What is my White Picket Fence & Church with a Steeple?

I have been living in a culture that is not my own for almost 11 years. From the beginning, my wife and I resolved not only to follow God’s call to this place but to do so without imposing our passport-culture’s baggage in our host culture.

You see, when I was in high-school I saw part of a movie on TV that was based upon James Michener’s Hawaii. I now realise that the book and movie were based upon Michener’s own misunderstandings of the issues of cross-cultural workers and how they related to locals. However, the story of a missionary who isn’t willing to pass the baton to the locals when the time comes has stuck with me since then. Stories also abound of how people bringing God’s message of Good News also brought with them their own cultures and forced locals to wear clothes, build churches with nice steeples and white picket fences around them.
When my wife and I arrived here, we resolved to leave the cultural baggage behind, and instead just bring the message of God’s love.
Easier said than done.
I recently realised that I am a cultural imperialist! Of course, my version of imperialism doesn’t include clothing and white picket fences. It does, however, include an innate belief that the way I do things is better than the way things are done here. When people do things differently than I would and problems arise I have an immediate solution: Simply start doing things my way and all your problems will be solved! After all, isn’t that what transformation is all about?
If my goal as an agent of transformation is not to transform culture then what is it? My wife’s words were apropos: “You are here to glorify God.”
The realised that the problem is that I am assuming that transformation means that all must embrace my culture. Rather I should assume that all must embrace my God and let the culture sort itself out.
What is your white picket fence and church with a steeple?

How is God at work outside the church?

For the past few days I have been musing about the question “What is God doing in the world?” Ed Stetzer and others (here & here) have been writing about it on the Missional SyncBlog. The background of the question is a concept that is gaining momentum in the church based upon the role of the Church in the world and the role of God. For many years we in the church have thought that the church has a mission in the world. While there is no real problem with this there a little confusion seemed to develop along the way as to who was ultimately responsible for seeing this vision to fruition. Recently, as we began to ponder the work and mission of God, we realised that it is in fact God who is working in the world and we in the church must join him in his mission to the world. So that leads us to the question above as to what exactly God is doing in the world, more particularly, apart from the church? Meaning, what things to we need to look for as we try to let God set the agenda rather than we ourselves setting the agenda? More to the point, is God saving people outside of the church as well?

Then it came to me. Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible can help us understand how God is at work in the world. John 3:16 says, “God loved the world in this way: he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not die but will have life that lasts for ever.”

There seems to be two things that we learn from this verse:

1. God is actively involved in loving the world.
2. God active love of the world is shown to the world in a very specific way: through Jesus.

What are the implications of this?

1. God’s love for the world does not appear to hinge upon the world’s love for him.
2. Jesus is essential to this display and experience of love.
3. The church, as Christ’s body, must then actively showing God’s love to the world.
4. Wherever we go, whomever we meet, whatever we experience, we must remember that God is in love with that place, that person, us. Asking the question, “What/Who is God loving here?” will go a long way towards us understanding his work in the world. The Parable of the Family (Luke 15:11-32)

If we think of an example we can think of the parable of the loving father. God, of course, is the father, and he loves his children regardless of whether they stay with him or not. Much has been made of the fact that “while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.” (v20) For the father, the son has never really left. He knows and waits for the day he will return. The Father also loves his older son saying, “you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours.”

The so-called prodigal son is one of those kids he loves. Who is the prodigal? He represents those who have chosen their own way over God’s way – even those who are the most offensive and hateful in our eyes.

The Father also loves the older son. Who is the older son? The older brother could be described as those who are in the kingdom but who are not appreciative of what the Father’s love means for them and for the world. They enjoy the fact that they are working hard for God but appear to be unwilling to enjoy their relationship with the Father nor to want to share the blessings with others.

The key is that the prodigal son has to return to his father’s house in order to be received by the Father. The irony is that the older son doesn’t really appreciate his own situation: he doesn’t enjoy his position in the household and he doesn’t let anyone else enjoy the goodness of the father’s home either.

So, how does this relate to the church?

First of all it is important to see that God loves everyone, both inside and outside the church. He loves those who give their lives to him. He loves those who have chosen following him as a career-path. He loves those who are seeking to destroy the church. He loves those who haven’t yet heard about him. He loves those who have chosen to live their lives in opposition to him. He loves corrupt politicians. He loves abusive parents. He loves prisoners, criminals, gang members, hockey moms, blue-collar workers, management, employees, unions, scabs, parents, teens, kids, teachers, administrators, predators, stalkers, etc. If God loves these people then we need to join him on his mission of loving them. If I want to know where God is working in the world I just need to find someone whom the world doesn’t love and start loving them.

Of course we can’t equate the love God has for the world with his condoning the practices of the world. Certainly God created everything good, but we, in our sinful state, have turned the good into the bad. We (& the world) must return to God in order to receive the benefit of salvation. God’s promise to us is that creation will not have to groan anymore as he restores everything to its original holiness.

How then does it inform us as to what God’s work is outside the church?

Without Jesus, there is no salvation. The Bible also says that unless we repent, we will not be able to share in the salvation Jesus gives. But, the Bible is also clear that God does love the world. The church as Christ’s body is the representation of God’s love in the world and is tasked with showing that love to the world.

Emerging Ecclesiology and Church Leadership

A number of years ago while I was still in a student at Canadian Baptist Seminary. I wrote a paper entitled, “Women in Ministry? Of Course!” It was a biblical study of the role of women in ministry and attempted to wrestle with the ongoing debate of whether or not women should be pastors.

The other day I was in conversation with a colleague and we were discussing the pastoral role. He has gone on record as saying that the call to be a pastor is the highest calling. I have gone on record as saying that the call to be a pastor is not the highest calling. In fact it is equal with all other callings of God, whether to be a teacher, a plumber, a carpenter, a businessman, etc. As we were chatting about the issue, I took note of my assistant working away at her desk and realised that if it is indeed the highest calling to be a pastor, she would have not hope of responding to that call. In fact, if it is indeed the highest calling to be a pastor, one half of the human race has no hope of fulfilling God’s highest purpose for their life.

It got me to thinking about the book I am now reading. I have been captured by The Forgotten Ways, by Australian missionary Alan Hirsch. In it he talks of new forms of church that have been emerging in the last 40 years or so that are better equipped to respond to the cultural milieu within which we live and minister today. His contention is that attractional models of church that were so valid in the years from Constantine (ie. Christendom) are becoming less valid in a world where there is an increasing plurality in the religious scene. No longer can we assume that society is Christian.

This reflects the wisdom of Dr. Ken Davis, my seminary church history prof. He talked of two types of Christianity existing in the world. One he called Corpus Christianum. or the Body of Christianity. This is that organisational force that is formed when Christianity becomes official, established, powerful, etc. It may or may not truly reflect the desires of Christ even though it says it does. The other he called Corpus Christi or the Body of Christ and reflected the Believer’s church – ie. those who have chosen to follow Christ and who actively on a daily basis to take up their crosses and follow him.

Hirsch says that the current concepts on church leadership were formed out of the Constantinian model of church (ie. Corpus Christianum). Since society was officially Christian, there was no more need for Apostles (to protect the truth) or evangelists to proclaim the truth. The church settled on pastors to shepherd the flock that already existed. This form exists until today but was developed out of the new realities of church in AD300. He contends that the church needs to return to the 5-fold leadership described in the Ephesians 4:11 – “He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts to his church.”

Coupled with Hirsch’s thoughts on church leadership, I was also reminded of another book i’m reading, this one by someone perhaps as diametrically opposed to Hirsch’s philosophy as you can get. After serving on the staff of one of the most famous “attractional” churches of our time – Willow Creek – Don Cousins moved on to create his own church consulting agency. His latest book, Experiencing Leader Shift, is his take on church leadership today. He clearly states that there is no specific spiritual gift of leadership mentioned in the Bible and that in fact our present understanding of leadership today focuses on only one type of leadership: namely that of the leader-who-can-make-grand-plans-and-carry-them-to-fruition. In layman’s terms, basically people who can successfully lead their faith communities into mega churches. Cousins discounts this leadership style as being the spiritual gift of leadership. He also points out that 92% of American pastors don’t see themselves in this way and therefore feel that they are not adequate to the task. He proposes (and this is where the comparison with Hirsch takes place) that biblical leadership is in fact plural – made up of 5 different gifts that all create leadership in different ways within the church.

So how does all of this relate to the issues of women in ministry? Perhaps we have created a debate where no debate needs to exist. If, as contended by Hirsh and Cousins, church leadership is not defined by one individual who preaches every Sunday, heads up board meetings, leads Bible studies/cellgroups/home groups/care groups/etc, casts vision for the church, protects the church theologically, declares the will of God for the congregation, etc. and is rather a plurality of people gifted in the areas of apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, and teaching, then (boy this is a long sentence) there is a place for both genders to be involved in church ministry and even leadership. Now women, along with men, have the chance to achieve their highest purpose in Christ through the appropriate exercise of their gifts and new understandings of church leadership.