the time is ripe

The Time is Ripe for new conversations and raising new questions. On July 13 I wrote a post applying disruptive innovation theory to the mission scene in NZ mission is ripe for disruption   The post  has generated interest and much discussion in several blog posts from the US from Justin Long and the UK from Eddie Arthur  and it seems that there are many people considering what mission structures could look like in and for a changing world.  I’m pleased that across the world there are people who are putting time and effort into thinking about the future and the different ways we can respond. Although the NZ situation is much more vulnerable to disruption than in other countries, there is still much denial that traditional mission agencies could go the way of other disrupted companies like Blockbuster and end up closing.  I can only speak from my experience in NZ, so I will leave it to others from other countries to highlight their issues – there are some commonalities but also I think some quite different pressures.

the time is ripe title

I have enjoyed the discussion that has developed and have found it quite thought provoking.  However I think it has raised the wrong questions.

I introduced disruptive innovation theory into the discussion and unfortunately it has  led to a focus on  structures and systems.   Now I do say in the blog that “some of the ways that mission agencies are structured and the systems and processes involved haven’t changed for a long time.  The result of this is that it is difficult for them to move with the speed and flexibility that the current pace of change requires”. So I did point to changes that need to be made at the levels of structure and system.  

The problem is when we start discussing, what do our structures and systems need to look like to prevent being disrupted?  We are asking the wrong question

That question still focuses on traditional agencies and how they do what they do better.    As in most companies facing disruption the questions being discussed, of how can we fund better?, how can we do member-care better?, result in serving existing members better and do not address the disruption.   Most of the successfully disruptive companies, didn’t set out to be disruptive.  They simply identified an interesting technology or service and found or created a market for it, that the existing companies were not paying attention to.   The focus on structures and systems fails to identify what’s emerging and how the organisations can serve that gap.

So our discussions, our pondering needs to go deeper than systems and structures.  The existing companies and the new innovative companies had very different values systems.

So the discussion about the future of missions, the questions that we need to be asking are around our values, around our missiology and even deeper to considering the theological positions that they are based on

I don’t believe that it is just our mission agencies that are going to be disrupted.  There has been a shift in evangelicalism that the mission agencies don’t seem to have caught up with.  I see younger generations who are unengaged with and unwilling to share the ‘gospel’ as articulated by their parents and grandparents generation and that is what I see is at the heart of the spaces that are opening up.

There are also some other bigger questions that need to be asked, around the use of resources for missions.  In this age when we are aware of the drain on non-renewable resources and the impact of burning aeroplane fuel on the environment perhaps we need to be asking whether going across the world is good stewardship? Perhaps we should only each go as far as we can go on bike, electric car or canoe.  In this age of global financial crisis is it worth the money spent on sending expensive missionaries from the ‘West’ to the developing world, would it be better to send those who can live on less?  The missions sector also needs to be asking better and deeper questions around the issues of power, control and the impact of colonization.

We need to spend some time in a global, collaborative, spirit-led conversation that can raise the new questions that need to be asked

Before we start assessing and analysing structures and systems we need to be talking about where we see the Holy Spirit at work.  We need to initiate conversations around what strengths He has given us that we can share globally and what we lack that our brothers and sisters from other countries may help us with.   Perhaps we in NZ could use the help of people from Europe to learn about sharing our faith in a secular post-modern environment, perhaps we can help the church in Africa, with bible scholars to help with a deepening of faith, perhaps we have a role helping other countries sending missionaries to those around them.   Then we can begin to discuss flexible and agile structures, funding and systems, which enable the matching of strengths and gaps, and are responsive to where the Holy Spirit is at work in people groups and individuals.

The time is ripe for new questions, but not because I or other mission bloggers say so and not because a particular management theory is illuminating to what is happening.  The time is ripe because I (and others) sense a new move of the Holy Spirit that is raising new and deeper questions.

What do you think the big deep questions are that we need to be asking?