8 strategic shifts for 21st century missions

If you are in ministry, your head must be spinning from the rapid changes that have taken place in our world and the implications these changes pose for the Church

In their new book, That used to be us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum give us perspective on how quickly the past seven years have flown by:

“When [Tom] wrote The World Is Flat, Facebook wasn’t even in it. ‘Twitter’ was still a sound, the ‘cloud’ was something in the sky, ‘3G’ was a parking space, ‘applications’ were what you sent to colleges, and ‘Skype’ was a typo.”

The degree of hyper-connectedness in our world has changed every job, every industry and every market – even affecting the Church and how it does ministry.

There is so much more complexity today than there used to be. It comes at us in bits and pieces, and we have to assimilate those bits and pieces into some sort of coherent whole. Our job as church leaders is to take a look at the world around us, project where we see ourselves in one, five, or ten years from now, and create a framework that allows our ministry to operate in alignment with a current strategic narrative that will be fruitful and effective.

Church and missions used to be so much simpler. Church was made up of people who looked, acted, talked and even dressed alike. We understood and knew how to minister to them. Missionaries had a totally different set of skills because they had to go to remote places to work with people who were very different than they were. But the wall between ecclesiology and missiology is crumbling. That era of “church is here and missions is over there” is gone. The “over there” now lives on the same block as the local church. Church leaders now need a practical skill set of cross-cultural missions to use here at home.

In our new reality, we need to prepare differently to be relevant and effective preachers of the Gosepl. That means creating the space to reckon with the changing world and taking time to ask, “What does this mean for our church?”

I recently had a chance to speak to church leaders at a Global Strategy Conference as part of Movement Day 2013 in New York about the importance of understanding shifting strategic narratives in order to become more effective in our 21st century ministries. Here are some brief highlights about the shifts:

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1. From emotive to informed 
When you combine the ubiquity of the Internet with the ease of access to technology and travel, the world is now a much flatter place. Information scarcity has turned into information overload; everyone thinks they know everything about what’s going on all around the world. However, that doesn’t mean everyone possesses enough expertise to know how to respond effectively to crisis or needs. There has never been a greater gap between knowledge and wisdom than in this day and age.

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2. From closed denominational to open Kingdom 
More congregations are desiring to move away from the “we do this and they do that” mentality to collaborate and do amazing things for the Kingdom. The caveat here becomes making sure what you say “yes” to aligns with your missions strategy and checking it against what authentic community and global engagement look like with the members God has placed in your church.

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3. From “North to South” to “from all, to all” 
It used to be that we sent missionaries to other parts of the world to evangelize and start churches. Now those churches in places like Latin America, Africa and Asia have mature church models. In fact, the world is showing up at our door as other countries are sending church planters to weak parts of the U.S.! We now need to create tools to help us find great international partners rather than just being great international patrons.

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4. From unilateral to cooperative 
This means shifting from “this is the way we do it” to Spirit-led collaboration. But instead of leading from a reactionary posture because we are drowning in opportunities to collaborate, we’ve got to take a step back and create a focused strategy for our church’s missions. That way when we say “yes,” we can do so wholeheartedly, but we also have the freedom to say “no” without guilt.

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5. From generalist to specialist
The global church has become quite established and sophisticated. Receiving churches more often need specialists that can bridge very specific gaps rather than the generalists with willing hearts who were effective in the past.

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6. From output-based to outcome-based 
“Success” in ministry depends on how you define “good” ministry. Increasingly, ministries are finding that they are exponentially more fruitful when they focus less on how much work they are doing, and instead define and measure how they are making a difference. This shift requires introspection into purity of motives and faithfulness of effort along with intelligent and intentional pursuit of effectiveness.

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7. From limited to holistic 
The majority of the world Church shakes their head at our Western debate between focusing on humanitarian efforts as opposed to pure evangelism. Once we can find the middle ground and help each camp realize that the Bible mandates we do both together, we can then compose a holistic, robust model that combines and leverages both.

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8. From strictly individualistic to cultural narrative 
The big conversation in the last half-century has been whether to focus ministry efforts on structures or on individuals. From your local church perspective, you’ve got to listen to all the different ideas and bits and pieces of information sent your way, then step back and think about the next 5-10 years. Thinking and strategizing takes time, but it’s imperative to systematically look at what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, who we are becoming, where the world is now and how it’s changing.

The world is changing, but the gospel is not. How is your ministry adapting accordingly?

Click here for more information on Mission Design workshops.

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