“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” -Proverbs 27:17
I remember the first time I received, what I would call, wise counsel from Mark. It was within my first couple of months on staff at Acts 2. Jeff Hedrick, the Business Administrator, and I were working on building and implementing the, then new, child check-in system. This system uses computers to help safely check-in our children who are in fifth grade and under. Anyway, Jeff and I had been working on this system for what seemed like a long time. We would come in early and leave late trying to fine-tune these computers to do what we needed them to do. In the middle of this effort, Mark came into the office. He asked Jeff and I to meet him in one of the classrooms, and he sat us down to ask us a question. “What is the goal of Acts 2,” asked Mark. I was pretty proud that I had already memorized the dream, goal and strategy. “To help non-religious and non-active Christians become radical Christ followers,” I answered with a smug look on my face. “Okay, it’s to help bring outside people in,” Mark summarized. I nodded. “How is our child check-in system doing that?” I was furious with his question. Let me explain.
You know that thing that happens when someone gives you feedback and you instantly think of 1,000 reasons why they are wrong? They will say, “You were really rude at that meeting,” and in your mind, you respond, “No I wasn’t! You’re rude! You’re stupid!” Or they will say something like, “You shouldn’t have raised your voice at the kids like that,” and in your mind, you respond, “I’LL RAISE MY VOICE AT WHOEVER I PLEASE!” Most of the time we don’t say it out loud but we exclaim it in our heads to justify why we acted the way we acted. Yeah, that’s what happened to me.
After Mark asked this question, I started making self-justifying remarks in my head. “I’m trying to make this work. I can’t be bothered with how it helps bring people into the church!” “My biggest problem is trying to get the computers to print name tags, not trying to help outsiders feel like they are a part of something!” Honestly, I kind of surprised myself with my self-justification. I didn’t know I had all of this in me. I think the main reason I had this inner dialog was to protect my own ego.
Sometimes I think that if I’m wrong about something that means that there is something wrong with me. Like if I were perfect, I wouldn’t need someone to correct me. Yes, it’s true that if I were perfect no one could correct me. And yes, the goal of the Christian life is to be like Christ, who was perfect. But if I never receive corrective feedback or counsel I will never be able to be like Christ. So one of my biggest areas of growth is receiving feedback in a productive way.
Flashback to the classroom and Mark asking Jeff and me how these check-in stations help bring outside people in. “I’m not sure,” I said finally. “Okay,” Mark said, “How can we change what we are doing to accomplish this?” So that’s what we talked about. For the next hour Jeff, Mark and I talked about how we could change our system to help guests feel welcomed and like their children were being protected. Good things came out of this meeting. Jeff and I made changes and I believe the Kingdom of God benefited from it. But it took me receiving counsel in order to accomplish this.
In order to receive wise counsel, we must be smart. We have to be smart enough to be around people who can give it and smart enough to stay in the room while we’re receiving it. The writer of Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Here’s the thing, the way iron sharpens iron is by collision, friction, impact. Iron doesn’t sharpen iron by simply sitting next to each other and never coming into contact. Iron connects with iron in order to sharpen it. That’s what it takes to receive wise counsel. It takes us realizing that someone else is actually smarter than us and it takes us withstanding the pain long enough to actually receive it.
I am so thankful that I have iron like Dr. Mark Foster to help sharpen me. I can’t say that every conversation we have had was completely comfortable. In fact, we have had a few uncomfortable conversations. Yet, as I stand on this side of those conversations I can see the sharpening I have received. I can say that I am better a better person, Christian, and pastor for having Mark in my life. My hope and prayer for you is that you have someone to be iron in your life and the patience to withstand the tough conversations to make you sharper.