In many ways what you are reading is a continuation of Violence in Social Media, pt.4 and pt.5. I did, however, want to expand the topic beyond Facebook and other online means of communication and include some general thoughts on how we interact with those we disagree with.

Personal convictions and opinions

Everyone has convictions and opinions. This is to be expected. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem with strong convictions and strong opinions (whether they be over political or theological issues) is that we have a tendency to convince ourselves that God thinks the same way we do. Once we’ve assumed that God is on our side it is easier to close down our thinking, condemn and confront those who think differently than we do rather than staying open, inquisitive, and accepting. We start with an opinion that turns into a distinction that turns into a wall that turns into a judgment. We must learn to stop after the opinion.

When in the process of confronting error or describing differences of opinions I come across to the other person like I’m challenging or confronting them, cornering them, accusing them, mocking them…I fail. It’s possible to win an argument and still lose.

Using a violent and belligerent approach never works. Why? Because the one being challenged feels attacked and becomes defensive and protective. Since debate and arguments almost always become mean-spirited they seldom result in changing the thinking of those doing the debating.

Why do some Christians feel such a need to defend their position and disarm their opponent?

 

  1. Wounded pride: “How dare you say I am wrong.”
  2. Fear: “The world (and the church) is slipping into hell. Someone has to defend the truth before it’s too late.”
  3. Human nature: It’s in our blood to form tribes, and tribes must be defended.
  4. Feeling threatened: When we feel in danger we have two options; we either run away or take a stand and fight. We don’t want to run away because that seems like we are giving up, which, of course, would be wrong because (fill in the blank) is so important. Therefore the only option in situations like this is to stand and fight.

 

When two people debate or argue, the result is never changed minds but instead a wounded and reinforced pride in one or both. Those listening in on the argument may change their way of thinking but it is at a great cost.

We all have a strong ego need to be right and belong to a group who is right. Everybody wants to know whose team you are on. Everybody wants to know which team they are on. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. Everybody thinks that the other team is inferior. Some think the other team is the enemy.

What if there were no teams? What if we refused to play the game?

Labels

There are extremes within every group, political or theological. On one end you have fundamentalists and on the other, progressives. But then you have conservative progressives and liberal progressives. There are conservative conservatives and liberal conservatives. Everyone can be labeled but because there can be varying degrees of every label (some liberals are conservative on some political and theological issues) labels seldom accurately describe an individual. The degrees can be important but we tend to forget the degrees and look only to the label. When we label, we limit.

When we label a person there is almost always some contempt attached:

I disagree with you.
I label you.
I think I am better than you.
Contempt.

Violence doesn’t work

You will never convince someone they are wrong by using violence in any way, shape, or form.

Jesus said, “…if you don’t have a sword, buy one. (Luke 22:36) Our problem is that we have bought more than one. Our personal sword collection grows and grows.

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)

Previously Jesus had told them that the two most important laws from the Old Testament were, love God and love people. After that Jesus added his own law…love one another. We (the church) have consistently failed at both. We swing our swords at our non-Christian culture and thrust our blades into our fellow Christians. Paul called the Bible the sword of the Spirit and Christians have been stabbing people with it ever since.

When it’s time to dig in your heels make sure you are not standing on someone’s back. It’s better to try and untie knots rather than cut them. I don’t want to always be grinding an ax and looking for something to chop.

I want to reserve swinging my ‘sword of truth’ for the devil, never for my brothers and sisters. With my sisters and brothers, may the sword be gently laid on the ground as we gather around it, sit down to study it together while holding hands.

Conclusion:

We must judge our attitudes and actions towards those we disagree with according to I Peter 2:17:

Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

I want my life to be a bridge rather than a wall. When enemies refuse to talk all that remains is war. I don’t want to make enemies, I want to make friends and when I disagree with someone I want other options than war.

In part one of this series I mention Mohandas K. Gandhi’s two volume Non-Violence In Peace And War. Reading excerpts from this book I learned three Hindu words:

Satyagraha = Resistance by nonviolent means.
Satyagrahi = One adhering to the principle of satyagraha.
Ahimsa = Nonviolence as a principal governing every area of life. This word was coined by Gandhi.

Gandhi regarded Jesus as the personification of non-violence. I believe ahimsa is a principle all followers of Jesus must live by. Ahimsa has at its root the idea of loving people, being at peace with people, showing kindness and respect to all people…especially those we disagree with. Ahimsa is a reflection of the Prince of Peace. Ahimsa breaks down walls rather than building them. A person living by Ahimsa would rather have a wall fall on them than erect a wall to separate people.

In 1964 Thomas Merton wrote a commentary on this work of Gandhi called: Gandhi On Non-Violence. At the end of his introduction Merton says,

“Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism, and intolerance. But neither can it be built on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation. There can be no peace on earth without the kind of inner change that brings man back to his right mind.”

If order for us to come back to our right mind and embrace the law of Christ (love one another) we will need an inner change. It can happen.

Coming up next: Belligerent pt. 8: Changes In My Theology

 

 

 

 

If this is the starting point for you in this series it might be more helpful to go to the beginning, take your time, and catch up.

***

I’ve begun to notice how often we use a violent, war-related vocabulary when talking among ourselves.

We’re in God’s army and our faith is under attack. We’d better put on our armor and fight the good fight of faith by taking up the sword of the Spirit. We are at war with the devil and must rally our prayer-warriors to defeat satan. We need mighty women and men of faith to defend the Bible (or God, or Truth) or else God’s judgment is coming. There’s a cultural battle going on by the enemies of Christianity.

It’s true, many of these words come right out of the Bible. For example, Paul at one time or another used most of the same words or phrases in his letters. But I’m not worried about Paul. I’m worried about us. I’m worried that our vocabulary, although Biblical, can perpetuate our violent way of thinking, acting, and speaking.

Matt. 15:18 “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

If I am an angry, defensive, belligerent man, then angry, defensive, belligerent words are going to come out of me. If there is violence in my heart then violence will come out of my mouth. My mean inner-man will produce a mean vocabulary which will feed my mean inner-man…and around, and around, and around I go.

If I am going to be a peacemaker (the type of person Jesus said would be blessed) then I need to find a way to achieve my communication goals by using peaceful words rather than violent words. If I don’t have to use war-related words, why would I choose to?

Paul said that our words should give grace to those who hear them. (Eph. 4:29)

Is there another side to this that I am missing? Of course there is. If I wanted to, I could make a list of scriptures that speak of confrontation rather than peace making, or rebuking, correcting and judging others. Is there a place for this ‘other side’ of the argument? Apparently so.

I am well aware that my argument is imbalanced; in fact it is purposely imbalanced. The ‘other side of the argument’ will do just fine without me contributing to it. The violent, war-related vocabulary dominates much (not all, but much) of the Christian world and I doubt will be affected by my small imbalanced position. Sometimes in order to arrive at the true center you have to swing far to one side. And sometimes, before you can do that, you have to change the center, your center.

 

The good thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The bad thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The problem with ‘free speech’ is that it’s not free…it’s costly, especially when those on their soapbox are angry, judgmental brawlers who don’t appear to care how their words hurt and offend others.

Some Christians and some pastors can really get mean, nasty, and down right belligerent when talking theology, more specifically, when talking about how someone’s theology is wrong.

***

In my way of thinking, a controversial subject is any topic that Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Apostle’s Creed-abiding Christians disagree on. When Christians can look at the same passage of scripture and come to different conclusions we know we are dealing with something that is controversial, or debatable.

My Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Apostle’s Creed-abiding sisters and brothers in Christ disagree on all kinds of important things. We’re all reading the same Bible but disagree on the role of women in leadership, eschatology, gift of tongues, the proper mode of baptism, Election…I could go on and on.

Ruertus Meldenius told us, “In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”

And everyone says, “Amen.”

The problem is we can’t agree on what is essential and what is non-essential. Often times what is non-essential to one is essential to another. As Protestants we lack a unifying authoritative figure (like, let’s say, our Roman Catholic friends have) over us to tell us what’s what. As Protestants we don’t want a Pope but we could sure use one. We need someone to tell us what the bible says about these controversial subjects. But we don’t have anyone like that. Someone must be right and someone must be wrong. Who gets to decide? And this is where violent, aggressive, angry, mean-spirited Christians come in. There are far too many pastors who act like they have a corner on the market of theological orthodoxy.

“What you believe isn’t orthodox.”
“Really? I think it’s orthodox.”
“Well you’re wrong.”
“Why?”
“Because I’m right.”
“What we need is a Pope to straighten this all out.”
“That’s not funny. And besides…that’s not orthodox.”

The battle cry of the belligerent is, “The Bible clearly teaches (fill in the blank with a debatable subject).” But if the Bible was clear on a controversial topic it wouldn’t be controversial. If my Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Apostle’s Creed-abiding brothers and sisters in Christ disagree on the End Times then saying the Bible clearly teaches a pre-tribulation rapture of the church is not fair. If the Bible was clear on this, why then do we have Postmillennialists and Amillennialists?

I believe that there is absolute truth. For me, as I’m sure it is for you, the Bible is my source for truth. I assume that God must have an opinion (absolute truth) about certain hot topics. God is either in favor of tongues today or not. Infant baptism is okay in the eyes of God or not. God is either a Postmillennialist or not. But when we disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ on certain important but debatable topics we don’t need to go on the attack, ridicule, be disrespectful, we shouldn’t burn them at the stake. Our response should not be a violent one.

When I run into someone who interprets the Bible differently than I do (and the subject is something I feel very strongly about) I must remember Paul’s words and, “…not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach (and able to be teachable), patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition (because who knows, I could be wrong and if so, I will want my ‘opponent’ to show me kindness, patience, and gentleness). II Tim. 2:24

Coming Up Next: Violence in our vocabulary

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t been following this series might I suggest you go here first so you have a better context.

It seems to me that the church (not all of the church, but some of the church) has become too violent. We can be hostile, belligerent, brutal, and brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is our secular society or fellow Christians, we are way too willing to land a punch and draw blood. I can be just as guilty.

In my last post I discussed violence in the pulpit. In the weeks to come I will be touching on violence in our vocabulary, violence in our homes, and violence in how we interact with those we disagree with. This article will focus on violence in our social media.

When I began my coaching practice I had yet to delve into social media. I had a newsletter that went out to pastors on a monthly basis but newsletters typically do not generate conversation. As soon as we moved from San Jose, California to southern Oregon in 2007, I started a Facebook page and joined Twitter. Shortly after I began on Facebook I decided to start a group page for pastors of smaller churches. For about the first five years my group page grew at a snails pace. Then it exploded! I never had a mega church but now I have a mega Small Church Pastor group page.

I am the moderator of this group. Every time a member posts or makes a comment on a post I’m notified. Moderating a group of online pastors can be like trying to herd cats. Some pastors find it difficult to adhere to my rules:

“The Small Church Pastor group provides a safe place of encouragement, resources, ideas, prayer requests…and laughs between pastors and the spouses of pastors. This group does not allow challenging, debating, or attacking other denominations, pastors, or controversial issues that churches and pastors might disagree on. As moderator, I (Dave Jacobs) reserve the right to delete any post or comment that I feel is not appropriate or not in keeping with this stated purpose of our group. Do you agree to participate according to the above?”

Pastors now have to say “yes” before being accepted into the group. But still…some, not many but some, forget the rules.

Because of this, I skim anywhere from 100 to 200 comments and posts a day to make sure everyone in my group is playing nice. Since using social media is part of my job, I’m online all day, every day, weekends and evenings…not so much.

Facebook can be a wonderful place to hang out. I’ve made some great friends and have been reconnected with old friends. But Facebook has disturbed me as I have seen so many mean, opinionated, belligerent Christians, many of whom are pastors.

Facebook, the new Soapbox.

One definition I found for ‘soapbox’ was, “A soapbox is a raised platform on which one stands to make an impromptu speech, often about a political subject. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves by standing on a wooden crate originally used for shipment of soap or other dry goods from a manufacturer to a retail store. The term is also used metaphorically to describe a person engaging in often flamboyant impromptu or unofficial public speaking, as in the phrases “He’s on his soapbox”, or “Get off your soapbox.”

I think this fits Facebook perfectly.

The good thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The bad thing about Facebook is that everyone has a voice. The problem with ‘free speech’ is that it’s not free…it’s costly, especially when those on their soapbox are angry, judgmental brawlers who don’t appear to care how their words hurt and offend others.

Nowhere does this insensitive mean-spiritedness show up more on Facebook than with the subjects of politics and theology. I am still amazed at how angry some Christians (and some pastors) can come across when they talk online about politicians they disagree with.

Peter had something to say about Christians and politicians: Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. I Peter 2:17

There are two things I find interesting about this verse. First, the ‘king’ Peter admonished his readers to show honor to was Nero, a notorious, possibly demon-possessed, sadistic ruler. Second, the word ‘all’ is a very interesting word in the greek. It means…all. It really does, I looked it up.

Everytime I hear someone talk about “those idiots in Washington” or say something worse, I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:22:

 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Well they’re not my brothers and sisters. They aren’t even Christians. I can say what I want.”

“You just might have found a loop hole. Good for you. Go ahead then and Raca-On.”

Next up: Pt. 5 Violence in Social Media: Theology

What you are about to read is part three of an ongoing series. If you have not read part one and part two I invite you to do so.

As I said previously, I’ve been seeing things, hearing things, picking up on some subtle and not so subtle words, actions and vibes from some Christians and some pastors. Not all Christians, not all pastors, but enough to catch my attention and cause me concern. My observations have helped me conclude that the church has become too violent. We can be hostile, brutal, brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is our secular society or fellow Christians, we are too willing to draw blood.

I see this fault in myself as well.

There are five places where I have recognized this violence surface:

  1. Violence surfaces in our preaching.
  2. Violence surfaces in our social media.
  3. Violence surfaces in our vocabulary.
  4. Violence surfaces in our homes.
  5. Violence surfaces in how we interact with those we disagree with.

Violence in our preaching

It seems that we have a lot of angry pastors leading our churches and their anger comes out in their preaching.

Pastors are angry because their church isn’t growing.
Pastors are angry because their people are not very committed.
Pastors are angry because things didn’t turn out as they planned.
Pastors are angry because of personal marital problems.
Pastors are angry because of disappointments with their denomination.
Pastors are angry with their church board because the board is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to work with.
Pastors are angry because they don’t have enough money to provide for their family.
Pastors are angry because they feel overworked and under appreciated.

In addition to the above, some pastors are angry because they suffer from depression.

***

Anger is one of the most common manifestations of male depression. Someone once said that when a woman is depressed she beats herself up. When a man is depressed he beats someone else up. I’m not talking about physical abuse, although that is probably happening in some pastors homes, but I’m referring to verbal abuse. Women don’t struggle as much with anger as men do when depressed.

If you are angry on the inside, violence will show up on the outside. Please keep in mind that there are varying degrees of violence, some more subtle than others.

For the pastor, one of the more common outlets for violence is the pulpit.

Some pastors sermons are too focused on sin, the need for personal holiness, the evils of the world, attacks on other Christians or churches, reasons why the church in America is dying. Theirs is an angry, negative, violent sermon filled with “what’s wrong” rather than “what’s right.”

Now if I were to post the paragraph above on Facebook, I guarantee that within minutes, if not seconds, heated (angry) objections would be made supported with a multitude of scriptures.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa Dave…sounds like you just want to tickle people’s ears. We’ve got to preach against sin, we’ve got to call people up to a higher standard. Sure God is a loving God but don’t forget that He is holy and one day we will all have to stand before Him and give an account of our lives. What about obedience? Don’t you care about lukewarm Christians? Read your Bible. Jesus drove the sinners out of the temple. Paul brought rebuke and correction to the churches he wrote to.”

I know all that.

I believe all that.

I just think that there is too much of that.

The word ‘preach’ can be used in a positive or a negative way. Saying, “He preached a good sermon.” is a positive use of the word. Saying, “Hey…don’t you preach at me.” is a negative use of the word. Using the word ‘preach’ in this way can mean to give moral advice in an annoying or pompously self-righteous way. The word ‘harangue’ means a lengthy, aggressive and critical speech.

I want to preach without being preachy.

Every time we stand in front of a group to preach we have, as they say, “a captive audience.” Oh I suppose if someone doesn’t like what we say they could get up and leave (I’ve had that happen), but for the most part, once they walk through the door and sit down they have to listen to us.

Preaching is a calling, honor, and privilege, and it is also a great responsibility.

It takes a lot of honest and humble self-awareness to recognize if I am preaching or venting. Of course we want to believe that we are ‘standing up for truth’, ‘calling sin, sin’ or ‘teaching the whole counsel of God’. Maybe we are. Maybe we’re not. Maybe we’re just letting off steam. My sermon can be more rant than righteous. My preaching can be an unconscious release of the anger, irritation, and contempt I have for someone or something. This is a violent preaching.

Violence in our pulpits is hard to recognize, harder to admit, and even harder to change. But change we should and change we can. And, I might add, we can change without compromising or watering down our understanding of the Bible.

It’s all about heart and delivery. If my heart is troubled with anger, violence, contempt, belligerence and hurt then I need to bring that to the Lord for healing. If I can say what needs to be said in a kind and gentle way why would I want to do otherwise?

Preaching is communicating. But there is more to communicate than merely content.

When we preach are we communicating that we are angry or happy, mad or glad, irritated or invigorated, contemptuous or compassionate? Do we preach with a smile or a frown?

“But we’ve got to preach against sin.”

I get that, I really do.

If you need to preach against sin do it with a smile. If you must be a prophet, be a nice one. There are enough ‘not-nice-prophets’ out there to adequately represent the other side of the coin. You don’t need to add your name to their ranks. They will get the job done without your help. They will, I promise.

Next up: Belligerent pt. 4: Violence in Social Media

 

 

 

 

 

In my last article I laid a foundation for this post and future posts. If you haven’t had a chance to read Gandhi, Merton, and Me pt.1 let me encourage you to do so before reading this.

For a while now I’ve been seeing things, hearing things, picking up on some subtle and not so subtle words, actions and vibes from some Christians and some pastors. Not all Christians, not all pastors, but enough to catch my attention and cause me concern.

I am fortunate that my job puts me in contact with a wide range of Christians and Christian thought. I talk to pastors from every denomination you could imagine. I moderate a large Facebook group page made up of pastors and church leaders from all the various streams of Christianity. I stay on top of what’s going on in the church/Christian world by subscribing and reading the major, and some minor, Christian and ministry periodicals. All that to say…I think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of something going on in a portion of the church in North America. What I’m seeing is nothing new, it has been there from the beginning of time and I suspect will be there until the end of time.

From here on out when I refer to ‘the church’ I hope you’ve picked up that I mean ‘a segment’ of the church, a portion, some, not all. Okay? Are we clear on that?

I will also be using the collective pronoun ‘we’. I have no problem including myself in the problem I’m about to describe. If you have a problem including yourself in the problem, no problem, that’s fine. I hope you are not part of the problem. I believe there will be many who read this series who are not part of the problem. But if the proverbial shoe fits, wear it, but don’t run away after you put it on.

***

While reading Thomas Merton’s ‘Gandhi On Non-Violence’, a commentary on Gandhi’s ‘Non-Violence In Peace And War’, words were given me to describe what I had been feeling. It was like a light went on. “That’s it! That’s the perfect way of putting it!” So here goes…

The church is too violent. We have become hostile, brutal, brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is the non-Christian world or fellow Christians, we are too willing to draw blood. I am just as guilty. I see too much violence in me.

How did this happen?

Violence is in our blood. Violence is in our DNA. Violence is part of our Adamic nature. Cain was the first murderer and it is interesting to me that his first victim was his brother.

When I am attacked, challenged, confronted or questioned, my defenses go up. The most natural thing for me is to become defensive, argumentative, ready to retaliate. Self-preservation kicks in and I apply the law of the jungle instead of the law of Christ that says, “Love one another.”

Violence is in our past. History is a story of violence with brief periods of peace in very limited contexts. Man is a violent species that kills, oppresses, enslaves, dominates, discriminates, and in too many cases attempts to completely obliterate entire people-groups.

Violence is in our Bible. I love the Bible. I have read the Bible almost daily for 42 years. I believe the Bible is God’s word. Having said that…I must admit that the Bible is filled with violence, murder, war, and occasional genocide. Even the New Testament writers employ violent words and images. We read about ‘the armor of God’, ‘our warfare’, ‘the sword of the Spirit’. Peter speaks a word and a married couple falls over dead. Paul is so angered with false teachers that he wishes they would castrate themselves. Yikes. I could go on. If this sounds to you like I am being critical of the Bible you’re right, I am, but I do so while maintaining that the Bible is the most revered book I own, I love it and regard it as the primary authority in my life.

Violence is in our Patriotism. There is nothing wrong with being patriotic. I love our country. I feel very, very fortunate to have been born in the United States of America. But with the rise in prominence of Evangelicalism (By the way, I’m an Evangelical) a concerning mixture of patriotism with Christianity (or at least the Evangelical expression of Christianity) has occurred. For some Evangelicals, the idea of an unjust war is not only unpatriotic but also un-Christian. Some assume in time of war or military conflict that God is automatically on our side simply because we are “One Nation Under God.” We love to hear about the death of our enemies.

I am a quasi-pacifist. By this I mean that I am ‘anti-war’ but at the same time believe that a war can be just. I am anti-war but pro-solider. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the men and women who have and do serve in the military, especially those who have served in combat. Every time I see a veteran wearing a cap identifying which war they served in I go up to them, shake their hand and say “Thank you.”

Violence is in our entertainment. Many of the movies we watch are filled with gratuitous violence. Many of the sports we watch are extremely violent. And what about the popularity of video games many of which depict killing, gore and suffering?

So…violence is in our blood. Violence is in our past. Violence is in our Bible. Violence is in our present. Violence is in our patriotism. Violence is in our entertainment. If all of this is true it is no wonder then that we are violent followers of the Prince of Peace.

There are five ways in which I see violence expressed in Christians:

  1. Violence comes out in our preaching.
  2. Violence comes out in social media.
  3. Violence comes out in our words.
  4. Violence comes out in our homes.
  5. Violence comes out in how we interact with those we disagree with.

In part 3-6 of this series we will explore this further.

 

 

 

 

 

Between the years 1942 and 1949 Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote volumes one and two of Non-Violence In Peace And War. In 1964 Thomas Merton wrote a type of commentary on this work of Gandhi, which included numerous quotes from both volumes. Merton’s book is simply called: Gandhi On Non-Violence.

I have always been intrigued by Gandhi, and even more so by Merton. In fact, I’ve said before that there is no other author that has impacted my life more than Thomas Merton. I am a student of Merton’s life and writings. Over the past ten years it has been rare that I’m not reading Merton or something about Merton.

In my office I have a six foot long bookshelf filled only with Merton or Merton related books. I haven’t read all that he has written but I hope to. In fact the only reason I’m glad he died in 1968 is that this put an end to his writings without which I could never catch up.

If I remember correctly I found Gandhi On Non-Violence in a used bookstore. Used bookstores are a dangerous place for me. If I find something I want and my wallet is empty or my credit card is maxed I’m tempted to put the book down my pants and calmly walk towards the door. It’s never come to that…yet. Much to my surprise this bookstore had a very limited number of Merton books. But there hiding between The Seven Storey Mountain and Seeds of Destruction was my ninety four page treasure. I thought to myself, “I didn’t even know Merton wrote a book on Gandhi.” I went to the checkout stand drooling with delight and thanking God for the book and credit cards. We’ll come back to Gandhi On Non-Violence in a minute.

 ***

I am fortunate in that my coaching practice puts me in touch with pastors and Christians from every region of North America and beyond. You pick the denomination and there’s a good chance that I am working or have worked with members of those groups. I work with conservatives and liberals, progressives and fundamentalist, charismatics and non-charismatics, main line denominations and independent churches, liturgical, orthodox, and house churches. I specialize in small churches but also work with medium to large size churches. A few weeks ago I was on the phone with a monk. I work with young pastors, middle-aged pastors as well as older pastors. I talk to a growing number of women pastors and those who feel women shouldn’t be pastors. I work with Republican pastors and Democrat pastors and a few that have rejected both parties. On top of all this I moderate a large closed group on Facebook made up of pastors. You know all those ‘types’ of pastors I just listed? They’re in this Facebook group.

When someone climbs up on a soapbox and starts telling me what’s wrong with the church today I want to ask them, “Which church are you referring to?” When the author of a blog makes sweeping generalizations about this group or that group I want to know exactly how many of those churches, groups, or pastors the writer actually knows.

The number can vary a bit based on which report you go to but it looks like there are about 330,000 congregations in North America. I would bump that up to about 400,000 if you include house churches, new churches the census takers don’t know about yet, and churches so small that nobody bothers to count them. Back to my friend on the soapbox…

“The church in America has caved into societal pressure and is on the brink of facing the judgment of God!”

“Excuse me.”

“Yes.”

“Which church are you referring to?”

“What?”

“Well there are about 400,000 churches in American. Which ones are you referring to?”

“Uh, well, most of them.”

“So what you’re saying is that you personally know what’s going on in these 400,000 churches and that’s why you’re qualified to make such sweeping generalizations?”

“Well no, not exactly.”

“Well then maybe you need to be quiet.”

***

I guess I’ve said all this to suggest that I might have a greater feel for what’s going on with pastors and the churches they lead than others do. Because I work with all types of denominations and expressions of the church I’ve come to realize that you can’t pigeon hole Baptists or Presbyterians, Catholics or Charismatics, Conservatives or Progressives…or any other organized expression of Christianity.

Having said all that, I will now walk up to the brink of contradicting myself, which will also bring us back to Merton’s Gandhi on Non-Violence, and the new way in which this book has helped me think.

Recently, I’ve come to discover something that has been there all along but I have not been ready to recognize or not able to put into words what I’ve seen or felt. It pertains to churches or more accurately, to the Christians who make up our churches. I refuse to make blanket statements like my friend on the soapbox because what I’ve seen does not represent all Christians or all churches but it does seem to reflect enough Christians and enough churches to have caught my attention.

I would like to conclude by introducing to you what I’m seeing and feeling. The best way for me to do this is to share with you a poem I wrote a few weeks ago and posted last week on my blog. When I wrote this I was not thinking of the secular world but the Christian world. It is my concern that there is too much violence in the church and not enough peace in the church. Because of this, I want to start a new peace movement within the church. I want to start a new anti-war movement among Christians. I want to promote non-violence between sisters and brothers.

I apologize for the length of this article. I promise that future posts in this series will be shorter. If I’ve piqued your interest I invite you to follow my thoughts and ideas in the weeks to come. I value your feedback and hope you will pass this series on to your friends.

Too Much, Too Little

(a poem of hopeful despair)

 

There is too much violence.

There is too little peace.

 

There is too much argument.

There is too little communication.

 

There are too many strong opinions.

There is too little openness.

 

There is too much hate.

There is too little love.

 

There is too much talking.

There is too little listening.

 

There is too much pride.

There is too little humility.

 

There’s too much noise.

There is too little quiet.

 

There are too many sides.

There is too little unity.

 

There is too much black and white.

There is too little gray.

 

There is too much rejection.

There is too little acceptance.

 

There is too much Bible-quoting.

There is too little Bible-living.

 

There is too much bias.

There is too little objectivity.

 

There is too much fear.

There is too little faith.

 

There is too much suspicion.

There is too little proof.

 

There is too much judgment.

There is too little grace.

 

There is too much Bible-knowledge.

There is too little Jesus-imitating.

 

There is too much preying.

There is too little praying.

 

There is too much turbulence.

There is too little still water.

 

 

Too Much, Too Little

(a poem of hopeful despair) by dave jacobs

 

There is too much violence.

There is too little peace.

 

There is too much argument.

There is too little communication.

 

There are too many strong opinions.

There is too little openness.

 

There is too much hate.

There is too little love.

 

There is too much talking.

There is too little listening.

 

There is too much pride.

There is too little humility.

 

There’s too much noise.

There is too little quiet.

 

There are too many sides.

There is too little unity.

 

There is too much black and white.

There is too little gray.

 

There is too much rejection.

There is too little acceptance.

 

There is too much Bible-quoting.

There is too little Bible-living.

 

There is too much bias.

There is too little objectivity.

 

There is too much fear.

There is too little faith.

 

There is too much suspicion.

There is too little proof.

 

There is too much judgment.

There is too little grace.

 

There is too much Bible-knowledge.

There is too little Jesus-imitating.

 

There is too much preying.

There is too little praying.

 

There is too much turbulence.

There is too little still water.

 

 

images-1

Have you ever had some great idea, I mean, really felt God was leading you into some focus or direction for the church, but when it came time to communicate it to your congregation they just stared at you like zombies? Or maybe you have coffee with someone in your church because you think they’d be great at heading up some ministry. You lay out the need, explain the commitment and are overjoyed to hear them say, “Well Pastor, if you think I’d be good at it I’ll give it a try.” You skip away congratulating yourself on what an awesome recruiter you are. But then it happens…it might take a couple months, but it happens…they resign or end up needing so much handholding that you regret ever giving them the responsibility in the first place.

With both scenarios chances are your people didn’t have ownership. Ownership is when your people are as sold on and excited about an idea or project as you are. Ownership is important. Remember this rule: No ownership = zombies. And don’t forget, zombies, with very few exceptions, make poor parishioners. There are four steps to building ownership.

Step One: Be open to the fact that not all good ideas will originate with you or be carried out based on your conviction and enthusiasm alone.

Step Two: Be inclusive. Include people in the decision making process. If people feel like they’ve been included it is more likely they will feel they have ownership.

Step Three: Be willing to risk. If you include people in the decision making process you can bet they will come up with ideas you never thought of, many of them good, some of them bad. The temptation with bad ideas is for the pastor to quickly shoot them down. Usually it’s better to let someone try their idea and discover for themselves that it didn’t work than to see you close the door on it before they have a chance to try.

Step Four: Be patient. It takes time to create ownership. Chances are your good idea is something you’ve been kicking around in your mind for some time now. Give your people the same time to think, digest, object, brainstorm, pray. This might mean your implementation will be slower but in the end it will be more solid.

You can follow me on twitter @thinkmonk

In-N-Out-150x150

Smaller churches lack the resources of larger churches. This does not mean they will not be able to provide meaningful ministry to their members and community, but it does mean they will have to be more selective in what they offer.

In 1948, the first In-N-Out Burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. Harry’s idea of a drive-thru hamburger stand where customers could order through a two-way speaker box was quite unique. In that era, it was common to see carhops serving those who wanted to order food from their car. Harry’s idea caught on and California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand was born.

The Snyder’s business philosophy was simple: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” These principles have worked so well over the years that they are still the company’s fundamental philosophy. In-N-Out Burger has basically three items on their menus: burgers, fries, and drinks. There are no salads, no burritos, no chicken sandwiches. Think of the huge variety most other fast food chains offer. You would think In-N-Out made a mistake in limiting what they offer but they continue to be one of the most popular food chains in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

I think smaller churches need to follow the example of In-N-Out…do a few things well and, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

What do you have the resources to do? By adding more ministries prematurely are you running the risk of providing a poor product and equally as bad, burned out workers? It would be better to do a few things well than a bunch of things half-baked that burn people out.

If you can’t do multi-media well…don’t do multi-media.
If you don’t have the manpower (usually it’s womanpower) to do a full-on Sunday school program, don’t do one.

If there are not resources and interest for doing small groups…let it go and wait until the time is right.
You get the point. Smaller churches need to copy In-N-Out not Dennys. Dennys offers everything you could ever want. In-N-Out…burgers, fries, and drinks. Since mission statements are so popular these days, perhaps your mission statement should be In-N-Out’s: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

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