Category: Ministry

I Suffer Not a Woman–But I’ll suffer just about anything else

tchividjianTullian Tchividjian was in the news again in March, and not for good reasons. The disgraced grandson of famed mega-evangelist Billy Graham made headlines last June when he resigned from his megachurch post with the following announcement:

As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself.

At the time, while I winced at how Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, I had little sympathy for her. Infidelity is a form of abuse and unrepentant cheaters might be among the few who are actually deserving of public humiliation and shame (granted, their families are not). And while I think the “revenge affair” is still wrong and a terrible idea, I gave Tchividjian props for doing the right thing and recusing himself from ordained ministry. After all, 1 Tim. 3:2 says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” a phrase that I believe was a euphemism for “faithful to his wife” (as so translated by the NIV and NLT). The directive is repeated for deacons in 1 Tim. 3:12, and a similar qualifying phrase appears for the order of ministering widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 (“wife of one husband”). [1] Besides that, 1 Tim. 3:2 also says that an elder must be “above reproach,” and adultery is, oh I don’t know, reproachable?

In short: Christian adulterers have no business serving in ordained (or even just ordered leadership) ministry, whether as pastors, elders, or deacons. They may find other callings for their pastoral gifts, but ordained ministry should not be one of them. I personally believe this prohibition should be indefinite, but if such persons ever are restored to ministry, it should only be after years of repentance and therapy. Infidelity is not easy to repent of. It is associated with a wide variety of personality disorders and very serious character flaws, none of which are the sorts of things we want leading us from the pulpit.

Luckily for Tchividjian, the elders of Willow Creek Church [2] in Winter Springs (FL) didn’t have my grasp of the New Testament. They offered him a job just two months after his confession of adultery went public. His pastoral résumé hardly saw so much as a hiccup. Note that Willow Creek Church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, a hierarchist (“complementarian”) denomination that doesn’t ordain women even to the office of deacon (which is very clearly a biblical practice; Rom. 16:1) precisely because of their interpretation of passages like 1 Tim. 3:1-12. They wouldn’t have offered Tchividjian’s new job to a woman no matter how much adultery she hadn’t committed; the sin of being born female would have been enough to disqualify her. Yet it took them all of a few months to hand the keys to the office to Tchividjian, 1 Tim. 3:2 be damned. Now that’s all blown up for them as it turns out Tchividjian had an even earlier, undisclosed affair. (So, when Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, he was being a jerk and a hypocrite. For all we know, she was the one who had the “revenge affair.”) [NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that Tchividjian’s position at Willow Creek was “Director of Ministry Development,” a non-ordained staff support position. Unless this position was/is open to women, I think my criticism holds, and I think weeks/months after confession of adultery is still way too early to be “director” of anything ministry-related.]

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Why Egalitarian

A wall painting (c. 5th century) depicting a scene from the "Acts of Paul and Thecla" wherein Paul and Thecla's mother, Theocleia are both exhorting Thecla, their hands raised in a teaching gesture. Theocleia's eyes and hand have been vandalized.
A wall painting (c. 5th century) depicting a scene from the “Acts of Paul and Thecla” wherein Paul and Thecla’s mother, Theocleia, are exhorting Thecla, their hands raised in a teaching gesture. Theocleia’s eyes and hand have been vandalized. [1]
(Part 1 of 4)

I am a Christian egalitarian. I believe that God calls women as pastors, elders and deacons so that we should be ordained as such, and I believe that leadership of a Christian household should be shared between husband and wife with neither having final authority over the other and Christ being regarded as the head of the household. My position stands in contrast to Christian hierarchist [2] positions which restrict women from certain church leadership and teaching roles (usually pastor, elder, and sometimes deacon) and teach that the husband possesses some kind of final authority or leadership role in the home.

I arrived at this position through years of prayer, study, and personal experience. Here are 12 reasons why I am a Christian egalitarian today:

(1) Because the Creation narrative teaches that, before the Fall, men and women were created equal.

In the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1, both the man and the woman were created in the image of God (1:26-27). Both were commanded to have “dominion” over the earth (1:28). There is no trace of hierarchy in the text here. The man and the woman are equals in paradise, and God calls it “very good”  (1:31).

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I Now Pronounce You Man and Spiritual Wife

This is old news to some, but around 7 years ago, emergent church leader Tony Jones had a dirty, nasty, filthy affair with the woman who would become his second wife, Courtney Perry. [1]

Only he didn’t. At least, not according to him and his friend, Doug Pagitt, the latter having called Tony’s then-wife, Julie McMahon, and said, “Julie, this is Doug. You and Tony’s marriage is just words on a piece of paper. You may be the legal wife but Tony has a spiritual wife now.”

(That’s all according to a comment left by Julie McMahon on a September 2014 blog post wherein Tony was, ironically enough, in the process of being wistful about the fall of disgraced evangelical megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll for his “toxic theology.” Given the lack of denial of the “spiritual wife” comment from either Doug or Tony, the intensity with which Julie speaks of the memory, and the fact that a similar idea provides the framework for Jones’ Two Marriages book, I am inclined to believe that some kind of “spiritual wife” justification was, in fact, trotted out to Julie.)

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Children’s Ministry: It Isn’t Just Ministering to Kids

My son as I picked him up from Willow Creek last Wednesday night.
My son as I picked him up from Willow Creek last Wednesday night.

My nearly 11-year marriage to an unbeliever tended to leave me feeling like a single parent as my spouse seldom came to church with me. My shift to officially being a single parent has effected very little change in the way I attend church. I come, my kids come with me, and wrangling them to church and back falls squarely on my shoulders. This is a much bigger job for one set of hands than it is for two.

Different churches handle kids in church in different ways, and this variable typically depends on a tradition’s attitude towards children and the size of a church. I have spent most of the past 14 years attending relatively small churches (fewer than 100 in attendance on most Sundays), and it has been my experience that small churches have fewer options for childcare and struggle to find enough workers for the children’s ministry. Perhaps, in part, because with only one main service running, anyone who volunteers for the children’s ministry will be missing church for the week. At churches with multiple services, childcare workers have the option of working in the children’s ministry for one service, then worshiping at a different service.

My situation has always been complicated by the fact that my daughter has borderline disabilities complete with behavioral problems. I cannot count the number of times I have visited a church and dropped her off with the children’s ministry only to have her returned to me mid-service because, “we’re having a hard time with her.” While I understand why children with special needs put a strain on the volunteer resources of smaller congregations, this does not change the fact that when this happens, I get very little out of the service because I spent my time there managing my child instead of participating, listening, and reflecting. I’ve sometimes left services like this wondering why I bothered to come at all.

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Review: The God Makers

The God Makers by Ed Decker and Dave Hunt

The God Makers by Ed Decker & Dave Hunt
Buy from Amazon.com

[November 1997; reviewed 12-27-1999]

(Note: I was 17 when I wrote this review for Tekton, under just my initials “J.J.” for Jack Jeffries. I’m surprisingly still pretty satisfied with this review today. The final line originally read, “… kindling for the fire in case the lights go out this Y2K,” but that was edited as the Y2K joke quickly became dated.)

The God Makers, both the book and the movie, has been very popular among evangelicals since its publication fifteen years ago. Several members of my church have been recommending it to me for some time. Even the cashier at the store where I bought my copy (yes, I paid money for this) told me it was a great book and I should see the movie, too. Unfortunately, the people who say this really don’t know what they’re talking about. The God Makers is probably the most horrible dissertation on Mormonism that I have ever read in my life. To say the least, this book is overrated.

Read the rest of the review at Tekton

(Originally posted at ClobberBlog)