In Times of Upheaval Women Shape New Landscapes

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I’m doing something radical: I’m choosing to be a woman—in public.

As a female pastor, I live at the center of several big questions filling our minds and headlines: What is leadership and power (and does it have to look like a CEO)? How do women lead? What is the church becoming in North America? When everything is in upheaval, where do we go for something solid?

In my work of shaping community, there’s always the temptation to make something institutional. That’s where our culture turns—concrete, objective facts, a glossy brochure, a pithy statement, a document to sign. There’s a place in the world for those things.

But when Scripture wants to describe the Church and the way of Jesus it talks about gardens and families—things that seem vague and small in our culture. So when we want to talk about the Church and the way of Jesus, we are offered a choice: will we speak as Scripture does and risk being dismissed as weak and feminine? Or will we describe this alternative way and be given an opportunity to reconsider what is truly powerful and transformative?

When Scripture wants to describe the talks about gardens and families. Click To Tweet

Although I’m tempted to make documents, I invite conversations. Although I’m tempted to make statements, I leave room for mysteries. Although I’m tempted to speak in transactional language, I speak in heart language. I know it’s not the language of business or the academy or power. It’s the language of humans, of family, of a seed in the earth.

Leading through Small Things

Many—even in the Church—look down their nose at such things. So this work of leading through “small” things is surprisingly scary.

But it’s something women have done for generations. What if those skills we learn in our homes and gardens are the skills needed in our churches and communities?

I’ve had folks set aside my work with comments like, “It’s too vague, too soft, too emotional and subjective.” I get it. I also want solid things, something objective. I feel the shame of providing less than that. And I know all the stereotypes: female leadership is weak, unimportant, vague, emotional.

But I’m pressing in because we all long for home and family. Home and family are not feminine. Home and family are human. We all long to flourish like a garden. Plants bursting from the ground are tender and fragile but not feminine.

This work is revolutionary. A small, patient and vulnerable kind of revolution. The Jesus kind.

I think Jesus would have been a yarn bomber. These playful activists cover public structures in colorful hand knitted creations, often in secret. In Copenhagen an entire tank was wrapped in pink knitted patches. In 2010 the famous charging bull statue on Wall Street was covered in a crazy pink and blue cosy.

It’s challenging and yet strangely disarming. It does not damage existing structures and yet we see them in new ways as something from home is brought into the public sphere. And knitting by its very nature is slow and small. A piece of knit-work large enough to cover a public structure would take days of human effort—patience, love, perseverance, creativity. It seems soft, domestic, unimportant. But it inspires something in us. We’re reminded of a favorite aunt, a favorite sweater, of comfort and family and home—eternal things.

Could those things belong—and even be valued—in a public space?

A Time of Upheaval

Regardless of our political perspective we all know we’re in a time of upheaval, locally and globally. And regardless of denominational affiliation Christians see that the Church in the US is in a time of upheaval. When the ground is shaking it’s tempting to grasp for institutional power to feel strong. And yet I have to remember the way of our faith.

Psalm 46 is a Psalm for our time:

“God is our refuge and strength,

    an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea . . . .

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God . . . .

God is within her, she will not fall;

    God will help her at break of day.”

When the earth itself is giving way, where will we look for comfort?

Will we find our strength in human understanding? In structures of concrete and steel? In words that seem objective?

We are promised a river whose streams make glad. Do we want to put our hope in something as unruly and fluid as a river?

Perhaps that slow, small, human work that knit-bombers know is also the work of creating community and shaping mission. Seemingly menial and unimportant, domestic and ordinary. Invisible but powerful because it’s carried in human hearts. An institution can be attacked, undermined, shaken. The hope in human hearts is harder to target.

In 1986 author Ursula LeGuin gave a commencement speech which brought home and heart language into a public, academic place. She calls the native way of women “The Mother Tongue”:

It is primitive; . . . trivial. It’s repetitive, . . . like the work called women’s work . . . . It’s . . .  common speech, colloquial, low, ordinary, plebeian, like the work ordinary people do, the lives common people live. The mother tongue, spoken or written, expects an answer. It is conversation . . . . The mother tongue is language not as mere communication but as . . . relationship. It connects. It goes two ways, many ways . . . a network. Its power is not in dividing but in binding, not in distancing but in uniting. . . . It is a language always on the verge of silence and often on the verge of song. It is the language stories are told in . . . . But you and I have learned to use the mother tongue only at home or safe among friends, and many men learn not to speak it at all. They’re taught that there’s no safe place for them. . . . I am trying to unlearn these lessons, along with other lessons I was taught by my society, particularly lessons concerning the minds, work . . . and being of women.

Have we as women even sidelined our own ways, kept them only for nurturing our children or whispering to one another?

What if these hidden gifts, these natural ways, are needed by our churches and communities?

I’m reminded that the scripture upon which we build this faith says such “weak” things as:

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-29


“’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

Zechariah 4:6

Being a Woman in Public

In the past I have kept these ways of speaking to the home and to groups of women. And in those places I see flourishing. But, unimportant and weak as they seem, if I long for them and find life in them, how can I keep them to the “small” places? As much as I fear I will be set aside as too feminine, too subjective, too emotional, I choose to speak with passion about the seemingly small, life-giving things. I choose to put my heart in a public place and let my longing be seen so that together we can long for flourishing.

To my brothers, let me say: I know how you marvel at your wives’ hidden powers with your children and with you, how you enjoy the unshakeable kindness of your mothers, the strength of your sisters. I watch how you care for your own children and gardens. You know the power of domestic things. Even if they aren’t valued in the workplace, in industry, in politics, surely you see the power of them. Speak to your wives, mothers and sisters in ways that call forth these gifts for the flourishing of the world. Venture to let those parts of yourselves be shown.

And to my sisters, let me say: It will take courage to let these gifts be seen. You will be told this is inconsequential, pretty nonsense. But while nations have come and gone, the family lives on. While human structures have been built and fallen to ruin, every Spring the life that died away in Autumn bursts into life again. Nature and life, family and love are not inherently feminine things. These are inherently human things. And as you tentatively live in these ways, in more public places, you will be put down by those who don’t understand. But if you press through, you will find healing. You may even bring healing to those who set you aside.

Psalm 46 uses language of mountains quaking and falling into the heart of the sea. When the earth shakes, there is destruction of all we’ve known. But it is also a time when new landscapes are shaped. As Le Guin puts it:

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

These are the sort of conversations we are looking to advance through the SheLeads Summit. We hope you’ll consider joining us in Pasadena or at 11 other regional venues across the country on Saturday, October, 28. Click the banner for more info.



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33 responses to “The Bad Habit of “Going to Church”: On Training Ourselves Out of The Bad Habit of Going to Church

  1. I loved this.. "We are not going to the gathering in order make a connection to God in worship. We are going to submit, quiet ourselves, and practice with others living in the presence of God so that our sensibilities are properly trained to continue in His presence the rest of the week. It’s a spiritual discipline that continues into the rest of the week not a point of contact to live off of the rest of the week." Couldn't agree more. I'll be re-posting this. Thanks Dave.

  2. Great thoughts, David. I think a huge part of the general problem in our approach to church today is we have forgotten that church is a sacrament. What's worse is we've forgotten what a sacrament is.

  3. "Sadly church is something we do, instead of part of a rhythm for life with God in His Mission." Church is not a "Rhythm" because that even suggest somthing that must be done, church is the People of God, WE are the church so it's not something we do, or just a "rhythm for life" church, for the believer, is "who we are, the bride of Christ." Church is not the gathering of Gods people for an hour or so on Sunday, Church is the Gospel transforming community of believers responding to the life, death and resurrection of Christ for his Glory. Sunday morning is just one of the ways God has asked the Church to respond to the Gospel because that is how he likes to be loved and worshiped. While I appreciate the mood of the post, just realigning behavior will not change things, responding to the Gospel will.

  4. I have thought about Church in general. It seems that the style of services is for the congregation to watch not really participate. Only a few people really lead the service and the rest sit back and do what they are told. This disturbs me. I have attended a couple of services with the Jehovah Witnesses, and whatever else you may thing about them , They have a participatory service. The congregation participates by being informed of the sermon texts and content ahead of time to read, pray and prepare, and then at the service answer questions about the texts. Church is about ministering to each other, learning more about our walk with God and each other. But the services need to provide that opportunity as fully as they can.

  5. I really enjoyed the post, thanks Dave. Especially the willingness to look at how "church" in this day and age is geared for the comsumer and perpetuated by the consumer.
    I am also glad that you asked the question at the end on whether or not you made the church gathering more important, because in a sense, I think you did. You seem to appraoch the topic with an assumption that of course a Church gathering should be on a Sunday morning. I believe the Sunday morning gathering has been made way too important in our church culture. In response to this, and Sean's comment in which he says "Sunday morning is just one of the ways God has asked the Church to respond . . ." No where in Scripture does it tell us to gather on a certain day of a week, be it Sunday or any other. The more sciptural approach is actually to meet DAILY. Dave, you touch on this bit when you talk about a rythem, and I totally agree. We, as the Church, should live in a rythem of community and gathering with one another in many different ways and settings. I believe this is the example that we get from Christ and the disciples in the Gospels.

  6. Somehow, over the course of generations, we have come to believe that Sunday morning is when God wants us to meet, like he is more available to us then! Of course, I believe this to be completely false. While in our culture a Sunday morning gathering may be most convienent, it should only part of a rythem that we live out daily. This thinking will suddenly downplay the importance of one particular gathering because there is so much more opportunity be the Church in our everday life than just one morning a week.

  7. Just FYI … Aaron … the Sunday morning gathering is located on Sunday why? Because we gather on the day, time of the resuurection … there's a living into a historical memory here… and so a theology of time and rhythm I think is too easily dismissed here in your comments .. peace bro …

    1. I think The Burner is also hitting on the issue of 'Why Sunday?' often arises. The majority of Western Christians have Sunday off – so for purely rhythm reasons it is a logical day (and for what David points out). I think the concern about Sunday being THE day is a distraction. I sense people are crying out for something that is less a chore and that they have a burning passion to be with people we love and want to share God's love with others. If this was true we wouldn't care what day or even consider the question; the community would find their day in the Spirit.

  8. David, fantastic post! Like andrewsporch, I was drawn to the idea of going with others to submit to the presence of God. I had never even heard this idea of "connecting with God" in a service until 20 years ago or so. I quite often felt a little bad, like I was missing something, because friends would say that they had really connected with God on a particular Sunday or another, yet I don't think I ever had that same feeling. So, I am really connecting with your description of why to go to church. I think I'm even beginning to see my dad and mom's priority of going to church in a different light. In a way, I think they had these ideas of rhythm and submission. This is just what we did. Of course adding Sunday nights and Wednesday night prayer meetings, I see, were all a part of the rhythm.
    Of course you also give me great back up for when my wife asks me what I get when I read the Bible. I always tell her, "I am a patient hearer of the Word". 🙂

  9. David,
    It seems that the "style" of a worship service may make it more difficult for some people to go to church too. Many of the bad habits you suggest seem to rise out of what the church is doing more than what the individual Christian is choosing. It seems to me that while all of us must take responsibility for ourselves in this – entering into the rhythm of corporate gatherings, many churches (e.g. mega churches and smaller ones who copy it) have created a climate that make these bad habits more possible. Agree?

  10. This has been an issue we've been wrestling with in Los Angeles: discerning why we gather and what formats or experiences best provides for the reason/vision behind our gathering. We want to lead people in an experience of God, but do not want to suggest that God is only or best experienced in our particular gathering; we want to facilitate an experience of community while recognizing that many of the intimate relationships are formed in venues other than our large group gathering. Lots more could be said, but I appreciate the rhythm/discipline aspect you raised and look forward to continue conversation about what missional gatherings look like.

  11. I also agree that people are often tied up in the thought of "going to church" as if they're not already a part of it. They don't realize their importance in the church. They see church as a place that Christians have to go to each Sunday in order to be a part of the faith. I think they are forgetting their own place in the church. People, as you said, focus on who's preaching, or rate the worship that day, but they lose perspective of their part in the body of Christ.
    I Cor 12:14,18 "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many… But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."

    I believe that if people realized their individual spiritual gifts and learned how to use them to better God's kingdom, the "going to church syndrome" would be cured.

  12. My only problem of going to church: waking up early in the morning. I have no problems of who are preaching because the priest always manage to catch people's attention in his sermon and connecting the bible verses to anecdotes and everyday lives. The choir in the church is also great. Perhaps it is case to case basis. Thanks for the article

  13. People try to find reasons not go to church because church is frequently boring. Most services are neither participatory nor engaging. The common sing-announcements-special music- didactic sermon (with no chance for response or questions from the congregation) does not fit what people are seeking from their free time.
    It's no wonder that people are finding going to church to be a chore. We've got to find a new model–not just dressing up a typical service with graphics behind the words on a screen, or bringing in a funny preacher, or trying to force community during one minute of greeting time. Talk about old wine in new wineskins.

  14. Just wanted to say thanks for this article. My family is part of a house church for a season, and one of the things I've tried to do as we "de-tox" from traditional church for a while is to remember that there's no such thing as "going to church" if we are The Church. Instead I've used language like "Church gathering" to describe what we do on Sunday mornings. A couple of Sundays ago, my sweet 2 year old told us it was time to "go to our church gathering," and I was so pleased!

  15. Curtis,I think we agree that people can be the church at the soccer game, but I am afraid the situation you describe is one where there is no wherewithal left to shape a presence that might be the gospel at the soccer game. It is not the church just because some people who claimed to have made some faith commitments show up at a soccer game. There has to be (so I argue) a place for the formation of one's life in Christ sufficient to know what that might look like at the soccer game.
    K-fe … I'm confused by your questions … by the way you use the word worship … but what i was trying to say is that the gathering becomes part of a rhythm that shapes all of life into Christ … and His Mission.

  16. For "worship" to be part of our daily living throughout the week is a big challenge. Two things: the first question is that of the secular/sacred divide. I'm interested in the question in the theological and practical senses. Some theologians I got to know recently will say something like: it is in the purely human experience that we encounter the divine. Specially when we are with the suffering and oppressed ones. The second question to me is an anthropological one. I am really excited to think about worship practices embedded in our daily living. But can we so seamlessly intertwine the secular tasks with divine meaning so that the borders go away? I may be getting History all wrong, but it seems that for quite some time humans express their spirituality and create systems of beliefs and have a reserved space for that.

  17. In (ridiculously busy) southern California, I find that most people aren't at the Sunday gathering because there are other things going on (i.e. work, soccer game, etc.).
    I encourage our members and visitors to be gather as much as possible, but also remind them – almost weekly – that the gathering is not the church. Just like the building is not the church. The people – and only the people – are the church. And they can be the church at a soccer game.

  18. Dave, why do you argue that a group of believers at a soccer game aren't a representation of the church? What does your statement "There has to be a place for the formation of one's life in Christ sufficient to know what that might look like at the soccer game" mean?
    I'm curious because I tend to think in the same way that Curtis thinks. For me, there is a mystical union that is the Church that has more to do with the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of gathered believers no matter where they find themselves than it does in the planned actions of believers themselves (i.e. "planned actions" = going to Sunday gatherings).

    So, it seems as though your article focuses on the doing of church. What are your thoughts on what it means to "be" the Church? That question isn't meant to ask you to eek out the fine details…LOL…just what it means in relation to Curtis' post about being the church at a soccer game, bowling alley, surf session, etc. If you've already written some on that, I'd love to read it. Just post a link and I'll check it out.

    Dan Lowe

    1. Dan,of course a group of believers at a soccer game are a representation of the church … yet this assumes thr prior question, how did they become believers? By "Mystical union" do you mean invisible church? What I continue to push for is without formation, believers don't come into existence. This is the default, that individuals can somehow make sense of salvation and become Missional Christians apart fromt he practices of the church which shape us into God;s Mission. In short, Missional Christians just don't magically grow on trees. This is why the practice of the church's worship, as properly faithful to the formative practice of God's people, is indispensible … yet I agree, once it gets consumerized, the gathering becomes contra missional… DF

  19. […] David Fitch looks at the “ritualized” activity we call “going to church;” and thinks the “going” should be more connected to everyday life.   More at Reclaiming the Mission. […]

  20. Where in the Bible does it say we need to get up early on a Sunday and get together in a million dollar building with a $20000 sound and light rig and worship that way? If someone works 6 days, shouldn't he or she be allowed to rest and take a sabbath day and spend time with the Lord any way they want? The Bible is clear on resting, ( it's a commandment ) and also on the gathering of people together however the format is not clear and that I believe is on purpose. I hear where you are coming from, I for one work at Church and enjoy Sunday Church because I just like it that way.

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