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I occasionally enjoy reflecting on the little volume Ministering Cross-Culturally (by Lingenfelter and Mayers, Baker Academic). While I always profit from these discussions in the context of foreign mission, I now cannot help but reflect on issues of culture through the lens of the multiculturalism of the USA and the West in general.

Lingenfelter writes, “Acceptance in our groups comes at the cost of exclusion from the groups of others. An attempt to belong to groups whose standards are in conflict with ours produces emotional stress within us and antagonism in our relationships with others. For this reason, most of us choose to belong only to those groups within which we find people who have standards and values similar to our own. As a consequence of our choices, the communities we form include some and exclude others.” (p. 21)

Intentionally intercultural churches are therefore a challenge because we must reverse this tendency to exclude so as to include those who are different, whose values and behaviors clash with our own.

At the same time, as a community hailing from different cultures work together over time to understand, appreciate and draw from each other, a new kind of meta-culture can form among them. In the same way that every person ultimately has their own unique personal culture, surely every church (including multicultural ones) has its own unique culture.

Here is another quote: “The cultural bias we share with others in our communities becomes a consensus we use to protect ourselves from others…. The comfort of our community becomes a bias toward [against?] others and a blindness to viable relationships different from our own.” (p.22)

This is where the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP)  turns ugly even as it does its good work of community preservation. Shared culture shuns those who are excluded and thereby misses the opportunity to learn that there are aspects of other cultures that are actually worth evaluating and even adopting. People who leave a multiethnic church because they are not willing to consider the benefits of other cultures have made a decision to stay within the safe fortress of their community. I cannot fault them for this because I (and all of us) do the same thing, we just choose different levels of risk. I may take some risk in living in Kenya, or joining a primarily African-American church. As a result I might consider myself superior to someone who stays in their comfortable church made up of people much like themselves. But I have also limited my risk in that I have not gone for 50 years to a city that is 100% muslim or Hindu; I have not sold my house and gone to live in a pre-historic village in a forest somewhere. We all make self-preserving choices.

For those who are willing to attempt the risk of multi-ethnic church, read this next quote (in which the author speaks to the cross-cultural missionary) from the standpoint of building trusting relationships across cultural lines in your multiethnic local church: “The practice of incarnation (i.e., a willingness to learn as if we were helpless infants) is the first essential step toward breaking this pattern of excluding others. Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ, that of incarnation, means undergoing drastic personal reorientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. They must enter a culture as if they were children–ignorant of everything, from the customs of eating and talking to the patterns of work, play, and worship.” (p. 22-3)

One of my concerns in the multiethnic movement in the USA is that many of the practitioners do not seem to have this missionary mindset. Of course I don’t know what is in their hearts. But if the movement is to include deep reconciliation, leaders will need to pave the way and have this sacrificial, incarnational commitment. If the multi-ethnic pursuit is seen primarily as a way of better reflecting the changing neighborhood around the church, or if it is basically an implementation of the Biblical passages that call for it, without this deeper issue of self-denial to the point of incarnation, then the efforts will stop short of their potential as external witness and internal transformation.

I think an interesting question to discuss this would be: Must incarnational church life be a special calling from God, or does He expect it of all His children?

Another would be: How is my community life helping me learn “drastic personal reorientation” that comes with doing life with those of different cultures than my own?

 

My thanks to colleague Joel Madson for putting together this collage of our ministry trip in May.

 

 

 

TIME FOR MY AFRICA FIX!

Tomorrow I leave for Ethiopia…my fourth annual trip. Each year, I have been privileged to partner with my friend, Girma Deselegne, in fulfilling the vision God gave him to bring Biblical and ministry training to his homeland. Last year, we graduated 108 church leaders – elders, pastor, women’s leaders, evangelists – from the two year diploma program of “Vision Leadership Institute”.

I believe that prayer changes things. Praying believers can head off disease and trouble. Praying believers can increase fruit of ministry. Praying believers can open doors, arrange divine appointments, and protect those who go and stay. Prayer makes a difference!!

So please pray with me:

  1. That God would cause His glory to be enlarged in ways that He alone knows.
  2. That the extended families of those on this mission trip would be surrounded by God’s protection so there are no emergencies to take us away from this task.
  3. That we who train, through those who translate, to student who listen and interact would partner together to affect growth of the body of Christ in East Africa and lead to multiplication of vibrant Christian communities in unreached places.
  4. That evening meetings would be arranged for the community, and that many would come and hear the gospel proclaimed, resulting in many new followers of Christ, many deeper commitments to live obediently, and deliverance from evil.
  5. I will be teaching on Character & Integrity in Leadership, and Mission: Our Greatest Journey; pray that several will take seriously the call to bring the gospel to the 31 unreached people groups of Ethiopia.

 

We will be in four cities this time: Debrezeit, Sheshemane, Nazret, and Zaway. We expect to graduate over 150 students this time.

In case you haven’t received it, here is our prayer letter for this month. Let me know if you would like to get this on a regular basis.

https://www.onechallenge.org/letters/rasmussen0514.pdf

 

Here is the sermon given March 30, 2014 at Monte Vista Chapel annual mission conference.

One New Friend

This prayer is attributed to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake.

Disturb us, O Lord

when we are too well-pleased with ourselves 
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, 
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord

when with the abundance of things we possess, 
we have lost our thirst for the water of life 
when, having fallen in love with time, 
we have ceased to dream of eternity 
and in our efforts to build a new earth, 
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord

to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas 
where storms show Thy mastery, 
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes 
and invited the brave to follow.

Amen

2014-03-18 12.39.312014-03-18 13.02.58My wife and I recently had a beautiful day in the Olympic National Forest. Taking in God’s creation is refreshment to our souls!

A church leader who desires to bring about change in his congregation could learn from past experience. Here are some suggestions.

Think of a major change of attitude, or an emerging value, that has been embraced by the people you lead. Ask questions like these to learn about change in your context:

  1. What expressions of graciousness were evident? By what individuals or groups?
  2. What role did the preaching play?
  3. What did the formal leaders supply?
  4. What did the non-formal but recognized leaders supply? Who were they?
  5. How was perseverance evidenced? What enabled the congregation to persevere through difficult changes?
  6. Were any structures changed? How?
  7. What communications were helpful?
  8. How was strategic planning or restating the vision involved?
  9. How (and who) did leaders first need to change? What prompted change in the leaders?
  10. What precipitated the need for change?
  11. How did the congregation first respond?

PENTAX ImageHave you read about the contrast between people who are messy and those who are neat-freaks?  Messies don’t pick up after themselves; they are oblivious to standards of neatness. Cleanliness is not a high value. They do life without having to place everything in order. Their desks are a mess. Their shoes lie around the closet or house. Dishes in the kitchen. Workshops seemingly piled with tools yet they usually know where to start searching.

Neat-freaks are the opposite.

So recently I was in a meeting with other church leaders and we got to talking about sharing worship space. Usually (at least currently; in the future the “shoe” could be on the other foot)…usually, it is an Anglo congregation sharing space in THEIR church building with an ethnic congregation. I have heard the difficulty expressed many times, “They don’t clean up the rooms; they leave them messy.” Or, “They just let their kids run all over the place. It’s chaos!”  Or, “They cook in the church kitchen and the smell of their food doesn’t go away!”

Some of these issues stem from different cultural values. God must get a kick out of watching how we rub each other the wrong way sometimes.

This got me to wondering if Jesus would fit in more naturally with the messies or the neat-freaks. It got me to wondering, when opinions clash as to how to use a building, whose culture is really the problem.

Come, be Velcro

velcro 1

 

 

 

 

 

Velcro has become a part of everyday life for many of us. But how does it work? Velcro has hundreds of little “hooks” ready to grab onto the “loops”. But if there are no loops, the hooks remain unused.

velcro 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a hook:  “And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

Here is another: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35).

These hooks are incredibly important to Jesus Christ and the survival of the gospel.

But increasingly there seem to be fewer loops among disciples. When we think of our Christian experience, we seldom envision following Christ down the path of self-denial, of lifting our cross with His, of giving up our own desires and ambitions so as to embrace His desires and ambitions.

Preachers have been forced to go quiet on this message. People move to where their “needs are met.”

I think many older believers still would like to be loops. And I think many younger disciples want to be loops too.

But they hear the church calling them to their programs, not to the hooks.

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