As some of you know I am the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptist’s representative on the SBC Executive Committee. And if you have been reading blogs and various Baptist press sites lately, you are aware that the Executive Committee (EC) is in the spotlight. Our current situation is not a surprise, but I am personally disappointed. Following the EC’s February meeting, I began a weekly series on my personal perspective of current issues facing Southern Baptists. They provide the background for what I will be writing today. They began on March 2 and went through June 29 and can be found at the following link, Mark's Insights.
Although the issues are complex, the foundational point facing EC members today relates to a portion of a motion that was approved at this June’s SBC Convention. It related to an internal review of the Executive Committee regarding allegations of mishandling sexual abuse issues. It asks “the Executive Committee staff and members [to waive] attorney-client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.” On the surface that request makes sense—that is until you unpack the legal implications of such a request. Here is a great application of the wisdom found in Proverbs 18:17 “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.”
As an EC member (like any board member of any corporation), I have a “fiduciary obligation” to steward wisely that entity. A formal legal definition of a fiduciary is “An individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another's benefit.” As we listened to attorneys who have significant experience and expertise, I felt like I was back in my sophomore year of college sitting in Dr. Bill Kratz’s Business Law I and II classes.
Since some are suggesting that the counsel we received during the executive session last Tuesday was biased and should be ignored, I did my due diligence and called a wonderful lady who advised our association on legal issues for years to seek an unbiased perspective on what I am facing as an EC member. I will use Admiral Ackbar’s words from the movie Return of the Jedi to summarize her comments, “It’s a trap!” Her advice was DO NOT vote to waive attorney-client privilege. The motion sets up a false narrative that justice can’t be done unless this constitutional right is waived. The reality is that it is a foundational principle of our justice system, and it is the only reason a guilty person would be willing to tell the truth to anyone. People are convicted every day in our country and none of them were asked to waive their attorney-client privilege. She stated that voting to waive attorney-client privilege would be an absolute disaster, and it would have significant unintended negative consequences. She also exhorted me to write this informed response piece that might help people see the big picture.
Bottom line is that every EC member is asked to find a way to be faithful to the messengers at the 2021 convention while we are also faithful to our fiduciary obligation. As I thought about our “predicament” it reminded me that as a Christian I am asked to believe that God is one and God is three AND that Jesus of Nazareth was fully God and fully man. As I share Christ I am asking others to believe that as well. It is almost impossible to really describe these two paradoxes without someone calling you a heretic. The question at hand is “Can we find a way forward that will honor both responsibilities: being transparent while maintaining organizational integrity?”
Another analogy came to my mind as I reflected on the polarization that exists today. My first ministry position following graduation from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, was in north-central Iowa. We weren’t there very long when I heard that the city had condemned a property and was getting ready to burn it down because it had a roach infestation. Imagine my shock as one who had lived in Ft. Worth and while living there was on a first-name basis with the roach that looked out at me when I opened a cabinet door. Yes, we used roach proof. Yes, we set off roach bombs every time we were going to be gone for a few days. But you still have roaches who come in from outside. And yes, I did set off three roach bombs in the U-Haul truck as we were moving out of seminary housing.
My point is that WE CAN solve the difficult issues that we are facing without burning our house down. But if we can’t do that, then history will report this as the moment when the SBC lived out Jesus’ words: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25).
Even if we are able to come to some basic agreement about moving forward without a blanket, in advance waiver of attorney-client privilege, we are still at a dangerous point in our convention as we are ignoring the advice Paul gave a deeply divided church in Corinth by our use of Guidepost Solutions.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
If you want to make the argument that this passage only applies to lawsuits between two believers, then I would suggest you have become blinded by your own righteous indignation for justice as you see it.
If within our 40,000 churches and among our 15 million members we can’t find a humble objective-wise group of men and women who can provide clarity and bring us together, then again I will suggest we are a house so deeply divided and that we will not stand.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Because the Culturally Appropriate Principle is the one we can most easily overlook, I have taken additional time and space to discuss it. In week one I pointed to several Biblical passages that describe the early church’s challenges with becoming cross-cultural—reaching the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Week two I talked about missionary concepts that when applied correctly they can help us find our way either over, under, around, or through the dividing wall between our culture and others in the world (Ephesians 2:14). Today's article provides some specific examples as we attempt to live as Paul lived.“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews…to those who are without the law, as without law…to the weak I became weak…I became all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:20-22).
To be clear, let me state that being culturally appropriate isn’t just a topic for conversations with individuals whose native language isn’t English or whose skin color is a bit different than our own. In fact, the first major cross-cultural experience of my life happened at the age of 16 when my family moved from northeast Wyoming to northeast Oklahoma. While the climate change was huge, the cultural shift was probably even greater. And one of those BIG shifts was the way people did church. But you don’t have to move 1,000 miles away to encounter cultural barriers. They can exist even in your own neighborhood.
A few days ago, I was visiting with John Mark Hansen about the Culturally Appropriate Principle. Many of you know John Mark. He and his wife Cheryl have worked among the Chinese in Taiwan and in Panama. The latter also required them to be able to navigate the Latino cultures of Costa Rico as well as Panama. As we discussed Barriers and Bridges, I asked him specifically about some things they encountered as they worked among the Chinese. He mentioned that a good connecting point with Chinese is that they love western wedding traditions.
But John Mark quickly switched the conversation to say that we needed to learn how to be cross-cultural in our own neighborhood. He then described two specific neighbors:
He said, “Stop and think for just a minute how differently you would start a conversation with these two very different neighbors, let alone begin a spiritual conversation.”
To expand on that reality, let me say that sometimes we have cross-cultural encounters within our own home. Advances in technology and huge shifts in cultural mores are forcing parents to have conversations with their children that they wish they didn’t have to have. And I’m not just talking about asking my grandkids how to use my cell phone. Day-to-day life can become very complex for those of us who grew up in the US.
When we are seeing to engage immigrant families, we need to understand they are living in that complexity as well, PLUS they are trying to figure out how to live in a world that’s vastly different from where they were raised. A conversation I often have with language pastors relates to the reality that their children cannot be raised as their parents raised them. That opportunity was lost when they immigrated to the U.S. Many immigrant parents struggle to make a living, and often both have to work to make ends meet. That means their children are often latch key kids. I’ve known immigrant parents who have been arrested for child neglect or even abuse because they were raising their children as they were raised. Sometimes an older child becomes the translator in day-to-day business transactions because their English skills are better than their parents. Stop to think about the role reversal that is taking place in such situations and the impact that has on a parent-child relationship. The pastor and leaders of a language church also have to figure out how they are going to minister to children and youth who are more comfortable in English than they are in their parent’s heart language. And they have to do it while they are figuring out how to survive themselves.
Paul’s philosophy for dealing with a complex, multi-cultural world in which he ministered (and first-century Corinth definitely fell into that category) was this: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (I Corinthians 9:19). A servant is called to be obedient to his master. As servants of God, we are called to “make disciples of all ethnic groups” (Matthew 28:18-20). Within the geographical boundaries of the Heartland Church Network we have hundreds of different cultures represented. Are you willing to take the time and effort to reach across those cultural divides for the sake of the Gospel?
John Mark and Cheryl Hansen are! As I was finishing this article, they stopped by the office to run off some sermon outlines as he will be a supply preacher at Harrison Street Baptist Church this next Sunday. With them was a lady from Iran (from the Persian culture) who just arrived in the US with her husband and two children. She has a psychology degree and her husband is enrolled at UNO, and he is pursuing post-doctoral work in bio-metrics. The Hansens have connected with this family to help them navigate their new world and to building relational bridges over which they pray God will open avenues for them to share the Gospel. Pray for them and for your own opportunities to build relational bridges.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Last week I began a description of the eighth strategic principle I have observed in effective disciple-making churches: Culturally Appropriate. Did you notice that the first part came out a day later than normal? I was trying to be culturally flexible and not my typical American Type A personality self. To be perfectly honest, the constraints of my calendar forced me to try and be “comfortable” with being late.
In my July 6th article where I introduced the eight principles, I pointed out that I have observed them in very diverse contexts: church planting, church revitalization, international missions, and inner-city ministry. I return to that reality to share with you that in these diverse cultural contexts application of these principles looked very different. A few weeks ago I was visiting with an effective disciple-maker who works in an inner-city ministry setting. He had recently been exposed to several individuals who were serving in a suburban context. Not knowing I was doing an article on culturally appropriate, he shared with me an “aha!” moment he had as he realized that how he was making disciples was—and needed to be—very different from how others were doing it. God’s timing is always perfect.
As we all seek to minister more effectively among our new immigrant communities, let me describe some missional concepts related to the culturally appropriate strategy.
● An important concept we have to keep in mind is Worldview. In this case I am not speaking of specifically of having a “Biblical” worldview. Here, I am referring to the reality that every culture will differ in how they do life. Worldview is a profile of the way the people within a specific culture live, act, think, work, and relate. It is a "map" of a culture's social, religious, economic and political views and relationships. A person’s worldview is so deeply engrained that we assume it is “the right way” to do life. There are issues that can and do impact how we relate and share the gospel with individuals whose worldview is different than ours. Understanding what is cultural and what is Biblical is not easy. Too often in our missionary enterprises we have exported as much culture as we have Gospel.
● A big issue for Americans is one I “jokingly” referred to above: We are a time conscious culture to a fault. When I add a personality quirk that requires me to maximize every minute, I end up doing time and motion studies to make sure I’m not too early (wasting time) but never late to appointments (disrespecting people). Contrast that with the majority of cultures in the world where they are just a little bit more laid back. As we are working with immigrants, we have to be willing to slow down, be genuinely interested in knowing who they are, understand why they are here, ask how we can pray for them, and ask how we can help them adapt in our country. In short, we have to practice Relational Evangelism.
● Another biggie is that cultures will vary in how they balance individual rights and responsibilities with the rights and responsibilities of the group. In America, that balance has historically been heavy on the individual rights side of the spectrum. For us rugged American individualism types from Wyoming, we are struggling as that pendulum has been swinging slowly but consistently towards the needs of the whole. An all too fresh—and very controversial—example is the tension between an individual’s right to go without a mask and without a vaccination versus the desires of the group to live without being exposed to another person’s germs.
A few years ago, I flew to a meeting and took a taxi to and from the motel. On both trips I had drivers from Eritrea and as you would suspect, I engaged the drivers in conversation. In response to what they found different in America, I will never forget that both of them talked about how hard they had to work to make a living. One expressly stated that at home he had a wealthy uncle that provided for family members. To make disciples in cultures which place a very high value on caring for family and friends it will help if we understand there will be individuals in those cultures who serve as Gatekeepers.
Missionaries sometimes call these individuals a Person of Peace (Luke 10:6). In the book of Acts we see that the centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10), and the seller of purple, Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), were individuals who opened the door to the gospel in their cultural settings. Gatekeepers can be spiritually open to the gospel themselves as were Cornelius and Lydia or they can be uninterested but non restrictive permission-givers granting us access and favor with the people in that culture.
Another excellent Biblical example of a Gatekeeper is that of Crispus in Corinth. Paul encountered significant resistance from the Jewish community (which was not unusual) but Crispus’ acceptance of the Gospel opened a significant door for belief.
They opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:6-8)
● Along with the concept of “Person of Peace,” missionaries are taught to look for Bridges and Barriers to the gospel within a particular culture. A Bridge is something within in a culture that provides a natural and easy avenue for sharing the Gospel. Barriers can be either cultural or political and at times will include both. I will share some specific examples of each in next week’s article.
In the last two articles I have pointed to some of the Biblical passages and some missional concepts related to the culturally appropriate strategic principle. Next week I will give some specific examples of how these can be applied in our day-to-day world
So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, equipping/reproduction, alignment, and intentional/proactive principles that I have observed in effective disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the Culturally Appropriate Principle. This was the last strategic principle I encountered. As a preacher, I was more than content with seven, after all it is the Biblical number of completeness and perfection.
However, when I had the privilege of sharing my list of seven principles with Jim Slack over dinner at a missions conference in central Missouri, he was very affirming of my list, but he also very quickly (and appropriately so) said you missed one: culturally appropriate. Slack passed away in late 2018. At the time he was described as “An unassuming man always in good humor, who became one of Southern Baptists’ most influential missiologists during a 50-year career with the International Mission Board.” A phrase he often used was “Hello World!” It was his enthusiastic greeting to coworkers and his exclamation whenever he learned something new.
“Hello world” is an appropriate introduction to the culturally appropriate principle. Not since the late 1800s has the United States experienced the level of immigration that we have seen take place in the last twenty years. The earlier immigration peak shifted the Christian culture in America as Catholics and Lutherans flooded into the country. In particular, they shaped the upper Midwest where they homesteaded and established (platted out) city after city and started hundreds of churches. Baptist churches existed in Nebraska long before a single Catholic or Lutheran church was established, but by the early 1900s Catholics and Lutherans made up the vast majority of our residents. Prior to that immigration period, the US was overwhelmingly Protestant. By the end of that period, the Roman Catholic Church was the largest denomination in America.
Current immigration patterns along with cultural shifts are quickly transforming us from a Christian nation into a secular, religiously pluralistic country. That reality will only expand as we bring a huge number of Afghans, who are predominantly Muslim, into our nation. Those of us who grew up in Christian culture are being faced with the reality that we must adopt the practices of the Apostle Paul.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews…to those who are without the law, as without law…to the weak I became weak…I became all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I Corinthians 9:20-22
A question we need to be asking is, “How do these significant changes impact our disciple-making process?” Let me suggest a couple of answers.
1. We have to realize that we will connect best with those who share our cultural background. Part of the strategy Paul used in the book of Acts was to begin at the local synagogue where he told his Jewish brethren that their long-awaited Messiah had come (Acts 13:5-6, 14-15, etc.). He built upon the foundation of a common culture and saw God establish churches everywhere he went.
2. But we can’t stop there. We have to develop a heart for all people. Acts describes the slow shift that took place as the early church began to slowly and hesitatingly understand
Jesus’ statement, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
4. We must also be willing to adapt when we find ourselves in a cross-cultural setting. Paul did this in Athens where he addressed the elite on Mars’ Hill using an inscription on an altar that read “to the unknown god.” As is true of every encounter with someone far from God, Paul had a mixed response: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (Acts 17:18-34).
Although it is the last principle I will discuss, it is definitely not the least important. In fact, changes in our culture demand a further expansion on this point. So stay tuned as I expand my comments next week.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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