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Soong-Chan Rah to Speak on Lament at Inspire 2019

November 28, 2018

Rev. Soong-Chan Rah, the Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Ill., will speak at Inspire 2019 about “The Necessity of Lament in Our Broken World.”

Rah is one of four keynote speakers who have been announced to address attendees at the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s second denomination-wide gathering for church leaders. Set for Aug. 1-3, Inspire 2019 promises to be an exciting event filled with new resources for ministry, powerful worship alongside people from across the denomination, and inspiring workshops on key topics facing congregations. It will take place at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor, Ont.

In a video presentation on the importance of lament presented last year at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., Rah said the Christian church prefers to embrace upbeat topics and ignores lament. For instance, the book of Lamentations is not a popular book in the Bible, largely because of its subject matter.

The book is a series of poetic laments marking the downfall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, who took away everything of value and forced religious, educational, cultural, and government leaders and their families to go into exile in Babylon. They left behind the widows, the orphans, and the people who were sick and disabled — those who wouldn’t be able to rebuild the city, said Rah.

Powerful as these laments in Scripture are, many people prefer to ignore this type of literature because it is painful to read, lacking a focus on triumph and celebration.

“The theme of lament is absent in our worship life,” said Rah, author of several books including The Next Evangelicalism, Many Colors, Prophetic Lament, and Return to Justice.

Even though some 40 percent of the Psalms are about grief and injustice, Rah added, “The church glosses over psalms about lament and suffering.”

During a 12-month period Rah made a statistical study of the 100 most popular contemporary worship songs and found that less than 10 percent had anything to do with lament.

“The common denominator in expressions of worship,” he said, “is that we avoid lament and go for songs of triumph.”

Rah served for several years as the founding senior pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, a multiethnic church in Cambridge, Mass. He has extensive experience in cross-cultural preaching as well as on numerous college campuses.

In his book Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, Rah writes: “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized, and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget. The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in the loss of memory. We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”

He also writes: “Withdrawal from the world or accepting simplistic answers reveals human effort or human problem solving, while lament acknowledges who is ultimately in control.”

The church must face its limitations and correct the stories it tells itself if it is “going to try to heal a broken world,” he said.

Rah’s presentation will be based on Lamentations 1:1-4 and Jeremiah 29:4-7, which calls on the exiles in Babylon to live and prosper where they find themselves.

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” said the Lord through Jeremiah. “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

“Jeremiah tells us we don’t have the option of giving up,” of the church staying static and trying to keep the challenges of the world outside, he said. “We are to seek peace in the city,” said Rah.

At Inspire 2019, Rah will also lead a workshop titled “The Power of Narratives and the Need for Systems Thinking in Organizational Transformation,” which will focus on how, when confronted with the need to transform our organizations, we are often frustrated by the inadequacy of our efforts.

His workshop will consider systems thinking, narratives, and social imagination as venues through which we can begin the process toward transformation.

Rah will be joined by three other plenary speakers at Inspire 2019: Calvin College chaplain Mary Hulst, professor and church planter Ed Stetzer, and best-selling author Ann Voskamp.

In addition, there will be dozens of breakout sessions and workshops on topics covering congregational life.

The Inspire 2019 website says, “Whether you're a deacon, elder, Sunday school leader, Bible study participant, worship leader, mission team member, or community outreach coordinator, or you fill another role in your church community, you will find relevant workshops to help you in your ministry.”

Registration for Inspire 2019 will open on February 1. Participants coming from the United States are reminded that they will need a passport or enhanced driver's license to cross the border. For more information on the event, visit Inspire 2019.