Author Archives: Mark Naylor M.Th.

About Mark Naylor M.Th.

Mark Naylor is the Coordinator of the Centre for Intercultural Leadership Development (CILD)

“Aspects of Islam”

Aspects of Islam by Ron Geaves. London: Darton, Longman and Todd. 2005

Sectarian divisions for any religion tend to occur down the fault lines of the strongest convictions.  Ron Geaves sheds light on fundamental faith issues within Islam by exploring significant religious disagreements that exist between committed Muslims. This is a scholarly work that carefully avoids ideological judgment of Islam and instead compares and contrasts the internal struggles of those topics crucial to the world of Islam.  He portrays Islam as a faith that strives to establish faithfulness, consensus and stability amidst the diversity and challenge of forces both external and internal to the religion.

Geaves begins by providing an enlightening critique of both the rhetoric against Islam as well as those “rosy” affirmative pictures commonly found in the western media and moves on to describe with notable sensitivity the current diversity of faith and practice within the world’s second largest religion.  The fundamental tenet in Islam of the uniqueness and unity of God is explored to reveal two distinct interpretations.  While reforming sects, such as the Wahhabis, emphasize the transcendence of God, other elements, e.g. the more mystical Sufi movement, find its fulfillment in an immanent concept of “oneness” through which the follower becomes one with God.

The author next examines the tensions between the law of God in Islam, Shari’a, and cultural or contextual legal systems.  The following chapter considers the concept of brotherhood, Umma, which provides a monolithic image to the outsider while harboring deep divisions. These divisions are explored in greater detail through the contrasting Sunni view of “manifest success” revealing God’s favor versus the Shi’a doctrine of a remnant remaining faithful in suffering.  The figure of the prophet of Islam is looked at through the eyes of those Muslims who see him as the greatest prophet, albeit human, and those who have attributed almost divine characteristics to him. A holistic view of Jihad is then presented that includes both a personal, internal struggle and a political, external effort that are part of the universal war between God and Satan. It is the military expression of the latter, such as the revolution in Iran, as well as the imposition of Shari’a law to defend Islam against the infiltration of western values that gains the attention of outsiders. He concludes with an examination of the attempt of Muslim women to achieve liberation through the application of Islamic teaching rather than western feminism.

For each of these areas of tension within Islam, Geaves examines the historical roots for the dichotomy of thought and delves into the underlying faith assumptions that perpetuate the diverse practices and thinking current in the world of Islam. Although the author’s secular bias is revealed at times, such as the attempt to “get at the real Muhammad,” p. 144, and in assuming cultural sources for faith positions (e.g., the speculation that the Christian veneration of Christ may have influenced pious Muslims in attributing divine attributes to Muhammad, p. 163), he is exceptionally sensitive to the danger of allowing his assumptions shape the views he wishes to portray and the theological descriptions provided would most likely satisfy their proponents.

Although not an easy read for those unfamiliar with Islam, there are three features that keep the themes clear for the reader and enhance its value as a reference text on Islam:  Each chapter begins with a clear synopsis of the content, each chapter ends with a conclusion that summarizes the points made, and a glossary with helpful definitions of Islamic religious terms is provided.  This well researched and erudite book is highly recommended for those who wish to understand the tensions and struggles within Islam that often find their expression through conflict with western systems and ideals.

Significant Interactions in Pakistan

About two times a year I travel to Pakistan to work on the Sindhi Bible translation.  Currently we are preparing a Sindhi New Testament for the Hindu people of the Sindh along with a review of the New Testament that was translated for a Muslim audience.  A few vignettes taken from my most recent trip in February, 2010 are given below.  They help to illuminate the process of Bible translation, provide examples of the significant discussions that occur as the translation team members interact with each other, and reveal the spiritual hunger that is evident among the Sindhi people.

Clarifying the translation

While the first translation of the common Sindhi version of the New Testament is excellent for the most part, there are occasions when the translation has failed to communicate the intended meaning of the original and require correction. These miscommunications become obvious through the interactions with the translation team.  I often ask them to explain a passage to me, and their response sometimes reveals unintended meanings.

A good illustration of this is Jn 4:23 where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (ESV).  The first translation of “in Spirit and Truth” in Sindhi was quite literal, similar to the ESV.  Unfortunately, the natural meaning of this phrase in Sindhi is that true worshipers will worship with “enthusiasm / commitment and with a true (righteous) heart.”  However, the point of the passage is not to discuss the character of the worshipers, but their connection to the truth and reality of who God is.  True worshipers are those who have a spiritual orientation towards God and worship according to the truth and reality of the nature of God. That is, they will live according to his truth.  In order to communicate the right meaning in Sindhi, we translated it as “following the way of the Holy Spirit and truth (or reality).”

Spiritual Hunger

During my trip, I went to the Sindology Institute in Hyderabad to do some research for my PhD thesis.  During my time there, I had a number of invitations for significant conversations that reveal the spiritual openness and hunger of the people of the Sindh.  While riding the bus (free for anyone heading to the university), I sat beside a man who worked at the university who asked me, “What spiritual benefit is there in Christianity?” I explained that the benefit lies in the person of Christ who brings us into a familial relationship with God; we become God’s children.  In Islam the essential relationship is that of master to a servant / slave.

He further asked what constituted “spirituality” and I explained that it was found in relationships, those immeasurable aspects of life that give significance and meaning to our existence.  He gave me his view concerning the universe and how it is a creation that God provided so that people could know about him.  I agreed and took it even farther, explaining that God is an artist; creation reveals his character. I pointed out God’s comment on his work in Genesis 1, “it is good,” and the significance of “separating the light from the darkness” as an expression of God’s goodness in which there is no flaw.

This raised the question of the authenticity of Scripture.  Since his work is in computer science, he gave the example of Windows 3.1 being superceded by Windows 95, then Windows 97, etc.  He suggested that the Bible has been superceded by the Qu’ran in the same way.  I pointed out that this would only be true if God has changed in his essential nature, or if people have changed in their essential need.  If not, then the truth that God spoke in the past is true for us today as well.  The purpose of the Bible is to bring us into a relationship with God, and is as helpful to us today in that task as it was when it was written.

Significant Conversations

The Hindu Sindhi helper on our team talked about his (now deceased) Guru who encouraged people to come and follow his teaching without leaving their own religious duties.  I responded by observing that this is not permissible for those of us who are Christians because of the exclusiveness of Jesus’ claims.  Jesus is the one with whom we have made a covenant and he does not allow his followers to have religious “mistresses”.  He nodded his head and said,  “yes, that is true.”  What we have been studying in the gospels has made that obvious to him.

When translating the difficult play on words used in Jn 3:3;4 – “born again” which also means “from above” – our Hindu helper was disturbed by Nicodemus’ incredulous reply about entering his mother’s womb.  This started a discussion about reincarnation and the lack of the concept within Christianity and Islam.  The message of the gospel speaks clearly to our hope in Jesus as the way to the father, not through an eternal cycle of birth and death.  This message of Jesus as the Savior of the world comes through loud and clear in the Gospels. All are called to respond to this good news, which calls us to faith (see Jn 20:31), on a personal level, not just on the level of comparative religions.


You can read more about the Sindhi people and Bible translation here…

Canadians don’t talk about religion

By embracing dialogue rather than proclamation as an approach to engage people with our faith, are we selling out to cultural pressures?  By choosing the route of Significant Conversations because it is more comfortable and natural for us in our pluralist society, does this mean we are neglecting our call to proclaim the gospel?  Are we in danger of “watering down the gospel” by presenting it as only one of many beliefs? This article explores the reasons why dialogue represents an appropriate contextualization of evangelism that fits with our cultural “language” and mood, rather than an inappropriate capitulation to societal pressures.

>>View the entire article here


Talking About the Gospel in a Pluralist Society

When faced with expressions of values that clash with biblical perspectives, Christians often resort to either “fight or flight” in response.  They either say nothing and miss an opportunity for a significant conversation, or they challenge the value. Fortunately, there is another way to engage people in conversation that is both rewarding and enjoyable, leaving all partners with their dignity intact and with a desire for further discussion.  Evangelism as dialogue, as opposed to proclamation, is proposed as a culturally sensitive approach through which people can converse about the values and beliefs that shape their lives. This perspective follows the principles of Significant Conversations: Evangelism that resonates with our Canadian context.

>>View the entire article here

The Conundrum of prayer

Recently a friend sent me a link to a blog skeptical of the power of prayer. Some key comments taken from the blog are as follows:

cell-phoneSurely the divines can explain what distinguishes the moments when prayers do save someone from those when they don’t.   Is it the targets of prayers that are distinguishable, or the people doing the praying?  Perhaps someone could keep tabs and analyse the results, in the spirit of scientific inquiry.  Or does God just have priorities wildly different from ours?  But who can possibly imagine a reason why God wouldn’t respond to prayers to save an officer’s life, but would respond to the petitions that we are regularly told have produced a divine affirmative—to get someone out of debt, say, or to cure someone of illness?

I take it that believers do not ascribe such inconsistent results to capriciousness on God’s part, but rather to their own limited capacities to understand God’s ways:  “Thy Will be done.”  But why continue directing any psychic energy to a being so lacking in sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values.  It will not do to say: “God does respond to our prayers, but in ways that we cannot fathom.”  Saving a child from cancer and letting a child die from cancer cannot both be a sympathetic response to prayer; if we had wanted a stricken child to die in order to secure an earlier entry to heaven, we would have said so.  And if premature death from cancer is such a boon, why doesn’t a loving God provide it to one and all?

It is humans who work with passion and commitment every day to try to save their fellows (and a range of other creatures) from suffering and sorrow.  Emergency room medicine is constantly evolving to try to ensure that gun shot victims and people crushed by cars survive.  Doctors and hospital staff work frantically throughout the night to try to revive a failing heart or a shattered brain.  They do so out of love and compassion, while God, who could restart an exhausted heart in an instant, demurs.  The only source of love on earth is human empathy.  Transferring our own admirable traits onto a constructed deity just obscures the real human condition: we are all we have, but that is saying a lot.1

Is God "lacking in sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values"?

These are valid (and common) questions considering the assumptions the author of the blog is making about prayer. However, I believe that her primary assumption is mistaken.  She writes as if the purpose of prayer is to instigate God’s action in our affairs.  Even as a call to 911 stimulates the paramedics into predictable action, so our prayers should result in God acting according to our perceived needs.  Because the act of prayer has uncertain results, God must lack “sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values.”

The assumption being made is that our life and relationships here on this earth are the supreme purpose of existence.  Therefore, any Absolute being who is good would automatically, let alone requiring petitions, respond in order to fulfill that purpose.  But from the Christian perspective, that assumption is incorrect.  The supreme purpose of existence is our relationship to God.  God is reality in the same way that God is love.  Our life here is intended to be an expression of that reality as we work it out in the midst of the dangers and brokenness of this material world.  Even as nature is an expression of God (his artwork), but is not God himself, so our lives on this earth are an expression of reality, but there is something (someone) behind all that we experience which gives meaning to our existence. That ultimate reality is encountered as we live in harmony with God.  Jesus said, “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).

The pain, the danger, the beauty, the development, and the uncertainty of life all play a role in providing the environment in which we can discover what truly makes life worthwhile.  This is eternal (full, whole, perfect, fulfilled) life, to know God and Jesus Christ, the one he has sent (Jn 17:3).

Prayer … is a cry to the father in order to put all things into his hands

Prayer, then, is not a desperate attempt to save someone’s life (like a paramedic), or a tool to fix something broken (like CPR), rather it is a cry to the father in order to put all things into his hands. Prayer coordinates and harmonizes our immediate experience and struggle with the Ultimate Reality in the hope and expectation that he is the source of love who will make all things right, even if our desires of the moment are not met. What we ultimately say when we pray is “I trust you,” and what God ultimately says in his response is “trust me, I love you.”  Whether, like Jesus, we pray for salvation in the garden and wind up on the cross (Luke 22:42), or we are frightened in the boat and cry out, “save me!” resulting in immediate calm (Luke 8:22-24), the point in both cases is the trust in what – or rather, whom – is ultimately true and real.  The story never ends until it ends in God and if Jesus spoke the truth, then he is the God of life, not death (Luke 20:38). 

There are two possibilities for ultimate reality: everything ends in darkness and death or everything ends in light and life.  If the former is true, there is no point in prayer.  If the latter is true, then prayer is the best response possible to any situation.

The author also writes that “the only source of love on earth is human empathy.”  Not so. Human empathy is an essential expression of love, but its source lies elsewhere.  We love because we have first been loved (1 Jn 4:19).  We love because we have been given capacity to express and live out love (1 Jn 4:11).  We love because we have been made for love.  We love because we have been created in the image of love (Gen 1:26,27).  We are “icons” of God, who is love.  That is the source.  The choice is not between a “constructed deity” or limiting love to a human invention.  That is a false dichotomy.  The reality is even better than we imagine: a God who loves us, not to a pain free and grief absent life, but to himself.

    ____________________

  • 1 Mac Donald, Heather. The Conundrum of Prayer. posted June 5th, 2009 at http://secularright.org/wordpress/?p=2102. Accessed July 4, 2009.

 

What Motivates Suicide Bombers

Terrorism as “lashing out”

In one section of a popular book on globalization, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman explores the impact of globalization on the Arab-Muslim world and how this relates to the rise of Muslim based terrorism.

[Arab-Muslim] youth, particularly those living in Europe, can and do look around and see that the Arab-Muslim world, in too many cases, has fallen behind the rest of the planet. It is not living as prosperously or democratically as other civilizations. How can that be? these young Arabs and Muslims must ask themselves. If we have the superior faith, and if our faith is all encompassing of religion, politics, and economics, why are others living so much better?

This is a source of real cognitive dissonance for many Arab-Muslim youth – the sort of dissonance, and loss of self-esteem, that sparks rage, and leads some of them to join violent groups and lash out at the world.1

To read further on Mark’s response to this analysis as well as a proposal to address this dissonance and rage, see the full article in Cross-Cultural Impact

When Children’s stories go wrong

keysI was witness to an amazing children’s illustration one Sunday that went hilariously wrong.  The woman was trying to make the point through the use of keys that the only key into heaven was Jesus.  She dangled her keys and asked what they allowed her to get into.  One child said “house” and another said “car.”  The program seemed to be running smoothly with the children all on board.  Then she tried to make the shift to the spiritual lesson asking, “How do we get into heaven?”  There was a short pause as the children pondered this.  Then the hand of a small boy shot up and he confidently announced the obvious, “We have to die!”

The woman was disconcerted at this morbid turn of events, but it was too late. The children’s minds were fixated on this barrier to getting to heaven and how it should be overcome.  Another boy’s hand went up and the woman quickly turned to him, “Yes, how can we get to heaven?”  He said in a rather solemn tone, “God has to call us.”  The woman looked a little desperately at the other children and the boy repeated it a little more loudly since he hadn’t received the affirmation expected, “God has to call us to heaven!”  She tried to rephrase her question, “What do we have to do to get to heaven?”  The kids stared at her, their minds whirling at this twist to the question.  She tried to help them out, “We need to trust in J-J-J…” Her hope of salvaging the lesson were raised by a girl who waved her hand, but then immediately dashed when the girl said, “Well, if we were to stop eating and got weaker and weaker, then we could die and go to heaven.”

The woman finally talked about “accepting Jesus into our hearts,” but I’m sure that the children left confident that the boy’s first comment about having to die was the point of the lesson.  But maybe that was a healthier perspective than leaving them with the impression that the primary point of Jesus’ work is to provide a free ticket to an eternal Disneyland.

“God will not let me into Heaven”

Continue the Conversation

conversationThis past week I had a discussion with a couple of fellow believers who had had a significant conversation with an elderly person who was in the last days of his life.  They were talking to him of the grace and forgiveness offered by God.  His response was, “I have cheated and lied.  I have not treated people properly.  God will not let me into heaven.”  They did not know how to respond.

What would your response be?  How would you carry on this conversation?

I will give a possible response from my perspective at the end of the article, but at this point I would like to propose that people in our churches are having significant conversations like this in many different forums (hospitals, schools, work, playing sports) and with a variety of people (friends, family, acquaintances).  What we require is support from other believers to discover how to continue the conversation.

Significant Conversations

Significant Conversations is designed to help believers as we talk with the people in our lives about the important issues of life. Coaching for churches encourages the development of a culture of prayer and mutual support that further strengthens the impact of significant conversations in our lives.  The purpose statement for coaching Significant Conversations is to equip groups of “champions” in local churches for the role of initiating, supporting and encouraging other believers as they engage those outside the church in significant conversations.  This includes:

To read the rest of the article visit Cross-Cultural Impact

 

The Pastor’s Role as Spiritual Coach:

See also the  follow-up article: Pastor’s Role as Spiritual Coach II

Helping people trade their lives for significance

Our home church is searching for a senior pastor.  My wife is on the search committee and so we have been discussing the type of pastor we would like to see come and serve in our church.  Our preferences seem to be at odds with some of the accepted and assumed pastoral roles.

Since my church experience has been primarily with the Fellowship, my perspective has developed out of that environment. As I understand the usual practice, formulating the vision and direction of the church is considered to be the responsibility of the church leadership, primarily the pastor. Many hours are spent in meetings talking and praying for God’s leading as they develop a vision that is then presented to the church. Some discussion and minor adjustments are made, a vote is taken and the vision is adopted.

Unfortunately, a positive vote does not necessarily result in commitment to the vision.  A “yes” vote can mean one of four things:

  • Unspoken Dissention (I don’t like it, but I don’t want to be a wet blanket or be viewed as divisive)
  • Permission (not my thing, but go ahead.)
  • Encouragement (I like that, but I can’t be involved) OR
  • Commitment (Count me in, I want to be part)

leadership-developed-vision1The hope of the leadership is that a “yes” vote indicates commitment to a new direction. But I have seen many times when the actual result is frustration, with the pastor trying to convince people to believe and participate in the adopted vision. A key concern is “will enough people support this new vision?”  The pastor has to create “buy-in” so that they will get involved – often with a plea that it will take minimal commitment (“only a couple of hours a week”). Many people will still participate even though the projects do not fit with their vision.  They are willing to cooperate, but the lack of ownership can be detrimental to their sense of connection to the church.  In this paradigm, a church is identified by its overarching vision.

The concept of “church” and the pastor’s role that Karen and I prefer is somewhat different. The pastor and leadership do not develop, create or control the vision.  Instead, they facilitate and network the visions (plural) of the believers.  Based on a conviction that the Holy Spirit indwells and guides each believer, the pastor’s role is not to cast an overarching vision, but to help people integrate their lives with their Christian faith, while guiding them to meaningful engagement in Kingdom service.  The leadership, and primarily the pastor, encourages and facilitates each believer’s desire for service, significance and expression of Christian faith according to the believer’s personal vision.  This requires an ability to relate to people in significant ways in order to discover where God has given them a passion and conviction.  This could be connected to their business or their favorite form of recreation.  It could arise from a concern for their family or from a desire to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.  But it is their vision.

member-developed-visionsThe role of the pastor in this scenario is to cultivate such visions and coordinate their efforts with other people and organizations.  The pastor networks believers who have a common vision and passion and acts as a spiritual coach guiding them to explore how their Christian faith can be intentionally lived out.  The leaders’ key concern is then “how can I help people fulfill their vision?” In this paradigm, the church is identified through the relationships people develop as they minister to others.

According to this view, the essence and vision of the church community is the establishment of each believer in their God-ordained role as intentional Christ followers in all of their day-to-day relationships. The pastor facilitates, coordinates, networks, guides and teaches from a biblical perspective to ensure all believers have the connections and support they need to fulfill their purpose as God’s people.  The pastor initiates, challenges and supports believers to discover and pursue the opportunities God has given them to serve and to fulfill the call of Jesus in their lives.  The pastor’s orientation towards the congregation is to ensure that people feel connected, cared for and that their contribution to the kingdom is valued. Recognition and support for each person’s ministry goals together with the collaboration of others will lead to fulfillment of the congregation as well as significant engagement with the community.

“If you want people’s hearts, they need to know what they are exchanging their lives for.”1 The kind of pastor Karen and I would like to see in our church is one who guides people as they exchange their lives for what is significant to God’s mission.  Rather than being satisfied that people are cooperating with a leadership driven vision, the pastor acts as a midwife to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in the lives of believers and helps bring to reality their vision and passion as the people of God.
_________

1 Rusaw R. & Swanson E. 2004. The Externally Focused Church. Loveland: Group. P. 179.


Strange condition for Church membership

A friend of ours was chatting about his experience attending membership classes at his church.  He mentioned that one part of the statement of faith requires members to affirm that the Genesis story is not to “be accepted allegorically or figuratively.”  He did not have a problem with this, but I find it an odd condition for church membership on a number of levels.  There are, of course, historical reasons for this restriction in the interest of protecting the integrity of the Bible as God’s infallible revelation.  However, because the statement of faith does make it clear that the Bible is God’s infallible word, it seems unhelpful and problematic to demand a particular hermeneutic for a specific passage of Scripture.

To accept these claims about Genesis, the new believer would need to be acquainted with the historical struggle for the integrity of the Bible, as well as an understanding of literary genres.  I suspect that the average believer, let alone a new Christian, does not understand the different genres used in the Bible.  It seems misplaced to demand that people affirm that a passage of Scripture belongs to a particular genre.  The important issue of the integrity of God’s revelation has been obscured by peripheral and unnecessary demands concerning genre.

In his stimulating book, Inspiration and Incarnation, Peter Enns claims that the controversy between theological liberals and conservatives is based on a false dichotomy.  The liberal believes that the first chapters of Genesis do not match modern standards for historical writing and, therefore, are not inspired.  The conservative believes the Bible is God’s inspired word and, therefore, those chapters must live up to modern standards for historical writing.  Enns’ suggestion is that the conservative assumption of inspiration is the correct one, but he questions the assumption of both liberals and conservatives that the genre of modern historical writing should be the standard by which the Bible is viewed. Instead, the Bible needs to be read according to the cultural context within which it was written (p. 49).

Determining the genre of the first chapters of Genesis requires a high level of hermeneutical and exegetical expertise. It is puzzling to me why a church would put such demands on a new Christian seeking baptism and church membership.  I do think that a confession of faith is needed for membership, but it should focus on the essentials while allowing for ignorance about peripheral issues.

I am not asking that the Pandora’s box of revising official statements of faith be opened.  Instead, I would encourage discernment about the use of those statements when dealing with new believers.  I wonder if the reluctance of some to take on church membership is, in part, due to peripheral issues that they do not have the expertise to understand.  If people have become excited about following Jesus, a requirement that they subscribe to one side or another in ongoing controversies could act as a (figurative and allegorical) bucket of cold water on their faith.

 

Are churches ready for Significant Conversations?

I have done the introductory workshop for Significant Conversations (a grassroots approach to evangelism) in a number of churches during the past year, with far greater interest and response than anticipated.  The workshop was initially designed for church boards so that they could evaluate the approach and decide whether or not to present the concept to the congregation.  Three churches in a row were so comfortable with the idea that the workshop was opened up to anyone interested.

At the first church we set up three tables expecting 3-4 extra people besides the board members: over 25 showed up.  The second church phoned three days before the meeting, “We heard that [the first] church opened up the meeting to the whole congregation.  Can we do that as well?”  Once again, we set up one row of tables, expecting maybe 10 other people who would be interested, and for a second time, over 25 came including some young people who interacted with the material reflecting their own conversations with friends at school.

Some people learn and take corrective measures.  The rest of us ignore the obvious.  At the third church, anyone who was interested in Significant Conversations was invited to remain after the morning service for lunch and the workshop. We ran short of pizza and had to rearrange the tables and chairs to accommodate the 30+ people – nearly half the congregation – who came and interacted with the grassroots evangelism concepts.

Why this interest?

Why this interest?  It may be that believers are anxious to find a way to interact on a deeper and more significant level with their friends, colleagues and relatives.  I suspect that people want to know how to talk to the people in their lives about important issues.  Although I cannot speak definitively, here are some reasons for the unexpected interest that resonate with me.

1) It is difficult in Canada to talk about spiritual things.  Religion and faith are taboo subjects.  A fellow believer involved in Significant Conversations made friends with his neighbor.  The neighbor laid down conditions for the relationship: “No discussions about religion or politics.”  After a year of interaction, the neighbor is only now showing signs that he would like to compromise on that rule.

2) The spiritual environment has changed over the last few decades.  In previous years a question such as “Do you believe in God?” would be met with a straightforward response, “yes” or “no.”  Now the answers are far more complicated, “Which god?”  “I have a spirit-force to help me,” “God is in us all,” “All paths are God’s paths.” Believers want help to navigate the complex worldviews they are confronted with.

3) People feel alone.  There has been an unspoken expectation in churches that once a person leaves the four walls of the church, they are on their own.  But many want the prayer, support and guidance of other believers.  They feel daunted by the thoughtful questions they face and want to be equipped to respond in ways that will continue the conversation and reveal the hope that we have in Christ.

4) We live in a multicultural environment.  The ethnic mix of the surrounding neighborhood is changing, while the ethnic makeup of the church tends to remain constant.  People are unfamiliar with the cross-cultural dynamics of outreach and would like guidance.

Interested? Check out the Significant Conversations webpage or contact Mark via the form below.
 

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Prompted

I had a unique and unexpected experience the other day.  I was having a breakfast meeting in a restaurant with the chair of a missions committee.  When we had finished the meal, I asked the waitress for the bill and she replied, “That has already been taken care of.  That couple over there has paid for your breakfast.”  We were stunned and wondered if we knew them (or they us!), but when we went over to thank them, they were strangers.

“Do you mind if I ask why you did this?” I ventured.  The woman replied, “I felt that this was something I should do.  God bless you!”

“Are you Christians?” I asked.  “Yes,” she responded with a smile.  We exchanged contact information and promised to pray for each other.

As I later meditated on this experience, I was moved both by the expression of God’s love I had experienced, and also by the willingness of these people to make sacrifices at the prompting of the Spirit.  Too often I dismiss such promptings as fanciful, when I should be more attuned to the way God’s Spirit is at work.  The following day I wrote them this email:

I would like to express again my appreciation for your willingness to follow the Spirit’s promptings in your life.  Your action has done far more for me than provide breakfast!  I have felt affirmed and blessed by God through this.  The fact that God would use you to speak such a message of encouragement to me has been both challenging and comforting.   Not only is it exciting to meet people such as yourselves who are living out the reality of listening to the Spirit of God, but to have God care for me in that way through you has reaffirmed the belief that God is a loving father who brings people and instances into our lives that are in reality his hand of mercy and grace. 

Your faithfulness in this has also challenged me to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings in my life.  I have a friend who listens to the Spirit when he is having conversations with others and is often prompted to say things to others for reasons of which he is unaware.  Often people will come back and thank him for letting God use him to speak into their lives.

It is all God’s mission, we are along for the ride.

 

 

“There is probably no God”

This is GREAT! A Canada-wide evangelism campaign organized and funded by atheist and humanist societies.  Atheist and humanist societies in Canada are following a similar move in England to post slogans on the sides of buses and in other locations, one of which reads, “There is probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Perhaps you are not as excited about this as I am, as it is obviously intended to be an anti-religious campaign.  But consider the reality: perhaps the greatest stumbling block in our efforts to speak with people on a spiritual level concerning Jesus is the Canadian taboo about discussing religion.  Faith is a “private” matter.  To break down this barrier and engage people about the gospel is very difficult. How do we bridge the gap and initiate a significant conversation without being invasive? Well, good news! God has orchestrated a campaign, free of charge, to break through the barrier.

Please do not be offended at the slogan.  God isn’t threatened by it.  Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to ask people what they think of it.  They may give you opportunity to do the same.  I read about a Christian bus driver in England who refused to drive a bus with that slogan on the side, and the company is accommodating him.  He is following his conscience, and it is good that his position is being respected.   However, can you imagine the opportunity?  I think I would enjoy taking a poll with the people coming on the bus: “Do you agree or disagree with the slogan?”  I think that could start some great conversations.

having the issue raised publicly provides us the opportunity to speak

Think about the stimulating and helpful questions that arise from the slogan: “Is there less worry without God, or only less hope?”  “Can we truly enjoy life if there is no purpose or meaning to it?” “What kind of God do these people think probably doesn’t exist?” “If God doesn’t exist, do love and morals exist?”  We don’t need to have clever answers to these questions, but having the issue raised publicly by others provides us the opportunity to speak of our hope in a God of love who has revealed himself in Jesus.

This situation brings to mind a number of Bible verses. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 TNIV) and “In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him” (Prov 21:1 TNIV). Take advantage and enjoy your conversations.

Get your church involved in Significant Conversations. Contact me for details using the form below.

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

A Slap up the side of the head

Every now and again (more often than I would like) I need a slap up the side of the head when I lose perspective on what Jesus values in ministry.  I often look for efficiency and cleverness to accomplish a task when only humility, time and a receptive spirit suffice. A book by J.B. Phillips provided this corrective for me recently through a quote from Adventures in Solitude, in which the author reflected on months of illness:

As I thought during those long days, it seemed to me that the hospital cherishes a spirit, or an attitude, that the Church sadly lacks. I felt in it a respect for the human body and for human life beyond that in the Church, as it stands today, for the spirit of man.

The hospital diagnoses before it prescribes; the Church prescribes before it diagnoses. The physician stands humble before the human body, studies it, doubts about it, wonders at it; labours to fit his remedies to the exact disease. Is there in any church an equivalent humility in the presence of the spirit of man? Is the priest willing to inquire and doubt and wonder? Does he know before he tries to cure? Must the Church cultivate certainty lest knowledge turn and rend it?

Whether or not this is an accurate assessment of the author’s church is not mine to judge.  However, it does apply to my ministry.  One of the hardest, and yet most important, lessons I was taught (and still need to keep learning!) from my missions experience is the danger of speaking a message before properly discerning the question.  The answer I provide may be accurate, biblical and significant, but it is inappropriate when the context of the question is not fully appreciated.

If I do not listen carefully to the context and concern that stimulated the question, my answer, even if it consists of a clear and logical gospel presentation, will miss the mark.  When I am overly focused on the message I want to present, the result is an unfortunate lack of spiritual sensitivity to the person with whom I am relating; I fail to “read” or attend to their concerns and background.  On the other hand, when there is suitable sensitivity to the other’s perspective, coupled with an appreciation for the relevance of the issue being addressed, then God’s message can be presented in a way that resonates with the hearer by bringing healing to their hurt, forgiveness to their guilt, cleansing to their shame, and peace to their fear.

Such an impact cannot happen until I learn to stand humbly and patiently before their spirit to listen and diagnose. The process of Significant Conversations is my attempt to apply this lesson of sensitivity to the concerns of those people who enrich my life but have not yet come to Christ.

___________

(quote: David Grayson quoted in Phillips J. B. and Duncan D. 365 Meditations by J. B. Phillips for this Day. Word Books, Publisher Waco, Texas, 1975. P. 120)

Bible Translation: the unforgivable sin

I was chatting with a friend of mine who works as a robotics engineer and I began to express my passion for Bible translation.  In fact, I got a little over-excited and exclaimed, “I have the best job in the world!”  He looked at me sideways and said, “I thought I had that job.”  Well, OK. Being a robotics engineer sounds pretty cool, too. 

Having recently come back from Pakistan after another month of translation, let me share with you one of the gems that I picked up along the way.  One of the joys of translation is the discipline it demands to understand what the passage means.  The act of representing the meaning of the original text in the forms of a different language does not permit the translator to “blip” over the phrases that don’t seem to make sense.  It is that search for the sense of the author’s original communication that provides those “aha!” moments, as the meaning of some apparently obscure or difficult passages is clarified.

For example, in Mt 12:30-32 Jesus speaks of the “unforgivable sin.” The context of this verse is the previous account of Jesus’ releasing a man from the bondage of demon possession.  The response of the Pharisees is not one of praising God – a reaction reflected in comments of the common people – but rather an attempt at political “spin” to disparage the miracle: “He is doing this by the power of Beelzebul, the king of the demons!” (Mt 12:24).

Amazed at such a blatant attempt to twist truth into falsehood, Jesus responds with the quote about the “unforgivable sin,” that is, “blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven,” (vs 31). Essentially he is saying to the Pharisees, “You are hopeless! When you see God in action bringing salvation and healing in people’s lives and call it the work of Satan, then there is no possibility for you to take part in that salvation.  Any other sin can be forgiven, for the recognition and acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s working means that you are open to God’s rule, and that you have a desire for him; repentance and turning to life is possible.  But without that initial and sincere orientation to God, there cannot be repentance and salvation.  A denial of what God is doing because of adherence to religious norms is a blindness for which there is no cure.”

That is, the “unforgivable sin” is not a reference to a solitary act, as if there is one thing a person can do which dooms them forever, despite any change or repentance on their part.  Rather, it is an ongoing attitude of denial of the Spirit or essence of God’s work in bringing restoration and healing, a rejection of God’s action in making things right.

it is important to understand the context and point of Jesus’ teaching in order not to miscommunicate

When translating verse 31, it is important to understand the context and point of Jesus’ teaching in order not to miscommunicate.  That is, the translator must not only choose the appropriate words, but must also use a grammatical form within the target language that provides the reader with an equivalent understanding.  For example, when Jesus says, “blasphemy against the Spirit will never be forgiven,” (vs 31), the reader needs to make the connection between the Pharisees’ denial of the work of God described in the previous verses and the “blasphemy” referred to.  It is also important to make it obvious to the reader that Jesus is not speaking against one solitary act, but against an attitude of disregard for the action of God in bringing healing and salvation.  Taking care to communicate clearly in Bible translation prevents the spiritual harm that can occur through misunderstandings caused by an unclear translation.

And that was just one verse.  We completed most of Matthew’s gospel during that month of translation!

See also Sindhi Bible Translation

God’s mission: Emmanuel

Emmanuel is my favorite Christmas word, partly because it is also a missions word.  God is a missionary God and provides us with the greatest expression of missions in and through the Christmas event.  The reason why the shepherds could accept the angel’s invitation was because God had come to earth: “Let us go and see” (Lu 2:15).  The reason why Jesus could say, “Come to me everyone who is tired and burdened” (Mt 11:28) was because he was living in the same world with the same demands, discouragements, obstacles and opposition that we face.  The reason why the apostles were so confident in their faith was because they had seen “the Life” with their eyes and touched it with their hands (1 Jn 1:1-2).  Missions (pl) is our part in God’s mission to redeem the world.  Jesus was sent into the world as the greatest act of that mission.  Our participation in God’s mission happens when we play a role through the ongoing sending of the Spirit: either by going ourselves or by becoming the means for sending others.

Emmanuel, God with us

Emmanuel, God with us, is the proclamation of the missionary God. God speaks the eternal Word and it becomes a baby lying in a manger, a man on a mission, a sacrifice on a cross, the resurrected savior, the ascended Lord.  But the proclamation of Emmanuel does not end at the ascension.   Emmanuel does not become “God no longer with us.”  Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Mt 28:20) and this is not just a comforting metaphor or a pretentious sentiment, but a living reality.  The act of Emmanuel continues with the explosion of words and languages at Pentecost – the Spirit of Christ beginning to blast the message of Emmanuel out to the four corners of the earth.  It is not the principles and instructions of Christianity that are the essence (as good as they are for living well), but it is the presence of the living Christ impacting lives around the world – Emmanuel, God with us. Words are weak and limited, but the experience of the living Word continues on, and it is our faith in Emmanuel that drives us to be part of that movement, the mission to cross barriers, to face obstacles and to show love for the sake of Emmanuel. The God who came to earth continues to be with us, Emmanuel.

Christian or Christ follower?

When Muslims come to Christ they often suffer a cultural and religious identity crisis.

I recently spoke to a Muslim background believer on the phone.  He told me of his struggles to live as a Christian within a Muslim setting.  His extended family has many Muslim religious leaders and there has been much opposition.  He recently registered his oldest son in elementary school and wrote down his religion as “Christian.”  The teacher was shocked and refused to allow the word “Christian” beside his obviously Muslim family name.  However, after some discussion he persuaded the teacher to comply.

Contrast this with a discussion I had with a believer who had become a follower of Christ during the time we lived as a family in Pakistan.  He came to me somewhat disturbed and, after the appropriate amount of preliminary chat and the customary cup of tea, he asked, “Do I have to call myself ‘Christian’?” 
I asked him, “What is a Christian?” 
He replied, “They are a certain caste of people in Pakistan who sweep the streets, eat pork and sell liquor.” 
I said, “Oh.  That doesn’t describe you very well.  What do you consider yourself?” 
“I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus.” 
“OK,” I replied, “Call yourself that, but be sure that you do live like Jesus.”

Which approach is the right one?  As a cultural outsider, it is not my place to judge.  Instead I see my role as encouraging both these men to live faithfully to the form of discipleship they believe God is calling them to.

culturally Muslim while openly claiming Jesus as Lord

At the same time, there is a controversial movement of believers within the Islamic context who are remaining culturally Muslim while openly claiming Jesus as Lord.  Consider these excerpts from an essay entitled “Transformation versus Rupture” by someone who calls himself a Muslim follower of Christ (from Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: exploring a new path between two faiths. Plymouth Cowley Pub. 2007, pp 116-117):

In my life I have pitifully seen the wretched destinies – in the cultural sense – of Muslims who have become Christians. They sometimes personified the concept of total alienation because they seemed to have undergone a process of eradication from their [indigenous] cultural soil. Eradication! Detraditionalisation! Deculturation! Deracination! The whole thing entailed a renunciation of one’s culture and traditions.

I have always wondered if it was really necessary to renounce one’s own Islamic culture to deserve Christ’s message. A renunciation, which in cultural terms means auto-destruction…. Culture is built into the heart of the heart. That is why a person who renounces his culture is doomed to remain till the end of his days suffering a terrible crisis of identity.

… if in Islam as a religion (i.e. a set of religious beliefs) difference of opinion is possible, Islam as a culture has a powerful impact which is impossible to rid oneself of. Thus in terms of culture, a Muslim remains a Muslim despite himself because he has been built as such.

This is why it is a bad approach to try to transmit Christ’s message to a Muslim by undermining lslam. (i.e. trying to efface the halo from above the great representative figures of Islamic culture.)… It is also a bad approach to make him feel that the mosque, which is a powerful spiritual and cultural space, is a negative and adversary place. It is also a house of God where if he likes he can experience his new relation with Jesus. It is also better to not make him feel that fasting during Ramadan alienates him from Christ’s message, but that he can give Ramadan fasting a new spiritual orientation through Christ.

It is also better not to ask him to affect a rupture with his spiritual verbal discourse. Let him in his prayers keep the name that Jesus is given in Islam, because that is the name dear and familiar and dose to him: and so with the other Biblical names. Let him keep the basic prayer formulas common in Islamic praying discourse. This will make him feel at home in his new relation with Jesus.

The main objective … is to experience conversion as a transformation … rather than rupture. [end quote]

This is not a sentiment that every Muslim background believer holds to, but it does represent the internal spiritual and cultural struggle that followers of Christ face within an Islamic context.

See also: Missions and Other religions, Is Allah God? and How are we to think about God in Islam?

Coaching for Significant Conversations

conversationsThe following comments are actually a repeat of a blog presented over a year ago.  Since that time, the relevance of Significant Conversations in facilitating the change needed to make a kingdom difference has begun to be noticed.  The Center for Intercultural Leadership Development is now offering coaching to FEBCC churches in the areas of evangelism and missions.  Contact Mark via the form below for further information.

Five aspects of evangelism that need to change if we are going to make a kingdom impact.

a. The individualistic nature of evangelism. People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.” While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own! The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves. This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair. But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.

b. Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed. Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.

Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives

c. Evangelism as the task of the church. At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts. Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince. Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.

d. The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room. However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task. We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture. A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.

e. The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel. However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact. In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.

See also Significant Conversations: Onion model of Culture

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

A Noah in every family

world's largest wooden ship, Al-Hashemi-IIIn the Cross-Cultural Impact article, Confessions of a Failed Church Planter, I related the following story of an incident during our ministry in Pakistan:

Nathaniel (not his real name) told me one day of his favorite chapters in the Bible.  Most of them were the expected ones (Ps 23, Rom 8, 1 Cor 13, etc.), but then he said Genesis 7.  I was a little taken aback as I recalled that this was the chapter in which God destroys the entire world and I asked him why such a chapter would be so important to him.  He replied, “Just as God chose Noah to save his family, God has chosen me to save mine.” On the basis of this, rather than challenging him to be involved in a “church plant”, I encouraged him to focus on being an active and intentional believer within his family.  Thus he is fulfilling a mandate that he believes is from God.

His efforts are all within a given societal structure (family) and as a result the conflict of authority and control which occurred in the church plant I attempted are nonexistent.  Relationships are established on social grounds, not on the basis of a common faith, and within this context biblical teaching is given the opportunity to influence the members of the family.  Moreover because the family unit is ongoing, so is the influence of the gospel.  Such a model is also reproducible when the patriarchal heads of the family are targeted.  As a result of Nathaniel’s efforts a number of family members have come to Christ and worship services are a regular occurrence within the family context.

the story of Noah has become a metaphor or motif for the spread of the gospel among the Sindhi people

Recently, I had opportunity to remind Nathaniel of the incident of the “favorite chapters.”  He laughed and said he remembered.  He then went on to say that the story of Noah has become a metaphor or motif for the spread of the gospel among the Sindhi people.  Rather than trying to form congregations with those who have become believers, the focus is on discipling believers in cohorts so that they can be equipped and challenged to bring Christ as Lord within their extended families.  In the words of Nathaniel, “We want a Noah in every family, someone who will build a boat so that the whole family can be saved.”

Training with Impact!

The increasing diversity and complexity of our context has given rise to specializations in pastoral ministry.  Due to the increasing ethnic diversity in Canada a further skill set is required – pastoring in an intercultural setting.  Northwest Baptist seminary is addressing this need through the Cross-cultural Leadership Development program (CLTP), a one-year undergrad, mentored, experienced-based training program in cross-cultural ministry.  See also Why CLTP?

Jarrod Haas writes of how the CLTP experience has impacted his life:

Jarrod HaasThrough the CLTP program, my understanding of cross-cultural relationships has grown substantially…. I have come to see more clearly that the core of practical ministry occurs through relationships with others…. A new understanding of cultural dynamics has made me aware of the importance of learning to speak in the “language” of the other. Whereas before I focused almost exclusively upon acceptance and articulation of truth, I have realized that real relationships involve the contextualization of the self as a messenger, so as to develop credibility and communicate truth from a position of servantheartedness.

With this broadening of my perspective on relationships has also come several more practical insights.

experiential knowledge of other cultures is essential to building solid, lasting relationships

First, I am becoming more aware of the cultural barriers that exist when building relationships with ESL students. Students may perceive relationship with me or other Canadians as being very transitory (so that they are unwilling to involve themselves beyond a superficial level) or as a vehicle for the achievement of their English communication goals. They may also idealize white people or Western culture, or simply be uncomfortable with foreigners and cross-cultural situations. Understanding the baggage that can come into cross-cultural relationships is helpful in maintaining a sober attitude and expectations in ministry and friendships. It is also helpful to know what obstacles exist so that I can pray and seek ways of removing them.

Second, the dynamic between giving and receiving is becoming more apparent. Although we are called to be servants first and foremost, it is necessary to balance this by giving others an opportunity to serve and give back. Continually offering service to another has the effect of placing them in an inferior position. Without giving the other a chance to give in return, relationships can turn into a selfish monologue or dependency.

It is an honour to be a servant in missions for the Glory of God

Third, [E. Stanley] Jones noted that caution was required when ministering in India because of the inferiority complex that existed towards the West. Tension towards the West because of its colonialism and affluence extends to other countries as well. Simply being a white Christian carries a significant amount of baggage that the cross-cultural worker must be aware of. It is particularly important to be conscious so as not to create an attitude of superiority or arrogance. Even seemingly innocent statements of comparison between Canada and other countries can cause people to think that you believe your own country is the standard by which everyone else should live.

Fourth, I have learned that an experiential knowledge of other cultures is essential to building solid, lasting relationships. In particular, I am beginning to gain a small working knowledge of the Korean worldview and how it manifests through expressions such as of high-context indirectness and group-centeredness.

Fifth, in relation to the previous point, I intend to be more conscious of listening to and observing internationals, rather than focusing on influencing them…. Learning the relational language of the other is essential to relating effectively. Furthermore, I intend to be more mindful of differences (e.g. personality types, social status, etc.) that I perceive in relationships. My approach thus far has been to downplay or ignore the various kinds of disparities that can occur, so as to focus on acceptance of the other. That approach does have merits. However, I am discovering that it is important to keep a healthy focus on differences that do emerge because they are important for understanding how to speak and relate to the other on his or her terms, rather than my own.

Sixth, above all else, heavy reliance upon a right relationship with God, prayer, and the Spirit have proven to be the core elements of all relational processes. I have come to see, in practical terms, that no amount of experience or knowledge can supersede the level of integration and empowerment of skills that the Spirit provides while forming and nurturing relationships.

There are, of course, many aspects of relationships that are not on this list. What has been most significant, however, was growth in the understanding that the development and integration of these and other relational skills will be essential to effectiveness in all future ministry…. I am looking forwards with great anticipation to the work that God will do both in Canada and internationally. It is an honour to be a servant in missions for the Glory of God.

Honoring Muslims

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, coincides with September this year [See 30-Days prayer focus for daily online prayer items or a downloadable calendar].  Historically, much Muslim – Christian interaction has been negative and detrimental, with the Crusades being the most glaring example that impacts relationships to this day. 

However, there are those who are building bridges of honor, respect and love with Muslims. Mazhar Mallouhi’s life and teaching provide us with a powerful example of how Christians can effectively relate to Muslims in a way that reveals the love of the Savior.  Mazhar is a follower of Christ from a Muslim background whose appreciation of and love for Muslims has communicated the gospel with obvious impact.  Paul-Gordon Chandler provides the English speaking world with an introduction to the life and teaching of this Arab author through his book, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road [Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: exploring a new path between two faiths. Plymouth: Cowley Pub. 2007].  In the book, Chandler explores some of the ways Mallouhi has broken down barriers between Christians and Muslims through showing honor.

breaking down barriers … by showing honor

During the time Karen and I were living in Pakistan many people would come to talk about spiritual things.  However, few religious leaders ever stopped by and I generally did not seek them out. Mazhar Mallouhi, on the other hand, has been known to seek out respected Muslim spiritual leaders in order to ask them to become his spiritual mentor! He explains to them that the Bible is his guidebook to live according to God’s will, and he then asks, "Can you please read these Scriptures in order to help me live up to them? In other words, I would like you to observe me as I live in your country and am accountable to you" (Chandler: 80). This vulnerability in asking to be watched and corrected based on interaction with the Scriptures demands humility and openness.  It also has great potential toward the development of significant relationships and spiritual conversations.

One of first people to come to Christ during our ministry in Pakistan was a young Muslim man studying at the local university.  After his baptism he went back to his home only to return and announce that his father, the spiritual leader of his village, had thrown him out.  Because I had never met his father, I was not in a position to develop a relationship with him at that stage and ease the situation.  It took two years before I finally met the man so that his concerns were eased and his stance towards his son was softened.

In contrast to this error on my part, Mazhar’s cultural sensitivity causes him to honor Muslims by first approaching the father to ask permission if someone has requested an opportunity to study the Gospels. Mazhar’s experience is that the father, and others in the family, may also want to be involved when approached in this way. Because of expressed concern for the honor of the family, the seeker is not alienated from their family, and the whole family can be introduced to the person of Christ (Chandler: 81). Muslims live in many of our Canadian communities.  An attitude of respect and honor towards the leaders may run counter to our easy going egalitarian culture, but it will serve to break down barriers and can create lasting and significant relationships.

What will you do with the rest of your life?

Lorry Lutz, in her book, Looking Forward To The Rest Of Your Life? Embracing Midlife and Beyond,1 asks the challenging question, “What specific ministry/service do you think God expects of you in the years after retirement?” For Joe and Lourdes De Guzman, it is training church leadership in the Philippines. For Herm and Joan Braunberger it was hospitality and administration in Pakistan.

Did you ever have a dream of serving God in missions? – holding the hand of woman who has brought her sick infant into Shikarpur Christian Hospital, praying with a family who lost their home in a landslide, comforting an abused wife at the Hope center, Kazakhstan, using your administrative skills to bring some order and structure to an outreach ministry, provide tech support for a Bible correspondence school, have tea and a significant spiritual conversation with a friend who wants to learn English, being a house parent for missionary children, spending your time making a significant impact.

In today’s world the possibilities are endless and Fellowship International Ministries is assisting people from our Fellowship churches find their place of service in God’s mission to the world. In particular, those 55 and over who are facing retirement are encouraged to face the challenges of missions through the “Finishers” program.

Northwest Baptist Seminary and Fellowship International Ministries are teaming up to sponsor a Serious Missions: “Reaching Ahead” retreat a camp Qwanoes in Feb 2009 for those 55+ who believe in the importance of missions and would like to explore the possibility of their involvement through FEBI.

View the Serious Missions website
Download the Serious Missions brochure
Download the application form

You have no idea what God is ready to do through you.

    ____________________


  • 1 Lutz, L. Looking Forward To The Rest Of Your Life? Embracing Midlife and Beyond, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • 2 ibid., p. 107.
  • 3 Ibid. p. 96.

Which Bible Version is Superior? 1. Two Styles

Are literal translations more accurate?

When Today’s New International Version (TNIV) was first published, I walked into our local Christian bookstore and asked the sales person, "Do you have the new TNIV?" A wary look came into his eyes and he said, "Why do you ask?" Puzzled, I replied, "Because I would like to purchase a copy." Relieved he showed me where the books were being kept. He also explained the source of his angst: some people were coming into the store and rebuking them for carrying such a "heretical" translation.

Recently I heard a sermon in which the speaker criticized certain "meaning-based" Bible versions and promoted "literal" translations as "more the word of God." He encouraged people to consider the common language versions, which were easier to understand, as less worthy to be considered God’s word than the more "word for word" translations.

If some translations are heretical, then we should avoid them. If meaning-based translations are truly less God’s word than literal translations, then we would do well to read versions that are more accurate. But are such claims true, or do they arise from a misunderstanding of the nature of language and the translation process?

Translations are like theologies: Human attempts to express the Divine Word

Since Babel there have always been both "word for word" and "thought for thought" translations between languages. "Dynamic equivalence," "thought for thought" or "meaning-based" are new terminology to describe a translation style which has always existed. "Literal," "Word for word" or "formal" describes a separate translation style which also has always existed. For example, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), which was often quoted by New Testament writers, has instances of both literal and meaning-based translations. As one example among many, the Hebrew word rosh has a nuance of a literal, physical "head" as well as a more metaphorical usage of "chief authority." The LXX sometimes uses the Greek word for "head," kephale, to translate rosh, and sometimes uses other words to describe the concept of "chief authority" in non-metaphorical terms.1

Outside of Bible translation, in the modern secular world of written translation, the meaning-based style tends to be the norm for translation, rather than "word for word." The assumption is that rather than the structures and words of the original language, it is the meaning that is of interest to the reader. The role of the translator is to express the meaning of the original manuscript so that the receptor audience can engage the meaning according to the accepted usage of the receptor language. The goal is the communication of the message. However, Bible translation deals with manuscripts which are considered by those of us who are evangelicals as verbally inspired by God. The sacredness of the original writings is reflected in the desire of the translators of literal translations to reflect, as close as possible, the linguistic structures and individual words of the original.

Is the ordinary method of meaning-based translation suitable for the biblical texts, or does their nature as "God-breathed" require a different, more literal, style? In our human attempts to express the divine word, how should we proceed?

Read the complete Cross-Cultural Impact Article

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (1-2)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies. This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

2. In order to successfully plug in to a culture, I must spend time to get to know people

bridging a culture is the depth of relationships with people in that culture

This seems obvious. However, I have learned that the deception surrounding this issue can be subtle. Although I spent time around people at the Korean church, I needed to expend more prayer, energy, and intention being with people. My time at this church has connected me more solidly with the principle that success at bridging a culture is the depth of relationships with people in that culture. This means not just spending time doing church ministry together, but spending time together doing other things as well. Lingenfelter states:

We cannot hold office hours for the people to whom Christ has called us to minister. We must adjust our time schedules, meeting them whenever they have need and turning to our own tasks only after we have completed our ministry to them…1

One important key here, I believe, is the discipline it takes to get the work done efficiently and at the times God gives. Thus I have been convicted of the importance of time management. Disciplined time management ensures that the windows needed to spend time with people are available and stress-free. In addition to this, prayer combined with focused intent to build relationships provides the means to dig into culture and become a part of it. I think Paul was quite familiar with all of this. He wrote to the Thessalonians (2:8,11-12):

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us…we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…

and he also said to the Ephesians (5:14-15): “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

1. The most important lessons in cross-cultural ministry are still the most basic lessons.

While knowledge regarding contextualization, cultural practices, and language acquisition skills is essential, the real heart of cross-cultural ministry remains the same in any situation. I would argue that there are 3 interrelated values that form this core. First, we are called to walk by the Spirit, and not by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26). This overcoming of sin and Satan in our lives is fundamental to the effective witness of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:27). Overcoming sin is also essential to the second value: our capacity to love and serve others. Third, as we love and serve others and overcome sin, our obedience to God proceeds towards fullness.

the foundation of missions: Christian unity

Philippians 2:1-8 reveals that this fullness of obedience to Christ characterizes our unity. In turn, Christ emphasized unity is essential to our mission in John 17:21: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” and also in John 13:35: “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Together, these principles of victory over sin, love and submission to each other, and submission to Christ form the foundation of missions: Christian unity. I do not recall encountering teaching that integrated the concepts of missions in this way.2 It was in the absence of emphasis on the connectedness of these topics this semester that prompted me to think about how basic Scriptural teaching impacts the missionary endeavour. This has been very beneficial to me, because I believe that I can now better integrate these concepts with the other missions theology and concepts I am learning.

    ____________________

  • 1Lingenfelter & Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships 88.
  • 2However see A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Darrell L. Guder, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998 and Van Gelder, C. The Essence of the Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Press, 2001

Resolving Intercultural Tensions 4: Law’s “Mutual Invitation”

NOTE: A companion workshop to these articles is available to multi-ethnic churches that provides information, exercises and interaction to encourage the implementation of those disciplines that promote healthy intercultural relationships. Please contact Mark via the form below.

Whose rules rule?

card handIn the innovative cultural simulation game, Barnga, created by Sivasailam Thiagarajan, groups of people play a simple card game without realizing that each person has been given slightly different rules to the game. The participants are not permitted to speak to each other or to communicate by writing. It doesn’t take long before there is some banging on the table and grunts of disgust as the game does not proceed as expected. 1 Because the point of the game is the same for all, one conclusion drawn by the players is that some of the other participants are either cheating or did not properly read the rules.

HPD = High Power Distance LPD = Low Power Distance

Similarly, when people from different cultural backgrounds congregate for discussion or decision making, the overall context can be so familiar that each cultural group believes that their assumed "rules" of interaction will be followed as the norm. When the cultural groups have contrasting low power distance (LPD) versus high power distance (HPD) orientations, the result can be frustrating with the participants misattributing2 the motives of others according to their cultural perspective of what is normative behavior. When someone speaks "out of turn," they are judged as "rude" or "aggressive," rather than recognizing that some people are "playing by different rules." In the first article of this series, the concept of power distance was introduced with illustrations that showed how the contrast between high and low power distance causes tension in intercultural relationships. The second article dealt with leadership dynamics when dealing with high and low power distance cultures. As a means of resolving these tensions, the third article described the important skill of speaking each other’s "language of respect." In this final article in the series, we will explore Eric Law’s innovative method of "mutual invitation"3 as a method of developing productive interaction in order to bridge the power gap between HPD and LPD cultures. READ THE COMPLETE CROSS-CULTURAL IMPACT ARTICLE

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (3-4)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

4. The Gospel must be contextualized

Just as the messenger of the Gospel must be contextualized, so must the message itself

Just as the messenger of the Gospel must be contextualized, so must the message itself. Dan Gibson observes that while sin is the central problem faced in reconciliation with God, there are three general paradigms through which all world views deal with the fallout of sin: guilt/innocence, shame/honour, and fear/power.1 Gibson argues that each of these paradigms is represented in the Bible, and that the gospel, at its core, must be contextualized accordingly.2

For example, the “four spiritual laws” and “Romans Road” work well in a western “guilt/innocence” context, but do not speak to key issues faced in other cultures. Middle eastern nations are heavily based in a “honour/shame” paradigm due to the influence of Islam. In this case, the parable of the Prodigal Son becomes not a story of a guilty man restored to innocence, but of a man hopelessly trapped in shame who is restored to honour.

All three of these world views are addressed in the Bible in many places. For example, Romans 8:1 and 5:1 address guilt, Romans 8:15 and 1 John 4:18 address fear, and Leviticus 26:13 and 1 Peter 2:6 address shame.

3.  Contextualization, a path between cultural relevance and compromise, can only occur successfully as a result of complete reliance upon God.

[Jesus] often challenged the culture in ways that offended people

Jesus was incarnated into Jewish culture. However, while he adopted Jewish values and customs, he often challenged the culture in ways that offended people. The missionary must do likewise, but cannot depend on his or her own wisdom to determine when contradiction or acquiescence is appropriate. For example, it is not difficult to imagine that not many of us would, of our own volition, allow a prostitute to wash our feet with her hair in front of the local religious authorities, especially knowing the full significance of that event in its context. Similarly, how many of us, if we were able, would turn 6 vats of water into wine for a wedding? Christ stressed the importance of our reliance upon him: “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The whole concept of contextualization is new to me, and I have not had significant exposure to other cultural contexts. The most significant result of my studies so far has been to ensure that I learn and teach these ideas with an emphasis towards reliance upon Christ.

    ____________________

  • 1Müller, R. The Messenger, the Message, and the Community. 140-143.
  • 2ibid., 129-264.

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (5-6)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

6. Failure to learn and understand a foreign culture can incapacitate the credibility of the missionary

In Islam, the Qur’an itself is considered a Holy Artifact. It is never allowed to rest directly on the ground, but must be placed on a special stand. Western Christianity, on the other hand, often downplays the significance of any object or ritual. This is usually done in order to avoid idolatry, and to place emphasis on the holiness of God. Thus for Westerners, the Bible is often perceived as ‘another book.’ We often have no trouble using the Bible in less than ‘holy’ ways such as placing it on the floor. Should Muslims observe a Christian missionary treating the word of God in our usual fashion, they could consider Christians as having no reverence toward God. The Christian would lose his or her credibility as a messenger of the Gospel.

people from cultures with a high reverence for spiritual things may perceive my prayers as irreverent

I can relate to this experience somewhat. During the semester I developed a relationship with a man from Iran. On one occasion, I offered to pray for his business, which was having trouble hiring an employee. After the prayer I realized that I often use very casual and informal language when praying, especially with those who are not Christians. While this may work in a Canadian context, people from cultures with a high reverence for spiritual things may perceive my prayers as irreverent. This could cause me to lose credibility as a messenger of God. I need to be cautious of this dynamic in cross-cultural ministry situations. Paul noted his own desire to remain credible in 1 Corinthians 19-22.

5. Be aware of the tendency towards ‘cultural imperialism.’

The tendency for missionaries (and humans in general) is to perceive their own culture as the ‘right way’ of doing things .1 There have been many examples of Western missionaries who insisted that planted churches mirror those in from the West. This imposition of Western culture makes evangelism less effective, and limits the relevance of the Gospel message. There is a bigger picture here as well. As noted by Alister E. McGrath, theologies allowed to grow “organically” in a foreign culture add creative insight to the global theological spectrum that Western theology, on its own, cannot produce.2

[There is a] need to discern the interaction between the authority of Scripture and culture

This has made me more aware of the need to discern the interaction between the authority of Scripture and culture. When teaching Biblical principles in a multi-ethnic setting (or any setting for that matter), I need to be conscious of how my own cultural lens may be affecting what I am presenting. Additionally, I will need to be sensitive of my fleshly tendency to judge other culture practices according to my culture, and not according to Scripture.

    ____________________

  • 1Sherwood G. Lingenfelter & Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 22.
  • 2Alister E. McGrath, The Future of Christianity (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002), 140-144.

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (7-8)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

8. Becoming engaged in a foreign culture requires a balance of sensitivity and boldness

Engaging a foreign culture requires courage

Engaging a foreign culture requires courage. Only one who is willing to take risks and try uncomfortable new things will effectively engage a culture. Cowardice results in missed opportunities. However, boldness needs to be balanced with sensitivity. A lack of humility and sensitivity will result in the offense of the other culture and create obstacles to building relationships. I have erred in both extremes. For example, I found myself in appointed to a position of leadership over some of the other young adult leaders after only a short time. I feel that some of my actions and attitudes in this position were too bold. From this experience, I have learned that it is very important to go into such situations humbly and with a servant heart. It takes time and sensitivity to gain the respect of others, especially if I am ‘stepping on their turf.’

In another case, I was not bold enough to follow up on a ministry opportunity. One woman asked, in the first week I was at the church, if I would come to her house for dinner and encourage her kids towards Christ. I hesitated to follow this up, because it seemed like such an unusual request. Several weeks later, the spirit convicted me that I should respond. I did, and the results were fruitful. However, I did miss some opportunity to speak into the women’s son’s lives because of my delay.

A balance of sensitivity and boldness is found throughout the New Testament. Both Jesus and Paul, for example, strongly challenged those around them, but were also very sensitive to personal needs and cultural practice. Paul both engaged Athenian culture and challenged them to repentance in Acts 17. Christ said in Matt 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

7. Raising support for missions is much more than asking for money.

Missionary work requires that the missionary raise financial support. However, I am learning both through personal fund raising experiences, and through my readings, that this process involves much more than just obtaining money. The “Raising and Keeping Ministry Partners” module at Gateway, as well as the “Teamwork and Partnership for World Mission”1 course with Mark Orr have been instrumental in this learning process in several ways.

First, in addition to raising financial support, I have learned it is also important to raise prayer support.

Second, those who become engaged financially or prayerfully in the mission become partners of the ministry. These people do not just provide for the ‘needy’ missionary, but also gain an opportunity to serve the body (3 John 1:8; Phil 4:18), develop their stewardship character (Mark 12:41-44; Matt 6:2-4), worship God (Phil 4:18), and receive blessings from God (Phil 4:17; Matt 6:4). They also (hopefully) become more aware of the greater work that God is doing in the church body to fulfill the great commission through prayer letters, prayer, or hearing teaching about missions theology from the support raiser.

the missionary comes to know God as provider

Lastly, the process of support raising provides an opportunity for the missionary to grow in faith. Through trust in God, the missionary comes to know God as provider as support emerges through providential circumstances (Matt 6:25-34).

Though my fund raising process went reasonably well this time, next time I hope to speak more about the emphasis of missions partnering. I have also learned that fund raising requires much prayer. The process of getting the money from donor to agency can be arduous at times and needs to be covered in prayer.

    ____________________

  • 1Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, “Funding for Evangelism and Mission,” Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 56 (2004), under “Lausanne committee for World Evangelisation – Lausanne Documents,” http://www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP56_IG27.pdf (accessed March 3, 2008).

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (9-10)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

10. Be aware of creating dependencies

In the “Overseas Life Issues” module at Gateway, a story of a church planting project was recounted. The story occurred in a developing country that had little resources. The church building constructed there by outsiders was far more advanced than locals could do using their own resources. Later, it became apparent that the locals were not building any of their own churches. The missionaries realized that this was because the locals felt that their ability to build church buildings was inadequate. The locals believed that the missionaries had constructed an “ideal” church. They felt powerless to meet that standard, since they lacked the resources and supplies necessary. Unable to function on their own, the locals became dependent upon the missionaries.

help in a way that does not create dependent relationships

This concept may find Biblical support from Acts 3:1-10. Peter and John did not give the crippled man money as per his request, but healed him in a way that would allow him to leave his life of dependency.

This has relevance for my local international student ministry. We want to meet the felt needs of students, but we must be careful in how we do so. International students can sensitive about receiving too much support, especially if they belong to a shame/honour based culture. Though these international students are in a position of need because of their newness to our culture, lack of transportation etc., our ministry needs to be very conscious to help in a way that does not create dependent relationships, make students feel ‘needy,’ or otherwise hinder the true spiritual impact that is required.

9. Different cultures have strengths and weaknesses in their expressions of church.

these strengths come from the Korean culture

When I first attended a Korean church I found that it had two strengths over churches that I have been a member of. The first was their hospitality and sense of community. Each Sunday I attend 3 services: a morning service for leadership, a late morning service for the English speaking Koreans, and an afternoon service for young adults. Each of these services is separated by a fellowship time where everyone gathers in the cafeteria. Brunch and Lunch are served. Hospitality was shown as well–several people made efforts to welcome me. The second thing that attracted me to the church was the sheer volume of people involved in serving the church. The number of pastoral staff, Sunday school teachers, worship team members, choir members, kitchen staff, and others is leagues beyond what I remember seeing in my own home churches. Both hospitality and service to the church community seem to be core values, and as far as I can see, these strengths come from the Korean culture.

What appears on the outside as servant hearted idealism is not without is flaws, however. Several young people I talked reported that people are appointed in leadership who are not ready to be in teaching or leadership positions. Additionally, some of the younger leaders seem to be overworked, or very close to it. While member involvement seems to be a strength in the Korean church, there are areas for growth here as well.

Personally, this has opened my eyes to the importance of engaging a different cross cultural context to see different perspectives of church expression. This helps me both to understand my personal church expression, as well as to see ways in which it can improve. I think John S. Leonard made a good point: “[the church in between cultures] would see sin where monocultural churches do not and call for repentance. It could just be the church that is capable of leading God’s people into whatever the future might be.”1

    ____________________

  • 1 John S. Leonard. “The Church in Between Cultures: Rethinking the Church in the Light of the Globalization of Immigration,” EMQ Vol 40 No. 1 (Jan 2004): 70.

Resolving Intercultural Tensions: Understanding Leadership in High and Low Power Distance Contexts

The Power Distance Contrast

Pir with disciplesIn Pakistan there is a strong tradition of "holy men" who are called Pirs. One day I had a visit from a young man who informed me that he was the Pir of his village. I was puzzled by this because he was dressed in modern clothes and did not have the religious, spiritual air one would expect from a revered holy man. He explained that in the tradition of his tribe, the honor and authority of the Pir was passed on from father to son and his father had recently passed away. For his part, he did not believe that he was able to give blessings to people, nor that his prayers were especially efficacious. In fact, when his father died and the mantle was passed on to him, he tried to refuse it. He told the people that he didn’t believe and that he didn’t want the responsibility. They replied, "It does not matter what you believe. You are the one chosen for this position and no other."

HPD = High Power Distance

Pakistan is a High Power Distance culture (HPD).  It is the role and status of the leader, rather than his or her particular character or ability that is of greatest concern. In this context a high priority is given to maintaining harmonious relationships and affirming the historical traditions and social structures. Rules of conduct are paramount, and anyone who does not function within that protocol is ostracized, no matter how reasonable or beneficial their proposals might be. In HPD cultures, it is assumed that the status quo is the way life is intended to be; the established hierarchy is ordained, competition is bad, and conformity to tradition and roles is good.

LPD = Low Power Distance

Canada, on the other hand, is a Low Power Distance culture (LPD). Titles and status mean little if the person in charge cannot fulfill their responsibilities. Harmonious relationships may be sacrificed in order to pursue a particular goal and the measurement of success is accomplishment. In LPD cultures, it is assumed that reversal of fortunes is a part of life, competition is good and no one has ordained or fated priority.

When I was doing my master’s thesis on Chronological Bible Storying among the Sindhi people on the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13), one aspect that the Sindhis who were interviewed emphasized over and over again was the importance of the disciple to always obey the teacher. They were appalled at Peter’s audacity when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet, and they found Jesus’ stern response, "You will not have any part of me," to be necessary and appropriate. HPD cultures, like Pakistan, consider the student insubordinate and rude who would question or contradict a teacher. Rote learning is the preferred method of learning as it emphasizes the teacher’s status above the student. In contrast, a teacher in a LPD culture like Canada encourages the student to challenge and question. Ideas and the stimulation of the mind are of first importance.

Due to Power Distance, leadership within a LPD context will function differently than within HPD groups. Awareness of this dynamic in interpersonal relationships along with appropriate adjustments can greatly reduce tension in multicultural churches.

Read the complete Cross-Cultural Impact Article

The perception of a loving church depends on where you stand

In the book UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), which deals with research from the Barna group, David Kinnaman refers to a survey which asked the participants to agree or disagree with the statement, “Christian churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do” (p. 185). 20% of non church goers (outsiders) agreed strongly, just over 40 % of church goers agreed strongly, but 76% of pastors strongly agreed that this statement described Christian churches.

The discrepancy is intriguing. Do the pastors have a good sense of reality based on personal experience, or is this an expression of their desire for this statement to be true? Have the outsiders been biased by unfair reports, or have they had negative experiences that contradict the statement?

I suspect that part of the discrepancy has to do with the difference between standing inside looking out verses standing outside and looking in. For example, I have a love / hate relationship with hospitals. I think they are wonderful but I am happiest if I don’t have to be inside one. When visiting I feel quite out of place and uncertain about what I am permitted to do and am always relieved to leave. On the other hand, my daughter, Becky, has just completed her nurse’s training. She enjoys the environment, loves to be busy and experiences significance as she helps the patients. The hospital is the same, it is our separate and distinct relationships with and experience of the hospital that is different. It is a matter of perspective.

those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love

This illustration may parallel the contrasting perspectives between pastors and the outsiders described by Kinnaman. What looks like love to the pastors is seen through another lens by the outsiders and experienced as uncomfortable, judgmental or cold. Most likely the relationships and environment of church speak differently to outsiders. Perhaps their language of love is different from what is normally expressed in church. If this is so, then those of us who are church goers need to learn to speak another language of love, one that is understood by those outside of the church.

This missional stance – becoming like others, as opposed to inviting others to become like us – has even greater urgency when relating cross-culturally. What is considered comfortable, familiar and accepting varies from culture to culture. Cross-cultural experiences tend to be stressful due to the many unfamiliar cues which bombard the person who is not used to the setting, cues that need to be interpreted. In that context even expressions intended to communicate love and acceptance can be misunderstood or judged negatively. On the other hand, when God’s people learn how to make people from another culture feel comfortable and accepted by speaking that people group’s language of love, rather than waiting for others to conform to the church’s way of relating, then the experience of the outsider will correspond to the perspective of the insider.

Cross-cultural ministry classic

The Christ of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones, 1925. Abington Press

E. Stanley Jones was a highly influential missionary who worked in India during the time of Gandhi.  The principles for cross-cultural ministry presented in this classic are as valid today and in any context as they were when this book was written.  His understanding of contextual theology is profound as he seeks for an Indian interpretation of Jesus.  His confidence in the supremacy of Christ is evident in his practice of conducting round table dialogues in which each participant explains how their particular faith has impacted their lives spiritually. Consider this following excerpt concerning the transforming power of Christ:

There is no real danger lest Jesus be lost among the many in all this, that it may end up in his being put in the Pantheon of Hinduism.  Greece and Rome tried that and the pantheons amid which he was placed are gone – Jesus lives on.  He is dynamic, disruptive, explosive like the soft tiny rootlets that rend the monuments of man’s pride.  Like the rootlets he quietly and unobtrusively goes down into the crannies of men’s thinking, and lo, old forms and customs are broken up.  Absorb him?  You may as well talk about the moist earth in springtime absorbing the seed!  The seed absorbs it, for it is life.  Jesus is Life.  He will take care of himself.

‘Give us Jesus,’ said a Hindu to me, ‘just Jesus.  Do not be afraid that we will make a human Jesus out of him, for his divinity will shine out of its own accord.’ (pp 167-168)

Helping CHURCHES do MISSIONS better

[imagebrowser=5]

“Thank you for the great workshop.  Our missions focus is struggling and we found it to be so helpful and encouraging. The questions and exercises were well thought out and gave us good direction, as well as the prayer focus throughout.  We found it time well spent as it enabled us to focus well right there.  We have a good plan, I think, to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”

This was one of several positive comments received from the participants of the Best Practice for Church Missions Workshops held in Victoria (March 1) and on the TWU campus, Langley (March 8).  While organized and sponsored by Fellowship International Ministries and Northwest Baptist Seminary for our FEBBC/Y churches, the facilitators who participated were from Outreach Canada, Center for World Missions BC, YWAM, Fellowship International Ministries as well as others who represented a wealth of missions experience.  Each of the 13 church groups that participated was provided with a facilitator who guided them through the exercises designed to stimulate conversation and lead to consensus and direction for church missions teams.

One of the facilitators comments:

“These workshops … have exceeded my expectations.  Not that I had low expectations but the level of relational building, prayer, and planning was very good from what I saw.  My time with [the church] leaders was very significant … and some real progress was made. I felt honored to help them through the process.

The number of people that came from the churches was also very significant.  To have 5-10 people from the same church (including pastoral staff) together at the table for 7 hours discussing Global Mission is truly remarkable.”

This one day basic workshop for doing missions in churches focuses on vision, strategy and planning.  Five one hour sessions encourage each group to discuss and shape their missions team in the following areas:

  • Clarifying the ROLE of the missions committee and determining priorities
  • Assessing the HEALTH of the missions in the church
  • Identifying people resources according to GIFTING
  • Setting strategic GOALS
  • PLANNING and assigning tasks

Read about this workshop with more comments from participants

For information concerning further opportunities to participate in this workshop contact Mark via the form below

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Images of God

I came across an interesting theory.  People act according to their conviction about the nature of God.  If God is perceived as an autocratic patriarch whose rules must be followed without question, then that is how the leaders of that group will act.  If God is viewed as a stern judge who is inflexible concerning any hint of rebellion or disobedience, that is how fathers will deal with their sons and daughters.  If God is seen as a demanding taskmaster who demands perfection, then mothers will be strict with their children.  If God is understood to be a harsh God of wrath, this justifies a severe response towards those who have broken the law (I recall a protestor’s sign in a Time magazine photo: “God hates gays”).

People act according to their conviction about the nature of God

This theory would seem to be a logical conclusion to being created in God’s image (Gen 1:26,27).  This would be true not only for Christian who are called to be perfect as God is perfect (Mt 5:48), but to other religions as well. The 9-11 attackers lived out their understanding of the nature of God.  We  all try to respond to our situation according to the way we think God would act.  The question is, what does this reveal about the nature of the God we worship?

Our Christian view of God must begin and end with Christ

If the theory is true, then it is of first importance to cultivate a correct belief about the nature of God.  But where do we start when the Bible does present God as the absolute authority, the stern judge, the demanding taskmaster and a God of wrath?  I suggest that all these descriptions must be interpreted through the perspective of God as seen in Christ.  Our Christian view of God must begin and end with Christ and all other revelation must be viewed through the New Testament perspective of God as he has been revealed as a human being.

Following this assumption, any view of God that undermines the love and justice of the heavenly Father – a love so great that it “surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3;19) – should be dismissed as a misunderstanding or a perversion of the truth.  If God, seen in Jesus, is good, loving and just above all that we can imagine, then any conception of God cannot be correct which views him in a fashion that would make him less loving, merciful, just or good than our perception of the ideal. Any view of God as loving that makes him appear less just, or any view of God as just that makes him appear less loving, needs to be rejected as false.  Our foundational view of God is Christ who gave us the image of the loving Father who makes things right (e.g., the prodigal son in Luke 15).  We must begin there and put aside any thought that takes us off track from that core belief.  If we can imagine a better, more loving or more merciful God than the god we worship, then it is time to reject the God we have created in our minds, for that is not the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When my children speak about the God of their father, I hope they [speak about] a caring, merciful and just heavenly Father

I find this meditation helpful because I need to look carefully at myself and think about what my actions are saying about the God I worship. When I act harshly and justify it in my mind, that justification stems from what I imagine God to be like.  But if that image of God does not fit with the merciful, self-giving God who suffered on the cross so that we can live, then that is idolatry.  When my children speak about the God of their father, I hope they do not speak about an autocratic patriarch, a stern judge or a demanding taskmaster, but a caring, merciful and just heavenly Father.

Umar and Marvi

The story of Umar and Marvi is a legend of the Sindhi people that expresses a fundamental tribal value of the Sindhi people.  A young, beautiful teenage girl (Marvi) is kidnapped from her tribe by a young prince (Umar) who is enamoured by her and wants to make her his wife.  She is taken to his palace where he, his mother and his sisters promise her wealth, honor, and happiness, if she will marry the prince.  Instead she refuses to deny her loyalty to her tribal values and to the man to whom she was pledged as a little girl. Despite all the joys the world can offer, she refuses even to the extent of pushing away all the delectable food they offer. In the end, relatives of Marvi come searching and Umar gives her up, submitting at last to her wish and unbending will.  She arrives home faithful to the end, but in such a weakened state that she dies.

A western twist on the story would have Marvi and Umar eventually fall in love to demonstrate that romantic love conquers all and is stronger than traditional values. Individual rights, happiness and freedom is a message with strong appeal in the west. But in the Sindhi context nothing is more important than loyalty and conformity to community values.  It is not the individual life of Marvi that counts (she dies in the end), but her willingness to sacrifice all to maintain the traditional values and concerns of her people. The call to loyalty goes beyond individual needs and Marvi becomes the ultimate role model for all Sindhi girls to emulate.

the parable of Marvi … can reveal to the Sindhi people the meaning of Jesus’ life

A “missionary” for equality and individual rights will despise this story as a message that prevents the Sindhi people from embracing “enlightened” western values.  A missionary for the kingdom of God, however, recognizes that such stories can provide bridges for the gospel.  This does not occur through a power struggle to overcome or replace the Sindhi values presented, but by recognizing that the values portrayed have at their heart an eternal truth recognized by the Sindhi that can be enhanced and given fresh meaning through the story of Jesus.

In Jesus’ temptation (Luke 4), the devil offers him many good things: sustenance that gives life, power that convinces the world, control over the earth to make things right.  But the price is to abandon God’s will.  In the end, Jesus’ choice to reject the good things offered and follow God’s will costs him his life.  To hold fast to that which is right and true and eternal in the face of the attractive choices of this world is one understanding of the parable of Marvi that can reveal to the Sindhi people the meaning of Jesus’ life.

In the story of Umar and Marvi, she is praised but mourned by her people.  However, for Jesus, God could not let such an expression of loyalty and love see decay (Acts 2:31) – the Messiah lives!  Moreover the invitation to life given through Christ extends to the Sindhi people – a people who already appreciate the value of such a sacrifice.

Uneasy with Evangelism

It feels impolite and invasive to challenge someone on a personal level

I am uncomfortable with direct methods of evangelism that early on present the hearer with an invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  Part of my unease has to do with my Canadian upbringing.  It feels impolite and invasive to challenge someone on a personal level in our cultural context. While my attitude cannot be used as an excuse not to give people the opportunity to become followers of Christ – and many people have become believers because of the “forwardness” of faithful disciples – nonetheless other approaches may be more conducive to certain segments of the Canadian population.  Much evangelism training encourages people to becoming bold in calling others to commitment, but perhaps the assumption of an early and direct gospel invitation behind such methods needs to be questioned.

One missiological concern is that while cultural norms do not pre-empt the Great Commission, they need to be taken into account so that the stumbling block of the gospel remains the cross, and not methodologies that may push people away, rather than attract them to salvation in Christ.  The currently running Mr. Sub commercial of the two young “missionaries” presenting their message to a young woman at her home is amusing, but also includes a certain “cringe factor” as I listen to the canned approach.

 A further concern is that the majority of evangelical approaches with their early presentation of a gospel challenge are geared towards those ready to make a faith profession.  While appropriate for some people – as we hear from stories about responses to such programs – to others it feels like manipulation or a proposal given outside of the context of relationship.  For these people such an approach may work as an inoculation against the gospel, indicating that a less direct approach could be more effective in the long run.

However, the main reason I feel uncomfortable with direct methods of evangelism is that an early call to faith can undermine the significance of the commitment.  A commitment to Christ is analogous to that of marriage (cf. Paul’s admonition to husbands in Eph 5:25-33).  I have made two life long vows: one to my wife, and one to my Lord.  What we are seeking from people in evangelism is a commitment to Christ on a level with the commitment a person makes to their life partner.  If a call to salvation in Christ can be considered on the level of a proposal to a future spouse, then one has to make that presentation when the time is right and in a way that validates the importance of the decision (cf. Jesus’ caution to “count the cost” in Lu 14:25-30).

A commitment to Christ is analogous to that of marriage

In our culture the validity and impact of a marriage proposal is dependent upon a pre-existing close personal relationship; the relationship does not occur because of the proposal but is an important step in the development of the relationship.  The courting relationship could last years, the proposal, one evening.  Furthermore, a proposal made too early in the relationship could destroy it.  In the same way, perhaps we need to think in terms of helping people develop a relationship with Christ before commitment. If we do not help people understand how Jesus is relevant to life, alleviate their misunderstandings, work through their hurts, etc., a proposal to commitment could be misrepresented as a call to religious conformity and control rather than a relationship of joy and release.

help people develop a relationship with Christ BEFORE commitment

My intention is not to disparage direct means of evangelism.  There are many people who have come to Christ because of such an approach.  At the same time, there are others in our lives resistant to the gospel who need time and patience to work through their perspectives of Jesus and how the meaning to life is found in him.  Rather than calling them to commitment, our role is to walk with them in their spiritual journey until their attraction to Jesus matures, so much so that a proposal is not only fitting, but unavoidable.

Does this thinking make sense to you?  If so, consider the merits of the SISI system with its focus on learning how to engage others in significant conversations that will bring them into contact with the Kingdom of God.

User Friendly Bibles: When Titles Mislead

section headings … can be misleading

I like section headings in Bible translation.  They are not part of the original text, but added by the translation team to assist the reader in three ways: “1. to help those already familiar with the Bible to find a passage they know; 2. to help those unfamiliar with the Bible to assimilate the text; 3. to help every reader by breaking up what could otherwise be forbiddingly large slabs of print.” (1) But there are times when the insertion of section headings into a passage of scripture can be misleading.  Even when the title itself may be accurate in its identification of the passage, the focus of the message may be distorted. (2) Furthermore the placement of some titles can actually undermine the structural unity and continuity of thought because the presence of the section heading communicates to the reader that the passage before the break is, in some way, disconnected from the passage under the heading and therefore is a “stand alone” passage with a unique message.

the section headings actually disguised, rather than illuminated the overall meaning of the passage

During my trip to Pakistan for Bible translation at the end of 2007, I was involved with a small team of translators and helpers who were reviewing a translation of the New Testament in the Sindhi language.  In our study of the Sermon on the Mount we found a number of places where section headings actually detracted from the flow of the passage and obscured the meaning….

 

Read the rest of this entry in Cross Cultural Impact # 58

Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends
Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, Michael J. Sleasman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. 285 pages, $29.99, paperback.

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation.  That is, their primary orientation towards the community in which they are placed is inward focused, seeking to draw people into the programs of the church.  On the other hand, the primary goal of a missional church with respect to their broader context is to seek relevant and impacting involvement outside of the programs of the church.  The communal oriented church addresses the surrounding community with approval, caution or rebuke through the stance of an outsider.  The missional church seeks significant involvement with the community in order to speak as an insider.  Such a church takes a missionary stance of seeking understanding, involvement and acceptance with people outside of the church in order to speak with relevance to them.  

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation

A missional stance requires skill to recognize, interpret and respond to the concerns of people who do not believe church is relevant to their lives.  Kevin J. Vanhoozer, a research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological Divinity School, has made an important contribution to this end through the recent book, Everyday Theology.  The book is designed to provide guidance on “how to read cultural texts and interpret trends” as the book’s subtitle states.  By “texts” Vanhoozer does not mean merely written texts, but all aspects of culture, including music, art, and architecture, that communicate a message.  By interpreting these messages correctly we gain a window onto the yearnings of the human heart. Vanhoozer provides an introductory essay explaining “the Method” for successful interpretation.  The remaining chapters, which include an analysis of Eminem’s music, the grocery checkout line and mega-church architecture, are products of his students that provide insight into how understanding culture allows us to shape the gospel message in such a way that it speaks to the people who need to hear the message of life.

Click to discover a workshop on how to make missional a part of your church’s agenda

Significant Conversations: Onion model of Culture

The Common hunger of Humanity
What we as human beings search for and value in life is the “meaningful” and the “good.”

With regard to the “meaningful,” we are always trying to make sense of our world. Hopelessness, which is what we seek to avoid, is the antithesis of the “meaningful” and happens when the world does not make sense. Children from dysfunctional families, for example, are more prone to be careless of themselves and others – smoking, dangerous activities, lack of respect for boundaries, etc. Their world is not making sense and much of what they do is a cry of despair of the senselessness of it all. They deliberately do what they have been warned against, partly in reaction to the pain that they experience from those aspects of society considered to be places of security and meaning. Ultimately, the lack of meaning leads to suicide, as in the case of the existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre.

the issue for evangelism is no longer (if it ever was) about finding the right delivery system

Tied to this, and which is also a matter of universal human concern, is the search for and desire to experience and center our lives on “good.” We desire and search for that which is conducive to human flourishing. This corresponds with Jesus’ view of humanity. He had pity on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were in need of what is good and they were seeking for it, but they were looking in the wrong places.

what all of us as human beings are seeking are matters of ultimate concern

In other words, what all of us as human beings are seeking are matters of ultimate concern, the questions of human existence: What should I do? Why are we here? What may I hope?

Implications for our post-Christian Environment
Common approaches to evangelism assume that we as Christians have the answers to these questions and look for “delivery systems” whereby these answers can be provided. Church services, evangelistic meetings, tracts, etc., are all designed with the desire to deliver the Christian message. These approaches do work for some, but, if statistics Canada is correct, not for the majority of Canadians.

Read the rest of this entry in Cross-cultural Impact #57

Meeting the need for Cross-cultural expertise in our churches

  • Joy’s (1) emotional pain was evident as she related her move from her family’s mono-ethnic Chinese church to a multiethnic congregation.  She felt guilt as if she had somehow betrayed her home church.
  • Bob pastored a multi-ethnic congregation but was frustrated by his inability to recruit leadership from certain groups.
  • Jane enjoyed belonging to a church with ethnic diversity, but was disturbed by the “multi-ethnic” label as it raised the spectre of racism.  “Why don’t we just focus on our oneness in Christ?” she mused.
  • Arif enjoyed the ethnically diverse church he attended, but also often visited a mono-cultural congregation of his ethnic background because of the familiar music and worship style.  “Is it OK to belong to two churches?” he wondered.
  • Pastor Daud was upset and felt betrayed.  After a number of meetings during which all participants affirmed their desire to belong to a multi-cultural congregation, one ethnic group left to form their own church.

Our increasingly multicultural Canadian environment with all its complexity necessitates increased expertise and insight on behalf of church leaders so that they can minister effectively. Cultural competency is required to facilitate healthy relationships and build unified congregations.

  • How does a leader deal with the dynamic of valuing cultural distinctives while integrating people from various backgrounds into a church with one identity and purpose?
  • How can the inevitable tensions that arise from cultural differences be resolved in positive ways?
  • How does a church shift towards an intercultural mindset without losing its missional drive and what form does that take?

Moreover, church leadership who wish to lead their multi-ethnic church into making a relevant gospel impact need to develop the skill to recognize and utilize the strengths of cultural diversity.

  • How is the gospel to be contextualized while maintaining the constant of Christ as Lord and savior?
  • How can significant relationships be developed with communities that have different priorities, values, and history?
  • How can our churches be equipped as confident and competent witnesses to those world representatives who are our fellow Canadians?

How can significant relationships be developed with communities that have different priorities, values, and history?

There is an immense need for committed believers to be trained for effective and relevant service in ethnically diverse contexts both locally and globally.  At Fellowship International Ministries and NBS we believe that training and preparation for the cultural and theological demands of these environments is essential.  Training for effectiveness in cross-cultural ministry needs to occur in real life, real time ministry settings.  This is why the Cross-Cultural Leadership Program (CLTP) was created: a mentored, experienced based training program for cross-cultural ministry in Canada and internationally.

Is there a need in your church for expertise in intercultural (facilitating relationships between ethnic groups) or cross-cultural (focus on reaching out to a particular ethnic group) ministry?  Is there anyone in your church who demonstrates gifting and ability in developing significant cross-cultural relationships? Northwest Baptist Seminary and Fellowship International Ministries are ready to assist in training such individuals through the innovative and flexible CLTP program.  Visit the CLTP website or contact the supervisor of the program, Mark Naylor, via the form below


    _______________


  • (1) The names used are fictional, but all examples are based on true situations

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Crossing Cultures with the Bible

Three ways to understand the Bible
My wife, Karen, heard a message by a young woman with no theological training on Jer 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you….” The young woman spoke of the verse as if it was addressed to us today and talked about the plans God has for us.  Although God has revealed his will for us as human beings in his word, this was a misapplication of the verse because God was not speaking to us in this verse, he was speaking to another people in a different historical time and place; we are not part of those particular plans.

A better, and common, approach is to recognize that while the verse is a promise to people of another age, we can still ask, “What lesson can we learn from this that is applicable to us?”  That is, even though the words are not written to us, the message is still, in some less direct sense, for us.  

A third approach which is my primary concern in reading the Bible cross-culturally is to examine this interaction of God with his people in order to discover his character and his heart.  This perspective recognizes that the passage provides a revelation of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and asks, “What can I learn from this to know him better?  How can I shape my thoughts, speech and action to fit with the image that emerges from God’s revelation of himself?”

there is something grander in the Bible than chapter and verse application to the way we live: it is the vision, the revelation of God himself

The Bible as revelation of the nature of God
The latter approach is based on the conviction that there is something grander in the Bible than chapter and verse application to the way we live: it is the vision, the revelation of God himself.  The primary purpose of the written word is not to give us instructions on how to live, but to be a witness to the Living Word who in turn reveals to us the nature and heart of God.  It is within that broader perspective of discovering God that we become shaped into the image of Christ and respond in worship.

Read the rest of this entry in Cross-cultural Impact #56

It’s NOT about the Information

I am slow. I have come to the realization – at least a full decade after more perceptive and observant thinkers – that we are no longer in the information age; we are in the networking age.  Facebook is not about information, but about connecting. Due to the ease of access and overwhelming quantity of knowledge, information is no longer a priority nor a valued commodity per se.  What is valued is the networking with others that directs us to the quality and relevance of knowledge that is required to fulfill our goals.  An obsession with gaining personal knowledge about a particular subject in this age is self-defeating because as individuals we cannot absorb, process or evaluate all the available information.  On the other hand, gaining skills to evaluate and use knowledge in relevant ways is important.  Moreover, the ability to connect synergistically with those who have different skill sets exponentially increases the ability to apply knowledge to tasks and problems considered significant.

With respect to seminaries, Dr. Edmund Gibbs was probably accurate in a statement made during the NBS “Between Gospel and Culture” conference held on the TWU campus in March, 2007: seminaries should not sell knowledge or information, but give it away freely.  The cost will be in the mentoring relationships and guidance to apply the right knowledge in the right situation.

What is required is the teaching of Old Testament and New Testament RELEVANCE to the lives of the believers

The implication of this shift for missions is quite profound.  A common approach in missions has been to teach a “survey of the Old Testament” or a “survey of the New Testament” to new believers. As an attempt to increase the quantity of biblical knowledge, it does little to build up the body of Christ.  The amount of knowledge available is beyond the ability of any one person to access, let alone absorb and utilize. Moreover, the knowledge gained from such courses is generally easily accessible when needed. What is required is the teaching of Old Testament and New Testament relevance to the lives of the believers. It is insufficient and misguided for missionaries to provide general Bible teaching as if any and all biblical information is equally worthwhile. Rather, a primary concern must be to work out the relevance of God’s revelation within that particular cultural setting.  This requires the development of a network of people with a variety of skill sets rather than a one way dispensing of knowledge from the teacher.

As an example of the importance of networking in missions, consider Bible translation.  The task is too vast and complex to be trusted to one person.  However, by utilizing the skills of a variety of people – translators whose mother tongue capability allows them to communicate the message coherently and fluently, scholars who are able to consider the accuracy of meaning, consultants whose experience leads them to ask penetrating questions – the final product has a level of quality and significance that would not otherwise be possible.  

Disillusioned with the Sunday meeting expression of church

The following is a response from my wife, Karen, to a couple of recent blogs found on this site:

In his Oct 17 blog "The Foundation for Hearing God," Loren Warkentin wrote:

We Christians have become acculturated to this [fast-paced] style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but….

YES! We desperately want to hear from Him!! But maybe the problem is not our expectation but the "worship service."

I don’t believe most Christians go to a church service looking to be entertained. We go seeking God. My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit – but when it comes to church services, I have all but given up. Most often I come home from a service knowing that I have (yet again) missed God.

My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit

Music moves me so if the "worship team" is decent and the songs are good (by that I mean there is some substance and content to the lyrics), then I can worship.

But the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me. I recently attended a friend’s very charismatic church. I am not a charismatic by theology, preference, experience, desire, personality or history, but if I lived in that town, that’s the church I would go to.

the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me

Why? Because I met God there. It was clear that the leaders were communicating their heart and more importantly, God’s heart. The sermons (I heard 3 over the weekend) came out of their lives and what God was teaching them, not from a commentary.

I find that in sermons the grand themes in the Bible are often reduced to the bottom line "be nice" and so much of what I hear is the "same, old, same, old." I love the "old, old story," don’t get me wrong. But the way it is presented is like eating dusty, stale crackers.

I have met numerous people who no longer attend church, not because they aren’t entertained, but because they miss God when they go.  Initially they think the problem is with them, that somehow their expectations are out of line. Some of them keep going out of habit, others keep attending because they have kids and others just give up (I have talked to all of the above).

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them

Although evangelicals say we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible, there is little Bible reading. At one service I attended the preacher read 1.5 verses and then told us that even though the verses meant something different, he would still use those verses to preach on his chosen subject. At such services I look around at the people and think – Do they really find these words a life giving message? or is coming to church a habit and good way to see friends?

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them. Most of them start with "yes, I see what you’re saying…but what about this? and this? and this?” Does the preacher not have the same questions? If he (most are men) doesn’t, why not? Am I that off the charts? Do the people around me not have similar questions?

In Kent Anderson’s Oct 19 blog, "Apologetic Preaching," he writes in reference to J.P. Moreland:

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

[The problem with church services is not] the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance

I believe that passion comes not just from knowing God, but from knowing God this past week; from working through doubts, questions, injustices and opportunities. I don’t think we need to develop a database of God’s miraculous interventions (Moreland’s suggestion as reported in Kent’s blog) because most people don’t live life like that. But we do want to know how to meet God in our ordinary, every day life.

Church services are a prime opportunity to bring people into God’s presence so they can hear from Him. At least the vast majority of resources are geared towards constructing and maintaining very expensive buildings so there can be a corporate gathering. But when that doesn’t happen the discouragement can lead to disillusionment. It is not about the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance.

maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together

 Coincidentally, I am reading about the Veritas Forum, a movement in universities that faces the hard questions of life in the light of who Jesus is. Experts in many different fields offer expertise to students who can respond and interact. Their messages do not reduce the gospel to a trite "be nice," but honestly grapple with the relevance of God’s revelation in the context of a secularized worldview.

I find the Sunday meeting expression of church to be very unsatisfying because it is one dimensional. Much time and effort is put into this one expression and yet it falls short of what it could be: a gathering of people who need and want to meet with God, who have come to worship and to be in God’s presence. Yet week after week some of us leave so frustrated. Eventually we learn that maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together.

 

Becoming a Sewage pipe Christian

During the time we lived in Larkana, Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of Pakistan. Since Larkana was her family home town, there were some obvious perks.  One of the most obvious was the construction of several fountains at key intersections.  Each fountain had a plaque proclaiming the name of the patron who had funded the project.  At the same time, the sewage system in Larkana was obviously insufficient for the population and in many places, nonexistent. In terms of improving people’s lives and preventing disease, a sewage system was logically a far more practical choice, but that did not seem to be a major concern.

Karen and I would often comment on a probable reason for this priority: To have one’s name on a fountain was an expression of honor, but there was no equivalent avenue for self-glorification in improving a sewage system.  Who wants their name attached to sewage pipe?  


As Christians our perspective needs to be very different.  We are followers of a savior who chose the “sewage pipe” way to serve, rather than the self-glorification of “fountain” construction.  He sacrificed for what we need – redemption from the sewage of our lives – which resulted in the shame of the cross rather than the glory of the throne that the disciples were hoping for.  Sometimes ministry feels like constructing sewage pipes without anyone praising our efforts.  But that may be a good indication that we are following Christ.  The world strives to put their name on the “fountains,” servants of Christ work on the sewers.

At the present time, the fountains in Larkana do not have any water flowing in them and they have become receptacles for garbage.  I think there may be a lesson in that as well.

Significant Conversations

Five aspects of evangelism common to our churches that need to change if we are to make a gospel impact in our communities:

a.    The individualistic nature of evangelism.  People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.”  While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own!  The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves.  This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair.  But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.

b.    Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed.  Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.

Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives

c.    Evangelism as the task of the church.  At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts.  Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince.  Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.

d.    The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room.  However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task.  We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture.  A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.

e.    The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel.  However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact.  In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.

I would like to suggest a simple grassroots approach to evangelism that relieves the pressure on believers to “present a gospel message” and replaces that with a freedom to enjoy significant conversations with people. This approach creates a conversational space where there are no winners or losers, just people who are able to express what is significant to them.  For the true believer, this is opportunity for Jesus to shine. 

The SISI system is designed to mitigate the weaknesses noted above.

Download the SISI brochure in which the process is explained together with important assumptions and / or contact me at via the form below. 

You are also invited to read the CCI article entitled “Why I don’t do ‘Evangelism’” which chronicles my own spiritual journey in coming to this position of seeking significant conversations.

 

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Don’t Discuss, DO

For the past couple of years I have been leading a Bible study on the theme “touching the robe of Christ.”  This was adopted as a paradigm for the desire to break past misleading interpretations, religious terminology and church traditions and trappings in order to connect with God through Christ, to experience the reality of the Spirit’s power.  As part of the approach towards this, we read through the first six chapters of Mark as if we had never read them before and never heard of Jesus.  We tried for a fresh look at Jesus, who he claimed to be and what he taught.  Through that exercise we gained a number of valuable and enlightening insights.

To begin the fall session, we reviewed our progress.  Are we closer to “touching the robe of Christ”? Have we experienced this?  The answer was unequivocally, “no.”  Some were still puzzled about what that experience would “feel” like, while one person stated, “I think I have touched the robe, but nothing happened.”

Jesus taught us to LIVE the life, not just DISCUSS the life

I came away from the Bible study uncertain of the next step.  However, on the way to a pastors’ breakfast with the pastor of our church, Jared White, we discussed the Bible study and he suggested that perhaps “doing” was the element we were missing. We had been neglecting the reality that the text is given to us for the purpose of FOLLOWING, not discussion. Jesus taught us to LIVE the life, not just DISCUSS the life. So it is no surprise that we had not been able to “grasp the robe,” or in grasping had not experienced any “bells and whistles.”  What Jesus calls us to is obedience, to do what he commands. If we do not, then all discussion is like chasing smoke.  It is like trying to analyze love without living and experiencing love.  It is only by following and obeying that we are transformed into Christ’s image: into the wholeness and perfection, the harmony with God, the fulfillment of what our Father intended in our creation and sees in our potential.

So the question I will be raising in our study is no longer “how can we touch the robe,” for that is now within our grasp. Rather, with the robe in sight, the call is to follow. Will we act upon its implication and thus experience the robe through obedience to his commands?

Moving from STM to Career

I received a good question from Missions Catalyst e-Magazine.  Shane Bennett writes,

So, how have you seen short-termers transformed into long-termers? I’m thinking of good examples in which sharp people end up in significant, well-fitting roles. I’m imagining non-manipulative methods in which people are invited to recognize their gifts, are provided with proper stepping stones to long-term commitment, and are shepherded into a successful cross-cultural career.

This is an excellent question and one that a lot of missions agencies (including Fellowship International Ministries) have discussed often.  If you have any ideas or experience in this, please let me know.  Do you know someone who went from short term missions to career missions?  If so, how did that transition occur?  Can we discover a pattern or a means for greater impact that would encourage people towards a long term investment in international ministry?  If you have any ideas, drop me a line via the form below.

One concern that I have is that the strong cultural emphasis on individualism in our churches mitigates against the possibility of a communal decision to appoint someone to missions.  We have personal decisions, a personal walk with Christ, personal devotions and a personal calling to ministry.  When pastors decide to move on they make a personal decision and then involve the church in the process.  All major decisions are personal, and while professional advice is often sought, communal involvement in personal decision making (job, spouse, education, etc.) is unusual.  I am not opposed to this system; it is a reflection of our cultural orientation and comfort zone because, as Canadians, we are quite reserved about having direct involvement in those aspects of other people’s lives considered "personal".
 
However, the downside of this is the reticence we have to provide others with direction and insight for a calling into cross-cultural ministry.  As churches we give general invitations, but rarely identify individuals as capable of international service and challenge them in that direction.  Perhaps this lack of input in people’s lives keeps them unaware of their potential to serve God in missions.  The general sense in that anyone can go on a STM trip, but in our context it feels presumptuous to take the initiative in proposing a career in missions for someone else.

Do you agree with this assessment or are there other, more important factors?

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

A Call for a Complementary view of Bible Versions

As a missionary involved in Bible translation for the past 18 years, I was disappointed with the tone of the article “‘Packer’s Bible’ now bestseller” appearing in the BC Christian News, August 2007 Vol 27 #8 < http://www.canadianchristianity.com/bc/bccn/0807/01bible>. During the course of celebrating the growth in sales of the English Standard Verson (ESV) – a welcome addition to a number of excellent formal translations such as the NRSV and the NASB – disparaging and unhelpful remarks were made against other translations and translation philosophies (such as the “meaning based” philosophy that lies behind those invaluable translations that provide the spiritually hungry reader with “what was meant”). 

This unfortunate perspective was carried on in a sidebar entitled “’Dueling’ Translations” in which three Bible verses were presented from a variety of Bible versions. This negative and combative attitude not only confuses the average Christian and creates unnecessary divisions over minor issues, but it undermines the benefits we can gain from the multitude of translations available to us. 

Continue reading

Theology and photography

It was while Karen and I were visiting the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope that we discovered that we had neglected to bring our camera. For some people I know, this would have been reason to travel the 5 hours back home to get it. However, we have always been apathetic (or just pathetic) photographers and so we shrugged and continued on with the important issue of experiencing the beauty of the falls. We tend to have a skeptical attitude towards cameras. They never seem to capture the beauty and fullness of the experience. The result is only a narrow window, a moment, that was so much more at the time, but now is reduced to a flash of color. It remains a true picture, but a picture that is so much less than the reality of the experience.

This is a metaphor for theology. Theology is a human attempt to describe, systematize and analyze the vast reality of God as he has revealed himself and relates to the world. However true and accurate the description, it will always fall short of the reality, even as a photo fails to capture the fullness that exists in the drama of our lives. Theological descriptions are good, even as photos are good. But they are no substitute to living the moment and experiencing the overwhelming beauty that gives us life.

Appreciating the beauty of God

At the beginning of August Karen and I visited the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope. At the foot of the falls there is a fenced off area for observers with a large “CAUTION” sign warning people to keep back and enjoy the falls from a distance. The falls are beautiful – almost mesmerizing – as they continually change while remaining the same and cover the observers with a fine, fresh smelling mist. We noted and complied with the sign and the fence, but we just as quickly dismissed them from our minds as our attention was held captive by the rush of water.

This experience became a metaphor in an ongoing discussion Karen and I have concerning the Bible, the place of the local church and our experience of God’s presence through our daily lives. The Bible and the local church are like the sign and fence. The waterfall is the reality of God’s presence in our lives. We read God’s word and we connect with other believers in our spiritual journey towards conformity to Christ. But the significant issue is our connection to God is our daily lives. Knowledge and instruction, however important, are but “dealers in second hand goods” if we are not enveloped with the wonder of living in God’s presence. The signs and the fence are there in order to ensure a positive experience of the waterfall. We mustn’t get so caught up in studying the wording of the sign or considering the structure of the fence that we neglect the beauty for which they were constructed.

Patriarchy and Understanding the Bible

 “That’s just NOT right!” exclaimed a woman in a Bible study I was conducting. The object of her disapproval was Naomi’s instructions for Ruth to approach Boaz while he was sleeping (see Ruth 3). She was correct in that she recognized the inappropriateness of such an action within our society. She was incorrect because she failed to recognize the cultural values of the Hebrew context (particularly patriarchy) during the time of the “judges”, which validated Ruth’s approach to Boaz.

The Bible is God’s revelation of his will to humanity given within a cultural context that is very different from our situation today. Although the Bible remains God’s revelation of his will for us, it was originally written to people whose language, culture and worldview greatly contrasts with ours. Thus, the more the values, beliefs and situation of the original audience are understood by today’s reader, the better the meaning of the divine message can be comprehended. Similarly, the more we comprehend our own culture and society, the better equipped we are to understand how the biblical revelation can be expressed and applied in our context.

The implications of this reality are profound for the Bible translator and the cross-cultural worker as well as for all those who want to understand the relevance of God’s word for them. We cannot understand and appreciate the way the Bible relates to us without first recognizing that God spoke his message to people both through and because of their situation. To the degree our modern context is similar to the context of original audience, the original message will have direct relevance for us. However, differences between the ancient and modern cultures require us to adopt a two step process of interpretation.

Click here to read the rest of the article

“Led to the Lord”

Every now and again I hear the phrase “how many people have you led to the Lord?” The meaning of this evangelical lingo is “how many people have committed their lives to Christ under your guidance as you have explained the gospel message?” Although my desire is for people to commit their lives to Christ, this question makes me quite uncomfortable for a few reasons.

First, the implication is that bringing a person to such a commitment to Christ is in our control. The message seems to be that if we only approached people with enough skill, boldness and a clear witness many would become Christians. But, “the only thing that counts in ministry is the one thing that is impossible for us – to change peoples hearts.” It is the Spirit that convicts of sin and turns people to Christ.

Second, if we have not been involved in such experiences, this suggests we have not been faithful to our call as followers of Christ. The result is that many Christians who have not been privileged in this way feel envy towards those who can relate such experiences and they view themselves as less than worthy followers of Christ. Feelings of joy over the news that someone has come to Christ are mitigated by a struggle with guilt.

Third, it reduces other aspects of Christian ministry to secondary status. The “ideal Christian” is the one that “leads many people to Christ” so that they commit their lives to Christ. This perception contradicts the complementary description of believers as parts of a body working together to bring glory to God. A spiritual hierarchy based on a person’s success in “leading people to Christ” is lacking in Scripture.

However, rather than deleting the phrase from our vocabulary, I would suggest changing its meaning to “being an influence in another person’s life so that the beauty of Jesus and his kingdom has been revealed to them.” This is something we have been called to and have been given the freedom and power to do: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16 TNIV). Therefore, even if people refuse to pursue the way of Christ, they have been given a taste of what could be. A young woman was relating to me the devastation and hurt that occurred through the divorce of her parents. During the course of the conversation I said, “That is why God hates divorce. He has created us for love, commitment and security in relationship. When there is betrayal of that ideal, the brokenness and anguish affects the heart of God.” Did she become a follower of Christ? Not yet. But she saw a little bit of the light of a loving father. Perhaps this a better meaning of “leading someone to the Lord,” because we can all do this on daily basis whether through word or deed, and let Jesus have the glory that comes when people commit their lives to him.

Shaping the Message

One of the primary responsibilities of the cross-cultural Christian worker is to discover how God’s revelation of himself in both the written word (the Bible) and the living Word (Jesus) resonates with the cultural group with whom she or he is developing a relationship. In our ministry among the Sindhi people, we discovered that both the message and the method needed to be formed and expressed by relevant cultural images and values in order to provide a spiritual impact. Consider these examples:

Honor for one’s teacher is a very important value for the Sindhi people. Part of the reason rote learning is the preferred method in schools is because honor is expressed through unquestioning acceptance and trust of the teacher. This contrasts with the heavy dependence upon rational thinking found in western education. As a result, an important aspect of the person of Jesus Christ for the Sindhi people is that of teacher. During the washing of the disciples’ feet, Peter at first refuses to have his feet washed (Jn 13:8). The Sindhi reader is quite offended by this and views his refusal as an act of disloyalty. In the Sindhi mind a student obeys the teacher without question even if it is a matter of honor. If the student is unable to trust the teacher, then he or she should not be a disciple.

Tied to this value is the interesting observation that Sindhi believers do not require an “assurance of salvation,” a common lesson in discipleship manuals for new believers. The need for this is because many western believers seem plagued with doubt and at times wonder if they are saved. However, the Sindhi believer does not contemplate such a question. They have made a commitment to their Teacher Jesus, and any doubt or questioning would be considered an act of dishonor to him.

In the Sindhi context as well, baptism becomes the primary act of commitment through which one pledges his or her life to Christ. While individual prayers and expressions of faith play a role in the development of the believer, it is this public act of commitment and submission to the Teacher – an acted out prayer – that expresses the point of full allegiance. Through this act they gain a new identity as a disciple of Jesus bound together with other committed followers. Individual faith thus finds its expression and fulfillment in a communal context.

The Canadian context is increasingly a mosaic of many cultures. The variety of values and perspectives requires cross-cultural workers to discover the heart language of the people they are working with in order to shape both the method and message of Jesus Christ in a way that will resonate with the worldview of those people.

Commitment vs Decision

A number of years ago after delivering a sermon I was rebuked by a young woman. It would be nice to say that this was a unique occurrence, but unfortunately, such is not the case. I had made some disparaging remarks about the "Four Spiritual Laws," a tract that provides a four step understanding of the gospel message. She had been introduced to the gospel through one of those tracts and it was significant to her spiritual history.

I was duly chastened and learned that the sermon is not the place for such insensitivity and I praise God for people with the courage to approach and correct me when I fall short. Nonetheless, even though evangelism programs and tracts have played a role in the salvation of many people, I am still disturbed by the reduction of the good news of Jesus to a few well rehearsed lines no matter how well crafted.

Becoming a follower of Christ is not a "decision," like deciding to buy a house. Rather it is a commitment, like getting married. It is a momentous covenantal step when one vows a lifetime commitment to Jesus as Lord. It involves a "burning of bridges": all other ultimate commitments are now off limits, even as in my marriage to Karen, all other women became off limits in terms of intimate personal relationships.

In our western culture, the vows of marriage come as the culmination of a number of decisions that have shaped the relationship to the point of declaration before God and community of the permanent and sole choice for a life partner. Similarly, children in their formative years, or a person newly introduced to the gospel can make decisions in the development of their love for Jesus. But the covenantal commitment made before God and community that is required of a follower of Christ (the point of baptism as I understand it), is so profound and life shaping, that it should not be made prematurely, even as a marriage should not be entered into without an understanding of and commitment to the consequences. A booklet on the "Four laws of marriage," can be very helpful in introducing a couple to the significance of marriage, but it would be inadvisable to move directly from the presentation of such a booklet to a wedding proposal.

Relational Spaces

In The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), Joseph R. Myers challenges evangelicals to think creatively about how people belong. He utilizes the work done by Edward Hall explaining that there are four “spaces” or levels of connecting in which people relate and commit: Public, Social, Personal and Intimate. He makes the observation that churches largely function on the “public” and “intimate” levels with the goal of involving all attendees in the “intimate” space of small groups. He then suggests a different approach in which the church legitimizes relationships in all four spaces without attempting to move people to spaces where they are uncomfortable.

If I understand Myers correctly, in public spaces we interact indirectly with and through others. For example, a worship service, a Bible study or the crowd watching a sports event would be a public space. In such contexts we deal with other people indirectly centered on a common interest. In this space there is little vulnerability.

In social spaces we relate our stories to others and hear their stories. This is a sharing of history, experiences and relationships that does not require privacy. Such sharing is an invitation into someone else’s life at a limited and comfortable level of vulnerability.

In personal spaces we share our private hopes and dreams to a few special people. This involves a partnership or commitment towards togetherness and connection. Communication is deeper than merely verbal. Acceptance of others occurs in spite of knowledge of personal shortcomings, which implies a deeper level of vulnerability.

In our intimate spaces we connect deeply and openly. We are “naked and not ashamed”. More than simply physical nearness, this includes vulnerability to the point that betrayal would result in lasting wounds.

This concept of four spaces is a good tool for evaluating relationships in cross-cultural ministry as well. All four spaces are present in other cultures, but they will have different emphases and boundaries. I have never met the wife of one my friends in Pakistan, even though we have known each other for several years and I have been to his house several times. We have a relationship at a social level, and we are both comfortable with the limitations this implies. For the church planter, the relational boundaries people set need to be respected, rather than overcome. The goal becomes one of encouraging spiritual development within the level of relationship where people feel comfortable, rather than moving them on to another “space.”

Cultural Ways of Belonging

What is the appropriate relationship of a Christian to a local church? How should followers of Christ “belong”? This is an important consideration when ministering cross-culturally, because cultural forms shape the way people understand “belonging”. For example, a helpful, if somewhat simplistic, diagram is provided to demonstrate three levels of relationships in which people experience belonging: Community, Family and Individual. Some cultures, such as most western cultures, give great emphasis to individual relationships. A person is encouraged to develop numerous relationships in a variety of contexts (family, school, sports, church, work, etc.), with the hub of these relationships based on the individual.Community Some cultures, such as many Asian cultures, find their primary identity within the family. Thus all relationships are made with a primary concern for the impact on the family. Marriages are arranged, and jobs are provided through family connections. Other cultures, such as small tribal groups, have a strong community focus. In one African tribal group, when children reach their adolescent years, they are separated from their families. The boys then grow and mature within one house while girls live in another. Thus deep relationships are forged that influence all other decisions in life. Such cultural dynamics shape the way that people will seek to belong in a church setting. In the Asian context where we were involved in church planting, the current church planting goal is to define church life within the household setting, rather than impose a model that encourages individualistic decisions to attend particular meetings or commit to certain relationships. However, this family model would most likely be inappropriate for a Canadian setting in which the individual is responsible for their own network of significant relationships, some of which occur within a single church context, but many are outside of the church. The successful church planter must evaluate and work with the significant relationship networks of his or her community in order to understand how Christian community can be expressed in that context.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Different ways of belonging

GroupMy wife, Karen, and I belong to a Bible study connected with our church with participants who are extremely diverse in their Christian faith. One person saw God as a finite being who came into existence at the Big Bang. Another refers to himself as a “lapsed Catholic” who views God as an impersonal force. A third comes from an atheistic background, but with the conviction that there is a spiritual reality that we need to connect to. Of those with an evangelical faith, some have a modernist mindset (“Start with the historical facts and build your life on that”), while others have a post-modern perspective (“I do not have the capacity to be certain. I will believe and trust”). What we have in common is an admiration for Jesus and the hope that he can guide us into a significant and life giving connection with God.

. . . how can we function within this fluid dynamic to build significant relationships that bring people closer to Christ?

This Spring one of the participants – the “lapsed Catholic” – presented us with the challenge to read the first 6 chapters of Mark as if we had never read them before and did not know about Jesus. We would then share what we understood and experienced with each other. This has led to significant, enlightening and, at times, not altogether comfortable, observations about Jesus. The one with the atheistic background at one point exclaimed that Jesus appeared to be an “arrogant and crazy prophet”! This, however, in the minds of some of us, represented progress past the rather stifling view of Christ as a moral teacher. I present this small group as an example of how people “belong” in our Canadian context. Although some of the group are not qualified to be “members” of the church, all the participants see their connection to the church as significant. None of them are seeking to change their commitment to the church, yet all are involved in developing their understanding and commitment to Christ within one expression of the church. In our Canadian society people are very comfortable to belong to a church with differing levels of commitment (from dedicated member to casual participant) and within a variety of expressions (small groups, worship services or special programs) chosen to meet their current felt needs. With my missionary mindset of exploring ways to make the gospel relevant to specific contexts, I find this intriguing and educational. Rather than motivating people to pledge a long-term commitment to a particular ideal of membership, how can we function within this fluid dynamic to build significant relationships that bring people closer to Christ? In such a context, boundaries and definitions of who is “in” and who is “out” become less important than the direction people are moving in.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

How do people belong?

How do people belong? This is an important issue in missions, particularly for a church planting mission such as Fellowship International Ministries: What does it mean to belong to a church? There are many different ways to express and value belonging, and these vary from culture to culture. A college student from Azerbaijan informed me recently that “Canadians are very friendly, but they don’t want to be friends!” In other words, the level of belonging and the expressions of that belonging she was used to in her own culture, were very different in Canada. She expected friendliness to lead to a more intimate relationship, but quickly realized that she was imposing on boundaries they wanted to maintain.

While in Pakistan my wife, Karen, and I had similar experiences. Our concept of ‘friendship’ was different from the expectations in Pakistan. To be invited into a home as a couple to sit with both men and women indicates a level of ongoing commitment that we, as Canadians, reserve for our immediate families!

So what about church relationships? When planting a church, what is the expectation of commitment? One person may view the community in terms of family loyalty, while another may see this particular interaction with other believers as only one avenue of relationships among many, without the need for deeper commitment. Some may consider the church activities as central to their Christian development. Others may be content to participate at one level (e.g., attendance at worship, small group, worship team), while finding fulfillment for other needs (e.g., teaching, guidance, fellowship) in venues outside of one local church.

Should church planters seek to bring all people to a particular level of commitment that fits with one cultural model of church, or should they adjust their expectations to the realities of the connections that people prefer for themselves? If the goal is to help people develop their commitment to Christ within the level of commitment and relationships that they believe are important, then what will Christian community look like?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Musings on belonging

Is it just me or has the concept of “belonging” to a church become more fluid lately? I remember growing up in a churched context and it was very obvious who was “in” and who was “out”. Membership was an important concept and there was a sense that unless a person became a “member,” their relationship with God and other believers was not as it should be. Each local church, even if its building was located across the street from another similar church, encouraged a deep level of commitment to their particular communal expression of “church”. Of course, I grew up in a church planter’s home, so that understanding may not reflect the perspective of the average person in the pew.

…it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

However, today, unless it is only my own perception, that view seems to have morphed into a more flexible and complex understanding of belonging. Perhaps it is partly due to the western emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities. Perhaps there is greater tolerance of diverse theological views. Perhaps the perceived need of “a church experience” has changed. Perhaps it is due to the many opportunities that people have to belong to a variety of expressions of Christian community through the radio, TV, small groups, “parachurch” organizations, missions teams, concerts, etc. Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

As someone who has a missionary mindset, I seek to understand and conform to cultural trends in order to present faith in Christ in a relevant way. Such a change (if I am correct) is neither to be rejected nor unquestioningly embraced. Instead, the question is, what does relevant and impacting Christian community look like in such an environment?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Defining the role of a church missions team

Just what is a church missions team expected to do? Because of the way church missions has developed in recent years this question has become increasingly important for those who desire to be effective mission mobilizers. In some churches the missions committee’s primary role consists of passing on the prayer letters of missionaries to the congregation. However, other church missions teams are playing a far more complex and influential role. This is evident in the “Design your Impact” workshops1, in which the role of the missions team is presented as shaping and overseeing the overall missions purpose and strategy of the church, both locally and globally. In addition, the rise of short term missions can make the duties of missions teams quite demanding, often requiring the services of a full time missions pastor.

… the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness.

During my interviews with pastors and key missions committee personnel for the purpose of discovering ways church missions can be improved, one pastor shared the parameters that he uses to define the role of the missions team within his church: The missions team is responsible to facilitate all outreach partnerships outside of the local church’s programs. In this perspective short term mission teams or local evangelistic efforts – intra-cultural or cross-cultural – are not the responsibility of the missions committee. Instead, their role is to monitor and facilitate the partnerships of the church with those missionaries and other workers who have a primary responsibility to another organization (such as a missions agency). Whether or not this is the position taken by a church is of secondary concern. What is obvious is that the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness. Coming this fall a “Best Practices for Church Missions” workshop will be offered to assist church missions committees as they define their role and purpose within the broader vision of the church. Let me know if you are interested. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team.

______________

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Sports as a metaphor for culture.

What is culture? There is a current debate (National Post, March 2-, 2007) about whether fashion should be classified as culture, with implications for government funding. Canada has policies promoting “multiculturalism.” I have read books and heard sermons concerning the need for Christians to remain separate from “the prevailing culture.” These diverse nuances of the term have resulted in confusion concerning the meaning of “culture” for the cross-cultural minister of the gospel. From an anthropological perspective, which is the primary way the term is used in missiology, culture refers to the relationship that the members of a particular ethnic group have with their environment and each other. This includes all aspects of life that provide meaning for that people group such as legends, laws, priorities, structures (material, organizational or conceptual), customs and artifacts. Worldview, on the other hand, refers to the conceptual framework or beliefs about reality from which cultural items gain their significance. There are universals common to all cultures (although there is no agreed upon list of these universals), but it is the differences between cultures that provide cultural identity and are the cause of much perplexity and conflict between people groups. This is the reason why the politically correct program of multiculturalism in Canada is so difficult. As a philosophy of accommodation so that cultures can co-exist while maintaining their separate identities, multiculturalism is predicated upon an assumption that there are sufficient agreed upon commonalities for such a project to succeed. However, not only are there disagreements about the identification of these commonalities, but even when they are identified at a theoretical level, the practical outworking of these values is elusive. For example, western “universals” such as “free speech,” “equal rights,” and the “rule of law” are understood and prioritized in fundamentally different ways in other parts of the world. As a humorous illustration of how cultures conceptualize reality in different ways, consider the following imaginary sports analogy: The country is Canada. The city, Hockeytown – a city in which only one sport, hockey, has ever been played. It is the only sport that has ever been imagined by the residents. To them hockey is not just one of many sports, but is what defines sport. Bobb Yorr has just returned from a visit to another city in which he was introduced to the sport of Tennis. Grett Ski has never been out of his city and so, for him, “sports” is defined by ice rinks, hockey sticks and hockey nets.

  • Grett: Hey, Bobb, long time no see! What have you been up to?
  • Bobb: I’ve just got back and I’ve discovered another sport.
  • Grett: Another sport? What do you mean – another way to play hockey?
  • Bobb: Um, well it’s a sport like hockey is a sport, but totally different.
  • Grett: How can it be like hockey and totally different. That doesn’t make sense. Do the teams line up differently or something?
  • Bobb: Well there are only 2 players.
  • Grett: What! Only two players on the whole team? How do they take shifts?
  • Bobb: No, only two people in the game, one player on each team and they play the whole game.
  • Grett: No way! Who do they pass to? …………………

Read the rest of the article at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Keeping missionaries and Mission Agencies Accountable

I have been spending some time interviewing pastors and key missions committee personnel to discover the areas they would like to improve in the area of missions One frustration that a number of people expressed is in knowing how and when they are to keep mission agencies and missionaries accountable. One pastor provided the following insight:

The prayer letters that missions personnel send to the churches are often very different in content to the reports that they are required to provide their mission agency. In order to monitor their missionary and be privy to important decisions being made the missions team of the church may wish to request these reports be sent to them as well.

There are, of course, confidentiality issues that need to be taken into account. However, if the missionary grants permission for the report to be passed on to the church missions team and the team does not pass on that information without permission, such difficulties can often be overcome.

The benefit of such a request is that both the missionary and the missions agency become directly responsible to the sending church. The missions team in the church is able to ensure that the missions agency is providing the support and direction required and that important issues are being dealt with. They are also able to more clearly understand the difficulties and frustrations the missionaries face which they are not free to publish in their public newsletters.

Have you discovered some creative ways to be an effective missions team in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team. We are working on a workshop to support churches as they seek to join in God’s mission both locally and around the world. Information on this will be posted on the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage as it comes available.

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Keeping Missions from becoming a number in the budget

People committed to supporting cross-cultural missions, whether locally or globally, recognize the essential role of missionaries who have dedicated years to learn the culture and language of a particular people group. It is through their expertise that bridges for the gospel are discovered and churches planted. However, missions mobilizers serving in churches are often frustrated and discouraged at the overwhelming task of keeping people interested and committed to the support of missionaries over the long haul. There are so many legitimate activities and alternative ministries that staying the course with one family whose ministry requires slow and steady progress, rather than glamorous leaps, is difficult. Support sometimes becomes reduced to a budget item that is “rubber-stamped” each year.

As a result people no longer give to the church generally and think about their financial commitment to missions once a year. Instead, a focus on missions giving is highlighted weekly along with giving towards the church’s general needs.

One church in our Fellowship has developed a creative approach to the support of their missionaries that, even though only a small adjustment, has helped provide a stronger focus for missions in the church. Each year they designate part of their budget to the support of their missionaries, as is common practice for most of our churches. However, funds from the general offering cannot be applied to this commitment. Only those funds designated “missions” are used to fulfill this responsibility. As a result people no longer give to the church generally and think about their financial commitment to missions once a year. Instead, a focus on missions giving is highlighted weekly along with giving towards the church’s general needs. Secondly, the deacon in charge of missions is responsible to keep the church informed of their commitment and when giving has fallen short, he or she reminds the church of the importance of these ministries and the role the church plays in advancing God’s mission. Furthermore, when giving exceeds the budgeted commitment, and this is not uncommon, they are able to apply these extra funds to special projects such as the Fellowship International Ministries 2007 “Blessing the Nations” project. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team. We are working on a workshop to support churches as they seek to join in God’s mission both locally and around the world. Information on this will be posted on the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage as it comes available.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Removing Shame Through the Cross

The prodigal son had shamed his father, shamed his family and shamed his religion. As the crowd listened to Jesus reach the climax of the story with the father running towards the son, some of the listeners – Prodigal Sonthose who had shamed their religion through compromise with the Romans, those who had shamed their families through prostitution, those who had shamed their fathers through neglect and rebellion – winced as they waited for the inevitable punishment to fall. What other action could a just, holy and righteous father take? Other listeners – the Pharisees who deeply felt the dishonor borne by father – anticipated with satisfaction the blow to fall on the son. How else could the shame be purged from the family name?

"…the father is not tainted by the impurity of the son but instead transforms the son once again into his image with a robe, shoes and a ring symbolizing an astounding renewed identity as an honored child."

In Pakistan there exists an infamous tradition of Karo Kari – black boy, black girl – the killing of the defiled daughter. A few years ago at a wedding a teenage girl was dancing and celebrating with other girls when a young man came up and grabbed her hand. She snatched her hand away, but it was too late, an uncle from the balcony had seen this exchange take place. The girl was dragged from the celebration, taken outside and stoned to death. There can be only one answer to shame: to purge it through death. In the story the father reaches the son but instead of the anticipated blow, his arms open and he draws the son into a strong, accepting embrace. The crowd is stunned as they realize what has taken place. The father has taken the shame upon his own self, he has embraced and absorbed the dishonor. As this totally unexpected story unfolds the father is not tainted by the impurity of the son but instead transforms the son once again into his image with a robe, shoes and a ring symbolizing an astounding renewed identity as an honored child. Can it be that there is redemption for shame? This is a theology of the cross for an honor – shame culture: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole”’ (Gal 3:13 TNIV). The cross is the act of the father to those of us living in shame. “I am not worthy!” and we wait for the blow to fall, only to be surprised by the grace of the Father’s embrace. There is a deeper and more profound answer to shame. The cross of Jesus is God’s embrace of humanity, taking our shame and bringing transformation.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

The Difference Between Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Cultural

At a recent seminar a pastor posed the question: “What is the difference between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural?” Ethnicity primarily refers to group identity arising from a common history, kinship and language. Culture refers to the way members of a particular ethnic group relate to their environment and each other. This includes legends, laws, priorities, structures, customs and artifacts. Multi-ethnic, therefore, refers to members of a variety of ethnic groups interacting within a particular forum (such as a multi-ethnic church). Such forums require a common structure or format with which all members agree to conform in order for this multi-ethnic interaction to function successfully (e.g., for multi-ethnic churches in Canada this is generally the church practice of the dominant Canadian culture).

The hope is that churches will be able to clarify their own particular identity as they navigate the passage between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural that will result in healthy and liberating expressions of the church of Jesus Christ.

Multi-cultural, on the other hand, is much more complex, harder to envision and fraught with conflict. The concept is that members of a variety of ethnic groups interact while maintaining their distinct cultural practices and priorities. In reality, this is a paradox because while cultures are defined by their distinctiveness, community and interaction rely upon commonalities to establish unity. In order to have intercultural relationships, some accommodation must be made on one or both sides of the cultural divide. But the act of accommodation represents, to some degree, a compromise and loss of cultural values.

In my experience, most of our Fellowship churches that are multi-ethnic are not multi-cultural. These churches have embraced a number of ethnic groups within a culturally Canadian expression of church life. My article on setting an intercultural agenda for our churches in the recently published book by NBS, Being Church: Explorations in Christian Community, recounts a discussion of cultural issues with a Punjabi couple (p. 26). Although they attended a multi-ethnic local church, they expressed appreciation for the opportunity to occasionally attend a worship service with a mono-cultural Punjabi congregation some distance away. The attraction was the specifically Punjabi cultural elements such as singing the Psalms in Punjabi with traditional musical instruments. In order for them to participate in their multi-ethnic local church, they were required to relinquish much of their Punjabi heritage as it relates to church life.

Our Cross-cultural Think Tank has prepared a seminar on cultural diversity designed to help our Fellowship churches work through the cultural tensions that arise within our multi-ethnic churches. The hope is that churches will be able to clarify their own particular identity as they navigate the passage between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural that will result in healthy and liberating expressions of the church of Jesus Christ. For further information contact Mark via the form below.

 

Contact Mark Naylor

First Name
Last Name
Email Address
Phone # (no spaces or dashes)
Enter your question or comment here
Type the letters you see in the box
Type the letters you see in the box

Checking assumptions about church

I have come to appreciate the fact that the writers of New Testament did not provide a definition of the church. There does not exist a transcultural form, liturgy or practice by which a church can be identified and classified. Instead we are given powerful metaphors such as the body of Christ, or the bride of Christ which prevents us from reducing the church to an agency, institution or organization. These metaphors stimulate our imagination to explore a myriad of communal expressions of the kingdom of God. Church exists through house churches, training institutions, mission agencies, orphanages as well as through traditional congregations, all living under God’s rule and revealing some aspect of what it means to be the body of Christ in this world. I found the following check-list taken from Postmodernity and the Emerging Church By Geoff Westlake in LausanneWorldPulse.com Feb 07 to be very helpful in challenging my assumptions concerning legitimate expressions of emerging and established churches:

  • Absence of singing does not equal absence of worship.
  • Absence of certain miracles does not mean they do not see God at work.
  • A focus beyond the assembly does not negate care within the assembly.
  • Absence of preaching does not equal absence of learning or of the ministry of the word.
  • Interactive learning does not equal theological shallowness.
  • Absence of traditional liturgy does not equal a piece-meal approach to God’s grand narrative.
  • Living with the people in the harvest does not equal syncretism.
  • Missiological flexibility does not equal theological looseness at the core.
  • Respect for individual autonomy does not equal individualistic formation.
  • Absence of tithing does not equal absence of stewardship.
  • Absence of external structures does not equal absence of internal structure.
  • Absence of denominational control does not equal absence of accountability.
  • Absence of big meetings does not mean the church is small.
  • Small does not equal ineffective.
  • Temporary does not equal ineffective.
  • Empowering others to initiate does not equal chaos.
  • One method or another does not equal righteousness.

Do we believe or do we know?

During my last visit to Pakistan for Bible translation I was rechecking the Psalms with our main translator, GMA. A verse that warranted a correction in the translation was Psalm 135:5 that read in part, “I know that God is great.” GMA commented that this was "weak" because a statement of knowledge or information may not have significance for the writer. Because it is presented as an objective observation, it is free of subjective interest and therefore communicates some level of ambivalence on the part of the author. Because this is not the intended impact of the verse, we changed the translation to "I have faith that God is great." In Sindhi this communicates conviction, commitment and belief on the part of the author and is thus "strong." In considering the implications of the change, I was struck by the contrast between modernist western thinking and this Sindhi perspective. For the Sindhi, it is a person’s subjective commitments and the impact in her / his life that is important and provides the foundation for life’s meaning. Objective observance of facts is simply one aspect of what we do and it doesn’t touch the core of our being. Because the writer of the Psalm was bringing out his personal relationship to the truth of God’s greatness, a translation in the Sindhi context necessitates a communication of that subjective significance in order to provide the full force of the statement. To simply state it as a fact without the personal element (such as in CEV:"God is great") is to miss the impact on the author. In the west, with its rationalistic fascination with “facts,” the thinking is very different. The objective sounding "I know" implies certainty, an expression of confidence in something true outside of ourselves upon which we can ground our faith. To translate this verse as "I have faith" in a modernist context is to weaken it significantly, reducing it to a mere subjective experience that may or may not correlate with the reality "out there." So do we believe or do we know? Sometimes it depends on the context.

Mesmerized with hell

A friend of mine discovered that he was suffering from what he termed a spiritual "Stockholm syndrome", the phenomenon of kidnapped victims bonding with their captors as they look desperately for mercy or an act of kindness. In his previous evangelical faith a dark shadow of hell made my friend hungry for any indication of mercy and love from God. A believing friend was recently confronted by her son who said, "What kind of God would send people to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus?" In a Bible study I attend one participant said that he wants to believe in a God who loves all people, but he has been brought up believing that the Bible teaches there are people God hates and who are chosen for hell. All of these perspectives are perversions of the clearest picture we have of God which is found in the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ: a Deity so determined that humanity would be redeemed to life that he suffered the indignity and pain of the cross in the person of his son rather than let us be destroyed. It is not eternal torment that is the essential truth of the universe, but the love of God. It is not hell that has the last word, but the Lord Jesus Christ who makes all things right and brings the whole universe back to God (Col 1:20). (Do not read between the lines here and label me a universalist: Jesus also taught that God does not forgive those who are unmerciful, uncaring and unrepentant ­ e.g., Matt 18 & 25). My concern is with the picture of God people are gaining from the gospel message. If our presentations of the gospel of Christ are being perceived as promoting arbitrariness, callousness and injustice on the part of God, then we are misrepresenting the salvation Christ offers. If people are hearing the love of God presented with a dark side of his satisfaction in the eternal torture of his creatures, then we are undermining the message of the cross. I am amazed at how many people exposed to evangelical messages of salvation are repulsed by the image of a God who doesn’t love the world, whose mercy is limited and who refuses to accept the meek and humble. Is there something wrong in the way we present the gospel that people fail to be confronted with the vast, unbounded grace of the Father longing to wrap his arms around the prodigal?

The Value of the Locker Room

The locker room is an essential part of the culture of sport. It is an environment charged with team bonding, encouraging speeches and correcting rebukes, practical strategizing, the repair of both cuts and wounded egos, relief from the pressure of the game, the enjoyment of physical and mental refreshment, the adjustment and sharpening of equipment. It is important for the success of the team that it be kept clean and well organized. The atmosphere can cause a team to succeed or to fail. But what happens in the locker room is not the game. Neither the players nor the coach should be satisfied with good relationships in the locker room, even though only healthy cooperation will ensure success in the game. Both players and coach have a role to play on the field and it is the quality and function of the relationships on the field that guide the coach in shaping the activity in the locker room. The team is not judged on how they relate in the locker room, but how they perform in the heat of contest. The church organization – building, services, programs – is the locker room. The people are the players. Those in leadership play the role of the coach. The occupational hazard of the leadership is to engineer a clean, well-organized, enthusiastic locker room with excellent speeches explaining the rule book – and miss out on the essential aspect of coordinating the team’s effort to bring about gospel transformation. In the final analysis, the church will be judged not on the activity in the locker room, but on how they play the game of life, in the world.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century