Learning a second language is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s frustrating and humiliating, and the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. Sometimes, you just want to give up. But we put forth the effort in order that we might be able to share our lives with the people of the places we’ve moved to. If only recognizing the importance of language learning was enough to, you know, speak it.
I used to like the television show “Alias.” The main character, Syndey Bristow, was the best secret-agent ever. She was sort of a cross between James Bond and Lara Croft. I watched faithfully through the first season. I was half-way through season two when someone asked me what the show was about. “Well, there’s this college-student-by-day, undercover-super-agent-by-night whose dad is a double agent but she doesn’t know it and whose mom was a double agent for the KGB but her dad didn’t know it, and her dad’s best friend is the villain posing as a good guy, until they introduce her long-lost sister.” I was overcome with how ridiculous it sounded as I spoke. After that, I never watched the show again.
The worst thing about the show wasn’t the spy family, triple-agent, gadget-for-everything, plot, it was the fact that no matter what obscure country Sydney found herself in, she spoke the local language perfectly. Chinese. Tagalog. Welsh. She spoke them so well that not even the local bad guys could tell she was a foreigner. Stealth-ninja swordplay skills I’ll buy, but fluency in fifty languages is just too unrealistic for me.
Which brings me to I asked a friend who is a church planter in the UK about this a few weeks ago. Maybe he’ll post his response in a comment, but really can’t get past this. We’ve got people on the field who speak the national language very well. They’ve been around a while, they can do everything they need to do and say anything they might need to say in the language. But they have accents. Strong ones. They butcher the language with the typical American “R’s” and lazy vowels. In the phone, no one mistakes them for nationals. In person, the listener still has to contort his face as he strains to understand. So my question is this: Do our personnel working in English-speaking contexts take on the local accent?
For me, the accent is the key to true cultural relevance. Think of it this way, if I were to speak with a guy in London, he’d surely notice my American accent. But after a couple years of living in Covent Garden, I’d surely be able to put on a pretty good English accent for my friend. Not that I’d be able to pass for a Brit, but I bet he wouldn’t say, “Hey, you’re putting on an English accent.” No. I’m pretty sure he’d say something like, “Hey, you’re losing your American accent.”
I’m sure there are probably all sorts of ministry applications to the idea of losing our accents. To me, it just reminds me that there is more than just a language barrier between me and the people to whom I minister. It makes me want to live in such a way that the people around me start to say: “Hey, the longer you’re here, the less your faith seems foreign to me.”
This blog is a companion to Missions Misunderstood, where I post my thoughts on missions, misiology, and church planting strategy. Unlike that site, where posts are long (more often than not), thought-out (sometimes), and pedantic (invariably, but unintentionally), I’ll use this blog to bore you with the details of my life.
Believe it or not, very little of my time is spent wrestling with the ideas and philosphies I write about at Missions Misunderstood. Those themes are the background music to my daily adventure as a church planter in Western Europe, but they don’t fully reflect what life is like for me and my team. I want Stepchild to be a blog in the truer sense of the word, with pictures, a wider range of topics, and running commentary to our experience.
So, let’s just say that you’re interested in deeper, missiological ideas. Well, then Missions Misunderstood is for you. But if you’re curious about who we are and how all of that plays out in real life, this is the place for you. And my Mom, who is the only person confirmed to be a regular reader.
One of the things God has been teaching our team lately is that personality matters. No, I’m not talking about the mega-churches in the United States that seem to be built entirely upon the charismatic and inspirational personality of its pastor. Strangely enough, it is just occurring to us that God may have given us our personalities on purpose.
See, I grew up in a very ministry-minded church environment. Everyone was encouraged to think of others first. To us, being a minister meant ignoring your “self” and intentionally becoming a servant; something that was not natural to any of us. We loved the idea of getting out of our comfort zones and being stretched and challenged in new ways. I’m very thankful for that church family.
I’m pretty sure Jesus had a personality. He was harsh about certain things, had compassion toward needy people, and ran away from his parents at least once (ok, so maybe what He did was nothing like the time I packed up my G.I. Joe backpack and “ran away” to the back yard when I was six, but you know what I mean). But can we say that there is a “Christian” personality?
With our practice of that good theology (“Be like Jesus”) also came a subtle, implied message: “It doesn’t matter who you are.” If you were an impulsive, gregarious person, you needed to cut it out so as to maintain self-control. Shyness was the opposite of boldness, which is something all believer must have, so the timid folks needed to get over their inhibitions. The stoic or melancholy needed to have joy, the dreamers needed to keep their feet on the ground. What we ended up with was a bunch of people who knew a lot about the fruit of the Spirit, but knew nothing about themselves. Ultimately, we couldn’t relate to lost people at all. We had worked so hard to be more like who we thought Jesus was, that we had lost our personalities. We became boring people, with no interests, hobbies, or passions. We didn’t even enjoy being around ourselves!
So now God is teaching us about personality. That it’s ok for some of us to be risk-takers and others to be cautious. We need to class-clowns to keep things interesting and the sensitive ones to feel for us. The optimists, the pessimists, the intense, the cool; they are parts of a healthy and interesting community. The outspoken are as needed as the introspective. I think our personalities are tied to our Spiritual gifts. They are all needed for diversity and balance within the body of Christ.
Maybe God made us the way we are so that we’ll have something in common with people who are like us.
I’m really interested to see how this plays out in church planting. We’re working to plant churches within existing social structures. People are drawn to others like them, and that’s where they are comfortable and have a sense of identity. But I think that’s a good thing. Churches should have distinct personalities. The intellectuals meet on Thursdays at lunchtime and pour over theology. The sensitive ones spend a lot more time in worship and prayer than the rest, and are very sensitive to the needs around them. The outgoing and outspoken do a bit more preaching and evangelism, while the social butterflies have lots and lots of fellowships. Who knows? Maybe this would be a healthy alternative to denominationalism.
What if the balance we’re so worried about maintaining is kept at the city-wide level as opposed to the local group level? While we cannot tolerate sin, heresy, or disunity, what about diversity in the ways we express our life in Christ?
Even though I use them all the time, I hate post titles that end with a question mark. I guess that’s what I get for having a blog that is about asking questions…
My last post, “Adapt, Adopt, Reject,” was an outline of a paper that some friends and I came up with. I’ve had a couple of good responses. I got a few “let me chew on it and get back to you” messages, and I’m sure many of you are still trying to swallow the idea that I would have friends to work with at all.
I’m really interested in looking at Christianity from this perspective: What would our faith look like without the influence of modernism? The more I thought through the paper’s outline, the harder it was for me to come up with any modern contributions that we should adopt outright. It’s strange to think about, because we interpret everything through the modern worldview. I’m no historian, but I think we could learn a lot about being followers of Jesus in postmodernity by looking at the pre-modern expressions of Christianity.
In his book, Ancient Future Faith, Robert E. Webber gives a helpful outline of “Paradigms Of Church History.” He breaks down church history into these worldviews (paradigms):
- Classical Christianity (100-600)
- Medieval Era (600-1500)
- Renaissance/Reformation (1500-1750)
- Modernism (1750-1980)
- Postmodernism (1980- )
As the church moved from one worldview to another, I imagine that there were many Christian leaders that warned against the dangers of the coming worldview. For example, during the rise of the modern worldview, there were probably plenty of godly folks saying things like “Buyeth not into modernism…” or something like that. What would they warn people against? Elevation of logic/human reason? Too great a focus on the individual? The limitations of linear thought?
But here we are, on the tail end of modernism, and the only expression of Christianity that we see is heavily influenced by the modern worldview. We read it into history and revelation. Our understanding of God is a modern one. We study systematic theology, we’re used to hearing propositional exposition of the scriptures. We feel this huge need to nail down the specific time and date of our salvation. We use mass-market evangelism. We look for ways to measure our holiness. This is the modern church.
In an online audio chat with Derek Webb, Donald Miller talked about how Jesus gave many different answers to people who asked Him “What must I do to be saved.” But modern Christians only have one answer to that question. Why is that?
I don’t think that the modern worldview is bad. But I’m certainly weary of anyone who asserts that it is the “Christian” one. I’m interested in discovering and recognizing the influence my worldview has on my faith.
During a recent training seminar, a leader in our region rhetorically asked: “Now, the real question is: can a Postmodern be a Christian?” As a believer who isn’t very modern, I wanted to ask: “Can a Modern worldview be compatible with a Christian one?” But it wasn’t until Dr. Robertson McQuilkin presented his talk on Postmodernism outlining those elements of postmodernism that we should adopt, what we can adapt, and what we must reject, that I saw a good way to discuss the issue. I’ve tried to address this before, but some friends pitched in to help this time. What we’ve come up with is more of an outline than a paper, but it is a work in process. Basically, we’d like to challenge people to stop thinking of the Modern worldview as good or even neutral in terms of it’s influence on our faith. Here’s what we’ve got so far:
Modern tendencies we should ADOPT:
Seek the Source We should read and know the scriptures and view them as authoritative, true, and beautiful.
If you want to know what someone said about something, the best place to go is to the source. This also follows a biblical means toward resolving personal conflict and sin issues.
Due Diligence Care should be taken to be sure that no function of the church is overlooked, no member left out, and that we not repeat the mistakes of our those who have gone before us.
The use of plain old common sense still has an important place in following Christ. Scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding, but doesn’t prohibit us using our brains. Genuine critical analysis was deveoped in the modern era, won’t go away any time soon, and can serve us Christ-followers well.
Modern tendencies we should ADAPT:
Utter dependence on logic/reason. Matters of faith are logical by human standards to the extent to which they “make sense” for the group/individual.
God cannot be proved, contained, or fully defined. But, since He reveals to us His character, He is knowable. We must recognize the beauty of the mystery of God.
Fight for the Faith
Modern Christians often see themselves as “Defenders of the Faith” whose task it is to hunt and expose false doctrine wherever it may be found by exposing its logical inconsistancies, ridiculing it, or personally attacking those who believe it. “Good” theology is revealed by the living and active God and is not such a fragile thing. We should, however, lovingly confront false teachings whenever they come up in our relational sphere of influence. Discipleship and mutual submission/accountability require it.
God’s truth (the only truth) is indeed absolute, but our understanding of it is always subject to the limitations of our human perspective. We will never have full and complete knowledge of truth this side of heaven, and we must always recognize that our interpretations are from a limited perspective.
Truth is knowable as a person. Jesus is God revealed to humanity in history, and He continues to be active today.
Labels are helpful. While labels tend to be negative and prone to gross generalizations, they are indespensible for meaningful conversation. If we cannot define what we mean, we cannot communicate anything.
Modern tendencies we should REJECT:
Faith/Science: Faith should not/does not come into play only at the limitations of science. Science is good for helping humanity learn about the ourselves and our environment. This shoud allow us to be better stewards of the resources God blesses us with.
Christian/NonChristian: The (now global) Christian subculture is an example of the people of God withdrawing from the world and creating their own “safer,” “better,” “God-pleasing” version of it. It is neither “safer” nor “better,” and only serves to remove us from the mission God has commissioned us to.
Good/Evil: The Enemy is not God’s opposite. Fear has no place in the Christian Life. God’s good has/will overcome evil in the world. C.S. Lewis said that “Even the devil is God’s devil.” This leaves a lot for us to work out (i.e.: the problem of evil), but is a more Biblical perspective.
That Faith Requires ReligionJesus rejected the religious requirements of the Pharisees every time He came across them. Yet moderns tend to replace the child-like faith Jesus talked about with religious traditions. While faith necessarily brings with it good works, Jesus did not come to start a new world religion. The first “Christians” continued to identify with and continue in the Jewish religion. We must recognize that as we mature in Christ there are a) certain things we are compelled to do, b) certain things we are compelled to avoid, and c) things we should continue to do, but with a new, Christian motivation.
Mimicking the World’s Systems
The Church is not a business. To manage it as such is to subjugate it to the world’s standards of success, performance, and relationship. This affects the way we “hire” and “fire” personnel, manage interpersional conflict, and approach the lost people around us.
The Gospel is not just information. There is more to the Good News than the propositional message. The Christian task is more than dissemination of information; it is contextualization, translation, and lifestyle support of the Truest Message of All.
Missions must not be viewed as a finite task, but as an ongoing act of obedience. Years of “what’s it gonna take?” mentality has perpetuated a human-centered, militaristic, utilitarian interpretation of the Great Commission that effectually keeps us one step ahead id the Holy Spirit.
To many modern thinkers, the church IS the institution we see around us. The goal of the whole Great Commission exercise is to build a better institution which does a better job of getting to gospel out (or of discipling, or raising money, or whatever). Postmoderns would simply rather do these things themselves, organically or in affinity-related groups.
The distance between the scripture and my life is actually quite short: I read the scripture and I obey it. All the better if I can obey it with some others who are willing, like-heearted and (hopefully) fun. There is no reason to make this distance unnecessarily greater by requiring that we build instituions to obey scripture.
Some things work better in instituions: car manufacturing, delivery of gas, electricity and other commodities, surgery (!) all require infrastructure or a controlled environments which necessitates institution.
Relational things, heartfelt things, passionate things don’t institutionalize well. We shouldn’t try.
The “Silver Bullet” mentality
This mentality, rampant in modern thinking and in churches, assumes that when the right formula, combination of factors, leadership or Tipping Point is discovered, success will inevitably result. This thinking, an outworking of modern mechanization, simply deosn’t work in God’s economy. He’s much more concerned about our obedience and our heart for Him than in us finding and practicing the right formula. The only Silver Bullet in following Christ is…well, following Him.
Well, what do you think?
In my last post, I wrote about the resolution to “Develop an exit strategy from public schools” that is being proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention. Since we’re trying to put together an effective entrance strategy here in Western Europe (doing the opposite of what the resolution calls for), I’ve decided to put myself in the shoes of someone back in the states and give some suggestions for engaging our communities through the public school system:
They aren’t well-paid. They work long hours, and they are “on call” 24 hours a day. Their impact is great, but they receive little recognition. They share their testimonies and beliefs every chance they get, thought they often deal with strict regulations against openly sharing their faith. I’m not talking about missionaries to far-off places, here; this is the life of your average Christian public school teacher. Which brings me to my first point:
1. Local churches need to start treating public school teachers as missionaries. I mean it. A commissioning service, full prayer support, maybe even some financial assistance. They are doing missions by sharing life with people in natural ways. Everything they teach, every opinion they give is heavily influenced by their relationship with Jesus. We see it so clearly in foreign lands- missionaries in China teaching English classes- but for some reason we put teachers in a different category. They go through culture shock. They have to learn a “foreign” language. They have to be creative, patient, and culturally relevant. It’s time we recognize that.
What if, instead of pulling out of the public school system, we pushed our way into it? What if the public school system was flooded with Christian students, teachers, and administrators?
2. We need to start sending teachers into the system. Whenever a young person asks me about becoming a missionary, I always encourage them to look for ways outside the professional missionary system. Having the title “Missionary” brings with it more barriers and obstacles than we often realize. What if we started recruiting, training, and sending young people into the public school system as missionaries to their communities? We send short-term semester and summer missionaries to rough, inner-city areas to minister, why not send qualified teachers into those schools that are desperate for teachers anyway?
3. We need to be intentional about training and sending our children to public schools. What if we trained them, even the young ones, to study the culture of their class at school? What if we prepared them to face the dangers of their particular mission field and helped them get spiritually ready to face each day in that context?
4. Parents must get involved. The public school system began it’s sex education program in the fourth grade when I was in public school. My mom went and previewed the films and curriculum, and then made me read a James Dobson book to supplement what was being taught. Ok, so I don’t recommend giving kids a James Dobson book, but I think she had the right idea. If parents know what’s being taught to their kids, they can counter those worldly things with truth. This way, kids know what the world says, and learn to contrast that with what the Bible says.
But parents aren’t only limited to reviewing curriculum. They can join the PTA, be a “Class Mom,” or a Teacher’s Aid. They can get on all those committees, boosters, clubs, and organizations that actually decide what the public school does. At our local school, there was a PTA committee that decided whether or not a church plant could meet on the campus on Sundays. Parents can even substitute teach. This would extend the parent’s influence to reach not only their own kids, but other kids in the community as well.
5. To affect change, service is the answer. We have “work days” at church, why don’t local churches organize and sponsor work days at the local public schools? The administrators are always looking for ways to save money. What if some Christians came in and raked leaves or repainted the lockers? Schools always need recess monitors and traffic controllers and crossing guards. A Bible Study group could supply refreshments for the School Board meetings. Doing these things, without expecting special favors in return and without any strings attached, would affect the local public schools for the better. What if the school administrators didn’t have to see Christians as their enemies? Wouldn’t it be something if, when faced with a need, the principal felt he could call the local church for help?
So I guess what I’m proposing here is that we develop an “entry and engagement strategy” for the public schools. Not so we can make them “Christian,” but so we can make to most of this great opportunity we have to interact with and serve our communities. Our involvement is what will help our children. It is being salt and light.
In Western Europe, missionaries develop and implement these sorts of strategies in order to engage their communities and plant churches. We would start here and go even further, looking for those existing entry points into the community and making the most of them. What if the churches that send us were doing the same back home?
Every year, Southern Baptists from across the United States get together in an annual Convention. This is a time for them to discuss denominational direction, elect leaders, and share what God is doing. One key part of the meeting is the proposal of resolutions. These are actions that members would like the denomination as a whole to support. Because they are passed by majority vote, approved resolutions say a lot about the Southern Baptist Convention. An example would be the resolution to boycott Disney. It was passed in 1997, and called on all Southern Baptists to boycott all media, products, and properties of the Walt Disney Company.
As this year’s convention in Greensboro, North Carolina nears, several resolutions are being proposed. One that I find particularly troubling is a resolution calling for Southern Baptist churches to develop an exit strategy from public schools.” Now this is not a new one- Al Mohler proposed it a couple years ago. But the attitude behind it is frustrating.
As a missionary, my job is to enter into a community and translate the gospel into the culture of the people there. It isn’t easy. I spend a lot of my time the things that influence people and learning how they think and behave. The most challenging part about it all is finding ways to meet people and interact with them in meaningful ways. With rules against us taking jobs here and no funds to pay for joining clubs and other activities, we struggle to find common ground with the few people God brings to us. Despite the difficulty, (and the fact that we aren’t wanted here!) we continue to seek new ways to engage the population. Why? Because God brought us here to be salt and light, and He has given us everything we need in order to be who we need to be.
But while we are looking for an entrance strategy to get access to lost people, we hear about believers back home wanting to develop an exit strategy. These are brothers and sisters who share our same commission to make disciples, but don’t face a language/culture barrier, and have natural access to the lost people of their communities. Forgive my frustration, but it seems that these folks don’t appreciate the opportunity God has provided in the public school system.
I know what goes on in public schools. I understand that they aren’t teaching biblical truth. I know that things go on there that are not God-honoring. Sure, people are concerned about their children’s learning and development. It makes sense that parents would want to protect their kids from the sin that infests the system. I’m not interested in getting into a debate about home-schooling. Really. Please. I respect a parent’s right and responsibility to select the best form of education for their kids. I don’t think homeschooling is wrong. I know there are other ways for kids to be involved with their peers. As far as I’m concerned, it about the attitude.
I am frustrated that my denomination would consider supporting the development of an “exit strategy” from public schools because it is indicative of an attitude that is the opposite of missional. If the people who are in favor of this resolution were really thinking of themselves as missionaries; really looking for ways to engage the people around them, I wonder if they wouldn’t reconsider. On the field, our families are in constant spiritual danger. We are surrounded by materialism, sexual sin, drug use, the occult, and other enemy activity. Obedience to God’s call and direction requires exposure to sinful things. When God sent us, He knew what our kids would go through. He knew how it would break our hearts to see MK’s deal with things that children shouldn’t have to deal with. We know first-hand the importance of putting on spiritual armor. But we do it because we’re here to be incarnational to the people here.
We see it pretty clearly here. Have our brothers and sisters in the States lost sight of that?
I’m concerned about the message this attitude sends to our children. This sort of isolationism is what has made Christianity ineffective and irrelevant; not only to the world, but to our children and ourselves. It has led to the construction of a “Christian” subculture that takes us off the front lines of ministry and lulls us into complacency, trusting our “Christian” version of the world to be safe and, well, Christian.
How can we justify separating ourselves from the world because it isn’t pleasing to God? How can we prepare our children to engage the culture and to work redemptively within it if we take them out of it? Shouldn’t we as parents expect to supplement our children’s education with discipleship? Couldn’t we use their exposure to sinful things as an opportunity to teach them to find bridges to sharing the gospel, discern right from wrong and truth from lies, and to avoid fear of the world? What if we started thinking of ourselves as missionaries, and started training our children to be on mission as well?
Lately I’ve been accused (and by “I,” I mean someone else entirely, but with whom I mostly agree) of wanting to “pick and choose” from contradictory “systems” of belief. The accusation sounded a little bit like this:
“Your concern for social justice is clearly “Social Gospel.”Your anti-death penalty stance is taken from the Liberal’s political agenda.Your references to God’s sovereignty in salvation sounds very Calvinistic.You talk about postmodernism as though you’ve really bought into all of it.You quote R-rated movies like someone who is well acquainted with worldly things.
Your environmental concerns put you in the company of hippies and tree-huggers…”
Ok, I’m sure you get the point, but it goes on.
“And all of the above sounds just like that Blue Like Jazz guy, so you’re one of those.”
Or, even better (worse?):
“You may not recognize it, but I’ve seen all this before. It’s just the same old liberalism dressed up in new, trendy clothes.”
Where do we get the idea that everything comes as part of a package? (Ok, so I’m pretty sure I know where we get it, I’m asking for the sake of discussion.) Why do we have to put everything in neat little categories? Even more importantly, why do we assume that belief in one aspect of a system means adherence to the whole thing?
I’m really into the idea of redemption lately. I’ve seen God take things that were clearly not God-pleasing and turn them into beautiful instruments of praise. To me, that should be our standard for picking and choosing. Environmentalism is good stewardship of creation. I that’s a redeeming quality, whether the “issue” is associated with nature-worshippers or not.
Just for fun, here are some more things I believe in. I am:
-Pro-life because I believe that life is sacred. (Not just criminally innocent lives, but all life.)-Pro-peace, because I am pro-life, and because peace is evidence of the Spirit.-For engagement of culture, because Jesus’ incarnation modeled that for us.-For immigration, because the places people come from aren’t always good places for them to live.-For church/state separation, because it might not always be “us” in charge.
-For freedom of expression, for the same reason.