Some years ago I met a minister from Atlanta, Dr. Monte Wilson, who has proven to be a true friend for nearly thirteen years. Monte has been investing his life in a James 1:26-27 ministry for over a decade now. His primary work is related to caring for orphans and widows in Africa and doing the kind of work that political liberals talk a great deal about but compassionate Christians like Monte risk their lives to carry out in places like Darfur.
Monte is an astute conservative politically. He is also has a first-rate theological mind. He is a Reformed Episcopalian minister ecclesiastically, though he retains a good dose of his charismatic and Baptist roots. He understands that the gospel of the kingdom is meant to impact people and cultures both. More than labels he is a refreshingly honest and courageous man who doesn’t really care much about many of the issues that once amped up his emotions and fired him for battle. For this, and many other reasons, he has had a wonderful and salutary influence upon me.
If I were to host an "unconference" event for a hundred or so ministers, which I am threatening to do, then Monte would be one of those people I would love to have in the room to instruct pastors about living faithfully and well in the ministry. He would regale the group with his stories about failures and the lessons he has learned, not about great success and the megachurch. What a refreshing context for real personal pastoral growth such an event would be for all.
Monte writes a private reflection quite regularly. His words often touch me profoundly. I believe his reflections should be published someday. I have decided to share a Monte Wilson reflection with you today. Here are my friend’s insightful reflections for Monday, May 14.
At least once a month I receive an email asking me why I don’t write about political issues or cutting edge theological issues all that often. “Back in the day you really took it to people.” Usually I send the person my essay on Fire Breathers and never hear from him or her again. This week, however, I received a note where the individual was genuinely concerned that I had lost my “mo-jo,” “gone over to the Dark Side,” given up on “The important battles of the day,” etc.
The issue for me is not only what is important but, also, what is important to me.
Orthodoxy, for example, remains important—and important to me. Other doctrinal battles—however critical they might be—take a back seat, at least for me.
Such cultural and societal issues as abortion, the war on terror, and the national debt are also Important and important to me. The question—for me—is where do I give my energies and resources? I am a finite being with limited resources so I must ask the question: What is Important to Me and, conversely, what is not important to me?
The ongoing debate on justification by faith alone, for example, (understanding that saving faith is never alone) is important, but is it a battle I should wage on a grand scale? There are plenty of people more qualified than I am to wage this battle, so is it the wisest place for me to spend my resources? This is not to say that I do not stand ready to give an answer for the hope that I have, only that it may or may not be a battle where I as an individual Christian should engage myself.
An example of what is not important to me is being right about everything. Some issues are simply not worth the relational damage, and not worth the factions they cause within the Church. I will debate issues such as church government or baptism . . . but only up to a point. As my brother Richard is always saying, “You can be right about everything all the time or you can have friends.” You can’t do both.
Yes, I have changed my emphasis over the last years. The biggest reason for my change is that I saw so many battles being lost because the individuals waging the battle were clueless: clueless about the fact that they were unnecessarily alienating people, clueless that they were their own worst enemy, clueless as to what they were actually communicating. So, my time and energy have gradually gone to writing and speaking about character, congruency, and communication.
If the man or woman fighting for what is important is not spiritually, psychologically, or intellectually equipped for the battle, he or she is not only risking their own health, but also will potentially bring disrepute to the cause they are fighting for. This is what is important to me.
What is it that your life is communicating?
What is it that people are hearing you say? Not what do you Intend to say, but what are people actually hearing?
Is your life (as a whole) a monument, a testimony, that attracts, motivates, and compels people to listen to you?
What do your relationships communicate to people who are taking the time to notice? How many of your friendships date back over a decade or two? Do “prostitutes and tax gatherers” listen to you gladly, as they did Jesus?
Questions such as these are what is important and—as for the questions about why I have “changed”—what is important to me.
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I read an article by Dr. Wilson in the Journal some time ago that I still read for encouragement and motivation. This blog introduced me to the charity that Dr. Wilson serves. That organization, the “African American Self-Help Foundation” (http://www.aashf.org) does more with less administrative costs than just about any other helps charity I know of.
I look forward to being able to read more of Dr. Wilson’s insights as they are made available.