O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


A Missionary’s Perspective on the American Church

posted by Jason Boyett

My long-time friend, Mentanna, is a former career missionary trying to make the transition back to life in the United States. She and her family have been visiting churches in the “Bible Belt” and trying to find a place to get involved.

It’s been difficult.

A few months ago, she wrote an open letter to the church detailing some of their struggles as visitors exploring the churches in their city. That post made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, kicked off some good conversations, and I know it’s made a least a few pastors and church leaders rethink their approach to guests.

I’m happy to say Mentanna is back with another letter, and again this one hits pretty hard. Here are some excerpts.

To pastors:

we note when it sounds like you are more concerned with growing a church
than pastoring one. we can hear it in your voice when your ambition
seems more important than our souls. we notice when you use words like
“missional” and “mission-minded” and yet having nothing in your bulletin
or weekly activities to reflect such an emphasis. most of us are
looking for humility in the pulpit, a confessional leader who honestly
communicates the realities and struggles of life within the body.
remember, we are skeptical enough about church leaders as it is. please
don’t exaggerate.

To worship leaders:

i can’t follow you. i can’t sing along. i don’t know if you are
singing harmony, melody, descant or any other fancy thing. granted i’m
musically illiterate and don’t know much about music at all. what i do
know is that worship music has changed a lot in the past decade and the
songs are more complex, less corporately “singable.” so when you go all
david crowder on me, i can’t participate. during those times i feel
like you are more concerned with performing than leading. don’t get me
wrong, i love your voice. i think you and the band are extremely
talented but i want to sing along!

On gender equality:

i notice when i see no female participation in your services. if i
have been greeted by a male, if a male passes the offering plate, if a
male prays before said offering, if all your announcements are made by
a male, if i glance at your bulletin and see only male staff then i
begin to ask myself how much room there is for me as a female to really
participate in your congregation. granted all the women may be involved
in “behind the scenes” ministry, but as a guest i don’t know that and
if i feel called to do something other than children’s ministry, i might
wonder if your church really is the place for me. now you may tell me
that you believe biblically that this is they way church is to be done.
i won’t argue with you. just communicate clearly to me what you mean
by “valuing women in your congregation” because that could mean a bunch
of different things.

Read the full letter here.

————-

If you have any sort of paid or volunteer position at a church, I’d encourage you to read Mentanna’s letter. Or at least email the link to the church staffers you know.

Your turn: What do you wish your church leadership knew?



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Comments read comments(9)
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Broc

posted January 20, 2011 at 10:50 am


HMM, sounds like a lot of complaining and not a lot of action. I agree with some of what she said, BUT it’s our obligation to participate in seeing change. Anyone can write a blog (or a comment on a blog, like this) and give their criticism, but who will stand up and make the change.



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Ian

posted January 20, 2011 at 11:09 am


I serve as an elder in my local church and it’s a part of our regular practice to ask for this type of feedback from visitors. For the most part, the responses are pretty encouraging. But when we do get a reply that points out areas we have over looked, it can be challenging. My initial reaction to your friend’s letter was kind of judgmental. I want to ask her, “Are you looking for a community where you can be ‘feed’ or a community where you can ‘serve’?” Which isn’t fair for 2 reasons. 1) I don’t know the whole story here. 2) If I’m honest, from my experience in the Western Church, I totally agree with most of her observations. Especially the one about gender equality. So I don’t know why I’m reacting like this, maybe it’s her tone, but most likely it is something inside of me.
I’ll try to get more on the whole story and maybe forward it on to some of the other leaders in my church.
Thanks for the post.



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Jason Boyett

posted January 20, 2011 at 11:12 am


Broc:
You’re right that action is more important than criticism, of course. But it’s just as easy to just write off these complaints by saying “well, why doesn’t she do something about it?”
This post was written from someone trying to find a church home. So I’m curious…what sort of “action” would you suggest a church visitor take to elicit change in a church they are not yet part of?



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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted January 20, 2011 at 11:26 am


I definitely agree that some pastors get consumed in growing their little project (ie their church) and it becomes this entrepreneurial endeavor for them, which of course loses its focus on people in the process.
I was once in a wedding where three of the groomsmen were pastors, and they would brag about one up each other about how each one’s church has this awesome program or this innovative technique – and never mentioned the people in their church.



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Broc

posted January 20, 2011 at 11:35 am


I would ask questions (honest and frank, in humility) of those who are “doing” such things. Ask about the phlilosophy of doing such things. Get invovlved in the process. Yes, I understand she’s not a “member” but honestly if you can’t get “into it” and you’re a believer, is that the churches fault? It’s easy to be critical, when you don’t understand the heart. I don’t Jason, I feel like a hypocrite, for saying these things, but I am so sick of the “emerging” movement picking apart America’s churches. Yes, there are flaws and massive problems, but it takes a community of people, working together to see change come. It’s like all of the sudden we see something we don’t like (surface things, abuse and major problems are different)and we fill like it’s our responsibility to point it out. I think we can see problems and move over and help facilitate change. Just a thought.



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Brian

posted January 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm


I liked the original “letter” a little better. Some of the concerns, like lack of female leadership, could be headed off at the pass but consciously visting churches from denominations that ordain and encourage leadership from both sexes.
As for the greeting and shaking hands during the programmed greeting time, not to have the tail wag the dog, but consciously visiting a more liturgical church where they do a “passing of the peace” will probably generate more handshakes, etc. than a time where you are encouraged to greet your neighbor. I am not sure why that is true, but it is something that I’ve notice. Maybe people feel a bigger obligation (even if its a begrudging one) to say “peace of Christ be with you” and “and also with you” if its a little more formal like that.



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Tess Mallory

posted January 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm


Hey Jason! I actually tried to post my comments to your blog on Mentanna’s blog! Then thankfully, the comment dealie wouldn’t let me because it was sooooo long. So I posted that people could read it at my blog, because I thought I was on YOUR blog and I knew you wouldn’t mind. Whew. Went back, explained to your friend.
Having said that — this was a great post, Jason. And you inspired me to fire up my Misfit Christian blog again. So my comments are there, along with a plug for your site. I hope you’ll read it at http://www.misfitchristians.blogspot.com — and everyone else is invited too! :))
Peace. ;)



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Mentanna

posted January 21, 2011 at 8:35 am


jason, i feel privileged to have made the blog. thanks for that. thanks even more for encouraging church leadership to read it. a pastor actually told me that he changed some things based on my letter. i think it is good for us to evaluate once and awhile how we do stuff, what we say and how it comes off to those who aren’t members. so thanks for spotlighting it here. i hope another visitor somewhere else benefits because of it.
oh and brian, i have to say that we have visited several different denominations–methodist, presbyterian, charismatic, baptist and non-denom. you would be surprised at how similar, stylistically, they all were. i think they all bought a book entitled “how to do church in central texas” because you can’t really tell much difference between them.



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Brian

posted January 24, 2011 at 9:27 am


Mentanna,
Actually I know where you are coming from. I live in Central Texas too! : )



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