"Our souls may lose their peace and even disturb other people's, if we are always criticizing trivial actions – which often are not real defects at all, but we construe them wrongly through our ignorance of their motives." – Saint Teresa of Avila link
Recently, Todd Wagner, Senior Pastor of Watermark Church, a multi site church based on Dallas, TX, discussed his perspectives on Does the Bible Say It's OK for Moms to Work? which was covered by The Christian Post. You can listen to the entire podcast which is embedded at the end of the post.
Watermark Church is a popular, non-denominational church in the Dallas area which has about 11,000 members. It appears to attract a fairly high income crowd if their building program is any indication of the amount of money coming into the church.
Watermark's Church Contract
They have a fairly typical, hard line membership covenant which we prefer to call a legal contract because it is. It has the usual clauses of church discipline, submission and warnings against gossip. It also has an interesting requirement that each member must fill our their *spiritual growth assessment* once a year. I wonder what happens if their spiritual growth had a negative year?
For Watermark members who will read be reading this, here is a link to a number of posts we have written on the legal ramifications of church covenants. In case you don't think it would even happen at your church, remember the Karen HInkley/Village Church scandal story that happened down the road from you a couple of years back. Ask your pastor why you are safe from such shenanigans. Also, ask the staff why you were not told that this is a legal contract before you signed it. We recommend that no one sign such agreements without first consulting an attorney. Better yet, we recommend that you never sign it.
Now, back to the subject at hand…
Watermark's doctrinal statement on marriage
This is good background for the subject at hand. At first blush, this statement appears to be par for the course for conservative churches. However, I have highlighted a section that I would like to think about more carefully.
We believe that God ordained marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18; Matthew 19:4-9; Ephesians 5:31-33). Those who accept and live within God’s design for sex, biological gender and marriage experience the blessing of His good design (Psalm 1:1-3, 128:1-4), and decisions to change, alter or modify God’s will in marriage, sex or gender are part of man’s brokenness and lead to despair. (Romans 1:21-22; James 1:13-15).
Let's take a look at the quoted Psalm 128:1-4. (NIV Bible Gateway) Remember, this is in the Old Testament.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears the Lord.
Psalm 1:1-3 NIV Bible Gateway
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
It is quite easy to take the easy way out and interpret the previous passages thusly:
Gee, if I obey God I will have lots of children, money, a great job, etc.
That is dangerous theology which could lead to disouragement with God if a family is not *propering.*
*Should moms' work?* is the wrong question.
Look at Wagner's question. The actual title to his talk is According to the Bible, Should a Mom Work. The answer is simple. All moms work. What he really means to ask is "Should moms work both inside and outside of the home?"
Wagner questions the motive (note it is singular not plural) of moms with children who work outside.
While it's not forbidden, Todd Wagner questioned the motive behind a mother choosing to work over being at home with her children.
First of all, a decision like this is rarely, if ever, limited to one motive. It is a mix of motives. As many of you know, I am opposed to questioning motives of others since only God knows the heart. I don't even fully understand the complexity of my own motives in many instances. That is why the confession we have at church mentions sins known and unknown. Motives are tricky things and as a much loved pastor often said:
"Even on my best days, my motives are mixed."
There are many reasons why moms choose to work ouside the home or choose not to do so and we need to smash a few stereotypes. Please not that Wagner was addressing moms who work, not women who work.
Lots of stay at home moms are not staying at home.
Having lived in Dallas for 10 years with young children, I can attest that many stay at home moms have full time babysitters, housekeepers, etc. and spend their days working at home businesses like Amway, shopping, charity work, clubs and lunches. Whether that is good or bad, is up to them and God. However to pretend that they *don't work* outside the home is erroneous.
Some pastors give themselves a break from their "stay home"rule when their wives worked to get them through seminary and early pastorates.
There is a pastor who has probably preached his fair share of sermons on why moms should stay home. However, there is a back story. Not only did his wife work to put him through seminary, she kept working to support him during his early pastor years while they had children. Somehow, that got a pass. Once again, if this was agreeable to both of them, fine. But I do not like his current stories involving his *stay at home* wife.
Work is not to make us more comfortable? Seriously?
My guess is that Wagner lives a very comfortable life in a really nice house with plenty of money to take his wife to dinner, vacation, etc. I bet he has an excellent benefits package with great health care, retirement packages, etc. He gets to deduct all kinds of money for his *parsonage allowance.* (I think the allowance is around $200,000 for all pastors.) He says:
God gave us work as a chance for us to have purpose and dignity and to exist in a way that was going to lead to human flourishing," the pastor explained.
So "we've got to make sure that everything we do is for those that we are here to serve."
"It is not to make our lives more comfortable," he added.
I wonder what he means by comfortable?
Is working to provide health insurance for your family just a selfish ploy to be comfortable?
Does he know how expensive it is to get health insurance these days? Does he know about the $6,000 deductibles? I wonder if he thinks working to pay for health insurance is really just a comfort thing, not an important thing? Having a child who had a malignant brain tumor while I was in Dallas sure gave me insight into the need for good health care insurance if the worst case scenario happens.
More on this in a bit.
According to Wagner, women are given significance and purpose through bearing children.
Uh oh, I think we are getting a bit off track here. He adds this.
Nothing, he said, is esteemed more in God's eyes than giving birth to and shaping a human made in the image of God.
It seems like he is saying that women who don't have children are not going to be as esteemed in God's eyes as mothers "who shape a human in the image of God." This is just plain wrong. One is esteemed because they are created in the image of God. He sent Jesus to die for all mankind because He loved them.They are all valued equally by Him who created them.
Does God tell a single woman who has no children:
"Too bad. It sucks to be you since you will not be esteemed as much as Sarah who stays home with two kids."
The two extremes in this discussion are both wrong.
I am a mom who stayed home with my kids. We were fortunate that I could do so financially. I also had a child with a serious illness. We all have to think through what is best for our families. Life is not perfect and many situations do not have perfect solutions. I met so many families in the neuro-oncology clinic whose children had brain tumors. There were moms who had to work to pay for the good health insurance not available to their husbands. Other families experienced divorces. Did you know that divorces often happen when families experience a horrific crisis like a child with a brain tumor? Yet, we have our simplistic rules.
On the other hand, I still remember a female attorney, who I knew before kids, approaching me while I played at a pool with my kids. She worked for a well-known hosiery company as one of their corporate attorneys. She asked me "Aren't you bored at home?" I replied. "I happen to know that you aren't living on the edge of adventure each day in you job either." Who knows what her situation really was like? Was she judging me because I didn't do what she did? Who knows?
I am sick and tired of people making judgment on moms who work or don't work. But it bothers me more when church leaders, who should show compassion for struggling families, add more burdens to their lives. Todd Wagner appears to demonstrates that he has little idea of the pain, struggles and suffering that many families endure.
Do the blessings for living within a approved marriage elationship always guarantee blessings or prosperity?
Remember, the doctrinal stand of this church as we explore Wagner's thoughts of the matter. So long as you follow God's design in marriage, you will experience the blessing of that design. Ask yourself the question "Is this always true?"
Those who accept and live within God’s design for sex, biological gender and marriage experience the blessing of His good design.
I am sorry but the blessing mentioned in the quote Psalms does not mean that all married couples are guaranteed that blessing even if they obey God. This is nonsense right out of the health and wealth gospel playbook. It is also a set up for profound disappointment when the blessing doesn't materialize.
Wagner admits that some mothers have to work but it seemed like an afterthought.
Wagner acknowledged that not all women — such as single moms — have the luxury of not working and staying home with their children.
There are many circumstances in which a mom might have to work, even if she would prefer to stay at home.
One woman's husband developed a serious mental illness.
Christianity Today posted an insightful article by an anonymous author: When Your Spouse Is Mentally Ill. The author, a mother of two, was married to a funny, smart, hardworking and committed Christian husband. She had a *blessed* life until the day her husband began to hear voices. Sadly, it progressed and he was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder which is a cross between bipolar disease and schizophrenia. It is a devastating illness.
Although she wished to stay married, a divorce happened. It is implied in the post that she must now work to support her two children. Thankfully, she had held onto her skills and now has a job. This is a godly wife and mother who respected Christian marriage yet God did not bless her with the ability to stay at home.
The value of schooling in impoverished families.
"Mamas ought to do what they do because they love their kids, not because they love a job, not because they love more flexibility to vacation where they want, not because they love the kind of car they can drive or the school they can send their kid to later if they work," he continued. "They are to be defined by self-restraint, not self-serving.
There are many people who are poor and live in areas in which the schools are terrible.There are a number of people who have sacrificed to send their kids to better schools in order to lift them out of the cycle of poverty. Sometimes, the hope of better schooling is something that is quite important to families. Many of the poor immigrant families that I knew as a child worked hard to provide their children with an education so that they could rise above the poverty that their parents' experienced.
My own grandparents, Russian immigrants, came to this country with no money and a hope for a better life for their children. My grandfather worked in a leather tanning factory and my grandmother in a textile family and they lived in a small apartment. They figured out a way to get my father through medical school. My father worked hard and my mother was able to stay home with my brother and me.
Wagner's simplistic Biblical application would have had little application in the lives of my grandparents and many other immigrant families.
The need for a decent car in Dallas
By the way, do you know how much we used to spend driving on the Tollway in Dallas? When we moved back to Raleigh, we suddenly noticed a huge savings in our driving expenses. Do you know how bad the traffic is and how long it takes to get anywhere? Families need a decent car to survive on those roads. The pastor probably has a nice car. I wonder if he empathizes with those who are trying to figure out how to get a decent car with good air-conditioning to endure those congested roadways?
Wagner says that men should not overwork but…what should a father do when a family needs more money?
"There are guys who abandon their family and are workaholics … because they get more strokes and acclaim and praise out there working. So rather than be present as a father, they're trying to get their value and dignity somewhere else," he noted.
Let's say a man agrees with his wife that she should stay home with the kids. However, his salary isn't enough to cover the costs for medical insurance, transportation, shoes for growing feet, etc. If he works longer hours, is it fair to say he is a workaholic? Not all men who work long hours are workaholics. Wagner should have met the immigrant families that I knew. Perhaps he doesn't meet many of these families in the upper middle class church of his.
Should people who are struggling still tithe to buy those expensive buildings and pay for good salaries and benefits?
Everyone who struggles financially at Watermar has probably been urged give more money to the church. Look at the church's building programs. Many tens of millions of dollars are involved. I bet members get lectures about giving sacrificially to the church as well as over and above to the building program. Imagine how it is for the family who can barely make ends meet to hear that they must give more. They see the pastor living very, very well. They see the fancy buildings going up. Then, as they try give, perhaps they are told that it isn't enough. How do you think they feel, knowing that they haven't prospered like their church leaders and elders. Does this mean they are unfaithful?
Look, life is hard. We have to be kind and understand that there are often no perfect solutions to complicated family situations. Wagner should stop judging the motives of families who are trying to figure it all out. Yes, a few may be ignoring their kids. But most of the people I know are doing their best to navigate a difficult and complex world.