Thursday, April 13

Are we different or t he same?

I was involved in a conversation yesterday about the idea of "distinctives." When churches or ministries or groups talk about "distinctives" they are referring to the things, or maybe even the one thing, that sets them apart and makes them different from everyone else. In the church world, distinctives are the things that make Church A different from Church B, or Denomination X different from Denomination Y.

Distinctives can come in a lot of varieties. They may be different styles of ministry. They may be doctrinal points. They may be targeting of different age groups or life stations. One of the things that distinguishes Quest from other ministries is that we target people who are 18-25 years old.

The question is, are distinctives good?

On one hand, they have the potential to be very divisive. It is very easy to start saying that what makes us different is what makes us right and everybody else wrong. Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers. Christ wants all of his followers to be on the same page. He wants his followers to be as united in heart and mind and spirit as he was with God. Focusing on what makes us different from each other has the tendency to destroy that unity. We can get so busy arguing among ourselves that we don't have time to take the message and the love of Jesus to the world around us. That's wrong. And this divisiveness can cause people who might otherwise be drawn to Christ to walk away because of the dissension they see among the followers of Christ.

On the other hand, if a church or a ministry not different din some way, then why does it exist? If you are going to be exactly the same as the church down the street, then why open you doors? Aren't you better off at that point joining the ministry that is already occurring, and helping it expand? Isn't it better, more efficient and more effective for the work of Christ to pool your resources at that point? If a ministry is going to exist, there probably should be something about it that is different.

I also think that difference are necessary because not everyone responds to the same kind of ministry. If I do something different, I may be able to talk to someone about Jesus who would not have responded to a different kind of ministry.

So I'm conflicted. I keep coming back to the point of asking myself whether distinctives are good or bad. I'm not sure that I know the answer this morning...


Jennie said...

PJ has this cool theory he talked about in Thursday night class that I only sort-of grasp. Basically, humans can only see things in 2 dimensions: good/evil, right/wrong, same/different. But God can see into the cube, the 3rd dimension. He sees the truth and the plans that are bigger than our limited understanding. Even though our differences seem so important to us in 2D, to God they're all just different nuances of what is true.

I really wish the Church as a whole could understand that. I came to Living Hope from a very different denomination and, unlike a lot of people, I never really wanted to leave my old church. It just sort of happened that way. One thing the change has taught me is just how wrong we all tend to be about those who are different from us. I heard things at my old church about evanglicals that I can now say aren't true. I've also heard things at LHC about the beliefs of my denomination that also are not at all accurate. Being human, we all tend to make it a right/wrong issue. We can only see those 2 dimensions. We stop just short of trying to look at things from another point of view.

I think the differences are necessary - God made us all different, after all. But how do we keep those differences from becoming divisions? As usual, more questions than answers... =)

TheBGRT said...

Unity is essential in any organization, faith, etc. for it to survive. With that said, I know that there can be differences in unity. For example, the human body as a whole is one life form, yet there are many different parts that make up the body. In similar ways, the military is one very large organization, yet there are different branches, units, commands within the military that allow it to run smoothly and effectively.
My understanding is that unity is paramount, but there needs to be diversity within that unity. You do not witness to gang members the same way you do to Donald Trump, nor do you evangelize to Madonna the same way that you do to the middle class working man, and again you don't minister to the homeless person the same way that you do to Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses.
I personally dislike "demoninations," I know that they do a lot of good, though there is much division and anomosity that comes from splits as well; ie. the lutheran split from Catholism (sp?) To answer the question "are they needed" yes, though careful consideration needs to be applied to each situation. With that said, I am going to go minister/listen to a group of visitors that are on campus today.

Scott Wilder said...

Distinctives. What an interesting word. In my mind it gets defined as sort of: The things that make "Ministry X" something worth considering.

It's in our own hearts that we take it to that place of putting 2 or 3 or 20 similar ministries on some imaginary scale and comparing them to one another.

I think if we weren't so fallen in our thinking; we would have the ability to look at a ministry and weigh it against nothing but the Word of God and His plan for where we should be.

Jennie makes a great point about the preconceptions that we bring with us from our old affiliations. I know in my life; a lot of how I view other churches is based on using LHC in Elk Grove and St. Luke's in Stroudsburg.

When I get called to step out in faith and walk on water; I don't want to be caught looking at the winds or back on the boat. Let's all pray that we can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Afterall, isn't He the only distinctive that really matters?