A black Jesus is closer to the truth than many are comfortable with. A middle eastern man that has spent many hours in the sun working wood and then walking from town to town would indeed be dark skinned. Viewing Jesus as someone that is both not like us and like us is the paradox that we find ourselves in. Jesus is for me both some- one that is from an unfamiliar culture (Israel over 2000 years ago) and one that can fully relate to me (as God). Our own culture makes us see Christ and read the Bible in such a way that can be misunderstood to those outside that culture. Now I can hear some of your eyes rolling saying that “truth is truth”. I completely agree as long as we don’t con- fuse our interpretation of the Word to be “the truth”. If we begin to see this tension in our understanding of Jesus and the reading of the Bible then we also see this in our understanding of the Church and the development of its leaders.
In Stephen Woodworth’s article, Prophets, Priest and Kings: the use of metaphors in Training Global Leaders Towards Pastoral Identity1, this problem of cultural understandings is addressed. This article speaks to the tension that exist when train- ing pastors and leaders; the focus on praxis or spending longer shaping a deep Pastoral theology. The problem is, “… our leadership training is producing unbalanced curriculums which place greater weight on practicality and efficiency rather than foundational courses that equip pastors to reflect deeply enough on issues of calling and identity.”2 It is easy to do workshops on what is needed and have those involved in ministry attend; for example how to study, how to organize a group, how to administer aspects of the church. It is probably unfair to call this the easy way rather the way that can get a regular flow of students hungry for teaching. One of the concerns of simply trying to contextualize outside ways of doing church, reading and preaching the Bible or using methods from another culture is that they have not taken into account potential misunderstandings. Many of us have read a book and thought, “that doesn’t relate to my context” and we quickly dismiss the content. This is seen differently in a setting where it understood that the teacher holds all the right answers.
This Confucianist philosophy of hierarchy can be seen even in the current political situation in China. There is a clear distinction between who is the master and who is the servant, who is the leader and who are the ones to be lead. The common saying, “a place for everyone and everyone in their place”3, really defines what Confucius saw as a healthy and prosperous society. A misunderstanding can take place when students are taught about authority without understanding what that teaching means in the culture it is being taught.
Recently I have been a part of a training time in which we dealt with some pastoral theological concepts. During this class concepts were given and set up that appear to be revolutionary to some of the students. These were students who are actively involved in house churches either leading or assisting the leader. It made me realize that many knew how to do church but did not always have a clear understanding of the why. As I reflect back upon this particular class, I see the necessity to make sure we have a balanced approach of giving skills as well as giving a clear understanding of the Biblical foundations.
“Training pastors with the concepts of metaphorical language invite an exploration into the connectedness of pastoral ministry to the life of the community through meaningful symbols and terminology that reinforce…the role of the pastor in their given locale.”4 In China I have seen churches that have tried to set themselves up like an American church. I have also seen confusion come when Biblical stories were taught from a western perspective. The Chinese have such a long history of story telling and mythology that one has to be careful not to allow the stories of the Bible get slotted into that category.
Even concepts like “Prophet, Priest and King” can be viewed in completely differ- ent subtle ways that I will briefly attempt to flush out. Unfortunately, earthly concepts of emperors have influenced the leadership models in China. In a typical Confucius mod- el, in which everyone wants to move up the ladder of success, Christ is seen as the King and the pastor the representative of the King on earth. This creates a view that godly authority (and power) rest with the pastor. So this view is fully embraced by pastors and leaders in Asia but for the wrong reasons.
With this understanding of a strong king-like pastor that holds control over a congregation then is added prophet and priest. A prophet is the mouthpiece of God sharing the Word of the King. A priest, from the Buddhist influence, is someone wholly dedicated to this cause even willing to leave one’s family. So people have come to believe that being a pastor in Asia means someone administering the church with a strong hand, worthy to represent the King of Kings and able to physically sacrifice self while proclaim- ing truth. As one can imagine, this image of a pastor has driven many who are called to feel unworthy.
Sometimes I forget the awesome responsibility it is to teach and train the leaders that the Lord calls. The daily walking with people we love and seeing them in life at time makes us slow to realize the obstacles to understanding the truths that we are to teach. If we do not take into consideration the cultural lenses when entering a classroom, home or sanctuary, then we are simply teaching our own brand of Christianity rather than recognizing the God-given differences that make the world diverse.
1 Woodworth, Stephen. “Prophets, Priest and Kings: the Use of Metaphors in Training Global Leaders Towards Pastoral Identity”. Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1, No 1, 43. Accessed
2 September 5, 2018. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1 2 Ibid, 80
3 Confucius 101. http://www.china-mike.com/chinese-culture/understanding-chinese-mind/ confucius/ accessed September 6, 2018
4 Woodworth, 84