Monday, September 18, 2017

Christendom, Scholarship and Kierkegaard

Image result for Kierkegaard a single lifeI just finished Stephen Backhouse’s Kierkegaard: A Single Life and enjoyed learning about the famous Danish philosopher’s thinking and influence.  Backhouse frames Kierkegaard in his context – one defined by Christendom.  While that is certainly very different from the setting we find ourselves in Mozambique (!) I thought this one section, in particular, was very insightful:  
“‘Christendom’ does not begin and end with the established church.  In short, the ‘established church’ might well be Christendom, but not all ‘Christendoms” are established churches.  Christendom is a way of being, thinking and feeling that has far more to do with the cultural appropriation of Christianity than it does with any specific legal agreement between church and state.  Christendom is what happens when people presume they are Christians as a matter of inherited tradition, as a matter of nationality, or because they agree with a number of common-sense propositions and Christianized moral guidelines.  Kierkegaard sees Christendom as a process by which groups adopt, absorb, and neuter Christianity into oblivion, all the while assuming they are still Christian.  Christendom is adept at shielding itself from its own source, for Christianity’s original documents offer a deeply challenge precisely to the form of civilized life that Christendom represents.” (Backhouse 172)
Kierkegaard himself puts it this way:
“The matter is quite simple.  The New Testament is very easy to understand. But we human beings are really a bunch of scheming swindlers; we pretend to be unable to understand it because we understand very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly at once. But in order to make it up to the New Testament a little, lest it become angry with us and find us all together wrong, we flatter it, tell it that it is so tremendously profound, so wonderfully beautiful, so unfathomably sublime, and all that, somewhat as a little child pretends cannot understand what has been commanded and then is cunning enough to flatter Papa. Therefore we humans pretend to be unable to understand the N. T.; we do not want to understand it. Here Christian scholarship has its place. Christian scholarship is the human race’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the N. T., to ensure that one can continue to be a Christian without letting the N.T. come too close… I open the N.T. and read: ‘If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come and follow me.’ Good God, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the pensioners, the whole race no less, would be almost beggars: we would be sunk if it were not for… scholarship.” (Backhouse 172-3 quoting from Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, 2872 (X3 A 34 n.d., 1850)
Ouch – for someone who has benefited from and finds much value in scholarship this last comment hits a little too close to home… but I can certainly appreciate that the temptation to let scholarship stand between us and the clarity of the biblical text is a real one.  A temptation that seems especially powerful for cultures shaped by Christendom.

Backhouse neatly summarizes Soren Kierkegaard’s position like this: “The Christianity of Christendom is not the Christianity of the New Testament.” (180)

I want to continue reflecting on what the connections between Christendom, Scholarship and Christianity mean for both our host culture in Mozambique and our home culture in the United States.

Grace and Peace,


Friday, September 8, 2017

New article in the International Journal of Frontier Missiology

It has been a pleasure to collaborate with Logan Thompson on a recent article for publication in IJFM!  

Logan and I look at how globalization and other significant cultural shifts mean that Christians who want to engage their world must possess greater competency in a variety of atonement explanations. The article highlights the influence of Athanasius (an early church father) and shows how recapitulation/theosis addresses the problem of shame/death and serves as a useful “path” for bringing the meaning of the work of Christ into both the Makua-Metto culture of Mozambique and American youth culture.

Here's the link if you are interested in checking it out:
From Mozambique to Millennials: Shame, Frontier Peoples, and the Search for Open Atonement Paths in International Journal of Frontier Missiology vol. 33, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 2016)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Christ our new Captain

Years ago, when we were first beginning to get to know this part of Mozambique and making our initial visits to different villages, I had two very different experiences.  When we arrived in one village, it seemed to be extremely disorganized and partially abandoned. Many of those that we met who had chosen to remain and live there were ill.   It was depressing and everyone with me seemed to notice a heaviness in the air.  We stopped and sat for a while, visiting with an older man and I asked him why things were like this in the village.  He replied by saying that the chief (leader) of that village was a bad person and doing a poor job.  So, of course, this gentleman noted, “his children,” the people of the village, would suffer.

In contrast to that gloomy visit, I remember another initial village experience where it seemed that everyone we encountered was healthy and happy – there was a palpable vitality in the air.  Villagers in that location gave credit to their leadership and spoke of how having a good chief set the tone for everyone who lived there.

This comparison between two chiefs, two village heads, has been a helpful way for me to talk about the contrast between Adam and Christ.  In Genesis 1 and 2, we see God placing the first human beings in their beautiful garden home.  God gives Adam authority over the garden – Adam even gets to name the animals!  But this sweet paradise quickly turns sour as Adam and Eve fail to follow God’s instruction and give in to temptation (even though they were told this disobedience would end in death).  When confronted about his action, Adam offers a lame excuse (“that woman YOU gave me… she did it… she gave the fruit to me!”) and a leafy outfit in an ineffective attempt to cover his shame. 

So, Adam, our chief, our leader, our captain… is a failure.

And as residents in Adam’s village we suffer the shame and pain of aligning ourselves with Sin, Satan and Death.  Interestingly, the most commonly used word in Makua-Metto for human beings is “Asana Pinattamu” (literally- “Children of Adam”) And as Adam’s children, we are subject to his leadership.  Even Jesus, surprisingly, submits to that status.  The title that Christ most often used to refer to himself was “Son of Man.”  In Makua-Metto that is “Mwanawe Pinattamu” – Child of Adam.  Jesus willingly becomes one of us and joins us in this village of death and despair.

But, thankfully there is more to the story.  The Fall does not ultimately define us.  With the Resurrection, God through Christ is putting the world under new management.  There is a new boss, a new head of creation (Eph. 1:10).
As the apostle Paul explains, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:20-22 NIV)

Joshua Ryan Butler puts it this way:
Jesus “is becoming the ‘new head’ of humanity.  The early church had a fancy Greek word for this: recapitulation, which comes from re- (‘new’) and capito- (‘head’).  Our English word captain comes from the same root capito – a captain is the ‘head,’ or authority, of a ship.  Jesus is being established as the captain of creation. And his goal is to right the ship.  Think of earth as a sinking ship.  God placed Adam at the helm, and he steered it into the rocks.  So God made Israel the new captain to set the ship aright, and they kept ramming it into the rubble as well.  And this isn’t only Adam and Israel; this is us. We’ve torn the ship of creation asunder: holes have burst through the sides; water’s flooding in; we’re heading toward the rocks and a watery grave.  We’ve sought to rule the earth without God, to live our lives independent of our Maker, to sever creation from Creator, and in so doing we’ve dragged creation back down into the watery abyss from which it came.  So God finally says, All right! I’ll take care of it myself. The Father sends his Son to take the helm and, in the power of their Spirit, they’re out together to set creation straight.  In Jesus, God is righting the ship: filling the holes, emptying the water, and steering it clear from the rocks.  Through Christ’s righteousness, God is rebuilding what our rebellion had destroyed.  The Captain is setting the vessel back on course.  And Jesus steers us toward a destination greater than the port from which we embarked.  Rather than simply return things to their original state, creation will be glorified through the indwelling presence of its Creator; humanity will be healed in union with God. The ship of life, with our great Captain at the helm is headed toward paradise – with us on deck. Captain and crew. God with us.” (The Pursuing God, 19-20)  
So, while Adam was our old chief and captain, Jesus is now the new head of humanity. 

We now have a leader worth following and one who has proven faithful to lead us through the shame of death safely to the other side.  He is our King – our Captain.

As I’ve been reflecting on this idea of Christ as Captain, I’ve been surprised to see echoes of it pop up in surprising places.  Recently, Rachel and I were watching one the Captain America movies and at one point a character asks Sam Wilson what he would do next.  Without hesitation, he pointed to Captain America and said, “I do what he does – just slower.”

Certainly, the Church has an infinitely better Captain (!), but I’ve been reflecting on how that response is a beautiful way to think about Christian discipleship.  When the world asks how we will live, we point to our Captain, the Christ, and say, “We do what he does –  just slower.”

The classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress” has brought me a lot of strength and encouragement over the past year.  So I decided to try my hand at writing a new verse that would incorporate this idea of Christ as our new Captain.  Here it goes…
A Mighty Fortress (new verse by Alan Howell)
Our Captain, Adam, did us fail, and wrecked us on the rocky shore.
We were all lost, and doomed to die, without someone to go before.
But Christ our Captain new, stands firmly at the helm. 
He set the ship aright, and he will guide us through, we will arrive at his fair home.
May we be a people who follow our new Captain and King all the way!

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Three Days of Ministry

I had a visit today with a local church leader whose had some tough experiences lately.  His wife has been sick for many years, though, thankfully she is feeling more and more like herself.  There’s a church leader that he’s been discipling who had shown a lot of promise but is currently having problems with his family.  We commiserated, laughed and prayed together – it was encouraging.

I always enjoy talking with this friend because he’s been in ministry long enough now that the ebbs and flows of church life don’t seem to rock his boat.  He seems able to keep a good perspective on things whether he’s in the highs or the lows.

This past Easter weekend I was thinking about a formative conversation that Rachel and I had years ago about a theory of “three days of ministry.”  (I checked with her and she can’t remember if we got this from someone else or came up with it together in conversation – so if I’m stealing… ahem, I mean, borrowing… your idea - so sorry).

Now while “three days of ministry” could sound like a short-term mission trip to an exotic location or an exciting conference at a packed stadium, actually it’s a typology that’s been helpful in my life to frame the different kinds of experiences (or days) that one encounters in service to God. 

The original “three days of ministry” that I’m referring to are the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Holy Week.  Good Friday was the day of Jesus’ suffering and death.  Saturday was the day of silence where he was in the tomb. But Easter Sunday was when Jesus burst through in glory and was revealed as our Resurrected Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was capped off by these three pivotal days. And if we spent some time reflecting on his three years of earthly ministry, we could use this Friday-Saturday-Sunday typology to categorize his ministry experiences in this way.  Christ’s earthly ministry was marked by times of suffering, silence and splendor.    

That typology fits with Christ’s ministry as well as the three days in a missionary's life (really any minister’s life).  “Fridays” are the times of suffering when everything seems to be going against you and you may experience abandonment.  “Saturdays” are when nothing seems to be happening - it’s a time of waiting and watching and being faithful.  But “Sundays” are when God’s resurrection power is on display, things are happening, lives are being dramatically changed and everything seems to be clicking. 
Missionaries need to be prepared to handle all three of these days.  In the chart below I show what I think are the questions and temptations that go with our experience of these three ministry days.
Appropriate Question(s)
“Why is this happening? What can I learn from it?”
Despair – “God has abandoned me! I’m all alone!”
“What is happening under the surface?”
Give up - “This is pointless, why should I persevere?”
“Praise God! How can I glorify God in this?”
Pride – “These good things are happening because of me – they are to my credit!”

One thing that I’ve noticed over the last 14 years living cross-culturally is that it seems that there are a lot more “Saturdays” in ministry than “Fridays” or “Sundays”!  The “Fridays” of deep suffering are thankfully rare, while the “Sundays” of splendor are painfully rare, but we’ve been incredibly aware of how so, so, so, many “Saturdays” there are.  While the temptations of despair and pride have certainly been present, the real challenge is holding on to perseverance.  Maybe that’s why, as Frank Viola notes, “at the top of Paul’s list of apostolic qualifications is the hallmark of spiritual power: perseverance” (2009, 166).

I hope this “three days of ministry” typology is helpful to you.  It has been a blessing to me and helped me interpret my own story here in Mozambique through the lens of Christ’s story.

May we be ministers who hold fast to God through all the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of ministry!   May we develop Christian servants among the Makua-Metto who faithfully and gracefully encounter every experience of suffering, silence and splendor!

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Newsletter April 2017

Greetings from South Africa!  Alan and I made a surprise trip to Johannesburg so he could have hernia surgery – though when we got on the plane we still weren’t sure what was wrong.  He had begun to experience increasing pain several weeks before, but the symptoms were confusing and his hernias couldn’t be officially diagnosed without an ultrasound, which we don’t have in our area, so eventually we were recommended to make the trip down to South Africa.  We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and care from so many people; our teammates have been caring for our girls, so many friends and family stateside have been praying for us and have helped out financially, and our physician friend Dr. Christine Fynes-Clinton and surgeon Dr. Hennie Loots and their staffs here have been amazing – making appointments for us before we even arrived, and working us into their operating schedule with just 24 hours’ notice.  We landed in Johannesburg about 6pm on a Friday night, and by noon the next day we had labs, an ultrasound, and a diagnosis.  And by 830am Monday morning we were on the surgery schedule for Tuesday afternoon.  Alan is now one week out from surgery; the first few days were pretty painful, but now his pain has turned to soreness and is less frequent and he seems much more like himself.  We have tickets for flights home tomorrow, and we can’t wait to hold our girls – we really miss them A LOT!  We are so grateful to have been taken care of by so many people!   

Over the last few months we’ve visited congregations all over the province and it seems like almost every week there are more baptisms.  We praise God for all this growth in the churches, and we pray for depth of maturity and long-term transformation for all these folks who have publicly declared that first step of allegiance to the Kingdom Jesus invites us into.  It has been beautiful in church leadership meetings to hear the Makua-Metto deacons recognize the real responsibility of discipling these young Christians.  

Another big topic that the churches are addressing now is their church registration status, especially with regard to conflicts in the past.  We will say more about this once the details are in place, but this is an important step in solidifying their legal status.  Please pray that they will be able to get all the documentation that they need.  

Over the past few months we have been ramping up plans for this year’s Theology School; “Instituto Teolรณgico de Cabo Delgado” in Portuguese).  Last year, our initial experiment went very well and churches expressed interest in sending students again, and this year our team will offer 15 classes – most courses will be taught in Montepuez, but a few of them will be offered in different districts.  Alan will be teaching classes on the New Testament, Preaching and a class on “The Giants” (the big issues in Makua-Metto culture that hinder the growth of the Kingdom of God), and I will be teaching a Church History course.  We are excited to see how offering more advanced training will bless the church at this stage. 


In order to get ready for the Theology School and other activities on our land in Montepuez, these last few months have been another season of team construction.  Jeremy Smith has taken the lead on the building projects, the first of which was a wall around the property with proper gates to aid with security (this just finished last week!).  While Jeremy organized the construction work, Alan was responsible for the kitchen (feeding the 10-25 masons and laborers lunch each day) as well as making sure there was enough water for all the cement mixing.  Now that the wall is done, we will begin construction of two buildings for the Theology School (a classroom/dormitory building and a kitchen/dining area).  Special thanks to Jeremy for working so hard on all of this!

The beginning of the year is the rainy season in northern Mozambique and that means that many of our friends are out in the farms growing the crops that their family will eat throughout the year.  That gives more flexibility in our schedule changes and opened up time this year for curriculum development and construction as well as a chance to connect with other missionaries.  In February, Alan, Chad and Jeremy went to Kenya to participate in a men’s missionary retreat; it was great for them to meet with others serving in Africa and share ideas about ministry.  Then, in March, the ladies on the team (and other fellow missionaries from Cabo Delgado) went to a “Come Before Winter” renewal retreat in Namibia.  I was deeply encouraged by my time with the women there (check out their website here). 


Our girls are fabulous (though we know we’re biased!).  We have really missed the girls while we have been in South Africa – it is great to see them on Skype BUT it makes us miss them even more!!!  They are so sweet and kind - all three of them were a big help while Alan was sick and I was in Namibia.  Abby is now officially taller than me and she loves coming to stand beside me to prove it!  Ellie seems to be on the verge of a growth spurt (she lost five teeth within the span of just a couple of weeks!), and Katie is still our snuggle-bug.  It is hard to believe how big they are getting – we are aching to see them tomorrow!

Thanks for checking out what is happening in our part of the world.  We appreciate all the encouragement and support!   

Please pray with us:

  • For depth of transformation for leaders
  • for the churches to disciple new believers and for resolution to the issues surrounding the church’s registration/documentation
  • for a great year for the Theology school
  • for continued healing for Alan

Peace to you,

Rachel and Alan

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Story Warren - Sir Raleigh, Storytelling, and the Sea

"A wonderful painting hangs on the wall of my office. This gift from my lovely wife is a reproduction of Millais’ The Boyhood of Raleigh, and I hope it continues working its way into my heart and imagination.

James K. A. Smith summarizes well the story behind this painting (2016, 92):
'Sir Walter Raleigh, you might recall, was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s intrepid explorers. He established some of the first British colonies in what is now North Carolina. But he also twice set sail in search of the elusive El Dorado. In the painting, Millais imagines just what creates such an adventurer and explorer. His hypothesis? A good storyteller. Raleigh and a young friend sit entranced by a wizened old sailor who is pointing to an immense sea, captivating them with tales of what lies on the other side. The story, on Millais’ interpretation, gives birth to a longing that will govern and direct all of Raleigh’s life.'

As I’ve considered this inspiring work of art, two observations have jumped off the canvas and doggedly refused to leave me alone!"

To read more, please check out the Story Warren post Sir Raleigh, Storytelling, and the Sea.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

There is a Season: Discerning the Rhythms of Mission Work

Before we moved to Mozambique, I served as an intern in a campus ministry at the University of Memphis.  I was in grad school and it was a blessing to get to serve in ministry at the same time under Tim Stafford.  One thing he said that has stuck with me and shaped the way I approach our work even today had to do with appreciating the seasons in campus ministry.  Tim believed that by going with the grain of the school calendar, the campus ministry could encounter students where they were instead of merely where we wanted them to be.  So, we organized our efforts this way: the Fall semester was for evangelism, the Spring semester was for discipleship, and the Summer was for mission.  Makes sense, right?

That way of thinking gave me more appreciation for the way seasons shape the life and ministry of the church.  In Mozambique we have one rainy season where everyone is busy in their farms. If we plan a lot of activities for that time period, we are setting ourselves up for failure – people have to be out in their fields a lot because monkeys and elephants in the bush that will eat their crops!  So, our team tries to fit our ministry with the ebb and flow of life.  Right now it’s the rainy season and we don’t travel as much.  Besides an increased danger of getting our vehicles stuck in the mud (!), we realize that people just aren’t as available.  While we still keep worshiping with the churches and having some scheduled meetings, our team is mostly using this year’s rainy season for construction (building a wall on our property) and for curriculum development and translation.  After the busyness of the farming season (Jan-Apr) is over, we enter a time of evangelism and equipping (May-Dec).

This dynamic is often hard to appreciate for short term workers who have come to Mozambique.  They arrive in Africa and expect big things to happen conveniently during their own short stay.  But what they may not grasp is that they may have come at an inconvenient time.  Western culture is no longer an agrarian society, so we may not naturally think in seasons much anymore.  But this forgetfulness is not only a western phenomenon - we know Mozambican church leaders who forget this dynamic and have caused frustration and discouragement.  Just as there is a proper time to plant and sow in the agrarian calendar, we need to be keen observers of the field God has placed us in to work with the church to discern the activities in their proper season.

Getting in Rhythm with the Rhythm

Bruce Miller’s helpful book Your Church in Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimension of Seasons and Cycles has been a blessing to me as I’ve wrestled with this dynamic in Mozambique.  Honestly, I sometimes feel frustrated at the changes in activity level that happen during different times of the year.  Miller’s counsel has been helpful:
“The Bible calls us to both Sabbath rest and sacrificial service.  God’s people are to stop working at times, and we are to work sacrificially at other times.  We are to set aside time to rest and we are to take risks for God.  We are called to be, at times, both Mary and Martha (see Luke 10:38-42).  We sit at Jesus’ feet to learn and we exercise hospitality by “washing feet” to serve (John 13).  The point is not that rest and work are to be kept in balance, but that they are to be in rhythm over time.  Churches are to fast and to feast, but not at the same time!” (p. 142)
“Consider creating an ‘oscillation graph’ for your yearly cycle.  For each month, circle the number that indicates the level of intensity or renewal from a zero point of average energy expenditure and renewal to a high point of five in either direction with intensity at the top and renewal at the bottom.  When do you most intensely expend energy and when are you most fully renewing?” (p. 148)
“There are times to lead your church full blast and times to drink deeply from the water of life to renew strength for the next battle. Oscillate intensity and renewal in each cycle so you yield a large harvest year after year without wearing out before your time is done.” (p. 160)
While some argue for finding balance in ministry.  Miller argues that balance is not the goal. He says,
“The concept of balance is flawed because balance happens in a frozen moment. Yet you cannot pause life to weigh its balance. Your ministry never stops; it is always moving and changing.  There is no DVR remote that will pause church.” (loc. 347) Instead we should try to discern the proper rhythms. “If you ignore rhythm, you can hurt your church by wasting resources on concerns that don’t fit this time in your church’s life. For instance, if you’re a church planter in the early days it’s not the time to develop policy manuals or refined processes.  Much stress and guilt often come from attempting ministry that does not belong in this stage or season. In contrast, if we employ rhythm strategies, we can materially improve the quality of our ministry by releasing pressure and increasing focus.  Churches that seize unique opportunities in a particular ministry rhythm find they increase their impact by focusing on what is timely.” (loc. 301)
Discerning the Rhythms

Once we have accepted the fact that we need to be in rhythm with the seasonal rhythm, we need to begin to appreciate the bigger picture.  Not only are there seasonal rhythms, there are also other stages or cycles at work in the life of God’s people that effect ministry. “Whereas stages are longer periods in the life span of an organization, seasons are shorter periods lasting a few months to a few years.  Churches live through both organizational life stages and ministry seasons.  For example, a stage might be the early years of planting a church; a season could be a capital campaign.  You will learn to recognize what time it is in your church, and then identify your own stages and seasons.” (loc. 422)

Miller uses two Greek words for time to help us understand what is happening.
“One way to understand the difference between kairos and chronos is to contrast the rhythms of the sea with the rhythms of the sky.  The ocean has patterned but unpredictable, noncyclical rhythms to it.  Sometimes the sea is calm; at other times waves crash onto the beach.  Even with all our modern technology, we still cannot fully predict the sea’s rhythm.  We can be surprised by a tsunami that destroys a coastline or by a wave that knocks us off our feet while we’re wading in the surf.  The sky is different; it has a rhythm to it.  The planets and stars move in cyclical, predictable patterns.  We can look to the sun to know what time of day it is.  The moon tells us what time of the month it is. The lengths of days and nights, tied to the tilt of the earth in relation to the sun, tell us what season it is.  The stars tell us the time of year. We live rhythmically by both following the sky’s patterns, which form our chronos rhythm (cycles), and by riding the sea waves of our Kairos rhythms (seasons).” (p. 20)
I would add that beyond the rhythms of sky (seasons) and sea (church stages), there is also a third dynamic at play.  We need to appreciate what time it is in the life of the sailor/missionary.  The stage that the minister is in will also effect the seafaring as he or she discerns the appropriate place on the boat and how to be appropriately active in raising the sail or allowing other sailors (maybe some that are still learning their craft) to take the lead.  Appreciating all three dimensions, or times, can help us move forward effectively. 

We could switch metaphors here and think about the three hands on a watch. The “hour hand” stands for the time or stage in the life of the church, the “minute hand” is the season of life of the missionary, and the “second hand” is the season of the year currently.

Here are a few questions for missionaries to think through with local ministry partners in order to help accurately “tell time”:
  • Sea / “Hour Hand” - What stage is the church in?
    • What events in the past are currently shaping this community?
    • What potential events are on the horizon for this community?
  • Sailor / “Minute Hand” - What season is the missionary in?
    • What tasks are the minister physically and spiritually prepared for?
    • Are their potential personal transitions that should effect the way ministry tasks should be engaged at this time?
  • Sky / “Second Hand - Are their seasonal factors that inhibit or enhance ministry possibilities?
    • When would people here be most receptive to hearing the gospel? or participate in ministry training?
    • How are people available?  Are there certain times of the day or night that they would be more receptive?
    • Are there parts of the liturgical year that make people more receptive? For example, because of some of the historic Catholic influences in one of the areas we work, people may be more interested in joining the church around Easter…

As an aside, I want to note that Miller makes some great observations about the importance of liturgical rhythms:
“Liturgical Christians have long benefited from an annual rhythm built into the church year.  Whether they use these terms or celebrate on the same day with the same ritual, all Christian traditions recognize Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.  In her wonderful book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year (2008), Kimberlee Conway Ireton contrasts the value of following the church year with our American cultural calendar: ‘Observing the seasons of the church year also helps us embrace the church’s telling of time instead of our culture’s. Our culture’s calendar is grounded in capitalism, which requires consumption.  Back-to-school sales, day-after-Thanksgiving sales, the Christmas shopping season, after-Christmas sales, Valentine’s Day… The church year, on the other hand, is grounded in the story of Christ, which is the foundational story of our lives as Christians.  It tells the story of our faith-the grand and sweeping story of the God who came to live among us as one of us. (pp. 13-14)” (p. 130).
Serving in ministry cross-culturally means that we need to be even more sensitive to the ways that seasons and stages affect the life of the church.  That will happen best in conversation with local partners to understand how best to bless and serve the people of God.

May the God who has our times in his hands (Psalm 31:15) help us to “tell time” well as we minister and work for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom!

Grace and Peace,