-Rev Melissa Fain-
When I was a child I sat in awe as I heard a congregant tell of faith and mustard seeds. Then, I looked with awe as she passed out a tiny mustard seeds, attached to a small cards to all the kids. That was hardly any faith at all! When I got home, I sat it with my plaque of the Lord's Prayer. Then I began to dutifully pray for things. "God, please make me more popular at school." "God, I could really use that new toy. Everyone else has one. I need one too." "God, please tell my sister I'm right." (We used to fight constantly. We get along great now.)
Nothing happened. Did I not believe enough? I began to say those prayers directly at the seed, like it was some magical conduit to God. Still nothing. What was I doing wrong?! Giving up, I used the seed card like a bookmark for my bible, and left it alone.
My childhood self didn't realize that faith is always tied directly to hope and love. Faith is like a mustard seed, in that you plant it. It's not good enough to wish it to be something else. It can only become one thing, the thing built into it's DNA from it's creation. My childhood prayers were empty because they weren't leading anywhere, and if they were, it most surely was not God's love.
I have seen faith in action. I have experienced it. Usually, those prayers look different too. I'm not praying for empty things like cars or houses. I'm praying for a true need out in the world. Then, I see that need and ask God for tools to fulfill it. I've learned God is much more accommodating when asking for tools to help with the already in motion plan.
In other words, faith, hope, and love abide these three. You plant the seed of faith in fertile, God chosen soil. Basically, you see a need in the world, and you have faith that God is going to help you meet that need, which gives you hope it will be better. Then your action is God's love working through you. That can move mountains. That is an unstoppable force that can completely change the landscape. .
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Last week I watched my daughter become the first female Tiger Scout at her district Day Camp. This is something she has wanted to do since tagging along on her brother's events and camps. Last Summer, we went caving with the Webelos, and she was crawling and climbing with the best of them. Everyone was shocked she kept up, never complaining even once. Myself included.
At Day Camp I couldn't stop from staring in awe as she picked up bows and shot them, hit targets with BB Guns, and completed the basic task of hitting a hammer to a nail. When she received a special patch for her BB skills she was joyfully shocked. The fact that she came home and put on a pink tu-tu and became a pretend princess did not negate her experience. It didn't make her magically love her Day Camp experience less.
What is wrong with me? I never stopped her when she told me she wanted to be pretty and fierce. I never questioned when she played caregiver and protector. Then when she shows me how easy it is to be both I'm dumbfounded.
It's those outside voices that have seemed to grow pretty loud recently. I've patiently listened as commentators and those old school Boy Scouts tell everyone that boys and girls learn differently. You can't have girls in a program created for boys without the program degrading. They told me the girls would take something away from boys.
Shame on me.
I went in the week ready to help the girls push. Shame on me. I listened to those voices.
Guess what? The girls were amazing. They were strong, and stood right beside the boys in projects.
Shame on me. None of the boys had less of a experience because there happened to be a few girls at camp.
Listen, this is the age of Deborah. Deborah was the only female Old Testament Judge and Prophetess. God called her to be fierce, and even with God calling her those close to her questioned her call. We are raising future Momma Bears, fiercely protective, while also becoming gentle caregivers. This isn't degrading anything. It's amazing, and awe inspiring.
I may doubt my daughter's words in the future, as some of the things she suggests are just imaginatively bizarre, but I will not doubt her potential. That's the key. We are not making the assumption of what our children are capable of. We are stepping back and giving them to opportunity to let them test out their inner Spirit. If we believe our girls can't do something, we should probably test that theory out before we go withholding their chance to try it out. I'm anxious to see these girls become women, and you should too. The age of Deborah has begun.
- Rev Melissa Fain -
Last Sunday afternoon I found myself scrambling from Fig Tree Christian, to my home to pick up my son, so we could help set up for Cub Scout Day Camp that is happening this week in my district. I'm a tour guide. Behind the scenes we are called Den Leaders. Along with another adult, I've been tasked with guiding fourteen Wolves (Rising 2nd grade) and my one Tiger (Rising 1st grade) through an explosion of fun and learning. It's a blast! These kids, the boys and girls, want to get out there and shoot bows and arrows, and BB guns. They want to stamp leather, and learn about the 6 essentials every Cub needs to go on a hike. They are excited about earning belt loops for their new rank. More than that, I know what they are doing and why they are doing it. For the past four years, I was my son's den leader, walking him through Wolf (2nd grade) to Arrow of Light (5th grade). Now I'm doing it again with my rising 1st grade daughter this Fall, as I step up to be a girl Tiger den leader.
How did I get here? Back at the beginning of my son's second grade year, he had just finished his first and only season of baseball. We were trying to find something for him to do on our super slim budget of nothing plus a few bucks. This was during the time I was counting pennies to purchase groceries. We couldn't afford expensive equipment, and neither of us could take off for crazy schedules or travelling. That's when Cub Scouts came in, and boldly stated: Your boy can have a full experience for only $12 a month. We had to look at our finances and figure what we had to move to make that work, but somehow we did. My son was in. Then, during orientation, the Committee Chair said something else: We are short a few den leaders. We have a new wolf den in need of a leader.
Have you ever been called to something secular in nature? I'm sure there are tons of Christians that are called to secular positions and jobs. I felt I needed to take on that leadership position, but I approached it as Jonah approached Ninivah, in the most Eeyore tone possible, I told the Committee chair I'd take on a leadership position. Part of me was relieved when a month or so afterwards, the den turned out to be too small and we were melded with another den. Relieved because rank advancement was serious business even for the Cubs, and it was like looking at a foreign language I had to learn and teach!
But then, that summer, the Cub Master sat me down, with my son's Den Leader and asked the question: "Will you take over this den?" The current Den Leader was moving over to the den where all of her son's friends were. It left a hole that no one wanted to fill. (There was that call again.) I said yes, and the next thing I knew I was in charge of eight boys and their advancement.
Now, as I walk around with those little kids at Day Camp, something has been given to me that I didn't think I'd see in this setting. Honest to goodness community. I was starting conversations with people I haven't met in months, like I just saw them last week. I feel a core connection with those who I don't even know around me, as we all understand the Scout Oath and Scout Law, and try to live by it. I get the other Wolf leaders, and understand the wide eyed terror as it's like they've been thrown in the deep end without a life vest. These are my people. I am there's. It frankly scared me, and I had to step away to reflect.
I was scared because Scouts is giving me something vital that church has stopped supplying. (At least the physical brick and mortar churches.) Real community in Churches is quickly becoming the spiritual source that is drying out and disappearing. Just like one doesn't consider finding an oasis in the desert, even if they yearn for one, Scouts have quenched my need for communal relationship. Realizing I was getting that from a secular institution caused me to recall a scripture: "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also." (Matt 18:20)
Church is made for a communal connection with God. It's necessary, and I submit, primary to being called a Church. When two or more gather, it's not good enough just to put two Christians in the same room. I've been in a room with fellow Christians where I would not call that interaction, "Church." It's the "in my name," part that has to stand for something. Are you gathering because you are trying to keep people inside a building or because you are worshiping God? I believe the prior becomes like a millstone around all the congregant's necks, dragging them down into the abyss..
I know BSA has been in the news recently with their inclusion of girls. No matter what you think about their choices for Cub Scouts and BSA, they get community. As my Tiger Daughter begins her journey in Cub Scouting, I know exactly what she will be taught, I know the BSA has some of the best rules for boundaries and safe spaces, I know myself and the leaders around me are well trained. I am connected in a visceral way to those around me, and that connection will be for the rest of my life.
Why is it so hard now to say the same of church?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
It is eerie when plans perfectly fall in place. When the people and pieces come together at just the right time to create something beautifully awesome. Sometimes I think this when I recall meeting my husband. In college, he was in the building right next to me, but it took a Yahoo promotion, and an issue with their programming for the two of us to finally see one another and start dating. When you actually stop and think about it, the amount of things that had to happen for the two of us to get together is amazing.
The same is true of Church events. I've seen the planning process for an event, and watched as just the right pieces and people came on board to make it work. Random donations, or a person feeling they just had to come in at that moment, made that specific event work. Those involved just couldn't help but see God in the process.
That brings me to today: I purposefully did not write anything for Pentecost last week. In the past, before ordination, everything I planned just came together, so much so that after my Kentucky call I just assumed it would happen again. Actually, the opposite was true. If it could fail, it did. Years ago, I would see Pentecost coming up on the calendar, and think if there were a time for an 11th hour miracle, it would surely be Pentecost. A group of us would be spiritually set aflame for God and the real work would begin. Then Pentecost would come, nothing would happen, and I would continue completely demoralized.
That's called trying to force God's hand. I'm sad to say, for the past five years I've tried to force the plan. Others have too. There was one who envisioned me as a mega-church minister. He tried to put me in that role, and when it didn't fit, he quietly left. Another wanted a church that allowed her to be outside community, and when that was tested against Fig Tree and found wanting, she too quietly left. As for me, I mentally set up special days for something to happen, like Pentecost. When nothing happened, it only disheartened me more than before. The whole time I was trying to make God happen.
God doesn't work like that. There are times people are not ready to be part of the mission. In those times, it is better to wait for the pieces to come together than jerry-rig a solution. We are created for such a time as this. The times when nothing is happening is when life continues. There is always work to be done even if it's not the work you want to be doing. More importantly, God is still in those tasks that are not exciting or adventurous. If we can't find God in sweeping the floors, and fixing the computer/lawn mower/[insert thing you can fix here] then we might not be able to find God. We are created for such a time as this.
Twitter introduced me to the Beth Moore blog where she openly expressed things needed to change between males and females in the Evangelical church. Her blog came the same day I was planning to rail on Evangelical Female leadership, which caused me to delete that post, and instead, write an open apology to Beth Moore. Last night, I saw a reaction to Beth Moore from a Christian historian: Allison Barr. Her question: Are the male evangelical leaders going to even listen?
It's a great question that comes off the heels of Paige Patterson. If you don't know him, neither did I. He is the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He publicly announced women should stay with their husbands if they are being physically abused. Having lived in that environment as a child, and still dealing with the physiological damage it has left, his solution to abuse is very tone deaf.
That's what I realized as I did see Evangelical women standing up and supporting Beth Moore, and Evangelical men doing, well, nothing. We, as a whole people, have found our special groups that share our special opinion. If we don't care for that opinion we simply unfollow and move on. This is why the Liberal Church has lovingly began following Beth Moore, while the Evangelical Church is acting like nothing happened. In their view, nothing has happened. Male leadership doesn't follow Beth Moore. That's for the girls.
The same is true for all of us. We have stopped seeking alternate opinions, so all of us are moving to one extreme or another. Yes, our truth is real, but it was never meant to be a truth spoken on it's own. Is there hope for the Evangelical Church? Maybe. If we all stop and take a moment and listen to something uncomfortable. EVERYONE is speaking at least a grain of truth. In opening the door to someone else, both sides might actually learn something. There's a symphony to be heard, if we could just open up enough to hear it.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
We have no respect or patience for the process anymore. It appears nothing takes time, and nothing is made by hand anymore. When I was in high school I heard the term "Fast Food World." Everything was so fast, we couldn't appreciate or enjoy it. Now, twenty years later, we live in a Fast Food World on Steroids. Everyone wants to go faster, and get things done quicker.
The church, by it's very nature cannot exist in this mindset. As an organization, a community, and a group of individuals- the payout is directly died to the process it took to get there. Church is like a Rube-Goldberg Machine. You start with a call from God, which leads to a mission. If the mission gets off track, even a little, the whole machine fails and the outcome is never reached. It is then the job of the church to painstakingly go over the process again. This takes time and work.
The modern Protestant church isn't playing the long patient game we are being called to. Why?
If I could sum this up it would be this:
Take your time. God is with us. Trust the plan, and follow the directions you know you need to follow.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
A year or so ago, a group of friends started up a question in an online group. Who are some famous theologians? I immediately said Dr. Carol Newsom, professor, editor, writer extraordinaire. Her view on biblical interpretation is a solid voice that has added depth to the theological field.
No one knew her. I realized I probably had to go a little more mainstream.
Well, what about Barbara Brown Taylor? She was an Episcopal priest, and had books on the New York Times best seller list. Someone had to know her.
A few. Then the conversation slipped into the male ministers. Spurgeon, Cone, C.S. Lewis, Willimon. The list continued until one of the guys quipped, "There are just more guys in theology than women."
With more than a bit of frustration I wrote: Nadia Boltz-Weber.
They knew her. Then they began to name the ones they also knew. Rachel Held-Evans, Joyce Meyer, and yes, Beth Moore. Do you know what those three names have in common? None of them are ordained.
Face palm. Pulling out my soap box, I stood proudly upon it and began ripping into my theology collection, naming each and every one written by a female biblical scholar or theologian. Then I pulled up the Candler School of theology staff listing and began naming the women who were professors there. Then Columbia. Next Duke. God help me, I might not be able to share my list with the world, but I could share it with this small group of friends and open their eyes.
I was fully and completely frustrated at this point. There were very well educated women who knew their theology. They were worth our time and consideration. They deserved to be known just as much as the balding men were known.
This is where the story takes a turn. My ire didn't go against a system that holds back women when they become obviously educated enough to say something substantial. It turned on the women who were raised up by that system.
Here was my thought process: The Christian world had their token ordained woman. Nadia filled that role. There is no more room for ordained women. Instead, all other women have to be less than the men they are trying to stand beside. It made me sick. These women had book deals, and interviews, while the real power houses were hidden in stuffy libraries and modern desks!
Then Beth Moore published something astounding today. Earth shattering really. (At least for me.) Penning a blog to her "Brother's in Christ," she told the story of how she wanted to be that minister. She wanted that training, and misogyny kept her from it. I was not the intended target, but it hit me to the core. She was not my enemy. I was my own enemy, pitting sisters in Christ against me, when they were never against me to begin with.
I am so sorry Beth Moore, and all women who seek equal spaces at Christ's table and find their seats further away than they should be. We are sisters, and I was petty in my own frustrations. Thank you so much for reminding me that the enemy is an ideology, not a group of people. I applaud your desire to fix the sin to save the people. You are an amazing example of female leadership in the church, and some day I hope to grow up and be just like you.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Once again, this meditation came about as I'm writing Fig Tree Christian's Plan of Action.
The General Church is dying.Here's what happened;
Small churches began to feel the loss of congregants through death, moving, or general dissension. Those that left because of disagreements or moving, found larger congregations somewhere else. These larger congregations suddenly thought they must be doing something right. Their numbers were growing.
This was the false positive of the 90's. The warning bells were sounding. Intelligent people began looking at the numbers. Church membership as a whole was in decline, but most of us couldn't see it, because we were leaving the declining churches. We were pooling our resources in bigger churches.
This wasn't done knowingly. We simply sought congregations that had the resources. When we found those congregations, we added our resources to the mix, which in turn made the congregation more inciting for someone else looking for something like they left or something better.
I've heard this statistic thrown around, and I've personally tossed it around a few times myself: Eighty percent of of churches are small, and Eighty percent of congregants are in medium to large churches. That would mean most of the church population was feeling the false boom of the 90's when the problem first began.
Meanwhile, we were horrible at evangelism. Back in the 50's the Greatest Generation (the ones who fought in WWII) basically bulldozed the the doors down to get in church. They simply wanted to be there so the church didn't have to try. That made us lazy. We stopped teaching evangelism, which meant no one was learning how to do it.
Today, our numbers are mostly cannibalism of dead or dying churches. As we draw in to where the resources are, it is now only the mega-churches that are truly living into the world of false positives. All the other churches can feel the slow death upon them.
Church plants! That's the answer, right? Guess which organization is currently planting churches today? That's right! Those who have the resources. Their survival is only because of what I just explained. This causes these organizations to falsely believe they are doing something right, when they are only doing what every other church has or is currently doing. They are only the lucky congregation that is receiving the dead's inheritance. When these churches plant, they seed mini-mes. In their mind it works for them so it must be right. Instead, their trademarked mini-me is one step closer to leading the Body of Christ to disaster.
Well, that's depressing. What can be done?
The simple answer is for these mega-churches to create a group of creative individuals to field test the potential for church today. Simple, but nearly impossible. Years ago when smaller churches were not bleeding out yet, I got one on my side. We began just what I mentioned. We explored our connection to God in today's society. Then traditional church began to slowly creep. By the time I stepped away, it was merely a praise service. It's exploration sucked away for comfort.
The Traditional Creep- Creepy; not Catchy
That creep, my friends, is the biggest hurdle to reversing the course and growing the church. Back a few years ago, I compared this creep to something else: grafting. When it comes to plants, grafting can be great. Weaker trees with sweeter fruits can have their branches transplanted to heartier trunks. It's also a way to maintain integrity. Did you know every seed in an apple is a new breed of apple? Most of those breeds are just good ole' crab apple. To keep all our apples from being duds, branches from already grown trees are grafted to new saplings, keeping all those delicious flavors producing on new trees.
I submit this is a bad thing when it comes to the modern church. We graft the hell out of small churches. Follow me here, and I'll think you'll understand how this is bad:
I've physically seen this a few times now, so it's more than an aberration.
I equate calls, to God planting a seed in our heart. Now, that's pretty generalized, and I understand that, but I think it's also an accurate generalization. When God plants that call, it's for that specific call to be grown, and the uniqueness of that call is exciting. Yet, we get scared. No! Terrified! When that call is to plant a church, we get downright petrified we are being called to crab apples! So, at some point in it's infancy we oh so lovingly take a knife to God's call and oh so gingerly cut it's potential down to graft what we are comfortable with right on top.
God has been trying to grow orchards for decades, filled with good fruit meant for the future Body of Christ, and we've been too afraid to trust God's call. We haven't been bold enough to say "no" when grafting happens. We must allow ourselves to sit in discomfort, because that's where God is calling us. Discomfort is not always bad. Discomfort is the feeling before growth. Discomfort is labor pains (which I personally know).Discomfort allows us to make tough decisions regarding letting go of things that no longer help us.
Discomfort comes with the feeling of beginning something healthy.
Today over 100 youth and adults gathered in a funeral home because someone's heart stopped. That's the long and short of it. We want life to work out like the movies tell us it should. People who are good live long and fruitful lives, and people who add nothing to society pass away sooner than most. Today was a reminder that that's just not the case.
I write this eulogy today not because Lisa was a member of Fig Tree. She was not. More than likely she had no knowledge of anything Fig Tree Christian related. I also don't write it because we were terribly close. In reality I barely knew her. So, why am I doing this? Something was lost today, but I want to redeem it this evening.
Lisa's heart stopped, but it never died. It lives on in ways that will impact that Paulding Community for generations.
Last Summer I sat at my computer for about 5-6 collective hours taking various online classes. Why? That previous Spring I took an outdoor class with Lisa. She was so proud of the Pickett's Mill Scout district, She beamed as she announced our district had the most trained adults.
I can't lie, she is the real reason the Webelos Pack 687 went to Raccoon Mountain. Her training on that day gave me the confidence to plan that weekend trip. That trip empowered other adults who are now planning a new trip for the next group of Webelos. Her passion impassioned me, who impassioned others.
She is the reason my son wants to volunteer as a Boy Scout at Day Camp. Pickett's Mill Cub Scout Day Camp was Lisa's baby. She nurtured and grew it. My son went to day camp from Wolf to Webelos II. Now, seeing how fun it has been for my son, my daughter gets to go for the first time as a Tiger Scout, and my son goes back to help make it happen.
This is the truth of life. Her heart lives on. Yes, we feel the chasm created from her death, but her impact will live on forever. Those she has impacted will impact others, who will then impact others. While we still wait to meet her in another life, there are echos and ripples of her heart that beats in each and every one of us. Her heart has touched me, and that connection will be with me in some form for the rest of my life.
-Rev Melissa Fain
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I'm going to lay out two important points. First, I'm going to also explain why traditional evangelism is not working. Second, I'm going to explain why the church needs to focus more on the internet.
Traditional Evangelism Cannot Work Today
Stick with me because I think this is going to make a metric ton of sense if you read what I have to say.
Generally speaking, the average human understands culture as geographical, as in, cultures are separated by land masses. Probably because of propaganda during the World Wars, our first thought turns to National Cultures. Whether we want to admit it or not, we still have an American culture.
Beyond that, I would say, most everyone would also be able to see smaller cultural identities. For example, in the United States, there is a Southern Culture, just as much as there is a Californian or Texan culture. Now, you might not be considering it, but socio-economic circumstances create cultural norms as well. There is a culture to affluence as much as there is a culture to poverty. There are also cultures around ideas or things. There is a sports culture, as much as there's a crafting culture. Even though I haven't played in a band in decades, I understand and know the band culture, and can slip back in when needed. I can translate that language.
Finally, families have their own culture. This is one we don't normally consider because our family culture is our base. We are born into it, and subconsciously or consciously, we judge everything around us by it.
Now, back in the 1950's, similar family cultures lived nearby. It was a good shot that your neighborhood would be filled with family cultures that were relatively the same. This was because people grew up and stayed in their community. This made evangelism easy too. Not only were WWII soldiers coming home and flocking to community organizations, the communities themselves were culturally similar, making it easy to speak and connect with one another.
Then something happened. Travel. Mass-transit to be exact. It used to be, if you wanted to work in the city, you had to live in the city. Then the automobile came and if you wanted to work in the city you had to at least live in the suburb of the city. Now there are people who live hundreds of miles away from their office, and they fly in during the week, and go home on the weekends. Our cultures are mixed beyond measure. No longer are we laying down roots. Instead, we are dropping an anchor. There is nothing permanent anymore about the word, "home."
What does this have to do with traditional evangelism? Because of how we travel and live, churches rarely mirror the culture they are rooted in. Even then, we are still using census data to help us understand the people outside our doors, When it comes to evangelism, the census is drastically flawed. Census data assumes two things: First, that there is a mass of similar people living in your area. True, they all might be making a similar amount of money, be around the same age, and other basic information, but those people are from all over. They are simply anchored by your specific congregation. Second, the Census data looks for things we can quantify. The base culture, the family, isn't something the Census can read or know. Those family cultures are becoming more and more jumbled. Evangelism, as we understood it, was reaching a demographic, when it needs to be a family by family event.
Back to the internet. We, as a people, feel that disconnect. We want to hang out with like-minded individuals. We don't feel comfortable getting to know our neighbor, because that requires learning a new culture. It's like learning a new language, and terrifies some, and overwhelms others. That's when the internet comes in.
Why Must It Be Online?
People are finding their voice online. Cultures are coming together around niche ideas and thoughts. For better and worse- the internet gives us communion. Like it or not, we are apprehensive in real life, and willing to connect online. If the church truly wants to evangelize, it now must be online.
I sat in a board meeting about 15 years ago listening to people talk about the advertising budget. For years, they paid $15 a month to have a larger ad in the phone book. Congregants concluded that people were not looking for churches in a phone book anymore, and they could make a free website, so they did away with their advertising budget.
Let's trade out the word "advertising" for the word "evangelism." This church basically did away with their evangelism budget because they saw the internet like a bulletin board instead of a community.
Consider this: Instead of using the internet to let people know the church is here, use the internet to let people know the church knows they are real and loved by God.