Blog Hopping – answering questions about writing

My friend, Amy, asked me to participate in this blog hop. We met first online via my friend, Rebekah, who I will introduce to you below. Amy attends and ministers in a country church in my hometown. I love that we have Cordova in common. Then we were together in a incourage writer’s group online, and she helped critique and better some of my words. Recently, we met in person as she joined the bible study that I am hosting at my house. You can read her thoughts about jumping into bible study with me here. I have loved getting to know her and was excited to participate in a blog hop, which is about fun and relationships – what blogging is all about.

As part of the blog hop, everyone who participates is to answer the following four questions, so here I go.

1. What am I writing or working on?

Three things:

1. I have been working on the Reforming Church series. I have enjoyed working on it because I have been able to discern a felt need for the series and because I write it solely based on the overflow of what the Spirit leads me to say and write, which is in some ways different than in other pieces I write.

2. I am also beginning to work on a series about hospitality, as I will be leading a hospitality mentoring group at church soon.

3. I guess about a year or year and a half ago, I signed up for Jeff Goin’s Tribe Writers course, and I never made it past module 1. :) So slowly and surely, I am attempting to work through the course, which prompts me to create pieces that I might not otherwise write.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about faith intersecting life, which is not uncommon for faith bloggers to do. When I moved from my old blog, which was a mommy blog, I did so because it became increasingly about my faith, and the writing became more devotional. I write about my kids, but I also respect my kids’ privacy, and so choose intentionally not to write about all their stuff on here. So this blog was born in a way, as a place to write without limits. For a few months, I wrote anonymously about my own childhood stories. It is hard to write authentically and honestly about your stories when they affect others, and your family may disagree with your thoughts. I tried that and then began writing about the grace I was experiencing, and this blog became devoted to grace. Over the past 3 years I’ve been writing in this space, I suppose I have worked on improving as a writer, and the topics change. It is all still in the lens of grace, but I am not sure what my genre is. I suppose it is bloggy memoir in many ways, with a bent toward using stories to help others. I am still learning how to write as all writers always are. So sometimes I explore the craft of writing here, the artfulness of writing, etc. Mostly my work is different because it is written by me, through my experiences, my voice, my thoughts, my beliefs.

In regards to the Reforming Church series, my work is different than say what Amber Haines did or what Rebekah Gilbert is doing because I am writing to those in the church – who on some level feel like they belong but who have been wounded. I think Amber and Rebekah write more for those who feel they don’t belong – the underground church. As of yet, their pieces are more gritty. I think as the series has progressed, I see that I am writing to a specific group of people here in Birmingham, but hope that it reaches anyone who would visit and be thoughtful about the state of church today. In no way would I condemn church. I love it too much, but I do feel change is needed. I don’t know that my pieces will be gritty as I finish, but I’d like to write grittier on occasion.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Imagine with me for a minute, a person who is mute, unable to speak, but has plenty to say. The only way they communicate is by writing a few words down on paper. I really began writing because I was emotionally mute. I wrote about the muck and mire because I’ve been there. Writing, itself, is a form of grace for me. I have learned that I cannot live without it. It is soul oxygen. So first of all, I write to give freedom to myself. Second of all, I write to give freedom to others. I write to set captives free – including me. This is my most authentic way to communicate, and while I’ve learned not to have expectations about who read, it stings to realize those close to me are not interested in the depth of who I am in my writing. However, writing has taught me how not to be mute and to speak up vocally and authentically in person as well.

4. How does my writing process work?

First of all, I live. I make observations. I people watch. I think. I do a whole lot of each one of those. That is first. Then, the thoughts must be given rest, and so I write. Writing helps me to realize why I am bothered, or what I think about my thoughts, or why I am thinking about whatever I am thinking about.

Next, I listen. I listen to others, I listen to myself. I listen to the Spirit. Sometimes I write in response to needs and to answer the call of the Spirit.

My writing is not the best it could be because I often write spontaneously with little editing. Did I just tell you that? oops.

In regard to my last post, “Reforming Church: selling us,” I wrote a rough draft first. I reread it a few days later; I let my husband read it. It was unfinished – just a skeleton of words. Much needed to be added to make it a body. I left it alone for weeks. One because I was addressing leaders. During those weeks, I thought about it some more and researched and listened to the Spirit. Then I was ready to begin the final process, and I adding a great deal more, but it was now in an order that did not flow properly. I printed out my work each day I worked on it, and made red mark edits and additions. The Tribe Writers class helped that piece to speak with authority because I learned to cut out all of the wishy washy language like, “I think,” “it’s a fine line,” etc. I would do all I could to make it better, and then set it aside each day. Then the next day I would look at it again with fresh eyes and read it aloud doing the same thing as the day before until it was finally finished. I used these editing strategies given by Denise Hughes. So overall, I spent more time on that piece than any other, and it was the most well received. I should be taking care of my audience and my editing more often.

So, with that let me introduce you to some other bloggers and writers I know.

1. Rebekah Gilbert – A New Song to Sing

Rebekah Gilbert is a writer and singer/songwriter. She loves to compose words and music that tell stories that speak to the soul. She is on a spiritual journey of finding beauty in the messiness of grace. Rebekah lives in Alabaster, AL, with her husband and three girls and blogs at http://www.anewsongtosing.com.

Rebekah’s family moved to the small town I grew up in during her senior year, and so for a year, we were in the same church her dad pastored. We didn’t really know each other then, but we connected when we joined fb through our love of writing words.

2. Mary Boswell – The Calm in His Presence

Mary is a wife of 15 years, mom to 2 beautiful children and daughter of her Heavenly Father. She and her husband Jeff seek to honor God in their marriage & raising their children. Through each twist & turn life has thrown them during their marriage they have learned more about God’s immeasurable Love and Grace. With two young kids Mary’s days are anything but quiet. Mary writes at her blog The Calm of His Presence where she shares what God is teaching her during the quiet & sometimes not so quiet moments of her day. So, won’t you take some time out of your busy, hectic day and join Mary as she sits in the Calm of God’s Presence at www.thecalmofhispresence.com.

Mary and I met at Allume last year, and I am so glad I did, because we ate practically all of our meals together. She was a God-send when I was a small fish in a big blog conference pond. She made everything about Allume more comfortable for introverted me.

3. David Dollar – Clouds in My Coffee

David Dollar is a husband and father who loves 90s nostalgia, Billy Joel, Hootie & the Blowfish, early Jennifer Knapp, audiobooks and writing.  In addition to his blogsite, he also co-hosts a movie podcast called The Deucecast, as well as helps people as a professional Disney Travel Planner.  He follows Christ, loves his family and studies pop culture, praying regularly for a dcTalk reunion.   Follow him on Twitter at @davedollar and follow his Disney page on Facebook at facebook.com/disneyonadollar.

David and I attend the same church here in Birmingham, and within our little body, I suppose we are known as the bloggers. David has been a great encourager of my writing. He is currently helping Daniel and I plan a trip to Disney.

Reforming church: selling us

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This church stuff is a weighty topic, thus the reason it has taken me much longer than anticipated to write this – not as though I don’t love weighty topics, but I want you to hang out with me because this post is going to need some “‘splaining to do” said in my very best Ricky Ricardo voice. I am asking God to guide me as I write this post in particular because I want my posts to convey truth in a compassionate and graceful way to anyone in leadership over me or otherwise. Let’s dig in.

We sell the gospel. We sell ourselves. We sell our leaders. Our leaders sell us.

In the last post, I mentioned have it your way church, and we looked at driving thru. I told you that in this post we would look at the ones being served as we drive thru. We want to be noticed when we are served. We don’t want to drive-thru mindlessly without eye contact in the face of faster and more, more, more.

Vanity Vanity

There is an art to leadership that has been lost in the face of bigger and better for the kingdom. Shepherding a flock of believers is no longer enough for many leaders today. They make provision in the name of God to do “BIG things.” In our faster paced culture, we’ve lost the art of contentment, and being “small” is often not enough. Shepherds need book deals, speaking engagements, and numbers to drive their ministry.

Anything done in the name of the Lord that the Lord does not desire us to do is vanity. If I say I write this blog because God directed me to do so, but in fact He did not, I take the Lord’s name in vain. Only Jesus knows the hearts of His shepherds, but is everything genuinely done for the Lord?

Feeding your ego or gaining a following as a result of ministry is not new. There have always been superstars for Jesus. To reiterate my last post, are these men contrite? Either way, are we not one in the body? All equal members united in service and purpose? If it seems leaders make much of themselves, something may be amiss.

Selling Members and Losing Sheep

If our leaders are driven to do more by us or of their own accord, they inadvertently sell their membership. If we are going for bigger, better, faster, more, what pastor has time to develop personal relationships with his congregation? If a pastor or shepherd does not know his congregation, how can he shepherd them? At times, it seems to be a tradeoff – find the lost men and reel them in or care for the ones in your fold. We must not do one at the expense of the other. We misunderstand the parable of the lost sheep when we do. We must feed the body and allow it to work together while searching for the lost.

Some shepherds are so busy trying to attract more sheep that they are busy losing part of the original flock, and sadly, many are not actively searching for the sheep who become lost. No earthly shepherd is the Good Shepherd. He does not know if the ones leaving are part of the lost or part of the flock. As in the parable, a shepherd makes sure the 99 are safe, and then he starts out on a potentially life threatening path to reach the one lost. If an earthy shepherd does not know if a sheep is part of the flock or part of the lost, how can he assume that a church member who leaves is going to a safe place? He must treat those who leave like lost sheep, care for them, and bring them back to safety. Until they’ve rooted themselves into a new church body, they are still his sheep to seek after and care for. If he doesn’t know his flock, he will not realize they are missing. He must be intentional to build relationships over agenda. This needs to happen before sheep stray. Otherwise, the sheep will not know if the shepherd is safe when he seeks to bring them back into the fold.

Losing Sheep due to Image Building

If a pastor is into image building, he may make changes to his business model which cut out members of the church body. This is where wounding of the church body occurs. This causes sheep to scatter. You all know stories of staffing changes that cause mass turnovers in the church body. Staff changes do become necessary, but they must be done in a way that does not promote image building and that administers grace to the fallen sheep and the wounded body affected by business models. Otherwise, we self harm the body of Christ, and while Christ does tell us to cut off body parts in the case of recurrent sin, self-mutilation is intended to be a last-ditch effort. Ultimately, we are to be healed and to keep one another from wandering away. If grace is not administered, chaos and disorder abound instead. We must consider James 3:16, which says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

If we are members of one body, why do we think it is okay to sell one another? cut one another off? and stand in opposition to one another all for the sake of an image? My friends, this cannot be. It is grievous.

Shepherding without Integrity

Pastors may sell out their congregants when they are seek self gain, either in the eyes of the world, church growth, or their own denominational leadership, or because they’ve forgotten ethics. Consider Mark Driscoll. He bought a marketing strategy that allowed him to be a best-selling author. His integrity was compromised, he regretted his decision, and he retracted his best-selling status. Leaders are being taught that marketing the gospel is good stewardship of the message itself. I know because I have heard this message, and I bought it for a while.

When God began opening my eyes, there was a news article going around at the time about Stephen Furtick and Elevation Church. I don’t know anything about Stephen Furtick other than this article. I’ve never read any of his books or listened to his sermons, and I don’t know whether he used people to manipulate mass baptisms. However, the document produced by his church did seem to imply that he would set up people in the audience in order to create momentum to spur people to baptism. He denied the claims and said he was being persecuted, but it was nevertheless concerning to me. The thought that using manipulation to maneuver people into following God truly is scandalous and reprehensible. I agree that when we as believers follow God whole-heartedly we will receive criticism and persecution, but our integrity should stand alone. When it is called into question, we need to take an honest look at whether or not our integrity has indeed slipped.

I once heard a leader say he had the worship service down to a science in how to get people to respond, and indeed he did. He said that some people call it manipulation but that he saw it as stewardship. Why does a leader need to defend whether he is manipulating someone in the first place? A manipulator will manipulate his point to the death.

An Example for Shepherds

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Brother Lawrence

Today I heard the story of Father Damien. He was a missionary to Hawaii in 1864 to 1889. He died when he was 49. Some would say his life was too short or that nothing could be accomplished in such a short span. When he came to Hawaii, there was a health crisis, and many men and women were moved to Molokai to a leper’s colony there. He was the first priest to volunteer to serve and live among the lepers. You might guess that he too became a leper. He accepted a death sentence, and lived, died, loved, and served among the least of these. His life is an example of reaching down and washing dirty feet. He lived and died as Christ. What would it look like if our leaders were willing to die for us? And what would it look like if we in turn died for them? Are we not Christ unto one another? Through dying, we bring life to one another.

Finding Sheep

While this list is not exhaustive as to why church members leave, what if they leave because they’ve inadvertently been taught to dine at the next fast food church? or what if they leave because they are tired of being sold by pastors in favor of whatever bigger and better thing the shepherd seeks? What if they are hungry for a real meal? and what if they want to know they are accepted at the table? It is important to seek the lost, those outside the faith, but it is equally important to care for the body when it is sick, as it is.

The solutions are not complex, but may be hard to practice. Stop giving people fast food. Give them a real meal on which to feast. Slow down and get to know the people God’s given you to shepherd. Practice contentment within your local body of believers. Stop marketing the gospel, prostituting the body, and tear down idols. Do not cut off members for the sake of your church image. Offer love in all ways at all times and always continue to administer grace.

What if there was a return to the church, a revived interest in truth, because “they will know we are Christians by our love”?

 A Note to Scattered Sheep

Express your concerns before you leave. Try to follow the model of forgiveness Jesus has laid out for us. Consider your heart – how might you love your enemy and lay down your life for your church body? If you must change church bodies, look for a place where grace is taught, rest is valued (you will need to heal), and entertainment and self idols are cast down. Ultimately, look for a place that loves the gospel so much, marketing it is not an option.

Do not give up on the institution of church and stop going altogether. We need you. You are a kingdom asset. Serve the broken. Feed the body. It might just be that you out of all of us understand how to do this best. Remember that never once has Jesus stopped being your Good Shepherd. Church is broken because we are all fallen sinners. If she is sick, she is also healed, because as sinners, are we not declared righteous as well? In Christ, the bride of Christ is broken yet righteous. So come home.

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

1 Corinthians 12:18, 22-25

On Speaking Life

on speaking life

I know this woman. Every time I am with her it is like I am in a torrential downpour of negativity. There is no dam to stop her flow of words and thoughts. They come at a rate of hurricane status, and never once do her words slow to ask me how I am or […]

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Happy Harper Home Journal 1: on stillness and quiet

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It is quiet. My kids are up, but the only sound I hear is the fan blowing in my bedroom and my fingers clicking the keys, and the occasional pause, as I pause to reflect on what to say and to type. Summer is over half over here. I begin to mourn a bit for […]

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How to Give when everything says Give Up

Widow's Mite

I will be back next week with Reforming Church, but since this week is VBS, I will give you a glimpse of that. *****  The good church girl is not supposed to say that next thing I am going to say: I dread the week of VBS. Oh I remember how when I was a […]

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FMF: Release

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“Release” Come softly Come swiftly weary or afraid Dear Child of Zion– Release burdens at my feet. You are mine, loved, adored. I created you. I release you from the oppressed, the chains, the doubts and fears. Fall softly, tenderly, into my arms– your forever home. My release gives wings to fly. Fly big. Fly […]

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On Silliness, Family Life, and HSP vulnerability

Annabelle

My granny always called me her sunshine. That made me feel special, and I miss that. I miss my granny and my daddy and all my loved ones that I hope are in Heaven. Tonight I was just wanting to write something else, something less serious than church and reform, and be creative and have […]

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Reforming church: selling leaders

Not only do we sell ourselves, but we sell out our leaders. There are several ways this happens. We are all in this together. Regular pew dwellers like me and leaders have sold themselves and so we perpetuate cycles of sin and decay. In the leadership, this looks like this: we only look for charismatic, […]

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Thank you

Were it not for the Lord, I would cease writing my series on the church. Oh yes I would. Although almost every bit of it was written before I started it, it is not fun to send out into the world a message no one wants to hear or to receive unsubscription notices in my […]

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Reforming Church: consumption

If you are just joining in, you can see previous posts to this series here. I am calling us all to take a serious look at ourselves, and I am going to start with me. The other day I bought my kids character beach towels just because all the other kids have the character beach […]

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