Leadership

VIDEO: The Real-Life Vicar of Dibley

In “What I Learned by Marrying a Priest” (Sojourners, April 2014), Jim Wallis shares some of the lessons learned from his wife, Rev. Joy Carroll Wallis, one of the first women ordained in the Church of England.

Joy also helped to inspire The Vicar of Dibley, a British sitcom that follows the life of a female priest. Watch this video of Joy discussing the importance of The Vicar of Dibley and women’s leadership in the church.

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What I Learned by Marrying a Priest

JOY CARROLL and I were married in 1997. A year later, we had our first son, Luke. We met at a delightful British festival of faith, the arts, and justice called Greenbelt. Joy—a Brit—was on the Greenbelt board and also one of the speakers, as was I. We were on a panel together in a tent with a couple thousand young people, and that’s where our relationship began. I had coffee with Joy afterward, and she told me about the long journey women had made toward ordination in the Church of England.

Joy had been trained as a priest at Durham, just the same as the men, but at that time wasn’t able to be ordained to the priesthood. Her first parish was in a housing estate (what we would call a housing project) in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood with lots of drugs and violence—a place where male priests were afraid to take their families. As a deacon, Joy moved in to live and work in the housing estate, doing everything a priest would do except celebrate the Eucharist, which was still reserved for males only. At age 29, she was elected to the church’s General Synod—its youngest member—and in November 1992 she cast a vote for women’s ordination. Joy went on to become one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

When Luke was 4 years old, we found ourselves back at Greenbelt, again as speakers. Sunday morning is always a high point at the Greenbelt festival, with creative and powerful worship that draws most of the 20,000 in attendance. Joy was on the main stage as the chief celebrant of the Eucharist, while Luke cuddled on my lap, carefully watching his mother at the altar. He looked up at me and asked, “Dad, can men do that too?”

Having a woman celebrating the Eucharist that day was a moving, freeing, and emotional experience for many who were there—women and men. But it just seemed normal to a little boy watching his mom and wondering if he might be able to do that someday himself.

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When Leaders Let You Down

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com
Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.

(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)

So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:

  • a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
  • a pastor who had an affair,
  • a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.

Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.

Four Reasons Churches Stink at Transformation (and What We Can Do About It)

Sean Palmer
Sean Palmer's transformation. Courtesy

Though we have many stories of people whose lives have been made better, few church leaders would argue that far too many people in the pew make significant spiritual transformations even though they’ve spent years in and around churches.

In my other life, I’m a fitness “coach.” I’m not so much a coach as I am an encourager and friend. The unrivaled aspect of working with people to reach their fitness goals is having a front row seat for transformation. We take pictures to note physical transformations, but changes in physique aren’t the most important ones. The most important transformations are spiritual and emotional ones. And quite frankly, the fitness community does transformations better than churches do.

Why?

The Sounds of Silencing—And Speaking Out

Photo illustration by Ken Davis

When furloughed Peace Corps worker Angela Kissel showed up to support Sojourners’ Faithful Filibuster on Capitol Hill in September, she was surprised to be handed a Bible and invited to read from the podium some of the more than 2,000 biblical verses related to poverty and justice. —The Editors

READING SCRIPTURE outside the Capitol may not seem like a momentous occasion, but for me it was divine. You see, the day before, a well-intentioned pastor told me my place in the church was limited to specific roles because I’m a female. He told me it was against scripture for any female to preach, that roles for leadership are clearly only for men, the “father” figures of the church.

In response, I listed every female prophet and leader. I went through the patriarchal lens in which parts of the Bible are written due to culture and general misogynistic norms of the time. I noted the hypocrisy of highlighting some scriptures while blatantly overlooking others when it doesn’t fit the current agenda. And lastly, I walked through Jesus’ ministry and discussed how he went against cultural norms to illustrate the equality of women to the extent of choosing a woman to tell the world the full story of the gospel.

After an exhausting 65 minutes, we agreed to disagree. We prayed and ended the conversation. I walked away drained and slightly defeated. I wondered why God had put something on my heart and empowered me to speak up, when God knew I’d lose the battle. I also started to question myself and wondered if I should just stop fighting.

But then, not even 24 hours later, God used something so much bigger than me to affirm not only that this passion came from God, but also that shutting up and letting agendas get in front of the Creator was not an option.

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Only 19 Percent Are Women

Photo: Blend Images / Shutterstock

Last week, a controversy erupted over Twitter when it came to light that a prominent evangelical conference with 110 speakers only had four women on stage.

Journalist Jonathan Merritt, did a quick informal study and discovered that out of 34 prominent evangelical conferences, only 19 percent of speakers at plenary sessions were women.

This is a problem.

As a white male evangelical and a black female evangelical who spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, events, and college campuses, we know from experience this is a problem.

Conference spaces have become one of the primary discipleship spaces for evangelicals. These are the spaces where evangelicals go to learn all that it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Called to Lead

IT IS EASY, and a lot more comfortable, to identify and name dysfunction outside your family. It’s an entirely different endeavor, however, to label inappropriate behavior in your own home.

That’s the situation I find myself in as a lifelong member of the black Baptist tradition—one that, by and large, refuses to ordain women ministers and call them into the pastorate. I can no longer keep silent. My spirit won’t let me be quiet about a system where injustice is nurtured.

Women are the backbone of African- American Baptist congregational life, yet they traditionally have been blocked from ordained ministry. I’ve watched this for years in Kentucky where I was born, raised, and currently live; experienced it in other places where I have resided; and heard the same story from Baptist female colleagues in ministry around the country. The same is also true in many white Baptist congregations, such as those affiliated with the Southern Baptist tradition. But I’m speaking here about the world I know personally.

Ironically, some of these black congregations and pastors who are unwilling to honor God’s call on the lives of women seeking ordination are the same ones who are quick to name a plethora of injustices perpetrated against black people as a race, and to demand quick resolution.

Doors for women called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ have opened a little in recent decades. More women are being licensed, the precursor to ordination in the Baptist structure. But the process usually stops there, and women are left patiently waiting to be blessed into the fold. These “ladies in waiting” are allowed to lead ministries, teach, and occasionally preach, but rarely permitted to go beyond that.

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On Accountability: The Buck Never Stops

healthcare.gov
healthcare.gov

It was a strange, but telling, spectacle when those who billed the government millions for working on its Affordable Health Care registration system denied any accountability for the portal’s astounding failure.

“The other guy did it,” as they say in court. The client kept changing specs, no one did any whole-system testing, other vendors are to blame — blah, blah, blah.

Whatever shred of truth lay in their blame-shifting ran up against another wall of non-accountability. The Republicans did it with their insane sequestration, said Democrats. The Democrats did it, said the GOP. Health and Human Services did it. The Oval Office did it.

In the end, of course, no one will accept accountability, for we live in an age when the “buck” never stops on one’s own desk, if it stops at all.

The Revolving Door of Church 'CEOs'

Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com
Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s surprise decision to retire does more than throw the technology industry into a frenzy of speculation. It raises the problem of succession.

From major corporations to startups led by visionary leaders, from universities to churches, the departure of the top leader can stop momentum and usher in months, perhaps years, of uncertainty.

Even though dealing with succession is a primary task for a board of directors — some say it’s their preeminent task — relatively few boards take the assignment seriously. They focus instead on the easier work of jousting with the top leader and shilling for institutional investors.

What should be an orderly process of preparing for leadership transition instead becomes a lurching from one standalone regime to the next.

Many board members want the rush of being co-managers of the institution. This is especially true in churches, where boards enjoy making day-to-day decisions about operations. Since a strong central leader would get in their way, many church councils discourage strong clergy and reward compliant permission seekers.

The Party of No Compromise

I SPENT MY first year after college doing voluntary service in Portland, Ore., serving as the hunger action coordinator for a small Catholic organization called the Oregon Center for Peace and Justice. That fall, I joined a group of church anti-hunger activists from around the state in a meeting with our Republican U.S. senator, Mark O. Hatfield. We asked him a number of questions, and urged his continuing support for food- and hunger-related legislation.

When it came my turn, I said, “Senator, how do you reconcile the compromises that you inevitably have to make as a politician with the ideals you hold as a Christian?” In his reply, Sen. Hatfield pointed to the difference between compromises of principle—which he said he would never make—and the tactical compromises necessary to make progress in a pluralistic society. Without the latter, the senator said, politics is nothing but an ideological shouting match.

These days, it’s clear that most far-right Republicans, including those in the party’s leadership, take a slightly different approach to inter-party cooperation than did the late Sen. Hatfield. They seem to see it less as building bridges for the sake of governing a varied society and more as sleeping with the enemy.

There’s probably no better recent example than the issue of health care. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is the law of the land—passed by Congress, signed by the president, and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. But none of those legal niceties seem to matter to the raw-meat GOP. Their attempts to circumvent or undercut the law range from the inane (such as 67 failed tries—count them: 67—to overturn the ACA by congressional vote) to downright bullying.

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