Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (A Book Review)

sbl10-pic2_compact  The following is a personal review on the book: Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (Strategic Press, Bentham, Indiana, 2007 ).  The following views are my own taking into consideration Webber’s writing and referencing him often.  I have not been commissioned by Webber to write a review or to post any blog on his material; so any recommendation on my part is completely voluntary. 

Well, I never thought this would happen, but I have finally found a book about male headship in ministry that I thoroughly agree with, appreciate, and embrace.  Malcolm Webber is actually the senior pastor at the church I attended for young adults when I was a seminary student in Indiana.  I only met with him once, but I remember he gave me his book, “Women & Leadership”, when he heard I was studying to be a pastor…and for whatever reason I never opened it until just now (I was probably scared of it pointing me away from my studies).  Now that I’ve read it, I realize that it doesn’t invalidate my studies at all, it just proves more and more why we need more women to study the Scriptures, but also why we need more men to take up their God-given and God-ordained position as leaders within the church.  Webber’s style is both highly theological and practical.  He’s given consideration to all of the major Biblical texts about women in leadership (both from the Old and New Testament) and he’s arrived at a fair conclusion that I think we can all agree with.

Here are a few points I have taken from this excellent, easy-to-read, and yet well researched book:

  • Men and women are created different yet equal. A man’s role as head of the family and of the church is suggested to us throughout Scripture.  This does not have anything to do with inferiority, but rather with a proper structure that best employs stability.  When a husband or male pastor is doing his Godly work, it is a joy for a woman to submit, not a burden.
  • That being said, women should minister and lead to the fullest extent of their divine callings.

What exactly does this mean?  Well, it can mean a few different things depending on what God has called the woman to do:

  1. Scripture (both in the Old and New Testament) affirms women in all sorts of various roles. While it is uncommon for a woman to be in a top position of power (one example of this being the judge Deborah), women have served in a variety of other capacities including as counsellors, guides, teachers, and deacons.  Occasionally, in the Scriptures and in early church history, women have taken the lead but this is almost always the exception, not the norm.  Furthermore, even in a case like Deborah, the socio-historical context of the day shows us that this was not the ideal.  Deborah stepped in to serve because men were not taking their proper authority and rule – it was not the best case scenario, but she followed God’s will because it was either having a female leader or having no leader.  Deborah actually encouraged Barak to step up to his God ordained role, but unfortunately, he seemed to be unwilling to do so fully (by the way there are several interpretations of this.  I actually wrote a seminary paper on this story, so I know at least 4 or 5 interpretations ranging from very liberal and feminist to very conservative and male headship orientated).
  2. The idea that a woman can only lead other women or children, is often taken out of context. Most Biblical passages do not suggest this (except for a few classic examples of proof-texts).  Rather, women are affirmed in many areas of leadership except for top-level leadership.

How Do We Find the Balance?

The women in leadership issue is a diverse and extremely tricky one within the life of the church, and one often fuelled with passion and emotion on either side of the debate.  We meet “liberal” churches that discourage a distinction between men and women stating that we are all equal; some even suggesting that churches that follow male-headship are hierarchical, patriarchal, and even oppressive.  These churches may even suggest that a woman must be liberated from the command to submit to her husband perhaps even stating that this design was simply brought about because of sin and was not God’s original intention: rather God created men and women as equal and thus we are all permitted to do the same things.  Conversely, we meet “conservative” churches that proof-text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 stating that a woman has no right to preach or lead in any capacity  except to women and kids.  So who’s right?

Well, Webber has some good logic:

Churches which promote egalitarianism may rob men of the opportunity to lead the family and the church as they should and may push a woman into a leadership position she is unprepared or unqualified for…BUT churches that see only males as “worthy” of leadership can often lead down the slippery slope of male domination, authoritarianism, and female passivity.  When this happens women can easily become bitter and enraged and thus be robbed of using their God ordained skills and interests for the higher good of the church and the Kingdom (Webber, 16).  Later on, Webber follows this statement up with another helpful comment: “The Bible contains both teachings and examples of women ministering and leading to the fullest extent of their callings in God.  A church that denies women the opportunity to minister has robbed itself of at least one-half of the gifts and callings God has provided.” (32)

All this to say: we should guard against either extreme.  A church too focused on the differences misses out on all the wonderful ways women can enrich worship and church life (whether or not she is preaching).  A church too focused on the similarities, forgets that God created men and women different but equal and that diversity can be our strength rather than an oppressive driving force.

What does this mean practically?

  1. Men should be encouraged to step up and lead. Rather than denying a woman the opportunity to lead, we should seek to urge men to “fill the vacuum that had previously been left by men not fulfilling their God-given leadership roles.” (Webber, 54).
  2. Rather than solely focussing on what the role of a woman in the church is, we should ask what the role of both genders is and how both men and women can fill the needs of the church. Webber states, “Instead of worrying about ‘what I can or cannot do,’ our concern should be ‘what has God called me to do?” (51)
  3. Webber asks the question: But what if a woman is called to a top-level leadership position? His response: Well then, she better go do it! (51)  He then adds a follow-up question: what if the woman is wrong and she is not actually called to pastor?  His response: Men are just as liable to hear their calling incorrectly as women and we should apply the same standards in either case: to lovingly nurture and correct this person, gently guiding them back to the Truth and helping them find ways of discerning their actual calling.  After all, we cannot place God in a vacuum (although His original and ultimate design is for men to lead with authority and love, we cannot deny that for whatever reason in God’s good purposes He has sometimes made exceptions to further His plan within a given context).

Malcom Webber’s book is one example of a thoughtful, tactful, Scripturally and theologically sound resource; however it is only one book and one interpretation.  I’ve stated my own views on numerous blogs, but my views are constantly being formed and shaped as I become more informed and aware of the vast literature available on this topic.  I’ve recently compiled a list of books on this topic from either perspective and will likely be blogging reviews as I unfold each one.  In all things, my hope is that whether you are male or female, you are seeking to serve Christ to the best of your abilities, being faithful to His calling and guidance on your life, and ultimately asking yourself how you can best minister and evangelize to bring many other lost souls into His grace and mercy and for His good Kingdom purposes.

 

 

 

How Do We Know What to Believe? (AKA: Biblical Hermeneutical Crash Course 101)

100_3162   You’ve probably heard the same arguments over and over to the point of it almost becoming nauseating.  It seems that churches still focus on the key issues and regardless of which position you take, you will always find opponents.

What are your views on pacifism?  The Just War Theory?  Should we fight in self-defence or be absolute pacifists?

What do you think of women as leaders?  Can women be embraced and encouraged in any level of church governance or only in select roles?  Or should she merely be silent and submissive to her husband and male leaders?

What is the role of a Christian single?  Is celibacy the ideal or to be shunned and discouraged?

How should a Christian respond to inter-faith relations?  Should they be rigid and only maintain their own beliefs or open-minded and accepting of all world faiths without trying to convert or evangelize?  (A blog post coming on this one later)

These are just a select sample of the various questions you may be barraged with at any given time.  And in most of these cases, one can easily point to verses in FAVOUR or also AGAINST the position.  And the frustrating thing is that sometimes these contradictory viewpoints come from within the same passage, more often the same book, and always within the same canon (the Scripture itself).  It can be therefore becoming extremely challenging to navigate the maze between finding a convicting value while also appropriating the right amount of attention and care to the variety of factors that play into the text including: the socio-historical and economic climate of the Biblical world at the time, the writings and teachings of early church fathers and mothers, Spirit led guidance and interpretation (taking place within the community), our own cultural perceptions and biases formed from our unique experiences and cultural worldviews, and finally, of course, what the text itself is saying.

While I cannot answer all of these important questions for you (I will leave that between you and God), I would like to suggest a few invaluable tools that will hopefully aid you on your journey of discovering more about what you actually believe and why you believe it.

Tips and Tools For the Trade: A Biblical Student’s Handy Toolbox

#1: Humility in Admitting Our Blind-Spots

It is impossible to read the Bible without any form of bias and anyone who tells you they let the Scripture speak solely for itself without reading anything into it themselves is either intentionally prideful or, more often than not, simply ill informed.  The truth is that when we read the Bible our own thoughts and opinions are constantly being read into it, and due to our own life experiences and circumstances we may become overly passionate, zealous, or even dogmatic and defensive over certain texts whereas we may approach others in a rather apathetic or confused manner.  Here’s an example of what I mean:  As you all know (assuming you’ve read more than one of my blog posts) I am a woman who studied theology and trained as a pastor.  Thus, when I approach Scriptural passages describing a woman’s submission or suggesting a woman should not be in a key leadership position, my back instinctively goes up.  Even though I’ve studied these passages on numerous occasions and perhaps have come to several points of justification, I still have a difficult time reading what the text actually says on the matter.  Conversely, a passage speaking about how a master should treat his slaves does not appeal to my emotions in such a way because the concept of Biblical slavery is fairly foreign and repulsive to most modern day Christians (I am not speaking about sex or human trafficking here, I am speaking about slavery in terms of the Biblical injunction to act as servants and care for the land).

When determining what you believe on a topic and why, it therefore becomes important to do your best to step aside and see the text for what it is without bringing in your own personal and cultural pre-understandings.  Certain Scriptural texts such as those alluding to the polygamy at the time or injunctions to inflict physical harm and violence (for example through stoning adulterers) must be seen in light of the historical cultural time-frame rather than judged by our standards and values today.  A common phrase often employed in theology is: “don’t measure yesterday’s system by today’s yardstick.”  It is also helpful to keep in mind that if 2,000 years from now in the year 4016 a spaceman were to appear on our earth he may also be repulsed at some of the ways we treat one another or go about our daily habits even though what we are doing is commonplace and socially acceptable at the moment.  The same could be said about our cultural limitations.  That what might be encouraged as fine behaviour in one country may not be acceptable in another.  For example, some cultures believe it respectful to glance away and avoid body contact on first meeting an individual (especially one of a different gender) whereas in a culture like North America, the most socially acceptable thing to do would be to look the person in the eye and offer a handshake.  Some cultures find greeting one another with a kiss (perhaps even on the mouth) to be a form of great hospitality, warmth, and welcome, whereas other cultures would find this an intrusion on personal space.  And so on.  Therefore you see that when we are looking at a text that is so ancient and from a culture than the majority of us are not familiar with, it becomes important to state from the start our own limitations and prejudices that may thus hinder a truer reading and interpretation of the text.

#2: Humility in Acknowledging our Own Hierarchy of Rules

As stated above, certain texts garner more attention and interest on our part than others, but we must ask why this is.

Is it simply the result of our upbringing (perhaps a culture or denominational structure that valued some rules but not others)?  Is it the result of our own personal encounter with Christ – something He has taught us personally or that is especially relevant at the moment?  Is it the result of a current cultural issue (for example, the current ongoing trend about how the Mennonite Church should or should not accept people in the LGBTQ+ community)?

It is not necessarily a negative thing to have certain texts appear greater than others, but we must be willing to admit this is the case.  And it is for everyone.  I have a few friends who claim they follow all the rules in the Bible equally, but I have never actually met someone for whom this is truly the case.  A person may believe that a woman can’t preach, but then they proceed to attend church without a head covering.  A woman may believe that homosexuality is a sin, but then they do not grow their hair long.  A person may believe in the injunction to love their neighbours as themselves and to care about the social welfare of others, but then they completely neglect their own body and treat themselves with contempt or have a low self-image of who they are.  No one is immune from this and you shouldn’t think you are either.

So how do you determine which texts to give importance to?  Here’s what I recommend:

  • Keep the texts with a common theme. If the same (or a similar message) is constantly being repeated, pay close attention to it.  Especially when Christ Himself was the one to say those words.  On the other hand, if the command lies only in one of the Epistles and nowhere else and seems rather obscure, look more closely at the cultural context.  Perhaps it was meant only for a specific church in a specific geographical location for a specific reason.
  • Keep the texts which promote peace, harmony, and unity rather than discord and division. Although theological arguments are commonplace, this does not mean you have to enter into them needlessly.  In fact, sometimes for the sake of peace, it becomes more important to maintain a right relationship or friendship rather than simply being correct (even if you are).  Within any major world religion (including Christianity) there are certain Biblical texts that are inclusive and some that are exclusive.  Choose the inclusive ones over the exclusive ones.

In a recent course I took on Religious Literacy from Harvard University, Dr. Ali Asani posed the following questions (while although were geared towards Quaranic study are equally vital and valid when applied to the Biblical text):

How does an interpreter even know whether or not she is performing an exegesis [exposition, analysis] of the Scripture or an eisegesis [reading into]?  Is it even possible to know?  Is pure exegesis or pure eisegesis even possible? 

What do you think?

#3: Humility to Hear Other Viewpoints

Someone who is secure in their position not only tolerates, but welcomes, appreciates, and embraces a wide variety of opinions on varying theological matters.  This is not to say, of course, that you can’t question or push-back on areas you disagree with, though we should strive to do so with tactful respect (not with loaded arguments, name calling, or suggestion).  [If you need some help on how to do that go here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/]

What does this look like?  Here are a few tips:

  • Make intentional space and time to hear opinions that are different from your own. Ask open-ended questions that are straight-forward and to-the-point.  Don’t simply argue your position and then end with a question such as: “so even after all of this, why would you still believe that?”  Avoid value judgements.  Defend your own points, but once again, acknowledge your cultural blindspots.  (By the way, no one’s perfect, I say all of this, but I’ve fallen prey to doing some of the very things I’ve just suggested not doing…that’s why I’m encouraging you to learn from my mistakes).
  • Put your nerdy cap on and do some reading. As I’ve alluded to in other posts, it’s important to know the other position just as well as your own – in fact, if you are going to be a serious scholar, you should be able to debate the other viewpoint as if you truly owned it yourself.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but when trying to determine my values on controversial topics, I always try to get as wide of a range of opinions as possible.  As I mentioned in my Harry Potter post, when deciding if I would allow my children to read H.P. or not, I intentionally took the time to ask a variety of people (parents, educators, pastors, Sunday school teachers) on both sides of the spectrum for their input.  I also did my own reading (including reading through the entire series and books and websites/blog posts both for and against) so when I ultimately arrived at my conclusion I was confident that it was not one taken lightly.  Please don’t be one of those people who argues your point without fully understanding why you arrived at that conclusion.  [If you want to read the Harry Potter post look here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/fantastic-fiction-or-wicked-witchcraft-a-critical-view-of-whether-christians-should-read-harry-potter/)
  • Make room for the Holy Spirit to move. In Anabaptism, we place a high value on the Holy Spirit freely working within our congregational and corporate lives, just as much as we place value on Him working in our personal experience.  Oftentimes, it can be quite helpful to approach a text communally and to live and share the experience of how He speaks to each of us through the same text.  One of the coolest things about Christianity is that 25 people can read the exact same text and we would get 25 different interpretations (this is not to be feared nor is it cause to defend our viewpoints as “the ultimate truth” over anyone else’s, but rather adds to the beauty of Scripture being acutely personal and practical).  It is also important to take time to pray and ponder passages on our own, but if we do so, we must guard ourselves against proof-texting (in other words, taking verses out of Scripture in order to prove a point).  Recently, for my Harvard course, I was listening to a great lecture by Dr. Sajjad Rizvi, who prompted me to think of this classic example we can all learn from:

 

A father beats his young son for being disobedient and stealing toys from his siblings.  The father beats the child so badly that marks appear on his body and when the boy shows up at school, the teacher questions him about this.  The father responds that he has only acted in this way because he is in Christian and in the Bible it states, “Those who withhold the rod hate their children, but the one who loves them applies discipline.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2013%3A24).  In this case the question is: did the father apply harsh discipline because of this verse – because he thought it was the most accurate way to continue his religious practices and beliefs and because he truly wants his son to grow up to be a responsible member of society?  OR did the father abuse his child, then look for a text that justified his behaviour and applied it (trying to convince himself this was truly the case) in order to assuage his own conscience and guilt?

Obviously depending on the actual scenario, the correct answer could be either one depending on his true motivations, but this is a question we must all ask ourselves.  We must especially guard against using Scripture verses to deny someone their basic human rights, or to look down on a certain people group due to their culture/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, or sexual orientation.  We must be aware not to justify cruelty or abuse on the grounds of Scripture, but we also must do this in less obvious ways just as rigorously.  We must do it on matters that make us prideful, insecure, or resentful.  We must do it in order to take the best care possible of those entrusted to us, but we also must do it on order to take care of ourselves and not let others take advantage of us.  In other words: we don’t always need to convince ourselves that we are in the wrong.  We don’t always need to be the stereotypical apologetic Canadian!

Although this blog post was not able to cover all of the major facets of a theological debate, I do hope it’s given you a bit of ground with which to think and work with.  Ultimately, our theological differences should work as our greatest strength and asset, not as a weakness.  We should constantly remind ourselves that our academic theological debates represent a greater desire to serve Christ and to be faithful to the text and thus it is not about simply being right or wrong, but rather having a greater appreciation for the whole character of Christ and His inspired Word instead.  I hope that on your journey to discovering what you believe and why, you will meet many wonderful travelling companions – both those who agree with you and can support you in your personal opinions, but more importantly, those who see the world differently than you do.  Because it is really the latter that makes your life all that more beautiful, complex, and special.

 

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Where’s the Justice in That? The Social Exclusion of Adults with Learning Disabilities and What the Church Can Do to Fix It

WP_20160610_003   Who is welcome at your church?  What makes you so sure?  What evidence do you have to prove this?

It was a typical Sunday like any other.  I walked into the sanctuary at 10:30am, quickly found my seat in the balcony with my friends and prepared my heart for worship.  I love my church very dearly and I was excited about this being one of the few Sundays I had off work where I was actually able to take in the whole service without rushing off afterwards.  However, my thoughts were elsewhere.  You see, this past weekend I attended the Tio Conference for Disability Theology and Ministry at Belfast Bible College and I could not get the presenter’s prophetic words and challenge to the church out of my head.  Dr. Jeff McNair (the keynote speaker) had made the case that less than 20% of adults with severe learning disabilities are being properly included into the life of the church.  He mentioned the various ways people with disabilities are often ignored at worst and tolerated at best, and he poignantly asked how we, as church leaders, can claim to love our neighbours when our neighbours so blatantly do not include those who are different from us.

Sitting in the balcony provided the optimal opportunity to survey exactly who was in our congregation that Sunday.  I was very pleased to note the wide range of age demographics and cultures represented.  I find it an incredible testimony to my church’s witness in the community that we have young adults and seniors worshipping side-by-side, and that we have at least 30 nationalities in attendance (which for a city like Edinburgh that is much less multicultural than Toronto or London is quite impressive).  I was touched to see that people of all socio-economic ranks were welcomed, and I was happy to note that people in various stages of their faith walk were affirmed.  However, my heart lurched in disappointment at the lack of people with disabilities who call this church their home.    Dr. McNair mentioned that the mark of a exclusive church is silence… and what did I hear during the morning service?  Not loud cackles, not an excessive humming or stemming, and not vocalisations… but sheer silence.  The sound of a passive audience listening to a sole presenter (which is exactly what the majority of churches around the world are subjected to on any given Sunday).

During the conference, McNair mentioned that we were part of history.  He noted that there are very few seminars and gatherings for church leaders around the world to discuss topics related to disability theology.  He asked the question “why is this?”  It is to our great shame that even developed countries like Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. that are so far ahead on so many other areas of ministry are so far behind when it comes to relating to those with intellectual and physical limitations.

This is why having a conference such as Tio (a derivative of the classical Greek word meaning “to lift up, to honour, to advance, to value…in essence to bring someone from invisibility to visibility and to give them a voice) is so important.   Having been in the disability field for the past three years I can attest to the not having many of these opportunities previously available to me, yet I was inspired by the amount of people who attended this inaugural event.  Roughly 100 people were in attendance from Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland and the participants included Sunday school teachers, pastors, lay leaders, parents, and scholars as well as a few people with developmental disabilities themselves.  Sessions were inclusive for all people with a separate option for a specifically designed seminar for people with special needs.  I was also beyond thrilled to see the wide range of experience represented.  We had people who were basically “thrust” into the role through having children with disabilities, people who chose the field for themselves and have been pioneering ministries for the past 20 or 30 years, and people (like myself) who are relatively new to this area.  We even had a few ministers in attendance who admitted to not having a specific passion in disability ministry, but who nevertheless came out because they see the value in at least beginning to question and think about some of these topics.

The sessions ranged from highly academic to more practical and I am happy to inform you that all the materials will be made available for your personal download (at a small fee) in the near future.  Personally, I got a lot out of the conference, but I also realize the need to now start putting these thoughts into practice.  Otherwise, they will forever stay at the level of academic rumination.  Therefore, I would like to suggest a few simple ways that your church can become more inclusive for people with disabilities:

  • Rethinking Loving Our Neighbour

Our fundamental calling is to impart the love of Christ to each person drawing them deeper into God’s immeasurable peace. We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves – to affirm their worth and to give them greater honour than we give to ourselves. BUT valuing another person takes sacrifice- it’s hard work. It is about recognizing the inherent worth of each person, their gifts, their strengths, and the presence of the Christ light in them.

For too long we (as individual Christians, the church and general society) have failed to do exactly this especially when it comes to people who are different than us – primarily people with disabilities. Many pastors will claim they love all people equally and want all people to come to the church, but often the lived out reality and logistics communicate something extremely different. Christians are called to be trail blazers, set apart from the world, but unfortunately, we often mirror worldly ways of approaching someone with a disability, further adding to hurt and marginalization.

It is not enough just to “tolerate” a person with a disability. On all sides and in every way we need to move from exclusion to inclusion, from complacency to change. We need to start thinking about these things and not being okay with the fact that even after all these years less than 20% of people with profound learning disabilities are welcomed and fully included into the life of our church. People with learning disabilities also can be jaded by the church and subsequently reject Christ so we need to think long and hard about the implications our apathy can have on others.

To quote Wolf Wolfensberger: “Indeed without significant cost, an action should not be viewed as advocacy…even if it is otherwise valuable action.”

  • Putting Yourself In Another’s Shoes (Quite Literally)

Last year I was able to present a seminar at the Cahoots Festival near Milton, Ontario.  At this conference I provided participants with a number of activities to begin thinking about what it might be like for someone with a disability.  Two of these activities included trying to peel an orange with one hand and trying to stand and walk with a handful of marbles in either shoe.  The people who tried these activities admitted that both tasks which normally would be quite easy and done automatically were hampered by having an apparent disadvantage.  Yesterday when I was at church I began thinking about how to take this even further.  Do you ever wonder whether or not your church would be accessible to people with disabilities?  Why not try to wear heavy earplugs during the service and see if you can still get something out of a primarily aural experience?  If you need glasses to do virtually anything, imagine what church might be like if you took off your glasses or contact lens for the duration of the service.  On a much smaller scale, as someone who struggles with hyperactivity… I try to imagine what would happen if I didn’t bring my little stress ball to church or if I failed to bring my notebook and pen, then I try to magnify that by about a hundred.  You get the picture.  So much of what we do in our churches is simply NOT accessible to people with physical and intellectual disabilities because we do not KNOW what it would be like to be in their shoes.  So why not ask someone with a disability what their experience of church is and then try some of these activities out for yourself?

  • Making Disability Ministry a Priority

I get it.  We all have different passions and different areas that we think are the most important to focus on and personally I think that’s great.  I think it really adds to the diversity of the Body of Christ and that we can all learn something from each other.  But sadly, it seems that while many churches are focused on church planting, evangelism, and outreach (very important roles), few churches care enough to think about what it would be like to plant a church that includes people with disabilities.  Few churches employ a pastor with a huge heart for disability ministry and few mission organizations ask their participants if any of them would be interested in creating a ministry experience that works side-by-side someone with a disability as a co-labourer.

Think about your church.  Is disability ministry a priority?  Why or why not?  Do you have any interest in making it a priority?  I believe that the Christian calling encompasses all people.  That we are called to witness and reach out to everyone – including, and perhaps especially to, people who are quite different than we are.  Those who are marginalized and often ignored and overlooked.

In his inspiring article entitled What Would Be Better? Social Role Valorization and the Development of Persons Affected by Disability found on the incredible website: http://www.whatwouldbebetter.com/ Jeff McNair and Marc Tumeinski pose the following question:

What does our shared vision of Christian community look like? Who is present in our biblical vision of community? How can the inclusion of vulnerable people better reflect the Gospel vision and therefore strengthen our church community? How can we more closely approach this vision here and now within our church? Given the actual makeup of our membership, might we unintentionally or unconsciously be putting some groups of people outside of this vision? What would be better?

How would you answer this question in regards to yourself?  Your church?  Your Christian university, seminary, or intentional community?  The global church?  Society as a whole?

I believe the key to good disability ministry lies in having an inclusive approach, not in merely being insular.  What I mean is that first and foremost we need to find ways to minister and include people who are different from us.  BUT then we cannot stay on the level of our church having an outreach – we need to also think about how we can more fully integrate with society.  For the past three years I have worked with L’Arche (a Christian intentional community for adults with developmental disabilities).  L’Arche does good work.  L’Arche is an excellent sign and beacon to the world that people with learning disabilities belong and should be valued for their contributions to society.  L’Arche is a great service provider and care home for many adults who would potentially have nowhere else to go.  BUT L’Arche also has one major flaw – we have the tendency to become extremely inwardly focussed.  Working in L’Arche in both Canada and the U.K. I am often surprised at how few people (even in local churches) know who we are or what we are about.  Those who have heard about L’Arche often only know it from the writings of Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen, rather than as a result of visiting our community for a chapel or supper and actually experiencing the mutual life-giving relationships we share first hand. This lack of general knowledge has sadly even led to a few people believing that I am involved in a cult!  To me this points towards the fact that although we, as a community, are thriving in so many areas, we still need to improve on becoming more outwardly focused.  On thinking about how to work with other service providers and churches to continue to create and foster more opportunities for disability ministry rather than just the needs of our own immediate community.

I have given you a lot to think about here, but I hope it helps set you on the path towards establishing and maintaining disability ministries within your own context.  Next time you go to church, why not have a look around and make a mental note of who is in attendance and what you can do to bring those who aren’t already there into the fold.  And next time the service is completely quiet, why not make some noise… because an inclusive church should never be silent.

 

 

5 Ways to Be an Ally to Single People In Your Congregation

5bd70a206cd099fbd5a069353361a24cEvery day, society bombards us with the message that if we are not in a dating relationship something is seriously wrong with us. Dating, love, and sex are unavoidable topics in this generation. Turn on the radio and you’re bound to hear about 20 songs back to back about love and heartbreak. Go for a walk and you will see billboard ads that suggest the reason you’re single is because of dandruff, bad breath, or your skin condition. Go to the mall to buy new clothes and your eyes will instantly be met with two half-clad lovers striking some type of sexy pose. The message that being single is not ok is everywhere – even, and perhaps especially, within the Evangelical Church. Every time I try to find a sermon to listen to the sermon somehow ends up being about godly marriage, fighting sexual temptations, or raising Godly children. Well meaning members of the church nosily ask if I have found someone yet. Am I married? Engaged? Dating at the very least? When I tell them I am in none of those categories they usually respond with, “what’s your problem? When I was your age I was married with two children and the third on the way.” It’s as if the weight of dating and relationships are placed solely on the shoulders of the one who is single. The message is set: the Church has no room for anyone who is over the age of 21 and not with the person they are going to marry (or in some cases are already married to).

Additionally, I’ve noticed that all sorts of Christian blogs have been written and shared on Facebook suggesting the following things:

* You’re single and you’re downright miserable about it, but all you have to do is just wait for Mr. (or Mrs.) Right to come along. God has chosen them since before your birth. Don’t worry, it will happen. In the meantime, try to get over how miserable you actually feel.

* I got married at 19 and I’m now 26, but I’m going to tell you how awesome living the single life really is. I know you might not actually listen to me, but I feel lonely even though I’m married.

* Don’t hate on me because I got married at 23. At 23 I was mature enough. Age is not everything. If you’re over 23 and not married…well…what’s YOUR problem???

* You’re absolutely, hands-down, going to marry the first person you date. God’s not going to put any duds in your life. There’s no point in dating unless you’re going to get married within 6 months.

* Anytime you even briefly think about sex (if you’re not married) you are committing a grievous sin. You’re lusting. Go to confession right away. Don’t you know you’re supposed to be asexual until you get married and then BAM! Everything will be figured out.

I got tired of continuing to read these often naïve, simplistic, and judgmental blog posts written by people who either are clearly begrudging their singleness or else toting singleness as the most amazing thing in the world (even though they have spent their entire adult life married) so I decided to write one of my own. As a single young adult who has never been married, engaged, or in a serious relationship for more than 3 months, let me give you my spin on the whole topic of how Churches can engage and care for single members of their congregation:

1)  Don’t Idealize Singleness – Do Realize That For Many People Singleness Is a Stage, Try To Help Them See How It Can Be An Important One

A statistic that I’ve heard more than once is that the average Canadian woman gets married around age 26 and the average man gets married closer to 30. This means if you are a woman who got married under the age of 26 or if you’re a man who got married before 30, you have a relatively low concept of what it truly means to be single. This is especially the case if you happened to get married when you were 19 or 20 (thus spending your entire adult life in a committed partnership).

One of the most frustrating things for me as a single person is hearing people who have been married for 20, 30, or 50 years tell me how great they think being single is. They really have no clue. They are oblivious to the challenges a single Christian young adult faces (especially someone trying to get into vocational ministry – a profession that often implicitly requires marriage preferably with kids). If I tell them how difficult it is for a church to accept me as a pastor, they come up with reasons why it shouldn’t be a problem. Here’s the deal: it SHOULDN’T be a problem.   But it is. Especially for women. It is hard enough for women to be accepted in leadership positions within the church as it is, but when that woman is single…well…that makes it even worse for her.

Rather than going on about how great you think being single is (when you really have no clue), don’t pretend like singleness is the ideal. Realize that some people are not married and that’s ok. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it just is. Sometimes the person can choose to change that and sometimes they can’t. Love and accept them for who they are – right now, at this stage in their life. That’s the best thing you can do for them.

2) Don’t Assume that Every Single Man/Woman Is Desperate, Sexually Frustrated, or Miserable – Do Find Out What Their Passions Are.

Oftentimes, I have well-meaning Christian adults try to console me by saying “don’t be desperate to find someone. Don’t rush into marriage. Don’t marry a non-Christian and compromise your morals. It will happen at the right time.” The problem is not in what they are saying, the problem is in how they are saying it. You see, these individuals never asked me how it felt to be single and consequently I never told these people what emotions were running through my head. Therefore, why should they assume that I am miserable just because I don’t have someone?

Being single in a romance obsessed culture is HARD (there’s no way around that), BUT there are also additional blessings that single people receive that married people miss out on. What am I talking about, you may ask? Well, singles have a lot more freedom. For example, I often think of the fact that I am my own person. I can choose to get up at a certain time or sleep in. I can choose to stay up all night celebrating my friend’s birthday party, or leave whenever I start to feel tired. I can choose to leave my room however I want it. I can choose what I want to do with my life – where I will study and what degree I will pursue, whether or not I want to spend a year abroad, whether or not I want to take more hours at my workplace. I can do all of these things without having to consult another person. Additionally, as a single person, I feel I can really pour more into my ministries because I don’t have the additional pressures of being a wife and mother yet. I don’t have to worry about the youth group going overtime because I have two screaming babies who refuse to sleep until I tuck them in. You see, there are actually several good things about being single.

One of my friends once told me that everyone not in a dating relationship is miserable and the people who try to say they aren’t are just trying to cover that up. To me, nothing could be further from the truth. In A Living Alternative I share that “singleness is a gift, not a consolation prize.” I still hold firmly to that truth.

So, instead of assuming the worst of your single friends, why not find out what else is happening in their lives. What they find fulfilling and how they are planning to live into those passions more. Ask them questions like: What Makes Them Tick? What Do They Enjoy Doing? What Brings Fulfillment In Their Life? What Relationships (With Family Or Friends) Do They Have That They Can Cling On To and Live To the Fullest?

These kinds of questions are fun, take the pressure off the person, and show that not every conversation needs to be about dating, love, or romance.

3) Don’t Constantly Pressure, Nag, or Cajole Someone to Date – Do Ask Open-Ended Non-Specific Questions

I have often found that Christians like to pressure their friends to get married and date. The problem is: what if the person is just not ready for that yet? Some people will be ready at 19, 21, or 23 and that’s great. But it’s unrealistic to assume that everyone is going to be in that same position. Asking someone why they aren’t dating or worse yet, if something is wrong, just puts added pressure on the single person. Being single is hard enough without guilt trips, sympathy, or jokes. Instead of the first question being “So Have You Found Someone Yet” ask “So What’s New In Your Life?” By asking non-specific open-ended questions, you’re actually engaging in a conversation with your single friend. Not one that tears them down, but one that empowers them.

4) Don’t Needlessly Set The Single Person Up With Someone From Your Congregation Or School Who Is Clearly Not A Good Fit For Them Just Because You Are Desperate For Them To Get Married – Do Continue To Encourage Them To Spend Time With Their Friends and If You Know Of Anyone (Same Gender or Not) Who Might Have Things In Common With Them Then Introduce.

Okay, this one is the absolute worst one for me. I hate when people try to set me up with individuals who are clearly not a good match for me – we don’t have anything in common, our personalities are polar opposite, and the spark of attraction just isn’t there. And why? All because they think I should no longer be single. In the past 4 months alone, I have had someone try to set me up with a guy who was already dating another girl, another guy who wasn’t dating yet but was clearly very interested in someone else, someone in their first year of university (meanwhile I just completed my masters) and someone more than 20 years my senior.

Rather than seeing every opportunity as a chance to date, churches should try just try to foster friendships. It’s okay to be friends with someone of the opposite gender without it turning into some romance obsessed relationship. It really is. It’s okay to hang out in mixed groups without it being awkward. It’s possible to have a very good male friend who you do not find attractive at all, but still respect and treat as a brother.

When churches take the pressure off dating, and instead focus their energy and effort on friendships in general, I think the dating will just happen more naturally. Best of all, it won’t be forced and it will be meant from the heart.

5) Don’t Exclude Them From Church Events – Do Continue To Have Intergenerational Events And Don’t Make a Big Deal About Whether People In the Mixed Group Are Single, Engaged, Or Married

After I graduated from grade 12, I no longer had a place in my church. There were several young adult happenings, but when I inquired about them I was told that these groups were reserved for newly married couples and young families. Suddenly, the very hub of all of activity and social life ceased to exists for me. I was too old to be a youth, but not at the same life stage as my young adult peers.

Looking back, I feel this is a grave disservice to single young adults. There’s no reason they should be excluded from the church. We can all learn something from one another. What about making the church more intergenerational? Children, young adults, and seniors all hanging out together, sharing stories and sharing life. The young adults mentoring the youth and the older adults mentoring the newly married couples. I believe that with less segregation, our church will go far.

Conclusion: God wired each one of us for relationships. We are meant to do our life in community. We aren’t meant to do this Jesus-thing alone. BUT community will look very different to each person. For some, that might mean having a community right in their own home with their husband and three children. For another, that might mean living in an intentional community for some time. And for yet another, that might just mean being involved in their town or city. Regardless of where someone is at in their life stage, we are called to help them cultivate and grow this sense of community, this sense of belonging. By taking away the pressure to date, and instead instilling it into God’s mandate for all to belong and live in relationship I believe that our church will go far. So the next time you meet a single person don’t assume they are miserable instead ask them “what’s new in your life? What gives you fulfillment?” You may be surprised at the answer. And you may just learn something.

7 Habits of Successful Christians

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So, I recently posted my list of 5 things that Christians should really stop doing… but what about things that Christians SHOULD do in order to be successful in their walk with Christ?  You’ve probably all heard of Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but what about 7 Habits for the effective Christian?  Hold on, hopefully that is not already a book… So, I’ve decided to include my ideas here:

1)      A Successful Christian Will Pray – Prayer is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and it is from this practice and this discipline that the rest of our life flows.  When we pray we become intricately connected to God’s plan and we become more aware of His love for us.  The Bible reminds us to pray at all times (without ceasing).[1]  It reminds us to pray in every circumstance because God will take care of us.[2]  Lastly, the Scriptures remind us that because God is love He wants us to come to Him with our requests.  In the story of the Persistent Widow, the Judge was an ungodly man who didn’t care about anyone’s welfare other than his own.  This widow came to him day and night and wore him out.  Finally, the judge said, “I really don’t care about this woman or what she wants.  I just want her to go away.  I’m not answering her request because I want what’s best for her, but she’s worn me out with the same request so I’ll answer it so she can leave me alone.”  Jesus reminds us that if that judge, being evil, did this for the woman, how much more will our Heavenly Father provide for our needs when we pray, but how many of us actually take Him up on that offer?[3]

2)      A Successful Christian Knows They Can’t Do It On Their Own Strength – A successful Christian is one who understands that God’s grace is magnified and perfected in their weakness.[4]  At the end of the day when they survey their lives they see instances of God’s faithfulness and understand that they could never have made it through without His guidance and support.  A successful Christian can acknowledge this and humble themselves before God in order to be raised up by Him.[5]

3)      A Successful Christian Shares Their Burdens With the Community – Successful Christians know that they can’t do it on their own, they need others. The book of James reminds us that when we are happy we should gather people around us to sing happy songs with us, when we are sick we should call the elders of the church to anoint us with oil.[6]  Bringing others on board is a way of receiving help and giving them the opportunity to care for us just like we want to take care of others.

4)      A Successful Christian Meditates On Scripture – David often meditated on God’s Word.  He tells of how he mused about God’s deeds.[7]  The book of Ephesians reminds us that God’s Word helps us to fight against the evil schemes of the Devil.[8]  Someone who is successful in their walk with the Lord allows Scripture to pour into their lives, they memorize it, they think about it when they go to bed at night and when they wake up.[9]  They also teach their children to follow the Bible.[10]

5)      A Successful Christian Follows God’s Will On Their Lives – A person who is successful in their walk with the Lord tries to discover God’s will in their lives.  They are so in tuned with Him that when they start going the wrong way, God’s voice gently redirects them back into the right path.[11]  A person who is living for Christ wants to put God in charge of their lives and to value His will even before their own desires.[12]

6)      A Successful Christian Belongs To A Larger Body (Church) Which Helps Encourage Them and Builds Them Up – Successful Christians know that they cannot grow on their own.  They know they need Scriptural teaching, encouragement from others who have walked in the faith for a lot longer than they have, and corporate worship.  The book of Hebrews cautions us to not give up regularly meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.[13]  Some Christians believe that they can grow on their own, but without having people to walk alongside you and encourage you when you start feeling weary, your faith and love for God will soon grow stagnant and cold.

7)      A Successful Christian Seeks First After God’s Kingdom – Successful Christians know that God will provide for them so they don’t have to worry about where their life is headed.  Paul reminds us not to worry about anything, but instead with prayer and supplication to make our requests known to God.[14]  Jesus also says in the Sermon on the Mount that we don’t have to worry about any earthly needs because God knows about them and will provide for them, but instead we should SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD and the rest will fall into place.[15] NOTE: This does not mean we shouldn’t be good stewards.  Paul reminds us to leave no debt outstanding.[16]  A successful Christian will practice good financial budgeting and stewardship principles, but in the end of the day they will also know that their help comes from the Lord.[17]

BONUS: A Successful Christian Has At Least One Accountability Partner – Successful Christians open themselves up to respectful correction of others who are stronger and have walked longer in their faith.  A successful Christian accepts discipline knowing that it produces further character growth and morality.[18]  A successful Christian also gives themselves the opportunity to correct erring brothers and sisters with the hope that they can win such a person back to their faith.[19]


Responsive Reading for Advent 2

Loosely based off of Scripture texts from:Isaiah 40:1-5 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah%2040:1-5&version=ESVUK); Isaiah 41:17-20 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah%2040:17-20&version=ESVUK)

ONE: Father, we recognize the many times that we have parched your land.

ALL: The times that we have parched the resources you have gifted us with

The times that our world has been ravaged and ransacked because of war, violence, and oppression

The times when we stood by watching without making an attempt to water this earth

ONE: Through peace, caring, a smile, a gentle word

ALL: We are truly sorry.  We ask you to forgive us.

ONE: Mother, we recognize the many times that we have seen those who are needy

ALL: The pregnant teenager, the troubled young adult, the confused widow

ONE: And have walked across to the other side for fear of not knowing what to say

When all they really needed was a gentle whisper or the sound of sheer silence

ALL: We ask you to forgive us for the times when we chose not to get involved for fear of what others would think

Instead of caring about what you would think

We ask you to forgive us, and we pledge anew to recommit ourselves to things that will make for peace and the building up of one another.

ONE: Spirit, we thank you that you are a free wanderer.  We thank you that you make yourself clear to us in new, unexpected, and invigorating ways.

We thank you that you revive us through the beautiful sunset, the glorious sunrise, the long awaited afternoon nap, the joyful afternoon spent with a close friend, the touch of a baby’s fingers across our face

ALL: We thank you that even in the confusion, you allow us to hold on to hope through new and creative approaches

ONE: The young couple who falls in love for the first time and gets married, the young teenager who chooses to make the right choices despite peer pressure, the elderly couple who have stayed together for fifty years despite the fact that it has not always been easy

ALL: We are reminded that even in these parched times, your word beacons to us, reminding us to be thankful and reviving us in new ways.

We await the coming of your son who will bring water to a dry and parched Palestine

And we long for the creation of the New Jerusalem when his story will be enacted in our midst once again.

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Looking for some great Advent reading materials for your own personal devotions?  Check out: http://www.biblegateway.com/holiday-devotions

Youth Ministry – A Christian Endeavour?

Image The following blog post will critique the article: Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith (CharismaMagazine) written by: Abby Carr.  The article can be found here: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/church-ministry/18920-youth-groups-driving-christian-teens-to-abandon-faith.  I’m also drawing on the book “A Weed in the Church” by Scott T. Brown (found here: https://ncfic.org/uploads/products/A%20Weed%20in%20the%20Church.pdf) and the documentary “Divided”.  Please note that while I may not agree with everything said in these places, that I do hold much respect for the conversation which they have enabled and for what they have taught me about youth ministry that I was unaware of before.  The article, book, and movie are exceptionally well-done and worth using for personal or research purposes.  Highly recommended.

If you’d like to read more about my thoughts regarding young adults in the church you can check out my sermon looking at the book “Hemorrhaging Faith” put out by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/restriction-and-retention-why-canadian-young-adults-are-leaving-the-church/.

For years, youth ministry has been one of the most important aspects of the Christian church.  Although more popular among Evangelicals, even the mainline groups have picked up on the movement over the last several decades and have made an effort to reach out to the high schoolers in their neighbourhood.

Throughout my junior high and high school days I was a faithful youth group attender.  I went to all of the sessions and once in my later years of high school even began occasionally helping to lead classes and events.  It was then no surprise that by the time I was a student at Tyndale I was interning at various churches working closely with the youth pastors.

What do I remember from those high school days in terms of my relationship with the church?  While, there were definitely times of struggle in my own spiritual life in those days.  Nothing crazy.  I never walked away from the church and experimented with the things of this world.  I knew already by that age I wanted to be in the ministry and was thinking about how everything I did would affect my life’s path.  I remember many happy memories in youth group, but to be honest, what I remember the most is probably how much fun I was having.  It wasn’t until I went to Tyndale that I experienced really hard core Christian youth groups.  Youth groups where the teens were truly on fire for Christ, sharing their testimonies, praying for one another fervently, and really living the Christian life.  What I experienced, by and large, before Tyndale was probably just the average youth group.  A bit of sharing, some snacks, and then lots of fun in the gym.  And on the surface level there is nothing wrong with that.  At the very least when kids are in the church they are in a safe place away from the pressures of the world and if they hear about Jesus and learn some good morals while they are at it, well, so much the better.

By the time I was in my graduating year at Tyndale and definitely by my first year in seminary I really began to have my serious doubts about where churched young adults were headed.  This has been an area of extreme concern especially as I envision my future in ministry.  If the youth are leaving the church then will there still be a church to pastor 10, 20, or 30 years from now?

One haunting line from the documentary “Divided” is this, “We had lost them long before they had left the church.”  Sure, it’s great if we can have fun with the kids while they are in our midst.  If we can impress them by being a “cool youth pastor” and a hipster, but in the end of the day that is not enough to sustain a willingness in anyone to maintain their Spiritual life.  They will out-grow us as their youth pastor and by the same token they will “outgrow” God and the church.

I truly believe that this is an area that we can’t ignore but that we need to give much consistent thought to.  By the time I had finished grade 12 my church had already decided that not enough youth were attending Sunday school and so maybe we just shouldn’t have it.  This should not have had to have been the case.  At age 20 I was interning for a very liberal Christian denomination where I was explicitly told that I was “overwhelming kids with religious aspects only and should focus more on fun.”  The point of the youth group was not so much for religious instruction but to be entertaining.  Personally, I’m not there to be a “religious clown”.  I do (or at least I like to think that I do) have a fun side to me and I love adventure.  I’m down for motorcycle rides, bungee jumping, and scuba diving, but in the end of the day if that’s what you’re expecting of me as your youth pastor, I’m sorry.  I just can’t do it.  I’m into leading kids to that real relationship with Christ which is ultimately the most exciting journey anyone can live.

Now, I also don’t completely take the angle of this article and documentary which I believe to be fairly conservative compared to where I stand theologically.  I did find it an interesting argument to say that age segregation came from pagan roots and, to be honest, I think it has its pros and cons if we use it in the church.  But do I think we should get rid of youth groups entirely?  No, I do not.  I know that statistically it is proven that only a handful of young adults remain in the church, but at least it is a handful.  If a youth group can lead even one kid to Christ then it is enough.

For me, youth group was totally worth it and without youth group I don’t know where I would have found my spiritual fuel.  Service trips and conferences may be short lived, but I still find myself drawing on those experiences 7 and 8 years later.  Who knew that a trip to Toronto would end in me being an associate member of the church we stayed overnight at 5 years later?  Who could envision me still remembering this one line from a conference I attended in 2006 “You can’t be a vanilla Christian.  You got to be chocolate, rocky-road or something”?  Thanks, Mike Preschon!  And the trip to Mennonite World Conference in 2009 still shapes the way I approach my seminary studies and my keen desire to get to know people from different cultures.  No one could have envisioned the type of impact those things would have on me – after all, I was just a 14 or 15 year old kid!

So, I would encourage churches not to knock youth ministry down at all.  It definitely has its place and is a useful tool for encouraging kids to really get to know Christ.  When I was in Indiana I attended a really wonderful Charismatic church for their youth group.  The funny thing was I was 21 and I was hanging out with kids as young as 12 and yet there was something about this group that really drew me in.  This church didn’t believe in age segregation.  They had the pre-teens mixed with the young adults.  The idea was that the young adults would mentor the pre-teens and we would all grow up Spiritually together.  It was a wonderful concept.  The youth pastor always delivered timely messages to us that spoke to me as a 21 year old just as it did to the 12 year old.  The youth pastor also combined having fun with really solid Scripture.  He once told me at a pool party “Not to sound sacrilegious but I can worship God in this pool or while I’m at church.  The idea of our faith is not to separate the two – we got to live them both out!” He could not have said it any better.

When I think of the future of youth ministry in the church I do get worried.  I don’t know if youth groups will still be around in my kid’s time or grandkid’s time.  I don’t know how many of my high school buds are seriously plugged into a church and will remain that way.  But there is something far scarier than this.  I’m more afraid of churches completely losing the vision and completely giving up on the youth and young adults in their midst.  I’m more afraid of churches believing so hard in the fact that their youth ministry will fail that they don’t even make the effort to be that positive mentor to one kid.  It’s for this reason that I urge you pastors and you churches to keep pressing up.  Even in the face of what might look bleak remember that Christ has a purpose and a plan.  Remember that He has entrusted these high schoolers into your care and that He isn’t asking you to take all the responsibility on yourself.  He isn’t asking you to change the statistics completely and start a revolution where all young adults end up back in their parent’s churches.  But He is asking you to be faithful to the flock and to that one young man or woman who really needs your help and support.

Remembering The Persecuted Church – IDOP 2013

Image November 10th, 2013 is fast approaching as is the day following, November 11th.  Many of us are aware of what November 11th brings.  It is a time for us to mourn the losses of those who served our country fighting for what they believed would result in our rights and freedoms.  It’s also a day for peacemakers to move forward in solidarity – remembering the past and envisioning a new Heaven and a new earth where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and where there will be no more bloodshed, wars, or factions.  It’s a clarion call to bring about God’s reign on our earth TODAY.

Although I do not want to undermine my respect for veterans, I also want to draw you to another often overlooked date.  November the 10th is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Persecution is a concept almost as foreign to North Americans as life on Mars is, and for that, we can be extremely grateful.  All of us have faced really tough situations in our lives, and several of us have faced difficulty because of our faith.  I know that there have been many times in my life when staying true to firmly held convictions has caused friction or even alienation.  I have even occasionally be silenced, and once, when I was a young, firey evangelist it even caused unsettling feelings at work among co-workers.  Even so, compared to the persecution that many Christians face around the world, what I experienced was little more than an upset stomach after eating too much cake.  Lest you misunderstand me, I’m not saying that being put-down and left out isn’t tough.  In fact, it downright stinks!  But the truth is, the majority of us who grew up in Canada don’t know the first thing about standing up under brutal interrogations, having family ties severed, facing long imprisonments, losing employment, or ultimately losing our lives all for the sake of a truth we hold dear.

As I think about my last 3.5 years living in Toronto, I have rubbed shoulders and struck up friendships with many people who actually did face persecution and have taken up residence in Canada because they were left with little choice.  From these brothers and sisters, I have learned a true dedication for the faith and hunger for the Word of God.

This year, can I make a challenge to you? Yes, continue to observe the customary moment of silence on Remembrance Day.  Don’t ignore this for it is an important practice.  But, on November 10th, light a candle and have a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in a different type of battle.  Hold in your hearts those who fought the fight to witness to the reign of Christ’s justice and peace and who, once caught, emulated Christ’s example to be silent like a sheep before its shearers without struggling or retaliation.  We are redeemed through the blood of Christ, and just like Tertullian said, “”The blood of the marytrs is the seed of the church.  The more we are mown down the more we grow up.” May this also be our encouragement to keep pressing on despite the darts that Satan might hurl at us.