How to Disagree in Church Business Meetings

dvargg1You hear about the silly church that split over the color of the carpet. “How ridiculous!” you say—until the decorating committee in your church wants a burnt orange carpet and your daughter is planning her upcoming church wedding in bright pink.

I believe the biggest threat to church unity is personalities that see every decision as wrong vs. right, and they’re right! Some issues are moral issues. The virgin birth of Christ, the infallibility of Scripture, eternal security of the believer—these are important doctrinal issues that I could not, in good conscience, compromise. But I’m not talking about moral issues, things that are morally or Scripturally right or wrong.

Most issues are not a matter of right versus wrong, but one of choosing the best way of several options. I may have strong opinions about the color of the kitchen, when to replace the roof, or what kind of water heater to use for the restrooms. But these are not moral issues. One way may last longer, be more cost effective, and work better than another. But neither issue is morally wrong. I have to be prepared to give in on these issues even when the way I think is best is outvoted.

I believe a healthy church business meeting should allow members to voice their opinions on the subject at hand, and to state the reasons for those opinions. Nicely. Decisions should not pit one side against another with one side winning and another losing. Instead ideas should be evaluated on their merits, with members voting for the choice they think is best. Once the vote is taken and a decision is made, members should support the decision, or at least not verbally oppose it. In this way church members can work with each other instead of against each other.

When have I said too much in a church business meeting? I’ve had people ask me this question. The point of the meeting is to discuss issues, find out how people feel, and make good decisions. If you’re concerned that you’re saying too much or saying the wrong things in a business meeting, you might ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I dominating the discussion by saying a lot more than other people?
  • Am I stating my opinions nicely, and giving my reasons for them, without representing my view as the only right view?
  • Do I keep repeating something I’ve already said, even if I use other words, to answer remarks others make?
  • Am I putting the ideas of others down in a personal way that demeans, or am I talking about the pros and cons of any option in a fair way?

Ask God to give you good balance in the comments you make in business meetings. Then your comments can be helpful and loving at the same time.

 

Celebrating Matariki (Maori New Year) as a Christian

Now that Matariki (the Maori New Year) has become a public holiday in New Zealand, Christians need to be discerning about how they celebrate it. Matariki emphasizes stargazing and family, good things, but as this article points out, the roots of this holiday point to Maori gods. Though many Kiwis find meaning in life from these Maori legends, Christians need to recognize these beings as false gods, an affront to the true God in heaven.  We need to find life’s meaning in the God of the Bible.

If you wish to celebrate Matariki, here are some good ways to do it.

  • Study the stars which God made.
  • Remember that these stars, the Pleiades, were in place when Job 9:9 and Job 38:31were written some 4000 years ago. Thank God for the accuracy of Scripture.
  • Consider Isaiah 40:26 and rejoice in the way God sustains nature, calling out the stars each night.
  • Celebrate the family God has given you and recognize God’s goodness in establishing the family from the beginning of creation.

For more about Maori creation stories see my blog about a parent or teacher’s response to them.

How to Disagree Nicely

Some people don’t like cautious conversations. They want everyone to just put all their cards on the table and say what they think. That way everyone knows what everyone is thinking and where everyone stands.

I see a problem with this. In an impulsive moment you may say something that you will hardly remember later, and that I can hardly forget. You may feel better about getting it off your chest, but your hurtful words may bring fresh wounds every time I think about it. And if I share my opinion very strongly, once you know how I feel, you may no longer feel free to share a contrary opinion with me. Friendships can be destroyed by a few careless words.

On the other hand, strong friendships are not built on conversations that never pass small talk. We need to allow our friends freedom to disagree with us and to express their opinions. Arguments, however, don’t usually deepen friendships.

Of course, different personalities and backgrounds strongly influence how much difference of opinion we’re comfortable hearing or expressing. No one wants to have her opinions constantly steamrolled by a stronger personality. But we can also be too sensitive, offended by anyone who disagrees with us. Where can we find a healthy balance? How can we build bridges instead of walls?

I believe the answer often lies, not in what we say, but the approach we take in saying it. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.” (NKJV)

I married into a family who is particularly good at giving soft answers. Many times I’ve seen a Brammer handle a ticklish situation in a way that disarmed the tension.  I’ve learned from them some secrets that have taught me what to do in ticklish situations.

Soft answers don’t make for snappy dialog. As a fiction writer I look for direct dialog that gets straight to the point. I search for clever comebacks that drive my points home and make a great sound bites, like you see posted on Facebook. But clever comebacks, funny as they may be, can sometimes hurt friendships. Sometimes an indirect approach de-personalizes an issue and makes it less confrontational.  When I have to confront friends or disagree with them, I try to avoid a direct attack mode which approaches them like an enemy or a child. I look for a way to come alongside them as an equal and offer helpful words.

Do I always achieve this? No. At times I’ve approached someone in a way that I feel is careful and tries to keep an issue small. They see me as being too serious and making a big deal out of it. Even with our best intentions, we can be misunderstood. However, sometimes we’ve seen friends trying to help someone or witness to them or work out a problem. From our perspective outside of the situation we can see that, though their intentions are good, their approach is making the problem worse. They are pushing a person away from them just when they want to do the opposite. Often people ask my husband or I how to say something difficult to someone in a way in which it will likely be well-received.

I’ve listed six different situations you may find yourself in when you disagree with someone. I’ve given possible responses you could use in those situations. This is not to say that my approach will always be the correct one or the only one. But I hope these ideas may be helpful to you when you’re looking for a non-confrontational, friendly approach to conflict. These are ways you can address an issue in a way that may be less likely to harm the relationship.

 Correcting information I believe is wrong

Have you ever been in a conversation with a man and his wife where one is telling the story and the other correcting it?

“For our fifth anniversary, we went to Yellowstone.”

“No, dear. It was our sixth, and we went to Yosemite.”

“I’m sure it was our fifth. Remember Buddy was still in diapers and we stopped at Aunt Helen’s on the way to Yellowstone.”

“No. Sally was in diapers, and it was Aunt Julia.”

“No, dear. That can’t be right …”

You don’t care which national park they went to or who was in diapers. You do want to go home. Soon. The constant corrections about trivial things make the conversation nearly unbearable.  Some people feel if they don’t correct people who say something wrong, their silent listening makes them liars. Actually God never requires us to verbally correct every fact we find questionable.

But what if someone is relating a story in a way that, to me, seems like a lie or a serious misrepresentation? I feel like I must say something.

  •  Direct answer: “That’s a lie, and you know it! That’s not what the person said.”
  •  Soft answer: “I remember the details a little differently than that,” or “I came away with a different slant on the idea.”

Of course some information needs to be corrected. As in, “Actually, doctor, I believe it’s my left leg you need to amputate, not my right one.” But sometimes you hear people relay information that is different than you remember it, but doesn’t need to be corrected. Often mistakes are a matter of a hazy memory rather than dishonesty. Many mistakes just don’t matter.

 Correcting a viewpoint I feel is wrong

But aren’t some issues important enough to need correction?

Here’s a more serious example you could face. Maybe someone states in a church group discussion that they believe abortion is all right in certain circumstances. You and your church take a stand against abortion on Scriptural grounds. A visitor is standing there and you don’t feel it’s right to let the statement stand unchallenged. You don’t want to argue about the topic, but you feel you must say something.

  •  Direct answer: “You’re crazy! That’s just wrong. How can you condone the murder of an innocent child, just because he hasn’t been born yet?”
  •  Soft answer: “I know some circumstances are so difficult that abortion seems to be the answer. But as Christians, I believe we need go back to the sanctity of life. Psalms talks about the way God plans a child’s life even before he’s born. Even in difficult circumstances, I believe we have to respect the life of the unborn the way we would any other person.”

 Correcting a situation that I think needs to be changed

You see someone making a home repair in a way you think will cause problems later on.

  •  Oppositional approach: “What are you doing?  That’s never going to work! Six months from now you’re going to have water all over the place!”
  •  Friendly approach: “How’s it going here? I see you’re working on the kitchen sink. That’s one way of fixing it but, you know, I just wonder if you do it that way if you might have leaks later on. What would happen if you did it another way? It could save a problem farther down the road.”

 Answering someone who is badmouthing someone else

You are listening to your friend relate a confrontation that happened between him and someone else. You want to support your friend, but you also see that your friend may be unknowingly doing something that offends the other person and makes the matter worse.

  •  Take your friend’s side: “You’re right. That person’s a total scumbag. He has no right to treat you that way.”
  •  Take the other person’s side: “You said that to him? No wonder he’s mad at you! That was a really stupid thing to do.”
  •  Help your friend see another perspective: “I can see what you’re saying, but sometimes things can look very different from a different perspective. You may be trying very hard to help him with all the right motives, but he may not want that kind of help. What is important to one person, the next person might not care about at all. What would happen if you said it this way or did it this way?”

 Witnessing to someone who thinks he is good enough to get to heaven on his own

  •  Attack mode: “Have you ever lied or stolen or had impure thoughts about a woman? Then you’re a liar, a thief, and an adulterer! How can you expect God to accept you like that?”
  •  Soft approach: “A lot of people think that way, but the Bible says God is perfect and we’d have to be perfect for him to accept us. If I compare myself to some people, I might feel like I’m a good person, but when I compare myself to God, I realize I do many wrong things. I can never be good enough for God to accept me as I am. I’m glad God has made a way for us to be accepted by him through Jesus who died and took our punishment.

 Keeping a trivial matter from escalating into an argument

Have you ever gotten trapped in a conversation you couldn’t get out of? Maybe you’re discussing gardening, breastfeeding, health food diets, current events, or the latest car models. You state your opinion. She counters that. You tell her why you think you’re right. She tells you why she doesn’t agree. You tell her why her logic is flawed. She tells you why it certainly is not. Soon a trivial matter   has escalated into an argument, or at least a very uncomfortable discussion.  How can you keep this situation from repeating itself?

  •  Confrontational approach: The next time a disagreement starts, you keep smiling, but you make it clear that you’re right and she’s wrong. As she build her case for being right, you match her, point for point, with why you are right. You may lose your friendship, but if you keep up long enough, you win the argument—even if you lose the friendship.
  •  Non-confrontational approach: You listen to her opinion and leave it at that. While you don’t agree with her, you don’t find it necessary to voice that disagreement on an issue that isn’t important. Pretty soon she has made her point, so she moves on to other topics.
  • Controlled approach: You state your opinion nicely and give your reasons for it, but then you quit. When she responds, you don’t have to respond, because you’ve already voiced your opinion. When she continues to voice her opinion you just shrug, say something like, “I understand where you’re coming from,” or “I see what you mean.” If she continues to build her case, you quit building your case and just keep quiet. If she really goes on and on and you see no end in sight, you change the subject. Many arguments build to a dangerous point simply because each person feels the need to keep responding to the other’s comments instead of just stopping when they’ve said what they need to.

I like to watch how others handle difficult situations and learn from them. I hope something in today’s blog may be helpful to you.

Next Time: How to Disagree in Church Business Meetings

 

Instant winner!

I will choose a winner at random from the first five readers to comment on this Book Blast in the comment boxes below. You can see who the winner is and read more about Private Justice at the end of this Book Blast.

In Private Justice, firefighters and police take risks every day just by showing up for work. These risks bleed into their personal lives when their wives are targeted for murder. Terri Blackstock writes a very suspenseful novel dealing with characters in these occupations just doing their job.

 Real Life Suspense

 Suspense novels usually deal with situations where life and death are at stake. In real life, most people take other kinds of risk. For the Christian, risks are part of the life of faith.

Since my husband and I are missionaries, we’re often invited home to dinner with the pastor of a supporting church. One particular time we were meeting a pastor for the first time. He seemed to be in his early sixties but when we arrived, he and his wife seemed to be unsure about how to serve the dinner. They kept asking each other questions that most couples their age don’t have to ask. They had hardly any pictures hanging on their walls, which seemed a bit odd as well. Then we found out they had only been married two weeks and we were the first guests to be served in their home!

That got me thinking. Sometimes a missionary wife dies and her husband finds he really needs to remarry. How would a missionary in his fifties go about dating someone in his home country which he only visited during short furloughs? And what would it be like for a woman who had never been in fulltime ministry to consider a relationship with a veteran missionary?

These days, while I experience the ups and downs of ministry during Covid and approach retirement age in our ministry, I’m making my fictional characters take risks as well. Since Christmas I’ve been working on the second draft of Give It a Go and pushing my fictional character, Jennifer Titus, into a bungy jump of faith. She has to ask God if he is leading her away from her comfortable life into a new direction. She learns God sometimes leads us away from the well-worn paths that keep us comfortable, into new paths that stretch our faith.

At present I’m about 75% of the way through my second draft. After that comes a final polish and edit, sending it to my proofreader and beta readers, making final changes, and then publication. While I hope to publish it later in the year, Covid continues to change the plans we make. At this point we’re hoping to take a furlough that’s overdue by about two years. I’ve learned I have to be flexible, sometimes changing my life to fit Plan B or C or D.

How about you?

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could see even five years ahead in your future? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make plans and decisions, to get some certainty in your life?

 I often feel this way. Lately I’ve been challenged by this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “There is no grace for your imagination.” My friend, Donna Hart, who lives with ALS every day, continues this quote with her words: “God never promises grace for my desperate peering into the future, when He has told me to concentrate only on today. But God does promise sufficient, overflowing, abundant grace for every real moment of my life, for every trial He leads me through.”

May God give you peace in the struggle you may be facing today, when you want to walk by sight but God asks you to walk by faith.

Here are five inspirational true stories of Christian woman who learned to walk by faith. They had to overcome hardship by trusting God in difficult circumstances. Their stories can encourage us when we face obstacles in our own faith journeys.

Now for the free drawing.

And the winner is … Anna K.

Here’s my review of Private Justice by Terri Blackwell #1 in Newpointe 911 series:

When someone seems intent on murdering the wives of firefighters, Mark Branning has to figure out how to keep his wife alive while his marriage is slowly dying. This book was well written and suspenseful. I especially appreciated the Christian emphasis in this book: the importance of a personal relationship with Christ and regular worship at a local church, daily feeding on God’s word, the dangers of alcohol, and the importance of building your marriage.

This series presents a community of firefighters and police in the town of Newpointe, Louisiana. Many of these characters are also connected to a church whose pastor is a firefighter. I love the community spirit these portray and have given 5*’s to most of them. I highly recommend this series.

 

 

“Meant to be” – Building a Bridge to a Gospel Witness

I talk to two of my neighbors on a regular basis and feel fairly close to them. We talk about a lot of things, but they tend to shut down the conversation when I start talking about God or salvation. I’m constantly looking for ways to insert meaningful comments in a way they will receive.

You probably have similar friends in your lives. Sometimes we have to build friendships with people before they will listen to the Gospel. My husband, Art, played badminton every Tuesday night with a man for more than ten years before he became a Christian.

So we want to be bold witnesses for Christ but we also want to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. We want to build a relationship that will break down some of the barriers our friends have that make them not want to listen to the Gospel. It’s not easy is it?

One of these ladies often uses the term “meant to be.” Like: “My friend is dying of cancer, but it’s meant to be, don’t you think?” This woman doesn’t claim to be a Christian or show interest in the Bible or spiritual things, but she still uses this phrase, “meant to be,” a lot. As a Christian, I believe in the sovereignty of God and the good purposes he has for situations we encounter in our lives. So when an unbeliever uses this phrase, I always wonder what they mean by it. When my neighbor asks if I think something is meant to be, I want to tell about the way God works in our lives. But this is not a yes or no answer. You really need to be able to say more to answer a question like this, because if God causes all the bad things that happen in our lives, why would they want to believe in him?

My way of dealing with this with my neighbor was to write out a careful response explaining my version of the phrase. Then I popped into her house for a chat. I was able to insert a quick summary of what I wanted to say and then handed her an explanation she could read in her own time. This gave me a chance to insert more than I could actually say to her at the time. I plan to do a similar thing with another neighbor at our once-a-month game time together.

Since this phrase, meant to be, is a common part of both New Zealand and American culture, this can be an opening to talk about the God we love. I’m including the remarks I gave my neighbor in hopes others can use it with unbelievers they know. Feel free to copy this article, even change it, to use with your friends. I don’t feel my friends are ready for Scripture verses so I’m not including them. I have, however listed verses at the end that you could insert throughout this article. The verses go with *’s in the order they are given.

May God give you opportunities to share his love to those around you today.

Meant to Be – What does it mean?

 I often hear people say something “was meant to be.” They may ask me if I agree. I could say that I certainly do if I can define what that means to me. On the other hand, I certainly don’t agree with how some people define that phrase.

Some people believe in chance, that all of life is a gamble and it doesn’t matter what you do. Contrary to that idea, people who say an event or condition was meant to be usually mean that it was caused by fate, destiny, or God. In each of these cases they believe that many things in life are beyond our control and are predetermined by a supernatural power. Some call these powers “kismet,” “fortune,” or “karma.”

Fate says you may have some choices that influence your life, but by and large you can’t escape your fate. Fatalism says if you can’t change what’s going to happen to you, why even try?

Destiny also maintains that our lives have been planned out before hand, but that we can shape our destiny by what we do.

I believe that God is in control of the world and everything happens according to his plan.

The Bible says that God plans out our lives before we are born. He knows what will happen to us and he works in our lives, but he also allows us free will. What we do does make a difference in the outcome.

 Adversity is part of life on earth.

The Bible tells us that God created a wonderful, perfect world. Satan, a created being who rebelled against God, brought sin into the world.* Adam and Eve used their free will to follow Satan into rebellion. From that time on, the earth has been cursed by sin. Many bad things happen because of that curse. Sickness and death have become a part of life. Things decay and wear out. On earth today, these things are a part of life. God can stop bad things from happening, but he allows some bad things to happen because these experiences are a part of life.

Some bad things that happen are a result of wrong choices. Unwise choices often bring undesirable outcomes. We were also created with the ability to make moral choices and we’re responsible for the choices we make. When we make wrong moral choices we hurt, not just ourselves, but other people as well. Wrong actions can bring harsh consequences. Many people choose to do morally wrong actions and then blame God for the consequences of those actions, but they have brought these problems on themselves.

Evil is part of life on earth because of sin, but evil doesn’t tie God’s hands or defeat his plans. God can even use bad things for good purposes. The Bible character Joseph is a good example of this.* Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and hated him so much they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. As a slave Joseph worked hard for the good of his master, earning a position of great trust. Then someone lied about him and he was thrown in prison. Even in prison Joseph earned the trust of the prison warden. Joseph suffered much injustice for thirteen years, but he continued to trust God and keep a good attitude. In time, Joseph interpreted a dream for the Pharaoh and was promoted to be in charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. For thirteen years of his life, it looked like God had forgotten Joseph, but actually God used the tragedies in Joseph’s life to bring him to a high position in the government. In that position he was able to save the lives of all seventy members his family and Egyptians and people in neighboring countries by helping them prepare for an upcoming famine.

We often don’t understand what’s happening in our lives but God can even use adversity for good.*

Adversity can:

  • Make us strong
  • Teach us compassion
  • Equip us to help others*
  • Motivate us to find answers to life’s problems
  • Draw us to God
  • Be used by God in ways we can’t understand*

Good and bad things come to all people:

While people often ask why God allows bad things to happen, they forget that every good gift comes from God.* Every day God gives good gifts to good and bad people alike. Every breath we take is a gift from God. So is food, clothing, health, strength, family, friends, ideas, beauty, skill, nature. The list is endless. We may work hard to earn money to buy some of these things. We may study and work to develop skill. We share in things invented or developed by other people. But ultimately, all things come from what God has created or allowed us to have.

God doesn’t just give good things to good people and bad things to bad people. God even gives good gifts daily to the person who hates God, shakes his fist at God, and blames him for every problem. God gives good things to every person on earth. He also allows tragedy to strike every kind of person. None of us is truly good and perfect like God. He doesn’t give us good things because we deserve it but because he loves us and is gracious.

 God is in control of our lives.

God is in control but he allows our actions to affect the outcomes in our lives. Our choices make a difference in what happens in our lives.

Salvation makes me God’s child and gives me a strong, personal relationship with God. It doesn’t make me perfect, but it does get me going in the right direction.

Following God’s plan brings blessing into our lives. That doesn’t mean we won’t have any problems in our lives, but that God will use even adversity for our good. Obedience to him makes a difference because we are working with his plan, not against it.

Though God plans our lives, he has also left room for prayer to make a difference.*

When life seems to spiral out of control, God is still working in our lives. He may not stop these things from happening, but he will help us through hard times if we trust in him. Trusting him gives us confidence that we have purpose in life and God will use all things, even adversity, for our good. Even evil and tragedy must bow to the good purposes of our God.

 

So when I hear someone say certain things in life are “meant to be,” do I agree with them? I agree if I can define what I mean by that. I believe God works in our lives for good and brings everything into our lives for a reason. I believe God controls our lives and, as I cooperate with him and follow his lead, God is bringing my life to a place that accomplishes his purposes and gives meaning to my life.

Example:

Let’s say someone tells me their friend is dying of cancer, but that it was meant to be. What am I thinking?

  • God has allowed this to happen. He could use medicine to cure them or he could do a miracle to cure them, but he may not.
  • God controls how that person will come through medical treatment, how the disease progresses, how the person will eventually die.
  • Prayer makes a difference in what will happen, but we leave the results with God.
  • Death is a part of life and each of us will die in some way.
  • God wants that friend with cancer to come to him in salvation so he or she will be prepared to die and spend eternity with him.*
  • God cares about the family and friends of that person and the journey they go through as well.

 How does God’s control change my life?

  • As I look back on my life, I see how God has been faithful to bring me through each difficulty. I know that he will be faithful to bring me through my future.
  • I can face uncertain times with confidence because I know that God loves me and will work out things for my good.
  • When life gets crazy and I don’t know what to do, I know God is still in control. He will lead me to the right course of action in time for me to take it.
  • I can do certain things to plan and move forward but if I feel stuck I don’t need to despair. God is still working in ways I can’t see. I can trust him.
  • My life has purpose because what I do matters. God can use me in ways I don’t understand.

Life on earth will pass and each of us will face our eternal destiny. God gives us many blessings on earth, but he also gives us this time to prepare for death.* People come up with many conflicting ideas about what we must do to prepare to meet God. Many people think if their good outweighs their bad, God will accept them, but God says differently. God reveals himself in the Bible and the Bible gives only one way to prepare for an eternity in heaven.

I can try all my life to be the best person I can be, but I still do wrong things that offend God. He is holy and he can’t accept the wrong moral choices people make. He can, however, forgive them. God’s Son Jesus had no sin of his own, but he allowed soldiers to crucify him to pay the penalty for the wrong things we do. We have a choice about our eternal destiny. He offers us salvation but we must accept it.

How can I get this salvation?

  • Be sorry for the wrong things I’ve done that have offended God*
  • Believe that Jesus died in my place, paying the penalty for sin *
  • Choose to accept God’s gift of salvation*

[Sentences with an * by them match Bible verses that explain these ideas. The Bible verses are: Genesis 3, Genesis 37 and 39-50, Romans 8:28, 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, Isaiah 55:8-9, James 1:17, James 5:16b-18, 2 Peter 3:9, Hebrews 9:27, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8 and Acts 16:30-31, Romans 6:23.]