DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The matrix of choices

Written by: on November 6, 2014

“Jason”[1] is a compassionate and sincere man and has been a member of our church from the beginning of the church plant. He first came with his two young children until his wife, who left him for another man, decided to not only ruin their marital relationship, but take his children away from him too. It’s been a very hard time for Jason, yet bolstered by the fact he has had a clear call into ministry, which for many years, he had been avoiding, until now. So when we started our two-year ministry internship at the church, he got excited and signed up.

 

Things were going well until about two months ago when he reconnected with an old flame from his youth. Sarah[2] is not a Christian, and is also going through her own divorce. Jason has fallen head over heels with his old love, thrilled at being given a second chance with her. To add to it all, Jason has no home, no job and no money but Sarah has all of that. Since reconnecting with Sarah, Jason’s interest in ministry training has changed.

 

What is the best way to counsel Jason? Should I go down the path of the biblical teaching on adultery? Being unequally yoked with a non-believer? All things are permissible, but not all are beneficial? Just love him through it? This was a broken man two months ago whose wife took everything he had. What would you do?

 

According to Nullens and Michener, “Christian ethics is so much more than simply following a list of rules that you can check off from day to day. It is careful, hard thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in daily decisions, with ultimate respect for God and others.” [3] In Jason’s situation, a matrix of choices lie before him. For example, short-term hedonism verses enduring? No doubt I suspect that Jason would have a bit of struggle with Piper’s definition of Christian Hedonism, which states, “The aim of the Christian Hedonist is to be happy in God, to delight in God, to cherish and enjoy His fellowship and favor.” [4] He could probably better relate to Wendy Corbin Reuschling’s statement, “Singing ‘trust and obey’ is one thing. Exercising trust and discerning the means and purposes of obedience when reading Scripture in all of its intricacy and richness is quite another.” [5]

 

Which ethical and moral compass Jason will select in the coming months, I’m just waiting to see. His decisions will not only impact himself, his children, and friends but also the small Christian community he is very much a part of. We do not live in a vacuum and the choices we all make impact those around us for the good or otherwise. I suspect his choices may not bring him any nearer to “participation in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1) that Peter wrote about[6]. After all, Sarah’s weekend job is singing in pubs and each Sunday I watch him struggle to stay awake after the lack of sleep and free whiskeys that accompany her job. It’s heartbreaking.

The discussion of ethics, morals and values is more than mere academics. For people in my church (and every church) it’s life or death; success or failure; prosperity or survival. God incarnate, Jesus Christ, made the bold declaration that He came to give life and life in all its fullness, and yet as humans we are often happy to settle for less. As the Scriptures show, entering into this full life requires time, sacrifice and faith and endurance. Indeed, one cannot separate Christian Ethics from the practice of faith in an unseen God. It’s not a question of reason or knowledge alone. It’s more demanding than that. I suppose that makes Christian Ethics stand out from all the rest.

[1] Not his real name

[2] Not her real name

[3] Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrity Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010), 20

[4] Nullens, 71

[5] Wendy Corbin Reuschling, Reviving Evangelical Ethics: The Promises and Pitfalls of Classic Models of Morality (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008), 65-66 as quoted by Nullens, 190

[6] Nullens, 221

About the Author

mm

Liz Linssen

7 responses to “The matrix of choices”

  1. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Liz, what a real situation this is. And how many times have we seen it play out in a number of areas in life? Do you wait for Jason to ask advice? Or as a leader, a pastoral leader, do you take him aside for a cup of coffee and hold him accountable (with a kind voice) for his actions that will drastically effect his future? Do you counsel him and tell him you have seen him through the darkest of days and don’t want that to happen again?

    I appreciated how you observed his decisions and life choices will impact your small faith family. In this “postmodern culture,” how often do we believe our personal choices have no impact on those around us? We often choose to believe that we can do anything we want with our personal, private lives and it will not harm or affect any others.

    Liz, we’ll pray you through this as you discern how you can walk “Jason” through this life. As my mom always tells me when I walk out the door, “Have a good day, make good life choices!”

    • mm Liz Linssen says:

      Thank you Ashley for your feedback. Yes, it’s a hard season for him and I just pray that God brings him through it.
      Indeed, this whole area of ethics really is about the impact our choices make, not just on our own lives, but on those around us. Yet we often don’t think about that.
      It’s a tough one, and often there are no easy answers. But God is a God of wisdom and He is able to guide us and show us the right path to take. I guess that’s what it all boils down to. May God help us through this ethical minefield!

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    This an excellent example of the “messiness” of ministry. At least that’s what we call it. I appreciate the way in which you’ve taken time to recognize the fragility of this situation is key for Jason and for your church family. Particularly in a small community, the example of how your leadership team handles this will shape the thinking of others. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians comes to mind – they were some messed up bunch – yet Paul simply held out the truth, challenged them to examine their lives and allowed them the freedom to face the consequences of their decisions. Ultimately, the Lord will look after the church, our role in leadership is to present the truth as we walk with people through the messiness of life. No easy task. May the Lord grant wisdom and discernment.
    If you could ask Jason two questions what would they be?

    • mm Liz Linssen says:

      Thank you Deve. I very much appreciate your pastoral experience and wisdom in this area. It’s just heartbreaking to see someone make choices that draw them away from God and His purposes for their lives. But as you say, we can only present the truth; how someone responds is their responsibility.
      Two questions, hmm. Not sure if I can think of two, but one I would ask is, is this relationship drawing you closer to God or away?

    • mm rhbaker275 says:

      Deve, good response to Liz’s post.

      It is perceptive to respond to a moral dilemma by asking a question. I noted elsewhere in responding to a post that in many of Jesus’ encounters with life situations, he responds with a question. “What do you say?” or “How do you read (interpret) the law?” Asking a question shows both understanding and concern. Questions lead to a conversation narrative that allows all parties involved to inject themselves into the narrative.

      It does work both ways for the leader, Liz in this case. She notes that “Jason’s” decision “will not only impact himself … but also the small Christian community he is very much a part of. We do not live in a vacuum and the choices we all make impact those around us for the good or otherwise.” There will come a point when Liz must ask herself, “How far can this go? When must I speak into the life of those who are observing and wondering about the moral consequence?”

  3. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Liz, thanks for making such a good application of our text to real life moral decisions that we face as pastors…

    I like your quote from the text, “Christian ethics is so much more than simply following a list of rules that you can check off from day to day…” One of the aspects of “The Matrix of Christian Ethics” is its relevancy to contemporary postmodern culture. I remember reading, I wish I could recall the book, I think it was one of James K. A. Smith’s books, that one of the defining concepts of postmodernism is the antipathy to following lists, patterns or going “step-by-step.” If this is true, and it seems it is, there are significant consequences in all areas of social life. From an evangelism stand-point, consider the “Roman Road” or the “Four Spiritual Laws;” they are relatively ineffective in a post modern world. A postmodern wants to heat the narrative – much like your story of “Jason” and “Sarah.” The same holds true in making moral choice/decisions. Right verses wrong, the “do’s” and do not’s and good over evil are not accepted in some list to follow. People find themselves in the context of narrative.

    What I love about Nullens and Michener’s “The Matrix of Christian Ethic” is its relevancy to the world in which I live. Your post helps to make this clear.

  4. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Liz,
    thanks for your post.
    there is so much to reflect on and respond to and further query from a post like this…
    I would offer two things, it is concerning that his recent vocational pursuit toward ministry so quickly changed (not necessarily wrong, but certainly concerning…) and it is encouraging that he is still attending — doubly so since he is obviously doing so despite having to drag himself in to do it.
    A third thing: Perhaps creative space might be made somehow at some time for Sarah’s talents to be used in the church? Christmas carols…(’tis the season 🙂 )?
    Anyhow, I often see that Christ lowers the bar of entry for us into relationship and raises the bar of discipleship/friendship.
    I pray much wisdom, love, grace, mercy, and peace surround all in all of this.

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