Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Missing Criteria of Methodology: Rethinking Why We Do What We Do

Few parents have not experienced the frustration that comes with the following parent-child exchange:

Parent: Why did you do what you just did?
Child: I don't know.
Parent: That's not a good reason. Why did you do it?
Child: I don't know. I saw someone else do it.

Why do we do the things the way we do? More specifically, why do we engage in ministry in the ways in which we do? Do we ever stop and step back mentally in an effort to reflect critically on these things? And how might we do so?

Last July I attended the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah. Even now evangelicals are preparing for this year’s pageant, just as they are for the latest LDS temple set to begin its open house later this summer in Sacramento, California. Sadly, the results will be the same: evangelicals will feel as if they have defended the faith and evangelized the LDS, while LDS will have experienced a mixture of amusement, apathy, and anger at these evangelical efforts. I have raised significant questions about the missiological and cultural appropriateness of the evangelical presence and efforts at such venues in light of cultural symbolism as it relates to temples and pageants. None of these questions have been answered by evangelicals engaged in “outreach” at these venues. Evangelicals are largely content to continue with long-held strategies at these and other venues, but might we stop and think about why we engage in the methods that we do?

As a result of my experience at Manti I wrote an article on the topic and I will post some excerpts from it for reflection here. While my primary consideration is for ministry among alternative spiritualities in the West, the following discussion also has application for other ministry contexts for the local church, including traditional, contemporary, seeker and emerging church. As I have thought about why we do what we do in ministry strategy I came up with the following list:

1. Because we think it’s biblical.
2. We have different personality types.
3. We can point to historical precedent.
4. We received our methods as a tradition and inheritance.
5. In LDS venues, we use approaches to “shock” Mormons out of their indoctrination.
6. We are subconsciously defending our theological and personal boundaries.

And while we may not like the sounds of this one especially, I wonder whether their might be another reason:

7. We use methods that give us a high profile in “enemy territory” that provides good photo opportunities and stories for our individual and ministry fundraising activities.

My purpose with this post is not to debate the validity of each of these reasons for mission strategy (and believe it or not, it is not to anger those in ministry to alternative spiritualties either), but rather to help us reflect on more a more meaningful criteria for ministry strategy. In my discussions with those in ministry to alternative spiritualities it seems as if one or more of the above mentioned reasons provide a motivation for ministry, but I have yet to encounter individuals or ministries with a well thought out and defined criteria of methodology. I’d like to suggest one for consideration. As I wrote in my Manti article:

But why should an evangelical in ministry to Mormons (or any other new religion) in Utah (or any other region) utilize one methodology or strategy over another? What criteria might be available that can be used to assess the appropriateness of strategy? To answer this question we turn to the discipline of missiology and consider the missional helix as a tool for defining ministry strategy.

Missiologist Gailyn Van Rheenen describes a spiral, or a helix, that exemplifies a process of effective ministry formation. He calls this spiral the missional helix: "The missional helix is a spiral because the missionary returns time and time again to reflect theologically, culturally, historically, and strategically in order to develop ministry models appropriate to the local context. Theology, social understandings, history of missions, and strategy all work together and interpenetrate each other. The helix is comprised of four strands of theological reflection, cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy of ministry within the missions environment." As Van Rheenen applies the insights of the helix to strategy formation he notes that missions practitioners should never merely ask “Does a given strategy work?” Rather, says Van Rheenen, “A question that better reflects the Missional Helix Model is: ‘Does this model of praxis reflect the purposes of God within this historical, cultural context?’”

Van Rheenen urges the missions practitioner to constantly return to reflect upon each of the elements of the missional helix as complimentary and interpenetrating ways of forming appropriate ministry strategy and praxis. He concludes his discussion by stating that the missional helix,"provides the Christian practitioner with a model of decision-making that is both intentional and instinctive. In other words, the missionary or minister should seek theological understandings, cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy formation in the process of developing patterns for ministry."

As evangelicals prepare to engage in ministry in the ways they have long engaged in it with little thought on why, missiology and the Missional Helix provides us with the tools for developing a sound criteria of methodology. It just might change the way we do ministry.

1 comment:

Nate Dredge said...

I'm a Mormon (with some protestant sympathies), and just want to say I think you are completly right, when you talk about most Mormons reactions to evangelical prosoliting (sp) at high profile LDS events. Generly its pretty hard-core Mormons who attend these gathering and their not primed to be receptive, they are very dismisive of 'demonstrators'. Often both sides show low class in there interactions in these settings. I can't imagine these efforts being very effective, but for that matter neither is most LDS 'tracting'. I too have thought that an evangelical presence at these events are often more about proving to their base that they are doing something, then actully acomplishing anything.