Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Teachers without Degrees

I’ve just returned from teaching my Thursday evening classes here in Germany, where I’m finishing up the book of Genesis. One man in my class is named Isaiah. He’s a pastor in rural Kenya, and has 59 people in his congregation. The realities of crime, poverty, AIDS, and crop failures are always present, in varying degrees. There’s another man here who works with university students in the far eastern territory of Russia, near the Chinese border. Others have ministries in Eastern Europe.

It’s the voices of these individuals that rebuke me. They don’t do so intentionally. They’re not even aware of the effect they’re having on me, but the effect is there nonetheless. As I’m preaching through the story of Joseph’s life this evening, I invited the students to ponder with me that the differential between Joseph receiving a vision from God (that he would be some sort of ruler) and the fulfillment of that vision, was nearly 30 years! In the meantime, instead of going to seminary, he was sold into slavery, framed for rape, and forgotten in the bowels of a prison due to the self-centeredness of a man he’d helped.

Yet through all this, he never forgot God, who was His ever present companion, His shelter, His source of strength, and the One for whom Joseph would continue to wait faithfully – until God’s purposes would be accomplished for him. Joseph's is a different kind of education than the one available for $20000 a year in the USA.

Yet the story of suffering, patient endurance, and overcoming trials isn’t just Joseph’s story. It’s the story in Kenya, and Russia, and Eastern Europe, China, and Southeast Asia today! So we who live in luxury had better open our eyes and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches through likes of our ‘uneducated’ brothers and sisters in the developing world. Every time I come here, I end up repenting of my arrogance, my addictions to creature comforts, my quickness to turn from the hard deed, my complacency, and my eagerness for all that easy. These students from the developing world have a love for God, and a fire for His glory, and for justice. I pray that we will learn from those who have neither the time nor inclination to ponder what it means to be 'emergent', or 'relevant'. They have neither the education nor the luxury of arguing about whether there's meaning in the text, and whether positivism is a positive influence on hermeneutic. They're not wondering about how to start satellite churches where the superstar pastor is replicated on video so that the hard work of leadership development is bypassed and the personality cults so destructive to the western church remain intact. Instead, they're busy preaching Christ, buying women out of sexual slavery and then empowering them through education and training. They're putting wells in villages so there can be crops and less deaths from unclean water.

When I return to my room and read the most popular 'ministry' magazine available to pastors in America, I get this sickening feeling that we really don't get it. And so I pray for us - that we'll have the humility to learn from those who do get it, because as in the days of Jesus, the ones who 'get it' today are, to our western way of thinking, the unlikely ones. We're in grave danger of become entirely self-referential and overlooking those who have the most to say to us. Lacking the privileges of wealth, democracy, public health, or higher education, church leaders of the developing world are ministering Christ with a power rarely seen among we who are 'better off'. This, of course, causes me to wonder what 'better off' really means.


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