Have It Your Way

by pmckaughan on June 23, 2011

by Paul McKaughan

Way back in 1993 Joe Pine popularized the term “mass customization.” He stated that soon the customer would be able to buy most anything built or created to his own personal specification. Time has proved Pine right.

Today Dell computers’ big selling point is that they will build a computer to your specs. A lot of firms are shouting at the top of their electronic lungs, “You can have it your way.” Everything from the daily news one reads on your electronically aggregated news feed to modest homes can be molded to your specific needs. You can even create your own nightly TV lineup with the aid of simple technology-simple to engineers and the average 6 year old but unfathomable to me. Today we make our likes and dislikes known with a simple keystroke. Yet most missions still insist that we do mission in the mission’s way.

Far too often our structures are set up for the convenience of the mission organization. Structures and procedures evolved from service to prior generations and may be out of step with the needs of today’s follower of Jesus. Rather than the ease of use by one who wishes to offer his life to God’s cause of discipling the nations, our structures serve us. We resist this spirit of “mass customization” as well as widening of personal choice. Who is serving whom?

The public we wish to engage can’t understand why in every other facet of their lives they can have it “their way,” but when it comes to God’s eternal mission, it must be the mission’s way. The issue is not submission to the Holy Spirit or Scripture that is usually settled. As hard as it may be for mission pros, God’s way and the mission’s way may not be synonymous. Delighting those we wish to serve may be a metric that can show a new way forward.

After referring to the miracle of His deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, God says to His chosen people, “Don’t live in the past. I am doing a new thing. Can’t you see it? I am providing an abundant supply of water even in the driest of places.” God says through His prophet, “Even the dumb animals get it, but they are not the focus of My provision, I want your praise. My provision is for you My chosen people.” (Is 43:16-21)They didn’t see (and we often don’t see) God’s “new thing.”

God is doing a new thing in our world, and far too often we are blind to it. We have no room within our organizational world for His miracle of grace. The “new thing” doesn’t fit our neat well organized world. The very Church we say we serve doesn’t remotely look like our mental construct that was formed in the past. The growing Church is no longer white and wealthy. It is coming to be made up of immigrants and refugees from the world’s nations. They are not as well-educated as we are and speak English with strange accents. Yet, these represent the new thing that God is doing in the US. They are declaring that it is their right (within Biblical boundaries) to have missions their way and not ours.

Our structures are always documents from the past. The huge stadium-like churches that exist today may soon only be monuments of the past miracles of God’s grace just as the empty cathedrals of Europe give testimony to the Church’s once pervasive influence on that continent. Will our missional structures go the same way?

Delighting those we wish to serve, rather than satisfying our own protocols and sense of order, may indicate a way forward. If we don’t alter our patterns to fit their preferences and needs, they will form their own structures, and we will be left insisting that our way is proper while God energizes His people to fulfill His mission according to their own gifts and callings. Within the constraints of Scripture, “Have it your way” in the age of mass customization should become a corporate value. Discerning and making way for the new thing God is doing should become foundational to positive missional leadership.

I am glad that I am too old for mission leadership. I leave this leadership challenge to all you young men and women. Plug in to the new things our Creative God is doing.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Boesel July 11, 2011 at 4:47 am

My mind has been running along these paths as well, Paul, and where the paths end for me is in Jesus comments about needing new wine skins for new wine. Trying to put the new wine in the old wine skins destroys both. I am not saying that we must make all things new but it seems that some new directions, definitions and applications are crucial. We would not want to lose the opportunity of sharing in the new thing that God is doing by not providing new skins to facilitate the new wine.

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Tory Ruark July 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Interesting blog! I agree completely about customizing rather than requiring missions to be done “our way.” One of the reasons I love the organization with which I work is because we strive to do this. We strive to help churches realize the call God has placed on them. The hard part we have found, though, is that when everything is customized there isn’t something to “sell.” I often feel it is hard to find a connecting point to churches when there is not something tangible to “offer,” especially in this time of economic challenges. What do some of you think? How have you been able to customize ministry to others?

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Alex Araujo August 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I find it puzzling that in spite of enormous volume of change we have experienced in the missions industry in the last few decades, we are still talking about being too stuck in the same old ways. Why this dissonance?

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