If you are just starting this series of posts, or if you are following along and have trouble remembering my meandering argument, allow me to sum up the line of thought so far:
- Part One was about how tempting it is to learn something new and then feel like somehow we’ve found the key that will unlock the potential of our church/work/ministry to have more effect–because it is how the early church did things/understood the world. We then tend to theologize (or baptize) our preferences as being God’s way.
- Part Two was a quick survey of three varied historical movements that had massive results for generations. In spite of the variances in their methodologies, we found four commonalities that kept them together: Devotion to Spiritual Practices, Ministry models that fit the context, Intentional leadership training and Enduring the pain of leadership. The conclusion is that there’s not really a “quick-fix” outside of the character of the leadership.
- Part Three was how our cultural bias forces us into an emotional reaction to other versions of the “right” way to do things for (and with) God. We concluded that our best efforts are to be humble learners and patient leaders in spite of our differences.
So, as we conclude this series, I want to discuss the unseen enemy behind these problems.
Everyone knows we have an enemy. I don’t just mean Christians… look around at our world today. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, celebrity feuds, continuing (actual) wars, religious conflict, tension with your neighbors, a co-worker, an ex, or even inside our own hearts–enmity is part of the mesh of our existence.
Unfortunately, when we fall into the temptation of thinking our way is the best way, that a quick-fix will help, or that our understanding of how to do things is God’s way, we end up making enemies of people who should not only be friends, but colleagues and partners in the task God has given us.
There are a lot of different explanations for this, and a lot of dangerous thinking comes into play. We have all KINDS of errors here: Ad hominem, straw man, negative attribution, assumption, generalization, unforgiveness, and vengeance–the Usual Suspects. We blame society, prejudice, politics, and parents. But the real Kaiser Soze¹ in the division that surrounds us is our ancient spiritual enemy.
Boxing the Invisible
The picture here is from the Hero Fortress on the Belarus/Poland border.
The story was that in WWII Hitler wanted the fortress defeated in 24 hours. But due to the passionate defense of the Soviet soldiers, it took eight days. 6800 Soviet troops died there, but the historians that spoke to us on the tour revealed that those eight days gave the Soviets enough warning to get ready for the invasion. We sometimes wish that our spiritual conflict was so apparent! The people in the other uniform? Enemy.
But it’s never like that. It’s like trying to have a boxing match with the invisible man. We keep getting punched, but we never seem to know if our wild swings do any damage. Spiritual warfare just has problems that are hard to work out. Invariably, because it’s unseen, opinions range widely about what we’re talking about… and, like you might expect, this issue falls directly in line with the other three posts that have already been published. It’s the same thing:
I’ve never experienced anything like that…I just don’t know if I can believe this…
You’re obviously not taking psychology and medicine into account when you explain it away by blaming it on a demon.
If you’re not dealing with the spiritually oppressed you’re not doing gospel-centered ministry!
And this same pattern repeats itself. Because this issue is actually UNSEEN it gets even more complicated. So, because we’re fighting an unseen enemy, we need to acknowledge that it’s not just preference…
Confusion and Fear
I remember as a child being so afraid of what was out in the dark. Vampires, werewolves, Freddy Krueger… you name it. I knew, knew that as soon as I got far enough away from the light, they were coming to get me. Our enemy specializes in confusion and fear. The reason is that when we’re afraid we react badly. It’s adrenaline and cortisol; the old fight or flight syndrome writ large in our social lives.
The church at (x) does things so differently that we feel uncomfortable! Let’s just ignore them, do our own thing, and hope they go away.
You don’t support discipleship making movements? Then clearly you don’t care about finishing the task or being obedient to the gospel!
Individualism is the enemy! That means we have to use small groups to get people into “community,” and, if you don’t, you don’t blah blah blah. Ugh. I get tired of typing this…
If a spirit is an “unbodily, personal, power.”² it can be hard to nail down when, where and how they work. Boxing the invisible man can be confusing indeed.
If evil spirits can use all of our temptations, opinions, and weaknesses to divide us based on the way we do things, or how we perceive things should be done, then he effectively reduces our capacity to obey God and focus on our work. It gets our eyes off of our real enemy and turns our sights on our allies. It starts us questioning the motives of others and attributing terrible motives to their behavior. Once we see them act in any kind of way that reinforces that negative assumption, we begin to either fight or flee. Edwin Friedman says that this kind of anxiety pushes us to “herd” or “abandon.”³
The end result is that instead of unity, power, cooperation, and momentum, we’re divided and bickering. Instead of funding outreach programs and developing societal inroads, we poison our own water systems and pour sugar into our own gas tanks. Worst of all, our critical thinking can soon turn into a cynical spirit. We lose the capacity to suspend judgment, the ability to have joy for others and patience for understanding. We gain only a reputation of a jerk; of someone who is proud of how many mistakes they’ve avoided.
As professors, pastors and leaders we ARE called to confront evil, to look for truth, and to push others to healthy, wise ways of doing things. Our loyalty to God has to come before our feelings about others. But, what I have been learning is that our evaluations should develop slowly… in relationship. It should come through conversation, clarification of intent and grace rather than in broad statements that condemn. As I’ve grown in these practices, I’ve become good friends with people I never would have taken the time for earlier. And I’m richer for it.
Conclusion: Love and Wisdom
Why write a four-part series to blandly conclude with this idea? Because without all of the background, saying “It’s Love and Wisdom” sounds to me like a reused version of Bonhoeffer’s “Cheap Grace.” It’s easy to interpret this as a mushy quick-fix or another self-righteous plea to ignore things that are not healthy and just accept whatever. This approach dismisses things like suffering and persecution for following God. It shoves truth to the side and elevates our preferences anyway. It kills courage and lowers the calling of Jesus to pick up our cross. It means that when we really have to stand and defend ourselves, we are fighting inside and outside the fortress. It is here the invisible enemy uses us to defeat ourselves.
Love and Wisdom, used together, allow us to be involved in Grace and Truth. These are the twin supports that help us hold strong when someone chastises us with another “discovery” about the way things should be. We can lovingly evaluate new ideas and then listen and use as needed, without creating a new enemy or losing the courage to do what we are called to accomplish. We can use love and wisdom to approach a new model, a new program or a new trend in ministry. Who knows…it might be beneficial. Instead of outright dismissal (like what I originally did with Rooted), we get the chance to evaluate new things in the light of a loving and wise way. Maybe that new-yet-old idea is ideal for your context. Maybe not. Either way, we stay united in purpose against our true, common enemy. Right now we really need each other.
Would you pray that the Holy Spirit helps you see others with love and wisdom first? Co-workers, your boss, your direct reports–even your own strategy?
The next few posts will be more in line with what I’ve done in the past… more narrative-based writing designed to start a conversation. It has been good for me to do this four-part series though. As each post goes up, I will always be praying it’s helpful and encouraging to you.
Let me know how I can pray for you. Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments and I always appreciate it when you share.
¹Kaiser Soze is the name of the villain in the movie “The Usual Suspects.” He is a fictional character that is blamed for all the terrible and evil things that happen…the surprise ending is one of the great reveals in “bad guy” movie history (note: if you don’t like vile language in movies, don’t watch this one…).
²This is Dr. Dallas Willard’s description. I have not seen a better. See Spirit of the Disciplines for the full explanation.
³Look at his book A Failure of Nerve for more on how people do this… caveat, you have to really want to read this book…