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«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»

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Kazakhstan is a vast and mineral rich country with very large oilfields. Coming into the new millennium these resources began to inject life into the economy and signs of growth and rebuilding began to been seen and felt everywhere. Foreign companies began to flood in and foreign embassies opened with the primary purpose of establishing trade relations. From the beginning there has been much controversy about the inequitable distribution of profits and resources that have flowed abundantly from this trade, but an analysis and commentary along those lines is not within the scope of this study. Despite this controversy, most Kazakhs now see the future as one of cautious hope and growing economic prosperity. They look at their fellow former Soviet neighbors and are satisfied that despite the challenges, life is much better for them. There is a growing middle class and a general pride that Kazakhstan is beginning to grow up and take its place on the world stage. Active participation on a global stage is a course that is proudly chartered by the current government (Nursultan Nazarbaev 2010). The question is whether postmodernism with its philosophy of compromise will have as much of an effect on the Kazakh worldview as it has had on the worldview of the West?

The Western world relative to Central Asia has had years to adjust to the various tides of change that have taken place over the last century, whereas the Kazakh world has been Western scholars such as Steven Filbert (1999) and Martha Olcott (1995) who have made detailed studies of the Kazakhs would point to a culture willing to undertake a lot of compromise.

thrust into much of it overnight. Change has been rapid and only seems to be increasing in pace. A case in point is that they are transitioning from a cash system to a debit/credit card system with automatic teller machines popping up everywhere. The checkbook system has been completely bypassed. Further evidence can be found on neighborhood streets where there are homes that do not yet have indoor plumbing, but have satellite dishes. Not to mention that everyone seems to have a cell phone. In urban settings music and fashion have become eclectic so that anything a person wears or listens to have a place where they are appropriate.

On a socio-political level, the Kazakhs seem to favor the example set by Turkey where a secular government is accommodated by a majority Muslim population. Echoing the sentiments of the Laumulins (2009), there does not seem to be a desire for a strong religious tradition that makes demands on life, but rather a general Islamic identity that each family can work out on their own. Whilst they may honor those who seek after a serious practice of Islam, they do not in turn feel guilty that they are not engaged in such a pursuit. If they do not seem serious about Islam then, is there evidence to support an argument that the true pursuit of many Kazakhs is not God, but material gain? This pursuit then lines them up with what describes this new religion of materialism. In other words, the more modern and wealthy a family becomes, the more it is like America/ the West. The equation then reads that modernization/materialism equals westernization. Kazakhs do however look to heroes such as Abai Kunanbaev (1845 to 1904) who despite his promotion of a modern way of life, in Word Thirteen describes Islam as being at the heart of Kazakh identity (1995). To be a Kazakh and a Muslim then is one and the same thing for virtually all Kazakhs and they do not want to be seen as betraying this heritage. The celebrated historian and ethnographer Chokan Valikhanov (1835 to 1865) despite his misgivings towards Islam, shows how for Kazakhs a change from Islam is a change of nationality (Chokan Valikhanov 2009:142). Kazakhs then face the tension of how to pursue material gain without being seen as selling out their own cultural heritage to become more like the West. The strain of this tension ranges from those who feel no tension and willingly seek westernization, to those who are highly opposed and would rather sacrifice modern ways and wealth to stay pure to their heritage. Few Kazakhs actually fall into either of these two extremes but rather have a strong leaning to one side or the other.

The purpose of this dissertation is to show how the post soviet world of the Kazakhs has changed and how church planting amongst Kazakhs needs to change in order to be effective. Kazakhs face a tension between the re-establishment of their Islamic past and their ambitions for the future within a globalized world. Church planting must examine this tension and discover what an effective and appropriate church looks like.

The use of the term church planting in this dissertation is restricted to that within an evangelical perspective and therefore does not address that from an Orthodox, Catholic, or other non-evangelical position. Certainly there is merit for a broader understanding to be developed from others who would undertake research into the other church planting positions.

As a result the purpose of this dissertation then is to inform evangelical church planting.

Larry Eskridge in attempting to define the term evangelical as used in the 21st Century, considers three ways in which it is used (2012). Firstly, to describe those who affirm certain

doctrine and practice as explained by British historian David Bebbington:

four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort;





biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and “crucicentrism,” a stress on

–  –  –

A second way in which Eskridge defines evangelicalism relates to its broad identity as a movement in which various groups or denominations feel as if they belong. Thirdly, in the areas where Christianity has been established for some time, in particular the West, the term evangelical has been embraced as an alternative to the term Fundamental, due to the negative perceptions and impressions of the latter term. Within the Kazakh context only the first two of Eskridge’s definitions apply and so by evangelical this dissertation understands the term as refering to churches and church planters who hold to the Bible as authoritative for a person’s life and the need to accept Jesus Christ as personal lord and savior. As the evangelical theologian Alister McGrath puts it, “a movement which places special emphasis on the supreme authority of Scripture and the atoning death of Christ” (1995: 398).

The term effective in this study refers to whether the church planting that takes place produces the desired result. Within an evangelical context this would mean that individual Kazakhs accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior and then come together to form churches.

These churches are characterized by a commitment to Scripture, a commitment (covenant) to each other and a common faith, a practice of communion and baptism, and a desire to share the gospel. In looking at the idea of church in Matthew’s gospel, Bosch describes it “where disciples live in community with one another and their Lord and where they seek to live according to the will of the Father” (1991: 83). Disciples and Lord express the personal commitment to Jesus and according to the will of the Father a commitment to Scripture, within which we discover the will of the Father. Seek is also relevant as it implies that there is a growing towards. That effective does not mean perfect but rather an attempt to do and be the best we can.

The term appropriate refers to the churches that are planted being suitable for the Kazakh context. Are Kazakhs able to identify such churches as their own? This introduces the concepts of contextualization and indigenization which need to be defined and applied to the Kazakh church planting context. Appropriate must also address the issue of globalization which is having an impact on the Kazakh context.

Contextualization has been a popular idea in missions and it has helped missionaries to become students of the people they serve by examining the people’s historical, cultural heritage and all that has gone into making them uniquely who they are. Its goal is for the missionary to so plant a church amongst a people group that the members of that people group recognize and claim it as their own. In a world of change however, in addition to looking back and discovering what has made the people group who they are, but must also look forward to who the people are becoming and how they are embracing new lifestyles and ambitions. So enter the concept of globalization which has become a new phenomenon in this world of change. Globalization brings together cultures and nations so that they impact each other at various levels of ideas and activities. The result is change and new ways of thinking and doing. Globalization is having a major impact on the Kazakh way of life as a catalyst for economic development, broader social interaction, and a blending of ideas.

Globalization however is not a panacea for all of life’s issues and there are negative effects and reactions to it. Church planting amongst Kazakhs must take into account issues that both contextualization and globalization raise.

My reason for choosing this topic is that I believe evangelical church planting amongst the Kazakhs is at a crucial stage. As mentioned before, in the desperate years of the nineties many Kazakhs were open to new ideologies, especially those that gave a sense of hope, and it seemed as if any method of starting a church had a reasonable chance of success.

With the rapid growth of economic prosperity and a growing confidence replacing the sense of desperation, Kazakhs are becoming more discerning and their preference is for people to be accommodating of each other’s beliefs whilst doing business with each other. At a conference of expatriate church planters September 27/ 28, 2005 in Almaty, a number of church planters expressed concern with what seems to be a slowing down in the growth of the Gospel compared to previous years. 2 They were concerned that the first generation, missionary involved churches are not actively reproducing second generation churches that in turn reproduce. Some of them were concerned that the types of churches that have been planted remain ‘foreign’ to the Kazakh way of life. The time therefore is ripe to evaluate those methods of church planting that have worked amongst the Kazakhs, decide what needs to change, and discover what is missing.

This study has four main objectives. Firstly, to look at the religious identity that Kazakhs are trying to establish after communism. The simple answer is that Kazakhs are Muslims, but as we have seen, the opinions of those who have made detailed studies of the Kazakh religion are diverse, as are the opinions of Kazakhs themselves. We cannot simply impose the stereotypical models of Islam on the Kazakhs. Effective church planting must take into account the unity and diversity expressed by various Kazakhs in describing what they believe. Secondly, to analyze the effect that globalization has had on the Muslim world generally and the Kazakh worldview specifically. How are changes in values, lifestyle and ambitions challenging the way Kazaks see themselves? How does the church need to change to remain relevant? Thirdly, to evaluate what methods and models of church planting have been used since the fall of the Soviet Union. If the Kazakhs of today are undergoing a worldview change then which if any of the previous church planting methods are still relevant? Church planting has been undertaken by internal church planters, meaning by churches and organizations that have their origins and identity in Kazakhstan; and by external church planters referring to those who would use the traditional ‘missionary’ title, defined here as having entered Kazakhstan with a foreign identity. All of this has led to diverse church planting methods whose results need to be analyzed and evaluated. Fourthly, within a climate of change and globalization, to recommend principles which need to be taken into This is an annual conference that aims to evaluate the progress of church planting amongst the Kazakhs. This concern with a slowdown in church planting was re-iterated at the conference in 2008 (December 10th) during a workshop entitled “Church planting in the context of globalization and modernization”.

account when planting effective, relevant Kazakh churches. From an evangelical perspective, this would need to be conditional on the freedoms and boundaries found in Scripture.

There are a number of excellent studies of the Kazakhs and their religious heritage going back to their beginnings as a nation. Whilst some of these will be referred to for insight, it is not the purpose of this study to do detailed anthropological or historical religious research on the Kazakhs. Rather, the primary focus is the post Soviet era and current issues facing church planters. The primary research method will be through the interviewing of ten Kazakh pastors using the methodology of a qualitative semi-structured interview, and the application of Grounded Theory to the resulting data.

The Grounded Theory approach will be detailed in chapter two, however in summary it does not begin with a stated hypothesis to prove, but rather with a research idea or question out of which data is gathered and analysed. In this study then we do not begin with a thesis statement but rather with the idea of Kazakh church planting that is both effective and

appropriate. The study then develops as follows:

 Chapter one explains the research methodology chosen and examines the current debate to do with contextualization, globalization, and church planting.

 Chapter two looks at the historical religious identity of the Kazakhs, primarily

–  –  –

 Chapter three applies Grounded Theory to the gathering of research data.

 Chapter four describes the emerging theory related to Kazakh church planting.

 Chapter five reflects on the missiological implications of the theory.

Vinoth Ramachandra (2006:229) chastises the Western missionary approach in saying that it it has walked hand in hand with global capitalism which has caused a focus on results based on statistics and church growth strategies, with the outcome being that it has lost its credibility to speak into a global society. As expatriate church planters pursue cross cultural church planting they need to be very aware of how insiders like Ramachandra perceive them.



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