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Don’t become a ‘Tator'

Elim’s Director of Training Dave Newton learned a great lesson when he was introduced to a new family in church.

One of the beautiful things about church, or indeed any organisation or gathering of people, is the rich diversity.

 A Sunday morning in any church across the nation may bring you into contact with someone whose life experience, worldview, culture, and even ethical framework, is quite different from your own.

I have sought in my own life not to be indifferent about these differences – it is easy to bury our heads and imagine everyone to be the same as ourselves, or to pay so little attention to others that we miss the worth and variety they offer. On the other hand, we can be so consumed with the fact that people are different from us, or don’t fit into our mould, that it is easy to marginalise people, disrespect them, or even write them off.

A number of years ago I was introduced to a new family called the ‘Tators’. The dad, Dick Tator, was clearly in charge, loved the sound of his own voice, and made it his mission to get people doing what he said. Then there was Carmen Tator, his wife. She made it her business to inform everyone of what was happening around the church. She readily expressed her unique take on issues that concerned everyone but herself – some may have called it gossip, but to her it was a helpful commentary. 

They had a son in his 20s called Speck Tator, he loved work: he would watch everyone else do it for hours. It wasn’t that he was without an opinion on how to get the job done, but he wouldn’t lift a finger to do it. Agi Tator was his little brother; he had an eye for detail, able to point out the faults in others with minimal effort. If there was potential conflict, he would be right at the centre of it. 'Why strive for unity when you can bring division?' That was his unwritten motto.

They had many other relatives including Immy, who kept up with the fashions and fads, and always knew the latest worship songs; and Hezy, who wanted to be helpful but never got round to it. The final sister was Ro Tator ... she started at the church with her family but over the years had tried every other church in town, giving reasons why none of them met her needs.

Reflecting on these experiences got me thinking. I wonder if our discipleship in local church has been reduced to simply pointing people in the direction of what they are looking for, and sitting back, hoping they'll find it? A sort of discipleship-from-a-distance that encourages people to join a house group, read the Bible and pray, but gives little attention to travelling with people on the journey.

It’s easy to chuckle at this relatively familiar family; perhaps we recognise some of the characters immediately? One of the challenges we face, as people being built up into the body of Christ, is to allow those who are different from us to challenge and refine us, rather than seeing it as our role to change them. Jesus puts it so simply, with a seemingly bizarre over-exaggerated account recorded in Matthew’s Gospel ...

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” (Matthew 7:3-5).

Here Jesus isn’t telling us to mind our own business and ignore the faults of others around us, but he does instruct us to pay attention to our own faults before we point out the faults of others.

Perhaps the challenge for us today, as we come across people who are different from ourselves, is not about identifying the differences between us, or trying to make everyone the same. Rather, we allow those differences, even the slightly annoying ones, to challenge us as we seek to walk in the words and ways of Jesus.

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