The Benedict Option comes to Southern Seminary

I have been looking forward to reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for almost a year now.  Though the book is set to come out in March, Rod laid out a large part of the book in several talks given at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this week.  If you know nothing about Rod, or his thesis to be laid out in his book, these talks will help you get the big picture.  If you want to preorder the book, you will get a copy on March 14th or so.  If you don’t know what this is about, here is an excerpt from the Amazon blurb:

In a radical new vision for the future of Christianity, NYT bestselling author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life. 

The link is down now while the talks are being edited.  When they are edited, I will post the link again.

 

There is so much here to process.  Hope you listen, read, and talk to someone about it.

Steps to Cross-Cultural Servanthood

cross-cultural-servant

We know that Jesus came to serve and not be served.  His example sets a high standard for us to follow.  We all should be servants in some way.   But let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, we often are commanding servants, well-meaning but blind servants, or perhaps befuddled servants.  This is especially true in cross-cultural situations.  Often the way we serve is geared to our own culture and may not be appropriate in another culture.  The way we help might be confusing or frustrating to those we are trying to help.  According to a study cited by Dr.  Duane Elmer, 76% of missionaries are of a “duty bound” personality type.  This means they are interested in getting things done and transmitting communication.  They are not that good at receiving information or being sensitive to their hearers.  Think about that.  Those who have the drive to get something done, are often the least likely to listen to those they are trying to help.

Thankfully, Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood helps us layout stepping-stones to create a path to appropriate servanthood.  Though written for those who are going to be living in another culture, I have used his steps to help train volunteers here in the U.S. working with international students.  I think your training and ministry experience will be greatly improved by walking his path.

So what are the stepping-stones that lay out a path to culturally appropriate servanthood?   Dr. Elmer lists six overall steps:  openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding, and serving.

Here is his layout of the steps.

Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.

Acceptance is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person.

Trust is the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.

Learning is the ability to glean relevant information about, from, and with other people.

Understanding is the ability to see patterns of behavior and values that reveal the integrity of a people.

Serving is the ability to relate to people in such a way that their dignity as human beings is affirmed and that they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives.

Each definition includes the word “ability.”  An ability, according to Dr. Elmer, is “something we can do, do better and even master.”  And that’s good because we all need to to improve, especially when we are in a cross-cultural ministry.

Each one of these steps has much to offer us in improving our ability to serve cross-culturally, but I only have space to focus on the first two which are needed to begin the journey.

When I was heading up a ministry focused on ministering to international students one of my major frustrations was finding volunteers (both students and non-students) who were “open” to spending time with international students.  Many people were good at making meals, giving money, or verbally supporting what I was doing.  But it was often hard to get people to actually get in the trenches, so to speak, and do the hard work of cross-cultural relationships.  But after reading Dr. Elmer’s chapter on “Openness,” I understand that many people, even while wanting to serve, are not able to be effective due to a limited ability to be open.

According to Dr. Elmer, several skills are needed to be open.  These skills are:  suspending judgment, tolerance for ambiguity, thinking gray, and positive attribution.  To sum these skills up, perhaps we should say that we need more cultural mental “margin” in how we think about others.  Perhaps things will not make sense in the beginning, but with time we will come to see the patterns that do make sense in the lives of others.  By not writing someone off early in the relationship due to miscommunication, unexpected behavior, or prejudice, we remain open for more understanding and those long-expected “aha” moments.  Being open to those who are not like us is the gate to cross-cultural servanthood.

What I like about the chapter on “acceptance” is how he describes obstacles that prevent us from accepting others.  He lists five:  language, impatience, ethnocentrism, category width, and dogmatism.  Each of these obstacles have impact on our ministry to people from other cultures, but one that really interested me was “category width.”  Narrow category width people don’t have as many categories for classifying experiences.  Thus when they experience something that seems culturally “different” they may just place it in the “wrong” category.  This person, this situation, this behavior is “wrong,” so I need to move on.    For those with “wide category width” they are able to create new categories for “cultural differences.” You can see how having “narrow category width” sets up conflict between missionaries/servants and those they wish to help.

So how does Dr. Elmer’s steps help us become better servants?  Discovering, learning about, and processing these obstacles is a great training exercise to improve one’s ability to be a better servant.  Reading through the list of steps and then asking yourself or team questions about how they relate to your ministry will bring out issues you most likely have not thought about.

  • Do you care if your team is building trust with those you are serving?  Or do you “serve” from a position of power?
  • Do you want to learn from those whom you serve?  Or do you just want to teach them?
  • Do you see integrity and value in the culture of those you minister to, or do you just want to change them?
  • Is your serving affirming their dignity and empowering them to live God-glorifying lives?

I could go on and on with the questions, but I think you are getting an idea of how you will be challenged yet encouraged by reading Dr. Elmer’s book.  Doing cross-cultural ministry can be an exciting, spiritually rewarding ministry.  It can also be a frustrating and draining ministry.  But the good news about working with young student volunteers is that you can begin bringing up these issues and improving skills before natural tendencies that make cross-cultural ministry difficult get deeply ingrained in them.  Start laying out your steps for this very important journey.

Free Speech Report for 2017

FIRE (Foundation of Individual Rights in Education) came out with its “Spot Light on Free Speech Codes 2017” report back in December of 2016.  If you have not had a chance to read it, you can go here and read the report.  The good news is that FIRE found a large decline in colleges and universities with a RED speech code rating (the worst rating), but the bad news is that there are still a large number with the YELLOW or RED rating overall.  Also worrisome is the large and growing “bias reporting protocols.”  As FIRE says in its report:

The protocols often also infringe on students’ right to due process, allowing for anonymous reporting that denies students the right to confront their accusers. Moreover, universities are often heavily invested in these bias incident policies, having set up entire regulatory frameworks and response protocols devoted solely to addressing them.

I encourage you to read the report and look up your college or university to see what its rating is.  Don’t think that this problem is always somewhere else.  Here in North Carolina a religious RSO (recognized student organization) had to bring a lawsuit against NC State University for prohibiting students from sharing the Gospel using its “non-solicitation” policy.  The student RSO won.  But it had to go to court.

If you would like to hear this story click here to listen to the No Campus Left podcast in iTunes. The RSO was represented by ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom).  You can also hear from the attorney representing the students here.

 

Your 2017 Reading List

Going into the new year of 2017 I wanted to compile and share a list of books that I read in 2016 and pass it on.  Though most of these books are keeping with the theme of Campusparade and focus on collegiate ministry, a few may be a bit “tangential” but hopefully will make sense.  Most of the books listed have a link to a fuller exploration of their themes along with links to Amazon.  I also listed a few books that I am looking forward to reading in 2017.  I hope you will enjoy as many of these books as possible.  I wish you a Happy New Year 2017 in your ministries, and in your reading.

The Great Evangelical Recession

You Are What you Love

A Secular Age

How Not to be Secular

The Defining Decade

Souls in Transition

Collegiate Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture

Books that are not exactly just on campus ministry but are good reads

Great Christ Comet

Of Beards and Men

Anticipated Books of 2017

The Benedict Option

The Evangelicals

 

 

 

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

benedict-optionWith the rapid realization by Christians that American culture is more like an adversary than an ally, church leaders, writers, pastors, and lay people within orthodox Christianity have begun to ask where does the American church go from here.  Though some like Russel Moore are more optimistic about “keeping Christianity strange”, others are more skeptical about the church’s days ahead.  One of those who remains skeptical is lay person, writer, and blogger Rod Dreher.  Known for his blog at The American Conservative, and his book How Dante Saved Can Save Your Life, Mr. Dreher believes that the church will face a continuing hostile culture which will force her to entrench for decades to survive the coming battle.  He takes the title for his book, as well as the concept for the church’s health, from St. Benedict of Nursia (480 AD-547 AD). In creating a rule to help the Church, Benedict also set in motion systems that would create institutions to preserve Western civilization during the coming Dark Ages. Thus the title of the book:  Mr. Dreher sees a coming Dark Age for the American church.

According to Mr. Dreher, he is not advocating “running to the hills to hide,” but a focus on ingraining a Christ-centered mentality in the church.  To do this, he contends that there must be some withdrawal from mainstream culture which is quickly moving away, if not against, the Church.  By withdrawing, yet being a faith presence within culture, he contends that the Church will reemerge at some future time to lead the culture back to Christ.  He is talking  a long view of the cycles of Christianity.  I personally think he is on to something that we Christians need to really ponder.

In a year when many evangelicals seemed to think that a Trump presidency would roll back the hands of the cultural clock, The Benedict Option will be an interesting, and perhaps, needed tonic to purge an overly confident evangelical church. Though I respect Mr. Dreher and appreciate his writings, I don’t know if I will agree with everything that he will say in  his book.  But I  do know that it will be one of the books that every serious-thinking Christian should be familiar with going forward.  I have already pre-ordered my copy.

 

The Benedict Option is due to be out March 14, 2017.

The Evangelicals

evangelicalsThough Newsweek called 1976 the “year of the evangelicals” we could certainly say that 2016 brought that title back up again.  The high usage of the word was due to the election year and Trump’s special relationship with evangelicals, as well as the sharp war of words within the Christian community about why an evangelical should or should not vote for him.  But evangelicals are certainly much more diverse than in 1976. Millennials are not the Moral Majority, and writers struggle sometimes whether to use Evangelicals or just evangelicals.  I contend that spelling matters.

It seems fitting then that, The Evangelicals:  The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald is coming out in 2017.  I have no idea where he is taking this book.  It may be totally a political foray.  It may include social mission.  It may ponder what is an evangelical.  Or it may be a dull diatribe.  I don’t know.  But given the saturation of the word in 2016, I think it would worth while to read what a well-known author who has won the Pulitzer Prize has to say.

Surfing the Waves of Emerging Adulthood

wave-1628850_1280People often refer to stereo when talking about sound and music, but not so often about sight.  Stereopsis is the enhancement of sight by using two eyes.  Having two eyes allows one to have depth perception that would not be possible with just one eye.  Looking at the college years and twenties through the lens of Souls in Transition and The Defining Decade helps us see emerging adulthood much more clearly.  Though the two works focus on the same subject, they are positioned from different angles which make stereopsis possible.

Souls in Transition comes from a sociologist focusing on religion and early emerging adulthood, while The Defining Decade is from a psychologist looking at the twenties in general.  Souls in Transition is an academic work, The Defining Decade a self-help and motivational book.  But don’t be deceived, they both help us see emerging adulthood in sharper contrast.

If emerging adulthood were surfing on a bright sunny day off Oahu, then Souls in Transition would be bringing those relentless waves into focus.  Are the waves cresting?  How long is the tube?  Is the wind blowing offshore or onshore?  We just don’t see the individual surfer, but also the forces that propel that surfer.  Souls does offer some case studies that highlight individuals much as The Defining Decade does, but the real punch of Souls comes from its tables and charts.  We see the ocean.

Souls in Transition is the second in a series by Christian Smith who analyzed and interpreted the National Study of Youth and Religion which interviewed 13-17 year olds.  He released his first book, Soul Searching:  The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers in 2005.  Souls in Transition looks at third wave data he has gleaned more recently and specifically looks young adults from 18 to 23 years old, which meshes well with the traditional college demographic.   Dr. Smith wants to ask questions and these are the questions he asks:  “What do the religious and spiritual lives of American 18-23-year olds look like and why?  What are the social influences that shape people’s lives during these years? And how do people change or not change religiously and spiritually as they exit their teenage years and head into their twenties?”

Some of the answers we get are surprising:

*The religious lives of parents are one of the most powerful influences on the outcome of emerging adults.

*Teenagers are still more influenced by parents or other caring adults than peers

*There is little evidence for internal belief without external expression

*Attending college does not increase the chance of losing one’s faith

*Most emerging adults think nobody ultimately really knows what is true, right, or good

*Emerging adults as “sovereign individuals” lack conviction or direction

 

For all those pastors who have been saying the ultimate responsibility for a child’s religious education rests on the parents they are right.  But even if a parent cannot be there, some other adult’s involvement in the life of teenager is highly important for the religious outcome in the emerging adult years.  Teenagers and emerging adults need older adults as mentors and guides.

Perhaps some of the most perceptive writing about this observation comes in the section entitled The Cultural Triumph of Liberal Protestantism.  Here referring to the work of sociologist N. Jay Demerath, Smith relates how the decline of liberal Protestantism is actually a victory of their theology, since more and more emerging adults have no reason to care about religion.  Smith writes: “liberal Protestantism’s core values—individualism, pluralism, emancipation, tolerance, free critical inquiry, and the authority of human experience—have come to so permeate broader American culture that its own churches as organizations have difficulty surviving.”  Even though liberal Protestantism has all but imploded, it has won the theology wars by leaving a “who cares about religion” mindset with most emerging adults.

Though we have only skimmed the waves in this review, Souls is a profound book that every leader working with emerging adults should read. Its scope and magnitude go far beyond “college students” to seeing how waves are developed well out to sea.  Staff working with youth and parents would be wise to read it as well.   Coming in at over 300 pages, however, it is not the type of book most emerging adults will actually read.  What is where The Defining Decade come in.

If Souls helps us see with more clarity the waves pushing our imaginary suffer, then The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay, focuses on the surfer, and the decisions he or she makes.  Is she turning left or right?  Is she about to wipeout?  What board is he riding?  Looking through the lens of The Defining Decade we see the twists and turns the surfer should make, hold our breaths as they shoot through the pipeline, and rejoice with them as they ride the really big ones.

Though not written from a religious perspective like Souls, there are echoes of the wisdom literature in this book.  Whether describing work, love, or the brain and the body, there is a much needed common sense attitude that comes through to the reader.  We can resonate with her advice saying, “The church has been saying this for years!”

The main theme of Dr. Jay, is that the surfer actually has to surf, and the earlier the better. After college, many emerging adults tend to just drift on their boards without actually standing up.  Dr. Jay wants to change that by lending her experience in counseling to any and all twentysomthings who will listen and realize that their twenties do in fact matter.

Dr. Jay reminds emerging adults about key guides for life:

*Identity capital is important and needs to be cultivated early.

*That prudent life choices in one’s twenties sets the stage for success in later life

*That too many choices can lead to paralysis

*That who you marry is one of the most important decisions in life, and no one in college teaches you how to decide.

*How commonalities and similar likes help sustain a marriage

*That couples who live together actually have more of chance of divorce after marriage.

Those in collegiate ministry can use these books to help them zoom in or pan out to see the particular student or wave as needed.  Souls in Transition can be used to help build an integrated ministry from teenager to early emerging adult.  The Declining Decade makes a good book for an individual emerging adult to read by herself, and to help parents, grand-parents, and lay leaders understand the zeitgeist of mellinnenials.

Putting these two books together helps us see a way forward for ministry with emerging adults:

*Churches need to be coaching parents on how to mentor their children in religious development

*Transmission by participation needs to replace transmission by entertainment

*Mentoring needs to begin early and continue through early emerging adulthood

*Evangelism must be done beyond the church walls since most emerging adults aren’t interested in coming to a church service

*Ministries can reach emerging adults in their brokenness and indecision through incarnational ministry that is passionate, directional, and healing

These two books work well together helping to balance the tendency by some who think a self-help book can solve any problem, or those who think everything is determined by sociological factors.  As Christians we know that God has given us personal choice and a mandate to follow him, yet readily admit that God remains sovereign.  In reading these two books, we are reminded of this tension of sovereignty and choice:  of the crash of the wave, and the use of a board. Let’s do our part in reading these books to be the best surfing coaches, lifeguards,  oceanographers, and weather forecasters we can.