Indispensable: Women who Plant Churches

pexels-photo-113335-750x490

This article (first published at MissioAlliance.org) serves as an introductory framing to the series, “Band of Brothers: A Case Study of Church Planting in Boston.” To understand Missio Alliance’s commitment to women in ministry, you can read more here.


Church planting is as old as Jesus.

That is to say, church planting is part of historic Christianity’s DNA. In modern parlance, church planting is a core value. I would argue that Jesus’ Great Commission itself provides the marching orders for planting churches. What is church planting if not making disciples?

Somehow along the way, church planting became a man-job.

Articles posted on church planting websites refer to church planters as “guys” or “dudes.” For the most part, women are not viewed as church planters. Instead, references to women typically center on how the church planter’s wife can support her husband’s demanding ministry. Even in denominations that ordain women, the majority of church planters are men. The notion of a female church planter has become an oxymoron. But this was not the case in the beginning. . . .

Read the full article @MissioAlliance —>

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saving the Males

structure-1426309_960_720 (1)

“We are seeing a metastatic spread of ISIS.”
—David Ignatius

“Metatastic” is an apt but frightening description of the string of terrorist bombings that are ravaging whole communities and taking the lives of staggering numbers of innocent citizens—men, women, and children. The latest death toll is appalling: 49 in Orlando, 41 in Istanbul, 22 in Bangladesh, over 250 in Bagdad, and 4 in Saudi Arabia.

The first question on people’s minds whenever multiple shots ring out, as they did this past week in Dallas, is whether or not the shooting is ISIS inspired or ISIS related.

Increased security at transportation hubs and large events and urging citizens, “If you see something, say something,” are all crucial strategies. But they are targeting terrorism in motion. They don’t get to the roots of the crisis. They don’t key in on how to stop the violence before it starts. . . . New questions must be asked that drill down to the roots of what’s happening in order to address this cancer at its source. Why are young men becoming radicalized—knowing full-well they’re signing up for suicide? What is drawing them? How can we counteract what’s happening to them?

Read the full article @MissioAlliance —>

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Women Initiate and Men Respond

13614958_10209664988852479_1553066870811253840_nFunny, how we can read the biblical narratives again and again and completely miss what’s actually being said. That happens all the time when we come to the text with our own cultural presuppositions—such as the assumption that men lead and women follow.

That presupposition gets turned on its head in the ancient book of Ruth. The pivotal moment isn’t when Boaz sets foot in the story, but when Ruth digs in her heels on the road from Moab to Bethlehem and embraces Naomi and her God.

From that point on, Ruth’s initiatives and Boaz’s responses drive the action.

I never will forget the moment someone pointed that out to me.

For me, it wasn’t a moment of victory for women over men. It was a devastating awakening that as God’s image bearer I have responsibility for what is happening in his world. It didn’t inspire me to gloat. Far from it. I wept to think of the time and opportunities I had wasted believing passivity in women—in me—was okay.

I grieved (still do grieve)  because I knew that wasn’t the message women were/are hearing in the church.

So it is hard for me to contain the joy I feel when women (or men) read The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules and experience that same jarring soul awakening.

That happened to Betty Seifert, who just finished reading The Gospel of Ruth and has been posting about it on FaceBook. This is what she had to say:

Is it really ok for a woman to take the initiative in life, especially in a marriage proposal?

What happens when a woman takes the initiative & a man responds positively? Do the foundations of human society, as God designed them, begin to crumble?

When a man empowers & follows a woman, is her femininity compromised? Is she usurping a man’s role? Is his masculinity diminished?

And how do we reconcile a woman’s call to be submissive with the kind of behavior we witness in biblical stories of courageous women?

The Gospel of Ruth answers these questions & many more. Its colorful telling unfolds like a richly woven tapestry that we’ve heretofore only viewed from the underside, all haphazard stitches & gnarly knots which Carolyn Custis James turns over to let us see the finished side. That’s how good her books are!

In my ponderous progress in this remarkable & delightful book, I came across the incredible description of Ruth by Boaz, the night she “uncovered his feet”:

“Boaz uses the same Hebrew word (hayil) for Ruth that the narrator used earlier to describe Boaz as a man of valor—’the elite warrior similar to the hero of Homeric epic.'” When this term is used of a woman, it not only encompasses the traits of noble, virtuous character and excellence, it also awards her all the attributes of her male counterpart. Ruth is an ezer-warrior, fighting valiantly to rescue the Elimelech family line.

Boaz may have had cold feet in the night, but as morning breaks across the Judean horizon, his heart is deeply warmed by Ruth’s pressing him for and with “hesed”—God’s covenantal faithfulness for his people. In short, it is the gospel message taking us to a completely different realm of human relations. Boaz takes an active role in overthrowing that culture’s view of women in the words he vows to her: words of kindness, praise, and reassurance. He then proceeds to turn the ancient patriarchal value system completely upside down!!!

This story weaves a comprehensive look at submission as no less than gospel faithfulness, showing Jesus to the world!

I was sorry to have to lay The Gospel of Ruth down at the end. It became a close friend so much that I immediately started Malestrom. It’s going to be wonderful too!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Battle We Must Fight

Presentation3In the early hours of June 12, 2016, an angry, armed, self-radicalized ISIS sympathizer entered an LGBT nightclub in Orlando and opened fire. Before his shooting rampage ended forty-nine innocent people were dead. Fifty-three were fighting for their lives.

Ever since 9/11 we live with a subliminal fear of terrorism. That fear breaks out into the open with renewed intensity when there is another mass shooting. As I write, the nation is in mourning as we try to fathom the shooter’s motive and the avalanche of grief that descended on loved ones of the slain. Sorrow and fear mingle in our hearts for we know full well the potential for more violence always looms. It doesn’t help when some politicians use alarmist rhetoric to stoke and exploit our fears for political gain.

Against the backdrop of real and imagined fears, it seems mystifying that “fear not” is the most frequent exhortation in scripture. Is this just religious rhetoric? Didn’t the writers of scripture understand that we live on a perilous planet where there is much to fear?

To be honest, I struggle to put “fear not” together with the awful things that happen and because sometimes the very things we fear do happen. That has me pondering again the biblical narratives where “fear not” is spoken to women.

W1899-1-1-pma

The Annunciation (1898), Henry Ossawa Tanner

My thoughts have settled on Mary of Nazareth. She heard “fear not” from the angel when she learned she would be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:30). What did Mary have to fear? No doubt the sudden appearance of the angel was terrifying, and the message, while thrilling, was deeply disturbing since her pregnancy wouldn’t involve Joseph. What happens to a young unmarried girl who turns up pregnant in full-fledged patriarchal cultures? Mary had plenty to fear—rejection, poverty, even the threat of a brutal slow death by stoning if Joseph chose to defend his male honor.

Remarkably Mary rejected fear and courageously embraced God’s call.

In Mary’s story and stories of others, “fear not” is no pious call to super spirituality. It doesn’t mean putting one’s head in the sand and living in denial of reality. Nor is “fear not” a chastisement for experiencing fear in the first place, as though believers are immune to fear. To the contrary, it is a recognition that fear and reasons for it are real and come to all of us.

“Fear not” is a call to courage despite our fears.

Why? Because we and the women we read about in the Bible have kingdom work to do. Fear gets in the way of what God is calling us to be and do in the world he loves. Instead of pressing forward and engaging the mission he entrusts to us, fear immobilizes and leaves us cowering in the face of threats.

Turns out, Mary’s story included many other fears she had to battle. In the end, her very worst fears came true when the promised son she bore was executed in an act of outrageous injustice. Surely the angel’s “fear not” came to mind with each new crisis.

Fear is our battle too.

If, as Christians claim, evil, sin and death are on their last legs and God promises a peaceful and redeemed future, then we are freed to love, serve, and forgive, despite rejections and sufferings. We are freed to be strong in grace, defiant in love, courageous against injustice.”   —Professor John Barton, Pepperdine U

We live in a dangerous world where brutality can leap out of the shadows when we least expect it. The place the Orlando LGBT community thought was safe became a killing field. We can be prudent and cautious, but we can’t always control our environment. Frankly, we have good reason to fear. But we have solid reasons for courage too. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Aslan is on the move.” This is God’s world, and he is moving to reclaim it. His rescue operation started in earnest when the angel said “fear not” and Mary courageously threw herself, heart and soul, into God’s call. The whole world stands in her debt.

We are called to join that mission too. So we cannot allow fear of any kind to govern who we are or how we live. God summons us to be women of hope and courage, for we have kingdom work to do. “Fear not” emancipates us from fear and frees us to move forward with courage.

The angel’s admonition to Mary speaks to God’s daughters today. “Fear not.”


149718_39f13aa1c3ae4cf28893ebef88874384

First published on Really, Elisa Morgan’s blog, www.elisamorgan.com

For more about the ezer, see “The Return of the Ezer

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Women ISIS Fears

47965276.cachedReuters/Asmaa Waguih


Some news stories don’t get nearly the coverage they deserve. That happens especially when we are obsessed with Trump tweets, Hillary’s emails, and media pundits pontificating endlessly about both.

The video below contains one of those forgotten stories.


Reports of the extraordinary Kurdish and Yazidi women fighters were published by some of the media, but were quickly eclipsed by other stories. They soon dropped out of sight.

Let me remind us all. These women have witnessed firsthand the evils of ISIS. Many have lost family members to ISIS brutality. Some of their sisters were carted off and forced to become sex-slaves. Their communities have been slaughtered. Some of the fighters themselves are survivors of ISIS atrocities.

But now, these women are serving courageously alongside Kurdish and Yazidi male fighters to defeat ISIS. These female warriors pose an interesting threat to ISIS. They have stepped out of traditional female roles to engage a battle that has taken an unspeakable toll on their lives and they are doing so by choice. And, it appears, the men they soldier with are grateful to have them in the battle with them.

“For ISIS, women should be imprisoned in their homes and used for men’s own interests. They are afraid of independent, confident women. The regional military are only fighting ISIS because they are being paid to. We are all volunteers. A volunteer force thinks about the future and is willing to make sacrifices to improve it.”   —Narin Jamished, PKK Commander

“These women are the fighters ISIS fears the most. . . . ISIS is pretty scared of us girls. because they believe if they are killed by a woman, they will not go to heaven.”    Cup of Jane

Their story is reminiscent of Deborah and Jael, two ezer-warriors who courageously did what was needed in the terrible battle General Barak fought against the oppressive regime of King Jabin (Judges 4-5).

When Deborah summoned Barak to do battle against Jabin’s brutal and seemingly invincible commander Sisera, the odds were hopelessly stacked against Israel. Barak was called to lead a poorly armed (Judges 5:8) ragtag band of peasants against Sisera and his army of six hundred iron chariots—the latest in military hardware.

This powerful Old Testament David and Goliath story is another “media” casualty. The rich theological message of God’s power on behalf of the oppressed against enormous odds also gives us a glorious example of a male/female Blessed Alliance of men and women working together for God’s purposes.

That message has been subsumed by the current gender debate.

In the opinions of both complementarians and egalitarians, Barak has become the “red-faced poster child of cowardice.” Both Deborah (Israel’s prophet, judge, and commander-in-chief) and the hammer wielding Jael are criticized too.

Deborah is viewed as a “punishment” for men who fail in their responsibility as leaders. So she is summarily disqualified as a role model for women and girls today. Believe it or not, she is even criticized for singing too much about herself. I am flummoxed why these same critics don’t critique King David for the same behavior.

Jael, the tent-peg terminator who finishes off Sisera, comes under fire for being treacherous, violating ancient customs of hospitality, and being unsubmissive to her husband, a man who turned traitor against Israel.

Ironically (and this surely must be factored into how we interpret this ancient story), there is not a whisper of criticism anywhere in the Bible for Barak, Deborah, or Jael. To the contrary, Barak is named and Deborah (God’s prophet) alluded to as individuals of extraordinary faith in Hebrews 11:32-34. Jael is joyously celebrated for her bold actions as “most blessed of women” (Judges 5:24), which sounds a lot like Mary, the mother of Jesus

All of this surely means we need to take another look at their story. In which case, you might want to read Malestrom where I unpack this in greater detail.

Like the Kurdish and Yazidi women who are willing to battle ISIS, Deborah and Jael didn’t hesitate to do whatever was needed to accomplish the purposes of God. The two of them began and finished the fierce battle Barak fought in the middle. Together, they cover the entire spectrum of women and girls—from a woman who reached the pinnacle of power as Israel’s leader to a woman no one would ever dream could emerge as a leader.

Both did, and women and also men have much to learn from their examples.

We need these important biblical female role models today. Their leadership leaves us all without excuse. Their story raises important questions we dare not ignore.

  • How would embracing their story change how we tackle the challenges in our own stories?
  • How would it move us to action as light bearers in a darkened world and bringers of the good news of Jesus where there is so much bad news?
  • How would their story inform and change how we live as God’s image bearers?
  • How would we relentlessly follow Jesus into a new way of being human in the world he loves—a Kingdom people who hear the cries of the suffering and oppressed and do what they can to help?
  • How would we raise our voices against abuse and violence both inside and outside the church and become advocates for the weak and vulnerable?
  • Would we even contemplate discharging anyone from Kingdom service if we truly understood the mission Jesus entrusted to us as God’s image bearers?

These are the questions that trouble me.

Anyone—in Barak’s time or today—who grasps the scope and seriousness of the battle that was joined in Eden would never imagine telling any willing soldier—male or female—“We don’t need you.” That never seems to cross Barak’s mind, and in fact both women in his story go beyond and above anything expected of a woman. All three of them give their all to this battle. Together they exemplify the Blessed Alliance where God brought victory over Israel’s enemy through their mutually dependent efforts. Malestrom

When the ferocity of the battle and the ruthless brutality of the enemy are grasped, no one hangs back. No soldier can be spared.

That was true in Deborah’s day and it remains true today.


8d7e0-ma-logo-horizontal-300x225      Originally published at www.MissioAlliance.org/author/carolyncustisjames

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Martin Luther’s Second Conversion

Martin Luther MEME

Every once in a while, we have a major breakthrough for women.[1]

Thanks to Katharina von Bora (1499-1552), the great reformer Martin Luther came to his senses on the subject of women. Katie, a rebellious nun turned Protestant, became the wife of the matrimonially reluctant Luther who soon discovered how indispensable she was to him.

He was surprised by how capable, wise, and strong she proved to be—virtues he came to depend on.

My historian husband has a way of surfacing the good, bad, and ugly about those “heroes” of history that we tend to place on pedestals, but who repeatedly demonstrate that they had feet of clay just like the rest of us.

Luther was no exception. Prior to his marriage, he was known to say some terrible things about women.

Let me put it this way. Some of Luther’s pre-nuptial comments would fit well into the litany of misogynist rhetoric we’ve heard coming from Donald Trump.

No doubt inspired by good German beer, Luther once pontificated with certainty:

“Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.”          —The Table Talk Or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther[2]

The revelation to Luther that men “cannot do without women”—and not just in marriage—was the truth all along. Didn’t God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable (kenegdo) for him” (Genesis 2:18)?

In case you don’t already know, ezer is a military Hebrew word. It’s used most often in the Bible for God as Israel’s helper in the Old Testament (16 of 21 times) and twice for the woman at creation. It’s not a description any of us can shed. It describes every girl child born in the world and stays with her for her entire life.

According to Hebrew scholar, Robert Alter, ezer kenegdo

“connotes active intervention on behalf of someone, especially in military contexts, as often in Psalms” (emphasis added). —quoted in Malestrom

In his commentary on Genesis, Victor Hamilton writes,

“[Kenegdo] suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole” (emphasis added). —quoted in Half the Church

It took firsthand experience for Luther to see the light. In God’s providence, Luther was joined in holy wedlock to a strong ezer-warrior who proved without a doubt she was his match. What is remarkable about Luther is that he didn’t see his wife as an exception to the rule, but drew conclusions about all women from what he learned from Katie.

And now we have in print what soldiering through life with her led Luther to say on the subject of women.


[1] Luther quote cited in Donald McKim, ed., Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (CUP, 2003), p. 169.

[2] Martin Luther, The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, trans. W. Hazlitt (Ulan Press, reprint, 2012), p. 299

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Confronting the Child Abuse Epidemic

bts_0314_l_bts_cnslngtxt_redAccording to statistics, an alarming 1 of 4 women and 1 of 6 men have been sexually abused as children. 1 out of 4 children have been physically abused.

It is telling that the 1 in 8 statistic of American women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime has us all on red alert, as it should. Even professional athletes are wearing pink to raise awareness. Yet, the abuse of children, while beyond epidemic, is hardly given the attention it deserves.

Closer to home, child sexual abuse is one of the most pressing problems facing the twenty-first century church. Those same abuse statistics also exist inside the church. Tragically, child abuse is also one of the most ignored and mishandled issues by church leaders.

This problem isn’t without a solution. But churches and seminaries must take steps to educate leaders on how to prevent, recognize, and report abuse, and to provide protective and healing ministries to victims.

Does someone at your church have proper training?

Here’s one way to get started (or continue) with training in the Philadelphia area:

The BTS Graduate School of Counseling is offering HS and PA Board-Approved training on child abuse recognition on June 13 from 6-9 pm. The session meets license renewal and pre-license training requirements.

The presenter will be Mary Richter, Educator from Network of Victim Assistance.

For more details and to register, go to: http://www.biblical.edu/become-a-student/counseling/child-abuse-training

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments