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.

Jesus Sweets

I’m privileged to be in India meeting with GMI’s long-time friends and those we serve through mapping and research tools. What a blessing to hear how the Church in India is growing and how ministries are using research to make Spirit-led decisions about how to move forward.

I was sitting with Richard Howell, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and talking about what he is seeing as the Church grows in India. We talked about a variety of trends and big picture items, but one story he shared stuck with me as an example of transformation.

We were talking about the fact that there is little separation between religion and other areas of life in India and Richard shared about a man in a village that came to know Jesus. This man sold sweets for a living. Others selling sweets would label them with names that connected to their faith - Krishna Sweets for example. As the man began to process his faith decision and what God would have him do to live out that faith, the answer was easy. If there could be Krishna Sweets, why can’t there be Jesus Sweets!

So that is exactly what he did. Now all the sweets he sells come bearing the name of Jesus! This man found a way to bring his faith and his life together and see it as one testimony to his Savior. Are we doing the same? Are we integrating our faith, family, work, recreation, relationships and hobbies together in such a way that they represent our Savior?

I would encourage you to ask that question today and then ask God to give you the wisdom as you strive to represent God in every area of your life.

A Busy Week and a New Phase of Ministry Launched

“In today’s world, we seem more fractured and divided than ever with agendas and spin permeating everything as people jockey to get the corner on people’s perception of truth. And as the world fights over perception, what is the responsibility of the Global Church? I believe one of the main roles of the Global Church is to humbly discover truth together and bring it to light. As a research organization, GMI’s priority is not to accumulate more and more isolated data that can be used by various groups to win hearts and minds. While we must always be keeping the data current,
the pressing need of the day is decision-making!”
Jon Hirst, GMI Installation Service January 22, 2013

The audience at the GMI Decision Support Initiative Last week was a big one for the GMI team on three fronts. We released some findings from our research on ministry worker decision-making at our Decision Support Briefing and tested some new product/service ideas with those that attended. If you want to find out more from this event, please visit the web page for the event. This event represents significant thinking and momentum for GMI and will be key to the tools and services we focus on in the next year or so.

 

Secondly, we held the installation service for my role. This was a time to celebrate Mike O’Rear’s Kingdom legacy, talk about the transtion and then give a vision for the future of GMI. I was so blessed by all those who came to listen, sing, pray and dream with our team. We focused our vision-casting on the new phrase that is describing GMI’s ministry: GMI helps Kingdom workers make Spirit-led decisions that advance the Global Church. 

The Installation of Jon Hirst as GMI President

We would love for you to get a sense for the evening. The best way is to go to the page we set up for the event. There you can download my remarks, see the memorial we did for Mike O’Rear and see a map of where attendees prayed for decision-makers around the world. Click here to view these resources.

Finally, with all our staff from around the country in town, we spent some wonderful time strategizing about what God has for us this year. It was a good time of thinking and I came away excited about what God is going to do.

It seems like an eternity since the administrative team of the International Orality Network prayed over me days before I assumed this new role. So much has happened to strengthen my faith and humble my heart. While we still face many challenges in crafting a way forward to serve the Global Church, I am confident that God is working through our efforts.

I look forward to serving each of you who spend some time reading this post. Ple

When Your Decisions Fall Apart

What happens when the decisions you think are made bathed in prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance fall apart? It does happen . . . and for many reasons too numerous to list here in this blog. What do you do?

This weekend CNN released an extensive story of the dramatic events around Charles and Andy Stanely’s relationship, falling out and reconciliation. It is quite story. One that I was not aware of. As I read it and think about the dynamics at work in the Stanley home and in their public ministry, I thought, “I bet they wondered why things fell apart as God seemed to be blessing so much of their work.”

This is an important question as we consider what it means to make Spirit-led decisions. It is important because our assumption is that a decision bathed in prayer is guaranteed to succeed. But that simply is not true.

A Kingdom decision is not so much a moment of accomplishment as a step in a process. And like any step, it can come right before a fall. We can make an excellent decision in one area and then find ourselves stumbling in another. We can feel God’s hand of blessing in one area and his hand of discipline in another.

That is because God is using our decisions as tools to shape our lives. He is highlighting His work through us and also the sin in our lives that must be dealt with. Each decision is part of that process of seeing God at work in exalting His name.

So as you look at the decisions in front of you this week and the situations that seem to be unraveling, don’t question God’s work through what you decide. Simply know that as you seek to ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, there will be some decisions that have wildly successful outcomes and others that look like failure. But God is using each one to mold you into His servant on His mission in this world. And His mission is what truly matters