The Clergy-Laity Disconnect

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.” – 2016 Book of Discipline, ¶ 127, “The Ministry of the Laity” 

When Methodism was getting on its feet in the 18th Century, the movement was largely one spread by… wait for it… the laity! That’s right, it wasn’t ordained or licensed pastors who were out beating the bushes with the good news of the gospel for all people who the church either couldn’t or wouldn’t reach – it was lay persons who were trained in Wesley’s teachings and on how to preach. Laity were the class leaders and the primary leaders within their societies and congregations. The pastors were there to be the spiritual leaders whose primary job was to equip the laity for ministry. The laity were expected to make most of the major decisions and to be the movers and shakers within the church.

Read that again: It was the laity, not the pastors, who were charged with the responsibility of doing ministry. These were not the prominent people of their day, rather they were the marginalized of British society – the poor.

There were first of all the itinerating lay preachers, assigned in pairs to circuits throughout the British Isles, and eventually sent in pairs to America. There were also the non-itinerating local ministers and the stewards who oversaw the various societies. Most important were the leaders of classes, who provided spiritual oversight for those under their care.

What Wesley did is open the door for hundreds of men and women to become leaders in the vast missionary endeavor of spreading scriptural holiness across the nation. Since most of these were not from the upper classes, British society did not provide avenues of leadership. Indeed some evangelical pastors criticized Wesley for disrespecting the class distinctions they believed God had established. But Wesley recognized their gifts and commitment, and enlisted them into God’s service.

“Wesley and Lay Leadership” – Dr. Henry H. Knight, III – St. Paul School of Theology https://www.catalystresources.org/consider-wesley-51/

At some point this began to change. Dr. Knight points to the merger that created the United Methodist Church in 1968 as a major turning point where the laity became passive consumers – largely due to their lack of education on our doctrine and theology – and the clergy were highly educated providers of religious services for the congregation, specialists in the same vein as lawyers and doctors. As Dr. Knight states, “This was hardly a recipe for vibrant outreach into their communities.”

That perception has only increased as the years have passed. Today, the UMC is hardly the movement where the laity are the primary leaders and the clergy are the equippers and providers of guidance and teaching. Today the pastors are expected to be the CEOs and to make most of the decisions. In the typical UMC congregation, the laity are not involved beyond roles such as Sunday School teacher or the lay leadership roles mandated by the Book of Discipline (which, let’s be real, are often only on paper in many congregations). This is a major problem for many reasons, but the main reason is because the widening gulf between the clergy and laity is yet another way in which we have forgotten who we are.

It’s time for Methodists to get back to our roots.

I was reminded of the width of this gulf is yesterday when I published my proposed re-write of WCA’s proposed church clergy deployment plan. I want to digress for a moment and express my appreciation for most of the feedback given being constructive and helpful. As the comments on social media continued, I realized that the tone and type of the feedback differed between clergy and laity. The reason is because we have different points of view on what is most needed in our churches and how to meet those needs. As I mentioned to someone yesterday, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I believe clergy and laity ought to come together and to hear one another. You know, like John Wesley and the early Methodists did.

We need to get back to our roots.

In the United Methodist Church, we say that we believe in the priesthood of all believers – but do we really? Our Book of Discipline affirms the ministry of the laity but as I read the paragraph that contains this affirmation, I can’t help but question how we actually practice this aspect of ministry.

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.”

2016 Book of Discipline, ¶ 127, “The Ministry of the Laity” 

Spoiler alert: We suck at this.

There is plenty of blame to go around for how we got here. Part of it is societal norms changing where worship attendance is now largely seen as optional, therefore so is becoming involved in the ministry and leadership of the church. The clergy also have been afraid of feeling less important and have failed to equip their laity for ministry in addition to other failures to teach the doctrine of the church that would not be popular with many within their congregations. I could go on but you get the point.

Pastors, you may not like what I’m about to say but I’m going to say it anyway: We need to give the laity their church back. What I mean by that is, we need to reclaim our roles as the spiritual leaders and the equippers of the laity to conduct the ministry of the church. We need to allow our people to take the lead and we need to let go of some of the control that we have claimed. This is more than a great thing that Wesley taught; allowing the laity to lead is a biblical mandate.

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT)

I realize that this is not the case in all congregations. I’m thankful to be able to say that I know of many churches that are doing great work because the laity took ownership of the ministry of their church. But when it comes to the majority of congregations, we still have a major disconnect and we need to address it quickly. We, the clergy, certainly have our place but so do the laity. It’s time we set aside our pride and our ambitions, took a step back, and started equipping the saints again.

Sports teams are made up of individuals with different responsibilities but with the same goal in mind: To win. On scoreboards, teams are shown as winning or losing, just one individual on the team. The same goes for the church: We all have different jobs but we are on the same team and we ought to have the same goal: To win souls for God’s kingdom. Our job is to minister to the people with the gospel but also by being the hands and feet of Christ. By being doers of the word, we allow God to use us in this endeavor. If the church is failing, it’s because we have failed to carry out this mission. We have all become power hungry or consumers. It’s time for this to change.

It’s time to get back to our roots.

Sending Forth: A Proposal for a Modified Appointment System

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)

Background
It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The first time they came onto the scene, I told my wife that I could guarantee that they would seek to become a church (denomination if you’re so inclined) even though they, at least at first, insisted that that was not their plan. I became put off by being told by WCA leadership that forming a church was not going on when the signs were all there. But I digress… Lo and behold, as the situation within the United Methodist Church has evolved, they changed began to lay the foundation for a new church body. This came closer to fruition with the release of their proposed Doctrine and Discipline document. It’s important to note that this document is still a draft and is even only half of a draft at this point. In spite of my apprehensions of WCA, I find that their doctrine seems spot-on with expressions of orthodox Methodist/Wesleyan belief. High regard for the sacraments – including baptism of children and babies – is retained and other important Methodist distinctives are contained. I like that WCA has incorporated the creeds as foundational doctrinal standards as well. I have to admit, overall I like what they have put out so far.

Well, except for one thing: Their proposal for clergy deployment.

The proposed system of clergy deployment is a modified call system. The short version: Congregations would call their own clergy from approved lists provided by their annual conference. There is also a provision included where congregations must include at least one woman and one person of color on their list of candidates to be interviewed. A friend and colleague who is part of the committee putting the discipline together asked for comments and I expressed that I saw the possibility for a lot of unintended consequences. As we talked, he invited me to submit my own proposal and promised to bring it before the rest of the committee working on this portion of the proposed Doctrine and Discipline. I thanked him and believe this was very gracious even though he knows fully that I’ve been critical of WCA’s tactics since its formation. I took him up on this offer and sent my proposal, which I am posting here for you to read as well.

This is far from perfect and I’m sure needs a lot of cleaning up but here it is. All I did was copy and paste the proposed clergy deployment paragraphs, crossed out the portions I wanted to change, with my own proposed language in bold. Several of the unintended consequences I mentioned previously are included at the rationale I included at the bottom of my proposal. I emphasize that this is not perfect. I’m not a parliamentarian or a legal scholar. My goal was to propose a system that would be equitable in allowing congregations to have a say in who their pastor is as well as providing a fair process for qualified clergy to be considered for an appointment.

The Highlights
The system is a modified appointment system. The presiding elder (proposed terminology for what’s now a District Superintendent) would consult with the congregation’s Committee on Staff-Parish Relations to discern the needs, hopes, and desires of the congregation (I know that’s what’s supposed to happen now but…). The PE would then make a recommendation for a pastor to be appointed to the congregation to the Bishop who must give their approval. All parties – the PE, clergy, bishop, and Staff-Parish – must give their consent before an appointment can be made. The initial length of the appointment would be for three years (except in extraordinary circumstances). After three years, the pastor and SPRC would submit consultations and, if both parties agreed to continue the appointment, the appointment would become indefinitely fixed until either the pastor or the congregation wanted to change. The Bishop could still ask the pastor to move but the pastor would be able to say no.

I also included language to give the proposed Hosier Rule (gender and racial equality rule) some teeth.

What follows is what I have submitted. Feel free to share your thoughts on social media or in the comments (but be respectful and civil – I don’t believe that’s asking too much). My proposed additions are in bold. Also, I apologize for some of the paragraphs being split but you should be able to get the general idea.

¶ 518. CONSULTATION AND CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. Consultation is the process whereby the

presiding elder confers regularly with the pastor and the staff-parish relations committee of the

local church to evaluate the ongoing pastoral needs of the congregation. Clergy deployment

should take into account the unique situation of the local church and also the unique gifts and

evidence of God’s grace of a particular pastor. To assist local churches, clergy, presiding elders,

and bishops in the deployment process, church and clergy profiles, a clergy evaluation, and

deployment advisory forms must be completed or updated annually. annual conference boards

of ordained ministry may develop the appropriate forms to fit their context.

1. Church Profile. The presiding elder shall develop with the pastor and the staff parish

relations committee a profile that reflects the needs, characteristics, and opportunities for

mission of the local church consistent with the overall mission of the ___________________

Church. The profile shall be reviewed annually and updated when appropriate, particularly

when a pastoral change is anticipated. The profile shall include:

a. The general context of the geographical area in which a congregation finds itself,

including demographics and economic factors.

b. The size, financial condition, quality of lay leadership, history, and special needs of

the congregation.

c. The congregation’s service programs, evangelism efforts, discipleship model, and

mission to the community and the world.

d. The qualities and functions of pastoral ministry needed to fulfill the mission, goals,

and special needs of the congregation.

e. A tentative job description for the pastoral position the congregation seeks to fill.

2. Clergy Profile. The presiding elder shall develop with the pastor a profile that reflects

the pastor’s gifts, evidence of God’s grace, professional experience and expectations, and the

needs and concerns of the pastor’s spouse and family. This profile shall be reviewed annually

and updated when appropriate, particularly when a pastoral change is anticipated. The profile

shall include:

a. An overview of the pastor’s personal faith, call and commitment to ordained

ministry, and the integration of his or her vocation with personal and family well-being and

lifestyle.

b. A vitae of the pastor’s academic and career background, including his or her

professional experience, academic degrees, professional experience, and publications.

c. A listing of the pastor’s skills and abilities as they relate to pastoral ministry.

d. A statement of the pastor’s preferred type of ministry setting.

3. Clergy Evaluation. The staff-parish relations committee shall conduct an annual

written evaluation of the pastor’s ministry, using forms prepared by the conference board of

ordained ministry, which shall be shared with the presiding elder and the pastor. The presiding

elder shall meet with the pastor annually to review this evaluation.

4. Church-Clergy Advisory Form. At the end of the third year of a pastoral appointment, the pastor and staff-parish relations committee shall

each complete an advisory form annually to declare their desires for continued ministry for the

next ministry year. The advisory form shall offer several options, each of which must be

supported by a descriptive narrative. The advisory options shall be:

a. Stay — The pastor and/or congregation have a missional reason to remain in

ministry together for the coming year.

b. Either — The pastor and/or congregation are ambivalent about whether to

remain in ministry together for the coming year.

c. Go — The pastor and/or congregation believe that it is time for a pastoral

change.

d. Help — The pastor and/or congregation requests that the presiding elder

provide mediation or advisory help to resolve an issue between the pastor

and congregation.

e. If the pastor and committee do not match in their desire for the coming year,

the presiding elder shall meet with both parties to seek resolution or to

advise a pastoral change. No pastor may be removed from a pastoral charge

without the consent of the resident bishop.

f. If the pastor and committee do match in their desire for the pastoral appointment to continue, the appointment shall become fixed until such time as the congregation and/or the pastor express a desire for a pastoral change. Such declaration shall be made during the annual consultation period within the annual conference. Note: This provision does not prevent a Presiding Elder or Bishop from consulting with the pastor about serving another congregation where the Presiding Elder/Bishop believe the pastor’s gifts and graces for ministry are needed. In such a situation, if the pastor desires to remain at their current appointment, they may do so without penalty.

¶ 519. THE PROCESS OF CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. The process used in clergy deployment shall

include the following:

An opening for a pastoral charge may be initiated in a number of ways:

Voluntarily

The pastor chooses to leave a charge to take another pastoral position

in a different church. The pastor must receive written permission from

the presiding elder before interviewing for another pastoral opening.

ii. The pastor retires.

iii.The pastor chooses to go on transitional leave, unpaid leave of absence

or surrenders his or her credentials.

Involuntarily

The pastor dies or is incapacitated for an unreasonable length of time.

ii.The pastor is removed for misconduct after due judicial process.

iii. The local church requests a change of pastors and the change is

approved by the bishop.

When a pastoral charge has been declared open by the bishop, the presiding elder

consults with the local church’s governing board to determine the process by which

clergy candidates for the opening may be identified. the ministry needs of the congregation in order to assist the presiding elder and the Bishop in determining appropriate candidates.

The presiding elder and governing

board may choose together from one or more of the following options:

The governing board may choose to develop its own list of potential clergy

candidates for the pastoral opening. The presiding elder must approve any

candidate(s) before they may be interviewed by the local church.

The governing board may choose to request the presiding elder to conduct a

search and present a candidate or a list of candidates for the pastoral

opening.

The presiding elder may choose to offer additional candidates for

consideration.

The presiding elder shall advise the governing board on the nomination, formation,

and election of a transition team to manage the deployment process, the outgoing

pastor’s exit, and the first year of the pastoral transition.

The transition team consists of up to 15 persons, chaired by the chairperson of the

staff-parish relations committee, which will include the chair of the church governing

board and may include the staff-parish relations committee, or a subset thereof, and

other at-large members elected by the governing board. The pastoral transition within the congregation shall be overseen by the Committee on Staff-Parish Relations in consultation with the Presiding Elder/Bishop.

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations are responsible for managing the steps in the deployment process and conducts transition planning with both the incoming and outgoing pastors:

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations advises the outgoing pastor (when applicable) to

ensure that he or she leaves well and provides the incoming pastor with

necessary information.

The transition team develops a list of candidates for the pastoral opening

and submits a preferred list to the presiding elder for approval, or receives a

recommended candidate from the presiding elder.

The transition team conducts interviews of a clergy candidate presented

by the presiding elder or candidates on a list approved by the presiding elder

and chooses its preferred candidate.

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations advises the incoming pastor, prepares an appropriate

congregational welcome, and meets at least monthly with the pastor through

the first year of the transition to identify opportunities for early wins,

potential points of conflict, and to assist the pastor in learning the

congregation and community.

A list of available clergy candidates for a pastoral opening may be generated from among the

following sources: shall be maintained by the _________________

Church.

A database of available clergy maintained by the _________________

Church.

Clergy who apply for a particular pastoral opening via the presiding elder.

A list of clergy generated by a search firm employed by the local church.

Clergy currently serving another church may be contacted by a local church

to gauge interest in a pastoral opening but clergy must obtain written

permission from their presiding elder before interviewing.

Other sources as determined.

Any list of clergy candidates for a pastoral opening must be approved by the

presiding elder before interviews take place with the transition team. The presiding

elder will also ensure that the list of approved candidates available clergy to be considered for a pastoral appointment conforms to the provisions of

Paragraph 517.

The transition team shall interview clergy candidates using its preferred method. The

presiding elder may act as advisor and coach for the interview process. The Presiding Elder shall make a recommendation of a clergy person to fill a pastoral opening to the Bishop. This recommendation shall be based on discernment through prayer and other means in order to identify the best available candidate with the gifts and graces needed for a congregation or charge. In the case of two Presiding Elders desiring to place the same candidate within their district, the Bishop shall determine which congregation the candidate shall be appointed to.

The transition team shall identify its preferred candidate. After consultation with the

candidate, the presiding elder informs the bishop and cabinet.

The bishop, presiding elder, transition team, Committee on Staff-Parish Relations, and incoming pastor must all give

written consent to the pastor’s placement prior to declaring the position closed. If any of these parties does not give consent, the Presiding Elder will meet with the party that withheld consent to identify and mediate issues that caused the party to withhold consent. As a last resort, if issues cannot be resolved, the process begins again with consultation

between the presiding elder and transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations.

In the placement of associate pastors, the senior pastor of the church must also give

consent prior to declaring the position closed.

When a pastoral opening is declared closed, the appointment shall be for a period of three years commencing at a time determined by the Bishop. This minimum term is to allow the pastor and the congregation to form a strong relationship, to establish the pastor’s ministry, and to allow a thorough assessment of the pastor’s ministry and the congregation’s vitality. This three year period shall not be shortened except in extraordinary circumstances as determined by the Bishop.

¶ 520. DIVERSITY IN CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. Consistent with the values and mission of a global

church, recruiting, developing and retaining talented and gifted clergy that can reach all people

is a priority. We welcome and rejoice in the expansion of racial-ethnic and multicultural

churches within our movement. We also encourage and affirm clergy who may be called to

cross-cultural ministry as they follow the pioneering and teaching leadership of the Holy Spirit,

along with both male and female clergy who enhance the witness of the church with their

different lenses and intrinsic gifts and graces. In particular, we seek to attract, equip and deploy

women and those of all ethnic backgrounds so that their ministries may thrive.

To that end, establishing a diverse pool of clergy is critical, as is offering deployment

opportunities for both male and female clergy, from diverse races, ethnicities, and cultural

backgrounds. Each annual conference and bishop shall be charged with developing and

implementing demonstrable recruitment strategies and best practices for attracting gifted and

diverse clergy.

¶ 521. THE HOSIER RULE. The interview slate developed for each clergy opening must comply

to the following parameter, hereby known as the “Hosier Rule,” named in honor of Harry

Hosier, a black Methodist preacher recognized as one of the greatest orators of his time who

often accompanied Francis Asbury during the Second Great Awakening in early American

history. The list of candidates approved to interview with a local church or other

___________________Church entity with a clergy opening for an elder, deacon, or local pastor

in any position, as well as those interviewed, must include at least one cross-cultural and one

female candidate from outside of the church or organization involved All qualified candidates shall be considered for appointment regardless of gender and/or ethnicity.

The ________________ Church will maintain a current record of available female and clergy

interested in a cross-cultural ministry opportunity within its denomination-wide database that

the presiding elder and local church will draw upon for the slate. The presiding elder and local

church may also honor the Hosier Rule by finding qualified female and candidates interested in

cross-cultural appointments to interview from other external resources as well.

Records of interview slates showing a good faith effort to comply with the Hosier Rule shall be

kept by the presiding elder and shall be periodically reviewed by the bishop’s office.

Compliance with the Hosier Rule may only be waived if the transition team of the local church

or entity, along with the presiding elder and bishop, all certify in writing that such compliance is

not feasible in a particular instance, specifying the reasons why such is not possible. Barring

such certification, evidence of failing to abide with the integrity and spirit of this rule In the event that the Presiding Elder or Bishop determine that a congregation has refused to accept the appointment of a qualified pastor based solely on the pastor’s gender or ethnicity, such determination shall lead

to corrective actions as determined appropriate by the presiding elder/Bishop and restricted resourcing to the local church/entity, up to and including withholding a pastoral appointment for a period of up to one year or until the Presiding Elder or Bishop are satisfied that corrective measures have been effective.

RATIONALE

There are numerous reasons for proposing these revisions. While I believe that the modified call system of clergy deployment proposed was created in good faith, I further believe that several unintended consequences were not considered or simply overlooked. Among them:

  • Undue difficulty for women and persons who are not Caucasian in obtaining an appointment/call. The reality is: Numerous congregations will simply refuse to seriously consider candidates that are not white males. This is a sad reality of our fallen world but one that the church must acknowledge and discourage. Especially in a connectional church, a system of clergy deployment that relies on a congregational committee to “do the right thing” with little actual accountability is not wise and is not equitable to women and minorities.
  • Allowing a congregation to contact clergy who are under appointment about serving in their context is unethical. Congregations should not be in competition with one another for pastors. Such competition does not promote a spirit of cooperation or connection. This further would lead pastors to simply go where more money can be offered without regard to their particular calling or the actual missional needs of the church.
  • A modified call system does not offer any sort of security for the pastor or their family. When clergy can be released at any time for any reason, one can argue that this will motivate them to do all they can to be effective in ministry. An effective pastor should not be motivated by fear but rather by the calling that God has placed on their lives. Providing clergy with a set amount of time for an initial time at an appointment will allow both the clergy person and the congregation ample time to discern whether or not the appointment is a good long-term fit and, if not, to begin making necessary preparations.
  • Small membership congregations would suffer. In the early days of the Methodist movement, clergy deployment was conducted by appointment in order to send the best clergy to the places that had need of their gifts and graces. This system further ensured that all congregations desiring a pastor would have one assigned to them. Under a modified call system, small congregations would be particularly hard-hit because they would have difficulty finding clergy to serve them for what is often a very small salary. Without some sort of appointment system being in place, our small congregations would be at a distinct disadvantage.
  • Any sort of congregational call system is antithetical to our Wesleyan heritage. This amalgamation of connectional and congregational polity would lead to confusion and further dilution of the historic Wesley practice of Methodists. We’re either Wesleyan/Methodist or we’re not: A modified call system would lead the church further down the road to being something different.

Women, Preach! A Response to John MacArthur

Women, Preach!

A Response to John MacArtur

John MacArthur telling Beth Moore that she and other women who preach ought to “go home” has been well documented. He further insisted, “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion” (something I believe is a load of bunk). Except with those whom also espouse this hermeneutic, MacArthur has been decried and challenged in his views across the board. Many people would simply back down and acknowledge that not everyone agrees with them and move along, but MacArthur apparently is not content to go quietly about women preachers. Much like certain elected officials, MacArthur chose to double down on his remarks during a recent sermon.

“Women are to maintain submission to men in all churches in all times. Women pastors and women preachers are the most obvious evidence of churches rebelling against the Bible … Women who pastor and women who preach in the church are a disgrace and openly reflect opposition to the clear command of the Word of God. This is flagrant disobedience.”

Oh, is it now? Are you sure about that? You might think that “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is the way one should read the Bible but this is where you’re wrong. This attitude underscores the danger and outright ignorance that ensues when this hermeneutic is employed (I’ve written/preached about this before). Let’s remember that all scripture was certainly divinely inspired but, at the end of the day, this collection of stories, songs, letters, and biographies was written and compiled by human authors. These authors were often writing to specific people or groups. They were also writing in specific contexts with specific issues that they were addressing. This is not to say that the larger truth contained in them is not timeless but the circumstances described were often constrained to a moment in time. The sort of cherry picking and proof texting that MacArthur and his ilk engage in and claim authority under is nothing short of a disservice to scripture and to their pastoral office.

MacArthur invoked 1 Corinthians 14:34 as a proof text for his assertion that women should be silent in church. According to the article linked above, MacArthur stated, “You don’t say anything,” he stressed, later adding: “Women need to get themselves under control and realize they are not to speak in a church.” For a highly educated man, he certainly does not employ much intellect. If he knew anything about historical context and how to apply it to interpretation, he would know that Paul was not issuing a blanket ban on women speaking in church, rather he was addressing the fact that women who preached in the pagan temples of Corinth wished to preach in the newly established Christian churches. Paul was simply telling them to become educated in the gospel before undertaking this task. That’s it. Dr. Ben Witherington III, the Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, has written an excellent commentary on the Pauline letters, including this about 1 Corinthians 14:34:

Those asking questions were not yet educated enough in the school of Christ to know what was and was not appropriate in Christian worship. Paul affirms their right to learn, but suggests another context. In any case, Paul is correcting an abuse of a privilege, not taking back a woman’s right to speak in the assembly, which he has already granted in ch. 11

Witherington, B., III. (1995). Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (p. 287). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Let’s not fool ourselves though. MacArthur can claim biblical authority all he wants to but this is about something else entirely: Good old fashioned sexism.

“When women take over a culture, men become weak; when men become weak, they can be conquered. When all the men have been slaughtered, you [women] can sit there with all your jewelry and junk. You’ve been conquered, because you overpowered your protectors.”

There you have it: John MacArthur is afraid of women taking over the world. He feels threatened by women having any sort of power, including the authority of the pulpit and sees this as a threat upon his power. This sort of rhetoric is much more than an old man spouting off outdated cultural norms. This is a man who sees women as inferior, or at least wants to give that appearance, and who will demean any woman who dares to speak up or to take authority.

There is no valid excuse for this kind of sexist, bigoted, weak-minded thinking.

MacArthur’s views are completely unbiblical. The first one to witness the risen Lord was a woman who was told to go and tell the other men. Yes, a woman – often maligned as a prostitute in an attempt to downplay her contribution to the gospel story – was the first one to preach resurrection when she burst into a room where the men had been hiding and shouted, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) In Romans 16, Paul specifically sends greetings to several woman, including Priscilla and Aquila who he refers to as “co-workers” in the gospel, and to Junia who was respected among the apostles. The original Greek of these instances indicates that these women were on equal footing with Paul and any other man who was in the trenches of pastoral ministry.

One might be quick to say that MacArthur’s view is a simple difference in interpretation of scripture but I disagree. I believe this is something much more malicious. The fact that MacArthur refuses to employ interpretation beyond “God said it, I believe it” aside, MacArthur’s demeaning comments about women in general reveal that he sees women as beneath him and as unequal in God’s kingdom. His point of view has no place in the church and the sooner this sort of attitude is eradicated, the better. This is more than “an old man being an old man.” This is evil. Pure and simple. This is a man who feels threatened by a woman holding power, even going so far as to say that empowering women weakens men. As we say in the south: MacArthur needs to go and sit down somewhere and be quiet.

The only weak man I see in this situation is John MacArthur.

My Tribute to Dani Workman

Dani Workman, my favorite purveyor of alien conspiracies

To be honest, this week has been a pretty tough one for me. The biggest reason is due to the loss of a very good friend of mine. Her name is Dani and I’ve known her for nearly ten years. However, I’ve never actually met her. Dani and I met online but we became among the best friends for each other. Dani leaves behind her husband, son, and plethora of friends all over the world. I don’t believe that I will have the proper words to really do her justice. With Dani’s untimely passing on to the next life, this world is now a little dimmer.

I first met Dani around the time I first became an EMT. We were both active on #EMS Twitter and also had EMS blogs. We also were active on a forum called EMTLife. I don’t remember what the dispute was about but someone took exception to something she said and actually made a post on their blog to bully and try to discredit Dani. I challenged this person and defended her. It was around that time that we became friends.

Dani and I got to where we talked almost everyday. In getting to know her, we discovered that we both struggled with mental health issues and we forged a strong bond over that. Mental health struggles are really difficult for many people to understand simply because they have not had to deal with things like chronic anxiety and clinical depression. Dani was bipolar and understand all of that extremely well. We would frequently check in with each other to make sure that we both took our meds, and especially on our bad days, made sure we both did things like eat, brush teeth, and shower. Dani encouraged my advocacy on mental health issues and I encouraged hers. One of the things I’m most proud of for Dani is that she wrote a book called Beautiful Bipolar, which is a raw and real look into what her struggles have been like. Through this book, she has helped to shed light on darkness and to take away some of the stigma of mental health struggles. Dani’s refusal to allow bipolar to stop her from achieving her goals was one of the things I found most inspiring about her.

Like me, Dani appreciated humor and memes. Memes have a way of acting as a distraction for me when I need a break from life for a few minutes and they did for Dani as well. This was so much the case that she created a group chat in which we could exchange memes and talk to one another about life in general. In bringing this rag-tag bunch of people from literally all over the world together, she un-intentionally created an online family that has thrived and become an important part of the lives of the members. Daily, I have the opportunity to interact with people who I never would have met otherwise. I have gained perspective and even been able to do some Facebook pastoral care. Dani always had a way of bringing people together. I believe this is something she actually enjoyed… in addition to talking about some of the crazy alien conspiracy theories she would come across.

My favorite thing about Dani is how fiercely she loved her family and her friends. As far as she was concerned, her husband Jeremy and son Brayden hung the moon. So often I would send Dani a message to see how she was doing and she would tell me that she was at one of Brayden’s soccer games. Some of my favorite messages from Dani were stories of the shenanigans her grandmother “Oma” would be pulling. As Dani’s story has been told by those who knew her best, I found out that Dani once met someone at a convention and when her new friend became sick, Dani dropped everything and spent most of the rest of the day at the hospital with her to make sure she was alright. This is just who Dani Workman was and always will be to those of us who were blessed to call her a friend.

Of course, I can’t talk about Dani and not bring up one of the other bonds we shared: Grey’s Anatomy. Every week, we made a point to discuss each week’s episode. We both agreed that the show should have ended years ago but that we are all-in since we have watched Grey’s from the very beginning and must see it through. She even created a Grey’s group chat where we all received nicknames based on characters from Grey’s (She was Meredith and I’m George because, as she put it, “You’re just George. You can’t be anyone else.”). Our discussions of Grey’s are among my favorite memories of Dani.

I could go on about Dani and what she meant to me and others for a long time. As I mentioned near the top of this post, Dani leaving this world leaves it a bit dimmer. Dani made everyday better for every person she met and befriended. While Dani struggled, her fierce love and huge heart made her one of the best people I have ever known. If I needed to vent, she was glad to listen (or read as the case was). When I needed support, she gave it. If I needed to be called out, she was all too glad to call me out (and let’s be honest, I need to be called out from time to time). We sometimes disagreed. We once went over a month without talking because we had a disagreement and neither of us wanted to admit we were wrong (we did eventually reconcile). But Dani was an amazing person who overcame many obstacles that life threw at her. She had a way of bringing out the best in whomever she met. I see this in the group chat that she was instrumental in starting and that remains. The world is now a big darker but Dani’s memory inspires me and so many others to shine brighter as she would have encouraged us to do.

Until we meet again, friend.

Christian Hero Worship and Kanye West

Christian Hero Worship and Kanye West

The latest headlines in the Christian news arena have revolved around one person: Kanye West. His profession of faith in Jesus has been well-documented and rehashing it is therefore pointless. First, I want to say a couple of things on that: I give glory to God for anyone, no matter who they are, giving their lives over to Christ. I rejoice. But I also can’t help but be a bit suspicious about this one (something I hope I’m completely wrong about). I’ve caught a lot of grief over that but I also believe that, at least, in this case, his conversion ought to be taken with a large grain of salt. While I get that his faith is young, the fruit of it thus far has been very questionable in my mind. Further, our treatment of Kanye and other famous people who have claimed faith in Christ is also somewhat disturbing. So, at the risk of seeming judgmental based on someone’s past, I want us to slow our roll and take a good look at this situation.

One of the reasons I have had my suspicions raised about Kanye is due to his history. I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone with any sort of mental health issue but he does display narcissistic tendencies. Everything Kanye says and does has historically been all about himself. One example that comes to mind is when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. He just happened to have an album coming out. Fast forward to more recent history when Kanye makes a public profession of faith. He just happened to drop an album right after that. I can’t help but be wary of the timing of his profession due to the record coming out.

The fact that Kanye is seemingly professing prosperity theology as the basis of his faith is also eye raising. Recently he was part of a segment of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden where he said his receiving a large tax refund was “God showing off.” Yesterday, Lakewood Church, the arena where Joel Osteen preaches, announced that Kanye would be making an appearance on Sunday. Here’s my issue there: Prosperity theology is false doctrine. The theology professed in prosperity churches is all about power, privilege, and wealth, a doctrine that looks nothing like the teachings of a homeless Jewish rabbi. Prosperity theology has caused real harm to people. You can read more of my thoughts on prosperity theology here. While anyone proclaiming Christ is a good thing, we also must be concerned with what version of Christ – be it the real Jesus or their own version of him – they are professing.

Concerns about Kanye himself aside, I have another big reason for raising my eyebrows here: Christian hero worship. Christians seem to go ape when any famous person professes Jesus. Other famous people such as Tim Tebow, Kirk Cameron, Selina Gomez, and Justin Bieber have also professed faith and the same thing happened as has happened with Kanye: Tributes, articles, and “look at this” statements aplenty. My question is this: Why do we celebrate these people and, if at all, hardly acknowledge people in our own lives and within the churches we are part of finding Jesus? Why do we assign hero status to famous people just because they’re famous? Such is dangerously close to idolatry and I’ve seen and heard statements that cross that line. As Christians, we cannot and should not assign special status to celebrities simply because they are famous. We should celebrate a homeless person coming to Christ as much as we do a famous musician. If we don’t then what is it we are actually celebrating?

We must be careful with what we celebrate. We further should question the motives of people when their words and their actions don’t seem to line up with what we know is true. Is someone professing Christ in a public way doing so for God’s glory or their own? Only time will tell but their fruit will speak loud and clear. Until then, we should encourage them and pray for them but also not believe they are on the same plane as Jesus himself.

“Offer Them Christ” (A Response to the Recent Pew Research Report)

revjktullosheader1I remember when I was taking classes to become a lay speaker before I went into the ministry. In the initial class, I will never forget that our instructor said that the best thing we could do when we preach is to do what John Wesley instructed his early preachers to do: “Offer them Christ.” This instruction meant when we spoke we should give the hope of Jesus Christ to the congregation. As years passed and I studied more of John Wesley’s teachings and theology after I entered pastoral ministry, I began to realize that Wesley’s instruction could actually be summed up in another way: “Offer them Christ and nothing else.”

I find the fact that the church in the US has long forgotten its mission to be very sad and, honestly, pathetic. I often hear and read people lament about the “good old days when everyone went to church” being gone but, let’s be honest: Many people looked at church attendance as a means to an end that had nothing to do with glorifying God. There was a time when going to or not going to the “right church” could cost someone a job, standing in the community, or a customer at their own place of business. Church attendance was looked at as a social norm because it was expected. Often, one attended a church without really being a Christian. They were Christian in name only but their private lives reflected anything but discipleship. This is the epitome of cultural Christianity in the United States.

After the 1950s, this began to change and Christianity in America began to decline (so says the experts). So, every so often, a group like Pew Research will conduct a survey to find that there are fewer people who identify as Christian. Next thing you know, preachers are screaming from their pulpits about “the world getting to our kids” or blaming the decline on some group that they personally oppose. Church growth “gurus” will start coming up with books they can sell and programs they can pitch to stave off the decline. Bloggers will blog (yes, I realize the irony of my own actions here). Pearls will be clutched and hands will be wrung with worries about, “What if the church dies.”

Well, what if it does? I’ll tell you what will happen: God will still be on the throne and the kingdom will continue. That’s what if.

When we look at the state of the American church versus the early church and the church in the so-called third world, it’s no wonder that Christianity in the US is “dying.” Years ago, the American church took a faith based on a middle eastern Jewish divine man and turned it into something that could be used for personal gain and political clout. A prime example of this is the rise of the so-called “Religious Right” through Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Christianity became equated with politics and parishioners and preachers were just fine allowing this to happen because this meant they had power too. If you want to look at where the decline began, it was around that time after the 1950s and 1960s where people became disillusioned with this junk and began to turn away from the church and from God altogether.

I can’t blame them.

If I believed that God merely wanted me to be the head of a social club that endorsed certain brands of politics and helped people achieve wealth, I would turn away too. I would never have entered the ministry and likely would have never been a Christian in the first place. The gospel is about Jesus’ work resulting in the reconciliation of us to God and to one another and for the hope of all things being made new and set right. God does not care how we vote, he only cares that we love him with all of our being because he first loved us. He further wants us to love one another as we love ourselves.

Our mission is not to go forth and make sure only certain politicians and parties win elections, our mission is to go forth and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our mission has nothing to do with prosperity and everything to do with preaching and practicing grace. But, yet, the church forgot this. We let ambition take over our pulpits which impacted the pews. A lot of people got tired of it, left, and have not returned.

In other words, we did this ourselves. May God forgive us.

The way this situation changes is not what many would like to hear. It’s not going to be another program, a multi-campus church plant, or even by having a pastor that wears the right clothes and looks a certain way. The only way to stop the decline and to win people back to Christ is to do what John Wesley taught his early preachers. Offer them Christ and nothing else. Forget the ambition, Forget the politics, Forget the prosperity. Just preach, teach, and live the teachings of Christ. Stop alienating one another and blaming other groups for the church declining. Reconcile.

We need to practice what we claim to preach. We need to get back to our roots.

Pew Research Report on US Christianity
An excellent article from Rev. Sky McCracken in response to the Pew report.

Help Me Get to General Conference!

42301730_1569501283728286_rLast week, I received word that I have been chosen to serve as a marshal at the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. I counted this as a blessing because I have wanted to serve at General Conference for many years but never had the opportunity. I count this as an honor to be able to serve the larger church with my time, service, and witness.

A lot of people don’t realize this but serving as a marshal or as a page at General Conference is a completely voluntary position. I will receive no funding from my annual conference or elsewhere to subsidize my expenses. I am responsible for paying all of my expenses – travel, lodging, food, all of it. I don’t like the thought of “begging” but I definitely can’t pay for this trip on my own. We’re talking probably around $3,000 or so by the time it’s all said and done. With that in mind, I have set up a couple of fundraisers and would love any help you can give me!

The first is a t-shirt with the theme verse for the 2020 General Conference on it. You will have a choice of colors for your shirt. They make great gifts as well! Every shirt sold helps me meet my goal. This fundraiser has a closing date of October 14th so hurry! Find my page right here!

If t-shirts aren’t your thing, you can give at my GoFundMe page, or send donations via PayPal (if you use this method, include a note that this is for GC 2020, that way I will know why someone is sending my money).

I very much appreciate all of the support I have received so far and thank you for any help you offer from this blog. It would mean a lot for me to be able to serve at General Conference.

Jonathan