Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution

He pulled me aside after teaching English to a rowdy group of kindergartners.

Sweat was dripping down my neck and hair stuck to my forehead. I tried to brush it away but my hands were a sticky mess of homemade play-dough. My head was throbbing after trying to keep my voice and energy level up in 90 degree heat as the rooster crowed in the yard next door and the chanting of multiplication tables by third grade drowned me out. 

I was already exhausted and overwhelmed. The smells of smoke drifting in from a neighbor lady cooking beans over an open fire as well as rotten mangoes that had been baking in the sun were so pungent I sometimes felt the need to gasp for breath. 

It was as hard as it was loud and nothing seemed to be going well. Were my students even learning? After every class I left with so many doubts. 

"Hermana, (sister), some pastors are upset. When they called your phone, the song playing in the background was a vulgar one. It's bad. If you were Nicaraguan, the church would put you in discipline. You need to change it." My Nicaraguan coworker was kind when he said it, but my heart sunk.

I had no idea. I felt panicked. How could this have happened? I hadn't chosen the song, it was chosen by the phone company. Was there a meeting about me? Shame washed over me. 

My eyes brimmed with tears, "What do I do? I don't even know how to change it. Please help me."

He did of course and eyed me sympathetically. But trust had already been lost and that is a hard thing to regain in Nicaragua. 

I drove home with a heavy sense of failure but also of frustration. Why was I not given the benefit of the doubt? Why had the pastors not spoken directly to me? 

This was the first of many times when I experienced triangulation. Conflict in my country of service is rarely face to face. Direct confrontation provokes even more shame and usually ends in the permanent severing of a relationship. But is triangulation the Biblical model for dealing with problems within the Christian community? How do you process moments of doubts and failure when some obviously stem from culture stress (loud classrooms) while others stem from more rooted causes like how cultures address problems? 

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A Missionary as a Laxative at all Phases

The word facilitator does not exist in the Croatian language.  If we tried to translate it directly, it would come across as ‘laxative’.  Maybe it is not such a bad word as our goal is to facilitate movements in partnership with the Holy Spirit - in other words we are some kind of laxative for a different kind of movement. ;-)  

Our goal in Croatia has been “reproducing disciple-making churches” from the very beginning.  We begin by focusing on evangelism and discipleship and then as leaders emerge, we begin using our facilitator cap to try to get them to buy-in to the vision and take on ministry responsibilities. Why the vision has remained very similar, our approach has been moving us more toward seeing ourselves as facilitators at all phases of ministry.

Toward the end of every year - we struggle with identifying what level our churches are at in the 5 phases.  We usually identify a church in several phases and it becomes frustrating if we identify a church at that same phase year after year.  This last year, we identified a relatively new church plant at roughly the same level as a mature church, but they are obviously at very different stages of development.  I think the way that we do this evaluation is highly influenced by how well we see ourselves as facilitators.  So in an exercise to help our churches and team, I wrote out a strategic vision and plan to explain what we would be doing with our most recent church plant at every phase.  It looked something like this:

Vision: Self-sustaining, self-governing disciple-making church with a national pastor and house fellowships in every neighborhood where we have members.

Goals for 2020: Be operating in all 5 phases.

1. Establishing relationships

- Identified all the ways we (as m’s and as church members) are building redemptive relationships.
- Included the goal of making sure everyone knows that they are loved and cared for.

2. Discipling believers

- Identified discipleship strategies and people who are or could be discipling others as well as those that we should be engaging as new disciples. 
- Identified dates for possible public baptisms as well as for discipleship training opportunities.

3. Developing leaders

- Identified ways to develop our church board as well as to develop and cast vision for ministry.
- Identified people ready for theological training opportunities.
- Share my job description (as pastor) with the board and let them speak into it and encourage them to hold me accountable.
- Identified opportunities for others to preach, lead and serve in our various ministry venues.
- Identified plans to engage certain leaders in the areas of spiritual formation strategies.
- Identified training opportunities in DMM and small group leadership.

4. Advancing sustainability

- Monthly emphasis on stewardship on services and testimonies.
- Allow the board to help me govern, plan and lead the church.
- Develop a budget with the board and develop a plan for financial transparency with the church.
- Simplify events – affordable to everyone.
- Encourage participation in every area of ministry and identify ministry opportunities for all kinds of gifts.

5. Multiplying movements

- Training for facilitators and opportunities to practice.
- Shared specific ideas for casting vision for a healthy multiplying church 
- DMM training & Materials

Obviously, you can tell that our church is very young by the kinds of goals and things that we are focusing on.  But my point is that we should be thinking about all phases at all times.  Jesus was already focused on multiplying movements when he invited Peter to follow Him and added the vision that he would make him into a "fisher of men.”  I would add that we do a lot of fishing as a non-profit org in our community and our members get to speak into our vision and are invited to participate as a part of their membership, which helps facilitate participation in establishing relationships. So we are effectively facilitating/laxativing at all five phases. 

I like the DMM approach to discipleship for they are effectively creating a method of discovery that can be reproduced with little training and thus facilitating the reproduction of disciples.  We are currently trying to morph our objective-based discipleship into a DMM form for simpler reproduction while assuring that key objectives are being met.

I think we can facilitate even while we are leading.  A lot of the discussion about this new era of facilitating in missions seems to discourage missionaries from roles of leadership.  But I think some of our contexts need to see servant-leadership modeled successfully before it can be reproduced.  That seems to be Jesus’ approach.  For the leadership style in the church of His day did not facilitate reproduction for a healthy movement.  But that is the subject for another blog I guess.

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Mindful of our Words

Recently I was sitting at the dinner table with my family.  As the kids grow up this doesn’t happen as often as we’d like so we cherish the time more than ever and often take time to pray together.   As we shared prayer requests, I made a comment that we should continue praying for my daughter Marlena as she transitions.  I assumed the context was understood as we all knew she had recently graduated and would be moving to start a job in another city.  I was a little taken aback by the strange smiles from my kids. Finally, one of them said, “you know Dad, that has a different meaning these days.”   I’ll let you figure out what they were talking about in today’s American context. 

As disturbing as the above example is, it’s a good reminder that we need to be mindful of the context in which words are received.  In the North American church and phase 4 & 5 fields there are often established patterns of thinking regarding missionaries and their engagement on the field.  Whether it’s North Americans thinking missions is only about evangelism or an established national church thinking money to run the church will always come from overseas.   Using and defining new terminology can open up doors to address these patterns of thinking and move the church towards greater maturity. 

I used a simple change in terminology at one of our Bible schools in Africa to try and deal with an issue that was demoralizing the staff.  We worked together to change from a program of student ‘sponsorship’ to student ‘scholarship’. The word sponsorship was used widely by students and staff and fostered a sense of outside dependency in both.  We decided to ban the use of the word sponsorship and began working on a structure for distributing scholarships, giving the staff a greater sense of responsibility and control in the process.   Very little actually changed in how money came in and was distributed but it did have an impact on how students related to the school.  This simple change in terminology gave opportunity to address thought patterns of dependency and gave a platform to empower staff.  And, I believe the staff is the key to helping the institution move toward a more sustainable operation.

I believe Global Partners has good mission strategy that’s on point with God’s mission and engaged with the changing context of our world.  Terminology of the facilitator era missionary can give us new opportunity to communicate and work in phase 4&5 area ministries.  I’d be interested to hear from others on how the simple use of terminology has or might impact your area of ministry.

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Rebooting GP

From time to time my computer starts to operate slower and slower. Programs don’t open as quickly as they ought, Zoom conferences cut in and out, and video clips halt for “buffering”. Often my computer woes can be solved by simply rebooting my system. I just shut down all the programs and power down my machine. Then when I restart I find that things are humming along smoothly again. Rebooting helps clear my computer of clutter that has kept it from working with maximum efficiency.

Period “rebootings” can be good for us as individuals as well as good for us as an organization. Essentially that’s what happens when a person takes a sabbatical – they shut down normal activities so that they can later power up and engage with fresh energy and perspective. In the “good old days” furlough served that purpose for missionaries. There were responsibilities for sure, but it provided a year free from normal missionary activity in preparation for returning to the field. Now with the pressure of support raising compressed into a shorter period, for many PD does not provide a reboot.

To varying degrees the Covid pandemic has shut us down individually and corporately from our normal activities. While we have managed to continue with some things remotely, other things have been put on hold until who knows when. It is an ideal time for us to reboot our lives and ministries. If we return to business as usual when/if this is over, then we have lost a good opportunity to clean out our systems in order to restart with fresh energy and focus. Over time our lives and ministries accumulate clutter that hinder our effectiveness and periodically needs to be cleared out.

It will be easy for to simply pick up where we left off and continue along the same path we had been traveling prior to the pandemic – much like pressing “pause” and then pressing “resume” to pick up exactly where we left off. For us to have a true reboot that changes our trajectory we will need to consciously reflect and identify the clutter that is bogging down the mission.

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta, has challenged his staff to think through three questions as they reboot their ministries (Leadership podcast, 3 August 2020). 1) What should we never do again that we stopped doing because of Covid-19? 2) What should we start doing that we haven’t been doing but that we should begin doing now? 3) What have we learned during this time that we should carry with us into the future? They started processing through these questions before they started discussing the nitty gritty logistics of reopening their churches.

Those same questions can be helpful to us too, to ensure that we take advantage of the opportunity to reboot instead of simply pausing and then resuming. The questions can be asked at different levels – individually, as teams, as fields/Areas, and as an organization as a whole.

For example, here are some of the questions I’m asking myself or conclusions I’ve been drawing.

  • On a personal level – I’ve been to quick to accept travel invitations and need to be more strategically selective.
  • On a team level – my regular virtual check-ins with the missionary team leaders need to continue.
  • On an Area level – how do we help African churches to work collaboratively across national borders, instead of each of them having to reinvent the wheel – thinking specifically of missions mobilization and theological education?
  • On an organizational level – are we as an organization structured well to move into the emerging E2E era – everything from governance to mobilization to finances?

What about you? Are you rebooting or are you simply pausing? How would you answer these questions on the different levels?

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Financing E2E

In the past I have been very concerned about providing too much financial support for anything outside of infrastructural development. You know the buildings and equipment needed for the workers to train and serve.

Over the last few years I have had that concept challenged by what I have seen happening in Iberoamerica. We have organized a large number of events over the years with a key guide in place related to the financing of these events and ministry.

The guiding principle is basically this, “everyone needs to contribute to what is being planned and done.” At first the contributions were set at a lower level with the idea that as people learned the value of what was being done then, over time there would be a growing willingness to commit more finances to the ministry and work being done. Even the members of the Jibacam board contribute to the finances for board meetings and other events. They are expected to raise the money to cover their share of the costs.

The balance is then raised from interested people and churches who want to support the work being done. This has worked well and we have seen a growing willingness of the churches of Iberoamerica to increase their giving. It has a slow process but has been encouraging.

At one point I was thinking that it was time to bring an end to outside support. At some point you need to cut the umbilical cord so to speak. To this end I prepared some fairly complex guidelines for seeking help. They were well structured and laid out. A good set of protocols. But as I thought about them I realized they were designed to prevent the churches from wanting to run the gauntlet to get approval for such action.

I have rethought this and thrown it all in the garbage. Mostly because of all that is happening and the realization that it will be impossible to sustain the work God is calling the region to do if there is not outside involvement.

This has led me to review even what we do in raising funds. We seek out patrons to help us carry out the work. We talk to people, to groups of people, and churches, hoping and praying they will see the need and give, as well as pray. I say patrons because that is what they are. They are giving so we can focus on a key activity, much like the patrons of the arts who give so musicians, artists, and others can do what they do. Without this patronage we would be poorer in these areas.

If you think about this you will realize there are different levels of patronage. Ordinary people can be patrons, based on a specific level of giving. From there the scale ascends. The more you are able to give the fancier your title is and the more privileges you gain. An example, a first-tier giver may be given two free passes to events sponsored by the organization, while a top tier give has a free pass for every event, as well as other perks.

Think of E2E as just this, the chance to make it possible for gifted people to carry out their call. People who, without such patronage, will not be able to use the gifts they have been given by God.

If we apply this concept to missions then the local churches that are sending them, churches in poorer countries, would be the first-tier givers. (Another interesting fact is that the giving tiers are like a pyramid. The lowest level is populated by a great number of people. The farther up the pyramid you go the fewer people there are. Each level may give the same amount but it takes fewer and fewer people to reach that amount.)

Other countries could be involved in the patronage system as well. Each country could represent a tier in the structure. What will be different is that each tier will represent two key differences from the fine arts pyramid.

To understand this let me create a hypothetical structure. First we have the national church that is sending the person, second would be partnering national churches from that region. The third would be other national churches not from that region. In the case of this pyramid being part of a tier does not always define the giving capacity of the group. What it defines is nearness to the sending agency and the one being sent.

 The other key relates to responsibility and supervision. This will be different from patronage of the arts where the higher you are up the pyramid the more authority and input you have. It is like a shareholders event. There are a lot of people with few shares and a few with a large number of shares. Who do you think has the controlling vote?

That will be different in this system. It will be the sending church who has authority over what is being done and how it will be supervised. But this needs to be done so that there is still input from those involved in supporting what is done. There always needs to be a process of accountability.

This structure will make people nervous. It should. But managed correctly we could find ourselves creating a system that allows those who have the greater access to finances to make it possible for those with limited finances to go where we cannot go and often at a lower cost.

As you can see my thinking on this concept has shifted from what it used to be. I used to be fully behind the concept of being self-sufficient in relation to finances. And I still am strongly in favor of this as related to the internal operations of a church. But this is not what we are talking about. We are talking about E2E which is clearly different.

Do we have a Biblical example for this? Nothing that seems clear but only hints at this. The first time Jesus sent the disciples out he told them to depend on the generosity of the people where they served. At the end he changed this and told them to take supplies with them. He knew that things would change and there would be a need to find new sources of resources.

Paul used a number of financial plans. He worked and earned a living (Corinth), he depended on local resources (likely in Ephesus), and at time he received help from others (Philippi). On at least two occasions he was involved in raising funds from his area to support the people and work in Israel.

There was no take care of yourself and do everything on your own. It was more we are serving together and we need to discover what will work in every situation so that the work will go forward.

I don’t have a final plan. In fact, I believe we will have to analyze each E2E situation and come up with the best plan that provides the right access to the funds from all the sources available. There is no one plan. What I have tried to do here is open our hearts and minds to the possibility of new avenues of combining what we have to carry out the work in the best way possible.

I hope that is what I have accomplished, opened the door to a greater vision of a united church working to reach everyone everywhere.

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Characteristics of Good Facilitators

Last month, I wrote a post about being comfortable in the middle, commenting on John Maxwell’s book The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization. It bears repeating (since we currently prefer the term ‘facilitator’), that we are all leaders even just in simple ways in our homes, neighborhoods, in class, etc. Being a 360-Degree leader is about showing healthy support and positive influence to everyone below, around, and above us. It’s not about being the boss.

Today I want to make an additional comment on a second chapter of Maxwell’s book which states that “Good leaders in the middle make better leaders at the top”. In other words, good middle-leaders improve the effectiveness of their top leaders. And, that is what we as facilitators want to do.

Maxwell goes on to say that in industrialized nations we have a whole culture around leadership training and expectations. But in developing countries, leadership is more ‘positional’, keeping distance between the leader and followers. The challenge, particularly for those of us who live in “highly positional” cultures, is how to model and/or encourage various levels of leadership. We don’t want to just train people how to be a ‘western’ leader.

In my opinion, the suggestions in the book apply to all cultures, though living them out may be different. So, how do leaders who excel in the middle (facilitators), add to the leaders over them?

GOOD FACILITATORS…

1. Make a better team by helping carry some of the weight and/or the vision of the local leader above them.

Example: Our National Supt. Graça Nhatelo sometimes asks Jim and I to be main speakers at District Conferences. He always gives us his theme to promote for the year. One time he asked Jim to promote the idea of every member giving 10 mt monthly ($0.15) for National Church leaders’ transportation budget. Even though Jim doesn’t like to be the one talking about money, in promoting this, Jim carried Rev. Nhatelo’s vision and gave it extra weight, as it came from both the National leader and the M. 

2. Allow top leaders to be free to focus on other priorities.

Example: When a donation was sent for Bibles, Rev. Nhatelo asked me to be in charge of purchasing and distributing them. When I tried to get out of it by saying someone local might be better, he said no, because I was the one who had had the passion to organize it and would see the money was spent correctly. I accepted, but I had a local pastor work with me so that he could also gain the vision and experience. In the past I have tried to decline certain things, saying I am no longer “the leader”, but I have been reminded I am also part of the team. So this is a dynamic that facilitators have to wrestle with. 

3. Bring out the best in others by modeling the ‘A’ game ourselves.

Examples: Sometimes we do this without even realizing. (1) Years ago. we were in a local church and the pastor said that our young son set a good example. Our ears perked up. He said that Ben brought his Bible to church every week. We didn’t even realize we were setting an example; it was simply the way we were raised. (2) A young pastor said he takes good care of the car he has purchased and that he learned to do that by observing how the Ms took care of theirs.

4. Add value to top leaders by being a positive influence on other team members.

Example: Projects have been challenging in Mozambique as the culture values being with people more than tasks and many are not a fan of paperwork. I have tried to stress that if money is received from Western donors, they need to understand the Western importance of time and of reports in order to have good communication. In multiple meetings, I would ask the status of a project. There were times I would make multiple calls to see if something was done. There were times I would offer to take a picture and send it to the person responsible so they could give a progress report. Sometimes, I was concerned that, as a facilitator, I was being too pushy or annoying. However, I spoke to the National Supt. and he told me that I was doing the right things and I needed to continue patiently teaching and modeling. (Your country may have different dynamics. But it is always helpful when you are able to have open communication with the top leader.) This week, a leader said, “I think we must make a commitment to begin a project as soon as the funds are received.” -- Music to my ears.

5. Motivate other leaders to learn and grow. As others see us reading, taking webinars, going to conferences, accepting advice, we model the value of learning.

6. Advance the future by training others in leadership and innovation skills. – Pastoral training and leadership training, such as Leadership Matters, are areas in which GP has been strong in the past. GP has also recognized that overseas long-term training can have unintended negative effects. While we continue promoting different types of training, I believe we need to be careful that we don’t simply copy Western methods/skills.

Some of these points may seem obvious, but is there is an area in which we need to be more intentional?

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Reflections on the Facilitator Role

I don’t think about “Facilitator M” on a daily basis, and to be honest I was only thinking about it yesterday because I knew I had this blog to write.  I was sitting in our “greatly simplified due to Covid-19” worship service yesterday  and my heart was moved like it had not been moved in a long time.  Our final hymn had the familiar words, “This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my Savior all the day long.”  My eyes filled with tears as I realized that my story could be very different if I had been born in another country…or if I had been born to different parents who did not take me to church every time the doors were open…or if I had not made the decision to follow Christ from an early age…or if my parents had not started taking me on family mission experiences as a young teen.  But this is my story.  The story of how the cross of Christ has made all the difference in the destiny of my life and my family.  My thoughts then went to the billions around the world who have a different story because they have never heard THE story of a God who loves them and gave His only Son to die in their place.  Their story doesn’t have a happy ending unless someone shares this story with them.

As the song was ending I took my seat and began listening to the pastor.  My eyes were quickly drawn to a banner with familiar verses from Romans 10.  The banner read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The question came to mind…where do we as facilitator M’s fit into these verses?  We’ve been the ones who called on the Name for salvation.  We’ve been the ones who have been sent.  We’ve been the ones who brought the good news, but now we are mobilizing, training, and equipping others to bring that same good news to others.  Our role is now in the background smiling from ear to ear as our spiritual sons and daughters take their first big steps and do what we’ve been doing. 

I am not a marathon runner and I have never enjoyed long hikes or running long distances.  Sports that involve sprinting and high activity are my preference.  I am new to this “facilitator M” task, but I’m thinking it is more like a marathon than a sprint.  I don’t have suggestions or ideas about how to BE a “facilitator M”, but I am trying to learn.  My questions at this point are…

Are we still supposed to facilitate M’s from the US? 

Are M’s from the US still relevant and can they be effective? 

If so, how do we expose people from the US to missions? 

How have we done it in the past?

What played a significant role in your call to missions?

Short-term mission experiences played a major role in my call to missions.  What role do short-term mission experiences still have?

 

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Unreal Expectations for E2E

Unreal Expectations for E2E

I am excited about the emergence of E2E within our circles. I think it is the secret to how the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 will be accelerated as we come to the end of the age. (And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.)

One of the things that excites me about E2E is that it seems to promise a decline in the need for E3 outreach (across major cultural/linguistic barriers) because even people groups without a viable witness do have close neighbors who can take the gospel to them. This is what I’ve witnessed in the rapid expansion of the church in Africa – it’s been on the back of E1/E2 efforts, which demand much less time and effort.

Tom Steffen in The Facilitator Era seems to anticipate the same dynamic, and thus he envisions us as assuming a role facilitating E1/E2 church multiplication initiatives by others, rather than launching E3 initiatives ourselves.

Part of a recent blog post by Matt Whitacre (How Racism Hinders Global Missions) calls that assumption into question. He writes:

“No way. That’s crazy!”

I was shocked. I’ve studied missiology. I have an advanced degree in cross-cultural ministry. All the research I could think of said the same thing: Near cultures can reach the unreached with the gospel more effectively and efficiently than far cultures. For someone from a far culture it just makes sense. Near cultures have language, similar cultural values, and a relatively short distance to travel.

But my friends of Southeast Asian heritage were challenging one of the core tenets in my philosophy of missions.

When I asked if it would be easier for them to reach a certain people group in Southeast Asia, they said “No way. That’s crazy. It would be much easier for you to reach them than us.”

I’m a white male from Midwestern USA. I don’t speak any Asian languages and I know next to nothing about the culture. Both of their families came from a minority people group nearby the majority people group I was praying would be reached.

Here’s what I missed: Racism. Tribalism. Ethnocentrism. Classism. History of oppression. History of power struggles. History of cultural clashes. Generations of stories that passed on prejudice like hand-me-down clothes.

I thought racism was primarily an American problem. Turns out it’s a human problem. And these ingrained prejudices can be bigger barriers to the gospel than language or culture or distance.

I think Whitacre is correct. And for that reason, GP will always be a mix of pioneer multipliers and facilitators. There will always be a role for E3 pioneer work for GP M’s to shoulder, even though we are increasingly becoming facilitators of the ministries of others. If, as an organization we fail to have work going on at all five phases, then somehow we’ve lost sight of the mission.

What do you think?

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Comfortable in the Middle

Comfortable in the Middle

While the word “leadership” could make people hesitate in the 4/5 M reality of coaching or facilitating, John Maxwell in The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization says that leadership is not about being at the top. Leadership is about making an impact wherever we are in an organization, by changing people’s lives and adding value. We may “lead down” (teacher, study leader, area facilitator), “lead across” (peers, teamwork, groups) or “lead up” (supporting those above us). If we don’t use leadership skills, the book says we “create weight for the top leader to move.”

Section II in this book is a key part that relates to being a facilitator. It discusses the seven challenges we might feel “leading” or making an impact from the middle. With each challenge, Maxwell brings clarity by discussing factors that impact us and how to thrive in the midst of it. In the space here, let me just discuss the first challenge:

The Tension Challenge: The Pressure of Being Caught in the Middle. “If you are not the top leader, you are not running the show, but you may be responsible for it”.

Five key factors may affect tension that you may feel: empowerment, initiative, organizational environment, job parameters, and appreciation. The first two are the ones I have found affect me more in a stage 4/5 environment.

  1. Empowerment refers to understanding the responsibility and authority you have been given. In a particular situation I understand a different level of authority given me by Global Partners as opposed to the National Church Board (which are both over me). When the lines are vague or perceived differently between the two groups, it can cause stress.
  2. Initiative is the tension that sometimes we need to initiate, but how can we do that without overstepping boundaries or undermining leadership? If you promoted a project and money arrived two months ago, but the project has not been started, to whom do you speak? What if nothing still gets done and then a donor is displeased? Or what if you feel there is a moral issue that doesn’t seem like it is being addressed?

Five suggestions are given to help us thrive since Maxwell says, that while we need to process the five factors above, we will probably never be completely free of the tension of being in the middle.

  • Become comfortable with the middle. -- What is expected of you? Where and how can you act? Accept you will not always have the answers and some things are out of your control.
  • Know what to ‘own’ and what to let go. -- When you go on PD and someone local takes over a responsibility, should you or how do you take it back when you return?
  • Find quick access to answers when caught in the middle. -- Who else can get information for you? How can you connect people? Do you have good rapport with people?
  • Never violate your position or the trust of the leader. When you don’t agree with a vision or policy, be careful about “if I were in charge” conversations. Is there something in the vision or policy that you can support? Do you have someone you can talk to in confidence?
  • Find a way to relieve stress. – Prayer, reading, exercise, crafts, write a letter/list and then burn it, etc.

How about you?

Do you ever feel any tension from being in the middle?

Are there any other ways you have found helpful to navigate it?

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Rethinking Dependency

Rethinking Dependency

“Africans want and expect to depend upon others and they want others to depend upon them.” – David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters

 

 “To ask is a good thing.” – Lingala proverb (Congo)

 

 “Scriptures teach the interdependence of believers within the Body of Christ, not crippling dependency nor extreme individualism.” – Donald Smith in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions

 

All of my missionary life I thought “dependency” was a dirty word. I have been very conscious of trying to avoid creating dependency. I’ve dedicated much of my missionary career trying to help churches break free from the cycle of dependency. But lately I’ve been wondering if all these years I’ve been making a huge cultural blunder.

In his book Clues to Africa, Islam, & the Gospel, Colin Bearup devotes a chapter to the system of patronage which governs relationships in most collectivistic cultures. He explains that patron-client relationships are the way in which collectivistic cultures manage the inevitable inequalities within society. Because it provides societal stability, interdependent relationships are valued and maintained. In those societies dependency is a good thing and so is embraced and encouraged.

In individualistic cultures independence and equality are valued. We do everything we can to avoid having to depend on others and often are resentful when others depend on us. We struggle to develop deeper level interpersonal relationships because for us those relationships are built on a foundation of equality free from expectations, while in collectivistic cultures meaningful relationships can only exist by acknowledging the inequalities and the obligations that flow out of them. We are constantly plagued by wondering whether friendships are “genuine” or whether people just want to get something out of us. “Why can’t we just be friends?” and “Why are there always strings attached?” are burning questions.

Jeff Fussner, former Asia Area Director, noted in a recent email conversation, “We don't realize as Westerners how individualistic values are so deeply ingrained in our goals and missiology.” Could it be that our drive to avoid creating and/or to breaking dependency are driven more by our individualistic values than by biblical values? Is insisting that churches and ministries become self-supporting more reflective of American cultural values than the values of the interdependent body of Christ as portrayed in Scripture?

We value the development of independent autonomous Wesleyan churches around the world, but maybe those churches don’t value independence like we do. Maybe they value an interdependent global church body much more. Is the ICWC structure a reflection of American cultural values? Could it be that the perceived resistance to becoming self-sustaining has much less to do with money than it does with the fear of the loss of relationships and the sense of security that flows out of those relationships?

Phase 4 of GP’s 5 phase strategy is “Advancing Sustainability”. What would sustainability look like within a framework of interdependency instead of a framework of self-support and self-sustainability and how would we go about advancing it? How would that change how we assess church maturity? How would it influence what we do at all the other phases? What would the implications be for E2E? How could we recognize and foster healthy interdependence and avoid unhealthy codependency?

Churches around the world see GP as a patron. Rather than chafe and kick back against that role, can we lean into it and learn to relate to the international church in new ways? Can we embrace dependency as a value? Should we?

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