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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Relating Christian faith to daily life

Written by: on April 9, 2015

Church division is a challenge among Evangelicals in Ethiopia in general and Ethiopian churches in the States in particular. There are three main reasons for church splits in Ethiopian churches, theological differences, lack of critical self-reflection, and competitive leadership. One theological difference is in how Christians participate in their communities’ socio-cultural and political life. It seem that Christians who come from Lutheran and Presbyterian background tend to view their faith as something which must be expressed in Christian service and witness, whereas those who come from homegrown Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds primarily focus on personal renewal and conversion of others. Doctrinal differences also continue to be a matter division among immigrant Ethiopian churches. As each group pursues their unique form of evangelical Christianity they fail to effectively engage with others in their community.

In Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective by Donald M Lewis and Richard V Pierard, I was fascinated by how the early reformers evolved in their theological reflection on Christian faith and practice. The early reformers sought to engage faith with their daily lives. As Arndt asked, “if faith did not engage daily life, what use was it? If practical wisdom was not enriched by reflection, it inevitably became rigid and sterile” (p.39). I think the question of faith engaging daily life is what must be asked by today’s evangelicals. Lack of critical reflection on how to engage Christian faith and practice is a fundamental challenge among evangelicals in my community. In my church, when they talk about evangelism, it is as simple as going to the public and sharing the gospel with whoever they meet randomly; or passing leaflets to others. Our church leaders learn to satisfy believers desire for missions by the number of mission events they host every year or by the amount of dollars they give for mission work. There is a great deal of emphasis on experience over knowledge or feeling over thinking. In addition, most church leaders are not that interested in theological knowledge or historical studies. This inhibits them from taking the time to think through their mission strategies and develop appropriate approaches for their missional context. Their bigger concerns which consume their time and energy are the institutional sides of church growth. In the ever-changing missional landscape, leaders ought to reevaluate their strategies. However, the lack of deep reflection in how to equip Christian faith in their daily life leads to an inevitable division.

As a result of the lack of self-reflection, similar to white missionaries of the mid 18th century in Liberia that were opposed giving up leadership to indigenous leaders but “lacked in competition and did not pursue evangelization of the interior,” many Ethiopian churches face the same challenge (p.133). We have seen competition among missional leaders of today who are controlling. It is sad that, similar to most African political leaders who never want to leave their office until they die, some pastors and denomination leaders are dividing the body of Christ simply to secure their own status. When missional leaders lose mission vision they becoming controlling and territorial, and their primary concern is for their own survival not for kingdom work. I am convinced that there is a greater need to rethink how to respond to the growing mission field in our context. We need “a functional evangelical strategy”, in Ogbu Kalu’s words, suitable to reach out to others in our community (p.133). This begins by our leaders creating room for other leaders in their circle and equipping the body of Christ to live out their Christian faith in their everyday life.

 

 

About the Author

Telile Fikru Badecha

10 responses to “Relating Christian faith to daily life”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Telile, thanks again for putting our reading into a specific context. I am again amazed at how so many of the underlying issues that different churches face in different cultural settings tend to have similar root problems. I’ve been researching the historical development of my church tradition, which tends to be one of denominations that are focused on their institutions, of being right according to their system, and feeling good that they have “it” while others don’t. There is little focus on growing deeper spiritually or about God’s greater plan to reach and bless the world. It sounds very similar to many of the churches in your country and what you are struggling with. I think your solutions are spot on, as we need more reflection (I would suggest reflecting specifically on Jesus: His life, His focus, His death and resurrection), and teaching people that we are to be living heaven here, not sitting back waiting for when we die. It is amazing that church has been able to grow and survive without such concern for mission or discipleship! Great insights, Telile.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      John, I totally agree with you that we need to be “reflecting specifically on Jesus: His life, His focus, His death and resurrection), and teaching people that we are to be living heaven here, not sitting back waiting for when we die.”
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments as always!

  2. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    Telile, this sentence made me cringe, “Our church leaders learn to satisfy believers desire for missions by the number of mission events they host every year or by the amount of dollars they give for mission work.”- sooo sad!!! but true soo many churches.
    I’m wondering what would be your definition of missions in light of the things you’ve experienced and seen in Ethiopia? I know that my understanding of missions has been largely challenged and defined by my Romanian and Korean context.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Stefania, thanks for asking. It seems to me that churches spend so much time and money talking about mission than doing it. In my understanding, the task of sharing the gospel is the mandate of all believers, not just a few paid staff. Mission leaders need to help their faith community relate their faith to their everyday life.

  3. mm Deve Persad says:

    Telile, thank you for sharing your thoughts. They are very insightful to the current issues facing our churches, whether in Ethiopia or in North America. You said: “Lack of critical reflection on how to engage Christian faith and practice is a fundamental challenge among evangelicals in my community.” That’s a compelling view, the call to engage is so necessary and so much a part of what our New Testament mandate should be. Yet, as you have observed church leaders are often distracted by controlling, protecting their positions and can purposefully or indirectly then manipulate the standards of growth and success by which the church is measured. So sad, and so far from the heart of our Lord. May we indeed take time to reflect and then be willing to engage. What change would you make to the way in which churches equip their people to address this need?

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Deve, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Your question reminded me of Jesus words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father ” (John 14:12). The privilege to do the very same works Jesus did is given not only to pastors or apostle but to all who believe in Him. Our churches need to help believers understand their calling so that believers would walk up every morning with the anticipation for what God may want to do through them for His kingdom. Thanks again.

  4. Telile,

    Thanks for your insightful post. Yes, “the question of faith engaging daily life is what must be asked by today’s evangelicals.” I agree wholeheartedly.

    There is an old adage that says the sometimes people can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” It is sad that Christian leaders can sometimes act more like children than like adults. Power can be a dangerous thing or a gift, depending on how one uses it. It is too bad that power can often be abused, especially when someone knows better. Jesus talked about and lived out the concept of servant leadership. Why is this so often missed by Christian leaders? They might preach a sermon on the topic, but do they live that way? I left full-time ministry many years ago because I was tired of working with leaders who were arrogant, self-centered, and oppressive. They lived to build their own kingdoms, not the Kingdom of God. I now attend a church where the pastor (a woman) is a servant. I am grateful for her ministry and for the way she lives out Christ not only in the church but also in her daily life. She is not an ambitious person. I am blessed to be in a place like this. Telile, you are the same way. That is why so many are, and will be, blessed by you and by your ministry.

    Thanks again for your post.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Bill, thank you for sharing your thoughtful comments. I agree with you, it is difficult to serve with leaders who don’t have the heart of a servant. I’m glad you found a church where the pastor is a servant. May the Lord help us understand what it means to be the servants of His kingdom.

  5. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Great post, Telile.

    Echoing what Bill wrote, and perhaps building on that, I think we see a change in leadership when leadership submits themselves whole heartedly to the Lordship of Christ. Or perhaps when we all do so. Because, as you note, it is not about how many events we host, leaflets we pass out or money we raise. It is about being and living out the gospel of Christ. It is practical, thoughtful, action oriented, and grounded in an ever deepening understanding of Christ.

    Peace to you, my friend.

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