Category Archives: God, Church & Stuff

A Moment in Church: Women, Kavanaugh & Proverbs 31

I had a moment at church last week. The reading was Proverbs 31, and I had to read it to the congregation. Just a few days before, at book club, I listened quietly while we discussed two books on feminism. Proverbs 31 came up and the women in the room expressed frustration with the expectations that passage has put on them.

So, this frustration fresh on my mind, I had to step up to the podium and read Proverbs 31. For those who don’t know, it’s the account of the nearly perfect woman. In many Christian circles it’s held up as the example women are to aspire to. Continue reading A Moment in Church: Women, Kavanaugh & Proverbs 31

Faith in the Darkness

I’m spearheading an event at my church this week about faith in the darkness. We’re bringing in local author Addie Zierman to talk about what we do when God feels far off, whether it’s tragedy or hardship or just the malaise of daily struggles.

We’re in the midst of the bitter cold darkness of winter here in Minnesota, and while it’s starting to lighten up, this is a struggle we know all too well.

I’m a big fan of Addie’s debut memoir, When We Were on Fire, which chronicles her early love affair with evangelical culture (which I can relate to) and then her slide into adult faith—which included bouts of depression and near-alcoholism.  I thought Addie would bring the ideal perspective of someone who understands that life isn’t about the ideal.

It all dovetails nicely with Addie’s new memoir, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. I finished reading it last week and loved how she’s still a mess. She’s still struggling with the darkness and most of the book is about her attempts to literally run away from it.

But she can’t.

And neither can we.

Case in point: Last week a woman from our church died unexpectedly. Margaret Ryther was 56, a mother of five and her youngest daughter was 16. She died in her sleep.

That was it. Just never woke up.

I knew Margaret best through our book club. Every other month a half dozen of us would gather at my house to talk about our latest book. Margaret was one of the faithful, always with an opinion or perspective to share, always with a passion for books.

She couldn’t make it to our last meeting in January when we talked about When We Were on Fire—her husband had been out of town and she felt she needed to stay home with her daughter (talk about a small moment that now feels very profound). But she gave us this impression of the book via email:

Am enjoying the book.  We were the parents of kids during the 80s and 90s, but the home school version, which has its own bittersweet legacy. Funny thing is we were never very good at living up to the image and expectations, so even though I think we really wanted to be on the perfect Christian family bandwagon—it took much more energy than we had, and our efforts to control our kids to perfection, of course, backfired.  Oh the things we learn and the price we and our children pay.  So glad for a Redeemer who sees all our foolish strivings and still claims us.

When I initially planned this event, I was thinking about darkness more in just feeling lost in our faith. Not in any grand sense of loss or tragedy, but just in that way darkness can have an almost physical presence. The way sometimes our faith feels weak and empty, and we wonder what’s wrong with us.

I didn’t really think about the tragedy of death. I wasn’t thinking about husbands losing their wives or 16-year-old daughters losing their mothers.

I was thinking about depression, but not anything that depressing.

Turns out death is so common. Last week Addie also blogged about death, about driving down to her cousin’s funeral on Ash Wednesday.

And so even if we didn’t think it was that dark, it is. Life haunts us. Friends struggle with divorce or cancer or whatever tug of despair is pulling at them.

So I feel like this event is necessary more than ever. Surely every week at church we’re reminded about light overcoming the darkness. But sometimes it’s hard to translate that pew-side perspective to the rest of our lives.

It’s hard to recognize our “foolish strivings,” as Margaret said, and be thankful that our Redeemer claims us.

I’m looking forward to this event on Thursday. Probably building it up too much now, but even the act of pulling this together and pushing back against the tide of darkness feels like a necessary act, worthy in and of itself.

This is the work of the church.

God has a history of going quiet with his people. His silence stretches over years, over countries, over generations. But it’s not an abandonment, it’s an invitation. It asks something different of us than the fire does. It asks for our trust, for our hope, for us to stay as the night darkens around us and we can’t hear a thing. … Love doesn’t always look like romance and faith doesn’t always look like fire and light doesn’t always look like the sun—and that this matters. (Night Driving by Addie Zierman)

Churches Suck at Welcoming People

UnwelcomeWalking into a church for the first time can be pretty scary. Churches aren’t very good at making people feel welcome. Which is why I’m proud to be part of the new book, Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm.

It helps churches realize where they’re dropping the ball and scaring people away, whether it’s over-eager greeters hugging people (yikes!) or a cold congregation reserving seats (icy!). Jonathan offers practical tips and ideas, drawn from his vast church experience. He’s got funny stories that make the medicine easier to swallow.

You can grab some sample chapters at UnwelcomeBook.com to get a taste.

“‘Narthex’ sounds like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book. Make your signs visible and understandable.”

My Role in Unwelcome

This is the first CFCC book I didn’t contribute anything to, but I did handle the editing, proofreading and I’m very involved in the marketing. Rather than being bummed I don’t have my name on the cover, it’s kind of cool to see other folks’ stuff getting out there. Jonathan has a lot of great insight and experience (this is his fourth book this year alone!). I was also thrilled to get Kem Meyer to write the foreword.

“Don’t ask what it can hurt. Ask how it can help.”

Unwelcome Launch Week Sale

We’re also doing a big push this week only, so if you’re interested in Unwelcome, grab it now. The digital version is $7.49 and the print is $9.89, this week only. Next week they’ll go up to $9.99 and $12.99 respectively.

“You can’t force your congregation to be welcoming, but you can cast vision.”

10 Years of Church Marketing Sucks

Ten years ago today, on July 22, 2004, a little website called Church Marketing Sucks went live. Our very first blog post went up and we’ve been challenging the church to communicate better ever since.

We’re still going strong today, and we’ve been throwing a month-long anniversary celebration for the month of July. After all, you only get to celebrate a 10-year anniversary once. We’ve got giveaways (T-shirts!), discounts and lots of posts exploring whether or not church marketing still sucks. We’re also doing a hangout next week and more is still coming.

It’s kind of incredible to be involved in something like this for so long. I’ve been the editor of Church Marketing Sucks for 10 years. In this day and age few people get to do anything for 10 years, never mind work on a website.

Church Marketing Sucks has out-lasted the fads, lived beyond the hype and been around long enough to become one of the dinosaurs of the Internet age. And hopefully we’ll be around for a while longer. We’ve been debating the question, but I’m convinced that church marketing does still suck. We’ve got work to do to help churches share the greatest story ever told.

Everything we’ve accomplished so far is really thanks to the vision and dedication of Brad Abare and the team of directors, board members and volunteers that make what we do happen. Brad not only had the vision to start this up 10 years ago, but the commitment to see it through and the trust to let someone like me run it.

Any number of things could have derailed us over the years. But I’m incredibly grateful for the dedication that made us a long-standing voice. I’m still humbled and thankful to be doing this, and I hope to be at it for a while longer.

Here’s to more frustration, education and motivation.

The World Is Not What We Think

China is poised to become the “most Christian nation” in the world:

Prof Fenggang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

Muslim women get more dignity in Middle Eastern mosques than U.S. mosques:

As someone who has had the privilege of exploring mosques in many different places, I have to say that North American mosques are—with a few notable exceptions—among the worst I have seen in terms of the access and dignity afforded to women. The best? Iranian mosques. By a long mile. The world is never as black and white as it seems.

(That comment by G. Willow Wilson was also repeated at the Festival of Faith and Writing, where she gave an interesting rationale:  the difference in how a religion acts when it’s in the minority vs. in the majority.)

Talking Church Comm on the Social Media Church Podcast

I appeared on the Social Media Church podcast this week talking with host DJ Chuang about church communication. The conversation started with my work on Church Marketing Sucks and how it got started nearly 10 years ago.

The anniversary of the first blog post is coming up in July and the initial idea actually came about this month. Whenever I stop to think that I’ve been working on Church Marketing Sucks for a decade I’m just blown away. That’s a dinosaur in Internet years. To be at the helm from the very beginning, to still be doing it and still loving it—I’m incredibly thankful.

The conversation continues into a bunch of church communication topics, including the evolution of social media, the role of communication directors, multiple channels, announcements and more. If that’s your zone, check it out.

And you’ll have to forgive my frequent use of “um”—I’m a writer, not a speaker. Though it’s something I know I need to work on.

Here are a few quotes to give you a taste:

“People of faith, all throughout history, have stepped into these technological advances and said how can we use this to share this gospel? How is this part of our lives and how can we take the gospel wherever we go?”

“It’s a lot of work to do and you need to know how to write and how to navigate the Internet and they’re kind of specialized skills. A lot of pastors have the theological training, but they don’t teach you how to build a website in seminary. They don’t teach you how to use a Twitter account. They don’t teach how to use a lot of these tools, so a lot of these pastors just don’t know.”

So go listen to DJ Chuang and the Social Media Church podcast.

Complicating the Single Narrative

At last week’s Festival of Faith and Writing I was pleasantly surprised that the conversation wasn’t limited to the Christian faith. I don’t know about the extent of the diversity, but I did hear from one Muslim writer and one Hindu writer.

Why is that important? Because, as Muslim comic book writer G. Willow Wilson said at the Festival of Faith and Writing, “If a belief system is worth anything it should offer value to those who don’t believe it.”

Our society is so polarized right now I think it’s more important than ever to hear from voices that are different from our own. It’s too easy to become overly homogenous and clueless of anything that’s different. It allows all sorts of negative things to blossom.

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie talks about the danger of the single story in her 2009 TED talk, when we allow a single narrative to tell the entire story of something we don’t understand. It happens all the time when the continent of Africa is turned into a single country. It’s what we do to Islam when we assume all Muslims are conservative or even terrorists.

Wilson also said that she’d never been to a mosque that separated men and women until she came to the U.S. The most liberal mosque she’d ever been in was Iran.

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it is that they are incomplete,” Adichie said. It’s not that there aren’t conservative Muslims (and even extremist Muslims), but that’s only a tiny sliver of the truth. Just as the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent all of Christianity.

Swati Avasthi, a Hindu writer who spoke at the Festival of Faith and Writing, said that in order to disrupt this single story notion, we need to make it more complex. We need to explore the wider narratives and understand things more fully.

Two great examples are Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang and Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. Both stories explore deeply divided issues—the Boxer rebellion in 1900 China and persecuted refugees in Burma today, respectively—from two conflicting perspectives. The result is a more deeply nuanced narrative. It’s not a simple, one-sided story.

I think we need to pursue those multiple narratives, the more complicated threads that start to give us fuller picture, a more honest glimpse of the truth.

Don’t be content with a token bit of diversity. Don’t assume one story about Nigeria will tell you all you need to know. Don’t be so jaded as to think a single refugee story gives you insight into the experience of all refugees.

“Let’s tell stories that humanize, rather than demonize,” said Eliza Griswold, who has done a lot of work in Afghanistan and seen firsthand the result of our single narrative. She disrupts that narrative herself with this book of poetry by Afghan women.

World Vision & Arguing Over Gay People

This whole flip-flop fiasco with World Vision (declaring one day that they’ll employee abstinent or married gay people and then reversing the decision two days later) just makes me sad. I wrote a piece about it for Church Marketing Sucks, but it’s primarily from a communication lens, exploring how World Vision tried to [rightly] focus on their mission of helping kids in poverty but in the process forgot that very mission. In short, they ended up in a fight about gay people instead of helping kids in poverty.

I think that was a tragic miscue, and I’m curious if more will come out about how this situation went down. Tony Jones claims to have the inside scoop from “unnamed sources” at World Vision (which sounds all cloak and dagger, though in this social media age that sounds totally reasonable), that basically this had been a multi-year process roll out but a leak to Christianity Today forced their hand.

However it went down, it’s unfortunate. Rather than taking a stand on LGBT issues, World Vision was trying to opt out of the discussion so they could be focused on more important things. I think that’s commendable. The fact that opting out was vehemently rejected is shameful. We’re not talking about a church, a pastor or a theological publisher—somebody dealing with theology where a stand on sexuality might actually be important. We’re talking about child sponsorship. We’re not even talking about affirming gay marriage, we’re talking about avoiding a fight.

I’m convinced that LGBT issues are going to continue to rip the church apart until either we figure out how to handle this or there’s nothing left. Actual LGBT people are hurting and struggling with their faith, and we’re too busy arguing about whether or not it’s OK to employ them. Other people see this as one more reason to walk away from the church.

Continue reading World Vision & Arguing Over Gay People

Church Communication Heroes

Church Communication Heroes Volume 1Last month I put together another yet another ebook, this one exploring heroes. Church Communication Heroes Volume 1 launched on All Saints’ Day last week. It’s another ebook from Church Marketing Sucks, our second one this year.

I’m especially excited about this one because it finds inspiration in the historical figures who have gone before us. They may not have used Facebook hundreds of years ago, but they still had to communicate. I think churches can learn a lot from history and too often we’re disconnected from it.

Church communicators may not think we have any history, but we do.

The book explores the stories of 15 saints of communication, including familiar names such as  Martin Luther King Jr. and Vincent van Gogh and less obvious names such as Pauli Murray and Pandita Ramabai. We also had a ton of great writers and an incredible cover design.

It’s also fun because it’s volume one. The plan is to roll out more hero stories in the future.

Learn more about the ebook and pick up your own copy >>