Fingers Pointing Back

A couple of blogposts prior, I noted a situation in one of my classes where I was (somewhat justifiably) unhappy with how my class responded to a situation. It was justifiable in the sense that the behavior of the class was 180 degrees out of line with what I was teaching. On the other hand it created a great learning opportunity.

A couple of days ago I had the reverse happen

Children’s Activity held in Tublay, Benguet after a typhoon

where I realized that I was the one who was 180 degrees out of line with what I was teaching. I am teaching a course in Strategy and Management of Missions. I wanted my students to formulate and implement a missions project.

Based on a Rapid Assessment done by a previous class, the group decided to do a cleaning project in a community. I thought that was a good choice. It is something simple, recognizable, and can be done in partnership with a local church as well as local government.

Anyway, three weeks before the event, the team went to the community to plan out details. As they went around they decided that they had made a mistake. Instead of a cleaning project, they should do a children’s event.

When I heard that, I was annoyed. With everyone’s crazy schedules there was no way that we could change course this late in the game. It seemed to me they were setting things up to fail.

But then as the situation was explained to me, I realized they were doing exactly what I told them to do.

  1.  I told them that they need to periodically evaluate the plan and vision and see if it was appropriate. In this case it wasn’t appropriate. Although a few months ago the community had issues that would be helped by a work day, things were better now. Perhaps, the report from my previous that was given to the community inspired them to fix some of the problems on the list. When circumstances change, one must be ready to change with it.
  2. I told them that one should always seek to link short-term projects to long-term programs. As they were working out the details of their plan, they realized that it would be much more difficult to link a cleaning day to a long-term ministry (not impossible… but a long-term program of periodic work days is not necessarily the best idea). On the other hand, a short-term project with children could be linked quite easily to VBS, backyard Bible clubs, to Sunday School and more.
  3. I told them that the key attitudes for doing a ministry project are (1) Love of God and desire to follow the example of Christ, (2) Respond compassionately to human need, and (3) Assist the Church or the Kingdom of God to expand.  As such, doing something to get a grade is not an adequate reason. As such, I can hardly pressure them to go back and do something that was originally planned simply because “it is feasible to do within the time constraints.”
  4. I told them that key things to look for in a community to help identify of God’s love can best be shown is to discover what the community’s hopes and fears are. Concern for the children of the community was very high, while dirty walking paths was little more than an annoyance. So they were right to reevaluate.

With all of this, my little class (6 members total) still were looking to get everything put together in a bit over 2 weeks. While not impossible, the students have crazy schedules to handle. I didn’t want to burn them out, or let them put together a hastily-constructed project. That was something the class was suppose to warn them against. I jumped in and said that we will aim to do the project in April (over a month after the class finishes). The job of the class would be to work out the full plan, schedule, budget, and all the other niceties that entail a mission project. The host church will implement the plan in April with the help of those members of the class who are able to (voluntarily) join.

It is easy to identify when other’s don’t do what I want them to do. It is less comfortable when I discover that my irritation was misplaced as they were doing exactly what I told them to do.

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Overseer as Trainer and Therapist

I am presently serving as the interim pastor of a small church, and I am writing a book (with my wife) on pastoral care and pastoral supervision. I was a bit inspired by an overlap in the role of pastor and pastoral supervisor that I thought I would add a bit of our book here (or, more accurately, the very initial first draft of an incomplete chapter in the book):

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The term “supervisor” is used in the New Testament. It is ἐπισκοπῆς or “episkopes.”   The term is sometimes translated bishop, pastor or overseer. The last of these is the most literal. The clerical role is not necessarily about power or control. In fact, those that see the role in terms of ecclesiastical power seem to miss the point a bit. After all, in the qualifications for an overseer/supervisor in I Timothy 3, the only skill listed for the overeer is the ability to train people. Drawing from a second metaphor for this person, that of the shepherd, one can go to Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, and some of the teachings of Christ to see that a second skill is in terms of pastoral care (healing, guiding, reconciling, sustaining). Much in line with the expectations for a bishop/pastor in I Timothy 3, in Clinical Pastoral Care, it is expected that the supervisory relationship will be both didactic (able to teach) and therapeutic (ability to do pastoral care).

The First Epistle to Timothy gives some guidelines for pastors or overseers in a church.  According to I Timothy 3:2-7, an overseer should be

above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[ respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Reputation

Self-Control

Relationships with Others

Above reproach or blame

Sexual self-control

Hospitable

Respectable

Self-control in habit

Not violent with others, but gentle

Good reputation with outsiders

Mature in role

Good relationship with Family

Able to teach or guide others

Looking at these three major areas, perhaps there is a logical progression that should considered. Arguably, the reputation should flow from the relationships the overseer has. And the health of these relationships should flow from the intangible aspects of the overseer’s character.  The qualities of an overseer in a church setting or in clinical pastoral training should be essentially the same. It is out of these qualities that an overseer may be able to train and provide therapy.

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For many, when they hear of this list of characteristics for a pastor/overseer, they focus on the 2nd item, “faithful to his wife,” or “husband of one wife.” From this there is speculation of whether a pastor must be male or not, whether he (or she) must be married or not, or whether the person can be divorced. However, there is no mention of marriage or marriage relationships in the original. A literal (perhaps too literal) translation is “a one-woman man.” This suggests that the key point is sexual faithfulness and sexual self-control. That is why I put it that way in the table above. If God does care as to whether an overseer in church is a man or woman, I doubt the concern is nearly as great as the other qualities. Considering how many angry, immature pastors I have met with toxic reputations, it is clear to me that many churches don’t take this section very seriously.

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Reflection on Interreligious Dialogue Class

Background. I was teaching a class on Dialogue with Asian Religions at seminary. One day, one of my students, a Muslim Background Believer, came to me and asked whether he could teach a couple of class hours on Islam. I was rather relieved by this. Islam is not a religion that interests me particularly, but I also know that it deserves to be taught well, since it is the largest (organized) non-Christian religion in the world, and probably the second most important religion in Southeast Asia.

Dialogue/Incident. M will stand for the student teacher in Islam. S1 will be Student 1. S2 will be Student 2. P will be the Professor (myself). <The story was written down over a year after the incident, so due to poor memory, some specifics are fictionalized although the overall story is accurately given.>

M: Good morning class. I will be teaching you about Islam today. I was born and raised a Muslim in a Muslim community, and today I will share about Islam from the perspective of a Muslim. Now Islam is a religion of peace. The name Islam is related to the word “Salaam” meaning peace and relates to the Jewish word Shalom.

S1: Excuse me. But why are Muslims so violent then if they are a religion of peace?

M: Islam is about peace. One can’t judge our faith on a few who are bad or violent. Would you like to have Christianity judged on a few bad Christians?

M: <Continuing, M read Genesis 17:17-18, 20. This speaks of God’s plan to bless Ishmael> As you can see God chose to bless Ishmael as the first son of Abraham, the inheritor of God’s favor. And as we see here <showing another slide> Ishmael was the father of the Arab peoples and one of his descendants is Muhammed who is the one who passed onto us the Quran as the final prophet of Islam.

S2: But Ishmael was not the inheritor of God’s blessing to Abraham, it was Isaac! This is what the Bible teaches.

M: Ah, but is that what it says here in Genesis 17? Verse 20 says And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation.”

What does it say in the Taurat (Torah)? And in the Quran Surah 2, it says that Ishmael is the son who was blessed not Isaac. Ishmael was the son who was taken to be sacrificed in Arabia, and the one who Ibrahim took with him to Mekka to build the Kaaba– the first mosque of Islam.

<Some rumblings and jokes started going around that the student is a “secret Muslim.” M continued to speak talking about how Yakub (Jacob) spoke to his sons about the need to follow Allah, the god of Ibrahim, Ishmael, and Isaac. M then spoke of the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Isa (Jesus). More questions were brought up by the students. However, the questions were not actually questions to understand Islam or what M was saying, but were questions to undermine the arguments of M. Finally, I jumped in.>

P: <Angrily> You know that M said tha the was going to be speaking about Islam from the standpoint of a Muslim. So stop the little jokes about him being a closet Muslim. Your job is to listen and learn…. not debate!

Theological Reflection: Theologically, we are often insecure. We can be so insecure that we struggle when people express beliefs that are different from our own. As humans we were designed with a Fight/Flight adrenal response to address threats. That can be very useful when we are threatened— when we are under attack. However, when we are faced with a person who believes something different, the same response is often triggered. We often get angry (and wanting to respond agressively) or with fear (and wanting to escape). I think this is a socio-cultural response. Cultural establishes groupings of people who generally share a belief in how experiences are interpreted and how such interpretation would guide action. Anyone who expresses beliefs that interpret experiences quite different and have beliefs that guide actions that are very different—- they are outside of one’s cultural grouping. People who are not part of our cultural grouping are THEM (as opposed to US). “THEM” are foreign, aliens, strangers, outsiders. Such people are naturally seen as threats. Of course, people within one’s own culture (“US”) can also be seen as threats. However, they usually are less threatening because we feel like we understand them (because of the different way of interpreting experiences and guiding behavior). This feeling can be so strong, that we react even when a person is “playing a role.”

Ministerial Reflection. I believe I responded correctly in redirecting the students. They were so focused on joking and challenging, that they weren’t really listening. However, I may have come on too strong. People started focusing on listening so much that they did not really ask many questions after. The presentation became more like a one-way lecture.

Personal Reflection. Why did I get angry. I wasn’t angry at M, but I was angry at the students. I am not totally sure. Maybe I was angry because I felt like I had failed. I was trying to teach them the importance of Dialogue with those of other religions, yet even in the controlled environment of classroom (on Dialogue!) the students immediately went to Debate. Or maybe my anger wasn’t really at the students at all. Maybe I was angry at myself— thinking that I failed as an instructor. I think that maybe I was also sad. Christianity has existed for almost 2000 years. In most of those centuries, Christians have struggled in how to relate to non-Christians. Most commonly, the example of Christ is not lived out in these interactions. The class on this day gave a little snapshot of centuries of struggle in this area.

Response. It was foolish for me to get angry at my students. I was, in a sense, responding the same way they were. They reacted to the presenter, and I reacted to them. In the future, I think it is more important to have students get more practice in Dialogue. As such, I will spend less time on lecture. It is a class on Dialogue after all.

I could also give better ground rules if we do a similar exercise again— warning the students not to react to the speaker, but focus on the principles of active listening, dialogue, and clarification. Or maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it is better not to prepare them. Rather, let things happen as they happen, and use whatever happens as a learning moment for all of us. I am not sure what is best in this case.

Pensive Thankfulness

Today we celebrated the first year anniversary of our littlepensive church here in Baguio. It has been a challenging year… but I think we are stronger for it. Our older daughter sang a special number— “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings on Me.” She was trying to decide whether to sing that song or ‘Thank You Lord for the Trials that Come my Way.” Because of my limited guitar skills, she chose the former. Both songs are quite appropriate to our church’s struggles as well as her health challenges. She had to stop school for a year because of these challenges. Thankfully she is getting better, but it is difficult to disconnect from the rest of the world for many months. In fact, it was the first time for her to be able to join us in churchin a long time.

Both songs have a pensive (deep reflective) quality to it that defies the common kneejerk expression, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” How does one respond when God goodness is not clearly evidenced? How do we respond thankfully to loss, trials, struggles.

The song that my daughter sang was a favorite song of several women that we worked with years ago. We had a ministry with a number of women who sold plastic bags in the public market here in Baguio. Pretty much all of them would be considered desperately poor by “First World” standards. One lady, in particular, often would ask that this song be sung in our Bible studies. She came to Christ at a very low point in her life when she was raising up several children with little to no support. The change in her spiritual life did not suddenly change many of the struggles including economic. It is true, however, that over the last 14 years her situation has improved considerably, but still nowhere near where most people would consider “blessed.” She, however, liked to sing the song well before her situation improved.

I think thankfulness involves a certain amount of pensiveness and even melancholy. Our thankfulness should be based on a real understanding of our situation— the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful.

Thankfulness that is automatic, unthinking, is a “flabby” thankfulness— and perhaps it is not thankful at all. Thankfulness is for what we have, not what we pretend to have. Such thankfulness is at best an empty eggshell… containing nothing and far too fragile to help sustain us.

Thank you Lord, For your Blessings on Me

(The Easter Brothers)

G     A7       D     A7        D ,     A7

        D                            A7
As the world looks upon me, as I struggle along


     Em          A7           G           D

They say I have nothing, but they are so wrong 

                                                 G   
In my heart I'm rejoicing, how I wish they could see

D          A7             D          A7
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …....

Chorus           D                      A7
     There's a roof up above me, I've a good place to sleep

              Em         A7          G          D
     There's food on my table, And shoes on my feet

                                              
                                                    G
     You gave me your love Lord, And a fine family

           D               A7          D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …..




Now I know I'm not wealthy, and these clothes, they're not new

I don't have much money, but Lord I have you

And to me that's all that matters, though the world cannot see

Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me ….

Chorus
--------

    G       D              A7         D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me

 

 

A Luring that is Without

Somewhat lengthy quote of W. Paul Jones in his book “Theological Worlds: Understanding the Alternative Rhythms of Christian Belief.” They are quoted backwards, in that the first two paragraphs are from page 14 while the third paragraph is from page 11.

“Tillich distills these conclusions to which the past centuries have brought us by insisting that human beings are uniquely characterized by the inability to exist without meaning. We are freaks, for while life all around us does unquestioningly what it seems structured to do, humans cannot quiet the question, Why? Such self-consciousness brings forth deep needs— to be meaningful, to be significant, to belong. These needs are not optional but appear to be essential to human existence as such.  …..

Peter Berger once observed that while dogs have an instinct for being dogs, humans alone are born into an unfinished world, one they must endeavor to complete in order to be able to call themselves human. Whatever functions as one’s ultimate concern in this endeavor provides the content designatable as one’s God. Such an understanding makes common cause with Augustine’s insistence that by nature, each person must love. The theological issue is not if, but who or what functions as one’s ultimate love.

We are restless, and thus religious, for we are never satisfied with the apparent, or tamed by the known limits. Rather, like a spider trapped in a bottle, we push at the boundaries of life and death, puzzle over strategies of good and evil, while dropping from a string hung daringly over the edges of mystery. The religious in each of us is an impulse to journey, to quest, to seek— for self-identity, belonging, legitimacy, meaning. And in the end, it is a hope worth believing that the impulse within has its counterpart in a luring that is Without.

In other words, our seemingly built-in desire for meaning— seeking to find god(s)— may actually be evidence of a God who is seeking to be found.

The Fish Model of Project Design

The following was a diagram that I had in my book, CHRISTIAN MEDICAL MISSIONS: Principles and Practices in the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond. However, it is quite useful in Project Design for ministry, with special focus on the transitioning from a short-term event or project to a long-term program or ministry. The diagram looks a bit like a fish. Starting at the left side, moving to the right is the passage of time. The gap between the lower and upper lines involves the number of people involved.

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Point A: Initiation:  The idea for an event or prject comes from one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.  (Those involves:  Perhaps 1 or 2)

Point B: Team-building:   This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.(Perhaps the team involves 20 or 30).

Point C:  Seed Sowing:   Participants, the target group, are invited to participate in the event or project.  (The number targeted may vary wildly depending on the project. For a hands-on training, maybe 50 would be invited. For a medical mission, maybe 1000. For a city-wide evangelistic event, maybe tens of thousands.)

Point D: Event.  This is where the project/event is implemented. Most likely less will show up than was invited. (Perhaps 40% of those invited actually participate). During the event, there is intentional activity done to gather names, contact information, and such for those desiring to participate in activities that involve more commitment.

Points E and F.Filtering.  These are attempts to filter the initial participants to identify those who desire to be involved in a long-term program. 

Example #1.  For an evangelistic rally, one may gather names of those who walked forward to give their lives to Christ, or to dedicate themselves to Christ. Additionally, these people may be asked if they wish to join a church family or a home Bible study. After the event, follow-up will begin. Focus will be on those who expressed the most commitment (being part of a home Bible study), with secondary focus on those who desire a church family, next to those who expressed a desire to follow Christ, and last to those who simply attended without an expression of any commitment.

Exmaple #2.  A Children’s one-time event may be held. At that event, parents and children can be invited to a weeklong “Vacation Bible School.” Those who join the VBS can be invited to join a afternoon Bible club, or a church Sunday School.

Point G. Commitment Point. After the filtering proces, one reaches a small group that is ready to be committed to a long-term program. That program could be home Bible studies, a church, a community development program, or others. Although small in number, these have found value in what is being done, and are committed to be part of it over time.

Point H. Expansion. This where the committed group reaches out to others and begins to grow. Much of the growth would probably come from those who had initially expressed a lesser amount of commitment before, but now want to join with greater commitment.

Key Points

1.  There needs to be intentionality from no later than the team-building stage to do the project in a manner that allows it to support a long-term program. If that is not done, what often is left is a positive event and a prayer that “something good will come of this.” Prayer is important but when the event is designed in a manner that works against the prayer— well, there is a problem isn’t there?

2.  There needs to be follow-on activities that people are actively invited to commit to. One should not just assume “Oh, they know what they should do.” They don’t know what they should do if they are not invited.

3.  The invitations should be for things that are longer-term and involving a greater amount of commitment than the initial event.

4.  Embrace the idea that some will be lost on the way. This doesn’t mean they will be lost forever. Not everyone is prepared to commit long-term. You want to first find those who will… and then gradually expand to others.

Christian Mimicry (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Image result for animal mimicry

Earlier I was looking at Passive Mimicry (to avoid being targeted or, positively, to demonstrate or promote belongingness).

But sometimes mimicry has a more Active Role. Rather than to help the person remain hidden, mimicry can be done to be seen.

1. Trying to Make Lightning Strike Twice.  In my previous post, I spoke of a worship leader I knew who “religiously” copied the style and movements of the Hillsong worship leaders, when leading church music. While I would never recommend this, I understand the logic. If the folks at Hillsong made it work and became successes… if I do the exact same thing, I should be successful as well. Right? Many people have complained that music that comes out of the Christian Music industry is so alike. While the similarities may not be overpowering, there is some truth to that. Industry produces what sells… and the presumption is that what sold yesterday is what will sell tomorrow.

We learn through modeling, so we do utilize models or examples of who we want to be. (I will simply not address whether Hillsong is a worthy model. They have been successful, and the fact that I find it generally uninteresting says little about them as a “worship industry.”) But mimicking is taking it further. Suppose someone wrote an Amish Romance Novel, and it made good money. That same author might produce another. If that is successful, it is likely that those books will become part of a series. It is also likely that other writers will suddenly be inspired by the potentials or writing a romance in an Amish community. Simply using an author as a model means you gain insight from them in the writing process. Mimicry, on the other hand, is taking their themes, settings, and style and putting one’s own name on it.

One of the big problems with mimicry is the next issue.

2.  It is an act of Creative Laziness. I suppose one could put this one under passive or active. Conformity (a passive form of mimicry) can be an act of laziness. However, the more interesting one is the active form.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also the most subtle form of laziness.  Laziness is more easily identifiable in people who do not do much. It is harder to spot in those who do things that simply repeat what others have already done.

This has led, among other things, to Christianizing secular stuff. South Park has humorously spoken of this in Christian music— taking secular songs and replacing words such as “Baby” with them with other words such as “Jesus.”

Mike Warnke joked decades ago about preachers who mimic the styles of other preachers. Some do more than this, with taking sermons online and reading them in church. I have known many pastors who take such sermons, use them as guides but with study and reflection, make the sermons their own. I reckon that is not so bad. But I have heard preachers who read those sermons they got online… sentence for sentence… word for word. Perhaps some can hide it better than others… but generally you start to figure it out.  Simple terms, this is lazy and may be doing a disservice to God. But most definitely, one is doing a disservice to those that person is serving.

3.  Riding the Coattails. While mimicking can be a defensive move to remain hidden, it can be done deliberately in the hopes of future success. Sycophants commonly don’t just compliment or do favors for leaders. They are not just “Yes Men” and defenders of the indefensible (It is becoming harder and harder calling oneself an American Evangelical as the quest for power, or not losing power, has led many to defend that which seems indefensible). They will often also mimic the style, dress, manner of speech and so forth of their leaders. From a distance, this sort of mimicry may be one of the first two listed (lightning striking twice or creative laziness). But when the person is “close to the throne,” however, it is a form of flattery to get special blessings from the one in power.

4.  Ulterior Motive. This is always a tricky one. Why do we do what we do… and why the why?  Josh Keefe on Youtube (Why Christian Movies are BAD | The Problem with Christian Media – Part 2) has some interesting thoughts on this as it applies to Christian Movies. He notes that Christian filmmakers tend to not really be filmmakers (except in the technical sense of “making films”). That is, their calling tends to be as preachers— pushing a message to a specific audience. So what does this mean? Essentially, a person takes on a role of (mimic) a filmmaker. Filmmakers generally seeks to create a work of art for broad audience consumption. But when a preacher mimics that role, the motive is different. This person is  but is really seeking to preach to Christians. (If you don’t think they are commonly written to preach to Christians, watch a few of them and ask yourself, what images are Christians and non-Christians portrayed. Are atheists or agnostics portrayed as good people or bad caricatures?)

Is ulterior motive wrong? Personally, I think it is… if by that you define ulterior motive as “the REAL motive” as opposed to non-real or fake motives. I used to be involved with medical missions in the Philippines and even did my doctoral dissertation on them (and wrote a book based on the dissertation). I found that most Christians who did medical missions said that the REAL reason for doing medical missions is to evangelize.  Free medical care is just the lure– lure with a hook in it. But all too often, the real motive leaks out becoming very visible. In medical missions, it can show itself with inadequate or expired medicines, with utilizing inadequate (numerically or qualitatively) medical personnel, and generally playing hardball with the evangelizing and softball with the medical care. People notice it. The REAL motive thing can show itself in “friendship evangelism” where friendship goes bye-bye when the non-Christian does not respond the way the Christian seeks.

Ulterior Motive is a form of mimicry because it mimics a non-religious (not anti-religious… just non-religious) activity but with clandestine “Christian” purpose. It may be a problem because it is disingenuous… but equally because it is more obvious than people think. When you truly “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it looks a lot different than when you “Act in loving ways to people so that you can market your message.”

Critique

Of the reasons for Christian mimicry I listed over the last two posts, I think #2 and #4 concern me the most. Creative Laziness really should be seen as a sin… or at least a vice. Pushing the SHARE button on FB for some clickbait-y, feel good, “inspirational”… something or other is— well it’s lazy. Does that mean one should never do it? Not necessarily. Maybe a vice is a better description. Shopping for stuff you don’t need is a vice– wasteful a bit, but only truly a problem as it expands into a self-destructive behavior. Buying one lottery ticket a week is not the same as burning through one’s family savings to get the “BIG WIN” in online gambling. Creative laziness is so common in Christian circles that almost any originality is either praised as AMAZING, or shot down as something BAD (often more different than actually bad).

Ulterior Motive is also deeply problematic not only because non-Christians commonly see right through it… but also because many Christians think that is the way we are supposed to be.