God Bless the Girl Child!

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Hyderabad, India (2011

On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11 the official International Day of the Girl Child. In today’s world, there are 1.1 billion of her, and she is reason both for celebration and for concern.

Girls are curious, creative, and courageous in surprising ways. They are insatiable learners, inventive, and born leaders. It’s in their DNA.

The girls in these photos are also thriving. They are loved and nurtured. Their thirst for knowledge is being fed. Those who love them also believe in them and in the gifts God has entrusted to them. Their futures are bright, and I find it joyfully energizing to be around them.

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But not every little ezer born in the world is so blessed.

Patriarchy tilts the world in favor of boys, with appalling consequence for girls everywhere. Girls are often devalued, deprived of educated, marginalized, and even discarded. In many places, being born female amounts to a capital offense. Millions of girls have been aborted, abandoned, their little lives snuffed out for no other reason than they are girls. Girls can be considered liabilities instead of assets. In developing nations, child marriage rates are epidemic, with one in three girls married off before the age of eighteen. For her family—one less mouth to feed. But early marriage means formal education comes to a halt for these child brides.

In creating an official International Day of the Girl Child the UN “focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.”

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On this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, the United Nations is highlighting girls in crisis regions. Wars, famines, dislocation, and terrorism escalate the already high risks girls already face.

Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. In humanitarian emergencies, gender-based violence often increases, subjecting girls to sexual and physical violence, child marriage, exploitation and trafficking. Adolescent girls in conflict zones are 90 per cent more likely to be out of school when compared to girls in conflict-free countries, compromising their future prospects for work and financial independence as adults.

When the United Nations becomes a collective voice of advocacy for the girl child, it also raises the question, what is the church doing for girls? Does the church see girls as assets—not simply as future wives and mothers—but for the gifts God has entrusted to them? Do we have a vision for girls that will inspire them to reach for all God calls them to be and do? Do we value them as indispensable to the work God calls us all to do—as problem solvers, innovators, strategic thinkers, light bearers, gospel ministers now, not just as adults?

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According to the Creator, every girl child born bears his image and is an ezer-warrior from birth. When creating the female, he was emphatic that “It is not good” for her brothers to be without her. This is not because brothers need their sisters for menial tasks they can easily do for themselves. The Creator wasn’t demeaning men and boys. To the contrary, he was underscoring the enormous scope of their joint mission, the daunting challenges and fierce resistance they would face together, and the fact that the work he entrusts to humanity requires all hands on deck.

Seems the Creator was well ahead of the UN in affirming and empowering the girl child. Shouldn’t we as Christians be leading the charge when it comes to valuing and empowering the girl child in our midst and beyond?

At least one pastor thinks so. My friend Ashley Schnarr Easter was profoundly moved by that pastor’s prayer during the baptism/dedication of a baby girl–a little ezer she described as “an adorable little thing with a good set of lungs on her.”

As the pastor prayed over her, he prayed that she would always use that strong voice, that she would become a great spiritual leader and lead all of us watching, that she would do daring things so bold that others will be amazed by her courage. He prayed that she would always feel loved and welcomed by the Church and that no one would ever give her reason to feel unsafe there.

This is what the church should wish for all little girls (and boys).

Amen to that!


The Called and Courageous Girls book series is a great resource to get started with little girls ages 3-7.  A Brave Big Sister: A Bible Story About Miriam is shipping now!

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To read about a courageous girl in crisis: “Construction of the Glass Ceiling Starts Early”

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Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman

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The old adage, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” certainly rings true at Moody Bible Institute (MBI). The story of the founding of this well-known Christian institution provides a classic example of a strong alliance between a man and a woman. It also demonstrates what all too often happens: that history does a better job of remembering great men than the great women in their stories.

In American evangelical history, the 19th century revivalist, Dwight L. Moody (1836-1899) stands tall as MBI’s founder. Less known is Emma Dryer (1835-1925), the woman and experienced educator he met in 1870.

Dryer was the original visionary, inspiration, and impetus for the school.

Also noteworthy is that fact that from its founding, MBI was ahead of the curve in their commitment to train women for vocational ministry. Long before Christian colleges and seminaries were admitting women and decades before women gained the right to vote, MBI was training women.

Moody and Dryer shared the conviction that training women for ministry was strategic for the spread of the gospel in America. Together they were intentional about acting on that commitment. Initially their educational efforts focused on women’s significant potential as evangelists to reach other women and children.

But their alliance created a new and broader vision as Moody recognized Dryer’s giftedness as an educator, Bible teacher, and evangelist. As the story goes,

“Moody asked Dryer to oversee a ministry specifically to train women for evangelistic outreach and missionary work. Under Dryer’s leadership, the training program grew rapidly, and so did her desire for this ministry to reach men as well as women. She continued to pray that the Lord would place the idea for such a school on Moody’s heart.”

After founding two schools in Massachusetts (one for girls and a second for boys), Moody ultimately came to share her vision for a school in Chicago. In 1886, he launched the Chicago Evangelization Society that ultimately became the Moody Bible Institute.

MBI is mindful and proud of their feminine heritage and the accomplishments of their female graduates. Their 2017 Missions Conference will highlight the legacy of their feminine side and pay tribute to a constellation of female leaders that Moody trained.

So this Monday, October 9, I’m heading for Chicago where I’ll be speaking on the Blessed Alliance at MBI’s 2017 Missions Conference. This is one place where men and women serving God together comes with a long history.

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The First Great New Testament Theologian was a Woman

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“You know, there have never been any great women theologians.”

The speaker was my favorite seminary professor, and his words stung me. His statement, which was so disparaging and deflating, quickly morphed into a challenge I couldn’t ignore.

98f82-51252bzw3wezhlThe stake my professor drove into the ground that day triggered a quest that changed my life and shapes my entire ministry. The importance of theology for women became the focus of my first book—When Life & Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. That book is a manifesto for the female theologian, and by that I mean, not just a select few women, but all of us. In it I drive my own stake in the ground by making the case that “the first great New Testament theologian was a woman.”

Professors need to be careful about what they say to female seminary students.

Mary the Rabbinical Student

Naturally my search for a great woman theologian started with Mary of Bethany—the Bible’s quintessential “thinking woman.”

My first task was to free her from the effects of generations of the habitual downsizing of women in the Bible. Her three-part story suffers from long-held negative assumptions about women that for generations have held us back and proven costly to the whole church.

Mary’s choice to sit at the feet of Rabbi Jesus identifies her as a rabbinical student (Luke 10:38-42). Her sister Martha’s objections juxtapose Mary’s behavior with the culturally assumed “proper place” for women in her day—the domestic sphere. Jesus defied all expectations when, instead of sending Mary scurrying back to the kitchen, he defended her in the strongest possible terms:

“There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her” (Matthew 38:42, emphasis added).

Mary’s growing theology—what she believed about Jesus—was put to the fiercest test in the death of her brother Lazarus. His death was an outcome Jesus easily could have prevented, but shockingly chose not too. The awkward meeting between the tardy Jesus and a weeping Mary was punctuated by her bewildered theological words,

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

In her blinding grief over the death of her brother and Jesus’ failure to come, Mary, like everyone else, reached for her theology. As I often remind myself, “The moment the word ‘why?’ crosses your lips, you are doing theology.”

Jesus took Mary to a deeper level of trust through her dark night of the soul. Theology isn’t academic. Theology is life and the fuel that feeds our faith when our world collapses in on us and we are struggling to trust God. Mary learned through struggle that no matter how dark things got or how depressed she felt, the safest course of action was always to trust him.

She would live out this deeper theology in a radically bold new way when time was running out for Jesus.

Mary on Mission

It happened at a feast to honor Jesus. His enemies’ plot to kill him was coming together, but his male disciples were in denial of the terrible events Jesus told them were coming. Mary entered the room clasping an alabaster jar. That jar contained the secret of her mission: twelve ounces of pure nard. Nard was what the ancients used to pour on a corpse. It was the aroma of death, and everyone in the room knew it.

In a room full of men, Mary approached Jesus and anointed his body with the nard. Against a wave of criticism, led by Judas Iscariot, Jesus not only defended her actions, he interpreted their meaning.

“Leave her alone. . . . It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7).

Against the common notion that Mary didn’t understand the significance of her actions, Matthew’s account brings clarity. He records Jesus expressing what her actions meant to him and linking them to the gospel.

“She has done a beautiful thing to me. . . . When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:10, 12-13).

If done in ignorance, Mary’s anointing was highly offensive and a terrible act of unbelief—a symbolic act of surrender to his enemies. But to Jesus, her actions expressed an unbending solidarity with his mission and to his gospel.

No one knows how much she understood about Jesus’ mission, but it is clear that she understood enough and knew him well enough to become his only disciple to say “Yes” to the cross.

And for a brief moment, Jesus’ isolation was broken. An ezer-warrior was standing with him in the battle. And we are witnessing a breathtaking example of the Creator’s words in Genesis that “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Was the first great New Testament theologian a woman? I rest my case.

Not “Trying to Do Women a Favor”

When the Synergy Women’s Network passed the baton to Missio Alliance, and Missio leadership launched SheLeads, the men of Missio weren’t trying to do women a favor. They were and still are acknowledging that they need their sisters in Christ—their theology, gifts, and leadership—if they hope to become the men God created them to be and to do what he is calling them to do. They’re convinced they personally and the Body of Christ corporately are strongest when men and women serve God together. If the Creator’s declaration was true for Jesus, it is no less true for his sons today: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Saturday, October 28, Missio Alliance will host the second annual SheLeads Summit for both women and men in Pasadena, California. If you can’t make it to Pasadena, you can watch SheLeads live-streamed in several different cities around the country or online for small groups or in the privacy of your own home.

To learn more and register, go here.


Originally published at MissioAlliance.org

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Something to ponder . . .

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Photo credit: Allison James

I’ve often wondered if our best worship leaders shouldn’t be coming from the scientific community.

When scientists investigate the endless frontiers of creation — probing upward in the universe and downward into the microscopic intricacies of the atom and DNA — it makes sense that they would be the first to fall on their knees with songs of praise to the Creator, whose wisdom envisioned, planned, and created such marvels.

The legendary sufferer Job wasn’t a scientist, but that’s exactly how he responded when God took him on a nature walk. Somehow, contemplating God’s creation and how beautifully it all works together under his all-seeing eye reminds us that our God is a Master Architect who knows what he is doing, even when his ways are baffling to us.

This is why we must continue pouring over those blueprints — the ones he spread out in the opening chapters of the Bible.

Half the Church from Chapter 7, “The Blessed Alliance”

So how many scientists are on your church’s worship team? 

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The Millennial Exodus

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“Christianity has an image problem among American youth.”
–David Kinnaman, Barna Group

In his ominously titled book, The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones (CEO, Public Religion Research Institute) chronicles the demise of the white American church.

Among the symptoms that have led to this terminal diagnosis, Jones identifies a “major force of change in the religious landscape: young adults’ rejection of organized religion. Young adults are three times as likely as seniors to claim no religious affiliation.” (48)

These aren’t just un-churched youths, which would be bad enough. Young people—even those raised by Christian parents, who’ve grown up in the church, walked the aisle, given their lives to Jesus, gone on mission trips, and graduated from Christian colleges—are leaving the American church in droves.

Many view this ongoing exodus as a catastrophic development for the church that cannot be taken lightly. This isn’t simply about declining numbers. The future of the church’s mission is at stake. According to many millennials, something is deeply wrong with the white evangelical church. And they are voting with their feet.

The unchecked bleeding of any organism will prove fatal sooner or later. Far too much is at stake if we ignore this millennial departure or chalk it up to normal generational differences, assuming that in time they will “come to their senses.”

So far, this trend is not reversing. If we cannot manage to keep and mobilize our own, how can we hope effectively to reach others of this rising generation?

What Post-Evangelical Millennials are Saying

A 2006 Barna survey of 16-to 29-year-olds found “three attributes young Americans associated with ‘present day Christianity’ were being antigay (91 percent), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent).”

From time to time, various evangelical leaders and organizations circulate political and theological statements and manifestos regarding issues they collectively consider paramount—mainly, abortion and gay marriage. To which journalist Jonathan Merritt (son of a former Southern Baptist Convention president) responded with what Jones describes as “the literary equivalent of a shrug.” Merritt (a millennial himself) argued that these statements create what he called “a false hierarchy of issues, with older generations contending that only a few hot button issues are worthy of attention.”

According to Merritt,

“Younger Christians believe that our sacred Scriptures compel us to offer a moral voice on a broad range of issues. . . . The Bible speaks often about life and sexuality, but it also speaks often on other issues, like poverty, equality, justice, peace, and care of creation.” (141)

Millennials inhabit the 21st century and the changes and opportunities it offers. They aren’t contemplating returning to a long-gone era that their parents and grandparents nostalgically long for. Their friendships are crossing gender and racial lines. They’re not interested in internal debates that captivate and divide evangelicals. Issues the institutional church deems threatening and hills to die on are non-issues to them.

The Bride is Ugly

As a pastor’s kid, I grew up in the church. I was raised on the Bible. I loved, valued, and was blessed by that heritage. But as an adult and as a woman I’ve seen the dark side of the church. I’m not leaving, but I have my struggles with the church too.

As a friend of mine once said, “The bride is ugly.”

Sometimes the church seems more American than Jesus. More head than heart. Caring more about power and control than love, justice, and mercy. All too often the evangelical church is more focused on circling the wagons to maintain the status quo than in engaging the challenges and opportunities of our changing world and leading Christians into the future.

I’ve seen evangelical church leaders abuse power, cover up abuse and scandal to protect themselves, and re-victimize the wounded. Friends of mine have turned to the church for protection from domestic abuse, only to be sent back into harm’s way to “try to be more submissive.”

I hear stories from women (and have stories of my own) of how the church marginalizes women and girls and pushes our gifts and contributions to the side.

In the minds of many, the evangelical church is known more for what she’s against than for what she’s supposed to be for: bringing light, hope, and great good news to a hurting world. In the public square, the American church has lost her prophetic voice—and now she is losing her future. Millennials are streaming out the door.

Listening to Millennials

This past week I had the privilege of speaking at Houghton College. Opportunities to engage this rising generation at Christian colleges are sobering to me, especially given the prospect of losing so many of them. Within the academic community, students enjoy more freedom to voice their questions and criticisms about Christianity and the church. But in the church, not so much.

How are we to win millennials back if we remain more passionate about the past (and holding on to it) than we are about the future? What would inspire them to return if the only vision we offer is negative and isolating? Why would they want to be part of a church that rejects and insults their friends? Is Jesus’ gospel rigid, petrified, and unbending, or is it nimble and robust enough to equip millennials and the rest of us to engage the changes and challenges of every new generation, no matter how unexpected that future may be? Does Jesus’ gospel fill our lungs with hope and passion for his world, or suck the oxygen out of the room? Does it equip us to send the same enduring indiscriminate invitation to a lost and hurting world? Does the twenty-first century evangelical church say “come!” or “stay away”?

Author John Seel describes millennials in his forthcoming book, The New Copernicans: Understanding the Millennial Contribution to the Church (October 2017), as “the hidden treasure of the church.” He goes on to say,

It’s important that we approach . . . millennials not as a quest for relevance or marketing savvy, but as a portal for a more accurate assessment on human nature and reality. Millennials have insights from which we have much to gain . . . Parents have much to learn from their millennial children. It is high time we listen carefully and listen well. (20)

Issues the white American church is facing today have been there all along. Racism, feminism, LGBTQ, same-sex marriage, globalization, multiculturalism, immigration—all of these have been simmering below the surface for generations, but have broken out into the open now and cannot be ignored. These are not threats to the gospel. The gospel of Jesus and his kingdom will ultimately prevail—with or without the white American church. His gospel intends to change all of us—not at a single point in time, but as an ongoing learning and refining process. How would it change us for the better if we were courageous and humble enough to listen and contemplate the possibility (as Seel advises) that we might learn from millennials?

Perhaps if we create safe space in the church for millennials to bring their questions and criticisms, we’ll learn to be less fearful of owning and voicing our own questions and concerns. Just maybe instead of dying a slow death, the church will recover and regain her health.

Whether the church advances or declines on our watch will depend on how we reverse this exodus—and that, my friends, is a very big deal.

This article was also published on HuffingtonPost,  Evangelicals for Social Action, and ChurchLeaders.com.

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Heading North!

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Next destination is Houghton, New York, where I’ll be speaking in chapel at Houghton College and interacting with students about Malestrom in a class and over lunch this Wednesday.

I’m expecting a very interesting time!

Later that day, I’ll be visiting Houghton’s campus in Buffalo where they are running an AA program for refugee students and partnering with other institutions in the city to help students complete their four-year degree. The program was written up by The Buffalo News:  “Innovative Houghton program offers refugees a brighter future.”

Sounds like the kind of innovative program we could use more of in this country. I must say, I was thrilled to be invited to see it firsthand.

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Construction of the Glass Ceiling Starts Early

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A 1991 study, “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” conducted by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (AAUW) reported

“a strong link between the ‘sharp drop in self-esteem suffered by pre-adolescent and adolescent American girls to what they learn in the classroom’ and determined that lower confidence in girls—what is known as ‘the confidence gap’—is not innate, but learned.”

By the time girls reach middle school, many already lack the internal resources that would fortify them against the plummeting self-esteem and confidence they so often experience during those sensitive years and that will follow them into adulthood.

As AAUW president Alice McKee observed,

“Construction of the glass ceiling begins not in the executive suite, but in the classroom. By the time girls reach high school, they have been systematically tracked … away from areas of study that lead to high-paying jobs in science, technology, and engineering. America cannot afford to squander half its talent.”

The problem she identifies that deter young women from pursuing their love of science, technology, and engineering, spills over into other areas. For from an early age girls are bombarded with negative and limiting messages that reduce their aspirations and can lead them to hold back from pursuing the gifts and opportunities God has entrusted to them.

And as the study notes, shortchanging girls, shortchanges America.

The church should be leading the charge to counteract this trend—far surpassing the efforts of educational institutions. The church should be the one place girls can count on for confidence and courage building and where they best learn to live boldly for God’s purposes in the world. Sadly, we are part of the problem bringing our own set of messages that limit a girl’s aspirations and teach her it’s godly to to hold back.

Ironically, the solution to this problem, both for the church and for the wider culture, has been in our hands all along.

The Bible contains story after story of females—many of them very young—who answered God’s call, often in the face of danger. They demonstrated strong faith and courage and took action, in many cases advancing God’s purposes for the world. Their stories didn’t happen in a more progressive cultural context like 21st Century America, but within an intensely patriarchal culture that elevated and empowered men, relegated women to supporting roles, and prized and promoted sons well above daughters.

In the Bible, everything a female does to answer God’s call is all uphill.

Think Malala’s daring pursuit of education in Pakistan, and how the Taliban shot her for daring to go to school to get an idea of how patriarchal cultures stack the deck against girls.

The patriarchal context in which Bible stories occurred places an exclamation point beside every story where a female leads the action. And many of those females were young girls. Within patriarchy, puberty signals a girl’s marriageability—so unmarried girls such as Miriam, Esther, and Mary of Nazareth, for example, could easily have been thirteen or younger. Yet, God placed enormous responsibilities on their young shoulders

For far too long we have overlooked the rich resource we have in the Bible for empowering girls. More to the point, if we truly believe the Bible’s message about women, we’re risking a lot for God’s kingdom if we fail to raise up and empower his daughters. For far too long we have been shortchanging girls and also the church, not to mention the cost to our mission as followers of Jesus.

All of this is about to change. And the goal is to address the problem early.

Two called and courageous young women, Rachel Spier Weaver and Anna Haggard, are launching a new book series—Called and Courageous Girls—for girls ages 3-7.

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The first volume in the series, A Brave Big Sister: A Bible Story About Miriam releases October 3, but is already available for pre-order. I already have my copy and two little grand-ezers in mind!

To learn more, tune in to the webcast webcast on Thursday, September 7, 2:00pm/ET, where line-up of advocates for the Called and Courageous book series weigh in on this important initiative.

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For those who can’t make the 2pm airing, the entire webcast will be available afterwards online.

We can’t afford to continue shortchanging girls. They are capable of so much, and Jesus wants all of them!

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