Reminiscing With Mr. Bean

<I wrote this post back in 2015. At the time we were under stress from some financial changes. One can read some sadness and stress in the post, but some hope as well. I am happy to say that now in 2017 we understand better that God is good. We are surviving… and sometimes even thriving. I still enjoy the post. To quote from Philippine Independence leader Jose Rizal (1861-1896), “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”>


I was changing channels here in Baguio City, Philippines, when I heard a very familiar tune, the theme song of Mr. Bean… the Animated Series. This is a cartoon adaptation of the Mr. Bean character portrayed by (of course) Rowan Atkinson. Unlike the live series, the animated series has a happy tune played, incongruously, in a minor key.

When I hear the song, I am filled with dread. This happens every time, but I generally let it wash over me without a lot of thought. But today is a day when it is worth reflection.

Almost 11 years, I quit my job as a mechanical engineer. We sold our house. Our home church offered to help support, but not enough to meet our needs. We arrived in the Philippines in March 2004, and stayed for 1 week in a palatial hotel room in Manila. We felt out of place in such luxury, even though a relative was paying for it. We moved up to Baguio and stayed in a two room apartment for two weeks with all five of us squeezed into one room. We lived on ramen noodles (particularly instant bulalo). After two weeks, we moved into the seminary. We lived in a tiny space, semi-divided so that our three children could be in one tiny space separated by a sheet from the “living room” where Celia and I slept. During the day that was our tiny living space. For five Americans who lived in a 2000 sqft house on a half-acre lot, this was quite a drop in living standards. So we were living in less than 10% of living space, with 75% drop in pay, without knowing really what we were doing.

Eventually we got a TV. We had no cable and could only pick up a few local channels, most of which, were not really our form of entertainment. One show that we did like to watch that we could get was the cartoon version of Mr. Bean. Our children were young and it was something we could watch as a family. I don’t remember feeling the stress from that period except in a few situations. But when I hear the tune from Mr. Bean, the feeling of stress, depression, and uncertainty returns.

I have decided to reminisce because some of the situations are coming full circle.

  • In 2004, we were massively underfunded, drawing down our savings to survive. In 2015, we will be seriously underfunded again, unless things change. In 2016, most likely, we will have to return to the US because of lack of support.
  • In 2004, we had no cable TV and we are now disconnecting cable as a cost-saving measure.
  • In 2004, we were not sure what we will be doing as missionaries. Even though we know what we now want to do (pastoral counseling center, and seminary teaching), our situation is such that we really don’t know what the future holds.

Those are the somewhat negative side of things… but there is a positive side as well.

  • In 2004, we really had to put our trust in God— a trust that bordered on foolhardiness. So many Asian missionaries dive into missions in (nearly) hopeless situations, acting on faith.  In 2015, we need to put aside our faith in finances, and put it in God.
  • In 2004, we had to be quick to say YES to opportunities to serve. In fact, God brought us into medical missions and other things. It is easy to fall into a rut. Things in 2015 will force us to to get out of our “comfort zone” as well.
  • In 2004, we were new and could probably have benefited from missionary member care support. In 2015, we now provide missionary member care support for missionaries in Southeast Asia. However, the financial situation actually helps us understand the perspective, in some way, the deep financial problems experienced by Asian (especially Filipino) missionaries.

We are doing okay. God is with us… and I guess Mr. Bean is as well.

No “Preachers” Please

I have been reflecting on the term “pastor” in the last few months. Part of it is because sometimes people here call me pastor (even though it is not a title or role I seek), but also because our group promotes, trains on, and writes about “pastoral care.”  Not all Christian groups use the term pastor, of course. Some use bishop. That is a perfectly good word, but I don’t care for it because it has commonly be redefined in terms of hierarchy. Some use “priest” or “vicar.”  I don’t care for that because it suggest acting as a necessary mediator between God and people. Some groups use the term “apostle,” I have real problems with that because the NT idea of churchplanter/missionary gets replaced with a totally disconnected idea of authoritative (or even authoritarian) denominational boss.

However, the term I like least is “preacher.” I know that preacher is almost never thought of as official title… but it is a common term and most people would understand immediately who is being meant by the term “preacher.” An obvious problem I have with this is that one’s occupational title is narrowed down to a narrow role, there is a tendency to redefine the occupation in line with that role. It may even be that people will will select that occupation based on the role. I used to be a mechanical engineer. If the occupation was renamed “computer drafter” there would be a great deal of confusion since the occupation would now be primarily titled by only one aspect (not even the most important aspect) of the occupation. It is also possible that such a role may start attracting people who like drawing on computer out of proportion to those who may be best suited for the role.

Symptomatically, I see this problem with the term “preacher.” I took preaching in seminary and I remember the instructor saying that he believed that “preaching” is the most important role of a pastor. I liked (and still like) our professor, but I don’t believe it is Top-5… maybe not Top-10. Additionally, for a pastor at our seminary, he is required to take 3 preaching classes, 2 ministerial leadership classes, 2 music classes, 2 Christian education classes, 1 missions class, 1 pastoral care class, 0 dialogue classes, and 0 apologetics classes, Of course, one can take electives… but the priority of the class requirements certainly suggests the priority given to preaching.

I would like to suggest otherwise.

1.  The term pastor is tied to the Biblical metaphor of the shepherd. The central concept is caring not preaching, and leading not talking.

2.  In this post-modern age, dialogue is a more important skill than preaching. Listening is a more critical skill.

3.  In dealing with people of other cultures (even cultures in one’s own neighborhood), the key skills are anthropological… particularly “participant-observation.” Interaction and observation or more important skills.

4. The best pastors I have seen show definite concern and care for their membership… as well as the community around them. Some of these pastors are perfectly fine preachers. However,, often the best preachers are unempathetic social misfits. <This one hits close to home for me considering my general lack of social skills.>

5. Mentoring (a relational/modeling function) is more effective in holistic transformation than discipleship, and discipleship (a teaching function) is more effective than preaching (a proclamation function).

Clebsch and Jaeckle saw four basic functions of pastoral care:

  • Guiding (a teaching/helping role)
  • Healing (a caring/helping role)
  • Sustaining (a relational/comforting role)
  • Reconciling (a relationship/healing role)

Pastoral care does not fully define the role of a pastor. There are many things that pastors need to do that does not fall within the general concept of pastoral care. However, if one was to prioritize the functions of a pastor, I would have to suggest topping it off with “pastoral care.” Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that the title pastor should be replaced by “pastoral carer.” But it would be better than “preacher.”



Daniel and Proselytizing

One of my jobs is that I am the administrator of a counseling center in the Philippines. My wife is a chaplain and we teach pastoral care/pastoral counseling.

We teach that one does not proselytize in counseling. Or at least if one does proselytize… it is done by permission or request from the person… and never at the beginning of the conversation.  There are good reasons for this.

  1. In many settings, our ability to serve (such as in a hospital, jail, or evacuation center) is dependent on abiding by set policies. Such policies may include no “cold call” evangelizing.
  2. In times of crisis, encouraging a person to make a major life change can be detrimental (destabilizing an already unstable psychosocial situation). And any positive response (such as saying the sinner’s prayer) is likely to not be a heartfelt response since it was offered at a time of mental chaos.
  3. It may be interpreted by the client/counselee that the motive of the counseling is not to help but to rack up another score for one’s church.
  4. It may close down conversation before one has had an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in a manner that is understandable and recognizable to the counselee. (Front end evangelism may actually reduce the likelihood of conversion/ transformation instead of increasing it.)

There are other reasons… but this is a good, if short, list.

But some say that this is ridiculous. If one is counseling a non-Christian, that person is unregenerate and so one must focus on evangelism first. The argument is:

  • Being unregenerate they are unable to make meaningful change without the Holy Spirit indwelling them.
  • Salvation is more important than any other problem they may have. (This is the strongest of the three points here.)
  • Our call is to share the Gospel. Anything else we do, with regards to the world, is a distraction.

As an Evangelical Christian, from a revivalist tradition, I find these arguments to be relatively strong and logical. Yet, it is not our tradition that should guide us, but God’s Word.

The example of Christ makes it clear that we are to always demonstrate God’s love and message in both word and deed. With Christ, however, God’s love is often demonstrated before the presentation of God’s message of redemption. Further, it seems doubtful, at best, that Jesus limited the rest of his teaching/counsel only to individuals who responded to His message to follow Him. Jesus’ ministry should challenge the view that evangelism must always be the priority in all counseling encounters with non-Christians. But there is still room for differences of opinion.

A difficulty is that there are few examples of long-term counseling between a believer and a non-believer in the Bible. Thankfully, we do have at least one good example. That is Daniel.

Daniel served as a counselor to the rulers of Babylon and Medo-Persia. These were all pagan rulers. There is pretty good parallelism to the situation of many Christian counselors… especially chaplains. Daniel was a follower of the one true God serving as a counselor to unbelievers. Daniel’s role was, in part, because of his spiritual role (he was chosen not simply for being wise, but seen as having access to a god). Additionally, Daniel was under the obligation of the Abrahamic covenant to be a blessing to all nations. As such, a call to repent and turn to God (Yahweh) was certainly a critical (if not THE critical) activity.

But didn’t Daniel share his faith? Absolutely. There is ample evidence of that in the Book of Daniel. But was that all he offered? Nebuchadnezzar appears to have become a follower of God at the end of his life… but for most of the time of the interaction between Daniel and himself, he was not a believer. As far as we know Belteshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus never got further than a pagan’s respect for the god of Judah. It seems quite evident that Daniel did not see his role as a counselor as wasted in guiding pagan rulers.

We know that God’s message to these rulers through Daniel was not limited to proselytization. Even for the conversations that are not recorded in the book of Daniel, one cannot assume that Daniel would have maintained his role as a counselor for many decades if the only real counseling he gave was a call for the rulers to become Jewish proselytes.

I am not downplaying evangelization or proselytization. I am simply questioning the presumption that our role with unbelievers is meaningless unless it starts with classic evangelism and is to be limited to classic evangelism (up until conversion at least).

It seems to me that Daniel does provide a balanced approach.

  1. He lived a life of integrity and godly witness even in a potentially hostile environment.
  2. Served faithfully, seeking to meet felt needs of his counselees, while not blind to their actual needs.
  3. Did not feel limited in sharing the message God had for his counselees… regardless of its nature.

Giving the Devil his due… sort of.

A couple of things have come up here that bring up issues regarding demon possession. One was some discussions on-line that point out that a large percentage of Evangelicals in US do not believe in “mental illnesses” but believe that such phenomena are demon possession or demon oppression or such. The other was a training at seminary here about the relation of psychology and theology, and demon possession came up as an issue.

I suppose I should care about the issue, being involved in a counseling center. I should care … both as a question of reality, and a question of perception. After all, I live in the Philippines where paganism, as well as folk Catholicism, and American-made Christo-paganism, are pretty big.

Being honest here, howeve, I don’t really care. Maybe I should. A few indidents soured me to the topic. I read a Christian book on demonism when I was in college decades ago only to learn later that the writer was a fraud. Then I read a book by the most popular Protestant exorcist (at the time at least) in America. His poor scholarship really bothered me. Later, I was forced to attend a “deliverance service” (I was an employee at the place). People were barking like dogs, twitching, and screaming and such. It seemed strange to me that people connected the weirdness with God and worship as revealed in the New Testament. Studying theology in seminary, it became pretty obvious that much of the commonly revered beliefs in the area of demonology are based on tradition and theories that have gained credibility by verbal repetition, not by sound exegesis. A few months ago, I was asked here if I wanted to attend an exorcism. Truthfully, I have no more interest in that than I would have in attending an interpretive dance workshop. So my comments here are based more on analysis than experience.

But I do have some concerns or issues even in my ignorant state.

1. Symptomology.  A concern I have with the “diagnosis” of demon possession is that it seems to base symptoms on Biblical descriptions from 2000 years ago. Why is that a problem? Because the two defining features of demon possession (if it is a literal, rather than metaphoric condition) is: (a) the “disease” is a sentient being, and (b) it is a “disease” with the possibility of having an individualized agenda.

Why does this matter? Because if demon possession is a literal condition of a non-corporeal sentient being with an agenda inhabiting or oppressing an individual… there is no reason to assume symptoms would be consistent. In fact, one would have to assume that symptoms can and do vary (in fact there is considerable variation even in the New Testament). Today, in first world countries, the manic state sometimes described as demon possession as seen in the New Testament would be of no use. A wild person would simply be packed away in a mental institution and kept drugged passive (“doesn’t matter who is sitting in the driver’s seat when you remove the spark plugs”). Any purpose of the demon beyond residency would be wasted. Here in the Philippines where the manic often still share the streets with the rest of us, it is possible that such classic possession might be witnessed because it could have some affect in the culture. In first world nations… one might see a “Columbine”-type incident as closer to what one could suspect as being a more effective demonic activity, and so a more likely symptomology.

2. Externalization. A problem I have with those who are quick to identify demon possession (or more commonly oppression) is that it often comes off as an excuse… and opportunity NOT to grow and learn. Generally in counseling situations it is useful to determine what things one has responsibility over and what things one does not. With demon oppression, one is not really responsible for one’s feelings or actions, but one is not even responsible to confront an offending party (beyond paying an “expert” to confront in one’s place). My fear is such externalization perpetuates a sickly spiral. I have seen those interviewed on tv who keep going back to be “freed” again and again from demons. I feel like they have grabbed hold of a diagnosis that allows them not to change (because they have no responsibility in the matter) and are receiving a treatment based on a probable misdiagnosis. I have also known people who seem to always be “hit up” by demons. One I know seems to have regular problems with the “demon of despair” or the “demon of procrastination.” Not only is this Frank Perretti-ish view of the world not well-founded Biblically, but (again) it seemed to be a way for him not to deal with some easily identified issues in his life.

3. Mental Illness Diagnosis. Some Evangelical Christians like to make the argument that there is no such thing as mental illnesses. Rather they are issues of sin (in some cases… it certainly could be, or at least triggered by personal sins, being sinned against, or living in a generally sin-damaged world) or of demons (who knows?). The first problem is that mental illness do absolutely exist– they actually have to. Why? Because mental illness are not things of substance but are simply labels of loci of symptoms. They exist as a definition, by definition. In this sense, you can “create” a mental illness as well. Simply take a collection of symptoms and give it a name.

The question is not whether mental illnesses exist. The question is whether they are useful. The usefulness points in two directions… causation and treatment. If a mental illness has a cause, it can be prevented, or at least minimized. If it has a treatment, it can be cured or at least managed. The question is not whether a mental illness exists but whether it is useful. If it does not point to a reliable causation or treatment, it is not a useful label. To simply gainsay a mental illness label without reviewing its effectivity in determining causation or treatment is… well, it’s pretty lazy and potentially damaging.

The same is true on the religious side. Jobs friends sought to label Job’s condition (boils and other crises) as having sin as its causation. Others in the New Testament sought to label a blind man’s condition as from personal sin or that of his parents. Both misdiagnosed. And in misdiagnosing they had the additional failing of providing a flawed treatment plan. The same concerns exist in demon possession. If it is misdiagnosed, there would be an error in causation (thus potentially leading to recurrences) and error in treatment (leading to perpetuation or even exacerbation of the problem).

<Of course, there is a subtle twist to this. If demon possession is caused by a sentient being with an agenda, it is possible it could mimic the symptoms of a recognized mental illness with a different causation and treatment. That could be a challenge. However, in pastoral care, we combine psychological care and historical pastoral treatments, with prayer and religious symbols and rites. In the end, if the problem is treated and goes away, it may not matter its causation.>

4. Ambivalence: I see a lot of what I might call… ambivalence… regarding the demons in the Bible. Take for example the relationship between demons and idols. In the Bible, there are references that demons are associated with idols. Deuteronomy 32:16-17, Psalm 106:35-38, and I Corinthians 10:20 are the most direct (although the hebrew term for demon, sedim, in Deuteronomy and Psalms may not have much to do with our present image of demon). But the majority of Biblical texts point to idols as being nothing more than human construct… having no power whatsoever. Jeremiah 10, Isaiah 40, and Habakkuk 2:18-19 are among many to focus on the powerlessness of idols, rather than some connection to demonic powers. Paul’s theological construction on meat sacrificed to idols starts from the premise that there is no power associated with idols… except the power people give them to affect their own minds and consciences.

So how does one reconcile demons and powerless idols? Perhaps the answer is that demons are powerless. Or perhaps the connection to idols is a rhetorical device rather than a statement of reality. This sort of thing is found elsewhere in the Bible such as in Isaiah 46:1-2 where the Babylonian gods Bel and Nebo are looking down from the heavens unable to protect their own idols from harm. The rhetorical device contrasts useless, powerless gods (and demons?) of pagan idolatry with the one true God, Yahweh. Or perhaps something else.

There is also a bit of ambivalence between illness and demons. Some problems in the Bible are clearly identified as demonic (such as the demoniac of the Gadarenes). Some seem to clearly have nothing to do with demons (the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan, or at least 9 of 10 Egyptian plagues). Some illness are not identified as to their basic cause (the woman with years of bleeding, Lazarus’ illness). Healing in the Bible varies wildly as well, from public health and quarantine practices to medical first aid, to a wide variety of different miraculous practices. One is left with the realization that IF all illnesses are demonic in origin, there there is simply no consistency of treatment for demonic oppression. One can use medicine, public policy, or miraculous activities to get rid of demons.

I am reminded of the story of Capo de Vaca (“Cow Head”), a man who was supposed to have been stranded with some shipmates in precolonial Florida. They travelled across what is now the southern United States to get back to “civilization.” To survive they were forced (“do it or die”) to act as exorcist healers by the native peoples. Perhaps their strange appearance and language made them seem good candidates for this role. Capo de Vaca noted with surprise how effective they were. These were not necessarily pious men. They were sailors and as a former sailor myself, I can vouch for their probable impiety. One, in fact, was a Muslim conscript. They used the religious symbols and prayers they knew. Many were healed this way. Was this God empowering them? Was this demonstration of the power of the faith of the recipients? I don’t know… ambiguity again. Clearly it was not the faith or piety or methodology that gave them success.

5. Charlatans. Let’s be fairly obvious right now. Much alternative medicines have aspects that are beneficial. The problem is that one does not always know which ones are useful, on what occasions they are useful, and who is trustworthy in carrying out the diagnosis and treatment. Since exorcism, especially in Protestantism, is a rather self-appointed role… it lends towards charlatanism. So even if there are legitimate exorcists and legitimate uses of exorcisms… the question is whether one could wade through the cesspool of frauds, and the less unpleasant, but still dangerous, kind-hearted but self-deluded practitioners.

Conclusion: So what do I suggest (in my own way based on limited experience)? I would suggest the recognition that God, others, and the internal assets of the client are always potential aids in dealing with mental problems. As such, presuming a treatment that takes one or more out of the picture is unhealthy. If the physiological and psychoemotional symptoms suggest a diagnosis with a treatment regimen… it is most often wise to test the process. However, that should not be done in exclusion to the person’s faith, effectively including religious rituals and symbols in the life of the client, and the role of God as healer.

The Devil and the First Church of Job’s Friends

The Philippines gets bombarded with all sorts of theories as to what is “Christian” when it comes to psychology, pastoral care, and counseling. In truth, anybody from the West (or East) with the ability to make words with their mouth eventually comes to the Philippines to share their lack of insight with others. During the first term at seminary here, our group (Bukal Life Care) held a short seminar reviewing the different models of counseling and pastoral care as it relates to the interaction of psychology and theology.

But here are three writings/reflections that got me thinking on the issue of contextualization when it comes to pastoral care/healing in missions.

A. One article was “Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical?” by Stephen Altrogge. The first paragraph describes the situation he was responding to.

“I recently read two articles by a well-known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore is not biblical.

So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem.”

Altrogge challenged this view, but made the case somewhat differently than what I am familiar with. The argument I am familiar with focuses on verses that show that not all problems described in the Bible are diagnosed as spiritual problems. That is fine… but Altrogge starts from (what I consider to be) the Biblical doctrine of the total depravity of man. The name is poor because it suggests that we are totally evil in everything we do or think. However, the doctrine basically means that we are broken. With the Fall, man is broken as a holistic being. As such man is broken physically, broken mentally, broken emotionally, broken socially, broken spiritually…. broken and living in a broken world.

If that premise is sound… then it is quite reasonable to assume that a major reason we have physical problems is that we are broken. It is not necessarily that we are physically perfect except for sins, curses, demons, and such. Could we be sick because of sin? I am sure it is possible… but why would one assume that this is the cause in every case? If we have emotional problems… perhaps it is because we are emotionally broken… the problem may not be external to us. If we may be broken in many ways, not just spiritually, then it is possible that spiritualizing every problem we face may be misdiagnosis and mis-treatment.

B. A second set of articles came from a discussion on LinkedIn regarding suicide of pastors. A writer described going to a pastors’ conference and the issue came up about emotional problems. The general consensus of the pastors at the conference was that bad stuff emotionally and mentally were due to demons.

Of course, that got me thinking… does it matter? After all, a lot of different treatments may work. If a person is depressed, medicine may help, but so may counseling, or behavioral modification. Perhaps treating for demons may also work. However, again, externalizing our problems (it is not about us, but the devil made us do it) may direct us away from the proper treatment.

But before we get to that, there is a third thing.

C. My son has atopic dermatitis. It is fairly stabilized, but can certainly be annoying and a bit embarrassing. So many want to give advice. Sometimes the advice is helpful. Sometimes perhaps not. One recently told him that he may have a curse on him. The person comes from a church that utilizes a training program called EGR (Encounter God Retreat). One of its innovations is that it teaches “generational bondage.” Essentially, a Christian may have a curse on him or her if an ancestor has done something bad. Sometimes, if one has a problem (especially a visible problem) the last place one wants to be is at church… a place chock full of well-meaning but ignorant“Job’s friends.”

I would like to think that most readers here would know that generational curses (not talking about family systems stuff… but an actual divinely-dictated curse) is not biblical. Ezekiel chapter 18 makes that clear, Jeremiah repeats the same idea, and the New Testament lacks the very concept (although we know that at least some people in the time of Jesus still believed in such things… thus Jesus had to assure the people that a man blind from birth did not have such a curse).

So how does one respond? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Be double—openminded. In certain circles, a naturalist paradigm dictates. In other circles a more spiritualist paradigm dominates. Being double-openminded means being open to the idea that either paradigm may be right… or wrong. Far too many from the West give little value to the spiritualistic paradigm. However, some go to the other extreme and seem to embrace a christoPAGANISM where the spiritualistic paradigm is uncritically accepted.

  2. Be theologically centered. Generational bondage is a theologically/biblically flawed belief. One doesn’t really need to be particularly openminded in this. The Bible does describe demons as truly existing, sentient, and malevolent. Rejecting out of hand demons is theologically flawed. However, so is blaming everything bad on demons. Seeing the world as a dualistic battleground (who is going to win???) between God and Satan is Biblically flawed, and should have no place in Christian ministry either. Missionaries and pastoral care providers need to be theologically grounded and centered.

  3. There may be a healthy pragmatic understanding that goes beyond reality. Externalizing all problems as demons and curses is not necessarily healthy for individuals who need to accept a level of responsibility for their problems. On the other extreme, removing all morality from problems (problems becoming simply diseases or syndromes) is also not healthy. Developing a balanced understanding of problems in people’s lives that still finds moral self-responsiblity as an important ingredient in the formula is good. What does that mean? Work towards what is healthy when one doesn’t know what else is true.

  4. Don’t be Job’s friends. Job’s friends “KNEW” what was wrong with Job. But they were wrong. Not knowing is not a sin… but declaring what is so when it isn’t is a dangerous game. A friend of mine showed up for his first day at a Bible school. He sneezed and one of the staff told him that he hasn’t been praying enough. He decided that he may be at the wrong school. A lady with “the gift of discernment” (allegedly) came to Baguio to tell people what sins they have. Seeing one teenage boy, she wrote “SEX” on his forehead. For teenage boys, “discerning” sex on his mind as a problem is hardly a risky guess. But is all of this the type of church we want to be in? A church full of Job’s friends? More importantly, does God desire us to all be part of the “First Church of Job’s Friends”?

Ultimately, this brings us back to “counter-cultural contextualization.” Contextualization challenges the culture, but from within… not from outside. As such, the outsider does not impose change, but utilizes the Word of God and the counter-cultural elements/thoughts within the culture to challenge what needs to change (while also supporting what is good within the culture). That means in pastoral care we don’t attack the culture (nor its opposite) but we are open to challenging presumptions and allowing an environment for reframing.

Pastoral Care Presentation

I usually put Missions topics on this Blog page. However, since, one of my two biggest roles in missions is heading a pastoral care center, I don’t feel bad putting this presentation here. And besides, even if the development of missions and pastoral care historically is different, there are a lot of parallels. Decide for yourself.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”History and Foundations of Pastoral Care” target=”_blank”>History and Foundations of Pastoral Care</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>

A Healthy Mind, and the God Who Is

Although I do missions work, and teach missions in seminary, my primary day-to-day job is as an administrator of a pastoral care and counseling center in the Philippines. As such, I read more books on counseling and pastoral care than most in missions. A recent one I have been reading is “Theology & Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach” by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger. Chapter 4 speaks of the issues of Theological Adequacy and Psychological Functionality. The chapter depends considerably on another book (that I have not read): “The Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study” by Ana-Maria Rizzuto.

I thought I would adjust some of the materials to be more useful (to me at least) from the perspective of missions.

psychology and Theology 2The above chart would make a bit more sense as a 3-dimensional chart (cube), and would include more options (for example a person with correct views about God that are at odds with the religious environment that he or she resides within). However, the chart here appears to be adequate for most cases.

The X-axis has to do with a persons understanding with regards to God. There are three choices shown:

  • The God Who Is. The individual’s understanding of God conforms closely to the God who is (God as actuality, not projection).
  • Heterodox. God Who Is Not. The individual resides within a faith community that teaches about God, and that teaching conforms closely to the God who is. However, the individual’s own projection of God differs from his or her own faith community (and the God who is). This the person would be  thought of as heterodox within his or her own faith community.
  • Orthodox. God Who Is Not. The agrees with his or her own faith community/religion, and agrees with their beliefs. However, the teachings of that group are of a god that does not correspond well with the God who is. The individual has false beliefs but would be viewed as orthodox beliefs with respect to his or her own faith community.

The Y-axis has to do with the psychological well-being based on the individual’s understanding of God. There are two choices listed:

  • Healthy/Edifying. The individual’s beliefs about God support a healthy mind and emotional state (and social life) allowing the person to grow as a person.
  • Unhealthy/Destructive. The individual’s beliefs about God create an unhealthy mind and emotional state (and social life) creating stunted or regressive development as a person.

These axes and options covered create six options.

  1. “X”: I put an “X” through one of the options. This is, admittedly, a faith position. However, I believe that a healthy understanding of God as He truly is, will help promote a healthy holistic life. This does not deny problems… but rather assumes that a correct understanding of who God TRULY is is a key factor towards healthy mind and relationships. Since we were created by God and created to have a healthy relationship with God… it seems doubtful that a correct understanding of God would promote problems.
  2. “A”: This category is the IDEAL situation. The individual has a belief system about God that closely conforms to God as He truly is. That belief promotes a healthy mind, emotional state, and relationships. This is aided by being in a faith community that has an understanding of the God who is, and appropriate nurture, conversion, and sanctification/discipleship within that faith community.
  3. “B”: This category is covered in two squares but both involve having an unhealthy psychological condition that comes from a projected god, rather than knowing God as He is. The person may be in a faith community that teaches the truth or a faith community that does not. Regardless, correcting the falsehoods is key. The difference is to what extent one utilizes the structure of their own faith community. If they are “heterodox” within their own community (believing what is false, but in a community that believes what is true) it MIGHT be easier than if they are in a community that believes and teaches what is false.
  4. “C”: Things are more difficult here. The person has a belief system that “works” at least at a psychological level. The goal is to move them to the box marked “A”. However, careless (and uncaring) work may push them to one of the boxes marked “B” or “D”. In fact, it is quite common. People sharing faith may lead a person to question their own beliefs, but that may only open themselves up to new thoughts and allegiances that our farther from where they need to be. In this category, “C”, they are in a faith community that teaches what is true, so gently working with them and utilizing the support structure within that faith community is important.
  5. “D”: This is, perhaps, the most difficult. The person is in, and accepts, a faith community that believes what is not true about God… but the belief system “works” for the individual, at least psychologically. Again, it is important not to do damage where the person shifts into a “B” box. But then the question comes as to whether one can utilize the support system in the faith community that they reside in. In Pastoral Care, it is assumed that healing can occur in the faith community a person is in, even if the beliefs within that community are false. I think that this can be true, but some groups have beliefs that are very unhealthy and it is uncertain that they can be utilized to help the person. One may focus on getting them to change allegiance fast… to a group that teaches the truth. That may, however, move them to a “C” or a “B” box… not necessarily an improvement. Those in a “D” category box will be hard to change because their belief seems to work for them. Gentleness and understanding is important here.

No real answers in this post… just some things to think about. Looking this over… I can see now that the 3-dimensional graph may have important insights that are lost with this simplified one. But as a tentative, preliminary look… I think it works.

By the way, I am not suggesting that psychological well-being is only a function of having “Right Thoughts.” Far from it. I am simply noting the relative importance temporally of knowing God as He is in the lives we live.


Pastoral Care and the Missionary

English: Reverend James Chalmers, missionary.
English: Reverend James Chalmers, missionary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am scheduled to teach a two-week course at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary ( this April as part of its Summer Institute. Basically, it is an 8-week course shoved into two weeks. I am not sure that “Pastoral Care and the Missionary” is the name the course will finally settle on, but I like it. There is a course at PBTS that deals with “Missionary Member Care” but traditionally it has focused more on logistical issues and relational issues (relationships with supporters, mission board, hosts, etc.).  This is all good, but as someone involved in missions, and one who serves as the administrator of Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center (, I wanted to focus more on the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of missions.

But let’s ask an obvious question. Why have a question that focuses on pastoral care for one profession? I used to be a mechanical engineer… would it make sense to have a class entitled “Pastoral Care and the Engineer?” <Hmmm…. that’s got me thinking…>

This is not a hugely well thought out post… hopefully by the time I finish prepping for the class I will have a clearer view. But here are some reasons to consider:

1.  Cross-cultural Immersion. Most (classic) missionaries are raised in one culture, yet are expected to live and thrive in a new culture. Yet missionaries aren’t typically meant to “go native”… to become become completely enculturated in their new culture. There are a couple of reasons. Missionaries are supported by people from their home culture, and they still be able to relate to them. Additionally, missionaries aren’t supposed to simply become part of a new culture, but to connect counter-culturally, adapting to the culture while also challenging it.

Missionaries often feel “culture shock” as they enter a new culture. Yet, they never truly fit in. This feeling (conscious or unconscious) of being a “stranger in a strange land” provides considerable stress that must be recognized, understood, and dealt with.

2.  Bomb in the Suitcase. I did not create this term… IMB has used it before, but I am not sure if they developed the term either. The idea is that when a missionary goes overseas, he (or she or they of course) carries baggage with him. Yet some of the baggage he carries he is not fully aware of. And that baggage has the potential of “blowing up” overseas.  Here are a few items:

a.  Anger. If a missionary has a bit of an anger problem in his home culture… he can probably deal with it because he has had decades to make his behavior culturally acceptable. But in a new culture, there will be things done differently that are very irritating (driving, food, the lack of privacy, whatever). Also, that which is culturally acceptable is different. Anger that could be dealt with at home may blow up on the field.

b.  Sex.  Family, friends, church, accountability partners at home may keep sexual problems under control. But in the field, much of that support network is gone. Additionally, the cultural landscape may be more relaxed sexually than home, and even where the culture is more conservative there are often things permitted that the missionary has not had to deal with before. It is easy to develop an attitude that “whatever happens in the field, stays in the field.” On the other hand, home supporter expectations may also cause problems. A single missionary at home may be encouraged to marry, but a single missionary in the field may be discouraged from this due to ethnic prejudices or mission board policies.

c.  Financial Mismanagement or Laziness. Problems with money or time or work may not be too much of a problem in a company or organization with a great deal of oversight… where one’s boss’s office is just a few feet away from one’s cubicle. But when management is distant, work problems can flare up.

There are many more potential bombs but you get the idea.

3.  Unreliability and Unrealistic Expectations of Partners. Missionaries are expected to be reliable, but sponsors and agencies are often less reliable. Missionaries often don’t know from month to month (certainly year to year) whether their support will continue to come in. Local hosts on the other hand may see missionaries as a cash cow. Supporters want to hear about victories more than struggles, big numbers over gradual transformation. Some supporters expect missionaries to suffer, Missionaries often are asked to host short-term missionaries… many of whom are great, but some are more like demanding and judgmental religious tourists. Many a missionary has gone home to be cut off financially, or to retire without a support system. Missionaries aren’t expected to have emotional or (especially) spiritual problems. And if they do… who can they go to? In some cases, there is no one to go to.

4.  Failure.  Missionaries are supposed to succeed. But success is often hard to recognize. Partnership failure, organizational or ministry failure, physical or emotional breakdown happens. These can happen with anyone… but the situation of many missionaries makes it difficult to handle these… especially if they have not been prepared for the vicissitudes of mission work.

5.  Special Family Issues.  Missionaries don’t just do their work and then join their family at home. Their family is also intimately involved with the mission work in the mission field culture. Children must be bicultural typically and educated to be able to function effectively in two different cultures. Many do no not have the flexibility and resilience for this. Additionally, missionaries cannot care for aged parents well from a distance. Yet, missionaries can’t (or at least should not) dump their family concerns on God… they are responsible for their family.

6.  Adaptation.  I have said that the two major characteristics of missionaries is Willingness and Flexibility. Spirituality is important, but often not the sort of spirituality that is appreciated by supporters. Spirituality is often shown in flexibility… adjusting to different ministry work, schedules, partnerships, locations, and so forth. Most people don’t deal well with changing schedules… most like a certain amount of routine. Even for those who like variety and change… it is still a source of stress. Burnout is easy… especially when willingness is not tempered by one’s own limitation.

7.  Spiritual Warfare.  Okay, I have to admit that I often don’t take spiritual warfare as seriously as I should (covering this more on a future post) but I do recognize that missionaries are in the front-lines of a battlefield that few people understand or are prepared for.

I will stop here. Anyway, I am looking forward to this class. The Philippines is an up-and-coming mission-sending country. But missionary care here is almost non-existent. Worse, it seems as if (sometimes) the senders seek to make the missionaries suffer more. That could be a mistaken impression on my part… but I do believe there is GREAT room for improvement.

Article on the Bible and Crisis Care

Article that was originally published in “Bukal Life Care Journal” (2012 edition). Go down to the post listed at the bottom of this post if you wish to download the entire e-journal.

Elijah in Dialogue with Crisis Care” target=”_blank”>Divine Intervention: The Flight of Elijah in Dialogue with Crisis Care from Bob Munson