Letter to My Future Pastor, Part 1

Don’t have a heart attack. I have no plans to leave my church. But life throws its curve balls now and then and I have learned to be flexible. So if, for some unforeseen reason, I happened to be in the market for a new church or even just a new pastor, here are a couple of things I would look for in the person chosen to lead the flock. In my next post I will talk about two more.

A Pastor Who Teaches All of Scripture

I grew up in a sleepy little suburb of Riverside, California, about halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Church was one of those dull obligations many people felt compelled to fulfill. At Rubidoux United Methodist we sang painfully slow, doing our best not to leave the volunteer piano player in the dust. Every Sunday a small crowd met in a cavernous hall, relic of someone’s overly ambitious dream, snoozing their way through the interminable sermon.

And then, out of nowhere, the Jesus movement hit Riverside running.

Word spread that there was a new game in town. Sunday night church like no church you had ever seen before, taking place every week at All Saints Episcopal, a short drive away across the dry Santa Ana riverbed.

So my brother Jim and I joined Bruce and a couple of others, crossed to the better side of the tracks, and checked out Calvary Chapel Riverside.

The year was 1973.

Hundreds of young people, high school kids like us and hippie holdovers a few years older, jammed tightly into that stone and mortar space, standing and clapping and singing wildly and acapella, “When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus, when I get to heaven gonna see his face….”

They sang and sang.

Then came the band. In the early days it was Children of the Day and Debbie Kerner. Later on it was Keith Green and Chuck Girard and Sweet Comfort, the Riverside house band.

Finally Greg Laurie started to preach. Verse by verse, chapter by chapter, right through a whole book of the Bible. Who knew all that interesting, practical, funny stuff was in that dusty old volume? It certainly didn’t seem like the same Bible we got at the Methodist church.

Two hours later it was over. Eyes and ears and hearts wide open, we knew we would never think of church like we used to. Church could be good.

Even the sermon.

Looking back, what made the teaching so great week after week was Calvary Chapel’s fearless determination to teach through the whole Bible. Instead of endless reruns of everyone’s favorite Bible stories and people, David and Daniel and Peter and Paul and the Sermon on the Mount, we were introduced to a wealth of Scripture in a very relevant way. And working through it chapter by chapter gave important context and insight into the passage at hand.

As a Bible teacher I know how scary it is to contemplate preaching through Leviticus or Revelation or 2 Chronicles or Ezekiel. I know it’s hard; it takes training and discipline and study to teach the more challenging parts of Scripture. But the meat, the sustenance, of the Bible is found in its entirety. When we pick and choose only what we think is applicable today, we feed our listeners a limited diet. However nourishing vegetables may be for us, we also need other types of sustenance.

In the same way, we need to be taught from the wealth of God’s word, which is so rich and full and overflowing with insights into the heart of God. Churches regularly encourage people to read the whole Bible, but do we truly help them understand what they read?

So if I were in the market for a new pastor, I would look for someone who will ensure that all of Scripture is taught, who is willing, enthusiastic, and competent to do so himself, or will put together a team who will.

A Pastor Who Sees the Women, Minorities and Singles in the Room

Jim and I lived in Europe for a while early in our marriage. Church shopping was tricky in a different culture with a different language, where you knew no one and all you had to go on was the phone book. No internet help in sizing up your worship experience prospects. Cold turkey in the door based on a line in the yellow pages was about it.

Not interested in the official state churches, we decided to try the independents.

So off we went.

Inside the door of the first church we encountered an underwhelming crowd of seven, all seemingly nearing the end of their lives here on planet earth. Way beyond middle age, the group before us appeared to consist of the truly old. We sang a bit – I mean they sang a bit – and then it was sermon time.

Since my German was mediocre at best and Jim’s was virtually nonexistent, we didn’t follow every word. But I did manage to catch the drift of the message which, surprisingly, was all about lust.

Not that I’m in favor of lust. It’s just that the heavy emphasis, the repeated hammering of the evils of lust, seemed out of place considering the audience. Could lust really be that big a problem with this crowd?

I can’t say for certain, of course. Maybe lust is as big a challenge at 85 as it is at 25. But I doubt it. Jim and I came away feeling like the pastor never saw his audience, that he had his agenda yet never truly saw the people in front of him enough to connect with who they were.

We never went back.

In my world most pastors are white men. Almost all of the preaching I’ve heard has come from white men, most of the pastoring I’ve received has come through white men, most of the church decisions that have affected me have been made by white men, and my future pastor will likely be a white man.

I haven’t been convinced they always see the rest of us.

This is mostly for them.

Or for you, if the shoe fits.

I know you can look out and see the minorities and women and singles in the audience, and you’re probably glad we’re there. I’m aware of that. But I’m not sure you truly “see” us.

Sometimes this shows up in simple ways, like when pastors don’t think to employ illustrations that include various perspectives. Assumptions and illustrations about how life works from a white male married position do not necessarily translate into the experiences of our Latino or Native American or female or Asian or African American or single or Arab American listeners.

Or like when it never occurs to the preacher to talk about a great woman athlete when he needs a sports illustration. It’s usually Tom Brady and LeBron James and Lionel Messi, not Serena Williams or Abby Wambach or Misty May-Treanor.

But a bigger reason I’m not sure you see us is that I don’t hear you talk about the questions we struggle with when we read the Bible.

Like why the heck slavery is treated like it’s normal, why we seem to find ethnic prejudice and war all over the place, why women are overlooked in so many passages and abused in so many others, why marriage is the assumed norm when Paul said being single was preferable.

When you coast past the glaring issues in the text to focus on some spiritual application to our individual lives, you lose us. Not that we don’t need to apply the passage to our spiritual lives. Of course we do. But we need to know that the words are worth listening to before we are ready to embrace them. We can only do this when we are shown the justice and mercy of God that lies behind the injustice and evil found within the text.

The biggest reason I doubt you see us, however, is that you don’t hire us. Well, maybe you do for all those admin roles, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about leadership positions. Until you put us into those on a regular basis, we will doubt your sincerity in wanting us to be an integral part of your church.

A few years ago I was part of a church plant that explicitly stated its desire to be a church for all people, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, single and married, young and old, black and white and brown and educated and uneducated and everything else. It was mostly a dream, however, until we began embracing all those types of people in leadership positions – on the worship team, the staff, the preaching team, the board, the executive team.

Before then it felt as though we were saying:

“We want you to come, but we won’t let you lead.”

You’re welcome. Or unwelcome, as the case may be.

People will believe they can be an integral part of a church when they see people like themselves who already are. Until they do we can say what we want but it will only go so far. The proof is in the doing.

So if I were looking for a new pastor, I would look for someone who is intentional about using varied illustrations like Jesus, the guy who coupled the woman with the lost coin with the father with the lost son (Luke 15), the ten female bridesmaids with the three male servants (Matt. 25), the one praying woman with the two praying men (Luke 18). When it comes to sermon applications and illustrations, I want a pastor who asks himself, “What would Jesus do?”

But most of all I would look for someone who is aware of his or her gender and ethnicity and background based shortcomings and is willing to do something about them. Who goes out of his way to read unmarried and minority and women Bible scholars and writers when he preps a sermon, so that he can address the questions that otherwise might never occur to him. Who gets people on the team who bring a different perspective and then takes the time to listen to them, like Paul, the single Jewish guy who worked alongside the Asian and women and Middle Eastern and married and European and African believers of his day.[1]

That about does it for today. Except that I want to say I believe in you. I mean I believe you’re out there and if, by some unexpected turn of events, I am pastor-less one day, I will find you. Until then I leave you to ponder what kind of pastor you will choose to be.


[1] These categories do not necessarily correspond to ours today, since Paul probably would not have encountered people from Northern Europe, East Asia, non-Mediterranean parts of Africa, or the Americas. But Paul recruited male and female coworkers wherever he went, including modern-day Asia Minor (Turkey) and Southern Europe. His Jewish cohorts, of course, were from the Middle East. Apollos, an influential contemporary of Paul, was from Alexandria, on the north coast of Africa. For Paul’s female coworkers, see especially Romans 16 and note the way he commends their work to a greater extent than he does that of his male coworkers there. We need to remember that to the extent possible at the time, Paul embraced leaders of both genders, all ethnicities, and various walks of life.


Pulling the Weeds I Had Planted in Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians

I enjoy weeding. Not that I like the leg cramps and backache that result from crouching down and poking a metal stick into the ground under the blazing Colorado sun that seems to radiate all the way through your clothing into your skin. No. It’s the feeling of satisfaction that comes from getting under the surface and pulling out the roots of all the noxious plants in my garden that I enjoy.

I feel the same way about comprehending Paul’s views on gender. If I can dig under the surface and pull out all my noxious interpretations that have taken root over the years, something beautiful may surface.

One part of Paul’s writings that was, for me, particularly overgrown with bindweed and purslane and Canada thistle is his correspondence to the Corinthians. I based my interpretation of these letters upon a few ideas I believed arose directly from the text. Now, though, I am convinced they are the tares among the wheat. Continue reading

Podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery: Women & the Tough Bible Verses

Here’s a link to my recent podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy. We talk about God’s purpose in creating male and female, some of those passages of Scripture that can make women feel like they are second-rate, and how knowing the context for the Bible’s marriage teaching changes everything. Check it out if you’re interested! And while you’re over at Authentic Intimacy, look around a bit. Juli does great work helping women experience health and wholeness in one of the most challenging parts of our lives: our sexuality.

Paul’s Theology of Gender Part 2: The First Reality

For the next few posts I’m going to focus on the overwhelming majority (96%) of what the Apostle Paul wrote that indicates he believed women and men are the same with respect to their full possession of the image of God. (If you haven’t read the first installment of this series, you may want to check it out before you read on.)

At this point in my life, I’m convinced that Paul believed women are fully and equally human, possessing the same essential human nature as men. I will explain why I believe this by walking you through the books of the New Testament that shed light on Paul’s thoughts, and when I’m finished you can decide if, as Ryan Lochte would say, I’m over-exaggerating.

Today we’ll hit Acts and Romans and in future posts we’ll cover the rest.

Though not penned by Paul, the book of Acts tells us a lot about his life. And what we learn is that before his encounter with Jesus, Paul was known for persecuting male and female Christians alike. He didn’t skip the women because he believed they were weak and posed no threat to Judaism.

No, he went after them.

When Paul got saved, he evangelized women and men. Good thing too, since a lot of powerful women opposed his work. The more women he could win to Christ, the better. Like Lydia, who became the first convert and house church leader in Europe, which seems pretty weird when we remember Paul had a vision of a man begging him to come preach the gospel in that region. We might have thought he would have waited to preach until he met a dude.

But he didn’t.

Then there was Paul’s friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, the couple who became Priscilla and Aquila in no time.[1] So why the switch? Putting someone’s name first meant they were more influential, more prominent – or male. Yet Luke put Priscilla first, even when describing how she and Aquila taught Apollos about Jesus. As respected biblical scholar Douglas Moo notes, this couple was an ancient “wife-and-husband team.”[2]


Sometimes the way we order names simply indicates who we met first. I might say “John and Mary” but “Elaine and Arthur,” because I met John before Mary but Elaine before Arthur. Paul met Aquila first, yet two times out of three he wrote “Priscilla and Aquila.”[3]

Does anyone out there wonder why?

We know Priscilla was a tentmaker like Aquila, so she worked alongside him in the family business. But that wouldn’t make her more influential than Aquila; that would make her equal to him. Was Priscilla the one with the gift of teaching? Did she have gifts of leadership that stood out? Was she a gifted problem-solver or effective church-planter?

We don’t really know.

All we know is that something was going on that caused both Luke and Paul to put Priscilla’s name first more often than not. And that indicates a view of women that assumes parity with men.

When we move along to Romans we see that Paul depicted women as identical to men in terms of morality, spirituality, authority, and ability. When Paul wrote of our moral accountability before God, he didn’t hold men to one standard and women to another.

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Rom. 2:6-8)

Paul wouldn’t have agreed with the teaching out there today that claims God will hold men accountable for all their actions, but women only for how they have responded to men. Paul didn’t let women off the hook like that, as though we could pass the buck before Jesus one day with the line, “I was just being submissive.”[4]

When it comes to spirituality, Paul didn’t say males should be led by the Spirit while females should be led by males. No, he expected everyone to follow the Spirit.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. (Rom. 8:12-14)

Of course telling everyone to be led by the Spirit (rather than by some human who is in charge of  what everyone else thinks) will lead to differences of opinion, since for some reason it is not possible for all of us to hear the same thing in the same way at the same time. But apparently Paul thought this was a risk worth taking, and apparently Paul believed we could handle our differences without one person claiming they heard from the Spirit for someone else.

When Paul discussed how to handle these differences of opinion, he described those with overly tender consciences as weak and those who were not troubled by disputable matters as strong. In stark contrast to a culture that assumed women were weak and men were strong, Paul never differentiated these groups along gender lines.

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. (Rom. 14:1-2)

Paul did not teach that one gender was more spiritual than the other, that one gender could hear from the Spirit better than the other. No, Paul taught that all of us should accept one another and respect each other’s decisions when it comes to differences of opinions.

Paul went so far as to say:

Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. (Rom. 14:22)

So when it comes to the authority to make decisions on how to apply spiritual principles to our lives in practical ways, we are to do our best to be led by the Spirit, make a decision, and then keep our opinions to ourselves. With respect to how we walk this out around other believers, the guiding principle is love, not submission.

If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (Rom. 14:15)

Even though Romans turned out to be such an important treatise on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, Paul never even hinted that men deserve more honor than women, or that men can somehow sense they merit more respect than women, or anything of the sort. Rather, Paul wrote:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Rom. 12:10)

Paul didn’t say “honor women above men” or “honor men above women.” No, honor goes both ways; we honor others above ourselves no matter their gender. I should honor my husband and my neighbor and my friend above myself, and my husband should honor me and his coworker the pastor and above himself.


When it comes to ability, Paul explained that God has given us a variety of gifts.

If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Rom. 12:6-8)

Yet Paul didn’t limit prophesy and teaching and leading to males, or serving and encouraging and showing mercy to females. Apparently all the gifts apply equally to both genders. For evidence of this, look at Romans 16, where Paul commended his female coworkers along with the males, where he called Phoebe a deacon and Junia an apostle.[5]

I could give you more examples, but you get the drift. When it comes to the book of Romans, the overwhelming assumption is that females and males are the same with respect to the fundamental qualities that define the essence of being human: morality, spirituality, authority and ability.

And I don’t think I’m over-exaggerating.


[1] Acts 18:2 lists Aquila’s name first. Acts 18:18, 19 and 26 out Priscilla’s first.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 919.

[3] Rom. 16:3 and 2 Tim. 4:19, but not 1 Cor. 16:19.

[4] Debi Pearl, Created to Be His Help Meet (Pleasantville, TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2005), is an example of someone who seems to espouse such a view.

[5] James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Dallas: Word, 1988), 887, notes that although Paul lists more males than females in Romans 16, “Paul attributes leading roles to more women than men” there.

Paul’s Theology of Gender: A Dual Reality

We know we are supposed to look for underlying principles when reading the Bible, since things don’t always pan out the same way today as they did when they were written. At times the transcultural ideas are pretty straightforward and easy to identify; at others the broader ethics can be tough to decipher.

I think the Apostle Paul’s views on gender fall into the tough-to-decipher camp. Continue reading

Return to Cyberspace: A Personal Update

So I’m still alive and plotting my imminent return to cyberspace, for those of you who have been wondering and waiting with bated breath. For those who haven’t, no offense taken. Please simply disregard this personal update and have a great day.

After pondering for the past couple of years how I might become usefully employed with an MA in Biblical Studies, a highly unemployable degree if there ever was one, I have recently accepted a position at my church. Small church that it is, where everyone wears multiple hats, my duties range from the mundane to the sublime, from office work to “strategic thinking and planning.” Continue reading

Should Men Listen to Women?

cary-grant-392931_1280Some people think it was a sin for Adam to listen to Eve, that he sinned not only by eating the forbidden fruit but also by listening to his wife. From this they seem to surmise that it is not only dangerous but also wrong for a man to listen to a woman, especially if that woman happens to be his wife.

Continue reading