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“He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves.” 2 Cor. 5:15
As I was teaching, I stressed the importance of Jesus message: “He said ‘Repent!” Who was Jesus speaking to? He was speaking to Jews. He was preaching the gospel of the kingdom, which calls for the necessity to “repent.”
Think about it. Jesus was preaching to those who were already assured of their covenant relationship with God. They needed to repent. How about you?
“He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves.” This is the gospel of the kingdom. People who live ultimately for themselves are not living the Christian life.
The gospel of the kingdom begins with one word: REPENT. It doesn’t say, “Accept Jesus in your heart.” The gospel of the kingdom is not just about going to heaven. The gospel is about changing individual lives, however it is also about changing everything, changing whole cultures, including our own.
So, to begin, it is about individuals. It’s about the conscience. It’s about heart transformation, a heart that is tender and obedient. That nasty word, repent, is difficult to use in the modern world. Flaky people use the word “repent.” Call me flaky; I’ll follow Jesus. Jesus said:
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:14)
Before we continue, we need to clarify the definition of the kingdom of God. I presented a question to the Perspectives participants: “If you had a map and a set of keys, which best represents the kingdom of God?”
Has “this gospel” been preached everywhere? Is the gospel of the kingdom about claiming territory for Jesus? Yes and No. Yes, it is about claiming territory, but not in the way it has historically been done by the Crusader-type sword-bearing missionaries of European nations. The kingdom is not about a realm or land. What is the kingdom then?
Jesus compared the gospel of the kingdom to keys (Matthew 16:19), which represent authority. All authority has been given to Jesus Christ. There is no kingdom without the King. The kingdom is defined by allegiance and obedience to a good King. The gospel is the message of Jesus. The dramatic historical events of the New Testament, Jesus birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and his appearing to many is the gospel. Jesus is the gospel. He is the King. (1 Cor. 15) The King gave the command to all of his followers saying:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. – Matthew 28:18-20
So then, is the gospel of the kingdom, obedience to the King, preached to all nations? Are we discipling nations?
We have churches. Some cities have big beautiful cathedrals, with few members or attenders. Some mega-churches are attracting tens of thousands of attenders. Some nations have majority populations of “christians,” such as Malawi with nearly 90% christians. However, Malawi has been among the poorest in Africa and the world. Malawi has been among the worst in corruption and the highest in infant mortality. Has “this gospel” or the number of “christians” made a difference?
Perhaps you are from the United States or another Western nation where the gospel has been influencing the nations toward a more just and more merciful society. Agreed. Western nations, where the gospel has been preached for centuries, have more just governments and better living conditions. But let’s take another look.
The latest U.S. Census shows in 2009, there was no difference in the rates of divorce and abortions between the more progressive citizens of Oregon and the Bible-belt citizens of North Carolina. The murder rate in North Carolina is double that of Oregon. And did you know the United States has more prisoners than any other nation, including China. The USA has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Landa Cope, author of the Old Testament Template writes:
Christian pollster George Barna finds there is “no significant difference” between the behavior of people in the United States who call themselves born-again Christian and those who do not make that claim. Muslim evangelists in Africa ask, “What does Christianity do for the people?” The answer today is nothing. Nothing changes. The churches get bigger. More and more people get saved. But nothing changes. They are still poor, diseased, uneducated, and left in political and economic chaos.
Perhaps this seems is unfair, and perhaps a bit too pessimistic. Certainly, over the long stretch of history, Jesus has been doing his work of building his Church as a witness for all nations. True. Isn’t life better where the gospel has been preached? Yes, materially. For example, the per capita annual income in the USA is over $45,000 compared to $980 in Malawi.
On the other hand, we need to get honest, the positive influences of the gospel in culture do not happen in a moment. And some of those positive influences require tearing down before there can be a building up. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Second Temple, freeing the Israelites from their bondage to tradition, but it took about 60 years for the prophecy to be fulfilled. And the destruction of that temple, which God intended to be a place of welcome for all nations, resulted in the complete destruction of Jerusalem. Israel had been called to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 51:4), but they failed. Jesus himself became the representative of Israel, fulfilling Israel’s calling.
The destruction of the Second Temple amplifies the importance of the message of the kingdom. We must not cling to our cultural traditions, no matter how good the original intention. He is the King! His gospel will be preached Are we preaching and obeying the message of Jesus?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:2
Have we heard this gospel of the kingdom?
The gospel of the kingdom is not merely about personal salvation, saving yourself for heaven, which ultimately serves the selfish interests of sinful people. It’s not about personal incomes and comfort. It’s not about us building a church and a “christian culture” to which we invite others to enter. It’s about Jesus sending us out of our comforts and our culture to preach a message for every other culture. It’s about Jesus building His Church, which is the extension of his family. However, that family looks different in every culture.
The gospel of the kingdom is an all-encompassing declaration of Jesus as King, over our individual hearts and over every culture. It’s a radical message, which I fear many of us still have not heard.
On my next post, I will pursue this message of the kingdom further. We will consider the powerful influence of “teachers,” and the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” that Jesus warned his disciples about.
Key #2: A Kingdom View of the Poor.
“Line up!” shouted the man who climbed out of the Ford Econoline 350 box truck. “Stand back! Stand de vuelta!” Clowns, balloons, and face painting helped attract people from the nearby pueblos. The dry wind swept up the grey dirt as the crowd of people from Cuidad Juarez, and the surrounding Mexican border squatter villages, gathered to receive clothes, food, and other donated items. Obediently, the people stood in line and waited for the man to open to back of the truck. I have no doubt the man and the others with him had kind intentions, however my heart sunk as I watched these people reduced to pitiable passive recipients of American excesses.
The truckload of donations was part of an outreach ministry of a church on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande. It was the summer of 1990. We were in Juarez for six weeks with our Field Ministry Internship student teams of Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. On this hot July afternoon, we were assisting the American group that came to plant a church. We were asked to conduct simple health examinations, primary health care, in a makeshift medical clinic. This personal contact also gave us opportunity to ask if we can pray for the children and their families.
However, the oversized sound system and overzealous worship leaders made it difficult to pray, let alone conduct any thorough examinations in the clinic. The loud and raucous singing and music was giving me a headache.
I stepped out of the clinic to observe the open air meeting. The music continued as young American evangelists, many with clown outfits, went into the audience to pray for the sick.
Please understand, I am a firm believer in prayer and God’s power to heal.
But this disturbed me.
A small Mexican child, obviously frightened by the clowns laying their hands on him, was crying and reaching out toward his mother. Others were surrounding “Mom” and praying for her. The noise and confusion even had me anxious to leave. I wondered what this child and family would think of Jesus after this traumatic day.
This brings us to the second key to ministry among the poor.
Christian ministries will always reflect their leadership’s view of the poor, their understanding of the nature of poverty. That view may be less biblical and more the prevailing view of the surrounding culture.
What is your view of the poor?
The way we approach our ministry to the poor communicates value, either positively or negatively. No matter how many dollars or valuables we donate, our posture and attitude in what we do and say communicates far more than what we give.
When Christians reach out to the poor, we too often unintentionally communicate what we think of their value.
This is what the poor “hear”:
“We are complete, you are not.”
Simply put, the goal of our outreach to the poor should be to avoid communicating that lie. Our goal should be to identify with the poor in our mutual recovery of identity in relation to God’s creative design and purpose.
How do we do that?
In order to communicate value to the poor, we must first communicate value to the volunteer serving alongside us in ministry to the poor.
This is why we emphasize “Calling” in our university student ministries and outreaches. If our outreach emphasizes the discovery of vocation in the life of the volunteer, the Christian participant in ministry to the poor, then we will effectively communicate the value of the design and purpose of God to the community in which we minister.
Then we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor.
Our aim is the same as that of Jesus’ public ministry:
“And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’” (Luke 4: 17-19)
Our goal is to ‘set free’ the poor from their destructive relationships so they may enjoy Shalom, a Hebrew term for peace, completeness, and welfare. All of us are called by God to an abundant life of healthy kingdom relationships.
The way we reach this goal must begin with the right posture, the right attitude. We must begin by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus.
In our outreach to the Poor we must represent a kingdom community, demonstrating the biblical story and representing God’s identity and purpose in our relationships.
Our outreach should portray the kingdom of God, which represents the character of God in all the various expressions of his callings.
God is healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, etc. Therefore, these vocations are representing God’s character in community.
Outreach is best when we represent the kingdom of God in a community of servants. We represent the character of God and the holistic and interrelated spheres of His ministry.
Ministry to the Poor requires a view of the poor and a vision of the kingdom of God.
In this series, I am referring to the book: God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God, by Christian, Jayakumar.
U2 singer songwriter Bono expresses a spiritual yearning in the 1987 album The Joshua Tree hit single: “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” New Musical Express (a pop music mag in the UK better known as the NME), points out that the popularity of the song may be due to the way it showed that the band cared about something which could not be reduced to a few words, principles, or statements to “save” them. The spiritual yearning, “climbing mountains” and “scaling these city walls” with a singular aim, “only to be with you”, made U2 “special” with a message that resonated making the song among the most popular of all time. Why?
Bono captured the heart-cry of a generation. Harvard University graduate Noah describes his own spiritual yearning: “My education has prepared me better than most to ‘make a living’. But once I have that living, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do with it…” He continues, “My expanded intellectual capacities make it more difficult for me to find anything to believe in… the American educational system has armed me with so much cynicism and has not allowed more opportunity to contemplate what I truly want of life.”
What I truly want…
The search, seeking what you truly want, should not cause any shame. If you are not on a search for something more, then it may be you have lost hope for the future. Or worse, it may be your search has resulted in a dead end, a fatalistic future, which requires no participation. Fatalists, whether Christian or not, have no reason to invest their lives, their resources or their work, toward something meaningful. The future is fixed and cannot be changed, according to their fatalistic belief system. To know that the course of your life has meaning, you must consider ‘what?’ or more appropriately ‘Who?’ will give your life significance.
Os Guinness writes, “First we must resolutely refuse to play the word games that pretend calling means anything without a Caller – and we must not allow people to play such games on us.” He continues,“If we don’t recognize the Caller, there are no callings; all that can remain is work without true meaning.”
A spiritual quest for meaning
Be encouraged. There is more and the future is made by those who seek a better world, those who are really living in this world as a witness of the goodness of their Creator, the God who is both the beginning and the end. The call of God is a spiritual quest. It is a call to be like him, believing in the future and creating it through our words and actions, our work and our investment, our hopes and our prayers. Even God seeks. He is the One who calls. With all his power and knowledge, God seeks those of us who will respond to his call:
“Heaven is my throne, earth is my footstool. What sort of house could you build for me? What holiday spot reserve for me? I made all this! I own all this! But there is something I’m looking for: a person, simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.” Isa. 66:1-2 (The Message)
Responding to God’s call is taking this spiritual quest for meaning very seriously. I believe this generation, probably more than any other, is on a search for significance. Unfortunately, the search requires resources not readily available. Though some have been on the journey and could serve as guides, they often go unnoticed; the people who might serve as a guide or mentor are hidden in plain sight. They do not hang a shingle advertising their availability to lead you on a journey of significance. If they do, you might check for references. Those who can lead you on a journey of the discovery of God’s calling will not self-promote because the act of self-promotion is contradictory to the call of God. If you seek someone to help you on your quest, do not turn to a “professional” who has reduced the process of discerning the call of God to a “12-step program” or a costly university diploma. Instead, get on with your quest, respond to God’s call with all your heart. That quest, whether you are enrolled in university or not, will likely lead you to become more of a student, more discerning, and more prayerful. A quest is a “mystery discerning enterprise,” rather than a “problem solving” project. Your quest is not a self-help program and it is not merely an adventure. Those who go on adventures experience amazing things, but they return to their routine; their lives are not changed. Those who go on a spiritual quest are changed. If they return, they are never the same. They cannot return to the same routine. They have become pilgrims on a quest that will continue throughout their lives.
Should I seek a guide?
Keep your eyes open, especially the “eyes of your heart” (Eph. 1:18). Paul the apostle prays that you may “know the hope of his calling.” Discernment and humility are needed when considering who may be a guide as you seek what is really important. The guide will be someone who is on their own journey, discerning and seeking to obey their own call from God. That they are on their own quest will likely conceal their spiritual identity from you and their value to you as a guide. Recall the characters from J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings? Frodo’s quest came after Bilbo gave him the “One Ring” and Gandalf charged him to take the ring to Rivendell. On their way, Frodo and his friends met a stranger at the Prancing Pony Pub. Little did they know the stranger is the son of a king. Aragorn’s identity is concealed to others and partly concealed to himself. He is first introduced by the name Strider. Strider joined Frodo’s quest while serving as a guide and protector for the hobbits.
Please understand: This is not a formula for seeking a guide for your spiritual journey. However, Tolkien’s story is useful here. From my experience, the most valuable mentors/teachers to me have been humble individuals who were/are on their own spiritual journey. Their identity and their significance was largely concealed from me when I first came to know them. The extent of their service, guidance and protection, and their ultimate contribution to my spiritual quest is immeasurable. These individuals have been like spiritual fathers, investing themselves unselfishly as part of their own spiritual journey.
The struggle…the work
Your search will take you far from familiar territory. You cannot respond to God’s call hidden safe behind the comforts of your own culture, whether material comforts or theological/ideological comforts. Responding to God’s call takes the honest seeker both deep inside the needs in their own heart and out to a world of desperate needs. If there is deep within you a passionate desire to make a difference, you will need to become desperate enough to free yourself from the shackles of your own culture, your own hurts, and your own false beliefs. To get to know your own identity, which includes your family, your culture, and your personal trauma in life, is hard work. The call of God will always lead you to a thorough assessment of your motives and values, your woundedness and your strengths. To know that passion and the difference for which you are called is not found by taking an online survey for $50. Bottom line, it takes work to discern your calling.
“Doing anything as a calling-especially doing something quite difficult-is a lot more fulfilling than merely drifting.” Michael Novak, from his book, Business as a Calling.
Setting the stage for the historic prayer meeting with the five students who gathered under that haystack to find refuge from a storm in August 1806 was a little booklet written only a decade or so earlier by William Carey. The booklet was entitled:
“An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.”
Carey was a cobbler and lover of maps. He was homeschooled and he made several world maps out of leather which hung in his shop where he made shoes. In that little booklet, Carey asks:
“Are Christians under an obligation to help transform societies that live in intellectual, moral, social, political, and spiritual darkness?”
This profound question provoked at least one elder in his church while listening to Carey’s presentation. The elder said:
“Young man, if God had wanted to save the poor heathen, he would do it himself and he would not need your help.”
Ruth and Vishal Mangalwadi have written an excellent little book about William Carey entitled: “The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of Culture” (formerly: “Carey, Christ, and Cultural Transformation: The Life and Influence of William Carey”). I am referring here to what I have learned from the Mangalwadi book.
Carey was known as the Father of Modern Missions because of his work in India and his written appeal to the institutional Protestant church of his day to respond to the Great Commission. Carey is mostly known for his commitment as a missionary to India, but few have understood that commitment or his understanding of the gospel and its power to reform society, Hindu Indian society as well as the powerful East India Company (a precursor to multi-national corporations). Though largely still unreached today, Carey had an incredible impact on India.
William Carey began his life work as a cobbler in England. Educated by his parents and a life-long learner, Carey developed a true concern for the calling of the Church to obey the commandment of Christ to preach the gospel to every creature. His understanding of that calling became personal as he endured the opposition of Church leaders and his own wife and set sail to serve God’s purposes in India for over 30 years.
What most do not know about William Carey is the extent of his work and vision for Christian missions. Mangawadi writes:
“He was a pioneer of the modern Western Christian missionary movement, reaching out to all parts of the world; a pioneer of the Protestant church in India; and a translator and/or publisher of the Bible in forty different Indian languages. Carey was an evangelist who used every available medium to illuminate every dark facet of Indian life with the light of truth. As such, he is the central character in the story of India’s modernization.”
Today India is the largest democracy in the world. What most do not know is that this simple cobbler from England was much more than a clergyman. His vision for the church and his understanding of the gospel to transform culture included nearly every arena of society, every sphere of influence.
Carey was not only a preacher and translator; he was a botanist who published one of the first books on science and natural history in India. He was an industrialist who developed the first indigenous paper for the publishing industry in India. He was an economist who introduced the idea of savings banks in India. He was a medical humanitarian who campaigned for humane treatment of lepers. He was a media pioneer who built the then largest press in India. He was an agriculturist who founded India’s Agri-Horticultural Society in the 1820′s, thirty years before the Royal Agricultural Society was established in England.
Carey was a translator and educator, a professor of Indian languages at Fort William College in Calcutta. He was an astronomer, introducing India to the scientific culture of astronomy, which made it possible for India to devise calendars, study geography and history, and plan their work and social order.
Carey was a library pioneer who started lending libraries. He was a forest conservationist who wrote essays on forestry and said that as the gospel flourishes in India, “the wilderness will, in every respect, become a fruitful field.” Carey was a crusader for women’s rights who was the first man to fight against the ruthless murders and widespread oppression of women, which was virtually “synonymous with Hinduism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
Carey lived the life of a missionary, not hidden behind the confines of a church structure busying himself with merely religious duties. Carey was a public servant and moral reformer; Carey was a cultural transformer.
This man, his writings, witness, and work, is what inspired five students in a new nation, the United States of America, to pray and fervently seek the Lord for the people of Asia and for their own fellow students. And history continued to unfold…
BTW- Do you know what happened to that church in England where one of the elders told Carey to sit down?
That church is a Hindu temple today.
Wikipedia strongly espouses verifiability and a neutral point of view, but critics of Wikipedia accuse it of “systemic bias and inconsistencies”. They say “favoring consensus over credentials gives undue weight to popular culture” in its editorial processes.
From a vantage point of a missionary, I see an important similarity here to the argument that laity, those lacking credentials from a church denomination or seminary, have no business leading a church plant or Missional community. The argument goes like this: “Those untrained leaders could lead their people into heresy or false doctrine.” That was a major concern of the early church.
If reliability and accuracy are really the issue, and not the status of “experts,” then it’s worth noting that “an investigation in Nature (scientific journal) found that the science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopedia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”.” In this Nature article, Alex Bateman and Darren W. Logan write:
“Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a free collaborative website, written and maintained by volunteers, would dominate the global provision of knowledge.”
So then, should an “untrained” leader draw together a group of Christ’s followers and attempt to demonstrate and declare the gospel of Jesus by making disciples from within their specific people group, their neighborhood, workplace, or school? Could such a group represent an authentic church gathering?
For centuries leadership of churches has been left to “experts”, those with credentials, degrees, and funny hats. Concern for this issue was pronounced during the recent post-colonial period, after WWII, when newly independent nations opened the opportunity for multiplied thousands of new independent churches which resulted in the greatest expansion of christianity in history, especially the Global South (see Inter-Varsity article). Many attempts to train the multitudes of new church leaders in Africa and China, through programs based mostly in the West, such as TEE (Theological Education by Extension), could not keep up the pace of church growth at the end of the 20th century. At issue: what would come of these “younger” churches? Would they slip into heresy and error?
Perhaps a little humility is required as we respond to these questions. The church in the West has not been without error, despite her theological “maturity.” The early church had error, the Medieval church had error, and the Protestant church has had error. Some error is difficult to perceive from a purely Western mindset. What could be wrong with promoting individual choices for Christ, reducing the gospel message to “three steps” or “four laws”? Well, getting “saved” for heaven is not the kingdom message Jesus preached. And it’s not the gospel message Paul preached. Salvation is much more comprehensive, and not just a private decision. The West has exported this erroneous gospel message through the modern missionary enterprise for more than a century.
Examining the laundry list of error in Western theology would require several other posts, so let’s just humble ourselves long enough to accept our brothers and sisters in the now Majority church of the Global South, not as immature “younger” churches, but as full fledged churches.
Like the world of Wikipedia, we now live in a new, “flat” and globalized world (See Thomas Friedman’s popular book, ‘The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century’), where information, correction of error and validation of facts now spread instantaneously around the world. Whether we are ready or not, it is time to consider our ways, to search the Scriptures for understanding the way to reach our new world.
Jesus did not make it complicated and neither should we. It is simple to experience community with those you already have an affinity, a similar culture. People who already share interest and time together are more likely to worship together and work together on a mission of Kingdom expansion.
This is the approach to missions and church planting in India put forth in the 1930s by Donald McGavran, the late missionary statesman who coined “Homogenous Unit Principle“, groups which can be a culture or language, a tribe or caste, a clan or geographical unit. McGavran was studied church growth, proposing a church which is not sending mission so much as it is itself sent. With so many different cultures in India, McGavran saw the need to encourage many cultural expressions of church. The different people groups should not be forced into one church cultural mold, like your neighborhood mega-church. Could it be that McGavran’s approach would also now be appropriate for churches in the Western world?
Lesslie Newbigin, another great missionary statesman, spent over 30 years living as a missionary working with the Church of South India. When he returned to England, Newbigin noticed something: the Western world had become as pluralistic as India, with new “faith” in materialism. (See Newbigin’s book: The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.) The West, especially Europe with the USA not far behind, had already lost much of its “Christian” heritage. Once vital Church structures in England are now nightclubs with names like “Ministry of Sin.” Newbigin saw the need to not only continue to send missionaries around the world, but also to receive missionaries to re-evangelize the post-Christian West. He suggested the formation and structure of Western churches require a new reformation in order to reach our Western society with the gospel. He and many of the leaders in world missions today, contend that the Church in the West must again become primarily a missions station sponsoring Missional communities among the people groups in our cities. The Anglican Church is championing “Fresh Expressions” of church formation for the communities in which it has been established for many hundreds of years.
What am I proposing? Three things:
- First, I propose we learn humility, perhaps unlike or feeble attempts to humble ourselves in religious services, temporarily weeping at the altar and then returning to our comfortable lives behind our TVs, in our over-sized houses, and compressed lifestyles. We must humble ourselves, relinquishing our supposed rights to power, privilege, and too often prestige.
- Second, like Wikipedia, we should learn to trust every believer to gain access, participate, and contribute to theological conversations. We should trust those with a desire to be a witness to their community.
- Third, we should flatten our church hierarchies, eliminate the exclusivity of church “membership”, and commission believers to “go” into their world to plant simple church communities.
Imagine if Jesus could once again become the main focus of conversations and life in your neighborhood, your workplace, and on a your campus, perhaps it would also be possible for the message and works of Jesus to fill an entire city. No, I am not suggesting we merely “unite” churches (which tend to be organized in a competitive business model anyway). Unity is not something we create, it is something the apostle Paul exhorts us to “preserve”.
This vision for a new church-planting movement in our neighborhoods could only be realized if everyday believers, people like you and me, choose to go on mission in our sphere of influence, planting the church where you are through non-formal gatherings in homes, workplaces, and campus dorms. Of course, those with the status as “experts” may resist this missional movement for various reasons. But I am confident that the leaders whose hearts belong to Jesus will cheer ANY effort to reach our world with the good news.
The hard part is this: We have to renew our thinking, repent of our fixed cultural habits, and begin to walk worthy of this calling. Church is not just something you attend…it’s something you are. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you; that’s true of every believer. The good news is within us.
We need break our individualistic mindset in order to see our world is not just one big community of individuals. It is hundreds of people groups, small communities put together to make up your city.
So I am proposing ‘simple churches’ or missional communities to be formed by two or more believers among these people groups. Missional communities are incarnational in that they arise out of and focus on the communities they desire to reach. Imagine multitudes of new small groups of believers in Chicago, LA, and New York, and in university campuses, businesses and suburbs in your area… Leaders need to find courage to once again be the church and release a new generation of churches in their most localized and organic form. This is what I propose: Form simple churches that are “Wiki-Missional.”
Why is it sixty-two percent of the churches in Madison, including ten congregations with one thousand or more weekly attenders, identified no missionaries serving on mission fields? (Jericho 1997:7) Perhaps the lack of significant cross-cultural engagement is the result of an insufficient biblical model of the church. Perhaps the weakness of the “modern” church is the preoccupation with growth and size as a measure of success. Many say that “bigger is better”, but this has no biblical foundation.
The church is a complex system, “a living organism.” The church is called to bear fruit. Jesus taught us the “mustard seed” principle, which like complexity theory “illuminates the long-range significance of small actions.” When individual decision is made the foundation of church identity, the fruit that is borne is a culture of individualism. Individual choice and personal need becomes ultimate, rather than the unswerving purpose of God to share his mercy with every person in every culture. To begin to overcome this culture of individualism, one must first deny self and then lead a community of believers to do the same. Only then will the church fulfill her mission.
The Madison Senior Pastor Survey conducted in 1996, found eighty-four percent of the congregations placed “some” or “a lot” of emphasis on meeting the needs of the poor. (1996:7) Madison area Christians may disagree, however it is obvious that their standard of living has gradually increased so much that they are blind to the influence of materialism. Living in the comforts of Madison, it is difficult to see the effects of materialism. Until we are shocked into awareness by a trip to a country, and not to the confines of a typical tourist hotel, where the annual income is less than an American child’s allowance. Those who earn more than ten thousand dollars per year share the top ten percent of the world’s wealth. (Barret 2001)
Michael Budde writes, the “Protestant ethic is dysfunctional in the consumption-driven postmodern era.” Budde adds that the apostle Paul’s admonition has been turned on its head in our materialist economy; it “dictates that if people will not eat (and drink, and buy compact discs, the latest in fashions, and home appliances) in sufficient volume, then no one will work.” If the Church in Madison does not allow herself to be shocked out of her slumber, she will fail to be effective confronting the desperate human needs of the world.
The good news is that technology has opened new vistas of communication and broken down centuries old barriers to the gospel. “The Information Age is boundary blind,” William O’Brien writes in his article “Mission in the Valley of Postmodernity” (from the book ‘In Global Good News: Mission in a New Context’). O’Brien adds, “There are no unique continental or regional areas identified exclusively as ‘mission fields’.” Easy access to people of every nation and culture is suddenly made available through the world wide web.
This access provides opportunity for the flow of up to the minute information for prayer, generous giving, and a deepened understanding of the plight of peoples around the world. However, as desperate needs cascade across our computer screens, there may not yet be sufficient spiritual equipping for the Church in Madison to respond appropriately.
Jesus’ leadership is demonstrated in the incarnation through his integration of faith and commitment. Jesus warns “beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, 11-12) whose influence, through Israel’s Temple and Torah, had become like pagan allegiance to principalities and powers (cf. Gal. 4:8-11; Rom. 5:20, 7:7-25). John’s audience, living within the Roman Empire, had witnessed idolatry taken to a new level, the deifying of the pagan state. Nero was the “symbol of political power that abuses its God-given authority.” Nero’s approach to leadership was the antithesis of Jesus, which is why he is characterized as the antichrist. Sadly, missionary endeavors at times have practiced variations of the conquest ethic of the Roman Empire, coercing conversion in the Name of Jesus!
What can we learn from Jesus’ leadership example and warnings to the churches in Revelation? While Paul encouraged churches to live in accord with civil law, John warns against becoming too comfortable. John’s churches appear therefore to be negotiating the margins of a corrupt society, seeking to avoid becoming “victims of social ostracism.” Christians today may also be ridiculed for their exclusivism and seduced into compromising their loyalty to Jesus. John’s churches may have been threatened with punishment for failure to participate in pagan idolatry, including sacrifice to Roman gods. The Nicolaitans, a religious sect with “Gnostic” tendencies in Ephesus and Pergamum, were denounced and “hated” for participating in syncretistic practices (cf. Rev. 2:6; 3:14-16; 3:20-24). How then should Christians follow Jesus’ lead in today’s society? Are Christians therefore to withdraw from trade guilds, dinner parties, legal transactions, political rallies, sporting events, and theatrical presentations? Was it openness to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture that Jesus rejected, or was it something else?
Participation, or lack of it, has profound impact on the character of a church’s witness. Perhaps Christians should witness to the servant-leadership of Jesus by demonstrating how it is possible to move with confidence through everyday life? Truth is “revealed supremely” in Jesus who was “obedient to the point of death” without considering his “equality with God something to be exploited” (Phil. 2:8, 6). John’s Revelation of Jesus has made plain the character of God who is willing to become a servant and die as a criminal in self-giving love.
See more at http://johnthenry.wordpress.com
Understanding González’ paradigms of culture helps us understand Paul, who reconciled his identity as a Mestizos. González’ paradigms help us understand why Paul stood so strongly against those who preached a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6 NIV) which throughout history has fragmented, marginalized, exiled, and made aliens. These paradigms help us interpret how God is at work among people in the margins or between cultures. The paradigm of solidarity helps us see in the Scriptures and throughout history the need for give-and-take dialog between cultures and the need for proper engagement within culture. As González relates, “The most exciting things have happened, not at the traditional centers of the life of the church, but at the edges.” The disarming of principalities and powers occurs as we participate with God in the example of Pentecost through which God’s Spirit inaugurates the character of openness to outsiders. Interpretation of the New Testament, without attention to the influences of culture, may lead to alienation and distort the message, however the Bible will always affirm the purpose of God, directing the readers’ understanding to the call of the new community of Jesus’ followers to open their hearts to every culture to become One New Humanity.
“Mestizos,” a pejorative term used by the powerful and “pure” Spaniard conquerors, was used to convince the “mixed-breeds” that they were inferior. One of Paul’s Hellenist Jewish parents made him a kind of mixed-breed who likely experienced a severe oppression and “double alienation,” which undermined the “barriers of separation that consolidate self-identity and security.” Saul, “also known as Paul,” was a Roman citizen misfit among the Hellenist Jews in Tarsus. It appears he had to overcompensate to assure his fellow Jews that he was a true believer, which produced the “persecutor” of the Jewish Christians with his consent to the death of Stephen. After his conversion, Saul continued to experience this challenge to his identity. Not only did he have to overcome his past as a persecutor of the Church, his Mestizos identity contributed to his need to continually defend his calling as an apostle.
Saul comes to terms with his Mestizaje, allowing himself to be known as Paul, when he turns in anger to defend a Roman official’s faith in Jesus against the lies of Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer. “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Paul rebuked, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:6-10) Paul’s use of his Hellenist name at this juncture, setting aside pride in his Benjamite heritage, represented his commitment to stand against forces restricting the pronouncement of the gospel for every culture. Certainly, this event was as significant as his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul understood the gospel message and set out to implement the purpose of God for all humanity which had been completed through Israel’s Messiah.
In 1986, when our YWAM troupe did a pantomime drama in a public high school, I was asked to give the closing, which was typically an altar call. But I did not want to set off a political “bomb” in the public school. I simply held up the “black gloves” that represented sin and said, “you know what these are and you know now how they isolate you and cause broken relationships.” I said, “I want to invite you now to break down the barriers in response to the Star of this presentation (and you know who that is). Reach out to your fellow students and teachers and tell them you really care about them today. Be free from the powers that hold you in isolation.” That was it. That was the altar call. Be free and truly human.
I’ve struggled with the issue of a private consumer-type evangelism for years. I am not content to be part of a community that presents a private “ask Jesus in your heart” commitment to Jesus. Proclaiming Jesus is King is an afront to all principalities and powers and rulers, both human and otherwise.
I am becoming more vocal confronting powers with the “royal proclamation” and fact that “Jesus is Lord”. It has never felt anything like treason, however, it may very soon.
The message that Jesus is Lord is not private, but there are amazing private rewards. We can experience intimate fellowship with the Father, through the Holy Spirit. We are no longer waiting for the End of Days; they have come through the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of all the Promises to Israel. When he returns, we will all be like him. We have the Spirit now as a deposit, that we will be fully like him, a New Humanity. We will be everything we were always intended and designed by God to be, fully Human.
To say “Jesus is Lord” represents a commitment to live in such a way that the reality of the confession must be realized in all of society, in our community as well as in the surrounding culture. This profession is an afront to the personal lifestyles and religions of the surrounding people as well as to the political powers that purported to “lord it over them.”
I have been asked for a definition of shared leadership. I’ve tested this response on several leaders, each of whom have given me a strong positive feedback. Therefore, I am posting this for your response.
In my reply to the question, I suggest first looking at the purpose for shared leadership. That purpose is found when we understand the current context in which the Church, the Body of Christ, exists. The world at the time of the early Church was a diverse pluralistic society. Today, we find ourselves in a similarly diverse and pluralistic world, an “unchurched” world.
Kennon Callahan, in his book, Effective Church Leadership (1990), gives a compelling argument that the day of the professional pastor in a traditional church is over. Society is changing from a “churched” society to an “unchurched” society and this requires that a pastor become a “missionary”. Callahan writes, “In many ways, the church in America is in the same situation that American business is in: the world is changing and passing it by! This calls for a radical change in the way the church “does business.”
Businesses have been changing and many books are available on the topic of shared leadership, partnership, collaboration, and alliances. I have read several and can loan them to you if you are interested. This shift from the professional pastor began quietly on the mission field many years ago. As the world became increasingly more diverse and increasingly “unchurched,” the need for change in the approach to church leadership became more apparent and more urgent. The missionary strategy is not the same as the pastoral strategy. The focus must be outside the church walls, equipping workers to lead missional communities as the church in their cultural setting. In today’s context, we must set as a high priority the building of new leaders who will function as facilitators on teams.
I have been with Youth With A Mission for 23 years. One of YWAM’s Foundational Values is that we are called to function in teams in all aspects of ministry and leadership. This YWAM Foundational Value states that: “We believe that a combination of complementary gifts, callings, perspectives, ministries and generations working together in unity at all levels of our mission provides wisdom and safety. Seeking God’s will and making decisions in a team context allows accountability and contributes to greater relationship, motivation, responsibility and ownership of the vision.” Team leadership is shared leadership. This value is just that, a value, and the actual practice is different in every setting. It does not stand alone: Team Leadership is complemented by all of YWAM’s Foundational Values, including Relationship-Oriented, Broad Structured and Decentralized, and Exhibit Servant Leadership.
Team leadership is shared and not invested in one person. Leaders of local churches need not direct or set the agenda, but rather facilitate a process by which the community sets the agenda. A shared leadership posture will support and foster the emergence of what I call ‘Commission Groups’. These Commission Groups are not merely small groups; they are small churches, missional communities bearing witness to their community with no control exerted over them.
The leadership challenge, then, is in finding the answers to some key questions: How do you decide who leads? and How do you lead without control?
J. Oswald Sanders (from his book Spiritual Leadership) writes: “Jesus knew that the idea of leader as ‘loving servant of all’ would not appeal to most people. Securing our own creature comforts is a much more common mission. But ‘servant’ is His requirement for those who want to lead in His kingdom.”
Scott Rodin, in his article “Leader of No Reputation” writes: “In the end, our work as leaders is all about lordship. Before it is about vision-casting or risk-taking or motivating others or building teams or communicating or strategic planning or public speaking, it is about lordship. Where Jesus is singularly and absolutely lord of our life, we will seek to be like him and him only. That will be our sole calling. We will be called to our work and that work will carry God’s anointing. We will be called to decrease, that Christ may increase. We will be called to be people of God before and as we do the work of God.”
Becoming leaders can’t be left to the persons who want to be a leader. They must be called (and affirmed by the community for their individual anointing within the community and a recognized track record of character, capacity, and commitment), trained (not solely through formal training, but also the non-formal sponsorship of a Barnabas-type leader), and under authority (not seeking positional authority, but humbly serving under the anointing of the Holy Spirit).
The process of equipping and releasing servant leaders in the Body of Christ is the single greatest task of the Church, I believe. Leaders given positional authority tend to rely on that position for security, and worse they can tend to lead through control. By virtue of the positional leadership accorded to pastors of churches, these leaders can be isolated from true fellowship and accountability in the community. History, including recent history, is littered with the damage done by pastors who, in their isolation, became proud, abused their authority, or committed adultery. To maintain positional authority, pastors may hesitate to release others into ministry, unless there is a strong accountability and unless they can also exert control over those under their authority. While this is not true of all pastors, it can be argued that the structure of churches, including the role of the modern pastor, is the primary contributor to the problem.
Shared leadership works through a shared vision, but the primary vision behind shared leadership is not structural. The primary vision will be the cross, and the centrality of Christ. Working toward a shared vision requires that the leadership team manifests the quality of servant leaders, surrendered to the lordship of Christ. Their leadership gifts will be manifest with an understanding and appreciation of the common good, which extends beyond the boundaries of their own group, or their positional authority. Paul writes, “The manifestations of the Spirit are given to each one for the common good.” (I Cor. 12:7)
To define shared leadership, first it is necessary to define two kinds of “shared vision”, which result in the sharing of leadership, networks and partnerships. These definitions come from Phill Butler in his book “Well Connected”:
“Network: Any group of individuals or organizations, sharing a common interest, who regularly communicate with each other to enhance their individual purposes.”
“Partnership: Any group of individuals or organizations, sharing a common interest, who regularly communicate, plan, and work together to achieve a common vision beyond the capacity of any one of the individual partners.”
Butler writes, “frequently networks are incubators for partnerships.” Therefore, the development of a network is best as first priority, with a particular focus on common concerns and resources. By focusing first on individuals in a network, the empowering of participants or ministries is enhanced to a greater effectiveness in their own sphere of influence. The leadership team needs to come together with the same spirit of a network, empowering each others’ ministry gifts within their spheres. That team needs to be the catalyst for the broadening of the network and the creation of partnerships, both short term and long term.
The Lausanne Movement has identified a powerful trend in the Body of Christ: “the shift of power from the center to the edges.” Partnerships, Butler clarifies, have been “based on an ‘open architecture’ model.” He identified this trend first among mission agencies. He writes, “Any individual or agency clearly committed to taking Christ to a specific people group was welcome. While the partnerships developed their own criteria for involvement, leadership roles, etc., they clearly have been inclusive rather than exclusive.” Today, many local churches are partnering with other churches and agencies in their desire to be more missional locally and globally. (See Darrell Guder’s book, Missional Churches and the book Treasures in Jars of Clay.)
What I am recognizing in my studies is that those churches are not the only trend. There is also a trend among people to migrate away from traditional and evangelical churches to what are identified as “emerging churches.” I propose a way to integrate both trends, the trend to be more missional through partnerships and the trend to have smaller, more authentic communities.
Shared leadership needs a shared vision. The vision is of ‘Christ in You’ (individually and corporately), ‘the Hope of Glory.’ The leadership team must “model the way” (See Kouzes and Posner’s book, Leadership Challenge), for families, communities, and yes, nations. The local church community can model how to disciple nations? Yes! Think of the fruit of Calvin’s doctrine of depravity, which stimulated the Presbyterian model of leadership with mutual accountability within the leadership structure. No one individual or group has authority to make all the decisions for the church. Leadership was distributed in ways found in Scripture, which taught the nations the branches of government. This model of leadership literally taught the nations of Great Britain, The Netherlands, and The United States of America, how to have checks and balances of accountability in their governments. The world is watching what the church does and the world can learn through leadership of the church.
Collaboration is a popular word among businesses working together today, however the use of the term and extensive literature does not mean the individuals within those organizations know how to do it. This kind of leadership requires the character of a servant (See Robert Greenleaf’s seminal book, Servant Leadership.) The church needs to equip the next generation of leaders by modeling the way in our structures and our lifestyles. Today’s spiritual leaders need to create collaborative spirit and capacity within a local church, through heart change and structure change, to stimulate missional engagement of the community, and therefore teach the communities and leaders in those communities to lead as servants. True collaboration and true shared leadership, requires a commitment to shared goals, a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility, mutual authority and accountability for success, and sharing of resources, risks, and rewards.
So, here’s my simple definition of Shared Leadership:
Shared leadership for the Church is a Christ-centered relationship entered into by two or more individuals, groups, or organizations to achieve common goals in obedience to Christ’s commission. It is the Body of Christ functioning according to Eph. 4:11-13, Rom. 12:1-11, and I Cor 12:11-28.
This week I’m looking at the Western Church. Many formations of the Church have emerged all over the world. However, the Western Church emerged by aligning with Roman power. This formation has resulted in centuries of failure to truly bear witness to the good news of the kingdom of God. Despite human failing, the Holy Spirit continued to pour out into many cultures, such as Ireland, with little structural support.
Today, the Western mindset tempts church leaders around the world to continue the Roman formation of structural, positional, and hierarchical or authoritarian power. Even after the Reformers re-articulation of the “Priesthood of All Believers,” most church structures continue to fail to demonstrate it. Churches in the late twentieth century have gone a step further, linking success to the capacity to meet the religious needs of members. Because leaders are presenting “church” as a spectator event, cultural christians pick and choose the church gathering that most appeals to their individual needs or wants.
Too often captive to a materialist and consumer culture, most church-goers do not see how the Western Church has been the beneficiary of institutional power, wealth, and influence. Therefore many Christians fail to represent Christ and His kingdom through community.
If we are captive, what steps should we take to break free to truly become a community witnessing to the good news of the kingdom of God?
Charles Kraft, Professor of Anthropology and Intercultural Communication in the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, writes: “A contemporary church, like a contemporary translation, should impress the uninitiated observer as an original production in the contemporary culture, not as a badly fitted import from somewhere else.”
Given the extreme changes in culture during the past 20 years, especially the increasingly multi-cultural and pluralistic setting of nearly every city around the world, most especially in the USA and Europe, what should the church look like today?