Church Now Conversations
with Soong-Chan Rah
Dr. Rah draws from his book about lament. The reality of living in troubled times is very real right now. It’s unprecedented. In history, we see that crises happen in every decade. This is the first time that he knows that so many crises happened in one year. We don’t even know the impact of the financial crisis yet; we haven’t talked about the impact of all the businesses that have closed since we are in the middle of a pandemic.
How are we dealing with this? Dr. Rah has felt “hollowed out and rubbed down to a nub”. Like someone has taken an ice cream scooper and scooped out all of his resolve/strength/and hope. In the process, he has felt rubbed down--like a pencil with an eraser that has been used so much that the eraser is gone and just the metal rim is left.
What do we do? And where do we go? He doesn’t think our call to ministry has been revoked because of how we feel.
Lament is the appropriate spiritual response to the pain and suffering in our world. (He draws from Jeremiah & Lamentations) Lamentations 1 gives a social reality: a once great city has been torn down and sent into exile. There are 3 potential responses:
- run away and hide- God says even in the most evil places, you are still my people. We can run away and hide or we can ask what God’s will is during this time. Might we look back at 2020 and see that it was a large evangelistic fumble? Will there have been a missed opportunity for the gospel? When people are lonely/isolated/looking for community, they are open to new ways of doing community.
- give up and give in- We are not allowed to give up. We still need to seek God’s face.
- lament (YHWH’s sovereignty)
What if we could look back in evangelical history and that 2020 would be characterized, not by evangelical voices screaming loudly or yelling to gain favor, but by the church shutting up and listening to the poor/disenfranchised and speaking on their behalf?
Leaders have 3 roles:
Prophet, priest (pastoral care), and king (CEO/senior pastor)
This crisis moment needs some kingly management, but we are really at a moment where the priestly and prophetic roles are needed. We need to care for those that are hurting, but we also need to tell the church that this is not where we need to be. If we can do both, 2021 could look a lot different.
Q & A:
Q: How do we shape people to live out shalom in the midst of the unrest going on? It feels like we haven’t shaped people that are ready for crisis.
A: In method acting, actors have embodied the character so much that the reflex is to operate out of that character. We have embedded values and character that are more social than they are Biblical. He is seeing more entitlement than compassion. This is from decades long discipleship. It did not happen overnight. To change this can be a challenge at first. It needs to be practiced and get a community together to practice it and do it well. How do we practice compassion in the church? Need to practice it on a consistent basis and do it as community. We definitely have more opportunities to practice compassion, justice, caring for the least of these. This crisis has given us those opportunities.
Q: Is part of the reason that we built ourselves on kingly leadership, because we elevated leadership and decreased followership?
A: Many churches have been successful in the kingly leadership areas, but there has been something behind the scenes going on. We need to examine Christian leadership. We’ve got to think in more balanced terms of what leadership looks like. And maybe redefine the word leadership. The way we’ve co-opted leadership from the Bible doesn’t always make sense to him. Lament helps examine what has gone on and confess that we’ve messed up.
Q: How does a leader lead their congregation into a space of lament when they’ve been about kingly victory?
A: We’ve had an absence of lament in our churches. Churches quite often avoid lament. We haven’t practiced this. How do we begin to practice it? You can’t do this by having a random service of lament. You need to bring it regularly to your church. Lament in prayer time, in announcements, in worship, in confession, in closing prayer. It can become embedded as a value system.
Q: We are seeing youth leaving the church and I wonder how the prophetic and priestly role might be impacting this?
A: How we communicate the gospel to the next generation is key. They have suspicion of meta narratives. We have given the wrong meta narratives. They are rejecting the wrong ones that we’ve given them. We’ve picked some of the gospel narratives that have made sense to our generation, but they don’t make sense to the current younger generation. We need to identify what narrative makes sense to this generation. Could it be the justice/prophetic edge that makes sense to them? Activism, racial justice issues, environmentalism matter to the younger generation. We don’t change the gospel.
Q: Where do you see the prophetic balance happening so we hear those voices?
A: Think about what/who’ve you’re surrounded by. When we have these conversations, who are we receiving input from? We need to be taught/influenced/shaped by people of other races and cultures.
Q: How do we make sure that we don’t go back to what we were before Covid?
A: Introduce practices and values that we’ve neglected and you begin to see the fruit/spiritual benefit, people will wonder what happened to those practices. What practices can we introduce that give people a taste of what is good and they will want more?