Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Lessons Learned

Written by: on October 9, 2014

Assumptions Ahead

“The older one is, the wiser one becomes.” Is this quote a truth or is it an assumption? It all depends on the person and the context. It is true that, oftentimes, an older person is wiser than a younger person. But it is not always true. And if I assume it is always true, I will find myself being surprised when it isn’t. Perhaps the greater truth here is that our assumptions can get us into trouble, deep trouble…and as a 58-year-old person, I can tell you honestly that I am not always wise because I sometimes make assumptions that are not true.

This weekend, as I was preparing for my Introduction to Cross-Cultural Ministry class, I put together a list of the lessons I learned on our Cape Town Advance that I have discussed with my students. My list contains 15 items:

  1. There is no magic on an airplane ride.
  2. Know the history and context of a new culture before going there.
  3. Often, the most bothersome people are the ones with whom you work and who are from your own culture.
  4. Disagreement happens, even among Christians – even about values and doctrine.
  5. Tourism is not cultural immersion – no matter where you are.
  6. It is naïve to think that apartheid and racism are things of the past.
  7. Suffering is a part of life, not apart from life – especially for the poor.
  8. Helping others does not always help – it just might do more harm than good.
  9. Ask others what they need; don’t tell them what they need.
  10. Americans (or any other group) do not bring God into a new culture; God is already there.
  11. What it means to be a Christian varies from culture to culture.
  12. Never assume that you understand another person’s culture.
  13. Rarely (if ever) can a person become an insider in another culture.
  14. We often learn best through experiencing contrasts, especially between cultures.
  15. Always be ready and willing to learn – especially in cross-cultural situations.

As you can see from my list, our Advance was a stretching and learning experience for me. The learning process is not always an easy one; in fact, true learning is sometimes painful – especially if it requires confronting our assumptions.

When I saw the title of this week’s reading, I was quite apprehensive. I have had several disillusioning experiences with Pentecostal people and theology through the years, so I assumed that this book would be a defense of charismatic “craziness.” But I was wrong. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement[1] was, overall, a refreshing read. The authors’ research is objective and enlightening. I was amazed at their openness to learn and to grow and that they tested their assumptions throughout the text.

The term “Progressive Pentecostalism” was new to me. I had never really thought about this much before, since my experience with Pentecostals was filled with legalism, prosperity thinking, authoritarian leadership, and crazy healing services – all practices that turned me off to this branch of the Church. However, the authors of this text bring a different emphasis of Pentecostalism that includes many types of social ministries that truly help real people in the real world. I found this to be very refreshing. The following covers the types of ministry programs offered in many of these Progressive Pentecostal churches:[2]

  1. Mercy ministries (providing food, clothing, shelter)
  2. Emergency services (responding to floods, famine, and earthquakes)
  3. Education (providing day care, schools, tuition assistance)
  4. Counseling services (helping with addiction, divorce, depression)
  5. Medical assistance (establishing health clinics, dental clinics, psychological services)
  6. Economic development (providing microenterprise loans, job training, affordable housing)
  7. The arts (training in music, dance, drama)
  8. Policy change (opposing corruption, monitoring elections, advocating a living wage)

Throughout the book, Miller and Yamamori give many international examples of these types of ministries that they observed firsthand over several years of research. I was especially interested in the work in Johannesburg with nursery schools. In the Highway Assembly of God Church, the pastor, Geoff Brand felt a need to reach out to the community. He teamed up with Coleen Walters, who was from a completely different church. The ministry they came up with was with preschool children in the Black communities. Their ministry to children, parents, and workers is amazing, so much so that I believe it should be copied in all parts of the world. According to the text, this program is “introducing to the fifteen hundred black assemblies of God churches in South Africa a vision of community engagement that stretches their understanding of the Christian responsibility in the world…”[3]

What impresses me most about this ministry has to do with the unconditional love associated with the work, particularly Coleen’s perception of evangelism within her vision:

While many of the teachers are associated with an Assemblies of God church, not all of them are. Coleen’s strategy of evangelism springs from her educational philosophy: namely, people learn from doing, and she trusts the Spirit to inspire these women as she practices the Christian life in their presence. Nor is there any prerequisite that the children be associated with a worshipping community. They are all of equal worth in God’s sight, she believes.[4]

In my experience, evangelism has often been focused on one’s agreement with a set of beliefs. This is not wrong; however, in my view it is a shallow and scripted way of bringing the Gospel to people. Christianity is more than a set of beliefs, and I believe that the strategy described above allows God back into the process of evangelism. People see Christ in the service being done, and rather than merely proselyting, the Christian workers are living out the life of Christ. When others see these good works, they are drawn to God, to Christianity. It is in seeing Christ that they can come to faith. It is not coercion; rather, it is trusting God to drawn people to Himself. I like this type of evangelism. It is meeting the real needs of the people. It is loving people unconditionally, whether or not they are converted.

I am grateful again for the assigned reading. And I can add another lesson learned to my list, never judge a book by its cover. Thank you, Jason, for once again pushing me into unfamiliar territory.

[1] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Tamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007)

[2] Ibid., 42-43.

[3] Ibid., 79.

[4] Ibid.

About the Author

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

13 responses to “Lessons Learned”

  1. Deve Persad says:

    Well Professor, it’s always a pleasure to read your reflections. In particular your top 15 list from South Africa is quite compelling, and I should say if we can put a giant metal tube in the air at 35,000 feet then surely there can be some magic too!
    Number 10, is so important and humbling to recognize: that we don’t bring God in our suitcases or with our passports; he is at work and will continue to work after we’re gone. That truth has slowly sunk into our teams as they have gone out and been involved in various projects, either locally or globally. Thanks for wording that so concisely.
    Lastly, I appreciated this statement: “It is in seeing Christ that they can come to faith.” Particularly in oral cultures, the capacity to develop faith stories among the people seems to be necessary, even though it requires time and patience. Knowledge is necessary but not exclusive, and that’s something that harder to do than say. Where does the un-learning begin?

  2. Deve, thanks again for your comments.

    I love your question, “Where does the unlearning begin?” Frankly, I know that I have a lot of unlearning to do and that is one of the reasons I am glad to be in this program. Sometimes I think that Jason has selected the books he has just to challenge my thinking and my stinking attitude that sometimes raises its ugly head! But that is what makes our textbook readings and cohort’s writings so valuable. As I meditate on these writings, I am challenged every week to think in healthier ways. Being a stubborn person, it will take a long time for me to deal with some of my painful demons. But I am hopeful that it will happen. Nice to have hope!

    I long for others to see Christ in me again. My spiritual life has been dry and dusty for too long. And I do not know how to change that. But I will not give up. Faith is not about “feeling it”; rather, it is about “not feeling or seeing it” but still moving forward, not giving up. That is my commitment and my prayer.

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Bill, Thank you for your insightful post as always!
    I did not grew up in the Pentecostal church but my church also believes in the power of the Holy Spirit and gives prime focus to inviting people to Jesus more than anything else. Growing up, I did not like Pentecostal churches in my community partly because of their pride about their programs, prayers and healing ministries.
    Like you I am a strong believe in balancing evangelism and the social and physical needs of the people we serve. We also know that every ministry context is different, so we listen and discern whether we have to preach Jesus first and feed the hungry later or vise versa. Thanks again!

  4. Telile,

    Thanks for your kind comments on my post. I don’t know what the answer is, since it has been a long time since I have been involved in evangelism of any kind. One thing I do know for certain and that is we Christians must show real love in tangible ways and not just talk about our beliefs. As someone once said, “Talk is cheap.” I am not saying that we should never share our beliefs with others; rather, I am saying that we need to do the Gospel in practical ways that we are called to do. And frankly, I am still in the midst of figuring out where I fit in all of that.

  5. rhbaker275 says:

    You list of lessons learned in CapeTown is quite enriching. With your permission, I have copied your list onto my notes for our VE project – a photo or two around each lesson, I thought would be a nice VE presentation. I also thought that one could do a Pecha Kucha on these 15 points – add a couple opening/closing photos and you would have a 20/20.

    Several times when reading “Global Pentecostalism” the thought occurred to me how closely some of the ministry of Progressive Pentecostalism could be seen as parallel to John Wesley’s two essential means of grace: Works of Piety and Works of Mercy. I thought it interesting and it could be a thoughtful research to build upon Miller and Yamamori’s research.

  6. Bill …
    Although you may not sense God’s presence in your dry and dusty faith – God is present in this disconstructing and hunger that is developing. Thinking some more about the book and our chat this morning I wonder how significant the understanding is that Progressive Pentecostalism sees itself (and individuals within it) as being part of God’s work & mission in the world. That they are part of something bigger than their church — something they cannot do themselves thus utter dependency (something we/I often do not experience) for both outward signs and knowledge because they do not know what to do. I wonder if that “being part of something bigger” is missing? Thanks for your good work and for pushing us in such good ways. So appreciate your take aways from our time in Cape Town! Looks like your visual ethnography is well on its way to completion! 😉

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  11. the assigned reading. And I can add another lesson learned to my list, never judge a book by its cover. Thank you, Jason, for once again pushin

  12. this morning I wonder how significant the understanding is that Progressive Pentecostalism sees itself

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