I had a sense when I started this year, that some ‘big’ things would be happening. Okay, maybe not ‘big’ things, maybe I should say ‘stretching’ things. Things that would nudge (push?) me out of my comfort zone.
Yesterday one of them came, and I’m surprised to find how positive I’m feeling about it.
When I answered the phone, and the gentleman on the other end asked to speak to my husband, and was inquiring about “how our church was going”, I felt a bit nervous, as I always do when this question comes. The reason I feel nervous about it is because very often, people don’t ‘get’ how we view church, or church planting, or what we hope and envision for our church, without first having a long conversation, trying to explain it…and still we are often met with blank stares. We know we are not fitting into the mold of ‘typical’ church planting…and in the past 7 years, we’ve become okay with that. But it still feels burdensome to face “The Question” and not know where the conversation will lead.
That being said, I still began slowly stepping in to some explanation of things, and when I was met with a level of understanding from the other end of the line, I opened up with more. It was one of those amazing times where I had the feeling “Wait! This person actually gets what I’m trying to say!“ That in itself was encouraging. (Ah, inner sighs of relief…) I actually got to the part where I told him that I was currently serving as the senior elder (lead pastor, but in our network, this happens to be the title…something I’ll explain in another post sometime). Amazingly, it didn’t end the conversation. He said “Oh, okay, well then let me share with you what I was going to talk to Todd about…” (At this point, you probably could have knocked me over with a feather…)
Then, he proceeded to tell me that he is involved with heading up a network of churches in our region, that, while from very diverse denominations and such, meet together on a regular basis to pray, and encourage one another. There’s apparently a monthly ‘local’ gathering, with leaders from churches in our neighboring towns, and a ‘regional’ gathering including churches across several counties. The regional meeting is held on a Saturday evening, with speakers brought in, and it’s a larger gathering, with both leaders and spouses attending together. (Good, good!) The local chapter is a smaller gathering of pastors, that meetings on a Thursday morning for prayer. (Here’s where my mental brakes start skreetching a bit…)
Sounds good, except that part where I’m…well, ya know…a girl.
This is where we’ve stalled out before.
Todd used to meet with a group of pastors, but from the conversations he had with some, where they tried to show him the error of his ways in having women in leadership…(and then overhearing one of those pastors conversing with someone else who knew of us, and saying that our church would never really amount to anything because of our ‘problems’ at the foundation…namely, women leaders…his actual words were “When you start compromising on those types of things, how long til the gospel is compromised?”) I knew that when we made some changes, and I took over the lead role at church and he returned to his marketplace job, I wouldn’t really be well-received to continue trying to meet with that particular group. (Not that I even know if that particular group still meets.) In any case, I’m not looking to offend or stir up trouble, by trying to push my way in anywhere, so it was just something that got let go by the wayside.
Back to the phone conversation… Since things seemed to be flowing well, and I felt a degree of openness, I figured I’d just put it out there…the question that usually feels like it will be a deal-breaker (though, more and more, I’m realizing this, as often as not, is rooted in my own inhibitions and expectations).
“The local gathering sounds cool…and we are very interested in connecting with other local churches, but…can you tell me how they would feel about having a woman leader attend?“ (Yep, save myself time, trouble and mental angst…just put it out there.)
His response was like a cool drink on a hot day…so refreshing.
He said…”We are a very diverse group, but we don’t focus on theological ‘issues’ in our time together, we focus on praying for the Church and each other. At the regional meeting, of course, spouses come together. At the local meeting, admittedly, you would be the first woman…sorry about that…but you would be welcome.”
You would be welcome.
What wonderful, open, inviting…and Christlike…words. These are the kind of words that I pray that we all, as the Church, begin to make ourselves more familiar with. This is the kind of attitude…this, let’s set aside our differences, and make priority our commonality…our mission…our Lord…that I want to cultivate. These are the kind of people that I want to be associated with, to co-labor with, to fellowship with. The kind that doesn’t look for someone to have to line up with every line, and jump through every hoop, but rather they can just say “You are welcome…because Christ has said you are welcome.”
So much takeaway from one conversation. So much blessing. So much encouragement that the Church is, in fact, being refined and purified, and, sometimes moreso than others, reflecting the image of Jesus.