Wounds From a Friend
How loving honesty strengthens all our relationships.
While we desire our churches to be harbors of grace and truth, the very same qualities apply to interpersonal relationships. EFCA Today spoke with two EFCA leaders on this topic—very different men but each with a big heart for ministry and a drive to lead. Ves Sheely has served as superintendent of the New England District Association since 1999. Steve Chamberlain started at Branford (Conn.) EFC as a layman in 1978 before joining the staff, then becoming senior pastor in 1996.
To illustrate one of their differences, Steve says, “Ves is a visionary. I am very concrete. People like me can be driven nuts by visionaries.” What do you do when ministry roles call you to interact with someone who might drive you nuts? Can grace and truth play a part there?
I hear you have more than one example of grace and truth in action in your relationship. But can you tell us one?
Ves: A number of years ago, when I was in my first two years as district superintendent, I was focused squarely on seeking relationships and leading in visionary ways. I think that caused me to miss some of the basic responsibilities of shepherding pastors and churches and being timely when there were needs. In particular, there was a church looking for a pastor and I missed that assignment.
Steve was kind enough as a friend and brother to, in his special Steve way, say, “Look, Ves, I’m always going to come at you straight. I want to talk about the ways you’re coming at the superintendent position.”
It’s never easy to hear those things, but over the years I’ve learned that there’s great benefit. First, I could make the correction because I was aware of it. And second, I learned I could count on Steve as a friend. A lot of times we fail in our friendship by not telling each other the truth with a timeliness that would be helpful.
Steve: When someone comes to correct me, the last thing I want to be is gracious; I tend to be defensive. But even in the way Ves phrases it here, you’re seeing his graciousness.
Ves: I really took what Steve articulated as respect and love. Not that I didn’t have my flesh roughed up by it, but in the long run that was good. I’ve had to similarly say difficult things to others, and I keep in mind how straightforward and loving Steve’s rebuke felt toward me. I remember Proverbs 27:6: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
My call is to love him even if I disagree with him.
Steve, you’d mentioned that pastors can have big egos, and thus it can be hard to step back and let grace be evident. Tell us more.
Steve: You have to accept that if you have an opinion (and I have an opinion on everything), you’re not always right. I can voice my opinion, but I don’t have to win all the time. My wife will tell you that I have a high desire to be right.
I have to acknowledge—cause I can steamroll people very quickly—that there are other voices God is using. It’s not my church; it’s not my district. God has called Ves to be superintendent. My call is to love him even if I disagree with him.
Ves: All of us have egos. We all have a flesh that can cripple our ability to lead.
How much is tied to personality?
Steve: Because I’m known as refreshingly blunt, I know that I’d better be loving and gracious when I’m truthful, or I’ll offend a lot of people very fast. This is a family situation, and we’ll live with these people for a long time. We’d better treat other members of the body well.
Now, Ves and I might see each other three or four times a year, so there’s a temptation to think, I don’t have to get along with Ves, because I don’t see him every day. But we have to guard those relationships too. The temptation is to either let bitterness foster or just become cold about the person. But both are wrong; we are called to love each other.
Ves: Yes, the way of the world and the way of the flesh is passive-aggressive or murderous, take your pick.
Steve: Ves is part of the same body I am. And if I raise up an army to go against Ves, what am I doing? Instead, I am to pursue peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14) and make every effort to do so (Ephesians 4:3). That’s where ego has to be thrown out, and darn I wish I were better at it.
Ves: Well, give us another 50 years.