Selling, Informing, and Teaching This Old Dog a New Trick.

I have had a number of things come up that have reminded me of an area of weakness that I have in ministry.

1.  Our financial support is going down considerably in 2015, and precipitously in 2016. I realized that I don’t really know how to raise support. Our 11 years here in the Philippines have been blessed with a lack of need to raise support. Now that that situation has changed, I realize that I am not really sure what to do

2.  I have put myself up for looking for some jobs… including the classic Web resource, http://www.monster.com. The most positive contacts have been from insurance and “financial management” companies as a “consultant.” I am a bit out of touch with American business (since I stepped away from engineering 11 years ago), but I am pretty sure that the consultant thing is actually Product Sales. Perhaps the fact that I am listed as being a missionary and pastor suggests that I am a people person and good at being convincing. (Or maybe insurance companies target all middle-age job-seekers.In truth, I am more of a nerdy instructor than a people person. I have little ability to persuade… and would be a bit suspicious of people who I could easily persuade.

3. Two members of our Bukal Life Care (www.bukallifecare.org) have started working on marketing of our counseling center because (paraphrasing their words) our group needs it. They recognize my basic lack of skill in this area.

I never saw myself as being bad at promotions. I maintain several websites that show the activities of ourselves, (www.bobandceliamunson.wordpress.com), two ministries we are in (Bukal Life Care, and CPSP-Philippines), and our church here in Baguio. I also do periodic newsletters and more. Since so many Serve without Informing, I felt like I was doing pretty good. But there is a problem.

THERE IS A BASIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INFORMING AND SELLING.(or persuading). Informing is a cognitive process while selling (or persuading) is an emotional process. I really like dealing with the cognitive side of things… I really don’t like to deal with the emotional/volitional side of things.

Yet, support-raising is essentially an emotional process. After all, there are needs everywhere, and many worthy (and unworthy) causes. The decision by a person to choose one worthy cause over another is not typically based on good information, but impassioned marketing that pulls on the heart, without ignoring the head. Perhaps it would be nice if mission support was based on performance and need. But maybe it is nice that reality is more sloppy than that, or first-time missionaries would be hard(er) pressed to get support since they have no track record.

I am not really sure what this realization ultimately will do for me. I don’;t really like salesmen (of any type). Not sure that I desire to gain the skills of a trade that I don’t think much of. However, Titus 2:10 speaks of how we are to DECORATE (or adorn) THE GOSPEL.  This suggests that the sharing of the gospel is more than challenging the mind of the hearer… it is drawing on the heart. Not all that surprising, since few people change their faith due to powerful arguments.

I guess that means that, after all, I really do need to learn a new trick or two.

Christmas Wish

I am not sure that this cartoon has a lot of theological significance… but since today is Christmas… a beautiful day often marred by soul-shriveling avarice, there is a certain charm of a stick figure who is fully satisfied. Perhaps we all need a bit of dissatisfaction to learn and grow, but perhaps not.

My Christmas Wish for you isn’t that you get what you want, but that you will find satisfaction in what God has blessed you with.

 

Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon sa Inyong Lahat!!

(Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year y’all!!)

Universal Commission for Mission

I was asked to lead a commissioning service today. It made me think about what a commissioning is… or at least should be. Commissioning is an interesting Christian tradition. And it is even used in non-Christian circles.

In 1987, I was involved in my first commissioning service. I was commissioned as an officer of the United States Navy.

In 2004, my home church in the United States, Spring Hill Baptist Church, had a commissioning service for us to serve as missionaries in the Philippines. Then First Emmanuel Baptist Church, a Filipino church in the US had a commissioning service for us. In 2005, I was commissioned here in Baguio as a minister of the gospel. In 2006, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board had a commissioning service for us as Mission Venturers… and then in 2008 as Mission Ambassadors. In 2011, I was ordained here in Baguio. It has a different name, but it is still essentially a commissioning service.

So I have been commissioned at least 6 times. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to learn what it means to be commissioned.Some commissioning services give the impression that they are bestowing authority on the recipients. Others appear like they are trying to inject some sort of spiritual power into those being commissioned. While either might fit a particular denominational tradition, I think in this case a bit of etymology may come in handy.

The term “commission” comes from two related Latin words… “commissio” and “committere”. From them we get the two related ideas of commission and commit. Both words give the same idea… to place one’s trust in. I then had an amazing realization. The Commisioning service was not about me as the one being commissioned… It was about them, the “commissioners.” When I was commissioned in the Navy… the commissioning ceremony was the Navy’s way of telling me that they trusted me… and they entrusted me to do what is right. When my church had a commissioning service… they were telling me and my family that they were placing their trust in us… they are sending us off to the other side of the world because they chosen us to trust us to do what is right and good in our role as a missionary of their church. That is a heavy thought. Let’s read a parable that you all probably know.

Consider the Parable of the Talents… Matthew 25:14-30. The primary message is that we cannot know when Christ is returning (a good lesson for anyone seeking “secret knowledge” to time the end of the world. But the story is also a commissioning.

The first verse (vs. 14) makes this clear.  “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” The passage said that the master entrusted his property to His servants. That is another way of saying that he commissioned them. The rest of the story is about what each did. Two were trustworthy and one was not.  Because it is primarily not about a rich man and his servants. It is about God and us. God has entrusted everything He has to us. God has commissioned all of us.

Isn’t that the crazy thing? We keep being reminded that we are supposed to trust God. But God trusts us??? What have we ever done to suggest that we are trustworthy???

In the story, God has placed His trust in three different people. Two accepted and embraced that trust and were faithful to God. One was very uncomfortable with the trust… with the responsibility that God gave him. He took what God gave him and hid it, continuing to live the life he chose… not the one God had called him to live.

God has placed His trust in each person who follows Him.

  • God has entrusted us with His work… His mission. God is at work in the world. But much of that work He has given to His servants. So often, we look around at the problems in the world and ask “Why isn’t God doing something about this?” But really, God has entrusted us to be a blessing in this world. When I see problems in the world… it is quite appropriate to look into a mirror and say, “Why am I not doing something about this?”
  • God has entrusted to us His reputation. When we are calling ourselves Christians, we are saying that we are followers of Jesus… followers of Christ. Followers of God. If you share the Gospel with people enough, you are likely to come across people that will not listen to what you have to say because they have seen Christians. They have seen Christians who are hypocrites. They have seen Christians who are sinful. They have seen Christians who are lazy. They have seen Christians who are selfish. When they see that, they are turned off about Christianity. They are turned off about God. To be fair… sometimes I am a hypocrite. Sometimes I am sinful. Sometimes I am lazy. Sometimes I am selfish. We all are. Yet God has entrusted us with His own reputation.

I think the story implies a possible different form of commissioning. The commissioning doesn’t have to be primarily about the commissioner. It can be about the one being commissioned. After all, it is quite likely that most of the people at the commissioning service today did not care all that much whether I trusted them or not. My son Joel, who was part of the commissioning, might care somewhat whether I trust him or not… maybe those from West Baguio care a tiny bit. … But most probably care even less… even zero. And that is okay. 

When each person chooses to follow Jesus… to accept God’s gift… each is  commissioned. God entrusted his work and his reputation to each and every believer. In 1 Corinthians 12 it says that to each one he gave specific gifts or talents for different roles. But each role is important… it is all part of God’s work. And one can accept or embrace that role… or one can ignore it… hide it… and make the trust that God has placed worthless.  Jesus trusted Peter… he trusted John. He also trusted Judas Iscariot. God often trusts us more than we deserve to be trusted.

I would suggest that every Christian should have a Commissioning Service. It is fine if certain people are formally commissioned (entrusted) by their church or by their mission board for mission work. But we all have been entrusted by God to serve and to maintain His reputation. The commissioning for all believers should be to remind us that God has entrusted His work and reputation with us. The question is how we will respond to that trust. Will we embrace it with excitement… or will we cower and hide what God has entrusted to us?

14 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Answering the Wrong Question to the Wrong Person

Sometimes I put answers on “Answers.com”. I saw the following question:

How do Thinking Christians persuade modern men that it is necessary to shed blood to atone for sin that it is necessary for Jesus to die in order to reconcile men to God?

It is possible that this is a loaded question… implying that Christians are really unthinking. I remember years decades ago a person posing the question on the RELIGION FORUM of COMPUSERVE, “Why do many Christians worship on Sunday (1st day) rather than Saturday (7th day)?” I gave what I considered a fairly detailed and thoughtful answer. Then the person who asked the question responded with: “Well, I find people who worship on the 7th day to be more spiritual.” That suggests to me that the person wasn’t really asking the question to find an answer, but to pose a complaint. Ultimately I Peter 3:15 suggests that we should try our best to answer questions:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

I see key points here:

1.  Everyone. While the Bible may give caution about answering fools, it seems best here to not be quick to judge the character or motive of a person, but do one’s best to inform regardless.

2.  Reason. It’s not just faith. God made us to be reasoning beings. As such, we share our faith, in part, by sharing our reasoning.

3.  Gentleness and respect. Going back to the Golden Rule, We answer others as we would want others to answer us.

Returning to the question above regarding blood sacrifice, someone had given the following answer:

The necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus to reconcile men to God is and has always been the key central doctrine of all forms of Christianity having an orthodox theology. Anything else is heresy.

I do not believe you can persuade anyone of this that chooses to believe otherwise. This may be one of those things that must be revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit, not by human persuasion.

 

I feel the answer given was inadequate. First of all, it made no attempt to answer the question… it answered a different question. Second, it made no attempt to consider the intended audience. Ultimately, the “answer” given is that the blood sacrifice of Christ is true and anyone who says otherwise is a heretic. Not much of an answer. I added my own answer:

We do not know what God HAD to do to reconcile Us to Himself. We know from the Bible what He DID do. The Bible says that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” However, since that is true because God made the rules, it is, perhaps, possible that a different system could have been made.  The question would be then, “Why do it that way?”

1.  Cross-culturally, there seems to be a recognition of guilt, shame, unworthiness… one could say “sin.” It appears to be, perhaps not universal but very common, that blood sacrifice and blood covenants are recognized worldwide as needed to appease and make peace. Even “modern man” tends to identify death as the ultimate justice (or poetic justice) for actions that are unconscionable. Whether that is hardwired into our beings, or if it is deeply ingrained in our cultural histories, blood sacrifice on some level has always “made sense.”

2.  On a less cultural, more personal, level, we seek a God (or divine power) that is good, that is powerful, that is caring. Yet we live in a world that is not good, that seems to be out of control, and is heartless. How does one reconcile this. Throughout history, there have been many attempts by many groups to come up with an answer to this. However, the Biblical answer is that we live in a world of evil and chaos, despite a Good, Powerful, and Caring God. This, however,  is a temporary state, not God’s intention for a permanent condition. The point that reconciles the two seemingly contradictory points is that God is powerful and at work to reconcile all things. He has chosen to identify with us, to suffer with us, and to sacrifice for us. In so doing, He shows His goodness and care.

 

Is this a better answer? I don’t know– you decide. But it, at least, TRIES to answer the question asked for the intended audience. Of course, I don’t believe anyone can be persuaded. But one can attempt to answer with gentleness and respect regarding the hope that is within us.

Personhood and the Escalation of Conflict. Part 2

How does this apply to missions or ministry?

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”    -Blaise Pascal.

This is a quote worthy of mulling over. Periodically, atheists (or “freethinkers”?) charge all sorts of evil to religion. That is not to say that the irreligious (or the pragmatic) have such a great track record. Delving into the true depths of evil seems to be in the realm of two groups of people:

  • Truly Religious Atheists (“Evildoing should not only be permitted but even should be acknowledged as the most necessary and most intelligent solution for the situation of every godless person!” -View of Father Paissy, character of Dostoyevsky.) A person who truly embraces his own lack of ultimate accountability, can justify nearly any evil. And some do delve these depths.
  • Truly Religious Theists. If morality is based on a divine standard, to believe that one is acting in the name of that standard, some can do the unspeakable with a calm sense of personal righteousness.

Missionaries are certainly at risk of falling into the trap of doing what is wrong in the name of right. That is because they have the following characterisitcs:

1.  Are very religious. While most missionaries I know are not extreme in their religious fervor, they are often encouraged or expected to be intensely “radical” or “extreme” in their religious faith.

2.  Are typically segregated. Missionaries are commonly cross-cultural, meaning they are often foreigners, of a different culture, and of a different religion to those they are ministering to. As such, it is easy, even natural, to have an US versus THEM attitude. After all, many of the locals will look at missionaries as THEM.

3.  May be prone to spiritual militancy. Missionaries are often encouraged to embrace the metaphor of spiritual warfare or “power encounter” by (perhaps) well-meaning missiologists and religious leaders. Often other faiths are demonized, and it is easy to demonize the proponents of such faiths, or see them as willingly acting in league with Satan.

These tend to emphasize conflict. Therefore, there is a tendency to depersonalize. As we depersonalize, we empathize less and become more dedicated to task over people. If we are called to task first, that might be okay. But if the Great Commission is an application of the Great Commandment, our task is FOUNDED on caring more about God AND people, not caring so much about task, or mission.

Of course, there are principles that should mitigate this potential for misdirection:

1.  We are really called to be Christ-like, not Religious. It is not that religion is wrong, but it is inadequate and is prone to abuse. We are to follow Christ’s example. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” connects His ministry with ours.

2.  We are to be Incarnational, not “Segregational.” Paul was to be a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks. Jesus enculturated in the culture, challenging as an insider, not an outsider.

3.  We are given better metaphors, such as servant, rather than warrior. The warfare metaphor has more relevance on a spiritual level or on the level of ideals, “not against flesh and blood.” The full armor of God is mostly defensive, and spiritual, not offensive and physical. Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2 (among others) focus on Jesus as one who came to serve, not to be served. His ministry is made powerful through being a servant, not a warrior.

I am not of the other faiths. If some feel they are at their best in projection of physical power, control, and coersion, I am not one to say otherwise. But Christianity is at its worst with these things. We are at our best as Christians, missionaries, and ministers when we care more about people (BECAUSE we care more about God) than we care about tasks. We are at our best as Christians when we identify ourselves with all people, not being quick to coming up with narrower and narrower designations of who WE are. We are all in this together after all.

We are humans first, more than we are male or female. We are humans first (precious creations designed by God) than we are Christians, or of some nationality, or sect, or race, or cultural designation. Christians are at their best when WE don’t reach out to THEM, because understand that THEY are also US.

We are at our best when we embrace our role as humble servants of Christ, seeking Christ as our model, than when we are radical, extreme, spiritual, religious, or any other description that is focused on tasks, programs, ideas, or missions, rather than people.

Personhood and the Escalation of Conflict. Part 1

 

A few days ago, the “Islamic State” or “ISS” or “ISIL” made a statement (or its leadership made a statement) that it was okay to enslave and have (non-mutual) sex with non-Muslim women and girls. It is hard, as an outsider, to fathom why a group that claims to be acting for a righteous cause, would make a statement so obviously evil. It seems that three things must have happened:

#2.  A legal analysis of the issue was presumably done from the standpoint of their own religious regulations.

#3.  Presumably an ethical analysis was done to see whether the behavior is in line with what a good follower of their god would do. (After all, many things may be legal, but not appropriate for a faithful adherent.)

The big concern however is #1.

#1.  There must have been members of their group that desired to enslave and rape and so sought to be given the “thumbs up.”

Since, I am not a member of their religion, I don’t particularly care about #2 and #3. But I do care about #1. How could people get to the point where such horrible mistreatment seems like a nifty idea?

For me, I have to think that a lot of this goes back to the issue of personhood and of conflict escalation (and, YES, human evil is always in the mix… but that is not my focus today). Generally, when a group of people want to do something horrific to another human, they first make a determination that that other human really isn’t a human. He or she is not a person, but is sub-human. In some cases, the determination is that the individual IS a person, but has lost the rights (or privileges) of being a person. This may include murderers who are placed on death row, or (in some prisons of the recent past) experimented upon or tortured.

But often what is done is not to assume someone has lost their rights as a person, but he never was a person in the first place. History, has had slavery based on race. In arguments over emancipation, economic and political issues may be argued… but commonly underlying these arguments is a foundational issue of personhood. Some believe that people of a different race are sub-human… not a person… and so enslavement is okay. It would be wrong to enslave a relative… a fellow human… but someone who looks different and has a different nationality is something less.

Abortion rights boils down to the same issue. Some try to argue the issue over practical issues. The foundational issue is personhood. Some argue that abortion should be permitted because women should have rights to do as they wish with their bodies. (Of course, no person on earth has unlimited rights to do whatever they want with their bodies.) What is really meant is that the unborn child (or the less “person”al term… fetus) is not a person. If he/she/it is not a person, than he/she/it lacks basic rights of personhood, and so he/she/it may be deemed simply part of the mother’s/woman’s body.

In recent years there has been a move by some animal rights groups to designate certain animals (such as apes or dolphins) as persons. I don’t know why they feel relative intelligence should be a the determining of value as a person. But the move is obvious. If certain animals are designated as persons… certain rights logically become theirs. My personal fear, however, is that such a move may not elevate the animals, but devalue personhood… but who knows?

Okay… back on topic.  ISIS appears to devalue a person for not sharing their religious viewpoint/ideology, and then further devalues them for not sharing the same gender as the leadership. Perhaps the religious test is more important since, presumably, leaders of ISIS would not be quick to acquiesce to female members of their own clan being raped and enslaved.

It seems likely that such logic doesn’t not come out of careful ethical consideration, but out of the emotions of conflict. The torture (and yes, it sure sounds like torture to me) of “the enemy” by the CIA in the first decade of the 21st century was justified based on conflict.

Consider an escalation of conflict. Although described for church conflcts, the list of stages in “The Escalating Stages of Unresolved Church Conflict” by Ken Newberger seems informative.

Stage 1. (Sometimes) an Uncomfortable Feeling. Something is wrong but not sure what.

Stage 2 A Problem to be Resolved. Problem identified. <Issue-focused>

Stage 3. A Person to Differ with. (Other person-focused) Sides are determined. Discussion changes from what is the best solution, to who is right and who is wrong.

Stage 4. A Dispute to Win. <Issue-focused with greater intensity> Collaboration breaks down. Other issues begin to add to the conflict. Feelings get hurt.

Stage 5. A Person to Attack. <Other person-focused. Greater intensity>. Battle lines are drawn. Stereotyping of the other side occurs with the worst thought of adversaries.

Stage 6. My “Face” to Save. <Self-focused. Greater Intensity> Things get personal. Protecting one’s image and character become dominant. Things are seen as black vs white, good versus evil.

Stage 7. A Person to Expel, Withdraw from, or Ruin. <Other person-focused, Greater intensity> All or nothing battle. Someone or a whole group must go.

You will notice as the stages go higher, the problem becomes more personal, but the other side loses personhood. What starts out as a problem to resolve becomes by Stage 7 a time where people who have another opinion must not exist (at least within their church) or must be shamed or shunned. That is personal. Yet by stage 5, stereotyping begins to dominate. That is, the person on the other side no longer really matters… what matters is that he or she is one of THEM. And as one of THEM, he or she has horrible traits and motives, so unlike people who are part of US. With stage 6, nuances are lost. If someone is not with us… he is against us. Not just one of THEM… but the ENEMY. By stage 7, not only are THEY the ENEMY, but their thoughts and views are unworthy of consideration, and even their presence is at best grudgingly tolerated, and at worst, to be ended.

By stage 5, the personhood of those on the other side of an issue is being replaced by group labelling. By level 6, the group has been labelled as BAD. By level 7, the group is rejected… a problem to be gotten rid of. Personhood has been effectively removed (at least on an emotional level).

The 2nd post will look at this from a missional perspective (believe it or not).