SEND U blog

Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

mission drift

Avoiding Mission Drift – part two

I have been looking at how a non-profit organization can avoid mission drift. You can find Part One of this series at this link. My mission organization, SEND International, says our mission is “to mobilize God’s people and engage the unreached in order to establish reproducing churches.” Recently, we have adopted the theme of “kingdom transformation.” We want to broaden our ministries to more than just spiritual needs. In so doing, we want to strengthen our evangelism and church planting among the unreached. We are not in any way changing our mission statement.

Historical examples of mission drift

Nevertheless, as I noted in my previous blog post, this new theme raises the danger of mission drift. This has happened many times in the past. Organizations that were focused on one thing gradually changed until their work in no way matched what they originally set out to do. For example, the Puritans of New English who founded Harvard University stated it’s purpose in this way:

mission drift
Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Avoiding Mission Drift

It happens every day. I have a project or task in mind, put it on my schedule, get started on it, but then get distracted. My thoughts and then my actions drift off in another direction and I begin to work on another project instead. The same thing can happen to organizations. We call it “mission drift.” We have a stated purpose, but we are no longer doing what we said we are going to be doing.

Boundary markers

Over the years, I have adopted a few tools to get me back on track through the course of the workday. Keeping track of how I use my time on Toggl is one such tool. See also my blog post on “Deep Work.” I have also developed a few warning signs or boundary markers to prevent me from permanently drifting off course. My personal mission statement and my job description are two really important boundary markers. I review my alignment with these documents every quarter. My monthly goals prominently featured on my to-do list is another such boundary marker. What are the boundary markers for a non-profit organization to avoid mission drift?

Paul Hiebert’s “Excluded Middle”

In 1982 Paul G. Hiebert wrote an article in Missiology entitled “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle.”1It is reprinted in Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues, 1994, pp 189-201. and also available at www.hiebertglobalcenter.org Essentially, the article explains why many western missionaries may be perplexed by spiritual phenomena in non-Western cultures. The article has influenced many missionaries and missiologists.

What is the Flaw of the Excluded Middle?

As a missionary in India, Hiebert observed spiritual activity that his functional worldview could not analyze. Indian villagers regularly consulted magicians or saints to help them when they were sick, infertile, or experiencing some misfortune. These spiritual practitioners used magical charms, chants, or amulets to address these problems. However, those who became followers of Jesus now took these problems to the missionaries. But missionaries often did not know how to deal with questions about curses, black magic, or witchcraft.

asking for prayer
Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash

Follow-Up: Paul’s Prayer Requests

Follow-up with churches that we have planted needs to include receiving ministry as well as providing ministry. Paul not only prayed for churches; he also asked them to pray for him. In this way, he practiced fellowship in the gospel.

Prayer is a struggle

Moreover, in praying for Paul and his ministry, these churches were “striving together” with Paul (Rom. 15:30). In describing prayer as struggle, Paul highlights its importance. Prayer is not just a polite convention; it is active involvement in gospel ministry. D. A. Carson comments on this struggle of prayer:

incarnational model

Are missionaries called to be incarnational?

The incarnational model is how we often describe our decision to live among the people to whom we are sent. We learn to speak their language. We immerse ourselves in their culture, eating their foods and building deep friendships within that people group. The term “incarnational ministry” may also refer to adopting a living standard (e.g., the type and size of our house, the transportation we use, the clothes we wear) that does not create social barriers to the common people.

But is “incarnational” the best word to describe our strategy of immersing ourselves in the culture of the people? Is the incarnation of Christ the model we should follow as we engage the unreached people of this world?

praying for churches
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Follow-Up: Praying for Churches

I began this series on follow-up noting Paul’s “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The basic premise has been that Paul addressed his anxiety or care for the churches by writing letters. Yet, the more I studied his letters, the more I noted that he habitually prayed for the churches. His letters not only sought to build the churches in the grace of God in Christ but also called on God to accomplish that growth. So, prayer is an essential part of following up with the churches we plant.

Interestingly, Paul teaches the Philippian church, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”1Phil. 4:6, ESV. The verb form in Philippians 4:6 and the noun form in 2 Corinthians 11:28 share the same root. So, was Paul’s anxiety for all the churches inconsistent with his teaching in Philippians 4:6? No, I think that Paul’s prayers in his letters show that he is practicing what he teaches. The range of meaning for the Greek word translated as “anxiety” includes both a healthy care (Philippians 2:20) and unhealthy worry (Matthew 6:25). Whatever the level of anxiety, turning to prayer is the appropriate response. That is exactly what Paul is doing.

A Virtual Home Service

2020 pushed many of us to engage with technology in ways that felt uncomfortable. Video calls became the standard for meetings and schooling, and people connected in new and creative ways.  Home service1Some mission organizations might call this “home assignment” or “furlough.” was on our family’s horizon and we wondered, could we do a home service virtually as well?

The challenge

A virtual home service

The Bakers serve in northern Canada.

Home service is about connecting with our current donors and ministry partners and making others aware of what God is doing in our field and in our world.  Connecting online with 100 individual supporters and 20 churches seemed daunting. Furthermore, we started our home service needing $2000 in additional monthly faith promises. After trimming off some expenses, we brought it down to $1600. But this was still a huge amount, particularly if we would not be able to meet potential donors face-to-face.

For full disclosure, we are sent from North America and we serve on a field in North America. This meant that the time zone difference from our supporters was only 3 hours. We also do not work in a location where we have security concerns, so we could make use of public social media platforms.

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