Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning Relationships, Not Techniques

The whole idea behind my training, and offering this training to North Americans in Kenya and India, is to teach others how to build relationships, not just a technique for ministry.

I’m wading through Paul Hiebert’s book, Transforming Worldview. In describing modernity he states, “Central to the mechanistic view of reality is the focus on technique. Technique is the rational mechanical process designed to produce the maximum results with a minimum of input by focusing on efficiency and speed.” Hiebert goes on to outline the salient points of techniques highlighting that, “Technique requires quantification…Techniques are amoral [focusing] on ‘how’ not ‘why’…Efficiency and profit are the supreme value…Technique turns everything into goods that can produced and sold.” Not surprisingly, throughout history modernity has led to capitalism, which has affected church and missions.

For the past 150 years the church has moved from a “body” of community relationships to a corporate structure based on “contractual associations.” Two distinct models, based on individual preference, evaluate the successful church or ministry in our modern society. The first is the high yield model, which is commercial in nature. Goaded by the business paradigm, competition for a share of clients in the community (church and unchurched souls) is the driving force behind multi-million facilities, attractive programs and thousands of dollars needed to stay in business. The second model is what I call the boutique or niche congregation. The assembly remains small and is not in competition with the high yield model as they are content because their outreach is to specific group of families, socio-economic or ethnic population. Both models are contractual as the basis of both groups is predicated on meeting the individual needs of the congregation. If those needs are not met either the leadership is removed or the individual members move to another church to have their needs met.

Apart from the philosophical or theological merits of this system, it nevertheless does determine how Western missionaries and missions are developed. Most short-term missions, the 10-day experience for world evangelism, are decidedly based on technique, not relationships. Whether it’s dispensing medicine, handing out tracts, giving a seminar on leadership or replicating a program that is currently producing the most bang-for-the-buck in America, the short-term teams know little about the people they are going to visit and don’t know much more about them after they have “served” them.

X-Cultural Live program is about learning how to develop relationships with people of other cultures. Our goal is not to give the answers but learn the questions. The “how’s” of doing ministry is discovery through learning the “why’s” of culture. Technique gives way to building trust through interaction; it’s Kingdom work, not a means of production.