I thought the service where we were guest worship leaders had gone rather well. I had mixed some pieces this congregation knew with some extra verses that would be new to them, and had arranged the 20 minute worship set so that the songs would really flow from one to the other. Frankly, I was looking to relocate to be able to continue leading worship in a church like this, where I felt the musical assistance would be truly needed.
Afterward, the pastor invited us out for lunch, but it seemed like an hour before we were finally eating a restaurant that seemed unnecessarily distant. My oldest started wandering back and forth into the lobby which had chocolate bars and other confectionery items to tempt him. I told him firmly, “no;” but my wife didn’t hear that and minutes later he came back enjoying a large sugar treat. Furthermore, we were wanting to press on in our journey to visit my father, who was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.
So, it’s no surprise that we didn’t make a good impression. A week later, our honorarium arrived with a multi-page letter, written in southern U.S. drawl, informing us, “Y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all are needing ministry.”
…I took several weeks to prayerfully consider everything he said in that letter, and finally I wrote back to say that life is not perfect and we’re not perfect; we’re a young couple with a couple of really young kids who were under a great deal of stress on the day we met; but that we felt the worship service had gone extremely well, and felt that once it ended, with just him and us in the restaurant, we could be completely transparent. We felt at that point we were no longer “on the clock” in terms of public ministry.
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There are going to be people who read Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely and say, “Anne, y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all should be getting ministry.” There are ways in which they’d be right, but absent a book like this, the world would be a poorer place. In fact, to make such a suggestion would be to miss the point of the book entirely.
This is a book about honestly and transparency and being willing to stick your neck out and say the things that nobody is willing to say in church. It’s about being the one person in the small group who breaks the endless silence and is willing to be the first one to be totally vulnerable and thereby, in Anne’s words, give everyone else “permission to be second.”
After getting a very early copy of Anne’s first book, Mad Church Disease (Zondervan), I got a review copy of Permission to Speak Freely (Thomas Nelson) after most bloggers had finished covering this title. In a way that’s rather appropriate, because this is a book that we need to be reminded of from time to time, that is going to be part of the help and healing of many who are broken.
I think it’s significant that Anne has found her writing to be a redemptive work for the things in her past. It’s significant that she has been able to get two books (so far) out of those experiences. It’s significant that two of our industry’s largest publishers have been willing to take a chance on her brutal honesty and openness.
Here’s what I mean (italics added):
I find it interesting that in our current culture we identify the church as a safe place for broken people to find refuge. Church is a place for us to claim the right of a modern day sanctuary where we can name our sins and ask our questions and be protected and sheltered while we search for grace, forgiveness and answers.
Yet as history shows us, for hundreds of years churches have been sacrificing the beauty of confession and brokenness for religious trappings and the malady of perfectionism. In some cases if we don’t measure up to a man-made cocktail of moral codes and checklists — if we aren’t “good enough” — we no longer feel welcomed in a church or around other Christians.
The full title is: Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace (Thomas Nelson, paperback $16.99 U.S) This isn’t about someone living an exemplary life and thereby earning the right to write a book about it. It’s very much the opposite.
It’s a very messy story, which we so very desperately need to hear.
Related at this blog: Here’s an early reference I made to the book last month in connection with a breaking news story.
Related elsewhere: Here’s the link to Donald Miller’s blog, which is stop number one on a seven stop blog tour containing chapters from Anne’s book. Each essay concludes with a link to the next sample chapter.