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Dissenting in Peace
So You Disagree . . . by Ron Kraybill, Dave Brubaker, Barbara Date, and Arlene Kelly, Mennonite Conciliation Service, $45
Reviewed by Martin B. Copenhaver, pastor, First Congregational Church, Burlington, Vermont
A line in The Music Man says people in Iowa can "stand nose to nose for days and days and never see eye to eye." How often this describes life in a church! The source of conflict can be anything from a point of doctrine to the color of new drapes. Whatever the cause, conflict can devastate a church, because accompanying such disagreements is the uneasy feeling that conflict does not belong in the church.
This helpful study kit with audio cassette tapes is produced by the Mennonite Conciliation Service (21 South 12th Street, Akron, PA 17501-price includes postage). It challenges the notion that a church can or should be free from conflict. The very title recognizes its inevitability. The presenters point out that the Bible is shot through with examples of God's people in conflict; disagreement has been part of the church from the beginning.
Those who avoid church conflict at all costs, they say, discover the cost of avoidance is high. Evading conflict usually means pushing it to the shadowed edges of a church, where it will grow in virulence. The effective approach is not to avoid conflict but to learn how to fight. An odd prescription, but the speakers persuasively contend that conflict can be an opportunity for increased understanding if it's confronted skillfully. This tape series can provide many of the needed skills.
When You Disagree . . . grew out of the experience of the MCS in mediating conflict within scores of local churches. As a result, the material has explicitly biblical roots. As strange as it may seem, many books about conflict-even conflict within a church-fail to include the biblical perspective. Here, an entire unit brings it center stage, and the perspective is present throughout.
The series is also practical at every step. I approached one section, "The Foreign Language of Caring," with some trepidation, fearing I would be asked to learn jargon. What I found instead were basic skills such as "paraphrasing" (learning to state in your own words another person's view in order to show there is understanding) and "agreement statements" (by which a person states where he agrees with another person before pointing out differences). The material is a good introduction for those who have never studied conflict resolution and a welcome refresher for those who have.
Each principle is illustrated with examples, and anyone who has worked in a church will hear familiar themes. On one tape, for instance, two presenters act out a conversation between Frank, the chairman of the missions committee, and Jane, a committee member, after a meeting. Frank accuses Jane of making negative comments and never supporting him, and she claims he comes into meetings with his mind made up and never listens to what she has to offer.
After the role-play, the conversation between Frank and Jane is analyzed to show why it's unproductive. The presenters point to accusatory "you" statements that cause defensiveness, as well as several generalizations that keep both parties from addressing the real problems.
The presenters then offer a second role-play of the conversation, this time dealing with the issues more productively.
Four people present units in the series: Ron Kraybill and Dave Brubaker of the MCS; Barbara Date, a consultant with the Church of the Brethren, and Arlene Kelly of Friends Meeting, Philadelphia.
The series includes ten units on six audio tapes, each with teacher's guide and handouts. Each unit addresses a different aspect of conflict resolution, such as "Personal Styles in Conflict," "Developing Collaborative Skills," and "An Overview of the Mediation Process." The units are complementary, but they build only loosely on one another. Although this means the approach is not completely unified, it does have the advantage that individual units can be used effectively.
The tapes usually last fifteen minutes to allow plenty of time for group discussion. The series could be used effectively with different groups-an adult education class that wants to learn how to manage conflict, or a church committee in which conflict is likely to arise.
Although written materials are an integral part of the series, it is the tapes that set it apart from other resources on church conflict. They give life to the examples offered, and one learns from the rhythm and tone of conversations, something a book can't reproduce. Also, a group can listen to a tape together, and this shared experience seems fitting for a group that aims to work through conflict together. I only wish the MCS would take the next step and produce a video series. If we could see, rather than just hear described, the "body language" and other visual clues to conflict resolution, important new dimensions would be added.
In a conversation with MCS director Ron Kraybill, I commented that it seemed appropriate that such a helpful resource should come from a Christian tradition long identified as a "peace church." He responded: "In the past, Mennonites have focused largely on only one aspect of peacemaking, 'We will not go to war.' But we recognize there's a more manageable place to start. Now we also ask, 'How do we deal with conflict in our own lives? How can our churches be places of reconciliation? How can peacemaking become a way of life?' "
This series can be a good place for a church to start in answering those important questions.
Finding the Church's Missing in Action
Reclaiming Inactive Church Members by Mark S. Jones, Broadman, $3.25
Reviewed by Dave Wilkinson, pastor, Moorpark Presbyterian Church, Moorpark, California
Reclaiming inactive church members-the hardest task facing the church. These people think they already know everything the church has to offer and have voted no with their feet. Church growth expert Lyle Schafer suggests that the best way to reach hardcore inactives is to swap inactive lists with another church. In other words, reaching your own inactives is a task that borders on the hopeless. In my own experience, I find it's easier to reach a new person than a disillusioned member. This is especially true if I am perceived, rightly or wrongly, as part of the problem.
Now Mark Jones has written Reclaiming Inactive Church Members. The title alone is enough to make you take notice. Who doesn't want to close the proverbial back door?
Jones, pastor of Arlington Heights Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, points out the degree of the problem: based on church attendance, 38 percent of adult American church members can be considered inactive. But Jones claims that his emphasis on reclaiming inactive members dramatically increased participation from his inactives.
Jones doesn't offer a quick fix. He writes: "There are no short cuts to reclaiming inactive members. This ministry requires a compassionate willingness to make yourself vulnerable to share the pain others are experiencing."
Jones starts with the process of inactivity. He explores the dynamics of conflict, unmet expectations, lack of affinity with the other people in the church, and the fact that some people can't relate no matter what church they attend.
Notably lacking in his discussion of causes was sin in the member's life-inactivity due to a cognitive dissonance between the teachings of the church and the lifestyle of the individual. I called Jones to ask about this. He replied: "I don't think it's helpful to put my workers in the position of saying 'You're lost, and that's why you aren't coming to church anymore.' Our purpose is to reclaim the desire for Christian community that was in their lives earlier."
Jones moves to the psychological dimension of inactivity. He writes: "Up to 90 percent of inactive church members can recall a specific event that led to their inactivity. By studying the lives of several of these people, a common and predictable pattern emerges. First, there is the event that led to the anxiety. Second, the member seeks to ease his anxiety by expressing his discomfort. Finally, if not responded to, the member begins to drop out of the church." He warns: "The longer these withdrawal actions continue, the less likely it is that the member can be reclaimed. Members may hold out hope for ministry for about six to eight weeks. They will then begin to set their inactivity in concrete. Any effective ministry of reclamation must occur during this crucial time."
Jones isn't offering a way to reclaim those already set in concrete. But he is offering a way to keep the cement truck away from members' doors.
He then proceeds to explore the spiritual dimensions of inactivity in a chapter on "The Kingdom of God" and outlines basic church growth principles in the chapter "Is There Enough Room?"
I approached the next major section, "Theological Foundations," with hesitance. Would there be anything new or just a rehashing of familiar themes? What I found was a high-quality discussion not of inactivity, but of activity-the "biblical meaning of and rationale for active participation in the local church."
The focus of Jones's approach, I was beginning to discover, is not the pastor's "going out there and bringing 'em back," but the pastor's equipping the people of the church to exercise discipline. "Rather than viewing discipline as a holy battle of purging the church of dead wood and carnal, backslidden members," he writes, "discipline should be seen as part of the caring concern of the church, actively seeking the welfare of its own." He provides a useful tool for church people to deal with the inactive member in a biblical, caring way-listening to the pain. An inactive person is acutely aware of his "denial of discipleship."
Having defined and explored inactivity, Jones is ready for the question people buy books like this to have answered: What are we going to do about it? The bottom line of ministry to inactives, he answers, "is that two people get together and have some kind of meaningful communication. Ideas must be exchanged and relationships established. In order for this to occur, someone has to take the initiative and it won't be the inactive member. That's why we call them 'inactive.' " The rest of the book is devoted to how to make this communication happen.
The chapters in this section include "Defining the Process of Inactivity," "Identifying Inactive Members," and the key final chapter, "Mobilizing for Ministry," which includes insights on selecting and training workers (described to me as "people with tough skin and a soft heart"), learning to listen, dealing with resistance, recognizing "inactivity games," probing for information, and leaving the door open for future visits. Jones outlines a way to identify potentials for reclamation over the telephone, how to assign contacts, and how to maintain accountability. The approach is highly realistic-including the recognition that "most, if not all, of the persons reclaimed will have to be reclaimed again. No onetime project can change the dispositions and personalities of persons. Reclamation ministries require long periods of time and consistent, loving effort."
In thinking about Jones's book, I was reminded of the story of a man who approached evangelist Dwight L. Moody's songleader and declared: "I believe in winning people to Christ, but I don't like the way you do it."
The songleader replied, "We don't like the way we do it, either. Tell me, how do you do it?"
The man, taken aback, muttered, "Well, I'm not sure that I really do it."
"In that case," came the simple answer, "I like our way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
That's how I feel about Reclaiming Inactive Church Members. I'm not sure I like Jones's way of doing it. It doesn't give the quick and sure fix I want to the problem of inactives. It sounds like a lot of hard work. But I certainly like Jones's way of doing it better than any way of not doing it.
The Largest Mission Field
The Urban Christian by Ray Bakke with Jim Hart, InterVarsity, $6.95
Reviewed by Raleigh Washington, pastor, Rock of Our Salvation Free Church, Chicago, Illinois
By the year 2000, just twelve years away, 75 percent of the earth's population will be living in cities. The startling corollary: If we do not understand urban society and have a strategy for evangelizing it, we will be unable to reach three-fourths of the world's people.
Ray Bakke, professor of ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and senior associate of large cities for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, provides real help in his book The Urban Christian. I consider it must reading. Pastors need it to preach knowledgeably about missions, and lay people need it to understand the central reality of world missions in coming years. The book doesn't have all the answers, but if taken seriously, it will provide the proper perspective and direction for reaching the growing number of city dwellers. And its conversational style makes it highly readable.
Although the book covers many elements of urban ministry, three especially resonated with my experience as an inner-city pastor.
First, the condition rapidly becoming a hallmark of large cities: widespread unemployment and resulting poverty. Poverty, Bakke points out, is powerlessness, so one critical need in inner-city ministry is to empower people.
In chapter 5, Bakke discusses ways to do this in the church: allowing people to participate in decisions big and small. He describes how as a pastor he led his inner-city Chicago church, Fairfield Avenue Baptist, in a process to decide what color to paint the church. It took three months, which may seem excessive at first glance.
Because the neighborhood and church were poor and racially mixed, however, a quick decision would have caused certain groups to feel left out. So they painted each of four windows in a different color. Once each month during a Sunday morning service, they voted on which color they liked least, then removed that color. This continued until one color was left. A similar process was used to decide what color to paint the back porch. When bright red won, there was much consternation among the old-timers. Yet the growing Puerto Rican community felt the church was making a real step toward them.
The crucial point is that this process empowers people. Whether their individual preferences win or lose, people know their views matter. Why is this important to the gospel? Because, as John Stott states in his commentary on Ephesians, Paul describes the church as a Christian society in which the walls of race and ethnicity are broken down by the gospel; in which people relate to each other as reconciled through the blood of Christ; in which the truth is spoken in love to strengthen unity; and in which each person feels he or she is a valued member.
Second, Bakke deals with paternalism, outside control through finances. Bakke lived modestly during his inner-city pastorate to preclude dependence on outside giving. He writes, "I could not pastor people who were not paying me because that would have been turning my back on them. Their powerlessness would have been reinforced if their pastor had been paid by and accountable to outsiders. I scrounged and taught classes in college and seminary, and my wife gave piano lessons, so we could stay with this group without receiving external funds."
My experience is that this issue is the Achilles heel for urban ministry. The church I pastor has 175 regular attenders, yet we depend on outside giving for 40 percent of our budget. As in Bakke's case, we're part of a poverty-stricken and powerless community. Forty-five percent of our people are welfare or social security recipients, workers earning below the poverty level, or students. I, too, have taught seminary classes to supplement my income. The question is, Can Bakke's approach of not accepting outside support be the standard?
Jim Westgate, director of church ministries for the Evangelical Free Church and a leading urban spokesman, asks wisely, "Why do we commit ourselves to an overseas missionary and support him for life and yet be unwilling to support a true missionary to the inner city?" In my view, outside support is essential to sustaining an effective inner-city ministry. The problems of 150 people in a poverty-stricken community are equivalent to those in a middle-class church of 500. How can the inner-city church afford a staff to meet such needs? Outside support is the only answer.
And Bakke would concur. While urban churches should strive to be self-supporting, he says, the inner city is a legitimate mission field that needs the same support given other mission fields. He writes, "However large the numbers of those unreached by the gospel in traditional mission fields, it seems likely there are many more millions on the church's doorstep, in the city."
Third, I found Bakke's chapter on bringing up a family in the city to be some of the best advice I've read on the subject. Bakke says the pastor's children can be a bridge into the community rather than a sacrifice. He taught his kids to master the city's transit system at age 6. This is comparable to what a 6-year-old farm child learns about his community, Bakke says.
He also deals with the issue of public versus private schooling and demonstrates how parents can influence the educational system. He knows racism is still prevalent: "We found the Board of Education was not interested in the inner-city situation until a few white faces appeared at parents' meetings." Providing supplemental education in the evenings and on weekends is one helpful strategy he offers.
Some readers might think Bakke's emphasis on social issues is unbalanced. That is not an accurate assessment of his ministry. In fact, he has done significant work in the past on the theology of urban ministry. But this book grew out of his concern that for too long the church has emphasized preaching the Word without following the biblical mandate to live it out in the city. He describes how he has tried to balance the two.
Our Lord is allowing the world to become increasingly urban and American cities to grow increasingly pluralistic. We no longer need to travel thousands of miles to reach Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Hispanics. And Bakke's book will help us all to take better advantage of the opportunity this trend represents.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Suicide: The Signs and Solutions by Finley H. Sizemore, Victor, $5.95
What signs indicate a person may be considering suicide? Why does a person kill himself? How should suicide be viewed from a Christian perspective? Finley Sizemore, a former pastor and now a counselor, answers these all-too-timely questions.
Why do people do it? Suicide results from human frailty and aloneness; a person kills himself to quiet his inner storm and resolve his outer conflicts.
How does a Christian interpret suicide? The conservative Sizemore may surprise some readers with his answer: "We are not the judge of suicide victims. … The God of love and justice will judge human behavior."
Sizemore's style is highly readable. In fact, this book is helpful exactly because Sizemore discusses complicated and emotional issues with warmth and simplicity. Without contrivances, Sizemore weaves in scriptural examples of despair and suicide. His exegesis of Saul's demise (1 Sam. 31) rivals the best commentaries.
The First Year by Suzanne G. Braden, Discipleship Resources, $5.95
An older pastor friend of mine said you should always ask a new member why he is joining so you can anticipate why he will one day leave. Suzanne Braden, director of local church evangelism for the United Methodist Church, confronts directly this issue of new member assimilation.
Everyone agrees the first year is critical in the life of a new congregant; Braden shows how to make the year count. She suggests spiritual guidance visits, membership classes, a service of reception, serious study opportunities, gifts-and-talents identification, and stewardship teaching for time, talents, and money.
Braden's cogent style, the use of case studies, and helpful charts and graphs make this a book pastors can give to their evangelism or shepherding committee chairpersons.
Minister's Guide to Financial Planning by Kenneth M. Meyer, Zondervan, $7.95
This book is practical economics. Meyer, president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, provides information on topics such as housing, insurance, social security, investments, and budgeting.
Most enlightening is his discussion of a biblical case for financial planning. Even better, Meyer tells us how to do it. He knows pastors, and he knows most of us will purchase the book surreptitiously and hide it on the shelf. So he allays our fears, soothes our guilt over talking about money, and then offers an insightful study of financial matters. He shows how to keep books, make a workable budget, negotiate a call, and prepare for retirement. He even tells how much money to give kids for allowance.
Keeping the Dream Alive by Robert D. Dale, Broadman, $8.95
This book contends that excellent programs, visions of service, and even capable personnel are not enough to keep a church alive. Congregational morale is the key, says Dale, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
At first the reader may be misled by the author's simple style, but this book is pregnant with facts, strategies, and inspired insights. For instance, Dale shows how an entrepreneur-the change agent comfortable working with the system-inculcates his vision in a congregation. The next steps follow quickly: champion the vision, incorporate the congregation's dream into the ceremonies of the church, tell and retell the congregation's story, develop healthy alliances. Using the Bible as a touchstone, Dale avoids falling into manipulation or superficiality.
The Inviting Church by Roy M. Oswald and Speed B. Leas, Alban Institute, $8.25
Oswald and Leas, with intelligence, wit, and scathing precision, describe the elements vital to church growth: satisfaction with church worship and program, congregational harmony and cooperation, the pastor, and small group activities. In addition, if a church has a positive identity and is involved in social action, individuals are more likely to be assimilated into the church community.
How do we convince people to join and stay? Identify what they need to cope with life, and clearly communicate what our church is. Oswald and Leas are not naive. They suggest ways a church can shepherd its members through six phases: joining, belonging, participating, searching, journeying inward, and journeying outward.
Reviewed by James P. Stobaugh
Fourth Presbyterian Church
Copyright © 1988 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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