The Modern Pastor

May and June have been an interesting months for me.  I apologize for my absence in posting,  but we ended up buying a new house and moving on May 5.  The was a blessing, but a bit overwhelming at the same time.  It wasn’t scheduled and this presented a problem because May was already booked with a conference in Cleavland at Alistair Begg’s church, a wedding in San Luis Obispo, and my Spanish pastor had a heart attack resulting in a 5-way bypass (he is okay). Did I mention that my wife is about 36 weeks pregnant?  Minor detail. Oh well, we would push through this busy month trying to rest in Him while pushing with all our might.

In the midst of this craziness, my wife and I discussed the idea of not setting up the Internet at our house until June 1.  We thought the idea of unplugging would be a great spiritual fast.  The only question we had was, “Could we survive such an extreme fast?”  I of course created a bunch of disclaimers such as: my iPhone was okay to use (but the reception is HORRIBLE at my new house) and we could still use the internet off site as I need to receive and send emails, etc, etc.  This was very inconvenient given my setting and that my office is at my house.

The first few days were very rough.  I came down with a bug and I literally felt like unplugging was making me physically sick.  I doubt it.  I’m sure it was just stress.  Through this month I was struck with how much pastoring I do through the Internet and other nontraditional methods like sending text messages.  I was sort of shocked to hear people say they felt disconnected from me and the church after about a week without Internet in my home.  I am sure this is accentuated because I don’t keep office hours and do most of my admin/study time from my home office.  But as I finish have finished my fast, I have come to conclude there are some very positive ways in which we can pastor–that come with very real pitfalls.

In many ways, I feel like the apostle Paul was one of the greatest pastors.  The epistles reveal his great heart for the people he shepherded.  He wrote letters.  Sent greeting through people.  And of course ministered face-to-face.  He had no email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog, text message plan, Skype, and certainly the great Cross Connection Blog did not exist then.  Does that mean he would not utilize these inventions?  I doubt it.

Positive Elements…

Texting, Facebook, and emailing are very quick and easy ways to connect with people.  I often send out blast through whatever medium is most convenient for the recipient.  As people come to mind, I try to say a prayer for them.  I will often follow up the prayer with text, note on Facebook, or an email saying that I appreciate them, am praying for them, and ask them how they are doing.  I haven’t formulated any method to my madness, but have done this more as the Spirit leads.

Facebook is an interesting tool as you are able to read about people and how they are doing.  I have noticed that Facebook has become a method for tracking people’s highs and lows.  I don’t always catch everything, but I do appreciate that when something is worthy of following up on I am often notified by a third party that I should check in with the person in question.

Skype.  The main way I used Skype is for keeping up with missionaries.  I am blessed to serve at a body that support me in traveling to visit with our missionaries for the sole purpose of encouraging them.  Through these trips, my relationship with them has deepened.  While away from them, I have found that Skype is an AMAZING tool for having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone around the world.

Pit Falls…

I believe the greatest pitfalls in the new technology is that they have the propensity to replace face-to-face people time to pseudo relationships through social media and text messaging.  I believe this is sort of a shift within society which makes finding the sweet-spot a little tricky.

Another problem is that between computer and smart phone these mediums can be very habit forming and can disrupt some of the most intimate relationship we have–our families.  I have heard more than one pastor’s wife complain about the invasion of the iPhone into their family.  We must guard ourselves from the additive trap of our smart phones.

All in all, I am thankful for the resources we have through technology.  The ease of communication has raced forward in the last twenty years.  We have the ability to “ping” many people throughout the day to stay in people’s lives.  But the reality is that the blessing comes with a curse.  We can have many shallow relationships that lack depth as a result.  If anything, this last month reminded me to unplug daily, to read more, to focus on building real relationships while simultaneously really appreciating how easily I am able to connect with my people through these various mediums.


Theology and Anthropology

In the 1993 film Rudy (named after the main character), Rudy has a conversation with a priest named Father Cavanaugh, in which the priest says,

“Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and I’m not Him.” [1]

In this statement, Father Cavanaugh reveals his dependence on theology, “there is a God,” and anthropology, “and I’m not him.”

Is anthropology as important as theology for a cross-cultural missionary? This is a hot question being asked by many. Where theology is the study of God, anthropology is the study of man. There is no doubt that both are important, but are they of equal importance? To answer this question I will look at theology as the goal, and anthropology as a means to that goal.

For brevity’s sake, I will assume that my reader holds the view that God is the source of all life and God is the goal of all life. To quote the first answer of the Westminster Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[2] Since this is why we exist, knowing God (theology) is of utmost importance, and to know him is to worship him. Herein lies the missions mandate as John Piper explains,

“Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not mission, because God is ultimate, not man. [Mission] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore is the fuel and goal of missions.”[3]

God is to be known, yet the knowledge of God comes to us through anthropological means. This is exemplified in that God himself has chosen to communicate with people. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”(Heb 1:1-2). God chose to speak to people through people. Theos (God) spoke through anthropos (man)! The chasm between God and mankind cannot be bridged by mankind. God had men write Scripture, which has faithfully been communicated again and again to various cultures through various languages. To read the Quran, people must learn Arabic, but to read the Bible, God’s revelation, people can read it communicated within their own language.

Concerning communication, David Hesselgrave, a missiologist, draws on Aristotle’s Rhetoric identifying “three points of reference: the speaker, the speech, and the audience.”[4] He points out that a message must also be encoded and decoded (see below).[5] There can be multiple messages coming across at the same time. What the source says may not actually correspond with what the respondent hears creating misunderstanding. Several years ago, an American pastor came on a short-term ministry trip to London. While speaking with a young woman, he noticed her trousers fit his wife’s taste and commented, “I like your pants.” He communicated a message, but the message decoded by the respondent was quite different. I quickly interjected in the conversation to clarify that pants for Americans means trousers. In this case, the misinterpretation is within a common language. Yet cross-cultural ministry must often times cross significant linguistic and cultural hurdles.

Source > Encode > Message > Decode > Respondent

In Hebrews 1, we are told that God communicated to mankind about himself through mankind. The means God uses to communicate, relates to the people to whom he is communicating. Nowhere is this more apparent than God, the Word, becoming man (Joh 1:1, 14). Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (Joh 8:23). Jesus as the logos, the word/message of God was communicated within a linguistic and cultural framework. As missiologist Sherwood Lingenfelter said, “God’s Son studied the language, the culture, and the lifestyles of his people for thirty years before he began his ministry.”[6] “The Son of God was sitting in the temple, listening and questioning!”[7] Jesus sets for us the model for cross-cultural ministry. He crossed from a heavenly culture to an earthly culture, communicating theologically in cultural forms and language that his hearers understood.

If God, who alone is wise, chose to reveal himself (theology) by relating truth in symbols and forms that people could understand (anthropology), all cross-cultural communicators should seek to follow the pattern God has laid out.

The challenge for the missionary is he must not only learn of God, but must learn of people. One of the greatest barriers to this is the missionary’s own culture and worldview. If he does not study the people to whom he desires to minister, the hearer can easily decode the message the missionary sent incorrectly. Culture shapes the lens through which life is evaluated; therefore, he must learn to separate his worldview (or lens) from the message that he articulates. The missionary’s worldview is something he may be used to looking through, but not something he is used to looking at. This is what Lingenfelter calls “cultural blindness”.[8] One’s own culture can be easily mistaken as a Christ-culture and the missionary may seek to convert his hearers to become like him, rather than like Christ. It is this mistake that has been made repeatedly in cross-cultural missions. Bruce Olson, recounting his work as a missionary in Columbia realized, he had access to many tribes that others could not access because he studied the people and understood how they thought. Olson attributes two causes for his success amongst the Motilone Indians. “The first is simple: The Motilones were not asked to give up their own culture and become white men… The second was the Holy Spirit.”[9]

As the missionary studies his receptor’s culture as well as his own, he can begin to separate what is biblical from what is cultural. He is then enabled to communicate theologically in a way that can be understood anthropologically. Olson learned that speaking of having faith in God meant nothing to the Motilones. However, if he communicated the idea of faith in God as “you have to tie your hammock strings into Him [Jesus] and be suspended in God,”[10] then they understood. Don Richardson went to the Sawi people of New Guinea. In his book Peace Child, he tells of attempting to tell the gospel story to the tribe. He was confounded when the whole tribe exalted Judas as a hero because he was the ultimate traitor, and in their culture befriending someone only to win their trust then stab them in the back was a prized virtue![11] As Richardson learned more about the tribe’s culture he was able to contextualize Jesus’ sacrifice in terms they could relate to. Within their culture, peace was brought between tribes by offering a son (peace child) to a member of another tribe. Richardson was able to show that Jesus was God’s peace child, and in their culture, to betray a peace child was unthinkable. Judas turned from hero to villain and many received the gospel. Richardson concludes, “The look on their faces told me I had not only discovered a parallel between their culture and the gospel, but I had also scraped a raw nerve as well-the obvious inadequacy of the Sawi peace child!”[12]

In this process there is a danger to be avoided. When anthropology trumps theology, the missionary can begin to make God’s message fit what is culturally acceptable. Even the great missionary Jesus’ message was rejected. It was rejected because people understood what Jesus was saying, not because they did not understand. The gospel is always going to confront the culture of the people to whom the missionary is sent. Jesus warns that since he was rejected, his followers would be also (Joh 15:18). Missiologist Paul Hiebert warns that the Anticolonial Era of missionaries erred in their contextualization. “Contextualization often became an uncritical process in which good in other cultures was affirmed, but the evil in them was left unchallenged…. What is sacrificed is the uniqueness of Christ and his salvation, because this is an offence to non-Christians.”[13] Darrin Patrick in his book Church Planter says contextualizing the gospel should be coupled with contending for the gospel. If theology is loosened to fit the culture, in which the missionary seeks to minister, he loses the very reason for which he is sent into that culture.[14] “Contextualization is speaking to people with their terms, not on their terms.”[15] Patrick quotes Timothy Keller on the issue,

“Contextualization is not ‘giving people what they want’ but rather it is giving God’s answers (which they may not want!) to questions they are asking and in forms that they can comprehend.”[16]

God is the message (theology), but his message is for people (anthropology). The missionary’s pursuit is to communicate theology powerfully and accurately to people. To do this he needs to understand those people. In this way, anthropology is critical, because this is the means whereby the truth of God can be understood as it is presented to every tribe, tongue, people, and ethnic group for the glory of God and their forever enjoyment of him.

[1] Dir. David Anspaugh. Perf. Sean Austin, Jon Favreau and Ned Beatty. Rudy. (Tri Star Pictures. 1993). DVD.
[2] Frame, J. M. The Collected Shorter Theological Writings. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. 2007). N.P. Logos Electronic Edition
[3] Piper, John, Let the Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2003). 17
[4] Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1991). 40
[5] Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 41
[6] Lingenfelter, Sherwood and Marvin, Mayers K. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. (Grand Rapids: Baker Accademic, 2003). 16
[7] Lingenfelter, Ministering Cross-Culturally, 16
[8] Lingenfelter, Sherwood. Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1998), 21
[9] Olson, Bruce. Bruchko. (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House. 1995), 128-9
[10] Olson, Bruchko, 139
[11] Richardson, Don. Peace Child. (Ventura: Regal Books. 2005), 150-2
[12] Richardson, Peace Child, 187
[13] Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1994), 59
[14] Patrick, Darrin. Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission. (Wheaton: Crossway. 2010) 194
[15] Patrick, Church Planter, 195 emphasis mine
[16] Keller, Timothy, “Contextualization: Wisdom or Compromise?” (Connect Conference, Covenant Seminary, 2004), 2, quoted in Patrick, Church Planter, 195,