If you have been involved with church life for any length of time, you are aware that things do not always go smoothly. Such was the case for our church, Prairie Tabernacle. The elders and the pastoral staff had a falling out which caused general mistrust within the congregation. For several reasons the church lost its sense of direction. Several expressed their non-confidence by leaving the church. How does a church recover from such an intense injury to unity and ministry?

In God’s providence, two of us newly appointed elders (Jim Stenstrom and Albert Ehmann) had coffee with Dan Woodard one day and shared the church concerns. Without all our regular pastors, it seemed natural to invite Dan to speak one Sunday and facilitate a workshop for the new church leadership team. This sparked something beyond our hopes and expectations. Dan gave the story of his life describing six rules from his childhood and early adulthood. Dan explained that all six of these rules can and must be reversed to have healthy relationships, healthy families, and a healthy church family. At our invitation, Dan then partnered with his friend Dan Reinhardt to develop these thoughts into a series of eight Sunday morning messages for our church. They were gratefully received through the medium of Zoom during our COVID era of self-distancing. But it is amazing how much good information we can read and listen to and, in the end, do nothing about. Would this be the case in our church, we wondered.

Wisely, the two Dans encouraged and coached us to form small groups to process and apply the messages they were delivering. About half of our congregation joined twelve small groups for the eight-week series. The two Dans set us up with a discussion guide each week and provided insightful weekly coaching and accountability for our small group leaders. The environment of confidentiality in our small groups gave us an atmosphere of safety. As a conservative evangelical church we realized that we suffered the consequences of all six of these Don’t Rules. We were desperate for change. Collectively as a congregation, we knew that change was sorely needed. We were struggling with a vacuum of healthy communication, trust that had crashed and burned, and too many were nervous and
hesitant about tampering with our many traditions. These attitudes were well understood and addressed by the two Dans in the six Don’t Rules.

At the time of this writing it has been three months since their eight-message series concluded. Today we are really talking, feeling, trusting, thinking and choosing, far beyond the small group members. We are talking about change and expecting change. Our small groups are continuing and growing. The new elder board had expected to work hard at church renewal, thinking it would be much like moving a mountain. Since the series, however, the elders can hardly keep up with facilitating needed change and innovation, all the way to our bylaws. We are in the middle of becoming a different church. We now have hope.

A lot has happened since that first coffee visit with Dan Woodard seven months ago. It is remarkable how relevant Dan’s personal story was to our church family, at the leadership level, and to all who watched the messages. After our experience we have come to believe that breaking those six rules is extremely relevant to the church globally. We say this because so many of our church family have broad mission experience around the world due to our nearly one-hundred-year connection to Prairie Bible College.

When the series concluded, several people encouraged Dan Woodard and Dan Reinhardt to put the series into book format. The series addressed the needs of our church going through troubled waters. However, we are confident the application of these principles is much broader. Families and churches around the world need to catch the relevance of these principles and have access to this biblical teaching. It is time to break the six Don’t Rules. It is time to discover the freedom God intends for us all.

Albert Ehmann
Elder, Prairie Tabernacle Congregation, Three Hills, Alberta
Former directorships with World Team Asia, World Team International and World Team Canada

Jim Stenstrom
Elder, Prairie Tabernacle Congregation, Three Hills, Alberta
Guidance Director/Teacher, Rift Valley Academy, Kijabe, Kenya, Africa
Retired Alberta Field Director, One Hope Canada

07 Sept 2020