Does Quoting Scripture At People Solves Their Problems?

d4ef35196c669263d088472aac80174dMy two little dogs were going crazy in the backyard. They were barking alarmingly and jumping at the back fence. Something was up! This was not a normal behavior for them. So I went to where they were, looked over the five-foot cinderblock fence, and saw six coyotes standing on the other side while one was jumping up and down to see what was in my yard. They knew my dogs were there, but were trying to scope it out to see if they could get over. I yelled at the coyotes, but they barely moved, so I threw rocks at them and they ran away. I’d been told many times that animals will not jump over fences if they don’t know what’s on the other side, but these coyotes proved me wrong.

The next day I was talking with a couple of neighbors about what had happened, and I asked them if they’d ever heard of coyotes trying to jump over fences. Instead of answering my question, one of them said, “We live in an area with all kinds of wild animals; it is our responsibility to keep our dogs safe.” REALY!!! Luckily, my first thought didn’t come out of my mouth, but I thought, “I have taken care of these dogs for more than five years and you think I don’t know that?” How was her comment helpful? It wasn’t.

This reminded me of another conversation I had with some friends who are long-time Christians. I was telling them how for years I have prayed to be less prideful. I related how God has been able to lessen it considerably, but recently it reared its ugly head, and I struggled with it once again. Immediately, one of my friends said, “Pride goes before a fall.” Of course, quoting Proverbs 16:18. REALLY!!! “After living as a Christian for more than 20 years, do you think I don’t know that?” I asked. My other friend then related to us how he too has prayed for more than 40 years for God to take away his anger. Yet, it is something he continues to struggle with. Now we could have quoted to him Ecclesiastes 7:9: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” But would it really help? I think not.

I must admit, I am more readily willing to share my struggles with my friend who related his own struggles than the one who quoted Scripture at me. Often, quoting Scripture at people, especially those who’ve been followers of Christ for a long time, alienates them, and shuts them down. They often feel invalidated, rejected, unsure about themselves, and sometimes even about their relationship with God. Just because I know Scripture doesn’t mean I am not human. I am still fallible. I still make mistakes. I still fall short. I believe both friends wanted to help, but only one showed empathy, and it wasn’t the one who quoted Scripture.

As a bit of subtle irony, I will quote Scripture here, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” To simply quote a Bible verse at someone as if it is magically going to solve some problem, comes across way too often as sounding brass. Don’t get me wrong the Bible is great for instruction and guiding our lives, but to think we can merely quote it to solve another person’s problems misses the mark. It removes us from having empathy toward one another.

Recent research has shown that our society is losing its ability to empathize. Over the past 20 years, among college-age students, empathy has decreased 40 percent, and the greatest amount of decline has happened within the last 10 years. This is not a problem only among younger people, it affects us all. You might think this is due to more and more people not going to church, but the culprit is digital technology, namely our cell phones. As a society—yes, church goers included—we are communicating less and less in person. We are losing our capacity to show empathy. We are losing our ability to connect meaningfully with other human beings.

Going back to the conversation with my two Christian friends, by admitting our struggles to one another, it didn’t give us license to feel free to be more prideful or angry. Instead, we connected in our humanness, knowing full well that we will continue to try to be the best people we can be each day. In other words, we empathized with one another. In our society that is losing its ability to connect in a humane way, what a great time to love people, empathize with them, and make a human connection. To me, this is what means to be the light and salt of this world. What better way is there for us to be witnesses of God’s love than to empathize?

By CK Miller

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Are Pastors Ready To Give Up The Pulpit?

pastor preachingFor hundreds of years, communication has flowed pretty much in one direction, from the top down. The industrial revolution brought great change to societies as new businesses grew in size and hierarches of management helped things flow efficiently. Instructions and directives were given at the highest levels and workers were expected to comply.

The church has followed the same organizational structure for more than two thousand years. The Catholic Church has its hierarchy of pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, etc. Protestant churches have their denominational leaders, district supervisors, division leaders, and pastors. And pretty much communication too flowed in only one direction, from the pulpit downward. However, at the turn of the 21st century this flow of communication was disrupted.

Many factors have caused this disruption. These include the invention of the telegraph, then the telephone, and now new digital technologies. This last factor, I think, is one that has changed the world the most because it affects people at all levels of society: young and old, rich and poor, from every culture and nation. The invention of the computer, the internet, cell phones, social media applications, blogs, web sites, have given more people the ability to change societies, governments, and businesses—technologies have given everyone a voice. Let me give a few examples.

All social media applications allow people to voice their opinions about products, services, companies, injustice and more. Much of the Arab Spring was organized through the use of Twitter. These days, American businesses have whole teams of people monitoring social media channels listening to their customers. News organizations listen to their viewers through any and all social media applications. And why have the above organizations devoted so much effort and resources to listening and understanding their constituencies’ complaints and preferences? Because they have learned that if they don’t listen and keep their customers happy, they will soon be out of business. But what about churches? Are pastors listening to their congregations?

It seems they are not, and lots of people are communicating with their feet. People are no longer willing to sit, watch, and listen. In my last blog post, I wrote about the “Nones,” and the “Dones”. Among this group are those who are “done” sitting in pews listening to somebody preach at them. In both Catholic and Protestant churches, weekly attendance is declining. Comments from people who no longer attend church say that they are tired of the pulpit/pew divide. But it doesn’t seem pastors are listening because according to the Pew Research group, more and more people are becoming unaffiliated with a church.

Customers, or using church terminology, congregants now harness tremendous power. They have a voice and want to use it. What will it take to create open channels of communication in the church? Are pastors willing to give up the pulpit, stop preaching, and start having conversations? Are they willing to accept a church that is less structured, with less hierarchy, and open to change?

                                                                By Guest Blogger, CK Miller

Don’t Control Me, Encourage Me!

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.09.52 PMRecently my son, Air Force Captain, Todd Afshar, posted this video on Facebook. I watched it with tears in my eyes. I marveled at the courage of the young soldier, but even more at the encouragement she received from her fellow soldiers, which reminded me of the following story and how much the followers of Christ are in need of encouragement from each other.

In 1978, I established the first Iranian Christian organization in the United States. It consisted of several house churches. I was a civil engineer during the day and a church planter/evangelist at night.

At the time, I desperately needed all the help and moral support I could get from the Christian leaders I knew, but the support was quite few and far between. After all, majority of the American leaders I looked up to, were mono-cultural. They had no understanding of what I eventually coined as “reversed contextualization”.

My philosophy was very simple. If every oversees-missionary is taught to share the Gospel within the context of the culture he/she is sent to, why not develop the same approach in reverse towards the displaced people whom God has brought to our doorsteps in America—in my case, the Iranians?

One of these leaders was the director of missions for the denomination I belonged to at the time. On numerous occasions, I called his office with the hope of getting an appointment to meet with him, but I never heard back from him. The only person I ever got the chance to talk with was his secretary, Pat.

About 15 years went by. I was conducting a workshop on Muslim evangelism at a convention when I ran into Pat and had the following conversation.

Me: “Pat, please remind me, how do we know each other?” I’d completely forgotten the genesis of our relationship.

Pat: “Don’t you remember? You used to call me all the time when I was Matt’s secretary.” And, then she continued with the following story.

Shah, I’ve never told you this, but one of those days when you’d called to talk to Matt, he walked into my office as I was talking to you. Although, he didn’t know you, from my side of the conversation, he knew I was talking to you. That’s when he leaned over my desk and whispered, “Hang up on him!” I shook my head and refused to do so, and again, he demanded the same. Eventually, he stomped out very angry.

Later, after I’d finished talking to you, he walked back to my office and said,

“Next time when I tell you to hang up on him, you hang up on him. Do you know why I want you to hang up on him? BECAUSE HE IS RIGHT, AND WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT!”

Can you imagine how encouraged I would have been if the man had at least said those same words to my face? If he’d said something like, “Shah, you’re right, but you’re way ahead of your time and our denomination. We don’t know what to do with you.”

Thirty years ago, all I wanted to tell the man was what will soon become the church’s war cry—Let’s reach the world for Christ one next-door neighbor at a time. Remember, you heard it here first. Yes, I was mostly talking about Iranian neighbors, but the principle still applied.

In any case, the man refused to meet with me. Was it arrogance, ignorance, pride, or simply a desire to control that prevented him from having a cup of coffee with a man who desperately needed that leader’s support and encouragement? Or was it the fear of not having an answer/solution to my question? After all, shouldn’t a Christian leader have an answer for every question thrown at him? Wouldn’t an, “I don’t know!” reveal a weakness that a mature Christian leader shouldn’t possess?

I am sure there have been times when I’ve come short of following I Thess. 5:11 mandate, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” For that, I’m deeply sorry. May the Lord have mercy on us to be better encouragers. Let us not forget that we are all in this together.