women, Christian, ministry

Getting my MRS. Degree

I went to college to get my BA and my MRS. Degrees. I don’t know if anyone still talks about this, but back in the 90’s, it was a joke that many women, especially Christian women, were attending college to find a husband. My sophomore year in college, the school newspaper had a front-page article on this topic. I am unashamed to admit that I was totally one of them. My parents told me that I couldn’t get a ring on my finger until I had a degree in my hand. I am very efficient and opted to double major. I love school. Seriously, on bad days, I fantasize about a long vacation and getting another college degree. (It’s a sickness, I know.) College seemed like a perfect way to find a smart, motivated husband. My plan was to find a husband, get married right after graduation, work a little while and then once I had kids, stay at home and raise them.

I had equated a good, Godly woman with being a wife and stay-at-home mother. And I didn’t invent this idea all on my own. I took in both implicit and explicit messages from the Christian community around me. Messages that said child bearing was my highest calling. Messages about how being soft spoken was not only feminine but Christ like. Verses that promoted those ideals were highlighted, and the ones that didn’t were glazed over. The worst thing a Christian woman of my generation could have been called was a feminist. Feminists were career driven, man-hating, pro-abortion, anti-Jesus, women whose sinful hearts had turned them away from God’s call in their lives.
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And as someone who truly wanted to be a wife and stay-at-home mother, these messages simply reinforced my “career” path. I wanted what I was told I should want.

I got married during graduate school. We had kids and I homeschooled. GASP. I mean, that was my “calling.” Right? There never was any conflict inside me… until I wanted something different.

Until someone questioned whether I should lead our church’s youth ministry or if it was unbiblical for me as a woman to teach high school boys. Until we decided to send our kids to school and I needed to go to work to pay for tuition. Until I got interested in issues of social justice and came to understand more about both local and global issues of inequality and injustice. It’s hard to not be a feminist when you learn how women in some parts of the world are living. Heck, it’s hard to not become a feminist the very first time someone tells your daughter she can’t do something because she’s a girl. In a very short time, I began wrestling with who I was a woman of God, and if I could reconcile being a working mother, a feminist, and a ministry leader with being Christian.

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Mom pic

It might sound crazy to some of you, because today’s culture is very different than is was a quarter of a century ago. (I died a little writing that line.) Yet every culture has its blind spots. And it goes beyond the American Christian culture we live in, to the subcultures that we find ourselves in. Your culture is sending you messages about what it means to be a Christian, what is right and wrong, moral and immoral. You need to weigh those messages out against the whole counsel of scripture and critically analyze what is truly Godly. You need to think critically about everything from views on marriage and sexuality, political parties and their stance on gun control and immigration, to gender roles in the church, the home, and the workplace. You need to evaluate views of modesty, alcohol, and the legalization of marijuana. You need to be able to critically analyze these messages so you can understand Truth with a capital T.

CS Lewis coined the phrase “Chronological snobbery” and argued that every generation has their own biases. If you only read the Christian literature of your generation you are getting a very slanted viewpoint. He argues that you must read a variety of works from different generations in order to help protect you from your own generation’s bias. If you are only reading tweets and blogs and the newest best sellers in the Christian living section of Barnes and Nobel you are missing so much. To protect yourself from this bias, CS Lewis suggests a cross generational reading diet.

 “It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to three new ones…. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period…. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books….The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds and this can only be done by reading old books.”   (As found in “CS Lewis on Chronological Snobbery” by Art Lindsley)

I’d add to that quote, something I am sure Lewis would agree with. We have to know our Bibles well. Our Bibles need to be the root from which all of our beliefs stem. We need to weigh what the world says against what God says, and when the two conflict, we need to side with God. That doesn’t mean that we don’t critically analyze scripture, looking at scripture against scripture, scripture in the context of the culture it was written in, and identifying a broad view of scripture as a single great story told across generations.

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Christians in different times and in different places in the world have defined the ideals of Christian men and women differently. We need to be careful that we don’t confuse our culture’s ideals of Godly with God’s definition of Godly. The Gospel message must be true everywhere and for all people. If we impose on it standards that cannot apply to a specific group of people, it might not really be the Gospel.

Growing up believing that Godly girls didn’t have careers, invalidated entire groups of Godly women who either had to work (like single women and the impoverished around the world) and those women who chose to work (you know, like say Mother Teresa) And the issue of women with careers is only one area in which cultural ideals can lead people into false interpretations of Godliness.

Fortunately for us, the Bible is filled with examples of godly men and women who are as different as can be. There are kings and queens and peasants and priests. There are children, young men, and old women. There are the single, married, widowed and divorced. There are working mom’s and eccentric prophets. It took me years of internal struggle to see that there is a whole lot of room under the label “Godly.” The real challenge is in finding room for our Christian brothers and sisters in our own hearts.

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Christian, Proverbs 31, women

Stumbling into the Truth of Being a Godly Woman

A few years back, I resolved to strengthen the spiritual disciplines in my life. I desired to be more consistent in my quiet times, deepen my relationship with God, and see more fruit of the Spirit flowing from my life. Step 1: buy a well-rated women’s devotional on Proverbs 31. I determined that I would give it my all while understanding that some of the book might not work with my life. Maybe that was a tad prophetic thought.

Honestly, it didn’t started out as a train wreck. Years of being a Christian prepared me for the inevitable “wake up early for your quiet time.” At first it was getting up 20 minutes early, but later she was asking me to exercise for an hour before work. Let’s do some math. I leave for work at 7:00 am. Back up the 60 minutes I am going to need to get ready for work if I am now showering and blow-drying my hair in the morning instead of the evening. Backtrack another hour for exercise and the 20 minutes of devotional time, nay the 30 minutes if you count needing time to wake up enough to not be quite so hostile towards Jesus. Hello 4:30 am. Because she also recommended 8 hours of sleep, I would be going to bed at 8:30 pm. People, I have 3 teenagers. I get home from work at 5:30. We eat dinner at almost 7. Can you even imagine what kind of life that would be?

Forget spending time with my husband and kids, getting up in the middle of the night to speed-walk through the neighborhood will make me a better Christian. Not!

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There were suggestions about prayer closets, healthier eating, juice cleanses, buying a mini trampoline, finding the right clothing color scheme, part-time employment, and so many other things. I just couldn’t do all the things she was asking.  Just about everything had to be modified or completely ignored. Maybe navy is my color, and I should never wear black, but I just wasn’t about to purchase whole new wardrobe even with the money I was going to make off my real estate ventures.

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My “prayer closet”

Now, I know I’m being kind of hard on this book but she is not an anomaly. So much of what she said can be found in hundreds of women’s conferences, books, and blogs. I don’t know what men’s Christian living books and events are like, but some how I don’t think they are telling men what kind of power ties to buy and how they need to invest in expensive cologne to entice their wives more. I don’t think they are promoting essential oils, organic, clean eating, and the latest in home gym equipment to make sure their temples are well maintained. Maybe I’m wrong.

Sometimes you feel tied to a “truth” that you can’t fully reconcile yourself to, until the curtain is pulled back and you realize the Wizard is just a man in a machine. I had wanted so badly to be this Proverbs 31 woman I had been taught so much about until I understood why she was just smoke and mirrors. I needed to see Christianity broken down into such ridiculous standards before I could find the truth.

We have allowed the idea of being a Godly Woman to be attached to so many things that are good, but not innately Godly.

  • Does the women in a third-world nation raising her children on the proceeds of her small farm need to buy exercise equipment to be more Godly?
  • Does the woman living in an urban flat need to turn her walk-in closet into a “prayer closet” so she can hear God speak more clearly?
  • Does the low-income mother need to buy all organic food with her food stamps to be a Godly mother?
  • Unless her plan is to meet Jesus sooner, does the woman in the bad neighborhood need to take a 5 am walk through town praying over her neighbors?
  • Does the Godly woman even need to have children? A spouse?

If the message you are spreading to others about what it means to be a Christian does not apply universally to all people, it is not the true Gospel. That doesn’t mean that you can’t provide tips for applying that truth to a variety of unique situations, but the application cannot become the gospel.

I needed to see how badly women were defining the Proverbs 31 woman, before I could finally find her already there inside myself.

I have a long way to go, but I am figuring out how to apply the Gospel to my own life, in my own way. I’m not making the Gospel fit my life. The Gospel is the Gospel, but having my quiet time in the middle of the living room after dinner, works better for me than at 5 am in a quiet corner of my bedroom. Eating a doughnut in the car on my way to work so I can sleep a little longer and stay up a little later with my kids isn’t going to land me in the pits of hell, and it might even make me a better, although slightly larger, Christian woman.

Barb 40th

So if you see me without make-up, wearing black leggings as pants, and eating doughnuts, please know that I’m a work in progress, and I don’t think Jesus minds.

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Christian, family, grief and loss, mental health, parenting teens

Borrowing Trouble From Yesterday

Proverbs 17: 21,22
21 He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy.
22 A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Please let me be clear right upfront. I am not calling my children fools, any more than I might say of anyone. We are all fools at times and in certain areas of our lives.  However, I wanted to make an connection between the fool and the struggling or wayward child. It doesn’t matter exactly what the details are, but a child whose life looks different from a parent’s dream for their child, can result in a parent who struggles with sorrow, grief, and a lack of joy. This could be physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. It could be illness. It could be a prodigal child who has rejected the faith their parents have so prayerfully tried to instill in him or her. It might be a child who is simply making foolish or risky decisions regarding academics, alcohol, dating, or a host of other areas.

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Parents, if this is you, please listen up. You are hurting, fearful, broken, grieving, disappointed, angry, sad, anxious, or any combination of these and many other emotions. You had an image of what your family would be, and it hasn’t turned out that way. You were sure you’d be a good parent, and you promised yourself you wouldn’t make the same mistakes your parents made. Maybe you didn’t; maybe you made different mistakes. I can only promise you that you most definitely made mistakes. It would be impossible for you not to have. We all do. Don’t try to evaluate your mistakes by comparing them to others. You can’t take them back. Personally, I know I can’t seem to let mine go. If you are anything like me, you can’t let yours go either. Please believe me that hanging on to them is only hurting your child and yourself more. Do what I say and not what I do.

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Perhaps the mistakes you made directly resulted in the exact negative choices you desperately wanted to avoid in your child. Maybe you held on too tight, or maybe you were too lenient. Maybe you are wracked with guilt and “what ifs”. Maybe you are grieving the happy home you though you’d have or the parent you thought you’d be. Maybe the issues your child has have absolutely nothing to do with you and you know it. Maybe it was the results of genetics, accidents, or someone else’s sin. Maybe you’re angry with God or someone else. I really can’t say for sure. If you’re like me, then you deal with stress and anxiety about the long term future of your child(ren) and how their life will turn out. Maybe you fear for your safety or the safety of your loved ones wether because of depression, violence, or physical ailments. I’ve talked with so many parents who have walked various challenging roads with their kids. Some need to establish care plans for their children in their wills, some worry about access to weapons. Many are on their knees in broken hearted prayers every single day.

Life is hard, and you have become skilled in borrowing trouble from tomorrow. You are even more skilled at borrowing trouble from yesterday.

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Stop it.

Hear me.

God has this. I know it’s easy to say this, and it’s near impossible to do this. I don’t mean to suggest that you stop worrying forever; I mean for right now. Stop.

This is robbing your joy and destroying your health. I don’t think it was a mistake that Solomon put the next verse where he did. The stress and worry that is marking you life is shortening your life and making you unhealthy. So for just this minute- stop. The worry and anxiety will come back soon enough, so for now count your blessings and embrace something wonderful or beautiful or good that also marks your life. Maybe start with all that is right and good with your difficult child, all that you love and deeply want to see flourish. And when the worry or fear or guilt returns, stop again. It’s going to be a constant battle. Don’t set up some unattainable goal like “never worry again,” that when you fail to achieve will leave you defeated. Stop for just a moment, for as many moments as you can, as often as you can. Start making a new normal.

Your life isn’t what you dreamed of or hoped for, but that doesn’t mean it is without it’s joys. Find those joys. Live in those joys. You need your health to care for those kids (big and small) who are struggling through life. Your kids need the best you, and your best medicine is joy.

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book review, Christian, social justice

Love Does: A Review (the book and the organization)

The name Bob Goff came up so frequently in the past year or so I had to check him out. I didn’t know much about him, just a mention of him by other authors, a forward in a book, or someone mentioned reading Love Does. Hearing he had a new book coming out, I made reading it a priority. I borrowed it from Hoopla, because I almost never have time to read a paper book and Hoopla fits my budget of FREE.

I’m not used to a book that immediately draws me in, but right from the get go I couldn’t stop listening. At first I was trying to reconcile a man who was a great mentor to others, a human rights lawyer who put human traffickers away, but who also thought flying out of a Jeep in an auto accident was cool. How could all be the same person? But it was.

The stories were highly entertaining, but the book had real meaning and purpose. It helped me think about some of the relationships I have. I felt like I understood love a little more. I wanted to love better.

That led me to look up the organization that Bob Goff runs that works to secure justice for the oppressed and underprivileged in Africa (Uganda, Somali) and Asia (Nepal, India, Iraq). Love Does is doing amazing work! I must say that the idea of traveling with them sounds like an amazing chance to go on an adventure, but that’s not in my budget…nor do I expect it ever will be.

The only thing even remotely negative about this book is that Bob Goff’s life seemed unattainable for me. I tend to like to think that maybe one day I could be as wild and crazy as the authors whose lives I read about. But Bob, well, I’m never going to have the funds to take my kids to visit 27 different nations, even if the the leaders of those countries invited us over. I have no desire to sail across the pacific with rudimentary navigational tools. Now, my dad on the other hand, he’d have loved it. Maybe there in lies the draw. I’m not like Bob, and I don’t have his resources, but I know and love people who are similar to him in spirit and passion and that makes Bob relatable even if he’s unattainable for me personally. I bet Bob would be an awesome person to chat with over dinner or go on an adventure with.  I loved reading every word of Love Does. I can’t wait to get my hands on his next one Everybody Always. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

So, check out the book Love Does, but more importantly, check out the organization. Support them with your resources and prayers. And if you ever get the chance to travel with them, share your pictures. I’d love to see them.

And Bob Goff, our house probably isn’t as nice as the houses of some of the world leaders you have met, but the food will be good, the conversation lively, and there is a key to our house just waiting for you. Come on by.

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Christian, marriage, ministry, women

He Sits at the City Gates

Her husband is known in the gates
Where he sits among the elders of the land.
(Proverbs 31:23)

It isn’t easy to be married to me. Let me give you an example of a recent conversation. (These interactions happen regularly in our home. This is just one area in which out views diverge.)

Me: You say you believe in a literal interpretation of “An elder must be the husband of one wife,” but you don’t. You believe an elder must be a man because of this verse, but you don’t believe the verse literally.
Jay: Yes I do.
Me: But you don’t think he needs to be married. You’d be okay with a single guy being an elder. If the pastor’s wife died, you won’t say he needed to step down because he didn’t have a wife.
Jay: Yes, because I don’t think that’s what that verse is saying. It’s saying that if the guy is married he can only be married to one woman.
Me: So, you’re okay with saying that the elder doesn’t need to be a husband nor does he need to have a wife, but you still claim to “literally” interpreting the verse to mean it must be a man because of the word husband even though that man doesn’t literally need to be a husband.
Jay: Yes.
Me: But you can’t possibly interpret it to mean that in a male dominated culture, where men were the vast majority of leaders and women were often uneducated, that the author was speaking to an all male audience, and not that he was specifically excluding women.

Jay: Correct.
(It was a lot longer than this abridged version. Obviously choosing the parts that make me look particularly witty and bright.)

Let me tell you why my husband sits at the city gates. That man needs a break. He has gone out to “sit with the elders of the land” just so he can hang with the guys. I suspect they have gone to the gates of the city so that they can be as far away from home without actually leaving the city. And because they are guys, they are probably out shooting each other with paintball guns, which I expect that they find less painful than listening to all the words that their wives and kids have. Maybe instead, they will go fishing and sit in utter silence. They’ll come back home ready for the chaos of kids, the endless chores, and the day in and day out grind of their jobs. They might have discussed theology or politics or what would be the best way to beat the land speed record without causing severe harm or death.

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The all male Elders Board and Board of Trustees at my church, along with the other male leaders of our congregation, are good men. They are doing hard things. While they are doing it with limited input from women based on their convictions, they are doing it with prayer, integrity, and pure intentions. Most of the men in the God fearing churches I know are living lives of servant leadership. And if they were to included some women in those decision making teams, I am sure they would still be “sitting at the city gates” trying to snag a few minutes of guy time. I not only can’t blame them for this, I fully support this. Guys need that time, and society doesn’t encourage it in the same way they encourage girls to build friendships. Too many men don’t have close male friends, and we are all the worse for it. When they come back from these times, whether they are weekend retreats or a weekly time of coffee and conversation, they are better equipped to navigate this crazy life. They are better leaders, teachers, husbands, fathers, workers, and better Christians.

So yes, I hope I am the kind of wife whose husband sits at the city gate.

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Side note: Yes, I know that the city gate was the place where business was transacted and the leaders sat. I understand the author wasn’t talking about guy’s poker night. I am somewhat twisting the line for sake of humor and to make my point. However, society has changed. The closest walled city I know of is Quebec City, and I don’t think Canadians are more spiritual as a result of this. The word of God transcends time, but I think its wise to look it scripture keeping this in mind.

And to the Godly wife whose husband isn’t sitting among the elders be it at the city gates or among the church leaders: it may be no reflection on you at all. You might sanctify your husband through your actions, but it’s neither your job, nor within your capabilities to make that happen. God’s got that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian, gifts from God

Why Grace is Hard

Grace. It is a gift so spectacular that we sometimes cannot wrap our minds around its beauty. Grace comes to us just when we need it. It gives us strength when our strength is failing us. It carries us when we cannot take another step. Grace is life saving and life changing.

But grace is hard.

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I know it is a free gift, undeserved, and glorious, but at the same time grace is hard because it is given out only in the immediate moment of need and only to the one who needs it. Grace doesn’t show up in the worry before hand nor for bystander of the trial. Grace often comes in the most bitter of moments as a companion to the weak and a life vest for the weary. Grace forces us to live in the now, seeking the daily bread.

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John Mark McMillan said it best. “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.” At times I have yearned for grace as I bear witness to the heartache of others. Other times, I have sunk beneath the waves of my own struggles in an ocean of grace that has simply allowed me to bob to the surface for a much needed breath at the very last moment.

Grace is hard and seemingly late to the game, but it arrives every time just as He promised.

 

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Christian, ministry, women

Room at the Church Table (Part 2)

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

I find myself struggling with how the Christian church views the role of women in church governance. This is not a piece to argue for the inclusion of women in leadership positions within local churches, though I have definite opinions on this topic, but rather to look at the role women play within the local congregation that takes the complementarian view and how to better serve women within this context.

Complementarianism is belief that God created men and women different (though typically seen as equal) and prescribed different roles for them in life in general and in the family and church specifically. Examples of this are that husbands are the head of the household and wives the “helpmeet”. Churches with this perspective vary greatly in the execution of this belief with some churches not permitting women in any form of church leadership in any situation that includes men, from reading announcements from the pulpit or serving communion. Other churches allow women in all roles except as the pastor of the congregation. Most churches with this theological perspective fall somewhere in the middle.

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While I understand that stereotypes regarding what men and women are like can be grossly inaccurate, I’m going to, for the purpose of this piece, embrace some of the more common stereotypes. As a woman who has spent much of my adult life feeling inadequate because I didn’t fit the stereotype, there is a part of me that is pained by this, but also a part of me that understands that the stereotypes were formed in part because they do in fact reflect much of the general population of the church body. Even in my rebellion of these stereotypes, they reflect me in part as well.

In a typical congregation, you are more likely to fine women running the nursery and the Sunday School program for the younger grades. You are more likely to find men doing the more physical tasks of building repair, things that involve ladders and tools. If your church makes meals for new mothers, the ailing, or the homeless, those ministries are typically supported by women. If your church hosts a potluck, the men are more likely to set up and tear down the tables and chairs, and the women to cook and serve the food.

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Both men and women teach.  Even if not legislated by the church government, men are more likely to teach men and mixed audiences, and women are more likely to teach women and children.

If in fact, these differences are God created and ordained, then it makes sense that men and women would naturally fill different roles within the congregation. Let us assume that God has in fact ordained the prohibition of women from being pastors and elders. Then how does this impact women and the congregation as a whole?

  • When the elders meet to discuss finances, calendars, and building concerns, do they invite into their meetings the women who are running the Sunday School?
  • When a church member is struggling, is the hospitality ministry consulted on the best manner of meeting the practical needs of the this person/family?
  • When there is a conflict in the church that involves a woman, are female leaders consulted on the best way to address the conflict from a women’s point of view?
  • Do women’s voices lead worship for the female worshiper to follow?

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If women are really so different than men in the way we think and process information, if we are different in our nature and created to serve in different areas then men, then isn’t it important to at least include women at the table where decisions are being made? If men, who are very different in their nature and understanding, are left to make decisions the impact women, doesn’t it make sense to include women in the conversation?

If women don’t have a seat at the table where decisions are being discussed, they are not only not fully being represented, but they are not being ministered to in an effective manner.  Women aren’t being prayed over in person like their male counterparts nor are they able to offer their prayers in like manner. Women’s voices are vital to the health of the entire church community.

What if a football team only consulted offensive players and coaches in regards to practices, equipment, and plays, and never the defense or special teams? Why do we do just this in the church?

How can complementarian churches keep their convictions and still minister with and to women?

Make it a regular habit of include women in all church board meetings (elders, trustee, etc.), even if the men are the only ones who “vote” or need additional time alone. It’s not enough to go home and ask the opinions of their wives, or email some of the female leaders in the church for their input. There is a lot of wisdom found in the interaction of a group that cannot be replicated any other way. This is where the prayers of the faithful leaders are lifted up. This is where the congregation finds it’s direction, so why do churches intentionally handicap themselves by tying one of their hands behind their backs? The broader the perspectives and the more varied (age, race, gender, etc.) those seated at the table, the less likely you will be to fall into group speak or have blind spots within your ministry.

What if we simply invited women to the table? 

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