June 18, 2014
by Len Kageler
I remember as a child the four-mile drive to our small Baptist church (near Seattle). On that drive we passed many other churches: Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and another Baptist church as well.
Now, decades later, my drive to church (near New York City) is still four miles. However, times have changed. I pass a mosque, a closed Baptist church, a closed Reformed church, a Jewish synagogue, a closed Presbyterian church. a New Age center and a closed Methodist church whose building was purchased recently by a Hispanic charismatic group.
In many places in the United States the presence of other religions is becoming very visible. How do we help our congregation gain perspective on the fact that we are in an increasingly diverse religious marketplace? For example, a teenage daughter in a Christian family in your church may come home and exclaim with enthusiasm, “Mom, we’ve got a new assistant volleyball coach; her name is Rashida and she’s really nice.” Roughly 20 percent of America’s nearly two thousand mosques have their own youth programs, and Rashida is a Muslim youth worker doing relational youth work by volunteering at school. She is doing this just like Christian youth pastors, Youth for Christ youth workers and Young Life youth workers.
Of course there are many possible approaches to congregational pastoring in the midst of religious diversity. One approach I’ve seen involves helping our people realize that the people of faith in the Old and New Testaments were living in cultures awash in other religions. Furthermore, they knew the details and the appeal of the “religious other.” Today many feel it is best to shelter ourselves from other beliefs. That is not the approach of believers in Scripture. They clearly knew what others believed and in what respect their faith was different. Recently, I gave seminar that included details about the Canaanite religions (the context of much of the Old Testament). We then broke into groups, and each group was assigned a god (Baal, Asherah, Molech, Dagon) and their task was to come up with a marketing piece or tweet espousing the benefits of their god’s worship. It proved to be hilarious, but everyone understood at a feeling level that believers in the Old Testament had to understand at a deep and personal level how their belief in Yahweh was not just unique but better than the “competition.”
Second, we can help our people understand the Christian faith is the only one in which grace exists. Other religions are about what we can do to please God. The Christian faith is about what has been done on our behalf. This is a humongous difference.
Also we can provide opportunities for our people to interact in a positive way with persons of other religions. This is not for the purpose of preaching to them, but rather to let them understand what true Christians are like, not just their stereotypes. For example, in the United Kingdom there a strong movement that brings Christian and Muslim youth together to raise money for Third World relief or to clean up a park for a community. In the Unite Kingdom and in the United States, where this is happening as well, Muslim youth are coming to faith in Christ.
I have a friend who thought it would be good to do a joint Christian-Muslim event in which, after a meal, the teens would form small groups and each would have five minutes to share with the others what they loved about their respective faith. To my friends horror, while the Muslim youth were well able to fill five their five minutes, most Christian youth were lost after 30-60 seconds. His take away, and mine as a leader in my own church, is to help Christians experience a vital faith in which the living Christ shows up and is real in daily life.
Len Kageler, is author of Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society: Forming Christian Identity Among Skeptics, Syncretists, and Sincere Believers of Other Faiths. He will be the primary resource person at a weekend event on the New Jersey shore for pastors and interested laity hosted by SpiritVenture Ministries (SVM). Len Sweet, president of SVM and author of fifty books on ministry and faith, holds these “advances” on both the East and West Coasts. For more information on how you can join us, check out www.leonardsweet.com.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 1:32 PM
June 3, 2014
by Rick Love
I recently attended a conference at the Naval War College in Rhode Island on “Religion and Security in World Affairs” (May 7-8, 2014). I loved the lectures and the lively interaction. Yet something deeper was being stirred in me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was until I recalled Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement: “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”
Oh how I wish followers of Jesus were as organized for the sake of peace as the U.S. military is for the sake of war! Klyne Snodgrass, in his commentary on Ephesians, suggests a practical way Jesus’ followers can organize for peace:
I don’t know how many pastors and Christian leaders think the church should be a peace institute, but most believe that peacemaking should play some significant role in the church.
My friend Steve Norman did a survey about peacemaking for his doctoral studies.
He notes, “I recently conducted a research project that collected data from 15 pastors in personal interviews and 297 pastors through an online survey. Their feedback on this issue was almost unanimous: “Yes, I affirm the theory of peacemaking as a biblical value. No, it’s not something our church is currently doing. Honestly, we’d have no idea where to start if we wanted to.” (“Pastors and the Peacemaking Paradox,” Peace Catalyst International, http://peace-catalyst.net/blog/post/pastors-and-the-peacemaking-paradox)
There seems to be a peace-gap between what pastor’s say they believe and the practice of peacemaking in most churches. So where does a pastor or Christian leader start? Here are five fundamental peacemaking practices that outline a Bible-sized view of peace:
1. We are called to peacemaking without borders. Biblical peacemaking is comprehensive in scope. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18; see also Heb 12:14). That’s right, everyone: Democrats, Republicans, Muslims, gays and atheists.
2. We are called to start with the heart. We begin conflict resolution by dealing with our own issues: “first take the log out of your own eye” (Mt 7:5). Peacemaking conversations start with confession and humility.
3. We are called to make every effort. Conflict resolution is hard work. We lose heart and want to give up. But God commands us to proactively and persistently pursue peace. “Make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Rom 14:19; see also Eph 4:3; Heb 12:14).
4. We are called to share the gospel of peace. The good news is an announcement: The God of peace sent the prince of peace to bring about a world of peace through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 10:34-43; Eph 2:13-17). And the scope of this gospel of peace is breathtaking—the reconciliation of all things (Col 1:20)!
5. We are called to seek the peace of the city. “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jer 29:7). The word translated “peace” in this passage is the Hebrew term shalom, which refers to human flourishing in all dimensions of life. Shalom makers seek the common good of their communities, pursue racial reconciliation and harmony between different religious communities, and work to alleviate poverty.
Do you have a Bible-sized view of peace? Do you want to fill the “peace gap” in your church or organization?
To learn more about how you can organize for peace, check out Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities.
Rick Love (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is an internationally-recognized expert in Christian-Muslim relations. He is President of Peace Catalyst International, which devotes much of its resources to peacemaking between Muslims and Christians, and serves as Associate Director of the World Evangelical Alliance Peace and Reconciliation Initiative.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:53 AM