DIFFERENTIATION

A Biblical worldview must address issues regarding the testings and trials of life. Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that testings and trials are a standard component of the human experience. The narratives of Scripture highlight the real-life struggles of its characters and their varying degrees of success or failures in navigating these storms of life. Didactic sections of Scripture provide insights and wisdom regarding grappling with tests and trials. In the mists of trials and tests, questions arise. Primary questions often revolve around purpose. “Does navigating this circumstance have a purpose? If so, what might it be?” 22E73DF8-753B-40F8-AFA2-866B7FE4C903_1_105_c

The scribes of Scripture inform us that purposes are associated with the challenges caused by difficult circumstances. Two passages immediately come to mind:

“And not only that but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3–4, NKJV)

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2–3, NKJV)

687E1AD3-3090-4CD8-8634-AA1AB4E47571_1_105_cThe rapid spread of novel coronavirus plunged humanity into a global test and trial. This pandemic confronted every human being on a very personal level. I am pro-science and pro-government. I submitted to the counsel of immunologists who had global experience and a proven track record in successfully dealing with infectious diseases. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, living in community, I followed the counsel and legally formulated mandates of governing authorities as best as possible. Responsible governing officials designed these mandates to protect community members under their governance. 

506D8214-3764-49A4-A74C-D130A11B9CFE_1_201_aConcurrent with the pandemic was the compounding reality of a personal test and trial. I was grappling with increasing physical challenges associated with aging and post-polio. I had noted the onset of these new symptoms about six years earlier. The signs were mild at first. Ultimately, I ceased “business as usual” as far as my ministry vocation. I began to consider significant changes for my next season of life and ministry. 

I was asking myself lots of questions, especially about purpose amid this new tribulation. I knew the typical answers provided in scriptures, as in the two passages quoted earlier. As helpful and encouraging as these truths were, I sensed there was more to this struggle.

As so often happens, one insight came in a word in one of the texts I was reading. That word was “differentiation.” According to the author, “Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others.”

(Source: Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) (p. 41). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition) 

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(Several fields of study address the concept of differentiation. Such disciplines include mathematics, biology, education, marketing, and psychology. In this writing, I am addressing psychological differentiation. Psychological differentiation is an essential aspect of self-development.)

A biblical worldview acknowledges the uniqueness and value of every human being. This understanding is due to God’s hand in fashioning each individual in His image.

“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me When as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16, NKJV)

Differentiation is one tool for personal discovery. Personal discovery is an essential aspect of the process for personal growth. As I reflected on my current situation and past life experiences, I discovered that this word differentiation is an appropriate term applicable to other significant crossroad experiences in my past. Important seasons of differentiation, for example, took place in my vocational history.EAC7022D-658A-4950-A0CD-E4119FB89F0E_4_5005_c

In December of 1984, I announced my resignation as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Lakeview, Oregon. I had arrived at that post in April of 1977. Over time I experienced recurring points of conflict with the “powers-that-be.” Critical areas of the dispute centered around core values and ecclesiology (an understanding of the nature of the church). I emerged from this season of differentiation with a better sense of my uniqueness as reflected in my core values and ecclesiology.  

In 1991 I experienced a spiritual event that I interpret as an encounter with the person of the Holy Spirit. This encounter resulted in a significant differentiation. The experience was both experiential and doctrinal. It represented a critical differentiation with the church community that had spiritually birthed and nurtured me.  

After 23 years of pastoral ministry, I stepped out of the Senior Pastor role and into an Apostolic role. This act represented a new type of differentiation. This differentiation was not between myself and others but between two kinds of leadership graces within the church. One of the significant discoveries about myself was that I was better suited for the apostolic role. Acknowledgment of its contemporary role was not a part of my inherited church stream. 

My most recent season of differentiation once again resulted from conflicts over core values and ecclesiology. I have addressed some of these issues in recent blogs. 

The differentiation perspective releases one of the need to make value judgments such as I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m a better person than you, etc. Differentiation is not a judgment on those who are different. Jesus is the judge. I’m responsible for monitoring my personal growth. Differentiation gives me a deeper insight into who I am as a unique creation of God.

“The self becomes more differentiated as a result of flow because overcoming a challenge inevitably leaves a person feeling more capable, more skilled.”

(Source: Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) (p. 41). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition) 

Life challenges cause psychic disorder and a loss of flow. Differentiation is an aid in regaining a sense of flow. 

.There are costs to responding appropriately to differentiation. Differentiation insights may require heart-wrenching decisions such as whether to separate from current relationships. Separating in an honorable way acknowledges that those individuals or communities played a significant role in the past season of personal growth. 

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To experience differentiation and then not respond and change is to remain stuck at a current level of growth. 

During my current season of differentiation, specific vital issues have come into greater focus. 

51AF351D-836F-4282-B02A-9146E597F549_4_5005_c1. To focus more on the person of Jesus as a model for humanity and ministry. His teachings are grist for ongoing spiritual formation and growth. 

2. To focus on Kingdom priority, not secular politics. The church must exorcise the encroaching leaven of Herod.

3. To focus on what it means to live in community. Living in community requires the restraining of personal ego for the sake of the communal good. 

4. To focus on the worship of our God as the main event in congregational gatherings.

5. To focus on an understanding of the scope and methodology of my future ministry. Jesus maintained a specific focus of ministry during His three years of ministry on the earth. “But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) The Apostle Paul did likewise, “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry” (Romans 11:13)

69A60411-E60F-4A23-95C5-5E9E295331AF_1_105_c6. To focus on future integration. The question is, “With whom will I establish flow relationally?” Integration balances differentiation. If not balanced, one risks becoming stranded alone on a deserted island. As John Donne once penned, “No man is an island.” As in past seasons, I can develop kinships with like-hearted soul mates. These kinfolk will enable the next season of personal growth and ministry.


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