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For he who is not against us is on our side. Mk. 9:40

We have our own recipe for Shepherd’s pie…

We have a wonderful Irish restaurant in our town [when writing to a Christian audience it seems prudent to call the place a restaurant rather than a tavern or pub]. They serve tasty traditional faire and one of my favorites is the shepherd’s pie. The dish is lined with mashed potatoes, filled with savory gravy, vegetables and ground beef topped off with even more mashed potatoes. Now although it’s truly delicious, I would generally refer to the above-described delicacy as “cottage pie” rather than a “shepherd’s pie” because their principle ingredient is beef. It seems axiomatic that a shepherd’s pie should have lamb as the primary ingredient. Nonetheless today the term “shepherd’s pie” can acceptably refer to a dish prepared with either beef or lamb. In other words, beef or lamb are both considered orthodox.

If I wanted to learn to prepare a shepherd’s pie, I would want to use lamb. It just seems right to my sense of values. I’m sure the cooks at my local Irish restaurant could teach me quite a bit about their savory gravy, mashed potato and vegetable ensemble. I just don’t want them to substitute beef for lamb. For me, lamb is an essential. It just seems like lamb is how we would do shepherd’s pie in “my” tribe.

Every tribe has their own sense of identity and values they treasure and make them special and arguably unique. In Christ’s Church there are numerous “tribes” whether they are a denomination, network, association, non-denominational or independent. Assuming they meet the essentials of orthodoxy then they are part of His Church and presumably interdependent of one another. This appears to be a self-evident Kingdom principle as articulated by Jesus in His commencement address to the disciples in the Upper Room [John 17].

The twelve tribes of Israel were interdependent. The two reasons they came together were worship and warfare. They had a common God whom they were to worship together, and they were to oppose common enemies of their God who threatened the welfare of the Kingdom as a whole. They were, ideally, not be engaged in a civil war unless one of the tribes truly posed a threat to the Kingdom. They were all part of a whole Theocracy or Kingdom. Yet they were also independent with a unique sense of identity. Each tribe presumably thought they were special.

The Tribe of Benjamin was the smallest tribe, yet they could boast of their famed left-handed slingers, bravery and fierceness in battle and how they had withstood attacks of the other tribes. Saul, Israel’s first king, as well as Esther and Mordecai were part of this tribe. The people of Benjamin later opposed idolatry as part of the kingdom of Judah. The great apostle Paul pointed to his heritage as part of the tribe of Benjamin when asserting a lofty spiritual pedigree. Paul also realized God’s Kingdom would include other tribes – the Gentiles – whom he would not only teach, but receive from. The tribe of Benjamin was part of a greater whole.

Kingdom leaders treat those on Christ’s side as friends not foes.

Because of our tendency to focus on our tribe rather than Christ’s Kingdom, we sometimes view other tribes with suspicion, as competitors, or even as foes. Kingdom leaders treat those on Christ’s side as friends not foes. This principle was revealed to the disciples as recorded in Mark 9:38-42. The apostle John reported to Jesus how the disciples had observed someone from outside their group casting out demons in Christ’s authority. As if to assure Jesus, John told Him how the disciples had stopped this outsider from engaging in unauthorized Kingdom work. Perhaps Jesus’ disciples were upset another follower of Christ, from outside their group, was successful in casting out demons when they had just failed [Mk. 9:18]. To their surprise, Jesus wasn’t pleased with the report. Instead He told them, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side.”

Kingdom leaders have a sense of unity with other tribes that are a legitimate part of Christ’s Kingdom without being cliquish elitist or competitive. Christ’s Kingdom likely includes far more “tribes” than most church leaders are comfortable embracing. Yet they are friends not foes.

Kingdom leaders have a sense of unity with other tribes that are a legitimate part of Christ’s Kingdom without being cliquish elitist or competitive.

Consider the parable of the shepherd’s pie. You can almost imagine those of the lamb shepherd’s pie tribe wailing in dismay that another tribe has prepared a pie with beef and still called it a shepherd’s pie! Those of the lamb shepherd’s pie tribe would likely declare their heritage of faithfulness to the original recipe and traditions with a certain sense of superiority over the upstart beef and, worse yet, ground beef clan. There would be a subtle competition between the proponents of the various recipes, all claiming to preserve the true recipe or to reach a whole new contingent of consumers of shepherd’s pie. It’s not too difficult to imagine the lamb pie clan discouraging their disciples from attending cooking conferences hosted by the beef clan or vice versa. There may be some reluctance to invite a noted chef from the other clan to speak at their conference on meat pies, because even though he was asked to speak about how to prepare vegetables, he might propagate his meat preference and contaminate our young chefs who know not the dangers of succumbing to this charismatic chef’s meat agenda. You get the point …

            In light of the call to kingdom unity and the reasonable desire to maintain the unique characteristics of the relevant tribes in the Kingdom, how do we develop a Kingdom-leader attitude towards other tribes? In an effort to live this principle, I’m suggesting the following four-fold process: culturalization, collaboration, communication and cooperation.

Culturalization: one of the obstacles to Kingdom unity is the fear that members of your tribe, especially the chronologically younger or spiritually less mature, shall be negatively influenced by the values of other tribes that are in conflict with your own. One way to avoid the perceived contamination is ensuring your tribe’s younger members know the values of your tribe (theology and philosophy of ministry). When your tribe’s members understand their values and embrace them as their own, they have developed in their culture. Once developed, they are less likely to be negatively influenced by exposure to other tribes.

Collaboration: as noted, the twelve tribes of Israel came together for worship and warfare. This may provide a model for collaboration. One aspect of warfare can be seen in prayer. In our community, fifteen to twenty evangelical church leaders gather weekly for prayer. As we pray together for the spiritual health and welfare of our community and the advancement of God’s Kingdom we are in effect engaged in warfare together. Similarly a National Day of Prayer event hosted by multiple evangelical churches displays the united Church engaged in our common spiritual battle. Another example of warfare collaboration relates to community service projects. Joint projects involving multiple evangelical churches can leverage significant Kingdom resources to minister to needs, present the gospel, and advance the Kingdom.

The worship element is displayed when evangelical churches come together for times of worship and praise. An assembly of local churches hosted a common Sunday morning service at an outdoor venue to display the united Church. These Kingdom leaders cancelled their typical weekend services to gather together as the Body of Christ. We’ve also had gatherings where each church provides a team to help lead praise and worship among the assembled from multiple churches.

As an aside, I’m not suggesting collaboration by various tribes for the purpose of church planting. My personal belief is that combining tribes in that way tends to dilute the theological and philosophy of ministry values, diminishing their effectiveness in reaching the lost making disciples and developing leaders.

Communication: What can you learn from Kingdom leaders from other tribes? What lessons can you impart to leaders from other tribes to help them to advance God’s Kingdom? Church leaders, especially those with a very strong affinity for their tribe, tend to be reluctant to receive from or share with leaders from other tribes. I occasionally meet with pastors from other tribes because I respect them as godly men and Kingdom leaders. I appreciate that I can learn from them as well as learning from other leaders from my own tribe. Perhaps attending a conference hosted by another tribe or hearing a speaker from another tribe will stimulate development. Consider an opportunity to invite someone who is part of another tribe to partake in a gathering of your tribe. I’ve discovered that simply attending a service at a church outside of my tribe can expose me to new ideas and perspectives, helping me to grow and be more effective as a Kingdom leader. Again, this presumes maintaining the essential values of my tribe.

Cooperation: resources are limited, and it’s not unreasonable to generally prioritize investing in Kingdom efforts aligned with your tribe. Presumably you value your tribe and its unique place in the Kingdom. However, do you view other tribes with suspicion? Do you perceive them as competitors? In essence, do you see them as friends or foes? How do you feel when you learn a different tribe is planting a church in your community? I must confess, my first reaction when receiving requests for resources from other tribes has often been to disregard it (as long as I’m confessing, I’ll admit I’m sometimes offended they’re asking for my support, rather than limiting request to their own tribe). I’m convicted that in order to move towards a Kingdom attitude, I need to prayerfully consider how I can cooperate in their Kingdom initiative. Perhaps some measure of support is called for such as prayer, finances, providing excess equipment, or even counsel. This type of support encourages the Kingdom value of unity.

Lifework:

  1. Describe your current experiences praying with and gathering to worship with Kingdom leaders from other tribes.
  1. What have you learned from Kingdom leaders from other tribes? What lessons have you shared with leaders from other tribes to help them to advance God’s Kingdom?
  1. Describe ways that you’ve viewed other tribes as foes? How have you learned to treat other tribes as friends?