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Fritz Kling has spent the past decade in the heart of the global Church, traveling through villages and cities in every corner of the world. In preparation to writing The Meeting of the Waters, Kling spent a year conducting one hour interviews with more than 150 Christian leaders from 19 developing countries. As a foundation executive, he has worked alongside both high-level leaders and grass-roots workers and has an insider’s story to tell. Fritz and his family live in Richmond, VA.
Visit the author's website.
The Meeting of the Waters, by Fritz Kling from David C. Cook on Vimeo.
List Price: $16.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
All Bets Are Off
“The expectations are unreasonable! I am but one small pastor in a tiny church in Africa, but the challenges are getting greater and greater!” the Kenyan pastor vented during a tea break at a leadership conference in East Africa.
As a pastor’s kid, I thought I recognized those post-sermon insecurities and doubts. They had been my father’s constant carp. Today, friends of mine who are pastors admit to being tormented by the very same gremlins. But this was not a case of my father’s sermon angst.
“You see,” the pastor continued, “what has happened is that quite a few of my parishioners have told me that they prefer the sermons of the televangelist whom they watch on TV before church every Sunday. Perhaps you have heard of the fellow, he’s an American … T. D. Jakes?”
“Oh my,” I said. Of course I knew of Jakes, who graced the cover of Time magazine in 2001 with the title “Is This Man the Next Billy Graham?” Jakes is a Dallas-based, African-American pastor who draws 30,000 worshipers to his church, has written several best-seller books, is
pastor to the Dallas Cowboys and other celebrities, and runs anti-poverty programs in both Dallas and Kenya. He preached at a private church service for President-elect Obama on the morning of his inauguration and has prayed with the President on numerous phone calls.
That Kenyan pastor, who lacked formal training, a library, an assistant, or compensation, had pushed himself to work harder and harder to deliver sermons that were biblically truthful and culturally relevant. Suddenly, though, he found himself in a classic twenty-first-century bind. He was a Kenyan ministering to Kenyans in Kenya, but he had been unwittingly thrust into a global, cross-cultural dilemma. He had not gone to another country as a missionary. Rather, another country (America, in this case) had come into his church—and his church would never be the same. America was not the problem: His parishioners could just as easily tune in to televised preachers from South Korea, Australia, or Germany.
The challenge facing the pastor was that global media seamlessly and invisibly infiltrated his Kenyan culture. Further, I believe that this “cultural creep” is not the exception, but rather the rule in most countries around the world.
As I met more leaders like my Kenyan friend, I grew increasingly curious to know just which trends were on the loose, in which countries, and what changes they were causing. The answers were important to me as a foundation executive, as I directed grants around the world, but I felt that something much bigger was also at stake: whether the global church could unlearn old irrelevancies and learn new realities as it steered into the next era.
A mission scholar said, “If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America … that’s where the action is.” So, my colleagues and I decided to do just that.
Between June 2006 and June 2007, we conducted 151 one-hour interviews with church leaders in nineteen countries. We called it the Global Church Listening Tour.
We interviewed indigenous seminarians, pastors, missionaries, and laypeople. We met them in churches, offices, schools, restaurants, tea shops, hotel rooms, trains, planes, cars, and boats throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We asked all interviewees the following fifteen questions and transcribed their answers—about the state of the indigenous church in their country; the impact and effectiveness of Western missionaries and aid workers in their country; and the ways in which globalization is affecting local ministry in their country.
• With which denomination or church are you most closely affiliated?
• What are the three most urgent needs of the church in your country?
• What is the state of the church in your country?
• What are your dreams for the church in your country?
• What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of people in your country, not just Christians?
• Which of the following are appropriate ways for the Western church to support the church in
your country: short-term missions? Money? Evangelism? Church planting? Leadership
development? Humanitarian aid?
• Describe the good and bad effects of missionaries in your country.
• Which country has sent the most missionaries to your country?
• What would you wish for foreign missionaries to know about your culture and society?
• As an American, I am curious to know what you think are the best and worst personal
characteristics of American missionaries.
• Has the nature of relationships between foreign missionaries and local Christians changed in
the past ten years?
• How are younger Christians different than their parents, and do they practice their faith
• How has your country changed, for better or worse, in terms of culture, economics, politics,
and religion because of other countries’ influence?
• Are there ministry approaches that are no longer as effective as they used to be because of
• Which countries have affected your country the most?
In conducting the Listening Tour, my colleagues and I consistently met with a telling response—surprise that Americans would travel to poorer countries, ask questions, and listen. An American foundation with large amounts of money seeking the insights of indigenous church leaders in the
developing world? At first, this caused suspicion, but ultimately it spread profound encouragement.
Deeply appreciative of being asked, the survey participants were remarkably forthcoming and thoughtful. I felt honored as they shared with me their indigenous perspectives, reminding me of long-simmering issues and also opening my eyes to new on-the-ground realities.
As the Listening Tour data came in, seven prevalent trends began to emerge. These 7 Global Currents flow invisibly and powerfully, under and around the global church. As identified in the Listening Tour, they are:
1. Mercy: Social justice has become a global imperative, especially among youth and young adults. For Christians, this will lead to an increasing emphasis on meeting physical needs in addition to continuing the long-standing emphasis on evangelism.
2. Mutuality: Leaders from traditionally poor countries increasingly have education, access, technology, and growing economies … and they will demand to be heard. Global church leaders from traditionally powerful countries will need to account for these new perspectives and voices.
3. Migration: Relocation among nations and regions is on the rise and will be rampant—especially to cities—whether for jobs, war, schooling, tourism, or politics. All future Christian outreaches will need to adapt their message for radically diverse audiences.
4. Monoculture: The cultures of all countries will become more and more similar, thanks to the spread of worldwide images, ideals, celebrities, and ad campaigns. Christians seeking to communicate with global neighbors will need to be aware that marketing from outside their borders now shapes many of their deepest values.
5. Machines: Cell phones, GPS, television, and the Internet are transforming lifestyles worldwide. The future global church must recognize how newfound abilities to communicate, travel, and consume are changing individuals’ lives and values, too.
6. Mediation: While there is much talk of the world’s flattening, partisan rifts are actually proliferating. Splinter groups now have more communication avenues for inciting discord and attracting sympathizers than ever, and the global church must find a mediating role amid increasing polarization of all kinds.
7. Memory: Even as globalization reshapes the world, every nation and region has distinct histories that have profoundly shaped their society. Visitors must understand how yesterday affects today, in ways potentially undermining because they are invisible and unstated.
These Currents do not respect national or ethnic boundaries. Their invisibility makes them doubly potent, because they are relentless and dominant—but often overlooked. These Currents will powerfully alter the global church’s future direction—for good or evil—depending on how
quickly and wisely the church reacts.
My job as executive director of a private foundation has afforded me an enviable string of private tutoring sessions from great leaders in the global church. One day I might meet with a publisher from Moscow, the next day a politician from Sierra Leone, and then a substance-abuse counselor from Mexico, a summer camp director from Romania, a seminary president from Egypt, a researcher from China, and a church planter from Ghana. I have also met American ministry greats: the urban ministry leader from Pasadena, the megachurch pastor from Manhattan, the substance-abuse counselor from Richmond, and the missions expert from Berkeley. It has all been part of the job.
My tutors come from more than one hundred nations, and not just the powerful ones. Although incredibly diverse, these men and women are consistent in how they describe their societies back home as modernizing and changing, rendering old stereotypes counterproductive. They do not characterize any single Global Current as totally negative or positive, but recognize that each of them could be harnessed for good or ill. The Currents are reliable tools for those who would help lead the global church into a bold and relevant future—to skate to where the puck is going to be.
I have been asked why today’s followers of Christ—in New Delhi or Lima or Sydney—should care about the 7 Global Currents. My best answer is that the Currents will help people to reconcile their faith with their world—to connect Sundays with the rest of the week and provide a perspective on religion’s centrality in the world today. The church’s mission is to represent Jesus Christ to the people of the world, and I believe that the Currents will help the church understand what those people are like and how they are changing.
The practice of watching the changing world and constantly adjusting approaches accordingly is second nature in so many fields, but not in the worldwide Christian church. Mission practitioners and scholars have traditionally focused on specific people, cultures, or countries—a noble undertaking as missionaries engaged with distant, remote locations that had seen few outsiders and where there was little or no written record.
But global church leaders today can no longer merely be specialists; they must also be generalists. In an age when trends spread “virally,” significant events in the military, academic, media, economic, marketing, and financial worlds have profound impact on the global church’s efforts. One global church scholar notes that “there used to be a global community of binary culture brokers: people who understood American culture and Singaporean culture from extensive, direct experience. Now there is an expanding global community of global culture brokers: people who understand many cultures from extensive, direct experience.” In the future,
global church experts and practitioners must learn to navigate the 7 Global Currents in our all-bets-are-off world.
Just what do I mean by an all-bets-are-off world? Even in the most provincial or remote venue, global forces are now at play. Nothing seems to remain the same from year to year, week to week. Change is the norm. Once again, rivers provide a helpful metaphor. In a classic passage, American author Mark Twain describes the harrowing task of piloting riverboats on the Mississippi River over the course of days, seasons, and years when seemingly nothing remains the same. As I reflected on the challenge of adjusting to changing mission environments in the globalizing world, I thought back to Twain’s wonderful description:
One cannot easily realize what a tremendous thing it is to know every detail of twelve hundred miles of river and know it with absolute exactness. If you will take the longest street in New York, and travel up and down it, conning its features patiently until you know every house and window and lamppost and big and little sign by heart … [a]nd then, if you will go on until you know every street–crossing, the character, size, and position of the crossing-stones.… Next, if you will take half of the signs in that long street, and change their places once a month, and still manage to know their new positions accurately on dark nights, and keep up with these repeated changes without making any mistakes, you will understand what is required of a pilot’s peerless memory by the fickle Mississippi.
That is the kind of environment in which the Christian church finds itself today. Global trends and tools are being unleashed in one part of the globe and immediately transforming local environments half a world away—from Dallas to Nairobi and back again. As unfair or difficult as it may be, my Kenyan friend must now consider and harness the influence of television broadcasting and other forms of media from countries all around the world. No longer may he merely remove himself to a quiet place, immerse himself in the Bible, and emerge with a word for his flock. Now, he must also take into account what is happening around the world—
including T. D. Jakes’ latest sermon playing every Sunday before church. And Jakes, too, as his parishioners grow more eager to serve the needs of others around the globe, must stay tuned to the cries of people as far away from Dallas as Kenya and Kampala and Kabul.
Thomas Friedman writes, “Today, more than ever, the traditional boundaries between politics, culture, technology, finance, national security, and ecology are disappearing. You often cannot explain one without referring to the others, and you cannot explain the whole without reference to them all.” This practice, which Friedman calls “information arbitrage,” is just what the global church needs today, and the 7 Global Currents are just the right tool.
But take heart. The task is an interesting one—quite fun, actually. The happy result will be that the global church’s efforts will be built upon a current, relevant, and indigenous base. For Christians seeking to be faithful and relevant in the changing world, the 7 Currents offer new ways to pray, think, give, send, and go. Most strategically, the Currents provide a starter kit for a new generation of globally minded Christians who want to see God’s kingdom come—in brothels and barrios, in statehouses and criminal courts, in movie theaters and boardrooms, and in rain forests and greenbelts.
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Meeting of the Waters by Fritz Kling. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.