Firstly what does it mean for our practice to be centred in and based on Jesus kingdom values, secondly what role does the Holy Spirit play in leading us as individual care workers, in those we care for and corporately as a profession. Our care for missionaries needs to be based in kingdom values and Holy Spirit led.Read More
I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 years reflecting on member care, particularly thinking about what it is. For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six foundation principles that we need to discuss, understand better and apply to the formation of the profession. My previous posts have considered what it means to be developing professionalism, being proactive, being locally grounded and globally informed and being holistic. In today’s post I want to start thinking and talking about the interdisciplinary nature of membercare.
I have mentioned before that Membercare is somewhat ambiguous and hard to define. That is part of the reason why I have had to put so much thought into figuring out what it is and prompted this journey to explore the foundations of membercare. I think for a long time I wanted membercare to be something - just to be counselling, or just to be social work, or just to be Human Resources but actually the fact that it none of these and yet contains elements of all of these is part of what makes it what it is. The diversity of people and backgrounds that have joined membercare have been a source of strength and breadth. In membercare, we have missionaries, social workers, counsellors, spiritual directors, human resource professionals, trainers, psychologists, coaches, pastors and I am sure some others that I have overlooked. This gives membercare a resource of different perspectives, theories, backgrounds and approaches that we can draw on and that enrich and grow our work.
Membercare is growing both in the number of practitioners and in organisation’s awareness of its importance. Its growth allows three threats to the interdisciplinary nature of membercare to arise.
Threat One: Factions
As we grow in numbers across membercare, we of course get larger numbers of people in each different discipline that contributes to membercare. When we are few in number then we are forced to mix and mingle with those from different backgrounds. But the desire to gather with like-minded people is always strong, so as numbers increase there is a temptation to gather with those from our discipline. In this way it is easy for factions to form as we reinforce in our interactions with each other the shared perspective that we have. Certain approaches, concerns and focuses can become common within a discipline, sometimes a new way of looking at things from outside the discipline is necessary for growth to occur. I am currently preparing for some training on resilience and I am fascinated at the different paths that have been taken to consider resilience. Some writers come to resilience work through the lens of positive psychology exploring what makes us stronger, fills our tank and helps us to flourish. They take the view that putting those things in place helps us cope better when the hard stuff occurs. The other approach is from the counsellors and trauma professionals who come at it through the lens of what helps people recover post-trauma. Both approaches are interesting and useful and they both add to our understanding of growing flourishing workers.
Threat Two: Professionalism
As membercare matures as a profession we can establish our own way of doing things, our own research and theories and are able to offer our own training. These are all great things that have long term benefits for mission workers, and we should be aspiring to reach this stage. But it could mean that as we train people in membercare itself we loose some of the diversity that we have had in the past. Ensuring that we still draw on the diversity of experience that has been part of membercare, will ensure that we don’t become insular, and give us a confidence to explore further. I have noticed that the default setting for missionary carers is to try and be counsellors (but often doing it poorly). By establishing membercare with a defined identify in its own right we remove the temptation to simply try and be counsellors, that is often caused by its ambiguity.
Threat Three: Reductionism.
Tapping the richness of the diverse disciplines isn’t easy and I have observed that another threat that we face is that of reductionism. We may know that our discipline has something great to contribute to membercare, and we want to share it. However bringing the information to a diverse range of people who lack the foundational understanding that we have can be a challenge. Often we end up reducing our information down to the easiest form. So instead of bringing people from other foundational understanding on a learning journey with us, we reduced our knowledge to its simplest possible form to present to others. We then fall into a situation where instead of each profession being able to contribute the best, most up to date, evidence based information, we end up with the most accessible dumbed down version of what our profession has to offer. Instead of enriching membercare knowledge we end up with a lowest common denominator level of simplistic knowledge.
Discussions where we can interact and engage with different ideas, and combine and discuss knowledge, are an essential tool for building our identity as an interdisciplinary profession. Through this tool we can be a melting pot of the best of many professions to help us provide the best possible care for mission workers.
Next time I post lets talk about membercare that is centred in kingdom values and is Holy Spirit led.
In September I attended the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference. A conference for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the pacific. I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 years reflecting on member care, particularly thinking about its foundations and definition. For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six foundations that we need to discuss and gain increased understanding on. My previous posts have considered what it means to be developing professionalism, being proactive and being locally grounded and globally informed. In today’s post I want to start thinking and talking about the holistic nature of missionary care.
Another foundation of our membercare practice and one that is hard to separate out from being proactive is that membercare is holistic. Actually, perhaps rather than asking what is membercare we could even begin to ask - what is not membercare? Part of our role as membercare providers is to promote and maintain an attitude of care to our workers from all parts of our organisations. In this way membercare should be happening whenever our organisation interacts with its field workers. This is most easily demonstrated through conversations I have had around finances.
Do you consider your finance staff as part of your membercare team?
As membercare workers how often do you talk to your finance staff?
The field workers probably interact with the finance staff more often than they talk to their designated membercare worker. Finance staff may also have a good idea of stresses and challenges that field workers are experiencing and what their long-term plans are.
Developing a holistic foundation for our membercare practice involves seeing and understanding field workers as whole people, with overlapping and interacting needs in many areas. I have noticed that Membercare has developed a culture of responding to emotional and psychological needs. This focus could easily lead us to overlook other areas of our workers well-being. Taking a holistic approach means caring about their physical and financial health, their faith, their professional growth, their sense of identity as a Christian and as a missionary worker. There are challenges in caring for all areas of our workers wellbeing. There may be cultural and ethical challenges in being holistically involved in peoples lives.
Do you feel comfortable for example, suggesting to people that they need to exercise more or loose weight? Is that a conversation that membercare workers should and could be having? Does it overstep the boundaries of our care? Or does it demonstrate an attitude of care to workers as whole people?
As we express this view and acknowledge our workers as whole people it helps to dismantle any dualistic thinking that can so easily creep into Christian spirituality. Dualistic thinking sees the spiritual parts of our life as good and important and worthy of God’s and the mission agencies attention and the rest as secular, bad and not as important. This type of thinking can be associated with seeing the world as a bad place, rather than as somewhere that reflects God's glory, and can be appreciated and enjoyed. In this way, we can begin to develop and nurture a more holistic faith in our workers so that they are aware of God in all they do and are, wherever they are.
Taking a holistic view towards our workers and the care we provide them also involves becoming aware of the long term impacts that the policies and procedures that they live with have on them. We have become so accustomed to some of these that we take them for granted but consider, for example, our reliance on support raising to fund missionaries field service. Currently we are facing decreased giving in our churches, this means less money to go around for both local and global mission. Although that doesn’t change the amount of money that our workers need to raise to go, (although the global financial situation does) it does have an impact on how hard and how long they need to work to raise and maintain that support. It means that they need to have more interactions with more people and more churches just to raise their support.
Are we taking that need into consideration as we help them schedule home leave?
Do we consider the long term impact of support raising on their relationships?
When I was on support I found the pressure to ask all my friends for money and accept money from some of them had a huge impact on my ability to sustain those relationships with the same level of closeness as before I was on support. It also blurred boundaries between when I was working and when I was socialising, that made it difficult for me to set self-care boundaries. The other part of this scenario is that shrinking church budgets mean church workers are doing more work for less and may have less time to support and encourage the mission workers.
A holistic view sees our workers as part of systems. Systems that support (hopefully) them like their families and friends, and systems that may be unhealthy for them (like a church that uses financial support to control their work). Holistic membercare understands that struggles like burnout are not just caused by individuals but by an interaction between the individual and the systems that they work in. Holistic membercare takes into account the impact of living within systems on the health of our workers. It understands that for some (like those who experience oppression and discrimination) the system in which they have lived or are living impacts on their ability to thrive and nurture relationships.
Holistic membercare takes a step back and develops a broader picture of whole complex people impacted by the variety and complixity of the systems in which they live. Lets work together to create a membercare with a holistic foundation and expression.
In my next post I would like to start thinking about membercare that is interdisciplinary.
This is the third post in a series considering what we need to talk about as missionary care steps up, upskills and develops as a profession. I believe New Zealand can lead the way in increasing the professionalism of membercare. This time I want to start a conversation about understanding what it means to be locally grounded and globally informed. This doesn’t just apply to member care, it has an impact on recruitment and training also but I think it is important to make it more central to member care.
As missionary care workers our eyes are often turned out into the wide world, to different countries and cultures. Yet part of our increasing maturity as a member care profession is being able to negotiate the tension between the need to be locally grounded and globally informed. We need to be culturally grounded, in an awareness of our own culture, a deep engagement with what is happening in our own countries, including what is happening in our professional bodies, the church and mission agencies. This needs to be held with a global awareness of what is happening in the world, a strong cultural sensitivity, and a looking outward to be humbly informed by the professional contributions and cultural knowledge from other countries.
Being culturally grounded means developing a good awareness of our own culture (or cultures). The world is not experienced in the same way for everyone, culture has an impact on how different stresses and pressures are experienced, and the most effective ways of processing and coping with these pressures, and even what our ideas of healthy look like. This has an influence on the workers that we are caring for, and us as membercare workers. Being aware of our own NZ culture and the issues that workers from our culture struggle with the most and the type of care that is expected by workers from our culture can help us provide the most appropriate care for those workers. We may also develop a sensitivity to how our culture interacts with other cultures and what the likely reactions and tensions points are in a cross-cultural team. Grounding in our own culture needs to be balanced with an awareness that culture is not simple and that many of our missionaries may identify with more than one culture.
Professions develop differently in different countries, and so we need to be keeping up to date with current research, best practice and growth areas in our countries, as they can be world leading, and culturally appropriate for the workers from our country. We also need to be aware of what is happening in the church as a whole in NZ. Sometimes mission workers get so focused on what is happening in the host countries their agencies work in they forget to pay attention to what is happening in NZ. These changes and trends within our home country church have an impact on who comes to our mission agency, and how able agencies are to find new workers. It also has an effect on how able churches are to support mission workers, many churches in New Zealand are struggling with decreasing giving, which means staff have to do more, and churches may have less to give mission workers in time and money. New Zealand is often ahead of other countries in experiencing the influence of secularisation and globalisation. Lack of deep theological engagement within the church leaves our workers lacking confidence in the gospel that so many of our agencies are focussed on ‘sharing’. New workers often lack the theological depth, and experience of spiritual formation required to get through the challenges of field service. There is also a thread of hurt and dissatisfaction with the church that many of our church goers are dealing with. This may be something that needs to come out into the open before we can be truly free to make a difference globally.
As we engage deeply with our own culture we also need to raise the problems and challenges of the history of Christianity in our own country. As a church, we need to first deal with the need for racial reconciliation in our own country before we turn our eyes to the world. We need to recognise that the Christianity that was associated with colonialism hasn’t always meant liberation and affirmation for all in our home countries. Before heading overseas to share our faith we need to ensure that we have developed a good theological understanding of how our faith is a message of liberation and affirmation for all cultures and people not just our own. We need to have found ways to put this into practice and demonstrate this truth to the indigenous people of our land. Perhaps this type of acknowledgement and awareness of our difficult history and some moves towards restitution would create a more healthy attitude for our humble engagement with cultures overseas.
Once we have a firm local grounding then we can lift our eyes to be globally informed. We have an increasingly global missionary workforce, traditional sending countries are being overtaken in numbers by those from the majority world. Sending nations are now accepting missionaries into their countries and younger generations are connected with global issues, this has changed the context in which we are operating. Our models of member care and counselling practice need to be assessed in this new global context. Currently, our models and theories are created and tested in a white western environment that may not translate well to other cultural ways of understanding and being. I have heard people wanting westerners to come and provide training to host country workers basically because they are not following the western way of doing counselling. Perhaps they did need help but we need to be very cautious that we are not assuming that our way is globally appropriate or always best or better. Instead, we need to develop truly collaborative ways of working that lead to humble learning on the part of all participants. A tool that could assist missionary carers in developing an awareness of the cultural limits of their practice would be to require all carers to undergo cultural supervision as part of their training. Cultural supervision is a type of external supervision that provides accountability and support for the cultural learning and appropriate and safe practice of the supervisee. It helps them consider their own worldview and models and how they may be having an impact on their practice.
We need to keep up with best practice initiatives from around the world, being aware of what is occurring in other countries, and how it may be different from our own. For example, missionaries from Asia and the Middle East have much to teach us in the west about a theology and understanding of sacrifice and suffering. Missionaries from collectivist cultures have much to teach us in the west about what it means to create and sustain a team. This needs to be a genuinely collaborative practice all shaping and forming each other as we learn and grow together.
Let’s strive to create a member care that is locally grounded and globally informed.
Next time we will have a conversation about member care that is holistic.
Last month I attended the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference. A conference for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the pacific. I have spent a lot of time over the last 7 years reflecting on member care and I was somewhat disappointed at the level of conversation and engagement at the conference. There were a number of conversations that I thought we should have been having (after all we only get together once ever two years!), that didn’t happen. Conversations about the vision for the future of member care, conversations about the challenges ahead and where member care workers and indeed member care as a profession needs to step up, to up skill and to develop further as a profession.
For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six core conversations that we need to hold. This week we look at the second conversation, a conversation about becoming proactive.
Membercare came into existence because there was an awareness that mission work and cross-cultural living is difficult and stressful and that our workers needed extra support and help to cope with those struggles. That is all true and it is a very good thing that member care was formed. Support, counselling and care were and are much needed and are good things for us to be doing.
However, it means that the very origins of member care formed the work as primarily responsive. It seems that as we think about the future for member care we think the answer to all challenges is to have more member care workers and to have more member care workers closer to where our missionaries are serving. This, however, isn’t the whole answer part of the answer must be to move out of a continually responsive mode and move into taking a more proactive stance in promoting worker wellness. Of course, we still need to be there to provide care and support to those who struggle. But we also need to add to our member care repertoire proactive practices that increase the flourishing of missionaries. In small organisations where the training team members work closely with (or are) the member carers. There is some attention being paid to what individuals can do to increase their wellbeing, and some training to help people set up for coping well. I feel we need to put much more effort, attention and skill into this area. I was surprised at the recent member care conference at how the most basic information about resilience was new to a lot of member care workers. Resilience, well-being, thriving, emotional intelligence, mental wellness, spiritual formation, these are all things that member care workers should be familiar with and work to inform and assist our cross-cultural workers to put into practice.
We need to to take this one step further and begin to look at how our organisations can be proactive. We need to look at our systems, procedures, rules, guidelines and team cultures. Individuals do not operate in a vacuum they are affected and influenced by the organisation in which they are placed. We need to start conversations about how we lead and how we create systems and structures that support people to thrive. Leaders and bosses have a huge impact on their team members wellbeing, do we talk about this in our organisations? Our team leaders need to be aware of their influence on their team’s wellbeing. Rigidity in how mission should be done, in how and where you should take holidays or do language learning are examples of organisational procedures that do not see people as individuals and support them to grow and thrive. Teams that are dominated by one culture or theological position can be oppressive and unhealthy for those that are in the minority, we need to be on the lookout for teams that may be like this. There are many factors within an organisation and position that contribute to burnout in individuals, and yet we seem in Christian ministry to still focus on burnout as a personal, individual issue. Part of taking a proactive stance is looking at the organisation as a whole and understanding how it can be crafted to allow and support people to function at their best.
An ability to see our organisation as a system is essential if we are to integrate and care for people from collectivist cultures well. They are instinctively aware of the interconnectedness and belonging issues that occur within an organisation. We also need to acknowledge, understand and support our missionaries as they work within other systems that influence their well-being such as their churches and their families.
Conversations around shaping a proactive approach would also consider what training and support missionaries need not to just survive but to develop and grow. If we have a focus solely on caring for individual care, we often neglect to have the tough conversations that we need to have to enable further growth in our workers. Just as we encourage our children to grow in their own ability to care for themselves as part of our care and love for them, we also need to be supporting growth and independence in our missionaries. Care doesn't necessarily just mean offering support when they have a crisis or need, care can also involve challenge and calls for growth, and to take responsibility for their own self-care.
Another reason for increasing the proactivity of what we do is that the original model of member care assumed that we sent out people who were thriving. They would then struggle in ministry, cross-cultural living, or during the transition back to their passport country, then they would need care and support. This is a model that no longer exists. The diversity of experiences and backgrounds of the people we are sending and the rise of mental health struggles among the population means that we are now more likely to be sending people who have already faced challenges to their well-being. We need to be considering what proactive measures we need to take to support them from the beginning of their engagement with an agency and what extra wrap-around support systems we need to develop that allow them to function, flourish and grow in ministry settings.
Let’s strive to create a member care that is proactive and system oriented. Next time we will have a conversation about member care that is both local and global.
Let’s start conversations about becoming proactive...
I recently returned from the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference, for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the Pacific. I have spent a lot of time over the last 7 years reflecting on member care and I was somewhat disappointed at the level of conversation and engagement at the conference. There were a number of conversations that I thought we should have been having (after all we only get together once every two years!), that didn’t happen. Conversations about the vision for the future of member care, conversations about the challenges ahead and where missionary care workers and indeed missionary care as a profession needs to step up, to upskill and to develop further as a profession.
My impression from my time at the conference last week is that member care workers have more that they want to do, than they can do, they are very busy and responsive to need. This makes them reluctant to put their heads up from the day to day work that is in front of them to reflect on the bigger picture. There is a lack of vision of how missionary care fits into the changing mission scene, of the broader picture of missionary care and how it needs to grow. Membercare is a relatively young field, so we need to think about how to grow in the skills, theory and research we need to increase our maturity. I believe that we are a small enough community in New Zealand to experiment with new models, perhaps here we can even introduce changes that have a global impact.
For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six core conversations that we need to hold. This week we look at the first conversation, a conversation about professionalism.
Missionary care is both professional and vocational, we need to be deepening our understanding of what that means. What does it mean to be vocational? What does it mean to be professional? Most importantly what does it mean to combine the two into a called-professionalism?
Missionary care was created in response to a need and many people (myself included) ended up in missionary care somewhat accidentally. We responded to God calling us to meet needs that we saw around us, or in the mission agency that we were involved in. It is something that many of us have dedicated our lives and our work to, that we have made substantial sacrifices for and something we believe God has called us into. I have encountered a fear that increasing the professionalism of missionary care will create barriers to people following God’s call to care for his people. I disagree, it is because we are called by God that we should be aspiring to care for God’s people in the best way possible. It is that call from God that draws us to reach for greater professionalism in all we do.
At the beginning of missionary care the primary experience that was required was some field experience as a missionary and perhaps one or two papers in pastoral care at a bible college. This background has meant that member care has struggled to think professionally. When I say think professionally I mean to have a broader understanding of theory, to be informed by evidence-based practice and research, to have accountability for professional growth and quality standards to develop ethical maturity and to see missionary care as a career.
We need to acknowledge that it is no longer enough to have people with limited training and understanding of theory in the field of missionary care.
We need to start conversations about stepping up, bravely stepping out and becoming more professional in all we do. Then when we gather as professionals in missionary care we won’t need to spend so much time on the most basic skills needed to care for people. Instead we will be able to extend ourselves into training and developing in these 4 key areas.
One of the key sources of the lack of professionalism in missionary care is that we haven’t moved beyond just learning a set of simple skills. Professionals develop good understandings of theories, that can help them understand and work to a high standard in a variety of situations. The theory helps them understand how and why they are learning and applying the skills. Currently, member care is a few steps behind important and informative practices that are emerging in the helping professions. Professionals however keep up with emerging trends, new research, changed practices, and recent critiques and replacements of old models. Professionals are then able to change their practice in response to this new information.
2) Research and Evidence-based Practice.
There is very little evidence of our effectiveness as missionary carers. To become professionals we need to begin conducting thorough research about what works, and developing some formulations of evidence-based practice. We need to seek out feedback and track trends and changes that occur as the result of our missionary care practices.
3) Accountability and Ethical Practice
To act and be a professional also means having accountability for our work. I was encouraged at the South Pacific Membercare Conference how many of the attendees were receiving supervision. But I wonder how much of that supervision is focussed on growth and development rather than just self-care and well-being. We also need to be enhancing our knowledge and practice of ethical maturity. There are still quite large challenges to ethical practice that we need to be discussing and working through. We still lack an ethical code and lack professional training tracks in New Zealand (although the Redcliffe masters programme will be available from next year). Our best practice guidelines still swing from being too basic in some places and too aspirational in others. There are no requirements for professional development, mandatory supervision, or even entrance qualifications.
4) Career Pathways
As we seek to increase the professionalism within missionary care another issue to be addressed is the high turnover of missionary care providers within the mission agencies. We lose many of the best people because there are no career pathways or opportunities for promotion. The contribution of missionary care personnel to the overall direction and management of mission agencies is not always valued. The constant turnover of staff limits our ability to grow and develop as it feels like instead of having opportunities to extend our practice and develop our professionalism the more experienced providers are often caught up in helping the newer providers catch up. To grow as a profession we need to not always be putting our energy into helping the last on catch up.
Professionalism does not need to challenge or negate our sense of vocation, rather our sense of vocation should lead us to strive further and higher in doing the best we can for those we care for. Next time, we will have a conversation about becoming proactive.
On the first Monday of each month, I offer some reflections on a book I have been reading. These are not book reviews, but a reflection on how the book interacts with my story and the questions that I currently have. I share where the book takes me with my questions, whether it conjures up new ideas or questions, whether it helps me frame my experiences and gives me things to ponder.Read More
I have always disliked introducing myself at social events because the first thing you are asked is so “what do you do?” The answer for me has never been simple. I envy those people who could say “I am a primary school teacher or a nurse or a vet” and people immediately understand what they do. When I was a PhD student studying a theory within social psychology, it was hard to explain what I was doing. When I was working with Christian university students it was hard to explain what I was doing, Personnel Development for a Christian Mission Agency even worse. I didn't really think of all this when I decided to become self-employed. I am a bit hesitant to introduce myself as a blogger thinking does it really count when you only have 76 followers? does it really count when you have only been doing it a few months? Then once I have said that I have to explain about my work as an external supervisor, which people who are not in human services work don't really understand. So introducing myself can involve quite an extended and complex conversation. Then I hold my breath and wait for the next question which is "so what do you blog about?" I am always a bit reluctant to say the Church in New Zealand, because I know that once I say that, many stereotypes of Christian Mum bloggers are activated. I have also found that I am a little bit embarrassed to share with people that I think the church should make changes to how it does things. As I have slowly been getting used to introducing myself as a Christian blogger, I have been surprised at how much people have been interested in the topic of my blog and curious to find someone who talks about the issues of the church and contextualisation to society.
The interest I have experienced has got me thinking about which way I tend to face. I have realised that most of my time, energy and focus goes towards the Church. This is common for feminist Christians and for those of us who aren't liberal or evangelical, we orient ourselves in relation to the conservative church. We spend time and energy justifying our position, arguing for space, defending our stance. For some of us clinging to the fact that yes we are Christians, takes most of our energy, others are focussed on healing from the pain and grief that they have experienced within the conservative church. The result of this is that we often experience self- doubt and spend time questioning ourselves - are we really right about what we believe?
This sets us up in a position where it is easy to forget to face those outside the church. It would be good to recalibrate away from the Church and towards those outside the Church. Many people outside the Church don’t have a diverse experience of what the Church is like, and if they rely on the media to show them the Church they only see a US conservative evangelical Christianity. For those of us embedded in the Church and so familiar with it, it is easy to forget to explore what those outside know about it.
I am suddenly aware of the importance of the average person on the street being able to see that there are feminist Christians, progressive Christians, liberal Christians, Christians of all flavours and beliefs, expressed in different ways.
Also that people with limited experience of the Church get to see that Christians have doubts and questions and that is ok, that there are Christians that are dissatisfied with the church how it is. Sharing our faith can be difficult for those of us on the edges of Church. Often our process of deconstruction has left us dissatisfied and loosely connected to the church, we may have lost confidence in a reductionist gospel, but we haven't replaced it with anything we can share easily. Some of us may still feel an odd sense of loyalty to Christianity that means we are reluctant to 'bad mouth' it outside of Christian circles, uncomfortable sharing our doubts, questions and bad experiences. Perhaps we have become reluctant to hear the bad experiences of the church that people outside of the church often want to share with us.
I still feel uncomfortable sharing my faith. Somehow to do it easily always reduced it to something that doesn't show the full complexity and depth of what I believe. Also because I am drifting on the edge of my church I feel uncomfortable inviting people to come, I see the problems and I doubt they would always be and feel welcome, or even understand what was happening. Yet at the heart of why I am so keen to see the Church contextualise better, is because I want to see the Church better able to articulate the hope and love of God to those who have little connection to our faith. I think it is time that we stepped away from the constant and tiring engagement with conservatives and focussed our energy on those outside the church. We need to stop and ask ourselves, why do we spend so much energy trying to convince those inside the church, is it because deep down we are still trying to answer our own doubts?
It is time that we saved some energy and time to face outwards, to talk to those outside the church about our faith. Here are some initial thoughts about how we might do that.
1) You don't have to have it all sorted into an elevator pitch to talk about what you believe. Little pieces of your faith dropped into a conversation here and there are great starters.
2) If you want to help people take a bigger view of the church you could say something like "The church contains lots of different expressions and I am from a part of the church that sees a need for change. We might be a bit different to the image of Christians that you are used to."
3) Ask questions and don't be afraid of expressing your own views on the church, or on being a Christian feminist. Many us of have spent so long hiding our true views so that we fit better within the church framework that we forget that it is ok to express our true views to those outside the church.
4) Think about points of connection, the world is seeking wisdom and hope, things that Christianity has in abundance - how can we articulate that to those outside our faith?
Things to think over:
How are my time and energy captured by those within my faith?
How could I face more toward those outside my faith?
Do I feel comfortable inviting people to church? Why or why not?
What could I do to create a more comfortable environment for those outside to begin to learn about my faith?
As always I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and challenges of sharing your faith:
“Where are all the young people?”
I’ve been at countless meetings where I have been approached by a kindly and passionate older lady who has asked me that question. Statistically in NZ the church is shrinking in people under 60 and growing in people over 60 so probability says our meetings will be dominated by older people. Many of the older people I have met genuinely want more younger people involved, many of them I have met are even willing to sit with changes to enable that to happen. I pray that in 30 years time I will have the grace to put aside my own convictions to enable a Christian faith gathering that engages the young. However despite what feels like revisiting the same issues for several years now, I am not noticing much progress in engaging people under 50 with Christianity. I started out my ministry career working with young adults and eventually moved to missions, that may seem like an odd trajectory. But as I sought to find a way ahead for the young adults I worked with I became convinced that the best research and insight was from missiology. The principles developed for people crossing cultures helped memost as I tried to find frameworks for engaging with young adults. We need to acknowledge that people under 40 inhabit a completely different culture than older people. The church as we currently have it was formed for and by people over 50. So we have a problem of crossing cultures if we are going to help younger people feel engaged and welcome in a church which is essentially a foreign experience for them. I am convinced that if we are going to re-imagine the people of God for today and the future, experience Spirit led growth and mend the rift betweenyounger and older generations we need to delve deep and take a prayerful and reflective look at our theology.
At the core of the generation gap that we are seeing in the church is the worldview shift from modernity to postmodernity. In the main NZ evangelical churches have failed to acknowledge that this creates a cultural barrier between younger people and older people, which has led to a lack of good contextualisation for the new environment of post-modernity. Meanwhile wehave experienced an increasing worldview gap between those brought up in modernity and those brought up in post-modernity. The differences in worldview, in thinking, in ideas and even in how we think about thinking run deep.
To make progress in re-imagining the church our conversations need to look beyond the stereotypes of what post-modernity is, to look beyond the style of how we do things and bring to the forefront the underlying layer of worldview, ideology and theology.
What is theology?
We all do theology all the time even if we don’t label it as such. At it’s most basic, theology can be defined as “the study of God and of God's relation to the world” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology). So we do theology whenever we talk about God and talk about God and the world.
Theology is also an academic discipline that most pastors and church leaders would have studied as part of their preparation for ministry. It is defined by Erickson as “that discipline which strives to give a coherent statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith, based primarily upon the Scriptures, placed in the context of culture in general, worded in a contemporary idiom, and related to issues of life.”
So it is clear from the definition of theology that it is not something that stays in the minds of academics, it comes out and rubs shoulders with the context, it engages with the current issues of the day. However because most of the people who attend church don't study as much theology as their church leaders, it can take time for thinking in the field to become the cultural norm in churches. So theology that is talked about and written about in leadership settings can be different to the atmosphere of theological thought in a local church setting.
As part of our desire to engage those who are disengaged from church we need to be asking, Is our theology worded for the society we live in? and How well does it relate to current issues of life?
Lets start by agreeing that theology is not static
As we begin to prayerfully reflect on our theology, the starting point needs to be an agreement that theology is not static. Theology is not a body of universal truth that has never changed and will never change. If we look back at the history of theology we can see how it has changed, developed and grown over time. For example the centre of theological thought shifted from the Eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe in the 1000s, this had a major impact on its flavour and development. Theology is formed in response to time and context. McGrath says “Christian theology can be regarded as an attempt to make sense of the foundational resources of faith in the light of what each day and age regards as first-rate methods. This means that local circumstances have a major impact upon theological formulations”. It is tempting to be attached to the theology that we learnt when we first came to faith as the sole articulation of truth, but we need to hold those ideas a bit looser to allow theology to continue to develop and grow and to respond to the context and relevant issues and questions of society.
At its heart theology is a poor human attempt to understand and articulate the divine. God is vaster than our human brains can describe and that means there is always more that we can know, or say, or understand at a given time. If we fail to acknowledge that theology is subjective and contextual we fall into the trap of teaching and sharing doctrine rather than encouraging life giving discourse about God.
We need to teach meta-theology
I can hear the gasps and the concern, but if we believe that theology develops over time and is contextual then how do we ensure orthodoxy is maintained. if we acknowledge that theology does not have to be static then it becomes the role of good process and method applied in a diverse community of faith, to ensure that we don’t stray too far from the boundaries of orthodoxy. I see many young people going through a process of deconstructing their faith, wrestling through the lifeless (in worst case scenarios harmful) doctrines that they were taught, but as they do this too many of them are left without any tools to begin the process of re-construction. They then develop a very reductionist idea of what it means to be a Christian. If those of us who preach and teach in the church begin to show a greater transparency that illuminates process and method then younger people will have good tools in place to help them reconstruct their faith to a deeper and more developed level than what they currently manage.
This is an idea that I am applying from missiology where it was popularised by Heibert who referred to it as meta-theology. He points out that this was a stance taken by the Ana-baptists who saw “theology as the application of biblical truths to the situations in which people found themselves.” They had three criteria to test theological processes for error, firstly was it biblically based, was the person/people interpreting the bible responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and was the person open to the responses of the Christian community. So meta theology is “a set of procedures - by which different theologies, each a partial understanding of the truth in a certain context, could be constructed. These had to be rooted in the scriptures, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ; they had to arise our of the questions of everyday life.” (Heibert, 1988)
Developing Theology for the Future
There are three main areas in which we need to develop the theological atmosphere of our churches.
Our theology needs to become more holistic, theology that engages with the whole of life and the whole of the created order, it is not just about our spiritual state. Unfortunately most of the faith systems that western NZers have inherited developed out of a Greco-Roman thought pattern that created and maintained a separation between the spiritual and the worldly or material. In this way of thinking going to church is spiritual and cooking dinner is not. This creates compartments that make it difficult for our faith to interact with the rest of our life, and it can leave our faith with nothing to say to current issues. A holistic theology takes in the whole sweep of the biblical narrative from creation to re-creation. It acknowledges that after God created the world, everything in it and humans, he declared it good. We too can see all these things as good, as worthy and valuable. Of course the relationship between God and people, people and the earth, and people with other people was harmed at the fall so we no longer live in perfect harmony. I recently had it pointed out to me (thanks Gisela Kreglinger) that God’s covenant after the great flood was with every living thing. Theology does not just deal with the spiritual piece of humans, theology encompasses the totality of how the world works. It means that our work to care for creation, is just as spiritual as going to church as it is part of our call and vocation from God. It allows us to experience God though our senses, through creativity and through creation.
A holistic theology allows us to delight in the world God created, and care for it as a spiritual act.
The Gospel revisited
In the evangelical circles that I used to frequent, it was assumed that we all knew what “The Gospel” was. It was held in high esteem and it was assumed that we all wanted to share it. The term “The Gospel” was really a term for the main message of our faith. Usually for people who use that term it covers a reductionist statement of what Jesus did, and it is all about individuals sin and guilt.
We need to ask does this as the main message of our faith resonate any longer?
I know that many mission agencies that focus on evangelism struggle in the NZ church because younger people have lost confidence in “the Gospel”. Certainly our evangelism efforts within NZ need to start at a point further back in the biblical narrative than Jesus, as people don’t have the basic understandings that they once did.
The main message of our faith needs to start way back at the beginning with a good and loving God who created the whole world and gave humans a special place in it. This gives us more to work with when we try and understand the main message of our faith. Once again we can turn to the world of missiology for help to consider how to contextualise well the main message of our faith for NZ today. As the messages of sin and guilt no longer resonate, perhaps it is time to start talking about shame, as many in the missions world do.
As I consider the world that we inhabit in New Zealand in 2017 as we formulate a main message of our faith to this world, I am convinced it needs to be a message that is centred on holding out hope to people who are struggling with hopelessness. As we develop this main messagewe need to find, claim and articulate the hope that our God holds out for us to grasp. We need to find ways to be living hope bearers connecting the world to the greater hope onto which we cling. As we develop our main message of hope, we need to keep in mind that if it is not a message of hope for all, then it is not really hope for anyone.
God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
We have a God that is three in one, and it strikes me that during different periods in the history of the Christian faith emphasis has been placed on different persons of the trinity. Different denominations focus on different persons of the trinity, and as individuals we seem to be captured by or stumped by different persons of the trinity. Personally I struggle with the Holy Spirit, how the Spirit works and interacts with the rest of the Trinity has always baffled me. I hope you will forgive me a generalisation but it seems to me that before the reformation the focus was on God the father, then post reformation and with the rise of evangelical rationalism we seemed to emphasise the work of Jesus. In some situations of more traditional evangelicalism this has almost led to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit.
As we develop a theology that resonates with the questions of today and gives us a vibrant and relevant faith, we need to put the trinity back together. Our developing theology needs to place an equal emphasis on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We are moving into a time in the church where there will be a greater emphasis on the work of the Spirit, and a well grounded understanding of the trinity will be required. Pentecostalism has always emphasised the work of the Spirit, this has been in some cases to the extreme of neglecting God and Jesus. A holistic theology avoids some of the pitfalls that Pentecostalism can fall into such as prosperity doctrine and an ant-intellectual stance. Third Article theology has a lot to offer us as we develop a more Trinitarian approach. Third article theology is named after the third article of the Apostles Creed that states “conceived by the Holy Spirit”. Third article theology refocuses us on the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the world and in our communities. It helps us develop a theology through the lens of the Holy Spirit. To read morea bout third article theology go here.
Theology needs to promote discourse, rather than shut it down, it needs to provide a framework for exploring questions not provide answers to questions that aren’t being asked. It is time that we started a discussion about changes that are needed at the theological level if the church is to have a future. Our theology needs to offer hope for all and support a vibrant well contextualised faith.
How often have you had a conversation at church about theology?
How often have you had a conversation with someone younger than you about theology?
Do you think that theology is static? Why or why not?
How would you tell the main message of the Christian faith? How does that relate to NZ society?
On the first Monday of each month I offer some reflections on a book I have been reading. These are not book reviews, but a reflection on how the book interacts with my story and the questions that I currently have. I share where the book takes me with my questions, whether it conjures up new ideas or questions, whether it helps me frame my experiences and gives me things to ponder. This month I am reflecting on Mission in Motion that one of the authors my good friend Jay Matenga gave me as a gift. (Mission in Motion: Speaking Frankly of Mobilization, Jay Matenga and Malcolm Gold).
In many ways I have tracked with this book since I started working for a mission agency in 2008 and over the years Jay and I have had many conversations about the topics raised here. I am even quoted on in the book as saying “member care exists because community doesn’t”, I also recall a conversation about younger people needing inspiration not information that is mentioned towards the end of the book.
MiM describes a qualitative research project that was conducted over a number of years. Starting in 2005, it involved semi-structured narrative interviews with people involved in mission promotion and recruitment (often called mobilisation) in nine countries. In MiM traditional missions is defined as “long-term, cross-cultural (if not specifically overseas), donation funded, gospel proclamation activity (or means to that end), with the intention of establishing and strengthening churches where none existed.” Into the context of traditional missions they introduce Bosch (1991) and his concept that mission is in crisis, due to contextual and societal changes. The researchers wished to investigate promotion and recruitment practices that would be considered best practices and to particularly look at those in the context of our changing world and the 6 factors that Bosch identified as contributing to the crisis. The book includes many direct quotes from the interviewees and it gives a fascinating insight into different countries perspectives on mission and on mission recruitment and promotion.
It has been six months since mission mobilization and retention was my work world, since I spent time gnawing at the problem of decreasing mission recruitment and funding. I have moved on in that time and at times I wondered why I was reading this book. At other times I just felt glad that I was no longer so bound into the mission scene. Although the authors paint a positive picture of a time of change where the traditional evangelical paradigm is no longer dominant. The fact that we are still talking about mission being ‘in crisis’ all these years after Bosch first pointed it out, and yet are still struggling with what the future of missions will look like is frustrating to me.
The pace and nature of change will not be deep enough or come fast enough for me.
MiM did get me thinking about mission again. Particularly wrestling with (as I have done for the last 8 years) why we are struggling to involve younger people in missions. The authors offer a couple of helpful directions for my thoughts to take.
I was fascinated by the introduction of the term from sociology of anomie. The authors define anomie in this way “at its root, the word indicates a sense of normlessness and potential chaos without apparent restraint or adherence to a common guide to negotiate our condition.” In other words we no longer have a reliable roadmap to help us navigate the shifting landscape, at least not one we all agree on (p.16). They claim (and I see this too) that the expectations and understanding of missions are disintegrating and we are entering a period of ambiguity. The ambiguity is coupled with an exciting opening up of the future where anything becomes possible, as the new way is yet to form. Although they apply this only to the missions scene I would affirm that this also describes the church situation also. We are all aware that the old ways are no longer working, but we are not entirely sure what the new looks like. I believe that we are currently in such a state of fluidity that separating out these issues as MiM does to just missions, only tells half the story. To move forward from where we are currently involves a broader conversation than the mission agencies are able to have by themselves. The conversation needs to be rooted in theology and our understanding of the church, and it needs to happen before the implications for missions can be unpacked.
We need to be foster kiwi theology.
The quotes from the different respondents highlight some of the contextual differences from countries around the world. Throughout the research the respondents from Oceania seemed to see things slightly differently from the rest of the world. The term ‘missional’ for example has become common here but wasn’t mentioned by respondents from other parts of the world. Respondents from NZ also placed a higher value on relational recruitment practices than others. We need to develop a greater understanding of our context in NZ and stop looking overseas for guidance, but developing a deep sense of our own contextualized theology and missiology.
What next for missions
The book takes a very positive view of the changes that are occurring. Yet I think there are so many things that mission agencies are missing. Mission agencies are caught in a theological shift. We are moving away from a post-enlightenment emphasis on a rational and word/doctrine based faith in which ‘gospel’ proclamation takes precedence. Instead a more Spirit focused and more holistic theology/spirituality is coming to the fore. It involves kingdom values in all of life, and caring about creation, justice and poverty are ways that our faith is demonstrated. Unfortunately the deep concern about creation, justice and poverty can become paralyzing in this world of destruction, injustice and an increasing wealth gap. Mission agencies need to work harder at reflecting a broader theological stance, and to engage those that are overwhelmed with the need and so often the church's inaction on issues that are core values for them.
The question then becomes how do we frame mission within that space.
What excites you about being in a period of anomie?
How can we develop a deeper NZ theology and missiology?
How do you react when you hear the term ‘gospel proclamation?’
How would you frame mission, if it were to inspire you?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and impressions particularly if you have read the book.
My post mission is ripe for disruption stimulated a lot of thought about the way forward for mission agencies. Most people agree that we are operating in a time where the pace of change means that we need to develop agile systems and procedures. However we all seem to be getting stuck on answering the question of what these agile systems and procedures will look like? and how will we get there? Moving forward is not just about changing systems and procedures to move into the new way of working and being in the world. Organisations need to develop new ways of making decisions. Many of the old fashioned organisational decision making procedures (like a swot analysis for example) are based on the simple notion that what worked in the past will work again in the future. To move forward we must acknowledge that we can no longer rely on that notion. What worked in the past can no longer be counted on to inform our work in the future. So we need to develop new ways of making decisions. In the September issue of the Missions Interlink Bulletin (More about MI here) Jay Matenga introduced the Cynefin framework as a base for understanding agile decision making. Steve Pavarno then discussed how this could be applied to mission organisations. (I am re-printing their comments here with permission).
The Cynefin Framework
Cynefin [Kih-NEH-vihn] is a Welsh word for “habitat”, with a meaning very similar to the Maori word, turangawaewae. It conveys a sense of belonging to a place, where you feel empowered and connected. It describes the largely implicit relationship between a person and their place of birth and upbringing, the environment in which they live and to which they are naturally acclimatised. It is a domain you are used to.
Welsh theorist Dave Snowden co-opted the word and its concepts to map a paradigm (framework) to help explore relationships between people, their experience, and their contexts (including their historical and cultural contexts, which are predominantly implicit). The aim is to help discern how best to respond to a situation given the particularities of it—from simple to chaotically complex. It is ultimately a sense-making model (making sense out of data) to assist with decision making in the midst of increasing uncertainty. Depending on which territory you find yourself in, you need to think, analyse and respond differently. This model helps us navigate increasingly unknown territory.
The Cynefin framework (above) has five domains, like geographic domains separated by flexible and porous borders. The left two are the unordered domains (complex and chaotic), the right two are both ordered systems.
The five domains are:
Obvious. The relationship between cause and effect is self-evident to all. To apply best practice you simply sense the data, categorise it and then respond, step by step by the book (which is already written). This is the bureaucratic domain.
Complicated. The relationship between cause and effect requires some form of expert investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge. To apply good practice you need to sense, and then expertly analyse in order to develop an appropriate (fresh)response. This is the realm of expert consultants.
Complex. The relationship between cause and effect is perceived in retrospect, rarely in advance. You don’t even know what questions to ask beforehand. To discern emergent practice you need to probe and examine to gather more data, then experiment to get a sense of how to respond tentatively. This usually requires an iterative (trial/error) process before the right response emerges. This is the habitat of collaborative strategists.
Chaotic. No discernible relationship exists between cause and effect at a systemic level. You need to do whatever you have to to contain the situation. You could intentionally enter this territory for innovative purposes but if you accidentally find yourself here it requires urgent attention. This will require novel practice, so you act, then sense, responding quickly and as necessary to escape the territory. It is like a hospital ER where you act quickly to stop the bleeding before looking more intently to figure an appropriate way to heal the situation. Autocrats, Dictators and Commandant types thrive here.
Disorder is the fifth domain (the dark mass in the middle), which is where you have no idea what sort of causality exists. You don’t know which domain you’re in. There is just confusion. This is no-man’s land. In this realm, people revert to their own comfort zone practice in making a decision. Here you will default to your personal preference for action, but you cannot survive here. The objective at this point is to move the situation to another part of the map to better engage with it.
Another critical aspect of the Cynefin framework is the boundary between the Obvious and Chaotic domains (which has been interpreted as a cliff, with a wave at the bottom, represented by the curious squiggle). It is too easy to become complacent in the Obvious realm (remember, this is the land of bureaucracy and clear cut policies and procedures) and drift toward the boundary into Chaotic territory. All other boundaries allow for transitions but with this one crossing the boundary is deemed to be catastrophic (hence the cliff)—you fall over the edge into a (very costly) crisis.
The recommendation is that organisations manage in the top two domains which allow for variability and flexibility and only occasionally in the Obvious domain because it is too prone to rapid and accelerated change toward the Chaotic.
The Cynefin Framework in the Software Industry
Big multinational mission agencies have operating models that are increasingly struggling with the environment they are operating in (both the sending or receiving environments). From the turn of the century the software industry has had to operate in complex and chaotic environments. These parallels offer value to the missions community, but it is first helpful to identify where we’re at. The Cynefin Framework describes successful behaviours for industries facing disruption.
Many mission organisations are operating in the “Obvious” quadrant (see diagram): applying best practices because those practices have worked in the past or are required by their international head office or other compliance regulators. But with pressure from stakeholders, they are finding best-practice is no longer enough. One size is not fitting all. To thrive, missions must adopt an operating model appropriate to the domain their industry is in (see diagram).
When best practice is no longer enough, we need to build organisations that are more agile, able to move and adapt easily, to grasp and implement new opportunities as they arise, take more risks, and even be willing to fail sometimes.
The software industry has learned agility the hard way, from many expensive failed projects. In the old days, we used “Big Design Up Front” to design software. Teams of analysts would meet for months to design a requirement’s specification. This would be handed off to systems architects, then “thrown over the wall” to programmers who would spend years writing the code, before handing it over to the testers. When it finally got to the end user, the original need had often disappeared or changed so dramatically that the product was useless. We could call this the “Ready-Aim-Fire!” cannon methodology.
In 2001 a group of developers decided to move away from traditional methods of software development, towards what they called “agile” project management. The Agile model prefers a lightweight “Ready- Fire-Aim-Aim-Aim” guided missile methodology. It prioritises relationships, communication and results over policy and documentation. It picks the most valuable (important, urgent) piece of a business problem, builds and delivers a working solution to that one piece, and then goes back for the next most important problem. Along the way, it applies learning from the previous stages with constant customer feedback to shape future decisions. Development cycles are a few hours to a few weeks long, rather than the months or years taken by traditional methods. Google and other large tech companies run multiple parallel experiments to see what works (multivariate testing). Google have launched and later cancelled quite a number of unsuccessful products, yet the company as a whole remains very successful. This pragmatic strategy works well in a Chaotic domain (see diagram) where they have tried something, seen what works, then decided what to do next in evolutionary or progressive steps. It’s like firing a lot of guided missiles at a swarm of moving targets.
How might agile methodology work for mission organisations?
To start, we will have to undo decades of habits and institutional inertia.
Agile software teams have a saying, “Do the simplest thing that can possibly work”.
Missions are often crippled by poor IT infrastructure and heavy administrative responsibilities, with staff running hard just to keep up. Finance systems can be antiquated or pieced together from off-the-shelf solutions that don’t integrate well. HR systems rely heavily on time consuming email and spreadsheets. Donor or stakeholder management is ad-hoc and misses opportunities to engage with people in the most appropriate ways. New initiatives are subject to lengthy Board or committee approval processes. And, funding is not available for research and development to find better ways of doing things.
Realising that we are no longer in the Obvious domain (see diagram), a first step into new territory, towards a becoming more agile, is to build agile systems (digital platforms) that automate the boring stuff. Digital transformation (if done well) can relieve humans of boring busywork and release them for building relationships and making informed decisions. Human time is far too precious to be spent copying data from one platform to another.
What would it take to become agile, to do the simplest thing, to strip away some of the habits, spreadsheets, approval cycles, policies from your organisation?
What tools (e.g. cloud services) could you use to automate workflows?
What would happen if you simply stopped doing some of the things you have done for years, or did it a different way that only took half the time?
How can you free up time and money to begin to experiment and explore?
It is duckling season again; a duckling is a good image for vulnerability. They are small, young and fluffy venturing out into a big dangerous world. There are so many perils that face them cats, dogs, drains, cars, lack of food, cold. When I first decided to write about vulnerability for a social media project (initiated by Wholeness blog) I thought it would be easy. Vulnerability has lots to do with psychology, lots to do with theology and I love Brené Brown’s work on it, I can link it in with professional supervision and helping professions and I believe it’s important to talk about. But the question was; what does vulnerability mean to me? Not vulnerability as a psychology or theology topic not applying what Brené Brown learnt in her research to professional supervision.
What does vulnerability mean to ME?
I am posting a bit later than usual this week, because this was quite a difficult post to write. To write a post about vulnerability I had to explore my own vulnerability. Not just looking at it from the perspective of what would help others. You see inside I have a little duckling soft, fluffy, brown and yellow - vulnerable. It hardly ever sees the light of day, hidden as it is by layers of shell built up year after year. Hidden so deep that I am not even sure what it looks like anymore. I’ve delved down there and I want to share with you three areas in which I am vulnerable. I hope that some of you will relate to them, and that my sharing may encourage you to share your own vulnerabilities with your team and friends.
Some of my vulnerability is around being seen to be competent and independent. I don’t like asking for help or being ‘the needy’ person in a group. I suspect that this is something I inherited from my parents. One of the hardest things I have had to do, as for many people in ministry and mission is raise money for my salary. It put me in a very vulnerable place to ask friends and family to believe in my work enough to pay my salary. It creates even more vulnerability when you are struggling and not producing the results of your vision.
Some of my vulnerability is around my feelings. I don’t come from a generation or culture that was taught, supported or encouraged to share their feelings. So I struggle to express how I feel to others and if I am completely honest sometimes to even acknowledge how I feel to myself. My ability to share my feelings got worse after I struggled with burnout and infertility – basically there were no words deep and true enough to articulate how I felt, so I was unable to share with others. This developed into something of a habit of not sharing my feelings readily or easily.
Some of my vulnerability is around being told that I can’t trust my intuition. That what I believe to be true deep within me by instinct and intuition is wrong. I am particularly vulnerable to that one, because it usually taps into something that I find hard to articulate. It is very hard to counter what feels like an attack on a rational level, when you haven’t articulated the sensing, the intuition and the deep knowing that lie within. That is part of why I have enjoyed my professional supervision course so much, because it values the role of intuition and gut feelings and validates them, encourages us to use them to be good at our work of supervision. When I feel most confident and competent it is when I am supported to work with my intuition, my instinct and to listen to the still small voice that I identify as the Holy Spirit.
Sharing my vulnerabilities exposes my fluffy duckling to the peril of hurt, invalidation and self-doubt. Although I know for some of you rejection is a bigger issue. Brené Brown in her very popular Ted talk (Vulnerability Ted Talk )says that “what makes people vulnerable makes people beautiful.”
Is the world missing out on seeing your beauty because you are not able to share your vulnerability?
In a world where everything is processed to be the same and disclosure is managed to portray ourselves from our best side, isn’t it the imperfections, the vulnerabilities that make us distinctive, make us memorable. Although it is scary to share our vulnerabilities with others, the need for connecting well motivates us to take the risk. I know it is difficult, but we follow a God who chose to come to earth in the vulnerable form of a human baby.
Do we see the beauty in that vulnerable act? Do we see how much our God values vulnerability? Do we see the power of deep connection that sharing vulnerability offers?
We need to value vulnerability in our mission and ministry teams. This can be difficult for kiwis as it takes us time to trust others enough to share our vulnerabilities. There are so many vulnerabilities simmering under the surface of moving country, learning another language and being dependent on sponsors and churches back home. I wonder if all the teams that I have seen that have failed to bond and thrive as a team, come back to a lack of shared vulnerability. Sometimes it can be hard for Evangelical Christians to respond well to vulnerabilities, their emphasis on truth and resistance to difference can result in responses that increase self-doubt and discomfort for those sharing. Grace and love and a God who created us to be vulnerable need to guide the way. Leaders need to learn to be vulnerable and to encourage, support and value true vulnerability. We all need to be aware of the spoken and unspoken reactions to vulnerability that you are giving. I once shared something vulnerable, which was met with silence, and never mentioned again. The silence made me feel that the person didn’t want to truly see me and my disappointments, and struggles. I was unable to establish an honest relationship with them after that. When someone shows you their vulnerability, acknowledge their courage, ensure that they feel seen and heard and validated through how you react. See it as a request for connectedness, a chance to deepen your relationship.
What is your duckling, what is soft, fluffy and vulnerable inside of you, that you wish you could share with your team/friends but can't? How can your team make space for you to share that vulnerability?
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.
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?
In my kitchen drawer I have an excellent and quite expensive corkscrew. It is a very good corkscrew very well designed and it works well, but it stays in my drawer, covered with other more useful kitchen utensils, and gathering a layer of dust. Now that 95% of wine produced in New Zealand is sealed with a screwcap it doesn’t matter how good a corkscrew it is, it is no longer a useful tool.
As I reflect on my time in the mission sector and as I explore disruptive innovation, the question that keeps rising to the surface is are mission agencies a corkscrew in a world that is using screwcaps?
are mission agencies a corkscrew in a world that is using screwcaps?
It doesn’t matter how well managed and governed mission agencies are, if they are not looking ahead and reading and understanding changes in society and the church, then they are still making very good corkscrews for people who have no use for them. This makes traditional mission agencies ripe for disruption. Most NZ mission agencies were established to support a particular model of mission that began early last century; it was also based in a particular model of the church as a strong and established part of society. Mission agencies care deeply about mission and they have obviously changed with the times in how they do mission. However 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.
As I explore disruptive innovation I think that it can offer a few insights that can help the mission sector prepare for the future. I can see that traditional mission agencies have many of the characteristics of the established companies described in Christensen’s book (The Innovators Dilemma). In Christensen’s theory established companies invest most of their energy and attention into listening to and meeting the needs of their existing customers. I see this in mission agencies, as there is an increasing pressure to pour (increasingly limited) resource into membercare and other supportive functions. The existing workers and donors put pressure on agencies to spend more resource on care while not placing the same value on putting resource into finding and understanding new markets. The supportive and donor base of most agencies are locked into past models of what mission looked like and it can be difficult to educate them about the need for change. There is also a pressure from the boards of mission agencies as resources become scarcer they are less willing to experiment and to weather the failures that experimentation involves.
In disruptive innovation it is the new companies that have the freedom and flexibility to imagine and create, they are not bogged down in existing structures and procedures that are designed to support existing customers. They have the courage to experiment and are willing to risk the failure that is always a possibility in experimentation. Disruptive theory tells us that disruptive companies have quite different values and quite different structures to the established companies.
The time is ripe for new entrants into the mission sector, there is a large section of a globally connected generation that are not engaged or educated about mission. New entrants would be free to experiment with new structures, new systems of funding, and specifically new ways of talking about mission that expresses faith differently and inspires the coming generations. This goes much further than simply making mission relevant to a new generation, as it would need to change the whole system and structure of the agencies.
It is easy for established companies to deny that disruption is occurring; they can still focus on the 5% of people who refuse to embrace screwcaps. But it is time, I sense we are on the cusp of a great disruption that will require substantial change at all levels of what mission agencies do. They need to realise that the task of the day is no longer to design and make better corkscrews but to experiment with ways that they can activate people to open their wine in a world of screwcaps.
I am keen to hear where you see disruption brewing? What are the exciting new things that are happening?
I guess I have always been disruptive, after all I love stories of small beginnings that transform whole industries (Facebook for example). I love reading about musicians and artists that did something innovative that challenged the established methods and eventually became accepted and part of what was considered normal. Although I was fascinated by reading about and hearing these stories I never made the connection that this told me something important about where I should be placing myself. I didn’t realise that my desire to take on the establishment to shake up whole industries and invent new ways of doing things wasn’t just a hobby, or an interest with no application. I also didn’t recognise that not everyone is interested and fascinated by these stories. I failed to see these as important clues about where I should be standing and the environments I should be working in.
As part of my current reflection on what my passions are and where my energies should be focused, my professional supervisor suggested I explore disruptive theory.
My eyes were opened to my fascination with innovation, disruption and future trends.
What Clayton Christensen describes in his disruptive theory resonates with something deep within my questioning, future minded self. As I have been out and about meeting with people I have found that many haven’t come across disruptive theory before and that disruption and the related term innovation have become overused jargon words that have moved from the management literature into common usage. In fact I am almost reluctant to use the term ‘disruptive’ as it is becoming so commonly used and often used without a deeper understanding of disruptive theory that it is on the edge of becoming meaningless. With this in mind I thought a summary of my understanding of disruptive theory so far may be helpful.
Disruptive innovation or disruptive theory as it is sometimes referred to was introduced by Clayton Christensen, in 1995. Although before that some of the core ideas were floating around in the work of Marx (creative destruction) and Schumpeter had started applying these to economic change. As it began disruptive theory described the process by which smaller businesses (with fewer resources) were able to challenge well established businesses, with technological innovations that expanded existing or created new markets. Since it’s early days in the technological sector the theory has been applied to other business environments and higher education.
My understanding of the theory is that as established companies grow they focus on their current customers and because innovations happen quicker than customer demand they often end up exceeding the needs of their existing customers and ignoring the needs of other customers. New companies are then able to come in aiming at customers that the established company has ignored but keep their products or services simple, their costs down and their pricing low. The theory describes the process of disruption that occurs as the new company moves (this can occur slowly) it's target market upwards. They improve their products or services and eventually provide what the established companies' customers want but often at a lower price. Once the customers of the mainstream company begin adopting the new companies (often referred to as disruptors) products then disruption has occurred.
While established companies are busy focusing on making their existing products better and serving their existing customers, new companies can come in and create a market where none previously existed. Innovation itself is not the same as disruptive theory, both new companies and established companies can innovate. The theory describes the process (which can take some time) by which the new company disrupts the growth curve of the established company. It is common at the beginning for disruptive innovations to be considered inferior by the customers of the established companies.
New disruptive companies often have different business models to that of established companies, and to get the business model right is crucial for their success, they often need the flexibility to experiment with new products or services that will appeal to non-consumers and create a ‘foothold’ market. There is usually lots of competition in a foothold market and this drives the new companies to keep their costs down and forces them to improve their product and try and win customers who are willing to pay more, as there is more profitability in moving upmarket.
Established companies face towards the needs of their existing customers who provide the resources the firm needs to survive, this limits their ability to be flexible and becomes solidified in their internal processes. Which in turn makes it difficult for them to respond effectively to potential disruption. A classic example of disruption is the story of Netflix who although started out offering postal deliveries of DVDs moved to online streaming in a way that challenged existing DVD rental stores leading to their eventual demise. Of course we more often hear about the disruptive success stories but there are stories that not successful too.
I enjoy thinking about the future, trying to predict what will happen around the corner, or what the next big thing will be. Disruptive theory gives us some useful frameworks both for established organisations as they try and recognise and respond to change in their sector and in new organisations who try and find new ways of being and form structures around the values and needs of the future.
It would be great to hear from you, do you love disruption, or are you challenged by change?