I hope some of you were able to see the aurora borealis over the weekend. Although I missed out on this one, I can still recall being awed as a child by the light shows God put on in the Wyoming night sky. God has given me an opportunity to travel, and I recall experiencing sensory overload with a man-made light show. It was in Times Square in the middle of Manhattan Island. It was early evening and lights were flashing from street level up to the skyline in all directions. It almost made me dizzy. There I was standing on a small island (33 square miles) that over 1.6 million people call home. To top it off, in the middle of all of it stood a panhandler who called himself the naked cowboy. As a native of the Cowboy-state of Wyoming, I’m confident that nowhere in the 97,814 square miles of my home state would I be able to find another one quite like him—nor would the state’s residents want one.
In recent weeks I have been addressing cultural issues that are negatively impacting the spiritual health of the American church: emotion vs fact-driven decisions, general moral and ethical declines, and information overload. Today I will highlight one of the issues that our affluence has created: sensory overload. One way I have described our current reality is the stark contrast between most people in the world who eat to live and our lifestyle where we live to eat. In many nations, people spend the majority of their waking hours working, scraping, and searching for a way to survive that day. We spend a lot of time dreaming and planning our next vacation or choosing how many of the 100s of exciting things we COULD do this weekend that we will be able to actually CRAM into our agenda—Sabbath rest and public worship often don’t make the final list. Each experience seems to create in us a desire to find an even more exciting opportunity. Stimulating our sensory system gets harder and harder—almost as if we were addicted. We become intoxicated as we seek newer and better opportunities that lay somewhere out there in our much anticipated tomorrows.
Sometimes we seek spiritual stimulation in a similar way. Our desire is to go from one mountain top experience to another. We seem to ignore the reality that between the mountain tops are valleys. I would also quickly point out that every mountain top experience isn’t the same. I could argue that the moment when Elijah’s life was most deeply transformed wasn’t on Mt. Carmel; remember, within hours of that adrenaline rush, he was running like a scared rabbit from Jezebel. I would suggest that Elijah’s greatest life change took place on Mt. Horeb (Sinai). And there it wasn’t God’s demonstrated power that stimulated Elijah; it was God’s quiet voice. God said to Elijah:
“Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:11-13)
That experience initiated a significant change in the way Elijah did ministry. Instead of seeking more stimulating Mt. Carmel experiences, he began to fulfill God’s call for his life.
Then the Lord said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.” (I Kings 19:15-16)
Elijah walked off the Mountain of God, anointed Elisha, and began to disciple him. They were together 24/7/365 until God’s chariot of fire swept Elijah into heaven (II Kings 2). Just like Jesus spent 24/7/365 with His disciples until His ascension. From those realities, I would surmise that spiritual transformation is a slow, often boring, life-on-life process. To drive my point home, let me remind you that God commissioned Elijah to anoint three leaders: Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu. As I already mentioned, the Bible records that Elijah immediately anointed Elisha, but who anointed the other two? Elisha anointed Hazael (II Kings 8:7-14), and an unnamed disciple of Elisha anointed Jehu (II Kings 9:1-10). So obedient disciple-making also assumes that it will be a multi-generational process.
In last week’s article, I described growing up in Wyoming in the ’50s. As such, it wasn’t hard for me to avoid either information or sensory overload. But another part of my reality back then was that I grew up in a state where there were less than four people for every square mile compared to Manhattan Island, NY, where today there are 48,327 people per square mile. So, I didn’t have to be taught the spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence, simplicity, or slowing. That was just a part of life. Similarly, social distancing hasn’t been a burden for Wyomingites, because they have been practicing it for hundreds of years.
Back then, Bible verses like Isaiah 30:15, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. But you would not;” Or Psalm 62:5 “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone” didn’t carry a lot of meaning for me. But the spiritual disciplines I just mentioned and these verses are things that I really, really need to hear and to heed today! Are you willing to step away from the sensory overload lifestyle (both physically and spiritually) and join me as I place myself quietly before God? I will be bold enough to suggest that unless we quickly change our lifestyle, the next generations (our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren) will struggle even more.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
How many of you knew that Wednesday, October 20th was Information Overload Awareness Day? I heard about it on the radio during my morning commute—I listen primarily to hear the traffic report, but I occasionally get a few nuggets of useful information. As I Googled it to see what I was missing, I learned “this day is for taking a step back from the amount of information we’re faced with on a daily basis. From social media and online news to emails and text messages, we’re constantly bombarded with a plethora of information. On this day, we allow ourselves to take a break.” The fact that there is an Information Overload Awareness Day forced me to spend time discovering what I had been missing. As I read about it, I realized that if I had actually observed the day correctly, I would not have taken time to know the real purpose for the day. And now my mind is filled with the knowledge that there needs to be another Information Overload Awareness Day, and real soon, so I can observe it correctly.
Bottom line is, hearing that there is an actual Information Overload Awareness Day, forced me to take time to learn what it meant. And in taking time to discover what it was, I actually violated the very purpose for which it was created—I went into information overload!
That knowledge made me long for simpler times when we didn’t have immediate access to information. As a kid, we listened to KASL—a local AM radio station where I remember listening to my two favorite programs: the Lone Ranger and Cisco and Poncho. At that time I was actually a part of the information dissemination process. As a paperboy, I delivered the Denver Post, while other boys delivered the Rapid City Journal to those who were subscribers —both of them were daily papers. We also had Newcastle’s Newsletter Journal that provided local information on a weekly basis. Then things got exciting—we got a television set when I was in third grade. We had two channels—when the booster tower was working. But they weren’t 24-7 stations back then. At that time we lived only a few blocks from the county library, so I made a lot of trips there—particularly in the summer. And then one day, we got a set of encyclopedias, and suddenly my world of knowledge exploded! Yes, I read the encyclopedia.
What a change in the scope of one short lifespan. Today, we have instant access to unlimited sources of information, misinformation, and disinformation. Our problem isn’t ACCESS; it is the ABILITY to evaluate the credibility of the sources and to process the substance of the information so that we can make the appropriate APPLICATION of that knowledge. As you pause to consider the glut of information you have at your fingertips, how do you respond?
Some of us quickly conclude that “Ignorance is Bliss.” Now there is a kernel of truth in that cliché because God asked Adam and Eve to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He was trying to limit their exposure to evil. However, once “that cat was out of the bag,” it has been impossible to return to a state of innocence by simply remaining ignorant. In fact, Proverbs 18:15 encourages us to seek knowledge: “The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”
So should we go to the other extreme and seek to fill our minds with “all knowledge?” The champions on Jeopardy seem to do pretty well with that philosophy. However, I quickly see three basic problems with this strategy. One is that a mind full of knowledge generally generates a heart full of pride. “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him” (I Cor. 8:1-3).
Another issue is the one Solomon encountered as he sought “all knowledge.” In the end, his summary of this way of life was, “Be admonished…of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc 12:12-14). In other words, there are certain topics and areas of knowledge that have more eternal value than other areas do. Proverbs 15:14 states it this way, “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness.”
A third issue we face in our pursuit of “all knowledge” is our time constraint. We are not an eternal God, but are constrained by the limits of time—we will NEVER know it all. But in an effort to be like God, we take shortcuts in our pursuit of all knowledge. For example, we scan e-mails and miss important information. I replied to an e-mail last week requesting specific information. In my reply, I clearly provided the information requested in the order it was requested. I received a second e-mail with “significant typos” that impacted the meaning along with a somewhat terse request for information I had already provided. Their “scanning” cost me time—but before I got too hyped up, I admitted that I have done the same thing.
Or, how often do we “assume” that the headline on a news article is accurate? Too often when I have taken time to actually read an article—and some of them can get pretty long—I have found buried deep in the article a statement that actually makes the headline false. Basing my knowledge on what I gleaned by scanning, or listened to a short sound-bite, or relying on a headline to be accurate WILL ALWAYS get me in trouble.
So what should we do so we can be informed and engaged? I just alluded to the most important one--we need to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). Paul gives us two additional items that will also help: 1) Fill our minds with the right information. “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). 2) Fill our lives with the right actions. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9)
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
/ Jeremiah was called as a prophet while he was a young man. It was n the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah who at the time was only twenty-one himself. Five years into Jeremiah’s ministry, Josiah ordered that the temple be refurbished. It had fallen into disrepair during the 55-year reign of his grandfather Manasseh and the brief two-year reign of his father Amon. Josiah did not inherit a great legacy as II Kings 21:2 says of Manasseh, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.” And of his father Amon, II Kings 21:21-23 says, “He walked in all the ways that his father had walked; and he served the idols that his father had served, and worshiped them. He forsook the Lord God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord. Then the servants of Amon conspired against him, and killed the king in his own house.”
The temple renovations that began with the goal of doing a major rebuilding of the physical structure, took a major shift when the Book of the Law was discovered. It seems like the Word of God had gotten lost in the people’s pursuit of happiness.
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the Lord.” Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes” (II Kings 22:8-10)
Josiah’s reaction to the Book of the Law provided some much-needed spiritual fresh air.
Now the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem—the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for the covenant” (II Kings 23:1-3).
With this kind of exciting beginning, how on earth did Jeremiah get tagged with the title “the Weeping Prophet?” The simple answer is that Josiah’s reforms were too little too late. II Kings 23:26-27 records the bad news that he heard from God:
Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. And the Lord said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’”
While contemporaries like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were taken to Babylon where God powerfully worked in their lives, God left Jeremiah in Judah. He was called to proclaim “thus sayeth the Lord” to men and women who refused to listen to the word of God. Eventually, he was taken against his will to Egypt where he died in the midst of an unrepentant people.
With all that is happening in our nation and our convention, I can’t help thinking about Jeremiah’s world. Is God removing His hand of protection from us? And if He has, is it too late for us to repent? I quickly reflected on these questions as I prayed about how I should respond to a pastor’s question I received via e-mail this weekend as some of us were processing the announced resignation of Dr. Ronnie Floyd. The pastor wrote, “I’m not sure what the future holds for the convention, but I know that the future of the church is strong. Any advice on how to lead through this mess or if there is anything to do to help the Convention?” After reflecting for a few minutes, I responded, “My suggestion is to do what I’m going to do: pray harder and with greater brokenness and work harder to keep biblical, life-transformative disciple-making THE main thing on my heart and on my agenda every day.”
The reality for every pastor and every professing Christian is that there is only one person in the world that we have the authority and ability to change and that is our self. And when we are honest, we will admit there are days when that alone can be an overwhelming task. I’m a “To-Do List” kind of guy and here are some things I try to keep on the top of my list:
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Because of Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s announced resignation and the fact that some of you were able to meet him and his wife Jeana this spring at our minister and spouse retreat, I felt it appropriate to respond to his announcement.
Like many of you, I have played Fact or Fiction, Truth or Dare, or a similar game. I enjoy them because they feed my hunger to “know” but even more importantly to “know the truth.” Some of you share another of my personality traits—an intensely logical approach to making decisions. Part of that is driven by the reality that my “heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
In the last few months, these values have caused me a lot of sleepless nights as an Executive Committee Trustee. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and listening to conflicting “facts” as I sought to identify the “truth” in an environment where emotions were high. The October 5th SBC Executive Committee’s vote to waive attorney-client privilege is history, and the internal reviews of the Executive Committee and Credentials Committee are underway. As the issue of waiving attorney-client privilege was being debated, emotions seemed to rule the day while facts were shoved aside. A decision driven by our emotions (a desire to care well for sexual abuse survivors), feelings (that it had to happen NOW!), and the optics that waiving of attorney-client privilege was necessary to find the truth are now confronted with the fact that doing so is beginning to trigger unintended consequences for Southern Baptists.
What we know today regarding unintended consequences is 1) several EC members, including myself, have resigned on moral and ethical grounds; 2) the law firm that has served the Southern Baptist Convention as general counsel since 1966 has formally withdrawn from that role, and 3) Dr. Ronnie Floyd has announced his resignation as EC President.
In an October 11th letter to the Executive Committee the firm of Guenther, Jordan, and Price stated:
The attorney-client privilege has been portrayed by some as an evil device by which misconduct is somehow allowed to be secreted so wrongdoers can escape justice and defeat the legal rights of others. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, the attorney-client privilege has been for centuries a pillar of this country’s jurisprudence and rules of evidence. The concept is rooted in a principle of judicial fairness and the belief that our nation of laws is best served if persons and entities can communicate with their legal counsel freely and confidentially. There is nothing sinister about it. It does not corrupt justice; it creates the space for justice.
As we debated waiving attorney-client privilege, I heard two emotion-driven comments that have stuck with me and speak to the reality that too often we make decisions based on feelings rather than facts. One EC member stated, “Attorneys can’t be trusted, they will just say what the client wants them to say.” This was stated in spite of the fact that we received the same legal advice from two lawyers from Guenther, Jordan, and Price who are experts on non-profit law, two attorneys who specialize in law related to internal reviews, and a fifth lawyer who works with the insurance industry. They unanimously said, DO NOT WAIVE THIS PRIVILEGE!! Other EC members chose to believe the advice provided by the Sexual Abuse Task Force’s attorneys Linklaters LLC. I would suggest you Google “Linklaters LLC” along with the letters “LGBTQ+” to see what kind of law firm would advise a client to waive their attorney-client privilege. (Wake Up Call: LGBTQ Group Says 7 Big Firms Join Litigation Push on Rights) When you make decisions based on feelings, you don’t bother to ask why the Task Force couldn’t find a law firm that shares our Christian values to advise them to waive privilege.
In case you hadn’t heard, Jeana’s mom passed away last Sunday, October 11th and the funeral was Wednesday. In Dr. Floyd’s announcement of his resignation he stated:
While Jeana and I have no idea where we are going and what we will do in the future, today I submit my resignation as the President and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. I will serve through Sunday, October 31, 2021.
If the average SBC messenger had the above information on what the attorney-client privilege is as clarified in the above letter from Guenther, Jordan, and Price, would they have voted differently at the convention this past June?
If the average SBC messenger had known that the “investigation” was going to cost well over $2 million, would they have voted to use a less expensive process that could still accomplish the purpose of transparency?
If the average SBC messenger had known that a lawsuit charging sexual misconduct would be filed by Hanna-Kate Williams against LifeWay, Southern Seminary, the Executive Committee, and some of its former officers, would they have still called for the waiver of attorney-client privilege knowing that it would hinder us from effectively defending ourself?
If the average SBC messenger had known that an ERLC trustee would release information stating that Russell Moore’s letters and the brief audio clips released were done so intentionally to impact the SBC’s presidential election, would they have voted differently? Reference: Letters from Russell Moore; SBC EC and ERLC resistance to sexual abuse reforms
I wish my answer would be that with these additional facts, messengers would have voted differently. However, the Executive Committee WAS GIVEN all of this information and still a majority voted to waive the privilege. The bottom line is that we live in a culture where our personal feelings and passions define the facts as we see them. Those feelings are formed by our unique life experiences.
My logical mind forces me to ask, “How can we claim with one breath that the Bible is our source of objective truth and with the next, we accept facts based on our current feelings and emotions?” It is as if we are asking “What is truth?” like Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38). But we don’t accept the fact that Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Let me close with two thoughts. We need to be reminded that Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11). I am passionately praying that God will do a Romans 8:28 miracle for Southern Baptists and protect us from ourselves.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Last Tuesday morning I rose at five a.m. and began to pray and read scripture in anticipation of a difficult Executive Committee meeting later that morning. Just before I left for the office, I sent the following e-mail to my fellow executive committee members as a reflection of my thoughts:
I’m in my 29th year of service as a Director of Missions, and the number one thing I have been asked to do by the pastors and churches I have served is to step in during a time of conflict. The vast majority of those times it was too late. A pastor and his family and a church were deeply wounded. Some pastors left the ministry and some left the church. Many of the churches never recovered—they “survived” but lost their spiritual vibrancy.
At the meeting, a majority vote won and unity lost. Because of that, I immediately submitted my resignation as the KNCSB Executive Board Trustee. In my opinion, the motion that passed at last Tuesday’s EC meeting was a clear violation of the fiduciary responsibilities of a trustee. We approved what five different lawyers told us we should not approve. If I hadn’t resigned, then I would be complicit in violating the duty of a trustee.
As we debated, I was reminded of the comment I heard from a new Executive Committee staff member a little over a year ago. He was excited about his new position and the opportunity to step into a role that would have a Kingdom impact. However, a few days earlier he had been in a meeting with peers, and he said in all of his life he has never been in a room where there was less trust and so much suspicion about motives. How did we get in such a mess? Let me suggest that it didn’t happen overnight and that it wasn’t caused by a single event. In the next couple of articles, I will walk us down memory lane and expand on a few of the issues that have led us to where we are today. But before I do, let me simply mention some of the issues that have contributed to our current circumstances.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Prior to last week’s article related to the “current SBC crisis,” I had just completed a series on the eight strategic principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. At a recent pastors’ meeting in Norfolk, I shared a 1980 Leadership Journal article I ran across as I was going through some old files. It was based on an interview with Warren Wiersbe where he answered the question: “What did you as a pastor/father tell your son as he was entering the ministry?” Wiersbe’s response has application for today’s crisis and our daily efforts to apply Godly principles for disciple-making.
The Leadership Journal article opens with the following Wiersbe quote:
About the only thing I remember from one of my courses at seminary is a bit of doggerel that the weary professor dropped into a boring lecture:
Let me encourage you to take time to reflect on each of the following principles. They are expounded on in the full article (view full article).
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
As some of you know I am the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptist’s representative on the SBC Executive Committee. And if you have been reading blogs and various Baptist press sites lately, you are aware that the Executive Committee (EC) is in the spotlight. Our current situation is not a surprise, but I am personally disappointed. Following the EC’s February meeting, I began a weekly series on my personal perspective of current issues facing Southern Baptists. They provide the background for what I will be writing today. They began on March 2 and went through June 29 and can be found at the following link, Mark's Insights.
Although the issues are complex, the foundational point facing EC members today relates to a portion of a motion that was approved at this June’s SBC Convention. It related to an internal review of the Executive Committee regarding allegations of mishandling sexual abuse issues. It asks “the Executive Committee staff and members [to waive] attorney-client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.” On the surface that request makes sense—that is until you unpack the legal implications of such a request. Here is a great application of the wisdom found in Proverbs 18:17 “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.”
As an EC member (like any board member of any corporation), I have a “fiduciary obligation” to steward wisely that entity. A formal legal definition of a fiduciary is “An individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another's benefit.” As we listened to attorneys who have significant experience and expertise, I felt like I was back in my sophomore year of college sitting in Dr. Bill Kratz’s Business Law I and II classes.
Since some are suggesting that the counsel we received during the executive session last Tuesday was biased and should be ignored, I did my due diligence and called a wonderful lady who advised our association on legal issues for years to seek an unbiased perspective on what I am facing as an EC member. I will use Admiral Ackbar’s words from the movie Return of the Jedi to summarize her comments, “It’s a trap!” Her advice was DO NOT vote to waive attorney-client privilege. The motion sets up a false narrative that justice can’t be done unless this constitutional right is waived. The reality is that it is a foundational principle of our justice system, and it is the only reason a guilty person would be willing to tell the truth to anyone. People are convicted every day in our country and none of them were asked to waive their attorney-client privilege. She stated that voting to waive attorney-client privilege would be an absolute disaster, and it would have significant unintended negative consequences. She also exhorted me to write this informed response piece that might help people see the big picture.
Bottom line is that every EC member is asked to find a way to be faithful to the messengers at the 2021 convention while we are also faithful to our fiduciary obligation. As I thought about our “predicament” it reminded me that as a Christian I am asked to believe that God is one and God is three AND that Jesus of Nazareth was fully God and fully man. As I share Christ I am asking others to believe that as well. It is almost impossible to really describe these two paradoxes without someone calling you a heretic. The question at hand is “Can we find a way forward that will honor both responsibilities: being transparent while maintaining organizational integrity?”
Another analogy came to my mind as I reflected on the polarization that exists today. My first ministry position following graduation from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, was in north-central Iowa. We weren’t there very long when I heard that the city had condemned a property and was getting ready to burn it down because it had a roach infestation. Imagine my shock as one who had lived in Ft. Worth and while living there was on a first-name basis with the roach that looked out at me when I opened a cabinet door. Yes, we used roach proof. Yes, we set off roach bombs every time we were going to be gone for a few days. But you still have roaches who come in from outside. And yes, I did set off three roach bombs in the U-Haul truck as we were moving out of seminary housing.
My point is that WE CAN solve the difficult issues that we are facing without burning our house down. But if we can’t do that, then history will report this as the moment when the SBC lived out Jesus’ words: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25).
Even if we are able to come to some basic agreement about moving forward without a blanket, in advance waiver of attorney-client privilege, we are still at a dangerous point in our convention as we are ignoring the advice Paul gave a deeply divided church in Corinth by our use of Guidepost Solutions.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
If you want to make the argument that this passage only applies to lawsuits between two believers, then I would suggest you have become blinded by your own righteous indignation for justice as you see it.
If within our 40,000 churches and among our 15 million members we can’t find a humble objective-wise group of men and women who can provide clarity and bring us together, then again I will suggest we are a house so deeply divided and that we will not stand.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Because the Culturally Appropriate Principle is the one we can most easily overlook, I have taken additional time and space to discuss it. In week one I pointed to several Biblical passages that describe the early church’s challenges with becoming cross-cultural—reaching the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Week two I talked about missionary concepts that when applied correctly they can help us find our way either over, under, around, or through the dividing wall between our culture and others in the world (Ephesians 2:14). Today's article provides some specific examples as we attempt to live as Paul lived.“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews…to those who are without the law, as without law…to the weak I became weak…I became all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:20-22).
To be clear, let me state that being culturally appropriate isn’t just a topic for conversations with individuals whose native language isn’t English or whose skin color is a bit different than our own. In fact, the first major cross-cultural experience of my life happened at the age of 16 when my family moved from northeast Wyoming to northeast Oklahoma. While the climate change was huge, the cultural shift was probably even greater. And one of those BIG shifts was the way people did church. But you don’t have to move 1,000 miles away to encounter cultural barriers. They can exist even in your own neighborhood.
A few days ago, I was visiting with John Mark Hansen about the Culturally Appropriate Principle. Many of you know John Mark. He and his wife Cheryl have worked among the Chinese in Taiwan and in Panama. The latter also required them to be able to navigate the Latino cultures of Costa Rico as well as Panama. As we discussed Barriers and Bridges, I asked him specifically about some things they encountered as they worked among the Chinese. He mentioned that a good connecting point with Chinese is that they love western wedding traditions.
But John Mark quickly switched the conversation to say that we needed to learn how to be cross-cultural in our own neighborhood. He then described two specific neighbors:
He said, “Stop and think for just a minute how differently you would start a conversation with these two very different neighbors, let alone begin a spiritual conversation.”
To expand on that reality, let me say that sometimes we have cross-cultural encounters within our own home. Advances in technology and huge shifts in cultural mores are forcing parents to have conversations with their children that they wish they didn’t have to have. And I’m not just talking about asking my grandkids how to use my cell phone. Day-to-day life can become very complex for those of us who grew up in the US.
When we are seeing to engage immigrant families, we need to understand they are living in that complexity as well, PLUS they are trying to figure out how to live in a world that’s vastly different from where they were raised. A conversation I often have with language pastors relates to the reality that their children cannot be raised as their parents raised them. That opportunity was lost when they immigrated to the U.S. Many immigrant parents struggle to make a living, and often both have to work to make ends meet. That means their children are often latch key kids. I’ve known immigrant parents who have been arrested for child neglect or even abuse because they were raising their children as they were raised. Sometimes an older child becomes the translator in day-to-day business transactions because their English skills are better than their parents. Stop to think about the role reversal that is taking place in such situations and the impact that has on a parent-child relationship. The pastor and leaders of a language church also have to figure out how they are going to minister to children and youth who are more comfortable in English than they are in their parent’s heart language. And they have to do it while they are figuring out how to survive themselves.
Paul’s philosophy for dealing with a complex, multi-cultural world in which he ministered (and first-century Corinth definitely fell into that category) was this: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (I Corinthians 9:19). A servant is called to be obedient to his master. As servants of God, we are called to “make disciples of all ethnic groups” (Matthew 28:18-20). Within the geographical boundaries of the Heartland Church Network we have hundreds of different cultures represented. Are you willing to take the time and effort to reach across those cultural divides for the sake of the Gospel?
John Mark and Cheryl Hansen are! As I was finishing this article, they stopped by the office to run off some sermon outlines as he will be a supply preacher at Harrison Street Baptist Church this next Sunday. With them was a lady from Iran (from the Persian culture) who just arrived in the US with her husband and two children. She has a psychology degree and her husband is enrolled at UNO, and he is pursuing post-doctoral work in bio-metrics. The Hansens have connected with this family to help them navigate their new world and to building relational bridges over which they pray God will open avenues for them to share the Gospel. Pray for them and for your own opportunities to build relational bridges.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Last week I began a description of the eighth strategic principle I have observed in effective disciple-making churches: Culturally Appropriate. Did you notice that the first part came out a day later than normal? I was trying to be culturally flexible and not my typical American Type A personality self. To be perfectly honest, the constraints of my calendar forced me to try and be “comfortable” with being late.
In my July 6th article where I introduced the eight principles, I pointed out that I have observed them in very diverse contexts: church planting, church revitalization, international missions, and inner-city ministry. I return to that reality to share with you that in these diverse cultural contexts application of these principles looked very different. A few weeks ago I was visiting with an effective disciple-maker who works in an inner-city ministry setting. He had recently been exposed to several individuals who were serving in a suburban context. Not knowing I was doing an article on culturally appropriate, he shared with me an “aha!” moment he had as he realized that how he was making disciples was—and needed to be—very different from how others were doing it. God’s timing is always perfect.
As we all seek to minister more effectively among our new immigrant communities, let me describe some missional concepts related to the culturally appropriate strategy.
● An important concept we have to keep in mind is Worldview. In this case I am not speaking of specifically of having a “Biblical” worldview. Here, I am referring to the reality that every culture will differ in how they do life. Worldview is a profile of the way the people within a specific culture live, act, think, work, and relate. It is a "map" of a culture's social, religious, economic and political views and relationships. A person’s worldview is so deeply engrained that we assume it is “the right way” to do life. There are issues that can and do impact how we relate and share the gospel with individuals whose worldview is different than ours. Understanding what is cultural and what is Biblical is not easy. Too often in our missionary enterprises we have exported as much culture as we have Gospel.
● A big issue for Americans is one I “jokingly” referred to above: We are a time conscious culture to a fault. When I add a personality quirk that requires me to maximize every minute, I end up doing time and motion studies to make sure I’m not too early (wasting time) but never late to appointments (disrespecting people). Contrast that with the majority of cultures in the world where they are just a little bit more laid back. As we are working with immigrants, we have to be willing to slow down, be genuinely interested in knowing who they are, understand why they are here, ask how we can pray for them, and ask how we can help them adapt in our country. In short, we have to practice Relational Evangelism.
● Another biggie is that cultures will vary in how they balance individual rights and responsibilities with the rights and responsibilities of the group. In America, that balance has historically been heavy on the individual rights side of the spectrum. For us rugged American individualism types from Wyoming, we are struggling as that pendulum has been swinging slowly but consistently towards the needs of the whole. An all too fresh—and very controversial—example is the tension between an individual’s right to go without a mask and without a vaccination versus the desires of the group to live without being exposed to another person’s germs.
A few years ago, I flew to a meeting and took a taxi to and from the motel. On both trips I had drivers from Eritrea and as you would suspect, I engaged the drivers in conversation. In response to what they found different in America, I will never forget that both of them talked about how hard they had to work to make a living. One expressly stated that at home he had a wealthy uncle that provided for family members. To make disciples in cultures which place a very high value on caring for family and friends it will help if we understand there will be individuals in those cultures who serve as Gatekeepers.
Missionaries sometimes call these individuals a Person of Peace (Luke 10:6). In the book of Acts we see that the centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10), and the seller of purple, Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), were individuals who opened the door to the gospel in their cultural settings. Gatekeepers can be spiritually open to the gospel themselves as were Cornelius and Lydia or they can be uninterested but non restrictive permission-givers granting us access and favor with the people in that culture.
Another excellent Biblical example of a Gatekeeper is that of Crispus in Corinth. Paul encountered significant resistance from the Jewish community (which was not unusual) but Crispus’ acceptance of the Gospel opened a significant door for belief.
They opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:6-8)
● Along with the concept of “Person of Peace,” missionaries are taught to look for Bridges and Barriers to the gospel within a particular culture. A Bridge is something within in a culture that provides a natural and easy avenue for sharing the Gospel. Barriers can be either cultural or political and at times will include both. I will share some specific examples of each in next week’s article.
In the last two articles I have pointed to some of the Biblical passages and some missional concepts related to the culturally appropriate strategic principle. Next week I will give some specific examples of how these can be applied in our day-to-day world
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, equipping/reproduction, alignment, and intentional/proactive principles that I have observed in effective disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the Culturally Appropriate Principle. This was the last strategic principle I encountered. As a preacher, I was more than content with seven, after all it is the Biblical number of completeness and perfection.
However, when I had the privilege of sharing my list of seven principles with Jim Slack over dinner at a missions conference in central Missouri, he was very affirming of my list, but he also very quickly (and appropriately so) said you missed one: culturally appropriate. Slack passed away in late 2018. At the time he was described as “An unassuming man always in good humor, who became one of Southern Baptists’ most influential missiologists during a 50-year career with the International Mission Board.” A phrase he often used was “Hello World!” It was his enthusiastic greeting to coworkers and his exclamation whenever he learned something new.
“Hello world” is an appropriate introduction to the culturally appropriate principle. Not since the late 1800s has the United States experienced the level of immigration that we have seen take place in the last twenty years. The earlier immigration peak shifted the Christian culture in America as Catholics and Lutherans flooded into the country. In particular, they shaped the upper Midwest where they homesteaded and established (platted out) city after city and started hundreds of churches. Baptist churches existed in Nebraska long before a single Catholic or Lutheran church was established, but by the early 1900s Catholics and Lutherans made up the vast majority of our residents. Prior to that immigration period, the US was overwhelmingly Protestant. By the end of that period, the Roman Catholic Church was the largest denomination in America.
Current immigration patterns along with cultural shifts are quickly transforming us from a Christian nation into a secular, religiously pluralistic country. That reality will only expand as we bring a huge number of Afghans, who are predominantly Muslim, into our nation. Those of us who grew up in Christian culture are being faced with the reality that we must adopt the practices of the Apostle Paul.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews…to those who are without the law, as without law…to the weak I became weak…I became all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I Corinthians 9:20-22
A question we need to be asking is, “How do these significant changes impact our disciple-making process?” Let me suggest a couple of answers.
1. We have to realize that we will connect best with those who share our cultural background. Part of the strategy Paul used in the book of Acts was to begin at the local synagogue where he told his Jewish brethren that their long-awaited Messiah had come (Acts 13:5-6, 14-15, etc.). He built upon the foundation of a common culture and saw God establish churches everywhere he went.
2. But we can’t stop there. We have to develop a heart for all people. Acts describes the slow shift that took place as the early church began to slowly and hesitatingly understand
Jesus’ statement, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
4. We must also be willing to adapt when we find ourselves in a cross-cultural setting. Paul did this in Athens where he addressed the elite on Mars’ Hill using an inscription on an altar that read “to the unknown god.” As is true of every encounter with someone far from God, Paul had a mixed response: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (Acts 17:18-34).
Although it is the last principle I will discuss, it is definitely not the least important. In fact, changes in our culture demand a further expansion on this point. So stay tuned as I expand my comments next week.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.