Thursday, July 18, 2013

Models for Ministry (and their limitations)

Every Christian model for evangelism and discipleship claims to be grounded in scripture and yet often these models contain contradictory recommendations or approaches, points out Matthew Stone in the book Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic: A Non-model Model.

One problem with models is that they tend to leave out personality. God gave you a personality, and he wants you to use it. Maybe the best way to do that is to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and effectiveness of the models that exist and the practices and perspectives of others... and sort out what you think will work for you. Or try it and find out. Just trying to work the model without alteration, to force it, may be an exercise in frustration and futility, simply because of who you are.

Similarly, ministry models usually fail to adequately account for the individuality of those you are trying to reach. When your assumptions and generalizations don't accurately describe the person in front of you, your model will not fly. It doesn't respond to who they are. And in spite of the many observable patterns that describe the thoughts, feelings and behavior of members of the human family, few principles apply to all of us all the time.

For example, you've probably experience discomfort at some point attending an event designed to please people like you but based on assumptions that didn't ring true. I've felt the rub, myself, from the belief that teens are supposed to love rock music and playing sports, or that you can touch women's heart by appealing to them as wives and mothers and doing crafts together.

Stone, who has a background in philosophy, cites the distinction between essentialism and nominalism as a key factor in how we approach models for ministry. I found this very helpful. Basically, these two deal with the question of whether we see abstractions and theories as being the "really real," more real than the individual or specific (essentialism - we focus on what we consider the 'essence,' I guess)... or we see abstractions, theories, and labels as being helpful tools for communicating, and possibly quite applicable, but not as fully "real" as what's individual and specific, such as the person in front of us (that's nominalism).

Where you are on the spectrum between the two will have a great affect one how you understand and approach Muslims, says Stone:
"If you tend to see Islam as the primary reality and groups of Muslims as somehow participating in that larger reality... you might be predisposed to expend your energy trying to get at the essence of Islam and its message, trying to understand 'the Muslim mind' or 'Arabs,' etc. If you see particular expressions of religious beliefs and practices of Muslims as primary and view Islam as merely a word that is helpful to communicate with others... you might then try to study specific beliefs of particular Muslims, the diversity of expressions of Muslims as they live and believe, the multiple interpretations of the Qur'an and Sunnah (the example of Muhammad as captured in the hadith), etc." 
"When we think that Islam is the really real, we tend to lump Muslims together and blur diversity."
Models are helpful, but they are like maps, drawing a picture of reality by simplifying it.
"Models of mission are helpful when viewed in a big brush stroke kind of way, but they are not helpful to the degree that they get in the way, when they have us focus too much on the model and our loyalty to it and too little on the uniqueness of the [person] in front of us."
In the circles I move in, it seems pretty easy for people to get a little carried away about their strategies and techniques, so I found Stone's explanation of his reservations about models very helpful. Do you?

Tomorrow: Movements, models, and cultural diversity

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