Mega shifts - Moving Toward a Polycentric Mission Sending Model

In one unspecified Asian country (UAC), a Newer Sending Country (NSC1), recent indigenous mission sending activity traces its start as far back as to the beginnings of the 20th century. However, according to a review of published recent activity from this country, many mission sending difficulties remain. Numerous potential applicants for missionary service from this country have lacked competency in the language and culture of their target countries. Many lack the professional skills that they will need to establish a platform for service.2 Church leaders in the Middle East have stressed that future missionaries from this Asian country to their part of the world should first acquire some sort of professional status and have in-depth understanding of Islamic culture (Peter 2004, 7-8). However, the current state of readiness of some of these NSC missionary trainees fell well short of these ideals.

This writer’s personal observation with many … trainees was that they are mostly young people from 20 to 25 years of age with an average education of junior school to senior high school. Only a few have some college education. Most of them come from rural areas with little experience in city life, and almost none had any cross-culture experience outside of [UAC] prior their joining the program for training. Almost all lack any professional skill. Also almost all of them, though rich in church ministry experience, had virtually no experience in the secular work place (Chan 2009, 75).

He previously had recorded the following story:

A missionary has recently communicated with the writer that in Iraq he had encountered a group of [NSC] missionaries from rural [UAC]. To his surprise, these [NSC] missionaries have no knowledge about Iraq, certainly no language skill. Furthermore, these [NSC] missionaries are pig farmers, not the most welcoming profession in the Muslim world (Chan 2005, 74).

These NSC missionaries, though passionate Christians, have lacked cultural and linguistic competence. Though the church in this Asian country feels called to take the Gospel into the 10/40 Window, according to Kim-kwong Chan writing in 2009, “It will require a lot more serious missiological and spiritual groundwork before it (UAC) can become a credible and sustainable mission movement bearing impact on global Christianity” (2009, 78).

Growing Abilities of UAC Missionaries to Culturally Contextualize

I recently interviewed eleven UAC long-term missionaries exploring challenges experienced in the context of service. In these missionary conversations, I found evidence of a growing ability of these NSC missionaries to culturally contextualize, and a growing maturity of the mission sending movement from this Asian country.

Language and culture challenges NSC missionaries currently navigate are similar to challenges missionaries have faced throughout history (MI#2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12). Interviewees possessed varying degrees of language proficiency and language learning aptitude, but generally functioned more highly in these areas than my literature review-based expectations. They were intentional in their language acquisition efforts, and their diligent study, whether in Arabic (MI#2), Khmer (MI#7), Indonesian (MI#5), or one of the minority ethnic UAC dialects (MI#3), bore fruit. The interviewed missionaries understood the nuances of local culture (e.g., worship styles, direction to face when praying), and implemented mature strategies to cross cultural boundaries (e.g., abstaining from pork) in order to build relationships (MI#3,4,6). One such challenge involved personal hygiene and the custom of UAC people to use slippers and toilet tissue when visiting the bathroom.

When we were in Indonesia, they just used the bathroom in bare feet… no slippers for the bathroom or for the kitchen, and then they wore nothing on their feet when they went back to the bedroom…I feel you should wear slippers to the bathroom. They don’t, so their feet are dirty. And no tissue is used in the bathroom, just hands and water. Oh, my! At the time I just could not accept this at all…so dirty, and then, using those same hands to eat! I couldn’t accept it at all- very painful. Really, I felt towards that culture and tradition…Sigh! My feet, later I looked at my feet… extremely dirty, you know? But everything was like this. Everything was like that, so I couldn’t be the exception. I could not draw attention to my culture nor could I make a point of showing how dignified I was or the kind of education I received. I couldn’t say those things. All you could do was adjust yourself, to change to be like them. (MI#5)

The interviewed missionaries endeavored to walk among and become like the people they served, eating and working with them, learning their special terminology, and becoming insiders in local language and culture in order to more effectively win a hearing for the Gospel message.

Intercultural studies were a strong component of the missionary training programs that some of the interviewees experienced. One missionary expounded,

When we eat, we do not want to just eat one course at a time. There must be a balance. We don’t just want to focus on the Bible and prayer only. We need to study the language and the culture. (MI#9)

Two missionaries studied at a special school tailored to the needs of UAC minority peoples (MI#4,12). Because the students represented so many different minority ethnicities, learners were able to gain first-hand practical experience with intercultural issues even while listening to didactic content. Formal teaching covered a wide variety of areas including how to preach to Muslims (MI#4), how to dress Malaysian style (MI#5), and how to eat unfamiliar food (MI#5). Passages from the Koran were read (MI#4). Literature on culture shock was examined (MI#8,9). One missionary training program placed missionary candidates among Buddhist people for six weeks (MI#6), later strategically relocating them in a predominantly Muslim area where they could again experience the discomfort of new surroundings. Candidates were required to make and visit friends, exchange phone numbers, etc. The instructors understood that intense culture shock experienced during training can help to avert more serious culture shock after a missionary goes abroad to begin long-term service (MI#6).

One NSC missionary stated that she used to think that just a passion for the Lord and prayerful proclamation of the Gospel were enough. Now she feels that knowledge needs to go hand in hand with a love for God (MI#5). She cited as an example Matteo Ricci and the way his science opened the Ming dynasty court to the Gospel. Jesus understood the problems of the fishermen. He answered questions posed by well-educated Pharisees. Without knowledge, it is possible to boldly preach the wrong thing. After completing theological studies in Singapore, she felt she understood why sustainability for missionary service from UAC was difficult to achieve. The UAC church needs to develop not only an indigenous UAC theology, but also an UAC slant on missiology that will sustainably carry these NSC missionaries into the world (MI#5).

In summary, among the interviewed missionaries, there is evidence of a more thorough training, greater language ability, and greater cultural sensitivity than what has been noted historically. These changes bode well for the UAC mission sending movement and hold out the potential of a possible more robust contribution by the UAC church to the cause of global Gospel advance. This kind of forward progress is encouraging as a prototype for what is happening and what can happen in other NSC as the global church moves toward a polycentric mission sending model (“Everywhere to Everywhere”).

_______________

[1] NSC (Newer Sending countries) is a term borrowed from the ReMAP study (World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission 1997). Newer sending countries, according to ReMAP, include: South Korea, Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, the Philippines, and Singapore. In this discussion, I use the term to designate those countries with relatively less experience in missionary sending, and do not limit the term only to these eight countries.

[1] Missionary candidate selection is a crucial factor in long term success on the mission field. Chan states, “The potential impact of the [NSC missionaries] on the Islamic world, at least in the immediate future, will be severely restricted by the limited availability of qualified candidates, rather than by the sheer quantity of missionaries sent” (2009, 75). 

 

References

Chan, Kim-Kwong. 2005. "Missiological Implications of Chinese Christianity in a Globalized Context." Quest: 55-74.

Chan, Kim-kwong. 2009. Mission Movement of the Christian Community in Mainland China: The Back to Jerusalem Movement (Draft).

edinburgh2010.oikoumene.org, http://www.edinburgh2010.org/fileadmin/files/edinburgh2010/files/pdf/Kim-Kwong%20Chan%202009-2-28.pdf.

Elkins, P., Lewis, J., and Van Meter, J. 2003. Three Part Missionary Tracking Guide. WEA: Missions Commission.

Peter, Brother. 2004. Interview from the Land of the Pharaohs. Back To Jerusalem Bulletin, December, 7-8.

World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission. 1997. Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition. Edited by William D. Taylor, Globalization of Missions Series. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

 

 

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Mega shifts – A word of caution

I would like to ask us to pause a moment and consider what this term means. I am not sure I am totally comfortable with the term or what it suggests.

If I am not mistaken it suggests a large shift from one place or concept to something different in a significant way. It also suggests polarity as if being on one side of the shift negates or excludes whatever of value was on the other side of the sift. It suggests switching from one thing to another and so leaving behind something. I don’t like these possible interpretations of the idea of a mega shift. A shift that is more than huge. I will stop here with my dislike for the term.

In some groups, the phrase used is a paradigm shift. The replacing of one conceptual model with another. I like this phrase better. It does not always involve replacing all the content with new content. A paradigm shift is about refocusing. It involves shifting the priorities of the content. And sometimes it does involve replacing old content with new or adding new to the old.

Think of a car in its basic function. Four wheels, motor, carriage, you know the basics. Then you can start adding and upgrading from there. The beauty is that you can modify this object in so many ways to adapt to so many situations and still it is a car. Enough of the analogy.

As we move forward, we are going to be discussing areas where we may need to shift our thinking. We may need new paradigms, ways in which we prioritize what must be done, how it should be done, and what will work best. It is not shifting from here to there but shifting things around so they function better in each setting. Think of furniture and the context of a house. You can use the same furniture in different houses, but put you may use or place it differently in each house depending on how the house is laid out. This may also mean adding and removing pieces based on that layout and size of the house.

We need to bring this concept to our discussion and allow ourselves to see the value of both aspects of the topics that will be covered.

This also leads me to one other concept I am not comfortable when we use the word shift. Shift suggests moving from here to there. It suggests a concept of either/or. This may not be a good concept for what we need to be processing. This is because both sides of the shift being discussed may contain concepts and ideas that are useful and necessary. In this case, we need to think of both/and as the guiding concept. Again the paradigm concept I am using of reorganizing and reprioritizing according to a given setting and context.

There are times when such shifts will be subtle and barely obvious and yet can have a great impact. There are other times when the shifts will be significant and will unsettle people as they are carried out. It all depends on where we are and what needs to happen for the shift to effectively accomplish what is needed.

Are you hearing my concerns? Mega shifts sound exciting but may actually not work or be beneficial because of what may be lost in moving in such a drastic and exclusive manner. Mega shifts may result in the loss of essential and critical truth if one is only focused on the need to change and not thinking carefully about just how much change is needed.

Finally, and I am probably repeating myself, we cannot assume that every topic we will discuss will apply equally to every situation. Even as every child is different and how we discipline and encourage them is different, every situation needs that same kind of attention and insight so that what shifts are made, and how great they are, match the reality of what exists and what is needed to move forward.

We have quite a challenge before us. We are being asked to evaluate what we have and think about what changes should/must be made for our organization to be truly effective going forward. I pray that what we learn as we process these topics and others will provide the guidance needed for our future growth and development as followers of Jesus.

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MISSIONS MEGASHIFTS

“The only thing that is constant is change.” - Heraclitus

“We can’t control the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” - Anonymous

I doubt that the originator of the second quote was a GP m, but it could have been. GP as an organization is being pushed by megatrends over which we have no control, but we do control our response to them. We can try to stand against the winds of change, which ultimately is an act of self- destruction. History is replete of examples of businesses (and churches) that refused to change and eventually became obsolete and disappeared off the scene. Or we can adjust to those winds and use their energy to propel us forward.

Change is inevitable. A basic premise of Tom Steffen’s book (The Facilitator Era) is that the missions world is in the middle of a major paradigm shift – and mission agencies must adjust to the shift or else become increasingly irrelevant and eventually cease to exist. GP will either choose to try to battle the wind or will adjust its sails and embrace fresh ministry paradigms.

Over the coming weeks many of the Facilitator M blog posts will focus on specific “missions megashifts” that are part of a new paradigm. These posts will be part predictive and part prescriptive. They will be predictive in the sense that they will describe the direction the winds of change are pushing us and where we are likely to end up even if we resist those winds. They will be prescriptive in suggesting ways in which GP can “adjust our sails” to embrace a new paradigm for even greater missional impact.

“Missions” shifts; the “Mission” is constant.

The mission of the church as expressed in the Great Commission is to “make disciples of all nations”. By extension, that is the mission that drives the Wesleyan Church and Global Partners. That mission will remain the same until Christ returns regardless of whatever winds may blow.

GP’s stated mission of “amplifying local church mission for global transformation” seeks to define GP’s role within the overarching mission. That mission statement is subject to redefinition over time. Our current mission statement would not be how WWM/GP saw its role earlier in our history but reflects a changing paradigm and is more in line with where I believe GP will be in the coming era.

While the “mission” is constant, “missions” (the way we go about fulfilling the mission) must shift from time to time or else we are in danger of no longer being true to the mission itself.

Going back to the analogy of adjusting our sails -  When setting sail, a navigator plots a course to the desired destination based on the unchanging points of the compass. Winds may blow from many directions and it becomes the task of the sailors to continually adjust the sails in order to stay on track. Technologies have changed (north star – compass – sextant – GPS) but the process of navigation is fundamentally unchanged – reaching one’s destination being guided by the constants and changing one’s tack as needed. Thus it is with the mission and missions. The mission is our guiding constant but how we do missions continually shifts as we seek to be true to the mission.

Missions Megashifts

Subsequent Facilitator M blog posts will explore some of these shifts in greater detail, but to whet your appetite, here are some megashifts that I believe are and will be taking place (predictive), and that I believe that we need to embrace as we pursue the unchanging mission (prescriptive).

  • From a denominational “arm” to a central focus;
  • From an expansive bureaucratic structure to a streamlined functional entity;
  • From a sending organization to a networking organization;
  • From traditional fully supported m’s to mobile marketplace multipliers;
  • From a control posture to a facilitative posture[i];
  • From denominational expansion to kingdom building;
  • From a Church Planting Movement (CPM) to a Disciple Making Movement (DMM);
  • From North American administrative oversight of global church development and accountability to regional oversight of global church development and accountability;
  • From foreign missions to diaspora missions[ii];
  • From unicentric and unidirectional missions to polycentric and poly-directional missions[iii];

What are the biggest shifts you see us making as we “adjust our sails” to the winds of our changing time?

Confessions

As we launch into an examination of the missions megashifts, I should make a couple of confessions.

Confession #1: I am a traditionalist through and through. I can make a strong case (biblically, theologically, practically) for continuing to do missions the way we used to. Some of the shifts I see coming our way make me extremely uncomfortable. It almost feels like I’m compromising or surrendering to heresy if I “adjust my sails” to the winds of change.

Confession #2: I am optimistic and excited about the trajectory for the global Wesleyan Church in the days ahead. What appear to be “contrary winds” right now may propel us into greater effectiveness in fulfilling the mission of making disciples of all nations than we’ve seen in the past 130 years.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” - C. S. Lewis

 

[i] Steffen, T. (2011). The facilitator era. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

[ii] Tira, S. J. (2020). Scattered and gathered: A global compendium of diaspora missiology. Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library.

[iii] Yeh, A. L. (2016). Polycentric missiology: Twenty first century mission from everyone to everywhere. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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Thoughts on Transition

When I hear the word transition, the first image that pops in my mind is that of delivering a baby.   When we were expecting our first child, we decided to be the brave “Natural Childbirth” folks.  After all, during those days it had become almost a test of one’s spirituality.  So of course, we needed to comply. 

Wayne and I faithfully attended the classes. I practiced the breathing exercises and he was the eager coach.  On about the 4th  class we began to hear about this thing  called “transition”.  It is the final part of the birth process.   The teacher did finally note that transition would be something different.  Using the word pain was against the rules.  But I began to read between the lines and realized this was going to be tough.  However, always assured that if I practiced the proper breathing, I would get through this and the joy of birth would outweigh this difficult time. 

Well, I would like to say I was a hero, and all was bliss.  I did not need anyone to announce to me that I had hit transition.  I knew and it was not as had been described.  I was exhaling when I should have been inhaling. I wanted to get up and run out of the room thinking that would make it all go away. I was losing control. I still wanted the power, but alas the baby won.    

There are a few principles I have observed and experienced over the years regarding transition that are not unlike that of having a baby.

1. Leaders not facing the reality of transition. In this state, many leaders ignore the future of transition.    They believe that somehow God will bring in the next person at that time.   But I have seen them blind to the leader God has provided and want to hang onto the power. 

 2. Leaders talking of transition too early.   Making it known that they are looking for someone to take their place.   This style causes a culture of tentativeness and even competition.  I have observed the vision being lost in something of a power struggle.

3. Leaders naming a replacement without a time frame. This creates several dilemmas.  The “leader in waiting” gets restless, starts critiquing systems and the leader starts getting his/her own following. 

4. Leaders naming a replacement privately with the selected person. As time moves along and the leader works with the person, it becomes apparent this person cannot be the replacement.  So the replacement is let go.  This creates friction, distrust, and division. 

However,  the next time around with childbirth transition was much easier.   I cooperated with the baby.  (the future)

There are some positive leadership transitions that are much like my second childbirth experience. 

1. Leaders consult those around him/her as to the future as they see it. For example, all cultures are changing and a leader for a certain time is not the leader for the future. It involves the community as opposed to a top-down decision.

2. This is followed by a “working group” of some type to determine needs of the future leader.

3. Some transitions consist of both the old and the new working together for a while. However, it is imperative that the old go on to something else after the transition  is complete and this arrangement is timely – Not to long – Trust is transferred.

I am hoping that the principles mentioned as well as the metaphor of childbirth will engage further creative conversation far beyond what I have written.  

OF COURSE, AT THE TOP OF ALL THIS IS THE GUIDANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  Listening and Submitting to our LORD.    I love how the Lord speaks through community.

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MEGATRENDS AND GP - Part 2

The first five megatrends shared in the previous blog post are forces outside the church that are shaping missions. We now turn to megatrends within the church that must be considered.

6. Church & Mission Demographics

Two important trends emerging from the reality of the growth of the global church: a) there is a huge disparity between the growth rates of global churches and the churches that sent missionaries to start them in the first place; and b) there has been an explosion of new mission agencies.

A paper presented last month to the GBA of the Wesleyan Church sums up the state of the Wesleyan Church in North America: “The denomination has not statistically gained a great deal since the 1968 merger. When looking at 150 years of history, the last 50 looks closer to plateau rather than growth.” General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt describes the situation like this: “TWC has been a relatively healthy and incrementally growing denomination. However, we are losing ground in reaching North America with its growing and changing population, as well as its increasing secularization.”

Meanwhile the Wesleyan Church around the globe has been growing by leaps and bounds. A denominational structure which seeks to support a rapidly expanding global church from a plateaued North American base is increasingly becoming unviable.

Although hard to ascertain objectively, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that an increasing number of Wesleyan m’s that are supported by their home church are serving with agencies other than GP. Unfortunately one hears stories of potential missionaries in Wesleyan churches who are surprised to learn that the Wesleyan Church has a mission agency of its own! 

Arthur’s summary of the implications for mission agencies in the UK holds true for agencies in North America and Global Partners as well:

“This presents an extremely challenging situation for agencies, who find themselves competing for support with a growing number of other organisations at the same time as their pool of potential supporters both shrinks and becomes less interested in their work. It is clear that in the long term, this situation is not sustainable, and the likelihood is that in the short to medium term, some agencies will find themselves unable to continue because of a lack of support.” (Arthur, 2019)

7. E2E

In our day, we are witnessing the greatest non-western mission’s movement in history. The mission field in many parts of the world is producing a powerful mission force. And with this seismic change, new strategies are emerging. These strategies will require humility, courage, and the willingness to take risks in order to serve the global church as sending nations. (https://www.storylinemissions.org/about-us/

It is difficult to quantify the extent of the shift in missionary sending because it is exceedingly difficult to get hard data. In 1989, Larry Pate shocked the missions world by projecting that by the year 2000 the majority of Protestant missionaries would be from the non-Western world. In 2003, Michael Jaffarian called Pate’s projections into question, concluding that “we should recognize the growth in the number of foreign missionaries from the Four-Fifths World, rejoice over it before the Lord our God, and support it—even though we cannot say there are more non-Western missionaries than Western missionaries. At least not yet.” However, Steve Moon’s analysis in 2019 concluded that perhaps Pate was not far off, noting “If we compare Protestant missionaries only, we could conclude that Pate’s projection was simply delayed in coming true. It could be that the number of non-Western Protestant missionaries outnumbered that of Western counterparts not by the year 2000, but by, say, 2010. To verify this hunch would demand solid empirical research.”

The International Conference of the Wesleyan Church meeting in Barbados in 2019 chose as its theme, “Everywhere to Everywhere” in recognition that in the Wesleyan Church places that had in the past received missionaries are now beginning to send missionaries of their own. While as a church we have been slower than other churches in seeing this trend emerge, it is undoubtedly gaining momentum.

The wave of missions engagement by the global Wesleyan Church is running ahead of the development of the structures and systems to undergird it. Neither GP nor the ICWC were developed to provide oversight and direction to a polycentric missions reality. Failure to address the structural issues could impede the growth of vision and enthusiasm in the church around the world.

8. Decline of Denominations

Fifty years ago, local churches looked to their denomination for both a source of identity as well as their programming, including for their missions program. That’s no longer the case.

In 2015 Ed Stetzer wrote about the increase in evangelicals identifying themselves as nondenominational and provided the following chart to illustrate.

 

Within denominational churches there has been a trend to deemphasize their denominational affiliation. Stetzer explains:

Despite recent data from LifeWay Research, which found most Americans are open to denominational churches, many pastors feel they can be more effective by not promoting their denominational affiliation. They aren't necessarily hiding it, but it's not something that comes up frequently.

Many evangelicals are happy to talk about Jesus, but perhaps are reticent to talk about their denomination. Or they might not even know their church is affiliated with a larger group.

The Wesleyan Church is no exception to this trend. For example, 50 years ago local churches invariable used the name “Wesleyan” in their local church name (e.g. Podunk Wesleyan Church) but are increasingly adopting more generic names (e.g. New Life Church). The denominational headquarters has downsized a number of times, for example moving from four General Superintendents to three and now to one. Whole departments – Youth, Sunday School, Wesleyan Women, Wesleyan Men – have disappeared or been merged. Wesleyan pastors who used to look to the denominational headquarters for programming direction and help are just as likely (or more so) to look elsewhere, especially to prominent megachurches and their pastors – for example, a Wesleyan pastor is just as likely to “borrow” a sermon series from Andy Stanley as they are to use a sermon series from Fishers, IN.

The implications for denominational missions agencies such as Global Partners are huge. Fifty years ago, the primary contact with missions for most local Wesleyan churches was through Wesleyan World Missions. Missionaries on “furlough” made regular tours around the church with a visit to most local churches at least once a year. Wesleyan missions was promoted by the Women’s Missionary Society which later changed to become Wesleyan Women with a greater emphasis on ministry to women in the church and a decreased emphasis on missions – and eventually WWI disappeared. Under the WMS children were exposed to Wesleyan missions through the Young Missionary Workers Band (YMWB), which later changed to Wesleyan Kids For Missions (WKFM) until it too disappeared from the scene. The November Self-Denial Offering at one time was the major source of income for Wesleyan World Missions, but as support for the denominational offering declined, WWM/GP transitioned to a system of pooled support (all missionaries raised the same amount) and eventually to our current individualized support system.

It is arguable that GP has not adapted as much to the changing denominational realities as the denomination as a whole. However, our structure as an organization has it’s roots in a time when denominational loyalty was a high value and is likely to be unsustainable in the long term without significant reorganization to reflect current realities.

9. Missional Churches

In their book, When Everything is Missions, authors Spitters and Ellison argue that although the rise of the “missional” church is commendable, it has often brought with it a deemphasis on global cross-cultural missions. In their introduction they explain:

We greatly appreciate much of what we have seen in the “missional” church movement of the past decade. Pastors, teachers, and ministry leaders identified with this movement have exhorted the Church and all believers to be “on mission with God” to make disciples in our own contexts. We find this commendable and praiseworthy; it offers a great hope for future generations of the Church. We embrace the exhortation of these leaders who have called us to make the discipleship process central to our obedience to the Great Commission. Careful examination of Jesus’ earthly ministry makes it abundantly clear that the process of making disciples was the center of His five commissioning statements and exhibited by the enormous quantity of time He invested in His own disciples.

Yet we are concerned that an uncritical use of words, and in particular a lack of shared definition for the words mission, missions, missionary, and missional, has led to a distortion of Jesus’ biblical mandate, ushered in an everything-is-missions paradigm, and moved missions from the initiation and oversight of local churches to make it the domain of individual believers responding to individualized callings.  . . .  A strong embrace of the everything-is-mission paradigm has sometimes led us to a humanitarian mission devoid of the gospel. While “everybody is a missionary” thinking has been intended to level the playing field for greater participation in making disciples, has this inclusivism had another, unintended result, at times? Has it led to a serious decline in interest in and support for apostolic, pioneering missions activity?

Their argument is that the understanding of missions has been broadened to include just about anything that the church does in fulfillment of God’s mission in the world that the specific focus of the great commission gets lost. There is no reason to think that Wesleyan churches are any different.

10. Development Focus

There has long been a tension between evangelistic, church-planting ministries and compassionate ministries within missions. The pendulum is now swinging toward an emphasis on social ministries. Theologian Scot McKnight has asserted that mission work has become social work explaining: 

Missions, international missions and foreign missions are now engulfed in NGOs and global justice and water and infrastructure. Evangelicalism was built on evangelistic church-planting pioneers. Always, or at least nearly always, such missionaries were fully engaged in church-planting as well as compassion and provisions so far as they were able. But they were there to preach and teach the gospel and win people for Christ. That’s evangelicalism. A friend of mine, a missionary, told me that the last 15 years in his corner of the missionary world has seen not one new missionary concerned with church planting and evangelism; they are all NGO types. Giving to NGOs is on the rise; giving to church-planting on the decline. Organize a day for evangelism training and you will be alone or close to it; organize a day for some kind of social action and you may see more than Sunday morning service.

This is undoubtedly true within the Wesleyan Church. Exhibit number one – the growth of World Hope International. It is not unusual to find Wesleyan churches whose “missions” budget is heavily skewed toward organizations such as WHI, World Vision, and Compassion with less focused on the work of starting and developing churches around the world. Many church members see little difference between drilling a well and helping to provide the living water for spiritually thirsty people. This is not a critique of relief and development agencies, simply an observation of the increasing prominence they play in church engagements with the world.

11. Rising Cost of Western Missionaries

Not too long ago, I was speaking at a mission conference and met a young family excited about moving overseas to become missionaries.  They were a handsome family.  The father was tall and lean and reminded me of the branch manager at my local bank.  His wife was well dressed and manicured and I guessed probably came from a well-to-do home. Their two blonde daughters were beautiful and shy with one already a teenager and the other anxious to be one. The youngest, all boy, looked like he’d rather be anyplace but in this church talking about going overseas.

They were heading to Mexico City.

Their first missionary stop, however, was to be a two-year stint in Costa Rica to learn Spanish.  After that, they were off to Mexico to plant a church in a neighborhood yet to be determined.  They said that within five years of landing in Mexico, they hoped to have a church with at least 20 to 30 families attending.  But of course, they first needed to raise their annual support of $95,000 a year. After 10 months of work, they were closing in on pledges totaling 30%. (https://logoi.org/2013/10/how-much-does-a-missionary-cost/)

The scenario above written in 2013 sounds all too familiar. The cost of sending traditional missionaries from North America is rising rapidly. Organizations that advocate supporting “national missionaries” (as in the above scenario) are quick to point to seemingly poor stewardship of paying Americans to do what nationals can do for a fraction of the cost. And the costs continue to rise.

In earlier days Wesleyan missionaries were considered to be poorly compensated in comparison with ministry professionals at home. By a deliberate effort that picture has changed, and it is estimated that GP missionaries are paid on par with a pastor of a medium-sized church. Bob Waldron’s study of missionary compensation patterns suggest that Global Partners is very similar to other North American missions agencies in relation to the salaries and benefits that are provided.

The cost of sending a GP missionary increases annually faster than the rate of inflation which over the past decade has fluctuated between 0.7% and 3% per annum. A rough estimate would be that the average GP missionary support budget increases by around 5% a year. Why? The base salary for a GP missionary is set to increase by 5% annually. GP also budgets for a 10% annual increase in the cost of health insurance. And, “starting in the third year, a service increment of $120 per adult per year (maximum 20 years) shall be added to the base salary.” (Handbook for Missionary Personnel of The Wesleyan Church) Those increases all have a trickle-down effect increasing the budget for things like pension, social security, and life insurance.

The effort to reduce administrative costs charged to missionary support funds will provide a welcome relief but continued increases in basic support will bring budgets back to the same level in 4-5 years.

The implications of steadily increasing support budgets are obvious. New missionaries face an increasingly higher support raising bar before their initial deployment can begin. Continuing missionaries are consistently under pressure to increase support levels to account for lost support as well as increased budgets. And all missionaries face the difficult PR job of explaining and/or justifying the amount of support they are seeking.

As we said as we began the discussion of megatrends, missions agencies are not immune to the patterns of change shaping the world around us. We can choose to ignore the handwriting on the wall, or be like the men from Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chron.12:32) It is a choice between proactively moving the mission forward and scrambling to stay relevant and viable. As Craig Groeschel noted, “The difference between a good leader and a great leader is one who learns to anticipate rather than react.” (Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast – 11/5/20)

How will GP anticipate or react to the changes to which these trends are moving us? In coming blog posts we will discuss major shifts in GP we believe will (or should) happen in responding to the megatrends. What shifts in GP do you think will/should happen in the next few years?

 

REFERENCE LIST

Arthur, E. (2017). The Future of Mission Agencies. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 4-12.

Arthur, E. (2019). Mission Agencies in the 21st Century [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/38654079/Mission_Agencies_in_the_21st_Century_A_Research_Report_for_Agency_Leadership_and_Boards

Connectional and Entrepreneurial DNA of The Wesleyan Church (Rep.). (2020). Fishers, IN: Wesleyan Church. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LVjqgX9Fe2AlbNj6lF9AhEnsbFqhUtqu4wm7Hx_zTSw/edit?ts=5fbbd99c

The Future of Missions 10 Questions About Global Ministry that the Church Must Answer with the Next Generation (Publication). (2020). Barna.

Gina A. Zurlo, T. (2019, October 16). World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2396939319880074

Global Mission in the Twenty-first Century. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Global_Mission_21.pdf

Jaffarian, M. (2004). Are There More Non-Western Missionaries than Western Missionaries? International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 28(3), 131-132.

McKnight, S. (2017, February 15). The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us? Retrieved from https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/02/15/soul-evangelicalism-will-become-us/

Moon, S. (2019, January). Toward True Globalism in World Missions. Retrieved from https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-01/toward-true-globalism-in-world-missions

Pate, L. D. (1989). From every people: A handbook of two-thirds world missions with directory/histories/analysis. Monrovia, Calif: MARC.

Pocock, M., Rheenen, G. V., & McConnell, D. (2005). The changing face of world missions: Engaging contemporary issues and trends. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Schmidt, W. (2018, August 20). The Gospel Gap. Retrieved from https://www.wesleyan.org/the-gospel-gap

Spitters, D., & Ellison, M. (2017). When everything is missions. United States: Bottomline Media.

Stetzer Bio, E. (2015, June 12). The Rapid Rise of Nondenominational Christianity. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/june/rapid-rise-of-non-denominational-christianity-my-most-recen.html

Waldron, B. (2014). How Much is Adequate? In Search of Equitable Missionary Compensation. Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 50(4), 286-295. Retrieved from https://missionexus.org/how-much-is-adequate-in-search-of-equitable-missionary-compensation/

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MEGATRENDS AND GP - Part 1

Megatrends Shaping the Future of Missions in General

and Global Partners in Particular

 “So what is a “megatrend“? Trends are an emerging pattern of change likely to impact how we live and work. Megatrends are large, social, economic, political, environmental or technological change that are slow to form, but once in place can influence a wide range of activities, processes and perceptions, possibly for decades. They are the underlying forces that drive change in global markets, and our everyday lives. - Peter Fisk (https://www.thegeniusworks.com/2019/12/mega-trends-with-mega-impacts-embracing-the-forces-of-change-to-seize-the-best-future-opportunities/)

Missions agencies, including Global Partners, are not immune to the patterns of change shaping the world around us. We can choose to ignore the handwriting on the wall, or be like the men from Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chron.12:32) It is a choice between proactively moving the mission forward and scrambling to stay relevant and viable. As Craig Groeschel noted, “The difference between a good leader and a great leader is one who learns to anticipate rather than react.” (Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast – 11/5/20). 

So, what are the megatrends we need to anticipate? Based on my reading (see the Reference List at the end) and my observations across the scope of GP’s world, I suggest the following.

1. GLOBALIZATION

“Globalization is a term used to describe the increasing connectedness and interdependence of world cultures and economies.” (National Geographic) In my almost four decades in missions I have watched the world become smaller and smaller. The pace of the growth of interconnectedness has increased, driven to a great extent by rapid developments in technology.

Culbertson summarizes the implications of globalization for missions as follows:

“Some things about globalization actually facilitate world evangelism. For instance, because of easy mobility, millions of believers have crossed international borders on short-term mission trips. On the other hand, today's missionary teams are often multi-national. Thus, missionaries have to think cross-culturally just by living and ministering with missionaries from other nations.

At times, globalization gives rise to seemingly contradictory trends. For example, globalization leads some people to see religion in private and individualistic terms. For others, globalization has caused them to slide toward secularism or, at the very least, to embrace shallow forms of spirituality. Then, tragically, the flow of religions across cultural boundaries has too often fostered aggressive intolerance.”

2. MIGRATION

 “Migration is, and perhaps has always been, one of the most significant issues in Christian mission.” (Lightyear)

According to the World Migration Report 2020, 1 out of every 30 people in the world (272 million people) is a migrant (that is, they currently live in a country different from their birth country). That includes 25.9 million refugees, or involuntary migrants.

The missiological implications are pointed out by Lightyear as follows:

In short, migration matters missionally for three reasons: firstly, because it matters to the people we live with (or will live with in the future); secondly, because it matters to the God whom we follow and worship; and thirdly, because people are increasingly absent from where we would expect them to be present, and present where we could not expect them (and the dynamics of this translocation have been, and continue to be, a rich contributor not only to the numerical growth and geographical spread of the gospel, but also to the theological, liturgical, and ecclesiological development of the church).

3. URBANIZATION

“Additionally, along with globalization has come the rapid growth of cities and the rise of urbanization. In the year 1800, only 3 percent of people lived in cities. By 1900, the fraction of city-dwellers increased to 10 percent. Between 1900 and 2007, though, it increased to 50 percent. By 2050, it is estimated that 75–80 percent of all human beings will live in cities. Cities are where the people are and where they will be in the future.” (Mohler)

The exponential growth of cities has massive implications for how we should engage in missions. “Christian mission won the ancient Greco-Roman world because it won the cities.” (Rijnhart et al) If Christian mission is going to effectively reach the current world it will be because we have focused on reaching the cities.

Rijnhart et al summarize the reasons why urban ministry is so critical as follows:

  • Cities are culturally crucial. In the village, someone might win its one or two lawyers to Christ, but winning the legal profession requires going to the city with the law schools, the law journal publishers, and so on.
  • Cities are globally crucial. In the village, someone can win only the single people group living there, but spreading the gospel to ten or twenty new national groups/languages at once requires going to the city, where they can all be reached through the one lingua franca of the place.
  • Cities are personally crucial. By this I mean that cities are disturbing places. The countryside and the village are marked by stability and residents are more set in their ways. Because of the diversity and intensity of the cities, urbanites are much more open to new ideas—such as the gospel! Because they are surrounded by so many people like and unlike themselves, and are so much more mobile, urbanites are far more open to change/conversion than any other kind of resident. Regardless of why they may have moved to the city, once they arrive there the pressure and diversity make even the most traditional and hostile people open to the gospel.

 4. DECLINE IN RELIGIOUS WORKERS VISAS

While it is difficult (maybe impossible) to document, it appears that it is becoming increasingly difficult for missionaries to obtain visas or residence permits to allow them to serve in the countries to which they are being sent.  Two forces seem to be at work:

  1. Countries which historically had been open to Christian missionaries are becoming less so. Missionaries are no longer held in high esteem and are not viewed as offering benefit to the country so as to warrant the approval of residency status.
  2. Some creative access countries are becoming more restrictive and cracking down on missionaries who are being not fully honest in disclosing their reasons for being in their country. Turkey, India, and China come quickly to mind as places that recently have been stepping up their restrictions on foreigners involved in missionary activity. Tent-faking, to use a term coined by Barna, is becoming less effective in these increasingly hostile places.

The reality is that the parts of the world that are least evangelized are also the areas that are most hostile to Christian missionaries. One only needs to superimpose Casper’s map of “the top 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian” over a map of the 10:40 window representing the areas where the least reached peoples live to realize that it is becoming more difficult to access the places where missionaries are needed most.

“The vast majority of countries in this part of the world either do not grant missionary visas, or else restrict missionary activity so as to preclude any attempt to convert members of the majority religion. In effect, human governments and human societies have stated their intent to veto the Great Commission.” (Lying, Hostile Nations, and the Great Commission)

 5. GLOBAL SHIFT OF CHRISTIANITY

As Zurlo et al point out, “The decline of Christianity in the Global North is now being outpaced by the rise of Christianity in the Global South (i.e., Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania). Christians in sub-Saharan Africa generally have high birth rates, and people from other religions continue to convert to Christianity in China, India, Cambodia, Mongolia, and elsewhere throughout Asia.” They provide the following diagram to show the status of global Christianity.

 

The implications for missions are immense. A few years ago, Oscar Muriu, senior pastor at Nairobi Chapel told students at Urbana “The world has changed. Our definition of what it means to be Christian is going to be increasingly defined by the 2/3 world and our paradigm of missions must of necessity, therefore, change." (Christianity Today)

Which of these megatrends do you see having an I impact on you and your ministry? What megatrend do you see that I missed that will greatly influence the shape of global missions and GP?

The next blog post will look at megatrends within the church itself that are shaping our future.

 

REFERENCE LIST

Arthur, E. (2017). The Future of Mission Agencies. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 4-12.

Arthur, E. (2019). Mission Agencies in the 21st Century [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/38654079/Mission_Agencies_in_the_21st_Century_A_Research_Report_for_Agency_Leadership_and_Boards

Casper, J. (2020, January 15). The 50 Countries Where It's Hardest to Follow Jesus. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/january/top-christian-persecution-open-doors-2020-world-watch-list.html

Culbertson, H. (n.d.). Globalization. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://home.snu.edu/~HCULBERT/global.htm

Fuller, J. (2017). Future Proofing OMF. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 13-22.

The Future of Missions 10 Questions About Global Ministry that the Church Must Answer with the Next Generation (Publication). (2020). Barna.

Gina A. Zurlo, T. (2019, October 16). World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2396939319880074

Global Mission in the Twenty-first Century. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Global_Mission_21.pdf

Global Mission Trends. (2020, September). Retrieved from https://joshuaproject.net/assets/media/handouts/global-mission-trends.pdf

Lightyear. (2017). Missional Migration. Mission Round Table, 12(2), 4-8.

Lying, Hostile Nations, and the Great Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.9marks.org/article/lying-hostile-nations-and-great-commission/

Missions Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats

Mohler, A. (2017, October 25). Globalization and the Christian Mission. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/11/globalization-christian-mission/

Pocock, M., Rheenen, G. V., & McConnell, D. (2005). The changing face of world missions: Engaging contemporary issues and trends. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Rijnhart, C., Jurie Kreel, B., Harries, J., &; Pier, M. (2018, March 22). What Is God's Global Urban Mission? Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.lausanne.org/content/what-is-gods-global-urban-mission

Wan, E. (n.d.). Rethinking Missiology in the context of the 21st Century: Global Demographic Trends and Diaspora Missiology. Retrieved from http://www.enochwan.com/english/articles/pdf/Rethinking%20Missiology%20in%2021st%20Century.pdf

World Migration Report 2020 (Rep.). (2019). Geneva: International Organization for Migration. https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/wmr_2020.pdf

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Three Phases of Transition

A missionary’s life is about transition. Sometimes we are conscious of this reality and sometimes it sits in the background, way in the background. As I have thought more about the reality of transition for a missionary and how it can impact both positively and negatively I have begun to realize that there are three key times when a missionary deals with the issues of transition.

The first phase is obvious and yet we don’t always think of it as transition. Yet moving from your passport country to another country is in fact a major time of transition. How we view this transition and what happens during that time will greatly affect our ability to serve in our new home country.

That word home defines what needs to happen in this first phase of transition. We need to do everything possible to make it possible to see our new country, culture, and language as a place we can call home. It is generally not an easy process and a great deal of material has been written on all that is involved. I am not so much interested in all of that but in the transition process.

Too often people get caught up in rushing the process. They want to get busy in the ministry and work they feel they have been called to do or sent to do. Too quickly the greater purpose is lost and as a result the ability to be effective and accepted is severely hindered, even damaged.

There is a reason missiologists talk about the importance of learning a language. At least three years. They talk about the importance of learning the culture. Another three+ years. There are no shortcuts to this transition process. And even when it goes well the wise person realizes that the transition involved in making this new place a home will never really stop.

Poor use of language will result in being treated constantly as an outsider, insensitive and incapable of participating in the real life of the people around them. Poor understanding of culture will cause rifts in relationships, lack of trust, and a feeling that one does not truly love them. I could say more but this is enough.

This transition of culture and language is essential for the next transition to occur.

Phase two transition or Ministry transition. The transition actually has a couple of time frames that are part of the total process.

The first time frame is the transition involved in developing the skills and relationships involved carrying out the task, ministry, or work assigned. It doesn’t matter if in fact you are an expert in your area of ministry. You will have little success if you are unable to develop a new set of skills related to functioning in this new environment and working with people who do not and never will think like you.

An example may be helpful. I have done construction work in four different countries. Each of those countries had different ways of doing construction based on the type of materials available to do the work. In one place I had to learn how to build with mud blocks. In another they used wood framing with metal sheathing. Another place involved learning to use wood poles, grass roofing, and vines. Another used concrete and concrete blocks.

In each of these I had to make a number of transitions. I had to learn how the people did the work, I had to learn about the materials they used and how to use them, and I had to be willing to let them teach me how to do the work in their context. I knew how to build but I needed to make the transition to learning how they build and so build relationships and trust.

That is the first part of the transition of ministry in another country. You have to step back and build relationships first. To build trust so that you can enter the next time frame which is leading.

The time involved in this transition varies a lot. In one country I was assigned a high status and leadership role from the day I arrived. What I then had to do was to learn to fulfill their expectations of me. That can be quite a transition process.

Another country did not do the above. And while I was given a title and area of responsibility it took years to build the trust that allowed me to actually lead and teach. That is another challenge, and it can be emotionally draining wondering when you will finally be accepted and trusted.

The second time frame of this process is the preparation to shift your authority and activity to those around you. This is based on the very important reality that I will not be here forever. I am only temporary and will fill this role for a limited time. Many missionaries do not go with this thought in mind. This results in a number of issues.

Dependence – We treat them as incapable of doing the work and so we don’t invest in their training and development. We create an issue with resources so that without us they cannot access the resources needed for the work.

Insecurity – Since we don’t trust them, they end up being perpetual children never believing they can do the work without us and they could never learn the skills needed. This will create further distrust and a type of dependence that will create a very negative environment.

Ethnocentrism – We maintain control because we choose not to explore and inquire about how they might be able to do the work using their abilities and resources. This means that they can only do the work with our help. If in fact, they find a way to do it that is different we resist the change and see it as inefficient or not the best way to do it.

There are other effects that could be itemized but this is enough to highlight what happens when we don’t plan for a transition from being in charge to them being in charge. A key concept to keep in mind is that as we are acting as the leader, we need to be training others to take our place. We also need to be willing to learn from them about how things work and can be done in their culture and context.

The last time frame of this process is the actual transfer of authority and responsibility. I was working on this process with my leadership team and it was not going well. Not because I was inhibiting the process, but key leaders were resisting the change. I asked one of them why the leaders didn’t have faith in these young leaders. His answer is not essential to this discussion. What is essential is that I was working on making this transition and the fact that I wanted it to happen and sought the advice of a key leader on the process opened the way for the shift to begin to happen.

At another point I was ready to step down, but both the key leaders and my team told me that it was not time yet for that to happen. That is an important indicator that the process of transition is going well. When the time came for this transition it went well. The best indicator of this was all the new ideas and structures the team created without me and how well all of it was accepted by the key leaders.

This period of transition flows along a continuum. It starts with me as the learner, then the leader/trainer, and lastly the advisor. If we don’t see this then our time and work may not last past the time of our final transition. I have seen this over and over. Attempts to provide a resource, do a task, and carry out a ministry that does not take into account this process dies, leaving behind rusted, rotten, useless relics shouting out the reality that the transition was not handled properly.

The last phase is what I will call the exit strategy. We use this phrase in relation to preparing an emergency plan to leave a country if problems arise that could result in serious danger to us and those around you. Strategies that help us know who to communicate with to learn what the danger is and how severe it could be. Strategies to guide us in how to leave a place and get to safety. These usually have options related to different methods and routes depending on the nature of the danger and how it could affect each option for leaving.

I have been through this process and defined several methods and routes to use depending on what was happening.

In a way we need to have a similar plan. We need an exit strategy to be used to help us transition out of the place where we have been serving. This can be done in a couple of ways.

One will allow a person to stay and help develop another ministry. This can be a healthy process. Things went well and the people want to use your knowledge and skill in another area. It can also be an unhealthy process. Instead of seeing the truth that it is time to go you decide to create another area of ministry so you can stay. It may be a valid ministry, but the issue is not in having a ministry but an unwillingness to go. It is based on two things, the need to be needed, and a fear of what lies in the future.

In this is the dangerous belief that they cannot do a good job without you and the fear that you may no longer be needed. That is related to your new home. The other is the fear of the unknown, of what you will do when you return to your passport country. You have spent, invested your life in adapting to this new home. You know how to live and thrive in it. You are aware that this has altered you and that your passport country has changed. People have moved on without you. Life has moved on without you. And on the ideas go that feed this fear. This is most evident in the impact it has on MKs. They hardly know the culture and life of their passport culture. They struggle to function in it.

Again, much could be said about this, but the point is that we need to plan for this transition. Sometimes the planning for this exit strategy needs to start early on. You need to plan for the eventual return, inevitable return back to your passport country.

This planning is not just about you but all those who you have served with, have become your friends, even your family. You will be leaving them. And the reality is that once you leave you likely may never return. They will take over all the work and ministry you were doing. They will continue to live and thrive without you. Are you planning for that reality both for yourself and them?

I am in the midst of this phase right now and it is causing a great deal of thought and reflection. I have left three other countries and ministries. I am not sure I have done the best possible in handling this transition. I think I have done okay based on the comments of those I have left behind. But it is a challenge and a transition that we don’t often think about until we are in the midst of the transition and then it is too late.

We do get a little taste of this process each time we come home for furlough, home ministries, or partnership development. But this is always colored by the idea that we will be returning soon. We are not really leaving just yet. This process involves transition as well. I have chosen not to deal with this, but it is further evidence of the need to be aware that we are constantly dealing with transition.

As I reflect on my years of service, I have become very aware that there is no time in which I was not dealing with transition in one form or another. How we handle this reality will have a real and measurable impact on our effectiveness and longevity in ministry. It will also affect how well we do at facilitating others.

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Transitions

I have been reflecting on the zoom meeting we had with Mark Wilson and the topic of transition.

I commented that in many ways each missionary should actually be planning to transition out of the work they may be doing.

Let me share some of what has happened in the ministry Nancy and I have been involved in over the years.

When we went to Sierra Leone, we fully intended on serving there until we retired. We really didn’t consider the possibility that we should think about transitioning out of the work we were doing. Then we got laid off (it was a strange time and there was a fund shortage). When we got back the civil war was getting serious. So serious that we were evacuated because of a coup d’état. This got us thinking seriously about what we needed to do if the war prevented us from returning.

We focused more and more on preparing people to replace us and in developing strategies that would all national leaders to take over whatever work we were doing. When we left for furlough many plans were in place in case the war became worse, which it did. The good news was that as soon as the war was over, they were able to reopen the bible school and move forward with training.

As a result of the war we were unable to return and were asked to go to Papua New Guinea. The work we were asked to do was quite similar to that of Sierra Leone. Again, we begin to think that we would spend the rest of our years of service here. It was not to be. But we were able to use our experiences from Sierra Leone to help the national church to develop a plan for preparing nationals to run the bible school. And while it took longer than originally intended it did provide a guide for them to work with.

Now we found ourselves in Guyana. This time we learned our lesson. We did not begin to think about how long we might stay there and from the beginning worked on plans to help others take over whatever work we were involved in. Nancy trained people to run the puppet ministry, she helped organize plans for the church to run the home for children with aids she helped start and I completed my projects and turned them over to the church.

In fact, within two years of arriving in Guyana we knew we would be moving again. This time so that we could help the Iberoamerica Region develop their vision for sending missionaries. From the beginning I worked on plans and programs that would help them grow and learn what would be needed to carry out this vision. When I look through my files I see plans and revisions of plans all with this focus, an exit strategy, a plan to transition out of my role as trainer and leader. It took longer than I anticipated but in the background of everything I was doing was the idea that I needed to be able to turn everything I did over to others.

This is what is happening, and it is exciting to see the transition process and how God is blessing.

Now we talked about transition and that is a good thing to think about. But when one thinks about being a facilitator, we need to take this to another level. We need to have an exit strategy. Not an emergency plan to get to safety. Rather a plan that allows us to exit in the right way at the right time. A plan that allows to transition out of the roles we have and let others take over. A plan that allows them to do the work and we become advisors. A plan that allows them to become their own advisors. A plan that lets us know it is time to exit and transition out.

We don’t like to think about this. We do like the feeling of being indispensable, of being needed, of being the source of critical resources and information. But if we are going to truly move into the role of being a facilitator then to be wary of these thoughts and attitudes. Because it is inevitable. The day will come when you will leave. So, have you prepared them and yourself for the transition? Do you have an exit strategy, and do they have a role in its development?

I am once again in the final steps of this. The first two times it was unanticipated, but God provided critical guidance and counsel so that we could transition and exit. The third time was better organized, and this last time is revealing clearly the benefits of planning for transition and exiting well.

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Celebrating Failure as Success

I don’t know about you, but I fail more than I’d care to admit.  At least that was my way of looking at “failure” until recently.  In these last few years I believe that God has been teaching me a lessen through observation, experience, and His Word.

Below is a list of some people from Scripture who failed and a possible reason or source of that failure.  Of course this is only my point of view and yours may differ greatly.

Peter- Pride

Job-   Culture of the day

Gideon- Fear

Moses- Anger

Joseph- Through no fault of his own

Paul-  Zealousness

John Mark-  Homesickness

Esther-  Death of a spouse

Abraham-  Helping God accomplish a promise

David-  Multitude of reasons

Jesus- His perceived failure was due to obedience to God’s plan.

We often think of Peter’s failure as being denial or betrayal.  Most of the disciples had abandoned Jesus at this point, so Peter’s denial was close to the norm. I propose that his failure originated from pride.  He thought he could do what the others couldn’t.  He would never deny or abandon Jesus no matter what.  He would fight to the end and then die defiantly.  But, as reality overwhelmed Peter, fear overcame his pride and he too, fell away.

Job, after enduring hours, days, and weeks of abuse and judgement partially gave in to the blame culture of his friends, but his story like Peters ends in success and restoration.  He was truly a righteous man that Satan tried to break.  He endured all the failures that Satan could throw at him without breaking or blaming God.  In the end God redeemed him, restored him, and vindicated him.  In the process God left him with far more than he had originally. 

All those listed above, and more, experienced failure even repeated failure of one sort or the other.  They also experienced redemption and restoration from those failures.  They learned from them and incorporated those lessons into their lives.  They helped others in their failures and could exhibit both empathy and sympathy for them.  They and God didn’t allow failure to be wasted. 

Even Jesus failed in the eyes and by the measure of the world.  Even His disciples thought he had failed.  How could this happen, The Messiah, failed.  Then the realization of what His purpose on earth really was became evident and His victory over death and the grave was revealed to them.  God’s plan to redeem mankind, to restore relationship, to bring us back into The Family was realized due to His death, His sacrifice, His willingness to seem weak and submit to death.   There is so much to learn from Jesus’ incredible obedience to the plan. 

How has God redeemed your failures?  I hesitate to think about the number of failures I’ve allowed to be wasted.  How often I refuse to submit, to learn, to obey, because it seems like failure.  All along God sees the real path to success that in reality runs directly through what we call failure.  He allows us to fail to teach us.  In our failures we often learn the most profound lessons, lessons we don’t readily forget.

In this light, failure seems to be just another step toward success.  It allows us to check ourselves, depend on our Savior, obey without taking credit for the result, and allow God to use the success or the failure of the moment to draw us closer to Him.  In our failures He presents His counter intuitive plan of us giving Him glory in our weakness as He provides the strength and brings success in whatever form He chooses.

In reality, simple obedience without thought of the outcome is truly success.  Leaving the outcome, the gain, the success in God’s hands keeps us humble, dependent on Him, and in close communion with Him as we walk though this life.  It is present in our ministries, family relationships, and daily walk.  Finding the freedom to fail may be the biggest success that I’ve ever been a part of. 

As those of us in Phase 4 and 5 fields move into facilitator roles we will undoubtedly experience failures.  There may be times when we will encounter failure personally, professionally, and corporately.  How we handle that failure will allow us to positively model God’s use of failure in His children or communicate the world’s negative point of view toward failure.  Also, knowing that in failure we often learn the greatest lessons will encourage us to allow those we are working with to experience their own failures, to grow, and to see God turn failure into success.

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What’s in your Backpack?

 

Barry Van Steenburg recently shared this wisdom on Facebook: “If you want to keep your favorite pocket-knife, don't forget that it's in your backpack.” 

We hear you, Barry. I’ve donated too many pocket-knives to the TSA in the past few years! I get so used to carrying it that I don’t think about it until it’s too late.

A friend of mine who serves with OM and travels frequently lost his pocket-knife a while back. Six months later, airport security found it for him hidden in the bottom of his backpack. So, he lost it again.

The moral of the story, of course, is to check your backpack (and pockets) when getting ready to travel to make sure you don’t accidentally take something with you that could cause you problems along the way or when you get there.

David Livermore, guru of cultural intelligence, confessed that when the pandemic hit he discovered that “I’m more American than I thought!”[1] In short, he explained that he realized anew that in times of crisis our hidden cultural values and biases get revealed – to us and to others. This, even though he’s made a career out of teaching others how to work effectively across cultures.

Lately I have become conscious of areas of cultural blindness that have remained hidden in my backpack for over three decades of cross-cultural ministry.

For example, I’ve become painfully aware that my understanding of sustainable ministry (the goal of phase 4) is shaped by individualistic values of independence and self-sufficiency. It has shaped how I have interacted with national church leaders and sought to coach and encourage their growth to maturity. I have been blind to alternative ways of assessing sustainability within a society which values interdependence and relational connections as the foundation of sustainability.

Barry and I know better. We’ve been taught. Yet we find ourselves slipping back into our comfortable patterns of life that are bound to cause us problems when they are discovered. We both need to remember to check our backpacks before heading out.

So check your backpack. What cultural values or biases are hidden there that you need to leave home?

[1] https://davidlivermore.com/2020/05/26/coronavirus-insight-im-more-american-than-i-thought/

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