August 5, 2014


I studied the note from my assistant several times that Tuesday, trying unsuccessfully to penetrate the mystery behind the 2:00 p.m. appointment.

Why would three professional women in the congregation ask to see the pastor—all at once, apparently about one issue? Had I said something in last Sabbath’s sermon that wounded them? Was there rebellion brewing in some Sabbath school division? Was there a crisis at the church school I had blithely overlooked?

When they walked through the office door precisely at 2:00 p.m., my anxiety had not abated. I looked from face to face, scanning for the furrowed brows and flashing eyes that could betoken anger.

Melinda1 spoke first, eyes leveled at mine, a half smile on her face.

“Pastor, the three of us have been talking for several weeks—ever since we attended the women’s ministries retreat—and we’d like to know if you’d mind terribly if we started a ministry for women in this congregation.”

The astonishment on my face must have rattled her.

“I mean, we won’t go ahead if you don’t want us to,” she hurried on. “We don’t want to be seen as rebellious or difficult. It’s just that there seems to be a major need, and we have some ideas about how we might work together to meet it.”

Cheering should come naturally to those who have been caught by grace.

I managed a weak grin, relieved that no crisis lurked behind their visit, but positively dumbfounded by the premise that evoked it.

Would I mind terribly if they started a ministry for women in the congregation?

I hurried to assure my visitors that I didn’t consider their initiative rebellious, and would do all in my power—including with any discretionary funds available from the church budget—to help them launch the ministry they dreamed of.

“Oh, no,” they chorused. “We plan on funding it ourselves. This is something we’re convicted about, and from what we can see, a ministry that will make a big impact in our community.”

Were they ever right. Within weeks, a hundred women were gathering once a month for evenings of wit, wisdom, and prayer that quickly became the most well-attended non-Sabbath events in the life of the congregation. Dozens of community women who had previously found little to commend in what our church offered now found warmth and meaning in a thoughtful, well-planned evening with their peers.

The visit of the three wise women continued to stir my soul, however. And now, nearly 20 years later, I’m still as troubled by their question as I was on that long-ago Tuesday afternoon: “Would you mind terribly . . . ?”

How is it that we have subtly constructed a church culture across the face of Adventism in which new ministries must wait for approval—must hold their tongues and cool their fires until they get permission? Why does the onus lie on those in whom the Spirit burns to justify their plans and validate their loyalty? How did polarities so reverse that those who dream of enlarging God’s kingdom must now be cautious lest they step on turf already claimed by others? Why must the start-up funding needed by new strategies compete for anything that remains after “regular expenses” have been paid?

Such questions are, admittedly, uncomfortable. We wince to learn that caution, safety, and permission are more the watchwords of our movement than old men dreaming dreams and young ones seeing visions (Joel 2:28). We douse the fires of inspiration with buckets of supposed practicality, content that nothing has yet gotten out of hand—not energy, not faith, and certainly not involvement. Fewer crises come our way, we say—and nothing not on the agenda will ever mar our peace.

But Christ intended that His church be one in which empowerment is handed out like water to the thirsty, where good ideas find a great response of welcome and encouragement. Cheering should come naturally to those who have been caught by grace, for gifts and giftedness are clearly signs the Spirit has not left us.

So here’s a call to smooth the way, abridge the long approval-giving, find start-up funding that will prove we still believe in godly risk. Speak well of newness in God’s church, for it is He who still proclaims, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:19, RSV).2

  1. Not her real name.
  2. Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.