Monday, July 22, 2013

"Many drowning victims go down unheard"

In a recent newsletter, a friend of mine serving in sort of a pastoral role overseas described an "aha!" moment he had when reading about how people people drown:
"While TV and movies typically depict drowning victims thrashing about, yelling for help and waving arms to get the attention of anyone who can help, in reality the opposite is generally true. When someone is drowning, they struggle quietly, with little energy to attract attention as their body and mind instinctively act to reserve energy just to try to keep afloat. In fact, there are many victims of drowning who are within earshot and perhaps even within reach of someone who could help but who isn’t even aware that someone is in trouble. With no energy to hold up that arm to signal that they’re in trouble, many drowning victims go down unheard, unseen, and sadly, unhelped."
(Read an article about this here.)

So basically, when people are most in trouble may be when they are the least able to cry out for the help that they need. See an analogy that goes beyond the beach or pool? Ever seen it in your own life? What are the applications to us for our lives and ministry? There could be people near us who are close to going under but can't get our attention. How might we train ourselves to be better lifeguards, more alert to the subtle signs that someone's in trouble, and prepared to take the initiative to follow through with a response?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Church-planting movements and my questions about culture

A Wind in The House of Islam

Recently I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by David Garrison. It was a small group so I was able to corner him with some of my big questions, ones I struggle with every time another ethnography project comes along.

More than a decade ago Garrison wrote a book called Church Planting Movements. It sent a lot of ripples through frontier mission world. Although he definitely came out with a model (the basis for many of the models frontier mission agencies are using today) he built it on pretty solid phenomenological research. That's a fancy way of saying he's thinking descriptively, not prescriptively. Lots of stories, lots of case studies... then look for the patterns that emerge, after. He basically "reverse engineered" the movements he found and looked for best practices. Plenty of people responded negatively though, and some accused him of developing a formula and saying it would work anywhere. I don't think that's what he meant to do, but it came across that way, especially in the hands of folks looking for a "silver bullet."  

Now Garrison is writing another book about these movements, with similar methodology, and this time focusing on movements to Christ taking place in the Muslim world. According to Garrison, though hundreds of formerly Christian people groups turned to Islam in the first 1300 years after Muhammad, we only find one or two movements in the other direction during that time - a movement of Muslims becoming followers of Jesus. All along there have been individual conversions, but not growing, reproducing movements.

This though, has now changed. From 1980 to 2000 there were eight movements like that around the world. Since 2000 he's been able to document about 70! Continuing research suggests the number of these movements is growing. This is historically unprecedented, and a lot of people in the circles I move in are pretty excited about it.

Garrison defines a movement to Christ as being voluntary (not a matter of coercion) and involving at least 1,000 baptized believers and/or 100 churches within a ten-year period. And for this research, he's been careful to confirm that these churches were made up of people from Muslim backgrounds, not animistic or Christian elements within a Muslim culture or country.

Movements, Models, and Diversity

With my background in cultural research, my ears perked up a bit as he explained that his title, A Wind in the House of Islam, alludes to a global "house" with nine rooms, the nine major affinity blocks - I realized he wasn't talking about cookie-cutter movements that all had to look the same.

"Nine Rooms in the House of Islam"
I think this a healthy step back from what Stone described as "essentialism," (see previous post) which would lead Christians to think Muslims are all alike and that there may be some common strategic key to reaching them.

Garrison says on the book website,
"Though Muslims everywhere share many common bonds... Muslims are by no means a monolithic culture. Muslims vary widely in their culture. From West Africa to Central Asia to Indonesia, Islamic cultural practices are as diverse as the people themselves.”
"For this reason, we have chosen to examine what is happening in the Muslim world with special respect to each of those distinct cultural regions or affinity blocs. These nine regions share mutual history, languages, geography and intertwining ethnicity. By examining movements within each of these distinct cultural zones, we are better able to understand how God is uniquely at work within each one.”
After hearing Garrison's presentation, I introduced myself and told him I was trying to figure out how cultural differences, cultural understanding, and cultural training might fit into the church-planting, disciple-making movement models currently being adopted by more and more mission agencies and Christians working cross-culturally (CPM/DMM). He was aware of some of the ethnographic work I've been part of and did not seem to see a conflict at all.

But he did make this distinction:

The now traditional model for incarnational missions focused heavily on training and sending out foreign missionaries to the least reached places, where they attempted to contextualize their message and their way of life out of love for the people in their host culture and in hopes of being able to say, "follow me as I follow Christ." The end goal, though maybe seldom realized, has been to reach those who will reach others; to work oneself out of a job and gracefully exit as the church or ministry becomes self-sustaining.

The new models place much less emphasis on the role of missionary, but work to empower and encourage highly reproducible local leadership from the get-go. It doesn't work like magic, but if it works at all, the problem of missionary contextualization quickly fades away in favor of indigenization (which I am pretty sure nobody disputes is much more effective; and it's the goal of the incarnational/contextualizers, too).

Cultural training, cultural understanding, are still crucial, Garrison told me. "Keep doing it!!" he urged when I asked flat out. If an outsider is involved in the movement at all, he or she will need that cultural savvy to establish credibility. And probably to navigate the issues that arise, though they may be - perhaps always have been - out of our control. Just because we're not putting so many eggs in the incarnational basket doesn't mean we don't need to appreciate cultural dynamics, he said. They still play a significant part.

This was helpful, but I still don't "get it." I need to ponder these things more, I think. I am not entirely convinced that what I've been taught - and what I've taught - about the importance of culture meshes with the CPM models. I'm trying to figure out what we need to rethink and revise, at least in teaching culture to folks who have fully embraced CPM models and assumptions. And off I go to Germany to teach it one more time with a colleague asking the same questions. Please pray for breakthrough in our thinking on these questions.

Another thing I'm trying to keep in mind is Matthew Stone's warning in Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic against cultural determinism - itself a form of essentialism, it seems. May our research never become dogmatic and directive, assuming that people always do what their culture tells them to.
"Muslims are not products of cultural factories; Arabs are not all the same. Understanding someone's culture is tremendously helpful in understanding that individual, but I shy away from embracing cultural determinism that glosses over differences and can, in its worse form, view individuals as merely an expression of culture."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Models for Ministry (and their limitations)

Every Christian model for evangelism and discipleship claims to be grounded in scripture and yet often these models contain contradictory recommendations or approaches, points out Matthew Stone in the book Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic: A Non-model Model.

One problem with models is that they tend to leave out personality. God gave you a personality, and he wants you to use it. Maybe the best way to do that is to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and effectiveness of the models that exist and the practices and perspectives of others... and sort out what you think will work for you. Or try it and find out. Just trying to work the model without alteration, to force it, may be an exercise in frustration and futility, simply because of who you are.

Similarly, ministry models usually fail to adequately account for the individuality of those you are trying to reach. When your assumptions and generalizations don't accurately describe the person in front of you, your model will not fly. It doesn't respond to who they are. And in spite of the many observable patterns that describe the thoughts, feelings and behavior of members of the human family, few principles apply to all of us all the time.

For example, you've probably experience discomfort at some point attending an event designed to please people like you but based on assumptions that didn't ring true. I've felt the rub, myself, from the belief that teens are supposed to love rock music and playing sports, or that you can touch women's heart by appealing to them as wives and mothers and doing crafts together.

Stone, who has a background in philosophy, cites the distinction between essentialism and nominalism as a key factor in how we approach models for ministry. I found this very helpful. Basically, these two deal with the question of whether we see abstractions and theories as being the "really real," more real than the individual or specific (essentialism - we focus on what we consider the 'essence,' I guess)... or we see abstractions, theories, and labels as being helpful tools for communicating, and possibly quite applicable, but not as fully "real" as what's individual and specific, such as the person in front of us (that's nominalism).

Where you are on the spectrum between the two will have a great affect one how you understand and approach Muslims, says Stone:
"If you tend to see Islam as the primary reality and groups of Muslims as somehow participating in that larger reality... you might be predisposed to expend your energy trying to get at the essence of Islam and its message, trying to understand 'the Muslim mind' or 'Arabs,' etc. If you see particular expressions of religious beliefs and practices of Muslims as primary and view Islam as merely a word that is helpful to communicate with others... you might then try to study specific beliefs of particular Muslims, the diversity of expressions of Muslims as they live and believe, the multiple interpretations of the Qur'an and Sunnah (the example of Muhammad as captured in the hadith), etc." 
"When we think that Islam is the really real, we tend to lump Muslims together and blur diversity."
Models are helpful, but they are like maps, drawing a picture of reality by simplifying it.
"Models of mission are helpful when viewed in a big brush stroke kind of way, but they are not helpful to the degree that they get in the way, when they have us focus too much on the model and our loyalty to it and too little on the uniqueness of the [person] in front of us."
In the circles I move in, it seems pretty easy for people to get a little carried away about their strategies and techniques, so I found Stone's explanation of his reservations about models very helpful. Do you?

Tomorrow: Movements, models, and cultural diversity

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts

One of the objectives of the class I'm taking this summer is to develop a personal awareness of the ways one is most likely to sabotage relationships. Well, specifically, cross-cultural relationships with people who happen to be Muslims. Seems a lot of us get a little touchy when others - Muslims, or anyone - look at the world very differently than we do, open their mouths and talk about what they think and feel, and reject or even criticize things about how we think and feel. We think we're being attacked. We may have the same reactions in marriage, or getting along with our coworkers, or being riled up about things on the evening news or passed around on Facebook.

One of our books includes a chapter called "How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts to Reach Muslims." As the author points out, Christian books about reaching Muslims tend to externalize the tension we feel, as if Muslims are the problem, and if they just wouldn't be so Muslim we wouldn't be so upset about things. But if Muslims are just being themselves, do we have to get ourselves upset about it?

It shouldn't surprise us that people sabotage their efforts to reach Muslims the same way they - or should I say we - sabotage all kinds of efforts and relationships. If we are upset, likely our communication and behavior is going to be effected. And underneath that agitation are unhelpful thought patterns like these:
  • Demandingness: absolute shoulds, oughts, musts, “have to’s”, and needs (I need to be perfect, people have to listen to me, they shouldn't reject me if I tell the truth, etc.) 
  • Awfulizing: believing that something is terrible, horrible, or awful (maybe dwelling on and inflating something negative and being unable to accept or let go of it).
  • Low frustration tolerance: believing that you can’t stand something, that it is too much, or intolerable. (thus increasing your own sense of psychic pain - you think it's more than you can take and will make you explode or crumble or something).
  • Self-downing: believing that the self is no good, beyond hope or redemption.
  • Other-downing: believing that someone else or a group of others is no good, beyond hope or redemption.
  • Overgeneralization: believing about a situation, person, or group that it will always be a particular way or will never change.
Source: Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic, by Matthew Stone.

I don't know about you, but I recognize those thoughts as pretty familiar ones. And they sabotage me in life, generally, and especially in relationships.

When our emotions are those of anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and fear - rooted in such thought patterns - we then engage in unhelpful behaviors like defensiveness, blame, aggression, avoidance, rudeness, and dwelling on the negative. Those kind of emotions and behaviors may be normal and seem justified, but they don't help build relationships, do they? So we need to find a way to deal with those emotions and behaviors - and the thoughts that lie beneath them - if our goal is to build effective relationships or have a "ministry."

I found it helpful to hear my professor, who is a practicing psychologist, talk about "upsetting ourselves" instead of "being upset." That kind of language helps me take responsibility for my own emotions and emotional reactions - I have to acknowledge that nobody is forcing me to be upset, to worry, to be stressed out. Those things are not mandatory.

One problem, he said, is that we don't have an effective theory of emotions. Most people believe that circumstances, people, or the way we are raised are the causes of our emotions, despite the fact that research and other sources of authority (e.g., the Bible) do not support this theory. So our instructor offered us what he called the "ABC model of emotions." This is easy. I think I remember it. And, in digging a little deeper, I see it comes from cognitive behavioral therapy.

A = Activating event, or trigger. The situation or experience (past, current, or anticipated).
B = Beliefs about that event. Thoughts we have when the situation or experience happens.
C = Consequences. Our responses, both emotions and behavior.

Most people believe A causes C. (e.g., that situation frustrates me; that person makes me mad, etc). But A triggers B, and B causes C. Our emotions and behaviors are largely caused by our thoughts and beliefs about the way things are supposed to be. And that is good news, because we can't change other people and often cannot change our situation. While changing our thinking is difficult, it can be done if we're honest with ourselves about what we think, willing to work at thinking differently, and ask for God's help in doing so.

So, how can we avoid sabotaging our relationships and other efforts? Stop and consider what things are getting us upset - or, more precisely, what things we are upsetting ourselves about. What are our unhelpful responses when we are upset? What are we thinking? Is what we are thinking true? Is there another way to think about it or something else we can focus on that might be more productive?

Note: I've queued up several more posts on significant ideas from my latest grad school class - come back tomorrow for the next one.