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Remembrances of Training Leaders in Cuba by Winston Worrell

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Remembrances of Training Leaders in Cuba by Winston Worrell

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For 25 years, I was blessed to serve as Director of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute.  Through service to the local church, I was blessed to travel the world and see our good God at work.  It is good to remember the work the Lord has done.

In 2001, I coordinated with Dr. H. Eddie Fox of World Methodist Evangelism and with Cuba’s Methodist Bishop Ricardo Pereira to teach at the Cuba Methodist Church’s training seminar at their Canaan Camp for several Methodist pastors and lay persons from across Cuba.  At this seminar, we presented several lectures and workshops on evangelism. We worshiped together with wonderful singing, great music from several musical instruments, and great enthusiasm for evangelism. In the workshops I led, I was privileged to share the love of Jesus and to teach the pastors and laity the emphasis on practical faith-sharing. I remember handing out outlines of my presentations, which had been translated into Spanish, that focused mainly on a wholistic understanding of evangelism and faith-sharing. There was great receptivity to teachings on evangelism.

Then three years later, in 2004, I coordinated our Institute’s “Evangelism Conference of the Americas” in Havana, Cuba. The 250 pastors and laity who attended this conference on evangelism were from all the Americas (North America, Central America and South America). Again, we focused on presenting several lectures and workshops on different evangelism themes. Bishops, pastors and laity from across the entire Americas also presented lectures and workshops. Again, we worshiped with wonderful singing, great music, use of several musical instruments, and great enthusiasm for evangelism, and again, there was great receptivity to teachings on evangelism.

Under normal circumstances, once we have led a seminar in any country, we move on to leading seminars in other countries. After a season, we would normally receive follow-up reports from a few key leaders, but we didn’t often hear from regular attendees regarding the impact of our seminars.  We believed we were sowing seeds for a Kingdom harvest our eyes may never see. By the grace of God, this all changed a year ago during a return trip to Cuba after almost 20 years.

In February 2023, I returned to Cuba with another group of World Methodist leaders. Our time there included visits to several local congregations. It was truly refreshing to again experience the vitality of the Cuban Methodist congregations in worship. During this visit, we attended worship at one of the congregations which was packed to overflowing. We were asked to share with the congregation who we were. I shared my name, briefly about my former visits, and a general word of encouragement. The other leaders shared as well and the microphone was returned to the pastor of that local congregation, Pastor Armando. He shared about how God had been doing a mighty work through this congregation by the power of the Holy Spirit. He specifically noted how they were practicing evangelistic practices he learned at a seminar nearly 20 years earlier. I did not recognize him, but he was a past attendee of our 2001 training seminar in Canaan. He had immediately remembered me and was very happy to introduce me to the congregation as one of his former teachers. He thanked me openly for the training that he had received and said that he was still using some of the handouts that I had given him so many years ago to move his congregation forward.

Here is a part of the email that Pastor Armando sent me on my return to Atlanta from Cuba last year:

Dear Brother Winston, it has been a great blessing for me to be able to share with you after so many years of having met you at the Canaan Camp in May 2001. I thank our God for your visit to our church and for being able to testify how useful it has been for my ministry your ‘Workshop on Sharing the Faith.’ Thanks for praying for us. We will also be praying for you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your life and ministry.”  ~Armando

Thanks be to God for God’s blessings in our ministries, especially where God continues to multiply the witnesses for Christ through your ministry and mine for the sake of the Gospel of Christ and his Kingdom.

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Embracing the New Wine: Reflections on the Changing Landscape of Ministry by Larry Frank

  

Embracing the New Wine: Reflections on the Changing Landscape of Ministry by Larry Frank

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“In the crushing, in the pressing

You are making new wine

In the soil I now surrender

You are breaking new ground…”

New Wine by Hillsong Worship

My story of crushing and pressing really began in the middle of the pandemic. That’s when I gradually realized that the seminary training I received no longer aligned with reality. The U.S. Church faced successive shockwaves – COVID, the tragic death of George Floyd, a tumultuous general election, January 6, and more. One of my mentors describes those days as marked by disease, disaster, disorientation, and division. The fallout exposed the fault lines in most churches, including my own shortcomings as a leader and follower of Jesus.

For nearly 15 years, I served as a pastor, climbing the “leadership ladder” with zeal. A few years ago, I found myself as the Lead Pastor of one of the larger churches in my conference. I thrived on metrics like average worship attendance and professions of faith. Everything seemed to trend upward until it didn’t. It all abruptly changed. The division stemming from polarizing events made it challenging to sustain congregational unity. Beloved members left the church. Many chose alternative activities over Sunday morning services while we operated solely online. Many never returned.

The limitations of the attractional church model, which I was trained to implement, became glaringly apparent. Regardless of the soaring music or meticulously crafted sermons, attendance didn’t rebound. Beautiful buildings, student ministry programs, affinity groups, classes, and bible studies lost their effectiveness. As I grappled with this realization, I came to understand that the future church would not be the same I encountered as a 14-year-old new believer.

I initially resisted change, echoing Mr. Wesley’s tension toward the established church of his era. Wesley was simultaneously committed to its structure while acknowledging its need for renewal. In his Letter from Dublin in 1789, he wrote, “In religion I am for as few innovations as possible. I love the old wine best.”* But this wine was no longer good for the table.

I began to press into what it would look like for tradition and innovation to coexist. In my research on church structure and strategy, I leaned into an approach of “both/and.” Could there be a sacred synthesis of attractional and incarnational, established and emerging, all existing together?

This journey led to an awakening in my spirit. The emerging church in our context could look more like field preaching of Wesley’s day than anything else. While the Sunday morning gathering remains relevant, church in pubs, coffee shops, breakrooms, under shade trees, and in homes also finds its place. Yes, there will be vocal detractors. However, the misconception lies in viewing established churches and emerging forms as mutually exclusive; they can and should coexist, enriching and shaping one another to share the gospel in diverse contexts.

I still find some of these more innovative ways of doing and being church strange, so I continue to find great comfort that John Wesley was still uncomfortable with field preaching many years after its beginning. He would write in his journal, “What marvel the devil does not love field preaching? Neither do I – I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, an handsome pulpit. But where is my zeal if I do not trample all these under foot in order to save one more soul?”** Two decades of field preaching and he still had difficulty reconciling the practice. Still, Wesley was willing to embrace it as he saw the gospel reach people.

Last June marked a significant change for my family as we departed from the familiar confines of our state and the denomination we had always called home. We bid farewell to the “commodious room” and “handsome pulpit” to embark on a new journey as part of the pastoral team at a multisite church located in southwest Florida. Here, the principles of attractional and missional converge seamlessly. Our Sunday gatherings are vibrant, drawing in many souls. Yet, amidst the effectiveness of traditional ministry programming, I find myself engaging in more and more field preaching. Nowadays, this entails sitting on a sidewalk, sharing a simple bottle of water with a homeless couple, lending an ear to someone’s story, or assisting them in finding their way to detox. It involves sharing a meal and embracing individuals whose lives and perspectives differ vastly from mine. These endeavors provide the same gospel space as the pulpit on Sunday morning. 

My affection for traditional brick-and-mortar churches remains unwavering. There’s undeniable passion and vitality in that model. However, I’ve come to realize that the future of the church, especially in reaching new people, lies in smaller, more adaptable structures grounded in authentic relationships. 

Reflecting on Christ’s command to spread the gospel, I invite you to ponder with me the sacrifices we must be willing to make (trample under foot) in order to make room for reaching even one more.

The new wine is worth it, can we make this our prayer?

“Jesus, bring new wine out of me…

‘Cause where there is new wine there is power

There is new freedom

And the Kingdom is here

I Lay down my old flames

To carry Your new fire today.”

* Letter from Dublin, June 20, 1789, The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed John Telford (London: Epworth, 1931), 8:145.

** John Wesley, Journal and Diaries IV, (1755-1765), ed. W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992), 21:203.

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Christ Between Us by Joseph Seger

  

Christ Between Us by Joseph Seger

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“Good morning, pastor.”  “I am so glad you are my pastor.”  “If only we had a different pastor.”  “It must be nice to be a pastor and work only an hour a week.”  “Sorry, I shouldn’t say that in front of a pastor.”  “You, are a pastor?”

I have been a pastor for more than a decade now. The comments no longer surprise me even if the emotions raised may linger. The blessings of the calling far outweigh the predictable misunderstandings of the many. I get to meet so many gracious people and bear witness to meaningful moments in their lives. Through this, I have learned the intimacy held in sharing the gospel is not so unique. I joke with people that I get to be a ‘professional Christian.’ Laughter often follows, but then a pause, as the thought clicks. There is something about pastoring that all Christians can be about. It can be found by anyone who places Christ before them. And this is good news for all.

As a pastor, I have many stories and received many blessings as I attempt to be faithful to the office. I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s vision of a pastor, “The role of the pastor is to embody the gospel. And of course to get it embodied, which you can only do with individuals, not in the abstract.” Diving into the everydayness of people’s lives creates an intimacy which is singular, and ever present.  The uniqueness comes with the privilege of the calling. People who love Jesus grant me an unearned peak into the vulnerability of their lives. The good, the bad, the ugly, the downright scary, and the tucked-away, hidden dramas that yield great hope and great pain in what’s to come.

I knew of this before being a pastor, but it becomes more profound as each encounter reframes and refreshes this truth. Encounters made possible by the name of Jesus – not me and my own glory. Many of those I encounter are meeting me for the first time. Why would I have any intimate connection with the person who just met me? Why would anyone feel at ease in sharing guarded truths of life and the longings of the heart with a stranger?

I can point to training, title, theology – no matter.  It’s not earned. It remains a privilege. Because of Jesus. One more closely guarded the more we hear of people who abuse the office of pastor. (Lord hear our prayers) Peter knew long ago the temptations which come with such unearned trust, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3)  

Before being a pastor, I thought they (do not ask me to tell you who I thought ‘they’ were) taught pastors exactly what to say to earn this trust. Like a reference book in which one could look up ‘teenage drama,’ ‘dying friend,’ ‘’moving across the country,’ ‘childhood trauma,’ ‘wedding nerves,’ ‘unexpected cancer diagnosis,’ ‘family dysfunction,’ etc. – find the phrase, posture, or prescription – and then fix what is broken. Indeed you can find these books on shelves, but no matter how many are obtained, are appropriate, or have the perfect post-mortem point – none ever fit. Real life never imitates the precision of a crafted scenario or the cold analysis of what should have been.

Seminary does not prepare you for the intimacy the gospel provides in ministry. It can be a wonderful and formative experience. It can teach all about how others have thought and acted throughout history about matters near and dear to your life. Indeed good seminaries will open, challenge, and guide your perspective into expansive mysteries previously unknown. However, they do not then live your life, make your decisions, or wrestle with the reality of a broken world in real-time. They do not address the administrative challenges, random conversations, and frequent interruptions to a perfectly planned day of abstract theological reflection. Only time with Jesus and others does this.  And this happens in the reality of everyday encounters common to all.

Real life is so much better than ivory-tower abstractions and self-help scripts. There are imperfect people sharing with each other about real matters which have temporal consequences and eternal implications. I have found the words shared in those holy moments often seem unpolished and sparse, far from the theological precision and self-help wordsmithing of the guidebooks and classroom. Yet, they become the right words, for they bear witness to the uniqueness of a moment entrusted to our mutual faith in Jesus. And though I can share the entire journey and humbling experiences which brought me to my current role as pastor – it is still the people’s love of Jesus, entrusted to the local church, which connects us.

I thought this was unique for the few called and privileged who got to be a “professional Christian.”  Only, I hear stories. Good news about how God is working in and through people who never went to seminary. People who often could not quote chapter and verse to back up their unorganized theology. They have the audacity to believe their love of Jesus and His love of them is enough to meet strangers on the road of life. Without theological training, prescribed psychological approaches, or prior experience they sense the Holy Spirit calling them to share their love with others. Because Jesus is enough.

Venturing into the real world, I hear of prayer in office break rooms and school hallways. I know of studies amongst friends and families which no church has organized. I see testimonies on social media which no pastor curated. I know of strangers who have prayed for me in public. Time and time and time again, without knowing who I was or what I did, people have prayed for me in airports, provided for my family in a moment of need, and ministered to me because of their love for Jesus. Jesus is a bridge between us all.

As a pastor, I am deeply moved and humbled by this.  I still see clearly the need for pastors in Christ’s church in this muddled, distracted world. It remains a privilege to ‘professionally’ preach the Word, sit with others, listen, share, and challenge to live like Jesus. I am just astonished and joyful this ministry happens so often outside of the church, and by so many. God may have known what He was doing when he put the world peace plan on the line with ‘love your neighbor.’

There is something about the good news of Jesus which compels us – no matter our calling – to share beyond ourselves and into community with others. There is something about Jesus that connects us, no matter our calling. 

And this is good news for all.

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The Grief of Leaders: Solitary & Shared by Pete Bellini

When church leaders grieve, there is sometimes a spiritual reality that makes the grief of a pastor or priest slightly distinct from the grief of other leaders. Grief and reality pair together; anytime we find ourselves grieving, we find ourselves responding at multiple levels to what we perceive to be true, as cartoons remind us whenever someone cries over a character thought to be dead, their tears changing to joy when someone proves alright. So anyone’s experience of grief may itself be real even if it doesn’t correspond either to reality or to the usual proportions of navigating this world: senior citizens with Alzheimer’s “sundowners” syndrome may at the end of the day weep at things they only perceive in their minds, quite apart from the physical surroundings of a nursing home. Young children may cry “big tears” over something that, to adults, seems quite a small thing, and yet, to the child, it is enormous; the child, who doesn’t yet know of genocide or extinction.

When we read in Scripture that Christians do not grieve as the world grieves, the point made is that we do not grieve as those do who have no hope. Another ramification is that we do not grieve as the world grieves because in terms of epistemology – how we know – by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Christ, we see differently and know differently and therefore grieve differently; we grieve many of the same things, yet some very different things. The spiritual reality in which we participate is connected to the presence of God and also to our role in the universe we affirm God created. Christians may explore and study the empirical world with joyful glee and curiosity and also express that there is this and. There is more to the world than the tangible.

So in addition to what might be called the “natural grief” that pastors and church leaders encounter, there is the grief that echoes, originates from, returns to, and expresses the heart of the Trinity – a kind of spiritual grief or lament that sees evil, sees the out-of-joint misalignment of the world, sees disordered loves, and responds with sorrow. The liturgy of the church, like bumpers on a bowling alley lane, prevents us from going off-course by any instinct to “grieve” over the evil in our world without also sitting with remorse for the lack of love in our own hearts: “most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”

So what are some of the “natural” griefs pastors and church leaders experience? They may range from sitting with someone’s loved ones to deliver bad news, to sorrow at moving to a new church, to shepherding a congregation through property destruction from natural disaster, to learning a beloved church member and friend has died suddenly. Many pastors are accustomed to encountering many more funerals and hospital waiting rooms than the average person – yet by and large, these are things that most people would also grieve, whether or not they’re a Christian.

Some of these “natural” griefs are experienced largely in isolation, like moving to a new church, while others are experienced as shared grief, like the loss of a church building to a tornado, or when a congregation mourns a terminal cancer diagnosis for a child. Though Jesus later raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus saw the mourning and grief over Lazarus’ death, and first wept with those affected by the death. This was a communal, shared grief over the death of a good and beloved man.

When leaders experience spiritual grief or lament, it brings a new – and sometimes draining or demanding – layer to natural grief. When Jesus came near to Jerusalem, what was his response? “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42, NRSV)

Unfailingly, the anointing of the Holy Spirit reshapes what and how we grieve, the actions we take in response, and how we take those actions. Unfailingly, whatever our own natural temperaments or cultural upbringing, the Holy Spirit is kind to the gaps in our awareness by gently or not-so-gently revealing what we fail to love, by what we fail to grieve – usually by allowing us to see, if we’re willing, and to grieve, if we’re willing. Unfailingly, the Holy Spirit calls us to see and apprehend and grieve what Jesus Christ grieves, not just what your Grandma grieved, not just what your culture grieves.

There are times natural grief and spiritual grief and lament overlap. There is natural, communal, shared grief over the death of a good and beloved man. There is also spiritual grief and lament over evil, when that man was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who died while leading a Bible study because an armed White supremacist was determined to follow through on his plan to kill members of a historic Black church. For Rev. Pinckney’s friends and family, the natural grief of loss collided with grief at the past and ongoing active evil of White supremacy. Those who didn’t know him personally were still able to grieve the evil that ended his life. Where did spiritual grief take family members of some of the churchgoers who died at that Bible study? Through their natural grief, their spiritual grief also allowed them to tell a young man who took many innocent lives that they forgave him, that God loves him, but that he needed God’s mercy on his soul for the lives he took. They saw both: both the horrible crater blasted in their families through the loss of their loved ones, and the damage to his own soul that this young man caused when he chose to terrorize and murder others.

Why is it helpful, as a pastor, to ask yourself if you’re experiencing “natural” grief, or spiritual grief or lament, or a combination of both? Because they’re dealt with in different ways. Good therapists, strong support systems, healthy life rhythms, friends in the same vocation, sabbaticals, emotionally healthy discipleship, antidepressants, all these can at times be helpful to anyone grieving and to pastors and church leaders in particular.

Spiritual grief also needs those good foundations in place, yet comes with that earlier and. There is the tangible world, and. Why does the Holy Spirit allow us to see, to perceive and apprehend, to join our mourning to the revealed heart of the Trinity that spills out a fraction of the grief of God at the suffering and evil by, in, and toward humans and creation?

Spiritual grief allows you to pray differently; beyond outer circumstances into the reality with and beyond. Spiritual grief cues you to pay attention, to make room to pay attention, and to practice the hard work of listening and discerning between your own grief or responses or ideas, and God’s. Spiritual grief allows you to see and act differently, when God allows you to come face-to-face with suffering to which you’d previously been oblivious. Spiritual grief drives you back to the Word of God as sustaining, irreplaceable, life-giving, and perspective-setting; truly, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Spiritual grief is understood by and to a degree also carried by mature people of faith who have a deep life of intercession and deep experience of both the grief and the joy and confidence found in the practices of the life of faith.

Grief of any kind is never comfortable. We would outrun it with busyness, if we could, or hide from it silently as it prowls back and forth, or give voice to it, longing to broadcast our tormented howls daily on a loudspeaker.

Whatever month grief first appears, however long it stays, once a year, the church marks a day where “natural” and spiritual grief or lament overlap. On Ash Wednesday, Christians set aside a day for grief – we grieve mortality; we grieve, perhaps, those we have returned to the earth; and we grieve the decaying effects of evil, and the reach of evil into our world, into even our own hearts. And then, we turn our eyes toward Lent, and the long road to the cross, and the shaking road away from an empty – an empty – a definitively empty tomb, that proclaims the last word, anchoring even spiritual grief in the reality of hope; because both spiritual grief and hope find their origin in the heart of God, who enters our dusty mortality, weeps with those who weep, and sets all things toward the inescapably new.

Thanks to Dr. Pete Bellini for his related insights on the spiritual gift of prophetic intercession.

Elizabeth Glass Turner is Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent.


Featured image courtesy Kira Porotikova via Unsplash.

Overcoming Antagonism: What You Can Learn from Nehemiah by Edgar Bazan

At our church, we’re spending time in the book of Nehemiah and learning how it is that amazing things happen. So far, we’ve explored how amazing things happen when we pray, when we plan, and when we work together. Consider with me now how amazing things happen when we overcome antagonism.

Let’s quickly recap the context of the book of Nehemiah. The historical context of this story is the fifth century B.C. About 100 years before, the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem. The walls and the city were left in rubble, the Temple was sacked and burned, and many people were taken as slaves. However, over the years, some were allowed to return – only to discover the city was still destroyed and deserted. It was a terrible reality of sadness, loss, and anger.

Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem, but when he heard reports of its condition, he requested that the Persian king (who he served as cupbearer) allow him to go back to the city of his ancestors, in order to rebuild it. Nehemiah prayed for months and put together a plan, so when he made his request, he was ready to go. Once he arrived at Jerusalem, he surveyed the land and city and called on the people to unite in the work.

The Eroding Effects of Antagonism in Nehemiah

In Nehemiah 4, things start to get more complicated for Nehemiah and the people. They began to experience powerful antagonism against their work. This is what happened:

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he mocked the Jews. He said in the presence of his associates and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish—and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “That stone wall they are building—any fox going up on it would break it down!” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)

These two men, Sanballat and Tobiah, apparently were not happy but deeply disturbed when they heard the wall of Jerusalem was being rebuilt. They were so aggravated that they were described as “angry” and “greatly enraged.”

The rebuilding of Jerusalem was an offense to them, so they tried to stop the work through intimidation and mockery. They began to call Nehemiah and the rest of the people “feeble Jews,” mocking their beliefs to discourage them so they would stop the work. Take a look at the questions they raised to make Nehemiah and the others doubt themselves:

“What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish; stones that are burned?”

Their purpose in asking these questions was to mock the people and cast doubt on the project by ridiculing their efforts and faith. Sanballat and Tobiah were trying to make them second-guess themselves and their aspirations. They attacked their capacities and their faith by basically saying, “What you are doing is pointless and wrong because you are wrong and your ideas are bad”!

Still: the work did not stop, and the walls of Jerusalem continued to be rebuilt as the gaps were closed. However, this triggered a threat of violence against the Jews. In verse 8, it says that, “they were very angry, and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.”

What is this, if not an insidious attempt to discourage them from doing what they knew in their hearts was right, what they knew was God’s purpose?

The Eroding Effects of Antagonism in Your Life

Have you ever experienced anything similar? Maybe a family member, friend, or someone else bullied you into stopping by causing you to doubt yourself or your abilities? What happened to you? Did you get discouraged, doubt yourself, and stop the work?

What a shame it is when people you may know choose to act this way against those who are trying to do good. That is exactly what is happening here. Sanballat and Tobiah are powerful antagonistic figures in this story. They are evil critics who bring nothing but discouragement to those working for a good cause. Whether they were moved by jealousy or hate, their goal was to stop the construction of the wall.

When the Strong Ones Fall

Sometimes, no matter how strong and confident you are in what you are doing, everyone is susceptible to discouragement. Even as the people had a plan and were working together with one mind, some of them began to lose heart.“Then Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” (Neh. 4:10)

Did you notice what they said? “We can’t rebuild the wall.” In addition to the opposition they were facing, the work was difficult and logistically complex (“so much rubbish”), and they were getting tired and discouraged.

This was a disturbing development. Judah was supposed to be the strongest and bravest tribe. Historically, it was the tribe of kings. So hearing that workers from the tribe of Judah were getting discouraged and tired meant a major challenge and potentially a catastrophic blow to their work. If the strongest among them was beginning to lose faith and confidence in their capacity to do the work, everyone else would follow.

That was the most dangerous moment, because the only thing that could really stop the work was if the people lost confidence in each other. This was not a battle against blood and flesh; it was one in their minds and hearts.

How Nehemiah Countered Antagonism

So what happened? Did they stop? After hearing Judah was about to give up, this what happened next:

“After I [Nehemiah] looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.’” (Neh. 4:14)

Nehemiah reminded them of the “why” of their work: that they were rebuilding for their families and each other. Nehemiah put their minds and hearts back together by telling them, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” He did not deny the reality of the challenges they were facing but reminded them of their faith and why they were rebuilding.

After this, an amazing thing happened: the hostile plots against them were thwarted, and their enemies shrank back. All this time, their enemies didn’t really have the power to stop the work; that is why they used intimidation. So once the people recovered their faith, stayed together, and remembered their purpose, they overcame the antagonism. Their victory was less about defeating their enemies and much more about not losing themselves.

Do you see what is happening here? Just as the threats made them doubt and forget their purpose, remembering their faith and the gift of rebuilding the wall united them and reminded them of who they were.

My friends, we can’t overcome challenges and enemies if we forget who we are and what we are fighting for. We can’t overcome our challenges if we let fear and discouragement rearrange our minds and hearts to doubt ourselves and forget God. We can’t overcome antagonism if we give up on our work.

How to Overcome Antagonism through Nehemiah’s Example

Learning from Nehemiah, what do we do to overcome antagonism, then?

First, we need to ask for help when we are threatened by discouragement and fear. Since chapter one, we see Nehemiah seeking God and asking for help through prayer. When his enemies were mocking and threatening them with violence, he did little to engage them. Instead, he talked to God to stay focused.

This means prayer is sometimes less about what we ask for and more about what happens to us when we pray. Prayer gives peace and clarity of thought to see what is happening and we need to do about it. What are the challenges you are facing right now? Talk to God about them; pray. Start by telling God what you want, what you need, to say, and then ask for help. You will begin to see the power of prayer in your life.

Second, to overcome antagonism, we need to reorganize our priorities. As we pray, we get new insights in order to do what we need to do. This is what Nehemiah did when he acted promptly to protect the people as the threat was increasing.

For example, in 4:13, Nehemiah “stationed the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” They were rebuilding the wall, but they were also ready to fight back if their enemies attacked them. This “reorganizing” discouraged the enemy from attacking them, and it encouraged the people, because they knew they could defend themselves if they needed to.

For you, this may be about reorganizing your life and what matters to you. It can be a difficult practice; changing behaviors, long-held ideas, or even shaping your own character requires focused commitment in order to change the direction of your life. But once you reorganize priorities, things begin to fall into place. If anything, antagonism can then make you stronger, because it has bolstered your strengths and capacities and forced you to make hard, long-overdue changes you need. This is what we call “growth.”

The final thing to overcome antagonism is not to forget God is in your life. When the people were close to giving up, Nehemiah reminded the workers, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord.”

Even in the face of opposition, Nehemiah knew the success of the wall depended on people not forgetting their faith. He reminded them God was with them. This was not only a source of security; it was also a source of inspiration: “God is with us, and we will rebuild our homes!”

This is good news! Greater is the One who is with us than anyone who is against us! God is always with us and will never leave us!

Instead of focusing on the threats of the enemy and the negative voices from outside or within, remember God’s words, God’s goodness, and God’s power. Recall all the things God has already accomplished as well as God’s promises of what is yet to come.

So don’t let antagonistic voices take away your life, dreams, and confidence in the gifts God has given you. Don’t let the antagonists take over you. Their threats are worthless and powerless against your faith and the presence of God in you.

Whatever problems and challenges you have today, know this:

  • You can ask for help; you can pray
  • You can change your direction by reorganizing your priorities and allowing yourself to grow.
  • Most importantly, you can remember God is in your life. Since before you were born, God has been with you, and never left.

Remember God. It will help you remember who you are and what you need to do.


Featured image courtesy Matthias Groeneveld via Pexels

A Pastoral Posture Toward Social Media by Andy Stoddard

My undergraduate degree is in chemistry.  My desire was to be a doctor, but the Lord had other plans.  I’ve sometimes wondered, “Lord, if this was you plan, couldn’t you have led to me to an easier degree?!” But maybe God did that so I could learn one fact that I actually think about a lot: darkness doesn’t actually exist.  Darkness is simply what it is not; it is the absence of light. When light enters into the darkness, the darkness no longer remains, because darkness cannot exist where light is. 

This must be significant when we think of how many times in the Gospels that Jesus either called himself Light or said that his followers are to be a light. This is a world that has significant darkness to it.  As Christians, it is our job to be light, God’s light, in those dark places. 

One of the places that may seem the darkest today is social media.  All we have to do is look around Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media sites to see our worst impulses. Name calling, mocking, divisiveness, so many areas of division and darkness.  I have many friends who have gotten off social media completely, and I can’t say that I blame them. The Bible warns to us avoid such pointless division. (Titus 3:9 – “But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”) So we should all log out and delete our apps, right?  Maybe. But maybe not.

As a pastor, as I’ve seen more darkness and division on social media, instead of giving it over to the darkness completely, I’ve felt compelled to shine a little light, especially in the days of COVID, where my friend list will be the largest congregation I preach to.  And that is what I’m doing: I preach.  Now, anyone who knows me knows that I preach a little different. I may think of it as preaching, though to the average person on social media, it may not look like that. But just like every sermon I preach, I’m trying to point to Jesus, and I do the same with my use of social media. It just may not look or seem like a sermon. Frankly, I think that says more about our sermons than it does about my social media usage. 

With my social media presence, I try to do a few different things.

  • Be transparent. First and foremost, I try to be transparent.  About the only compliment I really appreciate is when folks tell me I don’t act like a preacher. What that means is that I just act normally. Folks aren’t used to their preacher acting like a regular person, and we preachers don’t always put down our guard enough to act like normal people (which we are). So, I make fun of myself.  I talk about music or wrestling.  I make fun of friends.  I admit when I’m tired or sad or angry.  I post authentic things that are actually happening.  It is real.  So, when I talk about Jesus, that is the same thing. Real. 
  • Don’t take myself or life too seriously.  I want to make people laugh. I believe we’ve all just gotten too self-conscious.  I want to “preach” without being preachy or condescending.  I never, ever, ever, want to talk down to anyone. We should point to truth with a twinkle in our eye. Many of us have forgotten how to laugh or lost our joy and our ability to find joy in life.  I want people to laugh again. 
  • Help people think.  This may be my main goal. I try to never tell people what they have to do, or even what they must believe.  I remind them of what Christians believe, or what the Bible says, or what our church teaches. I try to help people do their own theological reflection. If you and I impulsively react to everything nowadays, then no one thinks. One of my goals, especially on complicated and controversial issues, is to help people to think for themselves, in light of what Scripture and church teaching show us. 
  • Focus on grace, grace, and more grace.  The world is so hard today. We need beauty, we need grace. We need hope.  We need peace.  I want us to do what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  I want to help us focus on what is good. 

John Wesley would go where the people were and preach to them.  He preached in the fields, in the streets, wherever they were. That’s how I try to see social media.  I want to shine a light: provide some biblical commentary, some laughter, some realism, but always, hopefully, a little light.

The world is dark today and has always been.  But there is and has always been light and beauty. That’s the space we should operate from.  We have an obligation to shine light on social media and all throughout our lives.  We have a call to be salt and light in every area.  May it be so.


Featured image courtesy Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

Unwanted Holiness by Elizabeth Glass-Turner

As the United States screeches with discord and distrust, the people in pulpits and in pews are exhausted. Some had loved ones piloting evacuation flights out of Kabul. Others have spent long hours working in crowded ICUs, nurses or chaplains or doctors breaking down in tears. Firefighters on the West Coast have their pick of blazes incinerating once-lively trees to ash, and in some parts of the South, the power is beginning to blink back on. Who wants holiness if it looks like this?

Somewhere along the line, we get the idea that holiness requires energy. Sure, we know that sanctification is a gift of grace to be received. Naturally. Countless Christians in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition have experienced some kind of moment in which God comes to us to do something in our hearts that we are powerless to do ourselves. We know this. We know that works of piety and works of mercy – spiritual disciplines, caring for poor, broke, or incarcerated people -we know those actions don’t create holiness. They are a response to grace; they make room for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in us and through us. We know that sanctifying grace is a gift.

And yet.

It is easy to get the idea that holiness requires energy.

How will you grow if you’re not getting yourself to a Bible study or small group? How will you foster the grace of Christ at work in you if you aren’t seeking out ways to serve others, at the food pantry or through the altar guild or volunteering with, heaven help them, the junior highers?

Of course churches need volunteers.

Of course you want to grow in holiness.

But the hundreds of pastors, church leaders, professors, and chaplains I know do not feel an overabundance of energy right now. Between executive function fatigue (decision fatigue) and constantly putting out fires and choosing between making 50 percent of people angry or the other 50 percent of people angry and attempting to construct any kind of planning or scheduling with a viral variant that’s 1,200 times more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strains, there are very few pastors with the energy they think they need to be holy. There are very few nurses, doctors, or nursing home workers with energy for anything other than showing up and doing what has to be done.

Can holiness look like this?

Can holiness look like exhaustion, burnout, panic attacks, depression, crisis intervention, peace-keeping – even numbness?

Can I tell you something?

Some of the holiest people I’ve seen in the past 18 months have looked just like that. Some of the sweetest anointing has enveloped leaders who are tired, grieving, exhausted, burned out, or even numb.

You do not have to have energy to be holy.

This is something elderly people in long-term care facilities already know. It’s just something most people don’t want to have to learn personally for ourselves – because energy is power; control; agency.

And if you’re asking, dear God, how can my numb trauma be holy? then I invite you to listen to an audio version of 1 Kings 18 and 19 – when Elijah the prophet is in a showdown with the prophets of Baal. God honors Elijah and sends fire from the sky. But afterward, Elijah’s life is on the line. He is exhausted. He runs. He curls up too tired to do anything to protect himself. Fed by divine intervention, he runs more, to take shelter in the mountain of God. And God does not come to Elijah in an impersonal show of force, in crashing theophany. God gently arrives in the still whispering rustle, and Elijah is safe to pour out his heart and his heartbreak. After he does, God quietly reminds him that as alone as he feels, he is not alone. And to relieve Elijah’s burden further, he directs him to Elisha.

It seems to me that one of the most tender moments in these two chapters comes in 18:30 – “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come here to me.’ They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down.” The prophets of Baal had been frantic, mutilating themselves, calling on Baal. But when it is Elijah’s turn, there is a sense that this is an act of grief, a labor of love: rebuilding what had been torn down, taking 12 stones and building an altar “in the name of the Lord.” (v. 32) What do you rebuild? You rebuild what you love. Where there is grief in the ruins, there is hope in the rebuilding. But it is manual labor: hard work, smashed fingers, bruised thumbnails, a sore back. His hands must have been so tired, his muscles strained. What a beautiful labor of love. No frantic shrieking; just the loving repair of what had been in ruins.

What an offering to give to God: smashed fingers, bruised thumbnails, a sore back – an altar that had been desecrated, repaired.

If you believe holiness requires energy, it will be easy to believe you can detect when it is you are being or acting holy. But most genuine holiness, I am convinced, accompanies your lack of awareness of it. It is accidental – incidental. It happens behind your back, when you’re not looking. It shadows you on your off-days.

There is a holiness of proximity that has nothing to do with energy.

It is proximity to Christ, and it is proximity to the overlooked people Christ loves.

You do not have to have energy to be in close proximity to the quiet warmth of Jesus Christ.

Elijah collapsed and didn’t care if he lived or died, after running away. It was God who enabled him to travel: “the journey is too much for you.” (19:7) When he reached the mountain of God – he slept. (19:9) Only after he rested, did God ask him what brought him there. Elijah’s strained brain chemistry could not detect the presence of God in the overwhelming sensory stimuli of loud sounds or shaking ground or bright light; he did not have the energy for that. So God whispered.

The holiness of proximity is standing, sitting, or lying in the safe presence of God, however you feel, however you don’t have the energy to feel.

There is also a holiness of proximity when you draw near to people others are ignoring. Mother Teresa exemplified this well. The embodiment of the Beatitudes is a sacred thing to witness. Blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the merciful. When you care for sick bodies or cry with grief-stricken loved ones, you are in the proximity of the blessed ones; you are blessed when you are merciful to them.

You do not have to have energy to be holy. Your exhaustion, your grief, your numbness – none of those things keep you from being holy. Whether or not you feel the presence of God, you are so close to the side of Christ that you shine when your back is turned, when you’re not even aware of it.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

What are you doing here, Elijah?


Featured image courtesy Marek Piwnicki via Unsplash.

Leading like Ananias: Prominence vs Significance in Pastoral Ministry by James Petticrew

“Prominence does not equal significance in the Kingdom of God.” I am not sure who said that first, but whenever I hear it my mind always goes to the book of Acts and Ananias. No, not Ananias who with his wife Sapphira lied to the Apostles and tried to defraud God and met an unfortunate end, but the simple believer we only hear of in a couple of verses in Acts 9. My fellow Scottish minister William Barclay called him one of the great forgotten heroes of the Bible and I want to do a little bit to help us remember his significance for our leadership.  

You know the background; Saul has been on a violent crusade to stamp out the fledgling Church. He is now on his way to Damascus to carry out the next stage of this literally murderous campaign. Then he meets Jesus and everything changes.  Saul is told to go to Damascus. Luke tells us this is what happens next.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’

 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:10-19)

Tom Wright makes this comment about our unsung hero: “We know nothing about him except this passage, and it’s enough: that he was a believer, that he knew how to listen for the voice of Jesus, that he was prepared to obey it even though it seemed ridiculously dangerous.” (N.T. Wright, Acts For Everyone) Wright’s words capture why Ananias is my unsung hero. Although we have few recorded words from his lips, his life speaks loud and clear about what it means to follow Jesus. He reminds us that being a disciple is about openness and obedience to Jesus. Ananias was a simple believer who was open to hearing the voice of Jesus and then was prepared to obey it wherever it led and whatever it cost. His life is a reminder to us that openness and obedience to Jesus are the essence of following Jesus.

We see this willingness to hear and obey Jesus in his encounter with Saul. To understand the full significance of what happened on Straight Street, remember that Saul had been carrying out a terror campaign against Christians. There is every chance that Ananias knew people whose death Saul had been responsible for. In all likelihood, Ananias himself was on Saul’s hit list for Damascus. Jesus tells Ananias to go and meet the man responsible for the death and torture of some of his friends and fellow believers and who was out to harm him personally.

 I wonder what I would have done in that situation?

I wonder what my first words would have been to Saul?

The first thing Ananias did was to go to where Saul was. He obeyed Jesus. He obeyed despite the fact he seems to have had worries that it might be a suicide mission. Once he heard Jesus’ words, Ananias was willing to obey whatever the personal cost to himself. Now there is an example that the contemporary church could do with embracing.

I never fail to be deeply moved by what Ananias does and says when he finally encounters Saul. “Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul…’” I find that nothing short of incredible.  Ananias embraced Saul, the arch-enemy of believers. The first words that Saul heard from a fellow believer following his conversion was not “killer,” but “brother.”

The only explanation I have for what happened in Judas’ house is that at some point, Ananias had heard Jesus say that his disciples had to love their enemies, so that is what he did. No questions asked. Saul couldn’t see Ananias but, in his words and embrace, I suspect he felt the grace and acceptance of Jesus through his fellow believer’s hands.

As a leader, I wonder whether Ananias’ example suggests I have been guilty of making being a disciple way more complicated than it is? This last year I’ve been caught up in theologizing and strategizing about discipleship, as our church tries to get serious about being and making disciples. But Ananias reminds me that fundamentally, I need to challenge people (and myself) to simply make time to hear Jesus’ voice and then do what he says. (I said it was simple, not easy.)

We are a congregation of ex-pats here in Switzerland; many of our people have stressful jobs that consume time voraciously. It’s a familiar challenge – I think our enemy successfully pulls us into a cycle of busyness which leaves us with little room to be open to hearing Jesus. I have been contemplating whether or not we are obeying Jesus – not because of stubborn disobedience, but because we are not making the time to hear what he is saying. After the Covid restrictions are rolled back and church life goes back to “normal” will that “normal” have enough space built in to allow us time discerning the voice of Jesus?

Does your life? Have you regularly cut out a chunk of time to be open to Jesus? Recently, a powerful revival has broken out at Longhollow Baptist Church in Tennessee. Its pastor, Robbie Galatay, has spoken about how this revival can be traced back to him finally scheduling time to simply be with and be open to Jesus. There is a lesson there for all of us in leadership.

I am in the final phase of my ministry now. In all likelihood, I am never going to be a megachurch pastor whose sermons attract millions of views on YouTube.  Nothing I write will knock My Utmost for His Highest or The Purpose Driven Life off the Christian bestsellers list. A few years after my retirement, I doubt if many people will remember my second name. But as I contemplate that, I come back to my original thought: prominence doesn’t equal significance in the Kingdom of God.

Was Ananias prominent in the early Church? No. But did his ministry have significance? Of course it did! Ananias’ ministry of love and prayer to Saul unleashed into the world a spiritual tornado whose impact is still very much with us. I wonder if Ananias lived to see the impact that Saul-turned-Paul would have? I wonder how many other people Ananias loved, embraced, forgave, and prayed for in his ministry? I wonder what impact they made? His ministry reminds me that my ministry may not have prominence, but in the Kingdom of God it can have a significance I cannot even begin to imagine.

Can I remind you? That’s true for you too, wherever and whomever you minister to.


Featured image courtesy Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

Why Did the Women Disciple the Men? by Omar Rikabi

Back when it was “a different time” – in this case, just 1992 – the pastor warmed up our mens’ Bible study with, “Why did the woman cross the road…What’s she doing out of the kitchen in the first place?” Before the chuckling died down, he continued his opening act: “How do you fix a broken dishwasher…Kick her in the butt.” 

Twenty-five years later, my oldest of three daughters says, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a boy.” She’s helping me set up the Communion table for worship in an hour, because the advantage of being a pastor with three daughters is every Sunday is “take your daughter to work day.” 

“Why?” I ask, unprepared for this conversation when my brain is tangled with mic cables and my upcoming sermon. 

“So I can be a pastor like you,” she says, pouring Welch’s grape juice into a chalice.

I wince. “Who says you can’t be a pastor when you grow up?” Answer her question with a question. Make her think about it, I tell myself.

“Because aren’t all the preachers in the Bible men?” she says.

It’s the season of Advent, so we talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus. About how she’s the first disciple, because she was the first to lay down her life for Jesus. And how before she delivered the baby, she delivered the first sermon in the New Testament:

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

      and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

    and he has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:46-49)

We don’t often look to Mary as disciple or preacher. We take our cues from Moses, David, Peter, Paul; we only look at Mary once a year at Christmas, and even then to reduce her and her womb to a utilitarian role. 

Opening Scripture, my daughters find a world where prophets and leaders from the home to the throne were determined by bloodline, gender, and birth-order (a.k.a. the firstborn male of the right tribe). All because of the dreaded word, patriarchy: when women were property of their fathers and dowry-ed off to be the property of their husbands, their children and legal rights belonged to him. He could divorce her with a word, so she kept her head covered and mouth shut. 

But – in those same Scriptures, my daughters read stories of women encountering God and leading God’s people. Like Hagar, the slave woman whose womb was also reduced to a utilitarian role. She is the only person in the Old Testament to directly give God a name, and she names him, “The God Who Sees Me.”

Or Deborah. When Israel was under oppression because of their corruption and dysfunction, they cried out to God for help. God gave them a woman. Before they had kings, Israel was led by judges known for either their legal or military leadership. Deborah was a prophet who happened to be a judge, and she had both – so much so that when Barak, the leader of the Israelite militia, was sent into battle, he said, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

And Ruth, who is described by the Hebrew word meaning “warrior.” Oh, and she was an illegal immigrant who saved Bethlehem with integrity and courage. Or Esther, who did the unthinkable and went public before the king, saving her people not with looks, but devotion to God. 

How about Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin and the first human to prophecy the coming of Jesus while her husband doubted, and so an angel shut him up. Or the five-time divorced Samaritan Woman, who encountered Jesus at the well. She went back to testify and lead others to him, and a lot of folks in her village were saved. 

And my favorite, Mary and the other Mary. Just as two women were the first to preach about Jesus’ birth, these two women were the first to preach about his resurrection. They went to the tomb while the men were scattered. 

Daughter, look at these women who, like Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, are used by God to preach the good news and disciple your dad. And not just in the Bible.

My grandmother, who when I asked why some of the words in the Bible were in red, took that Bible and told me who Jesus was; Cindy, the pastor who led my confirmation class; Jeanine, a mother who called me out on some sin my freshman year of college and set some boundaries; Peg, who led me through inner healing and warned me numerous times of hang-ups in my life; Jo Anne, who’s preaching challenged me to not compromise the call on my life; Miriam, who’s preaching taught me what holiness really is and how to pursue it; Amanda, my co-pastor in college ministry who called out my weak points in ministry and stood up to fraternity boys dehumanizing women. 

Most importantly, there’s Jennifer, my wife and our kids’ mother. She’s in the garage using her tools and air compressor to repair a car engine or refinish furniture while I’m cooking dinner or cleaning the toilet. But she also leads our house, makes the rules, and assigns the tasks. We both do, and so in our mutuality I can be led and submit to her because we submit to each other.

Daughter, someday you can preach and disciple me too.. You already are.

So I stand my daughter in the pulpit, where she is pretending to preach like her dad, and tell her about Peter’s sermon on Pentecost when he drops the words of the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…’” (Acts 2:17)

Did you catch that, daughter? 

Prophets are the preachers who declare, “This is what the Lord says.” And now the prophets are your sons and daughters, no longer determined by bloodline, gender, and birth-order. There is only one manner of leadership in the church, and it isn’t gender or even credentials. The qualifications are to be called by God, anointed by Jesus, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit

This is no joke, but the story of good news for women. And as Dr. Sandy Richter, the woman pastor-professor who taught me reminds us: we need to tell that story, and tell it well. 


Featured image courtesy Joshua Hanson via Unsplash.

Phoebe Palmer and the Day of Days by Ryan Akers

A while back, a well-known pastor made remarks about a female pastor that were distasteful and offensive. While respecting the pastor’s different viewpoint knowing full well that not all followers of Jesus agree in all areas of doctrine, I was disappointed with how the view was expressed regarding women as pastors. I have three daughters and I want them to know that God loves them, wants a relationship with them, and will empower them to do amazing things when they fully surrender their lives to God, just as God will use men when they do the same. For me, this includes the belief that God calls women to be fully ordained pastors. (This reflection is not meant to give a verse-by-verse biblical defense of women in ministry. If you would like more information on that, I encourage you to click HERE.)

Instead, I’m highlighting a female historical figure, one I have discussed with my oldest daughter: a woman named Phoebe Palmer, who was a prominent female pastor at a time when women were not allowed to vote. We discussed Mrs. Palmer after my daughter showed a desire to experience mission work and went on her first international mission trip. She just so happened to go with a group from a denomination that does not support female ministers. I was troubled when she messaged me and said, “I have already been told several times that God would never call me to be a pastor. How could I be a missionary if God doesn’t let me preach?” Then, after she heard the comments by the pastor I mentioned above, she asked me again about being a woman and what freedom she will have to preach and teach.

If you do not know anything about Phoebe Palmer, I encourage you to discover more on your own. She was born into a strict New York Methodist home in 1807. She eventually married a respected physician named Walter Palmer. During the first ten years of their marriage, they experienced the devastating loss of three young children, the third of whom died tragically when gauze curtains near the cradle accidentally caught fire. (1)

Rather than this experience causing her to turn away from God, eventually, she came to completely entrust her life to God. Palmer spent many years as a private Bible teacher, but she began to feel a longing for a deeper experience of faith. On July 26, 1837, God filled her with a special sense of the Holy Spirit that she would call “the day of days” for the rest of her life. (2)

Because Palmer lived in a time when it was not common for women to preach, she was hesitant at first to share her experience with men until a Congregational minister named Thomas Upham received the fullness of the Holy Spirit under her guidance. After that, she chose to set aside the social convention of the day and spoke to anyone who would listen. (3) Palmer spent the rest of her life as a writer, preacher, teacher of holiness, and social justice warrior. It is estimated that her influence led to the salvation of at least 25,000 people and helped thousands more learn how to live out sanctified lives. In A Global History of Christians, Paul Spickard and Kevin Cragg say of Palmer, “She was more than a preacher. She exemplified the nineteenth-century Protestant synthesis of evangelism and good works. She was the moving force behind innumerable urban social service projects. The most widely known was the Five Points Mission in New York City, which provided housing, education, and religious instruction for poor families.” (4)

Her ministry influenced the perception of women in ministry. “By the end of the 1850’s, Palmer had reached the high point of her preaching career, as both men and women viewed her as a leader. She not only brought the sexes together in worship, she also advanced the role of female preachers. She had become a prominent religious figure at a time when very few women rose to positions of power in America. Other women involved in leadership roles performed their services in their homes. Palmer was one of the few who took her message on the road and in the process, became the recognized spokesperson for the Holiness movement.” (5)

The story of Phoebe Palmer has given my daughter faith and boldness to believe that if God could empower Mrs. Palmer in such a powerful way, God can empower her as well. Additionally, Mrs. Palmer’s story shows men and women alike that whatever God calls us to do, we are to humbly but boldly obey, regardless of the social conventions of the day. I told my daughter, “How sad it would have been if Mrs. Palmer chose to stay quiet in fear of the men who would speak against her. Her ministry would not have eternally influenced thousands of people. How sad it will be if God calls you to preach, and you stay quiet. If God calls you to speak, then speak, and trust God to give you the courage to stand firm no matter what.”


1. “Phoebe Worrall Palmer,” Encyclopedia, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/phoebe-palmer

2. Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 182-183.

3. Paul R. Spickard & Kevin M. Cragg, A Global History of Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 290.  

4. Spickard and Cragg, A Global History of Christians, 290.

5. “Phoebe Worrall Palmer,” Encyclopedia, 2019.


Featured image from a volume contained in Southern Methodist University Bridwell Library Special Collections and Archives.