Saturday, October 28, 2006

What Is Kingdom Work?

This week I have been attending a conference on transformation. It wasn’t your typical evangelical meeting where the emphasis was on transformation of the heart, but the transformation of community and nations through social action. Though I was uncomfortable with, what I perceived to be some radical rhetoric, I can’t ignore the reality of the social ills of this country. Forty percent of the population live in one room; female infanticide, though outlawed, is still a common practice; most Dalit children have no educational opportunities; most of the poor are in perpetual slavery as bonded laborers. The heart of the message of Jesus was to those who are poor and marginalized. The one common theme throughout Scripture is God’s judgment on people and nations who oppress the poor. For a gathering of Christian leaders discussing transforming communities it was both good and right to discuss political and social injustice.

But, as with all things, it’s important to maintain balance in discussing sensitive issues. Transformation of community will never happen by having cleaner water, better housing or legislation for equal rights. Helpful, certainly, but good deeds is only part of the equation. For true transformation to take place there must be a transformation of the heart. For followers of Jesus, we believe that only Christ can truly bring about heart transformation. I am not Pollyannaish; bigotry, racism, tribalism and casteism will never be completely eradicated, even among those who claim to be Christians. And, I concede that compassion for the poor can and does reside in the heart of some Hindu’s, Muslims and people of other faiths. The point is, deeds without faith is mere social ritual whereas faith with deed is a demonstration of what we believe God would have us to do in loving others as we love ourselves.

Most evangelicals do not know how to do social work well. We either do it as a part of our agenda (feed the poor as a means to bring people to conversion), or, more likely, don’t do anything, as we don’t see social work as a part of Christ’s command to take the Good News to the nations. In spite our Lord’s work in healing the sick and His teaching on social action (giving a cup of water, the example of the Good Samaritan, the crime of unfair loans, the corrupt judge, etc.) we still have and aversion to be socially active in our communities. The great challenge for evangelicals is finding ways to bridge the gap between “felt” and “real” needs.

The question, to be explored next time, is where and in what way should we be involved? Perhaps the short answer is, “just because,” and that should be enough.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It Takes More Than Zeal and Money

I realize that the Apostle Paul did not take a class in cultural anthropology. I am also aware that understanding culture, studying the religion of others and looking for ways of contextualizing our message is not the only way to do work overseas. However, I do not ascribe to the theory that just being faithful is, in any stretch of the imagination, a sufficient substitute for strategic thinking.

Case in point. This past week a man and wife come over to visit where I was teaching. Lovely couple. They have lived in the country for about four years; have been teaching in a college and they both seem to be happy to be here. They, like so many people I have met down through the years, have a love for Christ, a love for people and have absolutely no idea what they should be doing. This is not just my assessment, it was theirs as well, and that’s why they came to see me.

These fine folks are not young and had been in ministry for several years in the states. Age doesn’t seem to be a factor when it comes to developing a strategy. If you’ve only been schooled in the theory of “ready, fire, aim,” it doesn’t make any difference if are 25 or 55. Zeal without knowledge only assures you that you will get into a mess faster but not smarter and certainly not more effective.

My new friends left me with a horror story. They have linked up with some people who have less knowledge than they do but have a ton of money in which to do ministry. Well-meaning people with money are even more dangerous than the poor and ignorant. Strategy is even less thought of when big donors want to move things down the road, get results and contribute to the spiritual bottom line (planting churches, seeing souls “saved”).

My great hope for this couple, along with the hundreds I teach each year, is that they will back up a bit, take the time needed to develop a well thought out plan and learn about those they have come to serve. Good strategy is no substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit, but I dare say His work is made easier when his vessels have a general idea of how and what they’re doing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dynamic Equivalence

Today is Diwali (many Indians have difficulty with the letter “w” so it is often pronounced Divali). It’s one of the most important celebration for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. Perhaps in your community, anywhere in the world, there are Diwali celebrations going on. What is Diwali?

Hindus have different reasons for celebrating Diwali, but perhaps the most popular historic reasoning behind it comes from the popular Hindu epic, "Ramayana." In the epic, Lord Rama returns to his kingdom in Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana after a 14 year exile; during his exile, Rama killed the 10-headed demon king Ravana, who among other things, had terrorized citizens in his country and had even kidnapped Sita. It is believed that people lit oil lamps along Rama's path back home in the darkness as a sign of solidarity and adulation.

Diwali is known as the “festival of lights,” as people decorate their houses like Christmas ornaments and strings of colored lights. In every window is a candle to guide Rama back from exile. Symbolically it is good’s victory over evil. Many believe that the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, visit the faithful on this day.

It’s also a festival of noise as throughout the night firecrackers and other fireworks continue through the night.

This Diwali I am in the south teaching cross-cultural classes. Diwali does not have as strong a tradition in the south as it does in the north, but still I hear “cracker’s” going on throughout the night. In our neighborhood in Delhi my wife tells me that night sky is lit, smoke hovers over the city of 12 million.

Missiologists and cross-cultural communications specialist look for the “dynamic equivalent” of such cultural events. As a Christian it’s easy to make the application of victory over darkness through the Gospel message. Followers of Christ do not have to show Him the way; He is the Light that helps us find our way to the God of all people, and cultures.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Survey Results

Here are the results of the survey of I posted earlier this week, with my brief comments:

Inerrancy of the Bible – Essential 71.4% - Preference 28.6%

Salvation in Christ Alone – Essential 100%

Polygamy is immoral – same as adultery – Essential 14.3% - Preference 42.9% - Negotiable 42.9% - (Polygamy is not the same as adultery, though it is not God’s ideal for marriage. However, God did allow it in the Old Testament)

Muslim believers should not remain in the mosque – E- 14.3% -P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (Great debate in missiological circles)

Baptism by immersion only – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1%

Women cannot teach or lead a congregation – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (Women, even teen-age girls, lead many congregations in restricted access countries.)

Truth is only found in God’s Word – E 14.3% - P 57.1% - N 28.6% - (Is all truth is God truth?)

Do not eat food used in Hindu ceremonies – E 0% - P 28.6% - N 71.4%

Forbid teaching from the Koran or other holy books – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (If all truth is God’s truth, even if it is found in other writings, can God not use it for His purpose?)

(For Christians) Allah is not an acceptable name used for God – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (Another debatable issue…is Allah merely a noun or is the connotation of the name the greater issue?)

The response to this survey revealed a couple of things. First, those who live outside the US usually score higher in the N category. Cross-cultural workers who live with the issues tend to make more allowances for culture than those who reside in the U.S. Second, many of the respondents who read this blog understand the cross-cultural issues more than the average North American pastors who took this survey.

The challenge, for all of us, is this…what is really important as we communicate the Gospel to people of other cultures and religion? Thanks to those who took the survey. Keep working through the issues as you develop your thoughts as how best to a be a “bridge” for those who don't yet understand the message of Christ.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What Would You Die For?

I recently sent out a survey to a list of pastors. This survey is to test or challenge theological consistencies. Example: Truth is only found in God's Word, the Bible. The categories for answers are (a) ESSENTIAL, one so strongly believe it is important for a Christian to embrace this theology they would DIE for it; (b) PREFERENCE, meaning that, though it is important or true, one would not die for that belief but would vigorously argue that it is something all Christians should adhere to; (c) NEGOTIABLE, something one is not sure is true or important for someone to believe. It may be personally what a person believes, but would not impose it on another culture nor is it a salvation issue.

Theology, as I have argued before, is theory based on history and cultural context. Some issues of theology are important enough to die for as it reflects the core of who we are as followers of Christ. These are the essentials. On the other hand, some doctrines are based more on preference, something we believe the Bible clearly teaches that are universal, such as modesty. But the question then becomes, how is modesty defined?

There are many customs and habits that Scripture is silent about or seemingly acceptable for that period in history that we would not ascribe to today, therefore negotiable. An example would be Paul'’s admonishment to greet others with a holy kiss - certainly a New Testament practice, but not necessarily a universal practice for all ages. That is a relatively easy example, but what about the issue of drinking blood or polygamy, which is not practiced in western cultures but is in other cultures? When it comes to the issues obliging people of other faiths, the challenges become even more intense. Is using the Arabic word for God, Allah, acceptable for a Christian believer?

If you would like to test your own theological consistencies, click on the subject line that is a link to ten questions. No one is able to track who takes the survey so all answers are anonymous. So, is it wrong for a Christian to drink beer? From your point of view, is it essential they don't, a preference or negotiable?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dark Side of Ego

My brother Bill ( works with CEO'’s and other leaders. He sent this to me the other day and I thought it was pretty good.

After leaders climb the ladder of success, some have forgotten how they made that climb. They no longer listen to subordinates, stakeholders, family members, coaches or anyone else with opposing views. They suffer a terminal professional disease... i.e. Egotism -

Ego-tism -- An exaggerated sense of self-importance ..

Steps to the Fall

1. Self Confidence .. normally a positive thing
2. Self Promotion .. look/listen to me
3. Self Admiration .. believing their own press release
4. Self Worship .. becoming their own god
5. Self Exclusion .. the rules don't apply to someone like me
6. Self Indulgence .. "I've" paid my dues.. "I" deserve it
7. Self Destruction.. the loss of family, reputation, creditability and more.

Most Leaders who fall into the dark side of ego seldom recognize it. They remind me of the pastor who was having trouble with the deacons in the church. He created a whole sermon targeting those with whom he had an axe to grind. He blasted away, starring down his adversaries. Standing at the back of the church shaking hands with the parishioners as they left, the head deacon grabbed the pastor'’s hand and said, "Reverend, great sermon. If they had been here this morning you would have nailed them."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Monk Becomes A Pastor

As I was walking back from the village to the campus a guy came up behind me and says, “Hello doctor, out for a walk?”

Pretty obvious, I thought to myself, but knowing he was just being pleasant I replied, “Yeah, getting a little exercise.” Since his pace was faster than mine I expected him to go on by, but he slowed and spoke again.

“I wanted to take your class, doctor” (I don’t have a name, just a title), “but I am getting your notes from the other students. Maybe I can write you and you can help me in my research?”

I didn’t know this guy and wondered how he knew me or was even interested in cultural anthropology. Since my mornings are filled with teaching and I visit with students in the afternoons, I wasn’t anxious to counsel during my exercise time, but he kept talking and I kept listening. Half interested in his story he blurted out, “I was once a Buddhist monk.”

“You were a what,” I asked? Intrigued I asked him how he came to be a Christian. Here’s his story.

Peter (a Christian name he took after conversion) grew up in a Buddhist home. After high school he joined a monastery, which made his parents very proud. The monastery was on an island in Burma where he was isolated from the world for six years. Leaving the monastery he lived as a monk in a village for a year. He said he didn’t like other religions, especially Muslims. Peter said there were two churches in the village where he lived, a Baptist church and an Assemblies of God.

“The AG church always has loud singing,” he said, “which we Buddhist find offensive. That kind of music is like a sin to our spirit”

Peter decided to go to go to the pastor of the church and confront him about this music. He expected the pastor to be rude and ready to debate him on religion. But the pastor was not rude at all, was kind to Peter and they began to talk. Peter was so impressed with the kind spirit of the pastor that he started attending the church services. Six months later, after hearing the message about Jesus Christ he became a believer. As he grew in his faith he began telling his family and friends about Christ.

“What did your parents think of you becoming a Christian,” I asked?

“They were against it,” he said. “My sister told me that I had become a disgrace to the family, my parents told me that it was my decision but they were not interested in hearing the Gospel. I even received a letter from a group of people in my village saying they would kill me. But, others have said they I was welcome and wanted to hear more.”
Peter is now working on his PhD and preparing to return to Burma as a pastor.

When we arrived back at the campus we said goodbye and I told him if I could help him in his dissertation I would be happy to do. As he walked away I thought of God’s amazing grace, how a monk was now preparing to be a Christian pastor. My walk had revealed another narrative of Grace. God even uses loud praise and worship to bring people unto Himself.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Values and Culture

One of the stickiest issues when dealing with culture is that of values. As with all things, values are culturally driven. What seems to be a lie to one person may be a face saving maneuver to another. What is clearly stealing in one culture is considered borrowing in a different context. Those who see things in black and white criticize this form of discussion as compromise and promoting relativism. “It’s either a sin or it’s not,” one student barked at me many years ago. “Tell me then,” I replied, “when your wife asks if she looks fat in her new dress, do you tell her the truth or do you tell her she looks lovely and not fat at all?”

All cultures are bound by their prison of disobedience, in personal sin and to institutional law. What I find interesting in the study below is that, at least as it relates to national corruption, that the countries with the least percentage of corruption are nations with a Christian foundation. The top four countries are hardly considered evangelical nations (Switzerland is predominately Catholic, 16% of population attend church). Why is the U.S., considered by some to be the most Christian of all nations, number 10? Why are Russia, China and India at the bottom of this list? Is it because they are emerging nations using any means, by hook or crook to get ahead, or is there a fundamental moral wolrd view that does perceive bribery as being corrupt but merely being shrewd (as in nation 19) in business? What does this study say to you?

A score of 10 indicates a perception of no corruption

1. Switzerland (7.81)
2. Sweden (7.62)
3. Australia (7.59)
4. Austria (7.50)
5. Canada (7.46)
6. UK (7.39)
7. Germany (7.34)
8. Netherlands (7.28)
9. Belgium (7.22)
10. U.S. (7.22)
11. Japan (7.10)
12. Singapore (6.78)
13. Spain (6.63)
14. United Arab Emirates (6.62)
15. France (6.50)
16. Portugal (6.47)
17. Mexico (6.45)
18. Hong Kong (6.01)
19. Israel (6.01)
20. Italy (5.94)
21. South Korea (5.83)
22. Saudi Arabia (5.75)
23. Brazil (5.65)
24. South Africa (5.61)
25. Malaysia (5.59)
26. Taiwan (5.41)
27. Turkey (5.23)
28. Russia (5.16)
29. China (4.94)
30. India (4.62)
Source: Transparency International 2006 survey

Monday, October 02, 2006

Horizontal Leadership

In my last post I discussed the difference between those who are visionaries, teachers and practioners. In the Body of Christ they are all important. Some people have more vision than others; some can teach the vision better than the visionary, and the practioner sometimes doesn’t have the vision or experience to teach. The role of the visionary and teacher are vital. Unfortunately, like all things with a body, the high profile gifts of a visionary or teacher oftentimes dwarf those who in fact do the work, the practioner.

Like most corporations, the mission industry structure is usually top down. The western church functions so much like a business firm that we have adopted its language, thus we have CEO’s, vice presidents, department heads all the way down to the people who actually churn out a product – in our case, a church plant.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this structure; doesn’t make any difference whether it’s right or wrong, it’s a system that we are stuck with. We pray our CEO’s will learn “servant leadership,” and we tell our teachers that they are now “facilitators.” In many organizations, certainly not all, neither the visionary or the teacher has planted a church, wrestled with the pain of growing a church and haven’t spent twenty-four hours in a village among the unreached people they proclaim to have heart for. I know of one CEO who failed on the field, didn’t even plant a cell group, didn’t get along with the nationals or colleagues on the field but is now head of his sending agency! Go figure. But I digress.

In a perfect world, with a perfect church the perfect structure is not vertical but horizontal. What shall we call it? How about the Jesus model? Jesus knew how to cast the vision; He did ministry (not in a five star but something between a foxes hole and a birds nest), and he taught/coached in the process. His followers wanted Him to be the CEO of the Kingdom, but He turned it down. He could have been the great rabbi/guru, but He wasn’t content just to tell others how to do it, He actually did Kingdom work, He taught by example.

There are very few people that possess all the abilities that characterize a discipler, even though that is what Jesus called us to be. The best we can hope for is a visionary who can see what needs to be done based on having touched and smelled the battle that he is asking the practioner to commit their lives to; for teachers who instruct out of experience, not mere academic theory; through their failures as well as successes in the trenches of real life. A true servant leader is one, like our Lord, who walked the talk, who led through doing, whose chief aim was to do the will of the Father. He did it all by serving alongside, no, in the midst, of those He came to serve.