When Church Is the Cause of Your Hustle

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Last week I was feeling irritable. I was busy. I had a lot of things to do and places to be and I didn’t like it. My soul wanted to rest. You know that feeling? When you realize you crammed a few too many things onto your calendar for the week and you feel the pull? The pull between being committed to things and not wanting to do them at all?

I don’t have scientific evidence to support this, but I would hypothesize that church people tend to feel this more than non-church people because church people tend to pack their calendars stupid full.

I am church people. I do church, and I do it well. This happens when you’re a preacher’s kid and when you generally like church and always have. That’s me. I like church. I like being involved. I like church activities and church people and I’m so thankful for that because I know that’s often not the case for those raised in the church.

But lately, I’ve sense I may be a bit over-involved in the church department. For the past few weeks, the majority of my calendar has been consumed with church-related activities or events. I’m involved in the youth group at my church, I’m part of a new church plant my church is starting in the city of Nashville, and I’m going on a mission trip with the church this summer to Peru. All good things. All wonderful things, really. But lately all my church things have not left me feeling very…Christian.

Instead, I have felt busy, and sort of tired.

I feel like I’m hustling.

And now I’m wondering: If all of my church involvement is not allowing for a Sabbath day or a Sabbath week, am I really being Christ-like? If most of my nights are consumed with spending time at church and with church people, am I really being Christ to others in my community? Could church be the culprit for my hustling these days? Could it be the culprit for my faint evangelistic heart these days?

I am beginning to believe that being less involved in church could be better for me spiritually. I wouldn’t resent my calendar so much. I would be more rested. I would be “in the world” a little more. Out there, God can be so much more real. In my rest, God can be so much more audible.

A part of me believes I could serve better if I did church less.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you opened your church bulletin this Sunday, and instead of seeing the typical “Volunteers Needed” and “Events Coming Up This Week,” there was just this one statement, “Hey church, nothing’s going on this week. Get some rest. Spend time with your people. Spend time with God” ?

Oh, that would be so good for me. It might be so good for you too.

Do You Worship Your Worship Experience?

Dying church I sat in a church I’d never been to on Sunday. It was different from the churches I typically attend for a few reasons. It was much smaller. It didn’t start on time. It was a different denomination. And the big one, the demographic, as far as social class and age, varied greatly, and I wasn’t in the majority. I was there with a friend who sat by me and explained that this church happens 24/7. Sure, they have a Sunday service, he said, but Sunday service is a very small part of this church. It’s not the central event like it is for most churches. Here, people minister to the homeless every day. Their lives reflect Jesus in their interactions with people from all neighborhoods and backgrounds. They worship God outside the church building maybe more than they worship Him inside of it. And all of this made me uncomfortable. It convicted me. I held back tears during the service because of what I realized I’ve let church become for me: a place that makes me feel good. I like churches with amazing worship bands – they make me feel good. I like churches where my friends go – they make me feel good. I like church to be entertaining and the sermon to be engaging – this makes me feel good. I had to stop and ask myself this past Sunday, since when was the church about making me feel good? I asked a few more hard questions after this like, what if all churches looked this way? What if they were a little smaller and didn’t start on time and only had three people in the band but on nights, weekends and weekdays the congregants scoured the streets of their cities and served people who haven’t seen kindness or felt grace in their entire lives? What if the Sunday morning service was ok, but the Monday through Saturday service was life-changing? What if the center of the church was Christ and on the edges was the worship band and the order of events on Sundays? Do I worship Jesus, or do I worship my worship experience? They’re tough questions, but they’re important. This Sunday’s church had the least in attendance, wealth and refinement that I’ve been to in months, but it was one of the richest and deepest services I’ve been a part of, and I felt Jesus’ presence all in it and through it. I know he was there, and I know he was pleased with his people.

Pastors, You’re Doing a Great Job

 

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I’m the only member of my immediate who has never worked in full-time ministry. My little sister, her husband, my dad and my older sister’s husband have all been in or are in full-time ministry. By default, my older sister and mom have also practically been on the church staff full time, as ministers’ wives will understand.

Because of this, I’ve observed a lot about pastors and their jobs and their lives. Part of the reason I’m not in full-time church work is because I know it is very very hard and, honestly, I don’t think I’m cut out for it.

In ministry, the line between work and personal life is almost invisible. That means, you are always on. Responding to a text from a distressed teen after 10pm, going to a graduation party, attending a wedding for a couple in your congregation—these are all good things and normal to the average eye, but in many ways, they are also your work. Going to stuff and having intentional conversations, it’s your job, so you have to be extra good at it. You have to be on.

My job is easy. I work during the day; I shut it off at night. I go to a party if I want to and I don’t go if I don’t want to. And if I go and don’t want to be there, I’m lame and talk to one person and leave. I’m allowed to do this, to make my social life what I want it to be. But for pastors? That’s not really a luxury.

I’ve heard crazy stories about pastors being asked to lunch by members of his congregation only to be berated for his last sermon. I’ve seen people saying mean things about pastors on the internet, shaming them for their mistakes. Getting mad at them for being human and broken, like the rest of us. (To that, all I have to say is, he probably has a daughter, and she could go without seeing and hearing cruel things about her father online.) I’ve seen hints of defeat and tiredness in so many pastors’, youth leaders’ and ministers’ lives. I’ve talked to friends who have felt burned out and depressed. The call to ministry is truly a unique call, and the work of pastors takes more from them than regular types of work.

I sat down with my dad recently to interview him for a story in a magazine. It was fun and weird to really ask my dad about his job. We don’t do this often as children, ask our parents about their day-to-day work, how they got to where they are in their careers. We care more about their job as our parents than we do about their jobs out in the world. My dad has been in full-time ministry for about 37 years. That’s a long time, but there is nowhere he would rather be. He had funny and positive stories to share. It made me think about other kind, humble pastors I’ve come across. For them to still have a positive attitude so many years into the ministry, I’m finally starting to feel blown away by that.

Everyone wants everything from his or her pastor. The single people in the church want to feel included. The married people want to feel included. The children want to feel included. The teens want to feel included. We all want our pastors to give us this special place, just for us. I’ve seen my family members get pulled in different directions and I’ve seen this happen to my friends. Rather than seeking out a place to serve on our own, we want our church leaders to do it for us. When they could really use a note of encouragement, we send them an email criticizing how that weekend’s youth retreat went. They rarely receive encouragement from the people they need it from the most: us, their congregation.

So right now, I’d like to say something to the pastors I know and to the pastors I don’t. You’re going a great job. Truly, you are. You made ten people happy last week and that left two people grumbling in the corner and that’s ok. Don’t worry about them. Don’t about us. We’re grumblers and we’re good at it. I consider your job sacred. Really. I couldn’t do it. Most of us couldn’t do it. Thank you for doing it. For listening to us and reading all the emails and creating lessons and sermons that impacted our lives. Thank you for studying scripture and reading the theology books that I don’t understand. Thank you for being at our stuff and being there for us, our friends, and our kids. Thank you for going to the bedsides of the dying and the baptisms of the living. I don’t know all that you do when you step off the pulpit, how much your job continues throughout the week, but know that your job as a spiritual leader is considered great, and you are doing a great job at it.

The Church that Raised Me

Maybe it’s the onset of the holiday season and Thanksgiving rapidly approaching that has brought on this much-needed wave of gratitude. Not sure what it is. Don’t care. I’m keeping it for as long as my selfish, needy flesh will let me. So while it is in me, allow me to express gratitude to the institution that rarely gets it: the church. My church, in particular. My as in the church I grew up in in San Antonio, Texas.

My church experience is similar and different from anyone’s who can not remember not going to church. A preacher’s daughter, I was at church on Sunday morning. And Sunday night. And Wednesday night and other times during the week to visit dad at his office and on weekends for retreats and over spring break with the youth group, at camp in the summer. My family was the last to leave after service let out. I knew where the communion cups were hidden and the communion crackers were stored and sometimes snacked on them with my friends while we waited for our parents to stop talking to “EVERYbody.”

When you’re like me and my sisters, you know every back hallway and sunday school classroom. Which one has the closet with the felt boards and felt people. The rough, light blue fabric on the pew may as well be the floral fabric on the couch in your living room–both as familiar as the other. Church, for me, was not a place of worship; it was my second home. Everyone knew who I was, it seemed, and I knew who most of them were too.

And I am deeply and forever grateful for all of it. For all of the hours spent with all of those church people. I hear a lot from my generation about how the church has messed with our thinking, how it may have presented us with faulty theology in our formative years. We are recovering from the churches that raised us. Trying to re-learn and re-do the right way. I have felt this before, but I’m beginning to see things differently.

In all of this complaining we do about our church history, it’s like we are awaiting some big apology. An apology from the people and place that taught us the only lesson worth teaching, the only story worth retelling again and again and again as many times as is physically possible: the gospel. Well, I don’t want the people that taught me the lesson of my life to apologize for anything.

No, instead I want to thank them and, even though this sounds strange, I almost want to thank the building and place itself. For it was within those walls that I met Jesus. And it was within those walls that I got to know him. That is no small gift.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Church Leadership?

In the early church, women were allowed to attend. This was big news for women then. They were so excited to go to church where they could worship the recently risen Christ that they chatted a lot amongst themselves and were a bit of a disruption. Sounds familiar. Women were chatty then; we’re chatty now. The apostle Paul told them to be quiet once in a letter and now we get all offended. I was offended until my mom explained that context to me just a few weeks ago. Incredible what a bit of context can do. And what the lack of it can do.

But context isn’t really my point. This is my blog; not my biblical studies thesis. (I never wrote one those and I’m sure it’s obvious.) The point is I have a pattern of subconsciously choosing to ignore the parts of the Bible I felt told me I could’t lead or speak out because I am a woman. And then often I was, at some point by some wise teacher along the way, proven that my interpretation of that scripture was wrong, like that one in 1 Peter about wives and maybe some others I can’t remember right now.

So I don’t think the Bible tells us to be quiet, but growing up I went to a church led mostly by men and saw other churches led mostly by men so I superimposed my cultural experience into my scripture. I’m very good at this. Then I went to church in England and noticed that the quietest I was in church–my mind, my heart, everything was so quiet–was when our pastor’s wife spoke. And she spoke, it seemed, almost as often as he did. And when she prayed, the air was thick with anticipation and quiet as stone because her voice practically melted into us in a way that made us all certain everything she prayed was going to be, at that instant.

 

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman in: Feminist Society? (Part I)

Last week I told you I would be tackling the tough question of what the role of a Christian woman is. I’m starting to wonder if this is what this year’s series has been leading up. If maybe this is the question I’ve been trying to get at all along. I’ve asked it to myself so many times in so many different ways. Especially this one: Where should I stand on the issue of feminism in today’s society?

My first core English class in college began to make me unafraid of the “f” word. Until then, I equated feminism with words like “anger,” “no-bra,” “self-reliance,” an overall I-don’t-need-you/don’t-mess-with-me mentality. But, before he assigned us to read extremely complex explanations by thinkers like Adrienne Rich and Gayatri Spivak, my professor gave a very simple explanation of feminism: It is the belief the women are entitled to an education and a career. Hm. This definition did not seem scripturally astray. Nor did it sound scary. It sounded like me. And probably sounds like you. We don’t burn bras; we just believe women have gifts that translate outside the home.

So it surprised me when a girl in my class chimed into the discussion complaining about feminists. Hadn’t we decided the modern definition is harmless? Not to her. She didn’t want to be in college. She didn’t want to be in class. She was only here because of the societal pressure to gain an education. When what she desired was marriage and a family. Something attainable without a degree.

I was mad at her. How could she not appreciate where she was, what she had, all that she could be? In college, the possibilities are endless: so much to learn and try and succeed and fail at. Even being an “intern” sounds like a glamorous opportunity. And after hundreds of years with this door of possibilities closed to our gender, here she was wishing it hadn’t been opened. How embarrassingly regressive of her.

Or was it just me? As soon as I got mad at her, I saw my own aggression and recoiled at it. In undergard I placed this unreasonable pressure on myself to make perfect grades, be an active member on campus and use my summers to either further my education or get job experience. I was not chill by any means. Looking back, I realize I was striving desperately to prove myself and that my gender in no way hindered my intelligence or capabilities.

I didn’t know what the right reaction to this student’s complaint was, but I knew mine was wrong and for some reason grated against my Christian nature. What does Jesus really say about this issue? I had never asked him before because I didn’t see the Bible as a place to learn about feminism.

Now, I believe scripture explains feminism better than Rich or Spivak ever could. What exactly does it say? I’ll explore that next week.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman?

A question I began asking myself long before I began this series in January. It’s loaded. That may be one answer to it agreed upon by all. That may be the one thing I know for sure about it. It’s one I wasn’t sure I would address this year. My thoughts are scattered. They change daily. Sometimes I have it all figured out and am at peace with my gender’s role in my faith and in my culture. Then I hear or read something that returns me to square one, wondering what my role is, how much of a role I have and if my opinions are even loosely based on biblical principles. Sometimes they are but I’m seeing more and more that they often aren’t.

I’m not going to answer this question in one post. That’s impossible. I have too many specific role questions: What is my role as a female in the church? What is my role as the female in a relationship? What is my role as a female in the family setting? In work? In writing? I won’t cover all of these, unless I feel extremely compelled, but I will address some.

It’s so important to understand someone’s lenses when understanding how she might address this type of question. For me, that’s a lens of a twenty-something, single, raised in the evangelical church and encouraged to pursue my wildest dreams by both my parents. My mom was a stay-at-home once she started having us. My dad has always worked. The women in my extended family are about split: some are stay-at-home moms, others work. I never felt pressured to be one thing or the other. There was always talk about “when I had a family” and there was always talk about “when I had a job in the real world.”

Basically, I was raised in a family that spans the spectrum of what the female role in society and church can look like. I’m grateful for that diverse environment. I realize that it created the freedom I have now to even explore this question. But no matter how free that environment may have been for some of us, it could never free us from cultural stigmas or expectations. The things that make us wonder about all of this. The things that make up definitions to words and phrases like “feminism,” “sex,” “separate but equal.”

I’m not sure if a more confusing message exists than that of what role women should play. What is right? What is wrong? What is sinful? What is honoring?

I’m afraid to say this, but I feel I have to: Let’s discuss.