Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Thoughts on James MacDonald’s “Resignation”

Last week James MacDonald resigned. Not as pastor or anything like that. He resigned his post as “fixer”:

No more setting people straight, helping others see the light. No more putting people on a program or convincing them to look in the mirror and see what they refuse to believe. Helping? Yes. Praying? For sure! Preaching? Always and with increased power, I pray. But fixing people individually? I’m done!

I first read MacDonald’s article after reading the response from Dan Phillips. Others on Twitter expressed concern over MacDonald’s words. Personally, I think this could serve to spur us on towards a helpful conversation.

The first time that I read through the article I was put off by what MacDonald was saying. I wondered if he was completely resigning from doing the messy stuff of pastoral ministry. It seemed to me that he was essentially saying, “I’m not going to be in the business of trying to help people anymore, nobody appreciates me anyways”. It sounded like an angry tirade.

Then I read it again and realized that MacDonald’s central point is that he is no longer going to try to fix people that don’t ask for it. Some of the anger that I had picked up was directed towards his old way of doing things. So now he is resolved to not offer counsel unless asked. As MacDonald says,

“Where the fixer is uninvited and the receiving heart is unreceptive, it’s far better to pull up and kneel down—interceding for a better reception, a more timely time, or a more worthy messenger.”

What I take from MacDonald is that he is going to stop initiating “fix you” conversations. He’s going to be more concerned about the things that he is called to do and less concerned about other people—unless they ask him for assistance.

Where I Agree

As I read through MacDonald’s post I think he actually has a solid point. We are prone to worry about taking the speck of dust out of our brothers eyes without looking at the log in our own. There is a certain type of person that goes about trying to fix everyone as if he/she is helping along the Holy Spirit. I believe MacDonald is saying that he no longer wants to be this guy.

This is good. We shouldn’t be that guy. If this is all MacDonald says, then I’m in agreement with him. I wish he would have been a little more careful with his words and tried making the point in a little less shocking way—but that’s forgivable. I know there have been times when I’ve let art get in the way of clarity.

Where I Might Disagree…

While I find some agreement with Macdonald, his post still causes me to be unsettled. There is some truth in saying “if people don’t want to change there is no use trying to help”. But it’s also an incomplete truth because God’s Word is more powerful than our foolish resistance. The powerful word of God is the means that God uses to “fix” people.  

As ministers of the Word of God occasionally we are called to bang our head against a wall that probably shouldn’t budge. We do so because we know that there is power in the Word of God. Worldly wisdom says that the heart of kings isn’t supposed to turn, yet Nathan boldly proclaimed truth to a King that didn’t want to face his sin. In the same way it’s a solid axiom that you cannot help people that do not want to help themselves. But isn’t the Word more powerful than this axiom?

We must proclaim God’s Word humbly and lovingly. Yes, as we attempt to restore those that are “caught in transgression” we must do it with a “spirit of gentleness” while also “keeping watch on ourselves”. But simply being prone to hypocrisy and having a tendency to botch “pulling specks out of our brothers eyes” doesn’t necessitate the pendulum needs to swing to silence.

Yes, there might be a time to “shake the dust off our feet” but that should not be our default position. And this is what still has me unsettled about MacDonald’s “resignation”. It seems as if his default position goes against the Scriptural admonitions to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching”. That charge doesn’t seem to be something reserved for a Sunday morning sermon. And if you keep reading in that passage in 2 Timothy he is charged to do those things in the context of those that “will not endure sound teaching”.

Now if MacDonald is simply saying that he will continue to exhort, reprove, and rebuke but not try to play the role of the Holy Spirit, I agree. And it’s a good point—that I believe he made somewhat poorly. But my concern is that in embracing something good (not thinking you are deity) MacDonald is adopting something that is not good (being silent when we ought to speak).

What are your thoughts? At one point do we “resign”? Can we?

1 comment:

  1. was MacDonald expecting a quick fix to indicate success as he worked in the vinyards of the Lord?
    how human that is . . . and filled with ego, I'm afraid . . .

    some advice from a much more humble person, this:

    ""It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
    it is even beyond our vision.
    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
    Nothing we do is complete,
    which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

    No statement says all that could be said.
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
    No confession brings perfection.
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
    No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

    This is what we are about.
    We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
    We water seeds already planted,
    knowing that they hold future promise.
    We lay foundations that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
    We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
    This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
    It may be incomplete,
    but it is a beginning,
    a step along the way,
    an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

    We may never see the end results,
    but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
    We are workers, not master builders;
    ministers, not messiahs.
    We are prophets of a future not our own."
    (o. romero)



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