Knowing One’s Role

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In the first two or three years of our mission work in the Philippines, we would go back to the US for a few weeks to visit friends, families, and churches. And at churches I would be asked to preach. Sometimes, I would choose a Missions topic and sometimes not. When I preached on something else, I would get a bit of a surprised response. Somehow, they just assumed that since I was a missionary, I would preach on the Great Commission, or perhaps give a rousing Missions testimony.

I felt like saying, “I am not defined by my vocation. A baseball player may well know more than sports. A missionary may know more than missions.”

Perhaps it was my stubbornness. but it took me awhile to get this straightened out in my head. Church leadership did not assume that I knew nothing beyond Missions.

In any community, there is Status and Role. So, for example, when a person visits a foreign country…. members of that society look to assign a status to that person. The most likely status given is Tourist. Associated with the status is an associated role. For tourist, the fairly modest requirements is to obey local laws and spend money. Some other possible statuses would be International Student, Missionary, or Diplomat. Each one of these has an associated role.  It is often best for that person to help the community in assigning a status, because if he/she does not, the community could assign an undesirable status such as Alien, Stranger, or Enemy.

In cross-cultural work, one must know one’s status, and one’s role. Erik Erickson described the 5th life stage (age 12-19) as Identity versus Role Confusion. Frankly, all of us can struggle with role confusion, and even more so for those of us from societies that place higher value on Individualism.

When I am invited to visit a church, they are commonly assigning me a status as well. I have had a few different statuses given to me:

  • Missionary
  • Seminary representative
  • Pastoral Care “specialist”
  • Stewardship expert

The last one is interesting. I am certainly no expert in stewardship. However, Filipino pastors often want visiting preachers to speak on tithing. Many churches in the Philippines have very little giving, and so many pastors serve with starvation wages, or worse. They feel ashamed to talk to their own churches about money, and so ask visiting preachers to take on that role of stewardship expert.

Each one of these drives a different role. To fail to take on the assigned role is, in fact, to fail.

When I went back to the US, I was foolish. I was given the status of visiting missionary. As such, I was simply stupid to act as if that status comes without assigned roles. One must know that status and live up to it.

I think I have learned a few things over the years. I try to find out the status I am given and the role expected of me.

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Multiplex Relationships Through the Church

Discussion can not only reveal new things… it can make old things more clear and vibrant.

I was teaching Cultural Anthropology the other day, and I was talking about Simplex versus Multiplex relationships. Simplex means that there is only one relationship between two individuals— for example, boss/worker. Multiplex means that there are several relationships— for example two people may have a boss/worker relationship, also a Sunday school teacher/student relationship, and a neighbor/neighbor relationship, all at the same time. Or it can be a web of relationships

Figure 17

Simplex Structure

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Multiplex Structure

At first it sounds backwards, but small communities tend to have multiplex relationships, and large urban settings tend to have simplex relationships. Consider the following urban example (from the Philippines perspective). Paul wakes up and starts getting ready for work and he here the “Pandesal Guy” walking through the neighborhood selling bread rolls. Paul buys some pandesal from him. They exchange pleasantries, but they really don’t know each other, Their only relationship is between “Pandesal Guy” and “Customer.” Paul leaves and walks out to the main road to get a jeepney. Along to path Paul sees some neighbors. They are friendly enough but he doesn’t know them beyond being neighbors. The jeepney driver picks him up. They know each other but really only in terms of driver and rider. He goes to work, eats lunch, continues work, and returns home. All along the way, he interacts with dozens of people, but all of them with simplex relationships… he knows them only in one type of exchange, and commonly, those individuals don’t know each other.

Is there anything wrong with this? Well, yes., as was noted by one of my students. Moving from a small community to a large city, he noticed how unsatisfying and shallow the relationships were. Reflecting on the class discussion, he believed that the dominance of simplex relationships is much of the cause. It takes multiple levels of interactions to provide a certain closeness or richness in a relationship.

What are some implications of this? I would hazard a few tentative ones:

  1. A healthy and close relationship should have multiple levels, and web-like cross-connections. “Bowling Buddies” may get along well. But it takes other levels of reltionships (kinship, occupational, religious, etc.) to provide depth to these relationship. One of the closest relationships I have had as a missionary is a friend of mine who I have worked with for years in ministry. But I have also served for a time as his benefactor. He has also served as a time as my benefactor. I have worked for him in ministry, and he as trained under me for ministry. These different, and conflicting, roles strengthen the relationship, I believe.
  2. Perhaps it is out of the struggles of mutliple levels of relationships that true depth in relationship occurs. Imagine two brothers who run a business together. You may expect that there would be a lot of fighting. The kinship and the financial relationships clash with each other. The struggle can tear apart a family. But if the two can learn to deal with conflict, it seems possible that they would have a level of closeness that goes beyond typical brothers. The husband and wife relationship always has conflicts due to the web of interconnections, but also because the multiple roles leads to conflicts. Some groups promoting so-called “Biblical Manhood” and “Biblical Womanhood,” look at the relationship in fairly simple terms– the man is the decisionmaker for everything regardless of whose role or responsibility the decision is related to, while the woman is always submissive or sometimes even passive, even in areas that are tied to her role in the family. That hardly seems particularly Biblical. Marriages in the Bible always seem to have a certain amount of conflict and dynamism associated with them. Perhaps trying to reduce the normally multiplex relationship of marriage into a simplex one would produce a more stable family (Confucian rules of submission do give stability, for example) but hardly a relationally rich marriage.
  3. The church, in an urban environment especially, has the opportunity to provide rich multiplex relationships to contrast the shallow simplex relationships within the surrounding society. A church may have a hierarchal structure, or a more flat democratic structure– I am not sure that that matters. But from a relationship level, the messiness of a small community should be encouraged in the church, I believe.

Visiting a church and a Bible school in Hong Kong, I met a lot of women from the Philippines who serve as domestic helpers (maids, yayas, nannies, and so forth). They work long hours, often from before sunrise, to well after sunset 6 days out of 7. So what do they do on their day off each week? They go to church. They join a Sunday school class, and then they exuberantly join in the main worship service. After, many of them go off to have lunch together, and then many still join together to go off to the Bible school to be trained. Sitting in on one of those classes, I was amazed at the level of camaraderie, and the joy they had to learn together. Also while I was there, an instructor who had taught there for three months, came back for a short visit. She was swarmed by students so happy to see her back. Afterwards, many of us went off to have a meal together. For these women (and a much smaller number of men) this camaraderie compensates to a large extent for the long hours, and in many cases mistreatment, related to their jobs, and at least alleviates a bit their disconnection from their families.

I think that the church, especially in urban settings, or in diaspora/expatriot circumstances, can provide that deeper multiplex relational network that creates a community.

Bad Contextualization of the Gospel

I am happy to say that I don’t hearblog_ifyouonlyhaveahammer this much anymore… the idea that the gospel message needs not be contextualized or made to be recognized relevant to the hearer. On occasion, one hears someone quote Isaiah 55:11, believing that God word accomplishes what it is supposed to do, despite us.

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Usually, rather than attacking contextualization, what is challenged is the motive behind contextualization… the belief (or perhaps fear) that contextualization is some sort of pluralistic relativism, diluting the Christian faith. Can it be that? I suppose… one can interpret almost anything as anything… that is the characteristic of pure symbols. However, such fear can be a lazy excuse to use just one presentation of God’s message, even where such a presentation would in all probability be a failure. Or it may be a lazy or selfish choice to not understand others.

Let’s consider a rather extreme case of bad contextualization of the Gospel. It is the story of Emperor Atahualpa, and the Conquistador Pizarro. You can read the story in one of my previous posts… HERE. This version of the story is from Jared Diamond in “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” Look at the method of presentation of the Gospel, and the results.

On the quick read one might argue that it wasn’t a presentation of the gospel at all. For Evangelicals it does not push toward the tradition of the “Sinner’s Prayer.” There is also no focus on sin, repentance, and faith. Yet it does have a couple of  features that make it an even more theologically sound presentation of the Gospel. Consider the following:

A.  The friar was offering to teach the people to be friends of God. This focus on discipleship certainly places it superior to calls for belief without Lordship of Christ, or a call even to follow Christ in any meaningful way.

B.  The message of Good News was actually from God’s Word, the Bible. In fact, the friar gave the Emperor the Bible, and sought to help him use the Bible. This certainly places it superior to presentations that are more logical or clever, but clearly outside of utilizing the whole of Scripture.

So if this was such a good presentation of the Gospel, why did it fail so miserably. (Frankly, I hope most readers would identify the killing of thousands of non-Christians and the subjugation of the rest as an undesirable result of a gospel presentation.) Many of the problems with the presentation were due to the cross-cultural gap that had to be bridged. But there were other problems as well that may not have as much causation from poor contextualization. Let’s consider the contextual issues first.

  • The Word of God wasn’t really presented in a way where it could be responded to. The Incan Emperor did not know how to read Latin, so he could not have read it, to say nothing of responding to it after understanding it. Giving the Bible to someone who can’t understand it, thinking it will have a positive result is quite foolish. The power of the Bible is in the message it conveys… not some magic associated with it, and not the physical structure of the Bible.
  • The Bible was not even in a medium that the Emperor could appreciate. The Incans had no written language, so he had no concept of written language. He did not even know how to open the book. The present the Bible utilizing a medium that the people cannot connect to is much like establishing a Christian radio station in the 16th century— an impressive accomplishment, but no one will be able to receive the message. They won’t even know that there was a message being sent in the first place.
  • The message was given disrespectfully. When the Emperor did not know how to open the book, the friar tried to reach up to help. The Emperor was angry. Probably, although I am just guessing, the behavior was inappropriate when dealing with the Emperor. Of course, making the emperor angry through a social faux pas is quite likely to drive a wedge between the two rather than leading to agreement.
  • The behavior of the friar and Pizarro was thoroughly ethnocentric. It was so ethnocentric that when the Emperor tossed aside the Bible (tossing something he had never seen before– and did not look all that interesting since he could not read), the friar called them enemy dogs and the Emperor a tyrant. In all likelihood the friar did not know the Emperor well enough to know if he was a tyrant. He may well have been no more of a tyrant than the Spanish royals. Calling them dogs is a disappointingly classic form of dehumanization and of self-elevation. In the 1500s explorers and theologians struggled with the question of whether the strange beings they found in other lands were truly human or not. The wise of that time didn’t know the limits of what is, so it is understandable if there was some confusion. Still, if one was actually superior, it hardly seems appropriate (or even necessary) to degrade the others further. Certainly presuming that their deaths were less of a tragedy than one’s own people, qualifies as ethnocentric.

There were other problems as well:

  • Mixed motive. Pizarro was a conquistador… driven forward by the desire for conquest (thus the term “conquistador”) and wealth. The friar actually joined the group because of his desire for plunder, not hearts turned to God.
  • Mixed allegiances. Pizarro calls for the Incans to be subject to God, the the King of Spain, and the Roman Catholic church. It is understandable that missionaries sometimes identify themselves with their nation of origin or their own denomination so strongly that they struggle in separating those allegiances from allegiance to God. History does have many stories that may lead one to concern about mixing denominationalism (or creedalism) or nationalism, with allegiance to God.
  • Mixed methods. Mixing the message of God’s desire to make peace with all mankind with an army bent on destruction and colonization certainly sends a double message.

I think it is safe to say that contextualization, and proper motivation has a strong effect on how people respond to the Gospel.

 

 

 

And the Fun Begins Again

Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (www.pbts.net.ph) will start its 2017/18 academic year starting June 13th. Looking forward to it, as I will be teaching three courses I love.

  1.  I will be teaching Cultural Anthropology again. This will51TaxgU9G9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ be for the M.Div. program. I will be using the book I wrote, “Ministry in Diversity,” as the main text book. Still trying to think about what project I want to do with that. Traditionally, I ask people to do either an ethnography or an RRA (Rapid Rural Assessment). However, we are doing some ministry work in a jail this year, and it would be an exciting exercise in sub-culture contextualization. Not sure yet.
  2. I will be teaching “Contemporary Issues in Missions.” This is a BTh course. I taught it years ago, but in more of a modular, rather than semestral, format. Additionally, the book I used back then is probably a bit long-in-the-tooth to be thought contemporary today. I may have to teach the course without a single textbook. I will probably make it more research-oriented.
  3. Celia and I, and maybe one or two more, will tag-team to teach “Clinical Pastoral Orientation.” It is a mini form of Clinical Pastoral Education, designed to fit a bit better into a semestral system. Might use our book “The Art of Pastoral Care” but not sure. It depends how many have already used the book for Intro to PC&C. This is a cross-over class in the sense that both Bachelor level and Master level students can take it.

My wife Celia will be teaching Intro to PC&C for the BTh Students. I will also be supervising theses and dissertations at Asia Baptist Graduation Theological Seminary, and thesis students at PBTS and Maranatha Graduate School.

My wife is working with Drug Surrenderers here in Baguio, and both she and I (and our team from Bukal Life Care) will be continuing to expand work in two jails here. Some people find it strange that I teach both Missions and Pastoral Care. However, I believe it is in places like jail ministry, and drug treatment, where Missions and Pastoral Care overlap quite nicely. It is also in such ministries where the argument that social ministry is not really missions is shown to be without merit.

It should be an exciting year. I am not sure whether I will be so busy that I can’t keep this blog updated, or whether the classes and ministries will inspire me to write more.

 

Consciousness One Two Three

Harvie Conn wrote the book. Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue back in 1984, based on lectures he gave at Fuller Theological Seminary. It has been noted by multiple people, that Conn was limited by a tendency to use rather unclear language. That is one reason I have tended to like the work of Paul Hiebert. He often did much better in making complicated concepts… well… less complicated.

However, one strength of this book is thatapplication-communication2 although written in 1984, it does appear a bit prescient in identifying some trends that have continued to develop over the last 30 years.

Conn chose terms Consciouness One, Consciousness Two, and Consciousness Three. Frankly, I did not feel they were explained well, but they seemed to point to generally valuable insights in the rlationship between theology and anthropology (as well as mission).

Below is how I tried to explain these three concepts to my students. If someone says “Bob, you got that completely wrong,” I would welcome correction, as long as you can make it clear…

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Consciousness 1. Ethnocentric Mindset. A non-Western culture is seen as a “Disease to be Cured.” Non-Western arts were commonly seen as devilish. Missionary work is seen both as an attempt to Share the Gospel, and to “Civilize” (bring in line with Western culture). In fact, it was difficult for many to separate the Christian faith from Western culture. Three reasons for this difficulty:

  • Western culture was assumed to be the highest culture, and the “most Christian.”

  • Other cultures were seen as lower cultures, and bringing them in line with Western culture was seen as aligning them with the Christian faith.

  • Commonly those of other cultures were also deemed to be lower– both intellectually and morally.

Mission work was seen as sharing the gospel in non-Western lands, because the Western world had “already been reached.” Because of this Americans and Europeans are active missionaries, and other peoples are to be passive receivers of the message.

Christianity will always look foreign to people from non-Western cultures.

Consciousness 2. Indigenization Mindset. There is now no necessary presumption that the West has all of the answers. Rather different cultures are legitimate. Christianity may exist in a different culture through appropriate TRANSLATION of the message and theology from the West.

Religion is seen more positively in a culture (Consciousness 1 tends to see religion as a problem… both by secularists and even by Christian missionaries). However, there is a tendency to see culture as made of of individual institutions… including religion. Therefore, to transform culture means to replace (indigenize) those things that need changing, and leaving alone those things that don’t.

Greater focus is placed on plurality of cultures (rather than “cultured” versus “uncultured.”) Also greater recognition that cultures and languages are fluid… changing.

There is a recognition of “Contextual Theologies,” but often see them as existing in local competition of sorts to “Real Theology,” based on the presumption that the theological formulations of Europe and America are in some sense supra-cultural.

While cultures are more respected in Consciousness 2, the agenda still is primarily driven by the West, in terms of theology and missions.

Consciousness 3. Contextual Mindset. Harvie Conn never really defined this one well. He focused on problems in the early 1980s and what he hoped would change.

Not only are there many cultures, and they exist dynamically, but each exist holistically. That is, one can’t just break the culture apart into different components or institutions. Religion is an integrated with the culture, not a separate part.

All theology is contextual. There is no such thing as supracultural theology, only well-contextualized theology and poorly-contextualized theology.

The translation model of of theologizing and ministry is inadequate because it is uni-directional. Rather, there needs to be dialogue between cultures, as well as tri-logue between theology, anthropology, and mission.

Different contextual theologies (and expressions of faith) are challenged by the canon of Scripture. But different contextual theologies need to be in dialogue– challenging each other and allowing the possibility of learning from each other.

Missions is now a whole world task to the whole world.

 

Cultural Perspective and the Prodigal Son

Osobo O. Otaigbe, in his book “Building51jtl2ynvgl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ Cultural Intelligence in Church and Ministry,” tells a story from Mark Powell regarding different cultural responses to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Numerous Christians from three nations (United States, Russia, and Tanzania) were told the story, and asked about the story. The question was why did the prodigal son end up in the pig sty?

  • The majority view of Americans was that the prodigal son ended up in the pig sty because he squandered his money.
  • The majority view of Russians interviewed was that it was because of a famine.
  • The majority view of Tanzanians was that it was because no one helped him out.

Who is correct? Well, let’s look at the passage (Luke 15:13-15):

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.

So who is correct? They all are. He squandered his money, there was a famine, and no one helped.

One culture focused on the Individual, one on the Community, and one on Fate.

Culture filters what we see and hear, and guides our interpretation and behavior. But in this particular case all three views have a point, but none ultimately matter. The story is ultimately about the Father (God) who welcomes and restores– regardless of whether the problem is due to individual fault, community failure, or kismet.

However, if I could only choose one viewpoint, I might focus on the one of the Tanzanians.

  • Individualism can lead one to see solutions in oneself… and that is the wrong place.
  • Fatalism can lead one to see solutions in luck or perhaps “calling.”… and that ultimately does not bring solutions.
  • Collectivism can lead one to see solutions in relationship to others… and that is a better place to look.

A Christian understanding probably comes closest to seeing things in the third sense– our relationship with God and with others.

Regardless, multiple viewpoints can be beneficial… not forcing new ideas into the text– but helping us find our own blindspots.

Maybe a “Cross-cultural Minister”?

In our Mission Research class it came up a second time. Should there be missionaries serving here in the Philippines? After all, if over 90% of Filipinos self-identify as Christians, are they needed?  If one identifies missionaries in terms of the Biblical role of apostle– evangelist and churchplanter– they are unnecessary in much of the Philippines. An outsider is less effective in evangelizing and churchplanting… so an outsider has little purpose in such work unless it is to throw money at the problem. Sadly, throwing money at problems from outside sources can create dependency— and I certainly have seen that.

So should there be missionaries serving in the Philippines? As one who could be described as a missionary, a foreigner ministering in the Philippines, it is awkward for me. My tentative solution is to separate the term “Missionary” as it is popularly understood, from another role. Perhaps we could call it “Cross-cultural Minister.”

So maybe the criteria for Missionary could be:

  • Serving outside of the local church primarily. (This is in-line with the NT Apostle)
  • Serving in another culture or same culture. (This is also in-line with the NT Apostle. There seems no evidence that apostles only worked cross-culturally)
  • The focus is more directly on Kingdom Expansion (more on evangelizing and churchplanting, though that should not negate social ministry, or translation, for example)
  • Works in support of local churches or where the church does not exist— rather than in competition with local churches, or doing what local churches should be doing themselves.

Even though I like very broad definitions for many things, including the term “missionary,” the above list seems reasonable.

One might then come up with criteria, or at least examples, of what would entail a Cross-cultural Minister, who doesn’t also fit into the criteria for Missionary:

  • Serves in a cross-cultural setting.
  • Humbly works in support of local churches or other ministries in that setting
  • May support missions (such as in logistics, training, member care, and such)
  • May help churches in that new setting work more effective in local cross-cultural ministry.

Why might it be useful to designate a difference between missionary and cross-cultural minister?

  1.  To understand the term missionary from a Biblical sense, it may be more useful to tie the term better to the New Testament term “apostolos.” However, the term missionary today is too broad, so developing a Biblical-Theological understanding of missionary is difficult. Perhaps narrowing it and setting it more in line with apostolos would help.
  2. Nations and peoples transition from being mission-receiving to mission-sending groups. However, there may be reasons for having cross-cultural ministers long after the need for missionaries has gone. This is easier to understand if different terms are used.

Cross-cultural ministers should always exist, I believe. Christians are stronger in their unity, as we recognize our international, intercultural diversity. One way such diversity is celebrated is through individuals working in other cultures. We learn from each other. Also, with refugees, economic diaspora, and more, cross-cultural ministers can be a great asset for a local culture to reach out to another culture in their midst. Diversity of viewpoints from different cultures also can make us wiser and stronger.

(On that last point. I am from the United States, and reading the poorly thought out ethnocentric bigoted statements made by sheltered, but sincere, Christians there, I say we truly need cross-culture ministers from other nations serving in the United States as well.)

I have served in the Philippinescropped-istock_000024760796small for 13 years. The first 6 years I served primarily as an organizer of evangelistic medical missions to under-reached communities. That may well meet the narrower definition of missionary, but I primarily worked with local churches, local medical personnel, and local church planters. My role was more as a catalyst than anything else. In recent years, I primarily teach missions, and teach and do pastoral care, especially for local pastors and missionaries. This would not meet the narrower criteria for missionary, but in a sense I am more necessary now. The island of Luzon, generally does not need missionaries… but they do need a reminder that the Church is international, universal…  not just local– and that we are stronger in our unity, when we embrace our diversity. We all need that.

Of course there is a risk here as well. Many Christians like to say that they support missionaries. I would hate to see many (including myself) cut off financially because they support missionaries, but not cross-cultural ministers. Classification of terms can be useful in certain settings, and destructive in others.