SEEING THE BIG PICTURE OF MINISTERIAL UNITY
BY G. R. TRAVIS
Look at the picture. What do you see? If you answered, “An acorn,” you are right. However, a depth of perception will allow you to
see more than just an acorn. Think for a minute. Do you see more? You say, “Yes, I see a tree.” Think again.
How about a forest, buildings, or fine furniture? This is seeing the big picture.
As the oak, the forest, the buildings, and the furniture are wrapped in the acorn, even so our success is wrapped in the folds of
our being. Yet the acorn’s potential will never be realized until it is planted. Likewise, we are more than human beings, we are humans becoming. God gives us the raw material to work with, but what we become is our choice.
In the process of becoming, some things are inevitable–death, taxes, and conflict. It would be wonderful if we could use all of our
energy in a productive way, without ever being distracted from our purpose. However, that is not possible. Even when putting forth our best efforts, conflicts will arise. According to a recent survey, forty percent of pastors reported a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month. Often, it is even worse. With the best of circumstances, pastors are still under extreme pressure. Ministers have more pressure than they deserve. Let us never be guilty of adding to the burdens of a fellow minister.
Our interaction with others reveals what we are. People do not think the same. We have egos, different agendas, and different motives. This is illustrated by the harassment of communist-controlled East Berlin toward free West Berlin. East Berlin dumped a load of garbage on West Berlin. In return, West Berlin took a truckload of new, perishable goods and unloaded it on East Berlin. They put up a sign which read, “Each gives what he has to give.”
We establish and live by our own values, and feel good about it. However, often others do not subscribe to our values and actions.
Therefore, they feel that we are, at best, unethical and, at worst, sinful. To interact with others effectively and productively requires a proper relationship. And the strength of a relationship is determined by the ability to work together under pressure.
We live in a world of growing complexity and diversity. Simple things, like buying a loaf of bread, require making a decision between perhaps a dozen choices. Some choices are simple and easily controlled. Yet others are very complicated. In an attempt to be in control, we often personalize issues. Then, when issues become personal, challenges become personal affronts. Ultimately, misunderstandings develop, causing conflicts.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is communicating properly. After the doctor diagnosed a lady’s health problems, he prescribed the appropriate medication, and said, “You must take this medication the rest of your life.” After she filled the prescription and returned home, she called the doctor. “Doctor,” she said, “did you tell me that I must take this medication the rest of my life?” “Yes,” said the doctor. With great concern in her voice, she said, “Doctor, how long will I live? On the bottle it says no refills.”
How do we settle our conflicts? Someone suggested that the best way is to swap problems. We know what to do with the other person’s problems. It would be wonderful if it was that simple, but it is not.
First, we must decide what the problem is. We cannot find a solution to a problem if we do not know what the problem is. A customer sent the following letter of complaint to the president of the Pontiac Division of General Motors:
This is the second time I have written you, and I don’t blame you for not answering me, because what I have to say sounds kind of crazy.
But it is a fact that we have a tradition in our family of eating ice cream for dessert after dinner each night. But the kind of ice cream varies. So every night, after we’ve eaten, the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it.
It’s also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac, and since then my trips to the store have created a problem. You see, every
time I buy vanilla ice cream, when I start back from the store my car won’t start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts fine.
I want you to know I’m serious about this question, no matter how silly it sounds: “What is there about a Pontiac that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start whenever I get any other kind?”
The president was understandably skeptical about the letter but sent an engineer to check it out. He was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously, well-educated man in a fine neighborhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinner, so the two got in the car and drove to the ice cream store. It was vanilla ice cream that night, and sure enough, the car wouldn’t start.
The engineer returned three more nights. The first night, chocolate. The car started. The second night he got strawberry. The car
started. The third night he got vanilla. Again the car failed to start.
The engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this man’s car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged, therefore, to continue his visits for as long as it took to solve the problem. He jotted down all sorts of data, time of day, types of gas used, time to drive back and forth, etc.
In a short time, he had a clue. The man took more time to buy any other flavor than vanilla. Why? The layout of the store. Vanilla, the most popular flavor, was in a separate case at the front of the store for quick pickup. All other flavors were kept in the back of the store at a different counter, where it took longer to find the flavor and get checked out.
Now the question for the engineer was why the car wouldn’t start when it took less time. Once time became the problem and not the vanilla ice cream, the engineer quickly came up with the answer–vapor lock. The extra time taken to get the other flavors allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to start.
Practice the Golden Rule. Ask yourself the question, “Is this best for all concerned?” It is easy to expect others to manifest a
Christlike attitude, but are we willing to do the same? A mother was cooking pancakes for her two sons. Only one pancake was left on the plate, and the boys were arguing over who would get it. The mother said, “Boys, that is no way to act. If Jesus were one of you, He would say, ‘You take that one; I can wait.”‘ Bill looked at his brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.”
We should have an ethical checklist. Ask yourself three questions:
1. Is it legal? Will I be violating either our bylaws or civil law?
2. Is it fair and balanced? Are all people involved in the decision being treated fairly–in both the short and long term? Will
certain individuals get hurt?
3. How will I feel when it is done? How will the decision make me feel about myself? Will I be proud of what I did? If what I did was published in the newspaper, would I feel good about my friends and family reading it?
Much of what we call bad is good in the wrong place or used in the wrong way. Fire is good if it is contained in a furnace to heat a
building, or in a controlled setting. However, when fire is out of control, it can be devastating. Fertilizer is good when used for plant food, but it is bad if consumed by humans. Good can become bad. Truth is bad if it becomes a weapon against others. Beauty is bad if it becomes vanity. Love is bad if it becomes possessive. Loyalty is bad if it becomes blind, careless trust. Tolerance is bad if it becomes indifference. Self-confidence is bad if it becomes arrogance. Faith is bad if it becomes self-righteous.
The United Pentecostal Church International allows latitude for personal convictions. Unfortunately, while some demand their right to have personal convictions, they will not allow others the same privilege. For the sake of discussion, let us assume that the rich young ruler accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation. He sold all of his possessions and gave them to the poor. He left all and followed Jesus. Later, someone said to him, “Since you have been saved, you seem to be very happy. Tell me what I must do to have joy like you have.” Assume that he said, “The first thing you must do to be saved is to sell all you have and give it to the poor.” We all know that God does not require us to sell all of our possessions to be saved. That was a requirement for him, but it was a personal thing.
When I first began in the ministry, a hot topic of discussion was whether to use wine or grape juice in communion. That issue has never been settled, and perhaps never will. However, there is enough latitude to disagree on the nonessentials without being disagreeable.
The United Pentecostal Church International allows latitude for personal preferences. Some things we will never agree on-music,
temperature, PA system, etc. If you find two people who agree on everything, rest assured that one of them is doing all of the thinking. We can disagree, yet not be disagreeable. In disagreeing, we should never contend for our private views to the disunity of the body. The ability to disagree and work together under pressure determines the strength of a relationship. Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.
Some contend that ministers should have liberty in the pulpit. That statement needs qualifying. What do we mean by liberty? Does that mean that in the pulpit we can preach idiosyncrasies? Does it mean that we are at liberty to attack others by calling names? Such action causes disunity and defeat. When you say “liberty in the pulpit,” if that means to preach the Word of God without fear or favor, then I agree with you. If you mean that you have liberty to vent your personal frustrations or settle personal vendettas, then I disagree.
As a young minister I learned a valuable lesson on how not to use the pulpit. A lady in one church that I pastored irritated me. Perhaps much of the problem was that I failed to realize that I was a servant. It has been said, “The way you know if you are a servant is the way you react when someone treats you like one.” However, in my frustration I went to the pulpit one night fully intending to “burst her hide.” (Pardon my terminology.) And I did, but after the service was over, I felt like a dirty, mangy dog. I repented and told God that if He would forgive me that I would never do that again as long as I live. That has been over forty years ago. You may ask, “Have you not been firm in your preaching since then?” Yes, many times I have preached more forcefully than I did that night.
However, there was a great difference. That particular night I preached with a vindictive, get even attitude instead of a redemptive
attitude. I never want to abuse the pulpit to get even with someone. I want to use it to bring people to God or to enhance their relationship with Him. Paul said in II Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word . . . with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
As legend has it, a woodsman decided to cut down a giant tree. The tree complained each time the ax hit. After chopping a long time, the woodsman put a wedge of wood in the gap. He drove the wedge in until the tree fell. The tree then said, “I complained about the woodsman and the ax, but it was my brother that ultimately made me fall.”
Irreparable damage can be done to a brother through an unthoughtful, inconsiderate act or deed. Let us never be guilty of
adding burdens or causing the downfall of a brother. Rather, “let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Often we have to work through misunderstandings and differences, because of individual personalities. However, there is strength in diversity, but not in disunity. Diversity without unity is like having eggs, flour, cooking oil, and sugar on a plate and calling it a cake. All the ingredients for a cake are present, but until they are properly blended and baked, you do not have a cake. When we accept the differences in others, our diversity can and should create unity. Then the strengths of others compensate for our weakness.
Unity is a prerequisite for the church to fulfill God’s purpose. It is achieved by accepting our similarities, respecting our
differences, and working together as a team. Even freckles would make a good tan, if they would just get together. Vance Havner said, “The temple of truth has never suffered so much from woodpeckers on the outside as from termites within.” Solomon warned in Proverbs 6:16, “These six things cloth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: . . . he that soweth discord among brethren.
Deception is one of the hallmarks of this generation, and many are deceived into thinking that as long as they love and proclaim
truth, they are okay. The essentiality of loving the truth is made clear in II Thessalonians 2:10-12: “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” However, by manifesting a rattlesnake spirit, we will never convince others that we love the truth. We must also love peace. “These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16). “Thus saith the LORD of hosts . . . love the truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).
The British classicist Michael Grant identified the internal flaws that caused the fall of Rome. He said it was the degradation of
values, the erosion of institutions, and the creation of a vacuum in the moral order that ought to unify a nation. He saw disunity as the primary cause of the fall of Rome. Among the many problems he noted were the large gulf between social classes, the failure of the government and the people to communicate with and trust one another, the breakdown of alliances between nations, and complacency on the part of the citizens. (See The Fall of the Roman Empire–A Reappraisal, 1976.) Brother Tekhlemarian said, “We never pray for revival in Ethiopia. We pray for unity, and revival comes as a result of that unity.”
A seven-member pack of Arctic wolves had targeted several musk oxen calves. The calves were guarded by eleven adult oxen. As the wolves approached, the musk oxen bunched in an impenetrable semicircle with their deadly rear hoofs facing out. The calves remained safe during a long standoff with the enemy. Then, a single ox broke rank and the herd scattered into nervous little groups. A skirmish followed, and the adults finally fled in panic, leaving the calves to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived. (See National Geographic, May 1987.)
Ministers breaking rank cause great confusion. Let this be our motto: In essentials we are together, in nonessentials we grant
liberty, in all things we have unity. God never intended for the church to be a battleground of conflicting ideologies or an arena where people compete with one another. Those things are of the world, not the church. It is brotherly love that makes us stand out in contrast to the world. Instead of destroying each other, we should prefer, honor, and trust each other. We should protect, bear the burdens, and seek the good of each other. Let us never follow the example of Saul, who prophesied with a javelin in his hand. “And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand” (I Samuel 18:10). It is unfortunate that too often we have to protect ourselves from each other.
An Asian hermit lived in a remote village, tending his garden and spending much of his time in prayer. One day he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, so he obeyed, setting out on foot. Weary weeks later, he arrived in the city at the time of a great festival. The little monk followed the crowd surging down the streets into the Colosseum. He saw the gladiators stand before the emperor and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” Then he realized these men were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!”
As the games began, he pushed his way through the crowd, climbed over the wall, and dropped to the floor of the arena. When the crowd saw this tiny figure rushing to the gladiators and saying, “In the name of Christ, stop!” they thought it was part of the show and began laughing. When they realized it was not, the laughter turned to anger. As he was pleading with the gladiators to stop, one of them plunged a sword into his body. He fell to the sand. As he was dying, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop!”
Then a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at the tiny figure lying there. A hush fell over the Colosseum. Way up in the upper rows a man stood and made his way to the exit. Others began to follow. In dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. The year was A.D. 391, and that was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again in the great stadium did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd, all because of one tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. One voice–one life–that spoke the truth in God’s name.
It is heartbreaking to see people destroy each other, but it is unthinkable for preachers to do so. God warns us not to rejoice even
when an enemy falls. “Rejoice not when shine enemy falleth, and let not shine heart be glad when he stumbleth: lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:1718). How can anyone, then, justify an uncaring, divisive, malicious attitude?
A distant look will cure most of our problems. A lady who lived in the mountains was having trouble with her eyes. The doctor said, “Your eyes are tired from too much typing. Find the most distant point you can see and look at it for about fifteen minutes each day. The far look will heal your eyes.” “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Psalm 121:1). “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah’s heart was saddened by the death of his friend Uzziah. However, he said, “I saw also the Lord.” We will have problems, and conflicts, but we can resolve them when we see also the Lord.
Brother Travis is the superintendent of the Mississippi District.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE FORWARD MAGAZINE, FALL 1999, PAGES 2-5.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.