Missiology’s Dark Side

Yak, yak, yak… so went the meeting into the wee hours of the night. It actually was the middle of the day, but for me, suffering from jet lag on a 12 hour time zone change, it felt like 3 AM in this Asian city. The topic was about how to best go about the task of reaching people in the midst of disasters: how to help refugees, how to provide immediate relief in an organization that isn’t a relief organization, how to work in a culturally appropriate way, etc. It was a good, robust discussion about doing ministry that serves felt needs while simultaneously being a witness for the Kingdom.

And there was no actionable outcome. Why? Because for every good idea there was a reason why that idea was bad. It almost doesn’t matter what the suggestion might be:

  • Provide food? No-no (that might create dependence).
  • Organize? Don’t go there (you don’t understand the local leadership style).
  • Strategize? Oh, that’s too managerial (ala Escobar).
  • Teach? No way! (that elevates the missionary and not the national).
  • Hire the nationals to teach? Bad idea (creates dependence).
  • Don’t hire the national? Terrible idea (nationals are the most effective).
  • Use media? Uh-uh (too shallow).

Yak, yak, yak.

William Carey wrote “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” It seems that for every “means” there are a lot of “moans.”

Herein lies the dark side of missiology: it’s essentially a rebuttal and critique of everything. No good thing is left good on the other side of the missiological debate. That’s a strength, of course, but also a liability. If we allow our questions to become immobilizing then this strength becomes a weakness.

Let us not fear strategy or the use of means. Robust debate is our friend but not if it eclipses action.

3 Comments to “Missiology’s Dark Side”

  1. jschell 17 April 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    Good words Ted. Working hard to see action steps in all I’m doing.

  2. servants not managers 16 April 2015 at 1:03 am #

    The New Testament shows little strategising in mission but rather complete dependence on God to lead. Paul, born and bred in what is today Turkey in Acts 16.6-10 expected to preach freely there, only to find the Holy Spirit forbade such in Phrygia, Galatia and Bithynia, right through to the north west of the land. Then God gave the way ahead, to Europe. Paul’s strategy was to always go to the Jews first at the synagogues or the place of Jewish prayer beside the river in Philippi. That was where he could freely tell of who Christ was, to people who knew the theology of the Old Testament. He built on the pre-evangelism of God. That was how he built a group to listen, and then moved on to such as the secular hall of Tyrannus. This way he met gentiles who had joined the synagogue. The strategy of the servant of God is based on the total dependence on God to lead and show the way. It is all about God, reliance on him, and trusting him to providentially lead. Today, we have got good methods, experts, wonderful managers and we can never agree together. Of course we cannot agree. The only answer is to rely on God alone just as we see people in the New Testament did. In time of persecution in Acts chapters 4 to 12, when forbidden to preach, they preached. The strategy was God’s alone. When God providentially allowed persecution then many scattered and God led the way to mission that was far wider. The whole was God alone being the manager of mission and mission strategy. Many are the stories of such as CIM, now Overseas Missionary Fellowship turning down such as Gladys Alyward, whom God had sent, and she went anyhow to be much used of God. The issue is not just such as OMF and others then, but a theology of managers and management and human strategy rather than dependence on God. The one think I have learnt about mission in 44 years of work in a hard, hard place with many problems and threats, is that the only safe way is dependence on God alone, regardless of how that may look. God has to manage, as he alone sends send workers to gather in his harvest. This is not parsimonious or too simplistic. It is the only way that actually works and produces results that are Gods, not mine.

    • Ted 18 April 2015 at 2:55 pm #

      Good thoughts! It reminds me a bit of Roland Alan’s views.

      I should write a post about a mission myth: the rejected missionary hero who overcomes all and conquers the world for Christ despite the evil missionary agency. We have repeated this myth so often that many believe it without question. It is harmful to the Great Commission.


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