The Desire To Win

Okay, I just tweeted, “The desire to win gets in the way of healthy dialogue.”  That is a paraphrase from the book: “Crucial Conversation Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High”.  Out of all the thoughts I’ve seen, heard or read this month, this one has struck a cord with me.

In my work I deal with policy writing, conflicted individuals, politicized debate, stereotypes, and conversations with various levels of potential conflict.  The tensions or potential tensions continue into relationships with family, neighbours and friends.  Fear is behind all of this.

We will never see and end to tension.  I think some believe that somewhere in the past or somewhere in the future, even before Jesus returns, that there will be a time of no stress, no conflict, and no infighting.  That kind of self-talk will drive us bonkers.  At some point we need to realize and accept that conflict will always be with us … ‘until death do us part’.

If we are only observers of others in a squabble, it may be easier to see through to the individuals’ motivations.  That is not always the case.  We become experts at hiding our real motivations … the outcome we really want.  It is this desire to come out on top and win that complicates us in a battle.  When we ourselves are in an argument, we usually convey only aspects that help our side.  Our own desired ends may even be hidden to ourselves.  Perhaps we just want validation, affirmation, or an action that will help us get to another goal we have for ourselves.

Scripture says that ‘the heart is deceitful’.  Perhaps we should acknowledge this more readily.  We are often blind to what is stirring the pot, what is making us agitated, or what gets us riled up.  Looking back each one of us can see the plots where we were on the wrong side of a discussion.  That would be several times over for me personally.

May God help us to see more clearly where we need to repent, apologize, calm down, grant grace, and start from scratch.  God says we are to love our enemies.  If we could even get a small slice of that in our hearts in conflicted situations, we could likely come out honouring God more and living with outcomes more easily.

Your co-worker in the conflict,

Dennis

A Prayer Amid Diversity

Gavin Ortlund’s book Finding The Right Hills To Die On (2020) deals with our handling of diversity within the Church.  Gavin is a contributor with the Gospel Coalition, which generally promotes a complementarian perspective, but he himself was ordained in an egalitarian denomination.  He ends his book with this prayer:

“Lord, where we have sinned either by failing to love the truth or by failing to love our brothers and sisters in our disagreements about truth, forgive us and help us.  For those of us who tend to fight too much over theology, help us to remember that you also died for the unity of the church, your precious bride.  Give us softer hearts.  For those of us who tend to fight too little over theology, help us to feel our need for courage and resilience.  Give us stronger backbones.  Help us to be people who tremble at your word and therefore ultimately fear no one but you.  Lead us toward that healthy, happy balance of adhering to all your teaching while embracing all your people.  Amen.”

THE SPIRIT OF DIOTREPHES

Well the spirit of Diotrephes (3 John) is still at work in a few of our churches, not only ours but churches everywhere.  This is the fellow who wants to play leader and keep certain voices out of the church … a gatekeeper of sorts.  (Please understand that I am not in any way experiencing this among our CBWC staff or our CBWC board!)   I do from time to time see people in our churches who feel they have some special authority to short circuit good process which would involve humility, listening skills, healthy conversation and the hard work of finding spiritual direction among the consensus of believers.  They somehow feel entitled to a role of control.  This negatively affects the short term and long term credibility and reputation of other Christians and of some of our churches. 

We see this when people push their agenda toward an imagined end goal deemed so important to them that they are willing to display the fruits of the flesh.  I’ve seen uncontrolled anger.  I’ve heard hateful statements.  I’ve seen where someone pushes for an end result while sacrificing their godly temperament to do so.  Many of these are well meaning individuals, but they can carry a mis-guided sense of purpose.  They think they are protecting the church in some way. 

When the spirit of Diotrephes is at work a secular hierarchy is superimposed on the church.  Servant leadership disappears.   Being right overtakes being godly.  Polarities deepen.  Sides are drawn.  Listening stops.  No one takes time to encourage.  Being faith-driven is replaced with being fear-driven.  Stress levels rise in the church.  Smiles and hugs lessen and volunteerism slows down.  Ministry workers and their family members get hurt and end up demoralized.  People sense something is not right but they may not be able to put their finger on the culprit.

Those who propagate the spirit of Diotrephes do not understand the destructive depths of their work.  I knew a lady who was the daughter of a minister.  Before she died she expressed with emphasis that she did not want any service of remembrance for her to be in a church.  For her that was the place where her pastor-dad was verbally sliced into bits.  She carried that pain for decades and decades.  As I imagine it, someone in an ungodly fashion got their way at a church meeting, but she was among the unseen fallout.

What happened to Jesus’ hope for us – that people would say of us: ‘See how they love one another’? Are we really behaving like believers?  Too often we have bought into the philosophy of ‘might makes right’.  To take that farther … whatever happened to ‘love your enemy’?  Believers are to bring walls down when possible.  Our title or influence can give us the feeling of privilege, ready and able like a fullback to stiff-arm those who oppose, but should we submit to this temptation of power usage?  Jesus laid aside his rights … taking the form of a servant.

Let’s learn again to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might, letting ourselves yield and let go of any power we may theoretically have.  May God help us all to know our own inner motives, to know the motives of God, and to know the difference.

Your co-worker, Dennis

P.S.: Sorry for the preachy tone!

Living With Less

I was reading online an article by Amanda Ruggeri on the dangers of perfectionism.  She writes the following in “The Dangerous Downsides of Perfectionism”:

The trouble is that, for perfectionists, performance is intertwined with their sense of self. When they don’t succeed, they don’t just feel disappointment about how they did. They feel shame about who they are. Ironically, perfectionism then becomes a defence tactic to keep shame at bay: if you’re perfect, you never fail, and if you never fail, there’s no shame.”

Likely you know a few people motivated by perfectionism.   I’ve heard it preached in subtle ways.  I’ve seen it sometimes in the way some keep their homes, their vehicles, their hair, and even in the expectations of their children.  I am not against cleanliness or neatness, but there is something wrong if the motivating factor is fear of shame or that sense of personal identity.

Most false religious practices get twisted by some strong teaching related to being or becoming perfect in this life, with all the attachments of a style of legalism.  For those of us adopted into Christ’s family, I believe in a practical sense we will never attain perfection in this life  However the good news is that by being ‘in Christ’ we have already gained a perfection that is not our own.  For me I can now rest in being loved and accepted.  I am not perfect in that practical sense, but I am forgiven and I can rejoice in being an adopted son of God!  My shortcomings do not need to impede my sense of identity.

Yes, shortcomings I still have.  By the Spirit’s work in me I am not left alone in my inner wrestlings on attitudes and behaviours that are not of God.  The Spirit is continually at work in me.  Yes, there may be some outworkings of that which might have the appearance of a type of conformity to a Christian standard.  There is good in that, but not if I by my own strength am trying to put forward the right ‘look’.

In this current season many of us are living with less.  We may have less salary, less social gathering, less in terms of populating of material goods around us, and less in terms of freedoms we used to enjoy.  Maybe a better goal is to have less of ‘me’ and more of the fruit of the Spirit.  More love, more joy, more peace … you get the picture.

The Apostle Paul knew what it was to have plenty and what it was to have little.  We need to be able to embrace whatever circumstances surround us with joy and a strong sense that God is still in charge of all things.

The prophet in Habakkuk 3:17-18 writes:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”

We have enough if we have Jesus.  We need no more, no less.

Your co-worker,  Dennis

 

Trust Is The Measure

Trust is the measure of your ministry. A person can be 100% right and people may not trust you. A person can make significant mistakes and yet people may still trust that individual. Just because a person has good reasoning skills and relevant head knowledge does not mean people will automatically place “trust”.

There is no class you can take in seminary that makes assurances that people will trust you. There is no past experience you can go through, no significant book you can write, and no quality reference given by another that can make people trust you. Then again, not all people who are trusted should be granted that privilege.
We live in a world of broken trust. People often point out (albeit inaccurately) the percentage of marriages that end in divorce. Politically we can speak of treaties not followed. Businesses make agreements and then break them through some loophole. Too often politicians have said one thing and done another. The news emphasizes clergy that are guilty of moral inconsistency. Parents have been heard saying to their children, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  We see broken trust all over as people seek to take advantage of situations for personal gain.  I know I too have become cynical as I watch the promises of endless commercials parade across my path.  I am slow to trust.
Is it any wonder that the world is in a mess today? For the average person coming into the world today the concept must be very strange one when we say “Trust God!”.
We depend and trust in our bank accounts, our hard work, our achievements, our ancestry, our self-perceived position in society, our reputation, our plans, our discerning skills, our ability to defend ourselves, our goodness, and other facets feeding our sense of self-sufficiency.
One stock market crash, one job loss, one hospital visit, one accident, one internet thief, one virus taking root … any of these can change our plans and perspective. It might even bring us back to reality.
Whatever happened to understanding “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10)? That kind of attitude makes one humble. It leaves one in awe of our Creator. It makes a person an individual of integrity even when no one is looking. It makes one trustworthy … worth being trusted. Even when we do everything right it does not mean people will trust us … that is a choice others make on their own. We do not make trust in ministry by doing our stuff, but by doing His … and it is usually over the long haul! It is not really about having people follow us, but it is all about our following Him. Too often people seek to go up some invisible ladder to make themselves a capable leader, when going down the ladder is likely more important. Keeping our attitude in check is the greater accomplishment. Unfortunately it can be faked, so be genuine!
May all of us seek the proper balance of humility while being courageous in our own setting!
Your co-worker, Dennis Stone

Walls That Divide

My son found this interesting written piece taken from the 1978 Pasadena Consultation on Homogeneous Units from the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism:

… the dividing wall, which Jesus Christ abolished by his death, was echthra, “enmity” or “hostility.” All forms of hatred, scorn, and disrespect between Christians of different backgrounds are forbidden, being totally incompatible with Christ’s reconciling work. But we must go further than this. The wall dividing Jew from Gentile was not only their active reciprocal hatred; it was also their racial and religious alienation symbolized by “the law of commandments and ordinances.” This, too, Jesus abolished, in order to “create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace” (Eph. 2:15).

The list of those who met in the consultation include a list of then distinguished theologians (John Stott, Peter Wagner, Ralph Winter, etc.).  You need to know that my son works directly with the poor in Edmonton and wrestles with why the church is slow to meaningfully encounter the poor themselves or welcome them into worship services.  Most church goers seem to give to a church budget and expect that their church is doing something for the poor somewhere, feeling comfortable with that as long as they do not have to touch, smell, hear or mingle with the poor themselves.  He has an excellent concern, however in my role I wrestle with how ‘hostility’ divides the Christian community over entrenched theological positions.  Even though we might readily acknowledge that in heaven we’ll be rubbing shoulders with those we’ve put down or shunned here on earth, we put up our own walls of separation.  Peter was forced by Paul to integrate with the Gentiles in Galatians 2.

The paper itself expresses how we are all in some sort of sub-culture.  It is natural to support our own position of perceived correctness and importance.  Our white Western culture has taught, though not necessarily intentionally, that ‘being right’ is more important than ‘doing right’.  This is a judgment the younger generation is making of the Evangelical church today … with some level of justification.  We have generally stayed away from things that might taint us or make us uncomfortable.

We almost never apologize but we easily justify our past and present actions.  We would rather not take time to apologize for looking the other way for the mistreatment of the indigenous, neglecting of the poor, or ignoring deserved equal rights treatment of women or the LGBT.  I’m not saying every aspect of every special interest group deserves our respectful attention.  I know I’ll never be a vegan or match their values, but vegans deserve my respect and they should respect me too.  Perhaps there are even vegan Christians.

Jesus brought down a wall.  I know the theology of that, but there is some practical application of this for which I need to pay attention.  Perhaps the lack of evangelism effort is due to the walls we ourselves have created.  Perhaps our own silo is leaking … and perhaps it should.

Your co-worker,   Dennis

 

The Polarity Continues

The issue of complimentarianism and egalitarianism continues to be an area of potential conflict within churches and denominations.  My sense is that there are those on both sides of this issue in all churches and all denominations.  The CBWC allows both viewpoints but functions in its internal dealings from the egalitarian perspective.  That being said, it may be awhile before we see a female regional minister due to the positions of some churches and pastors.  The CBWC tent is generally big enough to emphasize responsiveness to the Gospel with some diversity within each setting.  Every family however has a bit of awkwardness when inspected closely.

One cannot merely say, ‘this is what the Bible says’.  The better question is on how we can interpret the Bible … or perhaps on how we might discredit the limited perspective of how someone else interprets the Bible.  The phrase we should use more often is “as I interpret the Bible, it says ….”

Our CBWC pastors are expected as delineated in a protocol manual to treat women and women in ministry with respect.  Not everyone we have admired has been careful with wording on this issue.  What follows are some statements of church fathers where such careless wording today if used by our pastors could lead to measures of discipline by our denominational credentials committee:

“Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.”   – Clement of Alexandria (2nd Century)

 “Women are the devil’s gateway.”  – Tertullian (2nd Century)

 “God maintained the order of each sex by dividing the business of life into two parts, and assigned the more necessary and beneficial aspects to the man and the less important, inferior matter to the woman.”    – Chrysostom (4th & 5th Centuries)

 “The woman together with her own husband is the image of God, but when she is referred separately, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God.”     -Augustine (4th & 5th Centuries)

 “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect.”  – Thomas Aquinas (13th Century)

 “Because the female sex is more concerned with things of the flesh than men; because being formed from a man’s rib, they are only imperfect animals and crooked whereas man belongs to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged.” – Malleus Maleficarum / “The Hammer of Witches” (15th Century)

 “Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.”  – Martin Luther (16th Century)

 “Since God was thinking of the man, it certainly follows that the woman is only an accessory.  And why?  Because she was only created for the sake of man, and she must therefore direct her whole life toward him.”  – John Calvin (16th Century)

 “Nature I say, paints women further to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish: and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and leadership.”   – John Knox (16th Century)

 “A woman ought not to teach because she is more easily deceived, and more easily deceives.”  – John Wesley (18th Century)

(Quotes above from powerpoint used by Broxy Cavey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cMT-rabw3U&t=236s )

Not every position is to be disregarded because someone speaks carelessly on the issue.  We will see more of misstatements in the future on both sides.  My guess is that our churches will deal with this polarity for at least another generation with some of those awkward moments.  It is our impatience that wants a universal answer right now.  How we show our character while wrestling with the issue may be more telling.

May God give us patience and discernment in how we treat one another.  May the fruit of the Spirit be our goal more than that of ‘being right’.

Your co-worker,  Dennis

Leadership Tugs

Many of us taught officially and unofficially a leader must lead.  In other words, stick your neck out, speak out, set a path for others to follow, plan, plot and set your objectives.  The structure of authority most of us were born into involved obeying parents, obeying teachers, and obeying bosses.  This bred a desire in many of us to reach that goal of climbing the ladder – being able to be rulers.  Part of that fits Jesus economy, but part of it does not.

Jesus took another position when he taught His disciples in Matthew 20:25-26, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”  At this point Jesus emphasizes the greater importance of taking the role of a servant.

I was reading in a book by fellow Canadian Len Hjalmarson (“Broken Futures”) that leadership should be less about progress and more about process.  The process to which he alludes includes listening to the community.  Listening and teaching people to listen will ultimately mean more engagement and involvement.  This posture may be helpful in being a better servant-leader, but there is an even deeper element we must wrestle with to be better disciples.

That deeper element is to let the Spirit of God investigate our heart for the pride that may be rooted there.  If we are in any position of leadership there is the tug to prove oneself worthy of the role, the tug to make something of one’s opportunity, the tug to be seen as prosperous in the job, the tug to be esteemed by others, or even the tug to show oneself one’s own worthiness through obvious accomplishments.

Somehow in life we get lost and we can forget the phrase in Philippians that Jesus ‘made Himself nothing’.  (Okay, those of you with your Greek lexicons out, just put them away for a minute … I know this emphasis can go too far.)   Jesus faced all the same tugs/temptations, He wrestled with the opportunity to show Himself for who He was before His time.  For the true Christian servant, all of us need to take a step back from the ‘tugs’ of life and realize the temptation is often for something to happen ‘now’ … and for the ‘how it looks to others’ perspective.  Faithfulness reveals itself over time.

God calls us to know Him, to faithful service, to be obedient and to have a heart of service, no matter what things look like to others.  I think we will be surprised who in fact hears the ‘well done, good and faithful servant’.  It may be the single parent down the street, or the quiet elderly couple who need walkers to get around, or the believer who is also a Walmart greeter.  Our sense of what it means to be successful needs to get separated from that subtle pull of pride deep within us.

Let’s take steps to be better servants by accurately assessing and dealing with the pride that is deep within us.

Your co-worker, Dennis

MOST LEARNED – MOST JUDGMENTAL

The season is here where we remember the resurrection.  In my view the best theologian on this subject apart from Jesus during His earthly ministry was Martha.  At one point we have her telling Jesus about the resurrection (John 11:24).   At that point she is disappointed Jesus was late in responding to Lazarus’ sickness … too late was her conclusion.  Relying on what she knew, she was judgmental.  In her mind Jesus should have been there sooner, hope was lost, a life was now gone!

Now there are great advantages of gaining knowledge.  I am extremely thankful for the privilege of sitting under good teaching on many topics in my life, including an awesome amount of Biblical training through the years.  I can add to that the personal preaching and teaching experiences of my life that have added to that data.  On one level I am ready to argue theology until the cows come home, armed with resources to ‘give an answer to anyone’.  Now that stance, however, can make me feel comfortable and smug because I know the answers.  I also now feel as if I know how churches ‘should’ operate, how preaching ‘should’ be done, and how others ‘should’ behave.  Unfortunately if I let those ‘shoulds’ get in the way I can become hindered in further learning, argumentative, critical of others in their ministry, distant in relationships, as well as too fast to speak and too slow to listen.

This Winter I have audited a course on Islam at King’s University College with a teacher who is a moderate Shi’a Imam.  I have mostly sat silent learning about an area previously unfamiliar to me.   It has involved middle Eastern history, the development of Islamic thought, and a sense of what is more normal for Muslim people.  (Sure there are fanatics, but Christians have had many of their own over the years.)  The class has not changed my theology at all, but I have been amazed how ignorant I have been.  I was previously loaded up with stereotypes that would have kept me from speaking openly and without reserve to Muslim people.  Unexpectedly I’ve learned much about myself in the midst of this class.  Now I hope I can enter better conversations with these people in my own neighbourhood.  I think I could even commend many pieces of their practices and beliefs and not come across as overly biased and judgmental.  An actual meaningful conversation can now take place.  There is still lots I do not know about Islam, but much of my irrational fear has disappeared.

Our own learning can keep us from truly listening to others.  This might be from our own children, our spouse, our employers, or another pastor/teacher.  Recent studies by Ambrose’s Joel Thiessen show that Christians are known by average Canadians as judgmental.  People often close us out because of their stereotypes, but I’ve had my own through the years.

Can I change how the average Canadian sees me?  Can I be known instead by my love, my grace, and my listening ears?   I trust I can do this while showing an unwavering faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and His current work in me.

Your ever learning co-worker,  Dennis

P.S.:  Celebrate the Risen Jesus!

Can You Let Go Of The Baby?

The statistics continue to show the general aging of pastors serving churches.  One recent study stated that over the past 25 years the average age of a senior pastor in the USA has risen from 45 to 54.  Consciously or unconsciously as a pastor ages everyone connected quietly thinks, “when is he or she going to retire?”  So we have more and more churches, church boards and pastors beginning to talk about this and thinking intentionally about the transition out.

There are so many facets to consider in the transition of a well-loved retiring pastor who has been perceived to be successful.  Factors include the following:

  • Rural or Urban: A rural retiring pastor may be linked to the community because of the employment of a spouse, location of children and grandchildren, value of current home, value of established friendships in the community.  It may be hard for a retiring pastor to consider going to a different church as options may be few or of different traditions that his or her own.  An urban pastor may more easily find another church to attend, but it will not be like his or her own.
  • Stay or go: If a pastor stays in their church after retirement there can be difficulties.  The level of difficulty depends on the pastor’s ability to settle in and be supportive of new leadership.  In candidating for the pastorate almost every pastor will say they are a ‘team worker’, when in fact many are not.  Some are self-deceived and do not have accurate self-knowledge.  The same is true of retiring pastors who think their presence will not be an imposition on the new leader or new leadership in the church they used to pastor.  Many who stay end up being grumpy, perhaps even bitter cynics.
  • Plan succession or let things go: Plans while a pastor is still in place can be good, but I would caution against being too committed to them too early.  Personally I have seen several situations where an associate was hired with a view to having that person become the senior pastor, but seldom has that plan worked out.  It is not the norm for an associate or a youth pastor to become that church’s senior pastor at a later date.  Churches are more likely to want some new skills, a new presence and they resist having what they have already had to date.  It may be best for a pastor to ‘let go’ of their ministry and to commit its future to God.  Likely the fruit of a pastor’s discipleship over the years will reveal itself.  If good principles have been passed down, then the remaining leadership will make good choices.  After His resurrection Jesus left his work to a dozen men who were not united, were of questionable experience, and wrestled with what to do next.  Often leadership succession feels like that to the one stepping down or retiring.

I know having left ministries before that it is hard to watch from a distance the decisions of a former church.  You have loved those people and invested yourself into that ministry.  For whatever the reason God now has a different path for them.  Even in my current role I’m thinking more intentionally about having some people grab onto the principles of this position, but I will not be appointing my successor, whenever that is done.  I too will have to let go.  For this season let me not coast … let me be helpful to the Kingdom!

Your co-worker,  Dennis