Mission Disruption 3, seeking simplicity and flexibility
The conversation continues. While I was revisiting my ongoing theological wrestling with marriage (one critique: the suggestion my theological position is apparently closer to Mormonism than I might be comfortable with). Eddie’s had two other great posts: one about global trends impacting missions (and so we need a bigger view) and today’s, a hypothetical example of a mission agency sending money to believers in another part of the world for mission activities.
I mostly see and agree with his points. I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t, although I am sure some would. When things are exchanged between two sides, one of which has more of the thing being exchanged than the other (be it money, knowledge, influence, connectivity, whatever), strings get attached.
In Eddie’s example, the UK agency raises funds to make grants to an African church, but the donors give specifically for a church building. The agency is now left with two options: (1) the African church must use the funds to build a building or (2) the charity must de-register, so as to give the money without condition. I realize absolutely Eddie’s example is limited and over-simplified. In a spirit of good humor I’m going to pick at it just a little bit. Are these the only two options? This may be a US vs UK issue (eg UK rules on fundraising may be entirely different), but two larger macro alternatives suggest themselves to me:
First, perhaps we as missions should limit what gets exchanged between parts of the body to just those things that can be exchanged with little or no strings attached at all?
For example, most of the people who participate in the same DMM “arena” that Beyond (my agency) participates in have a principle of not bringing money into the relationship (see also: Dependency). We will not pay salaries or build buildings etc. We have found money for trips to conferences when cross-pollination of DMM knowledge is occurring (we will bring an expert from the Majority World to a conference where they will participate as a plenary speaker or workshop facilitator). We have found donations for things like bicycles (which increase the range of workers), Bibles, media reproduction tools, and even (once) cell phones. We’ve done it–carefully–because things multiply the capacity of the DMM worker, and do tend to be one-shot things (not recurring monthly support).
Second, we change how we raise money so it is more general. (This may be a US vs UK thing). One of the things I appreciate about Beyond is: generally, when we raise money, it is either for a specific project which has been requested by and significantly vetted by the field (e.g. bicycles, Bibles) or raised “in general” for DMM work worldwide, or for a specific region (e.g. East Asia). This gives significant freedom to the field, but there’s still accountability: we report the stories, and statistics of churches planted. But we’re leaving the specifics of action to the field; we are not arm-chair generaling.
Rather than talking about agencies and churches and what not, let’s stop and think for a moment in a different way. I appreciate missio communities (agencies, churches, businesses, whatever) that are located in specific places, engaging specific peoples. These communities will vary in their strategies and tactics.
As I have labored on the District Survey, I have come to think of “mission” as being two basic processes that are practiced by each of these communities. I could be wrong in this, but here’s what I see:
- A be or “spread-in” function or mode: the “be a witness,” “proclaim the Gospel,” “make disciples” mode in a given place, among a given people.
- A go or “spread-out” function or mode: where the presence-function is “carried across” a significant boundary that it doesn’t naturally spread over. This boundary may be geographic, political, economic, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, whatever.
If a missio-community of any sort exists in a given place, it is at least partly their responsibility to “spread in and throughout” the place, to make sure everyone in the place has the opportunity to become a disciple. I don’t think there is one specific way to do this. However, if they are failing in this task, it is the responsibility of the greater global church to (a) help/challenge them, and, if that fails, then (b) bring in (“go” function) another community. (No one has the right to deny others the Gospel through inaction.)
If a “church” does not exist in a given place, it is the responsibility of others–those nearby, and those far away–to exercise the “go” function and bring the Gospel there. (It’s true those nearby who may share a similar culture and lower cost of travel may be more efficient, but they are not always either willing or more effective.)
These two functions – be (“spread in here”) and go (“spread out from here”) – are the core functions for the spread of the Gospel around the world. (Really, if churches did these two things, you don’t need a ton of oversight: the gospel will spread, swarmishly, from place to place. That’s how movements happen.)
The truth for this blog post: It is difficult for people in a distant place to know the local place well enough to tell the local community how to “be” and “go.” Obviously, there is nuance and complexity to this statement–sometimes, someone distant, with adequate study, and enough informants, and experience, can better “see the forest” than the locals who can only see the trees. Still, it’s not something to be attempted lightly.
When we bring outside resources into an area, on conditions that limit how a community can “be” or “go,” we may be a disruption instead of an amplifier.
In Beyond, we frequently say: “The question is not what I can do, the question is: what needs to be done?” This is the question that the local community must ask, and no matter how good a transfer of resources makes us feel or how much that transfer might accomplish, if it prevents what needs to be done from being done, we should say no.