Yak, yak, yak… so went the meeting into the wee hours of the night. It actually was the middle of the day, but for me, suffering from jet lag on a 12 hour time zone change, it felt like 3 AM in this Asian city. The topic was about how to best go about the task of reaching people in the midst of disasters: how to help refugees, how to provide immediate relief in an organization that isn’t a relief organization, how to work in a culturally appropriate way, etc. It was a good, robust discussion about doing ministry that serves felt needs while simultaneously being a witness for the Kingdom.
And there was no actionable outcome. Why? Because for every good idea there was a reason why that idea was bad. It almost doesn’t matter what the suggestion might be:
- Provide food? No-no (that might create dependence).
- Organize? Don’t go there (you don’t understand the local leadership style).
- Strategize? Oh, that’s too managerial (ala Escobar).
- Teach? No way! (that elevates the missionary and not the national).
- Hire the nationals to teach? Bad idea (creates dependence).
- Don’t hire the national? Terrible idea (nationals are the most effective).
- Use media? Uh-uh (too shallow).
Yak, yak, yak.
William Carey wrote “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” It seems that for every “means” there are a lot of “moans.”
Herein lies the dark side of missiology: it’s essentially a rebuttal and critique of everything. No good thing is left good on the other side of the missiological debate. That’s a strength, of course, but also a liability. If we allow our questions to become immobilizing then this strength becomes a weakness.
Let us not fear strategy or the use of means. Robust debate is our friend but not if it eclipses action.