Affective or Effective?

Efficiency and effectiveness – the buzzword of our current society. Undoubtedly it has also affected how churches, Christian tribes, and Jesus communities are led. It will make sense if followers of Christ are called to establish an earthly empire based upon scorecards that are about counting numbers. But how would you measure something that is based not on numbers (people or finances)? It would seem silly to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of a group of people based upon how deep they connect, how close they relate with each other, and how far they would go to reach another on a scale of 1 to 10. Maybe we need to look at something else. Perhaps we should focus on affectiveness.

Christianity was first introduced to Singapore by the British colonizer in the early 1800s. The heavily ritualistic Anglicanism aligned well with the traditional Asian religions and belief systems such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Sikhism brought by the immigrants to the colony. Soon entered the Catholic and Methodist tradition and reinforced the Christian faith’s ritualistic and systematic aspects. Singapore’s pioneers found such a belief system compatible with their hardworking mindset and adopted it. That mentality was inherited by the newer generations of Singaporean Christians who grew up in a society shaped by the concept of meritocracy – something the ruling government of Singapore meticulously groomed over the 50 over years as the small fishing village grew to become an international metropolis. This shaped and created a dominant culture of measuring church success based on observable and measurable results among the Singaporean Christians, causing a majority of church programs and initiatives to land on the two measurements – efficiency and effectiveness.

So does Affective Theology or, as Dr. Ron Frost like to advocate, Affective Spirituality promotes a culture of being fainéant. Dr. Greg Dueker begs to differ. As pointed out in his blog Cupbearers Initiative, he explained that it is not work itself that is wrong but

“our efforts at discipleship can become externally focused in sin-management initiatives in hopes that it will eventually be smuggled inside our hearts, instead of internal transformation in response to God’s love that naturally works its way outward in our lives changing everything in its path.” Thus, it is about the fountain that drives our work – the motivation and source of power.

Cupbearers Initiative: Advocating With Pastors: What is “Affective Spirituality” anyway?

Affective Spirituality promotes the biblical notion that the God we worship is relational. He motivates and empowers His followers relationally and His disciples are called to mimic Him. The call is not to copy His actions but to follow His footsteps of loving others by being first receiving His love. It is the only way we can love those that we are called to love genuinely. This love cannot be forced or wilfully performed. It must overflow out of what we receive.

Ultimately, we are called to imitate God as extolled by Paul in Ephesians 5:1

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

Ephesians 5:1

What are we to imitate? I believe we are to imitate the relational interaction between the Trinity – the way of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relating to one another.

Richard Sibbes, an Anglican theologian in the 1500s, was a pioneer of this framework. As explained by Ron Frost in his assessment of Sibbes,

“Sibbes clearly understood that duty can only be sustained if it is supported by the motivation of desire. Thus Sibbes featured God’s winsome love more than his power: the Spirit accomplishes both conversion and sanctification by a single means: through the revelation of God’s attractiveness by an immediate, personal disclosure. This unmediated initiative was seen to be the means by which God draws a response of heartfelt devotion from the elect.”

Ron Frost. Kellp Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life”, 82

So should effectiveness and efficiency continue to be the key driver of Christian mission in Singapore, or maybe there is a more biblical way – the Affective way.

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