Christian Mid-Course Corrections
May 11, 2010 by Craig Blomberg | 2 Comments
“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:4-9)
It was the summer of 1992. Denver Seminary was on the verge of completing its five-year participation in a program known as the globalization of theological education. We had two weeks of specially called summertime faculty meetings to work through all the implications of this for our mission, vision, values, and curriculum. One morning, a local pastor, who was also an adjunct professor at the seminary and a longtime friend of the school, addressed the faculty with about an hour-long presentation on everything seminaries were doing wrong, or at least inadequately, around the country.
It was a thoroughly depressing experience for all of us. Fortunately, the pastor had a second, later session in which he sketched his vision for how to rectify a good chunk of these matters—a mentoring program in which students wrote individualized learning contracts in the areas of ministry skills and spiritual formation. Two years later, we actually piloted a program that incorporated many of his dreams, known as CASE—Church Assisted Seminary Education. Two years after that, the seminary began the planning process that led to something not unlike our mentoring program today. But it took about seven years from beginning to end to create something that was always plagued with a certain amount of inertia that could be traced to that first gathering in which we felt we had all been whipped.
After all, we wouldn’t have been having the special meetings in the first place if we didn’t know we needed to make some changes. We also knew we were doing a lot of good things right. Many problems that characterized other seminaries weren’t our problems, though no doubt we had a few distinctive ones of our own. How much easier and shorter the whole transition would have been had we begun with a session that complimented us and encouraged us with the many good things we were doing well and with good faith efforts even in areas that were not going so well, before our speaker moved into the barrage of everything that convinced him of a need for a seminary overhaul.
Paul models precisely this approach to Corinth. By the end of 1 Corinthians, it is clear that this church holds the record for the number of problems among those who received apostolic letters, at least that we know of. Many of those problems surrounded their combative and divisive use of spiritual gifts, especially those of knowledge (wisdom) and speech—prophecy and tongues and their interpretation (chs. 12-14). Yet, in this opening prayer, which he allows the Corinthians to overhear, he thanks God for the very giftings that have caused so many of the problems. Obviously, he would much prefer to work with a group of people who are trying hard to serve Christ even if not always in the right ways, than those who are totally lifeless. And it is clear that it is God’s power and faithfulness that he trusts to bring the Corinthians around that allows him to be so upbeat before he begins to address the specific issues that need correcting.
How often have Christian employers, managers, pastors, supervisors, and leaders of many other kinds not followed Paul’s model? Just jump in with a group of people you don’t know very well, begin by sketching how dire the situation is, make those who have worked so hard to keep the organization afloat feel like their efforts are largely misguided, tell everybody they are going to have to change significantly the way they are doing things, or worse—that you’re about to clean house and start all over with a new team. The business world does that often enough that the church and parachurch organizations seem to feel they must imitate it. But, especially in Christian circles, I have yet to see it work in building morale or even in turning things around quickly. I seriously doubt it’s what God ever intends. The old “praise sandwich” (praise sandwiched around any criticism necessary) still works best. Paul knew. People matter more than programs or performance.