by Gary Corwin
It’s a word I have come to hate—overused and commonly misused. But perched unmistakably over decision making in the mission enterprise are two “paradigms.”
It’s a word I have come to hate—overused and commonly misused. But perched unmistakably over decision making in the mission enterprise are two "paradigms." One relfects the best methodologies of the coporate world. The other is what many believers used to call "the leading of the Holy Spirit." Others have called it the intuitive sense.
Each paradigm has significant strengths and weaknesses. Among the greatest strengths of the corporate paradigm is its relatively objective and quantitative nature. It is possible, for example, to assess the feasibility of a business plan, or to evaluate a ministry’s financial viability, and make deicsions based upon one’s projections. This model has gained considerable sway in mission circles since the early seventies at least.
The strengths of the corporate model are almost by definition areas of weakness for the intuitive model, which is subjectively oriented and often difficult to defend. Its strengths liek in another area altogether. Its chief strength, of course, lies in its reflection of God’s will in a particular decision, whether or not that seems the "sensible" thing from a human and corporate point of view. It was this kind of leading which sent Jonathan andd his armor-bearer against the Philistines, and David against Goliath. It also sent a lot of 19th and 20th century missionaries into the fever-racked interiors of Africa and the xenophobic interiors of China. The intuitive model is not much in vogue today.
The weaknesses of the corporate model show up most starkly in individual decision making. The corporate model is careful and calculating (in the good sense) and seeks to honor the admonitions to proper stewardship. Unfortunately, it is easily perverted into self-seeking directions. Sacrifice and pain, for example, can sometimes get defined out of the equation because they would not be a good stewardship of "my giftedness and potential contributions." But individual courage and temerity in the context of God’s calling and will ought not to get lost in the sea of considerations that constitute "long-range planning."
The weaknesses of the intuitive model, by contrast, show up most starkly in the context of organizational and team decision making. While it is reasonable to take responsibility for one’s own calling and sense of God’s personal leading, it is much more difficult (thought certainly not impossible) to balance the intuitive senses of many people. The possibilities for self-delusion and even deceit are ever with us. People are naturally reluctant to tie their own destinies to the subjective leanings of others, particularly when their own leanings point in another direction. The reason it is possible at all, however, is that if the Holy Spirit is truly leading a group or corporate body in a particular direction, he will ultimately lead the individuals who comprise it in the same way. Or, as he did with Paul and Barnabas in the debate over John Mark, lead them in separate ways for his own glory and purposes.
So what are some guidelines for giving both the corporate and the intuitive paradigms their due in ministry decision making? Several possibilities come to mind: (1) Avoid thinking in either/or categories. There are very few decisions taht will not benefit from a careful look at both kinds of input. (2) Be particularly careful in organizational decisions to get and take seriously the input of tose who have the gifts of faith and wisdom. Don’t let "bottomline" economic or productivity thinking totally rule the day. God may have other things in mind. For example, he just might want you in relatively unreceptive areas for his own special purposes. Remember how he pulled Philip out of a burgeoning Samaritan revival movement for the sake of one lone Ethiopian on a desert road. (3) By the same token, make sure individual decisions have a basis that is larger than the intuitive sense of God’s leading alone. The Scriptures do admonish us to seek the counsel of others (Prov. 15:22) and to "count the cost" (Luke 14:28-30) in our own calculations as well. In short, we need to be ever mindful of our magnificant ability to delude ourselves. (4) Finally, bathing decisions in prayer is always appropriate, as is doing one’s homework in good corporate fashion. Prayer is no more an excuse for shoddy preparation than good preparation is an excuse for neglecting prayer. Both paradigms are not only needful, they are normally complementary.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM.
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