I recently returned from leading a Spiritual Formation Conference with a wonderful group of 19 ministers from all around Ghana, West Africa.
My good friend Fred Asare hosted the conference at the Village of Hope. It was a time of quiet reading, careful reflection and thoughtful discussion over a period of several days. Some of the men I already knew, but the openness and honesty of the whole group made this time one of the high points of my summer.
Early during our first day together I asked a question that I have often asked at Spiritual Formation retreats and seminars over the years. I had first heard this question at a small men’s breakfast when I lived in Kansas City. One of the brothers in our congregation gave a short devotional to a group of about 15-20 men on a Saturday morning, and he included this question. It so impacted me that I wrote it down and have shared it countless times over the years.
In it’s original form, the question goes like this:
What is the difference between a man with 10 years of experience and a man with 1 year of experience 10 times?
Of course, it can be restated and applied in a number of ways:
What is the difference between a Christian with 10 years of experience … ?
What is the difference between a Minister with 10 years of experience … ?
What is the difference between a Leader with 10 years of experience … ?
Every time I ask some version of this question the group I am with usually does the same kind of soul searching, and the group of ministers in Ghana followed the same pattern. As they thought through the “minister” version of the question, they realized that both ministers in this scenario had put in the same amount of time, and probably had gone through the same kind of experiences each year of the ten years. But the first minister found depth and growth from year to year while the second minister never moved and never changed. When I asked them “why” they realized that the first minister had a vision for each year’s growth. He followed some kind of plan and grew each year. The second minister had no vision and no plan. And so, he simply repeated his first year over and over.
This question set the stage for rest of our time as together we began with a vision from Jesus and then crafted a plan for personal growth.
It was clear to me that my brothers in Ghana do not want their inner life to simply remain static from year to year. They want movement, growth and change.
Stay tuned for part 2.
I am excited that Buddy Bell from Montgomery, Alabama will be in Dallas for a tightly packed few hours of small group learning and discovery. He comes specially equipped to help anyone wanting to grow and improve their small group skills. Whether you’re new to small-groups, a committed group member, or a seasoned group leader, you’ll leave this seminar with new inspiration and tools.
In 2001 Buddy founded Share Him Ministries which has helped literally hundred’s of churches around the country set up successful small group programs. Playing the dual role of preaching and small group minister at his own church has given him a unique viewpoint to see how small groups can be tightly integrated into the ministry of a local church.
After the seminar your small group toolbox will be filled with:
The seminar is free. There will be free childcare. We are guarding your valuable weekend time with a 3-hour morning session on Saturday, November 14.
I hope anyone in the Dallas area with join us from 9:00 to Noon (Registration is at 8:30 unless you register online) http://tinyurl.com/yfb6heo
Prestoncrest Church of Christ
6022 Prestoncrest Lane
Dallas TX 75230
It was built in 1482 just a few years before our own Columbus story. It is a massive stone structure on the southern coast of West Africa, one of West Africa’s oldest standing structures. They call it Elmina, Portuguese for “The Mine.” They chose this name because this was where they stored all the gold brought from the mines. They would collect the gold for months, and then the ships would come and transport it back to Europe. But this is only the beginning of Elmina’s story. Over the centuries a more valuable commodity was discovered and stored in the lower chambers of Elmina’s walls. You see, Elmina Castle became a gathering station for the slave trade.
At the height of the trade 30,000 slaves a year passed through Elmina on their way to the Americas. This continued for nearly three hundred years. Even after slavery was outlawed, Elmina was a part of the illegal trade, and the dark windowless storage rooms that once held gold, now held people. Hundreds would be crammed into one small room. They couldn’t lie down, and they would live this way for months at a time. Separated husbands and wives would never see each other again.
As they waited for the ships, most of the people would die in their rooms and would not be removed. Those who survived were taken to a final holding room. I stood in it. Even centuries later it was dark and damp and smelled of mold and mildew. This room was called “the room of no return” because from it the slaves would pass through a very small slit in the side of the castle. It was only large enough for a single person to pass through directly onto the ships.
I have toured Elmina several times and I already knew that it contained an upstairs church. But on one visit, I noticed that the church was located directly above the room of no return. I immediately thought of Jesus’ answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” I thought of the position of these two rooms, the house of worship and the place of slavery. The vision statement of my own church is “Passion for God, Compassion for People,” because in addition to his answer to the first question, to love God, he volunteered a second commandment. He said it’s like the first – love people.
This is the irony of Elmina Castle. In just one small section, on the northeast side, those who managed the castle tried to obey the first commandment while grossly violating the second. What happened on the first floor, in the room of no return, nullified the offering in the chapel on the second floor. As God said in Amos 5:
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies (v. 21)
Why did God say this?
“You trample on the poor … You oppress the righteous … You deprive the poor of justice” (vs. 11-12).
Elmina is a graphic illustration of why the first and second commandments go together. They need each other. They define each other. They express each other. Jesus put them together. Passion for God fuels compassion for people. I cannot walk with God without caring for people.
Some time ago I was privileged to hear Art Linkletter speak. Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, he is currently 97 years old. I remember as a child that I had enjoyed his fun, positive personality, and especially the stories he would tell on his television program, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” But I had never heard him in person.
In his presentation he told us the story of his daughter’s drug-related death, and his subsequent personal involvement in the anti-drug movement of the late 1960’s. As I listened to him I was impressed with his speaking ability, even as a man in his 90’s. It was easy to see how, in the 1960’s, he quickly became an “in demand” speaker, traveling the country telling his story.
What Are you Against?
As he told us his story, he explained how he was completely convinced of his cause and how he passionately pursued his purpose. And so, he was surprised to notice that his energy was beginning to wane. His enthusiasm was dissipating. He had trouble sleeping. His drive was fading.
All medical tests showed that he was fine, but still he felt terrible. And then one day, as he walked to the podium to once again make his anti-drug speech, it all became clear to him. His life had lost its energy because it was all devoted to something he was against. He had not even addressed his most important question – what was he living for? He explained to us, how at that very moment, he changed what we was going to say, and never gave the other speech again.
What Are you For?
We really have no choice. We all give our lives for something. But for what will it be? What beliefs do you live with? What vision do you live for? What cause is worth your very best?
As Paul reveals his own heart, we see the balance in his vision …
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”
As God’s representatives in our cities, towns, and schools, we are against the things that hurt people and relationships. Things like sin, selfishness, immorality, greed, arrogance, injustice, and cruelty, just to name a few. But we must also be for the things that help people and relationships. Things like forgiveness, joy, reconciliation, love, obedience, worship, generosity, commitment, and service, just to begin the list.
And so, let’s admit it. We find it easy to think of what we are against. But look at the second list. What would you add? What are you for? What is worthy of your most passionate devotion? The second list is where we offer an alternative. The second list is where we begin to change our world.