16 Jun, 2023 ‘MISTAKEN’ – ‘And Jesus then explained the parable to them’ (So offensive!)
‘MISTAKEN’ – An offensive comical parable? Why?
The topic of the parable – in case this was missed, is the way that ‘unity’ often works in the body of Christ in each city and town. Because the topics is so sensitive, I will make a few points here – but very carefully, and in a manner that, if you’re not really interested, you’ll not bother reading. I am, however, saying a few things. (I just have no agenda. Whether or not the wider body engages isn’t my responsibility).
The parable seemed to me to be immediately polarising amongst first audiences – who knew the topic. Some laughed so hard it hurt. Others maybe felt it wise to stay silent – and in the mix there will be offence.
What is going on?
I think this cuts to the core of the issue.
A needed balancing point: I’m positive toward the ‘unity space’ of the NZ Church!
While I do believe there is a problem for the NZ Church to consider and discuss, that doesn’t mean many aren’t doing amazing things in the unity space.
- Blessed is the man who can hold one thing in one hand – without letting go of what is in the other!
I’m not a bystander in this also. I’m part of the Church. There are good stories too, so any criticism here is equally a criticism of myself. The question is, what is the ‘lid’? How could we get more ‘functionality’ into our unity? What’s inhibiting the next stage of development – a nd what’s hindering us from seeing it?
At the core of our own work is the idea that thinking that leads to behaviour. We work with awareness that change in thinking can produce a change in behaviour naturally. We’re quite intentional in this department.
- If we can identify and then focus on augmenting one key idea or area of thinking – if we discerned correctly, this can catalyse other changes naturally over time.
So – in the unity space, what needs to change?
My book, ‘In One Spirit’ (free online) was written to address some areas we saw in 2017.
The wider purpose of that book was to try to catalyse a shared vocabulary (and framework) for ‘unity’ – to enable a more coherent conversation on the topic across our nation.
Eight national trips to visit pastors’ groups have also had the goal of ‘seeding’ some specific ideas and thinking. There have been some VERY positive developments across our nation. Principally, most shifted from what I call ‘coffee unity’ and ‘prayer unity’ to a recognition that the goal has to be ‘functional unity’. What can we do together in service to our mission that we cannot do apart? It was a significant change in thinking!
The next step – as I saw it – would be to engage on how adapt within some of our ‘natural’ processes and ways of doing things – to create a wider context for united function. A core idea here relates to ‘what could we be together that we could not be apart?’ But i’ve discovered a hindrance – and it’s more of a ‘wall’ than a ‘hurdle’ that can be overcome. I’ve ‘tested’ this wall in numerous ways across the past few years. I now believe there is a flaw in our human nature that – if not recognised and discussed openly amongst us – and regularly – will leave us stuck roughly where we are.
No matter how much effort we put into building unity, to see new things happen – i think we’re hitting a lid. And great effort won’t shift this ‘lid’. A new way of thinking is needed.
From a leadership perspective there is therefore a choice to make. If a person’s work were in the unity space – to encourage and aid unity, do you (a) continue to encourage everyone for their valiant efforts in the unity space, or (b) try to get that limitation on the table for discussion?
I feel obliged (by love and grace – noting who this affects the most – which is al of those who do not come to our churches) to speak up for a greater vision, and a greater potential, which requires some awkward conversations, toward a subtle change in thinking and values and approach.
The change will be more in our DNA than practice – but will change the nature and DNA of our practice, and that is the key.
A key measure of unity
To note a key measure: For me it is our ability to see and embrace simple and sensible ideas within the unity space. If we resist genuinely simple and sensible ideas, that can deliver results, the question has to be, “Why?” “What is behind that?”
In my experience, there is a significant challenge getting simple and sensible ideas heard or considered in the unity space of our nation. Often they cannot even be perceived – which has begged the above question for me many times. This applies to all levels of church leadership.
There is something inherent in the nature and DNA of our current paradigm of ‘church’ that holds us back and ‘away from’ the unity conversation. ‘Token unity’ (relationship, prayer and a very occasional united endeavour) – yes. But regarding functional unity, what that would take, and the benefits – it’s simply beyond the paradigm we’ve been trained to think within!
It’s about culture (a way of thinking) – and culture can be very difficult to change!
How ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is our current unity?
Only God can answer this one. For me – I’m positive toward our unity – while also deeply sad at what I believe we’re not seeing.
I see a range of plausible goals we could embrace together – and very easily. But it’s not a conversation we’re yet able to engage with insight or readiness to act.
This hindrance applies at all levels of church life, denomination and in unity groups also – but, interestingly, not so much with church members. It is as if we do ‘unity’ how we do ‘unity’. Any conversation that goes beyond that boundary in our thinking is not our responsibility. So we’re disinterested – to the point of not even hearing what is being said. Also, ‘What could anyone possibly tell me that I don’t already know?’
Within the mix, some also consider ‘unity’ an idealism. This thinking is quite widespread. Discouragement and disappointment from attempted ‘unity’ things have left their mark. I’d suggest that unhealthy culture sits at the core of that (the core topic of our 2019 trip to meet pastors groups nationally). But what could we possibly say that people don’t already know, right? If there is no eagerness for more – or deep sense of grief over the challenges we are facing within the thinking of many of the public against our faith… there is no motivation to engage.
So we’re sitting in unity meetings – with a ‘disbelief’ (not belief) in the potential of our unity in our hearts and minds.
I then suggest we’re hardly scratching the surface – and would like a conversation to unpack that – but we’re all busy people, right? “We don’t actually have time for this!”
But how important might it be?
So we continue to reduce ‘unity’ to coffee and prayer – with an occasional united action – akin to my actions in the comedy parable.
We continue to relegate ‘all that other stuff’ (like the lawns, feeding the dog and chickens, daily means etc. etc.) to the ‘too hard basket’ – as matters for prayer – even though some of those things, if investigated, might objectively be very important – for our own wellbeing.
As a result, a sensible conversation on the topic is difficult too! We see things a certain way. We’re not really ready to take responsibility for Jesus’ name in our city or nation. We’d rather just stay in our corner, and ‘be a hero’ there. The whole idea of engaging at that wider level is just an idealism anyway, right? And there the conversation ends.
As someone full-time in the unity space of this nation, our board and my wife and our core team members could all could tell you there’s nothing as frustrating as this in our entire work. We’re positioned to see some things, and our felt sense of calling is to identify ‘gaps’ in the outreaching efforts of the NZ Church as a whole. Various things have resulted – but in the ‘unity’ space, I feel silenced!
Anyway – that’s enough to suggest that the cutting points of the parable are worthy of some reflection (at least to identify what the points are).
We can then go back to looking after our own bedrooms – with no regard for the needs of our own property, leaving the lawns unmanaged, weeds growing, fruit trees untended, dog and chickens hungry – yeah?
Prayer will fix it anyway, right?
It’s not actually our responsibility either, right?
Good. the matter is clearly settled! 🙂
But if you think a conversation might be needed
The book ‘In One Spirit’ speaks to some foundational values that undergird a commitment to the (united) Church. It was purposed to provide a framework or vocabulary for this conversation.
To get specific, What changes in perspective and thinking are needed?
“There is one Church, it has a needed united function, that function is both larger and more important than we’re giving it credit, that function (which is based in our health together as united churches) also being possible without an authority structure (big statement!) but only if we have certain healthy boundaries clearly defined and understood in the way we work together – and (so the point isn’t missed) this is all something that we’ll naturally overlook in our human nature we’ll because we’re conditioned by both our prior experience and also the instinctive ‘independence’ of our human nature to serve our one congregation, or one denomination, or one pastors’ group, or one unity movement as the priority.”
There are numerous values and ideas in the above lengthy sentence. Each has implications regarding how we ‘do church’, and on our accountabilities and priorities.
Much good is happening.
I believe much much more is possible than we are even aiming for!
But – like in the comedy parable, we’re too busy to actually consider this, right?
For other articles by Dave on the same topic of Church unity
2022 – A vocabulary we can agree on (This one is a particularly important FOUNDATION if coherent national discussions on unity are to one day take place)
2020 – It’s time to take responsibility to educate our own children and youth again (On united direction and strategy – for city change)
2020 – A need for new media platforms – not more voices (How do we address the increasingly left-leaning and also anti-faith bias of public media?)
2020 – A vision for national Church unity (What might REALISTICALLY be within our reach to achiEve – if we merely thought differently?)
2019 – ‘In One Spirit’ – The purpose of the book (Written at the time of the book launch and press release)
2019 – United we stand (A blog just prior to the release of the above book, ‘In One Spirit’)
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.