What else can we learn about contextualization from the golden calf story in Exodus 32? Last time, I mentioned 3 things. Today’s post offers two more insights.
4. Feeling Threatened
Like Aaron, we are more likely to compromise when sensing a threat to ourselves or our people and ministry. There are many kinds of “threats.” We might fear losing others’ respect. Or, we might lose influence or a position we have among a certain group of people.
One reason why Aaron felt the pressure so strongly was that he was left to lead the congregation on his own. After all, Moses was not around and the community elders were not on the same page.
Threats are felt much more acutely when leaders (a) do not work within a team and so are isolated, and/or (b) are measured by narrow criteria over which they have little control.
I see at least a few applications from this point.
What are threats?
First, we should identify what we regard as “threats” (particularly those that are subconscious or subtle).
By doing this, we can evaluate whether our fear is warranted or exaggerated. We can also take precautionary steps to address the situation before a problem arises. If it’s a certain person or idea that is gaining in popularity, we might need to confront them, retrain a group of people, or we might need to change ourselves. Perhaps, we are the ones who have refused to change when change was needed.
Second, we need to consider ways that we should reorganize leadership teams. Here are two ways this could be done.
On the one hand, mission organizations and teams need to intentionally include people with rather contrasting skill sets, temperaments, and perspectives. Imagine if Aaron had a group of leadership around him that saw through his excuses and rationalizations. They could have helped Aaron to see that he was not doing contextualization. Instead, he was compromising.
On the other hand, some ministries would do well to multiply the number of leaders who have practical influence. In many cases, everything comes down to the decision on one person. Practically speaking, other leaders are not empowered and equipped to lead by take initiative and making decisions independent of the single top leader.What happens then when they are left alone? They lack either the conviction or courage to remain faithful in the face of threat (even if the perceived threat is the displeasure the “top leader” who may not right in a given situation)..
The whole golden calf event began as a result of impatience. Moses took too long coming from the mountain for their liking. Again, they completely overlooked the fact that God did not always work in the rapid fashion that we often prefer.
I suspect this is a major reason why people do not intentionally contextualize. It is a process and not a quick formula. Waiting makes us feel like we don’t have control. Uncertainty about how exactly things will work out causes anxiety and frustration.
Consequently, we become prone to embrace things we can see. We can count “decisions” and attendees at an event. It’s far more difficult for us to be content with “mere” faithfulness and the fruits of the Spirit.
Belong long, a ministry’s annual report (i.e. statistics) sadly becomes a “golden calf” that rallies the crowd and motivates people to give sacrificially from their wallets.
Earlier in this series, I said that we should intentionally and empathetically do contextualization. Therefore, we’ve tired to understand the golden calf debacle through the eyes of Israel and Aaron. When we do so, we remain humble to realize that we are just as vulnerable to temptation as other people. What’s more is that we find problems in our own subtle ways of thinking that can likewise harm us and our ministry.