5 benefits of hosting a congregation with a different language

It can be a benefit to your congregation to host a congregation of people who speak a different language to worship among you.

Many years ago, I cut my pastoral “teeth” by working as the English-language missionary at a large (by my standards) church in South Korea. It might seem surprising to some that I (who think that churches should ideally not be separated along ethnicity) would have worked at a minority language congregation, but Sangdang English Worship Service was, more than one of my favorite periods of life, it was (and continues to be) a positive force for the Gospel in South Korea and around the world, bringing glory to God, as it tells people the good news of Jesus Christ.

 

The local church worked to fund a full-time missionary among the English speakers in their own city, and I think they were doing a great Gospel service by doing so.

Here are 5 reasons:

1) It reaches people few others are ministering to. While I do think that a church should be as little marked by divisions as possible, there are clear reasons why a Church might want to reach out to other languagr groups in their area. For English speakers (and, at the time, Russian speakers) in South Korea, there existed very few ways in which community could be built among us, and the fact was that very few of us had any background in the Korean language beforehand. We were isolated foreigners, and for good reason, few facets of the culture were prepared to help us find and develop community, much less become disciples of Jesus Christ and be strengthened in that. The English Worship Service (and the small group ministry, and the many events) welcomed English speakers, and as far as possible, worked to integrate us into the larger Church body.

As an aside, this helped English speakers survive in Korea much more readily, and come to love Korean culture. Where the vast majority of foreign English teachers in Korea tended to remain a year (or less), many people who became part of the English worship service remained in Korea much longer. Learning to love their Korean brothers and sisters more deeply, and to continue to pray for the country long after they’ve gone on to other things. (and if anybody wants to drop a couple of thousand into my paypal, I’ll be happy to go visit Korea again… just saying :-))

2) It fights ethnocentrism. One of the issues the modern Church faces (and the church has always faced), is understanding what parts of what we do as a Church are mandated by God’s call to His children, and what parts are merely cultural. By hosting minority language congregations in the larger church, Sangdang Church placed Christians of different ethnicities in close proximity. Our service ended the same time as the large morning service on the Korean side, meaning that our congregation often ate and talked with Korean Christians. We began to learn many ways in which Korean churches (I think) have better integrated obedience to the Gospel into their weekly worship. One example is the fervent prayer styles of Koreans, but another is the simple fact that Korean churches often eat together after service (thus building much stronger community). We could not have learned that if we had had to simply create a fully English church wholly separate from the Korean congregation. I think it also helped many of our Korean brothers and sisters see how the Gospel was not merely what their pastor said on a Sunday morning, but has a clear global mandate, as sometimes if you stood in the hallway, you could hear the same song of praise to Jesus sung in Korean, English and Russian.

 

This was different than merely calling people to join in with what you are doing as a Church (which subtlely claims that we are doing the right thing, and the foreigner should just assimilate), it sees the foreign Christian as a brother or sister, who may have things to teach as well as things to learn, and encourages us all to learn from Christ, regardless of our cultural assumptions.

3) It obeys the call to welcome foreigners. Let’s face it, the Bible commands us to be good to foreigners. While many assume that this is merely another way of talking about the downtrodden in a culture, as we see by the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, God desires to see believers reach out to befriend people who are not like us. That can be difficult given the existence of language barriers, but it is a picture of God’s call to a love that transcends difference to welcome people among us who have real difficulties being accepted in our cultures.

4) It can be a catalyst for global mission. Think for a moment of the kind of people who travel thousands of miles to live in a different culture, and when they get there, look for a Church. Oftentimes, these are at least somewhat motivated and gifted Christians. As a result, a minority language congregation accepted as part of a much larger congregation can often be full of talented Christian disciples who only need some support to grow in the faith and to help others grow in the faith. The people who came to SDEWS were often great Christians I had much to learn from, and who are in mnay different places around the world still ministering the Gospel in difficult places. Of the hundred or so regular attenders we had over the period I was there, a good dozen I can think of off the top of my head, are now functioning as strong discipling Christians in congregations all over the world (including pastoring the congregation I left).
When it comes to workers who remain monolingual in countries where they are expatriates, they are most likely to return to their home countries someday. If they have been discipled and strengthened in the faith, they can function as the most well-positioned missionaries in their home countries when they return home.
Even if they do not return to their home countries, these disciples are the kind of people who have already experienced the difficulties of living in a foreign land. They have already gone through some of the more difficult parts of being a missionary, and so can be uniquely suited to longer term missionary work.

 

One small-scale ministry of your church can help many people come to know Jesus all over the world. Even as I work here in Newfoundland, Canada, among a secularizing people, part of my ability to speak the Gospel has been strengthened by the work of English ministries of Churches in South Korea.

5) It helps the discipleship of your people – As with many of the things our Lord calls us to do in service to our neighbour, obeying Christ in welcoming the foreigner (not just tolerating foreigners among us) helps immensely in learning from Christ. More than just helping us to learn where our culture blinds us to some things the Gospel says, it is profoundly humbling to allow believers who do not speak your language to become part of you. You accept feeling the inadequacy they feel because they keep failing to communicate, you go through the stresses of misunderstanding one another as you struggle to obey Jesus, and you see the glory of God as He works through others to bring glory to His name. In all these ways, God can teach us to be better Christians by welcoming the foreigner as part of us, even when they do not speak our language.

Keep me in coffee

The author is often highly caffeinated. Keep him that way!

C$2.00

Wisdom comes from admitting you can be an idiot (but would like to be less of one)

I can be an idiot, but that doesn’t mean I *am* on every point… and I can learn.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15 ESV)

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12 ESV)

If there’s one mistake that comes from binary thinking, it’s the assumption that the opposite of a particular error is the truth; if X is wrong, then anything that is not X must be right. This is the reason people imagine that because communism is bad, capitalism must be good, and because capitalism is bad, socialism must be good, instead of looking at each of these things critically and seeing that all of them have good points and bad points.

Christians are not immune to binary thinking, especially when it comes to the concept of clarity. Some Christians, in response to questions of the truth of Christianity, retreat into artificial clarity, whereby they imagine that absolutely everything that they believe must be definitionally the truth, and never be questioned. For them, the very question is the same as disbelief. 
On the other side of the equation, and often in reaction to the undoubted dogmatism of the above, some Christians seem to think that because we question things, we must never make a claim to truth. For them, to make any unambiguoius claim that something is “correct” is the same as saying that nothing can be doubted. In both cases, they are mistaking personal conviction for truth. In one case, saying that in order to have truth, you must be unambiguously convinced of it, in the other case, saying that in order to have any ability to question things, you must never make a claim to truth.

A moment’s thought undercuts the false dichotomy. My car keys are in a place whether I have forgotten where I put them or not. The acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s/s whether I know that or know it or not, and murder is wrong, even if I were a psychopath.
Even more to the point, the Bible undercuts the false dichotomies of truth rather clearly. In the two proverbs I quote above, the Word of God explains to us that we must separate our own view of ourselves from wisdom itself. Firstly, we are told that it is foolish to assume that are ways are definitionally right and will brook no dissent; we are fools to be merely right in our own eyes. Rather we should listen to advice, and that to fail to do so makes us worse than fools.
But the opposite error is also avoided. The author of these proverbs doesn’t just give us the bumper sticker “question everything”, but rather lets us know that there is are “right ways” and “hope”, but that they are not found in a lack of questioning, but in truth. We listen to advice so that our ways might be corrected.
Christians are called to have the humility to both accept that there is knowable truth, and that we are not the ultimate arbiters of that truth. That is to say. I can be an idiot, but that doesn’t mean I *am* on every point, and I can learn.

Love is more real than we think.

 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:8–12, ESV)

Given the fact that the Bible tells me that “God is Love”, it’s surprising how long I lived under the impression that love was primarily a need or lack in me that was fulfilled by someone else. This leaves me imagining that God loves me because He needed someone to love, or because He was lonely or some such thing. Yet love is, when we get right down to it, more real than that. Love is not the result of need, but the power by which needs are fulfilled, primarily by God.

It is true that love needs an object (one of the reasons I believe in a trinitarian God…. that and the Bible tells me so). We talk about a love interest romantically as someone who “completes me”, or who I “need more than air” (or some other romantic verbiage that looks kinda silly outside of the romantic films they feature in). In the regular friendship situation, we think of friendship love as that which staves off loneliness, or gives meaning to our lives.

Love does those things, but I’m learning that the instrumental way we define things (something is like this, because this is the way we can use it) is at best a little deficient. It makes something the Bible seems to speak of in powerful and glowing terms into a mere method of fulfilling a need. It serves to make me as the object or subject of love more important than the love involved, as if love is valuable because it helps me, instead of being something that is valuable whether it meets my felt needs or not.

Even when John talks about love and how God is love, he says that God’s love is made manifest (revealed, made clear) in that He sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. It’s not that He is loving because he sent His son, but that he is love, so as a result He sent His Son. God’s love is not a result of God’s loving actions, but is the ground for God’s actions. He is not love because he does loving things, but he does loving things because He is Love.

Seems like a minor distinction? It’s actually very profound, especially if we see God’s love (as Paul does) as the ground for our own actions. You see, we do not love because we want to be loving, but because we have God’s love in us, we should do loving things. It is a reuslt of having been love.

Love is a positive thing, a real thing,not a fulfillment of need. It is not a corruption, but real in itself. Thus love is not about how we need others, but ultimately about how God’s love overflows in us, and through us to others.

Bradley Hook / Pexels

 

Blogging for the new year?

Here’s how I hope to keep up on a discipline I’ve failed to do for years and years.

So my new year’s resolution is to have some discipline in the new year. It’s not that I completely lacked discipline before, but that I always see the need to improve in that department. The weird part is that developing discipline is not quite a thing in itself as much as it is seeking to change your habits form bad ones to good ones. You don’t gain discipline by seeking to develop discipline in the abstract, but by more directly seeking the things you should (and as a result ignoring the things you shouldn’t).

The Christian life is, in the end, not so much about primarily avoiding things, but seeking after things; primarily seeking after the God who is the proper object of our affections, but also concretely seeking the things that mark such an ultimate pursuit. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, sbut in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, vwhich surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:4-9, ESV)

Notice that Paul doesn’t leave his hearers seeking to *not* do something primarily, but to avoid the evil by seeking the good. You don’t become a lover of truth by hating lies (or false news, or whatever you call it), but by seeking truth. You gain joy by thinking on worthy things, you become a man of prayer by seeking communication with God, you avoid sin by seeking to be holy etc.

This year, I’m trying (yet again) to become a regular blogger. I am not sure it will work out, but I think my failures in the past can be informed by some of my recent successes in discipline. I have found myself more able to spend time in the Word, and in prayer, not by seeking to be a man of prayer and the Word, but by keeping love in mind, and acting accordingly. That’s how I power the long obedience in one direction that is discipline.

The prayer list program was helpful, but what drove me to my knees more regularly was the memory that I loved the people I was praying for, and I loved the God I was communicating with (and I realized that love was as much long-term action as it was gushy feelings). I found it easier to keep to my Bible reading schedule because I wanted to hear from the God I love. The discipline came as I held that before me and acting accordingly.

Hence the renewed interest in blogging. I am commanded to tell of the glories of God, and to reflect on His goodness in my life, living as Paul did, an example of godliness (not perfection). So here I am aiming to reflect on how God is teaching me, and share it with you, my readers.

I have no idea if this will bring me the discipline (and the ultimate joy) of daily blogging. Telling of how God is working all things together for my good mediately, and His glory ultimately. But that is the goal.

One year from now, lets see how it went.

Keep me in coffee

The author is often highly caffeinated. Keep him that way!

C$2.00

Condemnation Vs. Repentance

Perhaps it is not the culture that needs to repent of its failure to be Christian, but Christians who need to repent of being so lax in following Christ.

Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it before the king. And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes.
( 2 Ch 34:18–19 ESV)

From a modern perspective, king Josiah’s response in 2 Chronicles seems difficult to understand. After all, the book of the law had been discovered as a result of a massive campaign to rebuild the temple, and move the nation away from its apostate worship of false gods. Wasn’t Josiah already doing the right thing? Wasn’t the nation already moving in the right direction? Hadn’t the government found a correct footing, and wasn’t the worship of the one true God already ascendant again?

In this context, Josiah learns the law of God, and how much the people of Israel had failed to obey God for generations. As we read the context, it seems clear that he is correct in thinking that God would rightly punish Israel for its disobedience and apostasy. Yet this seems puzzling at some level as I read.

I can think of a few reasons for this:

1) I misunderstand because I think I’m owed forgiveness. I find it difficult to understand why God would punish even after people seem to have admitted their wrongdoing and moved to make things right. Yet is this really so hard to understand? Does good work after a grievous sin change the grievous sin at all? I don’t think it does. Part of my issue here seems to be that I have so deeply ingrained the forgiving nature of God into my thinking that I have come to presume upon it. It is not so much that I think Gid is laudible because He is forgiving, but that I think he is NOT laudible if he refuses to forgive, it is as if forgiveness has become my right instead of God’s privilege.

2) My lack of understanding comes also from my failing to see a communal side to my life. Being a 21st century Canadian, I often tacitly assume the (rather insane) idea that I am an island unto myself, and that my own righteousness or lack thereof has no effect on others, and that the fialings of others in no way reflect on me. Of course, I have no right to compel righteousness in others, but how often is the lack of righteousness in those around me part of my own unwillingness to live righteously before others, and to speak of the glories of a life abandoned to God? How is the community I live in to hear of God unless I am willing to speak of Him?

Yet very little of my (admittedly pretty insular) life are without affect by the community I live in. I have food, electricity, heat, and security, all because of the ongoing work of others. The fortress of solitude is not so solitudinous that I lack television, internet, and radio, all produced by countless others. While they do it also for their own benefit, they are working on my behalf. I am also in a better position because, by in large, many of those around me assume at least a basic level of moral action. Few steal, and most respect the closed door on my apartment as a desire to be alone unless I let them in.

I have come to assume that too as my right instead of the grace of God working through the consciences of the community around me. How much more have I failed to see that I am responsible directly (not merely through the machinations of government) for the wellbeing of those around me.

3) I don’t want to understand, because it feels better to condemn than it does to repent. The very statement of this point is causing a bit of moral upset in me, because even now part of me is wanting to make this about other Christians and not me. The fact is that it is always far easier to point at others and say “you’re doing it wrong” than it does to look at myself squarely and do the hard work of thinking of how I need to change. It is far easier to stay the course and convince myself that at least I’m better than . It can even hide in my desire to criticise “Christians” or “the Church” or any other group I can abstract myself from, even as I abstractly realize I’m part of the group.

In the end, perhaps I should be reacting like Josiah and praying God will be gracious.

Keep me in coffee

The author is often highly caffeinated. Keep him that way!

C$2.00

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

A Christian seeking to think through smartphone use, and indeed any social technology, would be well served to give this little book a thoughtful read.

Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. (2017: Crossway)

While it is common to find Christian books that fall short of, or meet their stated goals, It’s rare that I find one that transcends its own stated purpose. The clickbait-titled “12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.” is one such book.

This may be a function of my own very low expectations on beginning the book, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that, instead of being a string of barely related pseudo-facts, the book is a tightly reasoned, astute and solidly Biblical examination of the issues raised for Christians by the now near-ubiquitous use of smartphones.

While the book does actually match its title, and gives 12 things that happen to the Christian through their use and ownership of a phone, it does so with clear knowledge of the science, philosophy and cultural theory bearing on the subject. All of this knowledge is then brought under the direct tutelege of a consistent reading of scripture, providing a useful guide for Christians thinking through the use of mobile phones.

All of this is to simply say that the book meets its stated goal.

More than all of this, however, by being a biblically astute, thoughtful and honest examination of the themes of media in the smartphone age, it seems to do what Neil Postman did for media theory in his seminal work “Amusing Ourselves to Death”; it gives a model for thinking through the issues (though, spoiler alert, Reinke pointedly critique’s Postman’s views from a Christian perspective).

It remains to be seen if Tony Reinke’s work will match the longevity and use that Postman’s work received well after its release, and after the technology it spoke of has lost its cultural pride of place (the Biblically-oriented Christian community is much more of a niche market). However, a Christian seeking to think through smartphone use, and indeed any social technology, would be well served to give this little book a thoughtful read.

Recommended.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, from sundown of last evening to sundown tonight, Israel and many Jewish communities around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day).

Today, from sundown of last evening to sundown tonight, Israel and many Jewish communities around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day). The day commemorates the 6 million Jews murdered by what was, at the time, the most technologically advanced and intellectual country on earth. The victims were people like me, living a life very similar to what mine would have been at the time. More sobering, the perpetrators were also people like me, living lives very similar to mine. They were educated and cultured, and yet evil still took hold in their hearts and built truly horrific factories of death at places that now will be forever tainted by the evil done there. It’s hard to say the place names, “Auchwitz”, “Treblinka”, or “Sobibor”, without thinking about what happened there.

By Unknown – USHMM website (www.ushmm.gov), Public Domain, Link

I say this, because one of the scary things I find in myself is that I am able to imagine such evil is an “other people” kind of thing. Yet, a culture can turn, and make horrible things seem right (or at least not so wrong you have to stand against it), and few of us have the moral grounding and fortitude to stand against our own community if it corrupts itself. I don’t know if I do. Indeed, I find within myself a willingness to be corrupted, and I worry that many may be like me, and flattering ourselves that if such things happened here, they would stand against it. As Jesus (himself a Jew) says to the religious and morally self-righteous of his time, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’”. (Mt 23:29-30)

The Holocaust reminds us that evil is not merely grotesque, it can be subtle, seductive, and even banal. People, even people we think of as decent, can become convinced of horrible ideas that lead to horrible acts. The prophet Jeremiah, in telling us to trust in the Lord reminds us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Honestly, it’s hard to say much about the events themselves, without minimizing what happened (I may have said too much already). As with most events of truly staggering evil, it is best to simply let those affected speak, and the rest of us listen. This is the survivor story of John Freund, chosen from The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, largely at random: