Review: Cross-Cultural Servanthood— by Duane Elmer

I want to say that this is the best Christian Missions book I have read in a long time. The problem with that is that I have been rather blessed in having read a lot of good Missions books lately. Maybe it is better to say that it is “THE MOST READABLE, RELEVANT, AND QUOTABLE MISSIONS BOOK” I have read in a long time.

The title is “Cross-Cultural Servanthood— Serving the World in Christlike Humility.” The author, Duane Elmer is (or was?) a professor of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The title is pretty much the way it is. It gives guidance for missionaries, particularly, to serve cross-culturally as servants. I was also quite surprised in the amount of missionary member care was in this book. That is good and the book is driven as much by stories as by concepts.

This is personal for me, but I particularly appreciate his chapter on leadership. He particularly avoids emphasizing the term “Servant Leader.” While there is nothing wrong with the term in theory, in practice many people use the term more like “servant LEADER.” Elmer suggests the opposite. The key role of a missionary is to be a servant. The missionary should not necessarily embrace leadership roles— it is okay at times, but often it is better to leave leadership to others. However, missionaries should ALWAYS be servants. As such, missionaries should be SERVANTS or at times SERVANT leaders.

He promotes the Tribal Chief vision for leadership. A lot of people think that Tribal Chiefs are autocratic, but this is rarely so. In most cases, a tribal chief works with tribal elders to come up with a consensus and then acts as the mouthpiece of the elders to the people. We find Moses gradually moving from a Pharoah- style autocrat towards being more of a tribal chief. He gradually passed on authority to tribal elders. And many of the disagreements that came up between the elders and Moses probably point to a more collegial gathering that would OCCASIONALLY go off the rails when the consensus went against clear direction from God.

The misunderstanding of Tribal Chief leadership is hardly surprising. I was in the military and it is surprising how many Christians idealize military leadership— a system that is absolutely HORRIBLE AND INEFFICIENT except in times of military conflict. And even then, the idea that orders are always to be obeyed shows a lack of understanding of how the chain of command really works.

Anyway, the book is about much more than leadership as it relates to missionaries, and cross-cultural circumstances. At times I feel good as I read stories in the book of mistakes I did not make… while at other times I feel that discomfort of seeing myself making exactly those mistakes. I am talking about leadership here because that was the chapter that struck me the most. But much of it has to do with healthy relationships and the right attitude to serve in another setting. The author provides a fairly simple (simple in concept…. a lifetime to perfect) model for acculturation.

Definitely recommend this book to all involved in missions or cross-cultural ministry.

CROSS-CULTURAL SERVANTHOOD

Christian Missions and Pastoral Care

Christian Missions seems so opposite to Pastoral Care. Christian Missions is usually linked with proclamation and apologetics. Pastoral Care is more tied to listening and eductive learning. Christian Missions usually seeks to change others. Pastoral Care is usually more focused on empowering others to change themselves— or at least understand themselves better.

But there are a lot of areas where Christian Missions overlap with Pastoral Care. I have written on this before. However, there are clear areas of overlap.

Missionary Member Care. This one is obvious. MMC is, in many ways, pastoral care for missionaries.

Interreligious Dialogue. This is less obvious. However, living in a pluralistic world, with many cultures having a worldview that is decidedly not Christian, the ability to understand, learn, and build relationships with those of other faiths is critical. Incompetence to do IRD is likely to lead to incompetence in engaging with people of other cultures.

Christian Missions. Okay, this is a bit funny. I am suggesting that Christian Missions exists completely within the bounds of Pastoral Care. Perhaps this is a bit much. However, I would suggest reading the book, CROSS-CULTURAL SERVANTHOOD: SERVING THE WORLD IN CHRISTLIKE HUMILITY by Duane Elmer (IVP Books, 2006).

Much like books on Servant Leadership books that have popularized a radically different view of leadership, “Cross-cultural Servanthood” makes the case that the Servant model is ideal for Missionaries (especially in the context of cross-cultural settings, at least in the context of the book). I believe that the book makes a strong case that Servanthood is the ideal, most effective, best way to serve as a missionary.

Fine… but when one reads the book on what it means to be a servant missionary, the book reads like a Pastoral Care book. Consider the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that did a study as to who is most effective in serving overseas (cross-culturally). The three top things were found to be (described in pages 96 and 97 of Elmer’s :

  1. “… Ability to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships with the local people.”
  2. “… A strong sense of self-identity, which allowed people to be real with each other.”
  3. “… Positive, realistic predeparture expectations.”

If one looks at these three— the first two are very much tied to Pastoral Care and Counseling. Perhaps the third one isn’t, but definitely the first two fit.

Back when I was going to seminary, I focused on missions courses while my wife focused on pastoral care courses. I think that as a couple, that worked out well. However, I later found the need to try to “catch up” in the pastoral care area. In retrospect, pastoral care is vital to missions, and I was disadvantaged with the presumption that pastoral care did not have much to do with Missions.

Take away: While language learning is important (I wish I had taken it more seriously), as are the skills of contextualization, Pastoral Care and Counseling## is probably the next most important thing in Christian Missions.

##Pastoral Care and Counseling here does NOT refer to formulas of counseling, or of verse-bombing. I am referring the the art of Pastoral Theology and Care that has been passed down from the Original founders of the church, through church history until today. Sadly, Pastoral Care has been messed with on both sides— those who have most to an overly secular model, and those who have embraced a Biblicist (arguably SUB-Biblical) model.

Other Links:

7 Rules of Pastoral Conversation

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 1

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 2

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions, Part 3

Book Review: “Encountering Theology of Mission” (Ott, Strauss, Tennent)

The book, Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues by Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, with Timothy C. Tennent, is the best Missiology book I have read in quite some time. I just finished reading it about 2 hours ago, so I don’t think this will be a carefully crafted review… but I hope that is okay.

ENCOUNTERING THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS: BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS, HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS, AND CONTEMPORARY ISSUES. Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, with Timothy C. Tennent (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010). Part of the Encountering Mission series.

When I first began reading the book I was a bit down on it in that it did not seem to have a theme or framework. But clearly, the goal of the book is not to give a single clear theological vision for mission (or missions), but to review the landscape and range of perspectives in the Theology of Mission. This certainly not only adds to its strength as a textbook, but also helps those involved in missions to come up with our own perspectives. As the sub-title suggests, it addresses Biblical Foundations for missions- but it is more than most such Biblical foundations which (at their worst) is little more than quoting a lot of Scripture verses. It deals with Historical Developments of missions and does do honor not only to Evangelical Protestant missions, but Catholic, Conciliar, and Orthodox missions as well. And it deals with many of the Contemporary issues that are bandied about today.

While the perspective of the writers is clearly Evangelical, the book does not try particularly hard to be a defense of Evangelical perspectives. It criticizes some perspectives within the Evangelical world with regards to missions, often shows respect (even if respective disagreement) with perspectives from others, and is cautious in generally avoiding strong dogmatic statements.

I will add two negative comments here.

First, there are some topics that I feel were glossed over a bit. The Honor/Shame Theology versus Guilt/Innocence (to say nothing about other models of connecting Christian theology to worldview categories) was not addressed more than off-hand. I understand that the book came out in 2010, but I do feel like these issues were around enough at that time to be seen as a real contemporary issue worth dealing with more. Additionally, the section of contextualization did not do much in the area of tests for good localized theology versus bad. In this particular case, the book did speak to this issue more than just off-hand. To me, however, it could have benefited from an in-depth review.

Second, I felt that it was a great book that was really let down by the final chapter. That chapter “The Necessity of Missions” did not really need to be there. It dealt with three “uncomfortable questions.” that are related to the justice and fairness of God. These are good questions, but are starting to move away from Theology of Mission into Soteriology and Theology Proper. It does feel like the authors simply weren’t that strong in those topics. The issue of Hell was especially weak in my mind. It did not deal with the wide range of perspectives regarding the nature of Hell…. limiting to three perspectives, and even then only covered one in-depth (the one they supported). It went into a fairly unconvincing Biblical justification for the ECT (eternal conscious torment) perspective. That seems pretty out of line with the rest of the book that tried to be multi-perspectival and sought to avoid verse-bombing. Personally, I am in the undecided category regarding much about the nature of Hell because the Bible is shockingly vague in this area. I can’t really complain that the authors have a perspective on it— that is fair and reasonable. I, however, feel like this chapter was added as a bit of an afterthought and was not well developed. I would say that I do find it curious that there seems to be a presumption in the last chapter generally that Christians should find it more motivational to do missions if non-believers experience eternal conscious torment then if they are consumed and perish. (Frankly, why would missionaries feel greater motivation to faithfully serve a God who appears to be less fair and merciful, humanly speaking, than one who appears to be more fair and merciful.) I am not trying to make a big point about Hell and about the Justice of God, but, again, I feel that the final chapter was added in a rushed manner based on editorial comments. I could be wrong.

I spent way too long on these two negative comments. If I ever get a chance to teach Theology of Mission again, I will definitely use it as a key textbook (unless something more updated comes along). I must commend the high quality of the book, and recommend it to all interested in this topic.