Interview: Women in Missions Leadership Walk a Tightrope

Researcher Mary Lederleitner explores the confusions and frustrations they face.

What distinctive gifts do women have for the global church? Is the church helping or hindering women leaders? In Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, missions researcher Mary Lederleitner describes both the particular obstacles women leaders face and the unique blessings they offer the body of Christ. Drawing upon two decades of personal experience and interviews with more than 90 women serving in roughly 30 different countries, Lederleitner outlines an emerging model of leadership that is faithful, connected, and holistic. Amy Peterson, adjunct professor at Taylor University and author of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, spoke with Lederleitner about her research.

In your preface, you mention never having expected to write a book about women in leadership. What changed?

I’ve met a lot of women who are hurting because of divisive claims about what women can and can’t do in mission and ministry. The complementarian-egalitarian framework isn’t serving the global body of Christ well. Once you are in one or the other theological camp, the other group often wants little to do with you. Sometimes it seems like the two groups are enemies rather than people who are destined to live and serve God together for all eternity. I believe our Lord wants us to find a better way to dialogue about women in mission and ministry.

I’ve met women who are the first females to fill their leadership role in mission agencies, and they often feel so alone. Many are struggling to figure out how to lead effectively without the benefit of female role models.

What are you finding that men and women most appreciate from your research?

At a recent conference, a male leader ...

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Back by Popular Demand—Church Signs!

It's been far too long, back their back!

It’s been way too long since we ran some good church signs. They never cease to end, though, and I think we all enjoy seeing them. So tweet me some good ones and we will get this feature started again. In the meantime, enjoy the ones below.

Thanks to @sethwaldrop and Oakland church for the reminder that we are both body and spirit! Neglecting either is a fool’s task.

Thanks to @ufmikeg (aka Michael Graham) for the reminder that cultural mainstays like the Hokey Pokey can indeed teach us life lessons (though we cannot neglect important things like proper spelling for pleasure pursuits!).



And thanks to @kylewillyou for submitting this excellent play on words. Time to put on the armor of Christ, people!

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Emerging Adults: Apathetic or Indifferent to Matters of Faith?

A call to spiritual care among our twenty-somethings.

According to research, many emerging adults (those between the ages of 18 and 29) experience a spiritual slump in the years after high school. When comparing 18 to 23-year-olds with the teenagers below them, the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) reported significant declines in the number of emerging adults viewing their faith as “very or extremely important” in shaping daily life.

In addition, only 35 percent of conservative Protestant emerging adults indicated that they felt “extremely or very close” to God, down from 48 percent among teenagers in this same group.[1]

A recent LifeWay Research survey demonstrated that, among young adults between the ages of 23 and 30 who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year in high school, only 39 percent considered themselves to be “devout Christians with a strong faith in God.”

At the very time when emerging adults are making some of the most important decisions of their lives—decisions about identity, worldview, vocation, relationships, and faith—the spiritual life seems to fade into the background.

Perhaps not surprisingly, spiritual practices also reflect this downward trend. In addition to widely publicized drops in church attendance, a host of other spiritual disciplines become less prominent in the emerging adult years, including daily prayer, Bible reading, Sabbath observance, religious singing, reading of devotional materials, and personal evangelism.[2]

Interestingly, the research does not point to a strong hostility among emerging adults toward matters of faith.

Instead, it points to a growing indifference.

Sociologist Tim Clydesdale has indicated that for those just out of high school, faith is rarely ...

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Praising God Saves Me In My Pain

In the face of illness, death, and disability, Lamentations gives me a script for how to suffer.

In 2015, my husband and I opened the doors to our church plant, Renewal Church. We celebrated the tremendous movement of God in our lives and our neighborhood. But the very same week, I woke up inexplicably unable to walk. I couldn’t put any pressure on my legs whatsoever. I didn’t know at the time that this surprising illness-visitor would become a long-term tenant.

I now experience health issues so disruptive that my husband, Kevin, on more than one occasion has had to carry me around the house. While I suffer from the physical discomfort of this mysterious illness, Kevin suffers too. He made the “in sickness” vow before God and all of our friends and family without really knowing what that might one day entail. Here it is—come to collect. Come to test if we are truly people of our vows.

As if that’s not enough, there’s also the unresolved search through Crater Lake, Oregon, for a loved one, my cousin and dear friend Cameron. Park rangers have found remnants, clues: a coat, broken branches on the side of a cliff, snowshoe prints near a well-traveled photo spot—a place where many hikers before him have gone and returned safely. But not Cam. We held his funeral in an airport hangar. Photos in lieu of a coffin. Unanswered questions instead of resolution.

And still this: our youngest son’s developmental issues. His spinal-cord surgery and ongoing aftercare. His life-threatening allergies. Weeks at the local children’s hospital, months of therapy.

During this season of pain and loss, there’s a voice in my head—some combination of pastor, parent, and professor—that says I need to handle this suffering and handle it well. Learn whatever lesson God is trying ...

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Making America Hospitable for Religious Outsiders

Muslims (and other minorities) shouldn’t have to elevate national ideals above faith commitments before gaining a seat at the table of citizenship.

Eboo Patel’s latest book, Out of Many Faiths, explores the daunting challenges and encouraging possibilities at work amid America’s religious diversity.

In what might be the book’s most important contribution, Patel explores the history of America’s wrestling with religious diversity through an alternative and revealing lens—the Muslim American experience.

As a Muslim himself, Patel considers many illuminating themes and episodes from Islam’s complex history in America. He uncovers how Islam itself was repeatedly discussed by the Founding Fathers in their earliest deliberations about the nature of religious freedom in America. Countering a popular fear that Muslims came to America with dreams of dogmatic dominance, Patel reminds us that many of America’s earliest Muslims arrived on our shores in slave ships. Far from an invasion, it was a kidnapping.

Invoking another important historical episode, Patel discusses the complex and illuminating relationship America had with the great boxer Muhammed Ali and his Muslim faith. He examines the numerous ways in which Ali had to navigate being both beloved and vilified, accepted and rejected in his path toward inclusion in the greater American story.

Patel goes on to examine how Muslim Americans attempted to establish a community center in lower Manhattan after 9/11. Their original hope, he explains, was to serve not only their own Muslim community but the greater city of New York itself. That said, their hopes were frustrated by their fellow Americans, many of whom saw the community center as a disrespectful and intrusive act of religious aggression in the former shadow of the twin towers.

Patel skillfully uses the lens of American history to ...

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The Danger of “Christian” Infamy

Fallen flesh doesn’t like simply being sent. We’d rather build our own tower for our own glory.

Last week, the Send Institute ran a poignant piece by John Davidson that argued for the decoupling of church planting and entrepreneurship. Davidson writes, “Rather than framing planting as ecclesial entrepreneurship, the church would be better served if we framed it biblically. The way to do that is by calling it what it is, apostolic ecclesiology.”

He argues that the business nomenclature that characterizes entrepreneurship stands in stark contrast to the simple sentness of the biblical apostles and those who follow in their patterns. I’m a big fan of John Davidson.

Simple sentness.

Is there anything our world needs more of?

Our present missiological matrix necessitates a wholesale change in the normative ambition of kingdom disciples. This begins, at least in part, by the posture of both those leading existing churches and those starting new ones.

The public perception regarding this work might be at an all-time low. There was once a day when the mention of the word “pastor” conjured images of maturity, wisdom, and tender care. These days the term is more often conflated with abuse of power, predatory behavior, or chauvinism.

Much of this we’ve brought on ourselves. The siren’s call of the grandiose platform, international audiences, and the adoring fans, has lulled far too many of us from the simple course to which we were called.

For many, there may have been a time when “simple sentness” was the passion of our hearts. God captured our very souls with the good news of Jesus and we longed for others to experience his grace.

But something happened. Simple sentness wasn’t enough, so we continually grappled for more. In reality, Jesus wasn’t enough. As with most ...

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Emerging Adults and the Church: Is There Really an Exodus?

Are emerging adults are leaving their faith behind? We are hosting a conference to explore this question.

It seems every few weeks a new article makes the rounds on social media heralding the collapse of religion in America. Often central to these pieces is an emphasis on the role of emerging adults, focusing either on their declining church attendance or their rejection of traditional beliefs or practices.

Emerging adulthood describes that phase of life between adolescence and full adulthood as marked by transitions like marriage and kids, settled careers, and owning a home. This life stage covers people ages 18-29 or so.

So what are we to make of the claim? Are emerging adults are leaving their faith behind?

Yes.

And no.

And maybe.

Let me explain…

Let’s start with yes. There is ample evidence to suggest that many emerging adults are questioning the religious beliefs and practices of their Christian upbringing while still others are leaving church altogether.

According to the Pew Religious Landscape study published in 2015, younger emerging adults (18-24), identify as nones at a 36 percent rate compared to only 25 percent in 2007. Just last month, LifeWay Research reported that “two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.”

While many return, Kara Powell in Growing Young estimated the long-term loss at around 50 percent of those who initially left. Attempts to explain this exodus vary and often include descriptors of emerging adult spirituality like “Spiritual by not Religious” to characterize those who still value spirituality but have rejected religious organizations or doctrines as ways of pursuing their spiritual interests.

Turning to the ...

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How to Jump Back In to Bible Reading

Christian leaders have their own reasons for not reading Scripture.

It’s worth remembering that Augustine was “weeping, with agonizing anguish in [his] heart” over his inability to control himself before he read Romans 13:13–14.

We tend to think that Scripture usually works the other direction. We read seeking instruction, wisdom, or intimacy and then read a challenging word like Paul’s that prompts contrition: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” We’re convicted by Scripture, then we repent.

But in Augustine’s archetypal testimony, Confessions, that’s not what happened. First he was in anguish, then he heard a child chanting, “Pick it up! Read it! Pick it up! Read it!” He wrote (in Sarah Ruden’s 2017 translation) that when he obeyed the voice and read Paul’s words, “I didn’t want to read further, and there was no need. The instant I finished this sentence, my heart was virtually flooded with a light of relief and certitude, and all the darkness of my hesitation scattered away.” His response was not to wallow or to regret how long it took him to repent. Instead, he immediately and joyfully told his friend Alypius and his mother what had happened.

Many times the Holy Spirit really does use Scripture to illuminate our sin and to make us deeply uncomfortable. It is, after all, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). And “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11). Nevertheless, ...

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How Cracking Wheat’s Genetic Code Reminds Us Who We Are

This grain’s genome echoes of the strength found in the diversity of God’s people.

Like many kids, I grew up picking wild grasses believing that they were wheat. I would pick one from the yard of my childhood home, believing the harvest I held in my hands could be transformed into food. As I grew up, I quickly learned that the “wheat” in my yard was far from a bountiful harvest and instead was actually weeds and wild grasses.

Yet, my childhood confusion about wheat is, in one sense, understandable. Wheat is a part of the grass family. In Matthew’s telling of the Parable of the Weeds, the “weeds” represent darnel, “a poisonous weed organically related to wheat, and difficulty to distinguish from wheat in the early stages of the growth,” writes New Testament scholar Craig Keener.

In the Bible, wheat is used as a metaphor for the people of God. The scientific study of wheat prompts reflection on how what distinguishes God’s people and how our vast diversity can strengthen us all.

Wheat’s genetic makeup has baffled scientists. But last summer, after 13 years of research, a team of international scientists cracked the wheat’s genome to reveal the baffling, beautiful genetic material that makes wheat, well, wheat.

Essentially, a genome contains all of the genetic knowledge needed to create and sustain an organism.

It would be easy to assume that the wheat genome would be more straightforward to sequence than the human genome. After all, human beings are the crowning achievement of God’s creative work while wheat is a mere plant. However, the wheat genome holds mysteries that offered significant challenges to research scientists who wanted to understand this plant at the most minute level.

The full sequence of the human genome was published in 2003, ...

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Can Anti-Aging Treatments Offer Abundant Life?

Science seeks to fix aging and death. But a Christian vision of the good life might actually embrace them.

A preacher’s kid growing up in the Bible Belt, Micah Redding had a particular view of the physical world and God’s work in it. Singing popular hymns like “This World is Not My Home” and “I’ll Fly Away,” he took away this message: It’s all going to burn anyway, so why bother with the environment or curing diseases? That’s a distraction from the gospel. Our bodies don’t go to heaven, just our souls.

When he started studying the Bible for himself and reading authors like N. T. Wright and C. S. Lewis, Redding formed a theology that more closely embraces the material world. “If we believe the material world is good, we have to engage in the transformation of it,” he said. He sees science and technology as part of God’s vision for the world, which, for him, includes radical life extension.

Redding points to Isaiah 65, where “one who dies at a hundred years will be thought a mere child,” as well as the extremely long-lived Genesis patriarchs. “Scripture really places this value on human life, relationality, and productivity,” he said. “We have to appreciate that idea as part of our embrace of the material life.”

In 2013, Redding founded the Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA), a group bringing faith and ethics into transhumanist conversations. Transhumanists, who believe that human capacities can be enhanced by science and technology, hold a gamut of views. Some are anti-aging researchers applying biomedicine to improve humanity. Aubrey de Grey, for instance, who headlined a recent CTA conference, studies preventative maintenance for the human body and believes the first human to live to 1,000 has already been born. ...

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Preoccupied with Love: One-on-One with Colin Smith on Nominal Christianity

“I have found the story of the thief on the cross profoundly helpful in challenging this assumption...that entrance into everlasting joy depends on living a good enough life.”

Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?”

Colin: Church health is not the same as church size. I come from the U.K., where secularism has made deeper inroads into the culture than here in the U.S. Church attendance has dropped dramatically but, in my opinion, church health in the U.K. is better than it was 20 years ago.

One reason for this is that as nominal Christians abandon the faith and leave the church, those who remain realize their dependence on God in new ways. When numbers go down, spiritual temperature can go up, and I have seen new resilience, new cooperation, new faith and new venture in many U.K. churches.

If that happens here in the U.S., we may be in a better position than before and, like Gideon’s army, more useful to the Lord than when our numbers were larger.

Ed: Evangelism has especially fallen on hard times. It seems that everything else—even good things like discipleship—has overwhelmed our passion for sharing the love of Jesus with others. What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?

Colin: I really appreciate the focus of Amplify on evangelism. Discipling goats is an impossible task. The first priority is always that a person becomes one of Christ’s sheep.

Evangelism today needs to begin further back. For much of the 20thcentury, Christians were able to assume a basic understanding of who God is, what sin is, and why we need a Savior.

When people ...

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