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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bear with the paragraphs on Polanyi…it gets passionate and personal in the end

Written by: on February 1, 2018

As a missionary, I manufacture nothing, sell nothing, purchase next to nothing, and employ no one. My biggest contribution to the global economy is the spending of my monthly income (which fluctuates based on the exchange rate) on commodities such as rent, groceries, and my son’s college tuitions. I’m not an economist, and I don’t aspire to be one. Yet, my life is lived within and in many ways subject to a global economy. Or as Polanyi might say, my life is in “embedded” in the market, “running as an adjunct to the market.”[1]

Neoliberals like to present the market economy as an entity of its own that functions best when free of state-imposed rules and regulations. Polanyi would say that such an idea is highly unrealistic. History would agree (cf 2007 Global Financial Crisis) In other words, “disembedding” the market is impossible. And while there are challenges related to the embedded market, disembedding would be worse. In a summary of the Great Transformation, Pakistani Asad Zaman writes, “Unregulated markets are so deadly to human society and environment that creation of markets automatically sets into play movements to protect society and environment from the harm that they cause.”[2]

Thus, the rise of what Polanyi calls the “double movement: the market expanded continuously, but this movement was met by a countermovement checking the expansion in definite directions.”[3] In other words, the state and the market aren’t exactly opposed to each other; rather, they need each other to survive.

Actually, it’s really quite unhelpful to think about political economy in terms of a dichotomising opposition between the state on the one hand and the market on the other. The notion that these two are involved in some sort of tug of war where one wins and the other loses or one gains at the other’s expense does not makes sense in a Polanyian framework.[4]

Sigh.

To be perfectly honest, the reading from these past few weeks has made me feel like I was drowning in histories, theories, concepts, and big ideas. It’s not that I can’t understand them, it’s that they’re hard to understand and it takes a great deal of effort on my part to give these works the reflection and brain-power they deserve. I’m chomping at the bit to get to Miller’s Consuming Religion and Cavanaugh’s and Being Consumed—books that will take the grandiose theoretical recipes we’ve been reading and bake them up into some edible and digestible morsels. I’m not an academic, I’m an activist (must be my evangelical roots!).[5] And I’m an optimist (must be my conscience—after all, “A healthy conscience [is] one in which fear turn[s] into hope”)[6]

So what I really want to know is this:

In the face of such overwhelming challenges, how do we bring the evangelical heart, the hopeful conscience, our shared imagination, and the social economy into conversation with each other in such a way that informs our behaviour AND (Lord, is it asking too much?) even our doctoral research?

I find help in the writings of Wendell Berry. As a proponent of agrarian societies, Wendell is a master of examining entire systems and the interrelated qualities of life. He observes: “That we prefer to deal piecemeal with the problems of disintegration keeps them ‘newsworthy’ and profitable to the sellers and the cures. To see them as merely the symptoms of a greater problem would require hard thought, a change of heart, and a search for fundamental causes.”[7]

With Berry, I recognize that most of life’s difficult problems don’t have easy answers. We can try to boil them down to this or that, but at the end of the day, there are many working parts. I’ve found challenging and even incriminating aspects of my research problem. I’ve come across sources I’d rather ignore because they complicate the issue. I understand how easy it would be to become a sloppy researcher. How do we resist the temptation to produce work that will get us a degree but make no real, valuable contribution to the Kingdom of God?

I resolve to press on, getting smarter and savvier along the way, integrating Bebbington, Anderson, Erdozain, Polanyi, and who knows who else into my knowledge and understanding so that I do not deal with my ministry problem “piecemeal.” The problem I am seeking to address is multi-faceted, years in the making, and far-reaching. I resolve to give my research problem the “hard thought” it requires, exposing “fundamental causes” and praying for a “change of heart.” I will not shy away from complexity or whine about how hard it is to understand these mentors and teachers, but put on my big girl panties and get to work.

[1] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd Beacon Paperback ed (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001). 59.

[2] Asad Zaman, “WEA Pedagogy Blog: Perspectives on Economics and Society,” Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi (blog), August 28, 2013, https://weapedagogy.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi/.

[3] Polanyi, The Great Transformation.136.

[4] “Karl Polanyi; The Great Transformation and a New Political Economy,” University of Warwick, accessed January 30, 2018, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/features/polanyi.

[5] David William Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, Repr (London [u.a.]: Routledge, 1995). 16.

[6] Dominic Erdozain, The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 15.

[7] Wendell Berry and Norman Wirzba, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Washington, D.C: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2002). 60.

About the Author

mm

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.

12 responses to “Bear with the paragraphs on Polanyi…it gets passionate and personal in the end”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jennifer,
    So, if I read between your lines, I think you said you are an adjunct missionary embedded in the world, but not of the world. Amen and stand firm!
    Symbiotic relationships again, this time between the State and the Market? Excellent comparison.
    Your “In the face” proclamation gives you a great transition statement and literary teaser to discuss almost any topic you want. You are more academic than you give yourself credit for!
    I am laughing with you while being proud of you too about your comment to “put on” a garment and get to work. Thanks for the subtle opening for me to leverage your statement and encourage you and the whole Elite 8 cohort, to step up and put on the whole Armor of God and get to work.
    I know some of you are getting tired of the Armor of God this, Armor of God that, but do you really know who your enemy is? Do you see his influence around you every day? Or, do you attribute the problem, evil, and trouble to someone, something, or just a life happens type of attitude? I welcome your pushback, scoffing, and ridicule. It might hurt now, but it will help me later and prepare me for my dissertation, focus groups, and line of interview questions. Who is Satan to you?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Mike, I really appreciate you and the thoughtful comments you leave for all of us. Thank you for your encouragement. And you laser-like focus on the armor God is going to serve tou well as you develop your project.

      As far as Satan goes, or “old snake-lips” as one of my dear mentors called him, I know he’s hard at work. But I refuse to give him any more attention than he deserves. He who is in me is greater than the enemy, and He has given me a call and a purpose. I know the lies the enemy likes to use to derail me, and so when I hear them, I call them out for the lies that they are. I pray against Satan’s schemes, and pray for God to protect and deliver my loved one from the enemy’s wicked works. But I’m not scared of him. I’ve cast demons out of people and places heard them shriek, I’ve been attacked in physical ways myself. When I am in those types of confrontational situations, I make sure I have others praying for me as well. I know that the enemy is evil and powerful and out to kill and destroy. But I also believe that in the name of Jesus I have all that I need.

  2. Jay says:

    Hi Jenn,

    You quote Berry, where it is talked about the solution and connection for all we have been studying is “a change of heart”. I agree. Isn’t that really the bottom line?

    I, too, am praying for this change of heart. I will get to work as well on this, with you.

  3. Great post as usual Jenn! I couldn’t agree more with your statement…”To be perfectly honest, the reading from these past few weeks has made me feel like I was drowning in histories, theories, concepts, and big ideas. It’s not that I can’t understand them, it’s that they’re hard to understand and it takes a great deal of effort on my part to give these works the reflection and brain-power they deserve.” I felt the same way and was resenting the brain power and time I have put into understanding these concepts, but I’m sure they are helpful to my foundation of understanding.

    I love your evangelical heart and love how you bring this into almost all your posts. I also think the important things to glean from these readings are those things that help up us connect more with those we are trying to reach.

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Right, Jake. And a hard as some of these book have been, I am starting to see how important this foundational information is for all of our projects.

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jennifer,
    Your opening line: As a missionary, I manufacture nothing, sell nothing, purchase next to nothing, and employ no one, hit me between the eyes. As a pastor I am in the same boat, yet we cannot escape being “embedded” in the market. In some of my research I have come across scathing diatribes against pastors, missionaries etc, as wastes of time and effort since we don’t “contribute to society”. When I read this it does cause me to pause, but do we contribute as much as a salesperson, who, without a product is no different. I always try to come back to my calling. I appreciate your candor and your honesty when reading your posts. Store up in heaven your treasures…that’s my goal.
    Jason

  5. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jason, I have been wrestling for years with the idea of “professional” Christians. I’m not sure I agree with the idea, and yet, I am one. I have a lot more thinking to do about this, but I think I am leaning towards a bivocational model myself.

  6. Salut Jenn,

    Your title made it a no-brainer to read and comment on your post this week. 😉

    Wendell Berry is an excellent choice to bring into conversation with Polanyi. Both of them would agree that commodification of land, labour, and money is the downside of the free market economy.

    My favourite book of Berry’s is Jayber Crow. It’s the story of a man who runs a barber shop in a small town, and how one’s character shapes other relationships around him. Think on this:

    “”In modern times much of the doing of the mighty has been the undoing of Port William and its kind,”” Crow reflects–a reflection, too, of Berry’s often-stated beliefs that salvation must be local, that rootlessness and a fixation on the postindustrial era’s bright new toys will destroy us environmentally and economically.” (From Publisher’s Weekly, https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-58243-029-4)

    In your work as a missionary, you have the opportunity to dial it down to the grassroots, and to humbly and gently lead through your relationships and through your embeddedness in your quartier. Working bivocationally, this becomes even more powerful because you are also providing a tangible service/product in and for the community.

  7. Greg says:

    Jenn,

    First of all, I agree with Mark. Your title made me laugh…so I had to read your blog.

    I appreciate your honest approach to this (these) book(s). I have felt a little challenged by them as well. We deal in the practical side of ministry everyday and sometime can think we are wasting our time (and brain power) theorizing and researching. I know intellectually this can help in the long run but we still can get bogged down with the here and now. You ask a great question on how all that we have studied and read impact each other and how (ultimately) it will change us and the ministry that God has us involved in. I don’t have any answers but learning to be a good student means we learn to ask better questions rather than have all the answers. Thanks again Jenn.

  8. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jenn! Your title sucked me in! When you ask…How do we resist the temptation to produce work that will get us a degree but make no real, valuable contribution to the Kingdom of God? It’s personal integrity! Caring enough about your ministry problem that you sincerely search for a solution! A faith that won’t let you “just get a degree”. You are an amazing researcher with an amazing heart. Does your research connect at all with economics?

  9. david says:

    Thank you, Jenn!

    I think a lot of us reading your post were resonating with what you wrote. Especially about asking the questions that burn in your heart and mind, that motivate your ministry, and that show up in your research. Maybe this book wasn’t the one that will make a big mark on your final dissertation or project, but I kind of think about this as part of our larger project of being formed as people who can move and operate within the wider world, with a certain set of information and understanding in hand. I think you are right where you are meant to be, engaging these kinks of books (and theories and histories, etc), but always with an eye toward the question, “so what?” And “what does this mean for my ministry and research?” Keep at it.

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