Welcome to the GMI research blog!
As Christ’s people people deliver the good news of Christ throughout the world, they can benefit from feedback to understand how the message is being understood and applied in various contexts.
Research is also useful for understanding ministry environments, for listening to constituents, for gauging progress, and for testing ideas.
We intend to use this blog to highlight results from our own research, to point people toward others’ research, and to discuss research methods, tools and resources.
Is research biblical? Sometimes people might wonder, seeing where “knowledge makes arrogant” (1 Corinthians 8:1) and that David was punished for numbering his fighting men (2 Samuel 24). When reliance on information is substituted for reliance on God, bad things happen.
However, those reliant on the Spirit can use research wisely, for it is commended…
- by example (Nehemiah uses many forms of gathering information; Luke “investigated everything carefully from the beginning”);
- by divine command (Numbers 13:1-2, where God commands Moses to send spies out to study the land); and
- by principle (Psalm 111:2 — “Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them”; Proverbs 27:23 — “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds”).
Perhaps an even stronger commendation of research — which we could define as “purposeful observing and listening” — is that it reflects the nature of God. We know that God observes and listens. In fact, the first divinely ordained baby name recorded in Scripture is “God hears”! (Genesis 16:11).
God hears not to gain information, but to demonstrate His concern for those He created and His desire to live in close relationship with them. As people who are called to love God with all our mind (Matthew 22:37) and to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), how could we do any differently?
A better question than “Is research biblical?” might be “What is the extent or limits to which research should be used in mission?” In Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, David Hesselgrave identifies research (defined as “scientific observation”) as one of three sources of missiology (along with Revelation and Reflection). In discussing research as a source, he points to three cautions as outlined by Augustine in On Christian Doctrine:
- Nothing in excess
- Value of worldly wisdom is small relative to that of the Scriptures
- Scriptural wisdom is the “standard of truth” that must be given priority
Some may feel that the application of research has already gone beyond its rightful role in the global work of the Church…but that’s a difficult case to make objectively. In World Christian Trends, David Barrett and Todd Johnson note:
For global Christianity, a global organization with an annual budget of $270 billion, [the allocation for research activity] is an exceptionally small proportion: 0.03%.
Such a low outlay is short-sighted in the extreme by contemporary standards. And only a small fraction of this goes to research on global mission.
(The fact that Barrett and Johnson are researchers and have a personal and professional stake in the matter shouldn’t dismiss their point!)
The purpose of this blog isn’t to appeal for more mission research funding (although we love to meet funders with a heart for the issue!), but to shine more light on mission research, to encourage and equip those involved in it, and to learn ourselves through dialogue with our readers.
We’d love to have your input in the conversation!