Vulnerable Mission: You mean what?
by Jay Gary
"You mean what?" I asked over breakfast, as Jim Harries explained the principles of Vulnerable Mission. "I agree with the principle of local language, but why should Western missionaries avoid using outside money to sustain ministry activities?"
As a mission leader and now a professor of leadership, I thought to myself, how will Vulnerable Mission ever fly, much less make headway against more powerful jet streams which now shape missions, such as Business as Mission, Social Entrepreneurship or Holistic Mission.
Since that breakfast I've initiated several email exchanges with various Vulnerable Mission stakeholders. I've also read several papers at vulnerablemission.com. I've come to the conclusion that Vulnerable Mission, marked by voluntary simplicity and poverty, can be a sign of hope for our times.
Despite flying straight into the headwinds of Rock star activism or economic globalization, in due course Vulnerable Mission can become a core value among thousands of new missionaries, from both the West and Asia. Why do I believe the best about Vulnerable Mission? Three reasons: first, Vulnerable Mission encourages a new generation to engage in God's mission in God's way; second, Vulnerable Mission learns from the way of Jesus in his poverty; and third, Vulnerable Mission tempers the power of the Industrial age to remake the world into a shopping mall.
First, consider the new generation. Many younger 20- or 30-something Christians are not impressed by the strength of mega-churches, nor of economic globalization. They are anti-institutional, anti-war and anti-global. They stand against the day, as David Korten warns, when corporations will rule the world. They care about social networks, personal authenticity, and spiritual relationships. As new monastics or emergent Christians, they are ready to do God's work in God's way. Vulnerable Mission can appeal to their aspirations.
Second, Vulnerable Mission is open to learn from the way of Jesus. Everyone in the gospels, who was drawn to Jesus, learned a different way. The Magi learned the way of humility and worship, in contrast to the killing machine of Herod. Paul learned the way on the road to Damascus, in contrast to the power of Second Temple proselytizers. Francis of Assisi learned the way of Jesus, in contrast to merchants and Knight Templars chasing after holy relics and crusades. In an age today marked by Islamic, Jewish and Christian fundamentalists feeding a clash of civilizations, can we learn the way of Jesus anew through Vulnerable Mission.
Third, Vulnerable Mission is a sign of the cross in an Industrial Age of media markets and hyper-consumerism. This missional mindset of embracing vulnerability calls us to take up our cross and deny ourselves. Vulnerable Mission can lead us beyond managerial and one-sided missions, where we target others, but not ourselves. Vulnerable Mission can be the hand of God to lift both the unevangelized and the evangelizer. It can transform the South and the North, and help us find mutual postures for global leadership.
Whatever noble plans we might have to employ human or financial capital to launch transformative enterprises in the developing world, we must guard against anything that violates the 'spirituality of relational power,' as Bob Linthicum writes.
Jim Harries has it right; we must not use the power of foreign language, or the power of foreign money to overplay our hand. We must not overshadow the formation of new indigenous churches. We must model the way of Jesus. We must avoid any practice that creates neo-colonialism and Western dependency.
Instead as servants, as missional Christians, we who have been sent - as Jesus was sent (John 20:21), must learn from those we serve and appreciate local ways of thinking, being and doing.
"Please join me in making plans to attend an upcoming Vulnerable Mission conference in Germany, the UK or in the U.S."
JAY GARY is an assistant professor at Regent University's School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, in Virginia Beach, VA. He is also the program director for a new online Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight, helping mid-career professionals from both ministry and the marketplace learn authentic leadership, innovation and strategy as practice. He is best known among Evangelicals as the lead developer of the Perspectives Study Program and the AD 2000 Movement. More.