Friends 2007: Focus [5]


Looks like a lot of last minute registrations coming and for those of us directly involved more fine tuning. So it’s good to get some focus. I think especially in the light of some buzz surrounding the event ranging from “fantastic” to “compromising” (I’ll leave it to your imagination *smile*).

I thought I’ll pick out some lines I read some time ago from Brian’s website and fuse in some personal thoughts sparked by his Note to Readers

“1. Please do not cause dissension, division, or trouble on my account (or any other account!). If others say or write unfair or inaccurate things about me or my writings, please do not respond in kind. You may wish to offer some words of personal testimony by telling people how God has in some way helped you through my work, or you may want to offer your personal observation if you have met me in person, but please, please do not respond with harshness, counterattack, or defensiveness. …”

This requires a lot of self-discipline, restraint and maturity … and a couple of friends to unload first. If there aren’t many friends who are able or available to help process through the “stuff” … I’ve resorted to journaling (with God as my audience of one) when I’m frustrated with what I read. I think a lot done in the privacy of our communion with God does wonders.

“2. Please do not make me or even my books the issue. Make Christ and his teachings the issue, and make a right understanding of the Scriptures the issue. …”

I think this is a very important piece of advice. So often we get carried away … Lord have mercy. This Lent season is a good reminder on who is our ultimate absolute focus.

3. If you have become convinced of something from one of my books, and you hear a preacher or friend say the opposite, if at all possible, just let it slide. Instead, try to hear what theyíre saying in a charitable light and learn whatever you can from it. Affirm whatever you can and donít argue about the rest … “

I’ve never been good at arguing anyway. I like conversations (even those where people can disagree respectfully). I participated on two debate teams during school days, one for the Chinese society and one for the English society .. in both cases our opponents were girl schools, we lost both times. My conclusion is either girls are smarter than us boys and can out debate us or my calling is not in winning arguments with flowery rhetoric or densely formulated impressive logic (For the record: I am not anti-rational or think there’s no place of a reasonable discussion or well crafted argument which enhances understanding and learning). For now the focus for me is to encourage and facilitate the upcoming conversations with a team of wonderful friends. Uncharitable arguments don’t energize me, intense respectful conversations do. I’ll focus on the latter.

“4. Please donít recommend my books to people who arenít ready for them. I wouldnít have been able to handle some ideas in my books twenty years ago, so I am sympathetic to people who canít handle them now. The book that means the most to you may be a distraction to one of your friends, so please be careful and prayerful in this regard. Timing is, as they say, everything.”

Food for thought on this one …. I do think twice on which book to recommend Malaysian pastors or leaders. And I confess, the NKOC series is not my first choice (even though I personally enjoy them). Usually I go for The Church on the Other Side, Finding Faith and the recent The Secret Message of Jesus. At times, I’ll suggest A Generous Orthodoxy. It depends. I think Brian’s interviews and articles are pretty good conversation starters.

5. If you have become convinced of some things from my books which put you at odds with your church or organization, please do not undermine the leadership there. Please! People often ask my advice in these situations. I don’t think there is a universal prescription (except love your neighbors!), but when I was a senior pastor, here’s what I wish people would have done if they had differences with my leadership or teaching: First, I wish they would have come to me (or written to me) in private and in a friendly and nonthreatening way told me what they have come to see or believe (not what they think I should see or believe!). Then I wish they would have asked me for my advice on what they should do. Would I like the opportunity to present them with counter-arguments? Would I prefer that they leave and find another church? Would I prefer that they stay and share their ideas, gently and patiently of course, with others? Would I prefer that they form a small group to dialogue about these matters? Or maybe I think that they’re on the right track, but this congregation isnít ready for their ideas, so perhaps they should consider finding or forming a new faith community? Third, I would have appreciated a promise that they wouldn’t cause dissension in the congregation, but would instead pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification.

If it turns out that you should leave, please write a letter of thanks to the church leaders Ė without even a hint of criticism Ė and leave them with a blessing, so that whenever you see one another in the future, theyíll have a good feeling about you and gratitude for your mature spirit. I think it is a good gesture to give a generous financial gift as part of your goodbye. If you have duties at the church, don’t leave without finding and training a replacement. Above all, donít even get close to a church split or anything like it. Itís better to quietly withdraw than disturb the peace of a faith community in any way. Again echoing the apostle Paul, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone, and be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

As the only pastor of my congregation, I thought this was worth quoting in full ..

“6. If you are a pastor or other leader yourself, please do not impose on your congregation or organization ideas you have become convinced of through my books. Change is a process that requires wise and patient leadership. To rush new ideas into a sermon is often the very worst way to bring about change Ė apart from a change of address and employment, that is! If your congregation is open to new ideas and seeks a transformation in its identity to a more missional and emergent vocation, I would highly recommend you begin by finding an experienced consultant that you trust to guide you in this process”

As the only pastor of my congregation, I thought this was worth quoting in full too … change indeed is easier said than done. And it can be lonely.

“7. If you are mistreated simply because you agree with ideas in my books, then by all means seek out some friends who will understand. Youíll need some people with whom you can be open and honest so that you can process the pain and grief of mistreatment. You may need to seek a professional counselor or spiritual directorís help. Whatever you do, donít let the mistreatment of others destroy your faith or make you lose heart. Doing so will in the end empower the people who have behaved badly. Instead, let their mistreatment drive you deeper into Godís compassionate care.”

It’s advice like this that moves one forward. It’s just to tempting to either fall backward into some kind of whirlpool self-absorbed depressive state or simply being stuck into inactivity or even apathy. I suppose it’s understandable why some of us would land up there for whatever reason. But for me, I always sense deep inside in whatever circumstance … a gentle whisper calling me forward.

“8. An idea: if you’re excited about something you’ve gained from my work, instead of turning it into discussion, first turn it into action and invite others to get involved with the action.”

Talking about it is always easier. But this is such a good and simple idea. I’m growing weary even of my own words at times.

“9. If you see people who have been helped by my books doing the opposite of one of these requests, please encourage them to read or re-read this letter.”

This is not easy, but we can try. As long as people are willing to listen, I guess there’s still hope ūüôā

“It has been my policy to avoid defending myself. Occasionally I have offered some clarification, and I am in the process of writing a friendly note to my critics, asking for their cooperation in raising the quality of dialogue in our Christian communities. But I do not want to become defensive, nor do I want to get anywhere close to counter-attack, aggressively or passive-aggressively. If I do that, I have violated the message Iím trying to live and communicate.”

I hope to participate in raising the quality of dialogue too … there’s still so much to learn.

This entry was posted in Friends in Conversation. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Friends 2007: Focus [5]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *