Not Interested in Converts

Dano Jukanovich

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Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.


Robert Schuller, the founder of the Crystal Cathedral, was compared to his neighboring Silicon Valley execs who also seek “world domination.” At one point with 20 million viewers of his “Hour of Power,” he was the most widely watched preacher in the world. His empire ended in a family feud, Schuller suing his own ministry for $5.2 million, sale of the Crystal Cathedral buildings, and bankruptcy just a few years before his death in April of 2015.

Church Steeple

This same inspiration from God (and mammon) has propelled generations of American missionaries, business people and soldiers to the far corners of the world. In 1819, zealous New England preachers, Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons began their voyage to become the first two American missionaries to the Middle East. When asked, “What good can be done? And by what Means,” Parsons answered with a God-like vision: “With the spirit of Moses I can lead the armies of Israel to the spiritual Canaan.” Parsons died from disease within the year. Fisk took up the mantle and answered the question by building the first missionary school in Beirut. Fisk died three years later after being beaten by robbers while walking on the road to Nazareth. And today most of the over 400 million people in the 17 countries of the Middle East are living in something less than the spiritual or material land of Canaan Parsons envisaged. 

In spite of his excessive ego, Schuller was onto something when he noted “The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person.” It was the same for Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons. Insofar as they succeeded in their mission, it was in the hearts of individual people and the institutions those people created and populated, but where world domination was the goal, it was an epic failure. The reason all our investment of time and resources and our efforts at world domination have come up short is that God is not interested in the simple man-sized goal of changing the world; He’s interested in the God-sized vision of transforming peoples’ hearts.

The Call to Follow Me

Jesus made that most fundamental declaration that all of us parents, priests and generals make – “Follow me.” Those words say “I’m competent;” “you can trust me;” “I’m with you;” “we can do this;” “it will be OK.” 

I don’t wear my seatbelt. My more compliant ten and thirteen year-olds have done as I’ve said, not as I’ve done, but my seven-year-old son so wants to be like me that it creates real cognitive dissonance for him to wear his seatbelt. Finally, after nearly 30 years of driving, I’ve decided to start wearing my seatbelt because I don’t want him to doubt for an instant that it is safe and good and right to follow me – the seatbelt hypocrisy starts to plant a seed of doubt.

Today I was confirmed in the Anglican Church. This is one of those antiquated ceremonies with lots of pomp and circumstance where one senior official in the church’s hierarchy (e.g. a Bishop), wearing a funny hat and carrying a shepherd’s crook calls me up in front of the congregation. I kneel before him and he puts his hands on my head, then prays a prayer. He asks some questions; I make some declarations. Those in the church effectively say “Amen,” and all of a sudden I’m part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Anglicans believe that in this ceremony, something mystical actually happens.

Just as the service starts with members of the community “presenting” me to the Bishop for confirmation, it ends with these words in unison from the entire church that just witnessed my commitment and commissioning: “In the Name of Christ, we welcome Dano and pledge our support.”

The only power Bishop Bill has over me is legitimate power by virtue of his appointment to the position of Bishop and my assenting to the legitimacy of that office. But he represents Jesus and a community of his followers who I trust and admire and who therefore have substantial referent power in my life. Jesus asked his disciples to follow him. Bishop Bill made the same request of me during that confirmation ceremony.

It is almost too scary to contemplate, but I have enormous referent power over my son. He respects and admires and wants to be like me, with or without my seatbelt. Consciously or not, by virtue of that power and my actions, I am building my son’s character. Today Bishop Bill played a role in doing the same for me. He challenged me to define myself relative to God. He asked me if I would put others ahead of myself. He did it in the context of a supportive community because he knew I couldn’t stand strong on my own. This is the business of priests – to call us to follow them as they put others ahead of themselves.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Character building is long-suffering. I spent at least as much time with Carter and Greg and my brother during the years that we were business partners and neighbors and friends as I did with my wife and children. Even after being condescended to in public, being pressed to engage in illegal business practices, regularly waiting hours for previously scheduled meetings, Carter would never say a bad word about a particular unnamed senior political figure and client. Greg went from managing a large team and budget, having the proverbial corner office with an assistant and chief of staff, making an enviable salary at a secure Fortune 100 company, to working out of a spare room in a rented home, earning less than the cost of living, riding in the jump seat of pick-up trucks along pot-hole ridden roads, and conducting strategy sessions in run-down factories. Yet he was the one to always remind us to take a minute to breathe, to look around and embrace this dream of which we were a part. My brother and I were business partners for four years, spending hours each week working through the joys and pains of brotherhood and business management. Against my protestations, he spent three months with no pay living on a construction site to deliver on a commitment to finish building a client’s custom home. These are three men I know well. Living together within the crucible of business, they have more than earned my respect and admiration. I don’t just want to follow them; I want to be like them. For having spent time with these teachers, I hope that I am just a little bit better at assuming the best of others, more willing to walk away from what seems comfortable and more disciplined to deliver on commitments in spite of the consequences.

None of us today are able to have the same physical face-to-face relationship with a mentor the likes of Jesus from Nazareth. I am a disciple of Carter, Greg and my brother and so many others who have shaped me hopefully more into the image of God. A Priest’s role is to reflect back to us this commitment beyond self and to co-labor with us as we make good on that commitment.

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