Written by Dr. Kyuboem Lee
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 00:00
Ministry paradigm in the West is undergoing a massive shift today because of numerous forces at work in our global world. One of the paradigm shifts has to do with how ministry context has changed from a Christendom model (in which Christianity is the assumed predominant worldview) to a mission field model.
It's not just that the majority culture has changed--to be sure, younger generations of white Protestant descent (and the more privileged children of immigrants and minorities who go to colleges with them) now live in a thoroughly postmodern milieu, unlike most of their forebears. It is also that the Western urban world has become thoroughly pluralistic, largely through huge people movements that have swept across the globe. Our culture is no longer simply the product of a long history of "Western civilization"--it is also the product of African, Muslim, Indian, East Asian, South American, Eastern European...and other, civilizations. I am grossly generalizing here, of course--each of the categories mentioned hold multiple varieties that see themselves as quite distinct from other expressions. But you see my point. For today's pastor, the ministry context has transformed from one that could safely be assumed as fairly homogeneous (notable exception used to be the black-white divide, but not many crossed that) to one that is dizzying in its variety, and in which one cannot ever assume that Christianity is predominant or even understood. Indeed, the gospel has not reached many of the nooks and crannies cropping up in the Western world--and these nooks and crannies are growing rapidly.
This paradigm shift in our ministry context should signal a paradigm shift in how we train pastors. It is not enough to simply train the pastor for a postmodern audience. Our world is simply not that homogeneous. How will the church equip the next generation of leaders for the task of proclaiming the gospel in the global world that is even now upon us? A simple answer is: pastors in the West need to be trained more like missionaries.
In the Christendom paradigm, pastors have been trained mostly in systematic theology, biblical studies, (Western) church history, and homiletics. Other practical theology categories may have included church governance, prescribed by the seminary's denomination. However, foreign missionaries (even this is an outdated term in the new context, as is the term “home mission”) had more awareness of their need to understand different cultures and to communicate the gospel cross-culturally. They were trained to work outside Christendom and to be students of people who inhabit a world that is quite different from that of the missionaries', for the sake of the gospel mission.
Hence, there has been much attention paid to anthropology among missionaries. Pastors ministering in today's world will need to be diligent students of people groups and cultures. It is a dangerous thing to make assumptions about the people God has called ministers to--ministry can very easily backfire and ministers may find they have not been faithfully representing Christ to their people because of their misconceptions and unaddressed prejudices. Just as seeking to faithfully interpret Scriptures is a priority for pastoral ministry, faithfully interpreting people and their cultures is a priority--this has always been true, of course, but our new situation is forcing us to learn this lesson.
Missionaries have also been quite aware of their need to effectively engage in mercy ministry. Many missionaries have operated in contexts of physical need and simply sought to meet these needs in the name of Christ. Such proclamations of the kingdom in deed have brought credibility to the preached words of the gospel. As Christian developers have grown in understanding of their work, they have learned that indigenous leadership development was priority. More than simply addressing physical needs through relief efforts and giving money, they have come to recognize the importance of working with indigenous leaders, affirming their dignity, and developing local human resources for longterm development. As the old adage goes, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish, feed him for life." (There is much to learn here for the work of discipleship--without minimizing the importance of preaching, a renewed emphasis must be placed on developing homegrown leadership who will take the ministry deeper into the culture and adapt it for the ever changing context.) The church in our global world needs to reclaim this calling to be ministers of mercy in a hurting world and become students in effective diaconal ministry.
Last example for this post--no doubt this is only a preliminary list we are making here: Missionaries have been students of contextual theology. Theology, many missionaries came to realize, is a human activity carried out within lived cultural contexts, not apart or above it, done within a purely theoretical realm. (You will notice the Platonic predominance over Western thought at work here.) Missionary history is replete with examples of missed opportunities and sometimes abject failures in communicating the gospel because of the missionaries' unexamined beliefs in their own received, Western, contextual theologies and faithfully seeking to reproduce these in non-Western, missionary contexts. Therefore, today’s minister must be a student in the art and science of contextualizing theology--faithful to the revelation of the gospel in the Word of God and faithful to human contexts this revelation comes to address. This has always been the case, but is especially so in our shifting and multifaceted cultural context.
In light of the current paradigm shift, there needs to be a corresponding paradigm shift in our training of pastors. Mission courses that have for long been treated as electives need to become required courses.
Many of you readers have no doubt come across situations that have needed the traditional roles of pastor and missionary to coexist. How have you seen this?
Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).