This thing has happened lately, and every single time it leaves me bumbling and fumbling and overwhelmed. A male pastor, in his 60s at least, attends a conference I’m teaching at, finds me afterward, and says something like:
“I am so moved by what you said. Will you pray for me?”
“I read a book you wrote, and it has changed our entire church because it changed me.”
“What do you think I should do about _______? How should I lead?”
Then, normally pretty composed, I get choked up and awkward and over-emote and act weirdly inappropriate like try to hold their hands or put my head on their shoulders. Not at all creepy.
I cannot explain how this moves me. First of all, the girl thing. These leaders are from a generation where women did not preach or speak at pastors’ conferences or advise men spiritually or write books they read. Men were at the helm, and women simply didn’t have a seat at the table. This paradigm comprised the majority of their ministry careers, unlike the young bucks who are more accustomed to leading alongside women.
The humble nature of these men my dad’s age, offering me gracious respect with teachable spirits just leaves me undone. I am so challenged by their humility and can’t help but contrast my fire and flash. This deference to the kingdom, treasuring it through whomever it rises, resisting the instinct to elevate an authority dispute, has changed me. Ironically, it hasn’t made me power drunk and proud like the fear rhetoric suggests but more tender, softer, bowed by humility, committed to imitating my brothers in Christ. (It also makes me want to hold their hands evidently. I don’t know. Thank you for understanding.)
In the spirit of these pastors, to the groups, coalitions, denominations, movements, those who practice dissimilar theology or understand God in unfamiliar ways or follow Jesus differently than I do: Please forgive me for prioritizing your labels over your value. That is polarizing and tends to make a straw man out of the extreme factions of any given ideology. We are more nuanced than our most vocal representatives make our tribes out to be. I am overly compassionate to the spiritually disoriented and unfairly critical of those under the steeples. We needn’t be unanimous in the Body of Christ when we’re all redeemed by the same mercy. I might not agree with your every position, but neither must I disagree simply to mark my own territory.
May I, too, celebrate the gospel wherever it rises. None of us will get all this right; better to herald the common places and extend the benefit of the doubt. God’s fingerprint is everywhere; none of us own the rights to His endorsement. If a believer on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum says something good and true, may I say without hesitation, “Amen.” I’m often afraid to identify with certain people lest I be labeled with their brand, but that is foolishness. The gospel is always beautiful, and I am not in singular possession of its power. That is so arrogant. May I bend my knee to Jesus wherever and in whomever He reigns.
Secondly, I lean hard on the church because I love her. My generation and those after me are walking away, so I bang the drum, wave my arms, jump up and down with wild eyes and constantly push. I stand in front of these men and trot out sobering statistics and urge us to reimagine old forms and beg us to stop doing a bunch of crappy stuff we do. I’m not gentle like John; I’m abrasive like Isaiah. It must be a nightmare for these people. I’m like the least favorite speaker on the docket, and hearing how the church is losing ground is painful for men who’ve logged the last 30 years in the pulpit.
So to hear these pastors my dad’s age tell me they are listening and how their congregation gave their shoes away on Easter and cancelled stale programs and altered their entire trajectory toward serving their community… I.just.cannot.even. Here is where words fail me. Reimaging the kingdom after this long is nothing short of heroic. Will I stand in front of an aggressive teacher half my age challenging long-held values and pushing on my role one day and still be teachable? Can I even do that now? Or have I burrowed so deeply into my pet perspectives that I cannot be led anew?
I can only imagine how the next few generations will evaluate the church we are leading one day. We don’t even know what we don’t know. We are doing the best with what we know, exactly like all the leaders who came before us. Plenty of our practices will come under scrutiny one day, as well they should. Culture will continue to shift and our wineskins will become brittle, though they were once new. And despite the changing methods, Jesus will remain, and these brothers have led me toward humility, to treasure the kingdom over the constructs, not just 30 years from now but also this very day.
Love for the truth can so easily become arrogance. It is shockingly simple to lose the thread. For times I’ve disparaged old forms without honoring the faithful Christ-followers who shouldered the church in their generation, please forgive me. Your leadership raised me to love Jesus. I will certainly get a dose of my own medicine one day, and if I am half as humble and tender as you are, it will be a miracle. Oh that your wisdom would leach down into my fiery, zealous heart.
Yes, you know I value prophecy and believe the church needs to acknowledge some cold hard facts. Yes, courageous truth-speakers are ever needed and the state of the Bride requires urgent boldness. But perhaps what will transform the Body most is an influx of humility, reaching across party lines and gender barriers and denominational affiliations and theological debates and generations and preferences, and lock hands with one another, celebrating the gospel wherever it rises.
And if you’re a 63-year-old pastor who tells me you’ve read a book of mine and are reupping for the kingdom, don’t be alarmed if I grab your hand and sob on your shoulder. I’m just a passionate 38-year-old woman who hasn’t mastered her emotions yet. One day, Lord willing, I’ll be an incredible as you.