Releasing Technocrats to Missionaries Be!

For some years I worked overseas as an engineer in a very different cultural environment to the one I was brought up in and trained in. There were a few of us expatriates but most of my colleagues were locals and as time went by, I started to notice an interesting difference between the two groups.

Most of the locals had very high academic qualifications, at least a Master degree if not higher, and they were also very competent in the work they did, except I came to notice in one respect. When it came to standard designs and dealing with frequently encountered problems they performed well. However, when some unusual problem arose that was not in the ‘normal run of things’ and which required creativity and some original thinking they struggled.

This issue seemed to arise because of a combination of both the culture they had grown up in, and their system of education. Their culture was one where you didn’t go out on a limb and be creative in case you made a mistake and so ‘lost face’. Added to this, their engineering education seemed to equip them to copy existing models, what had been done before, rather than teaching them to apply basic engineering principles to provide novel and more appropriate solutions when new types of challenge arose.

In effect they were ‘Technocrats’, that is able to use an existing system or standard model previously created/designed/used by someone else, but if some new challenge arose they struggled. It seems to me that we have a similar problem in the area of Mission.   

Western culture is now truly unique, a uniqueness marked by the characteristic of rapid, ongoing and accelerating ‘change’, something never before experienced in human history. In this cultural turmoil, for the Mission of the Gospel to be effective requires the application of the basic principles for Christian Community supplied to us by the New Testament in our response to an ever changing missional challenge. ‘More of the Same’ will just not cut it.

However, most church leaders, as a result of the ‘church’ culture they have been brought up in, and the theological education they have received, think and function as ‘Technocrats’. That is, they are good at what is effectively a technocratic approach, that is operating the existing standard Christendom model of church and ministry, and using long used but low fruit mission strategies (Square wheels). Indeed, that is what the majority have been trained for, and what congregations expect. That worked reasonably well until probably three quarters of the way through the 20th century. However, no longer.

Faced with the challenges of the now decades old general failure of missional strategies the ‘Technocratic’ approach is to continue to use the same methods as previously, indeed those they have been trained for.

When faced with a new challenge the technocrat will respond by trying to use the existing system, the model designed and used previously, to solve it. Such an approach may also include importing and attempting to apply a model created elsewhere (often overseas).

However, the rapidly changing culture of the 21st century requires a very different mindset and approach to mission. Such an approach is not a technocratic one. Rather what is needed are missionaries. The characteristics required of such missionaries are that they are entrepreneurial, creative and ‘left field’ thinkers such that they able to apply Biblical first principles to a cultural challenge never faced before, and to create a novel response tailor-made for the new challenge.

Unlike the Technocrat, the Missionary will create new models that are indigenous to the mosaic of new, rapidly changing cultural worlds comprising contemporary western society. Nor will they go off hunting for models used elsewhere and seek to apply them in their context.

Church culture and theological education generally shape, indeed trap current church leaders to operate as Technocrats. This is a significant factor in the ‘Missional Malaise’. However, this does not necessarily mean that those constrained to operate in a technocratic way are naturally so inclined. Many, if released (Unbound) from the ‘System’ and given some ‘missionary’ training (it is a sad irony that this is what we already give to those going overseas as missionaries) are quite capable of moving from technocratic ministries to functioning as local missionaries. Indeed, they are quite capable of applying the first principles for mission ‘they have already learned’ in their New Testament studies.

Technocrats operate existing models and systems, Missionaries create new ones! It is long past time to release ‘Technocrats to Missionaries Be’! and to encourage them to be prepared to make mistakes, to go out on a limb and be creative for the sake of the millions stumbling in darkness without Christ.

2 thoughts on “Releasing Technocrats to Missionaries Be!

  1. Hi Martin,

    Sounds like somebody is listening… sort of.

    But the Eternity comments highlight the need to work with people where they’re at – with gentleness and respect – lovingly drawing them out of their darkness, rather than bludgeoning them with biblical commandments which clearly none of us can keep! Indeed, Christ went to seek the lost where they were at (grace and mercy), but condemned the Pharisees for their own self-righteousness (“whitewashed graves”). The Temple and synagogues (as institutions) were not saving people back then, so why would we expect them to today? Jesus went to save the people where they were at, but he still spent time himself in the Temple and in synagogues….

    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

    Jesus tells us to GO to all nations, not bring them to church. Jesus tells us to make disciples, not church-goers. And to whom was Jesus speaking, but his disciples? And how had they become his disciples? By his calling of them to follow him, to be with him, to learn from him, in order that they might become like him, making disciples of others.

    Survey after survey show that people have rejected institutionalised churches yet remain open to Jesus and to those who have strong faith in God: was that not true of the “lost sheep” that Jesus sought? If our strategy for bringing people to Christ is to bring them to church, then we put a stumbling block in their path.

    We need to prayerfully send workers into the harvest field (Mt 9:38): the harvest won’t come to the workers! We need to recognise that Christ is Lord of the harvest – we cannot do this in our own strength, or in our own way, but only under his Lordship. We need to seek those who are spiritually lost in order to love them as Jesus loved his lost sheep; we need to be attractively different from them as Jesus was salt to his lost sheep; and we need to shine the light of hope upon them in order to dispel darkness from their lives as Jesus did with his lost sheep. Nobody will see us as salt and light if we look like lost sheep! We must first be discipled ourselves, sanctified sufficiently to be as Christ to others, and with a heart and concern for those who are lost.

    Ministers leaving the church to become local missionaries won’t cut it. We need to liberate the whole church! We need all “church goers” to become missionaries in their own homes, workplaces, and social groups. Yes, many churches teach the need for this (Mt 28:18-20), but without providing on-the-job training for it they just set their members on a guilt trip! Graduates of Bible Colleges and Theological Colleges who wish to become missionaries through CMS undergo a further 6 months of training at St Andrew’s Hall in Melbourne before they’re sent cross-culturally into the mission field. If these people require 6 months of training, how can we expect those who haven’t been trained at Bible or Theological College to go cross-culturally into Sydney’s multicultural society without any training at all? And if it’s difficult work for CMS missionaries, is it not impossible for lay people (though anything is possible for God)? I know many who would go if they could, but they need training.

    What we need is a sort of CMS Mission training for lay people in the local church: I see this as a key element of true discipleship that is missing from all our churches! Then we unbind them and send them out to GO make disciples of others.

    Go, Make, Grow, Disciples of Jesus Steve


    1. Thanks for your comment Steve. Well said. I think your ‘sort of’ qualification is important!

      As you know I have for a long time been arguing that effective mission into the contemporary Australian mosaic of cultures needs not just to emphasise Jesus “GO!” into those cultures but to “Stay” in them. That is mission that creates ‘church’ where the lost are, rather than the attractional ‘Go and bring’ or ‘come to us’ strategies that have borne little fruit for a very long time.

      Yes, I have also argued for a long time that, given the massive and increasing cultural disconnect between the ‘church’ culture and the ‘Live, work and play’ cultures in which most people now dwell, ‘ALL’ mission to Australian society is now cross cultural.

      Yes also, we do need the equivalent of the CMS training ‘add-on’ for local missionaries. Given the rapid decline of Christian influence (SALT) in society, there is an urgent need for a Lay missional movement.

      This is what I want the Unbounded Church initiative to inspire and facilitate and why I run Missional Community training from time to time and would like to do more in 2019.

      Pray for more to take up that vision!



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