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Monday, May 08, 2006

Entrance Strategy

Every year, Southern Baptists from across the United States get together in an annual Convention. This is a time for them to discuss denominational direction, elect leaders, and share what God is doing. One key part of the meeting is the proposal of resolutions. These are actions that members would like the denomination as a whole to support. Because they are passed by majority vote, approved resolutions say a lot about the Southern Baptist Convention. An example would be the resolution to boycott Disney. It was passed in 1997, and called on all Southern Baptists to boycott all media, products, and properties of the Walt Disney Company.

As this year's convention in Greensboro, North Carolina nears, several resolutions are being proposed. One that I find particularly troubling is a resolution calling for Southern Baptist churches to develop an exit strategy from public schools." Now this is not a new one- Al Mohler proposed it a couple years ago. But the attitude behind it is frustrating.

As a missionary, my job is to enter into a community and translate the gospel into the culture of the people there. It isn't easy. I spend a lot of my time the things that influence people and learning how they think and behave. The most challenging part about it all is finding ways to meet people and interact with them in meaningful ways. With rules against us taking jobs here and no funds to pay for joining clubs and other activities, we struggle to find common ground with the few people God brings to us. Despite the difficulty, (and the fact that we aren't wanted here!) we continue to seek new ways to engage the population. Why? Because God brought us here to be salt and light, and He has given us everything we need in order to be who we need to be.

But while we are looking for an entrance strategy to get access to lost people, we hear about believers back home wanting to develop an exit strategy. These are brothers and sisters who share our same commission to make disciples, but don't face a language/culture barrier, and have natural access to the lost people of their communities. Forgive my frustration, but it seems that these folks don't appreciate the opportunity God has provided in the public school system.

I know what goes on in public schools. I understand that they aren't teaching biblical truth. I know that things go on there that are not God-honoring. Sure, people are concerned about their children's learning and development. It makes sense that parents would want to protect their kids from the sin that infests the system. I'm not interested in getting into a debate about home-schooling. Really. Please. I respect a parent's right and responsibility to select the best form of education for their kids. I don't think homeschooling is wrong. I know there are other ways for kids to be involved with their peers. As far as I'm concerned, it about the attitude.

I am frustrated that my denomination would consider supporting the development of an "exit strategy" from public schools because it is indicative of an attitude that is the opposite of missional. If the people who are in favor of this resolution were really thinking of themselves as missionaries; really looking for ways to engage the people around them, I wonder if they wouldn't reconsider. On the field, our families are in constant spiritual danger. We are surrounded by materialism, sexual sin, drug use, the occult, and other enemy activity. Obedience to God's call and direction requires exposure to sinful things. When God sent us, He knew what our kids would go through. He knew how it would break our hearts to see MK's deal with things that children shouldn't have to deal with. We know first-hand the importance of putting on spiritual armor. But we do it because we're here to be incarnational to the people here.

We see it pretty clearly here. Have our brothers and sisters in the States lost sight of that?

I'm concerned about the message this attitude sends to our children. This sort of isolationism is what has made Christianity ineffective and irrelevant; not only to the world, but to our children and ourselves. It has led to the construction of a "Christian" subculture that takes us off the front lines of ministry and lulls us into complacency, trusting our "Christian" version of the world to be safe and, well, Christian.

How can we justify separating ourselves from the world because it isn't pleasing to God? How can we prepare our children to engage the culture and to work redemptively within it if we take them out of it? Shouldn't we as parents expect to supplement our children's education with discipleship? Couldn't we use their exposure to sinful things as an opportunity to teach them to find bridges to sharing the gospel, discern right from wrong and truth from lies, and to avoid fear of the world? What if we started thinking of ourselves as missionaries, and started training our children to be on mission as well?

10 comments:

CharlieMac said...

Short sighted people wearing blinders can not see very far ahead and certainly they can not see the future. When Christians (Southern Baptists?) pull their children out of public schools, the other side wins instantly! The choice really boils down to either stay and fight for what is right, or wave the white flag and go home. Pun intended!

GuyMuse said...

Our blogger friends Jeff Richard Young and Kiki Cherry have both posted on this same subject from different perspectives. I posted a comment response on Jeff's blog.

What I'd like to add here, though, is agreement to your overall statement about the need to formulate "entrance strategies." Jesus seemed less interested in maintaining an image for the religious establishment than He did for impacting his world.

One of the questions that frequently comes up with our church planters and new believers in the house churches, is whether or not they should continue to attend parties, celebrations, etc. with people from their former life. They usually expect us to afirm their separation from the world. Instead we encourage them to do just the opposite. Go back in and befriend those family and friends, don't abandon them. Let them see you in your new walk with the Lord and see how Christ has changed your life. When invited to participate in anything they find objectionable (drinking, dancing, etc.) don't make a big deal out of it--ask for a different non-alcoholic drink, etc. but let people see you enjoy being with them and that you haven't rejected them as persons whom God loves.

To make a long story short, this advise always leads to discussion, but I truly believe Jesus taught we are to be "salt and light" in the world. How can they taste and see us if we turn our backs on them and hide out behind the four walls of the church?

The only way to "make disciples" is to follow Jesus pattern when his new follower Matthew the tax collector invited him to a party with all his buddies. Did Jesus turn down the invitation? No, he went and was looked down upon by the Pharisees and condemned for his going!

Sorry for getting a little off-topic from the schooling issue, but to me it very much relates to our mindset as Christians.

Bill said...

Stepchild:

I agree with you entirely. When we returned to the US from Norway in 1991 we had to make the choice - public school or Christian school. We went through the whole thought process - they'd be exposed to the whole Halloween thing, etc. etc. To make a long story short, we chose to send them to public school, and I'm glad we did. They are both in college now, and I think they are much better prepared to be salt and light in the world than if we had "protected" them from it.

I believe that when we as American Christians wring our hands about losing the "culture wars" we only have ourselves to blame - because we have removed ourselves from the very venues where we Jesus commanded us to be "salt and light" - the school system, social events, etc.

Gerry Milligan said...

Stepchild,

As you say, as born-again believers we are to be Salt and Light. If we withdraw our children from public schools, how does this principle get to be applied? I have had some of my best witnessing opportunities while speaking to one of our childrens' teachers, explaining what we believed as opposed to what might be taught. I always loved parent-teacher conferences. We are to "Be in the world, not of the world."

cafeaddict said...

your blog is so timely. i just sat listening to a woman yesterday try to guilt all of us m's into homeschooling. she had the typical "this culture is big, bad and evil" mentality. it drives me crazy!

our beliefs determine our actions. though many evangelicals would never agree to the following statements, their actions reflect their true theology. when we as christians have a "flee from culture" theology, this is what we are really saying...

1. just being around sin defiles us. we are guilty by association.
2. christ is not more powerful than culture. there are places where god is absent and where his people should not go.
3. we are overcomers only from a distance
4. evangelism is an event, not a lifestyle or relationship
5. we are on the defensive even though the victory has been won and "the gates of hell shall not prevail."
6. our christianity is best defined by what we are against.
7. upholding my christian reputation amongst my christian friends is more important than reaching out to the lost.
8. we react out of fear not faith
9. basically we just don't trust god...

i know all that sounds harsh, but isn't that really the testimony of our christian subculture?

Rede Vida Mais Café said...

I do and don't agree. I think it is absurd for a resolution to be passed to have all parents pull their kids out of public schools. Of course, I also wore my Mickey tie to church the Sunday after the Disney resolution was passed.
However, I think it is just as absurd to say that all kids should be in public schools. I believe it is wrong to look at my child as my "way in" to begin dialogue with the culture. We get so consumed with this way being right and another way being wrong. Why do we do this?
Anyone with more than one child can tell you that every kid is different. For instance, with child #1 a simple talk or time out will do wonders. When child #2 comes along you find out they could care less about being in time out. It takes a little more aggressive approach with them. Their education is the same way. My wife and I come from backgrounds in education. I can tell you firsthand that kids are different.
Just as our mission fields are all different...our cultures are all different...so are the schools in our areas...so are the needs of our individual kids.
I am in total agreement that we can pull out of culture too much. It just seems that more caution should be taken before saying that anything other than our way is wrong.........

Bill said...

Cafeaddict - I agree with all your points. I believe those are the implications of the "flee from culture" mentality. A friend recently stated that the world has gotten so bad that Christians should withdraw into their own culture like the Amish. I will grieve if that idea becomes widespread.

Rede vida - I agree that all kids are different, and that putting kids in public schools isn't our best or only way to engage the culture. I think that the issue is whether the SBC or any other group should endorse or imply the that public schools aren't redeemable so we should all withdraw from them and abandon them to the world.

stepchild said...

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. To be honest, I expected someone to disagree.

Rede,
I'm sorry if my post sounded like I think anyone who disagrees with me on this is wrong. Please note that don't think that homeschooling is wrong. I tried to be pretty clear about that when I said, um, "I don't think homeschooling is wrong."

As Bill mentioned, my concern is with the attitude that would lead to a resolution. Cafeaddict said it really well. If we look at the motives behind such an attitude, things don't look so good.

I'm glad you brought up the idea of "using" your children as a "way in" to dialogue/ministry. I guess I'm not sure where I am on that. Of course, if you word it like that ("using my children...") it sounds pretty bad. But what about living intentionally/missionally/strategically? I think our kids can be ministers too, and I like the idea of practicing cultural engagement as a family...

Kiki Cherry said...

Stepchild,

Great post.

I can bear witness to what you were speaking of, as far as things MKs get exposed to.

One time in my Shona language class in Zimbabwe, our teacher wanted to hold a seance. We were studying African culture, and he kept trying to move the lesson towards ancestral worship and mysticism.

That was a tough week for me. But also a defining moment in my life.

I went home and told my parents about it, and they encouraged me to tell him I would not participate.

I'm sure they probably would have jumped in to intercede if necessary. But they were teaching me how to take a stand.

The incident drew a line in the sand for me, and tested my faith.

I did go and talk to him, and politely refused to participate in the class. He respected me a great deal more after that, and even asked some questions about MY faith as a result. In fact, he ended up not holding the seance after all.

But we got exposed to spiritism even at church. How many MKs have seen a demon manifest itself in a person right as they are about to be baptized?

I would say MOST of the MKs in my region have witnessed our parents having to cast out of demons. And what about the ancestral worship we were surrounded by every night? I went to sleep most nights to the sound of drumming and chanting in villages all around.

There is no way to totally innoculate kids from the world. I can only speak for myself, but we have chosen instead to teach our kids how to fight the enemy. We would rather walk alongside and train them in the battle, than just give them weapons and hope they know how to use them when the fight comes.

Kiki Cherry said...

Whoops. I meant "intervene" in the post above, not "intercede".

My brain shuts off after 10:30.