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October 31, 2013

Meet Sexual Sin with Truth and Grace

How to minister to people caught in fornication


If fornication is sin, why do Christians engage in it? Why is sexually immorality prevalent among the Body of Christ? And what’s the appropriate response?

Understanding the Culture

Everywhere we look we see the word SEX. Sexual immorality is not only blatant; it is subtle too. Magazine articles, books, movies, and videogames are enticing us. Even provocative dressing in church can distract even the most consecrated minds.

With each generation we seem to have new ways to commit old sins. Now fornication is even portrayed in cartoons. This generation grapples with animated characters using perverse language and engaging in sexual immorality. Media is bold; I must screen what I watch. Fornication is an expected problem among unsaved youth. It’s horrifying when it becomes an epidemic in the church.

Leading in youth ministry for several years, I discovered the greatest battle among the youth was fornication. Their questions and personal stories were unbelievable. Clearly, we had failed them. They hardly concerned themselves with soul-winning and maturing in their Christian faith. They engulfed themselves in how much sin they could get away with. Christian youth are not the only ones struggling. Christian single adults face maintaining sexual purity while risking not being chosen because they uphold biblical principles.

Scare Tactics and Manipulation Are Ineffective

Often in the body of Christ, we skate around issues relating to sexually immorality. We have typically taken one approach, judgmental in nature: we bash and crush those who have fallen into sexually immorality. This carelessness has caused the current generation to turn a deaf ear to truth and righteousness.

The Bible is replete with wisdom and counsel. The problem is many aged Christians and even leaders lack the biblical knowledge to effectively teach spiritual truths concerning fornication and other forms of sexual immorality. In churches that lack the biblical fortitude, scare tactics about hell are used to enforce purity and abstinence. This approach was useless in the past and is completely irrelevant now. This young generation’s everyday life is “hell”: They must deal with declining moral values, increases in broken homes, rampant acceptance of homosexuality, declining spiritually sound churches, and rising carnal Christians. Worse, they must face a busted economy that leaves them with joblessness, hopelessness, and a future that looks bleak.

Our failure to teach biblical truths concerning fornication further perpetuates the tactics of the enemy. Growing up in a very strict religious environment, all I heard was “Fornication is a sin. If you do it, you are going to hell.” Although this message came across the pulpit, many of us were still in bondage to the sin of fornication. I heard little about how to “flee” fornication, how to “abstain” from the very appearance of evil, or how to “maintain” my temple. I was a candidate for the bondage of fornication. The Bible decrees in Hosea 4:6a, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (NIV).

Teach with Conviction, Restore in Love

In 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, Paul admonished believers to take notice of how the Israelites fell in the wilderness. He warned us to see them as examples. His message was relevant, and he posed a timeless truth: Refrain from prideful correction and consider yourself. Paul explicitly stated in verse 12, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”

The church has taken a back seat on certain issues so church growth will not be hindered. But who wants a church full of weak, carnal Christians? I would rather have a small group of saved, holy Christians who demonstrate Christ in their daily lives.

We must teach unmarried Christians and youth that our bodies are holy to the Lord, and when fornication is committed, a double-edge sword is cutting away. Fornication is a sin against God and one’s own body. We must teach them they should flee fornication. (I often say when the Bible says “flee,” it means to run at top speed.) We must also show them the grace of God when they make mistakes.

There are certain positions the church should not take. For example, I have seen young girls and women who were overtaken by fornication, brought before the church and made to repent because they were a “reproach” to the church. The errors in this practice were that the fathers were always absent and the “invisible sins” always went unnoticed and unpunished. Eventually, the offending parties walked away from God, never realizing Christ’s plan for redemption, and their purposes were castrated.

God never condemns the way we do. Often, when fornication is extremely prevalent in a church or Christian organization, sexually immorality can be found in the life of the leaders themselves. When an individual is overtaken in a fault, we who are godly are to restore them in a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we are also tempted (Galatians 6:1).

Teach the Truth Concerning Sex

Sex has been considered taboo in the church. Not sure why, since sex was God’s idea. Sex taught in proper context helps kill curiosity and decreases the possibilities of sexual immorality. In Genesis 4:1, the Bible says, “Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant.” There were no magazines, websites, books, or television. How did they know what to do? All God’s idea. God created us to desire sex and enjoy it in the confinement of marriage. As educators, we correct bad teaching and inappropriate behavior through remediation and re-teaching. When we apply correct teaching, it will yield appropriate behavior. Inappropriate behavior is modified through love.

One of the greatest weapons against fornication is education. We must educate the body of Christ on God’s ideas about sex. Hebrews 13:4 clearly states, “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” Self- explanatory! If this Bible principle were taught more frequently, we would have less fornication and other forms of sexually immorality. Sex was never prohibited by God, it is not dirty, nor is it a sin to enjoy it. Sex was created by God not just for procreation but also for our enjoyment and to connect intimately with our spouse.

Transparency is necessary for effective teaching and relevancy. For too long, we have concealed our struggles with sexual sin. When we are willing to disclose our failures concerning sexual immorality and God has restored and delivered us from the enslavement of sexual immorality, we demonstrate the power of God. When I shared my struggle with fornication, as a believer, it gave incredible credence to the power of God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we expose our own failures with fornication, and how the redemptive power of God rescued us, we help cripple and destroy the yoke of sexual bondage on the lives of others.

Maintaining Sexual Purity

The body of Christ has a responsibility to counterattack the schemes of the enemy. Maintaining sexual purity can be done. We must govern the gates at which we receive information: eyes, ears, mouth, touch, and heart. In Ezekiel 44:23, through the prophet God commanded that the priests “teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is common, what is ceremonially clean and unclean.” The priests had the responsibility to care for the house of God and minister to his people. Those who minister to God’s people have this great responsibility, but we all must be willing to live this in our daily lives.

We must be careful to teach discernment in watching television, especially programs that condone sexual immorality. We must be careful to govern our conversations about sex, including dirty jokes. We must be careful not to indulge in pornography or sexually explicit novels (“girl porn”), magazines, and websites. We must be careful not to “uncover the nakedness” of anyone. We must not touch in a sexual manner anyone we are not committed to through marriage. Nor should we see the sexual organs of anyone other than our spouse. Finally, we must be careful to guard our hearts from the lust of the flesh. If one struggles to contain his or her sexual appetite, Scripture teaches marriage is appropriate, rather than burn in lust. It does not mean to burn in hell, another erroneously taught concept.

Celebrating Purity

I love to plan celebrations of any kind. Why not take the art of celebrating to the next level? It is victorious when anyone maintains sexual purity. As a young person, I was embarrassed because I was a virgin and I lied about it. I succumbed to the pressure of premarital sex so I could fit in. The world flaunts sexual immorality; the church should raise the standard of sexual purity.

We celebrate purity through accountability groups, social media blasts, award ceremonies, and conferences. The accountability groups are the first line of defense in overcoming the temptation to sin. Social media blasts are used to promote all kinds of lewd things. Why not use them for the opposite reason, and promote sexual purity? We can celebrate the beauty of maintaining sexual purity through conferences where we teach the truth about sex, dating, and marriage. Finally, the awards ceremonies should celebrate the single men and women who win the battle over sexual immorality.

Fornication is a sin and it was defeated by Jesus. Let us not leave this generation behind through the lack of teaching, erroneous teaching, and the failure to restore when they fall.

Domeniek L. Harris is a freelance writer, speaker, professional educator, women's ministry leader, Bible study teacher, and founder of By His Side Ministries, a multicultural, interdenominational, and international ministry for ministry wives. She is a co-laborer in pastoral ministry, and pastor's wife, at Bibleway World Outreach Ministries in Cordova, Tennessee.

October 28, 2013

What Intimate Cohabitation Means for Ministry

Should unmarried couples who live together serve in the church?


According to the National Survey of Family Growth, a government-funded study of more than 20,000 individuals from 2006-2010, the last few decades have seen a dramatic rise in cohabitation, or living with a member of the opposite sex in an intimate relationship outside marriage. Given this trend, the church must consider not only how it stands on the moral issue, but to what degree, if at all, cohabiting couples should participate and serve within the body of Christ.

What the Bible Says about Intimate Cohabitation

While Scripture is not explicit regarding the issue of cohabitation, it does have much to say in respect to sexual immorality, which includes sex outside marriage. First Thessalonians 4:3-8 says that abstaining from sexual immorality is correlated with sanctification and is a part of God’s will for believers. A continual lack of control of one’s fleshly desires is characteristic of someone who does not know God.

Ephesians 5:1-14 clearly contrasts someone who is living in habitual sin, which includes sexual immorality, with someone who strives to be an imitator of God. Paul states that sexual immorality, along with other impurities, is not to be mentioned, much less practiced, among members of the church because such actions are not fitting for those who claim Christ as Lord (Ephesians 5:3). There is a distinction between those who claim Christ as Lord and those who live with Christ as Lord of their lives. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to take no part with those who live in a state of rebellion against God. Their deeds are unfruitful and unpleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:11). Rather, believers are to strive toward learning what is pleasing to God and expose that which is contrary to the life Christ desires us to live (Ephesians 5:10-11).

Thou Shall Not Judge?

Many outside the church see the body of Christ as hypocritical and judgmental. They feel that the church has no right to judge their actions. Even members within the church declare that it is not the place of humans to judge others’ transgressions. However, there is a responsibility within the church to hold those who profess Christ accountable. In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, Paul makes it clear that a role of the church is to keep itself pure by removing evil from among members. This “judgment” refers only to those who are considered to be within the church and is based on biblical mandates rather than personal opinion. In 5:12, Paul asked the rhetorical question “Are you not to judge those inside?” using a Greek word that implies a positive answer, which in this case would mean yes, the church should judge within itself. Therefore, in present application, this verse refers only to professing believers within the church.

Paul states that it is not the church’s place to judge the outside world, or unbelievers. The reason for the church’s role in accountability is because the church is the bride of Christ and as such, she is meant to be holy and set apart. However, there is a difference between being judgmental and pursuing church discipline.

So How Should the Church Respond to Intimate Cohabitation?

It is the church’s responsibility to maintain a biblical standard among its members and leaders. It is also the church’s responsibility to display the love of Christ to everyone without exception. Therefore, the church needs carefully considered guidelines to address this issue.

1. Build the relationship. The best case study we find in the Bible, related to confronting cohabitation, is in John 4. This is Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. The traditional interpretation of this passage sees this woman as living in shame. One reason for this view is that she went to the well at the hottest time of the day, when no other woman would be there. At that time, she met Jesus.

Jesus began to build a relationship with a simple request: a drink of water. He began a discussion with her even though it was unacceptable for a Jewish Rabbi to speak to a Samaritan woman during this the time period. Yet Jesus used prudence to call out the woman’s sinfulness. He first dialogued with her about other issues, spiritual and social, before he asked the question which led to her confrontation.

2. Confront the sinfulness. Jesus confronted the woman by asking her to call her husband. She answered him by stating that she had no husband. Jesus responded to the woman by bringing light to the truth of the situation. When she told Jesus that she did not have a husband, he then corrected the situation, quoting her own words back to her, yet changing the emphasis. I fact, the word order in John 4:17 is key to understanding the situation. Jesus' response to the woman essentially said, “Correctly you have said, ‘a husband I don't have.’ “In essence, in the original language, Jesus was saying, “Lady, you've got somebody at home, but he's not your husband!” Jesus stated that the man she currently had” was not her husband. This vocabulary is indicative of intimacy and is the same Greek word that is used of her previous relationships with her husbands in verse 17.

At that moment, she realized that Jesus was more than merely a human, and she responded with brokenness (John 4:1-19 ). Jesus first built his relationship and his trust with the Samaritan woman. He then confronted her with her sinfulness. Ephesians 5:11 states that believers should take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather, they should expose them. However, confrontation without relationship or background can often be unfruitful and counterproductive for the sake of God’s kingdom.

3. Extend grace. After the Samaritan woman acknowledged her sin, Jesus did not shame her, but rather revealed himself to be the Messiah and offered the gift of salvation. The result was that she became a key witness for Jesus in Samaria.

The takeaway for Christian leaders today is to understand that while properly exposing sin is important to preserve the integrity of the body of Christ, we must not forget that we are ambassadors of grace. Often, the church is good at one or two out of the three steps. They are good at confronting sinfulness and forget to build the relationship and extend grace. Or they build the relationship and extend grace without confronting the sinfulness of the individual. However, Jesus did all three of these steps. In John 13:34-35, Jesus gave the disciples the new command to love one another. It is by the love of the saints for one another that the world will see the difference Christ has made. Therefore, cohabiting people will see that we are followers of Jesus by how we relate, confront, and administer grace with love.

Modern-Day Application

In light of the rising trend of cohabitation, it’s helpful to look at a few examples to consider how church leaders could respond using the previously discussed principles of relationship, confrontation, and grace.

1. If a couple attending the church is currently cohabiting, steps should be taken to lovingly disciple the couple and help them discern whether God intends for them to marry or discontinue intimacy and potentially separate. This should be the priority of ministry to the couple before they are considered for membership, leadership, or service.

2. If a couple is currently cohabiting and desires to serve within the church or be considered for membership, yet they are unrepentant about their circumstances, they should be counseled and discipled, but should not be considered for membership or service.

3. If a member of the church begins to cohabitate with someone, he or she should be confronted and counseled on the matter. If the member is serving within the church, he or she should step down while in that living situation.

4. If a couple is currently living together and requests to be married within the church, they should be counseled to abstain from intercourse and live separately until the wedding.

These are not easy principles to address in ministry, especially when it’s easy to place a cohabiting couple in a non-leadership role or non-teaching role in order to help get them involved in the church. However, God has a standard according to which he calls his church to live. If we want the world to see the church as the “called-out body of believers” that we are supposed to be, we cannot afford to compromise our standards of membership, leadership, or service.

Cortney Whiting is a wife and a mother of two children. She graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a masters in Theology and serves as the children’s minister at One Heart Church in Norcross, GA.

October 24, 2013

Women Leaders Are Tempted by Adultery


How hard is it for a woman in ministry to fall into sexual sin such as adultery? Easier than you think. How many are tempted? More than we know, because no one talks about it due to the shame that surrounds the subject. The problem with the lack of a safe place to be honest about these struggles means there is an opening for the underground schemes of immorality to take the lives of great leaders in our midst.

For that reason, I am about to tell you about my own struggles with temptation to sexual sin in leadership, in an attempt to bring out into the open what many feel they need to hide. I have told my story openly at women’s conferences and retreats, but I told myself I would never write about it due to the fear that my story would get into the hands of those who could destroy my life. I realize now the deception shame has. It tells you that if you keep your secrets, you are safe. Oh but friend, you are far from safe in secrecy. You are bait. I pray my choice to be brave and put my story out there will give you courage to tell your story if you are struggling, and the brave courage to listen to a soul in torment without judgment if she approaches you.

I have always told my husband that it wouldn’t take a tall, dark, handsome man to lead me astray—only one who would pay attention to me if times were rough at home. Because my husband and I are such opposites (who truly complete one another), our “becoming one” has produced much friction over the last 14 years of our marriage. There have been seasons of enjoying the fruit of our endurance and seasons where we could hardly face one another. Add two young boys, one who has behavioral challenges, and home sometimes becomes a hard place to be. Interestingly, both times I have been tempted toward adultery have been when times have been hard at home and just before I’ve been on the brink of a breakthrough spiritually, with my family, or in ministry. I can say I’ve never committed the act of adultery, but both times, overcoming the temptation was extremely hard.

The first time was when I was writing my book, Culture Rebel. I clicked well with a man in my sphere of work. I was struggling with my thought life. All I could think of were Jesus’ words “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Those words haunted me. I knew I had to get a grip, but the force of lust was strong after my heart and I was becoming weak from fighting it.

My breakthrough finally came when I was at a conference listening to one of my favorite leaders, Matthew Barnett. I was in such torment, I could hardly hear him speak. Shame was after my mind: “How could you think such thoughts?” “You’re a dirty woman. A poser. You think God can use you? No one would ever want you if they knew what goes on in the dark chambers of your mind.”

Then Barnett said something that hit my heart like a sword: “You are called to be dangerous.” That’s all I heard. It was like all the shame and lustful thoughts were slapped right off of me. I was awakened to the awareness that I was called to something far greater, and it liberated my spirit. It became the subtitle on the back of my book: “You are not called to be desperate, you are called to be dangerous.” Through this I have come to realize how many souls find themselves drowning in the torment of lust and shame because they have lost sight of God’s vision for who they really are. I have had the opportunity to talk to various women who have opened up about their struggles after hearing my story at conferences.

The second time I found myself in the midst of temptation was when my family was experiencing a very dark hour. My husband and I weren’t connecting, our toddler had us in constant panic mode with his shenanigans, and the pressure from our oldest son’s behavior was taking its toll on us physically and mentally. I was tired, unhappy, and feeling ripped off, excluded from happiness. I found myself looking for excitement, freedom, and something to numb my pain. Interesting how temptation can smell weakness. Along came the opportunity that no one would have ever known about.

I wish I could say I was strong in that moment, but I wasn’t. It’s a miracle I made it through, really. Every day I remember, I am reminded of God’s grace and how much I need it. Going through these experiences has made me much more aware of how easy it is to fall past temptation. I have compassion for those who have been tempted or have committed adultery. I’m not shocked when I hear of another great leader who has stumbled. I have found out personally how easy it is.

I would like to highlight some learnings I have picked up on the floor while I was groveling at Jesus’ feet, feeling like a filthy rag. I would like to share them with you so we can create communities of resilient leaders who can withstand temptation, rather than become yet another one we hear about through Christian gossip.

• Don’t be shocked if and when this happens to you. If it shocks you, you will fear it. When you fear it, it will control you and you will be less likely to escape. All you will be able to think about is how rotten and filthy you are. Your eyes will quickly shift from an upward gaze on our Lord, who is our redemption, to yourself. As a result, you will cower in shame and will be more likely to hide from others rather than run to them for accountability and support. Don’t be shocked. Like I said, being tempted with sexual sin is common.

• Remember it’s not wrong to be tempted. You are not sinning when you’re tempted, so don’t give in, thinking you’ve already lost the battle. When tempted, fight, and don’t fight in your own strength. Fight with friends beside you and Christ’s truth wrapped around your heart.

• Adultery or sexual sin is never really about sex; it’s our attempt at self-redemption, to gain control over our lives, to take on ourselves only what Christ can do. You can say it’s running from Christ rather than to Christ. You need to ask yourself, “What am I numbing?” “What am I running from?” “What am I trying to redeem?” There’s always a root that’s not about sex or even attraction. Get to the root with good friends and the Holy Spirit as your guide.

• When tempted, there is a call from your spirit to run back to your first love. No man, no romance, no marriage, no family, no ministry, nothing will ever be able to heal us, nurture us, love us, and embrace us the way we need—only the arms of our Father God. Nothing. We need to run to our sacred romance and keep it at the core of our lives. He is our everything.

• We need to create open spaces for honest communication without judgment. Our silence in the matter only causes more casualties of men and women who felt they were alone in their struggle. We need accountable, safe relationships with people who will listen without judgment, but also hold us accountable. My friend Richie Seltzer says, “Accountability is more about keeping one another accountable to one's destiny.” I wouldn’t have made it without some amazing girls in my life who listened to me, loved me, but also made me come up with an action plan that would protect my steps and keep me on my journey toward the destiny God has marked for me.

No more proverbial rug. It’s time for us to bring the issue out into the open, where temptation and shame are revealed for what they are. When we bring our struggles to the light, they flee. Be strong, beloveds. How hard is it for a ministry leader (or any human for that matter) to fall into sexual temptation or sin? Very easy. But with safe places for accountability and support, we can see more overcome and thrive past it.

Connie Jakab is a blogger and author of Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives. Connie is an active speaker and worship leader, and lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab.

October 21, 2013

Lead Me On: When Confidence Cracks

So you’re an unlikely vessel for God’s work. So was Rahab.


Ever sit in solitude with hopes of drumming up a sound mind—only to be interrupted by inner-voice chatter? As in, “Get up. Go. Do. Come on already.”

When did the “still small voice” start sounding so grouchy?

It seems that even beautiful and spiritual disciplines like solitude, silence, and meditation can have a discerning counterpoint that sounds something like “Dude. Get a move on already.” A fairly typical counterpoint to that counterpoint is this: What if my “move on” messes everything up?

Many of us tend to ask a lot of advice rather than trust our own inner voices. That has benefits, but it starts to fall apart when it is the “still small voice” of God, calling us to pursue a plan that he does not explain to everybody else.


Who does? We haven’t been trained for it.

The problem with that excuse? Bible characters. The best of the Bible’s motley crew were likewise rarely trained for the tasks at hand—but several walked with the confidence of a little nugget called “Don’t Care What People Think.”

Like Rahab.

Rahab was a prostitute whose house was in the wall surrounding Jericho. At that time, Joshua was leading the Israelites toward Jericho, in the land that God had promised to the Israelites. Joshua wanted to know if the Israelites could manage to overtake Jericho, so he sent two spies to check it out.

The spies headed to town and decided to rest their weary heads at Motel Rahab.

Several tidbits about this story make it a page-turner. Rahab was a prostitute. Yikes. The spies went to her “house.” Curious.

But the bigger bombshell for the spies: this prostitute believed in their God.

There’s a classic C. S. Lewis quotation that says, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

I imagine the spies had that thought. Rahab—you believe too?

Who would’ve guessed? In Jericho, everyone was “living in terror” (Joshua 2:9) so they avoided God. Rahab was terrified too, so she…picked God.

And thanks to Joshua’s spies stopping by, her faith was about to get personal.

Rahab got busy. She hid the spies on her roof. Meanwhile, the king of Jericho got word that the spies were in town.

So Rahab lied. She said to the king’s men who came looking for the spies, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from.”

And then she lied again. “They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went.”

And then she pushed it one step more by saying, “If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” (Joshua 2:4-5)

What I would like to know is: Who did Rahab think she was, to be acting so brazenly on behalf of God? I mean, how did she even know what to do?

To whom did she go for advice?

What church prayer chain held her up for a fresh word?

Rahab believed this was “the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below” (Joshua 2:11). She wanted to act on behalf of that God. So she acted.

That takes guts.

And not always a consensus.

This could also be said of C.S. Lewis. He announced in a 1955 letter that he would no longer write theological pieces—“I now feel quite sure those days are over”—because he was moving on to fiction, he said.

Lewis was falling back “from Christian apologetics into Christ himself.”

Lucky for Narnia lovers.

But what about his fans who were desperate for straight-up proselytizing like his earlier, harder-hitting pieces? Lewis abandoned “serious” writing endeavors for a fictional portal of a closet, a mystical lion, and mythical beings?

And. A. Grouchy. Witch?

Yes. If Lewis could consider serious his fictional writing over his apologetic writing, so too can we consider serious our own direction from God.

Rahab did.

At the time of Rahab’s watershed moments of belief, almost nobody knew. Her people misjudged her. The spies barely knew her. Who would have called her “worthy of your calling” (Ephesians 4:1)?

The writer of James (James 2:25). The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31). The Author of this whole Bible.

If your faith walk looks funny, if the next steps in your calling are hard to explain, don’t panic. Sometimes God writes it that way.

Here’s how the author of the Bible played that out for Rahab. Hundreds of pages later, when superstar-of-the-whole-show Jesus enters stage left, the author outlines Jesus’ precious, amazing lineage and guess who makes the list? Rahab. To put that into perspective, guess just how many great heroes of the Bible are listed in Jesus’ lineage? (Not a lot.)

We want to protect our reputation (Proverbs 22:1). But when we get fearful about our image? Remember that the list of people who understood Rahab’s calling was a lot shorter than the list of people who totally did NOT get her at all.

So you haven’t been trained for it? So what.

Knowing God means you know something. That trumps everything. Or it can. If you get a move on already.

Joshua’s spies await.

But please, just to be polite—you go first.

Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has managed marketing and media relations needs for various clients such as Microsoft, Wells Fargo and UPS.

October 16, 2013

News You Can Use: Eyes on Miley, Government Gridlock, Hatmaker Home & Garden, and a Popular Pope

Four recent events that matter to your ministry


Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.

Miley in the News

It’s been a few weeks since Miley Cyrus twerked her way into the news with a controversial performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, but the reactions from fans, concerned citizens, and fellow musicians just, well, can’t seem to stop.

If you have somehow missed the flurry of open letters and think pieces on the state of female sexuality in pop music, here’s what happened: Miley Cyrus, the former Disney tween star trying to break open a “mature” solo career, performed her single “We Can’t Stop” by provocatively dancing with a foam finger and then with Robin Thicke, who joined her onstage for a duet of his hit single “Blurred Lines.” All while backed by dancers wearing giant teddy bears on their backs.

Since then, Cyrus has released another controversial video for her single “Wrecking Ball,” which led Sinead O’Connor to send an open letter with a strong message: “The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be’s so not cool’s dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren't merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers...that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career.”

As O’Connor’s words demonstrate, this has become about much more than one girl and one performance. When we talk about Miley, we’re talking about women and the ways in which they have used their bodies, and the ways others have pressured them to use their bodies, both in the music industry and in the practice of everyday life. People are watching—some of them girls who grew up with Hannah Montana and, like Cyrus, are looking for examples of how to be a woman in 2013, and some of them sisters, mothers, and mentors of these girls, who are struggling with many of these same issues themselves—and we have an opportunity to offer not just a corrective but a message of love.

While few women have faced the pressure to peddle their sexuality on a national stage, all women have been bombarded with the idea that their body can and should be used as a tool for winning attention and love. This is why we have such strong opinions about Miley and the girls like her we see around us every day. These are the kinds of conversations we need to be having—how do we respond to these pressures? How do we help encourage and empower other women to take control of their bodies and set the right standards and expectations? Maybe for this, at least, we can thank Miley.

Government Shutdown

When the government shut down on October 1, after Congress missed the deadline to enact regular appropriations, about 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed without pay. An additional 1.3 million have been reporting to work without immediate pay, and many services have been suspended until a compromise is found. Public opinion of Congress has plummeted as the days draw out into weeks and neither side seems willing to budge.

As we hear heartbreaking stories of families living paycheck-to-paycheck to pay the bills and put food on the table who now don’t know when they can hope for relief, of early childhood education centers being forced to close their doors indefinitely, of veterans unable to visit the war memorials, of long-anticipated weddings canceled at national parks and monuments, it’s very easy to get angry about the failure of the political system that has wrought such difficult realities. But we also need to remember that these stories are happening to people around us, and just as much as they need our government to work, they need people to help fill the gaps until it does.

As frustrated as we may be by the display of partisan politics by both elected officials and those concerned citizens who spend their days fighting on Facebook, this shutdown also brings with it an absolute need for ministry, a requirement for women and men to locate the needs around them and do their best to fill those needs in response to the love Christ has for each of his children. Especially now, as Christianity and politics have become so wrapped up in one messy package, we have a chance to remind people that loving Jesus is not about campaigning for one political party—it’s about loving people in need.

Hatmakers Head for HGTV

One fun thing to watch out for: popular Christian writer and blogger Jen Hatmaker announced last month that HGTV will air a reality show documenting her family’s renovation of and move into a new house. Christians on reality TV aren’t exactly a new concept—the conservative Duggar family has been sharing their unique way of life on TLC for years, and the Robertson family of the hit A&E show Duck Dynasty make no apologies for their Christian faith. On her blog, Hatmaker posted assurances that her family’s faith would be accurately portrayed: “We told the people, ‘Um, we are overtly Christian. This isn't even a gray area.’ And they said, ‘Yes. We want it all: your family, your prayers, your church, your poor people, your nonprofits, your chaos, your humor. We want you to be exactly who you are.’”

Though no premiere date has been announced, perhaps now is a good time to acquaint yourself or your friends with a name that is sure to come up more over the next few months!

A Popular Pope

In his first year on the job, Pope Francis has commanded the attention of not just faithful Catholics but also Christians of all denominations and even those outside the church. He has give a few surprisingly frank interviews that overflowed with humility, grace, and love (highlights here and here). It’s impressive. We aren’t used to such candor from the Pope, and we aren’t used to such aggressive focus on the essentials of faith, rather than attention to those issues that divide us. His example in these interviews can serve as a model, both for ecumenical possibility and the power of an individual witness. He also had some interesting things to say about the role of women in the church:

“(W)e must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

By verbalizing such high value of women and their essential role in a church that does not allow women to hold the highest offices of leadership, Pope Francis’ comments have led some to speculate about the future direction of the church. But even in its current structure, his words challenge many to think differently and better about how to value and incorporate female voices into more traditional churches. His words are especially powerful for those outside the Catholic church, as his focus on the essentials of Christian life call all Christians to greater unity.

Laura Leonard is the associate editor of Building Church Leaders at Christianity Today. You can find her on Twitter @lmarieleonard.

October 14, 2013

Youth Ministry Myths

An interview with Princeton Seminary Professor Kenda Creasy Dean


Today we’re chatting with Kenda Creasy Dean, Princeton Theological Seminary’s Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture. Here this wise guide reveals who lasts in youth ministry, why a youth group might not be necessary, and the particular challenges women face in youth ministry. (If you want more, you can find the full interview here.)

Kenda, we’d love to hear about your calling to write and teach. How did you discern it? How has the call unfolded in your life?

I grew up thinking that youth ministry meant “youth who do ministry” and that adults came along to help us, not vice versa. The bad PR that still plagues youth ministry didn’t dawn on me until much later. As a young adult, when I finally got the courage to start the path toward United Methodist ordination, my district superintendent was excited until he found out that I wanted to do youth ministry. “Oh,” he said, deflated. “Well…you’ll grow out of that.”


I have a colleague who teases me about being an “accidental intellectual”—which is pretty close to the truth. I didn’t set out to do anything besides youth ministry. My calling was, and is, to be a pastor, and to be a pastor means to tend a flock. Whether that flock is in a church or a classroom or through the media doesn’t really matter to me; it’s still ministry, you’re still forming disciples, you’re still preparing them, as best you can, to go into the world as Christ’s envoys.

For some clergy, youth ministry has been the first job, almost a “stepping stone” on the way to ministry among adults. What’s that about?

Obviously, it’s an insult to everyone involved to consider youth ministry a “stepping stone” toward so-called “adult” ministries, especially since the big “secret” of youth ministry is that it’s just ministry. Teenagers are people, after all, not a separate species. The needs of adolescents are simply the needs of human beings, in acute form.

Across professions, the more closely you work with children, the less prestige you have in your field. It’s why pediatricians get paid less than surgeons; it’s why preschool teachers get paid less than professors. People who work with children and youth in ministry often have fewer required credentials, smaller paychecks, and less prestige than people who work with adults. It’s wrong, but it’s real.

What on earth is “light bulb youth ministry”?

“Light bulb youth ministry,” according to Mark DeVries, is when you install a bright light who attracts youth…until she or he burns out. Then you uninstall the old youth minister and install a new light bulb instead, and the cycle continues. So while the average tenure in youth ministry is longer than it used to be, burnout, stagnation, and exhaustion are still rampant. (They’re rampant among all kinds of ministers, not just youth ministers).

People who “last” in youth ministry do so not because they’re superstar youth ministers, but because their churches have provided the necessary infrastructure to allow youth ministry to become ministry—i.e., part of the mission of the whole church—rather than an extracurricular activity. (If you want a game-changing book on the subject, try Mark DeVries’ Sustainable Youth Ministry—a book on youth ministry written for senior pastors and congregations, not just the youth team.)

You’ve said that a youth group is less necessary than we once thought, which feels nothing less than scandalous! Say more…

We are learning from sociologists that youth groups, while they do lots of important things for teenagers, have not proven to be reliable crucibles for forming faith. Far more important to adolescent faith development are families (especially parents), intergenerational congregations, and significant relationships between teenagers and faithful adults.

And you’ve seen this in your own family, haven’t you?

A few years ago, our family decided to leave the large program church we had been attending—a painful decision that felt a lot like jumping off a cliff. It was a busy, successful, well-off church with something for everybody, including a large youth ministry program. But while the youth group had given our kids many opportunities, their faith—and our faith—stagnated.

To our surprise, our 15-year-old daughter, Shannon, was drawn to a tiny one-room church on the outskirts of town, a church Kevin and I had appreciated but had not considered joining because there was “nothing for teenagers.” But we decided to jump—feet first—into this 25-member congregation with a leaky roof and a part-time student pastor where everybody, literally, knew your name. Shannon laughed about meeting the “youth group” (herself and one other student) for pizza after church. But within a year, Shannon had been confirmed, had preached twice, had participated in multiple mission projects, had served on the worship committee, had been commissioned by the congregation to go to Taize, and was as likely to share a prayer request during “joys and concerns” as any adult in the congregation. When an adult from our former church asked Shannon what her new church did with teenagers since there was no youth group, Shannon told her, “Well, they pretty much just treat us like everyone else.”

Lesson learned.

Any particular challenges women face in youth ministry?

I think the greatest challenge for many women in youth ministry (which is increasingly becoming the greatest challenge for men as well) is the family-ministry balancing act. In part because we so easily let ministry morph into a “service” profession (meaning, we buy into the myth that “ministry exists to meet my—or your—needs”), we have created an impossible bind for ourselves. We can never meet the needs of the young people we love. What they need isn’t us. What they need is Christ.

(Dig this? For the full interview, click here.)

Margot Starbuck is a frequent contributor and editorial advisor to Gifted for Leadership, an author, a speaker, and a volunteer among friends with disabilities. Her most recent book is Permission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously among Sinners and Saints. More at

October 10, 2013

Establishing and Navigating Relational Boundaries

Setting limits is part of caring for yourself and others


One of the oft-overlooked components of successful leadership is the thoughtful establishment of clear expectations and boundaries regarding our availability to those we lead. After 20 years, I have come to understand that the more intentionality we bring to this, the better off we—and our volunteers—will be.

Why We Need Boundaries

Successful leaders routinely rise to the many challenges we face. We then get rewarded with higher-level opportunities, which have more responsibility. These promotions are gratifying but they can come at the cost of our own well-being. In my twenties, I worked 50 to 60 hours a week at my for-pay job, and then devoted another 10 to 15 hours to church activities. I did not faithfully care for my body nor did I spend sufficient time on my own spiritual development. I found myself near burnout by the time I hit 30.

The first boundary we need to establish is the amount of time we realistically have to offer. For a healthy individual, volunteering four to six hours a week should still leave sufficient time for self-care, personal relationships, and the mundane acts which we all wish we could avoid, but in reality, cannot. Add into the mix a health issue or caring for parents or young children (or having multiple children who are involved in sports or music!) and those hours quickly vanish. Because our lives are not static, we need to take our pulse on a regular basis. What worked as a 25-year-old may not work as a 30-year-old. By routinely exceeding our limitations, we risk exhaustion and engender manic volunteers who may also flame out far too soon.

Do We Really Need Boundaries with Our Volunteers?

I love leading and I truly enjoy those who partner with me. I also have three children, a long-term health issue, and a tendency toward codependence. Not too long ago, I believed that helping anyone who asked (and some who didn’t) whenever they asked (and sometimes before they asked) was the mark of a successful leader. After being diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, I had to reevaluate my logic. I now communicate my availability with painstaking clarity. After our first meeting, my teammates understand that though I am completely present to them during our team time or when we see each other in church, that availability does not extend to everyday life. I give my home phone number (but not my cell) and my email and specify that I will return most communications within a 24-hour period. This specificity allows my team members to know what they can expect from me and helps me not to overextend myself (perhaps the bigger issue).

Permeable Boundaries and Points of Growth

Inevitably, when individuals have served on my teams for a length of time, the lines of demarcation begin to soften. Mutuality, trust, and affection grow and lead to the dismantling of earlier boundaries. This can be wonderful, and also fraught with complexities. When a relationship begins with one person being the identified leader, some awkwardness may surface as it shifts into mutuality.

This was the case in my relationship with Kim. She came through one of the long-term programs that my husband and I run. She was emerging from a toxic church situation and needed both nurture and time to heal. Her leadership skills were obvious; we soon invited her to be part of the team as an assistant, and then the following year as a small-group leader.

Our transition from hierarchy to mutuality felt a bit like a plane landing during a thunderstorm: turbulent. Leadership gives us a scaffolding upon which to build relationships but that same structure often feels too rigid when imposed on friendships. I was accustomed to leading in relationship to Kim and had to constantly check this impulse so that we could have more mutuality. Because of her recent betrayal within the church, she reflexively tested me to see if I was going to replicate her previous experiences. I knew I needed to hold steady and not bend into her transference, but I also felt somewhat hurt that she did not trust me.

Rather than back off and reestablish higher boundaries, I chose to press in and directly name what I thought was happening. Though slightly uncomfortable, I think this helped Kim and allowed us to move toward a more reciprocal friendship. Over the years, Kim has become one of many teammates with whom I have developed a very meaningful relationship. Such friendships are one of the best perks of leadership, but they rarely develop without hiccups along the way.

Establishing boundaries has not come naturally for me. Before I understood their necessity, I assumed I was being selfish if I turned down volunteers who were in need. With solid boundaries in place, I am notably more content and healthier. And I’ll bet if you asked any of the volunteers who serve with me, they would be able to articulate that my shift has also served them.

Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days writing, making photographs, pastoring, and trying to keep her three teenage sons adequately fed. She and her family live surrounded by apple orchards, just outside of Boston, MA. You can find more of her words and images at

October 3, 2013

In Pursuit of Justice, Passion Is Not Enough

An interview with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, Director of Justice Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


I am excited about the work of the Holy Spirit, raising up a generation of believers who are discontent with The Hole in our Gospel and are seeking to fill the hole in tangible ways within their homes, churches, and local communities, and throughout the world. Having a conviction and passion, however, is only the beginning of pursing justice God’s way. We must remain faithful in prayer, get educated about the issues, equip ourselves for the work, humbly engage others to join us on the journey, and care enough about people that we continue this work until Christ returns or calls us home.

It was my honor to sit down with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, Director of Justice Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to discuss this exciting time and the challenges we face in the pursuit of justice. Rev. Salvatierra also works for a variety of organizations like World Vision and InterVarsity. Her counsel to women, and to all of us who want to pursue justice: get trained, reconcile with those who are poor, and read.

Get Trained

Rev. Salvatierra: It’s very important for members of churches to be trained and equipped to do justice and engage with organizations like World Vision that can actually give them a context for doing justice. World Vision will come to interested churches and offer an eight-hour training in public policy advocacy under the conviction that God is real and Jesus has risen, because God is real and Jesus is risen. Therefore, we teach people why they should be doing public policy advocacy and how to do it, so they are doing it in a way that is pleasing to God. And that brings the unique gifts of the church to the broader movement for social and economic justice.

Currently, World Vision works with approximately 6,000 churches around the country. Many of the churches get started by doing child sponsorship (for which World Vision is most known) and then they realize they want to do more. They come to realize that child sponsorship is beautiful but it’s not enough and if we really want the fullness of life for all children, we have to work together to address the root causes. We have to change the systems and the structures.

Reconcile with Image-Bearers Who Are Poor

Sometimes I get uneasy when I hear privileged Americans talk about helping “the poor.” It unnerves me because we are speaking about people as if they are objects. “We” (the collective group of passionate, privileged, and powerful Christians who care about justice) are going to help “the poor” because “they” are incapable of helping themselves and can’t make it without us. We become the victorious heroes for the poor, lost victims, and that makes us feel good about ourselves. None of us want to address people as if they are stray animals or lost objects, but that’s how we speak, not realizing what has settled into our hearts concerning these image-bearers whom God loves.

I often think of the true fellowship of the church in the Book of Acts, when…

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need” (Acts 4:32, 34-35, NIV).

I read and I wonder if we miss the opportunity to experience God in true fellowship because so many of our churches are economically and socially segregated.

Rev. Salvatierra: It’s very important to make the connection between churches that are primarily poor or primarily minister to poor folks and churches that are better off financially. We need real peer relationships of mutual ministry and mission because that’s where people are changed. Through relationships, people really come to understand why justice is important and begin to feel a passion for justice in their own hearts. They must have intimate relationships with people who are suffering unjustly for that to occur and for the Scripture to come alive in them.

The Scripture says that the last will be first and the first will be last, and the perspective of the poor in a very critical way is the perspective of our Lord. When he says, “Whatever you do to one of the least of these you do to me,” it’s not just our Lord as victim; it’s our Lord having the wisdom that comes from below. This is my understanding of Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus says whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him. He sees through the eyes of the marginalized, and those who do not hear the poor will themselves not be heard when they cry out to God (Proverbs 21:13). So we should not see the poor only in terms of their need but in terms of the gift that they bring and how much we need each other. Financial stability is not the only measure of the resourcefulness of a local church. In pursuing justice in fellowship with all God’s image bearers regardless of socio-economic class, we have an exchange of resources that is critically important. We want to love as intelligently and as fully as possible.

When Jesus gave, he gave everything so we want to give everything. We want to be good stewards of our influence because helping the poor and the oppressed helps the entire body of the church. That’s a fundamental lesson learned from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Dearborn who was as part of World Vision staff for many years. When he spoke these words, he was talking about Galatians 2:10, where Paul says that the only part of Jewish law he wants to make sure the church of Galatus keeps is to remember the poor. Rev. Dearborn says we have to understand the context of being members of one body, so that when the poor are neglected or forgotten it’s as if a part of our body is cut off and for the body to be well and whole, we have to literally remember the dismembered parts of our body. We must reconnect the poor. Recognize the connection of the well-being of the poor to the rest of us.


Rev. Salvatierra is currently writing a book with her good friend Rev. Peter Heltzell (professor, New York Theological Seminary) about faith-rooted organizing for Intervarsity Press. It’s a how-to book for young, Christian leaders who want to do justice in the church. In the meantime, you can connect with Rev. Salvatierra through her website:

Does your church or organization offer justice training? How does your church reconcile image bearers across socio-economic classes?

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and President for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

October 1, 2013

Sharing the Good News with Mormons

A former faithful Mormon and BYU professor encourages outreach


After 30 years in the Mormon Church, I left my job, my home, my community, and my church—all because of an amazing encounter with the Jesus of the Bible. Coming to know the biblical Jesus changed my life in profound ways I feel inadequate to articulate. Going from a gospel of works in Mormonism to resting in the Jesus who did it all on the cross for me—a free gift available because I have faith in and confess him—transformed me. With profuse gratitude for salvation, I see my former neighbors and dear friends struggling under the weight of earning their righteousness before God. How could I allow these good people to sit in non-biblical theology? How many of us feel we don’t have the know-how or the courage or have any idea of where to begin to tell the good news to our Mormon friends? They may seem so sure of themselves, so secure in their own faith. For those leading in the church, how should we lead others in reaching out to Mormons? What can we do to share the gospel of grace?

How Everyone Should Relate

Christians must relate to Mormons with the love of Jesus. When we love others, we will want to share the truth so they too can know the freedom we know in Jesus. The Bible encourages us to present the truth in love (Ephesians 4:12), but we must present it. And we must make it clear to those we have stewardship in ministry that Mormonism and biblical Christianity are not synonymous. Mormons may believe they know the biblical Jesus. They may not be aware that the Mormon Jesus teaches a different way to salvation than the biblical One. So when sharing the good news, we need to make the differences between the teachings of the Mormon Jesus and the biblical Jesus—especially on salvation—crystal clear. This is not as daunting a task as you might think.

Yes, the Mormon gospel is very different from biblical Christianity. It took me nearly five years to get enough of God’s truth from the Bible in my head to leave all the previous teachings behind and to feel less confused. It’s a process. I was angry when I first read the Bible in context and felt convicted that it conflicted with Mormon doctrine. Christians need to stick near Mormons who are learning truth, be available to answer questions, and point them where to read in the Word. Be patient and loving, provide sincere friendship, social activities, and Bible study with other Christians. They will need biblical knowledge and emotional support in transition.

The Role Relationships Play

The Mormon culture is tight. When Mormons begin to question faith and investigate biblical Christianity, they may lose former friends or even family. I know I did. The cost can be high. If you have Mormon friends, you may know that church members are like family and help each other. These sweet relationships helped take my husband and me into Mormonism. Christians will need to supplant these relationships until the former Mormon becomes dependent on Jesus. This loss is sometimes more than they can bear and something Christians may not understand. It’s a whole new way to live. Love them for the long haul.

What We Can Do

First, Christians must pray for and with Mormons. The Bible says the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Of course no one can judge the spiritual state of another except our Lord Jesus, but many major teachings of Mormonism run contrary to biblical Christianity, so we can assume most Mormons will need to hear truths from the Bible. Warning: They believe the Bible is suspect and often mistranslated—not reliable. So pray they can accept the Bible as God’s undefiled Word. Pray that God will break the spirit of blindness. Pray that God will draw them to himself. Pray that God will open their eyes and unstop their ears as you present and they read the truth in God’s Word. Ask God to show you who he is already working with and what you can do.

Second, Christians need a rudimentary knowledge of Mormonism (see or check out the book 7 Reasons We Left Mormonism). This is not as difficult as it may sound. Christians will have to study to some degree but do not have to memorize the doctrinal differences. Simply ask Mormons probing questions that ask them to clarify what they mean when they say something about their faith. You’ll see the differences and then you can gently say, “But the Bible says this. How do Mormons reconcile the two?” If honest, Mormons will tell you they do not trust the Bible. Then you can help them see the overwhelming evidence for why the Bible can be trusted.

Be aware that Mormons use the same religious words as Christians—like grace, salvation, and atonement—but they do not have the same meanings. Christians will not realize this unless they press Mormons for what they mean. A Christian will say, “I’m saved by grace.” And Mormons nod in agreement, but this statement does not mean the same thing to a Mormon as it does to the Christian. Always ask for clarification and keep pressing gently. Mormons will not respond to direct confrontation, though. The Book of Mormon tells them that contention is of the devil. So if you press too hard, they will probably shut down. Offer ideas or biblical Scriptures that challenge their beliefs. The prayer is that these conflicts will cause them to go searching for truth in the Bible. Point them to the Word.

Finally, do not be afraid or hesitate to engage even Mormon missionaries in faith discussions. One of our sons came to faith in the biblical Jesus when a pastor shared the gospel with him while he was serving a 2-year mission for the Mormon Church. You never know what God intends to do with the biblical Word you share. It never returns void.

Dr. Lynn Wilder is a former tenured professor at Brigham Young University and faithful Mormon for more than 30 years. Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church chronicles her amazing journey of faith. She and her husband, Michael, have formed the nonprofit organization Ex-Mormon Christians United for Jesus, to keep Christians safe from false Christs and to bring Mormons to know the joy of the biblical Jesus.


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