Issues Facing Missions Today: 4. Mission Strategising
I recall the enthusiasm of a mission committee back in the 1980s as its members redirected their resources and attention to the 10/40 window [the largely non-Christian region of the world lying between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator] and ‘unreached peoples.’ Here, it was thought, lay the unfinished task to take the Gospel to the nations. Such mission strategising clearly pointed away from ministry in, say, Rwanda, where the statistics reported an overwhelmingly evangelised and Christian country. Just a few years later, the Rwandan genocide took place in ‘Christian’ Rwanda. Such strategising also took the focus away from post-Christian, northern European countries.
In this post, I wish to challenge the use of statistics alone to determine mission strategies and offer five topics for mission strategising instead. I’ll be the first to say that I appreciate all the statistics, maps, and historical trends that contribute to the discussion of missions today. These are, however, merely tools for mission strategising, and they are insufficient for determining what the Church, a mission agency, or a missionary should do. This should be an obvious comment to make, but too often this is not the case.
Along a similar line of thinking, I recently heard a talk about trends in theological education in North America in which the meat of the lecture was a statistical report. The conclusion of the talk involved claims about what needed to be done next. If female enrollment is down, more women students need to be recruited. If African-American and Hispanic enrollment is up, more resources should be directed to teaching them. If there is a trend in closing theological colleges, then there is a crisis facing theological colleges. And so went the reasoning from statistics to strategies for moving ahead in seminary education. After hearing these and a variety of other such conclusions, I could not help but think of that philosophical claim, ‘You cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”.’ We simply cannot derive a plan for mission work today from demographics and statistics alone—even if those statistics are correct (be warned!).
Over against such approaches to determining mission strategy, I would offer the following for consideration:
1. Understand the mission of God from Scripture and how the mission of the Church relates to it. For this, we need Biblical scholars, theologians, and Church historians.
2. Explore where there are needs in the world that the Church’s mission can meet. Here there is a place for the analyses of missiologists armed with statistics and other arguments.
3. Determine where there are open doors for ministry at this time. Mission practitioners are needed to clarify where doors for ministry are open.
4. Identify the resources (whether resources in general or individuals with specific gifts in particular) available for mission work and what can be done to appropriate them. Here, denominations, seminaries, mission societies, churches, and individuals need to offer their insights and cooperate with one another.
5. In prayer, listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. All the best reasoning may be turned on its head as people prayerfully submit all their human wisdom to God and ask for His guidance. How wonderful when the Spirit confirms the careful reasoning involved in the first four steps! Here, everyone needs to be concerned to wait upon the Lord for His direction and empowerment.