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Assembling Your Own “Team of Rivals”

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

In 2005, Pulitzer Prize winning American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, wrote “A Team of Rivals.” The crux of the book, is that one of Lincoln’s greatest strengths was to assemble a cabinet made up of men who had actually been his political rivals. And some were outright enemies! Why? Because they were some of the most knowledgeable in their fields and he knew the value of hearing opinions and ideas different from his own to make the best decisions. So what does that have to do with you and me?

American Christians tend to choose their friends, based on common beliefs. And I’ll put myself in that camp. “Birds of a feather – flock together” resonates with all of us because we know it’s true. In my lifetime, I’m not aware of another time like the present where Christians tend to flock together more. I have believing, Christian friends who gather together, but to the best of my knowledge rarely with any “unbelievers” present. I have other Christian friends who are moderate Democrats who wouldn’t think of inviting a Far Right person over to have dinner.

True confession. I’m not as open minded as I try to appear. I have opinions. Strong ones. But I do try to meet with people I disagree with simply because I want to discover why they believe what they do, because I could be wrong, obviously.

So, I met for six months with a Catholic Priest who I asked to teach me Catholicism, some of which I find extra-biblical. I once invited Ray Mc Millian, a nationally-known, black pastor from Cincinnati, to help me understand what it’s like today, being black and to let me know if he senses in me, any racist or bigoted tendencies. He did. But once I overcame that bruise to my pride, I stayed with our relationship to know why.

I’ve invited gay pastors to help me understand why they believe the Bible teaches same-sex, sexual relationships and marriages are fine with God. Several were angry that I couldn’t understand their viewpoint, but that’s the nature of meeting with people you disagree with.

In the last year, I’ve asked college students out to dinner who have no use for Trump or the Religious Right. I purposely did not debate with them, at least not on the first meeting. I met to understand them and their views better. In every meeting, I learned something useful for me as a thoughtful, serious Christian. I learned how best to approach these people or people like them, differently in the future.

Last summer I stopped and offered to buy a meal and pay for a weeks hotel stay for a homeless father with a family, if he would teach me something about the challenges of being homeless. He did and I was shocked, but God used that dinner to spur me on to some efforts in our community to address some of those problems.

Here’s where having a team of rivals doesn’t work. I would never invite an atheist or liberal Christian to be on a ministry board, nor would I ask a non-Christian for personal financial, or marriage counsel. I need good godly counsel for those issues. And these people simply cannot provide biblical guidance on moral, ethical or spiritual questions.

So, in your life, who is it that is providing you with another opinion or new ideas? Some Christians think that’s dangerous. But Paul went to Mars Hill and risked meeting with enemies of the gospel, so he could learn how best to present the gospel in that culture. Contrary to conventional wisdom, “ignorance is not bliss” for the serious Christian.

So, pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the name of someone who you have very little in common with, who God might use to expand your worldview.

(The Team of Rivals illustration and general ideas were the basis of a sermon by Jim Samra, Calvary Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday, September 6, 2020. Thanks Jim!)

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