The Walk

Think again about the common Biblical phrase of King David, “… though I walk through the valley of the shadow ….”

In an age where we get everything immediately, so much so that we complain when our download speed does not make images appear in nanoseconds, we forget that trials often need a ‘walk mentality’.  The three year old at the table may want what they want right now, and make a scene while stating their case, but a mature being should not take that posture.

In prayer we often want immediate healing, an immediate job opportunity, an immediate influx of cash, an immediate removal of an addiction issue, and this list could go on and on.

Who would ever stand in their garden, plant a seed and water it, then stand by five minutes later and question anxiously why they do not see results?  Sorry but some things take time and some beautiful twists by God’s hand are only to be experienced with patience.

Josiah was a good king of Judah who set things right after several faltering generations on the throught, and he honoured God and especially the Word of God.  What he walked into was a kingdom reaping the judgment of God on Solomon.  Solomon did not see the dividing of his empire, but God is faithful and he judges fairly.  So Josiah could not fix Solomon or the rescue the ten tribes already in Assyrian exile, but he could fix things in his own backyard.  That is what he did … and it took years.

So can I walk through my next anxious moment?  Maybe if my faith is strong at the moment.  I will fall and expect immediate results from time to time.  But my God is in this for the long haul.  The effects of Jesus resurrection reigns 2000 years later and is destined to continue bringing results, and it followed the commitment of ‘Not My will, but Yours be done’.  God knows the timing for the end of my problems, but my petty issues are so small compared to the greatness of our reward for cleaving to Jesus with patience. May we trust in Him!

Your co-worker,   Dennis

 

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What Jesus could not show us

Historically we see that Baptists are an independent bunch.  Church constitutions, policies, practices, style and outreaches are often quite varied according to opinions and callings of any individual church.  Perhaps some of this is due to what we see in Jesus.  He was One who often went against the norms of the day – healing on the Sabbath, who would ever!  He was One who claimed to gain His leading from above with an unwillingness to be bound to any human structure.  He was One who spoke truth even when it was hard to follow (die to self, etc.).

In John 2 we read, “24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person (NIV).”  This special ability He had was able to make Him rightly independent of anyone else.  With this character quality of His we find He was never under anyone else or under any other system.  This made him completely unpredictable.  Certainly He was a Jewish man, but clearly He did not fit the mold of following the crowd, confirming necessarily to socially standardized behaviour.   To say He was unique is of course an understatement.

Again let me reiterate that Baptists are an independent bunch.  We may even have unconsciously adopted this independenct character trait we see in Jesus, but we have carried it without Jesus flawless nature.  We have carried it with some judgmentalism, some pride, some sense of privilege, or some entitlement.

Jesus lived independent of any subjugating relationship except to His Father.  As Baptists we hold a value which is regenerated Church membership.  What we have is access to the Holy Spirit but also access to one another.  We need not be so independently minded.  Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (NIV)”.   Oddly enough Jesus displayed grace and friendship, but He did not clearly portray to us how to work along with other humans to discern a path forward.  He did, however, work along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which we are now able to do as well.

Let us not be so independent we do not share the journey with others.  Let us not forsake opportunities to gather together.  With others we can worship, pray, discern truth, learn, gain guidance as well as give and receive support.  What a rich possession we have with our shared faith.  Interdependence open to the Holy Spirit … what a concept!

May God truly help us to be the kind of Baptists He desires.

Your co-worker,

Dennis

Discrimination? What Do You Think?

The following was recently written and circulated by John Barlow, Member of Parliment for Foothills in Alberta:

Good afternoon,

I want to bring to your attention substantial changes brought forward by the Liberal Government to the rules around which employers can qualify for funding through the Canada Summer Jobs program. These changes ostracize groups or individuals who disagree with the Liberal policy platform on abortion or LGBTQ2. Due to these changes, some applicants will no longer be eligible for funding and many students will not find work because of this discriminatory decision.

Under the new rules, organizations wishing to participate in the Canada Summer Jobs program will be required to attest they respect reproductive rights and gender identity and expression. As Canadians, I think we can all agree, protecting Human Rights is vitally important. However, while this declaration asserts reproductive and gender rights as a human right in Canada, it simultaneously abolishes the right to freedom of belief and opinion, which is guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 The Liberals are basing funding decisions on whether or not you hold a certain belief, and whether or not that belief aligns with Justin Trudeau’s political policy opinion on abortion, gay marriage and transgendered rights.

This policy isn’t about supporting and promoting the activities or services an organization is engaged in within a community. This policy targets the personal beliefs of the individuals who run those organizations, and penalizes the organization and students as a whole for not aligning their beliefs with those of the Liberal Party.

 Canadians are allowed to have different opinions from the governing party, that is what a true and free democratic country is founded upon. This new attestation in the Canada Summer Jobs program is the beginning of a slippery slope of prejudice and discrimination against Canadians for their religious beliefs.

I share the writing above not to support a political candidate or party but to draw attention to a policy which, if as described, will affect many of our churches across Western Canada.  The moral considerations regarding discrimination has a couple different faces.  Do we only want rulings that favour those who think like us?  If a professing Christ follower understands the scripture as against discrimination of LGBTQ2 but reads it as standing against same sex marriage, is that person discriminating?  Does the State have the right to command allowable religious beliefs?  If diversity is essential for our culture today, does the more conservative end of the Church necessarily get the short end of the stick and marginalization?  Polarization often brings an end to conversation.

Again if this is true and if maneuvers like this occur, what will it mean for the future of faith-based hospitals, summer camps, street missions, many food banks, or even general volunteerism?

I do not have immediate answers for every possible moral code violation and I admit political decisions can be difficult.  I am for freedom of each one to practice their religion, but I am against hatred and unjust discrimination.  My hope would be for more conversation before legislation.  Let us pray for those in authority over us, for justice and for a proper approach to injustice on the many levels of our governmental rulings.  If the eventual ruling is not quite as restricting as the MP implies, then I apologize now for the anxiety I may have fostered.

Your fellow-worker,  Dennis

In Heated Moments

This text continues to return to me over and over:  “I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God” (Philippians 1:27b-28).

In today’s world I find large sections of our Christian society running on fear.  I hear it in reactions to proposed or existing legislation, in concern over financial security going forward, in the public exposure of aberrant theologies, in demonstrations at board meetings where faith and unity seem distant, in harsh broad sweeping tweets making mountains out of molehills, and regularly in sermons.

I find too often Christian leaders have used fear to motivate and get people onto the same page with them.  In truth this strategy can work, but it has a short-term return.

Absolutely preach the truth!  Absolutely share the Gospel!  However in the middle of our efforts, as the text says, let’s remember to seek the unity in the Spirit.  Let us intentionally make our faith a reality in the midst of what may look like overwhelmingly negative circumstances.  Perfect love casts our fear.

We need to remember the three Hebrews facing the king and a fiery furnace when they said, “Our God is able to deliver us, but even if He does not ….”  Well, obviously, in their case if God does not deliver them they die.  If that is the worst that can happen we still win.  They saw past the heat and flames.

Where is this kind of faith evident among Christians today?  Why do we not see this today: a faith so strong we can deal with any circumstance while manifesting our faith and while also demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit?

I think to a large degree it is the lack of this kind of faith in today’s believers that has weakened our message.  When Christ returns will he find faith on the earth?

If fear is what drives us we are far from the maturity Jesus desires in us.

Let our fears be reminders of our need to be trusting.  “Shall not the God of all the earth do right?”

Your co-worker who needs more of this kind of faith at work in his life,

Dennis

Back From Sabbatical … Think Outcomes!

While on a sabbatical this summer it was a privilege to attend a seminar on church leadership in Minneapolis with aspects relating to multiple staff situations.  Yes, I went with Jason Johnson … but that is a longer story.  The course was taught by a former Alban Institute presenter.  While I listened I was intrigued by one concept in particular:  INPUTS vs OUTPUTS vs OUTCOMES.

All of us have lines of accountability.  It could be to our spouse if we are married or an employer if we are working a typical job.  Church ministry is significantly different.  Lines can get messy because we are within the same family, so to speak.  We become part of a covenant community, which is to be full of love and acceptance (hopefully), yet to pass down expectations and hold people accountable for responsibilities left unfulfilled are often difficult steps.

If we are ministers, we feel we are accountable to God.  True enough, but within our Baptist structures every minister is to be accountable to others as well – to be specific that is usually a church board.

Now boards and churches often set forth vision statements and work toward goals.   Too often those are considered relating to aspects of what a new ministry will cost and what will be the return in the near future.  These are often short-sighted attempts to increase giving or attendance with hopes of more immediate results within the given year.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this work, in fact it is important, but an aspect is often missed.

INPUTS are what something costs, efforts that are put into a project, or the calculated time needed by volunteers or employees to get something off the ground.  OUTPUTS are anything that can be counted after the ‘inputs’ are made.  These results may mean more contributions financially, number of baptisms, greater attendance on Sundays or youth events, or an increased number of ministries being performed.

OUTCOMES are really what is beyond what can be counted but what is hoped for on a deeper level, in other words, ‘what is really important’.  A deeper love for Jesus, a greater sense of family within the church as a whole, an unfulfilled hunger for God’s Word, commitment to living a crucified life – giving up everything to follow Jesus … these are the incalculable treasures we desire for our people and in our pastors.

Jesus would say, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”  We cannot place a numerical value on the depth of one’s soul in seeking God.  We cannot easily determine the level to which someone practices denying themselves.

The better work of the church today is by those who first understand the desired ‘outcomes’ and then work backwards to determine the ‘inputs’ and desired ‘outputs’.  To sit in a church business meeting and in the moment thinking of someone uninvolved and suggesting them to be up for an elected position is often done by thinking only of an ‘output’.  It is getting someone on a list of candidates to filling a position, as if the goal was to complete the list rather than thinking of the big picture ‘outcome’.

Your co-worker,  Dennis

 

 

Now and Future Church Dynamics

I’ve just received the book The State of Pastors, 2017 by the Barna Group.  It has been a serious study of pastors and has many statistics about changing dynamics for the church.  A previous study was done in 1992 and some comparables are striking.  The largest part of this sampling is, of course, from the USA.

One interesting stat is there are now more pastors over the age of 65 than under the age of 40.  Another is that the average ministry tenure in 1992 was four years, but in 2017 is eleven years.  Yet another stat is over half of existing pastors are over age 55.

For me in my role as coordinating pastoral settlement for the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada this data needs to be considered as we look at the future of the pastorate, of pastoral training programs, and of the nature of the church in a mere decade from now.

One interesting statement is made in the book (pg. 15), “… even faithful, kingdom-minded teens and young adults are increasingly attracted to vocations other than full-time church ministry, where their desire to make a difference can have a more entrepreneurial expression without the (real or perceived) institutional baggage of the church.”

I see keenly Christ-following young people in this generation, but the aging of today’s protestant church has taken root and has created a difficult dynamic that affects our future.

So let’s ponder these things and pray.  But let us pray for a deep change that let’s us be Jesus’ instruments with capacity for this generation and the one to come.

Empathy Shortcomings

Ministry leaders hear this: In North America and across the world today we continue to develop deep polarization along ideological lines.  What is needed today is an extraordinary need to develop the skill of empathy.  Empathy will help us communicate; without it we will continue to divide.

Sympathy can be pity with a bit of emotion thrown in (i.e.: “Sucks to be you”).  Empathy is different.  It is the ability to put oneself into another person’s shoes, figuratively speaking.  A person who shows sympathy may also show some distance, keeping themselves from totally understanding another person.  Empathy, on the other hand, should involve capturing the whole sense of the other person’s emotions, the reasoning behind their actions, appreciation for their personality and, on an internally intimate level, understand why the other is the person they are.  At its best this skill is regarded as ‘accurate empathy’.

At the risk of being judgmental, there are many pastors who are weak in the skill of empathy.  A colleague of mine even suggested that some even have pursued ministry because the Christian community has been too nice, too loving and too compassionate.  Some pastors progressed through their schooling and even ministry situations out of a type of kindness that has not addressed critically their shortcoming of emotional and social intelligence.  The demands of schooling and internships might have been met, but the ability of having the ability to connect with real people in real need can be lacking.

To have a learning opportunity in this area is likely right in front of us.  It can be right there in the midst of a problem we are currently facing.  It could be a board member, a congregant or a sibling where there is friction.  David Swink in “Psychology Today” on March 7, 2013 stated, “Sometimes it may be necessary to act empathetically to achieve a desired outcome even when you feel antagonistic to a person.  I have trained hostage negotiators for many years. Hostage negotiators are trained to act empathetically toward the hostage taker in order to establish the rapport necessary to influence him to give up and not hurt anyone. In fact, the negotiator most likely despises a person that would hold a woman and baby as hostages. What is interesting is that after a couple of hours many negotiators actually start to feel some empathy toward the hostage taker as a result of ‘acting’ empathetic. Most of us will never find ourselves in that position, but you may need to fake empathy to influence someone to an important end. Hopefully, you won’t experience that frequently, because there is often a price to pay for being consistently inauthentic.”

Those with empathy skills can express feelings and connect on a feeling level.  The ability to listening on an emotional heart level needs to have higher value in our search committees for ministry leaders.  Those who can relate data, truth statements, and Biblical quotes without the ability to connect emotionally will have less impact on the world around them.

Yes there is risk in responding with empathy.  It will take time, which is a very precious commodity, and there will be emotional cost.  The stress and work is not to be negated, but with the ability to truly connect emotionally there can be joy, love, peace … shall I go on?  The reward far outweighs the cost.

I may not be able to fix society, but here is some work I can do on myself.  I am by no means an expert in this area.  In my past I learned the skill to ‘grin and bear it’.   I can protect myself.  Distancing myself from anything that might be hurtful is my natural inclination.  But I know Jesus knows me completely.  He is empathetic.  He is Emmanuel – “God With Us!”

Your co-worker,  Dennis