Conversatio Divina

Part 33 of 34

The Great Commission

Dallas Willard

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas's last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor's Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]

All right. So, then let me go back for a few minutes at least to the discussion of the last hour which was concerning pastors as teachers of the nations. Is there anything hanging over on that that we need to talk about? We want to follow Paul’s example as he says in Romans 11:13-“I magnify my office” and I hope that you will be able to do that—“to magnify your office.” Now, when you magnify something, you make it look bigger, right? When Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,”—it makes the Lord look bigger. I am hoping that that discussion that we had would at least help you “magnify” your ministry or your calling. The old translation uses the word “office.” “I magnify my office.” Now, he was talking about something that wasn’t exactly thought highly of by his Jewish friends; namely, his ministry to the Gentiles and that to many of them would be like saying he had a ministry to dogs and he is saying, “You don’t have any idea ho great this is.” So, I hope that you will be able to magnify your office as you go back to your communities and your responsibilities of various kinds. The sense of the greatness of what you are called to would stand out in your own mind and that you would be able to represent that greatness, just by your own awareness of how great it is to be a minister of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God to a world that is in the dark. And I want to just briefly emphasize, “No one else can do this work.” You are the only ones that have the knowledge, the position, and the power to do it and you need to confirm that by looking around you at the alternatives—looking at what people take as the way to live, the answers to those for questions. So, are there any comments or questions just about that? You are ready to go? [3:13]


Well, as you go, you are going to stir up a little trouble and so, you want to be ready to pray for those who oppose you so let me call your attention to a couple of the prayers and pages here—114, for example.


This is a Serbian Bishop who spoke out against Nazism and eventually was martyred for it and here is his prayer that he wrote:


“Bless my enemies, Oh Lord, even I bless them and I do not curse them. Enemies have driven me to your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth. Enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger to worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than the unhunted animal does. So have I, persecuted by enemies found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul. Bless my enemies, Oh Lord; even I bless them. I do not curse them. They, rather than I have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me whenever I hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me whenever I flattered myself. They have spat upon me whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies Oh Lord, even I bless them, I do not curse them. [Skip down a few lines…] Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment. Bless them and multiply them. Multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me so that my fleeing to you may have no return so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs. Absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins—arrogance and anger—so that I might amass my treasures in Heaven. Also, that I may for once be freed from self-deception which has entangled me in the dreadful web of the losery line. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows—that a person has no enemies in this world except himself. One hates his enemies only if he fails to realize they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It’s truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world—friends or enemies. Therefore, bless oh Lord both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies where he does not understand but a son blesses them for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life; therefore, he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.” [7:13]


Across the page is a prayer of Sir Thomas Moore who was unjustly accused and arrested and put in prison and eventually beheaded, I believe was what they did to him and this is a meditation—a kind of a prayer.


“Bear no malice or ill will to no man living. Either the man is good or not. If he is good and I hate him, then I am not. If he be naught, either he shall amend and die good, then go straight to God or abide naught and die naught and go to the Devil. And then let me remember that if he shall be saved, he shall not fail to love me heartily and I shall then likewise love him. Why should I now hate one for this while which shall hereafter love me forever more? And why should I be now then enemy to him whom I shall in time coming be coupled in eternal friendship?


“And on the other side, if he shall continue naught and be damned, is there so outrageous eternal sorrow towards him that I may well think myself a deadly cruel wretch if I did not now rather pity his pain than malign his person. If one should say that we may well with good conscious wish an evil man harm lest he should do harm to such other folk as are innocent or good, I will not now dispute him upon that point for that root that more branches to be well weighed and considered that verily thus I will say that I will give counsel to every good friend of mine but if he be put in such a room as to punish an evil man lieth in his charge by reason of his office, thus leave the desire of punishing him to God and unto others such folks as are so grounded in charity and so fast cleave to God that no secrets, shrewd, cruel affection under the cloak of a just and virtuous zeal can creep in and undermine them but let us that are no better than men of a mean sort ever pray for such merciful amendment in other folks as our own conscience shows us that we have need in ourselves.” [10:21]


Well, I’ve attached a number of other meditations here on 118. This is a prayer written by an unknown prisoner in Raven brook concentration Camp and left by the body of a dead child.


“Oh, Lord remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will but do not remember all the suffering they have afflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to the suffering. Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of all this and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have born be their forgiveness. [11:12]


Well, as I say, I’ve attached some other things here for meditation and thoughtfulness about how we relate to the people who attack us and who hurt us—who would be happy to see us dead perhaps. Now, obviously, you are standing in a different place from most people if you can pray those prayers and you have surrendered vengeance. You have surrendered getting back; retaliating and you will have done that only if you have a very clear vision of God’s nature and the life in the Kingdom of God. You will see then that it is better to pray for the blessing of those who oppose you and in any case, they won’t oppose you for long and they will be alive and you will be alive forever.  OK; any comment or questions about that? [12:33]


We need to practice these prayers. It takes some of these prayers to read them, meditate on them; perhaps adapt them to our circumstance. They will help us kneel with those who oppose us. Now, if you were to decide to make the Gospel of the Kingdom as we’ve been talking about and discipleship the center of your work, not necessarily with lots of shouting and waving of hands, but just begin to do that, you are going to have some people who will be very unhappy with you and so, we need to be ready to look at them with different eyes and be ready to receive wounds without retaliating, staying all the while faithful to what we have come to understand is right. [13:35]


“Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you—think it not strange”—that phrase—“think it not strange.” This is crucial so that when opposition comes and you are wounded, we don’t say, “Oh, where did this come from? How strange.” That’s not strange. It’s the natural course of things; it’s a part of our training as disciples. So, if you were to lead a group or a movement of some sort in this direction, one of the things you would have to teach the people you are leading is how to respond to the attacks on you and part of that is just saying to them, “Don’t think it strange.” People tend to think that if they are doing a good thing that it is strange if something bad happens—not in this world, it isn’t. It’s also not the end of the world. It’s not a great tragedy and we need to be able to have our confidence in a place that we do not think that, “Oh, all is lost” or give up. We simply persevere in the good way that has been opened to us. [15:18]


All right; well, I would like to talk a little bit—most of what I want to do this morning as a bearing on our personal care for ourselves personally but on page 123 of the notes, I have something I think is too important to omit and that is the use of spiritual disciplines in pastoral direction. Now, there’s a lot of confusion about what the pastor is supposed to do in our congregations and in people generally and I’ve attached here a little interview with Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas it’s, I think quite helpful to read it over. It is about basically getting out of the role of CEO. Now you are going to probably exercise that role some and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s important to take care of business. The problem is when people only understand that only that is what you do and then you can become the gopher or servant of the congregation or your board and that may be pushed in terms of servant leadership and so on and I hope that you now think of servant leadership in terms of really doing the things that are good for the people you are leading, not necessarily what they want and of course, not necessarily what you want but you are operating in terms of what is good and that is primarily a matter of making the power of God’s Kingdom, the Holy Spirit, the resurrected Son, the Word of God, making all of that available to people and we want to appreciate the role of the pastor as “pasture-er” as someone who arranges for the sheep to find their food and safety and lead them to it. [18:06]


So now, if we are thinking seriously about the second and third clause of the Great Commission, we are thinking about practices which we can guide people into that will allow them to find the pasture that they need for their souls and of course, this will be a communal thing because one of the main needs is someone who can help the people in the congregation come together in such a way that they really do encourage and strengthen one another and keep growing. “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”—2 Peter 3:18. See, that’s a communal effort. How can we help our people be together in such a way that they really do nourish one another, direct one another and help one another? And a lot of that will fall in the domain of spiritual disciplines. Things like solitude and silence which look like they are not communal; they really bare the fruit that they are supposed to when people, in some measure are sharing life together and then they have times of solitude that enrich them for their larger life and among other things, being together. [19:50]


Silence enables one to speak with grace in their words as Paul says in Ephesians 4,“Let your words be freighted with grace.” Now, there again, What is grace? Grace is God acting. So, in silence we learn how to speak with words “loaded with grace.” We learn how to listen to God and speak with Him and watch the effect of His presence on the words with people that are hearing—“suited to edification,” Paul says. So, the disciplines sometimes look as if they were not communal but they really are always communal. Just the fact that part of it is you don’t do with other people doesn’t mean that they are not communal. Memorization, for example is so much better when it is done in community and so the pastor would shepherd memorization in a flock and all the other things—fasting and study and worship and so on. [21:16]


So, if we are going to carry out the commission to bring the disciples together in Trinitarian fellowship and teach them to do everything that Jesus said, we are going to need to lead them into disciplines. Disciplines are for disciples and they need to be approached with intelligence and understanding because, you know, every group has disciplines no matter what they call them but they often don’t understand what they are and so the growth that one would hope for just doesn’t come. So, we need to relate the concept of disciplines to the Gospel. That’s a major part of what the pastor has to do and if you don’t have a Gospel that has any connection with discipleship, then disciplines will be haphazard at best and there will not be an orderly plan for growing in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You need to give practical direction. We need to tell people in some measure exactly what to do to get them started. They don’t know what to do and they don’t understand the things that happen in the process. We need to be quite practical in our instruction to our people that are responding as disciples and are learning to do the things that Jesus said and talk to them about things they can do that will make a difference. [23:05]


You may not have had a chance to look at the piece on Pornography As a Case of Spiritual Formation but it is on the website and you can download it if you want and I hope you look at it because I try to get quite practical there talking about what do you do? How do you change your thinking and what would you have to do to change your thinking and also how you use a group of fellow pilgrims in overcoming something like that or whatever the other problem is.


Now, I say here, “The elephant in the church house” and that is “un-discipleship as business as usual.” That’s going to be something that you will have to gently and persistently work on.  The assumption that “Yeah, we are not disciples, we are Christians” and so, that will go back to how you look at your message, and what you invite people into. I recommend some occasions of discipleship evangelism—that is to say, you evangelize for the purpose of making disciples. You invite people. If you wanted to do that in terms of coming forward: it has some problems but you use your judgment. Give people an opportunity to decide to be disciples. Then you will have to deal with the consequences of that but that’s simply a part of the story. [25:01]


So, our practice of appropriate disciplines is the way that we approach that last clause in the Commission—“teach them in such a way that they do all of the things that Jesus said.” Don’t just heap guilt on them and make them feel they ought to do what Jesus said. Well, they ought to do that but if that’s as far as you go, they won’t do it. You have to offer them hope that they can do it and that the things that have caused them to despair of genuine change can actually be dealt with and at some point, you need to say things like, “You know, everything that Jesus said, you can do” and invite responses in terms of, “No, we can’t do that” because that is what we are thinking. So, you say, “Now, what are you thinking you can’t do?” and sort of get it out on the floor. Then begin to address the issue and talk about how change comes with whatever it is. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Well, you know we can’t give money like you are talking about” and that’s a “biggy” and we have to address things like that and many people are dead convinced they cannot give what you probably know they should give and so there we lead them through that. Participating in giving is one of the first most elemental steps in life in the Kingdom of God so we have to engage in teaching and practices that will help them enter into the things that Jesus taught. [27:17]


I have a point here—number 6—re-writing your congregational contracts. This is really difficult and by that, I mean what does the individual person think they have agreed to do and to allow you to do to them as a member of your congregation or your group? Just for example, go back, really not more than a 100 years or so—it was assumed that pastors would come to homes when the whole family was there and would talk with them seriously about their spiritual life. Actually, the questions that we saw on the Band Society’s for Wesley and so on, they look rather shocking to us but pastoral work in that day was something that very well would include questions like that and the pastor would deal with the people in the family along the lines of “how is your spiritual life going?” That might involve some of the sort of things but probably, not quite as incisive as the Wesleyan questions like, “Do you want me to tell you what I think about you?” Really? But still, I mean a good pastor in that day was assumed to be someone who paid close attention to the life of the parishioners and visited in the home and knew the children, knew the problems, prayed for them, came back around in a short period of time—a few weeks possibly or a few months and would then go back to those issues and look to see what had actually…… [He trails off.] Now, that’s not in the contract between you and your parishioners and if you tried to do that, you might get, as we say, “told off.” Right? [29:54]


So, now what is it that the person in your group assumes that they can do and you must do in your service as a leader and pastor? What do they think? Now, this is a very revealing sort of thing to get into and it has to be done very gently and of course I am putting it this way but it probably shouldn’t be something where you set out to do this in writing. I’m thinking here in terms of just helping people re-think what you can do and what you should do as a pastor and then re-think what you have a right and responsibility to require of them and this will get into these issues that Keith discussed yesterday because if they have a Gospel of the left or the right, for example, it’s going to make a big difference. [31:12]


So, I think there is a two-pronged approach to this. One is, in your general teaching and preaching, address these issues. What is giving? What do you do when you give? How is it defined? Is giving to charity the same thing or the kind of giving that God is interested in? How does it relate to bringing your tithes into the storehouse, right? Well, the storehouse sometimes really needs the tithes and it may be about to fall down so we have lovely discussions in the Old Testament about saving up and giving money for building a tabernacle or restoring the temple and then sometimes we need that today for the local congregation. Giving. So, why? What happens when you do that? And how does this relate to being a disciple? Right? See, people need to be taught that and the reason they give so little is because in the contract in their mind, giving isn’t included. You know, a dollar here and there possibly, but not substantial giving. [32:48]


So, this issue of re-writing the contract, I think probably, you have the general teaching and then you have individuals working with individuals and that’s sort of the two pronged attach. I thin the general teaching should lead the way and then on the basis of that, watch how people respond and then you can teach them and help them with that but frankly, re-writing the contract is going to be something that you are basically going to have to carry in your shirt pocket as it goes along and kind of let it out slowly for people who are ready to hear it. But, what we need to understand is: the contract is there. That’s what you are dealing with is the contract in the minds of your people and for many of them, it does not include anything like spiritual disciplines—maybe some traditional thing. They may grant you a right to expect that they come to church at least once in a while. If you just disappeared—that would be—they would probably agree, “No that’s not what we had an agreement on” but then you have the fact that if they don’t like you or your services, they have a right to abandon you and find someone they like better. Better services, whatever that means to them. This is a really big deal. [34:30]


Q: Could you talk a little more about giving?


A: The basic idea is quite simple—that you give to participate in the Kingdom. That’s what you are doing when you give and it’s not for God’s benefit. God not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills but he owns the Cadillacs and everything else so He doesn’t need you. So, giving is not a plea for help. It is an opportunity to engage in the most important thing that is going on on earth—the action of the Kingdom of God. So the approach to giving is, “Look, you don’t want to miss out on this!” You will have a lot of storage units filled with junk you have bought, your life will be so complicated and all of that when you could be engaged in the action of the Kingdom of God at God’s invitation. That’s the basic shift that people have to go through. They have to get out of the idea that when we talk about living, we are talking about our needs and God’s needs. It is an opportunity and that’s really big, you know, because different denominations handle this in different ways. Some of them, for example have the big push every year to make the budget and well, you need the make the budget, no question about that but is that what it’s all about? But, we need to take the great passages on giving and there is none greater than the one in 2 Corinthians 9:5-11. This is about the Macedonians and they were a very poor people and they gave out of their poverty, verse 6, “Now, this I say that He who sows sparingly, shall also reap sparingly.” Now that’s a truism of farming and “he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” You’ve got to put the seeds in the ground with enough of them to make a harvest and not just a skimpy patch of something. “Let each one do just as he has proposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful”—and one good translation of that—“is a hilarious giver” and you step into an order of grace when you do that. “God is able to make all grace abound to you.” What is grace? God acting in your life to accomplish what you cannot accomplish on your own and all of a sudden, here He comes like water coming in a spring out of the hillside. “God is able to make all grace abound to you that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” Sometime go through there and count the “all’s” and the “every’s” in that verse. So, that passage goes on. So now, whatever truth there is to this, you don’t want to be put off from this by the fact that it is misused and abused so that you do by your general teaching about what is going on. [38:44]


Well, spiritual leadership is essentially a matter of being able to induct others into the spiritual life and guide their development in it: not merely a matter of being mighty in the spiritual one self and having astonishing affects. So, you consider Samson and Saul, they are lovely illustrations of how you can be very powerful, but not a good leader; in fact a disastrous leader, but probably today if Samson and Paul were being considered for a position as leader of the church, Samson would win probably, right? And often today, Samson is chosen over Paul. Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Samson says, “Watch me, baby! I will solve your problems. I’ll get the people in. We will build the buildings and have lots of money” and if you are observant, you will see strings of churches that have been whipped to pieces by the ”Samson” they brought in. [40:21]


OK; well, as I say, go with the people who are ready. Pay attention to them. Endure the others with love and some humor. Humor will help you. You want to teach the law, not that we are bound to it but that it reveals the good ways of God and His Kingdom. Failure in keeping the law is a significant signpost to growth in grace. That helps you know what you have to work on. [40:54]


Q: How do you feel about education today?


A: One of the ways of describing what’s happened to education in this country is, we believe in mass education. What has happened is that we have cut education down to the point to where no one could actually fail unless they chose to, right? “You dumb it down.” That’s the language. In effect, “you dumb it down” and most of our churches have been dumbed down and in part, that’s a reaction to what we do in education because the symbiosis between public or private education in the church is very, very great. For example, the division of people into little age groups; see, that just to let you know what a back number I am, I actually went to one room schools and you know one of the things was I got to hear every lesson all the way through the eighth grade and I could learn. Now, if you have your church meetings where you have carefully moved out so you put all the junior-highers or middle schoolers in one room, they learn what everyone in that group gets. The don’t get anything else and if you have a larger service, you are apt to have cut that down to where no one learns much of anything. [42:26]


So, I would just say, have a contract at least in your mind and maybe you can do what Todd is talking about; maybe you can’t, but have a contract in your mind, share it, let people understand what it is in so far as they can and know what they are agreeing to. If you are going into an already established situation, you are going to get some opposition if you start tinkering with the contract that is in the people’s minds whether or not it is written out and of course that’s where a lot of them say, “I don’t like this; I’ll go find another church” and so you have to be prepared for that. Jesus was prepared for it. If you look at Luke 14, you will realize what He is doing there is rewriting a contract that was in a lot of people’s minds who were trying to hang around with Him and it was very sharp and Luke 14, you know, “if you are going to be my disciple, you’ve got to”—He uses the word “hate.” He means, not allow it to govern your action and of course if you do that, then your people will often think you are “hating” them. You have to work through that.


Q: What is your opinion on contracts?


A: Sounds sensible to me, I mean, the main thing is you have to make sure that people understand what they are getting into and if it makes sense and they can agree to part of it but they can’t—well, then you have to separate them out and let them do what they can but I don’t see anything at all wrong with that—sounds to me like a good idea. Apparently, in this case, it worked very well. But, imagine your first group were constantly faced with the requirements of the second group. That wouldn’t work very well and they would be saying, “We didn’t agree to this.” And probably, you would have some difficulties making that “go” and we are very like that in our churches. For the most part, people have no idea what a good agreement would be and so they are pulled into a situation and they are asked to do things that they haven’t really agreed to do and generally they don’t do them and often that leads them to where they don’t even do the things that people expect like attending church. Generally, people expect that but a lot of them don’t do it. [45:30]


So, I would just make it clear and get agreement and the more explicit one can be the better.  All I am saying here is that if you are going into a pre-existing situation, you probably can’t start there. You might work up to that and then that would possibly be a helpful thing. There will be divisions over it because your staff will not agree on the contract so that has to be worked out.


I think what I would like to do now is just take a little break and circulate your blood and come back in ten minutes or so and we will start up at page 129-Spirituality and Whole Life.


Part 18 of 34


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