Connecting with the New Global Youth Culture

A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that 71 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 now identify as having no religious beliefs of any kind.[1] According to Operation World, a growing majority of European countries, including France, the Czech Republic, and Spain, are composed of one percent or fewer evangelical Christians.[2]

Churchless

According to the book Churchless, ‘More than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.’ This means there are approximately 156 million Americans who are not engaged with a church.’[3]

Much of the formerly ‘Christian’ world is leaving its roots behind and is dominated by secularism (death to religion) and relativism (death to truth). The Bible is no longer considered the moral compass; rather, everyone is free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.

Young people see the church as irrelevant to their day-to-day lives: a dead, empty tradition of the past.

Much of the formerly ‘Christian’ world is leaving its roots behind and is dominated by secularism (death to religion) and relativism (death to truth).

And secularization, a trend closely tied to the globalization of culture among urban youth, is not limited to post-Christian regions like Europe or the USA. It is impacting cultures in urban centers of every region of the world, including the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. This next generation, connected by consumerism, social media, and the entertainment industry, forms the largest global culture ever to exist.

Throughout the Middle East, for example, an entirely new generation influenced by global secularism has been emerging. This is a generation well versed in modern technology, and highly engaged in global music and art trends. In spite of the political and social turmoil that have characterized the region, these young people are energetic, highly innovative, and creative. At the same time, they have become increasingly suspicious of traditional cultural and religious values, as they aspire for change and a new way of living. Presenting both a challenge and an opportunity in terms of evangelism, this emerging culture calls for new missional models and approaches, as traditional efforts in this region have tended to focus on the values and worldview of the previous generation.

At the heart of any culture are the core ideas that form its view of the world. For the globalized youth culture, these core ideas are secularism, relativism, and tolerance.

We live in a time of unprecedented connectedness. Mainstream media, global economic strategies, and, above all, the Internet have eroded cultural boundaries. Youth culture is more homogenous than ever, leading to a truly globalized youth culture. At the heart of any culture are the core ideas that form its view of the world. For the globalized youth culture, these core ideas are secularism, relativism, and tolerance.

Secularism

It is important to understand that secularism is not the total absence of God. Secularism is more accurately characterized by the marginalization and privatization of spirituality.[4] Young people are not consciously rejecting God per se; they just do not think about it. Appropriately, these post-God young people have been dubbed ‘the nones’—a generation without any religious affiliations.

Religion and Christianity are irrelevant to their day-to-day lives. At best, they see Jesus as a good person or teacher, and, at worst, as a symbol of repression and bigotry. Just over 60 percent of Millennials consider Christianity to be ‘judgmental,’ and 64 percent say that the term ‘anti-gay’ ‘best describes most churches today.’[5]

False perceptions of God leading to the mass secularization of young people is perhaps the greatest challenge to the church today. Not only has religion been relegated to the sidelines of societal relevance, but it also has become something strictly private.

False perceptions of God leading to the mass secularization of young people is perhaps the greatest challenge to the church today.

Relativism

The second defining worldview of secular culture is relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no transcendent truth and therefore no universal morality. Concepts such as right and wrong, justice and duty, are social constructs and ultimately illusory. With traditional ethics swept aside, relativism is an absolute pillar of the globalized youth culture. ‘You have your opinion and I have mine’ is the slogan of our day. It does not have to make sense; just do not violate it.

Ironically, the only truth that is not relative is that truth is relative. Secular people have no problem embracing two mutually exclusive perspectives, as long as it serves the way they want to live. It is the ultimate ‘have your cake and eat it too’ philosophy. Relativism has become a dominant force entrenched in the minds of young people.

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, points out the following:

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction—they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2+2=4.[6]

If followed to its logical end, moral relativism would lead to unmitigated evil and a total collapse of society, and yet this has not happened. This is because no one lives as if relativism were true. Notions of right and wrong, duty, honor, and justice are familiar themes in entertainment and pop culture, speaking to the larger rejection of relativism as a practical way to live.

Even secular writers seem to agree. Consider the thoughts of Helen Rittelmeyer, writer for The American Spectator, who says,

Overprocessed chart-slayers like Katy Perry and Ke$ha do not act as if they want to be judged by the brutal honesty of their self-expression, and neither do mannered indie darlings like the Decemberists. As for cinema, anti-heroes are out and heroes are back in. Virtue, authority, and law and order are all in fashion, as the bank accounts of Chris Nolan, J.K. Rowling, and Marvel Comics will attest.[7]

It is almost impossible to find someone truly committed to moral relativism in Hollywood or elsewhere. What you find in abundance, however, are people who say that morals are relative and yet live as though they are not. Secular young people have not abandoned morals and duties; rather, they have rejected traditional moral anchors and reference points, creating a value system of their own.

Jonathan Merritt argues in The Atlantic that ‘instead of being centered on gender roles, family values, respect for institutions and religious piety, it [the modern notion of morality] orbits around values like tolerance and inclusion. This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.’[8]

Relativism is an important, unifying characteristic of secular young people in theory, not in practice. Though it has not produced the moral monsters and philosophical nihilists that it should have, it has given rise to another foundational belief of secular young people: tolerance.

Tolerance

We are told to be open-minded, and this sounds noble on the surface. Every idea, belief, and view is equal and should be respected by all people everywhere. It does not take a professional philosopher to see the self-refuting nature of this ideology. Tolerance is the logical extension of relativism, and it shares in its incoherence. After all, demanding the tolerance of all views is not very tolerant.

As D.A. Carson points out, ‘It [open-mindedness] no longer means that you may or may not have strong views yet remain committed to listening honestly to countervailing arguments. Rather, it means you are dogmatically committed to the view that all convictions that any view whatsoever is wrong are improper and narrow-minded.’[9]

Tolerance suddenly is not so tolerant.

The best form of tolerance lies in the ability or willingness to listen to people with beliefs and opinions that differ from your own. In the past, people were sacred, while ideas were up for debate. Today, tolerance guards ideas and attacks people. This has created a climate of conformity. People no longer have the freedom to think critically about issues and come to their own conclusions, for fear of being rejected or bullied. Tolerance suddenly is not so tolerant.

In a culture dominated by secularism, relativism, and tolerance (at least as it is liberally defined and applied), it is no wonder that Christianity, with its exclusive truth claims and absolutes, is incompatible with secular culture. More and more young people reject Christianity because to follow Jesus is to swim against the current of our times—the road is too narrow, the cost too high.

Jesus in the Secular World by Ben Pierce
Jesus in the Secular World by Ben Pierce

As followers of Jesus, it is clear that we need to respond—but how?

1. Respond by developing authentic relationships. Get out of our Christian ghetto, develop authentic relationships with unbelievers, ask them questions, and really listen. Isolation is our enemy. We need to reintegrate into secular culture and eliminate the superficial differences that keep us isolated and irrelevant. Jesus’s life demonstrates a delicate balance: being part of culture while not being polluted by it.

2. Respond by gently challenging presuppositions. Help them see how believing in God is rationally sound, historically accurate, and philosophically congruent. Demonstrate that, unlike secular humanism, our faith is internally consistent and corresponds with how we really experience life.

3. Respond by seeking God. Pray like you have never prayed before. Let it disrupt your schedule. Ask for unreasonable things and demand that God move in power in and through your life, and do not stop asking until he does.

4. Respond by stepping through fear. Boldly preach the cross, take Holy Spirit–led risks, and do not wait. We may feel as though we have all the time in the world, but we do not.

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:15–16, ‘Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil’ (NIV).

Time is short, and the needs are great. It is time to act!

Endnotes

  1. Tom Powell, “More than half of Britons ‘have no religion’, survey reveals,” Evening Standard, September 4, 2017, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/more-than-half-of-britons-have-no-religion-survey-reveals-a3626896.html.
  2. Jason Mandryk, “France,” Operation World, 2018, http://www.operationworld.org/country/fran/owtext.html; Jason Mandryk, “Czech Republic,” Operation World, 2018, http://www.operationworld.org/country/czec/owtext.html; Jason Mandryk, “Spain,” Operation World, 2018, http://www.operationworld.org/country/spai/owtext.html.
  3. George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), 16.
  4. D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 37.
  5. Dr. Alex McFarland, “Ten reasons millennials are backing away from God and Christianity,” Fox News, 2017, https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/ten-reasons-millennials-are-backing-away-from-god-and-christianity.
  6. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 19.
  7. Helen Rittelmeyer, “Moral Relativism, R.I.P.,” The American Spectator, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-death-of-moral-relativism/475221/.
  8. Jonathan Merritt, “The Death of Moral Relativism,” The Atlantic, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-death-of-moral-relativism/475221/.
  9. D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 35.

07 Feb 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis

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Becoming a Healthy Multi-Cultural Team

Playing a healthy and contributing role on a multicultural team in cross-cultural Christian service is increasingly part and parcel of the normal requirements of serving Christ well.[1]

Over the years many have noted both the benefits and the challenges of multicultural teams:

Playing a healthy and contributing role on a multicultural team in cross-cultural Christian service is increasingly part and parcel of the normal requirements of serving Christ well.

  • On the plus side, they demonstrate the multicultural nature of the Kingdom of God. They also are less prone to get stuck in ‘cultural ruts’ or become enclaves (or even ghettos) for those of one nationality to seclude themselves from their hosts. When working well, the creative energy of multicultural teams is multiplied, and leadership among local believers is less likely to follow the unexpressed values of those from outside the host setting.
  • On the minus side, multicultural teams can get bogged down in unhealthy team dynamics in which one set of cultural values or expectations is played off against another set. They can be so focused on getting the team to a healthy stage that the ministry efforts of the team as a whole suffer.

Phases of team development

As I have examined, explored, and served on multicultural teams over the past several decades, I have noted how their development parallels in several ways the process of culture adaptation that individuals go through when they cross from one culture to another. For healthy cross-cultural teams, that process often comes in four phases: 1) the Honeymoon phase; 2) the Shock phase; 3) the ‘Third Way’ phase; and 4) the Effective Synergy phase.

The honeymoon phase

During the Honeymoon Phase, the initial excitement of being a new team together is the dominant emotional framing. Members have goodwill towards each other—and what is different in this phase is exciting rather than exhausting. Team members experience multiple ‘aha’ moments of discovery and delight in finding out cultural values and preferences of their teammates.

Although team members largely follow their own cultural practices, the cultural value differences (and associated practices) tend to be tolerated or overlooked. Differing understandings about time, about rules of turn-taking and conversational give-and-take, of focus on projects and/or people, of direct or indirect communication patterns, of what constitutes harmony and respect, of face, of planning, and so on are all framed by cultural values.

While differences are noted, and often framed in stereotypes (eg German time versus Latin American time), they are still tolerated. This is a time for members to ‘test the waters’ of the team, to discern team language and habits. It is a time when the goodwill of team members outweighs the differences.

The shock phase

Perhaps within weeks, or perhaps within a few months, goodwill, and toleration begin to wear thin. Teammates now ask questions of other teammates—perhaps out loud, perhaps silently—such as:

  • ‘Why can’t he come on time?’
  • ‘Doesn’t she know how to wait her turn to talk?’
  • ‘I wish he would speak up more’.

The differences that were enchanting during the honeymoon phase are now irritating or even worse. Leadership styles (‘She needs to just tell us what to do’), decision-making methods (‘Why do we have to vote?’), project orientation (‘He talks a lot but never does what he is asked to do’) and the like are now not simply curious differences—they are impediments to team cohesiveness. They may even threaten the team.

Teams can get stuck in this phase. A surprisingly helpful resource on this phase is John Gottman’s massive study of couples in marriage.[2] He found that those who practice four unhealthy approaches to conflict are far more likely to divorce than those who do not. To the extent that team relationships parallel marital relationships in many ways, it is easy to see how they apply to multicultural teams too. The four unhealthy approaches are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and withdrawal. You may note that ‘anger’ is not one of the predictors of divorce—it is how we handle our frustrations or anger that matters the most.

Criticism

By this Gottman refers not to complaints (‘You said you would come to the meeting on time, and yet you are one hour late’), but to complaints that have been shifted into universal statements (‘You never do what you say you will’). A person who uses criticism of one or more teammates thinks of those team members in universal categories. ‘Never’ and ‘always’ are two English words which characterize this mental attitude.

Defensiveness

We are defensive when we reject or battle over every complaint. We may blame shift or counter-attack (‘I came late because I got held up in traffic; what is your excuse for talking all the time?’). Defensive people are either unable or unwilling to see their own flaws. They may perceive each flaw as a point of shame that they must cover up or keep hidden from others.[3] Whatever the reason, defensive people on teams are not willing to accept responsibility when things go wrong—they blame others or circumstances but do not admit their own role.

Contempt

This is taking criticism a step further. Driven by anger, we hold people in contempt by speaking or acting as though our teammate has no value. When we feel contempt toward a teammate, we may believe that they have nothing to add to the team, they are the source of all the team’s problems, or they are worthless as teammates. People who hold others in contempt are angry and cannot talk about their own anger without directing it towards the object of their anger—demeaning that person in the process.

Withdrawal

This happens when we remove ourselves emotionally from engaging. While we may be present physically, we are not present emotionally. We may refuse even to discuss what is happening. This may come across as simple disinterest or as angry rebellion. Those who withdraw imply their teammates are not worth their time or energy. They may withdraw into projects, into personal ministry, or into anything that pulls them away from the team.

Leaders bear the burden of helping the team move forward through emotional and cultural minefields—a daunting task. Without the work of the Holy Spirit in the leader and the team, navigating these minefields is an impossible task.

Teams that take on these unhealthy approaches to conflict or challenges can get stuck and not move into the third phase of team relationships. Identifying when a team is stuck, discerning the underlying reasons, and having the courage to find ways to move forward despite cultural differences are challenges that each person on a multicultural team may have to face. Leaders bear the burden of helping the team move forward through emotional and cultural minefields—a daunting task. Without the work of the Holy Spirit in the leader and the team, navigating these minefields is an impossible task.

The third way phase

Once a multicultural team is able get beyond the second phase, they move into what I call the ‘Third Way’ phase. By this I refer to the development of an actual team culture which is not identical to the culture of any individual team members:

  • Team members now expect that teammates will be different, with differing values, goals, and approaches.
  • They learn how to celebrate rather than merely tolerate the differences.
  • They engage those differences with humor and energy, anticipating the bumps that will continue to come and dealing with them in healthy ways.
  • They consciously allow for the differences and anticipate how such diversity actually strengthens the team rather than weakening it.

This team culture may be stable or may morph as members leave the team (for whatever reason) and new team members join. Through this phase team members are conscious that they are making allowances for each other but do so willingly to build team cohesiveness and energy. They focus on the strengths that teammates bring to the tasks or relationships rather than the perceived weaknesses. They choose to overlook flaws; they practice forgiving teammates for slights or other offenses.[4]

The effective synergy phase

The final phase of team adjustment I call the ‘Effective Synergy’ phase. In one sense it is simply an extension of the ‘Third Way’ phase. The difference is that while the third phase requires conscious practices and effort, in the fourth phase people are ‘unconsciously competent’:

  • They have practiced valuing and affirming each other enough that they no longer are consciously aware of the effort it takes.
  • They have absorbed the work of the Third Way phase and practice such things as affirming, forgiving, and reconciling without conscious articulation of each step.
  • They are aware of cultural and personality differences but utilize them for the good of the team rather than try to change their teammates into their own image.
  • They are constantly learning about each other and how to work well together—in addition to learning about the society in which they live and minister.
  • They practice listening before speaking and exercise patience with their differences.

As a result, the team is greater than the sum of the individual parts—and they sense God’s presence and pleasure in the ministry they share together.

Challenges to multicultural team development

The two most significant challenges multicultural teams face in arriving at the Effective Synergy phase are getting stuck in the Shock phase and the ever-changing composition of the team.

Getting stuck in the shock phase

Teams may get stuck because they cannot move beyond one or more of the unhealthy approaches to team relationships outlined by Gottman. Unfortunately, even one unhealthy team member can stall the entire team in the Shock phase. Teams stuck in this phase may need intervention—team leaders may be too close to see the dynamics or may not know how to resolve them.

This intervention may be from within the larger organization. For example, a team leader who is a peer to the stuck team leader may come alongside the leader to determine a path forward. Alternately, leaders above the team leader, whether country, regional or continental, may need to come alongside the team. In some cases, help from outside the organization is needed. A consultant—or even a counselor—trained in multicultural team dynamics may help the team get unstuck.

In some cases, a resolution may require removal of one or more team members. In the best-case scenario, the stuck member may simply need a new setting or environment. For more severe situations, the member may be so wounded that professional counseling may be required, provided the wounded person is open to this intervention. In the worst-case scenario, the member may need to be removed not only from the team but even from the organization, with the hope that healing can be found elsewhere.

Ever-changing team composition

Multinational teams in cross-cultural ministry are rarely static. Just when a team has reached the Third Way phase, new teammates are added, or current teammates are reassigned or go on home assignment for an extended time. How the remaining core of the team handles these changes will determine what happens next—progression towards Effective Synergy or regression towards Shock.

Conclusion

Much more could be said about each phase and about getting stuck (and unstuck). I hope that this simple overview helps you put your own team(s) in perspective. Perhaps it makes it easier for you identify where you are as a team, and whether you are stuck or not. If you are, take the time to check out the resources noted in the article—they may provide just the thing you need to progress towards becoming an Effective Synergy multicultural team.

Endnotes

  1. Editor’s Note: See article by Nana Yaw Offei Awuku, entitled, ‘Engaging an Emerging Generation of Global Mission Leaders’, in November 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-11/engaging-an-emerging-generation-of-global-mission-leaders.
  2. See https://www.gottman.com/
  3. See Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame
  4. See Everett Worthington’s ‘REACH’ approach to forgiveness; http://www.evworthington-forgiveness.com/.

Scott Moreau

07 Feb 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis

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The Importance of Local Language in Urban Ministry

by Jim Harries

Urban ministry has obvious attractions for today’s missionaries. Large cities have a wide variety of facilities (restaurants, schools for children, supermarkets, and so on). There are benefits of travel and communication. Even should poor quarters of cities such as slums have terrible conditions, Western missionaries can usually afford to live in more amenable places.

An increasing proportion of today’s global population, including that of the majority world, lives in relatively accessible urban areas.

Missiological arguments have also been made in favour of ministry in cities. An increasing proportion of today’s global population, including that of the majority world, lives in relatively accessible urban areas.[1] It seems to make sense to reach them where they are gathered. People in urban areas, already dislodged from lifestyles that might have occupied their ancestors for centuries, can be uniquely open to outside interventions and to the gospel.[2] Reaching young people in the urban environment offers promise of building foundations that will last for many years.

I want to make a general critique of the above, asking whether there is yet good reason for going to reach people in their homelands. More to the point, I want in this article to look at choice of language. In short, I want to ask:

Reaching young people in the urban environment offers promise of building foundations that will last for many years.

I suggest that there are two major arguments in favour of using globalized European languages in ministry in urban areas:

  1. Use of European languages enables a great deal of ministry to happen quickly and easily and with relatively little interference to Western missionaries’ own ways of life. Use of an indigenous language would require much more time, effort, and inconvenience.[3]
  2. Urban people typically make much more use of European languages than do their rural cousins. This is for various reasons because their own languages are compromised through not being universally known in cities, and because city technology comes from the West. In a context in which a language like English is already evidently rising in prominence, it makes sense to many that Christian mission should engage using the same language.

Problems with European languages

Inter-human proximity itself does not of course produce English: people can live very close together, in urban areas, without any profound, long-term effect on their ongoing knowledge of English or other European languages. ‘Urban’ need not mean ‘Western language’. Yet, Neville Alexander makes it clear that post-independence African countries adopted Western languages for official purposes because, as a result of the global scene combined with their own circumstances economically and politically speaking, they had little choice.[4]

Linguists tell us of problems caused by the use of European languages for formal purposes in the majority world. The sound of newly introduced ways of life, such as the good news of Jesus, when communicated using non-indigenous languages, will make them appear to be foreign. The categories presupposed in Western languages are not the familiar categories known by people in the majority world. Presumably as a result, people are more likely to come to Christ for financial or other pragmatic reasons, rather than as a result of being deeply stirred in their hearts.

Once the gospel is accepted, a lack of depth in its communication, resulting from the necessity of use of a foreign code, can perpetuate a pragmatic motivation, such as the ‘prosperity gospel’.

Once the gospel is accepted, a lack of depth in its communication, resulting from the necessity of use of a foreign code, can perpetuate a pragmatic motivation, such as the ‘prosperity gospel’.[5] The foreignness of communication means that gospel teaching can appear to be addressing someone else. Although youth may be attracted to such, the very same youth may be more inclined to abandon it later if what they are taught does not enable them to deal with crises they hit later in life.

Indigenous language and contextualization

Learning and then using an indigenous language will demonstrate that a missionary is serious in wanting to relate to nationals. Having ears that enable hearing of debates engaged by locals will enable a missionary to begin to understand the local contexts actually faced by native people, as they themselves understand them. The gospel is said to be translatable.[6] When appropriately translated, the good news of Jesus can speak pertinently into a variety of contexts.

Such a translated gospel may make little sense, or even appear plainly wrong, when heard only in translation back into Western languages. Western languages function using categories that remain unfamiliar to indigenous people.[7] If they do not understand the very words they use, this can make people a victim rather than a master of their own communication.[8] The above are just a few ideas drawn from a vast literature that points to the importance of contextualization in cross-cultural mission, where use of an indigenous tongue both is, and enables, contextualization.

Sympathetic magic

Furthermore, apparent similarity to the West found in urban contexts is often deceptive. I want to consider this with respect to sympathetic magic. While this is often considered to be practiced in primitive societies, Paul Rozin and Carol Nemeroff ‘find many examples of … operation [of sympathetic magic] in educated adults in Western developed countries … [they find that] laws [of sympathetic magic] are factors in decision making in US culture.’[9] According to Rozin and Nemeroff, in sympathetic magic ‘things that have once been in contact with each other may influence or change each other for a period that extends well past the termination of contact’, and ‘things that resemble one another share fundamental properties.’[10]

A few examples from Rozin and Nemeroff illustrate this. They discuss the ‘law of contagion’:[11]

Just as the cockroach that has touched some food can appear to contaminate a whole bowlful, so the smartphone implicitly ‘modernizes’ the African tribesman.

Shapes carry qualities, so that a chocolate made in the shape of human faeces can be disgusting. Sympathetic magic also operates positively: a cup once used by the Queen, a cardigan once worn by a US President, or a football shirt once used by a particular professional footballer, can become highly coveted items, sometimes sold at a high price, as if the essence of the person once associated with the item is carried on or in it.

The above examples illustrate ways in which human living is far from ‘rational’. Humans, including Western people, commonly make implicit associations on the basis of resemblances that, ‘rationally speaking’, do not exist. An equivalent to the above examples (much commented on in recent years) is that of African tribesmen using mobile phones:

Just as the cockroach that has touched some food can appear to contaminate a whole bowlful, so the smartphone implicitly ‘modernizes’ the African tribesman.[12] The tendency to make assumptions about African people found in a modern-appearing majority world urban context is similar. A background of buildings, cars, computers, supermarkets, televisions, and so on will affect Westerners’ perception of the African.[13] The assumptions that Westerners pick up include that those people are no longer ‘traditional’. This scene deceives the Western observer regarding the mindset of the person concerned. The use of a European language such as English has a similar effect, appearing to transform a foreign person into ‘one of us’, into being ‘sophisticated’ in the way that ‘we are’.

Sympathetic magic is often considered to be confined to primitive people. Rozin and Nemeroff have discovered that ‘modern’ people are subject to the same deceptive ‘magical’ effects. I conclude that Western people are not well equipped to evaluate rationally majority world scenes. They are apt erroneously to impute Western qualities to non-Western people: a Western person will likely, in their own head, impute ‘Westernisms’ onto indigenous African people.

Implications

Some missiologists make a clear case in favour of urban rather than rural ministry. Westerners ministering in urban contexts in other parts of the world can easily, I suggest, be deceived by the apparent familiarity of settings and languages that they meet. I have here identified this apparent familiarity as often being based on ‘magic’. Reliance on magic for Christian ministry and development activities is problematic. The importance of accurate contextual understanding is the prime reason given in this article for advocating that it is appropriate to use indigenous languages, even in urban contexts, in the majority world. So my practical advice is to use local languages and local resources in what you are doing.

This article constitutes a small part of the wider case made by the AVM (Alliance for Vulnerable Mission)[14] in favour of the use of local languages and resources by some missionaries from the West in the majority world. Such linguistic and resource practice is known as vulnerable mission. It can enable a foreign missionary, by coming alongside people, to empower them.

Endnotes

  1. See https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS.
  2. Editor’s Note: See article by Mac Pier, entitled, ‘Movement Day and Lausanne’, in May 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-05/movement-day-and-lausanne.
  3. Note that what I am advocating for is Western missionaries learning and engaging using non-Western languages, not simply Western missionaries communicating using Western languages to people who are then expected to engage their colleagues using indigenous languages. The latter conceals irreconcilable translation difficulties.
  4. Neville Alexander, ‘English Unassailable but Unattainable: the dilemma of language policy in South African Education’, Paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the International Federation for the Teaching of English (University of Warwick, England, UK, July 7-10, 1999), http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=ED444151 (accessed 28.08.08), 5.
  5. Editor’s Note: See article by Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, entitled, ‘The Prosperity Gospel and Its Challenge to Mission in Our Time’, in July 2014 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2014-07/the-prosperity-gospel-and-its-challenge-to-mission-in-our-time.
  6. Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (New York: Orbis Books, 1989).
  7. For example, Western languages tend to presuppose dualisms, such as that between spiritual and material.
  8. Fear of saying the wrong thing in the wrong way contributes to education in Africa often being by rote.
  9. Paul Rozin and Carol Nemeroff, ‘The Laws of Sympathetic Magic: a Psychological Analysis of Similarity and Contagion.’ in: Stigler, J & Herdt, G and Schweder R.A. (eds) Cultural Psychology; Essays on Comparative Human Development (Cambridge University Press, 1990):207, 229.
  10. Ibid 206
  11. Ibid 206. Notions of ‘magical’ contagion preceded and apparently set the foundation for the science of micro-organisms ibid 218.
  12. The use of the smart phone by the African tribesman will also contaminate (be a contagion with respect to) the purity of the smartphone as a Western/ modern product. Our main interest here is in the reverse
  13. Note that in much of Africa, it is outsiders and not indigenous African people who are largely responsible for designing and controlling the operation of ‘modern’ urban environments. Hence, even if in Africa, African people in that sense remain ‘strangers’ to modern contexts within their homelands.
  14. See http://www.vulnerablemission.org.

Jim Harries

07 Feb 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis

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Rise in Strength – Global Consultation for Women in International Christian Leadership

For the first time ever, women leaders from across the world will have their own forum to contribute ideas and dreams about women, faith, and mission.

‘Rise In Strength’, held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, from 2-5 June 2019 will provide a unique space to:

At a time of increased division over the contribution and power of women, we want to be a voice of authority, experience, and grace. How can we join forces to reach out to the unreached? What resources can we share? What is our message to the church and to the world? 

All female leaders with global impact are invited to attend. ‘Rise in Strength’ comes from a partnership between the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Women’s Commission and the Lausanne Movement’s Women in Evangelism network.

If you are interested in this gathering, please contact [email protected].

15 Jan 2018


Disabilities: An Infographic

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18 Jan 2019


How Global Partnerships Can Change the World

In a ‘glocal’ world, we need global partnerships more than ever. But are we doing them right? This article explores the biblical principles that support the development of global partnerships within the Christian church, providing real-life examples and suggesting new creative models of partnerships in our global churches.

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17 Apr 2019

7 Ways to Follow Jesus in a Suffering World

What does it mean to follow Jesus in a world of suffering? How do we stay with him when things get tough, navigating the tension between faith and suffering? This succinctly rich excerpt by a Sudanese theologian calls us back to the life-giving truths of discipleship, surrender, relationship, and love.

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10 Apr 2019

Why Unity Matters Today

When members of Christ’s body are at odds with each other, everything can go wrong. How do we engage with and even genuinely love those brothers and sisters who are drastically different from us? Sometimes a deep dive into the historical archives can provide fresh insight. Navigating the stormy waters of philosophy, theology, and biblical scholarship, this article by Henri Blocher from the first Lausanne Congress in 1974 explores the importance of unity in the global church.

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03 Apr 2019

North Korea and the Grace of God

Throughout history God has used Christians, both foreign and indigenous, to woo the people of Korea with his irresistible grace. Even today, the seemingly impenetrable country of North Korea is more open to Christians than we may think. What are the challenges that remain?

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27 Mar 2019

What Was Missing in Paradise?

Knowing the beginning of a story helps us know the purpose of the story. How well do we know the beginning of our story? Richard Chin offers a fresh meditation of Genesis 1, carefully guiding us from the Garden of Eden—which was lacking in one key aspectto the truly perfect City to come.

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20 Mar 2019