Tag Archives: Church

Quick Review: Unoffendable

On our family drive to Colorado recently I read Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.  

I was drawn to read it because the summary fits the general realm of self-differentiation that I enjoy looking at, but also because it had potential relevance to some of the shame and conflict research I’ve been working on this past year.

This turned out to be a more “popular Christian” book than I expected, but it wasn’t all bad in that regard as there were some unexpected nuggets in parts of the book that did not fit my expectations. The book is written by a guy who works in Christian radio. That fact might have scared me off before I read the book, but turned out to add some fascinating insights.

The premise is clear – giving up the right to be angry makes all the difference in relationships, leadership, ministry, and all of life. The author unpacks how a lot of people spiritualize anger, especially toxic anger under the vernacular as “righteous anger.” This was the most important part of the book – a prophetic word to angry Christians about how their anger is not righteous, but self-serving.

I expected most of the book to relate to conflict, but there was helpful exploration of how anger and “offendability” impacts evangelism and many other things, including a good discussion about dying to anger as it relates to forgiveness.

An interesting discussion is to compare/contrast this book with Bill Hybel’s Holy Discontent, which speaks to some measure of righteous anger as a fuel for passion.  Hanson argues pretty clearly that anger has no place in motivation for justice because our motivation is love.  Jeff VanVonderan in Families Where Grace is in Place (which I am reading now) has a really helpful chapter where he unpacks a discussion on anger which echoes some of Hanson’s arguments but frames a more robust argument around the original Greek language used for “anger.” There are different words and concepts.  VanVonderan offers the most satisfying explanation of the verse “Be angry, but do not sin….”  Hanson though includes great insight that justice work need not be driven by anger and how research shows the most outraged and offended are often those who do least to be part of the solution.

I had not thought much of what it would be like to work in Christian radio because I don’t listen to Christian radio. But what a sad and sobering picture to hear what kind of stuff Christian radio folk personnel have to deal with. It’s not shocking actually, but what a mirror to the heart conditions of many Christians – the legalistic, the spiritualizers, and especially the Christian watchdogs that feel like it’s their responsibility to correct or judge every person or action they disapprove of or disagree with (including matters of doctrine).

I’ve found many popular Christian books cover the same ground – not judging, forgiving, building relationships, grace, general gospel overview, and more.  They also just tend to use a different lens to share a vision of what life with Christ can or should be.  The particular lens in this issue is the idea of “unoffendability” and dying to anger in all its forms.

To summarize – I like the concept of “unoffendability” and appreciated some of the more prophetic challenges this book includes even though I may quibble with some of the arguments or statements at points.  But – I like the lens of unoffendability because it’s true that offendability, outrage, and anger are to be the exact opposite of what the church is known for, yet it’s another area where the church seems to often look exactly like the world.

 

 

Pre-School Theology: The Hand of Blessing

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the series Pre-School Theology

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A while back we were coming out of church and our four year old daughter started an interesting conversation about her Sunday School experience this way,

“One of the teachers was leaving or something and we all prayed for her and they made us hold our hand up pointed towards her for a really long time and it hurt my arm because it was so long!”

But it turns out all our kids were together during this experience and they had a lot to say about it.  My son (7) added as only a true Star Wars fan could,

“It’s true. It was really long.  Why do they have us hold up our arms?  It looked like everyone was trying to use the force on her.”

Our oldest agreed with that assessment wholeheartedly and added that it also looked like the pose that the Iron Man statues from the Avengers are in at the mall (see above).

This was an entertaining conversation about “the hand of blessing.”  The Scriptures contain the idea of the laying on of hands as a means of blessing.  But logistics sometimes prevent that and instead of getting up close and personal, we just raise a stretched out hand in that direction of the blessing.  It’s a practical, yet engaged means of having the whole community participate in the conveying of a certain blessing upon someone or a group of people.

I don’t mind it. But funny how my kids interpret what’s going on when they aren’t used to seeing those types of things.

They have adopted it now though.  When I’m icing my knees after basketball, it’s not uncommon for my son to randomly extend his hand towards me while trying to keep a straight face.  I asked him the first time what he was doing.  He said, “I’m doing that hand prayer thing!”  And there’s been a couple moments at dinner where I humorously get the “hand of blessing” from all 3 of my kids if it’s clear I’m really stressed.  I’m glad my kids have a sense of humor 🙂

And now I can’t look at Iron Man the same anymore either.

 

Leaders Help People Become Uncomfortable

I came across this quote and thought it was genius and very much in line with several recent posts about human anxiety in systems and in general bad and destructive behavior.

“A task of leadership is to help people “become uncomfortable with their inappropriate behavior” and to focus on the possibilities that change presents rather than the pain that accompanies it.”

http://congregationalresources.org/leading-congregation-through-change

At the link above you can access a free pdf download in the arena of leading congregational change.

Leaders set culture not just by their strategic efforts, but by what they allow to take place and what they permit to happen. 

Most people who like to talk about culture – all those people today adding “cultural architect” to their job descriptions frequently focus on what they want to cultivate and build into the environment. Culture change is as much about setting limits on toxic, immature, or even just irresponsible or non adult behavior than it is about what you try to positively instill into a community of people.

And just to make the connections to my last post, this is a clear argument that leaders do have the task of helping monkeys grow uncomfortable with their behavior of throwing poo at others.

How do you think leaders best execute this task of helping people grow uncomfortable with their bad behavior?  How do you avoid inappropriate shaming, but still help people feel the weight of their behavior or even sin?

Review of What is the Mission of the Church

I’ve been reading What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert over the last four months or so and just recently wrapped it up.

Here’s the bottom line of my take.  I think the book raises and important question for the church today and for the future to be worked out in dialogue and community and academia.  I agree with the bottomline arguments for the most part and think that there is a need for the church to be more clear about what the mission of the church is or is not.  But…

I also think there’s so much in this book that I think fell very short of a compelling clarity and vision for the mission of the church – in large part because of at times an uncomfortable tone or edginess to their writing, at other times assumptions being made that to me reflected some narrowness in perspective, and also obvious needs of the authors to take on what seems like many a pet peeve in today’s church.

I rarely have found myself bothered so much by a book that I fundamentally agreed with in terms of the base truths being discussed.  And while I did struggle with the tone and the nature of many of the arguments, I also thought there was work done in this book that was really helpful and important even if I didn’t agree with all the conclusions or assumptions made.

On the plus side, there’s helpful discussions about purpose of the church and what is the church not fundamentally responsible for.  I think for many today the nature of the mission of the church either never crosses the churchgoer’s mind and on the other extreme perhaps to some everything good is the mission of the church.  I think this book is helpful to navigate some of the key points of the discussion as well as related issues – like the role of justice in the Scriptures, the nature of shalom, and other discussions.

On the negative side – I think while doing a good job presenting a cognitively and Biblically “right” argument for what is and is not the mission of the church, there were times where I just felt like they were totally missing the point.  In some ways, the mission of the church was disproportionately discussed to the point where I felt like some foundational discussions about the identity of the church never really got their due.

I think much of the book is structured as a reaction to the demographic of Christians who are throwing themselves into works of justice while disregarding completely the proclamation of the gospel.  The problem is that I think the book failed greatly in my estimation to affirm the many who are doing both and give a compelling vision of how to engage the world in grace and truth.

I struggled that a book on helping believers try to navigate social justice’s right place in the scope of the mission of the church made zero reference to one of the biggest issues of justice in recent history – the Civil Rights Movement and era and what followed.  The references to “justice” always seemed to have a distance to it as if it was something that you had to travel far and wide to be a part of – not much acknowledgment of those “justice” issues that are in our midst.

But in general – after the 30th sentence that had this general structure to it, “It’s really good to work for justice/care for the poor/try to end human trafficking, BUT…..”, I just found myself feeling like there was something fundamentally off about their approach.

But I was glad I read the book because I realized I did need some clarity and some of the Scripture work was very helpful (yet again all the conclusions fit very nicely their own thesis and theological boxes which I don’t always agree with).

I can’t say I would recommend this book because I was just uncomfortable with a large amount of the tone of it, but the discussions it attempts to navigate are important and it could be good as one such resource.  Personally – I think there’s room to keep the proclamation of Jesus front and center, but not make engaging the world in loving, wise, humble, compassionate, just, and strategic ways a second class endeavor.  These things are to be integrated more than this book might reinforce.

 

 

 

The Gift of Hospitality in Multi-Ethnic Contexts

What does the “Gift of Hospitality” mean to you?

Is it the same as having mad baking skills or being the hostess with the mostess?   Is it having the great talent to maintain a smile for long periods of time while you great strangers at church?

I think the gift of hospitality has been domesticated a bit.  And some may argue with identifying it as a “gift of the Spirit”, but nevertheless we’re called to be it and some have a divine talent and capacity for it (1 Peter 4:7-11).

I started writing this post several months back, but only am now coming back to it.  I believe there needs to be a resurgence of hospitality as it relates to culture and multi-ethnic contexts.  It’s a long observed phenomena that many desire diversity, yet most ministry and church environments veer toward the homogenous.  So much so that when there’s 30% “diversity” you can get the label of “multi-ethnic.”  30% is big time diverse considering most congregations, yet there’s still clear a “home turf” at play for the majority culture.

So while diversity is wanted and even valued, typically in most majority culture driven contexts the need to be diverse transcends being a place in which people who are culturally different can enter in and feel safe, be themselves, and feel honored and respected as they are.

But that sentence might not have included a tension for you so let me clarify.  To be truly hospitable to some groups of people, it’s quite possible that we may have to consider different types of environments for them instead of constantly trying to force them by default to assimilate into what is already going on. Maybe it’s more about creating safe spaces for them rather than nicely welcoming them into your own comfort zone.

Hospitality is a gift of serving people.  It’s a gift to people.  So those of us in ministry who are operating most of the time on our own cultural turf – we should think about what it might look like to truly be hospitable to those who we are seeking to partner with.  I think we far too often think it’s about creating the nicest assimilated community possible, when a true spirit of serving calls us to go much deeper, even if it means being more uncomfortable ourselves.

What do you think it looks like to embody the gift of hospitality in majority culture driven multi-ethnic contexts?

 

Quick Thoughts on Young @ Heart

How often do you think about the elderly?

Now, if you are elderly – you may think about them a lot!  I think it’s a reality that society has moved a direction in which the elderly are very much a forgotten part of society and in which they don’t receive as much honor as in times past or in other cultures.  This is true also in many church contexts as well.

I recently had to watch a documentary called Young at Heart which tracks a music group that is a collection of people in their later years through a season in which they are preparing for a large music show they put on.

I don’t like watching documentaries, but this quickly become something I think all people who are involved in providing leadership to the elderly should watch.  This would include pastors and anyone who is caring for elderly parents or grandparents.  It just provides an awesome window into how significant it is for people really late in life to be connected to community, have purpose, be challenged, and have motivating goals.

It’s entertaining, instructional, inspirational and even heartbreaking at times too.  It’s worth it if you are wanting to continue to develop your ability to relate to and care for the elderly as well as worth it if you are wanting to learn how to honor this esteemed generation that has lived full lives.

If you end up watching it let me know, curious what your takeaways are!

 

 

Growing Healthy Asian American Churches (GHAAC) #1 – Grace

Growing Healthy Asian American Churches
Edited by Peter Cha, S. Steve Kang, and Helen Lee

As part of my new role in leadership development within EPIC, Campus Crusade’s Asian-American Campus Strategy, I’m doing a lot of reading on Asian American ministry and history. I’m going to begin a series of 9 posts specifically on this book for those that are with me in ministering cross-culturally or in the Asian American context and are seeking greater insight, awareness, or wisdom. If you are experienced or are Asian American, please feel free to add your own insights or offer correction. I, among others, would benefit greatly.

GHAAC was the result of a process of collaboration between some of the leading pastors and thinkers in the Asian American church today. There are nine chapters in the book and each represents a “biblically informed value” (15) that the authors believe leads to health in an Asian-American church. The authors each use a framework of culture, gospel, and leadership for each of these values to illuminate where gospel and culture in the Asian-American community resonate with each other or are in conflict or in tension with one another. One key theme or metaphor that runs throughout the entire work is that of what it means to be God’s “household.” The Asian-American value of family makes for the concept of God’s “oikos” or household a natural overarching framework for understanding healthy church and ministry.

Chapter 1: Grace-Filled Households
by Nancy Sugikawa and Steve Wong

In this first chapter, the authors give attention to the needed foundation of grace for a healthy household under God. In referencing the parable of the prodigal son they write, “Not only do we have difficulty identifying with the father’s compulsion to celebrate, we have difficulty identifying with the younger son.” (22) The author’s argue that just like the older brother, there is difficulty within the Asian-Amerian community when it comes to accepting “God’s outrageous generosity.” (23) They summarize, “The confusion of the older brother is our confusion.” They point to a few cultural factors (from Greg Jao in Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents) that play into this difficulty in embracing grace and such relational generosity. They cite “distant fathers, Confucian restraint and internalized shame” (23) as key components to this culturally grounded struggle with grace.

Of distant fathers the authors write, “The Asian church community is often taught to emphasize and reward hard work and external disciplines above mercy and internal transformation. Distant fathers and a heritage of emotional restraint have often robbed Asian families of ways to express familial affection as well as personal hurt or fear. Celebrations are often seen as frivolous compared to longsuffering and sacrifice.” (23)

The authors add, “If grace is the outrageous generosity of God, then grace-based ministry is our service to God based on our experience of his generosity to us.” (25)

Part of what the authors refer to as “Confucian restraint” involves traditions of social hierarchy. The authors assert from Scripture (Gal 3:28) that “In Christ, hierarchical relationships are dismissed.” (26) They add, “Race, class and gender are all distinctions on which social hierarchies had been and continue to be based today. They are distinctions over which the individual has no power, yet they are used to oppress or to hold onto power.” (26) They argue that as the church, “We are to value everyone as a person loved by Christ, for whom Christ gave his life. We are to ignore previous distinctions that had been the basis for social hierarchy.” (27) One key point here is that hierarchy can replace grace as the basis of identity and relationships. The conclusion here is that strongly hierarchical communities like the Asian American church can really struggle to allow grace to be the foundation of relationship because things like power an obligation become more of an influence than they should be in God’s household.

The authers point to a core group of values held by Asian American churches as a result of having been influenced by Asian culture. They are hierarchy, community and family, education and achievement, conformity and humility, and respect for tradition and elders (32). On the value of hierarchy and order the authors write, “…in a society that is based on the collective identity of community or family, hierarchy gives the individual his or her identity.” (32) This is a critical insight into Asian-American culture in the context of the Western world in which they function as a minority. In a dominant culture in which people derive their identities as individuals, the concept of a collective identity is a very different. Hierarchy, within that collective community, is an extremely important factor in giving the individual his or her identity.

“Grace-based ministry is both an antidote to Asian culture and resonant with Asian culture. Grace-based ministry resonates with the emphasis on community and fitting in that are integral to Asian cultural institutions.” (38) The authors in this chapter point to the cultural barriers to having a foundation of grace in their church, relationships, and individual lives. While Confucian influence, values of hierarchy and face, and the strong orientation to internalized shame all work against an internalized experience of grace, God’s household is based on grace. We are welcomed by grace, we love one another through grace and as a result of the grace we have received, and we serve in grace. Our greatest need as lost people is God’s grace. For Asian-Americans (as for any ethnic group), God’s grace must penetrate, transform, or even over-ride some of these deeply embedded values that end up having more of a say about their identity, relationships and churches than does God’s word and His grace.