DMINLGP

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

Grassroots

Written by: on May 8, 2015

A couple of years ago two of my coworkers went to visit a new small church in a village. Upon arriving, they asked the villagers what they knew about the community that meets there. The villagers told them that they were Protestant Christians. They come on Sundays, they dance and they go home. The villagers also explained, they did not understand what these Christians were saying since the worship was in a different language. In fact, that is the case with many churches in my community who don’t yet realize their ministry context. This story came to my mind as I Read Simon Chan’s book, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith From Ground Up. Chan’s work provides a great introduction to Asian Christianity. He highlights the importance of taking grassroots Christianity seriously to develop a contextual and local theology. We know that grassroots ecclesia experience change as their cultural context changes, which requires the church to update their approach in light of new situations that finds itself. For instance, in my home church, our elders opposed the use of drum in worship for so many years because the people who introduced Christianity told them to burn down any cultural objects they used to worship spirits. However, in recent years, the church allowed the use of drums in the church. After so many years of blindly rejecting, our church elders decided to examine their changing ministry context and reclaim necessary cultural identities to foster authentic worship experience.

Therefore I agree with Chan, the contextualizer of the gospel therefore must have “a metacultural framework that enables him or her to translate the biblical message into the cognitive, affective, and evaluative dimensions of another culture” (Loc. 109). This is important not only to grasp the message as intended originally but also not to destroy the local culture which we would use to effectively communicate the Gospel message. In my experience, it is not common to engage the local faith community to have a voice in the process of developing contextual theology. However, as Chan states, doing theology “ is ecclesial endeavor requiring cooperation between the people of God and the theologian”(Loc. 210). Furthermore, Chan adds, “the task of the professional theologian is not to tell the church what is good for it but to listen carefully what the Spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through the people of God.” I found the practice of listening to be beneficial in my work with churches. About three years ago, one of the community leaders who came to know Jesus through my ministry, asked us to help him build a worship place in his village. He gave a portion of his land and needed help with building materials. Being the only Christian family in his village, he wanted to build a church which looks like a mosque. He thought that would make his friends and community comfortable to come to his worship place. We knew that it was not easy for him to become a Christians in the culture where ones religion also is part of the communally shared experience. After a thoughtful discussion, we agreed to build a church that neither looks like the traditional church building nor a mosque. This incident reminded me the importance of listening to God and others in the developing local theologies. Also as a leader the key is knowing that there is more than one way to do church or ministry. So we have to allow ourselves think differently or do things a different way.

 

About the Author

Telile Fikru Badecha

13 responses to “Grassroots”

  1. mm Julie Dodge says:

    This is beautiful and thoughtful, Telile. It reminded me of my friends in Nepal who are Wycliffe missionaries. They wrestle with each sentence and story that they translate to not only bring an accurate translation, but one that has meaning in the particular culture. Words communicate culture. Some are easier than others. To choose the wrong word might mean communicating an altogether different meaning than the biblical authors intended. None of this is simple, but all of it is essential.

    • Julie,

      I also have some friends who were Wycliffe Bible Translators. They also had to be careful with the translation they did with people with whom they worked, the Yupik people of Alaska. So how are your friends doing now in the midst of the chaos in their country? Is their work continuing there? I am curious about that.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Thanks Julie for your comments! You’re right, None of this is simple, but all of it is essential.

  2. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Telile,

    Great post – your narrative stories are amazing … You really catch the spirit and give depth and meaning to Chan’s concept of “living theology.”

    I can hardly understand how missionaries would demand that believers must abandon their musical instruments when they accepted Christ as Lord. The African drum, from my perspective, is a great instrument of worship. My experience at worship was always greatest and most moving as the worshipers were lead by the musical depth and rhythm of the drum. I always wanted to bring one home to America but somehow I knew it would not fit my home congregation’s worship culture. I do have a number of African CDs and I love to listen to them.

    It is perplexing how Western theology can be twisted in an attempt to conform living worship to an elitist interpretation of faith and belief. Chan states that local theology “should not be based on “elitist theologians who tend … to impose their views on the grassroots and read their contexts selectively” (28). He goes on to note that in order to authentic and creditable, local theology “must emenate from the very life of the people and be owned by the people. It must touch the life of people in all its layers and dimensions.”

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Ron, The challenge is our people are brainwashed by negative teachings about their own culture, so they are very sensitive when it come to culture and traditions…but our leaders are becoming open to dialogue and examine their ministry approach.Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. Telile,

    As always, wonderful post! I loved reading it. Thanks so much.

    You say, “After so many years of blindly rejecting, our church elders decided to examine their changing ministry context and reclaim necessary cultural identities to foster authentic worship experience.” Bravo! Rather than imposing our own styes on others, taking the time to listen to and to examine the needs of others is a brilliant way to be. What happened that this change occurred? I am curious to know. God can use almost anything to glorify Himself if we would only take the time to examine and listen to the needs and desires and customs of local people.

    As I am studying Native-American culture, I am seeing much of the same that you describe in your post. Drums, for example, are an important part of Native culture. Early Christian work among these people said that these were demonic and banned them from worship. However, now there are many Native Christians who see the drum as an important part of worship. I am glad for this change.

    Your story about the man wanting to look like a mosque was fascinating, as was the solution that was decided. How is that church doing now? I am curious to know about that.

    Again, thanks for your great post!

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Bill, How sad that early mission work among the Native-American’s also rejected drums. I too glad that drums are now allowed in the worship.
      Thanks for asking about the man who wanted to build a church like a mosque. The solution worked just perfect. The church is growing in members. The man’s whole family accepted Jesus, except his second wife. I plan to visit them when I return to home this summer. Thanks Bill!

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Telile
    Thank you so much for your interesting post, and for sharing real-life examples of the importance of listening to the culture and people. As you say, “This is important not only to grasp the message as intended originally but also not to destroy the local culture which we would use to effectively communicate the Gospel message.” With christianity growing so much within Asian countries, it’s so important that theology is created with the context in mind. A helpful post!

  5. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Telile! I love this! It reminds me of those going to Haiti who insist on speaking French or translating materials into French…yet only the top 1% of country speaks or reads French! It’s the “educated” language, where everyone else learns Haitian Creole. Likewise, Americans insist on taken written materials…translated in French… And that is useless to a 60% illiterate society…who mainly reads Creole. It baffles me at how some insist on making decisions and asserting their opinions or what they think is best. How can we effectively communicate anything if we insist on doing it the way we want, or the only way we know how?

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Ashly! I feel your pain. It makes me very sad when people-with-money insist on doing the way they want and refuse to ask what the people they want to serve need. I wonder their motives… I commend you for your wisdom. Keep up the good work:)

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great post Telile! The stories you shared are familiar to me as well. The impact of brainwashing is real and negative for the most part.
    I like what you wrote: “Furthermore, Chan adds, “the task of the professional theologian is not to tell the church what is good for it but to listen carefully what the Spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through the people of God.” I found the practice of listening to be beneficial in my work with churches.”

    Listening to the people in order to listen for what “the spirit of truth who indwells the church…” is absolutely critical.

    Thank you

  7. Telile, sad to hear that your cultural distinctiveness of drums were not allowed for so long. But I am very elated to know that the indigenous leadership rose up and began to understand the importance of reclaiming their cultural identities to foster authentic worship for the people in that specific culture.

    I remember a similar story taking place in Cuba where the Didgeridoo, a type of wind instrument that is blown into and makes odd sounds was banned from worship because it was often used in cultic voodoo practices. Yet the man who wanted to play the instrument was a redeemed-God-loving-faithful witness of Jesus. That night the visiting missionary felt the Lord saying, “do not call anything common or unclean that I have sanctified.” Acts 10:28.
    Similarly my wife and I were thinking of buying a repossessed home. It was the most disgusting and nasty home we looked at. I pulled out my spiritual card and told Michelle that I believed there was an evil presence in that house (and I did not look forward to all the work it needed, Ha!). She said that we need to pray about the decision. Ugh! She came back with a word from God. He had said to her, “Do not fear this house. If I can come into you and Mitch and transform you, do you not think that I can transform this house.” We bought that house and it truly was transformed. We lived in it for 15 years and was the first home for three of our four children. Let us never doubt that God can transform any cultural distinction, instrument, home, and Soul He is invited to dwell in.

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