Not Myself By Myself | Ep. 47
Larger Story will be going to be in Jackson Tenn., just outside the Memphis area and holding a conference called “Not Myself, By Myself” an introduction and invitation to relational discipleship on January 26 and 27, 2024.
Duncan Sprague – Since 2007, Duncan has served as a bi-vocational minister with International Christian Ministries (ICM), Compassion International, Cadence International, and Larger Story (LS), where he regularly contributes to LS vlogs, webinars, and podcasts. Duncan brings his passion for trinitarian-relating and relational development, along with years of rich cross-cultural experience to every person and place he serves. Since 1994, Colorado has been home to Duncan and Angie and is the birthplace of their four adult children.
Kent Denlinger – Kent Denlinger served as a lead pastor of Valley Springs Fellowship in Warsaw, Indiana for 32 years. For 15 years, he also worked for NewWay Ministries as a spiritual director at the Schools of Spiritual Direction and NextStep. After retiring from the pastorate in 2018, Kent spent 5 years as a corporate chaplain in Cincinnati, Ohio where he and his wife currently reside. Kent has a Masters in Counseling degree as well as a Master of Divinity degree, both from Grace Theological Seminary. In 2010, he completed a Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Direction from Gordon-Conwell. Presently, Kent, along with his wife, Karla, are the co-founders of a nonprofit ministries called Soul Signature Ministries, which offers various kinds of spiritual direction to individuals and groups. They have two adult children and five grandchildren.
Kep Crabb: Welcome everyone to the Relational Spirituality podcast of Larger Story. I’m your host, Kep Crabb.
This upcoming January of 2024, on January 26th and 27th, Larger Story is going to be at Fellowship Bible Church in Jackson, Tennessee. We’ll be doing our first conference event since Dad passed away and we honored him with the Larger Story Summit in 2022, last year. We’re calling this conference, “Not Myself, By Myself: An introduction and invitation to relational discipleship.” It’s designed to encourage and invite cross generational relationships and discipleships. What does it look like? How do we pour into others in the same way that we have been poured into and continue to be poured into?
I’m joined today by two good friends and colleagues who are going to be speaking at this conference in January. Kent Denlinger and Duncan Sprague. Good to see you guys and thanks for joining me today guys.
Duncan Sprague: Thank you much.
Kent Denlinger: Glad to be here.
Kep Crabb: So I guess it’s not too it’s not too late now to say Merry Christmas. I’m allowed to say that at this point here, because we’re after Thanksgiving, actually December 1st. So Merry Christmas, you guys.
Duncan Sprague: Thank you. And to you as well.
Kep Crabb: Thank you. Let’s talk a little bit about this weekend that we’re going to be doing in January. It’s been in the works for a little bit and we’re getting excited about this. I hope that some of you people watching our podcast today can even come there in person. We’d love to see you in the Jackson, Tennessee area. It’s outside of Memphis. But let’s talk a little bit about what this weekend’s going to look like.
Both of you guys are going to be doing the majority of the talking. Kent, talk a little bit about what you’re going to be talking about this weekend and why you think it’s important.
Kent Denlinger: Let’s start with the title. Eugene Peterson said in a book talking about community, he said, “I am not myself by myself.” And that’s really true. I think most of us probably could look back across our life, whether we’ve recognized it or not, and realize how we’ve been impacted by others, maybe from a distance at times. But in my life, at least in the reason I got excited about this is because when I look back over my life, I realized that God used specifically really three, four, five individuals, probably two or three really deeply, to impact me. I wouldn’t be who I am apart from that. That’s also true with a group of friends. I realized that’s then what I do. That’s what I love to do: pour myself into younger guys. When I think about this I’ve wondered if this is part of a missing joy in the church. I wonder if older people are scared of the younger people and the new generation and younger people don’t know how to ask for help. Maybe they’re scared of the older people. And because of that, there’s a gap between the two and we’re missing something. It seems to me like what we’re missing is the opportunity to relate to people, older, younger and the same age, in ways that could be really meaningful and shape who we are and our culture just really elevates individualism in a way that I think is incredibly detrimental.
Kep Crabb: Yeah. One of the things that brings the three of us certainly in common is the fact that – I think I can speak for both of you guys and certainly myself – One of the people who has had the most impact on me has been my father. I know that’s probably true of both you guys as well. I can name a handful of other people too. There’s not many people that Dad considered his kids outside of his kids, but I think you guys were two of those. And Dunc, you spent a lot of time with Dad over the years. Talk about what you’re thinking about for this weekend in January.
Duncan Sprague: I just came across a verse in first Corinthians that really highlighted some of what I think we’ll be sharing about. It’s right in the context of Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and they’re fighting over their allegiance to Apollos or Cephas or himself. And one of the things he says in there, and this is in chapter four, the very end of it, he just says, “for though you have countless guides in Christ.” I think about that. All the countless guides I’ve had, the teachers, the lecturers, the people who I’ve come across. He says, “so you’ve had countless ones.” And I go, yeah, that’s me too. Literally over the years, the number of classes, the number of books I’ve read, I’ve had lots of guides, but then he goes on and he says, “you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you then, be imitators of me.” I love that because Paul had a certain confidence as he’s writing to these folks that he helped plant a church with. I think in terms of the different ministries Larry’s done over the last number of years, especially SSDs. Kent was significantly involved in those. We went to a handful of them. I often take credit for SSD zero because all the SSDs got numbered. But this was the one that he did on a weekly basis in a church with just a handful of us. All it did was it taught him what not to do in the end. What I love about it is that he fathered me, in not just his great successes, but also when he saw something didn’t work, he abandoned it quickly. He didn’t stick with it. There were ways that he fathered me, just like this text talks about, that only happened by spending time with him.
Kep Crabb: That’s so big. Just to clarify, the SSD stands for the School of Spiritual Direction. Dunc, if you went to school zero and Kent, you were involved in a number of schools as you and Karla were spiritual directors.
I think 78 schools is what we ended up finally doing over that 20 year period of time or so, whatever it was, something in that range. I know that dad felt just very privileged to be a part of that and to see what was happening. I was actually chatting with someone today about the SSD and how, 15 years later, they still are in touch with their triads and keep connection with that relationship, which is really cool. So Kent, talk about a little bit about that time in the SSD. We’ve talked about this a little bit before, but I actually talked about this a little bit with Trip more and having been through so many of those things. What was it like sitting in on all those SSDs in the day?
Kent Denlinger: It was a privilege. There’s nothing like repetition. The more you hear something, I don’t think there was a school that I went to that I wasn’t provoked. I don’t care how many you went to, it was a sacred space, like nothing else I’ve ever really been to. It feels like God was always doing something, meeting people.
I know a personal friend of mine went to it. He’d be an engineer type and not the type that you would think would talk about dreams. Yet it was at the school that he encountered God in a dream. I think he’d probably say, I’m not sure I’ve ever had another dream that I’ve encountered God in. So I think it was just always shaping. Larry was always rethinking. No matter how many times you hear it, the Spirit of God has new eyes for you to see something about yourself, which is one of the beauties of what God does.
You know how it is. You can read a text for 20 years and then suddenly you read it and you see something or you see it in a way you’ve never seen it before. That’s what the school did. It created such categories, such ways of thinking about the story that God is telling.
I used to get on your dad because he’d say, I’m not a theologian. And I’d say, yes, you are. You know the scriptures like nobody I’ve ever known and you bring your life to it. And because of that, you’re truly a theologian. I know what he was trying to say, but it was such a grounded model in theory and was so grounded in the scriptures. I think that’s part of what created space for the Spirit of God.
Kep Crabb: I’ve had several conversations in the last several days about what that has meant to people. It just makes me miss him all the more. I don’t want to start crying now in the middle of this podcast. I just miss that guy every day and just what he really was about.
I remember talking with Trip about this time at the SSD and he said the first time he heard the seven questions, he thought, Oh, that’s neat. And by about the 200 or whatever it was in him. It was part of him. It became who he was. One of the things that we’ve had a chat about and I’ve talked with both you guys about is how we can offer what dad was really trying to do with the SSDs to different organizations and churches today.
One of the dreams of mine, and I know of Kent’s as well, and Dunc, I think you too, is, how can we take what we have learned from the SSDs, the schools of spiritual direction and offer those back to the communities of people where they’re doing life together? That’s one of the intents of this first conference. It’s not gonna be an SSD, it’s just gonna be a two day conference on the 26th and 27th. Friday evening, the 26th, and then the morning through lunch on the 27th. So it’s not going to be like an SSD, but I think it’s going to set the groundwork for some of those kinds of relational connections and opportunities. I’m really hoping that’s what happens out of this weekend that we get a chance to go to.
What are some of the things you guys hope happens this weekend, when we go to Jackson, Tennessee to talk about relationships and discipleship?
Kent Denlinger: Let me just back up just for a minute, because I want to come back to the SSD school of spiritual directions. I would just say part because it fits what we want to be about here in Jackson, and that’s that part of the beauty of the schools for Karla and I. It was a time that we would interact with Larry outside of the classroom, outside of the structure. We’re meeting with people and we’re talking through that.
One very specific example, one time Larry and I were just chatting. It seemed like a normal conversation about the day. I was talking through a struggle of meeting with people. Larry looked at me and he said a sentence I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Kent, the difference between you and me is not giftedness. It’s not knowledge.” – Which, I would argue both of those. – But he said, “the real difference is I’m more comfortable in the mess than you are.” And that sentence just pierced me. I thought, that’s really true. An example of what we want this conference to be about is to help us realize that those kinds of conversations and those kinds of interactions come out of normal events, normal stuff going on. But then God gives me or you a moment of wisdom and we say something that the Spirit embeds in the heart of another person.
I really want that weekend to create a vision of your life. You might feel like you’re at the end of your life, but you could listen to another young person or middle aged person. You could interact with them in a way in which God could use just a sentence. There’s so much joy in that. I want to incite people’s hunger for a joy that I think we’re meant to experience in community as we connect our lives to other people and share our stories and talk about what God’s doing in our hearts and listen hard for what God’s doing to another person.
Kep Crabb: I love what you say about the mess and Dad’s whole attitude of the mess. We’ve been chatting with some people and I ran across a quote of Dad’s, you guys may remember this. The quote was, “Propositional truth unbloodied by relationship leaves you arrogant and puffed up.”
How do you dive into that mess with the attitude of, I’m in it with you? That’s just the way that dad really made me feel, I think made us feel. He was so for us, had such a vision for us. Dunc, what are some of the things you hope to see happen?
Duncan Sprague: I have a couple of thoughts to just jump out from what Kent just said.
One comes out of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, where Paul says, “I love you so much that I gave you not only the gospel, but my very life.” I’ve often wanted to say, probably in the original Greek, it said my very messy life. I wanted to give you the gospel that is only lived out in a messy life. I don’t know a Bible that is unmessy. I’ve often held my Bible up and I’ve gone, here’s where it works. Right here at the beginning and right here at the last couple chapters, everything else in the middle is just a bloody mess. It’s one where we get to live in the middle.
Your dad stole the line from your grandfather. The Bible or the gospel is a love story that begins with a divorce and it’s that middle of the animosity, the enmity that’s built between man and woman, man and himself, man and nature. That’s the real challenge of being a disciple. Oftentimes we can have good theology. This is where I think I love what Kent just said. Larry was a theologian, he was always thinking theologos, God thoughts, God thinking. He was always thinking about God.
Even the seven questions are theological questions, but rather than throwing them in the theological categories. One of those questions is, what went wrong? And we have a whole theological category of hamartiology. So we make it sound scholastic and important to confuse people, but he would just say, no, it’s relational sin. It’s the fact that I got so self absorbed with the fall that there’s been a real problem that’s been created.
That’s some of what we’re going to be moving into this weekend . We’re in a sense, we’re always asking those seven questions. Larry would often preface them with, there are a lot of questions that God didn’t answer but there are a few that He did. When He answers those, those should be the ones that we lean forward in our chair going, if God answered this, it seems like it is really important.
One of those is, What went wrong? But also, what is God doing about it right now? He’s provided His Spirit who dwells in us for the sake of others. That was some of Larry’s core thinking, that God lives in me to get into you. That what you need most, God has already put in me as part of this movement of God but I can get in the way of that. Your sin can get in the way of that, your relational sin. So part of it is taking a deeper dive to say, what’s gone wrong, but what has God done? What are the provisions that He’s made available?
This is what I loved about Larry, he would drop some of the theological terms. So rather than a systematic theology or a covenant theology or whatever, he would say, no, it’s a relational theology. He would tag the word relational in front of it. We are in good form and have done the same. We’ve called this an introduction and an invitation to relational discipleship, because so many times we get lost in discipleship as a course, as a number of disciplines and strategies that we implement, and we lose the fact that discipleship, when Jesus did it, He came to put His Father on display. The very nature of His own discipleship from the father may seem strange to say it that way, but it was to put God on display by coming and living incarnate in this world in relationship with us.
That’s really what we want to capitalize on while we’re there is talking in the ways that discipleship has gotten shut down in our own culture because we tend to move the generations away from one another. We split off the youth, we split off the adults, we split off the elderly, and we say that they have their own needs. Jesus oftentimes said, no, this is where your life on life happens. Where you share the gospel and your messy lives is when someone like Larry, a number of steps down the road from us would come and launch us as young men. And now we, as older men now, are doing the same.
Kent Denlinger: I want to piggyback on what Duncan said, which you just said so well, Duncan, you’ve just got a great gift with words.
We’re trying to enliven or re-energize the whole idea of the priesthood of believers here. Larry said this often, there are no experts in matters of the soul. I don’t care how many degrees you have, how much training you have. I used to stand up front in church year after year and tell people, you know what I feel when people come into my office, the same thing you feel, I don’t have a clue what to do. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. I don’t know where this needs to go. But the Spirit of God does, and the Spirit of God is in us. He’s in me, and He’s in you, and He’s in the person, hopefully, that I’m having breakfast with. What does it mean to really believe that the Spirit can give us moments of wisdom, can give us the right question to ask? That emphasis on questions feels so important.
We want to, at this conference, remind us that part of this relational Discipleship thing is being a genuinely curious person about another person’s soul. I want to be a friend to another person’s soul. I don’t know what’s going on, but I sure can care. I can ask questions that are coming out of whatever the person’s talking about and hope that somehow the Spirit of God is here. He’s doing something that I may not be able to see, but I believe that this time really matters, spending time with another person with some intentionality really matters.
I can tell you a story from years ago when I first started counseling. I was 25 or 26 years old and I sat with a woman for a year. She came in one day and said she had to leave. I said let’s have one more meeting. She came back and I said, what’s been helpful to you about this time? I was looking for a pat on the back. I wanted her to say, Hey man, you gave me this thought and this wisdom. I’ll never forget that she sat forward in her chair and she looked at me and she said, you’re the first man who’s ever sat across from me. looked me in the eyes and listened. I was disappointed, and then it dawned on me. That’s what we can do for each other. Presence matters. God with us, Emmanuel, God always promised His presence and I can be present with another person. That requires some death to myself, but I can be present. And so can you, and the ordinary person, which we all are, can be present to another person in a way that the Spirit of God can empower, and that’s what we really want to recapture.
Kep Crabb: I love the thought of the ordinary man, because that’s just how I feel. I’ve always loved to think, and I’ve talked with both you guys about this a bit, the same Holy Spirit that dwelt in my father dwells in us. We have the same opportunity for that kind of impact because Dad would be the first to tell you. it wasn’t him. He can’t do anything. He’s just a vessel. He’s a tool, but hearing you talk, it’s getting me so excited about this weekend.
Some people are probably asking, what are these 7 questions that they keep talking about? We’re going to be diving into that in 2024 as well. I’m talking about the 7 questions of spiritual theology. We’re going through some of that in the next podcast session. So we hope that you continue to join in with us.
Before we wrap up guys, is there anything that you want to say to the people who are listening today?
Duncan Sprague: I’d just say, I’m so excited to have this opportunity. I remember the last number of Larry’s years. There was lots of talk about his legacy. He had this recurring dream that he would talk about this nightmare. Actually, he would dream about putting his hand in the water and he would see a displacement while his hand was in the water and he could see ripples going out, but there was always this fear when he pulled it out, the ripple stopped.
And it was like, as long as I’m present, there’s a, there’s an effect going on, but when I pull out, when I pull my hand out of the water, I no longer have an influence. What I love right now is that as we sit here, we’re free ripples of a man’s influence on us. And he, in like mind, goes back to other men, fathers of his own soul.
The piece that I am so excited about is people catching a vision for a relational revolution, that God really wants to transform His body. Not by more slick services. I’m all for a great service where worship is going on, but I remember just this last weekend, I spent time with a 95 year old mentor of mine who is still sharp as a tack, and one of the things that grieved him, he says, we now have a church that loves to worship, but doesn’t know much about reverence. We don’t tremble much. He was the one who years ago taught me the very beginning of Isaiah 66, where God is rebuking Israel saying, where’s the house that you can build for me? Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. I don’t esteem the one that is going to do all these great things for me, but then He gives us a hint. But the one that I esteem is the one who is humble, who is contrite, which is another word for sorrows, and who trembles at my word. I hope that this is an opportunity for us to learn what it means to tremble and trust a God in a world where the world we live in right now is more messed up than I’ve ever been aware of.
Yet in the middle of that, God has made it possible for us to trust Him, not without the absence of fear, but movement in the presence of fear. What I’m most excited about is actually being able to look at God’s provision, not just being overwhelmed by the world’s mess, but even more so being overwhelmed by a God who is incomprehensible in His goodness, in His kindness. I’m thrilled for an opportunity to see a new way of living and relating that we were actually discipled in.
Kent Denlinger: My mind goes to a phrase in Jeremiah 2 where it’s profoundly sad to me where the Lord basically says that those who pursued worthless things or worthlessness became worthless. I’m afraid that a lot of what we’re pursuing in our lives, even as Christians, is leaving us as shallow people. I think we long for more purpose. It’s the difference that your dad would say between living between our birth and our death and living between the cross and His coming with purpose.
I think this idea that we’re trying to espouse, I don’t know how well we’ll do it, but at least you’ll get a feel and a passion for what we long to see. Could we recapture a purpose to our lives that really matters? When I look back over what I experienced from people like your dad and a couple of others two words come to mind, I felt enjoyed. I felt believed in, at least as a young man. It was the first time I felt believed in by anybody. I think we can offer that to younger people who feel the same void in their lives, who feel, does anybody really like me, enjoy me, do I have anything, and is it possible that I could be part of something bigger than myself and what I’m chasing, because I don’t want to be worthless. I don’t want to have a worthless life and I want to invite people to capture a vision where they could join the purposes of the kingdom in pouring their life into another.
Dunc already said this, but man, I’ve been reading through first Thessalonians as well. As soon as you pointed out those verses, I thought that that was Paul’s joy. What’s my joy? What’s my crown? It’s you, it’s people. What will we have to show for an eternity? I think number one, it’s going to be the people that we pour our lives into. We’re taking this time to try and call all of us to say, Hey, let’s get our priorities going in the right direction. It’s about people and that whole relational thing that’s not just a word to us. It’s a way of life.
Kep Crabb: You guys have gotten me excited for this weekend in January and I just really appreciate both of you and your willingness to continue to move in the direction that Dad has taught all of us to move in. Let’s just continue to put Jesus on display. How do we relate and how are we presenting Jesus to others by who we are today? I love what you just said, what do you take when you’re gone and what do you leave are some of the things I thought about as well. I’m really excited for this weekend, guys.
I just want to thank you for joining us again, folks. It’s gonna be in Jackson, Tennessee at Fellowship Bible Church on January 26th and 27th. Be looking for promotional emails from Larger Story for that. If you like what you heard today, please click the like button, tell your friends about it. Maybe they can come join and get a chance to participate in relational spirituality. Have a great day.
Kent Denlinger: I’d add one more thing if it’s still recording. If you’re an SSD alumnus, let’s have a reunion in a two hour to eight hour driving range. Come on down and join us.
Kep Crabb: We can do something virtually too. We can plug in 20 or 30 people on a webinar. If we want to have some conversation too, that’d be fun. You guys have made me excited about the SSD again and thinking through that.
A lot of things are happening here at Larger Story and we’re super excited about this first event that we’re doing in January. We hope you can join us for that. Thanks for joining me. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you all next Tuesday.