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.