Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Patrick Lencioni: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

One of the questions that I’m frequently asked when people hear about the work of Shiselweni Home-Based Care in Swaziland, is: “What’s the secret of your success?” Although the question might be flattering, my standard answer is: “I really don’t know.” (And this is not false humility!) God has been extremely gracious towards us and this, more than anything else, has been the major key to success. But then I do know that we also did certain things “right” which contributed towards our success. Through a number of – mostly negative – experiences in my life and more especially in church ministry, I decided many years ago that I’m not going to follow the leadership hierarchy approach in my ministry (or, in more Biblical terms, the shepherd / flock model) where everything that needs to be done in church has to be channeled up the hierarchy to the top in order to get approval and then channeled down again. In church the result of this approach is usually that the pastor is totally overworked as he / she tries to control everything happening down the line. I opted for the “body of Christ” model where I consider each church member to have certain gifts which they can and should use in service of Christ. And regardless what the gift is, if it is important to God, it is important to the church. This, I think, is the only way in which church members can fully function as a team. This does not make the role of the leader redundant. There are times when tough decisions need to be made and there are times when someone has to take responsibility when the buck can no longer be passed, but within a team approach this happens much less often than within the strictly hierarchal model.
The truth of this was further confirmed when I did some training on personality testing many years ago and realized that most business companies would probably be able to function far more productively if every employee was encouraged to use their strong personality traits (spiritual gifts and talents in the church) as part of a team, rather than one person making all or most of the decisions while the employees sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
When a friend recently advised me to read Patrick Lencioni’sThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team” I had mixed feelings about it. (Raise your hand if you enjoy hearing how and where you are dysfunctional!) But I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I love his writing style. The book is written in the format of a fable, taking a real-life situation which is all too commonly experienced in the corporate world (as well as in the church), and applying certain principles in the fable to better help the reader to understand where things could be improved and what the best method would be to do so.
Lencioni goes out from the premise that there are basically five things which can cause a team to become dysfunctional, (with the actual problem causing the dysfunction in brackets):
  1. Absence of Trust (Invulnerability)
  2. Fear of Conflict (Artificial Harmony)
  3. Lack of Commitment (Ambiguity)
  4. Avoidance of Accountability (Low Standards)
  5. Inattention to Results (Status and Ego)
Through the fable, the reader gets the opportunity to fully understand how and why the problem leads to the specific dysfunction and obviously methods are explained and demonstrated through the fable on how these dysfunctions can be addressed – even to the point of having to fire someone who, although that person might be an excellent employee, does not serve the interests of the team any longer. The book ends with a more formal discussion on different methods that can be used to improve on the team’s productivity.
This is a book I can recommend to anyone working with teams and I would especially want to recommend it to any church leader, as many churches still fail to understand how to make teams work.
As I finished the book, I mentally evaluated Shiselweni Home-Based Care. After more than four years as project manager of this team, I still have to find a more dedicated and loyal team of volunteers to work with. Honestly! The problems we have are mostly minor. Through the grace of God, more than through my own wisdom, the team is functioning well. But as I thought about what Lencioni had written, I could see potential cracks. For one: Within the Swazi tradition, conflict is usually avoided. But gossip is not avoided! And gossip leads to a lack of trust. As I plan to start using this book with our twenty two coordinators, we will have to plan for a session on conflict management – and the only way to do this will be to teach and allow them to speak openly about frustrations they may experience with each other. But I’m excited to take this group of dedicated people up to an even higher level of productivity by focusing on still greater teamwork.
A great book that I absolutely enjoyed reading with great potential to make a bad team function properly and to make a good team function even better. Highly recommended!
Advertisements

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Unity | 2 Comments

Mission outreaches, again!

I’m not dead and I haven’t been seriously ill. I just did not have the time to blog the past few weeks. Since the beginning of July I’ve first had a single girl who came to join us for a week in Swaziland, to experience what our caregivers are doing in an AIDS-infected community. While she was here, three medical students also arrived for five days, wanting to combine compulsory practical work with a medical outreach to the community. While they were around, my friend Tim Deller (http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/) and his dad arrived back in Swaziland, to visit many of his old friends. While they were still around, the two leaders from a team from Fresno, CA, arrived and then a few days later the rest of the team arrived and we spent a great time together in Swaziland. You can read about their experiences on their blog: Summer in Swaziland
Yesterday, as the team was preparing to return to the USA, we had a long time of debriefing, rethinking and evaluating the previous two weeks. Someone asked me a question: “This trip had cost us around $36000 (traveling, food and on the ground expenses). Do you feel that you received $36000 worth of help? Shouldn’t we rather have sent you the money and remained at home?” I had to think a few seconds before I answered: “First of all, twelve people would probably not have been able to raise $36000. Secondly, how do you determine the value of deep relationships – the type of relationships that were formed while they were in Swaziland the past two weeks? How do you determine the value of encouragement given to caregivers, working in fairly hopeless conditions, when someone from affluent USA says that she is willing to get into a taxi with a caregiver (twenty one people in a twelve-seater mini-van), walk along sandy footpaths to reach a homestead in order to apply the most basic care?”
And then the person who had asked the question, added that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the team also had to be taken into account. Probably the greatest moment, as far as I’m concerned, happened yesterday morning when one of the team members, who had never prayed in public before, voluntarily prayed while the whole group was listening. I wonder if I’ve ever been more touched by a prayer. It was an amazing experience for all of us!
I met early this morning with a group of men, some of whom are presently attending group sessions every evening focused on their own spiritual growth. Without wanting to discredit what they are doing at their church, I am absolute convinced that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the lives of most of the members of this outreach team, surpasses what will be obtained by attending lessons about the topic.
Short-term outreaches can lead to serious problems, one of the greatest probably being that the people being visited become dependent upon the outreach teams. There are many horror stories of outreach teams eventually realizing that they had been pumping money into a community, only to find that they had not been assisting the community, but had rather led them on the road of greater dependency. I still find it very difficult to know where one should help and where one should deny help. Or to rephrase: Where one should assist directly (giving something which is needed) and where one should find other means to give assistance such as helping certain forms of development to take place. I’ve made enough mistakes in my own life where I gave help in the wrong way. However, I’ve also seen the results when two groups of people from different cultures come alongside each other, the one rich (according to African standards), the other extremely poor (according to Western standards) and where they work together to address the real needs and not only the perceived needs.
I asked the group a question: “Is it necessarily wrong for people to live in a house built of mud, where they sleep on a thin grass mat on the floor and where they have to go down to a river to fetch water?” Obviously, if you had never had to stay in such circumstances (except possibly when going on some kind of exotic vacation), you would feel that it is wrong. But for those growing up in such conditions, it is fairly acceptable. To move into a community such as this, building a new home for one person (usually someone that the group had become attached to) is probably not going to be a good idea, as the neighbors are bound to wonder what that person did to deserve a new home.
Ten days ago we were part of a community project to help a certain community to get clean water. I have three basic requirements when starting any such project: It should be affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. (These are a sort of rule-of-thumb for myself and there are times when I would ignore one or more of these requirements, but then I need to make a deliberate decision that, within the circumstances, it is acceptable to do so.) The community has a real need for more clean water. The Swaziland government had installed a communal tap, but the water flow is so slow, that it takes ages to fill a container with water. After discussing a plan with the community, they came together to dig a hole in the ground. We supplied a plastic barrel (costing R300 or $40) and the community helped us to bury the barrel in river sand which acts as filter, so that eventually clear water will accumulate in the barrel through fine holes we had drilled into the bottom of the barrel. This is affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. In fact, this is the second similar project we have done.
Did I need a team from the USA to do this work? Of course not. But I’m sure that for some time to come, every team member will think of that community whenever they open a tap and see clear water running into a glass. And the community will remember that the group of people came from the USA, not to give out huge sums of money, but to address a real need that they had been struggling with for some years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Dependency, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Doctrines and salvation

I’m part of a male prayer group meeting every Wednesday morning, VERY EARLY! (Those who know me, also know that I’m not at my best at five in the morning!) The group consists of a variety of people, some more mature (both physically and spiritually) and others much younger (also both physically and spiritually). I admit that I have made the sacrifice to be there every Wednesday morning, mostly for the benefit of a group of men who have recently started on the road of faith.
This morning someone mentioned that a prominent South African rugby player will be visiting our town to share his testimony. To encourage the men to attend, he added: “This man is not concerned about doctrines. He’s only interested in serving the Lord.”
I’ve heard the same words or words to the same effect for thirty years or more. It seems as if people want to say that, if you are still an immature Christian, then you will be concerned about doctrinal issues. Once you’ve grown spiritually (received the Holy Spirit!), then you will no longer be concerned about doctrines.
I remember, shortly after I arrived in Swaziland in 1985, that one of the leaders in our church broke away from our church. He also used the argument that he no longer wanted to concern himself with doctrinal issues. The words he used was: “I take the Bible as it is.” Strangely enough, the reason why he broke away, was because of doctrinal differences, particularly regarding his understanding of the sacraments!
I respect people who say that they are not concerned about doctrines. But quite frankly, I don’t believe them. My understanding of salvation (which will probably be fairly close to that of the speaker mentioned) is based on doctrine. This is based on various discourses and explanations found in the gospels, the epistles of Paul as well as other parts of the Bible. Roman Catholicism, as other faiths such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, differ from my understanding about salvation. We differ, mainly because this is a doctrinal issue. All that anyone is saying, who tries to convince others that he is not concerned about doctrines, is that “he’s right, and he isn’t willing to discuss any possibility of being wrong.”
Paul was a theologian, even before he met God on the road to Damascus. He developed an immense understanding of doctrines and the law during his training as Pharisee. The problem with him, as with the other Pharisees exposed by Jesus, was that the laws and the doctrines were all that were important. The intimate relationship with God was exchanged for a life dictated by laws and doctrines which became more important than love for God and other people. After Paul came to repentance, he was still a theologian. Most of his epistles consist largely of theology (doctrinal issues). But what sets him apart from many theologians today, is that the doctrines which he developed became practical in the way in which he devoted his life to God, to the church and to other people. Doctrines enabled him to come closer to God, to understand God more.
I fully understand what people are trying to say when they maintain that they are not concerned about doctrine. But I do think we need to find a better way to formulate this. Not only is it not the truth, but it is also extremely judgmental. And it won’t help to draw people to Christ.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Evangelism, Grace, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 5 Comments

Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson: Comeback Churches

I’ve just finished reading Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson’s book: Comeback Churches. The sub-title is: How 300 churches turned around and yours can too. This book reminded me somewhat of Jim Collins’ book: From Good to Great, although the method they used in doing their research is totally different. The two authors made use of questionnaires which was sent to churches. The criteria which was used to determine whether a church is a comeback church are:

  1. The church experienced five years of plateau and/or decline since 1995 (worship attendance grew less than 10% in a five-year period)
  2. That decline or plateau was followed by a significant growth over the past two to five years which included:

2.1 A membership to baptism (conversion) ratio of 35:1 or lower each year and
2.2 At least a 10 percent increase in attendance each year

I am fully aware that one cannot necessarily determine a church’s spiritual status by looking at attendance. Our own church attendance in Swaziland is fairly low, for various reasons, mainly because we are “competing” against traditional churches where cultural traditions tend to take a higher priority than Biblical truths. But this research was done in the USA where increasingly, as in most first world countries, church members tend to leave the church. Comeback churches are those churches that are doing something to win people back into the church (and obviously to Christ), not by harvesting from other churches but by reaching people who are not traditionally church members (any more).
A few encouraging things I read in this book is that comeback churches are not restricted to churches with a certain type of worship, nor are they restricted to a certain type of pastor or pastors of a certain age. God can use any type of pastor and any type of church to reach people and the church can start growing.
The three factors that were dominant in the more than 300 churches that effectively turned around, were:

  • Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church
  • Renewed attitude for servanthood
  • More strategic prayer effort

The two other factors that followed in line were:

  • Setting goals
  • Valuing Relationships and Reconciliation

Going into more detail, the authors said that comeback churches were characterised by:

  • Growing deeply in love with Jesus
  • Growing deeply in love with the community
  • Growing deeply in love with the lost
  • Comeback leaders turned their churches outward
  • Comeback churches led people to care more about their communities than their own preferences

Looking at churches today, the focus seems to fall increasingly on larger buildings, more “wow” things, bigger and better bands, better video material, better sound systems. And although all of these things can play a role in the bigger picture, it does seem to me that we need to return to basics if we want the church to have an influence in the world.

  • Love Jesus
  • Love the community
  • Love the lost

Compare this with the attitude that we often find amongst Christians:

  • Love Jesus
  • Tolerate the community
  • Condemn the lost

This is a book that any church leader can benefit from, if they are serious in leading their churches to become the type of church that God intended it to be.

Monday, June 22, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Jim Collins, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Vision, Worship | Leave a comment

Once again: Short-term mission outreaches!

Once again! And while this blog is up and running, this topic will appear again and again. If you care to see my previous posts about the same topic, click on this link: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/?s=short-term
I’ve just said goodbye to a great team of students from the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, USA. As I’m writing this, they’re on their way to Miami to be reunited with their families. When I work with a team like this, I always have to ask myself the question whether it is worthwhile. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into an outreach like this. The people making the trip are investing huge amounts of money and when they leave, they want to know that they have made a difference.
Two things sparked this topic today. In July I’m expecting another team from the USA and we are working hard (meaning myself and those who will be coming) on making this a meaningful visit to Swaziland. Wendi Hammond, the one with whom I’m communicating about this trip posted something about her view on short-term outreaches which you can read here. But then I also read an article in Christianity Today about the same topic, which is really worth reading. The title is Global is the New Local.
There’s a number of arguments against short-term outreaches. Wendi touched on one of them in her blog, which is: Why go to a far-off country if there is so much need right where you are? And this is indeed a very valid argument. A few things can be said about this. It’s never one or the other. Michelle Guzman wrote in a comment on Wendi’s post why she feels that she is called to come to Swaziland. Absolutely worth reading! Do what God wants you to do, whether it’s close or far. The downside of this argument (and the most people using this argument, in my experience, fall into this category) is that people are actually saying: If you get involved in another place, you make me feel guilty. Somebody has to take care of the local needs and if you’re not here to do it, then who will? So rather remain behind, take care of the local needs and I can go on with my life. Or something to that effect. If someone goes on a mission trip to avoid getting involved locally, then that is wrong. But the reality is that many people return from a mission trip abroad and get more involved in the local community, because often people undergo a heart change while on a mission trip.
The other argument is that the money could rather have been sent to the country where the outreach would have taken place. This sounds logical. Unfortunately it won’t happen. We need to see and feel and smell and taste the needs of people, before we will really get involved with this. And, in any case, for too long have we seen people writing out cheques while relaxing in front of their TVs, believing that they have then fulfilled their mission obligation. Obviously not everybody can go on a short-term outreach. But those who do, need to go back to their own communities and become advocates for the cause to which they were exposed, wherever that may be.
I have seen the positive effects of short-term outreaches. To be honest, I’ve also seen the negative effects (fortunately, not recently). When done in the right way, with the right attitude, with a teachable spirit, focused on building relationships rather than just solving problems, short-term outreaches can possibly become the greatest learning school that any Christian can be exposed to.

Thursday, June 4, 2009 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Indigenous church, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

How important is unity in the church?

I haven’t had much time for blogging the past week or so. I’ve been conducting a series of church services every evening. I focused on the Gospel of John and learnt some really remarkable stuff as I did thorough exegesis of the parts I wanted to preach about.
Tomorrow morning I will be wrapping up the series by looking at John 17. One of the things that I’ve realized since I started preparing for these sermons, is that John gives the impression that it is fairly easy to understand and then, the deeper you delve, the more difficult it becomes until you eventually discover the actual meaning of what John was trying to say to his readers.
John 17 is no exception. On the surface it is a prayer of Jesus for His disciples. I’ve done a lot of research on John 17 in the past within the context of church unity. With eleven language and almost as many race groups in South Africa, the church in South Africa is seriously suffering from the effects of disunity. Even within language and race groups, there are denominational groups which are very close to each other but which still consider those not part of their church as the opposition.
I once read the following story which illustrates in a humorous way what is happening between Christians:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Like what?”
“Well…are you religious or atheist?”
“Religious.”
“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Christian.”
“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Protestant.”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Baptist.”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”
To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

In 1981 my wife and I had the chance to visit Zimbabwe. This was just after many years of civil war in the country. As we sat down to speak to church members about their experiences during the years of war, we struggled to understand how it feels to leave your house or farm in the morning, knowing that you are being watched through the scopes of a missile launcher which could be triggered at any moment if the soldier carrying the launcher feels like it. People were killed at random and everybody were living in fear every single day of their lives.
In those days many pastors left Zimbabwe and new pastors were not granted work permits for Zimbabwe. Under those circumstances the “right” church was not the one with which you agreed doctrinally, but the one which had a pastor. And I can still remember that I asked myself where things will need to lead to in South Africa (but not only South Africa) before a desire will grow amongst Christians to really accept one another in love and to demonstrate their unity. If this is what it cost to get the churches in Zimbabwe to work together, what will it cost us?
I am blessed that, in the town where I live, pastors from across virtually the entire spectrum of doctrines, have expressed the desire to come closer to each other. Pastors from different races and language groups and from different denominations (Charismatic, Pentecostal, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran and a number of others) meet each other for breakfast once a month. During these gatherings, doctrinal issues are put aside in favor of reaching out to each other in love. In fact, over the years (and it literally took years to build this trust between the churches) we have developed the ability to make jokes about our own or even the other churches and to laugh at the way in which we used to protect our domain in the past. We still have a long way to go. But I’m truly thankful that I can experience something of what Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Tomorrow, as part of the Global Day of Prayer, most of these churches will be gathering to unite in prayer. Perhaps we need to pray the words of John 17 more regularly in our churches: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Humour, Mission, Racism, Theology, Unity | 1 Comment

A response to Scot McKnight

This post started off as a comment on another blog, but became so long that I decided to post it on my own blog instead.
Scot McKnight is in South Africa at the moment and my son had been attending some of his sessions. You can read more about this on his blog at McKnight on conversion theory and deconversion as well as Acts 15-20 for South Africa today. Tom Smith has also been blogging about these sessions and wrote two excellent summaries of what had been said at Scot McKnight – part 1 and Scot McKnight – part 2. I want to urge you to read these posts.
I absolutely agree with what many of the modern church leaders such as Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren, Ron Martoia and David Watson, to name just a few, are saying. What I hear is that they are telling Christians to treat much more seriously the whole story of the Bible. The story of salvation encompasses much more than only the story of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And I also hear them telling Christians to stop treating the gospel as a quick-fix for all problems. “Listen to me, pray with me and be blessed!”
What they do miss, in my humble opinion, is that each one we meet up with, is at a different place in their spiritual lives. (Actually, I think they are saying this, but I don’t think they take enough into consideration that a great number of people have been church attenders all their lives but have just not yet come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.) If I go on a mission trip somewhere in the Amazon where people have never heard of the Bible or anything related to it, then my approach would be vastly different than when speaking with someone who had been a member of a Christian church from birth but who has never acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and Lord of all. In the latter case (although there would be exceptions) I would see no need to start with the story of Adam, Abraham, David, the exile, etc, as they would probably know it already. On the other hand, should I want to speak to someone from the Jewish religion (as we find in the first part of Acts) then this would obviously be a good place to start. And should I speak to a Muslim, starting with the story of the Old Testament also makes good sense. The same applies to someone who has no knowledge of what Christianity is all about.
My concern is that people are merely rejecting one method (and I am not a Four Spiritual Laws devotee) for another method – a much more elaborate method – which becomes so complicated, that the “normal Christian” (i.e. the non-theologian) will feel totally inadequate to master or share this story. I said the same thing in my review on Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which you can read here. I fear that our modern evangelism methods will eventually lead to people believing that evangelism is best left to the professionals, lest they make a mistake.
I think that it is extremely important that we re-think our evangelism methods, mainly to do away with the quick methods of rushing in and out of people’s lives. But if I look at the rate at which Christianity is expanding in countries like India and China, where Christians stand a good chance of paying with their lives because of this faith, then I’m not convinced that we need to reject everything that was done in the past as wrong.
Although I’m not a devotee of the Four Spiritual Laws, I think it also needs to be said that this booklet was intended to be used in conjunction with the Jesus Film (the word-by-word dramatization of the Gospel according to Luke). Where a group of people had been exposed to this movie, usually over a period of four days over which time certain parts of the movie are repeated, I can well think that sitting down with these people after the last session and explaining the essence of the gospel once again, with the use of something like the Four Spiritual Laws, may be extremely effective. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions of Christians who have indeed accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord of their lives through this method.
We need to keep on thinking critically about evangelism. In certain countries we will need more professional evangelists. But if my next-door neighbour and his wife come to me (as has happened to me) and with tears in their eyes tell me that their lives are a mess and that they know that they need Jesus right now, then I don’t think that I need to start telling them the entire story of the Old Testament. Then I tell them “that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20), or something to that effect.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Evangelism, Mission, Theology | 2 Comments

Fighting the demon of Racism

One of South Africa’s coloured church leaders last year spoke, during a church meeting, about the demon of racism which is still alive in South Africa. Although I’m not someone who constantly try and link some kind of demon to every form of sin, such as the demon of alcoholism or the demon of lies, I do think that there is some truth in saying that the fight against racism is something which needs to be won in a spiritual realm.
After my post on the Angus Buchan Phenomenon, I received a lot of reaction. With the exception of one, the comments were really decent, even where people differed from me. Some of the correspondence about this post was done via email and therefore did not appear on my blog. One of my very special e-pals (an “e-pal” is the equivalent of a “pen-pal”, except that we correspond by email rather than by pen and paper), who is a missionary in Ukraine, wrote me a long letter which triggered many things in my mind. In the post I referred to, I asked the question why Angus Buchan is so popular amongst white men. But in my correspondence with my friend in the Ukraine, I asked another question: Why doesn’t God use Angus Buchan more effectively to break down racial barriers?
My friend responded by saying (my own translation from Afrikaans to English): I think that, while big meetings and prominent leaders can create the atmosphere within which believers can live differently, the coming of God’s kingdom which needs to be demonstrated by the church as alternative society, will have to start from “below”. The mass of Christians need to live and do things differently. Then the prominent leaders will merely become catalysts in processes which are much greater than their own abilities. And my heart for mobilisation tells me that now is the time to do it!
On the same day that I received his email, I was attending a small group consisting of white Christians in which I told them that I had been challenged to do something about racism in our community and that I am going to challenge them to take hands with me, to pray with me and to work with me to make a difference.
South Africa had gone through the amazing period of reconciliation after more than forty years of a policy of “Apartheid” and we have experienced great blessings in many ways since 1994. But, to use the words quoted above, the demon of racism is still alive. Or, as I often say: Apartheid is dead. Long live racism! South Africa’s problem is not Apartheid. That was just the name given to an evil policy of government. The problem is racism. And I have traveled fairly widely throughout the world and have seen that it is definitely not only South Africa which is struggling with this.
I will never forget a particular class in Dogmatics which I was attending at university. Our lecturer was the distinguished Professor Johan Heyns, who was assassinated in 1994, presumably because of his strong viewpoint against racism. (His assassin has never been arrested.) On this specific day one of the students asked him what his viewpoint was on racism. Without a word professor Heyns turned towards the blackboard, took up a piece of chalk and wrote: RACISM = SIN! This made a tremendous impact on my life and I could probably say that on that day I vowed that I would fight against racism in my own life.
One of the most popular verses used in South Africa today comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I am getting convinced that there is probably not a more wicked sin that we in South Africa will need to turn away from, than our sin of racism. Can we really expect God to heal our land while so many Christians still refuse to repent from racism?
I have been involved in processes of healing amongst people of different races and can testify that for White South Africans, there is little that can beat the feeling of liberty once they had come to the point of confessing this as sin and reaching out to people across racial barriers.
For those who had attended the Mighty Men Conference and experienced God’s forgiveness and love during the weekend: Are you willing to take up this challenge to help in bringing healing to our country?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Grace, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Racism, Stigma, Theology | 11 Comments

So Beautiful: Leonard Sweet

I’ve been “audio-reading” Leonard Sweet’s book, So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church over the weekend and today, as I had to spend many hours driving. Before sharing some thoughts on the book: If you’re not aware of it yet, you should take note that www.christianaudio.com has a free audio book each month and for April it is this book by Leonard Sweet. Make a point to check the Free Downloads each month if you like books and want to save some money.
As I was listening to the book, I thought of the story we used to share in South Africa in the pre-1994 (Apartheid) years. It went something like this: How do Americans, the Germans and the South African Police catch an alligator?
The Americans: One hundred people, armed with rifles, all driving in pickup trucks move down to Florida for a weekend, wade into the swamps and with a lot of shouting, drag an alligator out of the water.
The Germans: Get a group of biologists to study the habits of the alligator, determine where the best place would be catch it and send a two-man team to do the job.
The South African Police: Catch a lizard and hit it until it admits that it is an alligator!
Leonard Sweet uses the well-known medical abbreviation MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to explain what he believes the church should look like. For him, MRI stands for:

  • Missional
  • Relational
  • Incarnational

I found myself in agreement with most of the things he writes, except that I came to the point that I felt that he was, at times, hitting the Bible until it fits into one of these characteristics of the church. And I just felt at times that he was overdoing it in an attempt to make his point. Leonard Sweet is an excellent writer and has the ability to use the English language in a remarkable way, constantly playing with words to get his point across. Now, I’m not sure whether it was because I was listening to the book instead of reading it, but after a few hours it became an effort to keep on listening to the word-play. And here I had the same impression, that he likes playing with words and formulates his sentences specifically to enable him to do so, but in the end this makes it very difficult to follow his arguments, because the sentences are formulated to accommodate the word-play rather than to strengthen his arguments. He also constantly uses quotes from a wide variety of authors to prove his point. Some of these are excellent. But at times I had the feeling (and my wife, who had been in the car with me over the weekend felt the same) that he had read a good quotation and then adapted his own text to be able to use the quotation.
Those who can still remember the 1984 movie, Amadeus, will remember that Salieri was once asked what he had against Mozart’s music, to which he answered: “Too many notes!” And this is almost the feeling I had while listening to this audio book: It was just becoming too much towards the end. Too much word-play (although remarkable taken one at a time), too many quotes, too much saying the same thing over and over again in different words and eventually losing the thread on what the argument was that he was trying to defend.
I think the voice of the reader contributes to the fatigue I experienced while listening to the book. For one thing, I felt he was reading too fast. The book fits on six CDs (six MP3s which have to be downloaded) but it was impossible for me to listen to more than two CDs at a time, after which I just had to listen to something else.
Would I recommend the book? Certainly. Leonard Sweet is a highly respected author and he undoubtedly challenges the church to re-think its purpose in the world.
Would I recommend the audio book? This depends. I find that I have so little time to read nowadays and so many books which I want to read and also I spend so many hours unproductively driving my car, that I would recommend that anyone in the same position download the MP3s and listen to them. But if your circumstances are different, with more time on hand to read, then I would probably recommend that you rather read the book yourself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Indigenous church, Mission, Theology | 1 Comment

Religulous – Why do you believe?

I recently read a short review on the controversial movie, Religulous. While knowing what the intention of Bill Maher was in making the movie, I nevertheless decided, on a friend’s recommendation, to have a look at it. In my opinion the movie failed both as a comedy and as a documentary critique of religion in general and specifically Christianity. Perhaps it is just that I believe that my interpretation of humour is more sophisticated, but I cannot find anything humourous in humiliating people, be they fundamentalist Christian, Creationist, Jews, Mormons or Muslims. And from the onset it was Bill’s intention to humiliate people. One of the ways he does this is by mainly choosing people with radical viewpoints to interview and shooting holes in their argumens. Not only that: He chooses people who believe something but who are incapable of defending their beliefs with rational arguments. Obviously the movie was edited so we will never know how many people were able to answer Bill with logical arguments on why they believe. Something else he does, which I found extremely irritating, is to interrupt the people he interviews. He asks them a question which they start to answer and before they have finished their sentences, he interrupts by making some kind of humiliating remark about what they had just said and thereby causing them, either to become angry (through which they lose the argument) or to become so flustered that, for the viewer, it seems that they have no argument at all. The only person shown in the movie that is able to withstand this onslaught is a Rabbi who keeps on telling Bill that he must keep quiet while he finishes what he started saying, up to the point when Bill stands up and says: “I’m outta here!”
As a documentary it also fails, merely because Bill is totally biassed. Furthermore, he uses arguments trying to prove how ridiculous the Christians are but which is based on myth. One exmple is that he says that the story of Jesus is based on the Horus myth. In all honesty, this is the first time that I have every heard of this claim and had I been a new believer and someone said to me that a book had been written in 1280 BC, called the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which a god with the name of Horus is described who is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother, baptised in a river by Anup the baptiser (who was later beheaded), that Horus was later tempted while alone in the desert, that he healed the sick and the blind, cast out demons, walked on water, raises Asar from the dead (which supposedly translates to Lazarus), had twelve disciples, was crucified, and after three days two women announced that Horus, the saviour of mankind, had been resurrected from the dead, then I would probably also have wondered whether my pastor had been telling me the truth about Jesus.
The point is that, not only is the story of Horus an Egyptian myth, but the way in which Bill Maher tells the story of Horus is also a myth. It’s easy enough to find the text of this myth on the internet. In the real Horus myth, he is not born of a virgin. Horus was never baptised. Horus had four followers. Although he did perform miracles in the myth, he never cast out demons nor raised El-Azarus (which refers to his father, Osiris) from the dead. There is no account that he walked on water. He was not crucified. Why, I asked myself, would Bill Maher make up these stories if he felt so strongly that the story of Jesus was false?
The movie, however, had one positive effect on me: If an open-minded unbeliever should ask me today why I believe, what would I answer that person? And I realised that the answer is not so simple. Perhaps I should refer back to an analogy that I used in a previous post: Why do I love my wife and why did I marry her? Not because I had sat down one day and analysed all my needs until I eventually decided that this woman would make the perfect wife! We decided to get married because a loving relationship had started between us and developed to such a point that we decided that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. How do you explain that to someone who has never been in love?
I can testify today about what my relationship with Jesus had done in my life. I can tell numerous stories of miracles that had happened that I can ascribe to the fact that we had prayed (or sometimes not even prayed) about matters and that we know for a fact that God had intervened in some miraculous way. But can I prove this? Probably not. Coming to faith is exactly what it says. To entrust your life to God through Jesus Christ is a step of faith. But as the relationship develops one realises increasingly what one had missed out on before.
What would I have done if Bill Maher had approached me for an interview about why I believe? Probably I would have started by asking him why he would like to know (to better understand his intentions and to force him to be honest about his intentions). Then I would have attempted to explain to him what it is that I as Christian believe (which he, of course, has the right to reject if he pleases but which makes no difference to the fact that I believe this). And I would have kindly asked him not to interrupt me while I’m speaking. Lastly I would have tried to give some indication of what difference my faith makes in my daily life.
But by that time, I think, he would have said: “I’m outta here!

Thursday, April 9, 2009 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Humour, Mission, Movie Review, Theology | 9 Comments