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.