«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»
House church or small groups allow the church to strategically focus on certain segments of Kazakh society. A growing interest group is young professionals who have stable employment and face the challenges of limited time and work stress. They also deal with the desire to start a family and have a home that they own. They are exposed to the effects of globalization on a daily basis and at the same time try to keep relationship with their more traditional elders. Zhenis (2009, pers. interview, 8 July) explains that being part of a likeminded group is very attractive to them.
Another interest group relevant to the modern church is university students. They are usually the most open to new ideas and change and so a small group that applies Christianity to their life situation will draw a lot of interest. They also represent potential to take the house church model with them when they graduate, the significance being that some of them will end up in cities and provinces that as yet have very little exposure to the Gospel.
House churches require very little maintenance on a number of levels. Financially they are easy to sustain with almost all of the tithes and offerings being available for ministry. They are also free of the seemingly endless legal hurdles that a traditional, registered church faces.41 Because they are based in the home, the location can be rotated so that no one family has the burden of hosting the church every week.
Roger Greenway (1989:140) does point out that there are some advantages to having a dedicated church building. Such advantages include a fixed place of identity, available seven days a week, privacy, and an oasis for the persecuted.
A house church is able to start another one with relative ease due to the low maintenance.
This does not imply that it can be done superficially as there have been many failures where other key factors have not been considered. The mother house church needs to develop a healthy blueprint that will then be birthed in a new church start. Arman (2009, pers. interview, 5 May) describes how in the Kazakh context one of the critical elements has been the mentoring of healthy leaders who will take on the responsibility of the new church start.
Satyavrata (2004: 214) in his study of Indian culture argues that where there is a culture of hospitality the house church model is very effective. As has been described, hospitality is an essential part of the Kazakh culture, and so using the home as a basis for church is appropriate. It also implies that as believers gather there will be some form of sharing a fellowship meal together.
If we consider that discipleship involves both the teaching of Biblical truth as well as an example of the living out of this truth then house church provides a useful vehicle for both.
The House Church setting allows for an in-depth Bible study as well as lives lived together.
The participants in a house church are able to quickly understand that the church is the people themselves and not the place they meet in. In other words that they are the church and do not merely go to church. Consequently, the leaders are able to encourage the active participation of each member according to their gifting. Church is not then something that is done once a week, but the community of God lived out together every day and which may gather together multiple times one week and only for a onetime gathering the next.
The theory that emerges is that the house church model is very applicable to the Kazakh context. Whilst other models may also be used, effective church planting that reaches all Kazakhs in their particular contexts must involve house churches. At the very least a church must make use of small groups where believers can live out their faith together.
4.3.3 New Technology One of the driving forces behind globalization is the continual development of new technology and in particular how this serves to connect the cultures of the world. The Kazakh culture is facing this head on especially in the area of information technology. The church must make use of websites and social connections such as Facebook in reaching Modern Kazakhs. A number of the younger generation Kazakhs are signing up on Facebook every day. The Kazakh Bible is available on cell phone technology so that passages can be texted from person to person. This can be expanded to include devotionals and Christian music. Cell phone use is widespread and it is difficult to find a Kazakh who does not have one.
Additionally, there is a growing interest in smart phones that can access the Internet from remote locations. The Kazakh church needs to explore ways to link evangelism and discipleship to smart phone use.
Websites offer great potential in providing believers with spiritual material. Bible study materials, books, seminars, and children’s literature can be digitally uploaded onto a website and then downloaded by means of a password. Believers and churches in more remote locations can also upload questions and issues they are dealing with for broader discussion and response.
If the end vision is a healthy Kazakh church then new technology must be seen as a significant means of getting there, but not the end in itself. A healthy Kazakh church must be one where believers live lives together rather than merely connecting in a virtual world.
Pocock sounds a word of caution when he says:
In the case of young people, there needs to be more than new technology providing a way to get together just for fun. There is a lot to be said for creating a context that involves fun, however this must not be the end purpose, but rather a means of getting these young people to healthy church. They must mature to the point of understanding that the greater importance is what they can contribute to the growth of the church rather than what the church can do for them.
4.3.4 Urbanization Globalization thrives in the context of the city and in the Kazakh context it has caused a large migration to the major cities. Anwar (2009, pers. interview, 3 February) explains how despite the government’s attempts to promote village life, most Kazakhs see the possibility of a prosperous future as being confined to the opportunities found in the cities. This is not to say that all Kazakhs living in the cities see things the same and Payne cautions against the “one size strategy that fits all” (2009:354). He contends that a variety of strategies are needed depending on the sub group of people being considered. With Kazakhs this breaks down into amongst others, language and economic distinctions. These groups need to be studied and their needs, both felt and unknown, discovered so that evangelism and discipleship can be tailored to them. 42 Cities are where Modern Kazakhs choose to live and many find themselves in the process of securing stable employment whilst at the same time establishing their families and future ambitions. The city culture has increased their pace of life and placed restraints on their time so that they are not as free to sit around and drink tea, discussing the issues of life. The church planter needs to consider lunch time meetings near where they work as well as weekends. Ray Bakke and Jon Sharpe (2006:112) encourage believers to work towards a common grace within the city so that people are able to say that because of the presence of Christianity city life is healthy and good. A practical example would be where Kazakh believers regularly clean up the trash that so often lies around.
Harvie Conn (1987:101) explains that when talking of religion there are two perceptions of the city context that seem to contradict. Firstly that secularism has replaced an emphasis on religion and secondly that religion is alive and well. As Conn points out the reality is somewhere inbetween and this seems true for the cities of Kazakhstan. The church planter has to recognize the secular effect on Kazakhs but also balance this with the city Kazakh’s spiritual needs which are expressed in ways different to that in a rural context.
With increased structure in the life of a Modern Kazakh, the church planter needs to be cautious of creating more structure, but rather seek out a relaxed, friendship relationship that contrasts with the demands of the Modern’s working life. In an urban context, Christianity has the advantage of being portrayed as an active relationship with God rather than a structured set of demands. As a contrast, Islam in the urban Kazakh setting has the challenge of being seen as imposing further demands on an already demanding life. This is what makes it so easy for Modern Kazakhs to compromise and support the common Minho Song (2006:256) provides useful insight in recommending four phases of discipleship where the church planter begins with the supra-contextual message of the Bible and then moves to the needs and issues of the context. Thereafter specific discipleship material is created and finally the best method decided on.
argument explained in chapter one that taking religion seriously is for older people during retirement. Certainly as has been argued, there are small segments of young Kazakhs who have prioritized a participation in the structured, Mosque-based Islam, but rather than group these within the Modern Kazakh identity, they may more accurately be called young traditionals.
Modern city-dwelling Kazakhs do respond to special events as they can plan and dedicate time to these. As highlighted before these events revolve around rites of passage and celebration days. The church planter needs to take advantage of these events so that in the case of evangelism, redemptive analogies are sought out. In the case of discipleship, these events represent times to go deep with the Modern believer, building trust and helping them to navigate how to both celebrate and at the same time honor God. Such events are relaxed times of enjoying life and as such people are less time conscious and open to talking deeply about the issues of life.
Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August) previously proposed that Modern Kazakhs (especially university students) in the cities represent an opportunity to take the Gospel to their village relatives. Even the village Kazakhs that are migrating to the cities represent an opportunity because they desire change and are therefore open to new ideas. Church planting must prioritize a city focus or risk becoming an activity on the peripheral.
4.3.5 Materialism Globalization carries a message that things are better when they are bigger, faster, and newer.
It exposes Kazakhs to the bigger, faster and newer products and ideas from other countries and cultures in a way that they are not content with what they have, but want to own and partake in these other products and ideas. Saken (2009, pers. interview, 1 October) describes a motivation to keep up with the latest so that Modern and Russified Kazakhs in particular see their status and satisfaction in owning and displaying whatever the latest thing is, from cell phones to clothes to motorcars. As seen in chapter one, most of life is lived at this materialistic level with the spiritual only coming out on special religious days and celebrations, with a visit to traditional relatives in the village, or in a crisis where material possessions do not offer a solution.
The Kazakh church planter has to live in this world and walk a careful line between living a comfortable life and at the same time demonstrating a spiritual priority over the material. To say that the national church planter must be poor and live at a level below that of the Modern Kazakh means that they become irrelevant to these Kazakhs. Despite the current economic crisis, many city dwelling Kazakhs are living comfortable lives no longer concerned about where their food and shelter will come from. The church planter certainly does not need to live at the level of the wealthy but it is now very relevant for them to live a stable, comfortable life.43 This is not to say that they run around seeking foreign sponsors, but by means of a good work ethic gain significant employment if their church is unable to support them.
If we consider the advantages of the House Church model then there is much to commend the church planter as having a secular means of income, either in steady employment or by being involved in their own business. This gives them the advantage of credibility in the workplace where other Kazakhs see them as a normal part of society and not some weird cult who gets its funding from secret sources. In addition, this also allows the church planter to live out their faith as part of normal daily life helping both believers and unbelievers to see that the Christian faith is a living relationship with Christ and not just M Daniel Carroll (2006:211) cautions against the church seeing itself as only concerned with the spiritual realm of people's lives. He argues that in a globally connected world economics matter and the church must involve itself in this part of people’s lives. As the church we must move the people who benefit from globalization towards those who are suffering.
weekly meetings. The main disadvantage of being involved in secular work is that it uses up a lot of time and energy, and furthermore can become a real distraction/ temptation if the particular work or business does well and leads to a desire for material wealth.
A trend that caused concern was related to the growing wealth from around 2004 to
2008. Marat (2008, pers. interview, 2 December) explained how a significant number of believers began to do well financially and the priority seemed to shift from a passion for evangelism and church planting to a passion for gaining wealth. The worldwide economic crisis then revealed how fragile and insufficient wealth and materialism are in giving true meaning to life. Despite the current financial difficulties, the Kazakhs have a bright economic future and the church needs to position itself very carefully in terms of teaching and practice when it comes to money and materialism. If believers are taught to give and they actually do so, then the low self-supporting score given by the pastors, thirty four percent, will largely take care of itself.