Michael Woolf is the senior minister of Lake Street Church of Evanston, Ill., and the co-associate regional minister for white and multi-cultural churches at the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. His first book, Sanctuary and Subjectivity: Thinking Theologically About Whiteness in Sanctuary Movements, is available from T&T Clark in September of 2023.

Posts By This Author

Paul Atreides of ‘Dune’ Is a Messiah-Figure — And a Villain

by Michael Woolf 04-05-2024

'Dune: Part Two,' Warner Bros.

The Dune series’ ambivalence and criticism about the role of the messiah lends some light on one of scripture’s more enigmatic ideas: the messianic secret.

4 Tips for Leading a Church in an Election Year

by Michael Woolf 02-07-2024

A vote sign on a pole next to a street with a church sign reading “JESUS LOVES ALL” in the background. Credit: Unsplash/Janelle Hiroshige (@jhiroshige).

It’s an election year again, and so far it sees that President Joe Biden and former President Donald J. Trump will again be on the ballot for the White House in 2024. For many churches, that means a repeat of 2020’s division, misinformation, and difficult decisions about corporate worship.

Buckle up.

We have been on this ride before, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier.

Churches: We Need to Reconsider Our Facebook Accounts

by Michael Woolf 01-04-2024

Supporters of the lawsuit stand in front of the Berlin Regional Court before the start of the hearing of Environmental Action Germany's landmark lawsuit against the U.S. internet giant Meta (Facebook, Instagram) at the Berlin Regional Court, Nov. 21, 2023. Credit: Carsten Koall/dpa via Reuters Connect.

In October of last year, 33 states sued Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, alleging that the company has “concealed the ways in which these Platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children.” The lawsuit further alleges that the company “repeatedly mislead the public about the substantial dangers of its Social Media Platforms.” The most recent lawsuits make it clear that churches, that are operating large numbers of social media accounts, must do some soul-searching about whether they should stay on platforms that are causing harm to young people.

The Bible Lessons in ‘Good Omens’

by Michael Woolf 10-31-2023
‘Good Omens’ revisits the story of Job, making it come alive in new ways with humor and new characters.
The photo shows two men, one who is an angel and dressed in lighter colors, and another who is a demon dressed in black. The angel is looking at a clipboard and the demon is just standing there.

From Good Omens

IN THE THEOLOGY course on suffering that I teach at Lewis University, the Book of Job is required reading. Its plot can be hard to stomach: Satan believes that Job only loves God because the faithful servant has a blessed life. Looking to prove Job’s unconditional loyalty, God gives the accuser permission to take everything from Job except his life. The wager causes Job great suffering. When God finally arrives on the scene (Earth), we get some beautiful, albeit troubling, poetry. God says that God’s ways are beyond human understanding and especially human questioning. As one of my students put it last year, “God is kind of a jerk.”

Season 2 of Good Omens, streaming on Prime, leans into that confusing characterization of God. The fantasy comedy follows the unlikely friendship of Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon). After thousands of years together on Earth, they find themselves more at home with humans than with angels or demons.

Denominations Are Dying. But the Church Can Still Thrive

by Michael Woolf 09-07-2023

Image of person entering a doorway with people playing insturments on a dimly-lit stage. Credit: Unsplash/Kristina Paparo.

In July, Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, made a case on his Substack that, with the exception of the rise of those who identify as non-religious or “nones,” the most important trend in American religiosity is the rise of nondenominational churches. For those who are actively engaged in denominational life, the numbers are staggering.

When taken together, those attending nondenominational churches now make up the second largest religious group in the United States after Roman Catholics. Rising from a mere 5 percent of the U.S. religious landscape in 1984, nondenominational adherents are now estimated to represent an astonishing 22 percent.

Jesus, Labor Agitator

by Michael Woolf 08-31-2023

Cover cartoon by Art Young for the “Special Christmas Number” of The Masses, 1913. Via Wikimedia.

According to a recent Gallup poll, labor unions are enjoying their highest levels of national national support since 1965. One major reason for renewed labor organizing is the COVID-19 pandemic, as workers started to ask whether a new future for work was possible in the midst of the pandemic. Some of the demands that laborers were making then are still being made now: increased pay, safer working conditions, and flexible schedules. In the U.S., the federal minimum wage is still a paltry $7.25 per hour. Federal minimum wage has not increased since July 2009 but if it had been keeping up with inflation, it would be over $21 an hour today.

What would Jesus have to say about America’s hot labor summer specifically, and the renewed organized labor movement more generally speaking?

White Congregations Can’t Do Justice Without Following Black Leaders

by Michael Woolf 06-14-2023

Congregants from Lake Street Church of Evanston and Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Ill., greet one another. Image credit Christopher Walker.

Recently, a report from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that Black Protestants are the only Christian group in which a majority — 63 percent — believes that congregations should get involved in social issues even if doing so means having difficult conversations about politics. This tells me that white congregations, in contrast, believe that churches are best left as places of solace, where difficult conversations do not take place. Ultimately, this allows for white supremacy to remain intact within these houses of worship. I am the senior pastor of Lake Street Church of Evanston, a predominantly white church, and our path out of white supremacy has required us to take the lead from Black congregations on a variety of social justice issues.

Women, LGBTQ People Take Lead in ‘Willow’ ... And in Church?

by Michael Woolf 02-16-2023

Image: Warwick Davis, Amar Chadha-Patel, Ellie Bamber, Erin Kellyman, Dempsey Bryk, and Ruby Cruz in Diseny’s ‘Willow’ (2022).

Willow has all the themes you’d expect from a fantasy adventure: The party is assembled, there’s a quest, and they go on a rescue mission. The party has a rogue (Amar Chadha-Patel as Boorman), a wizard (Warwick Davis reprising his role as Willow), a bard (Tony Revolori as Graydon ), a paladin knight (Erin Kellyman as Jade), a princess (Ruby Cruz as Kit), and a chosen one (Ellie Bamber as Elora). Notably missing from the 1988 cast is Val Kilmer as Madmartigan (Kilmer is recovering from throat cancer.) The enemies are mainly the Crone, who live in the immemorial city, as well as an unseen quasi-deity that lives below ground — simply titled “the Wyrm.” As with any good fantasy, it’s less concerned about the plot than it is about showing the characters interact, grow, and change, along with a decent amount of throwbacks to the original movie.

Puss in Boots’ Nine Wild and Precious Lives

by Michael Woolf 01-19-2023

Puss from DreamWorks Animation's Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022). Courtesey of DreamWorks Animation.

Being unafraid of death is easier said than done. Death is one of the great fears that stalks the minds and hearts of human beings. That being said, there are times when Paul still dares to mock death: “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:55). As a pastor, I have held plenty of hands as people die, yet I have never heard such boasting. What I have heard are regrets, contentment, fear, and any number of emotions. How we face death is complicated.

The Christian Roots of Abortion Sanctuaries

by Michael Woolf 06-28-2022

Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Ala., on May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger.

Now that federal abortion rights have been struck down by the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson, we need a new sanctuary movement that takes seriously the threat posed by the criminalization of abortion and acts to care for those seeking it.

What Reparations Is Costing My Church

by Michael Woolf 02-22-2022

Sancturary of Lake Street Church of Evanston in Evanston, Ill. Photo used with permission.

In effect, imagining churches as places uniquely positioned for practicing reparations means a paradigm shift in how churches imagine themselves in their communities. Churches are capable of celebrating beauty but they are also capable of creating wounds. Such a shift would be akin to what theologian Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas refers to as “broaden[ing] our moral imagination.” For the church to broaden its moral imagination, congregations need to start asking questions like: What does it mean to own property? Who did that exclude in the context of redlining? What assumptions are we making about the assumed good of a church’s continued existence in a place? Being open to accountability and discernment about reparations means that no question, no matter how difficult or threatening to the continuance of a congregation, is off-limits.

Remain in Mexico, Remain in Egypt

by Michael Woolf 12-16-2021

Photo of asylum seeker in Nogales, Ariz., at the border wall separating the United States and Mexico (via Reuters). Photo credit: Christopher Brown/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News.

As Christians, we believe it is not just immigrants or asylum seekers who are being bandied about as political pawns; it is Jesus himself. Jesus is being denied adequate legal advice; he has been denied the rights to asylum that are guaranteed under international law. Jesus himself is at risk of being kidnapped and exploited due to the Biden administration’s policies. This Advent, as Christians the world over contemplate the birth of Jesus, they cannot ignore where he is incarnate now, nor the policy decisions that make him absent in our communities.

Christians Can't Ignore the Border Crisis in Our Hearts

by Michael Woolf 09-29-2021

Photo credit Daniel Becerril via Reuters Connect | A Haitian migrant seeking refuge in the U.S., sits outside the Casa INDI shelter as they try to reach the border with United States, in Monterrey, Mexico September 28, 2021.

In the United States, white supremacy has made it impossible to see immigrants — but especially Haitian immigrants — as siblings who God commands us to love as though they were our neighbors. The U.S. has long resisted seeing Haitians not only as neighbors but as humans.

Using the Bible to Debunk 10 Myths About Reparations

A Black Lives Matter sign is seen near the corner of Emerson Street and Dodge Avenue in Evanston, Ill., U.S., March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Eileen T. Meslar.

Talking about reparations in church inevitably brings up theological and economic questions. Sometimes these questions are asked in good faith. Other times, these questions are based on myths that need to be deconstructed.