I grew up with an amazing mom, so celebrating Mother’s Day is really easy for me. It’s probably easy for many people. But if we’re going to be honest, and I believe that the Church should be a place where speaking truth in love is safe and encouraged… if we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that celebrating Mother’s Day is difficult for many people in the Church. While I grew up with a great mom, not everyone in this room can say the same thing. Quite frankly, there are many people who absolutely dread Mother’s Day, even to the point of avoiding church gatherings because it is so painful.
For example, last year one of my friends and I were talking about Mother’s Day and he was kind enough to explain to me why attending a Mother’s Day service was very difficult for him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to worship Jesus or gather with God’s people; he loves Jesus and loves the Church. The problem was that Mother’s Day was just too painful. I asked him if he would be willing to allow me to share his thoughts and he kindly agreed, sso listen to his brutally honest explanation of why he dreads Mother’s Day. He said:
Mother’s day has never been a happy occasion for me. When I was 3 or 4 years old, my mother got sole custody of me and my three younger siblings. She liked to party so we were alone a lot. I remember cooking a dinner of hamburgers and baked French fries when I was 5. At 7, she abandoned us at grandma’s for two months until my father picked us up, and we moved in with him and his wife. This woman was a stepmother that physically and verbally abused the four of us, showing blatant favoritism instead to the two children she bore. Worse yet, when dad sexually abused my sister, my stepmom blamed my sister because she said my sister wore the wrong clothing. On Mother’s Day I get to observe people in churches, restaurants, and on social media honor their mothers. These touching and heartfelt gestures are, for me, constant reminders of what I have been denied in life.”
My friend’s struggle with Mother’s Day says nothing about the other challenge Mother’s Day offers – those who struggle with infertility and who so long to be mother’s but who are currently unable to. And what about those who have lost their mother or their wife who was the mother of their children? As you can see, Mother’s Day can be a very painful day for many people.
Now because we love people and care for them, the Church needs to acknowledge that these challenges exist and we need to be sensitive to our neighbors, friends, and family members who may be experiencing the pain that Mother’s Day brings. This doesn’t mean that we should stop honoring our mother’s or expressing gratitude for our mothers… it simply means we need to nuance and be sensitive to other people. Does that make sense?
Everyone Gets to Play
One of the many reasons I love being a part of the Vineyard movement is because part of our DNA, one of our cultural values, is the idea that “everyone gets to play.” The slogan that “everyone gets to play” was made popular by John Wimber, one of the Vineyard’s founders and who led the movement for nearly twenty years.
While the idea that “everyone gets to play” wasn’t unique to John Wimber (cf. the Reformation’s emphasis on the priesthood of all believers), God certainly used him to help make it a popular idea across the Church. Many of you may not realize this, but throughout most of church history, what gets called “ministry” has sadly been left to pastors and a select number of church leaders. Praying for people, teaching the Bible, serving Communion, doing baptisms, visiting the sick, casting out demons, and anything else considered “ministry” was reserved for a select few, often people of privilege (white European males). So unless you were ordained and had attended some seminary, you weren’t expected to do the works of Jesus… you weren’t actually allowed to participate in the things of the kingdom. This runs counter to the Apostle Paul’s teaching about leadership in Ephesians 4.
As I said, this is one of the many reasons that I love the Vineyard. Women and men, young and old, people from all ethnic groups, all languages, and all socio-economic backgrounds are invited to partner with the Holy Spirit and join God’s mission of making Jesus known.
Put simply: Everyone gets to play.
The idea that “everyone gets to play” is clearly exemplified in the life of Jesus. Jesus did not choose the smartest and most popular people to be his disciples. He surrounded himself with twelve ordinary men, most of whom were born in the poor and insignificant region of Galilee. And even more controversial, of Jesus’ close friends, many were women, which the Gospel authors mention numerous times (cf. Matt. 14:21; 15:38; 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 8:1-2; 23:27, 49; 24:22-23).
This is why I love Jesus so much! He values all people, from all genders, from all social classes, from all generations! His kingdom is made of a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, community of women and men who have all come to encounter his grace, mercy, and love.
And Jesus isn’t the only one who tells us that God’s people are invited to join God’s mission. The Apostles made that very clear when they indicated that everyone gets to play because everyone has something to offer because everyone in the Body of Christ has received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit sovereignly distributes spiritual gifts to everyone, including you sitting right where you are! And by the way, every human being has value because they are created in God’s image and God does not make mistakes.
So for the rest of our time this morning, and Greg told me I had an hour and a half (kidding!), I want to read a couple verses from 1st Thessalonians and then reflect on how we can and should apply them in the Vineyard movement. I want to explore a specific way that South Metro Vineyard Church can embody this idea that “everyone gets to play.” Paul writes:
As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NLT)
Now earlier I indicated that Mother’s Day can be a very challenging day for many people in and out of the Church. So how might the Church honor motherhood while also being sensitive to those who never had the blessing of a loving and caring mother? And how might the Church support those who are struggling with the emotional pain of currently being unable to conceive of children? And what about the fact that even though many of us grew up in good homes, no family is perfect and we all pick up baggage from the families that shaped us? How can the Church help those who are being rescued from their brokenness and transferred into the kingdom of God? How might the Church best minister to all of these various needs as it creates disciples?
Being Reparented by the Church.
Peter Scazzero has written a number of books that many of us in the Vineyard have found extremely helpful in terms of pursuing a healthy version of Christian spirituality (e.g., Emotional Healthy Spirituality, The Emotional Healthy Church, and The Emotional Healthy Leader). One of the ideas that he addresses is how the Church functions as a “parent” in the lives of people.
After all, when we become followers of Jesus, the Bible teaches that we are adopted into God’s family. We are treated as if we are all God’s first-born as we’re all given the greatest inheritance imaginable, God’s very own Spirit. Our identity is not determined by our last name or by our biological family but by the blood of Jesus. We are part of God’s family and God’s family includes all of our brothers and sisters in the local church.
This family, the local church, is where reparenting takes place. The reparenting process is based on living out the teachings of Scripture and it takes place in community, not in isolation. Each of us must be alert to the areas of our lives that must change and be transformed by the Holy Spirit because we acknowledge and evaluate how God’s ways are different than some of the ways we were brought up in. In this sense, Peter Scazzero states that we are both reparented in the local Church and called to reparent others. We are both being healed within the Church and bringing healing to others. We give away what we receive from Jesus because we are called to reflect God’s love, mercy, and grace to the world around us. As the Apostle Paul states in Romans 15:7, we are to “accept each other just as Christ has accepted [us].” We care for others because we have been cared for.
I mean, if we all agree that the healthy parenting of our children means that we forgive them, train them, equip them, comfort them, care for them, nurture them, resource them, and clearly love our children, why wouldn’t the Church want to forgive, train, equip, comfort, care for, nurture, resource, and love those coming into our communities? The Church is perfectly designed to comfort those who call her home.
The Church, the community of God’s kingdom, should be the safest, most effective, and grace-infused place to be reparented. If our Vineyard value is that “everyone gets to play,” a more specific application of that value is that “everyone gets to mother.” Yes… women and men, young and old alike, are called as the collective community of God’s people to mother the broken and hurting.
“Everyone Gets to Mother.”
The image of mothering is used in Scripture numerous times to convey the idea of care and nurture. As we read earlier, the Apostle Paul stated that when he came to the Thessalonians, he could have intimidated them and asserted his authority, but he didn’t. Instead, he writes that he treated the Thessalonians “like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.” The Apostle Paul uses the image of a nursing mom to explain his relationship with the Thessalonians. He cared for them, had concern for them, nurtured them, and loved them.
This is not the only place that Paul used motherhood as an explanation for his relationship with the churches he planted. To the Galatians he writes:
Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.” (Galatians 4:19 NLT)
And motherhood isn’t simply relegated to the Apostle Paul. As scandalous as it is for those who want to try and paint Christianity as a “masculine” religion, which it isn’t, Scripture uses mother images about God! Remember, God is Spirit and should not be understood as male or female, which is why Scripture and the early Church used what many consider to be feminine qualities to describe the work of God, honoring God’s activities of birthing, nurturing, grieving, and sheltering his people.
For example, in Deut. 32:18, Isaiah 42, and Jeremiah 31:20, God is pictured as a “giving birth” to Israel as her mother. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus said that he wanted to gather Jerusalem as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing. And in Genesis 1:2 and John 3:5, the Holy Spirit is pictured as birthing creation and birthing people into the kingdom of God.
All this is to say that the Church gets her inspiration to mother well because the Apostle Paul mothered well and God himself is the greatest mother of all. If God is a father to the fatherless, as Psalm 68:5 states, he is most certainly a mother to the motherless. And one of the primary ways in which God is a mother to those in need of a mother is through the Church, the hope of the world.
So on this Mother’s Day, South Metro Vineyard Church, allow me to encourage you that “everyone gets to mother” because “everyone gets to play.” St. Augustine stated that the Church is our mother… mothering is what the Church does. We are called to love those being birthed into the kingdom in the same way that a good mother loves her children. It’s what we are called to do!
3 Kingdom Activities of Mothering.
(1) If everyone gets to mother, everyone needs to nurture.
When I was 16 years old I got really, really, really sick. I was so sick that I ended up in the emergency room and was diagnosed with pneumonia. I was so sick I seriously thought I was dying. Now what I remember most about that time I was so sick and seriously thought I was dying was that my mom sat by my bed and cared for me. I felt very nurtured and loved and even though I thought I was going to die, I wasn’t alone. My mom was there to hold me and comfort me (“I just want my mom”).
Scripture is full commandments to nurture people. There are many “one another” verses in the New Testament tell us we are to care for each other (e.g., “love one another,” “encourage one another,” “comfort one another”). This is exactly what the Apostle Paul gets at in Galatians 6 when he talks about the importance of bearing one another’s burdens. We each need to care for and nurture those around us. We need to encourage them and comfort them. We need to do all that we can to help them grow to become more like Jesus. Nurturing is part of discipleship because nurturing is part of of the process of multiplication and the Church is called to multiply as we make disciples who make disciples.
(2) If everyone gets to mother, everyone needs to listen.
If we want to mother well, we need to become great at listening. Listening is one of the most powerful ways to care for people. The art of listening earns us the ability to be deeply involved in the lives of people because so few people are good listeners. Have you noticed that? We’re too busy telling everybody what we think and what our opinions are on everything.
You want to be great at mothering? Learn the to listen. The Apostle James gives us some excellent advice if we want to be effective at mothering:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19 NLT)
Great moms listen and the Church needs to be full of people who are great listeners.
(3) If everyone gets to mother, everyone needs to protect.
I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Alaska. It’s still my favorite place in the world because I love fly fishing and I love the mountains and rivers and lakes and I basically just want to end up living in Alaska so if you want to give me lots of money to go there and fish a lot, I mean plant a church, I’m willing.
When I was around 8 years old, my dad took me to a lake so that I could fish. This was the 80’s, so parents could drop you off at a lake in the middle of nowhere and it was totally okay. Anyway, as I was fishing, I heard a bunch of noise on my left side and watched as a sweet and innocent baby moose with long gangly legs came out of the woods and walked to the edge of the water.
As I was watching that baby moose, I continued fishing. What a beautiful sight to behold – fishing while a baby moose took a long drink of crisp and clear Alaskan lake water. It was picturesque.
But wait a minute. I remember thinking, “Baby moose don’t travel alone.” As I continued casting my fly rod and staring at that baby moose, I began to hear noises on my right side. Out of the woods came the mother moose and she also walked to the lake’s edge and began drinking water.
Now kids growing up in Alaska are taught early on that you never get in-between a mother moose and her baby. If you want to get stomped on, that’s how you do it. So as I realized I was standing between a mother and her baby, I nearly had a heart attack, threw my fly rod into the lake, and ran as fast as I could away from the lake.
Everyone knows that you do not want to mess with Momma Bear, or a Momma Moose in this case.
In the Church, we need to become more intentional about protecting the church, both the individuals and the larger collective community. Unfortunately, we’re often known more for shooting our own than being known for ruthlessly protecting the people in our care!
But listen, Scripture tells us that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Our enemy is the devil and his demonic forces, whom Jesus says comes to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). If the enemy is actively seeking to do violence against God’s people, the community of God’s kingdom must relentlessly guard against the enemy’s attacks! We must pray for each other and stand beside one another and continue to forgive one another and love one another because love is the greatest way to protect against the onslaught of our true enemy.
These three activities are kingdom activities and are, I think, great examples of mothering. We are all called to nurture each other, to listen to each other, and to protect each other.
So the Church is the community that is called to reparent those who are being rescued from the clutches of sin, death, and brokenness. In the Vineyard, because we believe that “everyone gets to play,” we also must follow the teachings of Scripture and do all that we can to nurture, care for, protect, listen to, and love each other because “everyone gets to mother.”