I want to do a few posts, now that I am getting back to some degree of health, about what I learned by spending a week in Spain as it applies to ministry in the US. Western Europe is post-Christian, maybe better stated post-christendom. People do not view the church as important or necessary, and because their lives are generally taken care of by the government, they have no real pressing needs. One of the people we hung out with made the comment, “Spaniards work to live. Americans live to work.” The desire for more isn’t as strong as in the US. They actually answer the question, how much is enough?
Despite the fact that cities spend millions of dollars on building and maintaining churches, they are mainly empty on the weekends. This is becoming the norm in America. The missionaries in Western Europe spend more time plowing the ground than reaping. The ground is hard from centuries not spent preparing the soil and planting the seed evangelistically. They have difficult work. They told of how confrontational evangelism, ie. the Way of the Master, or CWT, or EE or the 4 Spiritual Laws, would not work in Western Europe. People will not engage you in those conversations. Guilt doesn’t work either. As a side note, I find it interesting that Jesus never used this type of evangelism. The missionaries I talked with noted that as well.
The church harvesting and planting movements of the East do not happen in Western Europe. And it’s hard for the missionaries to come home to the traditional churches and share that, because people don’t understand why they can’t be starting 10,000 churches a month like those missionaries in Asia.
What I was told worked was relationships. Long-term relationships, being there when crisis hits, just being a friend, was the most effective method of evangelism for these missionaries. Now hop a plane across the pond…
In Delaware, the same things are evident. People are busy and despite the many needs they do have, don’t really recognize them. We are not seeing large numbers of people coming to Christ. It is more like a Northeast culture than a Mid-Atlantic culture. If you are an outsider, it takes a long time to get integrated into the community. Confrontational, guilt-oriented evangelism does not work here either. The way that I have been able to express the Gospel in a way that people hear it is through sustained relationships and through blessing other people. What I see happening in Europe I see already in parts of the US. And in 10-15 years, I have to believe it will be widespread throughout the country.
This will mean reframing our evangelistic conversations. It will me engaging the culture relationally through already established groups and organizations. It will mean that we may have to deconstruct our understanding of how to understand and express the gospel in a world that will be at best ambivalent to it. This means we will have to see people as people, not as numbers or projects. It will also mean we have to redefine success.
This will be difficult for the SBC, and for many of its churches. We might consider preparing our people for it now.
PS…to my new friends in Western Europe, please let me know if I get any of this wrong!‚ I would hate to have misunderstood my experience…
I am reading Lamin Sanneh‘s book, Disciples of All Nations. Sanneh is currently the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and Professor of History at Yale Divinity School. Sanneh was born in Gambia, and studied at a number of institutions throughout the world, including the University of London, where he received a Ph.D. in Islamic History. He has written a number number of books and articles on the relationship between Islam and Christianity. Sanneh converted to Christianity from Islam.
In a section early in the second chapter, Sanneh notes:
The characteristic pattern of Christianity’s engagement with the languages and cultures of the world has God at the center of the universe of cultures, implying equality among cultures and the necessarily relative status of cultures vis-a-vis the truth of God. No culture is so advanced and so superior that it can claim exclusive access or advantage to the truth of God, and none so marginal and remote that it can be excluded. All have merit; none is indispensable. The ethical monotheism Christianity inherited from Judaism accords value to culture but rejects cultural idolatry, which makes Bible translation more than a simple exercise in literalism. In any language the Bible is not literal; its message affirms all languages to be worthy, though not exclusive, of divine communication. That implied Biblical view of culture goes beyond culture as a matter of mere mechanical manipulation, including its takeover in religious translation. Accordingly, the vernacular in translation was often invigorated rather than overthrown. The relationship of the Christian movement to culture was shaped by the fact that Christianity is a translated – and a translating – religion, and a translated Christianity is an interpreted Christianity, pure and simple. “Original” Christianity is nothing more than a construction.
Without a revealed language and without even the language of Jesus, Christianity invested in idioms and cultures that existed for purposes other than Christianity. As these idioms and cultures became the carriers of the religion, they anticipated and embodied Christianity. Being a translated religion, Christian teaching was received and framed in the terms of its hosts culture; by feeding off the diverse cultural streams it encountered, the religion became multicultural. The local idiom became a chosen vessel. As Irenaeus pointed out, the gospel did not strip nations of their distinctions; those distinctions were the rich tapestry adorning the communities of faith. It is a striking feather of Christianity’s expansion that it seldom arrived as a surprise. Rather, what people had vaguely divined appeared int he form of Christianity as a confident and reassuring validation.
I may be preempting a post by my good friend Todd Littleton or this may serve as an intro to one of his future posts. I’m sure you are fine with it, right Todd? This is also a continuation of a series on reframing the message of Christ.
Signs are all around us. According to Arthur Asa Berger, in his book, ¢â‚¬Å“Signs in Contemporary Culture: An Introduction to Semiotics¢â‚¬, signs ¢â‚¬Å“are things which stand for other things, or…anything that can be made to stand for something else.¢â‚¬ An example of a sign is the word tree. The word tree and what is stands for, ¢â‚¬Å“a woody perennial plant having a single, usually elongate main stem generally with few or no branches on its lower part¢â‚¬ are not the same. The word is used as a sign of the idea or concept. The intent to communicate must also be kept in mind. Is ¢â‚¬Å“tree¢â‚¬ a noun or verb? The meaning is different when that is considered.
A sign can be anything: a theatrical presentation, a movie, a word, a hood ornament, a commercial, etc. The study of signs is called semiotics, which means literally, ¢â‚¬Å“words about signs.¢â‚¬
Semiotics are used heavily in communication and advertising and marketing. For example, the logo for BMW is a sign and has multiple meanings. It stands for the auto manufacturer. But it also stands for prestige and influence. If a BMW car is used in an ad for a clothing line, it is making an association with class, prestige, cost, and target market. The car or logo conveys a very distinct meaning.
The Bible uses signs. In the book of Jude, Jude uses semiotics to communicate a message about the false teachers his readers were encountering. In verse 11, Jude states: ¢â‚¬Å“11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam¢â‚¬â„¢s error and perished in Korah¢â‚¬â„¢s rebellion. (ESV)¢â‚¬ Every commentator on this book mentions that these men are ¢â‚¬Å“types¢â‚¬ or ¢â‚¬Å“signs¢â‚¬ of a certain kind of behavior that the Jewish culture understood as sin. In addition, Jesus was crucified between two political revolutionaries (Greek: lestes). What image was trying to be conveyed by Rome? That he was a political revolutionary.
Our Christian subculture has its own set of signs. An image of W.A. Criswell with a raised Bible invokes for many the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. Joel Osteen is a sign, as is Rick Warren. Put a picture of Rick Warren on a book, and that picture will create meaning in the minds of people all over the world. Ed Young, Jr., in addition to being a pastor, is a sign. Brian McClaren also has meaning apart from his role as a minister and even as a human being.
In the SBC, the blog SBCOutpost is a sign. Mention that name to many in the SBC and it will invoke meaning. For some, it will stand for a group antagonizing those who led the SBC conservative resurgence. For others, the meaning it has is as the outlet that is exposing corruption in those same leaders. The sign of Paige Patterson has a two fold meaning as well. For some, he is the savior of the SBC and for others, he is the poster child for all that is wrong in the SBC.
What if, when we began to share the message of Christ, we think about the images our words create. It may be necessary to reframe our words, using different signs to express the message. Quite honestly, this is hard work. It is harder than simply going through a canned presentation. It means understanding how people are motivated and what meaning words have in their lives. But if authentic transformation is to come through the message we present, we have to move from the sign of salvation being a way to get tickets on the 50 yard line of that heavenly stadium. It means presenting a message that has an impact on a person’s life today, a message more than “It will make your life better.” I will make, to some, several provocative statements through this series and here is one: trusting Christ as savior may not make your life better, it just might make it worse in some contexts.
Think about the signs and images your words create. Look at advertisements and see what meaning they are trying to create. This will help you not only understand culture, but understand how your words communicate to others. And you may land on a sign that will allow you to more effective communicate His message and in doing so, partner with the Holy Spirit in seeing the lives of others transformed.
I tread lightly in this post, because it is a mixture of thoughts from my mental interaction with teaching from Len Sweet, which may be part of a new book he is writing. I don’t want to spoil that, but I do want to think aloud about an idea. And this is out loud thinking, which means that the ideas are not developed well, but are cursory thoughts which need to be fleshed out.
This will precede a possible post on dark and light that will go into greater detail about a topic I will simply introduce in this one, that being the idea of two lights within the scripture.
Jesus is the light of the world. Let your light so shine… There are positive expressions of light within the scripture. The gospel of John, possibly dealing with an early form of gnosticism deals with a dualism, states light is good and dark is evil. But negative views of life also exist. Lucifer is called the “angel of light.” It could be stated, then, that there is lucifer’s light and Christ’s light.
The scriptures are filled with examples of Lucifer’s light. Listen to it careful, it just may shine from you. Lucifer says that you can be God. Lucifer says you can do what you want. Lucifer says take. Lucifer says consume.
Now think of how we speak of evangelism: “Win the lost”. “How many have you won?”
Think of our measuring rods: numbers of members, budgets, how many baptisms, how big…All of this is the language of the consumer.
Could it be that we are focused on the light of lucifer? Success is measured by the fruit of the spirit, not the numbers. Success isn’t measured by how much we consume, but by what is born out of us. Fruit is an expression of death.
Contemporary evangelism has gone commercial and we are reaping the consequences of it. We have truncated the great commission by neglecting the after-effects of Christ conceived within a person. And it is all for the sake of being successful.
What were to happen were the SBC reach it’s goal of 1 million baptisms? Utter chaos! Our churches could not handle the development of the Christ birthed within those people. Nelson Searcy said, as it was told to me, God will not give you what you cannot handle. Why would God bring to your church his most precious creation if you cannot handle them, care for them, love them, and see to their development in faith?
The audit for the church should be the fruit of the spirit and the fruit of faith. It is not numbers.
This is part of Youtube Tuesdays. Today, I bring you the 2008 Hein-Fry Lectures from Luther Seminary. The annual Hein-Fry Lectures identify key theological issues facing the church. The lectures are designed to stimulate inquiry and discussion at the eight Evangelical Luther Church of America (ELCA) seminaries and throughout the church.
The 2008 version featured Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity & Professor of History, Yale Divinity School. In his lectures on this day, he was concerned with discussing the‚ translation, the transmission and the adoption of the bible in mission. Specifically, he was interested in examining the effects of bible translation on the history and culture on the mission field, answering the question, What are the missiological effects of a locally translated scripture?
The video is almost an hour in length.
Eight folks from our church drove 20 hours to spend the week in New Orleans at Global Maritime Ministries – which is a ministry to the port of the New Orleans. We support this ministry financially – the director, Philip Vandercook and I went to seminary together in New Orleans. Yesterday we worked around the center cleaning and installing baseboard and other things in their new center. Today I worked on their computers and we installed security cameras and worked on their vans.
Tonight, I just finished spending 4 hours with Burmese seaman who are in port in New Orleans this week. Played ping pong with them -they are good – and watched the Jesus movie in Burmese! Now there’s some real speaking in tongues. I sure needed an interpreter. Talked with a seaman, Carl, who is Roman Catholic, talked with him about Christ a little and shared with him a Bible in Burmese and got to pray with him. His name was Carl.
Being a seaman is such a tough life. This guy’s been doing it since 1994. Found out that his mom died last year on his birthday – 3 months after the fact. Hasn’t seen his daughter (20) or his son in almost a year. Will have to do this work for another 5 years or more so he can provide for his family. Tomorrow, we’ll spend most of the day with a crew form a carnival cruise ship…
This continues our look at the book, The Starfish and the Spider.
All catalysts draw upon similar tools.
- Genuine Interest in Others. To a catalyst, people are like walking novels. Information that most of us barely listen to is pure gold to a catalyst. And we can tell when a catalyst really cares about what we¢â‚¬â„¢re talking about. And when that happens, we tend to open up and reveal more about ourselves. The conversation naturally becomes more interesting, and we feel that the catalyst really gets us. It¢â‚¬â„¢s at that point, when we feel understood, that we are most open to something new and we become willing to change.
- Loose Connections. Most of us have interesting personal conversations with a small group of our closest friends. But a catalyst is able to have these kinds of interactions with thousands; they actually thrive on meeting new people every day. Because they are generally interested in others, catalysts find these kinds of relationships highly meaningful.
- Mapping. When you talk to a catalyst, he won¢â‚¬â„¢t just be intrigued by your stories, he¢â‚¬â„¢ll also be mapping out how you can fit into his social network. Catalysts think of who they know, who those people know, how they all relate to one another, and how they fit into a huge mental map. They just don¢â‚¬â„¢t know more people, they also spend time thinking about how each person fits into their network.
- Desire to Help. Wanting to help is the fuel that drives a catalyst¢â‚¬â„¢s ability to connect people. It isn¢â‚¬â„¢t just part of being nice; it is an essential part of being a catalyst.
- Passion. The catalyst is the constant cheerleader of the decentralized system.
- Meets People Where They Are. There¢â‚¬â„¢s a difference between being passionate and being pushy. A catalyst doesn¢â‚¬â„¢t try to persuade people but rather relies on a much more subtle technique: meeting people where they are. When people feel heard, when they feel understood and supported, they are more likely to change. A catalyst doesn¢â‚¬â„¢t prescribe a solution, nor does he hit you over the head with one. Instead he assumes a peer relationship and listens intently. You don¢â‚¬â„¢t follow a catalyst because you have to – you follow one because he understands you.
- Emotional Intelligence. Catalysts tend to lead with emotions. To a catalyst, emotional connections come first. Once there is an emotional connection, then and only then is it time to brainstorm and talk strategy.
- Trust. It¢â‚¬â„¢s not enough to meet people where they are and to form emotional bonds with them; a catalyst must also trust the network. With a flattened hierarchy, you never know what people are going to do. You can¢â‚¬â„¢t control outcomes, and you can¢â‚¬â„¢t really reproach a member if he becomes errant. All you can control is whether people have personal relationships with each other based on trust.
- Inspiration. A true catalyst isn¢â‚¬â„¢t just a matchmaker, he is also an inspiration to others to work toward a goal that often doesn¢â‚¬â„¢t involve personal gain.
- Tolerance for Ambiguity. One of the most common answers of catalysts is, ¢â‚¬Å“I don¢â‚¬â„¢t know.¢â‚¬ They are not absent-minded. They often don¢â‚¬â„¢t know because there aren¢â‚¬â„¢t concrete answers to these questions. Being a catalyst requires a high tolerance for ambiguity. That is because a decentralized system is so fluid that someone who needs order and structure would quickly go mad.
- Hands-Off Approach. The most difficult and counter-intuitive element of being a catalyst is getting out of the way. In a command and control environment, you can closely track what is going on, but being watched and monitored makes employees less likely to take risks and innovate. At the same time, when left to their own devices, members of a starfish organization can become frustrated with the catalyst. ¢â‚¬Å“What are we supposed to be doing?¢â‚¬ they may ask. But it¢â‚¬â„¢s precisely this question that leads people to take charge, giving members a high level of ownership over the organization.
- Receding. After catalysts map a network, make connections, build trust, and inspire people to act, what do they do? They leave. If they were to stay around they may block the decentralization¢â‚¬â„¢s growth.
Obviously, the catalyst has a role in decentralized systems, but if we notice, this kind of activity is valuable in evangelism. The tools of a catalyst are similar to the tools of a Christ-follower wishing to reach their community. When Christ-followers exhibit these qualities, combined with the Spirit, people can be led to the feet of the Savior.