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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

24 Jul '13

Change blindness and missions today

Posted by T.J. Addington in missions
I saw an interesting video recently regarding "change blindness." In this experiment, a customer would come up to the counter for some kind of help. After a moment of discussion the clerk would excuse himself to find the appropriate form, duck down under the counter (to get the form) while another clerk moved into place under the counter, popped up with the form and continued the conversation. In almost every instance the customer never realized that they were talking to a different person - change blindness.


As one who works in the ministry world - missions, churches and Christian non-profits - I see this phenomenon all the time. Something changes before our very eyes, actually right in front of us and we don't realize that the change has taken place.


I often call the major changes that have taken place during my own lifetime the change from a black and white world and the now color world.


All of us are blind to some of the changes that take place around us. We are so familiar with the usual that we don't recognize the unusual. When my son was living in Chung Du, China for a year he once spoke to a clerk in Chinese. He answered, I don't know English. He again asked his question in Chinese, and the answer came back, "I don't know English," at which time the other clerk said to the first clerk, "He's speaking Chinese, stupid!" An example of being so familiar with the usual that we don't' recognize the unusual!


Monumental changes are taking place in missions today but like the clerks who changed places, many missionaries and agencies didn't notice the change.


One: the key to missions is no longer the missionary from the West to the East or the South. The key to missions today is the sending of believers from all parts of our world to all parts of our world, especially the least reached parts. Increasingly mission teams are being made up of people from the west, east, and south working together in a location to reach the unreached. This requires a new humility and partnership on the part of those who for many years played the major role in world missions as they move from being "the leaders" to "one partner at the table" and it is a round table!


Two: missions today is less country specific as it is people specific. In a globalized world where borders are often easy to negotiate, countries mean less than they used to mean. Multi-national corporations have discovered this and missions are beginning to discover this. People groups, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, tribal, or language specific are often more important than the boundaries of countries. 

These "affinity" groups are increasingly more important than country boundaries. One of the practical results of this is that many mission agencies are abandoning the old "country" structures they had for "affinity groups" that transcend a specific country. Globalization has allowed and driven this change which was far more difficult in the black and white, pre globalized world.


Three: The key to multiplication today is that missionaries become enablers, coaches and empowerers of others rather than doing it all themselves. This is hard because it is a loss for those who were used to doing ministry by themselves. It is a gain in that it reflects the theology of Ephesians 4:12 where those in ministry are instructed to equip others and give ministry away in the spirit of Jesus. In this paradigm, western missionaries move from being the leader out front to being the coach in the back, encouraging and coming alongside indigenous leaders who are now out front leading the ministries.


Four: A logical extension of this last point is that the best missions today do not own anything, control anything or count anything as theirs. They are, after all, not out to build something for themselves but for the church of Jesus. They are servants of Jesus for the building of His church. 

This is a major shift for almost all western based missions who have inadvertently or advertently been controlling entities - a legacy of colonialism, wealth and education that has translated into holding the ministry, financial, education and leadership keys wherever they existed. Indigenous partners are flocking to those mission agencies who have understood this change because they are true partners rather than controlling entities. The table is round and they have an equal seat at the table as they work together for the building of His church.


Five: The logical extension of this comes when mission agencies are less interested in exporting their brand (denominational identity) than they are seeing the planting of healthy, indigenous, reproducing, interdependent and self supporting churches. Jesus did not die for my brand of the church, He died for His bride and our drive to extend our brand rather than His church is often a detriment to the spread of the Gospel.


I remember vividly visiting the closed country of Myanmar and visiting the northern city where Protestant groups over the years had planted their headquarters - like rival countries did when they planted flags at the North Pole. Here you have a deeply Buddhist country where persecution of Christians is rife and in this northern town are the headquarters of every denomination known to man - and a lot not yet known to man. 

We all planted our brand with the consequence that they all thought their brand was the brand. They neither cooperate with one another, work together and when push comes to shove, they break off and create a new brand. This is not the vision Jesus had for the church. That is why our mission is committed to planting His church and allowing them to organize as they will. 

Our commitment is that we have healthy, interdependent, self supporting, indigenous and reproducing churches. It also means that we have the liberty to partner with whatever Christ followers there are rather than having to start something new because our brand does not yet exist in that location.


All of us suffer from one degree of change blindness or another. The more aware we are of our propensity to not see change taking place around us the better off we will be. Because we will start looking for it and understanding its implications.