It's easy to describe what the organization shouldn't be: self-serving, hierarchical, top-down, dogmatic, centralized, information-closed, independent, etc. This describes many 20th Century organizations and, unfortunately, even many current missions agencies. But describing what my ideal 21st Century missions organization should be is a bit more tricky. We could begin with the opposites from the list above: others-serving, flexible, decentralized, open source, and interdependent. This is a start. We must realize that the challenges facing us in our time are far more complex, multinodal and interconnected than we can imagine. Rather than focus narrowly on near term projects and solutions for today's missions environment, we must recognize the need to take a longer view, a generational view, for the sustainability of our missions calling. Innovation, flexibility and resilience are critical characteristics to be cultivated if we are to extend this calling into the nations. So we will begin by fleshing out these three key components: innovation, flexibility and resilience.
Innovation: Being an innovator is more difficult than it may sound. Innovators are usually demonized and opposed until their ideas are proven successful. It is only then that they are held in high esteem. That's the hard part of being an innovator. One must be willing to be a risk-taker and do things outside of the accepted mold. In today's missions environment, an innovator is, among other things, someone who is interdependent rather and independent, others-serving rather than self-serving, and works within a flat, decentralized organizational framework rather than a hierarchical/bureaucratic one. With a quick perusal of the websites of many of the top denominational missions boards and non-denominational, parachurch missions organizations, one would find these to be in stark contrast to what we are proposing and would prove just how innovative an interdependent, others-serving, decentralized missions organization would be.
Flexibility: Flexibility allows an organization to flow with the rapid-fire changes of our times. The Information Age travels at the speed of light and the rise and proliferation of social networks, mobile phones and the endless apps accompanying them are all tools to be learned and harnessed for global missions. A 21st Century missions organization has to be a flexible organization - this means a constant revision of its methods, strategies, leadership structure and ministry projects - all the while employing the new technological tools provided us.
Resilience: To me, resilience falls more in the area of finances. The financial model of an innovative, flexible and resilient missions organization must be first of all sustainable. This does not necessarily imply self-sustainability, because an interdependent entity will live under a gift economy rather than a competitive one. The gift economy draws from the close relationships, creativity and commitment between people and thinks "win-win," while in a competitive economy an organization seeks to draw and absorb money and resources into itself for its own self-perpetuation and glory. The gift economy especially values open-source and renewable resources and lives by Jesus' words "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). So why market books and music when at least some things can be given away freely as e-books and free downloads? If you want to know where the true heart and vision of an organization is, simply follow the dollars. A missions organization that seeks first funding through slick marketing techniques and only then the Kingdom of God has missed the heart of our Lord.
In all this thought over what a 21st Century missions entity should look like, I've been meditating on this very descriptive passage of scripture:
5 Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
- Jeremiah 17:5-8
Selah. He who has ears, let him hear. And he who wants to comment , let him comment!