When a satsang is demonstrated to Christians who are interested in walking alongside Hindus, many respond with the following questions:
- Can I get the song list from this?
- Can you teach me how to lead a satsang?
- Can we practice breaking the coconut so I know how to do it?
Once equipped with the resources and training needed, the Christian then tries to gather Hindus for a satsang. The Christian explains that sat means truth and sang means fellowship. Then he/she demonstrates a contextualized way to follow Christ in the Hindu context.
See Any Problems?
While presenting a worship gathering that feels more Hindu is a step in the right direction, there are still some big warning signs that we haven’t moved much beyond traditional missionary practices.
Problem 1: There is no uniform Hindu way of worshipping
To say there is a Hindu way of worshipping God is to say there is an Indian kind of food – it just doesn’t exist. Styles of worship vary from region to state to district to temple to community to family.
While in Chennai, we had some very close friends who performed a traditional ceremony for us while my wife was pregnant. We invited some other Hindu friends along with us to take part as well. When we asked our friends if they had a good time they said, “Oh yes, we’ve never seen this ceremony done this way.”
Such is India and Hinduism. Hundreds of thousands of different practices that never come together the same way twice. To an outsider, it might all look similar, but to someone on the inside, there are vast differences and nuances we might never pick up on.
Problem 2: You are still controlling this
The true goal of an Alongsider is not to show Hindus how they can worship Christ in a Hindu way. The true goal is to offer Christ alone to a Hindu and allow him or her to worship him as makes sense.
After you perform the first satsang for a group of Hindus, who is the most likely person to lead the satsang the next time? You are. After leading the first Bible study, who is most likely to lead the second? You are.
By establishing norms you are still giving a “package deal” to Hindus. And while that package may be much more Hindu than previous ones, your influence and hidden cultural biases are still all over it. And by being the first leader, you have also become the authority on the subject.
Problem 3: Christiansplaining
Mansplaining is when a man explains a concept as an authority to a woman that she likely knows more about than him. Whitesplaining is when a white person explains a concept to a different race when that person knows more about it.
Christiansplaining happens in this context when Christians try to educate Hindus on their religion, why they do things, what they believe, what the shortcomings of their theology are, and why Jesus is the obvious answer to those things.
This kind of activity should never happen among Alongsiders as they continue to promote outsiders as the authority and provide simplistic explanations of highly complex topics.
How to Avoid these Traps
Even seeing these problems is a challenge for most of us, so recognizing them is the first step. These postures are so ingrained in us from our culture that it often takes a tremendous amount of effort to overcome them. However, when we see how dangerous they are and how similar they are to historical missionary efforts, we will be eager to make significant changes.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid these harmful attitudes:
Have the Spirit of an Alongsider
In his article, Paul Pennington says we should be listen, pray, be respectful, be humble, and be patient. This is a great starting point.
Ask Questions About Their Experience
Don’t assume that everything you learned from a book, a Rethinking Forum conference, or from a previous conversation applies to the individual you are interacting with now. Everyone is different and has different experiences. An Alongsider should not assume that everyone is going to walk down the same path.
When it comes to the practicalities of a satsang, rather than saying, “This is how you worship your gods…”, you can say, “I’ve heard that many Hindus light a lamp when they worship their gods – is that something you do? Can you set that up for me?”
Never Be in Control
Remember that your role is that of a Alongsider, not a guide. The more you are the one to lead a satsang, Bible study, or any other experience, the more difficult it becomes to phase out of that role. And if you do manage to, your cultural fingerprints will still be left on what is continued.
As soon as possible, and likely even before you are comfortable with it, step out of any leadership or decision making roles. If someone asks for your advice or opinion, you can share based on your understanding of Scripture and personal experience as a devotee of Jesus, but not as an authority.
Drop Your Agenda
Many North Americans might have visions to see satsangs across the city, or large movements of Hindus in their town coming to Christ.
The sooner you let go of these personal goals the better. As Alongsiders, we can only offer the small spark of Christ in his simplest and purest form. Only Hindus can decide what they will do with the fire from there.
When we start to have expectations on other people, we will push them and force them to do things that make sense for us, but are foreign to them. They will still try to do them out of reverence to their friendship with you, but may not understand why.
A Better Approach
So, as you learn about contextual ways Hindus can worship Christ, rather than saying, “I need to show my Hindu friends how to do this!”, think “I wonder if my Hindu friends would be interested in this.”
Start from a position of humility, drop your agenda, and get used to asking questions. An Alongsider should be very reticent to offer anything more than the one thing he/she has to give: Christ our Lord.