Better Than Mission Management – Faithful Stewardship

The methodology of the earliest evangelists (and Jesus) seems simple. Call people to follow Jesus. That’s it. Do the kinds of things he did, for the kinds of reasons that he did them.

  • Treat all people / churches as responsible adults capable of discerning God’s ethical / moral will based on His Word.
  • The Bible doesn’t contain the staples of management.
  • There is no authoritative SOP for behavior.
  • There is no uniform dress code.
  • There isn’t even a systematic theology.
  • Jesus, the President and CEO, chose not to write a gospel.

Instead we have are a lot of relationally-driven, contextually-sensitive, theologically-informed case studies. The heartbeat of the New Testament epistles is reaching out to new, independent groups of believers and exhorting / teaching / encouraging them to confront their difficulties (and sins) through the lens of theological and cultural reflection. Paul, James, and Peter are functioning as spiritual fathers for sons and daughters who have gotten married and moved to a new city. As a father, Paul doesn’t seem to care how many grandkids he has, he seems to care how faithful his children are (both to their calling to live righteously and to spread the gospel).

The paradigm of the evangelism and sanctification in the New Testament is process-oriented (Am I going the right way?) not results-oriented (Have I arrived at the right destination?).

But the science of management is, by definition, results-oriented. They don’t call it “result-based management” for nothing. The paradigm used in the New Testament seems to be “following”. “Follow me”, were both Jesus first and last words to his disciples in the gospel of John. The sheep follow the shepherd. “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ”, said Paul to the Corinthian church. When Paul rebukes the Corinthians early in the letter, it is for calling themselves followers (of Paul, or Apollos) without actually following their example. When Paul responds, he doesn’t question the paradigm of following, he questions the Corinthian application of it.

I think it is impossible to quantify faithfulness. Faithfulness is a relational quality and thus context-dependent. It is non-generalizable. The action of holding hands can be a sign of faithfulness, if you are holding hands with your wife or your sister. It can also be a sign of infidelity. The meaning of the action can only be known by the people in the relationship. That’s one of the problems with legalism. We can only see the outside, and sin is also contextual.

When we watch the early church solve its problem, it seems as if faithfulness to the call of Jesus is the primary paradigm. When the Corinthian church faced the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols, the answer to the question is less important than the way that Paul answers it. Paul argues that the answer depends on how eating that meat affects your relationship with God and with others. The same is true when the church experiences conflict over the provision of food to widows in Acts 6. An explanation coming from a management paradigm would explain how Peter and the other disciples had a comparative advantage in the preaching of the word or explain how the multiplication of the church would increase because they were freed from mundane concerns. Instead, when Stephen and the other six were empowered to serve the widows, the argument is made from faithfulness. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God.” It is an ethical claim based on faithfulness to their calling, not effectiveness.

In this model, we can still avoid the mistakes of the past: the mission stations, the ethnocentric preaching, creating dependency, consumer models of mission. Because the question is not, “Is the person dedicated?” The question is, “Is the person (or the mission or the program) faithful to the examples we have been given in Scripture?” The “to” is critical. Just as “belief” is not a positive quality in and of itself. Belief in something good is good. Belief in something bad is bad. So faithfulness to follow the example of Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter is good. That is the thing that we can call people to, always. That is the concrete idea that we can ask people to evaluate themselves against. And I believe that, as we are faithful to Jesus, so Jesus will also be faithful to us.

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