow and walk with.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On Death and Grieving

Kayne (middle) with a couple of friends from Upstate NYI
We have recently suffered a terrible loss.  I say "we"--this person wasn't connected with Re:Church in any way, but he was connected quite closely with Daniel and I through the Upstate District NYI (Nazarene youth).  His name was Kayne Erickson and he was just 17 years old.  On Wednesday, December 14, I got a text message saying that he and his sister had been in a car accident and that they needed prayer.  I prayed for their safety and health immediately, and having no other details, kept on preparing for my Zumba class that was scheduled to start in just a few minutes.  I then got a call from a close friend of their family's, telling me just how serious the accident was.  Sparing you the heart-wrenching details, I will just say that his sister was okay but that Kayne did not make it out of the car.  Instead, he went to be in the arms of his Savior that evening.

As I went home (obviously Zumba class was canceled since I couldn't hold myself together), I was left with this unbearable sense of sadness, mostly for his parents who would not see their son graduate high school, go to college, get married, or have his own children.  I was sad for his sister who would continue high school alone.  I was sad for his friends who had this big hole in their lives now.

The next afternoon I joined his church family & his friends for an impromptu "remembering" and candlelight vigil celebrating his life.  Mom, Dad, & sister were still at the hospital and so could not be there.  As I stood there, listening to his friends talk about his smile, his love for people, and his love for Christ, I couldn't help but rejoice in my heart that he had made such an impact on the world around him in such a short time on earth.  With such a mixture of emotions, I then headed over to the hospital to see his family.  I was apprehensive, not having had much direct experience (as a pastor or otherwise) with death and grief.  When I walked into that room, we hugged and cried and looked at pictures and hugged some more.  We exchanged some small talk about other things, and I sat there with them.  I just sat there.  We finally prayed together and I got in my car to drive the hour back to my own house.

Over the next several days, I couldn't sleep at night and couldn't function very well during the day either, heavy with grief for Kayne's family and friends.  Everyone said he was going to make a great impact on the world.  He was thinking maybe he would become a youth pastor to share the love of Christ with more teenagers.  As the day of the funeral came, and we packed into that crowded room (it was standing-room-only long before the funeral was scheduled to begin), I was surprised to feel my heart lift as I heard the testimony of Kayne's life shared by those who knew him and loved him best.  My friend, Kayne's pastor, made sure that Christ was lifted up and Kayne's life of passionately serving Him was highlighted.  No, Kayne was not perfect.  No, God did not take Kayne away because of some pre-planned event.  But God was there that night.  God was there in that car with Kayne, as He gently took his hand and led him to meet his Savior in eternity.  It was a beautiful moment of closure, and although it was sad for those of us left behind to mourn, we can rejoice knowing beyond a doubt where Kayne is now.

What a tribute to a life well-lived.  I have seen first-hand how important it is to cling to what we know, even if our hearts are breaking and we feel like life will never be the same.  God IS faithful.  God does not let us walk through these things alone.  It was such an important reminder for us to realize how precious, and short, life is.  We don't have forever.  We don't have all the time in the world to get our own lives in order, or to make an impact on those around us.  I want to let Kayne encourage me to make the most of every opportunity and live a life of love because of Christ.

As we prepare to begin a new year, let us not forget about these lessons learned from death and grief.  Christ has conquered the grave and death is NOT the end.  We can be secure in that knowledge and do everything we can to share that with those around us!
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yelling and Remembering

Psalm 77:1 says,
I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might,
I yell at the top of my lungs.  He listens.
Wow.  He listens.  If you read the rest of this Psalm, you will see that the psalmist is in anguish.  God is apparently not acting, not intervening, not helping, not responding to urgent prayers.  And yet, He listens. Down a few verses, the psalmist says,
Once again I'll go over what God has done,
lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I'll ponder all the things you've accomplished,
and give a long, loving look at your acts (vv. 11-12).
This, in a nutshell, has been our year.  Emotionally wrenching and difficult, and yet God has been faithful.  I have yelled and screamed and prayed and cried, feeling as if God has left me behind and forgotten me, and yet he still listens.  When I sit down and remember all the ways God has been faithful, all the ways he has provided against all odds, and all the distance that we've come with this church planting journey, I can't help but stand with the psalmist and say,
O God!  Your way is holy!
No god is great like God!
You're the God who makes things happen;
you showed everyone what you can do--
You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph (vv. 13-15). 
Just a few of the ways God has been faithful to us:

  • He has brought us a few great friends to come alongside us in planting Re:Church
  • He has put a new tenant in our Watertown house that is paying rent on time, which pays not only our mortgage but other bills as well each month
  • He allowed us to come back and spend a Sunday with our church family in Watertown, where we were blessed to not only share our story but receive the most GENEROUS love offering ever (which paid some bills that we didn't know how we could pay that month!!)
  • He has helped my heart to truly settle in and feel like Ithaca is finally "home"
  • He has put Ethan in a great school with a great teacher, where he can't wait to go each day!
  • He has brought us a wonderful babysitter and friend in "Miss Bette"--we are SO BLESSED by her love for our children

And the list goes on.  I could sit here all day.  Please, please, continue to pray for us.  Specifically right now:

  • That God will continue to give us the vision and lead us step-by-step into what's ahead (and that we will be quiet enough to listen)
  • For some friendships in the works for each of us (Daniel and Amanda)
  • For my seminary classes beginning in January--that I will be able to juggle everything and that our new schedule (me traveling to Rochester every Tuesday afternoon) will run smoothly

We are so blessed!  Merry Christmas!
Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our Core Values

I've been reading a really helpful book that was given to me by my boss & district superintendent.  It's called Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century by Aubrey Malphurs, a well-known church growth guru.  Although I don't know about all the doctrine he teaches and advocates, I know that this guy knows his stuff as far as church organization and growth.

Anyway, one of the exercises Daniel and I have been going through from the book involves discovering our most important core values--these are the values we will hold most dear that will shape the identity of this particular church.

Here are the values we have identified, in no particular order, and in a "rough draft" format.
1.  Communicating the Truth of Scripture -- with integrity and authority

2.  Authentic Worship

3.  Community -- involving grace-filled fellowship, people loving, growing, and serving together, and meeting others' needs

4.  A Mobilized Congregation -- People knowing and using their unique gifts & talents for ministry

5.  Seeking Lost People -- at home as well as around the world

6.  Discipleship -- becoming fully surrendered, fully devoted Christ-followers

7.  Cultural Relevance & Innovation -- willingness to engage with culture and to change our forms (not function) as needed to reach lost people

8.  Excellence -- to be known for our excellence in ministry and all that we do, as an offering to God

What do you think?  Are there any that you would add to this list (or subtract from it)?  We are a work in progress and are constantly considering what will serve God and please Him in our context!  Thanks for journeying with us.
Friday, August 26, 2011


You know that feeling when you procrastinate on something for a while, and you think, "Oh, I'll get to that next week/month/whenever I have time"...and more and more time passes until you think it's pretty much ridiculous to try and update? I have that feeling sometimes. This is one of those times.

It would take many days, and many blog posts, to completely update you on the places (spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically) I have been these last several months. Let me summarize by saying, you know those people who tell you that church planting is the hardest thing you might ever do in your life? Those people are right, and then some.

Not that it's all been bad--just the opposite. God has brought us through every trial, every dark time, every moment when I've wanted to quit before I even really start. I have had lots of great opportunities to preach all through the southern tier of New York and made lots of new contacts. My involvement with Upstate NYI is something that God continually uses to bless me, challenge me, and motivate me. My heart for teenagers is softer than ever. We are blessed on the Upstate district with awesome youth pastors, senior pastors, volunteer leaders, and of course students. I am continually amazed that I get to partner with such a great group of people.

Daniel and I have found a little more routine in our lives. September (we hope) will bring a weekly Bible study/small group. We have at least two couples who are interested and fairly committed to being a part of this group, plus many other acquaintances that we hope will become friends and also possibly join us. We are finally starting to feel more at home in Ithaca. I am still teaching Zumba at Finger Lakes Fitness Center and in the evenings. Daniel has begun to focus more exclusively on his web/graphic design business, NextMountain. We have renters in our Watertown house now (which is not without its problems). God is good, all the time.

Finally, the big news...we have a church name! In identifying our core values (the values and ideals in ministry that we hold most dear), we kept coming up with "Re" words--redemption, reconciliation, restoration. As Daniel and I dreamed, talked, and prayed together, the church name literally HIT us...and so Re:Church was born (at least in our hearts, and on Facebook).

I hope to share more in days to come about the dreams and the vision for Re:Church. We're always a work in progress. And God is good.

Prayer Requests:
  • God's provision for our family and basic needs
  • Bible study beginning in September -- to attract people, to be strongly rooted, to grow into a true community of believers
  • I am planning to begin my M.Div at Northeastern Seminary in January -- nervous but excited about this next step in my education!
  • Ethan is beginning all-day kindergarten at South Hill Elementary on September 7!
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