Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Deep Change for Missionaries

Written by: on June 28, 2018

Missionaries must be prepared for deep change, and while it is not written from a Christian perspective, Robert E; Quinn’s Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within offers advice that must be heeded by those who wish to develop fruitful cross-cultural ministries. As I research missionary effectiveness and sustainability in the 21st century, I am eager to discover resources that provide insights about how mission agencies might remake themselves to increase their impact in measurable ways. The Deep Change Field Guide may be one such book. Here are three pearls of wisdom that are especially relevant to the mission world. (Interestingly, I believe these thoughts are not original to Quinn…the Bible says similar things. But Quinn certainly puts them in the language of today.)

  1. “We must be at the edge of where we feel comfortable, because the place of uncertainty is a place of learning. Learning is the engine of deep change; as we put ourselves into uncertain places, our assumptions change and we grow.”[1]

When one lives outside of one’s home culture, uncertainty becomes a way of life. All of the “givens” are up for grabs. You go to greet someone with a handshake, and they come in for a peck on the cheek. You ask for water in a restaurant and get charged for it. You think you are standing in line for a movie, only to watch the queue collapse into a stampede when the doors are opened. As missionaries adapt to their host culture, they are in a place of deep change. Cultural assumptions are the first assumptions that get tossed out the window. Growth happens as missionaries learn to recalibrate their expectations and modify some of their basic day to day ways of living. Taking public transportation instead of driving everywhere, buying produce at outdoor markets instead of grocery stores, and taking two-hour lunches instead of eating of the run may seem like minor behavioral modifications, but when these things are done out of love for a people group, with a heart to minister, the Holy Spirit will take our seemingly trivial efforts and use them to transform us into the likeness of Christ. Jesus (the first cross-cultural missionary) left the comforts of paradise for the prickly hay of a manger. This deep change enables us to “participate in the Gospel, and do as Paul did: “become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.”[2]

  1. “People with adaptive confidence are confident precisely because they know that they will incorporate the new information into their plans, even when that new information requires them to change.”[3]

When one launches to the mission field, one must hold their plans loosely. Change is inevitable. New information can be destabilizing, and I’ve seen missionaries and mission agencies that are so resistant to new information that they will deny reality in order to hold to their original plans and strategies. Humility enables us to accept the need to change in response to new realities. The 21st century brings new challenges/opportunities to the world of cross-cultural ministries, and I am exploring four of those challenges in my research, they are: global connectivity, the shift of the global center of Christianity, the millennial mindset, and a change in funding priorities. I believe that missionary organizations that figure out how to incorporate this “new” information (ie these “new” realities) into their strategies will navigate this century with confidence. But those who cling to the way we have done missions for the century will struggle to survive. Our very faith is founded on the idea of rebirth and recreation; yet, like the Israelites of hold, we tend to cling to our established way of living, missing out on the freedom and confidence that come with facing the truth.

Which leads us to number three.

  1. “Constructive disagreement is a sign of organizational health, but in conservative cultures criticism is often stifled.”[4] And it’s corollary: “A climate of constructive conflict indicates effective leadership.”[5]

In my experience, many mission agencies would be classified as “conservative cultures” where criticism is stifled. They hold to strong authoritative structures, which rigidly resist change, particularly change that comes from the bottom up. As Christians we can misunderstand that call to “live at peace with one another” as a moratorium on conflict. Mature believers recognize that we can be at peace with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, joint-heirs with Jesus—while still holding differing views on how to proceed as an organization. We can wrestle with one another in genuine love, and learn to disagree in ways that enable us to grow both individually and corporately. We can move towards unified, collaborative decisions, benefitting from the wisdom that comes from diverse perspectives. We can have conflict without hatred or anger. When David and I got married, the officiating pastor said, “When you argue, don’t look at it as David against Jenn, but as David and Jenn presenting two differing points of view in an attempt to discover God’s best for the union.” There are healthy and unhealthy ways to offer criticism as well. Christians must be careful to create communities of trust so that conflicts can be explored in a context of love.

The Deep Change Field Guide is a book that will be referenced in my research.

[1] Robert E. Quinn, The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within, First edition, The Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2012). 9.

[2] NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. I Cor. 9:22b-23.

[3] Quinn. 14.

[4] Quinn. 32.

[5] Quinn. 32.

About the Author

Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

4 responses to “Deep Change for Missionaries”

  1. Great post Jenn! You did a great job summarizing the book and applying it to your setting and area of study. Like you, I enjoyed having the privilege of hearing about your “real life” story in person that you reference here 🙂 …”In my experience, many mission agencies would be classified as “conservative cultures” where criticism is stifled. They hold to strong authoritative structures, which rigidly resist change, particularly change that comes from the bottom up.” See you in HK!

    • Jennifer Williamson says:

      Can’t tell you how much you and Jenn helped me to reframe that experience. I feel like I’ve “seen the light!” and am so much more prepared to navigate my work relationships in healthier ways. Thanks!

  2. Greg says:

    Loved your cultural assumptions section…I made me laugh as I have done most on the list you gave 🙂
    Appreciate the lens in which you looked at this book.
    Trust is a huge deal cross culturally and organizationally. Lack of trust or no trust can hinder or keep individuals and orgs from being able to build the bridges that are needed. Thanks again. Jenn.

  3. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Yeah, I’d love to talk deeped about the trust issue with you and how you handle that. I think this book has great potentiel for mission orgs, if it would be rightly applied!

Leave a Reply