A Message for Leaders from Dennis WOodsmall
Years ago, I picked up my daughters from their Christian school during the Yule time. As we drove home, the topic of their Bible lesson that day came up. My youngest daughter shared the story of the Magi and how the three wise men had presented gifts to the baby Jesus. I saw this as an excellent opportunity to delve into the nuances of biblical interpretation and the context of scripture. I was eager to see their enthusiasm match my own.
I began by explaining that the number of wise men who visited Jesus isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible. It could have been anywhere from two to twelve, as the text uses a plural term without specifying the exact count. However, my daughter confidently asserted that there were precisely three wise men, and she was sure of it. My patience wore thin, and I said her biblical teaching should be based on well-informed and substantiated ideas.
I pointed out that the notion of three wise men has become a widely accepted urban legend, primarily due to the three gifts they brought. However, she remained unimpressed by my attempt at education and rational thinking. She insisted, “Dad, there were three wise men.” My frustration was mounting, and I was on the brink of anger when I asked her, “How do you know?”
In response, she calmly looked at me with the utmost seriousness and declared, “Because I was there!” Wow, a conversation-stopper if there ever was one. Later, I shared this anecdote when I spoke at her graduation, commending the school not only for educating my daughter but also for transporting her back to biblical times. Of course, we know she was not there and only wanted to be right, as children sometimes do.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed this trend becoming increasingly prevalent within the body of Christ and in the teaching approaches of many individuals. We live in an era dominated by the internet and AI, with a vast ocean of information readily available at our fingertips. The sheer volume of knowledge can often overwhelm us, bombarding us with input and stimuli. While there is a potential danger in placing excessive trust in these new information systems, I also observe a different concern emerging.
I have numerous friends who continue to teach the same principles they acquired in Bible classes and organizations three or four decades ago. It’s not that these teachings lack truth, but one would hope that all of us have evolved and deepened our understanding and experience of the Lord over time. I can affirm that I’ve gained more wisdom and insight in the past few years than in the preceding four decades.
One of the remarkable and beautiful aspects of the Kingdom of God is its perpetual expansion, both in existence and depth. The Bible calls us, particularly those who teach at any level, not to grow weary in well-doing. Weariness often sets in when we lose that intimate connection with the Lord. Are we not called to divide the Word correctly? Will we not be held accountable for what we teach?
Jesus instructs us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. These spiritual longings are as essential to us as physical nourishment is to our bodies. Bruner puts it this way:
“The meaning of ‘hungering and thirsting’ is this: these persons do not believe they can live until they find or see righteousness. They long for what is right, they crave justice, they cannot live without God’s victory prevailing; for them, right relation in the world are not just a luxury or a mere hope but an absolute necessity if they are to live at all.
Everything is built upon our experiences and knowledge of God. Why should we limit ourselves to a single truth, a particular church, or a worship style we cannot move beyond? I have friends who once attended an incredible church, but it disbanded, and to this day, they have not joined another one some thirty years later. Can we genuinely believe that one specific truth, principle, or church represented the apex of our encounter with God, with nothing more to discover?
We need not reinvent established truths when incredible revelations are waiting for us, ones we haven’t even begun to imagine and which God has in store for us. We must maintain a continuous hunger and thirst for God. Many within the body seek to impress others with their knowledge and often recount the same stories over the years. In my own church, whenever we talk about God giving us divine direction, there’s a man who consistently brings up an event from over thirty years ago related to a trip to Nashville. While it’s a great story, one can’t help but wonder what has transpired in the thirty years since then. Did God have only one significant experience planned for him? I think not!
Consider what Messenger is all about. Whether it’s the intimacy with God, the power of the Gospel, the radical middle, the ways of God, or the Kingdom alignment. None of these could have been as vibrant and fresh as they are to us in leadership if it were not for continuous learning and studying nurtured through our relationships with each other. Some of us have been doing this for nearly four decades, and the revelation and excitement we experience today are more profound than ever before.
Returning to our central theme, it’s crucial for individuals, especially those in ministry, never to become complacent with a single truth. Hold onto it, and I can assure you that God will continually refine, correct, and expand that truth throughout your life, particularly in your later decades. In your sixties and seventies, you will encounter truths you may not have been prepared for earlier in life, which will blow your mind!
I follow an expository teaching approach, going through Scripture verse by verse, which demands extensive research and time. It took me over a year to explore the Epistle of Galatians with my congregation. Before that, we spent several years studying 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John and the Book of Revelation. I am not known to be a mystic, nor have I leaned towards what my friend calls “woo-woo,” or an experiential form of Christianity.
However, while studying John’s writings, I encountered some extraordinary and inexplicable experiences. As I immersed myself in the material, it felt as if I were spiritually transported back in time, standing alongside the Apostle John as he penned his revelations and lived the events he was writing about. It wasn’t a daydream or a dream, and I can’t fully explain it. Nevertheless, these encounters were among the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, and they continue to occur. Perhaps it took all these years for me to be fully prepared for them.
If I had stopped my teachings at what I learned in Bible school or graduate school, I would have missed out on the profound joy of these Kingdom experiences. I suppose what I’m trying to convey is that I’ve learned because “I was there.”