Book on ministry fails to gain traction

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Books aimed at helping congregations and ministries respond to the presence of diverse cultures in society, and churches, are always welcome. Changing Lanes, Crossing Cultures is written with that purpose in mind. As such, it takes the form of a training manual with six modules.

Under the title “The Why” are the first two modules: “The Unchanging Fuel” and “Changing Road Conditions.” Under “The What” is Module 3: “Changing Road Responses” and under “The How” are Modules 4 and 5, “Changing Driver Skills” and “Changing Road Management.” The book concludes with the section “The How and When,” with Module 6: “Changing the GPS.”

Besides the obvious driving analogy that initially appeals to this reviewer, some features stand out immediately. The first is its Australian context. This is understandable and appropriate, but it begs the question whether a book that aims to help so closely the church in a particular cultural context can be helpful to the church in other contexts. It is possible to write a manual with a broader application, which will be less useful locally. This book has chosen not to do that. The reader will therefore have to do a lot more work: e.g., providing statistical information for, say, Canada. This will defeat the purpose of its being a readily available training manual outside of Australia.

As to the stated purpose of its being a usable manual for congregations, it may present some difficulties. A typical module has multiple biblical references, theological teaching (the book is highly didactic) and discussion. Module 1, for instance, envisages a program consisting of: Prayer, Introduction, Biblical Motivation, Christlike Motivation, Demographic Motivation, Motivation to Combat Ungodly Obstacles, Motivation from Considering the Benefits, Summary and Questions. Whether the program is to take place in an evening, a Saturday or a weekend is unclear. It assumes a high degree of engagement and time commitment of Australian Christians. In my experience, the attention of Canadian Christians may not rise to that demand. Admittedly, I only know Anglicans in the diocese of Toronto.

Another point, not crucial but not insignificant either, is that the language and the whole ethos may be off-putting to readers of the Anglican Journal. It arose out of a particular brand of evangelicalism—and I do claim to be an Anglican evangelical, though some may disown me— which assumes that if you can “prove” something with a number of biblical texts, then the reader has no choice but to accept the action recommended. In Module 1, for example, after citing Genesis 11:1–9 (The Tower of Babel), Psalm 2:1–3 (Why do the people conspire together…) and Acts 14:14–16 (Mistaken identity for Paul and Barnabas), it concludes with a TRUTH: “given their sinful bias, people, in and of themselves, are incapable of behaving collectively to develop societies and cultures that honour God…”   The shortness of the quotations without context causes me to muse. It seems to ignore what others take for granted, that there is diversity in interpretation, and that even with an agreed interpretation, there may be different and equally legitimate responses. Also, that fewer texts studied in depth may be more influential than many simply glanced over. The sociological research is good, but could use more integration with biblical and theological insights.

The book may be of interest for those willing to work through the above obstacles to glean useful bits of information and insight. For a workbook for a church program to help it respond to diversity, which is a great idea, I believe there are other materials more appropriate—the work of the Rev. Eric Law, a Canadian comes to mind. Two of his best-known books are The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb and Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries.

 

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Bishop (ret.) Patrick Yu

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