What It Takes to Survive and Thrive in Ministry

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-it-takes-to-survive-and-thrive-in-ministry

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A Parable of Three Cars

My wife and I were having an a somewhat impromptu conversation with a couple of our ministry partners (they know who they are). As we talked the issue of achieving one’s dreams (or failure to do so) came up, along with issue of regret. That led me into what I hoped was a somewhat inspirational speech of sorts. With further reflection, it occurred to me that I could have done better. This i what I should have said…

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John and Bill were next-door neighbors and were in their 60s. Bill came over to John’s yard where John was working on his car. John had a sports car. It was pretty obvious that it once was a sleek powerful machine. But now it looked quite beat up, and the oil stain on the driveway suggested that this car was really struggling. Bill asked him about his car.

John said, “Oh I have had this baby since soon after I could drive. I loved to go out and cruise through town in it. I loved to go out into remote stretches and floor it. I just loved it. I, ummm, still love it, but it seems like I spend more time now trying to keep it running and held together than I do driving it.  I see,” looking at Bill’s car in his driveway, “that you have a nice— practical car.”

And Bill’s car was practical. Safe. Reliable. It was the type of car one might expect of a man entering his retirement years.

Bill replied, “Yeah, it is nothing fancy, but it really works for what I need it for. I use it to get around town, go out with my wife, and the grand kids. It’s really what I need. But I do have a sports car as well. I also got it soon after I could drive.”

John wanted to see it, so Bill invited him over to look in his garage where there were in fact two vehicles. The first car was a fiery beast much like what John’s car used to be. But while John’s car was falling apart, Bill’s looked to be in excellent condition. John expressed admiration of it.

“I don’t drive it much anymore,” said Bill. “Once in awhile I will bring it out of the garage for old time’s sake. But you know, when I started getting into my upper 30s, the car didn’t really suit me very much. I had a wife and kids, and a sport’s car isn’t very practical– too small for the whole family. Also a sport’s car works great for the open road and for cruising around town, but sometimes one wants to get off the beaten path, so one need’s something a bit different. So I got the SUV.”

Bill pointed to the second vehicle in the garage. It could hold a family, and get off-road when needed. It also looked to be in pretty good condition.

Bill continued. “This car,” pointing to the SUV, “treated me well for many years, but when the kids grew up and moved out, and my wife and I began to slow down just a bit, we decided to get the car we now use most of the time. But, there are still times to bring out both the sports car and the SUV. Not much of a point to keep them if I don’t, you know?

Let’s consider those three cars.

The first car is AMBITION. When we are young, we have big exciting dreams. These dreams drive us forward, like a powerful sports car drive us where we want to go. But, much like a sports car, youthful ambition tends to take people on the well-used roads— quests for love, success, wealth, and fame. But this sports car, ambition, starts to become a problem as years go by. As one begins to have others joining, spouse, children, friends, community, and such, the car is simply too small. It lacks the seating to bring others along. Also, the car only works well on the smooth roads that many others have gone before. But the less traveled paths, dirt roads with bumps and holes, as well as places with no roads at all, cannot be handled well by this car. Further, often upon reflection, the dreams of youth are found not practical, or not feasible, or no longer desirable. The sports car just doesn’t run like it used to. It doesn’t meet needs anymore.

So many consider a second car. Some as they enter their middle years choose to get another sports car, seeking to recapture the former thrill of youthful ambition even if it does not meet one’s real needs anymore. Other’s however, go for a different vehicle. This vehicle is REEVALUATION. One has family and community that one wants to travel with. Speed and thrill are not so important now. Upon consideration, where one now wants to go may not be the roads that average people choose. One wants to go off-road, the road less taken. One still has dreams, but these dreams are more in line with where one is in life today, based on one’s present true aptitudes and passion, rather than 20 years before. Fame, Money, and Success, as they are commonly understood, may not be so important anymore. Now one wants to find Meaning and Purpose. One wants to find one’s personal niche or place in the world. One wants to be connected with others. This second vehicle allows others to join in the journey to places that others ignore.

And some people stay there in either their sports car or SUV. But some reach a point that they need a third car. That car is SATISFACTION. One has found one’s purpose, and achieved at least some of the goals of youth or the middle years. Now one doesn’t need to fly down the road at breakneck speed. And one does not need to blaze new trails. One needs a practical vehicle for self and family, and to go to the places that one really needs to go today.

Of course, SATISFACTION may not be the only car of later years. One may still choose to find new goals and explore the unknown and so needs to go back into REEVALUATION at times. And perhaps once in awhile have the excitement of youthful AMBITION. After all, no matter how old one is, the child, teen, young adult, and middle-ager are present. They never completely go away.

What is not healthy, however, is to hold onto youthful dreams that no longer fit later in life. It is also not healthy to keep reevaluating and look for new purposes and goals, without finding some level of satisfaction where one presently resides.

What car(s) do you have? What does it (or they) look like. Does your transportation meet your needs now?

 

 

Maybe I Should Never Read those FB Comments

On FB was an article “Open Letter to John Piper on White Evangelicalism and Multiethnic Relationships” by Raymond Chang. It was shared by ChurchLeaders and Ed Stetzer, but originating in Christianity Today. It seemed to be a rather nice article, a bit too benign if anything, on race relations in Evangelicalism.

I am a “white evangelical” in a multiracial marriage and having multiracial kids, attending a non-white church in a non-white country. To me Revelation 7 describes an ideal— with people of every tribe, nation, race, tongue worshiping God together. Unity with Diversity. One could argue it describes Unity empowered by Diversity.

I thought it might be interesting to read the FB comments. Perhaps I shouldn’t. I won’t quote any, singling any out, but I would like to give some comments to some.

  • One suggested that it was a silly thing to bring up… that “white evangelicalism” is a made up term, and that these “peripheral cultural arguments” lead to divisions. I would say that all terms are made up… the question is whether a term is useful or not. In the US at least, the term seems useful, not so much where I live here in the Philippines. I must say though that culture is NOT peripheral. Culture wasn’t peripheral in the book of Acts, and cultural issues were faced squarely, not ignored. Dealing with the issues prevents divisions… not ignoring them. This problem is also in local churches, where it is assumed that problems are best handled by ignoring. But ignored problems OFTEN become big problems. Not always but in good Game Theory, the risks of silence outweigh the benefits.
  • One noted that blacks are racist as well and are part of the division in the Church. Well of course. That’s why what is suggested is Dialogue. Dialogue is two-way conversation. Anyone who thinks that Dialogue involves one side accusing and the other side is apologizing, either doesn’t know what dialogue is, or doesn’t take dialogue seriously.
  • More than one suggested that this is “Affirmative Action” for the church. Another suggested that this was Christianity Today “going liberal.” I know it is always fun to rile up political conservatives by throwing around words they absolutely hate such as “Affirmative Action,” “liberal,” “Obamacare” and such. But, first, this is an article of theology, ministry, and religion, not political science. (There is no self-evident connection between “conservative theology” and “American conservative politics.”) Shaking the political ant farm may be fun, but is ultimately a misdirect. The one who said it was CT “going liberal” may have meant theologically liberal, but I can hardly see how dialogue should be seen as the domain of liberal Christianity. Does that mean that conservative Christianity is the domain for polemics and apologetics only? A different respondent was a bit more direct speaking of the article in line with a “leftist” political agenda, and then as a non-sequitur brought up that we are not nice enough to Israel and too nice to Muslim refugees. (I wonder how mean Jesus really wants us to be to Muslim refugees?)
  • “White Evangelicalism” is a divisive term. One might make the argument that it is a racially insensitive term (like the Washington Redskins) but I see it as identifying a divide. That divide does exist, it is not something created through language. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Since the divide exists in a statistically relevant way, the real question is whether the term “White Evangelicalism” is a good term to identify the disunity. I honestly don’t know.
  • One noted that we should get people truly born again and filled with the Holy Spirit and this would become a non-issue. While I like the hopeful sentiment, again the book of Acts showed a lot of born-again people with the Holy Spirit struggling in how to embrace diversity of culture in the church. While the Spirit of God bridged the gap through allowing the disciples to communicate with those of other languages in Acts 2, the rest of the book involved struggles. This includes struggles between Hellenstic and Hebraic Jews in Jerusalem, what to do with Samaritans who come to faith, what to do with Roman and Greek respondents, and how to contextualize the faith to pagans and Gentile philosophers. Living in the Spirit is a good start, but Acts 15 describes a church that chose to wrestle with the issue rather than describe it as irrelevant.
  • At least one suggested that there are only two groups that matter in Christianity… those filled with the Holy Spirit and those who are carnal. As enticing as reductionism and dualism is, the Bible simply does not discount diversity within the unity of faith. When Paul said that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor Gentile, nor Male nor Female, Paul suggesting they are not issues. If they were not issues, he would not mention them. They must be dealt with to move past them.
  • Some noted that their church is multi-ethnic and they don’t see those problems describing their context. I suppose I could say that as well since I am a “white American” part of a multi-ethnic (majority non-white) non-American congregation with completely non-white pastoral staff. But I have seen the problems the writer was concerned with, and I suspect you have too. I am actually a member of two churches. I am a member of a predominantly white church in the US, and a predominantly non-white church in the Philippines. I have had American white Evangelicals assume, for example, that I share their political opinions because I am a white Evangelical. A very bad assumption. I have never had non-white Evangelicals assume I share their political opinions. Of course, one could argue that both views are racist in their own ways. In the end, we REALLY need to talk.

I think this is a good place to stop.

A Necessary Tragedy

This year (2017), and this month (October) marks the 500th anniversary, ‘officially’ of the Protestant Reformation. I was at a theological forum that commemorated this event, and looked at the original break event 1517 and subsequent years from a traditional Protestant viewpoint, a post-Vatican II Catholic viewpoint, and a Separatist viewpoint. A term that came up a few times was that the Reformation was a “Necessary Tragedy.” It was further noted, that Catholics have tended to look at it as a tragedy but not all that necessary, while Protestants tended to see it as necessary, but not all that tragic.

For me, I see it as necessary because the church lutherof the West sought not only spiritual unity, but ecclesiastical unity, and they did not simply seek unity, but sought uniformity. Such an undesirable state needed to change. To ignore regional cultures and language, and have a governance that is not empowered locally certainly needed to go away. In the East, that happened much earlier (with 1054 AD being thought of as the pivotal year, although they could mark back time as far as they want). In Northern Europe, it started in 1517 with the “magisterial reformers” with separatist reformers both before and after. For the Philippines, one has to go to the American Occupation, as well as the Aglipayan movement. With the rest of the Catholic Church, Vatican II seems to be the pivotal time frame. Yes it was necessary, sooner or later. And it still is.

As far as tragic, I don’t see tragedy in Ecclesiastical disunity. Centralization of power— perhaps even more so Ecclesiastical Power— creates deep problems. So one religious governance seems to me to be something of which to be horrified. And it wasn’t tragedy for lack of uniformity. It seems like diversity was identified as a good thing in the first century church… but its goodness became more deeply questioned over time. There is no tragedy in diversity.

Where there is tragedy was that people on all sides of the unity/disunity, uniformity/diversity divides saw that it was appropriate to fight and kill each other over it. It is hard to appreciate diversity. At an ecumenical gathering recently to which I was invited, it began to be clear to me that even those who theoretically should embrace unity with diversity, struggle with appreciating some forms of diversity. Some forms of diversity are embraced, while others are squelched or castigated. The tragedy is that we identify people within our own ecclesiastical neighborhood as US, and those from other ecclesiastical neighborhoods as THEM… and we tend to see diversity as a problem to overcome, rather than something to embrace.

Centuries of fighting with words, laws and guns was needless. While it is easy to blame the Catholic church for this, as one from a Separatist tradition, I know that the Protestants also had blood on their hands.  And, in fact, the Separatists have had their moments of shame as well. But it was not necessary. I am reminded of Paul and Barnabas having different visions for ministry. They could have supported each other and gone their separate ways in peace… but instead had to fight with each other, wound each other, and be an embarrassment to the church. And still they ended up going their separate ways anyway. I have come across people almost 2000 years later still arguing about who was right.  They truly miss the point. BOTH WERE RIGHT— AND NEITHER.

So I guess the answer is that it may be correct that the Protestant Reformation was a Necessary Tragedy. It was indeed necessary, but it was not necessary that it was a tragedy.

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The Lutheran Church invited the Pope to join in the celebration of the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant reformation on October 31st, 2016. The Catholic church asked if the term could be changed from “celebration” to “commemoration.” The Lutheran Church actually agreed to it, and they joined together to mark this important year. Perhaps commemoration is the better term. Let us all remember this together. It is a necessary date. It is a date that did not have to be tragic… and yet in some ways did become tragic. It is an important day of embracing  Unity with Disunity and Diversity, and without Uniformity. Prayerfully, we will figure out how to actually do that.