Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jesus and the Story of a Table

Sometimes it is alcohol. Sometimes it is crack. Sometimes sexual slavery or addiction. Sometimes physical disease or abuse. Overspending. Food addiction. Cycles that beg to be broken.

Things that splinter my heart in two at the hearing of them, that tempt me to stop believing in the radical power of Jesus to set the sinner and the sinned-against free. These are the moments in which I must stop and remember the Kingdom perspective. When I must live in the Jesus Creed.

In his book The Jesus Creed, theologian Scot McKnight unveils Jesus' call for us to love God and to love others as ourselves. And how did Jesus illustrate this outlandish idea, this law that trumped all the other picky Jewish laws the Pharisees (or keepers of the law) had come to treasure?

He does it through a table. 

Could this have anything to do with him being a carpenter? I'm not sure, but I do know it had everything to do with him fashioning his Kingdom. The Pharisees message to the down-and-out: smell better, do better, look better, be better, and then you can earn a seat at my table, to eat with me. Then you will be worthy.

Jesus' table story? "...clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean. Instead of his table requiring purity, it creates purity." (Jesus Creed, p. 36)

"For Jesus, the table envisions a new society, and that means that the table is a boundary-breaker and a grace-giver--and place where we can see what God can do when people are restored to fellowship with Abba." (Jesus Creed, p. 39)

In the story Jesus is telling through a table, the Church would not be a place to come for really righteous people to listen to righteous things and sing righteous songs and repeat only righteous things. Not if Jesus really meant what he said in Mark 2:17: "Jesus said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'.”

Rather, the church would be a hospital for the sick. 

It would not be a place to shuffle consumer-oriented, middle-to-upper-income people from one church to another church in their same city. It would be a place with healing ointment, and food, and provisions, and love and truth, and it would reek with healing and holiness. The church is to be a place where we fight for the broken and wounded, where we give to see them grow, where we worship to advance God's Kingdom, where we eat together. The homeless and helpless sitting next to the prosperous and the pampered. For we are all in need...and we are all in recovery, in debt to Jesus for what He has so graciously done on our behalf.  

That's what Jesus and the beauty of His table is telling us. Something beautiful happens when we start issuing come-as-you-are dinner invitations.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My New Occupation: Spiritual Mother

I feel a little like Deborah, the prophetess, warrior, and judge whom many call the mother of Israel. And with that, perhaps I should explain myself.

Gustave Dore's interpretation
of the prophetess Deborah
I am physically barren; in biblical terms, this means that up till now there has been no fruit and no multiplication in my household. This sometimes feels like a grave injustice, an assault against my God-given feminine instincts, as it also feels for many women who desperately yearn for motherhood but never experience it. Yet it is certainly not the worst lot in life. Others have far more difficult circumstances, like struggles for freedom from the horrors of sex-trafficking and the need for clean drinking water or an AIDS vaccine.

But barrenness is the place from which I can truthfully speak, and so I sometimes do.

Tonight, this struggle points me to a woman I have never met but hope to chat with one day. Her name is Deborah, and her story is recorded in the Bible in the book of Judges. She was married, but there is no record of children. And someone else was likely helping with her household duties, since Deborah spent her time righting others' wrongs, prophesying of God's faithfulness to Israel, warring in battle, and trying to convince a man like Barak to find his courage. All in a day's work--right, ladies?

In the last month, I have temporarily joined a church staff during an interim period. It was a natural progression after serving as a pastoral intern at our church. This happened when two of our lead pastors moved on to another call and holes sprung up, desperately longing to be filled, at least that is what my heart said.

So now when I go to work, people call me pastor. This is shocking and crazy to me, but as one friend said in an email: "Of course you would struggle with a title that's been so male-dominant. Only with time will you (and frankly, others) get used to it. But pastoring is the gift you have. Teaching. encouragement. spiritual leadership. These are the giftings of a pastor, and that you are."

So I gulped and dove in and for the most part, nothing could be more natural. I have wondered where this is all going in terms of my future, but no matter what the future holds it will include teaching, encouragement, and spiritual leadership. Along the way, something surprising is happening.

The focus in my life is not on my barrenness and my monthly cycle, but on the fruit that can be born for God's Kingdom. I pastor, and I have the privilege of watching God work. I encourage, and God gives the increase. Ministry is becoming much less frightening and a thousand times more life-giving. And the other day I had a eureka moment: I was in the office and making hospital visits and counseling and preparing to teach, and I thought to myself, this is what mothering is all about. No matter what turn my fertility takes, I am a spiritual mother.

Truthfully, I answer to almost anything. But if the shoe fits--and the spiritual giftings, too--perhaps we should start calling each other who we are, regardless of our job titles. The occupation blank on my next medical form just might be filled in "spiritual mother." And it would be a high privilege to be lumped in with Deborah, a woman with a song in her heart and a God-ordained purpose guiding her every step.

Read Deborah's story and song here

Your turn. What is your occupation at present, whether homemaker, business person, pastor, caregiver, seminary student, etc.? And based on your spiritual giftings, what is your spiritual occupation?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Psalm 91 sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on my church to remind us all of the powerhouse of promises given to us in the psalm of protection, Psalm 91. Hope you'll listen in and comment!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Church Internship 101

"Your job," she said, "is to know Jesus."

I stared back at the Skype screen on my computer and nodded. Forget teaching Sunday School and giving morning announcements in two services, counseling with new believers and the hurting, planning our church's annual fall festival, or preparing for a Sunday night sermon.

My job: to know Jesus.

All else would flow out from there, my mentor said, from her perch in the UK, where she was working on her doctoral dissertation. If I would spend time with him each day, she said, I'd be OK no matter what came. And come it did.

In the first week of the internship, my mother-in-law passed away. We were making almost daily trips while she was under hospice care, we were there when she peacefully passed, and I was commissioned to help with the funeral. The same weekend she died, I gave announcements at church for the first time and delivered the details of her funeral arrangements to the congregation. "God will provide," my mother-in-law, Laura, had a way of saying, and so I clung to that.

A few weeks later, after the fall festival was mercifully wrapped up and the many details of the church's 75th anniversary service were behind us, our senior pastor delivered a stunning blow: he and his associate pastor wife (my mentor) were being appointed as district superintendents in our denomination, one state over. The final confirmation came a week and a half later as the staff mourned and hoped for a change of mind as they prayed together. No change came.

Last Sunday, the congregation found out as Pastor Chuck delivered the news with great tenderness and some pain in his voice. After a collective gasp, I heard people crying. I have never known a pastor with a higher shepherding gift. This couple have modeled tenderness with the broken and hurting, and as they are called on to other things, there is a collective "Why Lord?" and an understanding that God does not always tell us why. Instead, God simply offers us intimacy with himself.

I tried to focus on that as I walked into my mentor's Sunday School class after the news was given. I looked at the loss on their faces and the questions in their hearts, and all I could really do was offer up the psalm we turned to, psalm 46: "God is an ever-present help in trouble."

My job: to know Jesus.

This week at the church another stunning blow. A faithful woman of God who was in prayer meeting just last week and plans the funeral dinners for our congregation, developed a brain aneurysm and died. Still young, leaving a husband behind and two children, her absence creates a void that makes our heads spin and our hearts cry, "Why Lord??"

My job: to know Jesus.

Perhaps all of this is par-for-the-course in ministry: upheaval, tremendous loss, deep pain, questioning, feeling hurt and burdened for those left behind. Or perhaps there is something more at work here, and God longs to show me his strength perfected in my weakness. I am reeling, seeking rest, clinging to my Savior's promises, and remembering his track record in times of struggle. I stand in need of His grace, just as each one of us does.

My job is to know Him, the Savior who died and lived for me, who is seated at the Father's right hand, and who intercedes for me. What a blessed promise. And now, I'm about to wrap up this blog post and open my Bible and journal, so I can get back to my job. He is waiting for me. And by the way, He's waiting for you, too.

No matter your occupation, is your #1 job to know Jesus, believing all else will flow out from there? Do times of great struggle push you into the arms of Jesus--or away from him? 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beautifully flawed

I was reading Donald Miller's blog the other day, and I read his post Learning to Love Your Flaws, and I felt my soul take a deep, cleansing breath. It felt like an inaudible sigh of relief, actually.

Don posted a picture of himself--150 lbs. heavier--and talked about the value of flaws. I especially liked this sentence:

"It's true we impress people with our supposed perfections, but we connect with each other in our flaws." -Donald Miller

I am a person of contradictions, you see. Those who meet me dressed up on Sunday mornings often view me as solid, put-together, and eloquent. (At least that's what they tell me.) Then I change my clothes in the evening and proceed to a Bible study for women in recovery where brutal honesty is the rule of the day and brokenness is a gateway to freedom.

I don't look very perfect there, as I share battle-wounds from my bouts of depression and anxiety, what it's like to trust God with a daily physical challenge in my right leg that limits my activities, how heartbreaking loss pushes me into the arms of my Savior, and the tug-of-war I experienced as I strove to live sexually pure as an unmarried Christian.

In both settings, Jesus is the answer. My struggle, then, is how to be more honest--and yes, more flawed--in a church setting, how to let people see that I don't have it all together while sharing with them the life-changing truth of the gospel of Christ. I look at the example of our Savior, and I see that he was the same as he overturned tables in the temple, as he talked with the Samaritan woman, as he healed the masses, fed the 5,000, and delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

He was the same, yet he talked directly to those he ministered to, meeting them at their point of need. I can't say that Jesus was flawed, but I do know that he was human. My challenge, then, is rejecting perfectionism to embrace brokenness, letting the weight of my personality breathe in whatever situation I am in, and letting the love of Christ flow through me--and through my imperfections. As grace seeps in and changes me, I want to find joy in living beautifully flawed.

How do you believe God views your flaws? Do you hide them--or celebrate them?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Gift of Presence: ministry with fewer words

I've been the "chaplain" at times, and now I'm the "pastoral intern," and what I am gathering in all of this is that I do not have the power to change a situation for someone. Only God has the power to change their perspective in it.

The gospel, the true hope of the world through the cross of Christ, has been packaged and taught in easy steps; it's been downsized and minimized into commitment-light; it's presentation is sometimes given with no thought for the physical and emotional welfare of the image-bearer who's receiving it. Some have even delivered it with a literal bullhorn.

In the past, I've been guilty of trying to make the gospel palatable--of trying to sell half-hearted Christianity to a soul who can't see how he could buy the whole package. Once when a friend sat across from me and told me he just couldn't believe in Christianity because he wasn't raised in a Christian home, I took his rejection of the gospel as a personal failure. As if my evangelistic fervor could have won him into the Kingdom. As if I, and not the Holy Spirit, woo people to faith in the Carpenter who turned the world upside down.

The truth is: I've made more than my share of blunders.  Author Jerry Bridges was right: "Grace stands in direct opposition to any supposed worthiness on our part." 

Jesus, the most eloquent truth-teller of all, delivered it first and foremost through the ministry of presence...followed by words of extraordinary significance. He was hanging out with the shady Samaritan woman, his feet were being anointed with oil by a female known for her sin, he ate with fraudulent tax collectors and broken prostitutes. The sick and diseased hung on him; the demons he cast off shrieked at his presence; those who touched the very edge of his garment went away rejoicing.

And when he did speak, when he did open his mouth, he tended toward stories and questions, parables and paradoxes. This was the upside-down Kingdom he ushered in. The last shall be first, the least of these are worthy of extraordinary kindness and generosity, the meek shall inherit the earth.

The way Jesus communicated goes against my natural bent, on so many levels. If I am talking to a young woman battling addiction about Jesus, and her eyes glaze over, I am tempted to talk faster and louder to see if she gets it. If I am counseling someone on entering a vibrant relationship with Christ, I am tempted to rush to the sinner's prayer, instead of helping this person understand the enormity of Jesus' love for them and the cost of following him. This goes against the very teachings of Jesus and his way of loving and engaging people with truth.

But I do not have to give in to my temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says so. 

The other day something out-of-the-ordinary happened that awakened me to how well I love. My neighbor of three years stopped by and offered words of comfort for us, as my mother-in-law is now in hospice care and will be gone soon. She was so understanding and kind and supportive, and before she left, she hugged me and said, "We love you guys." And I was caught off guard. Although this woman believes in God, she doesn't attend a church. I know her through "over-the-fence" conversations and a few backyard get-togethers.

But she has shared bulbs from her garden with me.
She has comforted me in my infertility.
She celebrates with me in my joys.

Her gift of presence has spoken volumes. Now her words mean something as well. This disciple of Jesus was moved by her kindness, her simple generosity.

What does the phrase "the gift of presence" mean to you? Do you tend to love others with many words or few words? 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do women have full access to God?

Tertullian, 160-220 AD
The other night I was facilitating a Bible study for women in addiction recovery and something shocking happened in the room. For a few moments, it was as if all the air was sucked out of it.

In this study, I talk a lot about Adam and Eve, and how their sin and rebellion led to our sin and rebellion. How things are broken, and how ever since that time, God has been reaching out to set our relationships right again. Our relationship with him, and our relationship with others.

I explained how in the Old Testament times, God set up a sacrificial system--people would bring animal sacrifices to atone for their sinfulness before a holy God, with the help of priests. But that all changed, I said, when Jesus came and became the sacrifice. Now the Bible says we can all be priests, we can all approach God directly (see 1 Peter 2:9)

At that moment, a young woman looked up and blurted out: "Women, too?"

Yes! I said, more loudly than was necessary, as my heart plummeted to the ground. 

An author I respect, Sarah Sumner, wrote: "Church tradition says that women are by nature lower than men. Indeed, most of the church fathers promoted this traditional belief." And then she proceeds to back it up.

Tertullian, the man who coined the word "Trinity" in the history of Christianity and defended the doctrine of original sin, said this to women:
And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die.
Unfortunately, many other church fathers perpetuated the same nonsense. Augustine did not believe women were made in the image of God, but they could reflect his image...if they married. Thomas Aquinas said that women are dominated by sexual appetite and men are ruled by reason. And so it goes.

So, is it any wonder, centuries later, that a young woman sits down and says "Women, too?" when taught that we can approach God directly? Is it any wonder that she does not, at face value, accept what God has said in Genesis 1:27, that both men AND women are made in the very image of God? Is it any wonder that she, too, believes Eve singlehandedly ushered sin into the world? (Where, exactly, was Adam in all of this?)

Is it any wonder that she sees the female image-bearer of God as subpar, as dangerous, as someone who holds an inferior brain and a much inferior heart? It's no mystery why she believes these things, as they have insidiously trickled down through our churches, through the very people who confess to following and obeying Christ.

It's no mystery. But it is a shame. And it's high time to set the record straight. God's intention, when creating male and female as equals who would be his representatives on earth, was that all humans might share full access to him, a full relationship with him. We screwed that up, through sin, but Jesus offers a way to make it right again. He loves us, pursues us, and empowers us to service in his Kingdom--whether we are an Adam or an Eve. Blessedly, there is no double standard with God. Ladies, we have a full access pass.

(Quotes from Sumner, Sarah (2003). Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership (pp. 40-41). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)

Self-test: do you somehow feel that women are inferior to men in the Christian faith--even if you know the Bible says differently? In your opinion, what should the church do to help women see themselves as God sees them?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The "holy" no: saying no for the Kingdom of God

I don't like to say no. I'd rather be a yes-woman, a sure-I-can-do-that woman, an I-am-competent-trust me with-that kind of person.

But as my new friend Brenda reminded me this week, Jesus himself used the "holy no" for reasons his disciples often failed to understand. Read on to feel the gravity of Jesus' refusal as portrayed in the gospel of Mark.

That night, Jesus had lovingly entered the home of Simon's mother-in-law, who was ill with fever. He healed her, and all the people who came after her, casting our their evil spirits. And after this late-night healing session and what must have been a short night of sleep...

"...rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35)

This was Jesus' normal modus of operandi, praying early in the morning in desolate places, and so his disciples went searching for him. His popularity was booming, so they notified him that "Everyone is looking for you."

And Jesus said "no." A "holy no" we find between the what he didn't actually say at all. He said "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out" (Mark 1:38).

Yes, that was his response. Leaving behind what were likely hundreds of people who desperately wanted a touch from him, he moved on. Why? I ask myself. Why did Jesus leave behind the hurting and the deluded, those who also desired healing and truth, those who desperately wanted to see him? 

As Jesus prayed to the Father, he gained direction for his life. He knew his purpose, and fulfilling that purpose necessarily involved limits. It involved saying no to good things so he could say yes to God's plan being revealed through him.

So he could do the best things.

If you believe the Bible and want to live by it, you too must discover how to say the "holy no." Like you, I have been entrusted with spiritual gifts and opportunities in which to use them. But they will not be effectively used to advance God's Kingdom if those gifts are spread too thin...if I take them where I want to take them instead of where the Holy Spirit guides me to use them through prayer and meditation.

Let me be completely honest: I have been given the spiritual gifts of teaching/preaching, encouragement, and leadership. If an opportunity presents itself in which I am called to serve outside of these areas of giftedness or in which I will be stretched beyond my limits...I need to seriously consider whether that is God's will for me. If that is how I can best build up the body of Christ and draw others to know and love Jesus. I need to embrace God's unique calling on my life, or I will soon be derailed by saying an "unholy yes" and failing to contribute to advancing God's Kingdom in the ways in which he has asked me to.

I have been derailed before. But with God's help, and as I listen to the Spirit in prayer, I am learning to say the "holy no." I want, like Jesus, to look back at the end of my life and say honestly, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4 NIV).

No more. No less.

Do you struggle with saying no? What things are you currently saying "yes" to in your life? Do they align with your gifts and limits?

Friday, June 24, 2011

What NT Wright would say on his deathbed

Kurt Willems of the Pangea blog  shared these timeless thoughts on looking at Jesus from theologian NT Wright:

What things would you say about Jesus to those you know if you had only one week to live? Look forward to your comments!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Are you weary? Are you heavy-hearted?

Do you know the song referenced in the title?

"Are you weary, are you heavy-hearted, tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus..."

Last night, I lit a candle, and my husband and I sat on the couch and we got very quiet. This was not a romantic moment, but a holy one. We were waiting to tell it to Jesus . . . or more specifically, to pray to our heavenly Father in Jesus' name.

"Tell it to Jesus, He is a friend that's well known."

I thanked God for his rich blessings to us. I prayed the Lord's prayer, my heart lifted up, praying that God's will would be done on earth as it is in our neighborhood as it is in heaven.

"You've no other such a friend or brother. Tell it to Jesus alone."

We prayed for family members.
And the lonely.
And for the work of our heart and hands.
And for the dream of a child to fill our empty arms.
And that no matter what comes, our will would align with the will of the One who loves us most.

It is true that our prayers usher in peace and a contentment that flies in the face of the ads that bombard us on a daily basis. But to tell the truth, they do more than that. They tenderize our hearts, and point our gaze away from our problems and our hangups, and remind us that Someone, the God of the Universe, in fact, wants us to love others as he loves us.

And so telling it to Jesus inevitably means that our selfish edges are gradually sanded away, and we take an elderly couple out for ice cream, we invite a family we hardly know over for dinner, we provide a ride for some orphans, we lead a Bible study with the poor and broken, and we generally go about with a growing heart to do simple acts of kindness in the name of Jesus. The power of prayer is not just in knowing God responds to our pleas, but in knowing that the very act of praying can change us.

Tell it to Jesus.

Do you speak easily and freely with Jesus? What have you discovered about prayer--and how has it changed you?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Biblical truth in layers: digging deeper

You're six (with pigtails or dimples--take your pick), and you listen to a storybook version of the Genesis Creation story, and the birth of Jesus, and the miracle of a man born blind receiving sight, and you get it.

You get it as in, "God's big, he made the world, he was born in a smelly place, and he can do anything!" That's as much as you get, and that's enough, for now. But then you grow up, and you begin to put away childish things and ideas, and the Bible begins to be an awfully big book filled with mystery and prompting lots of questions.

In the process of digging deeper, some of us seem to lose our faith. Others of us find a deep well from which to draw from, and grow more comfortable with paradoxes and mysteries. We understand that we may understand a certain passage to mean one thing, but once we drill down to investigate the Greek or Hebrew, or we put it into context with the rest of Scripture, our views change somewhat.

God never changes (and neither does his Word),  but sometimes our views or understanding on God change

We're human, after all. And as humans, we are in a discovery process to mine the truth about God, who is Other than us. Greater than us. More loving than us. Perfect and sovereign.

This whole process is happening to me right now as I study the Hebrew word ezer, the word God used when creating Eve in Genesis 2. It also happens to be a strong word used 16x in the Old Testament for God! Describing how he is a strong helper to his people, how he comes through for them when they are in desperate need. And there's a boat-load of significance in God's word choice here...he could have used a Hebrew word for servant or one of the words for wife, but he chose EZER. And so in sharing through the written word what God intends for his daughters by the use of the word ezer, I have likely spent at least 100 hours studying and consulting experts, since I myself have not studied Hebrew. I'm not kidding you. Deep waters.

What I am discovering, in an supreme effort to stay true to Scripture, and to be faithful to the usage of the word in this particular context, is different than what I thought I was going to write about when I signed up for the project. It's even a shade of meaning that's different from what I shared in a sermon about this subject last month.

And that, ultimately, is OK. We are all learning as we go, digging deeper, searching for the ultimate meaning of what God is saying Scripture, and as NT Wright recently said in the May/June issue of Bible study Magazine, anyone's translation is "a 65% best guess." The point is, we are doing the best we can.  We are uncovering "Big T truth in layers," and I believe even the search pleases our heavenly Father.

How about you? What have you learned about God's Truth as an adult that surprised or confused you? What makes you want to dig deeper into Scripture?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bringing Back Margin

Why is it that the most common response to "How are you?" is "Busy!" We've overscheduled our days and nights until our Blackberries become Crackberries and our lives resemble a kind of slavery--slavery to our overcrowded lives. And in all of this, most of us feel good about our busyness. Spiritual, even. Until we consider the example of Jesus himself.

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (NIV, Luke 5:16) He prayed. Easily one of the most seemingly inefficient, unproductive things a person could do. And also the one thing that "availeth much." We see Jesus wandering away to mountaintops to pray over and over again. It was his prayer life that fueled his ministry life. The two were inseparable.

For me, a life with margin has not come easy. As a Type A, it took physical and emotional limitations to slow me down to live within my limits. Even then, I didn't always cultivate the spiritual practices that lead to life and the blessing of God. I'm still discovering what it means to rest--but I can tell you this--I love to sit with my Savior.

Meanwhile, our world accelerates at breakneck speed. Technology outpaces our ability to learn it; we overload our children with activities, imposing profound stress on 10-year-olds, and many work more than they ever have, to earn more, so they can own more. Which enslaves us to our things.

Can you imagine Jesus doing any of this? Can you imagine him approving of it?

Margin author Richard Swenson describes our current state of affairs:
"We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and 
permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn't He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?"
-Margin: Restoring, Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson, MD

The message of this book is "Do less." The hope of the book is that by evaluating our patterns we can live the abundant life Jesus called us to by saying no to many things so we can say yes to a few--the most important ones.

If you read one book this year, I'd recommend this one. It is possible to live our lives according to the Spirit of Christ. The advancement of the Kingdom of God depends on it.

Your turn. Do you struggle with margin? What does margin restore to our lives? What does it mean for God's Kingdom?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Immodesty Doesn't Equal Female Power

The other night I was talking with some women about the destructive power of places like Hooters and Tilted Kilt, and strip clubs as well--and how they reduce us as women to the sum of our body parts. How they diminish and affect not only the women who work there, but women everywhere. And there were a few tears in our eyes, as we realized that we have all at some time sought male attention and approval through subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation of our bodies.

I felt anger beneath the surface as I talked about Beyonce's latest video "Who Runs the World--Girls!" that has body parts displayed through little clothing, hips and breasts gyrating, while all the while claiming that girls now have the power--by manipulating through their sexuality. I'd like to go on record by saying that we certainly don't run the world when we're dependent on our fleeting beauty and gross immodesty to have power and position. As one blogger (who was simply a music reviewer) put it after seeing the video, "Hide your daughters!"

Did someone forget that women have brains and strength and love and nurture to give--and that they aren't only valuable when they look sexy? That they are valuable to God from the moment they are born till the moment they die...and beyond?

No, we are worth infinitely more to the God who created us in His own image. We as women are created as indispensable "ezers" -- the Hebrew word for Eve that exalts us as agents or rescue, meant to join with men to accomplish God's work. We are neither subordinate nor superior. We are created by almighty God, and instead of manipulation, we are called to love, to service, to give. (If you want to know more, listen to this sermon or watch this video.)

I'm not removed from this problem--I've seen the tragic effects firsthand. Last year, while helping a 21-year-old exotic dancer who was detoxing from opiates, my husband and I took her into our house for a few days. She was so ashamed, she couldn't look David in the eyes. I told her God loves her and gives her dignity, but she couldn't imagine leaving the strip club, since she made so much money there, and had so much "fun." Where is all the money you've made, I asked, since she had about $3 in her purse. And she had to admit it was all gone. And that in a few years, she would be out of a job, too, tossed aside as younger, more beautiful dancers came on the scene. Although she was the one nauseous from detoxing, I was the one who felt like vomiting.

Ladies, we don't have to objectify ourselves. God loves us intrinsically and always, when we are 8 days old and 80 years old, and it doesn't matter to him what we look like. We are valuable because He created us, loves us, and wants relationship with us. That is enough, and no-holds-barred sexuality cheapens you and the way other women are perceived. There's a better way.

Men, you don't have to objectify us, either. Choose to believe that you are also made in God's image, you are not animal, but you have a mind and a will that can be submitted to the One who loves you most. When you see a woman of beauty, thank God for his good Creation. Then decide that you will treat your mothers and your girlfriends and your wives and your daughters and the woman on the street with the protection and dignity they deserve. 

Pornography, and Hooters, and strip clubs, and showing body parts that arouse attention, are destructive to men and women, boys and girls. We have the ability to choose things that bring us death, but oh how God longs to bring us life!

**The author wishes to acknowledge that women also deal with disordered sexuality, including pornography--and that there is help and healing for both men and women. Here are two resources: and

How can we as men and women help each other in this area? What are some things we can do to restore modesty and dignity to God's daughters?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spiritual retreating

She invited me, and so I headed northwest about 45 minutes or so, finding myself on a dirt road, carefully following signs and arrows that pointed to "Lutherhaven."

The "day away" of spiritual retreat was a last-minute idea, and I gladly seized it. Since moving from Michigan, I have craved quiet, nature-filled spaces--and have so seldom found them. But find them I would. Brenda led me to a room filled with a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a few books. She prayed over me, that God would meet me in there and in the outdoors, and that my soul would be refreshed and renewed.

Her kindness surprised me. As you might suspect, it was a Lutheran campground, and I attend a Nazarene church while studying at a Grace Brethren seminary. But Brenda's heart beats for Christian leaders who need to be refreshed. So she found me through some recent articles and this blog, and she welcomed me as a sister in Christ. I was more than a little grateful.

I hiked a bit outdoors, Brenda's words ringing in my ears. "Listen." and "Accomplish nothing." Unguided tours into the presence of the Almighty tend to unnerve most of us. So I sat and quieted myself. And read a bit. And journaled, confessing the competing motives in my heart...

"We tend to forget a very simple truth about prayer: It is passionate dialogue, a living conversation with the God who pursues us Because of what Christ has done, we may enter God's presence with the freedom of little children who cry, 'Abba, Father.' (Romans 8:15) - Matthew Woodley

I wandered up to the lodge's loft, and with colored chalk, began to list the places and things in which I sense God's presence. Just taking in the list reminded me of the healing Christ has brought to my heart, and the subsequent joy I have experienced.

"It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in." - CS Lewis

And the result of the quiet, and sitting surrounded by forests and nature, and just listening was this. My Father asked me quite simply, "Am I enough for you?"

-Am I enough for you if you never have a child?
-Am I enough for you, or do you need a new car?
-Am I enough for you, or do you need a seminary degree completed on your timetable?
-Am I enough for you, or will you fill yourself with sugar to replace me?
-Am I enough for you, or will you try to control life instead of depending on me to provide what's needed?
-Am I enough for you, or will you pressure your husband to be "god to you" as well?
-Am I enough for you, or will you persist in worrying over things in which you have no control?

Am...I...enough? Yes, Lord, you are. You're enough every minute of the day and the night. You're enough when I'm lonely and when my love-tank is filled to the brim. You're enough when I'm grieving, enough when I'm doing laundry, enough when I'm dreaming, enough when I'm serving, enough when I lay my head down on the pillow each night. In fact, I'll go one step the extra bread at the feeding of the 5,000 signified, you are more than enough.

When was the last time you experienced focused time with God, with no agenda and a heart that was quiet enough to hear his voice? What was the result?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Surprised by prayer

Recently, I've been praying the Lord's Prayer (also known as the disciples' prayer) regularly. And I've been touched by the sentence, "Your will be done--on earth, as it is in heaven." As I've prayed, my heart has cried out, Lord, may your justice and love rise up here in the hearts of those who love you; I long for you to take joy in what is happening here with the image-bearers you've created. Your will be done, right here and right now!

And in saying this, I am longing for purity and righteousness. I am asking that people be drawn to repent of their sins and receive the love of a Risen Savior. I want desperately for the broken to be tended to, loved, for orphans and widows to be cared for, and for those in prison to be visited. For those addicted to substitutes for real joy to be healed and set free.

That leads me to my other prayer of late. I have led a Bible study for women in drug and alcohol addiction recovery for almost a year now. The sweetness of Jesus comes and hangs out in each Scripture read, in each truth applied to sorrow and sin, in each hug extended as though my arms were the arms of our Savior. But...I've needed help. For over six months, I've been praying for another woman with love and maturity to help with the study, to mentor women who want to go deeper, to add her heart and her mind to the cause. I told prayer warriors about this, I mentioned it to people I felt God might speak to, but nothing.

A few weeks ago, I grew impatient. Why, Lord? Why wouldn't you send someone to help these women? They are desperate for you! That day, I wrestled with God and mentioned to my husband my growing discouragement. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to learn that same day a woman emailed the facility asking if she could start a Bible study there. The director said "We already have one, but I believe the leader is looking for help."

Was I ever. And so, within two days I met with God's provision, and she took over that Sunday while I was out preaching. And now she's helping to mentor these women in need. And I just keep smiling when I think about it. I wonder, "Did that just happen?" And God says, smiling, Yes, my child. I know what you need and when you need it. I see you. 

This week's Bible study filled up and filled over the allotted time, as the women wrestled with God's Word, asking profound questions, sharing deeply from their hearts, wondering about the difference Jesus can make in one individual life. And I said, Yes, Lord! Your will be done right here on earth as it is in heaven.

Your turn. What does the Lord's Prayer mean to you? Are you surprised when God answers your prayer--or not?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Why Women Matter to God" sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

Here it is, friends. A message delivered last Sunday on Mother's Day. Please, spread the message far and wide. God has created every girl and woman in His image, as an ezer (Hebrew word in Genesis 2:18)--a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer in His Kingdom.

Is this message new to you? Comment below on the implications of every girl and woman being created as God's image-bearer and a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer in His Kingdom. Look forward to conversing here!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My first church sermon

*NOTE: There was a hiccup with the audio file to this sermon. Thanks for your patience. The audio file will be posted here yet this week.*

Last Sunday, I preached for the first time in a church. It was a big deal, a game-changer in my life, if you will. And then again, it was as natural as breathing. Is this how one knows when she has found a sweet spot? A place where the world's hunger and a person's giftedness and passion meets?

Pastor Jim Kane, me, and David
The title of the sermon was "Why Women Matter to God," and in it we turned to the Genesis Creation story. We unpacked the amazing truth that we are made in the very image of God, of being created as God's ezers (the Hebrew word used when God created Eve), and we discussed how women are desperately needed in God's Kingdom.

The central truth: "Women are part of God's Plan A, fully equipped to do his good work."

One woman, who looked to be about 80, said afterwards: "Thank you--you helped me realize I'm still worth something." And my heart soared. I addressed the young girls in attendance, as well as the grown-up woman, and in a moment at the end as I asked the "ladies" to stand for a prayer of blessing, the girls elbowed each other until they stood up as well. A woman is an ezer--a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer--from the cradle to the grave, and I wanted all of them to know it. Our heavenly Father's intentions for His daughters were made known on Sunday, thanks be to God!

But there was also something happening in my heart, something I find hard to articulate. I know many dear brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe a woman should preach in church--and quite honestly, many of them use particular Scriptures to back up their views. I understand where they are coming from, though of course I don't believe those passages, set in very particular contexts, mean that at all.

What I am trying to say is the road to my first sermon has been costly to me personally. But when I walked up to the front of the auditorium on Sunday, none of that mattered. It didn't enter my mind in the least. Instead of being silenced, I was set free to simply expound the Word of God to his sons and to his daughters.

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all peoples. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."Acts 2:17-18

As I stood up to preach on Sunday, the prayers of many undergirded me, and I knew there were other women around the world approaching the pulpit as well. I know this because some of them have emailed or commented following the article on The Gifted for Leadership blog, and they remind me that being gifted to preach or teach is about faithfulness. A simple willingness to be used by God, to be obedient no matter what others think.

I have yet to meet a woman who is a leader in ministry for the wrong reasons. I'm sure there are some, but by and large, the women I meet have sacrificed greatly to use the gifts and express the calling God has traced on their hearts. It is not easy, but they choose faithfulness. Many of them switch denominations, lose friends or family relationships, and take poor-paying jobs that no one wants so they can serve the Lord with their gifts. I admire them—and though I don't know the specifics of what God is calling me to do yet, I pray for grace to simply obey.

Your turn. Do you believe women should fully use whatever gifts God has given them? If you do, are you still somewhat uncomfortable when a woman gets up to preach? Let's discuss with kindness and charity.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pain as a Platform: My Article on Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership blog

In just three days, I will preach my first church sermon on Mother's Day. This in itself is a big deal, an earth-shattering experience of sorts. But the fact that I battle infertility ups the ante and has caused me to seek out answers to a woman's identity from God's Word.

The result is the sermon I will preach on Sunday, "Why Women Matter to God," to all of God's daughters. (Yes, I will try to post the audio to this sermon after Mother's Day.)

Read my article "Leading in the Midst of Woundedness" on Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership blog for the rest of the story.

What about you? Are you leading or living from a place of pain? How has God transformed your areas of woundedness into opportunities for ministry?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pastoral leadership perspective #3: He's a visionary

Anthony Payton, Come As You Are  Community Church
I once bumped into Pastor Anthony Payton at Starbucks. My friend Brooke and I were sitting right behind his table, chatting away about seminary stuff, and womanhood, and who knows what else. We were going a hundred miles an hour. I can't imagine what he must have been thinking of us as he tried to prepare his sermon for the following Sunday.

When I went to the restroom, Brooke struck up a conversation with him, and the rest is history. We learned he was working on a series titled "God's got an app for that," and we talked about seminary and ministry...and how God moved him from the mental health field to start a church. I think there were 12 people at the beginning, including his own family. Fifteen years later, there are about 600 people. As you can imagine, God took Anthony Payton's "OK, Lord," and ran with it.

Specifically, God built Rev. Payton as a visionary and an entrepreneur—and through an amazing story of recovery from addiction and faith in Christ, he gave him a platform and a ministry.

On Vision:
As Pastor Payton pointed out, churches that are predominately African-American in attendance tend to be pastor-centric, or based on the pastor's vision and leadership. For Anthony, this meant spending one week alone praying for God's vision for the ministry before it even started. The mission statement is reviewed every  Sunday morning: Teaching saved souls to reach lost souls, by becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. The vision hasn't changed, except as it is influenced by the people the church had versus those they now have. For seven years, they sang with taped tracks only, a great sacrifice for their church. They started in a 3,000 square foot building, and now they own a 12,000 sf building where they lease out space to a charter school to pay down their debt. Anthony's goal: to transform their neighborhood as "their Jerusalem"—using the church's resources to reach people in their local area.

On Mentoring:
Not many people can say they've been training their eventual replacement for five years. Anthony has. In fact, he believes it's every pastor's responsibility to mentor his or her replacement. He also mentors young pastors in Brazil through mission trips, and he works to stay connected with the younger generation in his church, and to encourage their men and women in mentoring opportunities. Anthony believes he spends 75-80% of his time developing leaders.

On Being a Change Agent in the Community:
Anthony's vision to create a welcoming church that would become multicultural continues. That's why he sought out a retired Caucasian pastor and regularly invites people of different ethnicities into the church doors. When the church had the opportunity to buy an abandoned building, they did--then rented it out to businesses run by people of different ethnic groups. His philosophy: develop fully-devoted followers of Christ to launch them out to other places and ministries, as God calls.

Anthony's current challenge? Stop the flow of vision for awhile so the Lord can send people to administrate and oversee the ministries currently in place. While he waits, he continues to guide through his primary ministry of teaching and preaching.

Current leadership reading list:
The Law of Respect by John Maxwell
21 Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John Maxwell
favorite pick: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Frank I. Luntz

For pastoral leadership perspectives #1 and #2, click below:
perspective #1, Carla: She's a connector
perspective #2, Jim: He's an innovator

What are your thoughts on a pastor-centric church versus an elder-or-congregation led church? What other visionary/entrepreneurial opportunities have worked for a church near you? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Important Review of Love Wins

Last week, I downloaded Love Wins to my Kindle. My husband and I started reading it together, a chapter here, a chapter there.

This book isn't even up for discussion in my seminary—it appears people assume Rob Bell is a heretic, so they simply don't want to read the book at all, or to enter into a discussion about it. "Rob Bell doesn't believe in Scripture." The end. And this, I fear, leads to an unhelpful climate, where we as Christians pretend we and others around us aren't asking questions about salvation, the questions about who is "in" and who is "out." Because people are asking these questions, for sure. The question is, will we be prepared to answer them?

I haven't finished the book myself yet, so reviewing it would be pointless. But I have gleaned some important insight into Love Wins from New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight. Scot considers himself an Anabaptist and knows the intricacies of the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures as well as the Greek language, so he has incisive insights into Rob Bell's claims. Where they make sense biblically, and where his reasoning and approach fall short of the Bible's claims on the subjects of heaven and hell.

In the end, my hope is that Love Wins will drive us back to the Bible, where we discover a God who is both just and merciful. And a world that desperately needs us to embody the whole gospel—the love of Christ through our actions and through presenting the gospel, so that each person who chooses to can be saved through Christ.

Here is Scot's 6-part review:
Love Wins 1 - orthodox?
Love Wins 2 - hell
Love Wins 3 - questions
Love Wins 4 - where is heaven?
Love Wins 5 - hell
Love Wins 6 - universalism or libertarian free will?

Have you read Love Wins? Why do you believe the book has provoked so much controversy? What does a Christlike response to the book look like?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Half the Church Giveaway Winner

I desperately wish I could send all of you a copy, but some of you will need to buy this one for yourself. The winner is....Brenda M.! Brenda, email me your address at suzanneburden @, and I'll send you the book.

Thank you, Martie, Holly, Brenda, Tom, Cal, Rebecca, Pam, blu wings, and Kaye. And now, your chance to watch two short videos that relate to men and women being set free to use their gifts together for God's Kingdom. Please watch and sound off on what you think by commenting.

The Half the Church video:

For more information on Half the Church, listen in to the 10-part Moody Midday Connection podcasts with author Carolyn Custis James here.

What do you think? What remains to be done to help men and women work together effectively for God's Kingdom?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Half the Church book review and giveaway: comment to win!

*Giveaway open Wednesday, April 6 to Friday, April 8 - post a comment to enter (details below)*

This author has impacted my current journey into ministry more than any other. If that's not praise enough, in her new book Half the Church, Carolyn Custis James asks a bold and timely question about the body of Christ:

"Can the body do what it was created to do—can it even survive—if half of the body isn't fully functioning and the rest of the body is deprived of their ministries?"

Zondervan, Hardcover, $18.99

Here's why I believe you should read the book:
There are thousands of women often cited as exceptions who have fully owned their identity as God's full image-bearers and as "ezers" -- the strong Hebrew word God used when He created Eve, calling his daughters forth as warriors. (It is usually translated "helper," but a deeper study reveals there is more there than meets the eye.) I'm not talking about feminist theology, I'm talking about a strong biblical mandate for each of us to take an honest look at the Bible to determine who God says we are and what he is calling us to as women. As we join with our brothers as partners in bringing the gospel (both truth and acts of compassion and justice) to the broken around the world, we will rock God's Kingdom. Starting of course, in our homes and backyards. What could happen if we answer the call? This book will answer questions you didn't even know you had.

Here's the review I posted on amazon:
Carolyn Custis James' carefully-honed theology offers a razor-sharp look at God's vision for all of his daughters. What works for the Western middle-class women in the church pew must also work for the millions of women globally who suffer from sex-trafficking, forced marriage, genital mutilation, and more--or it doesn't work at all. The holistic gospel is the answer, and Half the Church proves it is possible to move past the tired complementarian/egalitarian debates to embrace God's indisputable blueprint for his image-bearers around the world. A must-read.

View the book video trailer here. Follow author Carolyn Custis James' blog here

And here's your chance to win the book! Comment below by Friday, April 8, telling me why you want to read Half the Church. I'll pick a winner and announce by the end of the week. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

"I will wait for you"

A video for "single Christian ladies" that moved me to tears. I may not agree with this sister's every word, but in the main, she gets it and she's expressed the expectant ache of a Christian single desiring marriage...breathtakingly, achingly beautiful.

What moved you about this video? What do you agree or disagree with--both biblically and personally?

Friday, April 1, 2011

She shines: one woman in Nigeria

*Every so often, I'll post "she shines" stories, featuring one woman God is using in His kingdom.*

Last night, Wycliffe Bible translator Rachelle Wenger blew me away. She rushed into our class with some of her Mennonite family members in tow--in a skirt, with a beautiful scarf wrapped around her hair as a head covering and a face that radiated joy.

In a class of 25 people, you could have heard a pin drop.

Rachelle is in white at the front of the photo. (
Rachelle explained that she is a 35-year-old missionary in Nigeria, where she ministers to the nomadic Fulani people, who are mainly Muslim. Her main work? Translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into the Fulani language. To accomplish this feat, she trained with Wycliffe and learned the Fulani language, but she also attended Hebrew University in Israel where she learned to speak and write fluent Hebrew. She also happens to know Greek--but only to write it, not to speak it fluently. And she says everyone should apply themselves to learn the biblical languages.

Her talk was colored with stories of tricky translation issues, with the joy of seeing some elements of the Old Testament culture firsthand in Nigeria, and with the adventure of engaging two Fulani to help her in translation efforts.

Many times she is the only Westerner in her area, but when asked if she ever feels isolated, she said no. The Fulani have loved and accepted her so well, although she is different, that she feels peace and joy in her work. I got the feeling Rachelle was born for this.

When I approached her afterward to thank her and to tell her how she shines with God's love, I mentioned that I knew very few women who are interested in studying biblical languages, and she seemed surprised. I mentioned that we need more women to learn them and to offer their unique perspectives on biblical scholarship, and she was unfazed. "Everyone should do this," she said. "Man or woman."

You can't fit Rachelle Wenger into a box or a category. I won't even try. But you can see her mind and her heart are wrapped up in a glorious calling that only the God of the universe could have prepared her for. Now I am happy to say I know a female Hebrew scholar, who resides in West Africa, with a calling that cannot be questioned.

Do you feel it's important to learn the biblical languages? In your opinion, what keeps many women (and men) from attempting this?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Half the Church: Book Review & Giveaway Coming April 6

I just closed Half the Church. The book cover, that is. After reading Carolyn Custis James' latest book, I can say that it will clearly be my favorite book of the year. This paragraph alone may tell you why:
"When half the church holds back--whether by choice or because we have no choice--everybody loses and our mission suffers setbacks. Tragically, we are squandering the opportunity to display to an embattled world a gospel that causes both men and women to flourish and unites us in a Blessed Alliance that only the presence of Jesus can explain. 
-Half the Church
We are living in a time when women have unprecedented opportunity--but men and women are still trying to figure out how to work together best in their homes, in their workplace...and especially in the church. Perhaps, like me, you will read Half the Church and come to believe that the gospel transcends the roles and categories with which we like to define ourselves.

God's Kingdom is advancing. The question is, are men and women cooperating in a fashion in which the body of Christ will simply limp along...or will we come together to do battle, presenting the whole gospel to the whole world?

Your turn. Biblically speaking, what do you believe is God's primary mission for women in His Kingdom?

Come back next Wednesday, April 6, to win a copy of Half the Church. (valued at $18.99)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pastoral leadership perspective #2: He's an networker

Jim flew this Diamond Eclipse for 30 minutes. A gift from his congregation!

When it comes to talking about himself, Pastor Jim Kane is decidedly understated. As a senior pastor of a rural congregation—First Church of God in Kendallville, Indiana—Jim has a surprising commitment to studying cutting-edge leadership in the church. In fact, he’s probably read more books on leadership than almost anyone I know, save a couple of professors. He’s also quite attached to his IPad, and you can easily connect with him on twitter. I know—you like him already, right?

The first thing I noticed about Jim is his focus on reciprocity. That’s a big word that simply means he seeks out and grows through interactions with others—and in turn, he’d like to encourage you to grow, too. We met up first on twitter, where Jim contacted me about grantwriting for his church. I encouraged him to seek out another person for his grant, but that one Skype call led to two growth opportunities for me: 1) I asked to interview Jim for my leadership paper; and 2) Jim asked me to preach at his church. As you can see, Jim is not only a networker and encourager, he is also brave.

Leadership in a Rural Church:
Jim pastors a church that almost shut its doors in 1999; he started his ministry there in 2000. Citing a resource that says a rural church takes about 15 years to turn around, Jim sees slow but steady growth in numbers—and more importantly, a change in the spiritual temperature of the church. As he models leadership for the church, he crafts his 30-minute sermons to include some evangelism, but mostly discipleship, as he teaches them how to become all God has created them to be. Additionally, Jim recognized the need to attract young people to the church and started a second service where a group of teens now lead contemporary worship music.

On Being a Change Agent:
Jim believes the core of the Christian life is about change: as we center on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ we proclaim change to the world. Jim does this through preaching, he does this through involvement in the community, and he encourages a “flattened-out” leadership approach”—informally mobilizing those with leadership gifts to offer what they have to the church. He’s an “early adopter,” always reading to learn about new ways to attract leaders to growth and service opportunities.

Advice for New Church Leaders:
For some reason, Jim’s simple answer to “listen” first sticks with me. He spent a year visiting attenders of his small, struggling congregation to get down to the pulse of the church, to listen to them so he could effectively lead them.

Current Reading List:

Blogs He Follows:
-Will Mancini Clarity Evangelist -
-Michael Hyatt (CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers) -
-Samuel Bacharach (Professor of Labor Management, Cornell University) -
-Alan Fadling (Spiritual Direction and Leadership Development) -

Find Rev. Jim Kane on twitter.

Pastoral leadership perspective #3 coming soon: Anthony Payton

Your turn. What can you do in your sphere of influence to initiate change for Christ? Let's hear your tiny, small, medium-sized, and super-sized ideas, please. (Can I have fries with that?)

Monday, March 14, 2011

What the "Big-C" Church Does Right--and What We Need to Change

Last week I got a birds-eye view into the North American Church. I peered into its denominations and the temperature of its services and its methods. I came back smiling—and the next minute asking myself how we can do better, how we can get it right.

My friend, author Don Piper (90 Minutes in Heaven), met David and me last week at Starbucks as he was passing through town. It was a real thrill to get to visit with him again. Don is a New York Times Bestselling Author, and his true story of death and life has captivated millions. (If that sounds like a spiel, it's because I marketed his book for three years while working at Baker Publishing Group. I thought the book sounded crazy myself until I actually read it.)

For the past several years, this former Southern Baptist pastor has been traveling around the country (and the world) talking about heaven and about what it takes to be right with God. He's spoken in megachurches and tiny churches--Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian, Lutheran, the list goes on. You name it--he's preached there. He's got a way of fitting in wherever he goes, and I truly believe God's gifted him in this way.

So our questions to him were: What about the Big-C Church encourages you the most? What most needs to be improved?

Don was excited as he shared that people of all denominations are becoming more accepting of each other and their differences. For instance, he can tell a Baptist that he was at a charismatic church, and they will be excited for him, in many cases, and ask about his ministry there. Don speaks 200-300 x per year, so his observations are based on thousands of encounters. The church, he feels, is becoming more accepting of believers from all denominations.

But what needs to be improved? Don has noticed we are missing a "clarion call." We're missing a clear message to the world of what it means to be a Christ-follower and to join God's Kingdom. As my husband likes to say, the church should be "majoring on the majors, and minoring on the minors." And that is the problem, according to Don's observations. We're not doing that. We're muddying the waters, throwing in this and that, instead of clarifying the gospel for a world who desperately needs it.

So that's the bad news. The good news is that God has a plan to fix that. It involves you and me and everyone who has received Christ's love. We are to clarify the gospel, to be Jesus with skin on. We are the change.

In my humble opinion (and I believe I have Scripture on my side), we won't do that through politics. We won't do it through alienating people we don't agree with by legislating morality. We can only do it through loving. We can only do it through sacrifice and the modeling and teaching of repentance and restoration. We can only do it through loving the broken, as Jesus has called us to do. This is our clarion call. This is our Kingdom business. For better or worse, we are the workers God has chosen to get the job done. I pray we get it right.

Your turn. What do you think the Church is doing right? What do we need to improve on?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pastoral leadership perspective #1: She's a connector

Mention Carla Sunberg and most people in the Nazarene denomination probably know who she is. What makes her stick out from the pack is her tireless vision to see God's Kingdom advance and to shepherd His children to deepen their walk with Christ. She's fluent in three languages and currently pursuing her Ph.D in Historical Theology. (Her thesis: the influence of the Cappadocian church mothers on the early church.)

I suppose what makes her stick out all the more is that she's a pastor--and she's also a girl. For the majority of evangelical churches, that is an oxymoron. But that's not the point of this post. I'm simply naming the elephant in the room. For three years now, Carla has been modeling to me what it means to use leadership gifts in a feminine, life-giving way. I'll be forever grateful. 

She's currently on staff at Grace Point Church of the Nazarene, where she serves as our Evangelism and Discipleship pastor. Here are some of her perspectives on leadership and change in today's church.

Leadership, Decentralized:
While churches all over are instituting formal leadership programs, Carla's approach is organic. She's been reading a book titled The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations—and she's come to see herself as a connector. By spotting the good (and the gifts) in individuals in the church body and bringing them together with people or ministries they may have synergy with, she's decentralizing church leadership. This is a non-forceful approach that offers opportunity by suggestion or invitation. 

On Mentoring and Discipleship:
When Carla and her husband Chuck came to be pastors at our church five years ago, they joined a 75-year-old church with history and habits. Carla soon realized that instead of injecting discipleship opportunities mainly into the lives of well-established members, she'd get farther by inviting in new converts and attendees and discipling them from the start.

This led her to begin teaching a Sunday School class for seekers, new attendees, and those who don't feel comfortable elsewhere. She also started a BASICS class that she calls the DNA of the church: a 5-week opportunity to investigate the importance of the Bible, Accountability, Service, Intercession, and Community in our spiritual walk.

The approach: grow leaders from the bottom up, and they will in turn lead others to enter life with Christ. 

Advice for New Church Leaders:
Carla's helpful advice for new pastors—when they interview you, they say they want change. Most likely, they don't. Go slow, come in and love on your people,  understand their history, and eventually change will happen. "If they know you love them, they will follow you to the moon."

Current Reading List:
-Who Moved My Cheese?  by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Find Rev. Carla Sunberg on facebook.

Pastoral leadership perspective #2 coming soon: Jim Kane

Your turn. How do you feel about the new trend toward decentralized leadership? Any other ideas about effective discipleship efforts in the church?