I was terribly excited arriving at the convention center tonight. The volunteers were very courteous and welcoming to us as first-time volunteers. We were given sweet man purses to pack around, and a piece of flair for our lanyards to identify us to all as newbies.
Critical Concerns - Leadership Team
Tonight my fellow youth minister Jeremy and I attended the Critical Concerns Course led by Mark Dowds called Discovering the Power and Freedom of True Community as a Leadership Team. Mark has a thick Irish accent which made it entertaining just to listen to him. And we understood probably 98% of what he said, although I think there were a few sentences in a row that I totally didn't follow. He said something about protecting his family and I started cracking up because it sounded straight out of Braveheart. Yeah, I know that'd be Scottish... but Marko does wear utility kilts.
Honestly (tonight) we talked very little about leadership teams. But it was still a good session. We began by sharing in small groups how we would spend our last dollar if we know we only had one "are" (hour) to live. We then recorded and shared what we were committed to for our selves, our family, and our community. We talked about reasons that we cave to others' desires when they conflict with our own commitments. Reasons such as acceptance, being nice (like we think Christians should be), job security, and others were mentioned. I think one of the big reasons is simply a lack of confidence or insecurity. We aren't firm enough in our convictions to stick to our guns when they come under fair. And when I say we I mean I.
We did some experiential illustrations demonstrating how when we find our identity in Christ and the teaching of Scripture we can voice our convictions with confidence. Mark pointed out the difference in how people react to people that project confidence - it's much more convincing and endearing when someone projects conviction about something than when they only seem to half-heartedly believe it for themselves.
4 Models of Talkin'
Mark briefly explained four models of interaction between people -- conversation, discussion, debate, and dialogue. He described dialogue as ideal, a situation in which people learn through the words. They are not pre-rehearsed as they would be in a debate, and there is a discovery of truth. This area was somewhat post-moderny in that he talked about how if we all work together we can fit the truths together. He referred to the illustration of the blind men and the elephant in which each man comes to believe different things about what an elephant is because they're all feeling different parts of the elephant's body. On a side note, I appreciate someone's observation that there is another character in the story -- the observer (a king in some tales) that is watching all of this transpire. He sees the blind men with their partial truths, and knows what the elephant truly looks like.
Later we launched into a discussion about how we react to people in the midst of conflict. Mark when to great lengths to demonstrate that despite a person's actions, he believed that everyone had positive intentions for everything. Actually, later he said that he wasn't saying that it was true, but that if people believed it then they would live more Christian-like. Anyhow, he motivated this by pointing out that all humans are created in the image of God. He identified this as that within each of us God has placed desires that are good. We analyzed a few different situations in which people annoyed/frustrated us, yet at the heart they had a positive intention.
Conflict in the House
At this point in our discussion of conflict there was... well... a little conflict. There was some protest to the idea that behind all actions there was positive intention. Positive intention was defined pretty free and loosely, though, so it could mean such things as getting attention, expressing independence, releasing frustration on someone who could take it, etc. Independence was singled out as one thing which God wanted people to have. I didn't nitpick this in the session, but really I would say that if God wanted to produce anything in us, it would be dependence, not independence. As I talked with Jeremy later, it seems like maybe this was meant more in the sense that people have their own independent relationships with God, not born out of learned patterns from parents or that sort of thing.
Calvin in da House
Mark was talking about helping bring out God's image that resides in everyone, moreso than laying down laws for people to follow. Some people were concerned with all this talk of the good in people. Isn't a major part of the gospel that no one is good? (Romans 3:10) Mark then jumped to talking about Calvin and said that Calvin believed that human beings were "effaced" - that the image of God was entirely removed, that our hearts were black. He said posited that one possible reason for Calvin teaching this was that he projected his worldview into his teaching (that may not be exactly how he phrased it, which is the case for this whole post). Mark said that Calvin's upbringing was parallel to Freud's in some way, which apparently was bad. He seems to prefer the view that the image of God in mean is "defaced"
The ensuing discussion drew in more critics, as some pointed out that they didn't want their kids making the same mistakes they did -- that we should not just be standing by seeing the positive, bringing God's image out of people - but we should actually help students avoid sin -- point it out to them, set down rules for them.
Tying This All Together
I really felt like the discussion jumped around the topic at hand quite a bit. I really feel like the premise of the discussion was to be that by recognizing the motives behind people's actions we can better relate to them and resolve conflict. However, Mark did motivate this with the discussion of being made in God's image. But where all did this end up going?
- Conflict management through seeing intentions of other person
- Is Total Depravity for Real?
- If we're simply encouraging students to live a certain way that already exists in them (revealing the image of God that is in them) isn't that legalism?
- Why would I never tell my kids to not do things that are wrong, favoring only encouraging them to do right
- Is this Pavlov's dogs for humans?
It seemed like the original premise was very practical advice about conflict management but it took us down a lot of different roads. I think I'm pretty cool with what I thought was the original premise and with the idea that man is created in God's image. I don't know that it follows from that that our teaching should only be focused on bringing God's image out of people. The gospel is about God meeting our need, not about us getting encouraged in the right way to blossom into a state in which we see that we have no need. I don't want to get all theological about this, and I didn't challenge Mark or anything (although it would be quite ironic in the midst of a discussion about conflict and not backing down from your convictions). I am fine with his original premise I think but he stuck to taking the discussion of being God's image bearers down several different paths, and he stuck to it... except when he said he wasn't really saying that it was really true that everyone had positive intentions behind their actions... but that people would live more Christian-like if they followed that advice. So really I was a little confused that he pressed the issue so much of the time, but then was willing to pull back and say maybe it wasn't true.
But perhaps he was just making us think. In which case he did it.
- Stand firm on your convictions, on God's promises, and convey both of them with confidence.
- If in your interactions with people you seek to have a winner and a loser, if you lose you're a loser, and if you win no one will be there to help you.
- I wish I had an Irish accent
DISCLAIMER: I could have really mangled some of this but basically this is how I understood either the teaching or the discussion. If it's not in quotes I'm paraphrasing, and there ain't nothing in quotes above!