Christian Today Digest – May 2015

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Christian Today Website Articles

To add to your further enjoyment of these articles, we thought a short description of how the website is organised would be of interest.

The Christian Today website has what we call tabs which are really just headings. It’s a way of categorising the articles. Here are the headings, which they use:

UK; World; Church; Mission; Ministries; Society; Life; Entertainment; Comment.

Torch will now include these categories at the beginning of each of the articles.

We have observed that sometimes CT include an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather the reverse and which has been included for readers to pray about. We hope therefore that including the headings or categories will enable Torch readers to also discern and pray.

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Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published on recently.

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David Baker on how to recharge your spiritual life

From “Life” section

Jesus appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him ... (Mark 3:14)

I was talking to a friend recently who was telling me something of what Jesus has been doing in his life in recent years.

It was, he said, as though he had been “re-formatted”. In other words, Christ had been so thoroughly at work in him that he felt he was being completely re-worked from the inside out.

My friend - who is a church minister - shared that sometimes he spends whole days in prayer and reading the Bible. And he then went on to wonder aloud about his pattern of work, and how the re-formatting he has experienced on the inside might in turn re-shape how he pastors the congregation he serves.

I found what he said both refreshing and challenging. For surely his is the sort of journey which should be part of all Christians’ experience if we are truly being re-fashioned into God’s image “from one degree of glory to another” as Paul puts it (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Not all of us are church ministers who can spend whole days in prayer and Bible-reading, of course. And yet all believers should know something of the transforming power of Christ at work. How can this increasingly true for us?

As we continue our walk through Mark’s Gospel we reach the section where Jesus appoints a dozen of his friends as apostles (Mark 3:14). And there is a little-noticed phrase used by Mark which is actually the key to what is going on. Indeed, it is something vital which lies right at the heart of what it means to be a disciple.

Of course, we don’t have apostles in quite the same sense today. Those twelve were unique both as witnesses to the ministry and resurrection of Christ, and in the authority of the writings - the New Testament - that they bequeathed to the church.

But the first thing he calls them to is something that all disciples of Jesus, including ourselves, are called to emulate. And that is simply, as Mark puts it, before anything else, “to be with him”.

The phrase is more than a throwaway line - it is a very significant one. Later on, as the Gospel takes Jerusalem by storm, some of those looking on were astonished by the courage of Peter and John. And yet they could see what had made all the difference: “They took note that these men had been with Jesus,” (Acts 4:13).

What does that mean for us? Preaching recently, the Bishop of Jarrow, Mark Bryant, said: “Mark tells us that Jesus appoints twelve disciples ‘that they should be with him’. Jesus’ greatest longing and desire is that we should be with him in order to follow him. I think we have to learn to be intentional about that.”

It’s always good to be reminded of some of the basic elements of being with Jesus: reading God’s Word regularly - and perhaps we need to find some new Bible notes to help us (see for example; prayer - and perhaps our prayer life needs re-invigorating (a book such as A Praying Life by Paul E Miller may help); being part of a church family.

But it starts in our hearts. As one prayer puts it: “How well I know, Lord Jesus, that doing noble things for you is not the same thing as spending life-giving time with you. Thinking great thoughts about you is not the same thing as vital communion with you. Helping others understand the gospel is not the same thing as drinking presently and deeply from the wellspring of grace for myself.”

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When does Western aid to Africa hinder more than it helps?

From “Mission” section

Michael Badriaki was born in Kisumu, Kenya and raised in Uganda. He now lives in North America and works with organizations that bring aid and development to Africa to help them understand cultural dynamics in development. Krish Kandiah met Michael in Cape Town to hear his perspective on aid work across Africa.

What do you think are the primary unhelpful images that the western media are portraying about Africa?

When I moved to America, I met lovely people who were eager to know about Africa and at the same time, I was taken aback by the pervasive unfair images of Africa that dominate minds in the West. On one hand it is the idyllic exotic Africa of animal lovers with zebras, herds of buffalo and elephants. But when it comes to the perception of humanity in Africa it is quite devastating and grim.

Where do you think this one-sided view of Africa as a helpless victim comes from?

Unfortunately bad news and sensationalism sells in a consumer culture. While some mission organisations do helpful things, some have also played their part in building unhelpful assumptions of Africa. The language and images used in many missions’ reports about experiences in Africa are startling. We are dealing with an inbred and quite unfortunate mindset that is at an epidemic level and church groups are unwittingly a part of it.

But could the bad news image actually do some good? The negative images help charities raise money for Africa.

I am glad that people are increasingly conscious of justice issues and I think better yet for Christians, because human flourishing is about the redemption of humanity wholistically. Most people in Africa tend to be grateful for assistance but not when the dehumanizing means of charities justify the end. Perhaps the blind spot is the silent incentive of how charity has become a very lucrative business for some of the well-intended American Christian philanthropists - they are the ones who gain the most from the negative images. If mutual partnership is not taken seriously beyond the tokenism of “we hire and work with the locals over there”, then the privileged will always gain, but the poor will only be treated as worthy of bad charity work, particularly in global south. Such power driven and remote controlled drone type-aid that goes to Africa, is always indicative of a lack of a comprehensive long term strategy that take investment with the people who are supposedly affected and impacted by these issues seriously.

But, some would say, if a charity provides a well to rescue a village from unsanitary conditions and provides clean drinking water, what can be wrong with that?

Clean water is good any time. We all agree. What needs to be questioned is the assumption perpetuated by charities that access to clean water does not exist in African villages and that Africans are doing nothing about certain water challenges until charities show up. This is not true. Uganda, for example, has an abundance of water. Water access has improved to 72.8 per cent in urban areas and 64 per cent in rural areas. Failure to highlight such hope and progress undermines dignity and human agency.

So the image of a child drinking muddy water with dead flies in it, or worse containing human excrement - is that fiction?

I’ve experienced abject poverty and that’s not fiction but they are also extreme situations which actually have more to do with parenting issues, poor governance and lack of education etc, than with whether or not there is a borehole somewhere. Many Africans are experts at treating water by boiling it before consuming it, where are those images? We are misled by consumeristic biases which capitalise victimhood. How frustrating!

Those images promote the stereotypes of Africans as uncivilized because they can’t afford taps for the children and are not clever enough not to drink faeces. So these adverts are Afropessimistic, it’s the mind of benevolent hegemony that seeks to dominate and misrepresent a people’s story, so that they can extract the most out of them.

What do you think the development agencies should be doing and saying?

Organizations should be truthful and respectful in relating with humanity and acknowledging human dignity. Organizations must take seriously the need to be culturally adaptive in order to achieve goals and navigate cultural barriers. As equals, they should support competent and compassionate African practitioners who are already participating in the common good. Organizations must fight the cultural obsession with horrible, fabricated situations to play on the already existing image that Africa is this dark and lazy, half-human, half-child, dominated continent. The temptations is huge and these kinds of prejudices, are easy to sell to people.

What is the alternative for Christians to blaming, infantalising or patronising Africans for the problems?

We need to remain centred and humble as Christians in the triune God because such attitudes are indicative of God’s attributes of love, grace, helping that works. Laying down our lives for someone doesn’t take dignity away from them or demonize them, it doesn’t condescend them, it really is anti-heroism.

I don’t want to be a benevolent hegemonist, or a protectionist, or a hero, but I do want to be generous with my life and my skills and my finances into the African situation. What are some useful ways I can do that?

I think that what people need to reconsider, is giving their lives through relating to people as a priority. We live in a globalizing world that allows for being known and knowing people. This is critical for cultivating a global eternal perspective. When you are relational and interdependent, you know who is credibly doing holistic work with measured impact and that’s where your financial resources should go. When a man or woman who has experienced the love of God decides to be present with other people, there is nothing as generous as that and I think the western world needs to understand this. I am so floored by some Christians in the West who think that the best thing to give are finances or material stuff I mean, oh my foot! As if Jesus could have flashed us with money, sent us a trillion dollars and not died on the cross! Giving ourselves is primary. Giving resources is secondary.

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6 reasons young adults are leaving church

From “Church” section

Churches need to understand what they are doing wrong in order to stop more young Christian adults from leaving the Church.

This was the appeal made by Doug Devor, the Director of Christian Education at Second Presbyterian Church, in his guest post on the Newark Advocate.

In his article, the pastor outlined what he thought were the six main problems of the Church in dealing with the younger members of the flock.

Devor, who arrived at his conclusions after reading David Kinnaman’s book “You Lost Me,” said that most of the answers given by respondents to the question of why they are leaving the church pointed to the inflexible position of the church on certain issues.

“Their answers have nothing to do with them. It has to do with us. The data collected from these young adults shows that the reason they left is the church’s fault and not their own. The implication is that we are doing something wrong,” he said.

In his post, Devor said there was a need for the church to do away with exclusivity, and become more open minded, tolerant and accepting of the flock if its wants the faithful to stay within its folds.

The pastor also criticised what he perceived as the church’s overprotectiveness and suggested this was stifling young Christians into thinking that they are unable to be themselves and “take imaginative risks” when it comes to expressing their faith.

At times, the church shows a tendency to focus on the numbers attending its programmes rather than the depth of discipleship that the faithful experience as a result of these activities.

There is also the perception of church as anti-science.

“As the church we need to help foster the idea that science and faith are not incompatible,” Devor said.

Young Christians also sometimes feel like the church is repressive, according to the pastor.

“As the church we need to focus less on the rules that people should follow and more on the grace that Christ provides,” he said.

He suggested that the church give young people room to doubt and answer the hard questions about their faith on their own.

According to Devor, in order for the problem of declining youth attendance to be fixed, religious leaders like himself should fully understand and recognise the problems of those who are leaving the Church.

“Once we know what the problems are, we can ask for God to help us fix them,” he said.

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Former Wycliffe director fears most UK mission agencies will disappear by 2050

From “Church” section

Most UK Christian mission agencies will have to close by 2050, according to a senior practitioner and consultant.

In a blog post entitled Mission Agencies 2050, the former executive director of Wycliffe UK, Eddie Arthur, compared declining church attendance in the UK since 1970 with the sharp rise in the number of mission agencies coming into existence during the same period.

He concluded: “One might wish to argue with the exact figures, but the trends are clear; as church attendance declines, the number of mission agencies in the UK increases. There are more and more agencies seeking support from a shrinking constituency. This is not sustainable even in the short to mid-term, much less by 2050.”

He added: “It isn’t rocket science to suggest that the number of mission agencies based in the UK will decline precipitously over the next 35 years.”

Arthur suggested that too many agencies were trying to do the same sort of thing, that they should refocus on supporting indigenous Christians and that they should prepare for radical change.

He told Christian Today: “Western mission agencies have been incredibly successful and have helped the Church spread around the world. However, much of their raison d’etre is no longer there.

“Most agencies will go by 2050. The demographics are against us.”

He called for agencies to take a hard look at their futures, saying: “Many mission agencies should close. Lots of them do very similar things. Agencies do compete for resources - they all produce magazines and prayer guides. If two agencies don’t combine, they might both be lost whereas if they do combine they might survive.”

Arthur said agencies also needed to be prepared to re-focus their efforts where they were most needed: “We are currently seeing a huge amount of mission work in East Africa - where there are more Christians than there are in the UK - but who is going to the mega-cities of Asia?”

He acknowledged that change would be very painful, not least because of the personal emotional and financial investment many Christians made in supporting or working for mission organisations.

“The hardest thing in the Christian world is to stop doing something,” he said. “People give their lives to a cause and live sacrificially - they don’t have high salaries or company cars. To turn your back on that is very hard.”

Arthur said that the long-term future of agencies was not widely discussed in mission circles. “A big concern is that those who have a degree of influence and can give a lead are board members, and they don’t have time to grapple with the issue.”

Most agencies based purely in the UK would be very small-scale, he said, though large organisations whose work was primarily in relief and development and carried out a large proportion of their work with government funding might survive. However, he warned of the risk to their specifically Christian character. “The danger with large organisations is that in order to get government contracts they will need to play down their Christian element. This is a big risk. The current government has been supportive of their Christian ethos, but I don’t know whether this is a blip.”

Arthur’s research on the number of mission organisations started in the last 40 years was based on those affiliated to the Global Connections network, to which he is seconded from Wycliffe. However, he stressed that the rise was based on when the organisations were founded rather than a simple growth in the number affiliated to Global Connections.

In a previous blog post, Arthur warned of the risks to the UK Church posed by increasing secularisation and declining numbers. “While the Church won’t be actively persecuted by the state, many of the privileges that we take for granted today will have been stripped away,” he wrote. “‘Promotion of religion’ will no longer be accepted as a charitable objective and many churches and Christian charities will no longer benefit from gift-aid or other tax-exempt donation schemes.”

He also forecast that: “The decline in church numbers will place many Christian institutions at risk. It will simply not be possible for the current number of Christian charities, seminaries, colleges and mission agencies ... to continue.”

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