Saturday, October 31, 2009

Best, Better, Ugly: Mixed Reviews Keeps One Humble

Last week a student stayed behind after class to see me.  He said quietly, “I just wanted to tell you this class has changed my life. More than that, it has changed the way I think about things.  It hit me as I was driving to town the other day, all of a sudden I realized how my view of things has changed and it was like a big weight lifted from my shoulders.”

Humbled, I thanked him for telling me that.  Every teacher likes to hear such positive feedback.

The very next day a student from a previous class approached me and said, “Your course has had the most impact on my life.  I belong to a denomination that is very critical of other groups.  After your class I came away with a sense of appreciating others and I am no longer judgmental of others.

“You may not remember,” another student said to me, “but you taught me in another school in 1998.  I still remember your lectures on the Pokot and your message in chapel on having “Universal Significance.’”

There isn’t a person reading this that hasn’t had such an experience one time in their life.  Perhaps you offered a kind word to someone, a word of encouragement or perhaps a time when you just prayed with someone.  An act you don’t remember that, while you do not remember, made a profound impression on someone else.


On my last day of teaching a student asked to see me.  Upset with his test score, he let me know in no uncertain terms that I was unfair, not sympathetic, aloof and not accessible to students.   He even accused me of teaching from a biased western perspective and that I wasn’t concerned with the Indian view of missions. 

Suddenly, all the goodwill you thought you had goes down the drain.  The praise of a three is overshadowed by the negative one.  That other feedback, the one that seemingly comes out of nowhere, blindsides you.  You feel defensive and, even worse that you let someone down.

Though no one likes criticism, in a way I’m grateful for that student’s stinging assessment.  I totally disagree with his judgment and, quite honestly, I felt that I gave him a better grade than he deserved.  But what I did get out of his honest opinion of me was that I am not infallible, not everyone thinks I walk on water and, while I am grateful that I am a blessing to some, there is always room for improvement.

Moral of the story is obvious.  Count your blessings when you are praised but remember it only takes one negative review to bring you down to earth.  Walk humbly as it hurts less when you are humbled.



Sunday, October 18, 2009

Should Christians Wish Hindu's A Happy Diwali?

Saturday India celebrated Diwali, the second big festival in as many months (last month it was Darsa).  Like Darsa, Diwali centers around a mythological tale of good over evil.  The god Rama returns after 14 years of exile killing the evil god Ravna. Diwali, known as the festival of lights, is marked to welcome Rama’s return. The tradition of lighting lamps and shooting off fireworks is symbolic of light over darkness, a path for a brighter future. Hindu’s in the north also celebrate this day as a pooja (worship) to Lakshimi, the goddess of prosperity.

The question for Christians in this country is should they join in this festival?  The students in my anthropology class are divided on the subject.  Some of them are adamant that it is not appropriate for Christians to wish people “happy Diwali,” as they argue it is giving credence to other gods.  Others don’t see any harm.  My students are always interested in the professor’s opinion on the matter.

When I lived in Delhi my landlord, a cultural Hindu, asked why his servant girl, a Pentecostal, would not wish him happy Diwali?  He thought it was rude that she would not. She told me her pastor said it was wrong for them to do so; therefore she would not wish him glad tidings on that day.  “Is that what all Christians believe,” he asked?

My argument on the subject is much like using the word Allah as a reference to God with Muslims.  I am well aware that the Jehovah of Christians and Jews is not the same as the Allah of the Mohammedans, but for me it is merely a linguistic title.  I use a lot of cultural titles of god that are not the same as my perception of God or Lord.  Swami, Senor, Mungu are all language references to the Supreme Being.  While some Christians want to argue the etymology of words, I contend that most Hindu’s and Muslim’s don’t have a concept of the origin of words anymore than Christians know the meaning of the word “Christ.”  It’s a title, a tag word for identification only.  Refusing to use words of culture does not enhance our witness as Christians.

My landlord was gracious to wish me “Happy Christmas.”  He doesn’t understand the story, but out of respect for my faith he is willing to acknowledge it.  He is not compromising his faith by being courteous, nor I when I wish him a Happy Diwali.

Bringing people to an understanding of our faith is a process, sometimes a very long process.  While I am uncomfortable with accommodating some cultural and religious practices, I want to choose my battle lines carefully.  Diwali is not the place to draw a line in the sand.  In fact, by wishing someone a happy Diwali may be an avenue for further discussion about evil, good and Jesus.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Equipping National Cross-Cultural Missionaries

Last month I was in Hyderabad working with, what they call, the Master Trainers.  These are men and women who are bi-vocational, cross-cultural church planters and workers.  The women have a unique role in that they help coordinate micro-business finance projects among villagers.  Many of this class come from the state of Orissa, a place where there is much persecution for Christians.  One girl in this class actually witnessed the murder of her family members.

I appreciate Dr. Vijayam and the staff of TENT for allowing me the opportunity to serve with them. 

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Missional or Merely Monoculturally Relevant?

A friend sent a book to me to review while I am traveling and teaching in India. Chris is one of those guys who is always striving to learn more and so I was more than happy to review and send him my evaluation of Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Be A Missionary In Your Community.  The bottom line, this book is for (a) church planters in the U.S. or (b) churches who are looking for ways to revitalize their congregations. As I waded through the pages it became obvious the authors are hoping to present a new model for church planting that is relevant for today’s post-Christian context.  The writers reviewed past models, from the traditional church of forty years ago to seeker-sensitive services a decade ago, to today’s emerging church.  In this book the new approach is reaching the unchurched which they call the missional congregation.  

In the end, though they touched on it, the book didn’t didn't break any code as it didn't address some issues that, in my opinion, is the true definition of a missional church -- how to reach our cities cross-culturally.  Let me explain.

The city of my home church has many churches, some which are growing, many which are not.  In this community of less than 50,000 people there has been a huge influx of Hispanics and people from the Marshall Islands and other ethnic groups.  If our little city has such a diversity of people groups, I can only imagine what is taking place in Kansas City, Dallas, Baltimore and other major cities.  Our region of the country has its share of mega-congregations, all vying to out-build and out-program other churches.  What my town needs is a book on how to reach across those cultural boundaries, to the people of other ethnic backgrounds who will never come to a culturally middle class WASP body of  believers. 

The principles of how to go cross-culturally are certainly in this book, i.e. building relationships and finding a “safe” place for non-believers to meet.  The writers even use good missiological terms like contextualization and indigenous forms of worship.  In the book they cite many examples of starting contextually sound congregations among the white middle-class, but they never give one example of how those churches started or partnered with the Asian, Black or Hispanic communities.  While the authors note the shifting demographics of our country they did not, in my opinion, capitalize on that reality in their church planting models.

For many of today’s church growth experts, including this book, contextualization is defined as a different style of music, using the latest media technology and casual dress.  In some ways their arguments are no different than what we talked about 30 years ago.  The term “cutting edge,” no longer seems to be in vogue, but when people talk about reaching their generation with the Gospel they are merely repeating the older arguments for today’s culture. 

So, my final analysis of the book is that it extremely helpful as far as it goes.  For those who are starting WASP churches or for established congregations looking for ideas for revitalization, it’s worth the read.  They give good insights and principles that can be built on and I appreciate their emphasis on church planting multiplication.  However, from a missiological perspective, until the church begins to become Kingdom centric rather than Ecclesia centric we will remain focused on church growth rather than fulfilling the command to go to every panta ta ethne.