Years ago students had to relocate to attend theological seminary. I often joke that when I was young, we had seminaries to attend, not just click on! The rise of internet study has dramatically changed modern education. Nevertheless, my new bride and I packed up and moved to Louisville, our home for the next three years.
I had many wonderful teachers and classes and am grateful for this opportunity. But one of the most vivid memories I have is of a class the name of which I cannot recall and a professor whose name I cannot recall. I suppose I found the material of little value except for one exercise.
The professor listed a “no exit” relationship in the syllabus but said nothing more about it until the day in class he asked us to pair up with someone sitting nearby. Then he announced, “This is your ‘no exit’ relationship partner for the next six weeks.”
Our instructions were to meet weekly for at least an hour and talk. My partner worked in the cafeteria, so we met there for the next few weeks to converse. I soon discovered she was an angry person who had real issues with the church — strange since both she and her husband were enrolled in seminary and served a church near ours. I grew weary of her criticisms and would have ended our discussions, but we were bound by the class rules. After week four or five, she revealed how she’d been hurt as a young person in her church by some leaders who were poor examples and did some unkind things, hence her disappointment with the organized church. I think I became less judgmental.
The next class day after week six our professor became a prophet.
“Many of you experienced conflict and would have ended the relationship had you been allowed to,” he said.
I thought he had been eavesdropping at our table!
Then our professor explained how so much of life is like this: We meet and enjoy relationships until there is conflict, then we choose to back away. This happens in marriages, at work and at church. He said we ought to declare to our future congregations that we’re in “no exit” relationships and pledge our love for one another even when we disagree.
Over the years I’ve seen the wisdom of his exhortation. Most congregations include people who’ve exited relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes they flee to other churches and sometimes they just give up and stay home. There is a more excellent way. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Always pursue what is good for one another,” and “be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5: 13, 15).
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.