Monday, November 6, 2017

What I Really Learned at Seminary.

To be honest, while I'm relieved to have received my masters degree in theology and thankful that my thesis was well received, graduating has all felt a bit anti-climactic. It's been eight years, thousands of dollars and hours, and a fair few tears along the way. I've found myself asking whether it was all worth it. My family have paid a massive price having me tucked away in my office for so many late nights. My youngest son Levi has only ever known me as a Dad who works long days and studies most nights. I don't think the words cum laude on the certificate that will hang on my wall can make up for the many hours that he could have been playing soccer in the yard with me. I think my church has benefited broadly from the study because it's sharpened me as a preacher and leader, but my 180 page thesis which took 4 years to research and write, may never be read by anyone except my Dad. (Thanks Dad.) 

So what makes this all worth it? Why would one study theology for that long and what does one really learn that applies to real life and work? 

Well, for me, there were at least 5 valuable lessons.

1. I learned to love God with my mind. 

I don't aspire to be the stuffy academic type - tweed jacket with elbow patches and pipe. I'm a heart guy. I feel deeply. I'm a strength guy. I like to get things done. But there's another part of the Great Commandment, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind,' that I've learned to obey better these last eight years. I've learned that clear, wise, Biblical thinking is part of the way we are called to love God. God is not glorified by falsehood or foolishness, no matter how passionate or energetic we are. God is wise and he wants His people to be wise about His Word and His world. Leaders in the Church should be able to guard sound doctrine, refute heresy and give reason for the hope of the gospel. That requires a clear head. God forbid that I have a swollen head and a hollow heart. But neither do I want a swollen heart and a hollow head. 

2. I learned I was an expert on Model and a novice on Message

I spent my formative ministry years as a leader in a movement that taught me a lot about a  model of doing church. We were big on building healthy cultures of leadership, prayer, worship and community. We taught on how to raise up leaders, work as a team, practice spiritual gifts and plant churches. So much of what I learned I still carry with me today.  But what I began to realize was that I was an expert on church model and a novice on the message of Christ. I remember an amazing man called Michael Eaton saying to our leaders in 2008, "Your tribe has an over-realized ecclesiology (model) and an under-realized Christology." (Christ and His message) I was stopped dead in my tracks. Perhaps I'd become a model pharisee?  I am still passionate about church model, but I hope I am now more passionate about Jesus and His gospel. All church models are not equal, but no model is a silver bullet. It cannot save. It is only the power of the gospel that saves. And God also seems quite happy to work powerfully through church models that seem less Biblical than mine. How inconsiderate of Him!

3. I learned that God is in the details

I've never been all that great at details. I'm more of a big picture guy. So the pedantic nature of academic writing, referencing and citing was infuriating to me. The endless corrections on dates and bibliographies and quotations, and grades taken off for incorrect line spacing felt completely divorced from reality! Here I was  leading a growing multi-site church as well as traveling the world helping other churches, and I had to make sure my margin indents were properly justified! But I began to realize that having an eye for details was actually very connected to reality and that my lack of attention to detail sometimes hurt my credibility in reality. Get a quote or fact or verse wrong in the pulpit, even if it is minor, and people can begin to question the bigger things you say. I still think academia is pedantic, but I'm glad it forced me to realize that God is in the details. 

4. I learned to Reason with differing ideas instead of simply Denouncing them

One of the things that theological study forces you to do is to take seriously ideas that challenge yours. I know that some seminaries are so critical that students end up losing any prior faith they had and that seems tragic. Pay thousand of dollars to become a cynic? My seminary was not like that, but it did force me to consider other angles and to reason with other ideas instead of simply denouncing them. By the time I presented my thesis I realized I had become more sure of what I believed because I had had to defend it critically against other  schools of thought. I believe this skill of engaging reasonably with different ideas instead of denouncing them is greatly needed in our pluralistic world. We need less heat and more light in our civil discourse with each other. 

5. I learned Resilience 

I hope I'm not being overly dramatic  but with the relentless pressure of deadlines and balancing work/family/study over eight years, I felt at times like I was doing violence to my soul. It didn't help that I was doing distance education and never once had a conversation with another student in eight years. All of my correspondence with professors was via email, with the exception of two Skype calls that whole time. I would never recommend that to anyone. I missed the comeraderie of fellow students and there were many times that I wanted to give up. If it wasn't for my wife's constant encouragement, as well as that of my parents and supervisor, Vernon Light (I still think he may be a guardian angel), I think I  would have quit. But above all, the sustaining grace of Jesus was so real on this epic marathon. He enabled me to persevere through exhaustion and discouragement, and in doing so built resilience into my soul. I hope that resilience will spill over into every facet of my life.

Of course, I also hope that my specific area of research will benefit our church and many churches beyond us. I also hope to write a book to make my research more accessible.  But if for some reasonI none of this happens, I feel that these lessons I've learned have made the process all worthwhile. But you'll have to ask my wife if she agrees.


Monday, October 16, 2017

An Ordinary Unicorn: The Call for Medium-Size Multiplying Churches

The clever people say that only 5% of multi-site churches are under 1000 people in size.*  For obvious reasons, the vision to be a multiplying church (multi-siting and/or church planting) is generally a large church phenomena because it is such a resource rich vision. Generally, churches under 1000 in size have a vision for addition rather than multiplication, because multiplication feels like subtraction of their already limited resources. In the West, where the mega church looms large, it's easy for small or medium size churches to think, "Maybe one day when I'm big and have lots of margins  I'll think of multiplying, but for now I must grow by addition." That's why churches in the 5th percentile; those under 1000 in size that have a multiplying vision, are a bit like unicorns. But for multiple reasons, I don't think they should be so rare. In fact, despite the resource challenges, I believe medium size churches are better suited to multiplying than mega churches and I believe that figure of 5% will grow much higher in the future. Essentially, I'm calling for these unicorns to become more ordinary, but for that to happen we'll have to change the way we think.  

So, I want to suggest three ways of thinking that can catalyze a movement of medium size multiplying churches.

1. A willingness to let Jesus invade our margins

Southlands began multiplying under my watch in 2012 when we were around 500 adults and 100 kids in average attendance. We sent 3 pastors, 90 adults and 15 kids down the road to start our first multi-site community. It was a shock to the system to send just under 20% of our church to a neighboring city; so much so that after a month I asked one of the three pastors to come back! Four years later though, by God's grace, we've multiplied 4 times. One of those was an autonomous church plant into Thailand. The other two were multi-site communities into neighboring cities. It's been incredibly costly because every time we've multiplied we've had to yield our margins of leadership, people, finances and ministry. And in a medium-sized church, they are margins we can ill afford. It can leave you breathless. But to see Jesus' life in these new gospel communities is breathtakingly beautiful. We feel that we've been an integral part of Jesus' multiplying miracle of the 5 fish and 2 loaves. We've had to put the loaves and fish we have into His hands to be broken, but He's blessed that. It's then that subtraction begins to turn into multiplication. Isn't it interesting that Jesus used every bit of that little boy's lunch for his multiplication miracle? He could have left him with a loaf or a fish, but he used it all. Of course, it's easier for large churches to multiply without invading their margins too much, but apparently that's not the only way Jesus works.

2. A motive for mission not expansion

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun to be growing and to have a footprint in four cities, not to mention a  church plant in a virtually unreached nation. But the kick we get out of expansion isn't worth the price, in all honesty. There are cheaper ways to build your brand if that's what you're trying to do. The thing that keeps us multiplying is a nail-hard conviction that the most Christ-like way to really reach people with the gospel is to go and dwell among them. The 50 or so cities in the region of the Southland are distinct and proud of it, so we believe planting smaller, more incarnate communities that feel more like their city is a better way to do mission than expecting them all to flock to one big vanilla-flavored church center. Having a multiplying dream means dying to a mega church dream, which requires eating a slice of humble pie with a side of obscurity. 

3.  A new definition of health  

While gospel mission is the main motive for multiplication, a serious side benefit is that people are less likely to fall between the cracks of church life. I've led in small, medium and large church contexts, and personally I prefer large. But I've found in churches that grow beyond 600 adults, it becomes more difficult to keep people feeling vitally connected and needed. They start to feel like the whole thing will keep running irrespective of their attending, serving, giving or praying. And when you feel less vital it's easy to act less vital, and so the vital signs of church health can easily decrease.  Because multiplication keeps invading the margins of leaders, givers, servers and prayers in a church, you are seldom at risk of people feeling comfortable. The down-side is that folk can begin to resent the constant calls for people to 'step up to the plate'  because we've just sent another crew out, but the up-side is that everyone feels vital to the mission, whether they go or stay. And that's healthy. 

The world needs many more healthy churches and I'm thankful for many large churches that use their resources to multiply them. But I'm calling for medium-size churches to stop dreaming about growing up to be mega-churches one day, and to begin dreaming about becoming multiplying churches now. The medium-size multiplying church doesn't have to be a unicorn. If we change our way of thinking, it can become something gloriously ordinary.  


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

'Grant us a little Reviving' : A Prayer for Revival that doesn't Freak me out.

I once took part in a week long fast during which people prayed day and night for revival up in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. All I can remember of the time was feeling really hungry and a little freaked out. Because of that, the idea of praying for revival conjures up images of many loud prayers and many loud preachers, waving big black bibles and making big promises in a dusty tent, and a hollow sense of anti-climax, because nothing really happened. Because of those memories, I generally steer clear of praying for revival for fear of hyping people into a kind of  expectation that inevitably ends in jadedness.

I'm nervous of an overly Pentecostal approach to prayer that expects God to change everything in one sudden, cataclysmic moment. Truth be told, I've found much of the life of prayer is about inheriting the promises of God little by little through faith and patience.  However, I'm equally nervous of the more popular Contemplative approach to prayer that insists all change must be slow and gradual. Biblically and in Church history, we have to acknowledge that there were times when God did in fact come and dramatically change everything for His people in an instant. These times were described as Revivals, and God wants us to persist in praying for a suddenly;  a dramatic in-breaking of His power and mercy, even while we labor in the slowlies. God is the God of slowlies and suddenlies.

Today in the book of Ezra, I found a prayer for revival I can pray without nervousness. It is so beautifully understated. Twice, Ezra uses the phrase, "Grant us a little reviving." He is not asking for God to come down and build the temple all by Himself. There is not an ounce of abdication in Ezra's prayer.  It is prayed before Israel return from exile to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and they know that it will not be done over-night. So they are asking to be revived so that they can re-build. 

Ezra prayed that God would revive His people by satisfaction, for mission and for re-building.  

1.  Revived by Satisfaction 'That our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery" 9:8  This  request comes off the back of Israel's repentance from idolatry. It is a prayer for personal revival. When Saul's son Jonathan ate from honeycomb after battle in 1 Samuel 14, he said, "See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of that honey." Ezra borrows from this idea, praying that Israel would not only be cleansed from their sin, but that they would turn to God and be revived by Him as they feast on the honey of His goodness. Revival begins as God's people are broken out of  slavery to sin and find satisfaction in Jesus.  

2.  Revived for Mission 'Our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia.' v 9 Can we see how God is taking His people's eyes off their own slavery and has started to set it on doing a work in their city? This is a key in revival, where our satisfaction in Jesus turns to a desire for transformation in our cities.  This desire was met with  favor from 'the kings of Persia.' Note that favor with those in authority does not mean we automatically get a Christian government. The Babylonian empire did not become Jewish, but their king looked favorably upon the Jewish exiles and granted them finance and permission to carry out their mission. This is something we can be praying for the Church, not necessarily that we would be in positions of power, but that we would experience favor with authorities rather than persecution.  "Pray for those in authority that we may have  live quiet and godly lives. This is pleasing to God who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:3-4)   It could be argued that revival begins when the Church is free to get on with the job of being the Church, proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel in all sectors of society, re-building the city's ruins. This includes a harvest of salvation, the upholding of godly values throughout society, and a rise of mercy and justice in the face of corruption and oppression. 

3. Revived for Re-building "Grant us some reviving to set up the house of God and to repair it's ruins."

The returning exiles not only re-built the city walls, they also rebuilt the temple; the house of God. This parallels God's purpose for His Church to be restored to a place of His glory. A glorious church experiences a restoration of robust gospel proclamation and a demonstration of the Spirit's power that results in a harvest. Worship is restored to reverent passion and community becomes authentic, sacrificial and bold. Revival must include a revival of the builders of the church.  Let's ask that God would energize us to be builders.    

This prayer is so faith-filled, yet so responsible. No freak show here. Just an earnest plea for revival.
Let's pray it together. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Southlands' Ezra Fast: Rebuilding, Repentance and Revival.

As a church we've embraced a rhythm of fasting for three days each Fall and while this rhythm always feels inconvenient when it comes around, God has never failed to meet us in His mercy and power as we've sought Him. Fasting together has become for us a sacred rhythm. 

This particular fast, from 9/11 to 9/13, we've felt prompted to fast around the themes we find in the Book of Ezra, when Israel implored God for protection on their return journey from exile in Babylon. What drew my attention to the passage was the sense of a fast for a people on the move. 

"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods." 8:21

While Israel's context was unique, I resonate deeply with the desire for safe journey for our church as we multiply again to launch Southlands Chino, not to mention the recent church plant in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Just this week, we sent one team to build the orphanage in Mexico and another to re-build houses after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Jesus has called us to be a people on the move and we need His provision and protection for us, our children and our goods on this God-orchestrated journey. 

Moreover, on the anniversary of 9/11 with continued threats to national security and with Hurricane Irma bringing untold devastation in its path, this fast is an appropriate time to implore God for His protection and intervention in extremely volatile times for our nation as a whole.

Brett McCracken, one of our pastors, has written a brilliant devotional guide for our Ezra  fast, with practical wisdom for fasting and a daily theme to pray through personally in the mornings and evenings as we gather to pray. The themes are re-building, repentance and revival. If you did not get a hard copy this morning at one of our four communities, you can download it online from our website at We would love you to join us on this journey of seeking God together.

Finally, I love the humble confidence expressed by Ezra as he calls Israel to fast. "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers to protect us...for the hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath against all who forsake Him. So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty." 

The Lord listens to the entreaties of His people and His hand is for good on all who seek Him. So then, let's seek Him.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sabbatical Rest and Return

It's been ten weeks since I began my social media detox. That's meant no blogging,  photos or pithy quotes for over 80 days. I know because I get sulky updates from Facebook every few days reminding me of my neglectful ways. Instead, I've read a lot, underlined my Bible  plenty and filled a couple of journals with prayers and musings. It's been delightful to be able to withdraw and reflect without feeling any pressure to produce. That's been the theme of our sabbatical. We are profoundly thankful to God for the generosity of our team and church who have sacrificed much to give us space to be without having to do

The word sabbatical comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, which means to stop, to rest and to celebrate. It's where we get the Biblical idea of sabbath, which first occurred when  God rested from his work on the 7th day of creation and reflected on all He had made declaring, "It is good." God stopped and rejoiced in His work, and calls us as his image bearers to do the same for our own good. A sabbatical then, is really an extended sabbath intended for rest, joyful reflection on a past season of work, and restoration for the next season of  work. So how has that been then?

Sabbatical Re-centering

It's been a gift to be able to do a fair amount of travel, taking our kids to visit One Light Church in Thailand, vacation in South East Asia, drop our oldest son, Asher at college in Chicago and vacation in Santa Barbara. We've made some amazing family memories in some beautiful places and now have my parents with us for seven weeks, all of which we treasure with gratitude. Speaking of travel though, when you're driving in foreign cities, google maps becomes a vital travel companion. Truth be told, in an otherwise peaceful sabbatical our most unpeaceful moments have been trying to navigate with google maps! That said, there's this button on google maps called re-center that is extremely helpful. It's when your car icon has moved off the screen so you're looking at a map and following a voice command but you can't actually see where you are on the map. When you press re-center you suddenly see yourself in right perspective with your surroundings. That's what Sabbatical has felt like for Rynelle and I; a blessed re-centering of our souls that has produced clarity and peace on the journey marked out for us.

Sabbatical struggle

I know, you're probably thinking, "Struggle? Yeah right, the struggle is real, I bet. Ten weeks of vacation!" But honestly, while Sabbatical has been a profound gift, it's also been a struggle for me, because I'm not that good at stopping to rest and rejoice. I, like many of you, feel the need to keep producing because my identity tends to be quite wrapped up in what I do. Judith Shulevitz refers to this as "the soul's inner murmur of self-reproach." This means that even after my body has rested, my soul is still murmuring with a need to justify itself through producing, making deep rest of the soul quite illusive. What we need is a rest beneath the rest and I found that this deep rest; a kind of REM of the soul, didn't come so much through vacationing in exotic places, as fun as that was. It came through some sacred home rhythms. In fact, six of the ten weeks have been spent hiding out at home in a  rhythm of soul care, making every effort to enter His rest. (Heb 4:11 ) Such a conundrum, isn't it, that entering into Christ's rest requires effort? But it does. 

A real keep for us was having a sabbatical team of friends made up of the Barrs, the Saltas's and the Santiago's, who've provided wise care and counsel for us leading up to and during the time. We've been greatly helped by going for prayer every week with our friends, the Sappingtons. We've each had a spiritual director who has prepared us for our own personal solitary retreat. We've spent some time doing some personality testing and coaching for our marriage. We've visited other churches on Sundays and re-worked our devotional disciplines. All of these rhythms have been a means of grace to us. Jesus has been very kind, decisive and near as we've sought Him through them. As Augustine wrote, "Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." 

Sabbatical return  

So what now? Well, we return this Sunday, ready to get back into a more realistic rhythm of work and rest. We've so missed our Southlands family. I've missed preaching, leading and pastoring. We're eager to catch up on all God has been doing through the summer at Southlands, and excited for the launch of the new academic year which includes the launch of Southlands Chino. But we want to make every effort to translate some of our new rhythms of rest into our current rhythms of work. I'm not wanting to go back to business as usual as much as I'm wanting us all to learn to work with Christ, whose yoke is easy. This is why my first message this Sunday at Southlands Brea will be on The Sacred Rhythm of Sabbath. Can't wait to see you there.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Golden Patina: Tribute to my Parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

There are days when the miles between us and the rest of our family seem unbearably far. Today is one of those days. Today, family and friends from all over South Africa will gather to celebrate my parents' Golden Wedding anniversary on their patio that overlooks the lush Emberton Nature Reserve of Durban, South Africa. And my heart longs to be there with them.

Fifty years of steadfast covenant-keeping fueled by their covenant-keeping God, means their marriage has been refined like gold in the crucible. Theirs is not just a faithful marriage, though. It's an intimate marriage. They've cherished each other like you'd cherish a precious piece of antique jewelry. Long after their marriage lost the unblemished shine of newly-wedded bliss, it developed the  golden patina of a priceless antique because they cherished it. This doesn't just happen automatically. A marriage that has a golden patina requires elbow grease. Constant communication, tireless forgiveness, fervent prayer and a bold sense of adventure. And did I mention faithful sex? Yes, that's a thing. 
Patina is what their marriage has developed over fifty years of steadfast cherishing. 

As the Old Bard so aptly put it in his Sonnet

Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds, 
Or bends with the remover to remove. 
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 
It is the star to every wandering bark.

Mom and Dad have lived in the same house that Dad built when I was just a year old. That's forty-three years, if I'm not mistaken. Over the years, my inventive Dad has never stopped adding wings and lofts to the now sprawling brick dwelling, which bears my mom's imaginative decor touches. If ever a house was a home, it is the house at 17 Edward Drive. It's no exaggeration that literally hundreds of people have found family, wisdom and solace in that home over the years. I've heard countless people trace their Jesus-story back to some holy moment in Mom and Dad's lounge, as they dunked one of  Mom's home-made rusks into their hand-made coffee mugs. I wonder how many angels they've entertained with their extraordinary gift of hospitality? 

They've served as leaders in the same church for as long as they've lived in their home. The church behind the butcher shop, as it's affectionately called. Long after the butcher shop closed though, Mom and Dad continued to be like Priscilla and Aquila* to that church. If you want to know how to love a church faithfully through thick and thin, ask my folks. If you want to know how to speak truth to power while still remaining submitted to that power, ask my folks. My Dad has admitted that at times he may have been a pebble in the shoe of the numerous pastors at KMC, because he's such a stickler for truth. That may be the case, but I don't know if you could wish for a more supportive couple to have on your team, who fear God, tremble at His Word and love His people tirelessly. I wish they were on the team we lead!  

People are often shocked when they hear that Rynelle and I did our pre-marriage counseling with my parents. "That must have been so embarrassing!" they say. "Especially the session on sex!" they say. It's true. There were some cringe-worthy moments. But honestly, we could not think of a more worthy fixed-mark to look to as we tried to navigate our wandering bark towards faithful covenant. Their marriage has been a more influential model to us than any other. These days we're inclined to value shiny new things above vintage patina, because patina requires great patienceBut Rynelle and I are so grateful for the authentic treasure of Mom and Dad's marriage in our lives, because it reflects the steadfast grace of God for us in such tangible ways, reminding us that patina is not only preferable

It is possible

*a married couple in the book of Acts who had a tent-making business, travelled with and supported the Apostle Paul, and had a church that met in their house.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a more Compelling Complementarianism part 2

Last week I posted the first in a 2 part blog here. I suggested that husbands and wives were created to complement eachother in marriage and ministry, which should liberate us because equality of dignity does not come from equality of role. Having written about the liberation that should come from this view, I want to explore the motivation that should come from this view. 

Motivation: Putting the Complementary back into Complementarian

My main concern here is not to try and convert Egalitarians into Complementarians. Kathy Keller does a much better job of that than I could ever hope to do in her book, Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles.  My real concern though,  is to motivate my Complementarian brothers and sisters to put the complementary back into Complementarian ministry. With this in mind, Gavin Ortlund writes a very insightful article entitled 4 Dangers for Complementarians, in which he warns against trying to live this view out faithfully but not beautifully, among other dangers.  

When God created male and female in His image, he envisaged that Adam and Eve would be like two complementary colors creating a more compelling and beautiful image together than apart. When God said that Eve would be Adam’s helper, (Genesis 2:18) the word is ezer, which carries no connotations of weakness or inferiority at all. In fact, God uses the same word to describe how He helps His creation when they cannot help themselves. (Psalm 46:1) The term means complementary strength. The essence of our Complementarian conviction is that Adam needed Eve’s complementary strength in order to fulfill the call to be an image bearer of God in every sphere of life.

When it comes to the family, we know that having an absent mother or father makes the raising of children a very difficult task, and that a husband and wife who parent as a united, yet diverse team, create parenting synergy in the home that is beneficial for children. They’re better together. Yet when it comes to the family of God, we seem to downplay this principle of synergy because of our conviction that men and women play different roles. Many elder’s wives in Complementarian churches seem absent in the name of having distinct roles. It seems to me that when it comes to ministry in the family of God, we Complementarians are more prone to have conversations about what women can’t do than what they can do.

I realize that for many wives, investment in ministry with their husband is expressed in a myriad meaningful, yet invisible ways. Prayer, encouragement, hospitality and keeping the homes fires burning are all vital ways of providing complementary help. It seems that the Apostle Peter's wife was this kind of pastor's wife. We know that she traveled with Peter, which must have been very costly to their family, but we don't hear anything more of her except that Peter saw her as a 'co-heir in the gracious gift of life.' ( 1 Pet 3:7) She might have been invisible but she was certainly invested. 

However, there was another pastor's wife called Priscilla in the early church. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had a church that met in their house. (1 Cor 16:19) They also owned a business together that employed Paul during his tent-making years and were ministry companions with him on his apostolic travels. When Paul left them to care for the church in Corinth, both Priscilla and Aquila brought the young preacher Apollos into their home and taught him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 19) They were a formidable team, but Priscilla was more visible and vocal than Peter's wife. 

A spacious Complementarianism avoids gender stereo-typing, making room for both Peter's wife and Aquila's wife on a team. Some wives are happier playing a supporting role behind the scenes and they should be honored as such. Other wives may have more visible gifts of leadership, administration, speaking, worship leading or prophecy, and they should be celebrated rather than held at arms length in case their gifting makes men feel insecure. We need to avoid a patriarchal view of women that caricatures women as weak and resists their strength as un-submissive.  

The key though, is to find how husbands and wives can complement each other as a team. Again, Lewis speaks of the mutual submission and synergy between him and his wife in vivid terms. "For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was Joy not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more. If we had never fallen in love we should have none the less been always together, and created a scandal."

Complementary Rhythms

A shift towards greater synergy cannot be done out of obligation. It must be done out of conviction and felt need, because it is costly to all parties involved. However, if there is sufficient motivation, here is how we have pursued it as a team at Southlands. This is by no means prescriptive to any church or eldership team. It is how we function at this point in time with our wives and may be a good place for you to start.

a. Prayer together for the church. Finding a regular opportunity to share and pray for people and situations that are praise-worthy or burdensome is a great place to start for husbands and wives.  Although a wife may not necessarily feel burdened for the church in the same way as her husband, she can empathize and help with the burden in the same way that a husband can empathize with and help his pregnant wife while not carrying the baby himself. Prayer together halves our burdens and doubles our joy, honestly.   

 b. Counseling married couples together. In some ways this is obvious. An elder counseling married couples by himself may be able to offer wisdom but will not be nearly as effective as when he is with his wife. The ability to share their own personal challenges and lessons in their marriage as well as have a wife’s unique perspective will generally serve to untangle difficult marriage situations much more effectively.

c. Providing perspective on major decisions. Our elders meet together every week to discuss and pray for pastoral, operational and visionary matters in the life of the church. Every second week our wives meet together with us. This is costly, especially for those with young families or busy careers, but proves effective in maintaining team chemistry and building a culture of shared ownership within the church. Beyond this it has proved invaluable in hearing our wives perspective, often intuitive and sometimes strategic, as we seek God on significant decisions we face as elders. Our wives have never assumed the role of governing the church, but we are aware that on many occasions they have had wisdom from God that has greatly enhanced our ability to make wise decisions for the sake of the church.

d. Public Mothering moments in a meeting. At times there are moments in a gathering that seem more appropriate for a mother’s voice than a father’s voice, just like some songs are better led by a woman than a man. Giving room for an elder’s wife to speak on marriage and parenting from a women’s point of view, do a call to worship, or to share on an aspect of God’s character like selflessness, faithfulness, or kindness. This may include prayer or prophecy or a word of encouragement that causes the church to feel the wisdom and tenderness of a mother.

 The proof of the pudding is in the eating

We are in the process of adopting a church that comes from an Egalitarian denomination to become a Southlands community. Our Complementarian position was one of their sticking points until they met our elder's wives, saw how strongly invested they were in the church and observed how their voices and ministries were celebrated as an integral part of our leadership team. I was saddened to hear their impression of Complementarian churches was that women were kept as silent servants in the background, rather than empowered to be vital ministers in the life of God's family. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A Complementarian view of men and women should give dignity to both men and women and produce synergy as they work together as a team.   

Let's ask God for his help to move us from together alone to better together. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a More Compelling Complementarianism Part 1

Together Alone

While I still have much to learn as a leader, one of the joys of my current role is coaching and caring for other pastors. I schedule monthly calls on Wednesdays to connect with them. Sometimes my wife and I speak to the couples together. Other times husbands and wives will talk separately, but suffice to say that Rynelle is very engaged with this coaching privilege and responsibility. Yesterday, I spoke to four pastors. One was in England, one in Thailand, and two were in the USA. My wife followed up with two of their wives. Skype and face-time are amazing coaching technologies, no matter what your line of work.

Two of the four husbands spoke of their wives hitting the wall physically and emotionally. They were finding the burden of mothering young kids, home making, pastoring women in the church and carrying out practical duties in the church overwhelming. To make matters worse, they felt disconnected from their husbands as they worked side-by-side in isolation. Together Alone. The stats tell a dreadful story. In a recent Barna Group study of pastors and their wives in the USA, 90% of pastors' wives wished their husbands had a different occupation.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about valid grounds for divorce, he replied, "What God has joined let no man separate."(Matt 19:6) I know the context here is the breaking of the actual marriage covenant. However, Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of the marriage covenant rests on the Biblical mystery that a husband and wife are 'no longer two, but one flesh.In the first marriage in Eden, Adam and Eve’s one flesh intimacy extended beyond the bedroom into the garden. Eve was a suitable helper, not just as companion, lover and mother, but also as a worker. It was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it is still not good for a man to be alone as he cultivates the field of the church.

PJ Smyth in his book, The World needs more Elders, suggests that "Complementarian theology should liberate us because we do not equate equal value with equal role. However, It should also motivate us towards team because the Bible sees a husband and wife as one flesh." (2017:146) 

So what does it mean for pastors and wives to be both liberated by and motivated toward complementary ministry?

1. Liberation: "Let us wear equality but let us undress at night." 

Many believe the fundamental problem is that wives need equal roles to their husbands in ministry in order to feel equally valued. This is a hotly debated issue for which I feel real empathy. It is tragic that for many centuries, the Church did not let the Scripture lead it away from the general oppression of women conducted by society. The church should have seen that the Bible does not teach the inferiority of women. Equality in terms of dignity, freedom and exercise of gifting are Biblical values. The gospel brought about a democratization of the Spirit to the church. “In the last days will pour our my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17) “In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave not free, male nor female.” (Gal 3: 28)  I believe every church should be intentional in empowering women to be active ministers in every sphere of the life of the church, save that of an elder. (1 Tim 3) However, when we make equality our highest value, we begin to tamper with God’s created order of government in marriage and ministry and get confused between gifting and government.

C.S. Lewis wrote a collection of essays in 1943 called "Present Concerns', in which he spoke of the need on the one hand to address the historic oppression of women, and yet maintain a Biblical pattern of government in the home and the church on the other. 

 “Husbands have so horribly abused their power over women that to women, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an absolute ideal. This whole question is of immense practical importance. Every intrusion of the spirit that says, ‘I’m as good as you’ into our family and spiritual life is to be resisted as jealously as every intrusion of bureaucracy or privilege into our politics. Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night.”  (1943:192)

When we reduce equality of value to mean equality of role, we miss the very mystery of the united diversity that lies at the heart of the Trinity. Unity is less compelling when it is reduced to uniformity, in the same way that two people singing exactly the same melody is less compelling than two people singing different melodies together in harmony.   

Tapping into the Mystery

At it’s best, a Complementarian understanding of marriage and ministry taps into the mystery of the Trinity. Men and Women are created as image bearers of the Godhead; united in their diversity, recognizing authority, yet living in constant mutual honor towards one another. It celebrates the distinct roles of men and women in ministry as necessary and beautiful rather than being demeaning. It evokes a more compelling picture of the Godhead with  complementary colors rather than competing ones.  If the Biblical distinctions between husbands and wives, or elders and elder's wives are viewed as demeaning to women, then surely Jesus’ submission to His Father should demean Him? There is also fluidity in the Trinity. Christ submits to the Father and yet He has been honored with a Name above every name. Husbands and elders lead through sacrifice and through honoring others, not through seeking their own honor. Let’s tap into the beautiful Trinitarian mystery of diverse unity rather than uniformity.

Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night. (to be continued)