by Gary Corwin
Any good coach will develop strategy for game day to take advantage of his or her team’s strengths, and to minimize whatever weaknesses exist vis-a-vis their opponents.
Any good coach will develop strategy for game day to take advantage of his or her team’s strengths, and to minimize whatever weaknesses exist vis-a-vis their opponents. Against a bigger team in basketball, for example, a coach might capitalize on his team’s relative speed by putting on a full court press.
This principle of maximizing one’s strengths and minimizing one’s weaknesses is also important to the missions enterprise, but it is often forgotten. "How so?" In the all too common, "competency requires self-sufficiency," syndrome that still permeates too much of our practical decision making. Instead of a full court press, we try to out rebound the big guys!
We often develop our strategy based on an underlying assumption that we have to overcome our inherent weaknesses directly and all by ourselves. This we do either by an inordinate exertion of energy and resources, or less honestly, we talk down the importance of our weak areas. The fact is we can’t do everything, and more importantly, we shouldn’t even try.
This would be an opportune time to talk about spiritual gifts and how God has equipped specific individuals (and perhaps organizations) for specific tasks, and to remind each of us how all this multiplied gifting is essential as it works together to achieve God’s purposes. And all of that would, of course, be true.
It is an equally opportune time, however, to sound a less familiar theme. God has not only divvied up the means (via spiritual gifts) to achieve his purposes, he seems to have divvied up some of his passions as well.
Differing emphases are likely to be found among all the stakeholders in the grand scheme of missions, whether they are local churches, denominations, denominational agencies, interdenominational agencies, trainers and educators of every variety, or moblizers of every kind. And these differences are usually both legitimate and healthy. They are furthermore, as likely to exist on a global level as at a local one. While debates about holism and the nature of mission are in my view important and healthy, they do sometimes skirt the obvious truth that God has called us to do many things, both individually and corporately. We neglect or disparage any of them to our peril. At the same time, not everyone gives the same energy and enthusiasm (i.e. passion) to every task.
"Does that mean we can be selective in our obedience?" Not at all, but it does recognize that many of God’s commands are corporate in nature, not individualistic. (The unfortunate nature of the English language, which has no way to distinguish a plural "you" from a singular one, certainly can cause confusion in how we read scripture.) While we all have a responsibility to care for the widows and orphans, we don’t all have a passion for it. The same is true for visiting the prisoners, evangelism of every kind, AIDS education, or any other ministry activity which comes under the rubric of "making disciples of all nations" or of "loving our neighbors as ourselves."
What I’m saying is that we are not responsible to, nor could we in any case, bring a uniformly high level of enthusiasm personally to every task for which the church is responsible corporately. And that’s okay.
"What is our responsibility in these areas?" Certainly not to ignore the obvious need at hand simply because it’s not our passion. But at the same time, not to feel guilty because we lack personal passion for every God-given task which the church corporately must embrace. What we are to do, however, is to recognize and rejoice in the passion of others. That in turn requires us to avoid jealousy, competitiveness, and gainsaying, even when we feel that the success of another’s passion might diminish resources or support for our own.
If our passion is direct evangelism we should give ourselves to it with all our strength. If our passion is ministering to human need we should give ourselves fully to that. If our passion is facilitating indigenous ministries, or training harvest laborers, or mobilizing resources, we should devote our energy fully to that. But whatever piece of God’s grand purpose captures our own passion, we must maintain the ability to celebrate the passion of God’s other servants. The work they do is part of our responsibility, too.
We must never speak badly of "someone else’s servant" (Rom. 14:4), and we must never confuse our own particular passion for the sum total of what God wants to accomplish in our world. As for resource competition, we serve a rich God. In our clear-thinking moments we should realize that if we are doing his will, a resource shortfall is not going to be an issue.
The variety of ministry we see is all part of God’s plan. It’s really just other servants playing to the strengths, the passions, that he has given them. And the best part is that we are all playing on the same team.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missiologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries on loan from SIM-USA.
EMQ, Vol. 35, No. 3. Copyright © 1999 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.