Over the past couple of years, there have been many days and nights when my interactions and experiences with people from the church have made me question why I spend so much time and money and energy on a ministry organization to help families of kids with disabilities make connections with churches. I’ve been blessed to have received numerous reminders over the past week or two as to why being connected to other Christ followers is so important.
Yesterday, I opened my Facebook messages and found the kindest, most encouraging note from a follower of the blog who I’ve corresponded with, but never met in person. This individual managed to discern that I personally, as well as our entire ministry team had been under a great deal of duress and shared that she had taken the time to pray for me as well as our team. I cried…an event usually reserved for the Indians winning the pennant or Ohio State winning a national championship.
Later in the day, my small group leader of nearly 25 years e-mailed me and asked me if I wanted to hang out and brainstorm some Key Ministry stuff. I’m not sure that we solved the problems we set out to discuss, but I left feeling very encouraged…and important. I’ve discovered that I have some Board members who care about me a lot outside of our mutual ministry adventure. Because of being grounded in God’s Word and the church, my wife (often my most challenging critic) has been my biggest supporter and encourager of late.
In any event, I’d appreciate your prayers for discernment over a BIG issue I’m struggling with. There are injustices that I observe along with extremely disturbing cultural trends in the course of the day to day work I do with kids and families about which I feel compelled to speak. Despite my best efforts to speak in a manner that encompasses both grace and truth, I know (and our ministry team certainly knows) that sooner, as opposed to later, somebody will be offended by stuff I say or write. Is the need to speak out in such a manner incompatible with serving in a prominent leadership position in a ministry organization like ours?
I ask the question in the context of highly valuing both the freedom of conscience that compels individuals to speak out when led to do so, as well as the importance of relationship. Some of you may have noticed that, for the first and only time, I yanked a post the other night that was generating lots of conversation and discussion. I did that because a member of our ministry team who I highly value and respect asked me to do so. I would want my teammates to do the same for me (even when they’re right) in a situation in which I was experiencing great distress. At the same time, there are also times when people (and organizations) need to hear the truth spoken in love. So…I very much appreciate prayers for wisdom and discernment as we try to work some of these issues out.
One last thing…Churches can be pretty harsh and critical places. But they can also be places where we can find affirmation, encouragement and acceptance. Over the last couple of years, there were some times that I drove a considerable distance to go back and visit a church I’d belonged to in the past to spend time with people who knew me and appreciated me anyway. This Sunday, can you take the time to thank and encourage the pastor who spent 25 hours reading and researching to preach the sermon you just heard, the high school kid who gets up early on Sunday morning while her friends are still in bed to volunteer so that your kid can have a great Sunday School experience and the mom or dad who give up a night with their family every week so that your teenager has a small group to attend? Leaders feel it’s wrong to ask for encouragement, but they need it as much as they need oxygen or water.
Thanks for your prayers and support!
Key Ministry’s mission is to help churches reach families affected by disability by providing FREE resources to pastors, volunteers, and individuals who wish to create an inclusive ministry environment. We have designed our Key Catalog to create fun opportunities for our ministry supporters to join in our mission through supporting a variety of gift options. Click here to check it out! For a sixty second summary of what Key Ministry does, watch the video below…
As you know, Steve, I have endured some serious challenges in our ministry this summer as well. Our mutual friend, Jolene, encouraged me by saying, “What we’re doing must be really good to garner such attention from Satan!” Indeed! It may encourage you to remember that Jesus was very offensive to many as well. I applaud you for treating your team members with such love and grace. I will also leave you (and anyone else who reads this) an extremely brief piece that I caught from John Maxwell the other day: http://johnmaxwellteam.com/vulnerable/. I felt like he had posted it just for me! Blessings to you and to all you partner with! God uses li’l ol’ us to accomplish more than we could ever fathom!
Steve, John and I have walked a similar road so my heart resounds with your expression! Thanks!
Love and amazing grace to you! Ann
Take heart, Steve.
Once while I was in an East Asian country, I had dinner with a man who was imprisoned for 23 years for proclaiming his faith in Jesus Christ. His only English words were: ” I love Jesus.” He’s still proclaiming him.
In another East Asian country, I witnessed 5 young women in their early 20’s receive a commission to move to a Muslim country undercover to spread the Good News – knowing that if they were discovered speaking about Jesus, they would surely be put to death.
I’ve spoken in clandestine house churches where we sang in hushed tones so not to be heard by the authorities.
I’ve met with people where they snuck in one way, I in another so not to arouse suspicion.
I’ve seen members of my missions team identified by name by strangers we did not know, leading me to conclude that we were under surveillance. How else would they know us?
Most of the censorship I’ve felt here in the USA has been from my Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are uncomfortable with some of my thinking and might just have made good inquisitors back in the day.
Thank goodness there is no rack handy or I might just be stretched out on it.
Recently I was accused of being a “pantheist” by a fellow Believer because one line, of one song didn’t align with their narrow theology. This person also was concerned that I had read a book called, “Chasing Francis” by Ian Morgan Cron – and well, he had his concerns even though he had admittedly not read it. He wondered what I really thought about the cross . . . and the blood of Christ. Thankfully, our Sr. Pastor ended the craziness with a strongly worded response insisting that I’m not a pantheist. Thanks, Dave!
By the way, the Apostle’s Creed is my statement of faith – that’s pretty orthodox – 😉
I’ve had people so upset with me over showing a “dark-skinned baby Jesus” during a service they left the church because they said that I “had an agenda”. I don’t.
Recently, a couple left my church because they couldn’t fathom how a pastor (me) could have a political point of view other than theirs. We never really even had a serious conversation about it. They just left.
All of this has been swirling in my head and heart since the whole chicken story hit. Are we being persecuted? Am I being persecuted? No, I don’t think so – not yet – not compared to my friends in Asia.
Are we being challenged? Yes. And it’s revealing the cracks in our foundation for some of us who consider ourselves to be thoughtful Christians. Cracks that are there not because of the unholiness of our culture, but because we seem to have developed a heightened intolerance of differing ideas or thoughts and it leaves us weakened. We tend to think that we must agree on everything to be unified and strong. Our unity is not found in “what” we believe per se (theology), but in “who” we believe – Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who called the people of Le Chambon sur Lignon, France to rescue non-Christ-believing Jews during the Holocaust and calls us to stand up and protect gay teenagers from the tyranny of the bully because of the power of His name and His great love for us. The same Jesus who calls us to risk our lives for the sake of the Gospel – like those 5 young women I mentioned earlier.
In the meantime, a healthy dialogue, uncensored, unfettered, unemotional, full of grace striving for truth between Believers about what it means to radically follow Jesus Christ is a good thing and an important way of perpetuating our freedom of speech in America. And because of the new media world we live in, this means that our ideas and beliefs are more easily and readily accessible via blogs, FB profiles and tweets. I’m not sure we can continue to separate our ideas and beliefs from who we are and who we are and who we are associated with professionally speaking. There are very blurry lines nowadays. Do we speak for ourselves or the organization where we sit on the board of directors?
In the hip lingo of the day within the Evangelical church, “it’s messy”, still, I think we speak for ourselves and it must be this way in my opinion. And we must continue to speak even if we don’t all agree. And when we don’t agree, then let’s agree to hang in there with each other.
I believe that we must tolerate expressions of ideas from within the Body that are different than our own for the sake of unity and leave the censorship up to the totalitarian states that do it best. Because as long as we are comfortable with others expressing their thoughts and beliefs, and are unwilling to break relationship with them or censor them because we do not agree with them – then we’ll be okay. Otherwise we’re doomed.
You know that you and I don’t agree on everything . . . and yet . . . you are one of the most important people and valued relationships in my life. I never feel your judgement. I always sense your great compassion and love for the Burks. I don’t care what you think about things – I care that you DO think about things and because I respect you, I’m willing to consider what you have to say. Likewise, I’m willing to bet that you feel the same about me.
So to all who are reading – let’s take a deep breath and exhale these words:
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Do Everything Without Grumbling
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
BTW – I thought it would leave my name . . . this is Stephen Burks! New blog I’m working on “iseehopeart.com”
I don’t know if this would help for you and how it would work (given that the URL for this blog lends itself to a personal rather than a ministry blog), but the tension between what I say as a ministry leader and what I say as an individual is what led me to create two different blogs. I’ll be posting some possibly controversial blogs about adoption ethics in the next week or two on the personal blog, and while many readers from the ministry blog also read our family one, they know when they see the Dinglefest branding that they’ve come into my personal space and generally they respond differently than they do when they see The Works of God Displayed branding (which will be changing soon, as I’m hiring someone to make a cleaner and more professional design for it). Even when readership overlaps, I know some friends who generally only comment on my personal blog or only on my ministry one, and I’m cool with that. Putting a disclaimer about personal/ministry views at the beginning of a post only works to a point, especially if you mention the ministry later, because readers are looking at the same blog where they’re used to reading ministry-specific stuff. (Likewise, Barb has a ministry twitter account and a personal/political views one. To be honest, because I’m fairly moderate on some issues and unaffiliated with any party, I choose not to follow her political one. Works for me, and Barb and I are good friends.)
I’m praying a solution can be found that allows good dialogue with you on BOTH Key Ministry topics and others ones about which you’re passionate.