Last year was a great year for this humble little blog. We saw an increase in readership from 2018 and a lot of engagement around a number of posts. As ever, I was agitating for people to question the things they normally take for granted, and it turned out that the top five posts for 2019 addressed hot-button issues like gender, evangelical culture, and new ways of doing church. So, here they are from 5 to 1 (click on the title to go to each one):
This article was really popular, with lots of people sharing it on social media. I think it was because it was a simple, accessible description of a fresh way of being and doing church, and many people are looking for examples of how to do just that. In it I shared links to six dinner churches from around the world and suggested people try it. As I wrote in the post, “You just need a table (or a few tables), some food, a basic liturgy, a welcoming spirit, lots of prayer and patience and grace, and a willingness to do life with a group of neighbors as you orient your lives around Jesus together.”
This one was a bit more polarizing than the dinner church post. Drawing from a chapter I wrote for Felicity Dale’s book, The Black Swan Effect, I suggested a series of ways that egalitarian male church leaders could show they are willing to submit to the leadership and insights of women. They included promoting and encouraging female leaders generally, but also by inviting a woman to be your mentor, and by regularly quoting female authors. I also recommended abandoning unhelpful gender stereotypes and shutting down all that inaccurate rhetoric about churches being feminized places. Fireworks ensued.
This one blew up even more than the previous one. In a post about my longtime hope for the church in the West to release and sustain fresh new expressions of church, I got into some hot water by comparing the Sydney Anglican Diocese with the work of Fresh Expressions in the Leicester Diocese in the UK. Some Sydney Anglicans felt I was being too hard on Sydney and too light on Leicester. Be that as it may, I still find the partnership between an established church denomination and an innovative organization like Fresh Expressions to offer the most creative way forward for the church.
This post was in response to the news that well-known evangelical writer and pastor, Joshua Harris, had given up his faith. Instead of piling on the criticism he was getting from many church leaders, I questioned whether he was really just a pawn in the evangelical church culture machine that gave us WWJD bracelets, True Love Waits, and the whole contemporary Christian music industry. Wasn’t he, like a whole generation of teens, swept up into the all-consuming, intoxicating world of conservative evangelicalism. Shaking it free, or growing beyond it, hasn’t been easy for a lot of people. So, I asked, isn’t it worth questioning whether the culture itself is somewhat responsible? A little later, Eternity asked me to write a piece reflecting on Hillsong’s Marty Sampson’s loss of faith. You can find that here. Some people found it helpful, but a lot of others couldn’t distinguish between me critiquing evangelical church culture and questioning the biblical tenets of evangelicalism itself. It also didn’t help that the term evangelical means different things in the US (where most of my readers live) and in Australia.
Toward the end of last year, two Christian news stories broke around the same time. One was the statement by well-known and much-loved preacher Francis Chan that he was moving to South East Asia to undertake missionary work. The other was a video by Jory Micah, tearfully responding to John MacArthur’s snide remark that Beth Moore (and by association, all female preachers) should “Go home.” Both set off an avalanche of responses, many of them critical. Some cross-cultural missionaries respectfully questioned whether Francis had fully understood what incarnational, contextualized mission actually looked like. But the response to Jory’s emotional video were even stronger. She was mocked, humiliated, bullied and criticized in no uncertain terms. What I found interesting was that a lot of church leaders quickly stepped in defend Francis, saying it wasn’t fair to question his decision to move to Asia, but far fewer were equally as concerned about the misogynistic treatment of Jory Micah. As I said in my most popular blog post of the year, “If you feel in any way defensive toward Francis Chan, but don’t have a similar defensiveness about the attacks on Jory Micah, then the church has a big problem.”