I've been thinking a good deal lately about the topic of gender roles, perhaps because it's been a matter of such public debate in Christian circles. In addition to that, my co-workers and I just finished writing a series of Bible studies (generally targeted to young men) based on the lives of a few prominent men in the Scripture.
So what does it mean to be a "real man"? If you listen to certain popular teachers, you'd think manhood revolves around hunting, football, monster truck rallies, and general machismo.
Here's what's interesting, though: As I look at the Bible, I don't necessarily see certain spiritual gifts or virtues that are unique to men as opposed to women. Like I've mentioned before, I think the Scripture supports different roles for men and women at church and at home. I think those roles are based to some degree on how God has designed men and women to function. But it's possible for different types of men (sporty, artistic, loud, quiet, tall, short) to faithfully fulfill their appointed roles.
As I examine the biblical commands concerning men and their roles, and look carefully at biblical examples, it seems that a "real man" (or a godly man) is primarily defined in terms of how he relates to God and to others.
-A godly man uses his authority and influence to build others up, not to oppress or tear people down (1 Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 20:25-28). If men are called to lead at home and at church, it's a different kind of leadership than we see in the world. Leadership actually means sacrificing your own rights, serving others, and seeking what's best for them. To some degree, machismo works against us on this point, because if I'm trying to prove my manliness I'm likely to run others down. Jesus was confident and bold in His leadership, but never abusive or unkind.
-A godly man loves his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Obviously this only applies directly to married men. But the principle of imitating Christ's love undergirds the command. Loving like Jesus loves is something any man can strive for through the power of God's Spirit. It's not confined to bodybuilders or action heroes, although they're not excluded from this command.
-A godly man takes responsibility for the needs of other people. This relates to the first point, but Paul urges men to provide for their families (1 Timothy 5:8). This is not a command to trash those who have lost a job or have difficulty providing. Instead it's a command to those who have the means that they have an obligation to other people. That command is also given in the context of exhorting the church's leadership to care for widows and orphans, what James calls "true religion."
-A godly man relies on God rather than on his own strength. Paul boasts about his weakness, because in his weakness God is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). Great men of the Old Testament like Daniel and David found their strength through prayer and trust in God. This is in stark contrast to the posturing and swaggering that characterizes much of what passes for masculinity in our culture. Godly men accept their own weakness and insufficiency in order to allow God's power to work through them.
Of course, many of these traits and activities apply to women as well. So the issue here is not whether men ought to show a particular set of virtues or character qualities that women don't have, but instead that we are commanded to demonstrate Christ's character in the particular roles to which he's called us. In my particular calling as a husband, father, pastor, and leader, I'm called to imitate and proclaim the character and Gospel of Jesus. That's what it means to be a "biblical man." That's much more difficult than subscribing to some cultural ideal of manhood. But it's much more powerful, as well.
Do you agree with my assessment? Have I left anything off of this list? How do you feel about the concept of biblical masculinity (or femininity)?
I'll start by saying that my church is complementarian in its understanding of gender roles. For those who are unfamiliar with that term, it simply means that we believe the Bible assigns different roles to men and women in the church and in the home. Most complementarians don't believe that women are inherently inferior to men, but instead that they are called to serve God in different ways. At a popular level, most people associate complementarianism with the call for wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-33) and the prohibition against women teaching or exerting authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
The contrasting position is called egalitarianism. Egalitarians generally (and I use the word "generally" because I am making broad generalizations here) believe that every leadership position in the church ought to be open to women and to men equally. In addition, they do not (generally) believe in different roles for men and women in the home. In other words, the call for wives to submit to their husbands is usually understood to be a culturally bound command, one that applied in Paul's day but does not apply directly to today's Christians.
The question of how men and women ought to interact at church and at home is a deeply personal and intensely practical one. It's a topic that the Scripture talks about a good deal, whether or not we agree on how to interpret it. For that reason, I've been dismayed at the shape of popular discourse on this issue over the past few years.
Instead of debates about the biblical texts themselves, I've noticed that most of the public discussions about gender roles have turned into an evangelical "battle of the sexes." For example, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has taken a lot of heat for his seemingly chauvinistic remarks about women and about men whom he finds, well, unmanly. The pattern here is repetitive: Mark Driscoll says something that his critics consider offensive, they jump in to say he's a bully or a jerk, and he either apologizes or defends himself. The same thing happened recently when John Piper said publicly that Christianity ought to have a "masculine feel" to it.
On the one hand, these discussions can be useful. They bring the issue of gender to the front of our minds and hopefully challenge us to rethink our own positions. The problem, though, is that these sort of attacks and counter-attacks never really address the root issue from the biblical text. Instead, they've degenerated to a discussion of who is "masculine" enough to lead the church and whether masculinity is better or stronger than femininity. Such discussions become confusing quite quickly. For example, what defines true "masculinity"? Do I need to be an avid hunter or bodybuilder to be considered a "real man"? If so, then my own masculinity (as an introverted and slightly artistic type) is suspect. On the other hand, if I believe in complementarianism, does that automatically make me a power-hungry bully who wants to make all women subservient to my authority? Does masculinity inherently threaten women by its very existence? Of course not.
The real issue, which is seldom discussed in public these days, is whether passages like 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5 prescribe different roles for men and women. It's simply not about whether men are better than women or vice versa. Unfortunately, that's how it's often been framed, or at least how each side is interpreting the other. Instead, we need to look carefully at the passages in question and ask what they prescribe in terms of gender roles. That's really the substance of the debate that needs to be taking place.
Don't be sidetracked by the caricatures and name-calling that's dominating this discussion in the public square. The debate shouldn't be so much about how one position or the other makes us feel, but instead about how faithful it is to the biblical text. That's true of any theological debate, but particularly one relating to a topic that is so personally applicable.
The reason I hold a complementarian view is simple: I believe the biblical text warrants it. I don't think I hold my view because I hate or dislike women. Just like most egalitarians don't hold their view because they hate or dislike men. The recent public scuffles might have led some to believe otherwise.
At some point I hope to spend more time on this blog specifically surveying the critical passages, but this post is just a reminder (to me and to my readers) that the real goal is to study what the Scripture says. That's where sound conclusions and applications come from, not from aligning ourselves with the loudest voice in the latest debate. It's a serious issue with serious ramifications -- it doesn't require personal drama to make it relevant or important.
How do you feel about the topic of gender roles in the body of Christ? Are you confused by the recent discussions or interested in them?
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A few months ago I wrote a post about Youcef Nadharkani, the Iranian pastor who was being threatened with the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.
The latest news says that his execution order has now been issued. That apparently means that he could be executed at any time without warning. Please continue praying for his release, and if you haven't yet signed the petition for his release, do so today.
(One note: When I wrote about Nadharkani previously, some readers expressed concern that he is part of a heretical cult. I researched those claims and was unable to find any reliable information to that effect. Even if the rumors are true, the issue of religious freedom in Iran is a critical one, and Nadharkani doesn't deserve execution for converting from Islam.)
Recently, I was speaking with a college student, and I asked him about his major. He told me what he was studying and I asked, "Do you like it?" After a long pause, he said, "Sort of. Not really." So I asked the natural question, "Why are you studying it if you don't like it?"
The answer: Money. This young man really wanted to do something completely unrelated to his major. He actually wanted to major in a different field altogether, but he was afraid he wouldn't land a well-paying job after school. He was projecting ten or fifteen years down the road and worrying that his future hypothetical family wouldn't have enough money. As a result, he picked a major that he disliked.
Now I'm a big fan of planning ahead, thinking realistically, and supporting your own family. I would never urge somebody to spend tens of thousands of dollars pursuing a college degree that provided no possibility for stable employment. But that wasn't the case here. This student was worried about the distinction between having enough and having excess.
I think our culture often confuses what we want with what we need. There's no law that says you must achieve the same standard of living as your parents or your siblings. You're not a failure if you live in a modest home and buy your clothes at Target. In fact, Jesus clearly tells His followers to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things [i.e. food and clothing] will be added to you" (Matthew 5:33). Trust God to provide enough for you to do His will, even if you never have excess.
Don't plan your future based around how many zeroes you'll have on your paycheck. Plan your future around what God has designed you to do for His kingdom. Where can you, with your abilities and gifts and passions, most effectively serve Him? How can you best contribute to Christ's command to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18)?
If you feel that God is calling you to be a teacher or a pastor or a missionary, don't steer away from those paths because you're worried about money. If you think being a social worker or a chef is the best way to serve the Lord, then go for it. Those aren't reckless or stupid ambitions -- it's not like you're planning to be the next Justin Bieber because you sang a good solo in your youth group. Seek counsel, consider your options and your gifts, and pursue the direction in which God is leading you. If that direction happens to be of the lower-paying variety, that's alright. Really, it is. God will provide what you need in order to do what He's called you to do. (And just in case there's any doubt, it's alright if your career happens to be of the higher-paying variety as well -- the point is that money isn't the point).
I'm curious: If you're a student or young adult, do you struggle with chasing money rather than pursuing God's purposes? How do you deal with that tension?
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Immediately after finishing seminary, I was hired to lead a large and thriving college ministry. The previous college pastor (who is now my senior pastor and boss) was an excellent teacher and leader. Under his leadership, God had allowed the ministry to grow. When I took the job, the college ministry had two Sunday morning services, constituting more than 1000 students.
During my first year, though, attendance dropped. Attrition was especially high in the early service, which met at 9:15 in the morning. I tried everything in my power to diagnose and solve the problems, but I was ultimately unsuccessful. I was preaching week after week to about 50 people in a room designed for 500. About eighteen months after I became the college pastor, we shut down the 9:15 college service. It had effectively died a slow and painful death.
I felt like we had taken a large step backwards, and I felt like a failure. I really hoped and expected to take the ministry to the "next level" (which I equated at the time with a bigger group) and I felt like I had let everybody down.
In hindsight, though, I see how God's hand was active throughout that time. He used those events to shape me and to prepare our college ministry for a new generation of students. Here are a few things I learned from my "failure":
First, I had to reconsider my definition of success. Before our attendance dropped, I would have given you the standard ministry line that "numbers aren't how we measure success." Easy to say when the room is full. Hard to believe when it's empty. My understanding of success truly had to change. Yes, we wanted more people in the room. However, I was forced to define my ministry in terms of faithfulness to Christ's command to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). I worked on building strong relationships with a few dedicated student leaders, and I tried to trust the Lord that He would use the few to reach the many. Even if our Sunday morning numbers never increased again.
Second, I had to recognize that most of my circumstances are outside of my control. Control of my own life is an illusion. I can only make decisions about how to respond to the circumstances God places in my life, but I can't change most of the actual circumstances. In hindsight I know a few of the reasons our services lost momentum, but I still don't understand all of them. And the parts I understand aren't factors I could have changed anyway. I spent way too much time that first year worrying about why people were leaving instead of shepherding the people who were there.
Third, I came to understand that what I do doesn't define who I am. College pastor is my job title. It's not my identity. It's not even my life's purpose. I am first and foremost a child of God, saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. My purpose in life is to know Jesus and to make disciples for His kingdom. I can do that whether I'm a college pastor, an insurance salesman, or a plumber. I think God directed my life into vocational ministry, but if He directs me to another job it won't fundamentally change who I am or what I'm called to do. Experiencing struggle and failure at my job reminded me of that truth.
Finally, I learned that sometimes failure paves the way for something better. I don't mean to say that every financial loss will be replaced with more money, or that every job failure will correspond to some sort of worldly success. But I have learned that failure might be God's way of paving the road for you to fulfill His purposes more effectively. In our case, shutting down that 9:15 service forced us to rethink how we reached students. We created smaller elective classes and reinforced our mid-week small groups. We started a second college service at 6:00 in the evening and drew in a whole different group of students. Over time, the ministry has grown, but more importantly it's structured in a way that better meets the needs of this generation of students. And when I move on from this job I fully expect that the next guy will rearrange things as well. Sometimes something has to die before something new can be born.
I could list more of the lessons I learned during that time, but those are some of the most useful ones. I'm curious: Do you have a story of failure? If so, how has God used it in your life?
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Over the past 60 years, the average age of first marriage in the United States has been steadily climbing. In other words, people are generally waiting longer before getting married. In 1950, the average man was 22.8 years old at first marriage, and the average woman was 20.3 years old. In 2011, the average man was 28.7 years old, while the average woman was 26.5 years old.
Most of the reasons for the change are obvious. First, in the past six decades, people have extended the length of their education. It wasn't uncommon in 1950 for a woman to get married shortly after high school. Today it's much more common for her to pursue an undergraduate degree and even a master's degree prior to getting married. Second, young adults tend to express more of a desire to "experience life" a bit before getting married. Third, the high divorce rates of the Baby Boomer generation have convinced young adults that they shouldn't be in a big hurry. Waiting and trying out different dating partners is viewed as a way to make sure they marry the right one.
However, all of this poses a challenge for young adults who want to get married young. Sometimes college students ask me about the benefits and drawbacks of getting married before completing college. Those who choose that path often receive resistance from their parents, their friends, and society in general. So is it a bad idea? Should everybody wait until they're 25 or 30 before pursuing marriage?
If you're thinking of marrying during college, how do you know if you're ready? Here are a few things to consider:
- Have you prayed and sought advice from your parents and other trusted advisors? This is necessary at all ages, but particularly if you're young. Don't rush into a lifelong commitment based on a few awesome dates. Take your time, pray about it, talk to some wise people, and make sure you're thinking straight. (Actually, you're probably not -- the hormones and emotions that accompany attraction muddle everybody's thinking. That's why this step is so critical.)
- Are you prepared to be financially independent of your parents? Your parents might be extremely generous and willing to help support you after your marriage. Nonetheless, marriage ought to entail what the Scripture calls "leaving and cleaving" (Genesis 2:24). If you're not prepared for financial independence if necessary, then you should wait to get married. Why? When push comes to shove, if your parents are still supporting you financially, then they have the right to exercise authority over you. If you get married, you and your spouse might need to make decisions that conflict with your parents' desires. You'll need to listen to them and to honor them, but ultimately you'll need to be free to decide before the Lord what's best for your family. You can't do that if Mom and Dad are still paying the bills.
- Do you have a plan to finish school without incurring an enormous debt load? Massive amounts of debt can prevent you from pursuing the path God has for your future. Getting married during college might require one or both of you to work full-time in order to make ends meet and avoid debt. Spend some time thinking about how you'll finish school and move forward after that. Plans can and will change, but a wise person will at least try to prepare a bit.
- Are you prepared to shoulder the responsibility of a child if pregnancy occurs? I'll be direct: There's no such thing as birth control that's 100% effective. Whatever you believe about the ethics of birth control and whatever you plan to do, be prepared to have a baby. Trust me on this one.
- Are you generally prepared to spend the rest of your life living with this person and caring for him or her? Marriage often presents unexpected challenges. Conflicts pop up about family relationships, financial decisions, sexual intimacy, career choices, and a host of other things. I would strongly recommend pursuing premarital counseling at your church prior to marriage. An experienced and wise older couple can get to know each of you and help you spot potential red flags before you move forward.
If you can answer yes to these questions, then you might be ready to get married. Everybody's experience is different and every person is different, so these are just general guidelines. On the whole, I don't think 21 or 22 is way too young for marriage. I would simply urge caution and prayer.
What have I left out here? Also, do you disagree with any of my points above?
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I was excited last week to see an article detailing the discovery of a manuscript of the Gospel of Mark dating to the first century. Dr. Daniel Wallace, one of the country's leading textual critics (and a former seminary professor of mine), mentioned it in a recent debate with well-known skeptic Bart Ehrman. Although the manuscript won't be published until next year, it's exciting to biblical scholars (and to "normal" people like me) for a few reasons.
First, ancient manuscripts help us to more accurately determine when a particular book was written. For example, liberal scholars once believed that the Gospel of John was written late in the 2nd century, if not later. They made this determination based upon the book's Christology, since John is the most explicit of all the New Testament writers on the subject of Christ's deity. However, the discovery of P52, a papyrus fragment dating to the first half of the second century, changed all of that. The fact that the book had been copied and circulated as far as Egypt (where P52 was found) by the early second century meant that the original had to be several years older.
A manuscript of Mark dating from the late first century could help demonstrate that this gospel was written shortly after Jesus' death and resurrection. Conservative scholars have held that position for quite some time, but this new manuscript adds evidence to that belief.
Second, ancient manuscripts help confirm the reliability of the New Testament. Biblical skeptics regularly argue that the Bible has changed dramatically since it was written. It's argued that descriptions of Christ's miracles, most of His teachings, and certainly His claims of deity were added dozens (if not hundreds) of years after the original documents were penned. While this is just one fragment from the book of Mark, it could help show that the document hasn't substantially changed since it was written. In fact, most of the early manuscript discoveries have done just that. None of them vary a great deal from later manuscripts we already possess.
Third, ancient manuscripts make for more accurate translations. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts, which we don't possess. What we do have is a whole lot of copies. There are currently around 6,000 known Greek manuscripts of the Bible, give or take a few hundred. Although these manuscripts agree to about 95% accuracy, there are some variations. Most of the variations are small (for example, one manuscript reads "Christ Jesus" where another reads "Jesus Christ"). Translators look at the evidence and try to discern which readings are most accurate. Even though most of the variations make little difference with regard to significant theological issues, the discovery of early manuscripts makes our translations just a bit more reliable.
We can trust God to preserve His Word for us. Discoveries like this don't make or break our faith. However, they help demonstrate what we've believed all along: God's Word will never pass away.
Does this discovery bolster your confidence in the Scriptures? Do you struggle to believe the Bible is accurate? Why or why not?
I'm preaching from Philippians 2:5-11 on Sunday, and I'm excited. It's truly one of my favorite New Testament passages. So at the risk of stealing my own thunder, I thought I'd give my blog readers one little preview.
One of the key concepts in this passage is the idea the kenosis, from the Greek word for "empty." Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus "emptied Himself" when He took the form of a man. Theologians have debated the meaning of that concept for centuries. Does it mean that Jesus gave up certain attributes of deity in order to become human? If so, how could He remain fully God and fully man? Heady stuff.
Actually, though, the text itself defines the meaning of Jesus' emptying. "He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant." The concept of the kenosis is best understood as a figurative way of saying that Jesus poured Himself out on behalf of those whom He loved. He served them instead of insisting upon being served.
He set aside certain privileges that belonged to Him as the only Son of God. And He served. He washed feet. Ultimately, He suffered and died for the sins of the world. Philippians describes it as the ultimate act of service and humility. The Son of God humbled Himself even to the point of death. For God's glory. For our salvation.
Of course the application of Philippians 2 is that you and I ought to be humble as well. We ought to set aside our rights and consider others better than ourselves. Share our food, our money, and our space. Use our time to serve those who need help. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus."
So which rights do you insist upon as yours? Personal comfort? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Money in the bank? Respect? Time to relax after the kids go to bed? Professors who treat you fairly?
The example of Christ calls us to do something rather shocking in a culture that highly values the concept of personal rights: Give them up. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." He emptied Himself. Will you and I empty ourselves as well, for the sake of the One who saved us?
What "rights"are tough for you to give up? How can you practically follow Christ's example in a culture that fixates on personal rights?
This is the 150th post on Ministry Musings. Although the posts date from 2009, more than 100 of them are from the past year. Since last Fall I've been trying to post three times each week. I'm not sure if I can keep up that pace forever, but it's working for now. While I still have a great deal to learn, here are a few things I've learned from the exercise of regular blogging:
Writing is a discipline. Sometimes I have three or four ideas bouncing around in my head, and the ideas flow easily and freely as I type. Other times I'm up late the night before a post is due, trying desperately to think of something to say. Much like anything worth doing, though, this is a discipline. Even when it's tough, I try to commit to a schedule and keep it. Over time I've found that the more I write, the easier it is to write more. One idea leads to another, and my band of readers is kind enough to suggest additional topics.
The primary value of blogging is creating healthy discussion. I really don't intend for my blog to be a one-way platform, in which I shout my opinion but never allow anybody to speak. My favorite part of posting articles is waiting for your comments and responding to them. I prefer posts that connect with a small and engaged group of readers to posts that people read but don't comment on. I intend to keep responding to most comments directly, at least until it becomes too time-consuming.
Worrying about statistics is more stressful than helpful. I should have known this at the beginning, since the same principle is true in ministry, as well. In the grand scheme of things, I don't put up impressive numbers on this blog. It's tempting to start comparing myself to Jon Acuff or Michael Hyatt, but it's a really depressing and pointless exercise to do so. Right now I have a relatively small and loyal band of readers, and I love interacting with you all. Some posts are more popular than others, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're more effective. Just like a sermon, the effectiveness of a blog post is better measured by how it impacts those who read it than by how many people click on it.
Blogging advice is useful, but not every "rule" works for me. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to helping people blog more effectively and increase their readership. Some of the advice is sound -- for example, posting consistently is always a good idea if you want people to read what you write. On the other hand, most of the blogging gurus advise picking a very narrow topic and gathering a crowd around it. For example, write about how to photograph geckos or talk about Stuff Christians Like. For a while I tried to specifically focus this blog on college ministry topics, but I found that my other interests (theology, spiritual life, the relationship between culture and Christianity) kept intruding into my posts. I finally decided to just be myself. It seems to be working alright, and there are at least a few people interested in same topics I am.
Finally, blogging is definitely worth my time and energy. So far it's been a fantastic way to connect with college students, members of Grace Bible Church, and a few miscellaneous individuals from around the world. We have discussions that would be impossible in other formats. I am challenged weekly to reconsider my positions and to grow in my understanding of God's Word.
I hope you've enjoyed reading so far! I'd love to hear your thoughts about how I can improve or make this blog more effective. Any ideas for me?