What can parish ministry learn from missiology? Loads!
What can first world ministry learn from those working cross-culturally in developing countries? Loads.
In Translating the Bible in Action: How the Bible can be Relevant in all Languages and Cultures (Piquant, 2008) Harriet Hill and Margaret Hill take us through seven areas involved in taking the Bible and putting it into practical use. It’s written in world english which means clear communication using a limited vocabulary. There is a french language translation Traduire La Bible en Actes: Manuel pour faire un bon usage de la Bible dans chaque langue et culture (Presses Bibliques Africaines, 2011)
You don’t have to be working cross-culturally, or even in Africa to benefit from this book. We all face the same barriers to understanding and application. In the first section (after an introduction) the authors consider the theological foundations of language and culture. The key point for me is that real paradigm shifts happen when you’re reading in your mother tongue. Thus although you may be able to read in another language and gain content, there will always be far, far better engagement if you encounter the material in your ‘home’ language. This is a strong argument for Bible translation into local languages, and not settling for national languages (French, Portuguese, English, Swahili). A similar argument applies to the way the English language has changed since the seventeenth century (When the 1611 Authorised version of the Bible, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were published), and indeed since 1984 (when the NIV was published).
A particular challenge in many African countries, as elsewhere in the developing world, is multi-lingual churches, where the congregation is drawn from several tribal groups, and this topic forms the second main section. Yet this phenomenon has its European counterpart too. Within a single culture, there are gaps between the generations. And Great Britain is a multi-cultural nation: even in Somerset, surely one of the least ethnically mixed places in the UK, there are sizeable Polish and Portuguese communities.How do we aim to reach and include them? We are far behind our African brothers and sisters here!
Section three, Relevant Bible Use covers the basics of understanding the Bible and making pertinent application. It’s the reason I came across this book, because we distribute these on behalf of Langham Literature at the Langham Preaching seminars that I have been part of in francophone Africa. I particularly found the chapter on ‘Providing Necessary Background Information’ to be a helpful reminder of just how much knowledge we assume for interpreting the Bible.
Sharing faith is really helpful on doing so in oral contexts. You don’t have to be in a developing world to meet one: a sizeable number of people in the UK are functionally illiterate. (Section six on literacy deals with teaching literacy, especially with African context in mind). And if you think about it, an all-age Family Service is an oral context: we tell stories, use pictures and drama, and aim to communicate the message of the Bible in a way that engages all ages, all of the time. I would like to hear more of Chronological Bible Storying, and work out how Langham Preachers could apply their sound exegetical and hermeneutical skills to this setting.
Section five looks at using your gifts of music, art and drama – chapters that any church would do well to take on board. Finally section eight Passing it on helps the reader think through the logistics of launching a new product, usually a Bible translation. There is a helpful chapter about ‘Bringing about change’.
I would recommend this book for the following reasons
1. In any context, there are sound principles to help you translate the Bible into action. If, like me, you are basically an Anglophone but working with francophone people, the french translation is a great help.
2. In any context and including the West, it’s a great summary in simple language of key concepts of missiology and ministryt
3. It’s great to think about everyday ministry through new eyes. Pastor Simon’s situation is a million miles from my own: but the obstacles in people’s hearts and in his own are not really that different; and his resources are the same – biblical wisdom and good Christian friends.