Special Interview with Ed Welch
(from Peacemaker Ministries)
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: Our annual conference theme this year, Christ, the Cornerstone of Reconciliation, comes from one of the four core convictions of Peacemaker Ministries, that genuine peace between people can be found only through Jesus Christ. When you hear that, what thoughts come to your mind?
ED WELCH: My first thought is that I had better know Jesus Christ if I am going to be some sort of ambassador of reconciliation. The beauty of ministry, and also the feature of it that provokes a certain amount of fear, is that it's not a technology or a step-by-step process. Ultimately we all know that the most important thing that we can bring to somebody is Jesus Christ, and that means it must be fresh in our own minds, or we are not going to be able to give it to somebody else.
I had a counselee who recently was very helpful for me. He was going through some very, very difficult times, and there were days when the scripture seemed not quite stale but certainly not very lively. He discovered that what he needs to do during those dry days is to force-feed himself on the scripture. I have appreciated that perspective ever since. If Christ is going to be central in our ministry, it probably means that we are going to have to feast on the word. Some days we are going to be hungry and it's going to be a delight, and other days we are going to have to force-feed ourselves. I'm not going to let it go until I have found Christ, whether it takes a paragraph or whether it takes the book, I'm going to be looking for Christ.
To offer someone a person, we have to know that person, and that's a lifelong calling in each of our lives.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: To what extent can we draw parallels between Christ's work of reconciliation and our activities as Peacemakers?
ED WELCH: One of the delightful images that I find in the scripture is that Jesus breaks down walls. When Jesus was on the cross the curtain in the temple that separated us from the Lord was ripped in two. The temple was filled with walls: walls that separated Jew and gentile, walls that separated Jewish men from Jewish women, walls that separated Jewish men from Jewish priests, and priests from high priests, and high priests from God and on and on and on. Jewish life was just one big series of walls that looked like a maze in which you could never, ever get to the center.
Just as Jesus broke down barriers, we are expected to be people who are smashing walls throughout our lives as we are empowered by the Spirit of God. True, Jesus is different from us, because he is the Holy One, the Son of God. But scripture over and over again emphasizes the continuity between the ministry of Christ and our own. Sometimes people say, "Well, that was Jesus, he was God." But that thinking minimizes the fact that he has given us everything we need. So we are not deficient in our knowledge of God's word, and we are not deficient in being empowered, because we have the Spirit.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: So when Paul says something like, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ," you would say there there's an expectation for Christians to engage in reconciliation-like work, even though we are not divine?
ED WELCH: Right. Somebody could view the Christian life as a growing experience and be relatively content with it, but scripture comes along and says things like, "Okay, you're loving one another. Good. Now, love deeply from the heart." What about peacemaking? "Okay, your relationships are calmer, people think you're nice. You don't seem to have any outstanding tensions with people. Now be an ambassador of reconciliation to a world that continues to experience walls and divisions."
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: In your experience, how does the typical Christian view the role his or her faith in Christ has in reconciling with others?
ED WELCH: To begin with, I have great confidence in the church because the Spirit is the one who is with the church. Jesus loved the church. When I travel and meet Christians in other places, I have the delightful privilege of seeing that indeed the church is growing in numbers and in depth. These are good times for the church.
Do I find on the whole that the centrality of Christ is readily apparent in the every day conflicts that we have? I would say no, I don't see that. I don't see many people really honing those particular instincts. There still seems to be a sense that Christ comes, converts us, and after that we are sort of left on our own. We fumble around, try to do the best we can, but the centrality of Christ is primarily relevant at conversion and at the moment we die. The church could tap more fully into what the Puritans called the present benefits of the blood of Jesus.
In other words, there are a lot of people who are growing in their knowledge and love for Jesus Christ, but in terms of day-to-day existence there seems to be segmentation of their lives, where Jesus is in one piece of their lives and their day-to-day relationships are in another piece of their lives.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: How would someone apply his or her faith in Christ to the real-life problem-solving issues that are the focus of both biblical counseling and biblical peacemaking?
ED WELCH: As I get older I gain a greater appreciation for the complexity of people's lives and all the different perspectives that people bring to problems.
But at the same time Jesus Christ is the grand unifying theory of the universe. He's the grand unifying theory of the scripture. Second Peter 1:3 has become more and more alive in my own thinking: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness." Well, how can the knowledge of Jesus send its tentacles out to do absolutely everything in our lives? My job as a counselor is to make the connections for people. How can I as a counselor make the connection between those everyday events and the knowledge of Jesus Christ in such a way that people leave with their faith encouraged?
The scripture presents Christ as beautiful and the scripture presents Christ beautifully. The message is beautiful, and the way the message is presented is powerfully contrasted; it's winsome. Scripture has this penetrating way of describing the work of Christ. As a counselor, my desire is to ask people what Jesus has to do with their circumstances. And we want to sit with that particular question until the answer surprises us—until we see that Jesus has more to do with them than we ever imagined.
The gospel should surprise people. Whether it's the first time somebody hears the gospel of Christ, or the thousandth time we've heard it, the gospel should be surprising. People weren't expecting the Jesus who came, and people aren't expecting Jesus now. People aren't expecting all the implications of the cross for reconciliation.
My desire is that the cross of Christ becomes more and more surprising for people, and in a certain sense unsettling. If we really know the Christ who loves us deeply, that's wonderfully comforting on the one hand. But when we let it sink into our hearts for a little while, it's frightfully disturbing, because it means that now we, too, are called to a different kind of love than we are offering today. It's going to be a costly kind of love. As preachers sometimes say, "The goal is to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable."
Well, all of us are both. We are all people who are disturbed and we are all people who are too comfortable. The gospel comes along, and it is a comfort to us who have experienced broken relationships. But it disturbs us because it calls us to a much grander mission and more costly mission than what we originally anticipated.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: Ed, CCEF shares with Peacemakers Ministries a passion for returning the ministry of counseling and peacemaking to the local church. What thoughts do you have about how the local church could do this more powerfully and effectively?
ED WELCH: More often than not, the changes I witness in other people to whom I minister have come by what we would think as fairly ordinary ministry in the Body of Christ. It may be somebody praying with them or for them. It may be a sermon. It may be somebody inviting somebody else over for dinner. It may be a Bible study. It could be a throwaway comment that somebody made to someone else after a Bible study that the Spirit used to really open up a new world of thinking for a person.
So as a counselor, I see every single day how the Lord mobilizes the church to minister to individual people, and it's just plain glorious. Frankly, when I first started counseling it was a wound to my pride—after all, I was the expert!—but I now I find it to be utterly glorious.
Here's the dilemma, however. Most of the things that the Body of Christ does I believe are somewhat inadvertent. It's without real vision. The Body of Christ sometimes has a certain inferiority complex that there are experts out there who can do it better. Even though I know that the experts, like myself, can't do it better, I find the Body of Christ persistently speaks that. Certainly one of my desires is for individual members throughout the Body of Christ to have a vision that we have been given this marvelous, marvelous trust in the gospel, and it is deeper than anything experts could offer.
My desire is for the church to have a vision that we have been given something startling here. Having been given something startling, we must ask ourselves how we can have a vision to bring it to other people who are hurting, who have fractured relationships and so forth.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: What strategies can help the church be more intentional and purposeful in bringing the gospel to bear on the lives of members and neighbors?
ED WELCH: We want our teaching to be deep and penetrating, but we also want people to hear our teaching and say, "Yeah, that makes sense. That's exactly what I was thinking."
Our teaching should come back to the simplicity of the gospel in such a way that it's accessible to everyone. The last thing we want is for people to say, "Wow, that is awesome the way that person was able to minister in that situation, but I could never do it." What we want is for people to say, "I can do that. Yeah, I know the scriptures. I've had people like that in my life, and I have done that with people in my life. And there are ways you're saying I could be more purposeful and more intentional in doing that." The scripture is accessible to all of us, and ministry is something that all of us are called to do.
People should be encouraged to take what they heard from Sunday's sermon and ask, "Given what we just heard at church, how do we change? How does that apply to the particular parenting struggle that we're having right now? There are hundreds of applications; let's begin to think through some of them."
So in a sense we want ministry to be ordinary. We want people saying, "This makes sense. It immediately follows from what scripture has to say."
The distinctive we come back to the most, though, is the supremacy of Christ, and how the knowledge of God in Christ is the thing that we need, with implications for everything.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: Ed, in our complex society it seems as though lay people typically view scripture as having little application in their lives. How can we communicate the relevance of scripture in everyday life?
ED WELCH: I think the main task is that we communicate to one another with conviction and persuasion about the sufficiency of scripture. Through passages such as 2 Peter 1:3 we are persuaded that the scripture is more than sufficient for the problems of living. That has to be our starting point.
Let's say someone suffers from what they believe is clinical depression. When we have this keen sense of the sufficiency of scripture, we are going to persevere. The scripture might be a tough nut to crack on this one, but I want to be a Berean, who searches and asks questions of the scripture. What it might mean is calling someone else to say, "Here I am, clinically depressed, and I don't know what scripture has to say about this." There are pastors and people who have had lots of experience in the word out there who we can call. So the first thing we do is we ask for help.
The second thing that we can do is use the scripture a little bit differently than the way we normally use it. Let's say we are reading through one of the epistles and we are having a conflict in the home with one of our children.
Let's say the epistle we're reading does not use the word "conflict" at all. So we say, "Lord, I'm going to read your word but I'm going to be asking, 'What does this passage have to do with my relationship with my teenage daughter?'"
We ask questions we wouldn't normally ask. First Peter doesn't talk about teenage daughters, but it is a book that points to Christ. First Peter is a book that has basic rudiments of the gospel and its basic doctrines of scripture. So we say, "Okay, Spirit, teach me how to relate to my daughter from this passage of scripture."
That's a little bit of a different way of using scripture, but I think the scripture lends itself to that kind of use.
PEACEMAKER MINISTRIES: Could you tell us about your current writing project?
ED WELCH: Right now I'm working on a book about depression. The format is going to be a series of short chapters, recognizing that people who are truly depressed are not going to be able to get through a long chapter. My desire would be that a depressed person would go through the book with someone else: a friend, a mentor, a Bible study leader, or somebody else from their church. That's the way I'm trying to structure it.
Although it sounds ordinary, the basic theme is very powerful—that we have lost sight of the fact that depression is a form of suffering.
Over the years I have found that, for many people who struggle with depression, the scripture seems silent to them and Christ seems irrelevant to them. It's largely because they have made an initial interpretative commitment that it's a medical problem. Now, there may be medical components to depression, but regardless we know that depression is suffering, it's trial, it's a tribulation, and it's hardship. When we move into the scripture, putting depression in that context, scripture then comes alive, because scripture is all about suffering. And the marvelous thing about scripture is that it doesn't demand that we know the exact cause of the suffering before we are able to minister effectively.
So that's the way that I'm moving into it. I'm just trying to reopen the rich teaching that scripture has for all suffering people and make that available to folks who are struggling with depression.
Now, there will be some other things that follow after that. For example, one of the things I'm suggesting is that typically when we feel something very strongly, that emotion is saying something. It means something. It's not simply some sort of physiological firing in our brain and our body. Oftentimes what we feel is very much related to the things that we love. The first part will be to unpack the biblical teaching on suffering as it relates to depression. Part two will be trying to listen to depression, to discern what it's saying. Oftentimes, it's revealing the things that we love, and that leads us to other rich biblical material.
The orignal interview is posted here: http://www.hispeace.org/html/artic51.htm