Family Dynamics

I think it is fair to say that the most exciting and life-changing event in my life this year has been becoming a grandparent. Yes, I know it’s wrong for pastors to brag and boast and talk too much about their family, their children, and their grandchildren (yes, grandchildren—plural—#2 is on his way at the end of May!). And I know that few, if any, of you are really interested in how cute and adorable and advanced and intelligent and wonderful my granddaughter is (and grandson will be). But, this is what grandparents are supposed to do, right? And I do what I am supposed to do. Always.

My granddaughter, Tenley Grace Bert

My granddaughter, Tenley Grace Bert

This new phase of life for me and Sharon is not only exciting, but also a reminder of that ever-ticking life clock. To become a “Granda” (using the designation most common in my country of birth) less than a year after the death of my mother and less than two years after the death of my father reminds me that life is always moving on, and that families grow and move and change and develop. My grandchildren will grow up in a world very different than mine, and even more distant from that of my parents. And this is good. But it is also difficult.

Church family life is not dissimilar from biological family life. Church families grow and move and change and develop. These developments are often in response to the changes in the ever-changing world in which they exist—a world that is certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever as Jesus is. There is a lot of tension in living where a never-changing God and an ever-changing world meet. But this is where we live, and relocation is not (yet) an option.

The Brethren in Christ family has experienced the same dynamics as any other family. Our geography, language, customs, cultures, traditions, understandings, structures, gatherings, systems, congregations, names, appearance (and more) have changed considerably since the first Brethren gathered by the river. These changes have not always been easy or pleasant, nor have they always been intentional and planned. But in diverse and dispersed families that want to remain connected, it is important to have regular times for gathering and conversing. It is necessary to have shared understandings and agreements of how family decisions are made, such as who decides what?

In church life, these “shared understandings and agreements” are called bylaws. They are part of the family system necessary when the church becomes a legal entity recognized by the state. The bylaws enable the church to function in appropriate ways with clear understanding of who has authority for what.

At General Conference this year (link), we are planning to have discussion and make decisions about amending some of our bylaws. These amendments are intended to reflect the way in which the church has changed and is currently functioning, as well as how we would like to function in the future. The governance committee of General Conference Board (GCB) has been working on a draft of the revised bylaws and would like feedback and input from across the church.

A copy of the draft can be found here and a response form is included at the bottom of the PDF. Also, for reference, the current Manual of Doctrine and Government (MDG) can be found here. We are asking that conversation occurs across every region, whether at the regional conferences’ annual meetings or during another suitable opportunity. We also hope that other interested individuals will give us feedback on these proposed updates.

Passing our faith on to the next generation is important. We are blessed by those who have gone before and who labored long and hard in the work of the kingdom. May we be good stewards of what we’ve been given in this time and that those who come after us may find us faithful.



For those interested in learning more about the historical revisions to BIC governance, check out the BIC Historical Society or the archives at Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, Pa.).

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Our Theology of Missions (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I shard two posts containing the first of four “tensions” articulated in the report of the Board for Missions (presented and received at the 1984 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church). If you haven’t already, I encourage you to go back and read about the tension between growth vs. faithfulness and methods vs. dependence.

Today I want to share the remaining two tensions contained in the report. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I am thankful for the men and women who thought deeply and passionately about the call to make disciples of all people.

Teaching vs. Learning

One of the biggest insights growing out of cross-cultural work is the realization that we have much to learn from as well as much to teach those among whom we minister. Although we westerners have tended to be better teachers than learners the briefest examination of our culture reveals grave spiritual and moral defects. Our third world sisters and brothers have much to teach us about the false values of materialism, secularism and individualism which threaten the North American church. Of course our openness to dialogue should not extend to an uncritical and unchristian acceptance of all cultural patterns as equally valid. Rather we seek to practice mutual accountability with our cross-cultural brethren, teaching and learning from one another under the jointly acknowledged authority of the Scriptures.

I am grateful that in 1984 our leaders recognized the need for us to learn, not just to teach. I am grateful they recognized the danger of the false values that were (and sadly remain) so strong in the North American culture. It seems to me that the value of individualism continues to be a significant hindrance to the life of biblical community and mutual accountability that we need today. It also seems to me that our idolization of “freedom” has (ironically) led us into the bondage of individualism. The Gospel calls us to give up our rights and live as servants of righteousness—citizens of a new kingdom who have chosen to live in servitude to the Lord of lords.

Evangelism vs. Social Action

What is the proper object of our missionary efforts, the souls of people or their temporal and physical needs? Such dichotomous thinking lies at the heart of the present ferment in evangelism and missiology circles. Compassionate ministries motivated only by evangelistic concerns run the risk of creating “rice Christians”* while social action which only has a humanitarian dimension leaves unaddressed the deep spiritual needs of persons. The Brethren in Christ affirm a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.” We regard evangelism as foundational to our missionary enterprise. But we believe the gospel is for the whole person and that our ministry should compassionately address human need of various types.

*I confess I had to look up the term, “rice Christian.” According to Merriam-Webster, a rice Christian is “a convert to Christianity who accepts baptism not on the basis of personal conviction but out of a desire for food, medical services, or other benefits.”

Again, I am grateful for solid theological reflection and conclusions, as well as the call of the church to avoid the trap of “either/or” thinking on this issue.

So, there you have it—the report of leaders’ thoughtful reflections over 30 years ago on “Our Theology of Missions.” I think they did great work.

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Our Theology of Missions

In my last post I quoted from the Minutes of General Conference in 1984. 1984 was a great year. Sharon and I were married in 1984.

The excerpt in the last post was taken from the report by Roger Sider, the chairman (today we prefer the term chairperson), of the Board for Missions.

It is interesting to note that the board was the Board for Missions, the word World was not in the name at this time. The report includes details of the work of missions within North America and overseas. Interestingly, the list of personnel who were assigned by the Board for Missions during the 1982-1984 biennium (the period the report covers), includes the name of 68 persons who were assigned to service in North America, and 64 persons who were assigned to service overseas. An additional 21 persons are listed as “special short-term overseas assignments.”

The report, among other things, presented “Our Theology of Missions” – a summary of theological reflection undertaken by the Board for Missions concerning how the Brethren in Christ understand the task of missions. The report includes four areas of tension:

  • Growth vs. Faithfulness
  • Methods vs. Dependence
  • Teaching vs. Learning
  • Evangelism vs. Social Action

It seems to me these tensions continue today. We will do well to listen and learn from the wisdom and insight of others, especially those who have passed the baton to us. I encourage you to read again the previous post that talks about the tension between growth and faithfulness and then read their reflections (below) on the tension between human efforts, methods, and strategies, and the need for dependence upon God. (I will follow-up in the next day or two with the last two tensions and then conclude this series of posts with their reflection on “the most crucial issue regarding missions.”)

Methods vs. Dependence

A related point [to that of Growth vs. Faithfulness that was quoted in the last post] of tension exists between those who promote a specific methodology and those who emphasize God’s sovereign inscrutability, that His Spirit “bloweth where it listeth.” Methodology can become a vehicle for human pride, a formula by which we believe we can guarantee results. But a one-sided emphasis upon the inscrutability of the moving of the Holy Spirit can lead to a pseudospiritual passivity in which we fail to discharge our human responsibility in the work of missions. Here, too, we affirm both truths. We are responsible to utilize the best methods and strategies while simultaneously recognizing our utter dependence upon the effectual ministry of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time that the world as we experience it in 2016 is very different from the world in 1984, there are some things that really have not changed at all. Missionaries, pastors, congregations and congregants still struggle with the tension between growth and faithful discipleship, between the need for human action in strategic and effective methods and the fact that without God we can do nothing. In a world of dichotomies and polarities, affirming both truths is not easy. But it is possible. And it is necessary.

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Growth vs. Faithfulness

I enjoy history, especially good history. Brethren in Christ history is good history. It is good because it is instructive and inspiring. And this good history can be found, among other places, in the Minutes of past General Conferences. Yes, you read that correctly! These Minutes help us better understand the questions, struggles, decisions, disappointments, victories, and joys of those upon whose shoulders we stand.

So, for you BIC history buffs out there, the following excerpt comes from the minutes of a General Conference. Is anyone willing to guess the year? The excerpt indicates that some of the questions with which congregations and pastors struggle today are not new.

Is our performance in missions best measured by the new growth which results from our endeavors or by the quality of our steadfast endurance as faithful witnesses? Such questions are vigorously debated in missiology circles and both emphases have Biblical warrant. In their early years the Brethren in Christ were more concerned with faithfulness, purity and presence. More recently we have become results oriented, establishing measurable goals to which we hold ourselves accountable. Dangers lurk on both sides. On the one hand our concern with faithful presence can serve as a rationalization for evangelistic ineffectiveness. On the other hand we may become so oriented to numbers and results that we prematurely terminate work in new fields or lose sight of the qualitative dimension of discipling. We believe God calls us to both a high standard of discipleship as well as fruit-bearing productivity.

I am thankful for the balanced tension in these words. And I am grateful for a history that declares “we believe God calls us to both a high standard of discipleship as well as fruit-bearing productivity.”

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Kindergarten Love

I realize my last post indicated I would use my next post or two to write about a number of contentious issues. Now I need to apologize for not following through. The reality is that sometimes “good” thoughts just come unexpectedly and randomly, and sometimes these good thoughts just need to be shared.

It used to be that I got an opportunity every Sunday (and two and three times each Sunday) to share my good thoughts in what is traditionally called a “sermon.” For those who attend a contemporary service it might be called a “message.” Mine were typically about 40 minutes long and some people thought they could have been longer. Most did not. I now no longer have that weekly opportunity and so I need to share  in some other way.

By the way, my definition of “good thoughts” in my sermons was not always shared by others. I have kept some of the emails and letters and notes and Connect Cards that prove this fact. Sharon did not send any of these notes or emails; she just shared her thoughts verbally.

Last Sunday, Sharon and I attended the service in our home BIC congregation. One of our daughters and her husband had been invited by the pastor to share some appropriate words as they lit the fourth candle—the Love candle—on the advent wreath. She shared something like this:

I am a kindergarten teacher. During my eight years of teaching these young children, I have learned that there are certain things I can predict each and every class of kindergartners will say to me sometime during the year. They will say things like, “I really like you”; “You are beautiful”; “You are the best teacher”; “I love you.”

Now I know these are simply the words of kindergarteners. And I know that I am the only teacher they have ever had and that they will say the same thing to their first grade teacher. I know they really do not know me. They do not know how I treat my husband, or family, or others. They do not know if I am a good person or not. A nice person or not. A kind person or not. Yet, they love me. At least they say they love me, and I think they really mean it.

And I know this is just kindergarten love, but it made me think: is this not the kind of love we as followers of Jesus are called to have for one another and for others? A love that encompasses all persons and recognizes that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and are precious to him? That all people, even those who are different from us, who hate us and would do harm to us, and those who are our enemies, are important to God and are loved by God? Is it not true that God so loved the world? All of it. No exceptions. Is this not the kind of love to which we are called?

As I listened to my daughter and son in law share, I felt an emotion of (sanctified?) parental pride (for the record, both our daughters turned out much better than our parenting deserved). I also thought of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (NKJV). And I reflected on how the early followers of Jesus sought to live-out this kind of love.

You might not be familiar with the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, but it’s a Greek text estimated to be from AD 130 or soon thereafter. The letter comments on the lives of Christians and their relation to the world. It contains the following:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.

But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

The love of the early followers of Jesus was not limited or restricted to their fellow believers. They lovingly helped non-believers: their oppressors, the poor, the orphans, the elderly, the homeless, the sick, the shipwrecked (refugees?)—and yes, even their persecutors and enemies. They really thought Jesus meant it when he said, “love your enemies . . . and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

For them, this was a command from their Lord that was to be obeyed in everyday-life, not merely an ideal unable to be realized in practical ways.

To quote the lyrics of the Christmas carol, “O Holy Night”:

Truly he taught us to love one another,

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother,

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

On this Christmas Eve, may each of us choose to obey his teaching to love one another.

I am sorry that I didn’t post what some of you were expecting–a few personal thoughts on some of the current, contentious issues that trouble us. On the other hand, maybe I did.

Merry Christmas.

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What does my silence say?

There are some things I find easy. Being quiet is not one of them (those who know me are probably laughing right now!). This is unfortunate because multiple scriptures encourage a willingness and ability to be silent. For example:

Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. —Proverbs 11:12 (ESV)


A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. —Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)


A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. —Proverbs 18:6–7 (ESV)


A fool’s fingers share his folly through social media. His Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts show his ignorance, invite controversy, and make it harder for him to be a minister of reconciliation. —Proverbs 32:1–3 (ASV)

Okay. I made the last one up. Did you go check your Bible to find it?

While I may have made it up, I think it fits well with what the Bible actually says. And if scripture was still being written today, there really might be a 32nd chapter of Proverbs dealing with social media (for most of us), as well as TV and radio interviews (for politicians and other [in]famous persons).

It is possible that my made-up scripture is an attempt to make myself feel better because, for the most part, I have been silent about lots of current issues that have been prominent on all kinds of media. Things like terrorism, violence, and peace. And things like guns and gun control. And immigrants and refugees, and politics and politicians and elections. And evangelicals and evangelicalism.

But what does my silence say? What does silence say in a world filled with increasingly loud and divisive voices? Does it mean I have nothing to say? Or does it imply agreement? Or is it an attempt to follow the counsel of Proverbs 11:12, 29:11, and 18:6–7?

I think my inclination to stay silent on these issues comes from a gut-feeling that to say nothing might be better than saying something. Why? Because in a highly politicized and increasingly polarized context—especially one where the country is divided almost right down the middle (as evidenced by election results, especially recent presidential election results)—any and every comment runs the risk of alienating half the people. And while that might be okay for a politician or political pundit or cable TV host or commentator, it might not be okay for those whose have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

And all—not just some—of the followers of Jesus have been given this ministry. Our criticisms, critiques, and comments may make us feel better, but they also run the risk of alienation rather than reconciliation, and often perpetuate a never-ending, ever-escalating war of words and opinions. Besides, even when we’re right, truth is best received and is most transformational when shared in the context of relationship. And public media is certainly not relational.

Yet, if it’s true that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, is saying nothing really a good option? Or is it a fear-filled cop-out? And what about the role of the Church to provide a prophetic voice to challenge sin and call others to a life of personal and social wholeness and holiness?

So as I’m wrestling through these questions, I think I will break my silence and use my next post (or two) to say something about some of the issues mentioned earlier. Not because I think my views are better (well, I might be a little biased) or because I want to suggest I have a voice of knowledge or authority, but because I’m afraid my silence might say something I never intended it to say.


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Denomination of the week!

You might enjoy this blog post from Dr. Roger E. Olson.


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