Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How An Agnostic Helps Me Be a Better Minister

Laura Dennis

Laura Dennis and I first met in the blogging community.  Both of us are writers, with her blog being a popular adoption and parenting blog, the subtitle of which is: The Adaptable (Adopted) Expat Mommy.

Laura and I probably would have never been matched by others as, “Most Likely to Be Friends.” Thankfully we went ahead and matched ourselves. Although our lives couldn’t be more different in many ways – our friendship couldn’t be more perfect.  We both love guacamole. 

I’ve been a Christian pastor for the last 27 years, and now serve as the Women’s Director for the Pen-Florida District of the Assemblies of God. I’m a conservative if you have to pin me down to a label. (Which I really dislike…the whole idea of labels. Or being pinned down, for that matter.) 

 Laura is an agnostic, an unbeliever, who would probably politically align mostly as liberal…and I don’t think she likes labels any more than I do.

Oh, and did I mention…we both grew up in Maryland, but Laura now lives in Serbia?

I live in America, in the Tampa Bay area, to be exact.

Though thousands of miles away, we are in constant touch.

At any given moment I could probably tell you exactly where Laura is. Whether she’s taking her kids to school, or bringing them home…spending a quiet evening with her husband, going to the market for food for dinner or caring for a sick child.  And likewise if someone asked, Laura could probably let you know what I’m in the midst of, whether it be my work at the district office, a prayer meeting or a bike ride. We mostly communicate online however we also schedule regular phone calls. (She has this thing called Magicjak that enables us to have conversations, without even worrying about how long we talk.)

Laura is so brilliant. She was accepted to Stanford but turned down an education there in favor of pursuing a career in dance. A talented dancer, she once directed at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Then she got injured. Now she has traded her dancing shoes and become a Serbian supermom.

We have the best conversations. When I hear her voice on the phone it turns what may have been a mediocre day into something special.

At the heart of our friendship is a deep respect for the other, and this leads to listening with the intent to understand.  Neither of us are easy to offend, so our relationship is devoid of any eggshells to walk on, which is wonderful.  I’m never afraid to say anything and it’s the same for her. Neither of us got the memo on PC language.  Our conversations are hilarious. At least, to us.

Here’s a key ingredient of mine and Laura’s friendship: although we don’t share the same view at all on spiritual matters, we always support one another.   For instance: Laura doesn’t believe in God or salvation.  But, after services at our church – whether it be a Sunday, Wednesday or special event, she will ask me if anyone responded for salvation.  And if I say yes, she gets totally excited.  Why? Why does she get excited about something she doesn’t even believe in? Because she cares about me.  And she knows there’s nothing more important to me than people coming to Jesus.

At this point in our friendship, it’s not uncommon for Laura to ask me questions like:

“Do you think this is spiritual warfare you’re dealing with?”

Laura doesn’t believe in spiritual warfare. So why would she even use that terminology?

Because she knows I believe in it and talk about it a lot, and she meets me where I’m at.  

That’s so much a part of what friendship is about – meeting the other person where they’re at.

I meet her where she’s at too, in various ways.  We have discussed our beliefs and feelings many times about spiritual things and the Bible. One night we had a several hour conversation on the Supernatural Gifts of the Spirit. She heard me out totally on what I believe and then gave me what she believes is the explanation, for all of it. We both listened, and learned a lot about where the other person is coming from and why we each hold the beliefs that we do.

I think it’s safe to say that she would tell you she never feels as if I am pressuring her or speaking in any condescending way.  Although I very much want Laura to know God and experience Him, she’s my friend, not my project. [By the way, I asked her to read this post before I published it, to be sure I was portraying our relationship accurately as far as she is concerned, as well as taking nothing out of context that we’ve talked about.]     

There are so many things I could say right now, but have settled on just leaving it at this – I would absolutely take a bullet for Laura. No question. I would lay down my life for her if it came to it.

So, how does my friendship with this woman, who happens to be agnostic, help me be a better Christian, minister, and leader? 

She helps me get a better picture of what many people who don’t know God, really think and feel. 

I’m trying to reach people who don’t know God.

Laura knows that. (I don’t have a hidden agenda. )

And so I often ask her opinion about how I’m going about trying to reach people for God. I ask, “How do you think I could do this, and be more effective?” She’s happy to tell me what she thinks and give me fresh ideas to try to reach more people. I’m grateful for her input.  

She tells me if I came and started a church in Serbia, she’d totally come there…even though she doesn’t believe.   

When I get really upset about something, I sometimes say, “Pray, Laura, pray!”I do this because prayer is always my first instinct. When I ask her to pray, she says “okay.” I know she’s not really going to pray. She just says “okay” to soothe me at the time. In reality, she’s going to send me “warm thoughts, “ and “lots of energy”.  Assuring me that she'll connect to something called the collective unconscious.  I don’t blast her with platitudes about prayer, in response.  That wouldn’t be helpful, at all.

She’s a great strategist. 

I realize not every unbeliever has this gift. Nor does every believer, for that matter.

What I am saying is this…  

Laura has leadership gifts (I believe they are God given, although she would beg to differ that they originate otherwise) that are useful for the Kingdom of God even though she’s not in our ranks. And I gladly receive them.  

I’m thankful for the agnostic that God sent into my life.

Laura doesn’t just help me be a better minister. She helps me be a better person.

One of my goals is to go visit Laura in Serbia. I’m thinking if I raise money for this, it can qualify as a missions trip, being that she is an unbeliever.  :)

In all seriousness, we have plans to meet up stateside and hopefully in Serbia too. Until then we are joined at the heart and in conversation any time we can break away from our busy lives and connect. I thank God for this blessing, while Laura probably thanks fate. I’ve never asked her who or what in the grand scheme of things she thanks for us coming together as friends…maybe that will be our next conversation.

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