Thursday, March 29, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 37: Start (small if necessary), but . . . please . . . start!

Going back to 1 Chron 12:32, we may read of the two hundred "men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do."

Q: Why was this noteworthy?

A: Because, the coronation of David as King over all Israel was at a turbulent, confusing time, at the end of a civil war while also fighting off deadly invaders from outside. But, by recognising the prophetically anointed David as the founder of a new Dynasty, the foundation for two generations of greatness were laid. Thus, the men of Issachar were noted for their ability to spot and take advantage of a key opportunity in the mids of a confusing situation -- the essential point of strategic insight.

Similarly, in our time, there are many challenges, hurts, clashing voices and worse, too often leading to confusion and paralysis.

For instance, many of us in the Caribbean are caught up in the debt trap: inflation eating a hole in our salaries or wages or profits, stiff mortgages, car loans [even as the price of new or even "deportee"/ "Internet" cars soars out of sight], the prospect of College loans, or having to pay off student loans, or worse. And, that is the more prosperous classes who are often living "month to month." For vastly many more Caribbean people [and not just in Haiti, Guyana and Jamaica], as Dr Mark Figueroa of UWI Mona Campus has said, their daily focus is "the dinner problem," i.e. will they find enough to have as much as one decent meal today -- living "hand-to-mouth."

We are also in the midst of a confusing era as environmental panics sweep the world, e.g. over claimed human contributions to global climate change and associated scientific and policy debates, agendas and initiatives. A global conflict between the West and militant, surging Islamism dominates headlines, even as media figures spin, highlight or suppress the news from the fronts in the struggle to serve their own ideological agendas. Here in the Caribbean, we see a triangle of global forces in contention: (a) De-Chistianisation from the North, (b) Islamism from the Middle East, (c) the ongoing surge of Christian reformation in the South.

In the midst of all of this turmoil, confusion and pain, Solomon's 3,000 year old counsel speaks, with telling force:

PR 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

PR 3:6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

PR 3:7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

PR 3:8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

PR 3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

PR 3:10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Surely, if we are to soundly understand our times and understand what we are to do, and walk in the right and blessed path, we must heed this voice.

Similarly, let us listen again to Mordecai's counsel to his ward, Esther, in the face of an irrevocable decree of genocide against the Jews in the Persian Empire:

EST 4:13 . . . "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

For, despite our many confusions, fears, challenges and even predicaments, we the people of God in the Caribbean have never been so well-off, so educated, so free to travel and initiate actions on our own behalf. Multiply that by our strategic potential under God for the mission of the church in and from the region, and we come to the decisive questions: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us?

Q: But, what can we do in the here-and-now?

A: Many things -- as was discussed a few days back.

Q: But, how -- given our resource, focus/vision and cooperation/unity challenges?

A: First, we must think along the lines of the even- more- challenged but oh- so- dynamic Chinese church -- an army of ants and worms that together can accomplish much, one tiny step at a time. Second, if we accept that God has called us forth for such a time as this, then we can seek a vision on his way forward. I believe we have outlined some of that already, starting with the many local projects just pointed to. Third, we need to recognise that we in fact have a lot more potential capability and resources than we think. Then, we can address the issue of how to go about planning, funding and implementing such local and then international projects.

As a first step, let us now take a leaf from the sustainable development movement, and briefly explore the concepts of strategic planning through comparing business as usual [BAU] vs alternative paths [ALT], and associated capacity-building through what we could call Nehemiah projects.

So, let us turn to Strategic Planning 101 in a nutshell:

1] Accepting the need to change: Whether as individuals, families, organisations, businesses or communities, we always have a strategy: we are deploying means to get to ends. The question is what means, and to what ends, why? Too often, the answer is "business as usual," in the short-term interests of the powerful in the situation -- often without realising where that will lead in the long run. It is therefore always useful to pause and ask, where will we end up, given our situation and trends? In this regard, Jesus' warning about gaining the whole world but losing our very souls, takes on cutting force. It is fair comment to note that by and large, we simply are not doing well enough to be satisfied. [And, are we really confident that on a certain day, we will hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant . . ."?]

2] PESST and SWOT factors: Realistic plans start by scanning our environment and assessing our potential. What are the relevant PESST factors and trends -- political, economic, socio-cultural, spiritual and technology-and-science? What about SWOT -- our strengths and weaknesses, in light of opportunities and threats lurking in the PESST factors and trends?

3] Robust vs brittle strategies: A robust or sound strategy builds on our strengths. It uses them to (1) exploit opportunities, (2) counter threats, and (3) compensate for (and where possible, correct) weaknesses. In so doing, it reckons with the fact that sometimes, trends are not easily predictable, so it may be wise to look at optimistic, intermediate and pessimistic scenarios. A robust strategy will be resistant to uncertainties about the way things will turn out. By contrast, a brittle strategy usually thinks in terms of just one scenario, often, that things are going to go on pretty much as they are. Or else, it may construct a rosy vision of how "our" particular movement is going to dominate the future. (The case of Paul at Fair Havens, Crete in Acts 27 should serve as a salutary warning to such folly. Cf the post series starting here.)

4] Comparing BAU and ALT strategies: BAU as a rule serves the short-term interests of the dominant power groups, and may exploit the lack of a voice of marginalised groups to mislead or even oppress them. A serious look at PESST SWOT and brittle vs robust strategy issues will as a rule expose BAU as highly brittle in our age where change seems to be the real constant factor. That means we need to look at what a robust alternative could look like and then consider the comparison between where BAU is likely to end up, both here and hereafter, and what a robust alternative credibly would lead to -- given Haggai and Psalm 127:1 as we looked at a few days ago.)

5] Changing from BAU to ALT: Step 4 has a name: "gap analysis," i.e. identifying the gap between where BAU is likely to end up, and where a robust -- thus, sustainable -- alternative will credibly go. But, is that enough to motivate change? As a rule, no: very few people are sufficiently confident and have the resources and power to make drastic changes on mere analysis. So, we need to begin small and see what happens with the new way, then as we see and learn from points of success and failure, we can begin to adjust. Then, when we are satisfied, we can scale up. Indeed, the list of local projects from a few days ago accommodate this pattern of demonstration projects and then absorbing lessons as we scale up. [It is also probably part of why we see in Acts 1, that Jesus speaks of going first to Jerusalem, then Judaea, then Samaria, then to the ends of the earth.] Start small, here and now, in short.

6] Organising a cluster of "Nehemiah projects": We can take a leaf from Nehemiah, as was recently discussed on the MVAT steps 2 and 3. Namely, he organised the overall initiative as a cluster of projects done side by side by different groups, working together. Modernising the idea, we come to the Project Team or "Matrix" organisational strategy -- using resource units to supply what is needed for project teams to carry forward the projects under the overall goal. Then, coordination requires working with the resource team leaders and the project team leaders in a steering group. (NB: This gives a voice at the top to the innovators, who are too often blocked, frustrated, stifled or silenced and even slandered in the typical power-pyramid style organisation; which emphasises the power of routine business as usual. For more details in a step by step format, cf The MVAT Kit steps 2 - 4.)

7] Exploiting a Breakthrough: When, God willing, a notable success has been achieved and lessons have been drawn and learned, it is wise to pause and reflect, celebrate and project corporately or even publicly. This provides an occasion for igniting a fire of renewed vision and hope, that can trigger momentum towards transformational change in the church and wider community, i.e. repentance and renewal often leads to revival and reformation. Certainly, that is what happened with Nehemiah and Ezra, as we may read from Nehemiah 8 on. Similar points can be seen in the life of the early church as seen in Acts, and in the history and cycle of annual festivals for Ancient Israel. Then, we can move on to a higher level of strategic action, God willing.

In this context, it is well worth looking again at the raw potential capacity we have, as was summarised a few days ago:

. . . Say that we can have 1 in every 100 Christians [just counting the 8 million or so evangelicals] as a full-time worker, and that we target tithing that number to the mission fields beyond our region. Counting just the claimed eight million or so evangelicals across the region, that would give us 72,000 full-time workers in our region, and 8,000 mobilised for the mission fields of the 10/40 window and elsewhere. In army terms, that's nine or so "divisions" at home, and an expeditionary "division." [But as Paul more than proved in Acts, a well supported "platoon" of say 20 - 40 can be more than enough to be a very effective missions force in any given targetted region or community! Maybe, even a "squad" -- or, thinking in Cavalry, tanker or air unit terms, a "squadron" -- of 5 - 12; which is in fact about the scale of Paul's missionary teams. (Of course, we aren't out to shoot people, just to love them. Love is far, far cheaper -- and in the end, more effective, too -- than war.)]

How could we fund such a division-strength global "expeditionary force" of missionary workers?

Per capita incomes are of order US$ 2,000 - 5,000 across most of our region, so the "evangelical regional product" in our region is maybe of order US$ 10 billions. One percent of that is US$ 100 millions, and a tithe of that would give an annual potential regional missions budget of US$ 10 millions. With reasonable matching funds from partners across the world, that could go a long way towards supporting serious initiatives with both people and money. (And, with a shared vision, we probably would be far more generous than that.)

In short, an "army" of Caribbean "missionary ants and worms" -- ever notice how we hear folk sayings about suicidally uncooperative "crabs in a barrel" but never any such sayings about ants in a barrel? -- can do a lot more than we think.

We have more than enough raw capacity to transform our region through God, and to make a material contribution to the global mission of the church.

So, again, let us consider: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

UPDATE, Apr 4: minor adjustments.

No comments: