Chapter 7 of Eberhard Bethage‘s massive bio on Dietrich Bonhoeffer is titled: “Berlin: 1933”. Adolf Hitler came into power at noon on January 30, 1933. This alarmed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his first sermon at Trinity Church in Berlin after Hitler seized power, Bonhoeffer said:

The church has only one altar, the altar of the Almighty…before which all creatures must kneel…Whoever seeks something other than this must keep away; he cannot join us in the house of God…The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however, well-intentioned” (Eberhard Bethage, Dietrich Bonhoeffer A Biography, 257).

The battle just began for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Chapter 7 of Eberhard Bethage‘s massive bio on Dietrich Bonhoeffer is titled: “Berlin: 1933”. That is the year Adolf Hitler came into power. Many people in Berlin and Germany saw Hitler as one who would restore hope to the nation. Many in the church agreed. The opening words of the chapter:

“A forest of swastika flags surrounded the altar of Magdeburg Cathedral. The cathedral dean Ernst Martin interpreted the scene from the pulpit with words similar to those used by many other church leaders:

It has simply become the symbol of German hope. Whoever reviles this symbol is reviling our Germany….The swastika flags round the altar radiate hope–hope that the day is at last about to dawn” (Eberhard Bethage, Dietrich Bonhoeffer A Biography, 257).

Of course, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw it differently and began to sound the alarm early on.

By Carey Nieuwhof 

megachurch pastors

So this isn’t an easy post to write, nor a glib one.

I’m not even sure what I’m about to write is accurate.

But once again last week, we heard of yet another mega-church pastor who isn’t in leadership anymore, this one fired by his church because of character issues.

I’m not naming names or linking to any post. If you’re plugged into church world, you probably know who I’m talking about, and if not, it’s not that hard to think of a bunch of others over the years.

Sadly, even if you read this months or years after this is published, chances are there will be yet another large church pastor who went down in flames.

The hardest part is there are just no winners. At least not in the short term. God is a God of redemption and he writes better stories than we do, but the pain of deliberate sin is something we’re best to avoid.

If there are direct victims (affairs, abuse, fraud), and sadly, often there are, their lives are devastated and their faith too often shattered or snapped. The people who were part of any movement or congregation associated with said fallen leader are crushed. The families of leaders are devastated, sometimes beyond repair.

And in the midst of it all, the unchurched gain one more reason to run in the opposite direction.

For those of us still in church leadership… think about that and let it sink in.

Bloggers and commentators who pile on to grab headlines or express outrage further destroy any hope left. I don’t want this to be that kind of a post.

And remember, for every mega-church pastor who has exited, there are probably 10 or maybe 100 smaller church pastors whose congregation and families are just as devastated. Only their stories never make the headlines.

Please hear me. I write this with a heavy heart and after a lot of reflection, introspection and prayerful consideration.

I’m far from perfect. There’s been no affair (by the grace of God) or fraud or anything worth headlines. But just talk to my family or my team. They see me on good days and bad days, and I write about the struggles of leadership as openly and candidly as I know how, as any of you who read this blog regularly or have read my latest book will realize.

So I’m not casting stones.

But I am writing so that all of us who lead anything (big or small) can look inside and notice the warning signs before it’s too late. Before yet another church loses its leader. Before yet another countless thousand people wince and say, “I told you so” or “Yeah…figures” and the collective eye roll/anger wave gets unleashed once again and more people walk away from Jesus.

Because, believe it or not, I think failure is in all of us. And yes, I think the seeds of failure are in me too. None of us are exempt.

But if you know what to look for…if you know where the danger lies, maybe, just maybe, you can finish well. Because not only are the seeds of failure in all of us, so are the seeds of finishing well.

So what’s the difference?

That’s why I’m writing this post.

Nobody who starts out in ministry sets out to fail. But all the time, people who never thought they’d fail, fail.

Every time another story breaks about a pastor who resigns, my phone lights up with texts from friends asking, “How do we make sure this doesn’t happen to us?”

A few years ago I wrote a post about the exit of two megachurch pastors…I think the observations are still true:

Most pastors aren’t fake. The struggle is real.

It’s hard to lead anything.

God uses broken people.

Even if all of that is true, still, why all the failure?

Here are some new thoughts…and some things I look for inside me in the hopes of finishing well.

1. IT JUST GOT BIGGER THAN I COULD HANDLE

Please hear this: leading something large is not inherently bad.

Although I hear the argument all the time, I personally don’t believe there is anything inherently bad about a large church or organization.

But there is something inherently difficult in it. And to some extent, the larger something is, the harder it is.

Please know, this doesn’t mean leading a small church or venture is easy. I have led small churches. I get it. Few things in leadership are easy.

But I’ve also led some larger ministries and organizations, and the larger it is, the greater the pressure and the more there’s at stake.

I remember when our church grew past 300; my mind was blown. Now it’s five times the size.

Or look at this blog or my podcast. Honestly, 100,000 readers or listeners was inconceivable six years ago. Then millions showed up.

Nothing gets you ready for that.

Add to it one more fact: you and I are not naturally made to lead thousands or millions.

It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’ll have to grow your character faster. Much faster.

As I outlined in Didn’t See It Coming, that has come in the form of hundreds of hours of counseling for me, some dead honest conversations, and a lot of painful personal growth. And in my case, I’m so thankful that groundwork was laid before things became bigger.

So what can help you when things get bigger than you thought, whether that’s two hundred or two million?

Try this.

First, your platform isn’t yours. It’s God’s. It’s not your church or your organization. It’s His.

You don’t have a ministry, but God does (and out of his grace he chooses to use you).

Your life isn’t your own.  Are you allowing God’s spirit to loosen your grip on your life?

The more I remind myself of these things, the healthier I am.

Second, it’s a platform, not a pedestal. There is a world of difference between a platform and a pedestal.

Pedestals are about ego and adulation.

Platforms are designed to be shared and used for the benefit of others.

On the days I remember that I’m a better leader because I’m a better servant. On the days I forget it, the clock starts ticking.

2. I CREATED A WORLD WHERE NOBODY CHALLENGED ME

So…let’s be honest…nobody likes critics.

But the bigger your organization or church becomes, the easier it becomes to surround yourself with like-minded people who won’t challenge you.

Please hear the distinction. You need like-minded people. You have to run with people who get your mission, vision and strategy. Otherwise, your organization descends into internal chaos.

But what you really need is likeminded people who can challenge you.

You need people committed to the same vision, mission and strategy you are, but who will push your thinking and who will push you.

Sure…maybe you have an accountability partner. You can spin your accountability partner. You can say it’s better at home than it is. Maybe they should ask your wife how it’s really going.

What you really need is people who have influence with you and power over you who can speak into you. Like a board and an inner circle to whom you are transparent and to whom you are truly accountable.

I realize in the age of social media, those of us at a distance might think we have a responsibility to speak truth to power or to criticize someone from afar. But I promise you, most leaders just tune out an angry person or troll 1000 miles away from, and perhaps to some extent rightly so. You don’t know them. They don’t know you.

There are also critics inside your church who intend to harm you or the mission. Learn what you can from them, but move on. They will not help you or your church long term.

But what you and I need most is people in our lives who know us inside out, who love us and as a result of that love, tell us the truth about us.

But you’ll be tempted—so tempted—to tune those people out. Don’t.

Keep them close.

Cultivate an atmosphere in which your team and those around you can tell you the truth. How you hurt them. What you’re not seeing. What you don’t realize is that they’ll be afraid to do that. You can fire them or dismiss them.

Just welcome their feedback, and encourage their critiques.

They may feel like your enemy in the moment, but I promise you they’re your best friends. They’re on the same mission as you, and they want you to win. And to help you win means they have to call your sin.To help you win, your friends have to call your sin.Click to Tweet

The way to cultivate that is to thank those on-mission people every time they critique you. Welcome it. Tell them how much it helped you.

And if it hurts, get on your knees and talk to God about it. Ask what needs to stick and what you can discard, but for God’s sake (literally), listen.

And in the further need of transparency, a few things that have helped me.

First, give the people close to you your passwords.

My wife can look and at times does look at anything on my phone or devices. She has ALL my passwords and I let her see ANY of my conversations. DMs. The whole thing. Especially with the women I work with and talk to.

To make it even more interesting, because of the nature of my team, they have access to virtually everything in my life—all my inboxes, my passwords, my notes. So even if my wife’s not looking, they are. Everything. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Should you share that with everyone? Of course not.

For the rest of the post…

But just because everybody doesn’t need to know everything, it doesn’t mean nobody 

This is indeed a moment in history when we may acquire the much needed insight and inspiration from Bonhoeffer’s extraordinary life and legacy.

By Sam Ben-Meir –   25/06/2020

Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Foto: Gütersloher Verlagshaus in der Verlagsgruppe Random House Gmb

Walking through the park this weekend I noticed a man on a bench reading Metaxas’ acclaimed biography of German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And it occurred to me then and there that this is indeed a moment in our history when we may acquire much needed insight and inspiration by revisiting Bonhoeffer’s extraordinary life and legacy.

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany into a large and prominent family – which included his father, noted psychiatrist and neurologist, Karl Bonhoeffer. The younger Bonhoeffer graduated from the Protestant Faculty of Theology at the University of Tübingen and went on to complete his Doctor of Theology degree from Berlin University in 1927.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer went to the United States for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary. Perhaps the most important part of his stay in the US was being introduced to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he would not only teach Sunday school and form an abiding love for black spirituals – recordings he brought back to Germany would become “some of his most treasured possessions” – Bonhoeffer would also hear Adam Clayton Powell Sr. preach the “kingdom of social justice.” Powell had the fire of a revivalist preacher, combined with “great intellect and social vision” – he actively condemned racism and “minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ.”

Finding in Powell the gospel preached and lived out according to God’s commands, Bonhoeffer became acutely aware of the injustice and subjugation experienced by minorities and began to adopt the standpoint of the oppressed. He remarked, “Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God…the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision.”

Returning to Germany in 1931, Bonhoeffer lectured in systematic theology at the University of Berlin – but his promising career as an academic would be derailed by the rise of Nazism, and Hitler’s installation as Chancellor in 1933.

Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazi regime from the very beginning and never wavered. Within days of Hitler’s election, he gave a radio address in which he denounced Hitler and admonished the people against forming an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could easily turn out to be Verführer (or misleader) – a distinction Donald Trump’s blind followers would do well to remember.

In April 1933, Bonhoeffer was the first to assert the church’s opposition to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and insisted that the church cannot merely “bandage the victims under the wheel,” but must “jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”

Bonhoeffer’s theology was a theology of the oppressed, and his active involvement in the German resistance against Hitler followed from his moral awareness that “the structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom,” as he wrote in his Ethics – for “If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility he detaches himself from the ultimate reality of human existence…” A life spent in fear of incurring guilt was itself sinful. In this respect Bonhoeffer is essentially in agreement with G.F.W. Hegel: only a stone can be innocent; all meaningful action entails guilt – and we must act. As Bonhoeffer observed: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The Cost of Discipleship (1937) – an extended commentary on the Sermon on the Mount – is generally regarded as Bonhoeffer’s masterpiece. In Chapter 4, he considers that passage from Mark 8:34, where Christ says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” From an ethical standpoint this is all-important: as Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” This may not mean actual martyrdom (though it certainly might): it means first of all that we must die to ourselves. In his commentary he writes, “Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion.”

To ‘deny oneself’ has nothing to do here with asceticism or suicide, both of which retain an element of self-will. Rather, “it is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.” Self-denial then is inseparable from the obedience of the responsible one who hears the call and says, “Here I am” (hineni) – for “faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience,” not to any man-made law or worldly authority, but to God, whose call reaches us through the voice of our oppressed and persecuted neighbour.

Bonhoeffer makes the crucial distinction – as important now as it ever was – between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace means grace without price, without cost, “everything can be had for nothing.” Bonhoeffer reminds us that we are still in the fight for costly grace, “which calls us to follow… It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Costly grace affirms that you can only discover what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions – questions such as, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ “You are the neighbor. Go along and try to be obedient by loving others… Neighbourliness is not a quality in other people, it is simply their claim on ourselves… We literally have no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbour or not. We must get into action and obey – we must behave like a neighbour to him.”

Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo – two years later, at dawn on 9 April 1945, he was led naked to the gallows and hanged to death, a few weeks before Hitler would commit suicide.

For the rest of the post…

This was written last March but it is very timely for what is happening this very week! ~ Bryan

MARCH 6, 2020 AUTHOR: DOYLE SAGER FOR WORD&WAY

Doyle Sager

No doubt, some churches will choose to ignore the partisan fray and pretend nothing consequential is occurring outside the church walls. Others will wade in with their biases on full display, certain that God is on their side. A third, more helpful approach is for churches to engage this tumultuous political season thoughtfully and honestly.

This third way is possible only if we refuse to give in to despair. Yes, the rancor is more intense than in previous elections. Granted, the vitriol is intensified by social media. But in his book The Soul of America, historian Jon Meacham reminds us we’ve been here before. And believe it or not, it was worse.

My home state of Missouri still bears the scars of the bitter national debate over slavery and the ensuing Civil War. In this border state, the mistrust and hatred ran deep, even within churches.

The church I pastor has no church minutes from 1861-1865. In 1861, Union soldiers confiscated and occupied the First Baptist Church building, using it as barracks. Near the end of the war, the building was used as a stable. Yes, our congregation can affirm that we’ve been here before and it was worse. But we survived.

How do we live together in these uncomfortable and highly emotional times, awaiting the outcome of a very momentous fall election?

1. Distinguish between political and partisan. The gospel is political because it seeks to influence citizens regarding values. On the other hand, to be partisan is to endorse a particular candidate or party. Pastors are not only wrong to publicly endorse candidates, they are naïve to do so. Politicians will use pastors and churches to their advantage unless and until clergy push back and draw a line.

2. Beware of idolatry. No candidate or political party should be blindly worshiped. The Kingdom of God is more than any human construct. When we make our personal political views equivalent to the gospel, that is idolatry.

3. Choose dialogue over monologue. Being prophetic in the pulpit is a worthy goal. But why should the pastor be the only one who speaks? Some topics are emotional and complex. They require a two-way conversation. Moving toward one another instead of away from each other, being curious about another’s convictions, remembering St. Francis’ prayer about seeking to understand more than being understood — all of these hold great promise if we’re willing to do the work.

For the rest of the post…

by Scott Ridout; Converge President

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Pet. 5:5) 

2020 has been a year like few others in my lifetime. The trifecta of medical, social and political “pandemics” divided our country, fractured our communities and tested the trust of our congregations. The pressures of leading in the present environment have forced me to engage with a whole new level of personal spiritual disciplines and Holy Spirit-empowered grit to handle the daily challenges of ministry. My learning curve has been high and my perseverance tried as each day seems to bring another significant adjustment to tackle, major decision to make or huge obstacle to overcome.

And Tuesday is Election Day.

There is a lot at stake at the local, state and national level in every election year. Political parties have done their best to craft their messages, communicate their positions and empower their supporters to recruit others to buy into their platform. It is a beautiful thing.

I appreciate the freedoms we have in this country to express our opinions, leverage our influence and make our vote count. I am grateful for the opportunity to effect change. I hope you are, too.

Regardless, every election has winners and losers. Rarely do either respond well.

From my leadership position, I have found that while my confidence in God’s sovereignty remains firm, my concern for how the church responds to this election is deep. In my opinion, churches often miss the moments that God gives us to stand up and stand out in winsome ways around major events in society.

I sense that the church’s response to this election will set a tone of opportunity or challenge that will ripple into 2021 and beyond.

Learning to submit our political leanings to our biblical callings is essential for every believer, church and movement. 

I have found that 1 Peter gives us a particularly helpful framework as we discern God’s leading to our present scenario. Peter writes to the church scattered across Asia, which was experiencing great difficulty. The government challenged, tried and persecuted believers for their faith. Life had been hard and leaders had been hard to follow. Christians were wondering how to respond.

In this context, Peter reminds the church to live in hope and holiness and in genuineness and generosity. He calls them to live distinctly in and distinguished from the world. In chapters 1-3, we see consistent themes of response to their circumstance. Peter’s words to them are great reminders to us.

Beyond the major themes, I am choosing to limit my comments on the application of these eternal truths. My hope is that Scripture will speak to your heart more than my commentary.

1. Win or lose, we are called to demonstrate the character of Christ. 

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:14-16) 

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (1 Pet. 2:1) 

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (1 Pet. 3:8) 

Character matters. Our priorities are perfectly displayed under pressure and our character cries out in a crisis. 

Jesus is our utmost model of how to respond in difficulty, and this text reminds us that he left his example for us to follow in his footsteps: 

  • We are not to revert to the tactics of the world or give in to the evil desires of our sinful nature.
  • Instead, we are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and to allow the fruit of the Spirit to be displayed in us.
  • We are to love, forgive, care and encourage.
  • We are to be holy because he is holy.

2. Win or lose, we are called to treat all people with dignity. 

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Pet. 1:22) 

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Pet. 2:17) 

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Pet. 3:9)

Regardless of color or culture, background or bank account, personal priorities or political persuasion, every person is made in the image of God and deserves honor and respect. Those who vote differently are not the enemy. Satan is.

For the rest of the post…

Grudem Responds to Piper: Policies Take Priority Over Character Flaws This Election

By Megan Briggs – October 29, 2020

Wayne Grudem

Theologian, author, and seminary professor Wayne Grudem has written a lengthy response to John Piper’s commentary on the 2020 election. Last week, in a rare commentary about this year’s political election and its candidates, Piper wrote he is “baffled that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only toxic for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as deadly.”

Grudem, who identifies Piper as a friend, disagrees with Piper’s conclusion that when considering which candidate to vote for this year, a candidate’s character issues (specifically, unrepentant sin) should be weighed to the same degree (perhaps even greater) as that of a candidate’s policy positions. Grudem, who said he’s already voted to re-elect President Trump, believes that considering the two candidates both have “character flaws,” it’s policy that has primary importance in this election. 

Grudem breaks Piper’s thoughts into four main points and then provides his own response to Piper’s words. At the end of his lengthy article, Grudem says that he had sent a draft to Piper and that Piper had given Grudem his blessing, Piper said that Grudem had “represented him fairly” and even gave Grudem advice for how to make one of his points stronger.

Below, we’ve summarized Grudem’s response to Piper’s comments. To read Grudem’s full article, see here. To read Piper’s original article, see here

Piper’s Claim #1: “The personal sins of a leader can be as harmful to persons and to nations as morally evil laws.”

Piper wrote, “When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine. It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.”

Grudem says there is a big difference in influence between a leader’s example and “laws that compel obedience.” The problem with Piper’s argument on this point, Grudem believes, is that it “fails to recognize that people can decide not to imitate the sins of a leader, but they cannot do that with laws.” 

Additionally, Grudem believes Trump’s character is not leading the country down a morally bankrupt path. Grudem says he doesn’t know a single Christian or Christian leader who has been compelled to follow Trump’s lead of adultery or boasting due to his example. 

Grudem also contends that Trump has good character qualities, too. For instance, Grudem points to Trump’s “courage of convictions,” “steadfastness of purpose,” “incredible energy,” and “faithfulness to his campaign promises.” Grudem even indicates Trump might have turned a corner concerning his past sexual impropriety when he says the leader has displayed “not even a hint of any sexual impropriety” while he’s been in office. Additionally, while Piper emphasized Trump’s arrogance and boastfulness, Grudem characterizes Trump as only “sometimes boastful.”

“With Trump, we will get good policies and character flaws, but with Biden we will get bad policies and character flaws,” Grudem argues. He then goes on to address Biden’s flaws, which he believes include his alleged use of “his government office and influence to enrich members of his own family with millions of dollars from China, Russia, and Ukraine.” Grudem did not address any of the allegations that Trump has also used his office for gain in his own personal interests.

Grudem also points out that Trump has elevated many evangelicals into positions of influence: Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Russell Vought. He’s also elevated “deeply committed Roman Catholics” like Amy Coney Barrett.

For the rest of the post…

Ron Shive: Who are we in times of crisis?

Times-News

Fall is definitely here, and a favorite fall festival is just around the corner — Halloween.

Halloween 2020 will have to look much different than in years past, and for good reason. The Centers for Disease Control has a helpful page on its website (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#halloween) that lists lower, moderate and higher risk activities. One event that we will all miss this year is the traditional trick-or-treating, where treats are handed to children who go door to door, but I do hope all kids still dress up in their costumes and perhaps have a virtual Halloween costume contest.

Some costumes are so creative, and when one sees them the only appropriate response is a broad smile. And others make you ask, “Who are you?”

While that is a fun question to ask when a trick-or-treater is at your front door, asking that about oneself is a vital question periodically to ask ourselves — “Who am I?”

The pastor had scheduled a visit with members of the congregation. When he arrived at their home, he was greeted by their grandson, who looked him up and down and then asked, “Are you the creature?” and then turned to his grandmother and asked, “Grandma, is this the creature?” It appears there had been a conversation about the preacher’s visit before his arrival. Somehow, I think the little boy was disappointed.

Who are you? Who am I? Creature or preacher? Or …

Who am I? What I have discovered is that most often we do not ask this question until a time of crisis of one nature or the other occurs. I have learned that mid-life itself can be the crisis that forces us to ask that question, who am I? For others the crisis that forces the asking of this question may be graduating from high school, the loss of a job, the death of a dream, the end of a marriage, the death of a parent or retirement itself. Who am I?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was arrested and imprisoned for two years for his part in the Officers’ Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He eventually died on the Nazi gallows in April 1945. From prison on July 9, 1944, he wrote to Eberhard Bethge, a very good friend of his, and it is a haunting poem that asks this crisis-induced question.

Who am I? They often tell me

I would step from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I would talk to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I would bear the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself,

Restless and longing and sick,

like a bird in a cage …?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? …

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Who am I? It is the question that Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked in the midst of his prison-induced crisis.

For the rest of the post…

How Discontentment Destroys Community

Article by Scott Hubbard

Editor, desiringGod.org

“Lord, I just want to pray for Kevin right now. . . .”

Who’s Kevin? I thought, eyes closed, head bowed. I rehearsed the names of the new small-group members in my head, wondering how I had missed Kevin. After a few more moments, I realized that Kevin’s prayer needs were much like my own. 

Then it registered: He was praying for me. I was Kevin.

Anyone who has been part of Christian community for long can testify to such awkward moments. The moment you invest in a church, you surround yourself with people who can, at times, grate on your nerves. People who clap precisely on the offbeat. People who say, “We should get together,” and then apparently forget all about it. People who call you Kevin.

Most of us, of course, can chuckle away such trivial frustrations. The real trouble comes when the trivial turns genuinely tiresome. Remain in a Christian community long enough, and you may find yourself underappreciated and overlooked. You may receive all manner of unasked-for “counsel.” You may become tangled in the pettiest of conflicts. And much worse.

If we meet with enough of these provocations, the mists of disillusionment may begin to settle upon us. We may begin to wonder if we are in the wrong community.

Life in the Body

Now, to be sure, sometimes we are in the wrong community. Perhaps you joined a church that appeared healthy on the outside, only to discover advanced disease within. In such cases, your best course of action may not be to patiently endure but graciously depart.

But for every ten disillusioned church members, perhaps only one should consider leaving. Meanwhile, the other nine of us need to remember that even the healthiest bodies have strange ticks and unseemly features: an unusual tapping of the foot, a frustrating tone of the voice. In fact, if our church body does not regularly try our patience and oppose our preferences, then we may not be close enough to our church body.

This observation comes not mainly from experience (though experience heartily testifies), but from Scripture. Although the apostles give us a picture of the New Testament church that is exalted indeed, their descriptions of everyday life in that church are far from romantic. The head of this body may dwell in the heavens, but the feet still stand in the dust.

Chastened Expectations

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find both the lofty vision and the everyday, earthy reality. The church is nothing less than the Father’s chosen children, the body and bride of Christ, the Spirit’s dwelling place (Ephesians 1:52:224:15–165:25–27). But then we come to a command like the one in Ephesians 4:1–3:

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Consider what Paul implies with such a command. Why would he call us to walk “with patience,” for example, if he did not assume that we would regularly provoke each other to impatience? Such provoking may come in the form of an insensitive joke or an oblivious insult. We may listen helplessly as a small-group member carries the discussion down into the deepest of rabbit holes. If such friction were no part of our life together, we would have no need for patience.

Or why does Paul bid us to “[bear] with one another in love”? Surely because we will, at times, feel burdensome to each other. We may find ourselves confronted with odd opinions and mystifying decisions. We may sit next to people with whom we struggle to make small talk. And unless we have joined a remarkably homogeneous church, we will find ourselves surrounded by people we never would have associated with — if not for the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17–19).

Or why must we be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”? Doubtlessly because the temptations to divide from one another in the church are legion. We may, at times, find ourselves so vexed by our brothers and sisters, or perhaps so deeply grieved by them, that unity will come only at the cost of painful conversations, and humbling confessions, and extended conflict resolution.

Daily patience, daily bearing, daily maintaining — this is the everyday life of God’s glorious church. And it’s enough to disillusion even the most realistic among us.

Community Destroyers

Whenever we discover new dark spots in our community — blemishes that demand our patience, our bearing with, and our maintaining unity — two paths lie before us.

On the one hand, we can run from the distressing realities of our church body, clinging all the while to an idealized vision of what community should be like. But if we do, we will inevitably flee into the trap identified by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: we will become “destroyers of community.”

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. (Life Together, 10)

Sometimes the destroyers of community look obvious.

For the rest of the post…

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