There are a number of resources out there that folks in my business tend to go to for wisdom on a regular basis; websites, video blogs, conferences, twitter feeds, bloggers, etc. Basically, if you were to summarize their logic it would go something like this;
1. Things are falling apart.
2. We are saying this because we are not getting the results we desire or even what we used to get.
3. The answer to this is we need to be flexible, empower gen X’ers and put the vision above commitment to the organization.
Is this the best way forward? I wonder. It is interesting to think of organizations that were at the top of their game just a few years ago and are now becoming irrelevant. Blackberry maker Research in Motion comes to mind. Is the explanation for their decline because they didn’t do the things on the above list?
I just wonder. We are living in a time when the Christian world is changing very dramatically. I served on the board of a small Christian school for a number of years. I recently heard they closed. I am good friends with a guy who had to close his church. The statistics on church closures are frightening.
As pastors wrestle with the questions about what causes change in a person, I wrestle with what causes change in an organization? Can it really change and if so, what causes this? My very unscientific conclusions aren’t very encouraging, but I do think we need to grapple with them. Often people describe an organization as having a culture. As anyone who has studied foreign cultures knows, adjusting to a new culture is quite difficult. I was talking to someone who has been living in the US for over six years after moving here from Asia. It is still quite difficult for her. A friend who moved to Asia from the US describes the first year in the new culture as being the same as the year of mourning she had after her mother’s death. The advantage that these two people had was, they were forced to make this change due to a location change. Organizations don’t have this added benefit. The building, the people, the language… it all remains the same. The only thing different is that someone said we were going to do things differently.
My partner and I went through a strategic planning exercise with a church and thought we had developed some fairly specific guidelines for future missions support opportunities. I was shocked to hear their rationale for another cause they decided to support that met none of these guidelines. Yes, culture does not change easily. So, what do we do? (You are not going to like this)
1. Start with the idea that it is best that we just let the thing die. I am not kidding about this. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop and hope that something better rises from the ashes.
2. OK, now we have everyone’s attention. So is there enough desire in the room to make the changes necessary to make the organization successful in the future? Are we willing to start with a blank piece of paper with very few non-negotiables. In other words, are we all willing to resign?
3. Enter a time of prayer and discernment, as a community to see what the next direction may be. It could be that the best thing is to keep things as they are and let the slow process of decline continue but manage it in a way that honors God. I really mean that. Move to smaller offices. Let people go. Try and focus on a few things to do well rather than doing a lot. etc.
4. If the decision is made to continue, be willing to be ruthless and experience the same dissonance that my two friends did when they entered new cultures. Think about the vision in the morning when you wake up, when you eat your lunch, when you plan your day, when you go out for coffee, when you go to bed, when you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Keep it on the forefront of your mind. Check out now and then, of course, but my point here is to make sure your daily activities (all of them) feed the vision.
Now, having said all of this, let me make one last comment that will completely undo, at least in some people’s minds, what I have written above. Realize that, over the course of history, God has done some rather surprising things for reasons that He alone is aware of. He has allowed perfectly good ministries to fail. He has allowed cultures that, at least on the outside, seemed to reflect the kingdom of God, to slide into sin to the point that they entered a period of exile. Is this where we are right now? I don’t think so, but it is possible. The steps I mentioned above had to do, mainly, with what we could do. But realize God is going to do what He is going to do. The best thing we can do is believe this, live this and, as Job says, “though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.” Like Job, we may be surprised by the ultimate outcome.
Tell me if I am crazy here!
Missions Leadership in churches often changes, whether it’s the missions pastor or the group of faithful volunteers that keep it going, change is inevitable. So I got to thinking, what are the best resources for getting replacements started in this new role?
My guess is, those of you who have been around awhile can guess my first recommendation; the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. Now I realize that the course is not offered everywhere at all times, but if there is anyway you could take this class, you have to do it. There is a lot of reading but it is worth every moment you spend on it.
What about books? Usually folks don’t have a ton of time to read a lot of books, so I’ll keep the list short. I’m a big fan of When Helping Hurts and it talks about a whole lot more than avoiding the pitfalls of dependency. Loving the Church, Blessing the Nations is a great missions book but from the perspective of the local church. Of course, The Global Missions Handbook is a one-stop shop for folks who are going overseas and what the steps are, so a missions director needs to know this information. Piper’s Let The Nations Be Glad has been a classic for a long time, though I do like a little ditty that is a bit on the simpler side called 2020 Vision though I have never heard anyone else recommend it besides me (which probably tells you something about me).
What about news? There are lots of resources out there. Brigada is something you must subscribe to. About every week you get an update of coming events, new things happening in missions, and lots of other helpful information. I also subscribe to Evangelical Missions Quarterly which will really keep you informed as to the latest in thinking in missions.
What about organizations to join? I would definitely hook up with MissioNexus. They serve both churches as well as mission agencies as well. They also do occasional conferences that are worth attending.
How about web-sites? I hesitate to start writing here as this is a daunting list. I will just say go to Links to Cool Places button at UnMissions.net and hang out there for a bit. Its a dizzying list of different websites. I do like the LearnCareGo site as a first stop though it can be dizzying as well. Go to a coffee shop, bring your internet device of choice and just cruise around it for awhile, bookmarking the places that you want to explore further. Also, spend a bit of time at Catalyst Services. They have some great articles.
Speaking of coffee, I would then Contact Dave and / or Contact Joe and grab a cup of coffee. That may be of dubious benefit, but we do offer comic relief. Seriously, we will pray for you and are happy to do a free consult of what you presently have in place and talk about possibilities for what might be next.
Is there any resource out there that you feel would qualify for “The five things a missions director shouldn’t leave behind if going to a desert island? Let us know.
Dave and I had been talking with our friend Jon Barnes, our very able technology consultant and cultural guru, about movements. Yes, it seems that movements are happening around us all the time and we don’t even realize it. Whether you are talking about the Arab spring or Kony 2012, these things are popping up everywhere. How do they start? Do they just suddenly appear? Are there spiritual forces that cause them? Is there a frustration tipping point where people have had enough of cultural inertia, or perhaps political, religious, and economic inertia, and a movement is inevitable?
We see things. There are things happening in the world and specifically the missions world that both concern and delight us. My guess is you are seeing some of the same things. We are want to have a place where we can talk about these things… have discussions with one another on the virtual back patio or next to the virtual roaring fire in the fireplace or with an ale at the virtual British pub. This discussion may happen on twitter or facebook or by replying to blogs here or even the occasional ooVoo meeting. What will this discussion look like? Sharing what we’ve seen and heard, ideas, prayers, even occasional arguments (hopefully very occasional).
We are calling the new website unmissions.net. By adding the un prefix, we aren’t trying to undo missions. We are just trying to get folks to think about it differently… how we mobiliize people, deploy people, engage unreached people, pray. We want to think differently about missions and are convinced that there are a few people in our age group and a lot of people in their twenties and thirties that want to think differently about missions too.
We still have the gracextensions website and you will be able to go there for the links and other resources, but unmissions.net is going to be the place for the discussions and other interactions. If the Lord is in it, who knows what it might become???