The Christian bubble is a safe place. It’s hopefully a friendly place, a loving and supportive one. The Christian bubble is generally made of friends who attend church, be it ours or another. It’s a bubble, because, well it’s our little piece of the world. No one else really enters it, no one being, no one than other Christians. It’s an easy place to be. But the Christian bubble is an exclusive place. Not everyone can be part of it. If they support same sex marriage, they’re not invited. If they drink (like more than a single nonjudgmental glass of wine) on the weekends, they’re not allowed. If they’re sleeping with their boyfriend/another person other than their partner, they’re not acceptable. If they challenge your safe, conservative life – yes, the one that we think the bible calls us to live – they’re generally not in our Christian bubble. Yes, the Christian bubble can pretty much be adapted to any religion or interest group. People are naturally attracted to people like them or with the same interests as them.  We set rules around who can sit with us and who can’t. We like to catch up with the people we like, to build relationships. We prefer to become better friends with someone than get a new friend. The latter is the harder option.   But here’s what the Christian bubble isn’t – missional. Jesus does not call us to love safe, exclusive, conservative lives. We’re called to live radically – radically different for the sake of the gospel. We’re called to be radically different, because our lives should not be exclusive. They should be inclusive. We should be looking to the periphery to see who’s around. We should be putting ourselves in situations where there are people who are not like us.  And I’m not talking about people who are boring, non-pub visiting, non-swearing goody-two-shoes. I’m talking about surrounding ourselves with people who do not know about the amazing love their creator has for them. Who do not know the overwhelming hope that Christ can bring their lives. People who have no sense of the stability that comes from knowing God is one our side. People who are dealing with heartbreak, sickness and loneliness without any relief. These people need to hear the gospel, and the reality is, they’re probably not going to just show up to church one week. It’s not the 18th, 19th, or even the 20th century anymore. Less than 10% of Australians go to church each week month Source. We have been charged with going out to find these people. Remember the great commission in Matt 28, Acts 1)?  We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to share the gospel to all people. But what does bursting our bubbles look like? It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s tiring. It’s inconvenient. It looks like deciding to spend two hours with our nonchristian colleagues outside of work – that’s where the relationship building happens. If we’re talking about Jesus at work, we’re probably not doing our jobs to our best ability. It looks like joining a sports team, and being the kind one – the one who doesn’t grumble at the ref when they make the wrong call (Okay – I totally struggle with this one!). And then openly talking about our faith. Actions are rarely enough. It looks like looking around at church for the person who hasn’t been there before, abandoning our desire to speak to our Christian friends and making a new friend. It looks like doing more than working in our safe Christian organisation, school, church, uni group and sharing the gospel with our students, teaching the bible to Christians and/or praying and paying for the missionaries. We are all the missionaries. Our Christian bubbles don’t protect us from the world, they make us neglect the people of this world. Last night at bible study we were talking about missional churches. We agreed our church wasn’t very missional, there were pockets of missional activities, but on the whole our service was conducive to people already comfortable with church. Not so much the visitors, be it other Christians or  the oh so very rare individual who wandered off the side street, up that dark footpath and into our mid-19th century pew-filled building. Many in the group revealed we probably aren’t ‘sticking around’ for much longer and that being inclusive was low on the agenda. But the reality is the church is more than the geographic location in which we gather with other Christians each week. The church is the body of believers across our globe. As a group of believers, we should be looking to connect (not correct!) with others. And that looks like thinking beyond our own personal circumstance (and plans) and our own intentions – as frightening, inconvenient and tiring as it is. How many friends do you have who don’t know Jesus? Name them. When was the last time you spoke at length with someone who disagreed with you on matters of faith? My number for both answers is way too few. How did you go?   Would you burst your bubble with me?     Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Me, myself and I Earlier this week I returned from a holiday seventh-wheeling. Seventh-wheeling, is that even a thing? Probably not, but imagine going away for five days with three married couples in a three bedroom apartment. Yep, I know what you’re all thinking, ‘Woah, that would be weird.’ It wasn’t. This morning this article came through on Relevant Magazine’s weekly newsletter: “Being the third wheel is underrated.” It made me reflect on why I so often find myself in the company of married friends without a second thought. Hanging out with friends does not have framed by their/your relationship status. Although each couple ended up in a bedroom each, and I joined one of them, we tossed around the idea of an all girl room and an all guy room. (If I remember correctly one of the guys objected because another snores too loudly). Further, on car trips and activities, the group was flexible. Car trips were a random mix or sometimes gender-segregated – an opportunity for the women happily blasted Beyonce and talk unashamedly about Taylor Swift. ‘Married’ does not equal joint at the hip and in hanging out with couples you realise they are more than happy to leave their spouse behind.   My married friends are conscious of the struggle singleness can be. Being a close to 24-year old single, Christian woman, I’m a regular ‘third-, fifth-, seventh-, ninth-wheeler.’ Christians get married young. I did not. Hence, I find myself on holidays, in movies and hanging out on a Friday night surrounded by married couples. I’m thankful my married friends remember that sometimes singleness is hard. Sometimes I do feel lonely. Most of the time I’m too occupied/spontaneous to think/care about the fact I do not have a significant other. While away a friend made an effort to ask me away from the group how I felt about the sleeping arrangements. While I genuinely didn’t care, I appreciated my friend’s thoughtfulness in asking me. I also do not forget their regular dinner invitations, their invitation to join them on holidays or their request for my thoughts on any given issue.   Hanging out with married friends gives you a look into the joy, patience and frustration of marriage. Spending four nights in a small townhouse with one living/dining space gave me a fairly good insight into married life. Likewise, when they invite me round for dinner, I experience their generosity, support and wisdom. There are arguments. There are early morning wrestle fights. There are tender moments. There are moments of self-sacrifice. There are moments of finance hardship. I have learnt so much from hanging out with married couples. I see my friends love and support their partner in tiredness and stress. I see their patience in resolving disagreements in public. I see their love in painstakingly picking glass out from their spouse’s foot after they’ve dropped a case of beer. Marriage is deeper than the smiles you see on their wedding day and the not-so-secret sex lives Christians so often pretend is not the reason Christian couples marry young.   Remember marriage is not elevated above singleness. It is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side. Instant company, physical/emotional intimacy, two incomes of save money for a deposit, a non-awkward photo buddy (I still find posing for a photo alone is weird. What do I do with my hands?!). The struggles of marriage are widely written and so are the advantages of singleness. When feeling less valued, confused or lonely, I remember the time, freedom and flexibility on my side. Yes, I will stay out late with a friend for spontaneous drinks. Yes, I will buy this $300 handbag without guilt or asking permission from my partner. Yes, I will consider making plans for working overseas in the future. Yes, I will spend an entire afternoon planning a bible study and/or church service leading. Yes, I will toss and turn and shove the doona to the side, because hey – I didn’t have to share my bed with someone in 30-degree heat! I also remember in those odd moments I find myself driving home or walking alone that it’s okay. It’s okay not to be in the company of another at all times – partner, spouse, friend or otherwise. Solitude is okay. (I find myself having to assure myself of the last point just for the reality of my 100% extroversion!)   My married friends support my hope to eventually marry and have a family without matchmaking at every turn. The apartment we were staying on holidays had previously facilitated another couple in our friendship group’s relationship. The location has history so on the fourth day away when a single guy who moved away a few years ago but remained friends with all of us came down to join us I expected some jokes. I expected the subtle (read: never subtle) car shuffling to force the two single people together. I expected the forced coupling up on a walk somewhere. I expected the sly comment. In actual fact, I didn’t expect it. While my married friends might appreciate the joy of marriage, they don’t force my hand. (Although I also appreciate it would take a lot to force me to do anything!). On the contrary, they ask about recent potential suitors and encourage saying yes to the coffee request. They are considerate while also having a crack – but only once. Hanging out with married friends isn’t weird when the situation isn’t forced to be weird.   I totally get that I am potentially in the minority. I have an amazing group of friends for whom I am very thankful for. But I have also pulled them up in situations where their words, actions and prayers have made me feel uncomfortable. And they too have pulled me up with unrealistic expectations of what things should or should not be like. Relationships of any kind take work to get right. The single/married divide is way too prevalent for my liking. Don’t just wallow in the weirdness, take steps to make it not weird. If you’re married, I encourage you to ask your single friend if they feel uncomfortable hanging out with married couples. If they say yes, listen to them and learn from the above. If you’re single, I encourage you to reframe the way you think about your married friends and the time you spend with them. Sometimes there weirdness is all in our heads. I also encourage you to bring up some of the areas in a helpful and considered way. Sometimes it takes naming the consistent joke isn’t funny to make it stop. 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It’s taken me a while to decide whether to publish this because in part it exemplifies the very issue I’m trying to bring to fore. Alas, I have spoken to a few people, prayed and decided I would. If you take issue, bring it up with me – I’d love to talk further. A number of months ago I was chatting with a young single sister- and an older brother-in Christ, one that I respect and have learnt a great deal from. The conversation flowed about the struggles of relationships, singleness, strong-willed women and in jest he commented, “Well as a first year single guy, I would have been intimidated by you both!” I laughed it off and moved on to another topic. I moved on so quickly I missed his apology for his remark. However, my dear friend standing with me went silent. I didn’t notice. We spoke later and she admitted she was hurt by the comment. Today a dear sister shared her anxiety after disagreeing about an action decided upon by a brother she is in a ministry partnership with. Deciding not to speak up, “Mel, I don’t want to intimidate him!” She isn’t interested in him, but still conscious of her actions. I’ve had other conversations of a similar nature. Strong young Christian women confused as to how to live as a disciple-making-disciples, serving in ministries, often in leadership positions, without intimidating the godly young men they meet. I myself have been labelled an “outspoken single adult,” and wondered at the time what to make of the comment. In a wife I might be described as contentious and far from temperate, the exact opposite of what a wife is called to be. I know it’s unhelpful to have a part of the body so confused as to how to respond and so here’s just a small insight into what’s going on inside the intelligent minds and huge hearts of so many young Christian woman. Before setting out on a longer-than-usual drive on Sunday I pulled up The Village Church podcast and saw Matt Chandler’s most recent talks were on women. Strong-willed, judgemental Mel was fired up: ‘Ah a married Southern man talking about the role and downfall of women – this is gonna be great!’ I pounded my finger on the play icon and pulled out of my driveway. Standard stock introductory music and then Chandler boomed out of Penelope’s speakers: “A man teaching on the purpose of women. What could go wrong?” Huh, way to go brother, at least we agree on that. The first 30 minutes were fairly standard; wives, submission, husbands, male headship. It wasn’t anything new (although he explained ‘helpmate’ in a quite a helpful way). He then moved away from role of women in the family and to their role in the local church. Things heated up. “Now let’s look at the church. What we see clearly in the New Testament is women are as needed and necessary in the flourishing of the church body.” In Acts 8:4, women are almost certainly included in the list of disciples who went everywhere preaching the gospel. Older women are to teach younger women. We see that in Titus 2. Priscilla helped her husband Aquila teach Apollos. In Acts 18 Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied. The women prayed and prophesied in the gathering at the church in Corinth.” Damn straight. “Women are not only needed and necessary, but they are indispensable and essential in the life of the church.” Men and women are created equal and we should see that play out in the local church and in other areas of life. He had set things up well. He moved on to single women – ah yes, here we go. “Let me tell you what [a helpmate for single women] doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sit around and wait for a husband. In the Old Testament, the blessing was children. In the New Testament, the blessing is disciples. So don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting for some man. Please don’t do that. The kingdom of God is at hand and you’ve been called to actively play a part.” Amen brother. Amen. For a while now, as I attend more weddings in one year than my non-Christian friends and colleagues will attend in a lifetime, tour the new homes and apartments of friends and as I awkwardly rub the growing stomachs of my pregnant Christian sisters, I’ve refused to sit and wait. From getting involved at church, to making independent financial decisions, understanding superannuation and investing in relationships far and wide. I’m not waiting. I may not be waiting but I also haven’t discounted serving God with a husband. I’ll happily admit I notice young men. I notice Godly young men. I notice Godly young men who are theologically sound, serving the church and can stand on their two feet (and preferably mow a lawn!). I notice them and sometimes* I wonder why they don’t notice me. I know I’m not alone but it’s also not something I’ve ever heard spoken of ‘from the front’ – until Sunday (via my car’s speakers). “If you’re a single woman in here and you’re like, “Chandler, if I go strong like that, if I get deeper theologically, I’m nervous that young men would be intimidated and wouldn’t approach me.” Now, I don’t struggle with confidence. I am confident in how God has made me. The gifts he has given me. The passions he has instilled in me. The go-get attitude I use to serve the church. But I’m guilty of thinking this – and so are my friends. Perhaps if I’m less assertive, less opinionated, less keen to grapple with God’s word, less vocal in trying to understand women’s role in the world, less enthusiastic in trying new things, less change-happy. Perhaps [insert any number of attributes] I’d be more attractive to a male suitor. Matt’s response was on point but the statement he had made just previous to it changed its weight. His response: “Practice and exercise your gifts to make disciples for the glory of God. Be the type of women who are iron that sharpen the iron of your husbands and male friends. And young men, don’t be intimidated by women who are more theologically informed and educated than you are.” Awesome. But he had just made this condition: “The only caveat we ever see in the Bible around this is that women don’t exercise their gifts in a way that emasculates men or usurps their authority…[so] quit waiting around for some doofus to ask you out.” While I openly joke when discussing the role of men and women, and throw around the term feminism, hear me when I say I appreciate the role God has designed for men – that’s some serious responsibility thrown in their direction. With a sociology major under my belt, I also accept the sociological reality of a man’s impact on the stability of family and children’s wellbeing. Despite my ongoing struggle in understanding the term, God designed women as a ‘helpmate’ for men (Genesis 2:10). However, God instilled a desire for knowledge and understanding, He gifted me in a way that sees me speak up when I don’t understand/agree. He designed me in a way that people may label me as “outspoken”. Matt Chandler suggests we should not wait for a doofus, nor should we exercise our gifts in a way that usurps the authority of men or less diplomatically – emasculates them. It is this very statement that leads me to start thinking perhaps I should curb by words, think more, listen more, speak less. I seek to live life that pleases God and follows his teaching in his Word, the Bible. Now I do not uphold a particular pastor or teachers words as truth, rather I look to the bible and it’s teaching. It just happens that Chandler was the first pastor I’ve heard to address this issue. There is a great deal written about women and here’s just a few passages that address how a woman should live: A gracious woman attains honor, And ruthless men attain riches. // Proverbs 11:16 It is better to live in a desert land Than with a contentious and vexing woman. // Proverbs 21:19 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. // 1 Timothy 3:11 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. // Proverbs 31:30 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. // Titus 2:3-5 The bible is punctuated by honourable woman who have served the Lord faithfully. Faithfully with honour, dignity and goodness. Their temperament patient, encouraging,  kind, loving, generous; temperate. These are the things a woman should be. We read about those who worked with Paul in the early church as “fellow workers.” We see  women used powerfully for God’s glory and growth of the church. Mary Magdelene, Lydia, Tabitha, Mary, Phoebe, Priscilla in the New Testament.   We also see single woman passionately standing up for truth, for social justice, for unity. Single women, and married women, are integral to the church. But here’s the challenge where we get caught up thinking, ‘I don’t want him to be intimidated.’ We actively are trying to balance living as biblical women and serving the church with our gifts, while also allowing men to fulfil their roles. We want them to live as Godly men and so we’re left questioning the impact of our thoughts, words, actions. Am I fulfilling my role? Is he fulfilling his role? Am I doing too much? Am I preventing him from fulfilling it? These woman I speak of aren’t after a doofus. We want a husband fit for his role. We want brothers serving faithfully. Now this is not a call out for help, I’d like to think I wouldn’t go to my little corner of the internet to do that. I don’t wish for you to come up to me and pat me on the back and say: “The Lord has someone picked out for you,” or “Patience sister,” or any other patronising statement. I’m good. I’m better than good. Many of you may want to help so it’s worth considering what will be helpful for single women. There are too many unhelpful articles, too much ill-informed advice and weak prayer going on. This isn’t about me and my future, rather the healthy, fruitful service of this part of the body of Christ. I’m also not calling young men to be stronger in how they live and serve our God. I would be out of place doing so and I also don’t think it’s the solution. It’s the unhelpful thought that is pervading young Christian women and holding them back. It’s a thought that makes me question the ministries I’m involved in. It’s what distorts my thinking and question why the attractive, (and before you all jump, not physically) godly, faithful brother isn’t interested. It’s about a confusion that is pervading the thoughts of strong Christian single women unsure how to serve God best. As we live, prayerfully serving and considering how best to do so, it’s worth considering and praying for the confused sisters around you – whether you’re married, single, man or woman. I don’t know if we’ve made this fear of ‘intimidation’ up or whether it’s legitimate, but without resolution these woman, and I, just continue. I continue praying with a confessing heart. I continue serving with a generous spirit. I continue running; running with perseverance the race marked out for us. May we all.   Listen, read or watch Matt Chandler’s talk ‘Woman’s purpose‘. (I also recommend his next talk ‘Woman’s hurdles‘ and look forward to his most recent ‘Woman’s redemption‘.) *Please don’t think I’m wallowing in my singleness, or it consumes my thoughts. I am trying to be honest. I look forward to seeing and praising God for the great things single woman and I could do without the added responsibility of a husband and children. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Last weekend I was taken by surprise. I turned up at a meeting before church under the pretence it was about becoming “more welcoming.” I brought along notes, I even brought along hot chips. It was a conversation I was ready for. But as I looked around the room, the people I had expected to be there weren’t and the whole thing just felt a little odd. And then it begun. Senior Minister: “It has come to our attention that some single adults…” [ability to listen abruptly ends] And there it was, it was a meeting of single people. The meeting continued and I shared my disagreement at the claim put forward: I think we can be more welcoming in general, but I disagree with the suggestion it is linked to relationship status. The meeting ended and we went up to church. Feeling uneasy about the whole situation I flicked off an email to the three ministers in attendance at the meeting and attached my notes for the meeting I thought we were having before I went to bed. But as the week went on, I continued to feel uneasy. Then last night when I met my assistant minister’s wife for the first time (after 18 months! eek!) I realised why I was uneasy. The conversation went a little like: Me: “Hello, I don’t think we’ve met before – I’m Melanie.” “Ah yes, i’ve heard a lot about you and see your emails come through — another one for Trent.” Then from nearby a dear friend hollered: “She’s the outspoken single adult at church.” In my standard response in situations of nervousness, I laughed. The moment passed and we went on conversing. I was thinking as I drove home last night why the comment hit a chord. I know my friend meant nothing by it as I give as much as I take from him. But today I completed a survey for Witchery in order to get a $10 voucher. One of the first questions was this one: It exemplifies the reality – society is about relationships. Indeed, this world is about relationships. But so often we are defined by our relation to a significant other.  I really don’t have any resolve for this thought, only that it seems we are all guilty of applying labels and making assumptions – precisely the reason Witchery has asked the question. No doubt, I, as an adult not in a relationship with a significant other, spend more on clothes at Witchery than someone married/living with another sharing resources, discussing and settling on an amount that one should spent on new clothes. Perhaps I’m just more sensitive because I don’t have a significant other and it seems to bring with it particular stigmas – point being I’m the ‘outspoken’ one. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)