5 Shifts To Make: The Philippine Church Gearing Towards Life and Ministry Post-Pandemic Webinar – A Reaction

I had the privilege to share the stage with Dr. Anthony dela Fuente, who blogs over at Upgazer/The Dawn Treader, the other day. He had been invited by the Theological Commission of the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches to present a paper at their TheoExpo 2021. His paper was entitled 5 Shifts To Make: The Philippine Church Gearing Towards Life and Ministry Post-Pandemic. I was asked to be the reactor to the paper. The session was livestreamed on Facebook and can be viewed in its entirety here. Please take a look and tell me what you think. 

Do I pastor a church or a community?

Photo by Mauro Mora on Unsplash.

Several diverse ideas helped shape the approach I take to pastoring.

A key Bible story for me is the story of the Father and his two sons (often called the Prodigal son) that is found in Luke 15:11-32. One of the key parts of the story for me is the fact that there are only three characters, which for me means that in God’s perspective all people are a part of his family. Some — like the prodigal — leave the family and then return, while others — like the older brother — appear to initially have everything together but then end up outside at the end of the story. Note that the father extends every effort to welcome both sons back home. This has shaped how I feel God views everyone in the world — they are all his children who he wants to return home.

Dwayne Harms was a friend I had growing up who ended up being a pastor at Midale Baptist Church in Saskatchewan, Canada. I had a chance to visit him after he had been there for a few years and he said something that has stuck with me since then. He talked about how being the Baptist pastor in a small town meant that he was more than just the Baptist pastor, he was the town’s pastor. This has also helped shape my philosophy of the church and it’s connection with the community.

David Fitch a few years ago said, “There is no dividing line between the church and the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission and renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among and for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”

All of this helped me when my wife and I moved to Pingkian (a small community in Metro Manila). I must admit that it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t simply a pastor with Metro Manila Bible Community or Pingkian Family Worship but that I was in fact the pastor of Pingkian! It has certainly shaped the way that I interact with the people who live around me.

If it’s true that we pastor communities like we pastor churches, what does that look like?

Is it beast or animal? Is there a difference?

https://unsplash.com/@moino007

I have been prepping for a sermon on the church post-Easter celebration. Some have been asking questions like, “What is God doing during the pandemic? Why isn’t he answering our prayers?” and saying things like, “I am sharing this fake news because I want people to have hope that there is life post-COVID.” These are certainly important and serious issues. Since some of the comments talked about government and its role in the pandemic, my study (naturally) brought me to the word “beast” as used in the Bible.

Theology is sometimes based on archaic words and untranslated words. The problem with both is that it is possible to give them meanings that are different from what they really mean.

Transliterations are the words in the Bible that aren’t translated. Rather the Greek letters are switched into english letters and that new word is put into the Bible. I can think of two examples, angel and baptism.

Angel is a word that really means messenger but because it is not translated we have come up with a white-robed, halo-wearing, person with wings that has no connection to reality.

Baptism is a word that really means immersed or submerged but because it is merely transliterated we can take it to mean anything we want, whether that is sprinkling, pouring, or dunking. Of course what really messes us up is when this word is connected to the Holy Spirit 😉

Translations are words where the same meaning from the original language is found in another language. I think it was Andrew Walls who said, “All translation is betrayal.” This is partly because concepts between languages often don’t precisely overlap. It is also partly because often translations don’t change as quickly as language itself changes.

For example, the Tagalog word ulam is often translated as viand in English. Put up your hand if you know what viand means 🙂 It may be an accurate translation but it isn’t a very helpful one. (Having said that, what is a modern English word for viand I wonder?)

There are also biblical examples of the same thing.

Tongues. This is a old way of saying “languages.” Speaking in languages. The gift of languages.

Beast. This word can also mean animal, which is the most common way this word is said in today’s usage. But see what happens when we use it instead of beast? Mark of the animal. The Animals of Revelation.

Can you think of any other biblical words that could be replaced by more normal words?

My most memorable preaching experience was a dialogue.

https://unsplash.com/@mlightbody

Just reading Carey Nieuwhof’s blog on The Future of Preaching and Reaching the Unchurched.

One point brought me back to the most memorable preaching experience I ever had.

3. Limited format. A sermon is a monologue and rarely more.”

I was visiting a small church in Northwestern Ontario (I think it was Upper Falls Baptist in Vermillion Bay). I was basically on a tour of BGC Canada churches across Canada, which meant this was not the first time I had preached this particular sermon. I got started into the message and asked my first (rhetorical) question, prepared to answer it myself and then continue. To my surprise a woman in the congregation spoke up with her answer! I was taken aback at first but then I realised that it was ok to do things differently. We continued the sermon in dialogue format with the various members of the congregation engaging with what I was saying. It was great!

Which brings us to another point Nieuwhof makes,

“Without intentionally doing this, most of us who preach self-censor what we say and do on Sundays. There is a silent but prevalent belief that certain things are ‘acceptable’ for a Sunday morning format and some things are not.”

Not every congregation appreciates the give and take nature of a dialogic sermon — for some it appears disrespectful. I wonder if it’s time to change this attitude?

What was your most memorable preaching experience? Have you even tried preaching in dialogue form rather than monologue?

What parts of the new normal are you looking forward to embracing?

“Politically, economically, socially and culturally, normal was dying long before COVID. The disruption of a global pandemic was the final nail in normal’s coffin.”

Carey Nieuwhof

There has been a lot of talk about the “new normal” of late. Some are looking forward to it while others are waiting to get back to the old normal. Those advocating the creation of a new normal acknowledge that things haven’t always been great for many people in society.

For example, even though it’s called civil society doesn’t mean that it is very civil. Related to this is the fragmentation of society that gets more and more obvious each day. The general population’s introduction to lockdown-related isolation reveals that many people were already isolated in the old normal — it’s just that no one really paid them much attention.

In the church, there was an emphasis on what can be called Temple Spirituality — where church is what happens inside the four walls of the church — rather than realizing that the functionality of the church happens outside the four walls too. Related to this is the fact that the church has often outsourced its pastoring to professionals and neglected the priesthood of all believers.

What parts of normal are you not looking forward to returning?

What parts of the new normal are you looking forward to embracing?

How do I move from monologue to dialogue?

“Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others.”

Mikhail Bahktin, Discourse in the Novel, 1935
Dialogue on the internet often becomes monologue.

What if I intended to get to Dialogue but only arrived at Monologue?

The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin spoke a lot about language and truth in the early part of the 20th century. Since one of the foundational concepts of this blog is the function of truth telling, it’s important to see what Bakhtin can contribute to the discourse of truth discovery.

For Bakhtin, the discovery of truth happens in dialogue. That means that many voices all come together and as they interact with each other they discover truth. This is common knowledge. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the ability of a good debate to get to the core of an issue.

Now we get to the hard part. What if I know something is true already? What if, because of my religious affiliations, or my family traditions, or the advice of significant and influential people, I have developed an understanding if the truth that I feel is right? Does the purpose of dialogue then become trying to convince others of my truth?

I recently responded to a meme posted by a friend on Facebook. The meme pointed out that offence is not always a marker for truth. Of course me being me I had to comment and use the moment to teach something (not perhaps my best trait). I had two motives, the first being a genuine desire to enter into dialogue with my friend. The second was of course to be right :-p

I even had a Bible verse to back up my truth claims. I couched the reply in the form of a question on how to interpret the weaker brother verse from Corinthians in an age where it seems many get easily offended.

But the dialogue didn’t happen.

According to Bakhtin, if it’s not dialogue then it’s monologue, which for Bakhtin is the gravest of sins. My interaction with my FB friend was intended to start dialogue, wasn’t it? Are there forms of “dialogue” that are in effect “monologue”? What factors contribute to fostering dialogue? Is merely saying that “I want to dialogue on this” enough? Or is there more to it than that? Is it simply because it’s on social media that it becomes monologue?

Any advice?

Photo by @headwayio on Unsplash.

Is there an alternative to face-to-face church that isn’t online?

https://unsplash.com/@sandym10

Like most churches that I know, Pingkian Family Worship embraced the idea of a pre-recorded or live-streamed church service early on in the days of the pandemic. Now of course we are so used to that kind of worship that some wonder if there will always be a segment of society that wants to continue to do church virtually. But what if for some reason doing a hybrid live + online service is less than ideal? What options are available?

I was reading Carey Nieuwhof’s blog the other day and he talked about what we need to do when the pandemic is over [5 CRITICAL MISTAKES CHURCH LEADERS SHOULD AVOID IN THE POST-COVID WORLD]. Point #3 was that we can’t resume in-person services exactly as they were pre-COVID. He says, 

“But many church leaders are considering running two kinds of services: in-person and then a separate one devoted to online. In other words, online will become something other than just a live-stream of whatever is happening in the auditorium or sanctuary on Sunday.” 

Carey Nieuwhof

He got me thinking about Pingkian Family Worship and & the applicability of a hybrid church service. Once we can gather face-to-face again, what is the ability or desire of people in our community to watch something online? Is that something that’s even applicable in a place like Pingkian?I was  listening to our class on applied leadership and Pastor Oliver from Cagayan de Oro talked about what they are doing in their church. He called it “simbalay,” which is a blending of the words “simba” [worship] and “balay/bahay” [home] together and is the idea that people are doing church in their own homes. That got me thinking that perhaps in the Philippine context a hybrid service isn’t an in person service + an online presence but rather an in person service + a worship-at-home kind of service.

So how would this fit in Pingkian? If in COVID-times an online service can serve as a means of equipping people to lead church in their bubbles, perhaps a face-to-face service can be a way of equipping people to lead their families in worship at home as well. 

I guess we need to do some kind of survey among our members. We can ask them questions such as: 

  • What do you enjoy about worship? 
  • What do you need from worship? 
  • And what can you give in worship? 

This will help us know how we can better prepare them for leading their families at home. But there would be a continued corporate portion to our twice-a-month services as well. Perhaps there could be an online component for those who can’t make it, such as people who are isolated at home, people who are working and can’t come, and other people.

I guess we need to identify those people who have previously fallen through the cracks when it comes to being able to attend a corporate worship service in person. I’m thinking about people who because of their work aren’t able to attend. Perhaps people who are sick or bedridden or or need to stay home are also not able to attend. I wonder what other forms of isolation people experience that keeps them from attending a face-to-face service?

So I guess those are my questions for you guys: 

  • What do you enjoy about worship? 
  • What do you need from worship? 
  • And what can you give in worship?

So if you had to make a choice, which would win?

I came across this post I wrote almost exactly 10 years ago and I realised that God’s love and God’s justice are not a dichotomy but are in fact the same thing. i think that perhaps I was confused with some modern theological positions that somehow pit justice against love. What I realise now is that justice in the Bible is not some kind of punishment for sin but is in fact freedom from oppression.

It’s an entirely different thing.

The Functional Church Blog

So if you had to make a choice, which would win: God’s love or God’s justice?

View original post

Church is no longer an “everyday word.”

I revisited this post today from 2012 and I think it has relevance today, especially in light of how COVID-19 restrictions have brought the discussion of what the church is to the forefront of society as a whole. Can you help me out? Do you have an answer to the question I pose here?

The Functional Church Blog

The Greeks used an everyday word to describe when they gathered together as Christians. We use a religious word to describe the same thing. And that fact has a tremendous impact upon how each of us understands the concept.

The funny thing is is that it is the same word: “Church.”

I spend a lot of my time trying to define this word for leaders in the Christian movement. We look at how it is used in the Bible; we look at what it meant in the original Greek; we study how it has been used through the ages since the 1st century; and so on and so forth. And when we come to a conclusion we proclaim it from the hilltops: I know what “church” means! (Of course, there is the corollary that if I know what it means then you probably don’t. So you need me to tell…

View original post 85 more words

Can I approach Ultimate Truth?

At this point it is important to discuss the concept of truth since one possible complaint of the above framework is that it promotes a concept of truth that is relative rather than absolute. 

The basic goal of every person in every society is to try to understand Ultimate Truth, or what’s called sometimes Ultimate Reality. This is the unadulterated pure truth that exists beyond human comprehension or human influence. This would be the Ultimate Truth that exists behind every reality that we know. This is the Truth that every system of truth we have in our human society is trying to approach. 

Traditionally, there’ve been two different ways people have tried to understand or approach this ultimate reality. Certain people look to the past and say, “Remember how it used to be? Remember how things were so good? There was a simple past. Things were safer in our society. We didn’t get caught up in technology so much as we do nowadays. I wish things were like the past.”

Other people look to the future and they have dreams for a better future. They say they say the past wasn’t that great after all. And they would like to change some things to make a better future. 

When evaluating these are two different ways of looking at how we can approach ultimate truth, it’s important to remember that we don’t forget the goal is to become closer to that Ultimate Reality that exists somewhere beyond our perception. The Bible refers to our perceptions of Ultimate Reality as a “mystery” (Mk 4:11; Ro 16:24; etc.) or as seen “in a glass darkly” (1Co 13:12).

Post-Truth is a term that’s become popular lately. It implies that somehow in the past we were closer to the truth than we are today. I wonder, however, if it’s not so much that we’re in a Post-Truth society in as much as the truths we thought that were closest to Ultimate Reality in the past have now been shown to be further from the truth than we thought? Part of this is because of the introduction of different perspectives due to a blending of different cultures in our society today. In the past societies were more monolithic and isolated from other societies and so they shaped truth based upon what they knew using their common language, frame of reference, and religion. But once the world got smaller because of changes in international travel, and as people started to understand the truths as other societies understood them, they realized that maybe their original perceptions and understandings needed adjustment. 

So how do we tie this together? I think we often confuse the truth as we understand it with Ultimate Truth and we assume that we’ve got it figured out: “The things that I believe to be true are the right things and if you believe different things to be true, then you’re wrong and I have to convince you about that.” I think basically that’s how we feel because that’s part of human nature, but a realization that we’re all trying to approach human nature from a different perspective leads us to conversation with one another that can help each of us come closer to ultimate truth in a better way. 

This idea of conversation opens us up to an evaluation of our own societies as well. We thought our societies were fairly monolithic, but we didn’t realize that that our society is made up of a lot of disparity and a lot of divergence. Irigaray (in Hinton, 2013 & Hollywood, 1998) complained of how the “normative subject” in society was a white middle-aged man and advocated for using different perspectives to better understand society. The “normative subject” in “most western philosophical and religious discourses” is “white, male, free, middle to upper class.” Irigaray credits Freud with developing this norm but critiques it by wondering if there is then room for the feminine. Since the feminine isn’t “normal” then there must be “no sex difference.”

These this lack of difference diminishes the female voice because “normatively there is a strong tendency to deny epistemic value to differences … which are therefore epistemically suppressed and must be suppressed by the subject if she is to gain epistemic authority” (Hollywood, 234).

Irigaray is not advocating for some type of feminine norm but her critique opens us up to different perspectives beyond sex and gender including age, relationship status, health, language, ethnicity, economic and social strata, and more. We all have different perspectives and each of these perspectives is a different way for us to approach this truth in this reality. 

It brings a couple of questions to mind. How do I know that my understanding of the truth is complete? Can I not learn from others whether right or wrong? Maybe somebody else has a different system of logic or a different understanding of reality, or a different system of hermeneutics than I do, and I can learn from them so that I can improve and that I can learn a new thing. 

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash