“Embracing Shared Ministry”– a Review of Sorts

I don’t normally write reviews, and this really isn’t one… more of an interaction perhaps. But before, I do, I will give a wee bit of background35

Two months ago, I found the book Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today by Joseph H. Hellerman. I found the book in one of those many bookstores here in the Philippines that gathers a large menagerie of disorganized books from the United States. Rarely I find books that interest me, but this one ALMOST convinced me to buy it. I wrote a short blogpost based on my quick glance of the book. Curiously, the author of the book commented on my post and hoped I would enjoy reading the book. As frugal as I am (of necessity) I still went back to the bookstore to find the single copy… gone. Ah well. This happens. But a month later, a seminary student of mine, from Myanmar, moved into our downstairs apartment. He welcomed me to peruse his collection of books. When I did I found the book… actually the exact copy that I had glanced through a month earlier. With that, it was settled. I was definitely meant to read it.

The book is definitely ecclesiological in aim, which is quite appropriate. It seeks to support the idea of team or plural leadership in the church. I have never had trouble with that, and in fact have always found it strange that my tradition (Baptist) has had trouble with it. Baptist theologians and pastors will  decry infant baptism, sacramental understanding of the Eucharist, purgatory, or bishops and apostles (as positions hierarchally above the local church), and many other things as inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of the primitive church. Yet when it comes to the Baptist practice of single (and, oh yes… has got to be male) leadership with respect to the primitive church, the response is suddenly very different with circuitous logic to work around the fairly obvious– that the early church does not appear to have leadership the way most Baptist churches do.

But, truthfully, I don’t really have a lot of interest in Ecclesiology.

My interests, however, are in two topics that provide pillars supporting his ecclesiological position.

socialclass_diagram

Interest #1. Spiritual Abuse. Administrating a pastoral care center and acting as a pastoral care “counselor” in the Philippines means that I deal with a lot of cases that involve spiritual abuse. Some may argue that the problem comes from the Philippines being an Honor/Shame-centered culture (although not nearly to the same extent as some countries such as Indonesia are). Some may say it is due to the long reach of Confucian ideals of unilateral submission. Some may argue that it is centered on post-colonial mindset, or perhaps centuries of governmentally enforced submission to Catholic clergy. Regardless, authoritarian churches with church leaders that act abusively are common. Often the abuse is not only accepted, in many groups it is theologically/biblically justified. In some cases, it is not the pastor who is abusive, it could be some other member of the church– for example the patriarch of the church community in a culture that grants power based on age, or in a family church where power is centered in one or two blood kin, or in a traditional village wher one assumes the role of “datu.” Regardless, the external culture’s power structure is embedded in the DNA of the local church– and often given a theological stamp of approval.

To be honest, I have never really known what to do with this. As a counselor, I can help the victims… but should I challenge/attack the root cause? Or should I accept that it is a unique contextualization of the church in Philippine culture. However, much of the problems in the Philippines comes not strictly from home-grown authoritarian structures (ignoring for the moment the “Iglesia ni Cristo” religious group that is quite authoritarian and somewhat home-grown), but from a resonant response to outside influences such as the Korean, American, and South American churches that promote unilateral submission to ecclesiastical authority.

Hellerman’s book, in chapter 7 primarily gives some vignettes of those who have suffered at the hands of toxic leadership in church. These stories remind me of some of the examples in McIntosh and Rima’s book “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership.” But this book focuses more on those on the receiving end of Paranoid, Narcissistic, and Compulsive leaders. Ron Enroth’s books, such as the classic “Churches that Abuse,” are valuable. However, here the value is somewhat in the “mundane” nature of abuse. Abuse is not always like Jim Jones or David Koresh with their respective groups… sometimes it is simply a pastor who calls the church council to have meetings for hours on end with no apparent greater purpose than to rubber stamp everything he says (been there, done that). Or a leader who will accuse and excuse staff, members, and self, based on little more than personal whims and insecurities. Normally, a person who said that he was accountable to no one but God, we would say they was lawless… and dangerous to those around him. However, all too many churches set up their church denying their clerical leadership of effective support… and accountability. And often seminaries are guilty of justifying it under the doubtful argument of tradition, or even Biblical mandate.

On this level, Hellerman makes a good argument that there is something inherently flawed with leadership without accountability. His suggestion that changing the structure to team leadership providing mutual accountability and support, is worthy of strong consideration. Of course, any organization will suffer to some extent with a toxic member.

Interest #2.  Cultural Anthropology. I teach courses, especially Missions, at a couple of seminaries. My favorite topic is Cultural Anthropology… and its first cousin, Contextual Theology. Hellerman spends a considerable part of the front end of the book explaining the culture of the Roman Empire, and more specifically the culture of the Roman colony of Philippi– especially as it pertains to honor and shame. There has been increased interest in honor-shame as it pertains to contextualization of the Gospel as well as theology. But, as noted by many, the Bible was written in a predominantly honor-shame environment. With that fact, one might think that theologians struggle more with guilt-innocence cultures than honor-shame… but church history seems to have achieved practical pre-eminance over Biblical history. The author makes a good case for the supposition that Philippi was more Roman in culture than Greek or Macedonian, and so carried with them the Roman views of virtue and honor more faithfully than any other city that Paul visited (with the possible exception of Rome itself).

If Philippi has a unique culture, a culture that Paul had personal experience with, it is reasonable that Paul’s epistle to that church was read through that cultural perspective differently than it would in other cities. It might also be reasonable to assume that Paul would write it so as to effectively and uniquely challenge those within that culture.

There is a risk here of over-simplifying in this case. Every culture has a range of beliefs that could be considered part of the norm. Additionally, individuals overflow the norms of any culture. Finally, there is the commonality of the humanity of all people. Because of these, interpreting through cultural “filters” can be problematic.Additionally, all cultures are complex, so it is risky to grab one characteristic and act as if it is the defining cultural trait in interpretation. Just because a lot of corn is grown in Nebraska doesn’t mean that “dirt farming” is a good cultural filter for interpreting a speech of the governor of Nebraska to his constituency. A better direction to go in would be to ask “Knowing the culture of Nebraska, with all of its unity, diversity, and uniqueness, how might the average citizen of Nebraska respond to the speech.”

I believe that comes closer to what the author here did. After describing the evidences in support to Philippi being a highly Roman culture with support of class, caste, and social capital, he goes to the epistle from Paul. There, he doesn’t really try to interpret directly through the lens of honor and shame. Rather, he seems more to say, “If a person in the culture comes to the 2nd chapter of Philippians and finds Jesus having the honored position as God (noting that the point here is not so much one of ontology), and how he eschews all divine and societal honor, and takes on the greatest form of humiliation in the Roman world, how would he (or she) react? And if this same person discovers in the same passage that people in his church should follow Jesus’ example (in apparent direct opposition to community norms) what does that say about how the church is supposed to operate?” Understanding the culture, and imaginatively placing oneself into the culture and interacting with the epistle, can help one to understand the true counter- (not “anti-“) cultural character of the letter.

Conclusions.

As I said, this was not a review. If I was reviewing it, I would argue that the author does a good job of

  1.  Demonstrating the dangers of a single-leader church today, especially where there is no accountability structure in place.
  2. Supporting the idea that team leadership is ‘biblical,’ at least if one accepts that term to mean consistent with Scripture, as opposed to being “biblically mandated.”

The link between the cultural exegesis of the epistle of Philippians and the idea of team leadership is weaker, I think, although it does certainly seem to support at least a flattening of any church hierarchy.

However, while not directly tied to the theme, the book is valuable in

  • Understanding 1st century Roman culture and the importance of understanding it in interpretation of Scripture, rather than through layers of church and societal changes.
  • Identifying the link between spiritual abuse and both societal values brought into the church, and organizational structures that nurture abuse.
  • Seeing Paul as a man who challenged culture, through the very symbols of culture— genre, story, metaphor, and more.

Personally, I would like to know more about team leadership, and would love to see this structure attempted, counter-culturally, in the Philippines. It is also true, that I prefer a Congregational concept where authority is recognized as coming from God, mediated through the congregation and to a group of leaders. In effect, this creates a cycle where authority and power flow from people to leadership team, to ministry leaders, and back to the people. Of course, in saying this, I have to acknowledge that it rarely seems to work… but then again, what does?

 

 

 

Missionary Roles Doodling

Doodling a bit with the role of Missionaries. I am generally unhappy with most common definitions for missionaries. Many of the definitions seem to do little more than promote a certain bias, rather than inform. Unfortunately, because my way of thinking about missionaries, and missions generally, is rather broad, my view of both terms can apply to pretty much everything. That is a problem, I suppose, so I guess I would like to show missionaries in four stages (or roles) as talked about in Perspectives of the World Christian Movement.

Missions Roles

One option is that missionaries serve where the church IS NOT.  In this case, the missionary role is that of a PIONEER. The goal is then for the church to transition from not existing to being existent in that context.

If the church exists, the question shifts from IS versus IS NOT, to HAS or HAS NOT. The question is one of whether the church has matured to the point that it is a ministering effectively. The missionary is more like a PARENT, and helping to guide the church towards being fully ministering– self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating (and perhaps working towards self-theologizing). The church is moving towards being fully COMPETENT. We see, for example, Paul pioneering the church in Philippi in Acts, and then sending a letter to encourage and guide them towards greater maturity years later.

If the church is fully functioning, there may still be areas of structural concerns that the local church CANNOT handle in terms of ministry. These can include: Bible translation, radio ministry, orphanages, medical services or other things that the local church lacks resources to do. In such a case, the  missionary serves as a PARTNER with local churches, providing structures and services, the local church could benefit from in fulfilling its mission, but at this point CANNOT. However, the goal is that these structures, skills, and resources from the missionaries move over to the local churches so that they have ownership of these structures in doing ministry.

If all of these questions are answered positively, the end result is that the missionary and the church both have a role as PARTICIPANTs in ministry.

Additional thoughts

  • Looking at the diagram a bit more, a few things to note. As one moves towards the right, the role of the missionary gets lower. This doesn’t mean he (or she) becomes less valuable… but DOES become less necessary. Where there is not church, there needs to be a messenger… a sent out one… a missionary. Where a church exists, it may be beneficial to have outside discipling… but not critical. If the church is mature, it may be helped by specialized ministries in parachurch (sodality) structures… but may do fine without them. In the final stage, missionaries and the local churches work together as fully equal partners/participants in God’s work. Ideally, there is gain in the interaction, but of the four roles, it is the least necessary.
  • The process is then of one where the importance of the missionary decreases, as the capacity of the local church increases– reducing the capacity gap between them. Having this happen faster rather than slower is a good thing so as to minimize a stagnation in dependency on the missionary.
  • It is hard to say which missionary should be the most common. Arguments could be made for each one.Consider below.

Pioneers are the most critical so they would seem to need to be the most common. However, there are less and less TRULY unreached locations, and lightly reached locations can often be more effectively reached through young churches with new believers.

Parenting could be argued should be the most common since it still plays a critical role as the muscle of transforming newly pioneered churches into self-replicating churches. Church planting movements are driven by young churches that have been parented/mentored by these missionaries. Since there are many more lightly reached areas that have churches that need to be parented towards self-replication, there should, perhaps be more of these. On the other hand, the process from left right on the diagram should be fairly rapid to avoid stagnation or dependency, so arguably the number of missionaries here should be less because the time in this process should be less.

Partnering could be argued as requiring the most, since it is often a much longer term process. Many local churches cannot handle structures like Christian radio stations, medical ministries, orphanages and the like… and many of them will not be able to do so for many years. As such, as there are potentially many such sodality structures that may have to exist under missionary control for a long time, maybe there should be more missionaries in this category. On the other hand, since they are generally less necessary, perhaps they should be limited to encourage more towards Pioneering and Parenting roles. Additionally, while the partnering stage can last longer than Pioneering and Parenting, there is a tendency for missionaries to be unwilling to let go, so perhaps keeping the numbers down would discourage this.

Finally, Participants could be argued as being the one that should be the most numerous. Since this position should have no inherent time frame, this one can be rather permanent. And as more an more parts of the world now have mature churches that can gain from interaction from other churches of the world (ideally old sending countries can gain as much from missionaries from new sending countries as vice versa), it makes sense that their numbers could be going up. It is also nice to have churches that strengthen each other as equal partners. On the other hand, again, since their role is not truly necessary, it could be argued to be wasteful to have too many who are Participants.

7 Rules of Dialoguing

How does one do interfaith dialoguing? From the John Hick camp comes the idea that both must relativize their own beliefs. That is difficult to do in practice, and hardly seems appropriate for many— suggesting a sort of virtue in weak convictions.

A better, in my mind, view comes from an article (written in Afrikaans, one of many many languages I cannot read) from South Africa. I am drawing from someone else’s blog– a South African who can read that language. It all ties together with “Seven Rules for Dialogue Between Christians and non-Christians” by Max Warren. So rather than rehash anymore, I would suggest clicking on the various blog posts by

So… Yes… this is a blog of a blog or an article of an article.

     Introduction Blog:         Click Here

     First Rule: Acceptance of our Common Humanity:     Click Here

     Second Rule:  Divine Omnipresence:    Click Here

     Third Rule:  Accepting the Best in Other Religions:      Click Here

     Fourth Rule:  Identification:   Click Here

     Fifth Rule:  Courtesy:  Click Here

     Sixth Rule:  Interpretation:    Click Here

     Seventh Rule:  Expectancy:   Click Here

 

Why are 2/3 World Missionaries Quitting?

My students were doing presentations for Missionary Member Care Class. One, Michael, was presenting the findings of ReMAP… a study of (Christian) missionary attrition.

All of my students come from New Sending Countries (2/3 World) from the standpoint of the ReMAP study. When one looks at reasons for attrition of missionaries from Old Sending Countries (US, Canada, UK, Germany, etc.), the top 4 reasons listed were:leaving

  1. Normal Retirement     13.2%
  2. Children Issues             10.1%
  3. Change of Job                  8.9%
  4. Health Problems            8.4%

The numbers are quite different for New Sending Countries (Ghana, Singapore, Korea, Brazil, Philippines, etc.):

  1. Lack of Home Support            8.1%
  2. Lack of (Missionary) Call       8.0%
  3. Inadequate Commitment       7.3%
  4. Disagreement with Agency    6.1%

These stats are compiled in Too Valuable to Lose. It can be read HERE

The problem is that in many 2/3 world cultures (including church and missionary agency micro-cultures), missionaries are left in a  “Catch-22” scenario. They often get inadequate support. If they acquiesce to that fate, they may eventually have to quit. On the other hand, if they express concerns to their mission agency or sending church, they risk being labeled “unfit for missionary service” or having inadequate commitment.

The lists above were based on surveys given to mission agencies or sending churches. They were not based on answers given by missionaries. So it is quite possible that the reasons were based more on the interpretation of the sender (mission board or church). Breaking down the results to countries, we find that Nigeria and Ghana are particularly prone to label attrition as “Lack of Call” and Singapore as “Disagreement with Agency.”

It is quite possible that lack of home support dominates all four of those top four reasons for attrition. Lack of home support when reported to unsympathetic senders, can get labeled as “lack of missionary call,” “Inadequate commitment, or “disagreement with agency.” If so, inadequate support from home is huge.

One may argue that because this survey is 20 years old, things have changed. I am sure things HAVE changed… but much still appears to be the same. Living in the Philippines, I know that a lot of the problems still exist.  If anything, things are getting worse, as some of the problems of the new sending countries are trickling over to the old. I know a lot of missionaries from “the West” who have had to go home due to lack of support. Frankly, our support is dreadful at the moment, but we are hoping to ride out the storm.

Regardless, for 2/3 world missions, home support is still a major issue, but so is a better selection process and pre-field training. These mission groups should NOT try to mimic the Western missions, but should pay attention to some of the lessons learned.