When stepping inside an airplane, if you take a quick glance to your left, while making the turn to walk down the aisle to your seat, you will notice a radar screen in the center of the console between the pilot and co-pilot. It’s a digital display whose scale can be adjusted to show all surrounding aircrafts, and weather systems, within a specified radius. It enables the pilots to see what isn’t visible to their natural eyes. In fact much of the instrument panel helps them to “see” through the relatively tiny window and guide the massive hunk of metal up from the ground, into the air and gently back down. All at incredibly hurtling speeds. Take too long to think about it and you may never travel this way again. It’s an amazing mysterious miracle every time!
The pilots are not alone in interpreting what appears on their radar. They are also in contact with the air traffic control towers who help them to understand the matrix of traffic that is happening all around them. The role of the pilot, in its simplest form, is to take responsibility for doing their job, at the right time, in concert with the whole team. Continual communication, constant repetition and clarification of familiar disciplines are all part of the normal process of air travel. Those who serve the Lord in church or ministry leadership could learn a lot from our winged workers.
In many parts of our country, the multicultural and multifaith mix is creating a mesmerizing matrix that is becoming difficult, if not, demoralizing for many in leadership positions. Learning from our eastern brothers and sisters would be a wise step for us; at least that’s the premise behind the writing of Simon Chan is his book, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up : “The question is not God’s existence or non-existence but God’s identity and nature. The most urgent question for Christians is not theism vs. atheism or agnosticism but how to make sense of the Christian understanding of God in contexts filled with a plethora of vastly different conceptions of deity.” [Loc. 708-710]
Three concepts that have significance for our changing western realities are the need to understand our context, the importance of community and significance of God’s truth. All three of these concepts require discernment. (Loc. 343-347) Discernment, according to Websters dictionary, is the ability to see and understand people, things, or stituations clearly and intelligently . In this way, it’s much like a pilot staring down at his radar and trying to figure out which way to proceed based on all the comings and goings of the aircrafts around him. His own interpretation of the dots on the screen might be lacking but through a unified effort couched in a common purpose through agreed to principles, a way can be found.
Jesus modeled this for us in the way in which He depended upon and intentionally sought the input and direction of God the Father. A case could be made that this was unnecessary for one who is called the Son of God; and yet He chose to check, affirm, and seek clarification on a regular basis. Through discernment came wisdom. With wisdom comes truth, and through the truth a way into culture-penetrating action is found. The Church, as the community of believers in Jesus Christ, should also reflect the virtuous example of our Lord.
Recently, I have had the privilege of listening, interacting with and interviewing Vishal Mangalwadi, to whom Simon Chan refers as having a grasp of the role of the church in growing complexity of the times in which we live. One of the thoughts that has been challenging me over the course of the last few months was addressed by Vishal in these interactions. He spoke of the need for the church, as a community of believers, to be active in being equipped to speak the truth of God into the open spaces of our contextual culture, wherever we find ourselves. In so doing, we address not only the challenges of life that we can see, but we also, in humility, place our trust, in God’s Spirit to work against the unseen adversaries that congest the world around us:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)
As Chan quotes Mangalwadi:
“He describes the church as a “power structure” that provides the antidote to structural evil. Structural evil can be effectively dealt with only by a counterstructure that is the church Christ built, against which the gates of Hades will not prevail. Mangalwadi chides modern theologians who “dismiss the very concept of the church as irrelevant to the struggle against injustice and the struggle for the weak.” [Loc. 2918-2923]
As the Apostle Paul reflected and encouraged may we, those with whom the privilege of leadership lies, model the desire for discernment with an equally strong to desire for truthful action that is best understood not just in, but through the community of believers, the church:
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)
In so doing, there will be no limit to where we can go…buckle up, get your seat in the upright position, it’s time to push back and fly.
- What are the challenges that exist in your context and how does the God’s truth (the Gospel) address those challenges?
- Is “church” a place you go to or a community with whom you engage in real life challenges? I’d love to hear about it either way.