Today we headed down to the big shopping centre near Durban called the Pavilion. There we met Grant Retief, who leads a church in Durban at Glenwood. Grant was extremely blunt and helpful (the two can happen at the same time!) with regards to possible future work in South Africa that we might be able to be involved in.
We explained to Grant our desire to be somehow involved with church planting and training of leaders cross-culturally in South Africa. Grant was honest in saying that he was sceptical about how useful we could be in this area. Putting aside issues of colonialism, there are huge issues with regard to culture, he explained. Grant feels that it would take someone coming from the outside around 15 years to truly get to grips with what’s going on in South Africa and understand the cultures. He himself is fluent in Xhosa and yet feels he only has a minimal impact cross-culturally.

For instance there is the cultural issue of ‘Ubuntu’. Ubuntu is Xhosa proverb that says that a person is a person through other people; that is relationships are what are most important. At first reading this appears great, and extremely biblical. However the outworking can be anything but biblical. Unity is so clearly a vital outworking of the gospel. Paul shows us that in Ephesians 4:1- for example. But in the Bible it is clearly a unity around the truth. We are the people of God, and so commitment to relationships is central, but it is relationships that are under the Lordship or Christ that are central. However an outworking of Ubuntu can be that relationships, above all else, are what are most important, and this can mean above truth as well. Thus if it might damage our relationship to speak the truth to someone we will not do it. It is better to maintain ‘the relationship’ than to do what might be the best for someone by, for instance, challenging them with biblical truth.

We talked a little about what all this means for seeing multi-cultural leaderships in churches. Grant is somewhat sceptical about the scope of this this side of eternity. For one thing in South Africa, a truly multi-cultural leadership will not actually reflect the demographic of the areas that are being worked in because they are still mostly racially segregated. However there is also a practical issue of how people work. Grant thinks that there is a fairly tight balance that needs to be maintained in terms of demographic. He talked about a demographic split of 60/40 and that if one or the other went beyond that it would become racially monotone as the other group would stop coming.

This obviously raises questions as to how we are to work out the gospel in this situation. Should we encourage white Christians to move into black townships? Should we be making a very clear statement about what the gospel achieves? Grant felt that the dangers of moving into a township were to great in our case as we’d become an obvious target.

Grant felt that the best place to focus was on the universities. Here black people are coming who have significantly less barriers to someone from our culture. Thus here is an opportunity to train leaders who can go back to their home towns and plant churches there.

A few questions come to mind that I’d like to talk to Grant a bit more on and think through. We are quite committed to training students by involving them in church planting, rather than developing specialised student work. What will this then look like? How can we adequately train them to plant in their contexts if we are training them out of their context? Also how can we do this if we don’t really understand their culture and so can’t help them think through where the gospel rubs in terms of their culture, where their cultural blind spots lie?

Hmmm… lots to think about…

In the evening we went to hear Jazz pianist Darius Brubeck, son of Dave. Great fun…