Three Little Things Worth Mentioning (Maybe) that We Learned the Hard Way

Three Little Things Worth Mentioning (Maybe) that We Learned the Hard Way

1)      Have a Clear Line of Sight to Adjacent Mission Fields.  All missions end. Let me say that again. All missions end.  Unlike “Program” thinking, we don’t think in terms of perpetuation.  We think in terms of seasons and bearing fruit.  Most missions aren’t perennials. Most bear fruit for a season and then are gone. We must always be looking into adjacent mission fields for the next thing that God is calling us to participate in.  In “Program” thinking, the program is the end-all-be-all.  It is the object. It has to come around every year because…well…because it always has. In programs, we don’t really serve people, we are servants of the program and we serve the needs of the program.  The delivery of the program is the purpose.  In missional thinking, people are always both object and subject and right relationship is always the purpose.  We serve people and allow those people to serve us.

We know going in that whatever mission we are into will end. It is the web of relationships that last.  The mission might end with a bang, and it might end with a whimper, but it always ends.  From the moment that we enter a given mission field, it is essential to rapidly familiarize ourselves with the mission fields that are adjacent to the one we are functioning in.  What’s an adjacent mission field? An example: our youth mission, “ReignStorm”, was born out of relationships made at our food pantry.  It now has its own momentum. We need to think in terms of a mission as a beachhead of the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is always moving inland…always gaining ground.  We have to be ready and able to move with its advance or we will be left behind. If we are giving ourselves away effectively, then those we once served and who now serve will hold the ground that the Kingdom has already gained.  What is adjacent to you? What is right next door? What people-group is inter-mingled with your current mission field that you can begin to look at as your next mission field?  All of our current missions we born out of the husk of missions that no longer exist.

2)      Prepare, Don’t Plan Too Much.  Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.  Planning is a compilation of our thoughts.  I know that some of us think that God speaks directly to us.  However, I have not actually met the person for whom that is true every time.  If it is true for you, cool.  I just haven’t met you yet.  Our experience has been that plans go right out the window as soon as we make contact with the mission field anyway.  It’s never what we anticipate it to be, no matter how exhaustive our research is.  And the situation on the ground changes so fast that no plan can take into account all the twists and turns that will open up before us.  More appropriately, we have learned to prepare instead of plan.  We get in shape physically, mentally, and spiritually. We study languages and culture.  We lay in supplies that might turn out to be needed.  We contact resources and let them know that we might need to call on them.  As Pete Blaber writes in a little book about other things that apply to this thing that’s worth reading, The Mission, The Men, and Me (Berkley Caliber, 2008), “It’s more Lewis and Clark than anything else.” Prepare. Get feet on the ground. And develop the situation as it emerges rather than developing the situation that you think should emerge.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

3)      Start Small. Always. Missions fail.  They do.  They fail more often than they succeed. Communities are not afraid of small investments that fail.  They are afraid of all-in investments that might or might not fail.  Communities are naturally risk-averse.  Faith communities, oddly enough, are all the more so afraid of failing.  Learning to get on the ground small and develop the situation means that that risk-aversion can be avoided and things will actually get on the ground instead of being tied up in endless conversations about whether they will work or not.   Two people with a vision and a location connected to a person on the ground and funded with $100 will happen.  Sixty-five people, building leases, vehicles, salaries, and with a $20,000 budget probably won’t.  At least it won’t get on the ground in time.  The mission field changes quickly.  A mission that was seen as viable two months ago might not be viable today.  If our decision-making wheelhouse spins too slowly, the opportunities most likely will come and go before we can get past our own risk-aversion.  So encourage small start-ups.  Encourage lots of them because lots of them will fail.  Compile learnings from the missions that fail to inform future efforts, and those failures cease to be “failures”.  They become cheap education.  Remember that the Kingdom of God is a mustard seed…tiny.  Some won’t take because the soil is too rocky or the weeds too thick.  But some will take and grow and become a giant bush that will give shelter to many.  Jesus never told anybody to go and transplant a bush.



  1. Susan Said:

    thanks Max! Timely thoughts for me this week!

  2. Betty Christian Said:

    Would “Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God gives the increase” fit in here? Paul didn’t actually have a “program” and neither did Jesus, right?

  3. Janet Weiblen Said:

    I work in the “mission field” of prisons and have done so for twenty years; I don’t think there’s an end in sight. So I don’t think all missions end.

    • I think it probably helps to define our terms. You said that you “work” in the prison system and have for twenty years. It sounds like that is your job or your paid vocational position. And that is AWESOME! It may also mean that you have an on-going mission to a specific jail or prison that you don’t get paid for but that you do on a regular basis. Well…one day either you will move and that mission will end, or the prison will change policies that mean an end to what you do when you do it, or the prison will close and end that mission. We have learned to be prepared for that eventuality as a reality and to be looking for what comes next long before that mission ends.

      When we talk about mission, we aren’t really talking about professional positions. We are more specific than “poverty” when we talk about a mission field. A mission field for us is a people group, in a specific geographic location, with given set of resources. I have worked among the poor, for example, for twenty-five years or so, and poverty has not ended. But what I have specifically done among the poor has changed often, as one need ended, or one resource or another was lost to us. It is always staffed by non-paid folks. And all of them have ended. They now usually birth something new out of the husk of the old. We lost a building we ran a food pantry out of. That mission ended. But because we had established relationships, we went back on the street adjacent to the old building and served food out of trucks as a mobile mission. We got another building a year later, and we moved into it. We now do both, knowing that one or both of them will end and we have to be prepared to move into a new adjacent mission field when it does.

      Another example is that I used to be involved with a prison in-reach in South Carolina. I did that for several years. Then I moved. For me, that mission ended. But the prisons here are “adjacent” to the prisons there, and I made contact with a chaplain at a prison here. We started doing an in-reach here and did it for several years. The chaplain left and went to another prison “adjacent” to that one. One option would have been to keep our eyes open to that adjacent mission field. But another adjacent mission field is recently released prisoners coming back onto the streets of Milwaukee and helping them to get readjusted. Oddly enough, that mission field is also adjacent to our food pantry and street missions because people recently released from prison are regulars at both. So our folks from the prison in-reach began to come to the pantry and street ministry with specific mission of reaching and relating to recently released prisoners. Prisons still operate and people are still sent to prison. But our mission fields have shifted several times over the years even though we are still in mission to prisons.

      I hope that helps to clarify what I am saying.

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