Eddie and Sue Arthur

Metrics of Modernist Ministry

Let’s face it, “The dehumanising metrics of modernist ministry” is not the snappiest title for a couple of blog posts. It is unlikely to draw the crowds who are looking for the next big secret for Christian ministry. However, if you don’t read Mark Meynell’s series you will be missing out. In two posts, entitled The Present and The Future, Mark does a superb job of identifying the way in which the Englightenment or a modernist worldview has an impact on Christian ministry. It isn’t comfortable reading, but it is very important. The problem with a worldview is that we adopt it and accept its assumptions without even thinking about it. This means that our life and ministry can be shaped by forces which that we aren’t consciously aware of – they are so self-evidently right that we don’t question them.

Across the two posts, Mark identifies five issues, which I’d like to highlight. For the most part, these are things I’ve written about, too and all have relevance to cross-cultural mission.

The economics of effectiveness

… I fear a sinister trend has crept in. For if we’re not careful, we can seek an effectiveness shaped more by Wall St than the via Dolorosa

But in ministry…? I hear a lot of talk about constantly seeking to have an effective ministry. And who doesn’t want that? But how on earth do we measure that? The Wall St resort is to use numbers and graphs (which of course have their place): whether bums on seats, cash given tax efficiently, staff size, baptism register etc etc etc. (Or Bible translations completed, for that matter.) But that is not necessarily, or even inherently, kingdom ministry… after all, it’s pretty interesting to study Jesus’ reaction to crowds in the gospels – he was usually getting away from them; or at least suspicious of their intentions.

David Smith’s excellent book on overseas mission, Against the stream gives an excellent analysis of this issue if you want to look at it in more detail.

The impatience with slowness

I’ve blogged on this theme ad nauseam, (try this for example) but rarely with Mark’s incisiveness.

Love isn’t the drug. Speed is. We want everything yesterday. As the old credit card ad had it, “Access takes the waiting out of wanting”. And as life speeds up, our impatience thresholds deteriorate. So now, we can be incensed by a slow wi-fi speeds that hinder access to google images by a matter of seconds. But honestly! Life isn’t all a Formula 1 race in which milliseconds really do count.

But this impatience affects profoundly ministry. Which is a problem, because a brief concordance search of the word ‘wait’ in the New Testament will demonstrate that it features rather a lot. From my cursory glance, it looks as though the most common adverbs used in conjunction with waiting are ‘eagerly’ and, yes you guessed it, ‘patiently’ (Romans 8:25Hebrews 6:15,James 5:7).

The franchising of norms

But we must take care never to let the next revolutionary (yet another modernist concept) ‘package’, usually but not always from a highly ‘successful’ and branded global ministry based in America, become the backbone of your work. There may well be things to learn, but if it is your primary source, you’ll only abandon it as soon as the next ‘better’ (i.e. well-marketed) package appears.

The nature of the Church is to be a multi-cultural, multi-lingual body. We lose something very important when we allow ourselves to become a monochrome reflection of our real nature.

The hubris of strategy?

 I have preached on The Good Samaritan a number of times and have often made this point. If the reason the Priest and Levite failed to help the dying man was their commitment to legalistic holiness, our contemporary excuse for not ‘going to do likewise’ is more likely to be our commitment to our strategy. And a dying man / homeless beggar / uneducated refugee / disabled child(delete as appropriate) just isn’t strategic.

I wrote a blog post on this issue a few years back, inspired by something Tim Chester had written.

The slavery of novelty

The modernist is abhors the status quo, is hardly ever patient, and is usually dissatisfied. And there is a sense in which this is a good thing. We never want to be static. And in fact, there is a spiritual benefit to this mindset, when it is constantly striving towards what God has called us to in life and lifestyle. But battling in holiness is one thing. Constantly looking for the new ministry buzz is quite another.

…the very nature of our kingdom ‘product’ – the gospel, that is – is not so much its antiquity, but its eternity. We don’t need to sing with the psalmist “a new song” every week – unless we realise that God’s newest song is only 2000 years young for it is the song of the Lamb. Of course the song needs rearticulation and reharmonising in every new generation or culture. But it isn’t essentially a new song anymore. Not really.

These quotes from Mark’s blog are out of context and he is more nuanced in his arguments than I’ve indicated here, so I do suggest (insist?) that you head over and read the full posts.

We are often quick to point out how the Christian message should impact the lives of others, but the biggest challenge is whether we will allow the Gospel access to those unspoken assumptions of our lives, the things which drive our attitudes and our ministries and which we seldom even think about.

This post is more than a year old. It is quite possible that any links to other websites, pictures or media content will no longer be valid. Things change on the web and it is impossible for us to keep up to date with everything.

4 Comments on “Metrics of Modernist Ministry

  1. Really really good post, Eddie.

    My one sentence summation: God’s economy is different than that of humans.

  2. Eddie,

    You make some good points about being thinking people and not just following what we assume to be correct because our culture says it is. Impatience can force things beyond their natural path of development, so carefulness in this area is also good reminder.

    However, speaking of worldviews and impatience with the status quo, what happens when the status quo continues to practice personal preferences without regard to what people on the ground would like to do. What happens when the world changes, and it most certainly does, and methods of the past are still deemed the right method by the practitioners. Then there are the gate keepers in Christian ministry who assume a monolithic understanding of theology and mission and the official language of mission. Finally, there are those who refuse to apply sound mission metrics to know if they are having any affects at all with the wealth of resources that God has entrusted to them because it doesn’t fit with their missiological worldview. This, I believe, is what Western mission is facing these days.

    One might label things such as crowdsourcing, impact measurement, and acceleration as just more modernist thinking. I tend to think these things confront the maladies mentioned currently plaguing Western mission in the 21st century. My “biblical” basis for this, as some would ask? It is Mat. 19:23-38, Lk. 12:42-47, and Eph 5:15-17. To me, a lack of urgency and intentionality is not unlike the servants sleeping because the master has been away for a long time.

  3. Pingback: Modernism, Mission Planning and Western Syncretism - Every Tongue | Every Tongue

  4. I think you’ve illustrated my point perfectly Gilles. You are arguing that we should use ‘sound mission metrics’ (whatever they are – Mark’s original post shows what a flawed concept this is) rather than apply missiological (I would prefer, theological) precepts. I would argue that this is the biggest problem facing Western mission today.

    With regards to the verses you cite. It is true that these speak to the good and wise use of resources. However, to make the leap to saying that this automatically implies doing things faster is a huge non-sequitur. That leap can only be made if you have already decided that faster is better. There are cases where speed is a good thing in ministry, but there are plenty of examples in Scripture that illustrate that the opposite can be true. The wise allocation of resources could at times involve doing some things slower.

    However, I absolutely agree that things are changing and that we need to move on and get past the ‘gate-keepers’ who have dominated mission thinking for years. The sooner mission leadership and the determination of how resources are raised and used are in the hands of the Church of the South and not dominated by the West, the better.

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  6. Eddie,

    True, faster is better as a simple philosphy is flawed. You and Mark might find this related conversation interesting on the WCIU Development blog: http://goo.gl/8o6yB

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