Ministry Manners: Sunday Best, I Guess by Lynn Brinkley

women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing.” 1 Timothy 2:9

It is the final week of class at Campbell University, and I had an interesting conversation today in my Introduction to Christianity course with about thirty-five undergraduate students, mostly millennials in their first or second year of college.

One of their class requirements is to visit a Christian church different from their denominational background or upbringing. Today, they shared reflections about those visits.

According to the students in my class, they prefer attending worship services in which contemporary music is sung rather than traditional hymns. They also want to attend a worship service that does not last over an hour-and-a-half. Being in a worship context with other young people is important to these students. None of this surprised me, but what I did find surprising is that the vast majority of these students felt wearing “Sunday best” attire is most appropriate for church. Based on their prior reflections and age, I guess I expected them to say, “Come as you are.” After hearing from my students, I want to pose this question, “How should one dress for church?”

women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.

Enforcement of these New Testament principals would certainly result in the excommunication of a great number of African-American women (myself included) from churches today. In our context, dressing to impress has cultural significance. As a people, we were taught to wear Sunday best in and outside the church. “Dressing up” meant people would respect you more, you would be taken more seriously, and you would not be overlooked as “the Help.” However I must confess, the principles of dress code for church that I was taught have changed drastically over the years. It seems to have shifted from Sunday best to Sunday worst! Arguments can be made from both the Old and New Testaments as to what is deemed proper attire for church. Yet, this blog is about manners.

A mark of civility is being considerate of others. Therefore, we should be mindful about how we dress (especially for church) for what we wear could be offensive and inconsiderate in certain contexts. While in Israel, I covered my head in the holy places as a sign of respect for that context (AND my hair was braided—oh my!)

I firmly believe whether you wear Sunday best or khaki casual, it is best practice to dress decently when attending church. It goes without saying that expectations for dress will differ from congregation to congregation, but how should one dress for church?

I encouraged my students today to be respectable and considerate of others when they attend worship. First and foremost, all should feel welcomed in God’s house, regardless of dress. Preparation for worship should give less thought to people and more attention to praising God. Nevertheless, we should all be mindful of what we wear on any given Sunday. Here are a few tips I gave them:

  1. When in doubt, always dress in business casual or Sunday Best (I guess).
  2. Be mindful that your dress (wearing jeans, flip-flops, sleeveless shirts or t-shirts) may be deemed offensive in certain congregations.
  3. My former preaching professor, Dr. Haddon W. Robinson, always taught that when you preach you should dress “one notch above the congregation.”

For more information about proper attire in the pulpit, check out my new book: Manners & Money: A Manual on Preaching Etiquette.

This conversation could also be extended to address clergy attire—To Robe or Not to Robe? That is the next blog question, so stay tuned!

C. Lynn Brinkley serves as the director of student services and alumni relations at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Lynn is also an adjunct professor at Campbell and an ordained minister at First Baptist Church in Clinton.

Ministering Through Pain by Tanell Allen

In 2013, when I was in Beijing, China, teaching and doing missions work, I received the second worst call of my life. A call that I will never forget. My mother called and said, “Nell, you need to see if those people will send you home. Henry died this morning in his sleep.” I was floored for the second time in my life. The first time was when my youngest brother was murdered. What do you do when life hits you so hard that it feels as if all of the faith has been knocked out of you? As a minister I found myself struggling to do what I encourage so many other people to do in difficult times.

When I returned home to my family, I was hurting, and I felt like crying, “God, I love you, but I do not like you right now. You have some explaining to do, because I need to know why?” I knew I had to go back to China to finish my contract and the work that God called me to do, but I did not want people to see me, a minister, in a state of brokenness. I could not rush back to China without taking some time to take care of myself and my family.

Six weeks later, I knew it was time for me to return, even though I was still grieving. In leaving home, I was more concerned about my family than about myself. My mother was extra clingy. I knew this would be a difficult transition for my family. I felt conflicted about leaving them, but it was time.

When I got back to China, I threw myself into work and ministry projects. I now know why I had to go back to China during such a difficult time in my life. God sent me back to help a friend and co-worker who lost her brother five months after I lost mine. I was able to relate to her pain and minister to her right where she was.

True healing and submission occurred when I became honest and transparent with God and myself. I was angry with God because of the death of my two brothers, and I was struggling with submitting to God calling me to be a minister. Sometimes the pain that we experience in life is bigger than us. Through my pain,  I learned to love and trust God with my whole heart, for he loves and cares about me.

 

Tanell Allen is founder and president of Mocha in My Coffee. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tuesday Prayer from Baptist Women in Ministry

Great God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.

Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen

–Sister Joan Chittister

Psalm 47: God of Many Names by Meredith Stone

“For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; Sing praises with a psalm.”–Psalm 47:2-4, 6

We call God by many names: Lord, Savior, Shepherd, Jehovah, Heavenly Father, and King to name a few. And what we call God often reflects our sense of who God is (though I admit that sometimes we all fall into the rut of calling God by only one name).

For example, perhaps we call on God as Savior in times when we need to feel rescued from some aspect of this present life. Maybe we call on God as Shepherd in moments where we feel we need to be protected or led. Or we possibly call on God as Heavenly Father on days when we need a sense that our God is far bigger than us tiny little earthlings.

But what do we say about God when we call God King?

In this psalm, God being King means that God fights our battles. God defends the divinely loved and chosen nation against its enemies.

This can be a comforting image to know that God will fight on our behalf and be our protector. It can be reassuring to know that God has chosen us to be the ones that God will defend.

But, I think there is another side to thinking of God as King. Kings who subdue nations normally use weapons (swords, guns, nuclear bombs, etc.) to do so. Also, the image of God defending the chosen is an image of the God who plays favorites, draws lines, and spites those on the outside.

While I like to think of God as my protector, I’m not as fond of thinking about the violent God who vanquishes those God doesn’t like.

Because of this, I’ll admit that I personally cringe a little bit when we sing songs that include lines such as, “…crown Him King of kings,” because I’m worried about the “of kings” who were on the outside of the chosen and thus had to be decimated for the divine one to be crowned King over them.

But that doesn’t stop me from singing those songs (at least on most days).

God has accepted thousands of years of praise offered to God as King…and as Holy Warrior…and as Heavenly Father…and as Loving Mother.

God is bigger than any title or image.

So while I think it is a good practice to consider the implications of the names we give to God, I cannot be egotistical enough to think that in this moment we have finally and definitively figured out the best and only right ways to call on the God of the universe.

Creator God, accept the praise we offer in the tradition of our ancestors, and help us to creatively imagine new words, titles, and images that will continue to connect our finite minds to the infinite God.

Meredith Stone is instructor of Christian ministry and scripture and director of ministry guidance at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology. She lives in Abilene, Texas, with her husband and two really fun daughters.

This is What a Minister Looks Like: Angel Pittman

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing woman minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Angel Pittman.

Angel, tell us about your ministry journey–where have you served in the past and where are you currently serving in ministry?

My first position in ministry was directly out of college at a local organization, Mission Waco. I was serving alongside my husband, Jason, and we developed a passion for urban ministry and living in the community where we served. With a desire to use my teaching degree more formally, I taught in the classroom for a few years while also serving in a volunteer capacity at Mission Waco. The premature birth of my oldest son turned my direction again.

In 2002, as Jason completed seminary and a master’s degree in social work, we were appointed as field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) to serve in Detroit. We lived and served in inner city Detroit for three years, and then we were asked to take over leadership at Touching Miami with Love (TML) so we transferred south with CBF.

For almost ten years, we have lived and served in the community of Overtown, Miami’s historic African-American neighborhood adjacent to downtown Miami. I currently serve as assistant director, and through our recent merger with Open House Ministries, we have the privilege of serving the children, youth, and families of Overtown and now West Homestead as well.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?

Adjusting my ministry to the different phases of motherhood and my motherhood to the different phases of ministry is my biggest challenge. I am immensely blessed to serve alongside my husband who has always been a wonderful support. He’s the first one to remind me to allow myself the freedom to be released from guilt when one takes precedent over the other. I can’t imagine trying to do this journey without him!

What do you love best about your ministry position?

I love the opportunity to be a part of each aspect of our ministry. I moved away from leading day-to-day children’s programming six years ago, and I now have the opportunity to use a different skill set as I focus on building support for each aspect of our program and as well as dreaming up new ones.

Being instrumental in the process of discovering needs, praying, imagining creative solutions, finding support, hiring amazing people, and then implementing impactful programs is very rewarding. Lives are influenced by the collective efforts of our staff as we seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our communities.

People often only see the tough part of living and working in the inner city. It’s certainly not pretty and can be disheartening to see evil and injustice so up close on a daily basis, but what a privilege to be part of seeing God’s redemptive work. Our community is literally changing from the inside out. Leaders are rising up. How can I not love being a part of that?!

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?

As a mom who’s chosen to raise her children in the inner-city and blur the lines of motherhood and ministry, the best and most freeing advice came from Carla Barnhill in her book, The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Rethinking the Spirituality of Women. Two quotes still resonate with me nearly ten years after my first reading:

“We have been led to believe that the family is more important than the broader community, that protecting our children from the evils of secular society is more important than bringing God’s love into that culture”

Barnhill expands this thought, saying:

“When Christ told us to go and make disciples of all nations, he didn’t offer an exemption to mothers. The world is in great need of the love of God, and for us to live as though mothers are not necessary to the battle, that mothers should instead stick with influencing their two or three young charges who have a head start in life simply by living in families where they are loved and wanted and cared for seems to run counter to everything that Jesus taught”

Dear Addie: A Mom Looking for Wisdom

Dear Addie,

I am a minister mom, prayerfully considering a new position. My children are ten and twelve years old, and I am very concerned that my family’s transition to a new community and a new church will be painful for them. They love our current church, and I don’t want to in any way jeopardize their affection for “the church.”

My husband and I both want our children to continue loving the church as they move into their teenage years, and we are perplexed as to what to do? Would this move be too big a risk to take?

A Mom Looking for Wisdom

 

Dear A.M.L.F.W.,

You and your husband share a desire for your children to continue loving “the church” in the years to come, which is laudable. Your concern about the angst they may experience if you make a move, particularly as they transition into their teenage years, is understandable. Leaving a dearly loved church is always difficult, regardless of the stage of life.

Try and view this as a teachable moment, an opportunity for your entire family to grow spiritually as you step out in faith together and follow God’s lead. This is a chance for you to model discipleship for your children. Just as Jesus’ first disciples were called to make sacrifices in order to follow Him, we, too, are called to make sacrifices as we seek to follow Christ. Obedience is costly, and we do our children no favors when we water down this spiritual truth.

Would this move be too big a risk to take? Here’s a better question: If you feel God is leading you to accept a new position, is being disobedient too big a risk to take?

Blessings,

Addie

 

If you have a question for Dear Addie, please send them to dearaddie.advice@gmail.com.

*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

 

On Being Thirty and Expecting by Merianna Neely Harrelson

Last week was pretty momentous in my life as a woman, a minister, and a wife. On Wednesday, Sam and I found we were pregnant and expecting a baby in November. The next morning dawned my thirtieth birthday.

My twenties were filled with school and searching (in America and in Germany) for who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do in this world. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience because I have many friends who figured out what they were supposed to be half way through their twenties. I taught beside them, I went to school with them, and in a very real sense as I watched them I hoped I would be as certain about my professions, my job, my calling as they were about teaching. Although teaching was wonderfully fulfilling for me, there was always something more I was looking for, hoping for.

When I was called to be interim pastor, I found that. I only found my calling and myself because I first found my husband. Sam has always seen through the smokescreens I had so carefully constructed to portray a contented life even from the first time we met. It was unnerving to just be around someone who was able to hear and understand me better than I understood myself.

Although I have found my calling, I know I don’t have all the answers to what it means to be a person who is a witness to God’s work in the world and in the lives of people, I know that by becoming more of who I am, I am becoming more of that witness every day.

So, as I began my thirties, I am not expecting less searching, but I am expecting less self-doubt. I am expecting to experience life in a new way as this little life grows inside me. I am expecting to be more awed by God’s work and the work of God’s people. I am expecting to fall even more in love with Sam as we continue to take this crazy journey to a called life serving God and serving God’s people.

 

Merianna Neely Harrelson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Lexington, South Carolina. This post originally appeared on Merianna’s blog.

 

 

Tuesday Prayer from Baptist Women in Ministry

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Psalm 44: When It Feels Like God is Sleeping by Meredith Stone

“You gave us up to be devoured like sheep, And have scattered us among the nations. . . for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”–Psalm 44:11, 22-26 (TNIV)

I grew up as a city-girl. I lived in a house with a yard at the end of a cul-de-sac. I had ample asphalt to trek on my ten-speed with a Michael W. Smith cassette tape blaring in my yellow Walkman.

But both sets of this city-girl’s grandparents lived in the country. Neither had traditional “farms,” but there was much more dirt than asphalt at their houses, and plenty of animals…though I don’t remember any sheep. What I do remember is every-so-often I would hear that Gramps had killed a cow and then our freezer would be stocked with enough ground beef and steaks to last 3 months.

The image of shepherd leading his or her sheep pastorally, as in Psalm 23, is not all that familiar to me, but I do have personal experience of devouring the product of an animal’s slaughter as in found in Psalm 44 (maybe there’s a reason I don’t remember any sheep).

And in my faith journey, I can also identify with the imagery of slaughter.

I have definitely felt like a sheep on the butcher’s block. I have walked with friends and family who feel as though they have been put through the meat grinder.

And in those moments, if I am truthful, I admit that I felt like God was sleeping. Why in the world would God take a nap on my hardest day? How could God forget to make the divine face shine on all of us in misery and oppression?

Psalms of lament, like Psalm 44, express our deepest, most honest feelings. They were not written to give us the answers or opine theologically. Psalms of lament were written to be sung on the butcher’s block.

So on the dark days, let us sing these songs of sorrow while tears flow from our eyes. Let us accept that, for the moment, we don’t have the answers to unbearable pain or to the fact that we feel like God is sleeping.

But let us call on God to rise and help us anyway. Because at the end of the day, it is better to scream our laments to the one who has also suffered. And who knows, maybe God only seems silent because God is sharing in our pain and cannot speak though the blubbering of divine tears being cried in empathy with us.

This is What a Minister Looks Like by Brittany Riddle

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing woman minister, and today we are proud to introduce you to Brittany Riddle.

Brittany, tell us about where you are currently serving in ministry?

I’m in my first call out of seminary, serving as the minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia. I have been in Vinton for three-and-a half years—time flies when you’re having fun (and staying busy)! Vinton has been a wonderful place to find my voice and to grow into who God has called me to be as a minister. As minister to adults I get to work alongside people of all ages in the church and community, planning fellowship, discipleship, and spiritual formation opportunities. I can also be found exploring historic sites and places of interest all around the state of Virginia and Eastern part of the country with our active senior adult group. I love the variety of my job!

Who encouraged you as you were discerning a sense of calling?

Discerning a calling to ministry was a winding path for me.  So many people have walked this journey with me providing support, encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, challenge, advice, and space to just be me.

Vaughn CroweTipton, the chaplain at Furman University, helped me begin to make sense of my calling in college and continues to be my go-to person for ministry advice and questions today. I was very quiet and shy when I went to college, and though I felt God’s calling in my life, I had a difficult time figuring out what that might look like for someone who was terrified of being in front of other people. Vaughn gave me opportunities to try ministry out in churches and hospital chaplaincy while spending countless hours listening, guiding, helping me find my voice, and discerning where my life story fit in with God’s work in the world. With his support I found myself taking little step after little step towards finding what made me come alive in life and ministry. Experiencing this support so early in my discernment process helped build my confidence and gave me an example of the transformation that could happen when someone met me exactly where I was and didn’t expect me to be someone I wasn’t. Meeting people where they are and accepting them as they are is something I now try to replicate in my own ministry.

How do you nurture your own spiritual development in the midst of ministering to and with others? 

I am an introvert, and although I love being with people much of the time, my spirit is often restored in quiet ways.  Ever since I was in college I have made it at a weekly practice to write. Sometimes just a few sentences; sometimes many pages. Sometimes a theological reflection; sometimes the cries of my heart. Writing helps me process life and ministry, and reminds me to keep my eyes open for where God is at work in my everyday life.

Recently, making mosaics out of glass tiles has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me. There is something about cutting glass and re-imagining the broken pieces into something new that speaks deeply to my own personal journey.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?  

I’ve received so much good advice from mentors and ministry friends over the years:

“Trust yourself and the still, small voice of God within you.”

“The good news is, even though you would like to, you don’t need to know the answers to all of your questions today.”

“Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

“Protect your day off to the best of your ability.”

Brené Brown’s writing has been particularly influential in my ministry recently. In The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” I think her words speak deeply to the work we do as ministers. Learning to love ourselves, including the difficult parts of our stories, is the starting point for our being able to extend love, grace, and care to those we serve.