Monday, August 22, 2011

Same Kind of Same as Me?

The title is a play on words from the recent popular book, Same Kind of Different as Me. I must note that I haven't yet read the book, although the audiobook is currently sitting on the bench to my vanity in the bedroom. It's "on the list." At any rate, several people I know and respect have read the book and really liked it. It's the true story of a friendship between an upscale international art dealer and a former sharecropper, now homeless. They meet while the former is serving a meal to the latter in a soup kitchen. Sounds intriguing, no?

Today on Facebook one of my friends posted a link to a transcript from the show "Being" on public radio. This episode of the show was devoted to the topic of "restoring political civility."  The interviewee, Richard Mouw, is the president of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. His premise on this show is that we need to get to know people who are different from us, spend time with them, and not lump them in the category of...well, "them." They are not them...they are us.

I recommend reading the whole transcript, but here are some key pearls in my opinion

Yeah, and you're getting a lot of today overtly anti-Muslim stuff. It's almost as if we've always got to have somebody that we feel legitimate about really hating. And that's, I think, intrinsic to the kind of fundamentalist Christianity, with conspiracy theories and antichrists and beasts and all the rest. So, you know, to all of a sudden start thinking about civility and not allowing yourself to get into that kind of thing has been a kind of a shift for me spiritually. 
Hebrew people in exile trying to figure out how in the world they're going to relate to a pagan culture. And then God says, seek their Shalom, seek their well-being, you know, even if you disagree radically with them. And then in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter says that we have to honor all human beings and have a regard for their well-being. I take those to be sort of different ways of getting at a very common Biblical theme. What does it mean for me to honor the Muslim, to honor the Mormon, to honor people of unbelief who are hostile toward Christianity? What does it mean to honor them? And then I think we need to work at the theology there, you know. How do we view other people?  
Yeah. You know, you're getting at something that I'm just really deeply disturbed about — that, for Christians who take the Bible seriously, it isn't that we have these convictions and then we also got to try to be civil, but the truth element of civility is itself one of the convictions. I mean, if our repertoire of convictions includes this, that God tells us we must not bear false witness against our neighbors, then how can we be so fast and easy and loose with telling the truth about others? Making these blanket statements about Muslims? I mean, you and I know Muslims who do not fit any of the stereotypical caricaturing kind of claims that are being used these days. And yet people think nothing of just saying, you know, the Qur'an is an evil book and anybody who's devoted to the Qur'an is just an evil person and we might as well just…

And then Mouw goes on to say...

I do think that Jesus is a model of civility, of convicted civility. I mean, you know, the murmuring against him that we read about in the Gospel accounts is that this is a person who associates with harlots and with corrupt tax collectors and, you know, other "sinners" in the culture. And yet it's very clear that Jesus did not approve of prostitution or of compliance with the economic practices of the Roman Empire, you know. So it is a clear case where Jesus reached out to people, but in none of that was he sacrificing convictions about what is right, what is good, what is true. And some of his harshest judgments were for people who were very condemnatory toward other people and not aware of their own sin, not aware of their own shortcomings, you know.

The discussion goes on to talk about how we need to know people to understand them and to personalize them. That is so true!! And I fear that as Mouw suggested, evangelical Christians either want to overtake the world and be in total control (i.e., the religious right and that agenda) or pull away and hide in holy huddles (e.g., family life centers, Christian-only homeschool co-ops, Christian schools, Christian fiction) and either refuse or be too fearful of people who think and act differently than we do.

This article got me thinking about how important it is that we have friends and/or spend time with those who are different from us. I think that not only having non-Christian friends, but friends who have different political ideologies, sexual orientations, belief systems, ethnic backgrounds, etc. is a particular pitfall for families in vocational ministry. Often times life revolves around church, especially if the wife doesn't work out of the home. If she has small children she may be involved in MOPS (a Christian organization), attend a Bible study, etc. for an outlet, but this still keeps one to the close Christian inner circle. I was a SAHM for many years as a a pastor's wife when my children were young and I did MOPS, Beth Moore Bible studies, women's ministry, VBS, etc. It would have been easy to stay in those familiar circles, but I didn't. I also volunteered at my son's public school and I taught ESL at the neighborhood literacy center. I learned that "those Mexicans" that church people talked disdainfully about were actually from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and weren't Mexican at all; just Spanish speaking. I learned that many had been raped at gunpoint in their home countries and came to the U.S. seeking refuge. They worked twelve hours a day doing manual labor for pennies and then sent most of it home to provide a better life for the children they left at home. So when people start talking about sending all of the illegals home and "if you're in our country, speak our language," even now I see the faces of Zoila and Noe who came twice a week to learn English after a 12 hour workday and with the academic skills of a 6th grader. I see them playfully pushing each other in line when I took them to get ice cream and said it was my treat, but they had to practice their English by ordering their own ice cream. When people talk about Muslims, I see my friend Azza and my colleague Ish. Azza was a Fulbright visiting professor teaching Arabic at the university where I teach. She attended our church briefly and made good friends among our community. We ate many meals together and she made us a native Egyptian dish to share. Ish is my colleague who drove for four of us faculty to attend a conference three hours away. On our return we saw a man getting beaten up by two other guys on the side of the road. Without a moment's hesitation he jumped out of the car, into the fray, and broke up the fight. Yes, and he's Muslim. I also have many Jewish friends...and new age friends...and agnostic friends...and even atheist friends.

One of our oldest and dearest family friends and former youth has come out as homosexual in the past few years. I have many gay and lesbian friends from high school and college and currently as colleagues. I have friends, not just acquaintances, who are Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, and Peruvian. I know people of Polish, German, Czech, Norwegian, British, and Dutch descent. And the amazing thing...I have learned at the core that we have a lot of similarities. We all want to love and be loved. We all want the best for our children. We all have hopes and dreams and feelings and passions. I have also learned that we have some big differences---maybe religion, maybe values, maybe politics. We don't have to agree. And my being friends with people who have differing lifestyles and beliefs from me doesn't mean that I condone their way of thinking. Rather I want to be a model of convicted Jesus. I don't want to lump people into overused stereotypes or put them in boxes. And how can I love them if I don't know them? How can I extend grace if I am too scared to get close?

As I stated earlier, as PWs it is too easy to stay insulated. Even with my ESL teaching, I still was in a spiritual bubble of sorts. However, as I entered the workforce it was easier to be with different people because my coworkers and patients were different from me. I learned that "those people on Medicaid" weren't sorry, lazy bums, but often middle class parents who had been overwhelmed with medical debts due to a severely handicapped child. If a PW stays at home with her children, she obviously doesn't have the wider borders of the work environment, but she still has neighbors, community organizations, a grocery store, a library, etc. Join a book club, go to a play group, etc., but not a "Christian" one--just a *gasp* secular one. I already have plenty of white, middle class, Christian friends who are the same kind of same as me. However, I am very thankful for the lessons as I have learned from those who are so very different. And...I am thankful for God who created ALL of us in His own image and gave His Son for each and every one of us. My prayer is that I could continue to let my feeble little light shine and extend grace, love, and truth to all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Coffee with C.S. Lewis

I haven't posted on this blog in forever. Not because I haven't had anything to say. I ALWAYS have something to say, much to my husband's dismay at times. However, it has just been a crazy busy summer. So crazy busy that my personal quiet time has taken a significant beating.

Oops! I just dispelled a myth. People who aren't pastors' wives think that we spend at least two hours a day praying and reading the Bible, in between doing good works, baking from scratch, making our own clothes, and just generally being holy. I regret to inform you, that at least for this PW, my house is a mess, we ate ice cream for supper (seriously!), and my Bible is covered in a film of dust...if I'm even sure where it is. I do chat with God periodically throughout the day, but of late it has been more surface chatter like I'd have with an acquaintance rather than a deep heart-to-heart with my Daddy. Time to change all of that and find my Jesus mojo again.

We've been cleaning out the basement and preparing for a garage sale. In doing so, my hubby had to go through hundreds of old ministry and theological books. He has finally released his grip on youth ministry books from the early 90s and pop culture Christian books a la Prayer of Jabez (although he never owned THAT book). However, among the good ones we are keeping are several good Bible study and devotional books that I put aside for myself to read. I'm starting with A Retreat with C.S. Lewis. It's a small book with a weeks' worth of daily readings by Mr. Lewis (for whom our youngest son is named) and related scripture. It's time to recreate the spiritual discipline of getting daily into Scripture with the added bonus of considering the illuminating ponderings of one of my favorite authors, who just so happens to be an incredible apologist.

Tomorrow morning you'll find me sipping coffee in my rocker chair and reading while chatting with Clive Staples Lewis as we enter the throne room. Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I Don't Do VBS-Part 2

So as I mentioned in my previous post, I don't do Vacation Bible School anymore. Part of that reason is because I don't really enjoy it and I don't feel particularly called to do it. Even better...I don't feel obligated. Woo Hoo!!! It is for FREEDOM that I've been set free (Gal. 1:1). This post is about my other reason. I don't think that the working model of Vacation Bible school---well, I don't think it works.

Hold on loyal VBSers. Before you chalk me up as spouting blasphemy, hear me out. As a "general rule," not 100% of the time, I don't think that VBS is particularly effective where it is mostly done and how it is typically done. Vacation Bible School runs rampant in the south. To be particular, in the Bible Belt.

I know the Bible Belt. I was born and raised in Alabama and lived there until I was 23 year old, at which time I moved west to Texas. My husband went to seminary and Texas, served his first full-time church in southwestern Missouri, at the northern edge of the Belt, and then we moved to Louisiana. Up until almost four years ago, my life had been totally lived in the Bible Belt. Then we moved to Wisconsin--the land of Catholics and Lutherans and most assuredly, strangely devoid of Southern Baptist churches with very few evangelical churches of any flavor. In the Bible Belt, every church (and there is a church on every corner) has a summer VBS and many children take turns going around the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Assembly of God VBS circuit with their friends. Here in central Wisconsin I know of one Evangelical Free church and one Lutheran church that has a VBS. It's just not done very much here. And just might work.

So here's my beef. There are incredible amounts of time and money that go into coordinating and putting on a good Vacation Bible School. It takes tons of volunteers to teach the classes, make the cookies, plan recreation, get the kids from point a to point b, rock the babies of the worker, etc. The first flaw in the system was noticed about 15 years ago when churches realized that not all moms are stay-at-home moms and they were suddenly having trouble finding enough workers. Instead of rethinking the whole model, which has been around since the late 1800s, churches merely moved VBS from weekday mornings to the evenings. This way people can put in a full day's work and still come to church every night for a week to participate in VBS for three hours per night. Yes, it's only for one week, but that is creating exhaustion and taking away from family time. I would be so grouchy and exhausted to work 8+ hours, then lead VBS for 3 hours (not including set up, clean-up, and getting me and my family fed at some point), before collapsing into bed and doing it all over again the next day. People who do this deserve to be sainted.

If you read this article about the history of VBS, you will note that it was started as a way to meet a community need, notably unsupervised children running the streets of New York City. (FYI, Sesame Street was started for reasons along the same line, albeit many years later). Our culture, our communities, family structure, and the demands on our time have all changed radically since the advent of VBS. I think we need to go back to the drawing board and think about 

What is the purpose of Vacation Bible School?

I think most churches would probably cite evangelism, outreach/church growth, exposure to the Bible, and worship as the key purposes of VBS. Those are all worthy and wonderful things. However, I was rather disheartened to find this article that suggests that the purpose is to advance church culture. Last time I checked, Jesus didn't walk this earth and die a horrific death to promote church culture. I digress. Anyway, if we want to do outreach and share the love of Christ with others, how about we get OUT of the church building? The other method of drawing unchurched and/or non-believers into the sanctuary for warm Kool-Aid, macaroni crafts, and songs with hand motions isn't very compelling or realistic. 

As my alter ego speech pathologist/professor self, I have worked with many people who live below the federal poverty line. A lot of times they don't have transportation to get to VBS. Some churches have buses, but that doesn't necessarily solve the problem either when compounded by childcare and other issues for single working moms. I think we should go into the community---parks on the wrong side of town, housing projects, and Section 8 housing still have unsupervised children running around who may not have heard of a loving Savior. Those children often have single mothers who would love to catch their breath, or have an adult conversation, or just have someone look them in the eye and tell them that they matter. Some of those children have dads who feel beaten up by the fact that they can't provide for their families like they wish they could or they could be caught in a vicious cycle of anger and abuse because they don't know how to manage their anger. Some of those children have loving parents in stable marriages who just can't catch a financial break and the stress is overwhelming them. They feel defeated and alone. Some of these families are in middle class subdivisions at the clubhouse pool. Some of these families are in gated communities on the tennis courts or in the park. These are our neighbors, our co-workers, and the people on the wrong side of the tracks that we've never bothered to know.

My home church in college, Spring Hill Baptist Church, began a community VBS in a local park after I had graduated and left. From what my former roommate told me, it was a wonderful undertaking, with new children arriving each day. Many of these children had never held a Bible, heard of Jesus, or darkened the door of a church. When I was a summer missionary in California, way back in 1987, we did a lot of Backyard Bible Clubs, which is basically just a small neighborhood VBS. It's not a huge, mass-marketing campaign for the church. It's about getting to know kids and their families while teaching them about Jesus. There are still games, crafts, snacks, and Bible stories, but it's smaller and more personal. It's also much, much less expensive.

I tried to Google and find out how much churches are spending on VBS to no avail. I'm sure that large (e.g., 300+ member) churches are spending thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars on VBS. Taking a quick look at the Lifeway VBS Catalog, I found that I can purchase the Big Apple Super Sampler for $199.99, the $9.99 book telling me how to decorate, and then all of the decorations (tablecloths, Times Square backdrop, giant inflatable Statue of Liberty, taxi floor prints), materials (teacher books, student books, overheads, power points, music books, CDs, DVDs, take home handouts, craft supplies), snacks, advertisement (large signs, radio/newspaper ads, mailouts), and maybe even transportation and registration fees for worker training. I suspect that it's pretty big business for Lifeway, Group, and other companies that are producing VBS materials.

I suspect that the overwhelming percentage of children who attend VBS are already involved in a church. There is always a contingency of children who attend who are unchurched as well. However, I think we could be reaching so much more of that population if we went outside of the church walls. There are always salvation decisions at VBS which seems wonderful. However, with the emotion of the event and the inevitable "mob mentality" and peer pressure of children going forward or asked to raise their hands if they prayed THE prayer, I wonder (1) how authentic these young conversion experiences are, (2) how well they are followed up on, and (3) whether most of them would have occurred anyway without VBS---through a Sunday school class, talking with a parent, or meeting with the pastor or children's minister. The same emotion driven, peer-pressured thing happens with youth at camp and big events. Again, please hear what I am saying: I wholeheartedly believe that children can make salvation decisions and I totally believe in the concept of ministry geared to children. However, I don't think VBS is the way to do it.

I think having a fun week, but scaled-down time and finances-wise, to do kind of a kid's revival or something might be a good idea. On her blog, my friend Dusty, wrote lovingly of her experiences with VBS and she gave me pause as she wrote of the beauty of young children worshiping in innocence and with abandon. I thank her for pointing that out to me, because that kind of got overlooked in my rant. I don't think we should begrudge our church kids of a special time to be kids, learn about Jesus, and sing to Him. However, I still question the money, time, and effort put into it the way we do it currently. And I still think relational neighborhood ministry and Backyard Bible Clubs are a less expensive and more meaningful way to take the gospel to the community.

Just something to think about...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Why I Don't Do VBS (part 1)

Good old VBS. Vacation Bible School. I attended it as a kid, at both my Methodist church and with friends at their Baptist churches. I worked at VBS as an older child/teen and then I taught VBS in Texas, in Missouri, and in Louisiana when my husband was a youth minister at those churches. Then I hung up my lanyard, put away the finger paints, and resigned. During our second year in Louisiana I quit.

Yes, I know that many people believe that it is one of the 10 commandments that a pastor's wife must be an active VBS worker. Not just a cookie baker or kid shuffler, but a teacher, or music leader, or recreation director--some big and obvious role in VBS. For years I taught preschool VBS and then I started being the missions teacher for older elementary kids. I went all out. One year was some ocean theme and I spent hours drawing, coloring, and cutting out fish for my room, creating an ocean scene on one wall, etc. I dressed up, I knew all of the hand motions to the songs, I developed fun and creative active learning experiences like actually re-enacting the Battle of Jericho and making the walls crash down. I didn't do VBS half heartedly. I went all out, loaded for bear. But I didn't like it.

I doubt that anyone could tell that I didn't like VBS. I was very upbeat and enthusiastic. Actually, I think that for years I did like VBS. But then it started becoming exhausting and the rose lost its bloom. When my kids were old enough to attend, they would be tired and grumpy and so would I. Our house was a mess because of all of the supplies and craftiness. I love children, but one on one or in small groups...not in herds.

I was just always assumed that I would be a VBS worker because (1) I was married to a pastor, (2) I am good with kids, (3) I wasn't working outside of the home for most of those years. I think I believed some of that too, or at the very least, I never questioned it. So each year during the worker round-up I signed up for the task. Our first year in Texas I even got recruited to be the music director. (Those who know me may go ahead and burst out into loud guffaws now). I should mention that I was also working a full-time job with a 45 mile commute each way and was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. Exhausted doesn't even begin to describe it. I would lie down and nap on church pews in between groups of kids and we had to put on a full-fledged musical, with acting and solos, in 5 days. We did it.

Over the years of VBS, the difficulty finding enough workers, seeing the same church kids come through every year, and teaching the same stories over and over, I got burned out. So our second (or maybe third) year in Baton Rouge, I just didn't sign up when the time came. We were at a mega-church, so no one really noticed, until the last push for workers because they were still short a few. Then I was asked by a few people if I was working to which I replied simply, "No." That was actually a huge, pivotal moment in my life as a minister's wife for two reasons. For one thing, I was learning to say NO. The other thing was that I didn't feel compelled to provide a justification or an excuse. A simple "no" would suffice.

I realized that for me, VBS was a joy-stealer. I was irritable and contentious--not during the actual VBS time, but before and after each day. I just simply didn't like participating in VBS. I did bake cookies for VBS for another couple of years and then I gave it up entirely and with no regret. Some people LOVE VBS and that's great. It takes all kinds. I am thankful for those with a passion for it and I will pray for them. I'm just not putting on the VBS T-shrt and singing "Father Abraham" least for now.

I also want to stress that I believe that all church members, staff family or not, should be involved in some type of service in church. I also believe that you have to get out of your comfort zone on occasion and do some types of ministry that may not be your gifting or affinity. However, I don't think you should be compelled to repeatedly take on a ministry that you really don't like or don't believe in just because of expectations (your own or other's) or because "there is no one else to do it." Sometimes we step in to save the day when actually that particular place of service may need some new blood or may even need to wither on the vine.

Ministry jobs I have done out of my comfort zone? Youth ministry! Teenagers scared me (and still do to some extent) and middle schoolers annoyed me. This chick can take only so much fart humor, adolescent girl drama/hysterics, and Oreos tossed into ceiling fans (true story). However, I taught 10th grade Sunday school for years and years...and learned to love it and grow more comfortable. I chaperoned lock-ins and led girls' accountability groups. I also really actively learned that God's grace is sufficient. However, there were times I needed to take a break from teaching Sunday school and just be a member in a class. Thankfully I had a husband who was supportive of my need for respite. Other times, I taught adult Sunday school, led women's Bible studies, taught children's choir, played handbells, worked in the nursery, and sang in choir. Most recently, my act of service in our church plant has been more behind-the-scenes. I pick up college students from campus and bring them to church, bake treats for the hospitality table, and help with set-up and take down. I totally and wholeheartedly believe that we are all part of the bride of Christ and therefore, we each have an important role to play. I am eager and willing to do my part. It just isn't in Vacation Bible School anymore...and that makes me happy.

(Part II-Why I believe we need to rethink VBS)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

My husband, now a church planter/lead pastor, was a youth minister for about 19 years. We have had a lot of youth and college students move in and out of our lives over the years, not to mention that our current church is in a college town. We have also received lots of letters and email asking us to give money to many short term missions projects that many of these students participate in. Are we excited that these young adults are broadening their world vision, challenging themselves, and serving the Lord? Absolutely! We enjoy reading about 90% of these letters from former youth and hearing about what God is doing in their lives. We support all of them in prayer and a few of them financially. We generally don't give much, because frankly we get 15-20 of these letters a year. However, we do enjoy keeping up with these guys. However, there are about 10% of the letters that drive us crazy. These usually come from either: (a) People whose lives we were only marginally involved in and don't really know and/or (b) People who have attended our church once or twice, want to meet Robert for a coffee a couple of times, and then go in for the sales pitch. They are forming a "relationship" for the sole purpose of asking us for money in the future. These students sometimes ask for missions money, but more often than not as asking us to support their involvement in parachurch ministries. Disclaimer: We do support parachurch ministries. In fact, we give monthly to support a local leader of a parachurch ministry. However, this is someone with whom we have an ongoing relationship in which both parties are mutually invested.

Anyway, those 10-percenters who are just asking for money tend to drive us crazy. (If you are wondering if you are one of these...chances are, you aren't. The people who do this either are totally oblivious and/or don't really care). They always start off the letter, phone call, email, visit, with really wanting to know how we are doing. Only...they don't. If they really wanted to know how we were doing they would keep in touch. They launch immediately into their pitch, which contains an awful lot of "Is" and "Mes" and tell us all of the wonderful things that they are doing. They through in a lot of religious jargon and count things like buying Tom's shoes as ministry involvement. Then they ask for money and if we say no, they ask us for other people to contact. Sorry. If you annoy us, we are certainly not going to send you to our friends too.

So, I decided to make a snarky Xtranormal video to convey these interactions.(Caveat: This is my first time making one of these videos. I had no idea that the stick people I chose would be filmed in profile. Stick people are 2-dimensional and don't have much of a profile. Live and learn)


Now that was an exaggeration of the scenario, but not by much.

Short-term missions experiences are awesome! I went to California for 3 months after my freshman year in college as a summer missionary in the San Francisco Bay area and it totally changed my life. My marriage, career, and life plans were sealed that summer. Since then I have done trips to minister to the homeless in inner city Fort Worth and to work with children in Nicaragua on multiple occasions. However, we have to be honest, the day in and day out workers are the real heroes. Summer missionaries or short-term missions are helpful, but they are also a lot of work for the real ministers. And part of doing a mission trip is the excitement of going to a place you may have never been or working with people that you wouldn't dare hang out with in your own community in real life. I think the thing that is bigger than the work we do on short-term missions projects is the personal, internal change that results. Working with homeless people in Fort Worth helped me to invite real live homeless people over for dinner at my house in Baton Rouge. Working with refugees and illegal aliens from Central America when we lived in Missouri helped me to become an advocate for these people. We have to bring what we learn back home and make it personal. Otherwise, it's just a vacation.

Anyway, back to the money issue.
True confession--I am not a natural giver. In fact, I am pretty selfish and have to wrestle with it daily. I have trouble loaning you my favorite pen and worrying that I'll get it back, so when you ask me for money that's a whole different level of giving. However, my husband has taught me much about sacrificial giving and I am still growing in this area. Part of my problem with giving to short-term missions though comes from my denomination. While I don't agree with every single thing that the Southern Baptist Convention is about, I do wholeheartedly believe that we have the best missions organizations of any denomination, hands down. Every church gives to the Cooperative Program which funds career missionaries, short-term missions, and seminary training, among other things. When I was a summer missionary to California I didn't have to ask anyone for money because the SBC paid my airfare and orientation expenses, local church members housed and fed me, and I even got a stipend. At the same time, my husband was a summer missionary in inner city Detroit. He went through the Alabama SBC, so the state association paid his expenses and stipend. We have friends who are SBC career missionaries in Peru, Ukraine, and Russia. The SBC paid for a year of language school, several months of cultural preparation, relocation expenses, and their salaries. They are able to spend their time doing ministry instead of drumming up support and asking for money. Because this is the system that I know, it is very counter-cultural to me personally for the money asking. That doesn't mean I won't do it. It just means that I know that it can be done a different way.

So, please do keep sending us your letters. Just keep in touch in between too, okay? We really do love you, are excited for your opportunities to serve and to be changed.We might send you encouragement letters or a care package. We just don't want to be used.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Perks

Often times I hear pastors' wives complain. Complain about everyone's expectations of how they should act, complain about about the lack of money, complain about how often their husbands are at church, and complain about ___________ (insert gripe here). Our current church is the fourth one we have served in since being married. I don't think that we have been involved in freak-of-nature churches. They have all had some good and some bad. However, I really haven't "too" much to complain about. Yes, there are some irritating people (aka heavenly sandpaper) at church, but those people are at all churches. Frankly, they are everywhere--not just at church. We knew how much Robert was going to get paid when we agreed to go to a church and he didn't go into the profession to make tons of money, so that hasn't been an issue. My husband has a good concept of priorities and boundaries and he has put his family before his job, so that hasn't been a problem. I have had moments of frustration with being married to a pastor, but really not too much to complain about. I'd be frustrated on occasion if he were a doctor on call, or a businessman who traveled, or a police officer who risked his life each day. There are gripes, complaints, and trade-offs in every occupation.

What no one ever talks about is the perks...and there are a lot of them. Let me describe a few that we have had over the years:
*In Texas, we had an older couple in the church who babysit a 9-month-old Adam ALL DAY LONG for free while we prepared to move to Missouri. They also fed us lunch and supper. They helped us with a million little things like home improvement, meals, etc. and we just a huge source of encouragement for us. They are now in their 80s and we still get a Christmas card from them every year.

*In Missouri, we needed to travel from SW Missouri to Abilene, TX and while we had a 4 door sedan, it was a compact car. Our boys were a year old and just shy of 4 years at the time. We had a church member voluntary loan (and insist) that we take his new Suburban to Texas. We had enough room to pack all of our baby paraphernalia and ride in comfort. This same person was an ER physician. Once my husband had bilateral pneumonia AND influenza at the same time. Our infant and preschool-aged sons also had double ear infections and bronchiolitis. I was overwhelmed with breathing treatments and medication schedules. Dr. Church Member (CM) came over to our house every day for a week, giving Robert antibiotic and steroid shots. He then had to wait around for about 30 minutes to make sure that Robert didn't have a reaction to the megadoses of drugs. Robert would have easily ended up in the hospital if it hadn't been for our friend doing housecalls and going above and beyond the call of duty, all gratis. He was ministering to us in significant ways.

*In Louisiana, we had church members give us their vacation/retirement cabin in North Carolina for a week so that we could have a vacation. It was a beautiful modern log cabin with three bedrooms, a stocked kitchen, all sorts of video/DVD equipment and movies, and a huge wraparound porch all on rolling hills with a stream running through the property. It was in the middle of nowhere on the NC/VA border, but a very short drive to Boone. It was one of our best family vacations ever! The kind where you come back actually rested. We slept late, napped, canoed, swam, fished, and just enjoyed time together. We picnicked on a large flat rock in the stream. The boys were pretty young and spent one entire day throwing rocks in a river. It was a free respite. Our only requirement was to sign the guest book and to pray over the house for the next people who would stay there. You see, these people used their vacation home as a ministry and offered free throughout the year to ministers and their families. What a blessing!

These are some big examples, but there are a million other smaller perks. We got discounted dental visits in Texas. We got free veterinary care in Louisiana from a church member and paid cost for meds. I had to see a CM cardiologist in Louisiana and he didn't charge for the full EKG/stress-test workup, even though I had insurance. We've had church member as realtors and they have given us discounts on their percentage. We've had people keep our kids for free so we could have weekend getaways when our kids were little and we had no family living near. We've had people house and host us at their houses when we have gone back for visits. We've gotten gift cards, tickets to concerts and sporting events, meals paid for, and surplus from people's gardens. We've been taken to the river, to New Orleans, to state parks, and on other grand adventures by people in our churches. We've had people bring meals when our babies were born or when I had surgery. We've had people offer to run interference or take on jobs that weren't theirs during tough times. My kids have gotten to hang out for the day playing video games with Ten Shekel Shirt. Jeremy Camp came over to our house and took a shower after playing a concert.

In addition to things that church members have done for us, we got a free week at a bed and breakfast in Amish Country, Ohio through Pastors Retreat Network. This was a weeklong retreat for spiritual renewal that was absolutely awesome and is supported by donations. Churches have paid the way for my husband to get to do mission work in Belarus and Nicaragua, as well as sent us both to conferences and times of renewal and rest.

So there you have the secret scoop--the stuff that no one tells you. There are many little and big perks to serving in ministry. Sure there are irritations, as with any job, but there are so many incredible ways that we have been blessed by too many people over the years to even count.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: A Different Kind of Easter

Jesus' crown

It's Easter morning at 9:21 and I am still in my pajamas and now sitting at the computer to type in my blog. This is radically different from Easters past. I have been married to a pastor for about 18 years. (We've actually been married for almost 21 years, but for a couple of those he was an insurance adjuster and a full-time seminary student). We have done the mega-church thing. Did that for almost 7 years. At one time being in a mega-church was our dream. The pinnacle of ministry success. Not so much anymore.

We planted Tapestry church 2.5 years ago. It is an intentional small community. When we grow to a couple of hundred people, we will purposefully split and form a new church. We don't want to get big. Our strength is in the fact that we are small. Everyone knows everyone. It's quite evident when we have visitors. And we do have visitors...a lot! There have been times when our visitors have outnumbered our regular members/attenders. Part of our appeal is the small intimate community. Of course, it is a drawback for others who would prefer to come and sit anonymously in a large church. I have been at that place in my life as well. There are other churches in the community to fit all sorts of needs and preferences.

We also meet at night. We have no morning service at all. I LOVE that! Since we moved from the deep south to the frozen tundra I have worked full-time for the first time since our boys have been born. I relish my weekends and my time with my family. Sunday mornings are now a day for sleeping late and hanging out with my family. A real a pastor's family. Imagine that! My husband is good about studying and preparing his sermon during the week. Usually he may spend an extra hour or so tweaking his powerpoint or printing out bulletins (we have no secretary), but usually he's not running around in a panic. He heads up to the school where we meet at about 3:30 and I go up between 4:30-5:30 depending on various things. Our service is at 6:00 and we have to be out by 8:00. He does not spend all of Sunday at church anymore, coming home exhausted.

In other churches, he might have to attend as many as 4-5 services on Easter: sunrise service, the three usual Sunday morning services, and maybe another evening service. He'd be at home for a couple of hours for lunch and that was it. When the kids were little, I had to get them ready and dressed extra fancy all by myself. Invariably, someone would have an exploding diaper or spit up sour milk on me and it was back to the drawing board. I was rarely in a worshipful mood on Easter morning after getting everyone dressed, putting them in carseats, lugging around diaper bags, and dealing with chocolate bunny overdrive. In addition to Easter morning, there were also always cantatas and Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday services. It was a busy, busy week. Sometimes in our busyness I think we can overlook the reality. We can neglect to take time to consider it all. We can forget to be amazed...and humbled...and loved by the miracle of Easter.

Jesus hung between two thieves.

Just this morning I was telling my husband that while I am so thankful today for a risen Saviour, I am also thankful for a real day to celebrate that. Not a day full of religious obligations and spiritual busyness, but a day to contemplate, rest, and rejoice. Yes, it does feel weird not to go to a sunrise service. Even though I am very much not a morning person, that was always one of my favorite services. Robert discussed having a sunrise service with our leadership team and everyone was in agreement that we would just be doing it to do it. We're not about activity for the sake of activity. It's also nice, since we have a large percentage of college students at our church, that they can go home and spend the weekend with their families and still make it back to worship with us tonight. That wasn't part of the original grand plan to have church at night, but it has worked out so well that way. People can boat, fish, travel, and still make it back for church in the evening.

Our budget doesn't increase for Easter. We don't spend tens of thousands of dollars on an Easter cantata. On a personal level, nobody really buys new clothes for Easter because we are a very casual church...and it's still too cold to wear springish clothes anyway. We don't have extra programming. No Easter egg hunts, no new banners, no Easter lilies. During Holy Week, we do one big service project together (one year, painting at the Salvation Army Hope Center; this year, serving a meal at Place of Peace), we have a quiet reflective Tenebrae service that involves candles, a guitar, bass, and drums, and then our usual Sunday evening service. Jesus will be celebrated indeed! However, no one will be too exhausted or obligated to participate in the celebration.

Another thing we have had is various members of church do different interpretations of the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. There were two stations each week with the scripture and some artistic means of representing it. These ranged from sewing to painting to photography, etc. It has been so meaningful to have different people demonstrating different scriptures in various ways. It also gets so many more people involved in leading worship. We'll have all 12 stations tonight to look at once more in chronological order. Can't wait!

Today the Pam of the past would have a beautiful new dress, would have already been to a sunrise service, sitting in a second service, and preparing for Sunday school, while having her mind otherwise thinking about how she was going to get lunch ready in time. Instead, earlier this week I have been able to thoughtfully contemplate the sacrifice of Christ, His love for me, and the debt He paid. Today, as the sun streams through the windows, I have been rejoicing at the fact that He defeated death. In a little bit I will start working on lunch (I just have to do the sides because Robert is home to smoke a brisket!) and then I'll take a nap. We will end the day in joyful celebration of our risen Saviour with our church family this evening. Simple church...what's not to love?

Blessed Easter to you and yours!