Comparing Singles’ Ministries: Boundless Vs Table For One

Boundless: “We’re an award-winning ministry for Christian young adults who want to grow up, own their faith, date with purpose and prepare for marriage and family. We know that life is a journey, and some of your most important adventures are happening right now. It’s easy to get lost along the way, so we’d like to travel the road with you, and like a trusted friend or mentor, help you navigate the years ahead with biblical wisdom and intention…If you want a quick look into what makes Boundless “tick,” this is a great place to get started. You’ll see some of Boundless’ most popular content on faith, adulthood and relationships. Consider this a big-picture overview of Boundless – a “trip itinerary” of sorts.”

Table For One: “…Table for One Ministries exist to build community for single adults through discipleship. Our goal is to see single adults come to Christ, follow Him, and build communities that accept single adults. While marriage may be in the plan for some singles, the fact is that while you are single your mission should not be marriage. Your mission is to grow your relationship with God and go on mission for Him! …”
Guess which one speaks to me? Table For One.

Here’s why Boundless losses me: I’ve been single for a long time and few things bother me more than the idea that I should do nothing but focus on the family that I will one day have and prepare to be married, prepare to be a wife, prepare to be a mother until such time as these plans become reality. Ask your parental units and they would tell you that no amount of preparation, even the most carefully laid plans were sufficient for the task. (Their ministry is specifically targeted to young single adults – past the age of ‘young’ single Christians don’t count.)

What key words jump out at me? “Grow up” – it implies that single individuals are not grown for choosing to be married to the ministry, that is, if they are allowed to have a ministry. “own their faith” I like the sound of that – it’s appealing in the use of slang of ‘to master’ ‘excel proficiently’ but it reduces faith to a posession and posessions can be stolen and lost. “purpose” and “intention” These words sort of lose me because they’re so flexible. To have purpose, to be with purpose, the purpose of, depending on it’s use it can mean so many things. I’m thinking in this sense it’s more like “the purpose of dating is marriage – do not date people you will not marry.” Intention is just one of those words that lends to marriage-type discussions; i.e. “What are your intentions?” It has also been a buzz-word, intentional prayer, intentional ministry – mostly meaning mental focus and determination. The overall journey metaphor feels like Milo at Great Expectations in the Phantom Tollbooth – they’re trying to hurry us along to the next stage in life because they just can’t let us stay where we are at.

Table for One does acknowledge that there is a slight possibility that marriage isn’t in the hand of cards that we have been dealt. In that light, the focus on discipleship and growing our relationship with God and serving Him. “accept” is a key word that jumps out at me. It’s as refreshing as a cold glass of water on a really hot day to hear that somebody out there gets it – they serve me where I am at – and that is why they speak to me. (They get bonus points for extending their ministry to divorced individuals, widows, single parents, and a few others – recognizing that they have needs that differ from my own and they are people that still need to be ministered to.)

Sadly, my church doesn’t have a singles ministry, so I can’t brag about where my church gets it right or complain about their faults. What about your church – do you serve singles where they are at? Do you hurry them along to the next stage in life?

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Brand Name Christianity

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

Vala Mal Doran noted that anybody trying to mount a revolution needs three things: money, power, and influence. Christianity gets a weekly influx of money. Christianity also has a lot of power and influence, usually tied toward the Republican spectrum of the government, but they also have a few Democrats and Independents. In the last say twenty five years, Christianity has played a major role in which bills are or aren’t chosen. Politicians now have to think about how to say their mind carefully so as not to offend their more religious supporters.

So with all of that in it’s favor, why does Christianity so very often fail? Is it choosing the wrong battles to fight? Is it sending the wrong message? Has it walked away from it’s original purpose? I think something has been wrong about Christianity ever since the focus on Jesus was replaced with a focus of doing things for Jesus or in the name of Jesus. To me, he feels sort of like the logo on the side of the product. The image you use to identify the thing, but not necessarily what the thing is; sort of like how the image of the man on Quaker Oats products doesn’t prepare you for the oats to be nothing at all like Quakers themselves.

The Christianity I see on television, the TBNs, the CBNs, show me a world where 24/7 the word of God is available if I’d just support these programs with a tax-deductible donation they would send me a gift, a cross necklace or some such thing. Even on the regular channels I can tune into local churches where I can see how they do church. My church broadcasts it’s service over the radio; still others the internet. Still, for all that effort, much of the programming is limited to people who are already the sort to watch church incessantly. Christian music has gotten better about reaching outside of it’s corner of the world by being somewhat similar to the music the world responds to.

But history has shown that isolationist tendencies allowed for some terrible things to happen on the church’s watch. All of that power, all of that influence, all of that money wasted on building a bigger building while people out there go without the basic necessities. I’m reminded of my former church that built on the same corner as two existing churches. Perhaps they thought they could reach people that just weren’t attracted to the other two churches, but having moved so far away from their original site, they lost many members that couldn’t go that distance. They lost the ability to minister to their old community.

It also seems that Celebrity Christianity is fraught with controversies. Once brilliant Christian thinkers become disgraced former leaders. Their epic falls from the limelight often in some way harm those around them. Recent problems have destroyed multiple churches for their foundations were faultily built upon the celebrity that they used to hold up. These celebrities influence the teachings in average churches. Their books oftentimes replace Bible studies. Perhaps that is why both ultimately fall from grace, but it is good money while it works.

Power is difficult dynamic to narrow down in Christianity. In terms of government, the church takes a page out of the world’s playbook. So it comes to no surprise that the problems the world faces is also true in Christianity. Both systems feature disproportional representational hierarchical leadership. The average Christian will never attend a denominational conference for pastors to vote procedural matters or make decisions. They have to trust that their pastors believe the same things they do and will make their votes accordingly. But statistics are showing us that an overwhelming number of our leaders are disillusioned about the faith; overworked, without support, frustrated, poor, etc. it seems that the ones that are meant to equip believers are not equipped themselves for the task. Then again, the teachings on the subject aren’t exactly in their favor; what is expected of them is not always Biblical. There are no dictates in Scripture for the role of a pastor, and therefore, no limit to the number and types of tasks we can demand of them.

For all of the money, power, and influence in Christianity, there seems to be far too many big fish ruling the small pond to care about anything that doesn’t directly threaten them. We have flawed teachings from famous thinkers that replaces the Bible with interpretations that quote the Bible and also distort it’s truth. We have television, radio, and internet blaring these celebrity Christians at us all the time. Regular churches buy into their popular teachings thinking that’s what people want, because it’s one less thing on the pastor’s full plate. Churches are building bigger buildings, but not building up believers. Christianity is selling itself in the wrong markets to the wrong people – focusing on those that already have access to it’s truth and failing to minister to the communities around them. Christianity is failing because it’s not really Christianity. Christianity is the brand on the outside, but it’s not the product that is in the box. Christianity is nothing without love.

“Martha, One Thing Remains”

Mistress Mary Quite Contrary

In the past, my churches have usually excluded me. Most of the time they don’t outright say it, but their actions send the message loud and clear. What brings this up? I was just reading a blog about middle schoolers that went through a church leadership training program and each graduated by deliving a sermon from the pulpit. The post emphasied that the participants were young men and gave no mention of the young women. I remember my grandparents church had a Pastor’s Class which I was allowed to attend because this church didn’t believe in exclusion. In fact, the pastor was also a woman. Fast forward about a decade and most churches I attend have need of my particular skills, but no rules allowing me to use them. It’s far more important, they say, that I watch over nursery than explain how The Council of Nicaea helped form the Docrine of the Trinity. Oh, and of course I can attend the couple’s classes, even though I’m single – so I can prepare for my eventual marriage.

The message they tell me is the ‘me’ that God made is entirely mismatched and cannot be the ‘me’ that is supposed to serve God at church. I must embrace femininity, they say, it isn’t just dressing the part, dresses and skirts and heels and make-up, but accepting the role of (future) wife and mother and preparing for it until such time as it is reality. So as a single young woman, I shouldn’t care about church history or doctrine or theology, but I should in all modesty dress in such a way that attracts my (future) husband but not in an immodest way that causes his thoughts to turn lustful. I should show off my skills as a chef and nursery worker to prove that I’m mom material, and pray each and every day that God will send him into my life no matter how long it takes.

The ‘me’ that the church is stuck with – really isn’t a walking stereotype of femininity. I don’t own anything that’s the color pink, my wardrobe mostly consists of t-shirts and jeans. I can cook anything that has a recipe, following instructions is pretty simple that way, but I can’t just throw food in a pan and turn it into a three course meal off of the top of my head. I’m actually pretty good with kids, I just refuse to work with them at church because once you agree to it, you can’t get out of it unless you move away – I know from experience. I’m far more interested in the hows and whys of theology – like Mary at Jesus’ feet, I am trapped in a Christian world of Marthas that only want me to be just like them. (It also occurs to me that since God didn’t make me a walking stereotype of femininity, He likely made guys that aren’t a walking stereotype of masculinity and giving advice based on both stereotypes being true of everybody would obviously be flawed for those of us that are exceptions to the rules.)

But then I realized – I have a blog. I can say whatever I want, right? So if I were hypothetically be one of the ones who also went through the training class and given permission to deliver a sermon from the pulpit to the entire church … what would I say? I think I’d talk about the other ‘Marys’ in Christianity, the ones that were hostesses to the entire church, the ones that had ministries were no men were allowed to go, the ones that took in and personally cared for plague victims in the hours before they died, the ones that were too busy teaching to serve tea and cookies, the ones that ran their own businesses to support their own ministries, all in the face of ridicule, and other obstacles thrown up by other Christians who believe that the Word of God came to them only and was not fit for lowly females. If Jesus thought his own words were fitting for Mary, then the whole Bible is fitting for women – not just to read, but to teach, to preach, to correct, to admonish, and to equip every believer with the one thing that is needed. That’s probably why they exclude me – my pretty little head is filled with far too many dangerous ideas about Christianity. They fear that all Marys would leave behind the nursery and the kitchens – and given the choice, a great many would.

Your love never fails

It never gives up

Never runs out on me

Now why did you have to go and do that for?

Today is one of those days where you just have to be serious … there is a grave problem in the church. One that bothered me so very much, I quit going to a particular church over it (which, I’m told, has only gotten worse about it since). I’m not even certain how to describe how I feel about it – but I’ll try. Looking at the internet on this subject, there are quite a few people that agree with my assessment of the situation – hugging at church is awkward, especially for first-time visitors. It’s worse when your regular church picks up a hugging habit and you have no avenue for escape

Through careful study, it has been determined that personal space isn’t only a cultural norm, but something that is built into us from a very young age. Our amygdalas switch on the fight-or-flight response when something gets too close. You’ve probably felt it the time you were in a big crowd constantly bumping into people to your left or right at that concert or during that frenzied holiday sale. If you’re like me, you feel it every single time a stranger leans in to give you a hug.

“But you’re both Christians! Hugging is a wonderful way to show affection and brotherly (or sisterly) love!” You might say. I don’t care. I still don’t know these people (oddly, most often little old ladies that are shorter than me are the ones trying to hug me) and I didn’t give them permission to enter into my personal space and wrap their arms around me. We might attend the same church, sit next to each other (If you count next as being ten feet away sitting at the opposite side of the pew), for one hour one day a week, and have only a few seconds to shake each other’s and every one elses’ hand each morning during the ‘meet and greet’, but that does not merit a hug.

My real problem is trust – I have a very small circle of people in my life that I trust enough to let them hug me. Anybody outside of that circle who tries to hug me will likely get the most awkward and unenthusiastic hug I can muster up on three seconds’ warning. The thing is, as long as I’ve been going to this church and the ones before it – I’ve found it difficult to interact with those that look to be nearly my own age. Interacting with elders and youth is that much more difficult because of our differences. I don’t really know anybody. I have to fight my ‘fight’ response to keep from freaking out about the invasion of my personal space by people I don’t trust especially when ‘fleeing’ isn’t an option.

But I’m not alone – some people online talk about ‘front hugs’ ‘side hugs’ ‘bro hugs’ and break down what’s the most appropriate manner of hugging for any given situation. Let’s get this one misconception cleared away – hugging is not the ‘gateway’ to sexual temptation. Some people say, “I don’t hug the opposite sex because I don’t want to cause them to fall into temptation.” Seriously? Of all the reason for divorce and marital unfaithfulness, “he’s (or she’s) a really good hugger…” doesn’t even makes the list.

Adding to the awkwardness is the debate as to the kind and degree of body contact and it’s duration that is appropriate or acceptable. Some people have really put in a lot of thought to this subject. I suspect as more and more churches take up hugging, this is going to become more serious – after all, Christians are worried about sending the wrong message … like liking somebody too much. If you want to have a hug that involves 1.) the shortest duration possible and 2.) the least amount of body contact possible – save yourself the trouble and get used to hand shakes.

Then the questions turns to the right of the individual and to personality types. How dare that introvert deprive that extrovert of his or her right to hug them! How dare that extrovert invade the personal space of that introvert against his or her will! In all of this the original meaning of ‘greet each other with a holy kiss’ is lost. People aren’t feeling welcomed – they’re feeling ignored or as if they’re the center of attention … there’s a lot of too much or too little, but not a lot of just right. Ultimately, getting to know what each person responds to best is a great idea. Save the hugs for the huggers, shake the hand-shakers, and wave to the wavers.

First and Greatest

“24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:24-28

Just after two brothers (and disciples) had the nerve to have their mother ask Jesus for her two sons to sit beside Jesus in heaven, the rest of the disciples were obviously upset. Didn’t the rest of them deserve a chance to sit in the places of honor? When Jesus began preaching about the Kingdom of God, everybody though that he was talking about an actual kingdom. That he was going to drive out the Romans, restore the Temple, and reign as King David did back in the golden age.

So when the disciples were called to follow after him, they saw an opening for power, honor, and wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Jesus was a bit of a celebrity and crowds seemed to be drawn to him. Once, a crowd even tried to make him king. The disciples pictured something akin to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They had only the Gentile example of how to rule – and more specifically, the Roman Empire had set the only one they knew personally.

In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem in the process he put an end to a civil war which was basically the Pharisees vs Saducees. (They each seemed to have the support of one leader and it was these leaders that went to war aginst each other.) Josephus records that 12,000 Jews died, but very few Romans died. Sometime afterwards, Herod the Great was appointed king by the Roman Emperor and Pontius Pilate was made the prefect over Judea.

Rome’s reputation was a fierce one – while we might remember aquaducts and roads, Rome often used the roads to march their legions of well-trained warriors to put an end to rebellion or rioting by the most efficient means possible – their very experienced military might. (http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/index.html – learn all about what it was like here.)

The disciples probably pictured themselves as a dozen generals standing beside the king, they planned on having all the rights and privileges that came with it … so when Jesus said “not so among you” they scratched their heads – how else could anybody possibly rule?

Modern Christianity has that same problem, much of the leadership structures that exist within the church are a page taken out of the world’s playbook. The only difference is that we give them different names, C.E.O. = Pastor, C.F.O. = Treasurer, C.O.O. = Deacons, and Secretary = Secretary. Their board or council is our committee. We both do conferences. It’s been 2,000 years and we still don’t get the message Jesus spoke.

Fighting Somebody Else’s Battle

There were two big issues when I was a member of my church’s youth group: abortion and evolution. My church focused on the latter, going to great lengths to show us Kent Hovind’s Creation Seminars, material from Answers in Genesis, all about intelligent design, the world-wide flood, how there could have been a layer of water just outside the atmosphere, and teaching us everything we needed to know to Biblically defend a literal 6 Day creation against evolution, the day-age evolution, creation-guided evolution, and other theories and teachings.

Ten years later, the big issues are: marriage equality and feminism. So the churches seem to be doing the same things, training up the youth to defend biblical marriage and biblical priciples against the evil and destructive teachings of feminism. I can’t imagine whose teachings they’re relying on but it doesn’t really matter at this point. I’ve been seeing blog post after post about the evils of feminism as it is the easier target of the two.

But aren’t we fighting the wrong battles with the wrong warriors? Did Jesus call Christians to: “Train up your children to carry the Christian flag, teaching all that is just and true by fighting lies wherever they may be found!”? I think much of my generation realized that they just don’t want to fight. If it’s always going to be ‘the world vs church’, then why perpetuate a battle nobody can win? When you stop teaching from the Bible and teach from the Hovinds and the Hams and who knows who else is it still Christianity? Aren’t all kids just being taught somebody else’s interpretation of a scripture from some other book and not to think for themselves on these subjects?

I know from experience that when the winds rage, the waters rise, and times of spiritual testing comes along – the ability to explain what’s wrong with the day age creation teaching isn’t enough to see you through. You will have to ask far tougher questions about what you believe and why you believe it. Faith isn’t like a test with ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, but it is a challenge to find the answers that are right for you. We say that Christianity is a relationship, is there only one right way to have a relationship with Jesus?

I know a lot of young Christians are enthusiastic to blog about what they learn, they can Biblically explain what’s immoral about feminism and why the Bible’s teachings are so much better – but I hope that’s something they have come to personally believe. I hope that they’re not just accepting what somebody told them without investigating for themselves everything they were taught. Ten years from now, it’ll be some other issues – but it’s up to each of us to decide to play our part as Christian soldiers or to be conscientious objectors in a never-ending battle.

My Old Christian Self

“I believe … (in) Jesus who died on the cross as the lamb (a substitute for my sins) and was resurrected … (He) will return. God created everything. The Holy Spirit is a teacher (and) counselor. Every word of the Bible is literally and symbolically true and will come to pass as was written.”

The one great thing about moving my stuff around is that every now and then I stumble upon something I had done over a decade ago – much like the contents of this blog, I can get a glimpse of who I was, how I thought, and how see how different I am now.
The above statement was a “doctrine of creation / personal statement of belief / creed / fill in the lines with what we want you to exercise” from a “bible study”. That sort of describes what I found in all the old “bible study” booklets I found. I know, technically that’s what you’re supposed to do – fill in the lines with the answers they expect you to give. I expected more of myself – odd questions like: “Why? When?” or an occasional thought like: “The intended audience wasn’t writing to Paul to see if they were all on the same page; ‘Hey Paul, sorry to hear you were thrown in prison, but we wanted to be sure that we agreed that you agreed that we agree on what we agree on…’ They were asking questions because of their differences, sometimes cultural, sometimes regional, and sometimes on interpretation. How can we be certain that we have it right when they weren’t?” I guess I hadn’t learn that it was okay for me to ask such questions back then.

So here’s what I did learn: the old me was too lazy to write with proper grammar, proper penmanship, and liked to write as few words as possible when using pencils or pens, but found it much more enjoyable to use metallic gel pens and as a result wrote slightly more legibly. She did was was expected, filled in the lines with the answers that she was supposed to. She was better about completing the first few lessons and usually didn’t finish the last few lessons of each study. It’s difficult to believe that she somehow became me.

I still believe in Jesus. I guess I’m okay with God (the Father), after all, they’re a package deal. You can’t have the Son without His Father. I’m still fascinated by the Holy Spirit. But my beliefs about the Bible have changed. One of the books says I’m going through a ‘Crisis of Belief’ and that it’s a turning point in my faith. I look at the question: What has God, or what do you hope God will reveal about Himself to you?

My answer: (I hope God will make himself known to me in a real way..) what I know so that when I am asked “Is this really true?” I can say I know it is true not because it is in the Bible, but God has shown it to me to be true. This is so, in such a way, the one who asked me would hear me and the Holy Spirit and know it, too.

There .. a glimmer of myself. It’s possible that even back then I had begun to realize that something somewhere was not quite right. Shortly after these studies came a time when the Church really let me down. Only when I took a step back could I see the whole picture, the cracks that had always been there that I couldn’t see because I was too close. It’s been a long slow transformation from the textbook case of a Christian to a ‘still a believer, somehow’ that I am now. I may not be a shining example of perfection, but in many ways I’m better … and that’s enough for now.

Wordle Belief