Sometimes it's not so much about walking on water as it is about staying afloat.
"...so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ" ~Ephesians 3:8
I am blessed to serve in the Free Methodist Church, which is egalitarian by nature, holding the view, that the Bible teaches the fundamental equality of women and
men of all racial and ethnic mixes, all economic classes, and all age
groups, based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and the overarching principles of scripture. I believe, as does the FMCiC that all people have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to
the glory of God; and are called to roles and ministries without regard
to class, gender, or race. That being said, there are still individuals within our denomination, and obviously those of other denominations that would not readily accept a woman in leadership. Some of these objections are due to an arguably misinformed biblical interpretation. The other objections are simply preference.
reality of my experience has been that there is more than one
congregation out there, where a significant part of the adherents and membership
would prefer a male Senior Pastor. I have had in depth, ongoing,
conversations with individuals (men & women) who maintain this
preference. They understand the FM stance, love being FM, but maintain
their PREFERENCE that the senior pastor be male. I also understand in
part the reason for their preference, I may not always agree, but
understand. If enough people in the congregation prefer this - than that
is the direction they will head.
Now I could apply, and fight for my right to lead, and If
I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was called to a particular
church that held these preferences I would apply and gently respond to
their issue of preferences, trusting God to work in and through the process, (I've had to weigh this before). However if
the definitive call was not there, I would respect their preferences
(while keeping the conversation open in order to broaden both our
perspectives and understanding) and move on, understanding every church
has preferences but God has a plan.
Some would say that when it comes to the hiring process this is discrimination and that we should not tolerate it. I am in complete agreement, that it is sad that anyone has to face any sort of discrimination. It is discouraging that applicants and employees are not always attuned or obedient to the Lord's guiding. I recognize that the church needs to mature in many areas including but not exclusive of this one. Thank God for His sanctifying grace.
I also recognize however that I make up the church and there are areas that I need to focus on in my own spiritual growth and maturity in order to positively affect the whole. I say this because my personal experience in this area of struggle as a woman in ministry was one that brought about some maturing. My initial response was one of resentment, bitterness, confusion and frustration. All fair but none very productive. As I prayed and reasoned, and left room for open discussions with individuals of differing opinions, I came to the conclusion that my desire and call is to serve God and others well. This means going where God sends me, probably where I can be most effective given the time and place. As I said in yesterday's post, I personally want the focus of my calling as pastor, and for my time and energies, to be about drawing people into a saving relationship with Christ and less about fighting this battle.
I realized that going to a church that is truly not ready for a woman senior pastor, where many will struggle with receiving, is not effective for me or for them and since it is really not about me, I figured let them have their senior male pastor, who will hopefully bring them to a place of understanding and maturity.
That being said, I am not condoning or accepting this preference, instead I want to walk alongside people and help them mature in their biblical understandings, and allow God to work in and through me, so that I might provide a positive and desirable example of a woman in leadership, so that they can overcome any inbred preferences.
My experience has been that the best way to do this is through relationship, even with those whose preferences are different from mine. In getting to know them, and they me, I feel like I am gaining their respect as a pastor regardless of my gender. One man said to me the first time he heard me speak, that my sermon was very powerful...for a woman. I received it as a back handed compliment, but then realized that perhaps he had not heard very many, if any female preachers. He had since been under my tutelage in discipleship classes, and though we did not always agree, I definitely felt that He respected me and the calling God has placed on me.
I also believe that discrimination/preferences of all sorts take place in the hiring process, inside and outside of the church, though perhaps never labelled or presented as such. Admittedly another area of maturing for myself, because in the interest of authenticity I have preferences, though God helping me, hopefully they do not get in the way of His will.
I've not yet felt the Need to Fight for my Right to Lead. The Lord has led me to incredible positions of pastoral leadership that I am privileged to serve in and for that I am grateful. I pray and know the Lord will do the same for each woman that he has equipped and called to pastoral ministry. There may however, come a time, when I do face opposition in seeing God's will come to fruition, whether that be personally or on behalf of others. At that time, I will stand up and press forward knowing that it is the Lord who fights for me. Till then, I will continue to serve where the Lord has placed me. I will attentively listen for the voice of God, and pray that others do the same, and trust that in the end, the guidance and will of God wins out.
The women in ministry fight/debate is not one, that I have fully engaged in. It is not that I do not believe that women could, should and have historically been equipped and enabled by God to lead His people, cause I certainly do. It is simply that, as a pastor this is not the focus of the ministry God has called me to and YES God has called me to pastoral ministry, as confirmed by others, the gifts and opportunities the Lord has afforded me, and as evident by the fruit of my ministry. My focus is on preaching the Gospel, loving and serving His people, and discipling them to walk in His will and ways, allowing God to work in and through me, that others might come to know Him in a real and personal way, so as to live redemptive lives of transformation. Should teachable moments arise that allow me to speak to this matter of women in pastoral leadership, than I am happy to engage in the discussion, but it is not the major mandate the Lord has given me for my ministry. Rachel Held Evans among others have been inspired, equipped and enabled to do so and Dr. Ben Witherington, considered one of
the top evangelical scholars in the world, has provided some theological interpretation on women in ministry.
This being said I've had a few people recently engage me in this discussion, on women in pastoral leadership. Now I can make theological arguments with the best of them, but the answer I often close with, is the one that compels me most of all, a very simplistic understanding. Having been gifted for, and called to pastoral leadership, I have two choices. When this life is over, either I apologize to God, for taking advantage of the opportunities he has provided me to preach the Good news, lead others closer to His throne of Grace, build up the body of Christ, and spend my life discipling and mentoring others, even though I am a woman. Or I apologize for not not preaching the good news, leading others closer to His throne of Grace, building up the body of Christ, and spending my life discipling and mentoring others. Which is going to offend God more? The fact that I used the gifts and opportunities He has blessed me with to Glorify Him by loving, serving and leading others in the ways that I have been equipped and enabled to do so, or not taking opportunities to do these things, because I am a woman.
Tomorrow - the other side of the story: Why I Might NOT Fight for My Right to Lead.
"You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your Holy abode." ~ Exodus 15:13
God Almighty, full of grace and mercy, it is in love that You lead us, may we always follow, knowing that wherever You lead us, it is out of love for us. Help us not to get ahead of You and so drown in our own pride and foolish plans. You have redeemed each of us for a purpose, lead us in Your will and ways. Even when we are led to places that seem unbearable with obstacles insurmountable, may we rely on Your strength to guide us through. Increase in us faith, so that we stop trying to take the lead, to do things in our own strength. May we simply, faithfully follow wherever You lead. Forgive us for when we get in front of You, instead may You oh Lord always be at the forefront, everything we do pointing to you - leading others to you, as we follow You. We ask this in the name of Christ. Amen
"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way" Psalm 37:23
"The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" ~Exodus 14:14
The battles are not yours to fight, the war not yours to win. God is in control, you need only to trust in Him. Don't make situations worse by talking, gossiping, venting to others. Don't make situations worse by arguing, defending, debating your position.
Stop trying so hard! Stop and Listen. Be Silent
God is not asking you to do anything - simply, "Fear not, Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today" ~Exodus 14:13
FEAR NOT, STAND FIRM, BE SILENT - WATCH AND SEE WHAT GOD WILL DO
I believe marriage is a wonderful thing, when two people come together in such a way that love is multiplied, their joys doubled, and burdens halved. I believe marriage is a Godly thing, when each person is able, through their union, to pursue the plans and purposes God has for them. I believe marriage is fabulous, when God is the center and the relationship finds them drawing closer to Him and closer to one another.
I have always wanted to be married and to have a family. Perhaps even more so after becoming a Christian, when a desire was birthed within me to leave a legacy of Christ like living and loving, for my children to pick up and pass down generation to generation.
I still want to be married and to have a family, but more than this I have come to a place in my life and in my spiritual walk where I'm more than willing to surrender that desire, in exchange for what God desires for me. Of course many of us say this. In fact I have thought this many times in the past about marriage, but I was never really committed to the idea. I am now. It didn't happen over night, it took years, but I have more than accepted that it may be God's will for me that I remain single. I have actually embraced this possibility and see the benefits of it.
I didn't expect however, that embracing such a possibility would result in an outpouring of concern from some in the Christian community. It's as if the family of God thinks I have given up on life. No Cathleen, keep fighting, keep breathing, this is not the end - God has someone for you, hold on!!!!!!!
Maybe God does have someone for me, and if so - Wahooooo!!!! bring on "Charles Ingalls", praise be to God!. However if not, then Wahoooooo!!! Praise be to God, just the same.
Here's the thing, as much as I believe in marriage, I do not believe it's the be all and end all for Christian women. I've come to realize that perhaps my getting married would be a hindrance to the plans and purposes God has for me. If this is the case, than I shall pass on wedded bliss thank you very much. What God has planned for me, is better than anything I can plan for myself.
If I look back on my life, I can see NOW, the benefits of my singleness in my Christian walk, the breadth of ministry it has allowed me. The single focus it has afforded me. Perhaps this is God's plan for me, in order that I may be more effective for Him and others, not for just right now but forever.
This is where I'm at, but we are all at different places along this journey, and for some, right now, the thought of such a possibility for their life, elicits copious amounts of anxiety. Admittedly the title of this blog is a bit of an exaggerated question, but for some it seems the thought of having to sacrifice their life for Christ, would be easier than having to surrender to a life of singleness for Christ. This reminded me of the story of the Rich Young Ruler and I found myself wondering how we would respond if Jesus said to us, "in order to grab hold of the abundant life I have for you, embrace a life of singleness and follow me". Would we, at these words be saddened, and go away grieving, unwilling to give up our desires, for what God desires of us? Would we respond much the same way the Rich Young Ruler did when Jesus answered his question "What must I do to inherit eternal life", by telling him to sell all he owned and follow Him.
I am in no way suggesting that it is better for all to be single, certainly not. I am affirming that it is best to place all our desires in God's hands, not holding to tightly to anything, lest we be unable to grab hold of all God has for us. I do not know my future, whether I shall be married or not, but I do know that I can trust my future to God. It is faith that allows us to be content in all things, a growing trust that allows us to relinquish control to the one truly in control and find peace in the places God brings us.
So ladies, whether, single, married, dating or divorced, as Valentines Day rushes upon us, let's celebrate the God who loves us extravagantly and praise Him. May we grow in faith, and in the confidence of knowing that the plans and purposes God has for us are better than anything we can dream for ourselves.
I don't know when it happened. It certainly did not happen all it once. It was not even a conscious decision. Over the years I have just gradually transitioned into living a simpler life. I have always had a thread of yearning for days gone by, for things to be slower and simpler, but it certainly was not evidenced in my lifestyle. However as of late, the transition from consumer to minimalist (I have discovered the name of my increasing condition) has become more obvious. So much so, that a panicked messaged from a beloved Aunt and a resulting conversation has warranted this post.
As 2012 ushered in, I began ushering out the clutter in my home. Not a result of a New Year's resolution, as I did not make any of those, figuring my 36-4-36 challenge was more than sufficient. I certainly had made no preconceived conscious decision to start getting rid of stuff, but that is what transpired.
It began with purging my closet full of clothes. Full to the point that I was always looking for hangers I didn't have, and physically forcing jeans to hang in the slight crack that remained beside the sweaters. Then on to my dresser - up till now having to squish the shirts down so I could close the drawers. Next my coat closet, hats that I have never worn, falling from grace as I slid open the doors. In the end I had filled 3 boxes with stuff I didn't need, and still had more than I needed left over. I posted a pic of my accomplishment on Facebook, thinking there may be someone in need who could use these things, and guess what - there was, the clothes are now being donated to a worthy cause.
I was fueled by the sense of freedom I had attained, endorphins compelling me to keep going, so next was my DVD's. I went through them all - keeping only a few of my favourites. I was able to sell 60 of them and pay off a bill earlier than I had expected, the remainder I donated to my church's lending library. My CD's were daunting, hundreds of jewel cases, filled with everything from Techno and Rave to Opera and Classical and everything in between. 20 years+ of accumulated musical therapy, most of which I had not touched in 15 years. Again I sorted through them, keeping a few favourites and boxed up the rest for interested individuals to take as they pleased.
There in my living room it loomed - the entertainment centre. Which leaned just enough to the left to make it noticeable. Big - bulky - unnecessary, so out it went, along with the 5 disk CD player (which I am pleased will be put to good use by my Nephew's mom in her child care centre). Both my DVD player and laptop work just fine for playing CD's.
Finally - at least for this round of decluttering, was to tackle my hope chest. An antique trunk, filled with great memories and lots of junk. As I went through, disposing of the clutter so as to better preserve the valuable memories it contained, I was taught many a lesson.
#1) Catching wedding bouquets is not a good indicator of your chances of being married (I found at least 3 in there)
#2) The glory and identity that comes with winning medals will fade long before the writing on the medals
#3) Grandmas are experts in grace when it comes to their grandchildren, and they make the best baby outfits (maybe one day I will get to use the one she made and gave me for when I have a daughter)
#4) The McDonald's Flintstones T-shirt I placed in there in 1994 is now worth $30.
It was after posting these little anecdotes, that things became concerning for some. My Aunt, had been following my progress via Facebook and was the one to vocalize her concern by way of a message. What is going on? Why are you getting rid of all your stuff? Do you need money?
I panicked! How do I explain the why? She's going to think I am crazy. I didn't need money, in fact except for the few DVD's I sold, I was giving everything else away. Admittedly, I started out not knowing exactly why I felt compelled to do this - but as I went through the process it became very clear to me. I was choosing freedom, I was choosing to take control over my life. I was choosing what was important to me, I cherish memories far more than I do things - So I would rather expunge myself of stuff, so that I might have more resources available to create fabulous memories. More than this I do not want money and things to become the stumbling blocks to my being able to do what I love. For example, as a pastor I do not want my salary or a church's finances to determine whether or not I can afford to be in full time ministry - because that is what I love to do. So I choose to live in such a way that I have the freedom to serve regardless (more finances more opportunities to bless - less finances I can transition into a lifestyle that allows me to continue to serve regardless).
After my Aunt and I talked she was comforted, knowing that, I've not gone off the deep end, I'm too young for a mid life crisis, and I wasn't under any compulsion or coercion. In fact after I explained it, she could understand my motivation. This transition is simply one of choosing what is important to me, and then creating a lifestyle that will afford me the opportunity to grab hold of it. The process is no where near complete, there are many more drawers and cupboards to clean out - and many more lifestyle changes to be made, purging distractions, unnecessary accumulation & stuff from my life. Throwing off anything that hinders, or robs others. It has been a process free of regrets - and perhaps long overdue, with undoubtedly many more lessons along the way :D
I was struck by a verse I read in my devotions. It was from Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." It caused me to consider, do I live a life, privately and publicly, such that I'd be comfortable encouraging others to follow me because I'm faithfully following the example of Christ? As a pastor, (or perhaps for you as a parent, as a friend, coworker, or as a family member) do I serve God and others, in such a way that I could have the confidence to offer such an invitation, trusting that it would bring God glory and be to their spiritual benefit?
Christ is our ultimate example, no man or other example will ever take precedence, however I am thankful for the couple truly faithful examples of great pastors, God has placed in my midst. Those who demonstrate simply by way of their living, what it means to love and serve God and others well, not perfect but pressing in and pressing on. Pastors, who I know in following, will lead me closer to Christ. Pastors who in following, will demonstrate for me, what in means to walk in His will and ways.
I pray to this end, that God helping me, I may live my life, so that I could say with ever increasing confidence & authenticity: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."
I am not a great pastor, though I'm trying to be, God helping me. I recently spent the afternoon in visitation with a widow of a great pastor, and I found myself longing for what seems at times, to be the wisdom and ways of days gone by. I left our time together, keenly aware of just how important certain areas of ministry really are, and trying to discern what it is that makes for great pastors. I deduced it to 4 qualities that I believe are integral if one aspires to be a great Godly pastor.
1. Learn - A love of learning, specifically as it pertains to God's word. Knowing how to think is arguably more important than knowing what to think.
2. Live - Living out all that we learn through God's word, striving to live as Christ lived, walking in His will and ways. I've always respected pastors whose lives preached a better a sermon Monday to Saturday than their message Sunday morning.
3. Listen - The ability to hear the heart of God and others. That means faithful, intimate prayer in order to hear from God. As well as visitation and/or fellowship in order to hear the heart of others. I believe relationship building both with God and others, is integral to discipling and thus to being a great pastor. Furthermore I have come to experience that relationship building only enhances our preaching, teaching etc, causing it to be more effective.
4. Love - Love for God and others, a real love evident by actions, a love without thought of return.