How The American Church Majorly Lost This Election

*Note: this blog contains uncensored quotations.

**Secondary note: rude or defensive comments will be deleted.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – The Gospel of Thomas, Verse 70

When I speak on the American church losing this election, I am not talking in terms of candidates and who won or lost. Whether or not America’s presidential election is launching a great era or a bad one is a matter of personal opinion, and the realities of that opinion will either be confirmed by facts, or they won’t. Either way, I feel that American Christians severely lost this election, and we lost because who too many of us really are was exposed for the entire world to see.

I am not given to politics. I do have my opinions, but when I traded in the world for the Kingdom years ago, I let it go. Prior to that time, I was a lobbyist for women’s issues within the New York State house and senate, and I will fully admit that I did what I did as a lobbyist for both Planned Parenthood and Concerned Clergy for Choice. I am not ashamed of the fact that I did community education for women in preventing disease and unwanted pregnancy, and that I was a part of the EC in the ER bill back when it was still on the New York State floor (later, it was signed into law by President Bush). One of the major reasons I left was because I felt they were mixing politics and I was not comfortable with where they were going. All in all, however, I do still follow matters; I do still have thoughts about what is best for my country, and now, most definitely as a church leader, I have thoughts about what is best for the church.

I resolved when this whole election mess started that I wouldn’t delete people because of who they voted for president. I still state I have not done that, although I will fully admit that one side got deleted a lot more than the other because of their behavior. No matter who you back for president, you should be able to do it with poise and not vile, ungodly behavior. When people started getting ungodly, I waited, and I toughed it out, until I simply could not watch what was being done and said any longer. Good or bad, whether someone thinks I am right or wrong, I deleted people who couldn’t behave and even blocked a few because they would not stop their vile conduct.

For this, I am not sorry. It is an example of how the church lost this election, and how if we don’t get ourselves together, we are going to destroy ourselves. Which is why I write this blog.  As a church, we need to be reached.

I am not going to use this blog to get into a discourse on church and politics; I am saving that for my next blog series, which will be very insightful into the origins of these movements and the realities that, whether or not they tell you that you’re “voting the Bible,” you’re not, and you aren’t doing what you do out of Biblical belief, but rather, clever propaganda. In fact, what I am seeing in our losses as a church is how easily swayed we are by propaganda, by ideas and thoughts that we’ve heard so much, we don’t realize they aren’t true even slightly. So here, we are going to look at all the ways we’ve lost…in a big way.

Following the improvers of men – Whenever I start looking at the throngs of people Christians seem to follow, I always hear the words of Nietzsche in one of his works: “These improvers of men – who are they? And who made them improvers?” In other words – we are surrounded by self-declared experts who, for whoever knows what reason, decided that these are the people we should follow because they have the “answers.” We don’t know where they came from, we don’t know the first thing about them, and what they have to say is really not that innovative or interesting. Most of the time, they are “improving” by getting caught up in waves of emotion and swaying people to their thoughts and feelings. What came to me this election was the true way in which people simply follow people because they are perceived to be famous, more “spiritual,” claim to have been to heaven three hundred times in the past year, or because they are simply more entertaining. The more we clamor that we want something new, the more we follow people who are literal and traditional, who uphold our modern traditions and who make us feel better about who we are as believers, isolating ourselves and ignoring the bigger issues of the church as an international whole.

When Charisma Magazine started endorsing Donald Trump, I was done with them. I hadn’t been a big fan of Charisma’s cohorts for awhile, because I felt that many of their statements were derogatory to women without being derogatory (they criticized feminism, made women in ministry sound like a commodity rather than something that should just exist, and elevated some people over others), but I was willing to tolerate them. Before now. Now they just sound like a bunch of “improvers” with an agenda to push, one that is not for the good of the church but for whatever ideals they have, and their conservative ideals leave out a good majority of a more moderate or more liberal church that has no interest in what they seek to push or promote.

We love money – and that’s not a good thing – I have this sinking feeling that had Donald Trump just been some poor, unsuccessful man who decided to run for president, he wouldn’t have taken the world – or a good percentage of the church community – by storm. Everyone would have blown him off (like they should have) and not taken it all real seriously. Because he is a billionaire businessman, he’s right up the alley of people who think prosperity is the key to everything and the ideal that God blesses people with only money. In prosperity logic, Donald Trump as a billionaire equates to Donald Trump being favored by God, with no consideration for the fact that there are rich people and poor people and it rains on both alike. Throw in a few chants for conservative politics and you have a complete recipe for the ultimate deception. Which brings me to my next point…

We don’t understand spiritual gifts and five-fold ministry offices – When I discovered that Charisma Magazine and many others were endorsing the idea that Donald Trump was a prophet, it was enough to make me want to throw in the towel and join another religious group. For the past decade, I have taught on spiritual gifts, on the five-fold ministry, and what apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers do…and it’s apparent that the church is simply not listening. How anyone can presume or compare a secular politician in a secular country, who has no prophetic training, who we have no comprehensive education he is even a Christian, is a prophet sent to deliver a message is absurd. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are secular politicians appointed to represent secular groups of people. There is no evidence to bespeak that either one of them has a prophetic or any other sort of ministry gift because neither of them are in ministry. We do know Hillary Clinton is a churchgoing Methodist, but we have nothing to suggest that Donald Trump had set foot in a church in recent memory before someone went and put a prayer shawl on him. The very act of doing so was disgraceful, because it proved that we don’t understand the symbolic power of such garments and that we so want to have our own way and feel like someone represents the church that we were willing to compromise spiritual dignity.

If we don’t understand spiritual gifts and the five-fold ministry, that means we need to sit down long and hard and admit we don’t know about the Bible (as a church) as we might like to hope we do and start learning from accurate leaders who may not be sensational, but can help us get to where we need to be in the spiritual realm.

A revolving cast of characters – What do Jezebel and Elijah have to do with this election? The proper spiritual answer is nothing, but somehow, they got dragged into this election as the whole thing took on a ridiculous, fanciful messianic character that was, quite frankly, an embarrassment. Donald Trump cannot by any serious scholar be compared to the Prophet Elijah for a few reasons. The first is that Elijah went up against Ahab, not Jezebel. There is not a single verse in the Bible that ever says God sent Elijah to talk to Jezebel, because Ahab was the leader, not Jezebel. Jezebel only had as much power as Ahab lent to her, and if you read the whole story of Ahab and Jezebel, you will see that Ahab deliberately went and sought out Jezebel for his wife in rebellion to God. But Donald Trump was running for president, for the highest position in the land. He wasn’t a spiritual authority sent to go talk to the highest authority in the land. He brought no spiritual measure to the election and he was not “going up” to combat anyone. He was a man battling an election against a politician, but both were to be elected by the people and the electoral college. Ahab was a king; he inherited his position, he was not voted in. Donald Trump did not speak a singular prophetic word the entire election. God did not appoint Trump to speak on His behalf.

The theology and scriptural errancy in these ideas is almost laughable, but what is even more scary is how quickly and desperately people swallowed it up. People want a leader so bad, want someone they feel they can “identify” with, they bought this, hook, line, and sinker. But as one of my pastors put it, “Who decides who is who?” That, I feel, is a really important message – who DOES make these decisions, and why do people follow them so readily?

Not caring enough who are leaders are – I have made the statement in the past few years that I get sick of being “Al Borland.” If you’ve ever watched the show, Home Improvement, the main character, Tim Taylor, is host of a cable tool show, Tool Time. He’s always screwing up and everybody hates him. Al is his assistant; quiet, competent, and clearly knows what he is doing. Tim got the job because he was more entertaining, even though Al might have been more qualified. I feel like this is exactly where we are in church today. People throng behind a leader they think might be more entertaining or more popular while forsaking competent leaders who can teach them the Word and about ministry, bringing them to a place where their work speaks for itself. The fact that Christians thronged behind Donald Trump shows me that we don’t care enough about who we choose for our leaders. We are willing to overlook aspects of their character and their credentials that are unqualified for the job and improper for those behaviors as believers in order to get the one who has the most money, is the most popular, or stirs up the emotions the most.

There are people who have been on my Facebook page for years; some of them I even met in person. When they started using foul language on their pages, becoming aggressive and pushy, and behaving in a manner that was downright derogatory, I had to disconnect from them. They refused to hear that they were behaving improperly and it was obvious they had picked up the nature of their desired “leader.”

The leaders we pick are the leaders we become. Let that sink in.

Trying to make prophecies fit where they don’t, showing we don’t understand Scripture – I have seen more Christians try to stuff current happenings into the Bible during this election than I ever have in my entire life. It is almost as if there is this intense drive to make things “apply” or “fit,” to make circumstances and world happenings point to something that they simply do not.

Look, the book of Revelation and the book of Daniel are not a gigantic codebook that we can plug headlines into. They are prophecies we should seek to understand from the perspective in which they were written, and see something more in them than just trying to shove an agenda down everyone’s throats. The more we keep trying to misuse Scripture, the more we prove to the world that we do not understand it and we do not desire to learn it.

We’re not conscientious enough about world events – When an individual running for office says, “I would bomb the shit out of them” in regards to a perceived threat to the United States, that individual proves that they do not know enough about how politics work. When people seriously think that building a wall on the Mexican border, using nukes, “loving war,” and handling the international community is a good idea, they are proving that they don’t know the first thing about what goes on internationally and how problems and issues get resolved. Because Christians in America insist on believing they are being persecuted and mistreated, they are missing the fact that how we interact with other nations seriously impacts the spread of the church worldwide and our ability to fellowship and consider our international brethren. It deeply disturbs me when I hear people talk in a derogatory manner about Palestinians, because they are also talking about Palestinian Christians who get lost in political rhetoric. This is a classic example of how politics cause us to throw the church under the bus and to ignore our international, borderless brotherhood and sisterhood of believers. There is more in the international world to consider besides the nations of America and Israel, and there is more to think about than just what is best for us in an immediate sense. There is a fine line between patriotism and idolatry, and if we can’t separate the two, it doesn’t surprise me why the American church has almost completely dropped off the missions map. You can’t go on missions if you already think you’re superior in this modern world.

Christians behaving badly – I acknowledge that people misuse the concept of love to indicate that anything should go sometimes, but we can’t erase that the Bible does tell us God is love and we are supposed to love one another. There is special Biblical injunction for loving those in the Christian community as well, because such proves that God is real. If we can’t love each other, after all, how can we even venture the idea of trying to love others? If this election proves anything, however, it’s that the church has deluded itself on what love really is and is using the defense of truth to try and turn love into a right-fight. The way so-called Christians have behaved this election disturbs me to levels unknown: posting derogatory pictures and memes, bashing, public cussing, not considering how they behave or what they say might hurt someone else’s feelings (let alone turn off onlookers to Christianity in the process), and just not considering or caring that a public official has to think about more than just what one group of people might want.

The way people have behaved is disgusting. The fact that their candidate got elected just endorses it. My Bible tells me I have to die to myself, to the things I might want and the way I might want to act sometimes, not that I have the right to run around and say, “And you can tell them to go fuck themselves.”

The divisions of the American church – Like it or not, the church in America is not one. Our churches are still largely divided by racial lines, the church is sexist with no intention to change that any time soon, the church as a whole is unkind and ungodly toward LGBT individuals, and it’s obvious through incidious propaganda and teaching that nobody even thinks about that the church as a whole has no intention of correcting or changing where it’s at. Change, however, is exactly what is needed, but this won’t happen until the “improvers of men” just become “men with opinions.”

Not separating from undignified individuals – In keeping with my last point, those of us who believe in unity held on as long as we could to people who don’t have any regard or respect for those of us who don’t agree with them on many important issues. We held on to people who didn’t support our ministries and who most of the time picked other leaders and individuals to fraternize with because they liked them better. All of this relates to what I spoke of earlier, about thronging to people who we see as more entertaining and more emotional. These same people, however, are ones who would say I was not a real Christian because I did not endorse Donald Trump for president.

I believe the accusation is unfounded, but I think it’s more to-the-point that we are insisting on holding on to people who proved long before this election that we weren’t THEIR choice in their understanding of the kingdom. People who maintained dignity, discussed things with respect, and who worked as hard as they could to die to the flesh and love people regardless were classified as not being really Christian. This has unveiled where our priorities lie; how too many are defining faith and belief; and, whether or not we want to admit it, reducing faith to issues of salvation by works because the implication is made that if you don’t do what they want, you aren’t saved.

Not acknowledging the sins of their candidate – I’m tired of hearing about emails and Benghazi. If I never hear about either again, life will be great, but I know better. You can’t run around and say Hillary Clinton is a criminal and then bury your head in the sand when it came out that Donald Trump had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a fourteen-year-old girl and dozens of other women. You can’t expect Elijah to be a sexual deviant. Nope. Not equal time, not right, and certainly not family values.

If you can’t accept the sins of your candidate, then he is an idol. He is not Elijah, he is not Jesus, he is not a prophet, he is a man with multiple marriages and children from several different women, and that means I don’t want to hear another word about single mothers, divorce and remarriage, or anything else related to this topic. If your selected leader can get away with it, so can everyone else.

Only considering part – not all – of the issues – Abortion is not the only issue that should be considered when it comes to a candidate. There are medical reasons why late-term abortions become necessary, and there is no such thing as an abortion in the ninth month. Making abortion illegal doesn’t stop abortions, it just creates death. Immigration is a complicated issue, but the Berlin Wall proved that it’s not as simple as building a wall. There are other things that we need to consider as citizens of a nation that have nothing to do with hot-button issues. A lot of things can bring economic instability and can cause racial tensions, the downfall of companies, and the like. We’re supposed to be big enough and set ourselves aside enough to consider social issues that effect everyone, not just what we might like in an ideal world or ideal setting.

Judging different decisions – I saw two extremes this election: individuals who said you would go to hell if you voted for anyone this election, and people who said you would go to hell if you did not vote in the election. Neither statement is fair theologically and neither is true. God is not up in heaven endorsing candidates and the decision to vote is a personal one, made between an individual and their country. The popular vote of the US was for Clinton, not Trump, and the fact that some feel now their vote was wasted or that participating in the system had no point is a justified feeling. Let’s all stop judging one another on this matter already!

Being afraid – When I first heard that Trump won the electoral college vote, my first impulse was fear. I never imagined his run would go this far and that I would have to face the fact that he might be elected, for real. Everything he had said throughout this election ran through my head: “I love war.” “Yes, even with nukes.” “I would bomb the shit out of them.” “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime.” They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.”

My thoughts raced to numerous people I’ve met around here: The front-end manager at the Wal-Mart up the street who is from Pakistan, the couple I’ve met with their grandson who is from India, the numerous Hispanics from different parts of Latin America, all of whom are living their lives and minding their own business. Then I thought about our own lives and what can happen and I got quickly worried. God had to remind me that He has not given us a spirit of fear. I have to remember that even in the midst of this, God is using the situation to bring us to a place where we are willing to look at ourselves and where we are to find a place of change. Even this crazy election should be used not to feel vindicated, but to look at who we are and what we need to do.

If you believe in the last days, then you should realize that the church’s time to get itself together isn’t real long. Even if you don’t believe we are in the last days, we all know God doesn’t allow mess to go on forever. We need to learn the truth, the Scriptures, the realities about who we are and stop aggrandizing everything. We have the responsibility to learn how to live with others. The election might have been a disaster politically, but it is only a disaster spiritually if we refuse to learn and accept that we aren’t who we think we are. The sooner we do this, the sooner God can do what He wants to do in and through us.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Selah

The word “selah” gets thrown around since it was popularized by a musical group who used it as their main identifying theme. What we do know of selah is that it is found in the Bible seventy-four times, seventy-one in Psalms and three in Habakkuk’s third chapter. It is most definitely some sort of musical notation, but its exact meaning is unknown. What we do know of it, however, can be explained in the following as either one or all of the following explanations:

As a musical note, to indicate that musical forte should be used and overall sound should be louder.

To joint two different ideas together, or to link two thoughts.

As a division, to divide thoughts

As a way to take the command that has been given, which one should pay attention to and think about.

In the Amplified Bible, the word selah is amplified as “pause and calmly think about that.”

The past week, the Lord has spoken the word “selah” to me. When it has come to me, no other words accompany it; just “selah.” Given the different understandings of the word, which I believe can all apply in one form or another, I believe it is a word that God is speaking to me as is relevant to the season I am in that is now coming to a close.

Selah fits.

A little over a year ago, I thought the season I was in was truly over. I was at a new phase of things. We were moving into a building and we were starting Sanctuary here in Raleigh. I wasn’t starting a new company, but was working on a new partnership that I hoped would better income, as income was a major issue. All the words that people gave me pointed to the fact that this was a new season, I was even given word from one individual that I was walking into a “new season,” it was a new time, and I should have faith and trust that the support would be there and the people would come.

I won’t lie; I had my doubts. I was hesitant to enter into a contract for a building when I was not sure we would be able to pay for it for the duration. I believed that if I didn’t have all twelve months upfront to pay for the property, I couldn’t afford it. That was branded as a lack of faith by several people and the word I was given encouraged me to move forward despite my doubts. It was supposed to be a new time, a season to stretch my faith and watch God show up and show out in ways I could never have imagined.

Discernment is a funny thing. I did discern that moving into the building and doing the work that I was to do was God-directed, but I had serious doubts about the long-term outcome. We hadn’t been in the building two weeks and God was already telling me that we weren’t going to finish out the lease. The one thing He did tell me was that we wouldn’t be evicted for non-payment, which did reassure me that He was in this, even though I wasn’t sure how it would all make sense. I thought we were into something new, it was time to be over with the past, and that the reason I was sent to this area in the first place was finally starting to manifest. I expected good, different things to happen.

So imagine my surprise when the season didn’t end and it was filled with the same issues of the past season: attacks from people I covered and devoted time and attention to assisting. People leaving the ministry with hard feelings when I did nothing to prompt those hard feelings. Attacks from people outside of the ministry, nonstop, that I didn’t even know that well but seemed to have plenty of opinions. Money wasn’t an issue immediately, but about five months in, it became such a focal point, the lease became the only reason we continued in the property. We noticed mold at one point that turned into an infestation, eventually causing the lease to terminate early (as was God’s word). By that point, it was a relief. Those who were attending the church stopped coming after the woman training to be pastor got angry that someone else under the ministry was getting ordained and the whole situation just turned into one problem after another. The issues did not end there, and included other people who refused to be accountable under the ministry, step up and do their job, and just left me in a position to be both high and dry, out of money, and plain tired.

What God showed me earlier this year is that I misjudged the season. I didn’t misjudge it by myself; I had help in that. I assumed the season was over because I was starting something new and it seemed like a new beginning. What really happened is that I was wrapping things up from the current season, making sure that those who didn’t need to be involved in the future stayed wherever they were and I was able to move forward without them. I needed to know things to move forward, both about others and the process of ministry growth involved. More than anything, I needed to see that I have been carrying people for a long time who need to be dropped somewhere. Instead of expecting them to grow, I have tried to work with them where they are, and in the process, I have tolerated a lot of things I shouldn’t have. That’s what happens when we misjudge seasons: we try to make things fit that just don’t and foster things that don’t work in the name of moving forward. In reality, we do nothing but stand still and spin, frustrating ourselves and feeling a lot of animosity and hard feelings.

Yes, there are people who care about us, but who just don’t have enough interest, motivation, or desire to do what needs to be done and to be there when you need them. This goes for those who are covered as well as those who might mentor or cover, and the truth is that sometimes it’s just burdensome. It’s difficult to be in seasons and situations where you don’t really feel like anyone is there to care for you or to take your issues into their prayer closet because everyone is so focused on their own. It’s a lot harder to live it, and to stand around and realize that if you want change to come, you have to change most of the people who are around you.

The problem with misjudging the season is, obviously, the results. Everything pointed to a new beginning. I consulted what was supposed to be “wise counsel” and when things did not seem new to me, I couldn’t get anyone who had made statements of visions, promises, and moving forward to say anything useful to me. In fact, nobody I consulted who gave such word were even willing to take the time and answer me when I reached out to them. It was the same story, the same scenario all over again, where people push us into a decision that they won’t have to answer for or be accountable for and then you are left holding the bag. Then when accountability and responsibility come calling, nobody takes responsibility for the fact that they missed God and spoke word that encouraged something inaccurate.

I believe that people were accurate in telling me God was in my actions, but I believe that they misjudged the results. Instead of telling me that I was at the end of something and that this was a project that was a part of a cyclical completion, the push for new and the promise that it would all work out in such a way that would be different from before was very misleading. I would have so been blessed if someone would have said to me, “This is something you have to do, but don’t expect the results to be different, because you’re not done yet.” It would have brought clarity and while it might have hurt and I might not have readily accepted it, it would have been words that would have hallowed in my ears when things started to change.

I’ve said many times I wish that someone would have been honest about not hearing from God, but I know that won’t happen. They won’t admit they didn’t hear God fully and misjudged the word themselves. They will do what so many do and try to cleverly contort what was said, making me out to misunderstand or accusing me of going into it with wrong faith or motive. Instead of saying they are sorry and standing up for the difficulties of the season, I am supposed to cheerlead now for whatever it is they want to do and pretend their season is new…when it’s exactly the same.

This season is coming to a close. I know the official sign that will mark its end, and I am looking forward to a new season. To get to it, however, I need to be different. I need a “selah” moment, one by which my praise is louder, my thoughts are divided and new ones are joined together, to hear God’s command above those who want to speak for God, but are not hearing from Him, and to pause and think about whatever is said. It’s God’s decisions who leaves, who stays, who moves forward, who will change and who will not, because sometimes we need to accept that people can’t be what we need to do new things around us.

To get to where we want to be, we need to stop and consider where we are and what it will take to go to the next place. Sometimes, in those interims, we need to stop looking for a word, stop relying on those who are around us, and stop and think about God. If we don’t want to make the mistakes of the past, we must pause, stop jumping around with the thrill of the words “It’s a new season!” reiterated every time we get in church, and learn to tell the true from the false in a deeper sense. We need to know God, we need to know times and seasons for ourselves, and I really feel we need to listen to and embrace true teachers. Just because a leader tells you all the stereotypical churchy things about family, abortion, gay marriage, voting Republican, and the traditions you’ve grown accustom to embrace doesn’t mean they are teaching you the things you need to know to embrace God for yourself and to recognize where He has you and for what reason.

When our standards increase and we expect more of those around us as well as ourselves, our seasons will shift. Only when we stop and pause to think about important things will we realize where God desires us to be. More than where we are going, we will realize what we need to gain from the season we are currently in. God doesn’t shift every week, every day, every time someone gets on Facebook and wants to speak a word over us. It’s not over, we aren’t coming out, it’s not already done, and we are not always harvesting. These things might encourage us, but they don’t encourage us to do right and stand back as we have our selah moments. In God, we will stay right where we are until we are ready to move forward. God knows when that will be, and that means the time for our shift is in His hour…definitely not ours. We can dance, shout, scream, speak in tongues, go to a million conferences, get slain in the Spirit every time, and believe whatever we want, but to quote a famous phrase, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Here’s to change. Here’s to new beginnings. Here’s to the growth God wants us to have. Here is to true word, true prophets, true five-fold leaders, and true people who hear from God and know Him from their own selves or their own rhetoric. Here’s to new seasons that are new, for real, when God knows we are ready. Here’s to leaving the past behind. Here’s to God: yesterday, today, and forever.

Selah.

20 Things Your Leader Is Looking For If You Are Looking For Promotion

Psst….you…hey, yeah you…you over there who wants to be ordained or elevated in your position in the church…I got a message for you! There are many times when we think we are ready to do something or to step out into something and we have a leader who, for some reason, just doesn’t seem to budge or agree with us that we should receive a higher or elevated position in the ministry. Why? Sometimes leaders reference specific things, but a lot of times, leaders don’t explain a lot of why they aren’t promoting someone except to say that it isn’t the right time. This might seem like an unfair reply, especially if you feel that you are very gifted and anointed and that your abilities could be better used with a promotional elevation.

When a leader says that it doesn’t seem like the right time, the truth is that it’s probably not just one thing they are seeing within you that’s not right; it’s probably several little things that make up the work and purpose of ministry that they are hoping to see or are not seeing within you at any given time. Successful ministry work is many things coming together at once and if a leader isn’t seeing a good number of these things at work within you, odds are good they are properly assessing you aren’t ready for what’s next. While there is no question that different ministries have different requirements, there are certain spiritual and personal qualities a leader needs to see in you make and effort in doing in order to elevate you to the next level of ministry.

So consider this a bit of a “cheat sheet,” the Cliff Notes version of things a leader is looking for when it comes to promotion. Go over them and esteem yourself honestly before inquiring deeper into promotion from your leader, and if you are honestly not seeing development in some of these areas…work on them without accusing your leader of being unfair or partial.

1. An ability to handle correction. – One of the hardest things about ministry is the way that ministers are universally scrutinized. Ministers are judged by the people under their ministries, they are judged by society and the media for being too Christian or not Christian enough, they are judged by their critics, and they are most certainly judged by their enemies. If you aren’t doing things properly in your life and those improprieties are obvious – personal attire, nasty attitude, personal behaviors, inability to handle personal or familial issues, easily offended, defensive, petty, vindictive, chronically angry, rude, unseemly, or improper attitude toward authority – those issues are going to rate judgment and are therefore going to bring a bad name to the ministry. Handling correction properly means that you are mature enough to recognize that those you have chosen to have rule over you are there to see things within you that need correcting and that you handle those issues through prayer and self-discipline rather than turning on your leadership.

2. Attendance and participation at ministry functions. – If you want to be ordained or promoted, especially within the context of handling things within a church or ministry structure, your leadership needs to know they can trust you will be present at things in their absence. If you are out of church more than you are in church, have an endless parade of reasons why you are not at church services, Bible studies, classes, or meetings, or are sporadic in your attendance, don’t expect to get promoted.

3. Bringing visitors/guests to the church. – Being promoted means taking a bigger part in the ministry where you are, and that means you need to consider the ministry you are a part of as more than just your leader’s vision. You need to prove that you are a part of that vision, on board with it, excited about it, and willing to share it. If you have been in the church for ages and you never bring a visitor, recommend a guest, or are a part of getting new members, then you aren’t on board enough with the vision to take on more of it.

4. Taking initiative when it comes to assignments and projects. – One of the biggest things I look at when someone is sniffing around me for a promotion is their level of initiative when it comes to an assignment or a project. If I assign someone a project or they come and tell me they want to take one on but they never complete it or leave it half-finished to do something else, that’s how they are going to approach other ministry responsibilities, as well. I don’t know why we think we’ll be different when we get what we think we want. If you can’t step up and do what needs doing now, you will just fail to do what needs doing with different things later.

5. Personal giving, including tithes and offerings. – I have long taught that if the Bible teaches us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be, also, that is telling us clearly that where we spend or give our money shows what’s really important to us in our lives. To clarify: if you have money to go on vacation, or get your hair done and nails done, or to throw a big party, or to have a big holiday celebration, but you skimp on your personal giving to the church or skip tithes because you want to do something else, that tells your leaders that your heart is simply not with the ministry.

6. An ability to finish the things you start. – Some people chronically start things but don’t finish them. This is a serious problem in the church and a serious problem in ministries where people have been promoted before they can prove they will follow through and see projects through from beginning to end. If you are taking on a project, a work, an idea, or something of that magnitude, seeing it through from start to finish shows an ability to plan, think things through, problem solve, and commit to something thoroughly.

7. Having a proper attitude. – The proper attitude relates largely to a big word that we often use in church, and that word is accountability. Rather than blaming everyone else for where you are or are not, you need to be willing to be honest and say that you know who you are, what you’ve done or are doing, and step up with maturity to do what is right.  Thus: If you throw temper tantrums when other people get something you think you deserve…if you get nasty and petty when it’s time for correction and self-examination…if you can never apologize…if you always have to be right…if you are constantly trying to usurp authority…If you are critical of the way your leader runs their ministry…If you are nasty when you get caught doing wrong…If you are just waiting for an opportunity to get out…If you feel you are “owed” a promotion for sticking around…If you think you are more qualified than your leader…then you need to sit yourself down somewhere for a good, long time. You can be as gifted as you want but that nasty attitude of yours is going to hold you back because your leader is under no obligation to do anything for you while you are like this.

8. Seeing through right vision. – The church abounds with people who feel they have had dreams, visions, and words from God that are, in fact, not from God. Some of them are from counterfeit spirits, some are opinions, some are thoughts from observations, and some are nothing at all but a royal mess. If you want to be promoted, you need to prove to your leader that you have enough of right vision to make proper decisions and direction not just from leadership, but from God Himself, as well.

9. The manifestation of fruit of the gifts. – As a person, you are, most likely, very enamored with whatever it is that you feel God wants to do in your life and with the gifts that God has given you. This is a part of spiritual process, because it’s all new and different, and God has most likely shown you where you will be one day if you stick to the right principles and learn obedience and honor along with development of your spiritual gifts. Your leader, however, isn’t real interested in the things that you feel are going to come “one day” from being in ministry. You aren’t the first person to come to us thinking they are a great and gifted preacher, a future best-selling author, called to the nations, or “anointed” for great things. Believe it or not, we hear it all the time. The reality of how many people we really see reach this place in their lives is very minimal because too many people do not discipline themselves to the point where their gifts bear very much fruit. If you claim to have gifts, your leader wants to see those develop fruit, not personal boasts.

10. Action and an ability to be a self-starter. – I personally hate it when people talk too much, and I experience it all the time. I find people who talk incessantly and don’t listen to be people who try to dominate the conversation, thus exerting a spirit of control. I am much more interested in seeing the great things God is doing through and by you rather than hearing all about what you think He wants to do later on or will one day do. I speak for all leaders in saying that we do like people who self-start, and you never need to ask for permission to do something good for someone else: give a ride to church, volunteer at something in the community, volunteer to do something in the church, etc.

11. Loyalty to the ministry, especially the leadership. – If you are saying one thing to your leader’s face and another behind their back, never assume that you know better than they do and that you are hiding something from them. Every single time I covered someone who was speaking badly about me behind my back, God always let me know. I might not have said anything about it to that person without proper evidence, but I knew their wagging tongues were busy when I wasn’t in the room. These are also the people who always start off really gung ho and interested in things but then wane interest over time because they don’t get their way or can’t have all the control. You cannot expect a leader to give you papers or a promotion because you think you are gifted when you show a complete and total disloyalty to all things related to the ministry. If you really think so little of your leader, why do you want them to ordain or promote you in the first place?

12. Reasonable and sensible in one’s sense of order. – Let’s get something straight right now: an awful lot of the time, ministers are not being controlling with their people; they just don’t like that they aren’t getting away with the things they want to get away with, so they yell control. There are incidents where ministers do control their people, but it is not control to expect that people who desire promotion display proper order in their lives or to expect that those who want promotion participate in the ministry. You have chosen to submit yourself to the leadership present in a ministry. Let me state again: that is a CHOICE you make. That means if you believe you are supposed to be there by God’s purposes that you follow the rules as are outlined for that work and you stop trying to conform them to your own vision. If you are unhappy with a vision or don’t feel in alignment with it, then you make the choice to go to a ministry that fits better with where you are at in your life and belief system. If you are so out of line with the leadership where you are, then again I reiterate, as I did with the last point – why do you want promotion from them to begin with?

13. Being self-disciplined. – Self-discipline comes from self-examination, and self-examination comes from self-awareness. It is also probably one of the most important aspects of being in ministry. We should reach a point in time where our leaders don’t have to explain everything to us and that we should be able to recognize things within ourselves that need change or improvement without other people always having to tell us about them. It also means we should have the ability to make changes within ourselves without constant praise and hand-holding from our leaders.

14. A respectful attitude. – Respect is something that extends to more areas than I have space to list, but let’s say that a truly respectful attitude displays in every area of our lives and conduct. Someone who is disrespectful will be careless with their speech, fleshly and emotional, undisciplined, and immature. I recognize we all have our bad moments (leaders included) and that some people bring out sides of us that we otherwise would not expose; I am not talking about such situations. A general attitude of disrespect, however, on a regular basis, is most definitely a problem that will block promotion.

15. Being a good steward. – We often talk about stewardship in terms of money, but stewardship is far more than just about money or finances. Stewardship is the ability to wisely use resources and to use them to the best of one’s ability. An unfortunate reality of ministry is that money and resources alike often have to stretch over a far distance, and the ability to use resources in a creative manner goes a long way in proving one is ready to advance in ministry work.

16. The ability to apply learning. – I think we have given the false impression that ministry is all about gifts and anointing, and that God will fix us wherever we lack. Ministry does require anointing and gifts and abilities, but it is also about learning methods, tips, and purposes to execute the anointing, gifts, and abilities that God has given to us. This requires training and a willingness to learn from those God has appointed to teach us in this life. If you aren’t applying what you have learned, then you need to learn it again.

17. Humility. – Pride goes before a fall, even among ministers. If you esteem yourself more highly than you ought, you can stay where you are.

18. Patience. – Sometimes leaders see things within the people they cover but they realize that the time for promotion is simply not right. Every time it was time to promote or ordain someone, God came and gave witness to me about it. If you are having to promote the idea of your promotion, odds are good that the timing is off and it is better to be patient and wait than make it so that your leader feels you will NEVER be ready to elevate.

19. A sense of honor. – The word “honor” has multiple meanings, including a high sense of respect, esteem, privilege, or to fulfill an agreement. All of these definitions are in play when it comes to ministry promotion. Potential elevation needs to bring with it respect for one’s self, the ministry work, leadership, the church, the people one will minister to, accountability, other leaders, recognizing the work of ministry to be a privilege, recognizing the allowance of promotion to be a privilege, and the willingness to fulfill one’s duties through to the end. If you aren’t here yet, you aren’t ready for promotion.

20. Ability to do the work of the ministry. – Different people are called to do different things for the Kingdom. We are not all called to be in ministry. We are not all called to the same offices, appointments, or purposes in the ministry. This means that not everyone in the church or ministry is the right fit for every available position or promotion that comes up in a given church setting. It is very possible that the abilities and gifts you have are better suited for something other than what is available or purposed at that given point in time, and that the leadership you have recognizes who you are and the abilities you have and is, for that reason, not putting you into a position that is not right for you to handle.

(c) 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Baby, I was born this way!

When Lady GaGa’s song, “Born This Way” came out, everyone made a big huge deal about it because the song has LGBT references within it. So, like we always do, that’s all anyone heard in the song. They didn’t hear another thing it said, not in the least, which means that we all missed an opportunity to hear something that might help us in our own place, where we are right now, and developing into what we are supposed to become. More than anything else, the song is about being different and there are many different forms of differences mentioned within the song. When I hear the song, it talks to me about being different, and that sometimes the differences we have don’t just go away because we want them to or because they might make us uncomfortable. If anything, sometimes the differences we have make us exactly who we are.

The refrain of the song celebrates this:

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, born this way

Ooh, there ain’t no other way, baby, I was born this way
Baby, I was born this way
Ooh, there ain’t no other way, baby, I was born this way
I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way

When someone – or something – who is different comes along, how do we respond to it? Do we immediately reject it or brand it as not being of God, or do we invite the idea that maybe that person with a difference has a message for us?

We like conformity in church. We like it when people are just like us, sound like us, look like us, and are like us. In fact, conformity is such a natural expectation, we don’t know what to make of people who aren’t all exactly the same. For example, when a person has been going to church for a certain period of time, it is expected that they dress like everyone else dresses and they pick up typical speech patterns and habits. The Bible translation used by most of the members is the translation one is expected to use, and so on and so forth.

This doesn’t end when we get into ministry. Amidst cries of “We’re not church as usual!” or “We welcome differences!” or “We don’t want the same message,” we find realities that bespeak the opposite. As a minister myself who is “different” in that I don’t preach the types of messages that are typical or minister in quite the same way as most of my contemporaries, I’m not met with a response that celebrates my differences and upholds them as God-given. If anything, I am met with something much darker: ministers who try to blackball me and the work we do, refusals to support or give money, prejudice against the nature of the work and the messages preached, criticism because something isn’t typical, arguments, control, and those who think they could get little ol’ wayward me to conform if I would just become a part of them. I’m not preaching something evil, everything I teach and preach has Scriptural foundations, I’m not running off as heretic of the year. I’ve got great Scriptural education and teaching, and my foundations are solid. The problem isn’t what I teach is false, it’s that it’s true and in a world that conforms us to the false, we don’t know how to take someone who isn’t the way we are used to being.

The ultimate hope is I will feel so ashamed and out of place that I’ll hide myself away and do things the way that everyone else does them. I’ll think who I am is a mistake and that God will un-call me, or call me to do something that everyone else is already doing. The problem is that this isn’t going to happen. Let’s even say that is something I tried to entertain, even on a certain level, which at one point in time, I did do. I’m still going to be me and still going to be what God has called me to be, because like it or not, God’s deposit on my life has been here forever. Yep…I was born this way.

Galatians 1:15: But when God, Who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace… (NASB)

Ephesians 1:3-4: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (NASB)

Yes, God requires all of us to be socialized, well-rounded individuals who don’t use being different as an excuse to be disobedient or as an excuse to be sinful or defy the ways of God. That’s not what I am saying here, and not the point. The point is, however, that there are those of us who were called, long before we were born and now who are here, to do a job to point out that the conformity and comforts we often see in church are actually the disobediences we claim to be against. It’s easy to gather in a room and think everyone who is in there is right if no one ever questions or challenges that notion. It’s easy to stay disobedient, to stay comfortable, and to stay in error when nobody who is different is ever let in.

God doesn’t make mistakes and no matter what someone is doing or where someone is at, they are still created in His image. That means those who are different are beautiful in their way, because God put differences within us, on purpose, to get our attention and do different things. Instead of constantly putting down different ministers and ministries, encouraging them to hide themselves, maybe it’s time to look at the track they are on and realize there are things right about that track that conformity doesn’t afford us.

Try to change me if you must; we just won’t remain friends. I pray that any minister with a truly different message will grab ahold of the revelation that God made you different on purpose. No reason to hide, no reason to sit back, but you should embrace – and love – what God is doing in you. Don’t just keep doing it for God, although that is definitely reason enough. Keep going for yourself, too. No matter what our title or how we do it, we are born for one thing, and that is to serve the Lord. Serve the Lord as you have been called, even if it’s different.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

So…You Think You Want To Marry A Minister?

Over the past twenty years, I have seen an increase in the number of ministers who are looking to get married. This is for a variety of reasons, including the church push to take the plunge, divorced ministers who desire to remarry (sometimes on the third, fourth, and fifth tries), and a general consensus against single clergy. With this rise in ministers seeking to take the plunge, we find the reverse: many single individuals who, for whatever reason, desire to marry a minister. Whether they are doing it because they genuinely want to help someone who is in ministry out or for more sinister reasons, such as wanting power without having to work for the status or who have the idea that being married to a minister will help them get into heaven easier (and yes, there are these people out there), there seems to be no end to ministers marrying, remarrying, and connecting up with the hopes of marriage.

The one thing I don’t see a lot of teaching on is what it is like to be married to a minister of the Gospel. When a couple is going to get married, pre-marital counseling doesn’t typically address the issues present in relationships between ministers and those they marry. While the world of marriage to a minister may sound amazing and spiritual to many people, there are certain aspects of marriage to a minister that many don’t consider, and are often troublesome once the marriage begins.

Note: These points apply to both men AND women who marry ministers, not just one or the other, even though I might give specific examples that relate to one or the other.

The very thing that attracts you to that person is the very thing that will become a source of contention later on – Whether it’s their intense spirituality, their position of authority, or something else, the very thing that attracts someone to a minister is the very thing later on that will become the most decisive point in that relationship. The fact that they are spiritual and that means they don’t attend to natural things like you do, or the amount of time they spend in prayer or Scripture study, or the amount of time that they have to spend working on things related to ministry – those are going to be things that will have to be worked out over time, that will not only not seem so deep and spiritual at times – they will also seem like they swallow up and demand too much time away from you, the relationship, and the family

Ministers are not always who they seem to be in the pulpit – People tend to assume that the larger-than-life personalities they see in the pulpit are exactly who those people are when they go home. I can vouch for myself: as a person, it is God’s grace that puts me up in that pulpit and enables me to do what He has called me to do. In my day-to-day life, I am not larger than life. I am rather quiet, introspective, and, at times, even borderline introverted. I like to think, I like to sew, I like to write, I don’t necessarily like to talk or be real social. When I do want to do those things I make it known, I have a great time, and then I go back to being quiet again. I am not the only one. Pulpit preaching is very intense, it makes us tired, and we often really enjoy the quiet of life rather than having to be front-and-center all the time.

Ministry doesn’t mean you automatically have a great relationship – If the third, fourth, and fifth marriages of many ministers don’t testify to this fact, I am not sure what does. Even if a minister has only one marriage under their belt and has never divorced, never assume that this means they have a great marriage (even if they say that they do). Ministry is hard, especially these days, on marriages. There is a wide gap for misunderstanding and miscommunication, because the minister’s focus is on the things of God and their mate may not always see things the same way. The majority of ministers I have met have difficult marriages, many marital problems under the surface, and many relationship misunderstandings. This also means never assume that people who have been married for years automatically have a great relationship. They have probably spent years working through issues, only to replace those with new issues, and many things that they have learned to live with that will remain unresolved.

Don’t compete with God – I have often said that husbands and wives of ministers become the proverbial other “man or woman” in the relationship because the first priority and love a minister has is in their relationship with God. This means if God asks a minister to do something, they are not just going to do it, they HAVE to do it. It’s good to keep in mind that just because they know God has told them to do it doesn’t mean they want to do it, either, and that it may very well be hard for them, too. Standing in the way of a minister who has heard from God and knows they need to do something for Him is a really bad idea. It won’t make the minister scorn God, it will just make them scorn you.

Ministers have different priorities than other people – For years, people told me that I would change my mind about wanting to have children. Now that I am well over 30, I desire to have children even less now than I did when I was younger. My priority isn’t a perfectly orderly house. It’s not to be a biological parent. My priority is to finish this next book, to have what we need for our homeless outreach next month, to fill up our church for the glory of God, and to work on missions preparations. I don’t care if I ever own my own home, I am happy as a renter in an apartment where all the maintenance is done for me. It would be unfair for a mate to try and change who I am because they have different priorities. If you want to be with a minister, you need to accept the differences in priorities, not try and change that person to be someone they aren’t. There is no verse that says “marriage is your first ministry” in the Bible. While priorities are fine, trying to mold or push a minister into a type of marital role that is just not for them is unfair.

Ministers work nights, weekends, and holidays – Most services, conferences, and special events are held on nights, weekends, and over holidays. This means that the very time a minister has to work may be a time that you are off from work. Coordinating schedules is a must when you are married to a minister.

Ministers can’t always talk about their day – Most of what people say to us is confidential, in one form or another. This means that even to a spouse, we can’t talk about what is being said to us. We can’t tell a spouse about the problems someone has confided to us about, about what we see in counseling, about the things that people are struggling with, or about the struggles that these sometimes awaken within ourselves. In addition, some of what we deal with is truly heartbreaking, to the point where we can’t always talk about it for our own emotional or spiritual process.

If you don’t support them as ministers, you are getting kicked to the curb – Doesn’t matter if you are married or not. It might take longer for it to happen if you are married, but it’ll still happen, nonetheless. If you can’t get up behind someone in prayer and attention, if you can’t give an encouraging word, if you are always throwing problems in the process, like refusal of financial support or a moment or time to show them that you support what they do, then you aren’t going to stay married.

As a rule, ministers need a lot of space and time to process things – I am so astute and on-point with what is going on spiritually because I spend a lot of my free time by myself, seeking God about the things that I see. Ministers need space and time, not always, not constantly, and not to the neglect of their responsibilities in life, but they need time to process and hear from God, which means that they don’t want to talk incessantly, they don’t want to feel like they have to entertain someone else, and they don’t want to feel like they have to be a problem-solver in their relationships. They are great for being there when you need them and for giving advice when it is needed, but incessant neediness and clinginess will result in a lot of frustration for both.

Ministers deal with insecurities – It’s a fact that preachers love preaching. We love the crowds, the applause, the big offerings, the feeling of being up there. Being up there is a part of our calling, and it inspires us to continue on in our lives. This doesn’t mean that the confidence we exude in the pulpit extends to every area of our lives. Many ministers are insecure people, who experience a lot of rejection and hurt feelings, people tend to be mean towards those who are in ministry, and that can lead to personal insecurities. Also consider that ministers sometimes experience their own doubts about their calling, about what God has asked them to do (especially when things aren’t going well), and that they might receive pulpit attention, but ministers don’t often have a lot of people they can rely on to be there for them or care about them when times are difficult. Many ministers struggle with bouts of depression and loneliness, and this is definitely going to be something that one will see if they are married to a minister for any length of time.

Being married to a minister is about more than great suits, big hats, and seats in the front row of the church – I’ve met a lot of ministry couples who cite money as a serious contention in a relationship. The main problem is that today, ministry costs money rather than being a profitable source of income for most ministers. Most of the ministers I know actually put money into their ministries, and that means more money goes from jobs and households to fund ministry. A marital spouse may be the primary source of income, the primary caretaker for children or for household responsibilities (especially if a minister holds another job on top of doing ministry), and there may still be times when the amount of money a couple has will not be enough to keep the lights on at the church AND at home. Gone are the days when being the spouse of a minister is all about good looks, prestigious seats in the church, and good clothes. There is a certain level of sacrifice that comes along with being married to a minister, and some of those sacrifices will be required by the spouse as much as by the minister.

Ministers don’t always want to be ministers – Sometimes we don’t feel like being all super-deep. Sometimes a minister just wants to be a person, enjoying time with their spouse or family, or just enjoying time by themselves. It’s not always about praying, getting a word, reading the Bible, or being a spiritual guide for everyone. Maybe they want to go to a movie, watch a TV show, read a non-spiritual book, go out to eat somewhere, work on their marriage from a counseling or constructive viewpoint, be under the microscope of life, or do something fun that doesn’t involve ministry. Respecting and recognizing this balance can make a ministry spouse a true champion, especially in times when it is most needed.

© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Stay In Your Lane…?

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“Stay in your lane!” We’ve all heard it. I’ve even said it myself. It’s something we throw out there when someone appears to be changing their venue or ministry in some way. They might be advancing, they might be doing something different, but we are quick to throw out “Stay in your lane!” to express our grave disapproval of whatever it is they are doing. We give the metaphors, the so-called warnings about what happens when we change lanes: we’ll hit another car, we’ll be in someone else’s way, we’ll cause an accident, we won’t be where we should be. There is no end to the endless calamities that will result from simply changing lanes.

We all know this is a driving analogy, so after watching a program last week (which I will discuss in detail in a moment), I started thinking about the “stay in your lane” message we give to the church, especially ministers. The word that is given is one against change, against movement, against doing anything different. If you are driving, however, is staying in your lane throughout the duration of your trip even possible? Maybe it’s from driving in a metro area and through several major metro areas in the course of my life, but it’s near impossible to “stay in your lane.” Staying in your lane, at least around Raleigh and Durham, will get you killed a lot of the time. If you’re in a turning lane and you don’t need to turn, then that means you are in the wrong lane and you need to switch lanes. If you are on an off ramp, you need to merge into the interstate traffic. You can’t stay in that lane or you will run off the road all together. If you are going faster than the car or cars in front of you, you need to switch lanes so you can pass them, safely. Staying in your lane will mean you run into someone. If you are driving and the lane ends, shifts, changes, or work is done on one of those lanes, you need to change lanes. The whole point of driving, driving safe, and driving alert is the mere fact that driving conditions change and, inevitably, you need to change lanes.

Of course I am not advising that people take up the practice of being bad drivers. Swerving all over the road, being reckless or careless, texting or distracted driving, or inconsiderate of others doesn’t make a good driver. It doesn’t make a good minister, either. Yet I see tons of these ministers telling other people to “stay in your lane!” They have messy household situations, their homes look like they’ve never seen a mop or a broom, their children are out of control, they have no members to their church or ministry, and they aren’t going anywhere. But they want to make sure someone else “stays in their lane.” (Maybe these types need to find a lane…of course I really think if you don’t have a car, you don’t need a lane in the first place!)

In other words: our driving analogy doesn’t measure up. We chant “stay in your lane!” because we don’t have anything new to bring to the table because we just plain aren’t listening to God. We want to listen to what big-name preachers are doing, we want to hear what’s popular, and we hope following trends will keep us current.  It’s a bad example, with no basis in fact. It’s just another excuse for us to embrace when we get angry that people are moving on, moving ahead of us, trying something new that challenges us, or something that is just different from what we do.

On Empire last week, Jamal Lyon (played by Jussie Smollett) meets his musical idol, Skye Summers (played by Alicia Keys). When Skye talks about doing something new with her music or venturing into a new area, Lucious Lyon (played by Terrance Howard) is quick to tell her that she’s great at girl-power pop and to “stay in your lane!” As the show unfolds, however, and Skye works with Jamal, she plays the beginning of a ballad that she has been working on for Jamal, which he encourages her to continue. Even though the traditional, safe advice was for her to “stay in her lane,” the result of what she did was the song, “Powerful,” which was indeed, definitely powerful.

Even though her character was good at what she did in her own “lane,” when she switched lanes, what she did was even better. It was even more of who she was, her own abilities, her own empowerment, and gave her a voice, a creative voice that brought something out that was better than what she’d had before.

I’ve spent years operating in the “stay in your lane” mentality. I’ve always been good to other ministers. I’ve tried the networking thing, the connection thing, the fellowship thing, the event thing, the covering thing, all of it. If I am going to sit here and be brutally honest, I can’t say that “staying in my lane” has gotten me anywhere that I want to be. Every time I have an event, someone needs to be somewhere else, or is too busy, or doesn’t want to commit. Better than that, if something is wrong, I feel so brushed off by people, it disturbs me. It’s like they want to say they prayed so they can say they did something and be done with it. If I have a book, people will like the status about it, but they won’t buy it. “Staying in my lane” means that I keep doing the same things that I have always done, for the same people who don’t appreciate it, and who clearly, quite honestly, don’t even want it.

That means it is time for a change. If I want different results, I have to do something different. Just like Alicia Keys’s character on Empire, there is more within me than this. There is more within me than staying in one place forever for people who don’t really understand or appreciate me as a person or as a leader. I could spend my entire life trying to minister to those who clearly think they don’t need it. Or, I can change lanes, and offer more to those who want and need it.

If you feel that your “lane” is adequate for you, then great, stay there. But don’t tell me or anyone else that we need to “stay in your lane.” I’ve outgrown mine. Maybe other people have outgrown theirs. Maybe if you haven’t outgrown your lane, there’s a reason God wants to keep you where you won’t impact very many lives.

Think before you speak. None of us are God, and none of us have the right to impede or stop what God wants to do in someone else.

Think about that. Think about what it truly means to be “powerful.” Then go encourage someone to get out of their lane.

© 2015 by Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Getting Rid Of The Ties That Bind

You certainly said in my hearing; I heard the sound of your words:“I’m pure, without sin; I’m innocent, without offense.  Notice that he invents arguments against me;     he considers me his enemy, ties up my feet, watches all my paths.” Job 33:8-11 (CEB)

“Blessed Be The Ties That Bind” is one of the first hymns I remember hearing when I attended Presbyterian Sunday School as a child.  To make my Sunday School story very short, I, as a Catholic child, attended Presbyterian Sunday School.  In those days, Catholics had religious education (CCD) classes after school on a weekday, not on Sundays.  When I was first in school, I went to public school (I went to Catholic school when I was in 5th grade).  So every Wednesday, we’d go to religious education with Mrs. Rusin, rather than going home.  Somewhere between now and nearly 30 years ago, the laws changed, and now kids aren’t allowed to do that anymore.  Alas, in those days, I wanted to go to Sunday School, Catholics had never heard of Sunday School, so my mother found me Sunday School.  It just happened to be Presbyterian.  We would get out of Sunday School right as they would start their service, and I remember hearing “Blessed Be The Ties That Bind” one particular day.

The hymn isn’t my favorite.  There are other hymns I like a lot more, that are easier to sing.  I think it has a nice sentiment, and I like that it teaches on unity.  The bonds of Christian love and Christian unity should keep us together.  However, God knew what He was doing when I got a word from Him recently where He told me: Get rid of the ties that bind.

Recently I posted a three-part testimony that spanned the past two years.  What I didn’t mention in that testimony was the progression that has been happening all this year toward improving our flow and organizational things that relate to this ministry.  Over the past two years, a lot of changes have happened in the ministry.  Several key people left, all under less-than-ideal circumstances, and we’ve had some shake-ups, shake-downs, and shake-it-all-arounds.  Where I stand now is not where I stood a few years ago, and how I feel about some things has radically changed.  I see the need for reformation and revision, and while I am not changing the vision, I can see where our execution on some things needs to be different.

So when I finally got the sense that it was time to dissolve Women of Power as a part of the main ministry and, instead, start Sanctuary Women as our women’s ministry (and add a lot of what we were doing to Sanctuary Women, and dissolve the rest), I was curious as to why I was all right with doing that.  I didn’t even put up a fight…I just knew what it was time to do, and I had peace about it.  Yet, I was curious why I had peace.  I wondered why I didn’t feel more upset or more like I had lost something.  Women’s ministry has always been very important to me, and the work of Women of Power came at a very difficult point in my life.  It represented something I wanted, something I felt was so important, and something I wanted to do.  I wanted to bring different women together who agreed on the importance and education of women, from different ministries and perspectives, to work together and educate and empower other women.  Sounds great? Sure it does.  It sounds like that song, “Blessed Be The Ties That Bind.”  Just like it looks in the hymnal, you figure, “we got this,” until you start singing it.

That’s exactly what happened with Women of Power.  Year after year, our events were always filled with someone who just had to try and sabotage things.  Someone would seem all supportive, then show up with a mess.  Sometimes the sabotage came from speakers; sometimes attendees; sometimes both.  And it always seemed like, every year, we were subtracting rather than adding.  After every event, someone who was a part of Women of Power was no longer such, and was no longer even a part of any of our lives.  While Women of Power was great at exposing things and motives…it became a headache.

Women of Power was tied to all those people, and their sabotages.  It was tied to their visions, their manipulations, the way in which they misrepresented themselves, and the way in which they took on the vision as a part of their own lives and work.  It represented trust in the wrong people, and dishonesty on their part.  For that reason, it was tied to memories, feelings, and ideals that are no longer present here because they have been cast out of this ministry.

The ties that binded needed to be cut.  I was good with moving on because those ties: to those people, those memories, and those things, was no more.  It was fine to take the parts of the events and work that worked – and do something else with it.  But Women of Power, as an identity, was forever going to bind us all together, when we needed to be separate.

Not all the ties that bind are blessed.  Some people, considering us enemies, are binding us up through our sense of loyalty, our desire to have things go on without them, our own stubborn pride in wanting thing to stay the same and show someone else up, or our own lack of realizing that the things that connect us to them still bring back those ties, tie and time again.  Lord, in this hour, help us to see those ties that are blessed, and let us embrace them.  Let us also recognize those ties that are not, and know what to cut, and when.

(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.

The Leadership Series, Part 6: Make Sure It’s Not All A Bunch Of Hype

Note: this is sixth in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, you have time to catch up :).

It all started when we were looking at the property we are preparing to rent to start Sanctuary Apostolic Fellowship upstairs and run our publishing company downstairs.  As we stood on the second floor of the building and talked about an “upper room” experience, I was told that we need to be careful about the way in which we handle praise and worship at Sanctuary.  We can’t do things just like everyone else does them because that’s the way everyone else does them.  I knew the word was from God because I had already been singing the hymn, “I Stand Amazed” in the Robin Mark way, which is slow and peaceful, for days.  I’d walked around Wal-Mart in Garner, singing that song, as people stared at me, not two days earlier.  Now I was hearing that it was essential we are careful and put thought into just how we do our worship.

Since then, it has been confirmed in many ways, and many times over.  When I recently went to preach in Durham a few weeks ago, we witnessed a service in a more “old time” style, where the group engaged in congregational singing rather than praise and worship with a worship leader.  If someone had a song to sing, they sang it.  When they had special song selections, it was by a group of people, every time, who not only sang together, they sang in harmony.  I have to admit that it was a nice change from the world of church music that, more and more, is now resembling a rock concert.  I have nothing against modern music, or singing new songs to the Lord, but there is part of me that watches where we keep going with it, one step further and further each time, and wonders if a lot of it is even about God anymore.  Many members of the congregation don’t even sing, they just stand or sit there and watch the leader, as if the leader is some sort of celebrity.  Something is missing.

It has the form, but denies the power thereof.

Last night I saw a headline somewhere on the net that mentioned Carlton Pearson’s impending divorce from his wife, Gina.  I didn’t really care that he was getting divorced, but I realized it had been awhile since I looked him up, and I wondered what was new in whatever was left of his revamped ministry.  He was famous before my time in church, by the time I was starting to really get serious in my faith he left his position in his church and changed his doctrine, and I didn’t even hear of him until many, many years later, right after I first moved to Raleigh, NC in 2009, at a meeting I was scheduled to preach at.  It was a conference that was supposedly Pentecostal, based in the form thereof of Pentecostal tradition and experience.  So imagine my complete shock to note the speaker who spoke that night was D.E. Paulk (who I had also never heard of), who highly recommended Carlton Pearson’s book on the Gospel of Inclusion.  D.E. Paulk’s preaching and indifferent message to anything related to truth (he actually went as far as to say we should separate “Christ” from “Jesus” and we should stop preaching Jesus) appalled me so much I got up and left the room, I was really curious about who exactly this group of people were that invited me to preach.  I wasn’t real selective about who I preached for in those days (I assumed that if a group had a semblance of Christianity that they were Christian), and as a result, I looked up Carlton Pearson to learn more about his doctrine and what he now believed.  I had never heard of a Pentecostal who wasn’t…well…Pentecostal before.  Yes, I had heard of variances and did acknowledge there were some that were more liberal than others, but surely all Pentecostals had Jesus in common…right?

I am not going to get into the ins and outs of Pearson’s teachings now, except to say that I feel he is the product of a very slippery slope I often talk about that happens when people start to realize certain things they have been taught were incorrect or improperly applied.  We all grow in our faith, and have to admit that some of what we were taught was either taught very simplistically or incorrectly.  Instead of looking more deeply into doctrines surrounding hell and the afterlife, he just started abandoning things all together and one thing led to another.  Instead of maturing in his faith, he wasn’t in circles that were equipped to teach him properly and help him see a different way.  Instead of finding another circle, he just abandoned everything, and has struggled for many years to find a new footing somewhere, which is hard because his background was so hardcore traditional Pentecostal.  In the process, I learned he has been a part of several different movements, including Unitarian Universalist, Christian Universalist, New Thought, and Metaphysical.  Thus, when I heard about his divorce, I looked him up again, to see what he was up to these days.

What I saw this time disturbed me on a level I never experienced prior.  Before, I just saw the changes of a confused person who felt betrayed by his own community of origin and didn’t know what he believed anymore.  This time, I learned he is spreading that, around.  He is now starting what is known as the “Metacostal Network.”  According to his website, it is:

Metaphysics is a branch or division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of being (existence) and that which is beyond being’s physical expression. It relates to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the five senses. It involves unconventional imagery. It means using the imagination you were born with to create in consciousness what you want to make and be real in your life. That is, a constant imagining that you are transcendent, having been created in the image and likeness of God or the Divine!

“​Many Pentecostal preachers and people want to embrace a metaphysical approach to scripture and life and desire a connection to others of the same interest and mind...

The phrase Metacostal was coined by one of my spiritual sons DE Paulk, another pastor of Classical Pentecostal roots who has evolved into expanded consciousness, while remaining attached to his spiritual roots in Pentecost barring some of the extreme dogma associated with it. Many from other disciplines are doing likewise. However, because of the larger appeal I have to people from my religious background, there are larger numbers of people and pastors within and/or from that particular communion or discipline looking and leaning toward expanded consciousness but want to maintain various aspects of the mystical ambiance of their Pentecostal tradition.”  (from http://www.bishoppearson.com/#!metacostal-network/c15k7)

In other words: Carlton Pearson is creating a network of churches that feel the way he now does about things.  They are full of people who want to approach faith in an abstract, New Thought, New Age way, rejecting key doctrines of Christianity, including the Incarnation of Christ, Jesus’ atonement for sins, the sinfulness of all people, Jesus as the Way to the father, and even the work of the Spirit in the sense we have understood it in Christianity for generations…but still want to “feel” Pentecostal.  They want to whoop and holler, dance and sing traditional songs that don’t even mean anything to them anymore, lift their hands and pray loudly in something that’s not even tongues, and “amen” the preacher when he or she is done talking.  They want that traditional feel, they want to be and look like something…but they don’t really want to be that anymore.

The thing that really shook me is that if these people can create a totally fabricated, emotional Pentecostal experience: it can sound the same, look the same, feel the same – but not be genuine – we can all do the same.

There’s an ouch moment.  Every one of us, as leaders, knows the standard movements that will work up a group and a crowd.  We all know the cues for the music for people to start dancing, we know how to “preach hard” so everyone will like us, and we know how to get people riled up, hands in the air, tears streaming down their face…without the Spirit of God anywhere in sight.  People are easily swayed and like their emotional moments…especially if they have never learned how to tell the difference between their emotions and the Spirit.

Remember the caution in 2 Timothy 3:3-7: For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (KJV)

The reason people can have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof is because we have made all those other things acceptable and even comfortable in church.  When nobody sat down Carlton Pearson to show him the more excellent way, it opened the door for a whole bunch of other things that caused him to seek the exterior, but not the truth of it.  How many more are there like this in church, wanting to “feel” Pentecostal but denying truth for doctrines about money, cheapened grace and lazy faith that doesn’t ask anything of them?

Yes, sometimes being in the Spirit causes us to feel a certain way, but that way we feel is not the Spirit itself.  Throughout history, there have been numerous movements that moved in quiet and peace, waiting for the Spirit to arrive.  Don’t get me wrong, I love moving with the Spirit and I even love being excited about it.  But, as I was told today, not everyone has the same shout, song of praise, or dance.  We don’t all dance like David danced.  Instead of looking to the exterior forms, we need to look deeper, at the needs of the people, so they will have something real to shout about.

Leaders, stop being Holy Ghost cheerleaders and start moving with the flow of God that will transform lives.  We can’t say this isn’t “church as usual” if we keep insisting on doing things the same way that they have always been done.  That will just lead to more people thinking they need the form…but denying the power thereof.

Love y’all in the Kingdom,

Apostle Dr. L.

(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.

The Leadership Series, Part 5: Humility Is A Virtue Becoming To All

Note: this is fifth in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, 3, or 4, you have time to catch up :).

When I was a teenager, I won a writing contest in our diocesan newspaper.  It was in the sesquicentennial year of the diocese (150th year of the founding, and yes, that is the only time I have ever used that word), which made it a big deal.  Let me also add, I was very involved in the local parish and was the first one that anyone called, whether they should have or not, when something came up that required assistance.  I was a graduate of the parish’s Catholic school, I was one of the first girls who was on the altar when they opened it up to girls back in the early 1990s, and I can’t count the number of other things that I did.  So, when I wrote the article for the contest and then won, I fully expected it to be a big deal.  A year or so earlier, one of the boys in the parish also wrote for the same contest and won, and the parish priest was so proud, he beamed for an entire weekend.  At all five of the parish masses that weekend, he was invited to read his article, in front of everybody, in order to get praise and approval.  He wasn’t that involved in church, even though his family was, from time to time.  I think I saw him serve on the altar a couple of times over the years, but that was it.  They were staunch, they were cold, they were not at all progressive (which the parish teetered on), and nobody had much use for them.  He wasn’t well-known among any of us, and he nor his family was that well-liked, but they made a fuss.  So me, in my teenage mind, expected the same to be done for me.  I figured if his essay was a big deal, then surely, mine should be, too.

It wasn’t.  In fact, barely anyone said a thing about it to me.  It was as if it never happened.  Nobody was excited, very, very few people (I think maybe two) said something to me about it, and there was absolutely no fuss.  When almost a month after the fact the parish priest typed up a congratulatory note (about 3 lines) and put it in the bulletin, I never even saw it was there.  When he pointed out to me that it was there, he said it as if it was supposed to be a big deal and I was supposed to be all grateful…but I wasn’t.  I felt as if the accomplishment was treated as if it was nothing and as if nobody cared.

The boy who won a few years earlier was a Kennedy.  Not as in the political family, but as in the family who was, for whatever reason, given great prominence in the church.  He was a Kennedy, which meant that he was treated a certain way, just because of that.  It didn’t matter that their family was entangled in all sorts of mess and sabotage against the pastor, or that they had rather unsocialized children,  or that they were staunch, or mean, or not well-liked…all that mattered was that he was a Kennedy, and I was not.  I could have been involved in the parish until I died, nothing I did was ever going to be “good enough” to be worthy of the Kennedy image.

I remember how upset I was when all of this happened, because I didn’t understand it.  In hindsight, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my mom to sit me down as a teenager and say to me, “They didn’t fuss over you because you’re not a Kennedy.”  I found out many years after the fact that she too felt what happened was unfair, but knowing my mom the way I know her, she didn’t say anything to that extent because she knew that getting into the unfairness of the whole thing was only going to make it worse for me and take longer for me to get the message.  No matter what I did, I was not ever going to be treated like he was, because he was, for whatever reason, “acceptable,” and I was not.

What I got was a lesson in humility.  It wasn’t about being “good enough” or “better,” it was about the fact that sometimes life is just unfair and we need to be humble enough to trust that whether we get our just do or not, life still goes on and we still need to interact properly with other people.  And remember that I certainly had to do, whether I wanted to do it or not, because I still returned to that church, several times per week to be involved, for over two more years.  I worked there, I taught people’s children, I served, fully well knowing I was not accepted and what I did was not even appreciated.

I think humility is a lesson we all need to learn, and one that we, in church today, can’t help but learn fast enough.  In our crazy world of warped self-esteem and a push to always feel “good” about ourselves, we have forgotten how to be humble and how to esteem and love others as much as we love ourselves.  We are so busy worrying that people don’t treat us right, we stop doing things, living, having experiences, and accepting that sometimes things don’t go our way.  This hurts leaders and, the more we give the impression to our people that we need to be esteemed in a certain way in order to stay somewhere, we forget that an arrogant chip on someone’s shoulder will cause them to stop hearing from God properly and cause them to eventually rebel against us.

Humility is a learned characteristic.  It is a basic principle of being able to get along with other people, and the more I think about it, I realize it is something we learn even when we are children.  Whenever we could “give” it but couldn’t “get” it, our parents were quick to tell us, “Do you like it when people treat you like that? No? Then stop doing it to other people!”  We were taught that being sore losers wasn’t attractive and that we had to learn how to be good sports, able to take our losses with grace and dignity.  We learned about sharing and compromising with other people, that we don’t always get our own way, and that we needed to be polite people.  Being polite never, ever meant (or means now) being “fake,” but it means being mature enough and socialized enough to handle situations with certain conditions and social graces, and that bullying other people and blowing up in their faces all the time was not proper behavior for anyone.

Even though we don’t consider these things to be examples of humility, they really, in reality, are exactly what humility is.  Humility is the opposite of pride.  Pride puffs up and exalts itself, while humility is regarding one’s self properly, not esteeming one’s self higher than they should, and realizing who they are, whether things are fair, or not.  Humility reminds us that we don’t get our own way, and that nobody owes us our own way, no matter how much we may think we should have it.

Luke 6:31 tells us, “Do to others what [Treat others as] you would want them to ·do to [treat] you.” (EXB) Many wonder, just what does that mean?  The Bible has given us many, many wonderful words on how we should interact with each other, but what we don’t often teach is that treating other people in the same way that we would want to be treated doesn’t start with the way everyone else treats us.  We can spend our entire lives focusing on the wrongs that have been done to us and the ways that the “Kennedys” of the world have gotten away with so many things, and it has been unjustified.  Treating others the way we want to be treated starts when we do that.  As leaders, it is so tempting to want to seek vengeance on people through spiritual things, by rebuking in anger and the flesh, by teaching the “truth” and gearing it all at someone who wronged us (different from telling a story and learning a lesson or teaching a lesson, obviously), or by using our position to punish someone for the way they treated us.  It can be that much harder to be a leader who is humble enough to accept that not everyone is for us and not everyone recognizes what God has done in our lives, and not everyone accepts the authority that we have.  It can be that much harder for a leader to be a model of humility for their people.

If we don’t do it, however, the people who we cover and who follow our ministries won’t know how to do it, either.  Sometimes we have to take one for the team, and take it because if we don’t, nothing in this world will ever change.

No, it’s not right how people treat each other.  No, it wasn’t right that I was treated the way I was as a teenager.  In fact, in remembering the story that I started this blog with, the more I thought about it from different angles, the worse it sounded.  Even twenty years later, it still doesn’t sound right, or fair.  But right or wrong, it was how I was treated, and from it, I learned that things don’t always go my way, not even in church, where we should all be for each other.  It makes me think of James 4:10, “Humble yourself in the Lord’s presence, and he will ·honor you [exalt you; lift you up; 1 Pet. 5:6].” (EXB)  The Kennedy kid got to read his article in front of the whole church, so what?  That was the only moment he got in all those years we went to that church, and he didn’t make the paper, or get so fussed over in public, again in his life.  Now I am an apostle, thousands of people all over the world hear me preach, read my books, read my blogs, watch my videos, and watch me on television.  The attention and acclaim I thought I needed all those years ago, I really didn’t.  What I needed was to be humble.  What I need now is to be humble.  What all of us need, is to be humble.  (And that Kennedy kid, wherever he is now, needs to be humble, too!) God really does lift us up when we first honor Him.

Love y’all in the Kingdom.

Apostle Dr. L.

(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.

The Leadership Series, Part 4: Let The Children And The Youth Come To Him

Note: this is fourth in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, or 3, you have time to catch up 🙂.

When I was growing up, I was Catholic and my best friend was Methodist.  When we would spend the night at each other’s houses on Saturdays, we would go to whichever church went with the household.  I loved going to church with her, because it seemed so much more interesting than Catholic services.  At the Methodist Sunday School, we would sing songs and make collages and draw pictures.  During the service, the minister would call all the children up to the altar and have “children’s time,” which was enough to make me want to become a Methodist at the age of 7 or 8.  I loved the concept that a whole part of the service was done in a way that I could understand and explained things to me, on my own level.

That was something that, while the Catholic Church did place emphasis on children’s education, I had never experienced in the way I did in that Methodist Church.  Despite the fact that I had, by this point in time, spent a few years in Religious Education, it didn’t speak to me in the same way.  This would change, as I got a little older. It was duly noted that in that same Methodist Church, opportunities for the youth waned as kids got older and became appropriately identified as youth age.  In contrast, the Catholic Church (especially in the 1990s) put a lot of emphasis on youth being a part or somehow involved in the church.  When you’re growing up Catholic, you receive four of the seven sacraments before the time you are 17 years old (baptism, first reconciliation/confession, first communion, confirmation).  This means the Catholics wanted you to stay in the church, and they saw it as the last stretch before adulthood.  Whereas most of our churches emphasize adult continuity and study, Catholicism’s foundations were built upon the concept that if you got the kids involved as teenagers, they would stay in the church as adults.

Once a month, we had a youth liturgy.  Every student in the Confirmation prep program was allowed to do something to participate.  We would do the readings, serve as ushers, take the collection, offer the gifts, sing in the choir, and even walk in during the processional.  We couldn’t preach or serve in place of the priest, but the priest would make a point to deliver his homily on something that related to us, as youth.  It made us feel connected and give us a sense that, whether it was reality or not, we were a part of that church and it was something we belonged to.

When I was first a Christian, I was 17 years old.  I went from being in a Catholic Church with 168 teenagers preparing for Confirmation to a small, Rhema-affiliated Charismatic Church with about 200 people in it total.  They had one of the best Children’s Church programs I have seen to date, but the one thing they did not have was anything for the youth, nor for college students (sometimes incorporated into youth ministry).  When they finally did decide to start something about 7 months after I first got there, they started with kids who were between 12 and 15 years old, which meant I, at 17, was left out.  It was obvious that there really wasn’t a place for someone who wasn’t a child, was on the upper end of youth ministry, and who wasn’t an adult or someone with young children.  The other churches I worked with or affiliated with for awhile later on had other options: one Full Gospel group had a school, and a youth program that revolved around entertaining youth, understanding them to be bored, and the Apostolic Church in our area still had a third option in there: they had next-to-nothing for children, but a thriving youth program for students in junior high and those at an early high school age.

Once I became an ordained minister, first a pastor and then an apostle, I was shocked to learn how many churches did not have children’s or youth programs, for a variety of reasons.  One of the major reasons boiled down to the fact that the leaders in the church described themselves as “not being called to it” or “not seeing the need for it.”  It was obvious when, in these churches, how out of place the kids were.  They were antsy and the teenagers were bored, annoyed, or ready to get out of there at a moment’s notice.  They couldn’t relate with what was being done because it wasn’t for them and they knew from the general tone and attitude they received that it didn’t matter that they weren’t getting anything out of it.

So much of what is done in organized religion (or not organized religion, or not organized not religion, or whatever you want to classify what you do as) revolves around adults and adult forms of worship.  There are many reasons for this, one of the primary ones being a different approach to faith as is seen in more traditional churches.  Because we don’t see membership as a life-long opportunity (from infant baptism to adulthood) but that it begins when a person is old enough to believe in Jesus for themselves, there are many churches that don’t put a lot of emphasis on children’s or youth ministry.  It’s almost like there is almost an assumption that kids are going to be kids, they are going to be wild and “do their thing,” so we shouldn’t even bother taking much effort in reaching out to them.  Some of the reason, I also believe, is economic.  Most small churches don’t have the money, nor the willingness of a volunteer staff, to handle a matter such as Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, or a youth conference or rally.  If a church only has a handful of children or youth, especially if they are all different ages, the temptation may be to let things slide.

Personally, I admit that I am not called to children or youth ministry as a full-time endeavor.  I don’t mind doing it on occasion and I always make a point for “children’s lesson” when there are children in my audience, but I know that I can’t take it on as my full-time calling.  I also know that my calling to it or not to it is of no excuse to making sure the youth and the children in our churches are taken care of.  No matter how we might like to spin it, children and youth need things explained on our own level.  They aren’t adults, and we cannot expect them to reason as such.  They need things explained and taught to them in a way that will speak to their level of understanding, even if all we can offer is a short message for them for a few minutes.  This doesn’t have to be done in an expensive manner, nor does it have to be done in a big, huge way.  Youth and children’s ministry do not need to be grand, expensive things.  Let them be involved in the service.  If someone can sing, let them sing.  Let the kids take up the offering (supervise them while they count it), let them do the Scripture readings, let them lead prayer, let them greet people and usher, let them play instruments for worship, let them dance, let them pick songs, let them help plan services that are done from time to time specifically for youth, let them pray for each other, and yes, let them help clean the church and maintain the grounds.  I am not suggesting that they don’t need to be supervised, but they do need to know that this is their church, that they are welcome here and that there is a place for them, participating, like we expect of everyone else.

We all know Luke 18:15-17: “Now they were also bringing [even] babies to Him that He might touch them, and when the disciples noticed it, they reproved them. But Jesus called them [the parents] to Him, saying, Allow the little children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such [as these] belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not accept and receive and welcome the kingdom of God like a little child [does] shall not in any way enter it [at all].” (AMP)  Have we considered what this means?  We use it in the context of salvation, but Jesus was talking about more than just His relationship with Him.  Jesus outright told the parents to stop keeping their children from Him.  There are many, many ways that people in authority can inadvertently keep children and youth from Jesus, and one of the ways it is done is by refusing them the right to participate in their church.  Any time we tell a youth or a child that they can’t do something, without giving them something they can do that reflects their age and their level of understanding, we are keeping them from the Lord, and denying them their place in the Kingdom.

I am not suggesting that we start operating free-for-all churches with kids screaming and youth running to the bathroom every five minutes to take selfies for Facebook.  But maybe there is another way we need to start to look at the youth and the children that will help us expand our own ideas about the Kingdom and participation in the Kingdom.  We are always complaining that we can’t get people to participate.  Your youth and children are right there, ready, and needing to help.  Yes, it needs to have structure and yes, I am not suggesting you let them just do anything and everything…but let the children and the youth come to Him.  Let them participate in church, rather than feeling like everything is being done for or to them all the time.  Let them serve, and in that service, find Him – and find their own grounding as they grow to become Christian adults.

Love y’all in the Kingdom,

Apostle Dr. L.

(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.