My Testimony Some of you following this site will know who I am and others will not. So let me start with the essentials of how God has been at work in my life. I supposed my testimony is fairly standard for someone raised by born-again parents. I have many memories of being confronted with my need of salvation during gospel meetings at the South Main Gospel Hall in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I learned that I was born a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness. I found out that this could only come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There were times in my years as a boy when I wanted to be saved but resisted it mostly out of pride. Finally, my mom, brother and I went to Australia on holiday to visit my mom’s sister and her family. They were all born again and in the group I was the only one not saved. I believe God used this situation to make me very aware of the peace that I was missing in my life. I was 11 years old at the time. 3 nights before we were to leave Australia and fly to New Zealand to visit other family, my brother asked me if I wanted to be saved. I told him, “No!” and told him to be quiet and let me go to sleep. He had been saved a number of years before as a young boy. Next night: same thing. Third night: same thing. But, I said, “Yes”. I’m indebted to Samuel’s persistence! Today he serves the Lord as a medical missionary in Angola, Africa. To make a long story short, I stayed up late trying to figure out how to get myself saved: I knew I needed it and I knew the gospel message but I just couldn’t make it happen. And that was precisely the problem: I was trying to make it happen. Around midnight I gave up and just rested on God. The next day I didn’t say much but one of the overseers from the Conference Gospel Hall in Brisbane came to see us off. He had no idea that I had been in soul trouble the night before. As we unloaded luggage and got checked in he walked with me to return the luggage cart. He said, “Caleb, are you saved?” I said, “Yes!” He said, “When?” “Last night!” I replied. Well, he was a little shocked but we sat and talked about salvation until it was time to head to the gate. Early Assembly Experience That was nearly 30 years ago now. I’d like to say that there has been a steady growth curve since then but I haven’t been that faithful as a Christian. I would, however, like to talk about a few things that have been formative in my assembly convictions and growth. Shortly before I came into the assembly as a young teen, a brother who had been away from the Lord and the assembly for many years was restored to fellowship. To be forthright, I don’t have clear memories of the time. I know that related to his return one overseer, a number of the active young families and nearly all the young people left the assembly. I don’t really know why other than witnessing some conflict between them. By the time I was being interviewed for baptism and then reception to the assembly he was part of those interviews and leading the oversight. As I look back now, this man appears to fit the description of Diotrephes in 3 John. I have a memory of my brother and I being asked to come to an oversight meeting where this man attacked us and charged us with bringing doom and gloom into the assembly every time we walked in. To be fair, I wasn’t exercising my priesthood as I should have, even though I was in the assembly and so I am not sure how he came to that conclusion. I remember him driving by our house from time to time. He would see us out front and then speed on by in his Mercedes two-door coupe. We felt spied on. The story becomes more complicated but the important part is that I came to a point where I was confronted with two realities. First, that an assembly can be a very painful place to be when men or women are attacking each other. Second, somehow I also concluded that, despite the interpersonal challenges, the assembly represented a very Biblical way of gathering — at least as a general concept, if not in my actual experience at the time. I believe that was a formational moment in my middle teens: I decided that divine truth was more important than personal comfort. It was more important to do what was right than what felt good. Eventually, my brother and I asked for a letter of commendation to the Victoria Drive Gospel Hall in Vancouver BC. So this was in the mid 1990’s. This Diotrephes refused to give us one. So my brother and I met with the overseers at Victoria Drive along with my mom. Again, memories are not vivid but I do remember a couple things. First, I think we probably looked like beaten dogs and I believe the overseers at Victoria Drive sensed this. We explained our situation to them. I remember one of the VDGH overseers saying that it was a miracle that we were still in assembly fellowship given what we had been through. (Obviously I’m simplifying a larger, more complex story here.) But they also explained a little about the autonomy of the assembly and the need for fellowship between assemblies. I don’t actually know what kind of footwork those overseers did but we were received and welcomed into VDGH shortly thereafter and without any apparent break in fellowship between the two assemblies. The Diotrephes brother died a few years later. It was probably close to 10 years before I was even able to go and set foot back in the hall where he ruled. It was hard to explain — even to Verlynda, my wife. We were married in 1999. I just would tell her: if you kept getting beat up in the same alleyway in a certain part of town, would you want to go back to that alley way? Bottom line: This experience, by the grace of God, instilled in me a deep value for assembly truth. Despite the fact that it was in an assembly context where we were mistreated. I had the truth part sorted but was far from understanding how incredibly essential it was to know and experience grace and love in an assembly also. Around the time all this happened there was a booming young people’s work with many saved teens. Unrelated to the Diotrephes issue: 5 point Calvinism was infiltrated into the group and about 90% of those young people were lost. This, by the grace of God, instilled in me a holy dislike for Reformed Theology. And it also forced me to study and scrutinize the doctrines of salvation. Probably these two things together have made me quite protective of, and interested in, our young people. A Legalistic Youth I’d like to be able to say that this commitment to truth was a commitment to grace. But it shaped itself more as a commitment to law. I was quite black and white in my thinking. I was inflexible and unwelcoming towards the ideas of others. I was concerned with outward form over inner function. Had you met me in those days I would have come off as somewhat harsh and judgmental. I had a blunt personality that was dismissive of people that didn’t have it all together. On the positive side, Victoria Drive Gospel Hall was an assembly that was very gospel minded. And I’m super thankful to this day for that and for the amount of gospel speaking experience I gained there both on the platform, some in the open air, and in tents and in Sunday School for a year or two. I also loved the Bible readings and to be honest, I loved to challenge the thinking of those that were taught. On a separate but related note I was introduced to Eric Parmenter, a brother from England. From him I learned how to study my Bible — for which I am indebted to him to this day. While there were good things going on, I think the biggest problem in my heart at this time is that I didn’t see myself as being capable of the mistakes other people made or the sins they committed. I remember, with a great deal of embarrassment asking a friend from another assembly: How could you even do something like that? He had cheated on his wife. I realize now that you can only ask a question like that if you see yourself as being incapable of the same thing. Which means I esteemed myself greater than my brother. This is not good. Christians Need Help Too? But God was at work. And He guided us to move to Carnduff, SK in 2001. Verlynda was pregnant with our first child at the time. We joined the assembly that gathered in the Glen Ewen Gospel Hall. Within a few weeks we felt very at home with the saints there. Coming from a very gospel-minded assembly that had a huge Sunday school of children brought in from the neighbourhood, I have to admit that initially I struggled with something in Glen Ewen. There just wasn’t the same gospel activity. I thought this was a problem and I chafed at it for the first couple years. But God was using this large assembly in a very sparsely populated area to show me that there was another part of His work that I had been totally unaware of up to that point: shepherding the flock of God. I thought the only work an assembly needed to focus on was on the gospel work: bringing people in. But He showed me that there was a significant and valuable and necessary work to be done inside the flock. This came in two forms: one was teaching. I believe that is part of the work of the shepherd in feeding the flock. But another was visitation, if I can call it that. I just mean actually having real conversations with people about what’s going on. Mostly one on one. What I began to see was that there were situations the overseers were running into that they were totally unprepared for. This was not because they were not godly or not caring or not really shepherds. No, there were men on the oversight at that time who were all of those things and more! I began to see that they were just running into situations that they were unequipped to handle through no fault or shortcoming of their own. Things like significant mental health disorders. Emotional and interpersonal issues. These were men raised under the teaching of preachers who didn’t speak about conflict resolution or family issues or even practical marriage teaching. So while they knew their Bibles and knew God and were praying men, they were simply facing issues that they didn’t have the skill set to address. And I kept thinking: boy, someone needs to get their counselling degree. At least when evangelical Christians go to get their Master of Divinity or something similar they get some pastoral training to help them counsel their people. We don’t have that at all… Back to School One day God gave me the gentle smack upside the head and said: you go back to school and get your counselling degree. Now, keep in mind I’m still the relatively harsh, legalistic young fella I’d always been. One of my overseers and mentors who I love dearly even asked me outright if I was sure I had the personality for being a counsellor. It was a valid question! I said: “I’m not sure!” but I knew this is what I was supposed to do. So after five years in Glen Ewen we moved back to the West Coast, back to Victoria Drive Gospel Hall and I went and started my Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy. I took this at a private, Christian evangelical university. I wanted to study there because I wanted the Christian influence as I studied psychology. The approach was pretty straightforward. We understood that God reveals himself by general and special revelation. General revelation is what we learn when we study the world around us, including humanity. Special revelation is the Word of God. Whatever we conclude from general revelation must align with what we know from special revelation. They taught us in every class to take what we studied and hold it up against the Scripture, against our Christian worldview, and to basically eat the meat and spit out the bones. In other words: if what you learn doesn’t contradict Scripture directly or somehow contradict your Christian worldview, then you can use that knowledge to help others. On the other hand, if what you read in a textbook contradicts, then you dispose of that thought. It cannot be true. It was during this time that I had a good deal of pride and legalism knocked out of me through events occurring in my personal life, in the assembly at Victoria Drive, and in beginning to work with very broken people, some of whom were genuine believers. There’s a couple points here that are relevant to Oversight today. First, I was asked to join the oversight at Victoria Drive in December of 2007. I was 30 years old at the time and had been shepherding the flock there since shortly after we arrived. This is where and when my experience as an overseer began. Second, I started getting calls from overseers and missionaries who had become aware of my education. I was getting questions about everything from depression to incest, about marriage and family issues, and often how these related to assembly functioning and sometimes, to assembly discipline. I still take these calls and consider this part of my vocational ministry. Thirdly, I became burnt out as an overseer during this time. Being the answer guy might be flattering at the start but when you take on all the hardest cases, add in a fairly consistent barrage of criticism, and let bitterness set in: it becomes quite a struggle. I am not pleased with many ways that I handled things during this time. There were some things that went well and God was working and for that I’m thankful. But, I burnt out. Ironically, I was the guy who wrote the article for Truth and Tidings on burnout. Back to Glen Ewen In what I would describe as an act of deliverance from God, he guided our family back to Glen Ewen, Saskatchewan in September 2011. This time to live in the countryside south of Oxbow. Just about 12 miles from the Glen Ewen Gospel Hall. This is still our home today. It was something of a shock to go from a duplex in Vancouver to an acreage in the prairies. One with neighbours 12” away and the other with the nearest neighbour over a mile away. It was also an interesting change to go from a very visible profile in Vancouver back to zero assembly responsibilities in Glen Ewen. I remember being thankful for the chance to start over, to process and to recover from our experience in Vancouver, and to begin to recharge and feel restored in soul in Glen Ewen. This assembly remains a haven for us to this day. God planned some interesting things. First, when you move as a counsellor you basically lose all your clients. So I had no practice. And I had been working in the corporate world and the only corporate management job available was at a steel manufacturing company in the small town nearby. Turns out this company was owned by Exclusive Brethren who were followers of Bruce Hales. Many of their people were employed in the business; nearly all of them on the office side. If I was to summarize what I learned about Christian living and assembly truth from my conversations with and observations of this line of Exclusive Brethren during this time, it would be that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” Romans 3:20. I know that is speaking of OT law but these folks had a lot of rules. And I think most of them are likely believers. But all of their rules did nothing to help their sanctification. They were drinking, swearing, hard-working, Darby-reading people with just as many issues with immorality as any other religious folk. They just think they’re better than everyone else. They even did a survey in Australia to try to prove this point. All of which also gave me a taste of how I came across myself for many years of my life…and probably still do from time to time. At the time this was continuing I realized I could use the skills I’d learned in the corporate world to take my counselling business online. In May of 2014 I launched The Marriage Podcast for Smart People which is hosted on my marriage website OnlyYouForever. I now meet with a number of clients every week via Skype video calls and give help with marriage issues, pornography recovery and an assortment of other challenges. But that experience with creating an online presence I’m now using to produce Oversight Today. Within a year of returning to Glen Ewen the overseers there asked me to join the oversight and serve with them in a recognized capacity. I spent much longer praying about this and with assurance from God, accepted the role. It has been a very pleasant, very positive experience. I am very thankful for the saints that we serve and the men I serve with. My Burden for Oversight Today I’ve shared all this just because I believe that understanding where someone is coming from helps us to frame the context from which they speak. I hope that by sharing my story you’ll understand that not only do I care deeply about the future of assemblies, but I also care deeply about what that experience looks like for the flock of God. As a counsellor, I am honoured to be able to see the world through the eyes of my clients. They share things with me that they have never told anyone else. I respect the significant responsibility that this brings. One particularly fascinating aspect of this work is getting to see various assemblies through the eyes of my clients. Because I counsel via Skype, I have clients across North America and occasionally on other continents as well. Through this connection, I am able to witness how they experience the leadership in their home assembly and how overseers’ decisions and actions are impacting them. At the same time, I am an overseer myself. What this means is that I get to see both sides of the coin. I am very aware of what it is like to be shepherded well and to be shepherded poorly. I am equally aware of what it is like to be the overseer to shepherd well (less frequent) and to shepherd poorly (more often than I wish!). Additionally, starting August 2016 I took my family on a year-long road trip (my daughter documented the experience) around North America. As we journeyed, I made it a point to be curious about the experience of overseers in dozens of different assemblies. Overseers face an astounding variety of issues. However: one or two themes really bubbled to the top for me. The first is that overseers are very sincere. Yes, a person runs into the odd place where you find someone functioning as an overseer who really should not be: maybe they have the character of Diotrephes, maybe they are simply not gifted to shepherd the flock, or maybe they are the only functioning male in the assembly. That aside, I was truly struck by the sincerity of overseers. They care. They want to honour Christ in the gathering of their assembly. They want to do right by the people of God. And God in His grace has raised up fallible but faithful men to do this work in so many of His assemblies. The second theme I noticed is that many of them, by their own admission, feel unequipped to face the challenges they are confronted with. Interestingly, I often saw this same issue through the eyes of my clients. There was the recognition that the overseers cared but also, frankly, some bungling of the situation. And who is to blame? Nobody has written the procedures manual (and I’m not calling for one to be written) so that when you’re faced with a porn addict, you turn to Section 5.3 and follow the treatment protocol there. There’s no set of instructions given to you when you become an overseer that tell you how to best shepherd the parents and siblings of a child who passes away. Nobody tells you how to discipline a believer who almost had a physical affair but left his wife devastated regardless. And there is no set of guidelines to help overseers know how to best transition their assembly from a King James Version Only to a more current but reliable translation. I’m not blaming anyone for this lack. And I’m not even sure elders should be blamed when they do their best and fail. And yet, these things do happen. They are the real issues that overseers are facing week in and week out across the country. To top it off, most overseers feel quite alone. And lonely. When I ask them who their best friend is, I often get the same answer: “My wife.” As a marriage therapist, that makes me happy. But then if I ask who their closest friend is after that, I often hear that they don’t have any close friends. Generally then, as a group we are very sincere, frequently feeling under-equipped, and rather lonely. I know that this certainly describes myself. Which leads me to why I launched Oversight Today. Overseers have asked me to share what I can of my counselling training to just help them be a little better prepared for situations they are facing. I hope that over time this site will become a resource that equips overseers. Also, I want to talk about the personal side of oversight work: the burnout, the loneliness, the frustration. I hope this will create conversations at elders meetings that will help overseers to build friendships with one another and more. So: welcome. I’m glad you are here and I look forward to this journey together.