Seminaries must change

On one hand I want to tell every young person or every person thinking of ditching his or her career for ministry to run and run far.

On the other hand…I know how great it can be! I know it matters in the world. I know God is still active and calling people. I know the church was not my idea, or your idea…it was God’s idea.

Now what church looks like is a matter for another post. My point here, training is still needed. And maybe, just maybe we, who are trainers, need to figure out how to do it better for the world in which we live instead of the nostalgic fiction our institutions purport. Maybe that will help us stop blaming each other for the demise of something that I am not convinced was ever as good as others claim.

Looks like I’m not the only one having these thoughts.

Women in Ministry- CYMT style

My friends at CYMT.org have done it again! Great reads on women in ministry and I was lucky enough to be one of the people asked to write. Check out the wisdom from women who have been there, survived, still love Jesus and the church. Each has a unique story, each will leave you thinking and encouraged. Enjoy!

Ministry and Training- what’s your story?

 

Career-Crossroads

There is no question that higher education is shifting beneath our feet. Many seminaries are struggling. Many others are flush with students but those students aren’t able to find viable positions upon graduation.

What happened?

This is not a rhetorical question. I really am curious.

I can name many amazing young students who were excited about ministry, longing to serve the Lord, well aware of the sacrifices and difficulties that were possible but also the joys and impact they could make. Unfortunately I can also now count well into double digits the number of those who are no longer in ministry and for many, not even part of the church. I want to be careful, I am also aware for some, life patterns change. Calling changes… and ministry might not be in a church. That is fine. I am talking about the numerous e-mails and calls I get from those still longing to serve, trained to serve and for a variety of reasons not doing so.

I can think of more than one bright, hard working student who I witnessed serving but he or she was never able to find an actual, viable job. And I am not talking unrealistic expectations. More like, needing enough pay to live a modest life AND pay off student loans accrued while training for ministry.

I can’t help but wonder what we did well in preparation and what was done poorly. What do you wish had been covered? Would what was taught have made a difference? Was it relationships that made the difference? Did we prepare enough for real life in ministry? Was it something that took place in seminary? A weekend training? Mentoring? What went right and what went wrong?

I am working with a group who is gravely concerned over such issues. We see amazing ministers have to leave vocational ministry in order to make ends meet after loans get the best of them. I meet people all the time knowing they need more training, wanting more but either unable to absorb the cost or fearful that it will be a waste of time.

Finally, I repeatedly have conversations with those who have had their lives torpedoes by other “Christians”. They are still seeking resurrection of their own lives feeling blindsided by those who should have been the most grace filled. This final category will receive its own post in the upcoming days in a series titled “Surviving Christians”.

So what about you?  What went right and what went wrong in training AND in ministry?

Please forward this on. Ask people you know to respond. Either in comments or contact me directly. I really want to know. I really want to be a part of the solution and not simply knowing that we are leaving lives and souls shipwrecked in the wake of ministerial training that just sin’t working. I also want to learn what is working…what do we need to keep and do more?

I look forward to hearing from you!

An advent- for advent

Holidays can be harsh. The shiny glitz for many seems to only bring into sharp relief how hard their life currently is. In this one week I have been with people doing the best they can in the face of broken families, custody struggles, suicide, prostitution and porn addiction. Tis the season! Add to this the grief my own family is walking through and it can be difficult to remember that these days are intended to be holy, set apart. For all of these reasons and more, it only seems appropriate to spend a little time looking forward to the hope that is to come. It’s easier to write a blog post about what I am against. Using some manner of snark or sarcasm to tear someone or something else apart. I’m just not into that. It seems there are plenty of others who live in that space. I’m not saying I will never critique someone or something, but for now, for today I want to be more known for what I am for than against.

With this in mind…I offer five things for advent that I just love. Five things that really do impact daily life as well as the bigger picture of the holiday season. May you find something here to spur you on to love and good deeds, to knowing you are God’s beloved child with whom He is well pleased.

1) Devotions for Advent– Hands down, my favorite seasonal devotional! Tyndale put this together a few years ago and it is great. Thoughtful, beautiful and interactive. Thanks for a grown up devotional that is not maudlin or tired. Still time to check it out on the PDF or order online. Totally worth it!

2) How to curb that list- A few years ago a good friend offered this phrase to help us re-focus Christmas, especially when it comes to gifts. “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” It certainly cuts down on the insanity of shopping and forces choices for the best gifts instead of simply more. **Note- grandparents are exempt whether you want them to be or not, they will ignore you. ***Note- I still cheat and fill the stockings with whatever I can get in.

3) Countdown to Christmas-Love, Love, Love this!! A family, interactive devotional for kids but doesn’t make you as the parent want to gouge your eyes out. You will want to read at least a day ahead to prep but nothing is terribly difficult and for the few that need supplies, they can be found around the house.

4) Paper Chain Countdown- Write out the Christmas story from the gospels and divide it into 25 sections (Matthew 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20). Format these on a regular sheet of paper with at least 4 lines of space between and print. Cut the passages into strips and make a paper chain. Each morning, read on portion of the story. With children, review everyday as you unfold the entire story. For adults, this is a great lectio devina to do each day.

5) Whether you like Veggie Tales or not, they have some good stuff for families and I am not ashamed to know the entire opening jingle. St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving has become a favorite of my girls. While this is not Classic Veggie Tales (which is the dividing line for some) it is entertaining and with conversation from family, it is a great tool! Do’t look for complete historical accuracy. What you will find is a way to open conversation for why we give presents on the birthday of Jesus in a way that keeps Jesus as the center AND allows for participation in the culture in which we live. For those of you who tell your toddlers there is no Santa, this is not for you. Also, please kindly stay away from my children. I am just fine with a little fantasy knowing this too shall pass.

6) Bonus Item- I’m pretty excited! I already love our intergenerational class at church. In part because the people are great!! In part because we are always going through really interesting stuff. This year, we are looking at Advent Conspiracy. I’ll let you know on the other side how it goes but if you want to check it out ahead of time, follow the link.

Violence and the “Bad Ass Jesus”

It’s national Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’ve been stewing about what to write all month. Raising awareness and fighting violence has long been a passion of mine. This month however I’ve struggled to find what to say. I’ve struggled as I keep reading the statistics that don’t seem to end.

I’ve struggled in particular as I read continuously about Christians, about ministers, about pastors and I think back on the ministers and Christians in my life who have abused others or who have been abusive to me. Turns out, my beloved youth pastor from when I was a teen had multiple girlfriends and indiscretions. I have been on staff with a denomination that uses scripture to keep women “in their place” even recalling a guest speaker at the baptist church I attended who said a woman who remains faithful through abuse, physical and sexual violence from her husband honors the Lord as she becomes a witness leading him to salvation. I asked at that time how long she must endure the violence? I was told until her husband was saved and she would find peace knowing his eternal security was worth all of her pain.

I read this past week about Mark Driscoll’s “Bad Ass Jesus”. Let me be clear…I am not saying Driscoll advocates abuse, but his machismo approach certainly allows for it. See his recent post on pacifism…at least his caricature of it. In a world where it is de rigueur to read or here about violence, abuse, bullying, suicide and murder all around minor disagreements, WE, the church MUST speak out against violence. For many of us we were taught that turning the other cheek was THE only response. (See my article at CYMT this week). It’s not.

Driscoll and those who follow his ilk of Christianity are not right. It demeans men and women. If anything, Christianity embracing a hyper-masculine, violent ideology is advocating a faith that looks more and more like the world and less and less like Jesus. It is in fact, not Christianity. There is nothing about it that resembles Eph. 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of Christ as beloved Children”

Lest you think this is not an issue…check out Watch Keep. I’ve written about Amy’s story before. She was let go from being a long term youth worker volunteer as she insisted on advocating against violence. That was just this past summer (2013). We have a problem and we must speak up.

I’m not typically a fan of bumper sticker theology but I must admit…I like the one that says “When Jesus said love your enemies, I’m pretty sure he meant don’t kill them.”

Death comes in many forms. Sometimes to the body, sometimes to the soul. Jesus came that we may have LIFE! As this month closes, perhaps we need to shift from considering advocacy for peace once a year to all year. From reducing the numbers of those impacted by abuse, To looking at the world and believing that the Prince of Peace is indeed the one who guides our steps, words and actions.

When Jesus is the only one who makes sense

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 “To people who are beaten down or befuddled by religious rules, Jesus offers something that no one else does: rest.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” he says.

And he sums up the entirety of complex and confusing religious laws with this: “Love God, and love your neighbor.”

Beautiful. Even children can understand that.

The Bible tells a story about a man who approaches Jesus and admits that he has faith, but also strong doubts.

“Help me in my unbelief,” he asks Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t blast him. He loves him. To me, Jesus is the only one who really makes any sense.”

Sound like this could apply to you? Check out the entire post here…Fantastic!

Years ago I was asked to write a statement for a ministry which specifically included friends with disabilities. I thought then that I was writing something that would be unique to that ministry. What I quickly learned was that I wrote better theological pieces for everyone when I had those with disabilities in mind.

The article referred to above is written by a man with Aspergers. It is written about his experience with church, Christians, and, ultimately, with Jesus. He may have thought he was describing something unique to the Aspergers community. From my perspective, he just wrote what many if not most people who have chosen to be a part of the Christian community experience. As people, we get it wrong all the time. We mess it up and make each other feel awkward. At the end of the day, we are doing the best we can. And in only the way Jesus can, awkward, messed up moments become transformative and holy for all involved.

Where do you go when she’s pregnant?

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For a long time successful youth ministry could be defined by a group keeping a young girl from being pregnant and a young man from getting someone pregnant. It was crap theology then and still is today. And yet, this conversation of sexuality simply dominates life in general and certainly ministry.

I currently have undergrads in a course learning about the theology and philosophy of youth ministry. We discussed teen pregnancy as one of our case scenarios. At the end of it, they realized that they had little ground on which to stand for ministerial choices they offered. None had thought of the theological implications. None had considered what to do if this happened in their ministry.

According to a new study released by the CDC, teen pregnancy is down by nearly 50% since 1991. Indeed, that is something to celebrate! This still leaves nearly 30 births/1,000 teen girls in the US. I could discuss the politics of this, the reality that this is still among the highest rate for an industrialized country but that’s not the point here.

Teen pregnancy still happens. Repeat pregnancies for teenagers are not uncommon. For many in ministry, prayers are offered up in hopes that this never happens. When it does, at best support and good intentions follow but few resources. At worst, the young woman is labeled and asked with words or actions to not return. She is marked, she is judged and all at a time of life when she most needs others. There are however a handful of amazing ministers who are called to be the hands of feet of Christ to young women whom others have cast away. In case you didn’t know, there are two Christian organizations nationwide who come alongside teen moms. Teen MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Young Lives (YoungLife for teen moms).

There are also numerous small ministries that continue faithfully, year after year with little to no fanfare. I got hang out with one this past week and was blown away by the sheer intensity of ministry taking place each and every day. My dear friend Joyce del Rosario is executive director or New Creation Home ministries. She oversees multiple homes for young women and their children as well as mentoring, leading Bible studies and currently working on a transitions project to help them successfully re-enter the regular world.

We began the day by 8am together though I knew she had already been up e-mailing and taking care of the details of the day. After a meeting with a potential volunteer, we headed to the house. It is surprisingly unsuspecting from the outside. Each girl has a small room for herself and her child or children. A laundry schedule hangs from the wall, each shelf of a pantry is designated for a resident. She worked on a paperwork for a caseworker claiming that a used care valued at $2000 was too large of a gift for one of her residents…that it would need to be returned and she had to go back to public transportation. She then turned her attention to meetings with staff members to cover the details of an upcoming fundraiser, relationship issues in the house, repairs that needed to take place only to be interrupted by a graduate desperate for prayer.

This graduate is considered a success story. She has moved out and is now volunteering in ministry herself. She however is trying to advocate for her son only to find the old feelings of inadequacy and failure creeping in. She knows his life is at stake and that he arrived long before she was ready to care for him. She also knows she has a team of people who will continue to equip her long after she has left. After all, there is a life at stake and they all take this seriously. It is one of the most intense, impromptu times of prayer I have experienced in ministry at any time.

After a few more items of the day, we drive to dinner. Well into the evening calls continue to come; donations for the fundraiser, an issue with a volunteer leader, needs of girls and all of this after Joyce has already put in more than 8 hours. As we say goodbye that night, I realize I will be up early the next morning to take care of my baby. Joyce, however, will awaken to taking care of multiple babies and their mothers. She will teach moms to do their own laundry, to consider nutrition while pregnant and long after for themselves and their children. She will remind them that they are capable even if the dad has long since disappeared. She will make calls to plumbers and caseworkers all the while being ever aware that the work she does  goes largely un-noticed and is for girls most ministries hoped would never exist or would just go away.

What can you do? How can you pray? Is this a ministry you need to begin? Or is this a ministry you can support from a distance financially? Keeping girls from being pregnant is not good youth ministry. Inviting them to follow Christ long before they find themselves in this situation, in the middle of it and long after a baby is born is good ministry. It is great that teen pregnancy is down…but let’s not forget the moms, dads and babies who are with us.

p.s. After posting I heard from my friend Joyce, she wanted to be certain that it was clear that the ministry to young women, their babies and families was a team effort and that she could not do it without an amazing group of people around her. No slights were intended and any errors were my fault. Props to all the heroes out there serving daily with little to no recognition. Yours is a noble cause and the Lord knows all you do and who you are!

the backlash when speaking up about abuse

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In nearly every class I have taught for the last 15 years two major topics have arisen. One is a conversation around ministry with and to those with disabilities. The second, and all too often not unrelated, is around issues of abuse and violence.

I have no shortage of stories of horrific things that have been done to children and youth. I also have no shortage of youth workers who have been wounded in the process of trying to do right. I have spoken before about the very seminary where I taught being told that there was no place in chapel to have this conversation. As frustrated and angry as that made me, I was simply ignored not told I was a trouble maker for bringing up this very subject.

It is beyond time for leaders, vocational ministers and lay leaders to take a stand. To demand better. To seek justice so that peace may come. To be willing to face consequences and speak truth even when it costs.

Amy Smith has been valiantly speaking up for those who have been abused for years. She has also been a volunteer youth worker for years. It seems that a narrow understanding of what is “good” for our children has distorted the perspective of leadership where she has been. While I do not know her personally, I know her work. I know that what she is experiencing is deeply personal. I also know that being uninvited to the table is not necessarily a sign of being wrong. In fact, it may be that she was a little too right.

Read her story, hear her words. I am telling you now, if you are not angry at the end you need to check yourself. We MUST have this conversation and we MUST encourage those who are being wounded in the process.

Being silent does not mean there is not a problem. It means the problem is sure to continue.

Amy Smith- watchkeep

Comments from “An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation”

I am constantly concerned for the damage we do to young people in the name of ministry. (I equally try to celebrate what is done well!) I write about it often here on this blog.

I had a former student (thanks D.A.!) send this post to me yesterday and not only is the actual post one we need to hear from within this current adolescent generation but the comments are especially telling. We wonder why so many don’t want to be a part of our churches but they want to be a part of the church? Just read the comments. One in particular responds to the young woman who wrote the blog saying “This is why your generation sucks.” Really…? Is that the care and concern Jesus demonstrated for others?

Regardless of where you land on the issue she addresses, she is speaking for many, not all, but many. Her post is a little lengthy itself but offers insight. Don’t give up. Read it then look to the comments and decide for yourself if that is the church as you want it to be.

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation

The New Francis

My initial surprise at the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in mid-February quickly faded into indifference and disdain. At the same time the world watched as the ritual practices of electing a new pope were put into place, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, resigned for ‘inappropriate sexual conduct’ with other priests, five prominent Catholic American bishops opposed the Violence Against Women Act, signed by President Obama on March 7th, and the Los Angeles archdiocese settled 4 Catholic priest sex abuse cases for $10 million. What difference would a new pope make in a system that seemed incapable of addressing the sins and failings of its leaders? 

But then the announcement came that a new pope was elected and that he had chosen to be called Pope Francis I. I was intrigued. As the cardinals settled in behind closed doors to begin the process of voting, oddsmakers began setting the odds for papal names. Would the new pope choose Leo, the odds-on-favorite or Gregory? Perhaps Pius or Peter? Francis didn’t even make the list. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis I, the first ever Jesuit to be elected as pope, chose a name whose symbolism cannot be overlooked. Sara Dover, writing for CBS News, notes that “(i)n Catholic tradition, St. Francis of Assisi had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ, who told him to rebuild his church. In light of the scandals that have tarnished the Church, from its financial troubles to widespread allegations and cover-up of sex abuse, the name may carry special significance.”  St. Francis of Assisi renounced all forms of wealth and lived a frugal and simple life. From all indications, the new Pope Francis I, has eschewed the trappings of materialism, as well. He chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop’s palatial palace in Buenos Aires, took the bus to work and cooked his own meals. A sliver of hope took hold. Could things – would things be different with this pope?

Obviously, it’s too early to tell how the Catholic church will shift under this new pope. Or if it will in any significant measure at all. Early reports indicate that Pope Francis is progressive – not hesitant to wash the feet of people with HIV/AIDS, but also conservative – opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women.  In President Obama’s congratulations, he said, “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he (Pope Francis) carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years — that in each other we see the face of God.” I hold on to only a sliver of hope, but pray that with this new Francis, Obama’s words will ring true.