Quitting as Lack of Faith or Act of Faith?

Going into Missions is often thought of as an act of letting go. One lets go of one’s former job, one’s home culture, and often many friends and even family.

One might think that means that missionaries

walking away

are good at letting go, but that is often not the case. In fact, the letting go in the past may make one less prone to do it in the field. One of the main challenges is letting go of ministries or projects. There can be a number of reasons. This is not an exhaustive (or exhausting) list.

  1. Fear of Change. We are creatures of inertia or homeostasis. It takes energy to change, to learn, to grow. If we have been doing something, we are likely to try to keep it going (1st order change) rather than stop and do something different (2nd order change).
  2. Comfort. Not unrelated to the first one, but now expressed in a more positive way. We get good at something and it feels like we have found our niche or our calling. It feels right to stay where we are and it feels wrong to cut ties… break relationships… end what has been so much of our present. Innovation and new challenges seem wrong, because we have gotten good at thinking “inside the box,” and hanging out in our “comfort zone.”
  3. Sense of Ownership or Privilege. We identify our ministry work with ourselves rather than with God, or with locals. The ministry feels like “ours” and not “theirs.” We sympathize with the writer of Ecclesiastes whose complaint was of how the rewards of one’s hard labor eventually go to those who did not work for it or earn it.
  4. Hubris. It is tempting to think that a ministry cannot survive without us. To let go can feel like dooming a ministry to collapse. Unfortunately, that attitude can actually create this reality. Thinking one is indispensible can lead a missionary not to train up others to take his/her place.
  5. Unable to Recognize the Times. I Chronicles 10:32 speaks “Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do,…” Missionaries don’t always recognize when times have changed and situations changed. A need may disappear. A missionary may have transitioned from pioneer, to parent, to partner, to participant, and can (and should) move along. Many projects come to their natural end of life, but instead of being celebrated as a completed task, are put on life-support and maintained in a state of ineffectiveness.
  6. Fear that it Suggests a Lack of Faith. When is giving up on a project a sign of lack of faith, and when is it an act of faith? This takes a great deal of discernment, because leaving can be a calculated plan to follow God’s calling, or a running away from difficult tasks and choices. Retreat can be an act of cowardice or a an act of sound strategy. Leaving too soon is bad, but so is leaving too late. For some people it is a lack of faith because they believe the calling of God is static (“God has called you to this place for this ministry… until death”) rather than dynamic (“Calling is following God wherever He leads”).

If you are looking for easy answers, you will find none here. Listening to God and to wise mentors and peers are important, but these will remove all doubt. It is somehow right that MINISTRY rhymes with MYSTERY. There is, and should always be, a certain amount of uncertainty. Ultimately, our decisions must be Acts of Faith.

Writing Status

I have been writing more lately and so thought I would update my status on books that are and books that will probably never be.  For the books that are you can click on my Amazon page…. HERE.  With the exception of my medical missions, my books are not formally edited so they are what I (or in two cases what my wife and I) thought were worth saying.

Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training

  • Subject:  Pastoral Counseling and Pastoral Theology
  • Target Reader:  CPE Trainee, or Bible School student
  • Status:  Just published September 2019
  • Comment:  Co-authored with my wife, who is a CPE Supervisor.  A follow-on to “The Art of Pastoral Care.” Takes an Integrationist or Christian Counseling perspective to the relationship between theology and psychology.

Dialogue in Diversity:  Christians in Conversation with a Multifaith World

  • Subject:  Interreligious Dialogue
  • Target Reader:  Missions student
  • Status:  Published January 2019.  About to go through minor revisions in preparation for a new missions class
  • Comment:  Takes a perspective of Dialogue more focused on Clarification and breaking down barriers to conversation between adherents of different faiths, rather than an apologetic or a “common ground” approach.

The Art of Pastoral Care

  • Subject:  Pastoral Care & Counseling
  • Target Reader:  Bible School student, CPE trainee, or Churchmembers seeking competency in lay-pastoral care.
  • Status:  Published December 2017.  Revisions are not scheduled at this time.
  • Comment:  Co-authored with my wife who is a CPE supervisor.  This is actually our most popular book.

Ministry in Diversity:  Applied Cultural Anthropology in a Multicultural World

  • Subject:  Cultural or Missions Anthropology
  • Target Reader:  Bible School or Missions School student
  • Status:  Latest edition December 2017. Collecting minor corrections to be incorporated sometime in 2020.
  • Comment:  My second most popular book.  A pretty accessible entry-point to the subject.

Theo-Storying:  Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture

  • Subject:  Theological Reflection and Storying
  • Target Reader:  Those who like to use stories to hear, reflect, and theologize.
  • Status:  Latest Edition June 2015.  Undergoing a modest revision with at least one more chapter.
  • Comment:  I think this is my personal favorite work since I wrote it because I love the topic (as opposed to writing it for courses I am teaching).  Enjoying updating it at the moment.

Principles and Practices for Healthy Medical Missions:  Seeking the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond

  • Subject:  Christian Medical Missions
  • Target Reader:  People, churches, and agencies involved in Christian medical missions. (Focus is on the Philippines)
  • Status:  Latest Edition February 2015.  No updates planned.
  • Comment:  This is the condensed book form of my doctoral dissertation.

Books that I started but will probably never finish

  • Book on Missions Theology.  This is probably the most viable book of the ones I started but did not finish. Took a lot of stuff from that book and put it into my other books that I did complete.
  • Book on Holistic Ministry.  A lot of good stuff in it… but also a lot of stuff that did not stand up well upon rereading later. Again, took the best stuff and incorporated in other books, or in class lesson plans.
  • Autobiographical Book on Missions. Wrote this pretty early… only 4 years into missions. Maybe something to do— EVENTUALLY. However, will wait until I am older (or maybe won’t do it). I have read a number of autobiographical works of missionaries. Some are great. Some are… meh.

 

 

Stories and Dialogue

Found a section of my old book Theo-storying that had stuff that I had forgotten about. I think I will have to update my book on Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) to include this. If I have time.

Another thing that affects the impact of a story is the respondent’s (or hearer’s) attitude about stories. Let’s return to the idea of responding to movies. Robert Johnson in “Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Engaging Culture)”3 speaks of different film responses.

  • Avoidance. Films are all bad. Best to stay away.

  • Caution. Films are often bad. Be careful to avoid any sort of heresy, or bad language or behavior.

  • Dialogue. Films speak for themselves. Critique and interact with the film on their own terms, not our own.

  • Appropriation. Films may have something important to tell us. Let’s be ready to listen and learn.

  • Divine Encounter. Films may provide us an epiphany or divine experience.

According to Johnson, these five attitudes describe five philosophies of critiquing movies. He notes that they fit into a spectrum where avoidance and caution are in the region of ethical critique. By that is meant that the critic looks at the movie regarding how moral is the behavior, visualizations, and scripting. If there is too much bad stuff in the movie, the movie is judged bad. Otherwise, it may be okay. Appropriation and Divine Encounter are on the other end, is where the critique is more aesthetic. Bad behavior and language may not be the main focus, but rather whether the film inspires and enlightens.

This, I believe, is a useful way of looking at films, at least from the standpoint of film critique. However, for individuals hearing stories, there needs to be some changes. We can keep the same spectrum. However, since this is a response attitude, rather than a philosophy for critique, there will be some differences.

Avoid    Caution    Dialogue    Appropriate     Encounter

|                   |                   |                   |                   |

<—————————————————————————>

Less Educative                                        More Educative

Less Doubt                More Doubt                Less Doubt

Further to the right on the spectrum the greater the tendency to accept the story as having educative value. The further to the left, the less presumption of educative value is given. The whole spectrum can be seen as sharing the attitude of the story having entertainment value. After all, a story without entertainment value probably is unnecessary… just replace it with facts and declarative sentences (or say nothing). Combining these makes the definitions change a bit.

  • Avoidance. Stories entertain, but should not be trusted to inform. Listen but don’t learn.

  • Caution. Stories entertain, but are not a good way to inform or educate. Perhaps they may have value as case studies or illustrations for difficult concepts.

  • Dialogue. Stories entertain, but they also provide an alternate perspective and experience. Interact with them and see what they have to say.

  • Appropriation. Stories entertain, but they also are an educational tool. We need to learn from stories.

  • Divine Encounter. Stories entertain, but they also inspire and transform. We need to hear God’s voice (or perhaps “divine wisdom”) coming through the story.

But Which Response Is Best?

If one is telling a story with the purpose of informing and inspiring the hearer, which response attitude is best? The immediate thought may be that Divine Encounter is best. And in one sense that may be true. It is nice when the respondent already starts from the presumption that what you have may be, not merely true but, the TRUTH. But I might suggest that Dialogue is a better starting point. Why?

Dialogue, the center of the scale is most likely the highest position of doubt and critical faculty. As one moves towards Avoidance, there is a lessening of doubt and critical faculty as one is more sure that the storyteller does not have something of value. Likewise, as one moves towards Divine Encounter, one is lessening doubt about the storyteller/story and lessening the critical faculty. Strong faith often comes from critical wrestling with doubt. It may not be desirable for the respondent to start from a lesser amount of critical faculty and doubt.

Take the example of the story of the Good Samaritan. An avoidance attitude is likely to lead the respondent to think that the Good Samaritan is a nice and pleasant story… but has no personal relevance or application. Divine Encounter attitude may lead to an uncritical acceptance of the story. That may sound good, but the uncritical acceptance may lead to a trite understanding (“It is nice to be nice to people”). Or, perhaps, the hearer will have an understanding of a deeper meaning, but not take time to see how to integrate the message with the hearer’s life. On the other hand, Dialogue means that one is open to hear the story, interact with the story, and “wrestle” with it. Elwood P. Dowd may have “wrestled with reality” for 35 years, but we can and should wrestle with stories. We grow through the process.

One should not minimize the concept of meditation or rumination. It is a cognitive and affective wrestling with the story. Two of the greatest defenders of the faith of the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, only came to faith through a long process of this sort of wrestling with truth.7 In the case of the Good Samaritan, what does it mean to truly love one’s neighbor as oneself, when one’s neighbor can be one who hates you? In the case of the the priest and Levite, is Jesus saying that religious piety should be set aside to help someone you don’t even know or like? (If you have read the Gospel Blimp by Joseph Bayly,8 one of the main characters begins going to church less often to invest time with a non-Christian friend on Sundays, to the chagrin of his Christian friends. Not completely a parallel story, but it does have elements of commonality.) If loving one’s neighbor includes friends, family, fellow believers, and enemies, is there any way in which one’s actions should differentiate these relationships? Are you TRULY loving your neighbor as yourself while you are reading this paragraph about loving one’s neighbors? The more you meditate, the more questions you are likely to have. Questions show that we are still learning, or at least open to learning.

Theo-storying Again

Okay. I finally finished working on my wife and my have struggled

theostorying
New Edition a few weeks awaybook,

with, off and on, for close to three years, Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training.  I have decided to start updating and fixing my previous books. I have decided to start with Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture. Although it has actually aged fairly well as far as I can see, there are reasons that I am starting with it.

 

#1.  This is the only book I have written that was not written because I am teaching a course on that subject. I wrote it because of the love of the topic.

#2.  I had actually started to write a sequel to Theo-Storying. However, in the end, I decided to take some of the ideas from the sequel and bring it into an early revision of the book. Since then, however, there are more things I would like to add. Most importantly the role of Theological Reflection, and its connection to Midrash Aggadah.

#3.  I had also started to write a book on Missions Theology.

theology-and-missions
The early version of the cover of a book I never finished.

I actually made good progress on this one. But in the end I lost interest in the project. But I did not lose interest in some of the topics covered. Some of the ideas were moved into Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training, but some really belong in Theo-Storying.

 

Hope to be done soon. I think I can get it done in the two week break between semesters here at PBTS and ABGTS. I will keep you updated.

In Search of Critics– Part 2

In my previous post (cleverly titled, “In Search of Critics. Part 1“) I suggested that we should value the critiques from many sources. While in Blooms Taxonomy (cognitive side) the highest level is evaluation. Strangely, I have seen some lists that place Creation as above Evaluation, but never mind. A critic is an evaluator so one might suggest that the only critic one should value is one who has had massive training and practice (Remembering, Understanding, Applying, and Analyzing) a certain field. However, I don’t think this was what is being implied in this model. The model is for education, NOT for critiques. Two problems come up fairly obviously,

  • The Evaluator/Critic in Bloom’s Taxonomy is an Insider Critic. However, there may be value in Outsider perspectives as well (as noted in the previous post).
  • Even among Insiders, there are specializations that need to be recognized. For example, my wife and I like to watch the Australian TV show, “The Block.” Contestants take an old building or series of buildings/apartments and fix them up for sale. In that show, there are judges. However, these judges are not the only evaluators in the show. The judges primarily evaluate style/aesthetics and practicality. However, they are not the only ones. There are real estate agents who come in a look at the work, evaluating it in terms of marketability and value.  Additionally, there are inspectors, foremen, architect, and engineer, who evaluate in terms of safety, quality control, government regulations, and show standards. Further, there are people who evaluate the contestants in terms of their spending. Each have a role as insiders. However, at the end of the show are buyers who participate in an auction. They can, in fact, be thought of as outsiders— since they are not specialists within the field– not in style, not in practicality, not in safety, quality, regulation, or costing. And yet, as ones seeking to buy the places, they are the ultimate judges.

Often, the outsider perspective is valuable. I am from a rather conservative religious tradition, and so when someone I know hears something they don’t like they will say that it is “liberal.” Curiously, often the thing they label as liberal often doesn’t fit onto the spectrum of theology from liberal to conservative. These people just don’t like it and they don’t like “liberals” so they throw the sticker on it as a perjorative term.

But I would argue that this is a deep mistake. In fact, I would even argue that it is backwards. I am involved in two religious academic fields— Missiology and Pastoral Theology. Let me give an example from each.

Missiology.  Back in the early 1960s, with the joining together of the IMC and WCC, missions (particularly Protestant missions) took a sharp turn. While in 1961 there was still a strong formal commitment to proclamation of the message of God, within a short time, there was a rapid move away from proclamation and proselytization, and toward “presence” (doing good in a culture). Out of this was a reaction where Evangelicals formed their own interdenominational missions conferences. This was a much more conservative group. There was a strong focus on proclamation, with a demeaning of social ministry. The logic seemed to be (1) Christ is coming soon so any ministry work that is “good” but not strictly centered on moving people to respond to the gospel is actually “bad,” and (2) social ministry is not “real ministry” at least as far as what it means to carry out the Great Commission.

In my mind both groups were abysmally wrong. But I don’t get angry at the concilliar missions folks for deemphasis on proclamation. As people with a different theological perspective than my own, I would expect them to think and act different. What makes me more angry, actually, was the conservative side. As religious conservatives, I expect to believe them when they say that they seek to follow what the Bible teaches and have Christ as their example. The denigration of social ministry by many (or placing outside the sphere if valid missions) is horribly unbiblical and a clear rejection of following the example of Christ.  As one who is religiously fairly conservative, I consider those of similar theology to be insider critics. As such, I am very unhappy when they go against what they claim to be support (Bible and Christ). Those who are theologically liberal are an outsider perspective for me. Therefore, I don’t get mad at their viewpoint. Rather, I see if they have any validity to their perspective. Thankfully, in Evangelical missions, there was an adjustment and by the 1970s there was a (grudging?) recognition that social ministry is important and should NOT be separated from proclamation, discipleship, and churchplanting. This recognition came, in part, from the work of people like Stott and Newbigin, who maintained dialogue with both groups, rather than listening to only one.

Pastoral Theology. In pastoral care and counseling, in the 1950s and 1960s there developed a strong influence from the social sciences (psychology, sociology, and anthropology). This led to some forms of care and counseling that were seen as not taking issues of morality, sin, and repentance seriously. It was seen as a “liberal” (there is that word again) agenda. Pastors commonly would throw around more psychological lingo, than Biblical principles. In the 1970s there was a conservative reaction in terms of the so-called Biblical Counseling movement. At its best it was a welcome adjustment to the past decades. At its worst, it was judgmental (nuothetic), reductionistic, and behavioralistic. And worst of all— it was labeled as “Biblical” even though its methods were so cherry-picked from Scripture, that commonly it would have to be described as sub-biblical.   Truthfully, today we are still struggling in this area. I am part of a denomination that has fallen in love with the term “Biblical Counseling” and commonly promotes some pretty sketchy stuff because someone placed the “Biblical” or “Conservative” label on it.

In truth, pastoral counseling and pastoral theology is an area where there is much room for improvement. Far too many embrace one sub-biblical view or another equally sub-biblical, and then ignore concerns from the other camp by the use of perjorative labels.

Ultimately, we need to learn from others and often we should listen most intently from outsider perspectives because they are the ones most likely to have seen things that we haven’t and thought of things we haven’t because… well, because they are outsiders.

Pulling the fisherman parable back in from the past post… the argument of who to listen to more, active fishermen or theoreticians, breaks down under scrutiny a bit. We would need to listen to all sides— and most importantly, the fish.