Church as a Chapel of Hope

Many years ago, I was an officer in the US Navy. Today, I find it hard to believe that I ever went that route. I really, really, enjoy my civilian status, and have little to no interest in politics and geopolitics.

Chapel of Hope, Naval Station Newport

Getting back on track in the story, I graduated from college and was accepted in the NUPOC program. I went to Newport, Road Island to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS), Batch 87006, Alfa Company. Historically, OCS was more of a “knife and fork” school… learning the niceties of being a Naval Officer. At that time, however, things were different. It had more of a boot camp feel. That probably is a good thing. But having a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a good GPA, I could not believe that I volunteered to be yelled at and abused.

Indoctrination week was the harshest from this standpoint. I am sure people who had gone to enlisted boot camp or BUDS would laugh at how wimpy I was with OCS Indoc week. But it was a challenge for me and many others as well.

But one moment was different. During Indoc week, we were scheduled to meet the Navy Chaplains. I think that one was Southern Baptist, another United Methodist, and a third Roman Catholic. We were marched to the Navy chapel (“Chapel of Hope”), and told where to sit. The chaplains welcomed us. They thanked our company instructors (our motivational abusers). Then the chaplains told the instructors to leave the sanctuary. After the instructors left, the chaplains went back and ceremoniously closed the back door of the sanctuary.

At that point, the chaplains told us to relax. The chapel is a refuge, a chapel of hope… there is no rank in the chapel. Chaplains will talk to us as people… not rates, paygrades, divisions, and ID numbers. They will also do their best to minister to everyone… even those of a different faith.

This is a liberating concept. My experience with Navy chaplains has been that they practice what they preach (a good thing).

Shouldn’t all churches be like this? Shouldn’t churches:

  • Be seen as a refuge from the foolishness and violence of the surrounding world?
  • Treat people equally regardless of earnings and accomplishment?
  • Seek to minister to all people in the surrounding community… not just “members”?

Churches too often fail to do this… but if they learned to do this, people would see church as the place to be, not a place to avoid. Churches should radically contrast the twisted values of the surrounding society, rather than reinforce them.

Maybe churches need to embrace the symbolism of the Navy Chaplains at the Chapel of Hope. Welcome all in need of hope and comfort and shut the doors on those that harm and abuse. <Remembering, of course, that those who abuse also need hope.>

Challenges of Church-Based COMDEV in the Philippines (Part 2)

<Continued>

B.  Challenges Associated with the Philippines

1.  Cultural Factors

-“Utang na loob“. This term literally means “inside debt”. This is an implied obligation one experiences after receiving a gift or help. Since community development is about interdependency, “utang na loob” tends to prevent this interdependency. Instead, it tends to promote dependency (“rice Christian” effect)

-“Bahala na”. This term describes a sort of resignation to fate or luck. Quoting Tomas D. Andres, “Bahala na works against Individual and social progress, … It harnesses one’s behavior to a submissiveness that eats up one’s sense of responsibility and personal independence. It provides one with a false sense of self-confidence to proceed with an unsound action in the belief that somehow one will manage to get by.” Bahala na sounds Christian (Thy will be done), but only if one confuses a personal God with impersonal fate.

-Datu mentality. The datu (local leader) mentality limits growth and innovation because of the tendency of decisions to be made by one with little creativity. Community development works best when the creativity and power is shared broadly within the community.

2.  Historical Factors.

-As mentioned before, community development in the Philippines came through the government, foreign government, and non-governmental organizations. Therefore, churches lack history in community development.

-Historically, the track record of the community development groups are questionable. Often based on flawed beliefs (or theology), or bad methodology, there is little real change seen.

-Many churches assume all government to be corrupt, so to work with governmental organizations is impossible, or will lead to compromise.

C.  Non-contextual Factors

-The tendency of money to create dependency. Glenn Schwarz has pointed out that if rich countries simply giving money to poor communities worked, “then Haiti should be a shining example of development in our world.” Dependency destroys rather than develops.

-Development is often linked to economic wealth. Wealth doesn’t always develop a community… sometimes it destroys it. To develop wholistically (not just economically) is a challenge.

-Although development is not about money, money will always be a factor. The lack of money in communities makes local church-based development difficult.

-Another problem is the uncertain role of social ministry within the church. Ballard describes five basic attitudes:  Spiritualistic, “Social Gospel”, Convenience, Ulterior Motive, and Wholism. Only a wholistic attitude is likely to genuinely produce solid interdependent community development. However, this may require a major change in attitude of the local church

-Fragmentation is another problem. Partnership is needed for community development, but that means mature sharing of power and vision. However, people and organizations like to accumulate power and act according to their own vision.

-Outside help is often needed to do community development, but leadership must be developed within the community to take over. Power and skills must be transferred to to local elements.

0000000000000000000000000

So, can the church be involved in community development in the Philippines? YES.  It has much to offer.

1.  Community development should be wholistic… this means that it concerns itself with all aspects important to human and social development. This includes spiritual.

2.  Churches SHOULD provide a model of interconnectedness in community. If they don’t, there is something wrong with the church.

3.  Local churches are already in the community. They are an important institution that exists incarnately within the broader community.

4.  Churches already have a (hopefully wise ) group of leaders within the community that can help with development.

Additionally, there are characteristics of the Philippines that can help with community development.

1.  The barangay system sets up community government. This removes some of the difficulty of setting up community structures for development.

2.  The Catholicism of the Philippines helps. The common understanding of God and His role in reaching out to communities and individuals is important to wholistic work.

3.  “Pakikisama” and “Bayanihan” are two Philippine cultural traits that describe coming together with purpose for common good. Building community development in line with these cultural values may be more successful than in the US where Individualism takes precedence.

GOOD EXAMPLES OF REAL CHURCH-BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT IS LIMITED IN THE PHILIPPINES… BUT TIMES ARE CHANGING. LET’S PRAY THAT THE CHANGES OCCUR SOON.

Challenges of Church-Based COMDEV in the Philippines (Part I)

This is a brief summary of issues brought up from interviews with 
community development specialists and church leaders in the Philippines 
in 2007. I have seen nothing to suggest that things have changed. 
Community Development, I believe, is a critical component for the church
and church members in being salt and light to the world. And... assuming
the world does not end suddenly in 2011 or 2012 (as popular apocalypticists 
keep on about), wholistic development is critical in transforming the 
hearts of individuals as well as communities.

Church-based Bamboocraft Program in Baraoas, La Union, Philippines

In the study, the challenges were broken down into three basic 
categories. These are:  
1. Challenges within the Philippine Church context 
2. Challenges within the Philippine context 
3. Non-contextual challenges 


1. Challenges within the Philippine Church context 
A. Bad Theology 
Bad Theology #1. Religious Dualism. Many in church maintain a strong 
belief that there is a major gulf between the sacred and the secular. 
This in itself is not bad. However, these churches then suggest that 
that which is sacred is for churches to involve themselves, while the 
secular is to be ignored by the church. Unfortunately, many churches 
believe that the physical, educational, social, and emotional needs of 
the surrounding community are secular, and thus, not their problem. 


Bad Theology #2. Separatism. Churches often seek to maintain a social 
purity... trying to remove the "stain of the world." Sadly, this often 
means that these churches do not interact with other people and 
institutions within their community. These churches often become 
insular... failing to make an impact with those around them. 


Bad Theology #3. Lack of Contextualization in Community Development. 
Community Development and Wholism are primarily Western concepts. 
They have entered the Philippines through secular and religious NGOs
as well as government agencies. There has been little work to develop 
these as Philippine Theology. This failure makes community development 
seem foreign to local churches. 


Bad Theology #4. Individualism. Churches, particularly Evangelical 
Churches tend to accept the Western ideal of Individualism. The church 
should focus on individual conversion, individual discipleship, 
individual development. Many churches have a hard time recognizing that 
other social groupings have any value at all. When a church sees a 
community as an aggregate of individuals, there is little to make the 
church value community transformation. 


Bad Theology #5. Apocalypticism. Of course, with different groups 
calling the return of Christ as occurring in 2011 or 2012, there is 
little to motivate churches to invest in community transformation. Scare 
tactics and mass evangelistic techniques seem to make more sense. This 
has been around for along time. St. Paul had to reprove people in the 
church of Thessalonica for sitting around being a burden on the church 
because they believed that Christ was returning at any moment. However, 
Jesus said to be faithful until the end... not making foolish decisions 
because of trying to efficiently "time" His return. If the church had 
spent more time seeking to mercy and justice to transform their 
communities physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually rather than 
trying to focus on date-setting, I believe the church over the last 
several decades would not be drifting towards irrelevancy. 


B. Lack of Resources. Philippine churches typically feel they lack the 
financial, material, and human resources to do community development. 
This is, to some extent false. Community development requires more will 
then wallet. This is, also, to some extent self-fulfilling. That is 
because if you do not train your membership to do community development, 
and you do not develop the material resources, than you (not surprisingly) 
lack these resources. 


C. Focus on Relief. Churches almost always focus on quick-fixes, bait and 
switch, and disaster relief. The idea of a long-term commitment to 
minister outside of itself, is quite foreign and scary to most 
Philippine churches.


D. Lack of Example. Since most community development is done by government 
agencies or NGOs, churches lack good examples of church-based or 
church-initiated community development. When I was working on my 
dissertation from Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary a few years 
ago, I had originally decided to do my paper as a Grounded Theory Analysis 
of Church-based or Church-initiated Community Development in the 
Philippines. I decided I had to change topics due to a lack of source 
material.

If It’s Broke, Fix It!!

You know the quote… “It it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Although the equivalent is the contraposive (“If you must fix it, it’s broke”), the inverse is important as well. “IF IT’S BROKE, FIX IT!”

I believe that there is an aspect of Christianity that is definitely broke, but it is not its essence. The essence is solid… even divine.  I am reminded of the quote by G. K. Chesterton:

“Christianity has not been tried and

found wanting; it has been found

difficult and not tried.”

G. K. Chesterton, Christian Apologist

Chesterton points out the key point. There is a marked difference between Christianity in its ESSENCE and Christianity in its APPLICATION.

Part of the problem is that Christianity is difficult. Christianity seeks, as its goal, Christ-likeness. Anyone who studied Jesus as He is portrayed in Scripture would see that this is a monumentally difficult thing. Many would argue that short of the work of the Holy Spirit, the quest is hopeless.

The answer over the centuries to work around this has been commonly to produce a Quasi-Christianity. This is done in at least one of three ways (there are, of course, more):

A.  Lower Christ.  This can be done through taking one aspect of Jesus and defining the standard by this lessened Christ.

-Jesus is (only) a teacher

-Jesus is (only) a good person

-Jesus is (only) the sacrificial lamb/ source of forgiveness

-Jesus is (only) a prophet

-Jesus is (only) a transcendent being

-Jesus is (only) a mystic

B.  Replace Christ with an Abstraction. This is similar to the first. Here, Jesus ceases to be a person, but becomes a symbol of a abstract trait.

-We are Christlike if we are loving (regardless of truth, morality, and justice)

-We are Christlike when we adhere to propositional truth (regardless of the rest)

-We are Christlike when we seek moral purity (regardless of the rest)

-We are Christlike when we seek justice (regardless of the rest)

C.  We replace Christ as our standard with something or someone else. These could be:

-Christians seek to achieve virtues of surrounding society

-Christians seek to achieve virtues/standards of church/denomination

-Christians seek to model of saints or spiritual heroes

I think most of us would agree that none of these other standards work very well. We must seek Christ as our standard… as He is, not as we make Him. Much of the world sees Christianity as broke (at least in its application). It’s not surprising that people can’t see the essence if the application is so flawed. Therefore, if it is broke… FIX IT!!

(Protestant) Missions by the Century

16th Century

Adoniram Judson, detail from an engraving by A...

Adoniram Judson, detail from an engraving by Alfred Jones after a painting by Chester Harding, 1846 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Cross-cultural Missions?   Almost none
  • Leading Sending Nation:  None
  • Primary Concepts?    State Protestant Denominations. Theological development. Political/Religious survival

17th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?   Limited
  • Leading Sending Nation:   Netherlands
  • Primary Concepts?   Local missions. Migration. Bivocational missions

18th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?  Yes.
  • Leading Sending Nation?  German states
  • Primary Concept?  “Tentmaking missions”

19th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?   Yes.
  • Leading Sending Nation?  Great Britain
  • Primary Concept?   Mission societies. Coastal and colonial missions

20th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions? Yes
  • Leading Sending Nation?  United States
  • Primary Concepts?  Faith-based Missions. Missions conferences. UPGs

21st Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?  Yes
  • Leading Sending Nation?    To Be Determined. NSCs (“New Sending Countries”)
  • Primary Concepts?    To Be Determined. See below.

The 21st century is new. It is not certain what will happen. It would be unwise to assume that the 21st century will simply be an extension of the 20th… any more than that one should assume that previous centuries simply extended from the previous.  We need to be part of the old (our faith, our Christian and Missiological history), but also part of that which is new and innovative. I am hoping for certain trends to typify the 21st century missions. These include (but are no way limited to):

  • -Continuation of the trend towards missionaries coming from all nations (not just “the West”)
  • -Growth of Wholistic missions
  • Focus on GUCs (Great Urban Centers)
  • -Expansion of the Missional Church movement and vision

But who knows. We with God (or God with us) create the future of missions. 

What Direction Do We Point People Towards?

This is May 24, three days after Harold Camping predicted the start of the Apocalypse. This is not a gloat message. Most people were not particularly surprised that Christ did not return at that time. But some were surprised and confused. This story makes me think about what direction do we point people toward as missionaries.

Here in Baguio City, Philippines, a couple of months ago we started seeing jeepneys with the announcement of Christ’s return May 21. The advertisement seemed to direct people to three different places… or directions.

1. It pointed people to the Bible

2.  It pointed people to Family Radio

3.  It pointed people to Harold Camping

The problem is that the first direction given by the ad (the Bible) was a bit muddy. After all, those concerned about Christ’s return would find nothing in the Bible saying that Christ was returning on May 21. In fact, the Bible appears to say that we cannot know (and should not dwell on) the exact time of Christ’s return… but rather be faithful every day. To come up with May 21, 2011, one has to use numerology… certainly tempting… but numerology is not a Christian field of study. It is doubtful that a Christian should ever be involved in numerology… to say nothing of assuming that God gives us secret information through this pseudoscience.

The second direction of the advertisement was to the website of Family Radio. This is a more clear message.

The third direction was less direct, but still very clear. Since the Bible did not say Christ was returning May 21… one had to rely on the obscure interpretation of the Bible by Harold Camping. Family Network also pointed people very directly to Harold Camping

In the end, the advertisement had the wrong effect. It said to trust the Bible… that the Bible said that Christ would return on May 21. Since He didn’t, the clear implication is that the Bible is false. With Family Radio, it was much easier… All they had to do was change their website to remove all references to “Judgment Day”.  The Bible is timeless, but the stench of a bad advertising campaign will not go away anytime soon.

As missionaries we need to know where to point people. Do we:

-Point people to God?

-Point people to the Bible (God’s revelation)

or do we

-Point people to a”prophet” or “denomination”

-Point people to a narrow interpretation of God’s revelation

It does matter.

Is Pastoral Counseling Compatible With Missions

I consider myself to be a missionary. However, my biggest single role is the administrator of a counseling center. There are forms of counseling that are distinctly evangelistic. But “normal” pastoral care, counseling, and chaplaincy typically works within the “faith context” of the client/patient, and assumes (to a large extent) that the person already has the answer they need inside of themselves.

This comes off as being distinctly in conflict with missions. And perhaps this seeming conflict is quite real. But perhaps before one jumps to final conclusions, analysis of the similarities and differences is valuable.

Similarities between Missions and Pastoral Counseling:

  1. Both are person focused. That means that both in missions and in pastoral counseling, the primary concern is the well-being of the client/respondent.
  2. Both are holistic (wholistic). That is, both are (or should be) focused on the whole person— physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
  3. Both are interested in correcting bad thinking, bad behavior, and bad relationships.
  4. Both reach out beyond the confines of the local church and the universal church.
  5. Both do (or should) be concerned with issues of Love and Justice. This means that morals/ethics are important to both.
  6. Both share the use of common tools such as religious symbols, rites, prayer, and more (especial in Pastoral Counseling within the context of chaplaincy).

But there are some obvious differences:

  • Missions seeks a specific type of spiritual transformation (conversion to Christianity). Pastoral Counseling seeks spiritual transformation generally within the existing faith system of the client.
  • Missions seeks a specific type of spirito-social transformation (member of a community of Christian believers). Pastoral Counseling seeks spirito-social transformation within the existing faith community of the client.
  • Although both share religious symbols and rites, it is possible that a chaplain/counselor may be expected to use the symbols and rites of the client, not that of the counselor.

<In other words, Pastoral Counseling is not normally involved with proselytization.>

There are some apparent differences that are not differences at all. Particularly, there are a lot of differences in terminology/jargon. Much of this comes from the fact that the modern missions movement and the pastoral care and counseling movement grew up independently of each other as separate sub-cultures of sorts. Different terminology often makes one think that there are differences where there are none.  There are also some differences in common theological stands. Missionaries tend to be more conservative in their theology (regardless of religion or denomination) while Pastoral Counselors tend to be more liberal in comparison. However, this is trend, not a necessity.

So are Missions and Pastoral Counseling compatible? I believe looking at the above points, the two are at least 80% compatible. But what about the final 20%? I am not sure I have the complete answer for that. But here are some thoughts.

  1. For clients within the same faith community as the pastoral counselor, the incompatibility with missions greatly reduces.
  2.  Some missions methodologies start through working in and through the faith/cultural context of the potential respondent. The C4 or C5 models for church growth in a Muslim-dominant culture works within and through many things that are distinctly Muslim in symbol and rite. Another one would be in the area of redemptive analogy, where the myths, rites, symbols, and beliefs of the respondent are used in the missions outreach.
  3. Some counseling aspects come closer to missions. Part of counseling goes well beyond “finding the truth that is within”. Counselors also seek to reframe to lead to new realizations within mental, emotional, social, and spiritual areas. Since change, growth, and epiphany are all parts of the healthy counseling experience, pastoral counseling is (or can be) in some ways rather similar to missions.
  4. Pastoral Counseling utilizes non-judgmental dialogue, which breaks down barriers between two people. There is a growing realization that this is also valuable in missions.

Taking these additional points into account, the conflict between Missions and Pastoral Counseling may be reduced to approximately 10%. This 10% is important and should not be ignored. However, many missionaries, mission agencies, and churches reject pastoral counseling in a missions environment because of misconceptions about good mission work and about pastoral counseling.

Am I completely comfortable with my role in both missions and pastoral counseling? No, I still have the tendency to compartmentalize, or drift to one side or the other. I still wonder whether pastoral counseling would become more effective if it placed greater emphasis on conversion. I also still wonder whether missions would ultimately become more effective if it focused more on dialogue, relationship, and wholistic growth rather than on a quick allegiance encounter (statement of faith).

Hopefully a better understanding of each will lead to healthy missions and healthy counseling that both lead to wholistic health and healing of the whole person.