In this final post in the ‘Wrestling’ series I want to ask why it is I feel the need for others to agree with me, and why I feel threatened when they don’t.
People who know me remark that I am a pretty laid back person. This was not always the case. My days as a student minister were spent packing my head with grand church growth theories, preaching techniques and a conviction that if I did X, Y & Z correctly, God would be pleased.
I recall with shame how we would strategise and scheme in deacons and elders meetings. Once we had set ourselves a course of action we would devise another plan to ‘get our proposal through the Church meeting’. We would identify the opinion formers, write a comprehensive presentation whilst anticipating potential objections, all in the belief that we were right because we had thought it through in such fine detail.
Time and again we would march everyone to the top of a hill, and mostly we would get our way. We won most of our little battles but very little changed. The mostly male leadership team were experts at thinking strategically, focused on making right decisions
but I can’t say we thought deeply about what our motives were. We were masters at telling people, but not at finding the right questions or at listening to anyone but ourselves. People became obstacles, not individuals we were willing to invest in. But it was all so invigorating at the time because we were driven, we were united in a common aim, and we were convinced we were right.
I tell this story because I am convinced that none of you will disagree that what we were trying to do was commendable. It is only hindsight that convinces me that doing the right things for wrong reasons can do more harm than good.
Our weakness was that we were better trained, more intelligent than most, we were successful, respected, diligent and knew our stuff. And we used all those assets to try and make the people we were leading agree with us. In just the same way we taught ‘correct’ theology and churchmanship from the pulpit irrespective of whether it helped people live better lives. It may have done so, but that was not our primary concern.
So let me draw this series to a conclusion, and in doing so reflect on the two questions I began this post with. The older I get the more I realise that there are very few certainties, and one of them is that if I remain open minded I am likely to learn new facts about myself and the world that will change the way I believe. My desire for certainty during my less mature years had much more to do with the need to belong, to be secure and to be right than I realised.
Certainty fulfils a comforting function, but also represents an end point to the thinking process and a hill to die on, rather than an invitation to dialogue and mutual growth. The worst kind of certainty is anything we believe is demanded by God, since those beliefs are pretty near impossible to shift. I can still recall previously-held beliefs that were completely irrational and I no longer believe, but as long as I thought them necessary to be thought of as a good Christian I held on tenaciously and had a very difficult battle letting them go.
Why we believe something is just as significant as what we believe, but it is a much more difficult question to find answers to. When Nicodemus sought Jesus in the dead of night, his beliefs were correct. Where he was lacking was that he wasn’t prepared to act on them. Maybe the dilemma we face within our Baptist family comes because we have reversed this equation. We have a collection of individuals who are committed to trying to live lives of dedication to God but don’t currently believe exactly the same things. Can we not imagine that Jesus might be looking at our willingness to serve him and be saying “that is enough?” Difference does not need to be a threat. It can be an opportunity. All we need is the grace to allow others who believe differently to walk their own path.