Tag Archives: mission

Is Your Ministry Challenge a Puzzle or a Mystery

The type of research and thinking required in global mission has fundamentally shifted and few have taken notice. I don’t say this to be controversial, I say it because today I see people asking last century’s questions and hoping for 21st Century insight.

Most of our line of inquiry in mission is assuming that we simply do not have the information and need to collect it in order to understand our world better and make decisions. This was the case in the mid-1900’s when the amount of activity and complexity of the activity were fairly limited. In those days the question, “Where is the church and where is it not?” “How many Christians are there in a given country or province?” “Where is a Scripture translation underway and where is a translation needed?”

In today’s globalized world the complexity is much higher but the amount of information we have is also exponentially greater. Today’s complex world requires us to ask questions that will overlay various pieces of the information already collected to give us insight to very specific situations.

The difference between a line of research defined by a lack of information and a line of research defined by multiple streams of complex or conflicting information is described in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, “Open Secrets” (reprinted in his book “What the Dog Saw”). In this article Gladwell applies Gregory Treverton’s principle of “Puzzles vs. Mysteries.” Simply put, when solving a puzzle the main ingredient needed is more information. However, when solving a mystery the main ingredient needed is insight.” Gladwell goes on to give very practical examples. Finding Osama Bin Laden was a puzzle whereas understanding Enron’s fall was a mystery. The first required information in the form of intelligence. The second required people to go through mind-numbing amounts of publicly filed paperwork and understand the complex financial tools being employed in risky ways.

In the missions world today, we have fewer puzzles and more mysteries. There are still places in the world where we simply need more information. There are countries like Laos, North Korea or parts of India where we truly need more basic information about the Church and the status of the Gospel. However, for most of the world you can get this information at one level or another.

Our greater challenge involves the mysteries of mission. For instance, “How do we know when a church is sustainable?” “What triggers growth in a national Church?” “How do we measure and understand discipleship?” “How do we reach a people group when so many are in cities and in diaspora communities?”

For each of these items we have a myriad of data points, on-the-ground stories and theories. The challenge is to work through the data and the complex situations to try and come up with possible ways to understand these questions and make decisions based on that understanding.

If what Gladwell described is really the situation facing mission, that has significant implications for the mission community. For one thing, we need fewer counters and more analysts. We need fewer people out collecting data in the field and more people analyzing what we already have. We also need people who are able to understand complex cultural, religious and geopolitical realities.

Secondly, those of us in leadership need to recognize the difference between the puzzles and mysteries and think strategically about what we are trying to solve. Many of us are mobilizing the resources necessary to solve a puzzle when we really have a mystery on our hands.

The last century required persistent puzzle solvers but this new century will require inquisitive detectives who love a good mystery. Do you have any good detectives in your mission agency? If not, now is the time to start looking.

The Source of our Power

@JonHirstGMI: “Power is the ability to make something of the world.” @ahc // #dataispower - how will we use info to bless!

I’m starting to read Andy Crouches’ latest book on power - Playing God. He starts off by recognizing that many of us see power as negative and coercive and then begins to share that his book will focus on the redemption of power in God’s story. I look forward to that journey. But for now, I would like to focus some time on the definition he provided and that I put at the top of this post as a tweet I shared.

As we consider the role of power in the world of mission, this definition is intriguing. We as missional workers are focused on impacting the world in ways that match what we see as God’s Kingdom. Each of us feel that God has called us to bring change to different areas of a fallen world. And as we act on these passions we are utilizing the power that we have at our disposal to see the change made into a reality.

One of the realities of this process is that, no matter how good our intentions, we end up using power not granted to us by God but instead by this world’s sources of influence. We take God’s mission and our power supply and get to work - usually with less than satisfactory results.

So it would seem to me that the very first question that Kingdom workers need to ask after receiving their direction from God is the power source they plan to use. I have been reading in 2nd Chronicles about king Asa of Judah. In Chapter 14, when he is up against an army much bigger than his own, he calls out to God. “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you…” His prayer is answered in both victory and in the words of Azariah when he returns, “The Lord is with you when you are with him.”

I am processing this about my own role with GMI. As you think about your role in leadership, do you know where your power comes from?

A Summary of STAND - 2013 Missio Nexus Mission Conference

The annual Missio Nexus Missions Conference last week was a powerful time for GMI to engage people with information on global mission and to connect with some of our key partners. But how do you process all that went on (whether you were there or not)? Here is a great curation of the conference that is worth taking some time to read through and pick out some items for follow-up:

 


Failure in Ministry

“Rejection does not mean failure. Failure is when we refuse to be rejected.” Francis Chan

We don’t understand failure in a ministry context. I’m at the Missio Nexus mission conference this week and Francis Chan is one of the speakers. He challenged our thinking about success and metrics. This is an ongoing issue because we are raising the game in the area of outcomes and metrics in the ministry world.

But at the same time as we are increasing our professionalism in how we measure and manage success, we cannot forget that success in the Kingdom is fundamentally a different game than success as defined by the world.

How do you deal with the push to measure things the world cares about as a Kingdom endeavor? That is the question we need to be asking.

Making Shifts When the World Changes

How are we at shifting our assumptions and decision making when the world changes around us? It’s harder than we think isn’t it? But it could not be more critical to our success as leaders.

Take the most recent conflict between Israel and Gaza. The November 24th issue of the Economist led with this title “Old battles, new Middle East . . . Gaza, Israel and the Arab Spring.”

What we have all learned from watching the latest outbreak of violence in the region is that the rules have fundamentally changed since the revolutions of 2011. These changes require all the parties to adjust their thinking and expectations as they seek a way forward.

The same is true for all of us on mission. The rules of global mission have fundamentally changed. These changes are being documented well in many corners of the Kingdom, but much of the time we fail to change our decision-making accordingly.

We read the latest book on mission trends and then go out and make our next major ministry decision as if those words had never been written. Why do we do this? Partly it is because of familiarity, it could also be a lack of discipline in our decision-making and it may have to do with the inherent risks involved in making decisions in new ways.

Whatever the reason, the affects are obvious. We see poor decisions being made in every corner of the missional endeavor. People are working off of old rules and wondering why they do not see the expected results. This is so sad because most of the time people do not mean to make these misinformed decisions. They simply don’t have the framework necessary to make a successful decision.

But these failures in decision-making can be avoided. Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself before you make your next major decision:

  1. Are the rules that I am using to make this decision still in place or have they changed?
  2. What new realities are influencing the decision I am making today? Have I considered their implications?
  3. How would someone in a different generation or culture look at this decision differently? Do they bring key insights I need to evaluate?
  4. Do I have relevant and up-to-date information that will allow me to pray intentionally for God’s wisdom?

Try asking a few of these questions and give me some feedback about what you hear as a result. Let’s strive to shift with our world and seek God about decisions with a more realistic understanding of the situations that we are called to influence.