Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Joys of Cross-Cultural Ministry Relationships



A year ago, I was asked to write an article about cross-cultural ministry and relationships (yes, it took that long!). Realising both the importance and delicate nature of such a discussion, my wife and I met up with two dear families that we have the privilege of serving with and calling friends. The two are American families serving in Zambia, and we figured it would be good to get their perspective on the joys and challenges of serving in a cross-cultural setup, while giving them ours. The thoughts you will find in the next two articles are a product of that discussion. I will attempt to address the joys and end with the challenges in the following write up.

Cross-cultural ministry relationships display the beauty of unity in diversity. 
From the inception of the church, unity was to be pursued amid diversity. The Jews were not called to establish Jewish Baptist Church nor the Gentiles to establish Gentile Evangelical Church. They were to become one body and one family in Christ and live and work together in harmony. In many ways, cross-cultural ministry presents people with an excellent opportunity to display their oneness in Christ even amid great cultural diversity. There is something remarkable about people who have naturally have reason working together, developing genuine loving relationships and uniting for the cause of Jesus.

Cross-cultural ministry relationships help prevent cultural Christianity 
The opposite of unity in diversity is cultural Christianity. It is behavioural and merely outward. It is conformity rather than transforming. It is the pursuit of sameness rather than unity. This is a version of Christianity that knowingly or unknowingly becomes a product of its culture and tradition. The end result of such Christianity is that everyone acts the same. Diversity is frowned upon. They want everyone to comb their hair the same, to have the same taste in music and have the same taste of fashion, etc. This kind of Christianity is big on building camps and kingdoms. They are quick to highlight and point out those who are different and usually anything different is viewed with suspicion. Developing cross-cultural ministry relationships helps you to differentiate between merely cultural norms and actual biblical mandates.

Cross-cultural ministry relationships build a mutual partnership. 
Building meaningful cross-cultural relationships that are founded on oneness in Christ will lead to mutual partnerships in ministry. People will see each other as brothers and sisters who are called to build each other in the most holy faith. It is not the relationship of the horse and the rider, no superiority or inferiority complexes. It is not a one-way relationship where one group of people does the teaching, and a different group of people does the learning. It causes people to see each other as partners in the harvest. It causes people to realise that the plans and kingdom of God are bigger than them and their little region, and they get to play a part in the grand scheme of God’s eternal plans.

Cross-cultural ministry relationships produce rounded mature believers
There is something about knowing and relating to people from a different cultural background that helps you think through issues in a different light. As one learns of the different situations and ways of thinking of different people. As you learn and see the different issues from other people’s point of view and learn the different challenges different people face, it gives a deeper appreciation of what God is doing in His church. In some ways, it also helps you understand some cultural aspects of Scripture. One brother mentioned how coming to Zambia helped him develop an understanding of certain portions of Scripture, such as the mourning process in the book of Job and the gospel accounts of Jesus being pressed by a crowd. Attending an African funeral and going to one of the big open markets gave him a visible illustration of those passages of Scripture.

Cross-cultural ministry helps raise children with a balanced view of life and the church
Children raised in a culturally diverse church or context tend to have a broader or balanced outlook on the world and Christianity. The exposure to different ways of life and seeing the application of biblical truth in a diverse group of people will often prevent them from narrow-mindedness. When they observe the unity amid diversity, they grow up to appreciate and even embrace diversity. Is it any wonder that children raised on the mission field often struggle to identify with both the country of origin and the country they grew up in. That is, in many ways, an illustration of how cross-cultural relationships can shape one’s perspective of their lives, the church and their world.

Conclusion
Cross-cultural ministry presents many blessings. It gives a foretaste of glory divine when all tongues, tribes and nations will gather and worship the lamb who was slain. It provides a powerful opportunity for God’s people to display the love and unity of Christ before a watching and bemused world at this anomaly of unity amid diversity.



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Friday, February 14, 2020

Five Popular but Unbiblical marriage counsel in Zambia



When a couple is on the verge of a wedding, a lot of preparation goes into the big day. Top on the list is the various forms of formal and informal counselling. People are generous with their counsel, whether solicited or not. In many ways, it is a blessing to be loaded with counsel from other people's experience. That said, some of the counsel that is given is shallow and outright unbiblical but sadly popular. Here are five pieces of advice a bride and groom are most likely to hear that should not be entertained.

1. The man's unfaithfulness does not break the marriage.
This is, in fact, a proverb in one of our local languages "Ubuchende bwamwaume tabutoba ng' anda
". Young women are, in essence, taught to expect their husbands to be unfaithful. This starts off the marriage on high levels of mistrust. 'A man is a man' some would say. This thinking is straight from the pit of hell. The marriage bed must be undefiled and kept holy. It speaks to the moral decay of society when unfaithfulness is not only expected but also encouraged.

2. The wife keeps a marriage.
In our culture, the woman is blamed for a failed marriage and a broken home. This kind of thinking begun in Genesis 3 when Satan usurped the man's responsibility in the marriage. By approaching Eve, Satan was making a subtle but deadly move to ignore Adam, the husband. Thankfully, God calls out Adam and squarely places the responsibility where it lies, in the man. Headship is equal to responsibility. A failed marriage and a broken home is a reflection on the man's leadership.

3. People can steal your spouse.
This is often a warning to young women to be wary of female siblings, friends, house helps and her husband's female workmates because they can snatch or steal your spouse. The problem with such a line of thinking is that it strips the man of any form of responsibility. It portrays him as an innocent person who for some strange reason, is powerless to the aura of anyone in a skirt! A grown man cannot be stolen unless of course he is kidnapped at gunpoint! A man or woman who falls into a sexual affair does so willingly[1].

4. A marriage cannot succeed without traditional counselling. 
This is a hot issue in most churches and among Christians. The general thinking is that a marriage cannot work or succeed without the couple undergoing traditional counselling. It is, therefore, sadly common to find Christian parents find non-believers to teach and prepare their children for marriage. In a way, that is a Christian parent saying to the world; I am not equipped to prepare my child for marriage. However, dear Christian parent, marriage is God's idea, and He has laid it out in His word for us. The scriptures are sufficient.

5. Oneness only refers to sex.
Our traditional counselling can be explicitly sexual. Besides, the common reason for marrying seems to be sexual satisfaction. Therefore, the understanding of oneness seems to be primarily physical while emotional, spiritual and mental oneness is not encouraged. Now while it is true that sexual union in marriage is a blessing oneness is broader than just physical union. An overemphasis of the physical union to the neglect of the other aspects leads to frustration and joylessly going through the motions of the marriage relationship.

Conclusion
I am convinced that these and many other popular but unbiblical counsels of marriage have contributed to a very negative view of this most wonderful of unions. Marriage requires work and effort, but it is not meant to be a chore. It should be built on the truth of God's word if it is to be a blessing to those who enter into it lawfully and willingly.


[1]               This, of course, excludes rape and defilement victims.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Dear Christian Do Not Mock Single People

Mockery is a vice that is fun to dish out but terrible to be a recipient of. The dictionary defines mockery as “teasing and contemptuous language or behaviour directed at a particular person or thing.” Granted there is a place for good old banter among friends so that we can laugh at our folly and idiosyncrasies. There is, however, a rather unhealthy form of mockery that belittles others and is not in the spirit of love. Unloving mockery is common even among believers and is targeted at particular groups of people. I intend to show in the next three blogs how we who are in the church are guilty of being unloving by mocking particular groups of people. The first group of people who are victims of our mockery are singles.

In Zambian culture, marriage is sacred and highly honoured. Children are from birth raised with marriage as the ultimate goal and rightly so. Marriage is God-ordained and is an honourable thing. In our culture, however, we not only expect you to be married, we demand it! Marriage has social, economic and religious implications. The marriage of an individual brings honour to the entire family, and the lack of it brings shame. We have no place for singles who want to remain single. If an individual becomes of age and they are not getting married, the conclusion is they either have severe problems, or they are promiscuous. There may be other conclusions, but whatever the case, we conclude that something is wrong with that individual. Here are a few ways in which the church mocks single people.

We assume a single person is inferior to a married person
One of the common phrases and misconceptions about marriage is that your spouse completes you.  And therefore, single people are incomplete. We quickly run to Genesis, where God says it is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Now depending on how you use that phrase it is correct. Adam did not have the companionship he needed and desired. However, that does not mean that  Adam was not perfectly complete to live a joyful life that carries out God’s purposes. The Bible tells us that those who are in Christ are complete in Him (Col 2:8-10). The notion that married people are complete comes from the false premise that marriage will solve all your problems, make you a better person, and make you happy.

Consequently, people go into marriage with all these false assumptions and end up with false expectations of their spouse. If a person is not happy, the problem is not their marital status; it’s their walk with God. Those who walk with the Lord learn to be joyfully content in whatever state they are in, be it single or married. It is because of such false notions about marriage that we expect our spouses to satisfy us in ways only God can.

We add marriage to the qualification of church officers 
It is common for churches to demand that a person be married to be considered for a church office. Now there is obvious wisdom in preferring a married person to serve in the office of pastor or deacon, but it should be stated as exactly that, a preference! It is not a biblical requirement. Churches even place marital status before godly character and in the process many biblically qualified singles have been overlooked on account of their status. The qualifications to the offices of deacon and pastor (elder, bishop, these terms refer to the same office) are stated for us in the Bible and marriage is not one of them. Demanding marriage as a qualification is adding to the Scriptures.
Many of us would have issues with the Apostle Paul’s view of singles in the church and their service to God. He says singles are free from relational worries and distractions that marriage brings and have the gift and opportunity to spontaneously serve the Lord with undivided commitment (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Paul is no way suggests marriage is not honourable; he is merely acknowledging that while it is a good thing, a high calling ordained by God, it is also a demanding calling.  

We assume married people are wiser and more responsible 
When discussing matters of importance, it is a common consensus that singles must keep quiet and listen. When advice is sought on issues or responsibilities need to be taken up, the married almost always take the first precedence. Now that in itself is not necessarily wrong, and you cannot deny the fact that people who are married and manage homes have generally speaking picked up a level of know-how that one who is single may not have. The problem is when we deliberately mock people and their ideas on account of their singleness. And treating them like they are less of a Christian by been single. 

If we are all honest, some married people are not wise neither are they responsible. It is illogical to assume that a change in marital status will make a person more sensible and more responsible. There are plenty of examples of people who have entered marriage, and their irresponsibility and foolishness got worse after the wedding. And yet there are quite some people who are single and however are wise and responsible. The reason this is possible is that biblical wisdom comes from above and is evidenced by righteous living (James 3: 15-18, Psalm 1).

We need to remember that God designed the church so that every member may play their role to build up the body regardless of their marital status. Married people have a lot to teach single people, and at the same, the married have a lot to learn from the singles as well.

This mockery of people who are in a different phase of life than us reveals a great seated pride that refuses to acknowledge God’s grace for who we are and thank Him for what He is doing in other people’s lives. As a result, you will have married people in the church who fail to see the singles as fellow workers for the cause of the gospel and partner with them in discipleship relationships to the glory of God.

We should thank God for His wisdom in not making the church just full of married people or just full of single people. He designed to have both the married and the single, the young and old and there is beauty to that picture. We should encourage people to make the most of their season in life for the cause of Christ and to the glory of God. Dear single people do not waste your singleness. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

MINISTERIAL PLATFORMS AND SELF PROMOTION- LESSONS FROM JOHN THE BAPTIST


John the Baptist is a fascinating character. He plays an essential role in the narrative of the gospels and yet so peripheral we often do not pay attention to him. Almost always you hear him mentioned; it is as by the way, which was the role God intended him to play all along. Every time John speaks, he is pointing to Christ and deflecting focus from himself.

Interestingly Jesus called him the greatest man that ever lived and yet at the same time the least in the kingdom (Matthew 11:11). John the Baptist was always humble in his ministerial perspective. Notice the phrases used to refer to or describe the man: he was not the light, I am not the Christ, I am not Elijah, I am not the prophet, a voice in the wilderness, I must decrease, he ended up in prison and beheaded. It is not a glamorous ministry, and neither is it one you want to crave for, yet John by Christ's estimations was the greatest. What lessons can we learn from the life and ministry of John the Baptist? 

Ministerial platforms come from God
And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptising, and all are going to him." John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. John 3:26-27

This perspective of life and ministry will serve many of us from envy of other people's success and from jostling for attention and praise from people. Ministry platforms and opportunities come from God, and they are to be used for Him, not self-promotion or exaltation. This perspective will also ensure that you are content with your ministry, whether it is celebrated or little-known. There is a difference between proclaiming and promoting the cause of Christ and the promotion of self. Oh, for wisdom to know the difference.

Ministerial platforms are meant to point to Christ
John the Baptist understood that he was just a just meant to prepare the way and stay out of the way. He was merely a pointer and not the point. The point was Jesus Christ! Someone rightly said, "if all people see is you and your efforts to build a platform, then you are stealing the show." The clamour for people's attention among us ministers is quite concerning. With the rise of social media, the temptation is ever real. Where does one draw the line?
On the one hand, it is a wonderful tool for ministry while on the other hand, the dangers for self-praise are ever-present. Every man knows the motives behind his actions. Ada Whittington's prayer should be every minister's. 

Not I, but Christ be honoured, loved, exalted,
Not I, but Christ be seen, be known and heard;
Not I, but Christ in every look and action,
Not I, but Christ in every thought and word.

Ministerial platforms can only be enjoyed when used to the glory of God
Every time I am officiating a wedding, I remind the bridal party, it's not their wedding, and it is not about them! I have seen some bridesmaid act as though it is their show, they whine and grumble and make ridiculous demands. I have noticed that such people never get to enjoy the wedding celebration. 

That is often the case in ministry. People who miss the point and fail to understand their role do not have the joy of serving God. Their happiness is often tied to the recognition and praises of men. They are happy when the numbers are high, the likes on the rise and they are delighted when they receive approval. And they miserable when the numbers are low and when no one is singing their praises. They rejoice when they are invited to speak at conferences and camps and are downcast when it is another who is invited. They go home smiling when someone praises their preaching and are bothered when no one does. 

All these and many other examples reveal the wrong focus in ministry. It is not about us, we are mere instruments in the hands of our maker, and our joy comes from the fact we have made our God known whether people listen or they do not or whether they praise us or they do not. That's not to say there is anything spiritual about failure or that we should glory in it. My point is that we should have John's perspective of life and ministry:

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:28-30




Monday, January 20, 2020

Consistent Truth in the Midst of Inconsistent Circumstances



The drama of everyday life makes for a script Steven Spielberg would die for. Think about it for a moment. Though we go round in the same cycles daily, none of us can predict the merry go round of emotions that we experience through the spun of a day. Let me illustrate. I went to bed with the knowledge of when power will go and what my “to do” list will be. It was a perfect plan, or so I thought. During the night, the kids decided to have one of those nights where they keep calling for daddy, which meant I barely slept and woke up late. Then we lost power earlier than expected, and I left home late and rushing for a meeting only to find out that I am in the wrong venue. By the time I am arriving at the actual venue, I am perfectly late. 

Next, I am scheduled to pick some documents from a company; we should have got the letters three months ago, but alas. As the day progresses, the Zambian heat is beginning to turn up a notch, and so are my emotions. Then as is often the case in this life, I find myself in the unfortunate position of having to explain and clarify what I said and what I meant by what I said, which is a common feature in relationships this side of eternity. And to crown it all, I get home, and there is still no power and somehow manage to burn the supper to the annoyance of my dear wife. When I finally retire to bed, hoping for a goodnight’s rest, our son has another of those nights!

Frustrated, weary and irritated the next day begins. And the sceptic in me wonders what drama lies ahead of me. The reality is, I do not know and trying to figure that out is an exercise in futility. Life is just too unpredictable, and man is also limited to know and be sure. So with my frustrations and scepticism, I turn to a verse that is fast becoming my life verse.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:1-2

The Lord is the one constant in this crazy and unpredictable world. When everyone is anxious, and their hearts are full of fretting, only the one who knows God and lives dependent on him will experience the tranquillity of the soul and the peace of mind. The dependent child of God will receive satisfaction from God because it is he who gives the gifts and the ability to enjoy the gifts. He is the ultimate equaliser! Without God in the picture, all labour is an exercise in futility.

Dear Christian, the only way you will be able to joyfully navigate the challenges, uncertainties and frustrations of life is by learning to trust and depend on the only constant- the unchanging and all-satisfying God.