Hierarchy and discipleship

Some of our deepest theological conversations occur in our hot tub.

This past weekend was no exception. Some close missionary friends of ours who work in Asia came to stay. We always have fun  debates with them, Here’s the gist of one of our conversations that took place late at night in our jacuzzi:

Missionary: In Asia, our culture is very hierarchical. This hierarchy spills over into the church and it’s an asset to discipleship because the new believer is looking to learn from someone more experienced.

Me: God loves us enough that in his mercy he uses whatever culture we give him. But Jesus spoke against hierarchy. He said, “You know how the rulers of this world function (hierarchy). But it must not be so amongst you.”

Missionary: In the West, we are so individualistic and egalitarian. But that is not Scriptural either. In Asia, we are more communally and society minded. Because in English, it’s impossible to tell the difference between you singular and you plural, we miss the fact that much of the New Testament is addressed to groups.

Me: Neither hierarchy nor egalitarianism are Scriptural. Jesus spoke about and modeled something different–closer to an upside down hierarchy, Servanthood. We lay down our lives for others that they might grow.

What is your opinion on this? How do we best disciple others–using a teacher/pupil (hierarchical) model, as peers (egalitarian), or as servants? Does it depend on the culture we live in?

A fashionable fad

Several years ago, in our book The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, I wrote a chapter on some of the potential pitfalls the house church movement might face as it became “fashionable.” Here’s what I said:

Another hazard is that of becoming fashionable, the latest phenomenon in church statistics, the trendy alternative to traditional church. There will always be people who hop onto the bandwagon because they want to be part of the latest thing, not because the Holy Spirit is leading them. But those who join the simple church movement without truly understanding and living out its DNA will soon find that what they have is only a pale substitute for the real thing.

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I believe we have seen this come to pass over the past few years. Many people started groups outside the four walls of the sacred building in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, often working with those who didn’t know the Lord. But as “house church” became a buzz word, others became involved because they wanted to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing. Churches changed their home groups to house churches without changing anything more than the name. For some it seemed a good idea and a way to escape the tedium of the status quo. So they did what they’ve always known in terms of meetings, but exchanged the pew for a sofa.

Some of the incredible growth we have seen (The Pew Forum reckons that 9% of Protestants “attend religious services” in homes) is due to this phenomenon. That phase is coming to an end. Those groups that only changed their name will either die,  join the next fad, or, hopefully, seek the Lord to change them. House/simple/organic church is now mainstream and I don’t think that will change, but what emerges over the next few years may be a truer reflection of what God is doing through this movement.

Just my two cents worth as I look back on the incredible things God has done. What do you think?

Learning from Florence Nightingale

“I would have given her [the Church] my head, my hand, my heart. She would not have them. She did not know what to do with them. She told me to go back and do crochet in my mother’s drawing-room; or if I were tired of that, to marry and look well at the head of my
husband’s table. ‘You may go to the Sunday School if you like it,’ she said. But she gave me no training even for that. She gave me neither work to do for her, nor education for it.”  Florence Nightingale in a letter to Dean Stanley, 1852.

Florence Nightingale, “the Lady with the Lamp,” was the founder of modern nursing.

The world was the richer for her decision to devote her life to serving others through the nursing profession, but the church was undoubtedly the poorer.

The church misses out when women are not allowed to use their God-given gifts.


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How I want to cross the finish line

Many people, as they get older, settle back into a life of quiet retirement, enjoying the fruits of their years of labor. They are content to relax, to sit back and savor life.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I want.

I don’t want to drag myself across the finish line of this life. When that line comes in view in the distance, I want to break into a sprint, flinging myself wholeheartedly into everything God has for me right up until my last breath, even if the only thing I’m physically able to do is intercede for others. I want to finish well.

And as I cross the finish line, I’ll hear the angelic cheers…

(Remind me of that as I get older!)

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Two ways past culture affects women today

In my last post I shared a very funny video–but with an underlying message that affects women in the church today.

For the past few centuries, women have been perceived as having one of two roles (and yes, I know that this isn’t true for those brought up in poverty). But here is what secular culture generally dictated:

  1. Like the video suggests, women are to be mere reflections of their husbands, uninterested in “important” things such as finance, politics or religion. They enhance their husband’s reputations by looking pretty and acting according to convention. They spend their time in fripperies and trivia (I like little kittens). Their opinions are considered uninformed and unimportant.
  2. A woman’s place is in the home. She runs a good household, brings up her children well, engages (if there is time) in wholesome social/church activities. Her concerns are entirely wrapped up in the running of her household. Her opinion on “important” issues outside the home is irrelevant.

These secular views still impact the role of women in the church today. I remember well one of the first women’s conferences I attended in this country. One evening, we painted each other’s nails! Yuk! I hope I’m not treading on anyone’s toes here (pun intended) but to me it seemed a parody, a caricature of women’s ministry, a waste of God-given talent and time.

Many still believe that a woman has no role of relevance outside the home. A woman working outside the home is a necessary evil. A woman should not hold a position of strategic authority in the church (for a treatment of the Scriptures that seem to imply this, check out a series of posts beginning here.)

The Proverbs 31 woman not only ran her household well–she ran a thriving business. Deborah led a nation. Esther saved a nation.

Society today has thankfully changed. But some of these old cultural conventions still linger on.

Let’s get rid of our cultural handicaps.

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An unspoken rule

There’s a (mostly) unspoken rule in Christianity. It goes something like this: God only uses a woman when a man is not available.

It’s a convenient rule because it allows women on the mission field to do things that women are not allowed to do here at home.

Does this seem strange to anyone else?


Women and the harvest

According to Jesus, if there’s a lack of harvest, it’s not because the harvest is especially difficult, it’s due to lack of workers.

The harvest is great but the laborers are few. (Luke 10:2)

Jesus’ solution? We pray for workers for the harvest. These workers are not only existing Christians, but also those who don’t yet know the Lord. However, in the church, we often sideline half the workers for the harvest—the female half. Their engagement in the harvest is limited to inviting their friends to attend church with them. (I recognize this is often true for the men too.)

If we truly want to see great harvest, then women need to take on roles usually assigned to men. They need to make disciples and baptize them, to teach and train, to start churches, to give Communion, to strategize and plan for the harvest.



Women and revivals

The temperature was -13 degrees. The church hostel where we were staying was unheated because there were so few visitors in January, and despite wearing several layers of clothing, we couldn’t get warm. It was 1983. Tony, my husband, and I were in Seoul, South Korea to visit the Yoido Full Gospel Church led by Dr. Paul (David) Yonggi Cho— the largest church in the world.

One day, in an effort to get warm, we headed over to the church’s administration building. As we wandered along the hallways between the various offices, someone approached us.

“Would you like an interview with Dr. Cho?”

Much to our surprise, we were ushered into Dr. Cho’s office and had a twenty-minute conversation with him. He said many things to us about the nature of revival and the crucial importance of prayer, but the one thing that has most stood out over the years is this.

“You in the West will never see a move of God until you use your women.”

Prayer is key to the extraordinary growth they have seen in Korea. But women have also played a vital role. Yoido Full Gospel Church began in the home of Choi Ja-shil (who later became Cho’s mother-in-law) in 1958. As the church grew, Cho took on more and more responsibilities until he became exhausted and ill. At this point God challenged him to release women. The church now numbers more than 700,000. Two thirds of the associate pastors are women and 47,000 of the 50,000 cell group leaders are women too.

But three decades later, what Dr. Cho predicted for us has sadly proven true. We in the West have not used our women, nor, with one or two possible exceptions, have we seen any major, long-lasting and wide-sweeping revivals with multitudes being swept into the Kingdom of God. Whereas Korea has gone from around 2 percent of the population being Christian in 1945 to about 30 percent today, we in the West have gone backwards. In the UK where I am from, Christianity is irrelevant to the vast majority of the population. Here in the United States we may be only a generation away from being a post-Christian nation.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?