Innovation and Missions
Posted by ssbg on July 3, 2006
The following has been taken from my Forward to an upcoming book, Innovation in Mission, by Jim Reapsome and Jon Hirst.
Change is exhilarating, terrifying and unavoidable. The innovations are real and are influencing the practice of missions. Missionaries, mission executives, mission pastors and mission committees need to stay current with global changes in order to adapt strategies effectively. Whether the innovations are helpful or harmful, a fad or a long-term trend, we need to understand them and be ready to modify programs.
Innovations are often uncomfortable. As I was stepping down as International Director of SIM (Serving in Mission) a veteran missionary asked me if my successor would make as many changes as I had. She went on to say that during my tenure I had made way too many changes and hoped there wouldn’t be more. Another missionary often quoted “change and decay in all around I see” from the hymn Abide With Me. But if the world around us is changing, our methods also need to adapt in order to fulfill the unchanging vision. Not all innovations are helpful in promoting the global cause of Christ, yet most innovations provide outstanding opportunities in ministry. For example, the internet provides amazing opportunities for life-long-learning, communication, and resources for pastors and theological students.
For ten years my wife and I traveled the SIM world holding vision seminars. We talked about the need for programmatic change within the context of an unchanging vision. First our leadership team solidified the SIM vision statement and core values and then we began to reflect on massive global innovations and our need to adapt. During those ten years the mission changed its name, merged with another mission, expanded into China, reworked the support system and challenged Sending Offices to facilitate missions “from anywhere to anywhere.” While vision and core values don’t change, everything else is open for innovation.
As we evaluate innovation in the context of missions, it’s helpful to focus on three concepts:
1. The Vision: Where are we going? We need our eyes fixed on the unchanging North Star, the changeless nature of God and the unchanging vision for world missions.
2. The Situation: Where are we? – We must understand the changing world, technologies, opportunities and resources. What are the innovations that influence our opportunities in missions?
3. The Program: How do we get there? Mission programs must always be open to evaluation and modification. If the situation changes the program must also change. Otherwise, we will not fulfill the vision.
The most important things in life never change. We can take great comfort in the changeless nature of God. In this fallen world human beings will continue to fall short of the glory of God and will be in need of Jesus Christ as their Savior. Until the Lord returns we will always need to live by faith with an unchanging hope of eternal life in the unfailing love of the Lord. Our vision for a lost world and for a holy church will not change until the end of the age. None of these foundational convictions are fazed by developments in the digital revolution, the use of business visas or the low cost of airfares for short-term missionaries. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the word of the Lord stands forever.
Once we rest secure in an unchanging God and an unchanging Gospel, we can embrace innovation. We can seek out unfolding opportunities to make whatever changes are necessary to better fulfill the vision.
I would hope that mission executives and church mission committees will reflect on Innovation in Mission chapter by chapter, asking if each of the innovations might be incorporated into the programs of their church or mission. Each one is profound and cannot be ignored.
We don’t worship innovation, so if the innovation does not contribute to the vision, simply move on. But neither do we worship programs. Mission institutions and church activities will be strengthened by the thoughtful application of innovative trends and solutions outlined in these pages.