Sailing as a spiritual metaphor requires that we learn to know the Wind and discern its characteristics. In other words, if we commit ourselves and our team to a greater dependency on the Spirit of God to guide and empower our service, we need to grow in our ability to hear and understand Him. Someone called my attention recently to a book titled ‘Pursuing God’s Will Together’, by Ruth H. Barton. I believe this book can be practically helpful to you and your agency.

A friend sent me an article that reflects a “sailing” approach to evangelism. The author uses a different metaphor (fishing), he makes a good case that evangelism is a community affair. I recommend it.



Recently Paul McKaughan wrote a paper on metrics and control that I think fits the purpose of our sailing friends blog. The paper is rather long so I am adding it to the Papers & Reports page. Let me just give you some sample statements from the paper, so you have an idea of Paul’s thinking:

“What you measure you become” [by Paul McKaughan]

Jim is a technological, creative and networking genius. His track record of effective innovation is stellar. He is way out in front of most mission types I know. From Jim, this affirmation, delivered with great vehemence, blew me away.

That statement has an ominous, inevitability to it. It sure got me thinking about how we use metrics and the impact they have on us. Is that statement even true, do we become what we measure? Throughout my whole missionary career I have been an advocate for metrics in missions. Faith Goals have been a big discipline and huge motivator in my life. Have I somehow missed the downside of measurement?


Author Nicholas Eberstadt nailed the contemporary society we see all around us when he says, “Though he may not always recognize his bondage, modern man lives under a tyranny of numbers.” In insisting on numerical evaluation are we being shaped by our society’s “bondage” to numbers? This tyranny is derived from the belief that numbers are concrete and exact rather than relative representations of movement or scale. Another wise man affirmed. “What you measure becomes important, but it may not be significant.”


Some time ago I came on a quote about metrics that convicted me. It sadly rings true in my personal experience.

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” –H. James Harrington

The desire for control over a very complex set of realities resides deep in the heart of most leaders. We want to manage well the resources God has placed in our care. In our most honest moments we are uneasy with how little we really do control as leaders. Metrics promise to give us leverage with the people we are supposed to be managing. The desire to establish corporate accountability and organizational discipline can pander to that deep-seated felt need to be in control. Using metrics to meet our fleshly need to feel in control can make us oppressors rather than enablers, overlords rather than servants. The unforeseen consequences of measurement can shape who we are becoming as people.

See McKhaughan’s full document in Papers & Reports.

Enjoy the reading.


I met Anna Marie Brucker recently at the Engage consultation in Chicago. She has written on a new model for missions funding that I believe has much promise, and have engaged in a forum she has initiated on the topic. Recently she sent the link to a devotional she wrote in March that speaks to the sailboat metaphor, and is included here in case you wish to read it.

I also recommend you check out the discussion in her Basecamp web site:

Alex Araujo

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine is a most compelling article: “The Black Swan of Cairo: How Suppressing Volatility Makes the World Less Predictable and More Dangerous,” by By Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Blyth.

The beginning of this article reads as follows:

Why is surprise the permanent condition of the U.S. political and economic elite? In 2007-8, when the global financial system imploded, the cry that no one could have seen this coming was heard everywhere, despite the existence of numerous analyses showing that a crisis was unavoidable. It is no surprise that one hears precisely the same response today regarding the current turmoil in the Middle East. The critical issue in both cases is the artificial suppression of volatility — the ups and downs of life — in the name of stability. It is both misguided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability “tail risks” to disappear from policymakers’ fields of observation. What the world is witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.

Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policymakers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite. These artificially constrained systems become prone to “Black Swans” — that is, they become extremely vulnerable to large-scale events that lie far from the statistical norm and were largely unpredictable to a given set of observers.

Such environments eventually experience massive blowups, catching everyone off-guard and undoing years of stability or, in some cases, ending up far worse than they were in their initial volatile state. Indeed, the longer it takes for the blowup to occur, the worse the resulting harm in both economic and political systems.

As I read this article, I was thinking a lot about the sailboat paradigm and cross-cultural partnerships in the global Body of Christ. There must be some overlaps, some lessons for for followers of Christ, I mused. Here are a few thoughts that attempt to describe some of those overlaps:

1) The article claims that the practice of artificially creating stability, hiding the risks, suppressing volatility in the geopolitical realm ends up creating greater risk and significantly more danger.

Likewise, Christians in cross-cultural partnerships sometimes try to create artificial stability by rigid systems that do not account for the vulnerabilities that exist in the majority world. They often end up with more risk, not less … greater disappointment, and greater potential for broken relationships.

2) In the geopolitical realm, the need for predictability is tantamount to the need for control.

Likewise, western Christian partners sometimes live out this bias for control and end up feeling “burned” when things end in disappointment or failure; they may assume the partnership failed because they could not control it. But the answer is not in having greater control, but in submitting ourselves to, and cooperating with, the sovereign Lord, the Wind of the Holy Spirit, who sees the end from the beginning and is Lord of all members of the partnership.

3) “Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface.”

Likewise, cross-cultural partnership practitioners should recognize that our efforts in Christian cross-cultural collaboration are truly complex systems with many silent risks. This should increase our dependence on God, motivate us to improve our cross-cultural relationship-building skills, and make us more open to honest critique that exposes the hidden risks. A non-defensive openness to critique, though rare, can be our privilege as we sail together inside of that realm we call the grace of God.

I have heard from expert sailors that the silent risks inherent in sailing are enormous. For example, the tides and currents which vary by the season … the weather which can change silently, abruptly … these are two that come to mind.

To artificially suppress the knowledge of the volatility of the currents or the weather would be unthinkable to a wise and experienced sailor. Rather, the expert sailor is bluntly honest, profoundly humble, alert and wise about all of the risks—and able to navigate an incredibly complex system in cooperation with the wind.

Expert sailing is required in volatile times.

I read the following comment from Martha Giltinan in a different forum, and think it shows the widespread awareness that we need to return to a sailing paradigm. With Martha’s permission I reproduce it unedited below.

Alex Araujo
Comment by Martha Giltinan:

So–the trouble with “vulnerable mission” for Americans in particular is
that it forces us to contend with the very core of our distorted
Individualist/superhero DNA–everything in us that wants to save the day, to
fix the problem to make a difference and to be in control.

To enter such work we must lay aside our goals, objectives, visions, time
lines, back up plans, contacts, libraries, expertise…It’s work that will
require us to become invisible–to relinquish recognition, credit, acclaim,
approval, reward….We’d have to be complete fools to enter such work!!

Indeed, such fools who would follow the “loser” on the Cross who laid aside
his glory that we might know his love.

Who, in the words of Paul to the Phillipians “did not count equality with God (& absudly we Westerners really
do think ourselves in this spot!!) a thing to be grasped, but emptied
himself, (oh, how our greedy & anxious nature abhors a vaccuum!!!)
-taking the form of a servant ( but we are trained from birth to “take charge” to be
“masters of our fate” to more “softly” be “transformational leaders” ugh.)
-being born in human likeness (anything but that!!)…..humbled himself and
became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Nuff said. Just, don’t GO there, right??? But then again…. what is
this walking death we’re trudging thru which we call life and yet which only
looks like……..?

The sailing metaphor seeks to describe how paradigms shape behavior, even when people want to do it differently. One reason paradigms are so powerful to make us do what we don’t want to do is that we are unaware of them.

A friend sent me this simple but effective little article on how paradigms are formed. I think you will like it, even if you don’t agree with its conclusions. If you want to see it, just click the link below.

PS: The author is unknown, according to a web search.

A response to Roger Parrott and Alex Araujo from Mark Oxbrow

As someone who listened to Roger opening the Lausanne Forum in Pattaya in 2004, although there I was part of a different issue group on Partnership and Collaboration, and then having the privilege in 2008 of being in the ‘Global Dialogue’ group at the WEA Mission Commission when Alex made his presentation, I have been prompted to make the following observations.

A word first on perspectives. I write as a British Christian who was brought to faith by an Ethiopian many years ago. Having worked for twenty years as a director of one of the most traditional mission agencies (CMS in the UK) I now have the privilege of coordinating a small network of mission agencies that come out of five different continents and several different Christian traditions. What I write now can only come out of that background.

Beginning with Brendan

Saint Brendan of Clonfert (c.484 – c.577), called “the Navigator” or “the Voyager” was one of the early Irish monks best known for his legendary quest for the “Isle of the Blessed”, taking dozens of his monks onto the Atlantic ocean in small corricles with the smallest of sails – totally at the mercy of God. Traditionally this was his prayer:

Whatever we make of these early Christian traditions, Brendan’s prayer strikes me as an excellent guide for all who set out in mission placing themselves at the ‘mercy’ of the wind of God. I have special reason to be grateful to Brendon and his monks as they brought the gospel to northern Britain many years before the better known St. Augustine landed in my home country!

Power dynamics

As most of us agreed in Pattaya, I find the comparison of power boats and sail boats, used by Roger and Alex very helpful, and I’m not sure how well many have listened to the strong challenge Roger gave us almost five years ago. I still see a lot of new power boats being built and others being patched up, refuelled, and polished. I also see many many sail boats, some of them as small and fragile as Brendan’s coracle, being set adrift in choppy water. The risk is that some of our power boats are so noisy and create such a splash that we will not see the sail boats and risk running right over them.

Years ago I was a sailing instructor myself and I used to love showing young people how much power there is unseen ‘in the air’ even on a day which doesn’t feel windy. But without a sail you cannot ‘see’ that power and so it is not surprising that so many people choose the power boat option.

I am not so certain as Alex (at least appears to be) that the power boat paradigm is exclusive to the Global North, nor that we find no sail boats in the North. In very general terms there may be some truth in this but I have seen quite a few power boats cruising across Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as some very fragile missionary sail boats in the very choppy waters of post-Christendom, secularised Europe. I think the issue of ‘alternative energy’ – seeing the wind and learning how to accept His power – is a critical one for all of us. In a paper which Duncan Olumbe (of Mission Together Africa) contributed to Connections some time back, called Dancing a Different Dance, he issued a strong warning to Global South leaders not to copy the ‘dance of the North’; and we Northerners have to be honest and admit that it can be quite flattering when Southern Christians imitate and adopt our (deeply flawed) methodologies. Being imitated empowers the one who is copied!

Almost all directions are possible!

Roger admits in his address that he is not a sailor and so I do not hesitate to correct him! Discussing his first benchmark on ‘unwavering trust’ he suggests that “you only go where the wind allows you to go”. In a literal sense this is true but in fact, at least in a modern sail boat, you can travel in almost every direction as shown here. (The only way you cannot go is directly into the wind.) This ‘all directions are possible’ insight helps me to see that the relationship I have with the ‘wind of God’ is far more dynamic than just being blown about (as might have happened to Brendan’s monks). In other words I have the capacity to use the power of the wind to reach a range of destinations which I can choose. I think what this means for mission is that we need to have an attitude of ‘working with’ the wind of God rather than being simply ‘blown along by’ that wind. But I also believe that the direction of the wind also normally indicates the direction we are most likely to be called to adopt.

Another interesting thing about sailing is that ‘close hauled’ on a tack heading almost directly ‘against’ the wind is when you feel you are going fastest – the boat is heeled over, everything is taught and the water rushes past noisily. In fact you are making very little progress. When you are ‘running’ with the wind everything is peaceful, the boat is upright and the water is silent and it can feel as if you are hardly moving at all. In fact this is the fastest direction of travel. The lessons for mission are, I suspect, obvious.

One final sailing lesson – the jibe! When you are ‘running’ with the wind and everything is at its most peaceful you are at the greatest risk of breaking the mast (and your neck if it gets in the way). A slight change in the wind can bring the boom (at the base of the sail) crashing through 180 degrees from one side of the boat to the other. A jibe, uncontrolled by a watchful sailor who instantly hauls in the ropes, can snap the strongest mast. How many of us have also experienced this lesson in mission – powering along with the wind behind us, God’s blessing full in our sails, and then suddenly ……… !

Fleet Sailing

It strikes me that the questions we really need to address in our Global Dialogue are about fleet sailing, something not unfamiliar to Jesus on Lake Galilee where we learn it was not uncommon for one boat to call to another for assistance. We might also want to address the question of mixed fleets – power and sail. I propose to do this by now returning to the five issue groupings that Paul helped us to identify towards the end of our time together in Pattaya and which form the basis of our group report. In the second part of this paper I also want to be more practical in addressing possible ways forward.

1. Personal Issues

I would suggest that we might want to rename this section ‘Cross-Cultural discipleship’ (as I saw it helpfully recently, ‘Cross-culture discipleship’). For me the key point here is the fifth bullet point, “Deepening a Biblical understanding of ethnicity, race, unity and diversity”, especially unity and diversity.

As an Evangelical I can say that we Evangelicals often have a real problem with diversity and hence with unity. If there is the slightest tension over theology (or more often personality!) we plant a new church! We need to take seriously the fact that (a) the God whom we worship maintains perfect unity whilst finding expression through the dynamic relationship of three distinct persons; and (b) humanity from the start knew division between husband and wife (as Adam accused Eve) and hunter and cultivator (when Cain murdered Abel); yet our destiny is to be united – every tribe, nation and tongue – around the throne of God (Revelation).

Miroslav Volf once said provocatively, “When I stand lost in worship before the throne of His grace, I will not notice whether the hands I hold are black or white, leprous or manicured, or belong to a gay man or my worst enemy”. Worship makes us blind to difference. The deeper point of Revelation, as emphasised by Andrew Walls, is, however, that for the worship of God to be complete it is required that all nations, tribes and tongues be there. Our worship of God is not complete without all these others.

So how do we move forward on this practically? As a start I have found Duane Elmer’s book Cross-cultural servanthood helpful. Relationships are key here and for them there is no ‘quick fix’. I have learnt how to relate cross-culturally not just from books but from the ‘school of mistakes’ in which gracious sisters and brothers have offered me their forgiveness and a hand of fellowship. One thing we can all do is to help others in our ministries and churches to build these difficult relationships, to make mistakes, and to put on the bandages and press on. In our discussions we mentioned some of the key things here:

• Trust
• Humility
• Realistic expectations
• Transparency
• Identity in Christ (not ethne)
• Security in Christ
• Openness and risk taking
• Reflecting on my own culture

I wonder whether there are a few ways in which we could begin to sponsor personnel exchanges between our churches and agencies/networks which would help to build these stronger relationships.

2. Issues within our different North/South communities

One issue we can work on here, and join others who are already working, is to redress the balance in mission biography. We all know that ‘stories’, and especially the stories of how God has used others in mission, act as major motivators for new generations. Those stories also shape our missionary paradigms.

As I travel around the world I am not too surprised to find British Christians still reading the stories of David Livingstone, and Americans who are motivated by reading Jungle Pilot (the biography of Nate Saint), but what does worry me is the fact that African and Asian Christians are often reading the same stories. Of course the stories (witness) of African, Asian and Latin American missionaries, of past centuries and this, are equally powerful and motivating and, more importantly, would shape different missionary paradigms, but they are not told often enough.

Publications like the Dictionary of African Christian biography are beginning to address this need but much more needs to be done – especially in turning these biographies into African/Asia/L.American missionary paradigms which can be practically adopted in the appropriate parts of the world. (To hold on to our earlier analogy this is about making sure we do not try to sail up narrow river creeks with ocean going catamarans.)

Another issue here, which received a lot of attention in Pattaya, is our own attitudes to financial resources. I am becoming more and more convinced that we get into problems over finances when we relate to each other because we struggle with how to use money as a Christian within our own culture. It’s an age old problem – why did Jesus talk more about money than sex? If I always use the word ‘poor’ to refer to my financial condition rather than by family relations, health or spiritual state then my view of whether my Asian sister is ‘wealthy’ or ‘poor’ is always going to be distorted. Can we as a group work on a biblical (missional?) understanding of wealth and wealth sharing?

3. Issues Concerning active collaboration

I will keep this section short because it is the one I am tempted to write most on – it is my day-to-day work as the coordinator of an international multi-cultural, multi-denominational network and I could write books, not paragraphs, on this one. Thankfully I don’t need to write the books because others have done it. Two I commend are Phill Butler’s Well Connected and Lianne Roembke’s Building Credible Multicultural Teams. I am aware that one of these books is by an American and the other by a European – what are Asians, Africans and Latin Americans writing on this topic?

Of key important here I would list:

• Trust building
• Trust maintenance
• Trust restoration
• Shared discipleship (esp. prayer)
• Shared expectations
• Transparency – about power & money
• Achievable objectives
• Care with language
• Celebrating others’ achievements
• Understanding leadership models
• Evaluate competition
• Be generous with time

There are a lot of resources out there to help us with these issues (PowerofConnecting, VisionSynergy, etc.) and we need to make good use of these without trying to reinvent the wheel.

4. Contextual Issues

Again a lot of work is taking place in this area but sadly Evangelicals are not always as ready, and Biblically equipped, to address these issues as some of our Liberal colleagues who rapidly get lost in syncretism, and plain woolly thinking!

There is much hermeneutical work to be done here and it will often be best done by the ‘serving missionary’ than by the academic who only visits or learns second-hand. An issue for us as churches and missions is whether we are so ‘activist’ and so focused on ‘getting the task done’ that we fail to give some of our best missionaries the encouragement, space, time and resources to do deeply Biblical contextual reflection on the mission issues they face. I have met too many retired missionaries who have finally got round to some reflection and who say, “If only I had taken a year out to do this thirty years ago.”

It was in this section that the Pattaya group picked up on the issue of ‘informal’ or ‘non-intentional’ missionaries. My hero Rowland Allen of course wrote on the ‘de-professionalisation’ of the ministry (including missionary work) a century ago but we still have a lot to learn. I have a small contribution on this issue in my article in the January edition of Lausanne World Pulse.

5. Training Issues

As a former sailing instructor (much out of practice now) I know the key importance of training. (I was horrified to hear Roger Parrott say he took his wife on the ocean with no instruction at all!) All training must be appropriate to the context, the student and the trainer and must contain an element of ‘life-long-learning’.

I have been privileged to work a little in recent years with secular trainers in the UK who adopt a ‘systemics’ approach to learning and talk a lot about the ‘learning company’ or the ‘learning hospital’. There is not space to go in to all of that now but I have been helped by their thesis that each of us constructs meaning out of every event, every human interaction, and that these meanings then begin to build up into a whole system of meaning which eventual, shapes the way we act and relate. These meaning may not be ‘true’ but they become true for us and exert their power on us.

If I can try to illustrate this from our context ………
Reuben does not respond when I send him this document, although I see he replied to Russ and Alex. Meaning Reuben is not interested in what I have to say. (Not true – he was just busy, but I construct another meaning!) Reuben proposes a tele-conference call and then chooses a date when I am not free. Meaning Reuben really doesn’t value my input. (Not true – it just happened to be the date most people could make, but my earlier experience reinforces my constructed meaning.)

After that call Russ sends me an email which thanks me for my contribution but disagrees with one point in my document. Meaning, ‘they’ probably talked ‘about’ me on the tele-conference call and decided they didn’t really want me in the group. (Not true, but that’s my meaning.) Result – I act on the meaning I have made and withdraw from the group.

These challenges of confused meaning are even greater across cultural divides. Mary of the solution is a commitment to processes of corporate meaning making, learning from each other, review and reflection.

I wonder whether we can in some way begin to build these concepts of corporate meaning making and living as a ‘learning mission community’ in to our interactions as a global community of churches and agencies/movements in mission?

Mark Oxbrow
February 2009

Tim Laniak offers the following reflection on Jonah that I find relevant to our sailing discussion. You will find more by Laniak at

One of the common topics discussed among Christian leaders is “calling.” The Bible uses a variety of examples to illustrate the diversity of ways God calls people – from the dramatic burning bushes and Damascus roads to the normal process of selecting people of character and gifting as elders. The call is virtually always to a task of some sort.

Consequently we are prone to think of ourselves as accountable for “doing” God’s will and we focus our energies on our special assignments. The question of why God calls people is quickly answered in terms of the projects that we feel called to do.

But is that the only reason? Does God call us simply to get jobs done? I believe Jonah provides a fuller answer to the question.

The first three chapters make it clear that God does call people to do specific tasks. The book begins, “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it…” (Jonah 1:1-2; cf. 3:1-2). The first chapter makes it abundantly clear that running away from God’s calling isn’t worth it. The second chapter reveals a God who is willing to save a recalcitrant prophet and set him up for a “recall” in 3:1.

One certainly gets the impression that God is intent on getting this prophet to obey. The most obvious reason is to give the Ninevites an opportunity to hear the word of judgment. When they do hear this word, there is city-wide penitence led by the pagan king. … And, as we know, the God of Israel did respond to their repentance with his own change of heart (3:10).

If the story of Jonah ended here, we would have a fabulous Old Testament story of God’s calling, a hesitant but ultimately obedient prophet, and the saving of many Gentile lives. And it is all about these topics to be sure.

But there is a fourth chapter in Jonah that focuses our attention on the heart of the prophet from Israel. Jonah is “greatly displeased” and “angry” (v. 1; cf. vv. 4, 9). The reason? He knew that Yahweh would be a “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 2). Watching God’s pity for the Ninevites was so abhorrent to Jonah that he wanted to die (vv. 3, 9).

To give Jonah some credit, the Assyrians (whose capital was Nineveh) formed the most malicious empire that the world had seen. … The Assyrian boot was moving closer to Israel during the eighth century and would, after Jonah’s time, destroy the Northern Kingdom and most of Judah. It would have been a hope and pleasure for any Israelite to see divine justice executed on this ruthless enemy.

However, God was intent on showing mercy to the Ninevites, and, in the process, teaching Jonah a personal lesson. To get at the prophet, God incites his emotions. He causes a plant to grow up and provide shade for him, only then to have it wither. A scorching east wind from the desert (still feared in Bible lands today) pushes him further toward his anger and death wish (vv. 8-9).

Having Jonah’s emotional attention, God then asks him a rhetorical question with which the book ends: “You have been concerned about this vine, thought you did not tend it or make it grow…But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?!” (vv. 10-11).

The fourth chapter of Jonah reveals a God not only with a mission to the Ninevites, but also a mission to his prophet. Jonah needed to be rescued from a hollow orthodoxy. He was glad to repeat the familiar words from Exodus 34:6-7 (in v. 2) which articulated God’s amazing mercy when Israel had sinned at the foot of Mt. Sinai. But he couldn’t bear the thought of God being merciful to others who were also sinful. This was serious enough for God to discipline his messenger.

God’s mission to the prophet seems, in the end, more difficult than his mission to the pagans. The eager repentance of the Ninevites in chapter 3 echoes the willingness of the sailors in chapter 1 to sacrifice to Yahweh. These two instances of turning to the Lord are silent witnesses against the Jonah whose answer to the final question is never heard.

Let me summarize what I believe this little book has to offer us on the topic of calling. God doesn’t need messengers or “mailmen.” If he did, the book of Jonah would have three chapters, and the rest of us could go on in an unqualified obsession with what we do for God.

Put differently, God doesn’t need our help; he needs our hearts. Of course, humans have been delegated great responsibilities with eternal significance. Genesis 1-2 make that patently clear. But, like any parent asking children to do chores, God can get things done much more efficiently without us – if all he wants is getting jobs done.

To state this all more theologically: Service is the forum for our sanctification. God uses ministry to get a hold of our hearts and conform them to his own. This is the ultimate, though most subtle, reason for our calling.  We serve not only to get things done for others but, at least as importantly, for God to get things done inside us.

The book of Jonah uses a Hebrew word for God’s activity (manah) to show his sovereignty over the elements of nature: He “appointed” a fish, a gourd, a worm, and the wind. These various forces in Jonah’s life are mobilized to create a learning moment for the prophet. The question is, Will he “get it”? Will the stirring of his own passions and the chaos in his life help him existentially comprehend the doctrine lodged exclusively in his head?

God works holistically with Jonah because the divine agenda goes below the neck. Will you care about others more than yourself? Our calling to service will relentlessly drive us to this question.

And the divine Example will be waiting for our answer.

Note: This is a revision of the posting by Jon Lewis and Werner Mischke on February 9, 2010.
A PDF of this article may be downloaded by clicking here.

After a recent discussion here at our Partners International office about the Sailboat-Powerboat metaphor, I came away with a troubled feeling about how this illustration is being understood. My sense was that different people are interpreting the metaphor from different contexts leading to misunderstanding of each other’s points of view.

It is sometimes argued that the sailboat paradigm is clearly the “right” perspective and the powerboat the “wrong” one—a “right/wrong” view. I propose that in taking a “right/wrong” view one is thinking of the metaphor exclusively in terms of the spiritual dimension—relating to the degree of one’s dependence versus independence toward God—and emphasizing that dependence on God is healthy, biblical—right.

Could it be there is also a “both-and” view—with which to recognize the spiritual, and additionally, the cultural dimension, of the powerboat/sailboat metaphor? Could it be that a multi-dimensional perspective enhances the metaphor’s clarity and usability?

While I appreciate and respect the vital spiritual context of the powerboat/sailboat metaphor, I also understand the metaphor from a cultural context. For example, I view the powerboat and sailboat paradigms as primary features, respectively, of the cultures of the Global North (the West) and the Global South (non-West.) Generally speaking, the Global North has a culture that is more task-oriented, more “powerboat” in its cultural expression—while the Global South is more relationship-oriented, more “sailboat” in its cultural expression. Moreover, I believe Christians possessing either cultural style can be healthy and biblical.

In looking back over the various blogs and conversations on this metaphor, it appears to me that many others have been mixing these two different contexts—spiritual and cultural. The result is that there has been an overall “muddiness” to the discussion about the metaphor, leading some to question if the metaphor is useful at all.

My proposition is that both the spiritual and the cultural aspects of the powerboat/sailboat metaphor have validity, but they must be separated in order to understand the metaphor’s pragmatic value to cross-cultural partnership ministry. When these continuums—spiritual and cultural—are separated, I propose that the cultural continuum is morally neutral while the spiritual continuum is not morally neutral. This is represented by the diagram below:

The powerboat-sailboat continuum—viewed culturally—is morally neutral. The powerboat-sailboat continuum—viewed spiritually—is not morally neutral.

Having defined two different continuums, I suggest we think about them as two interrelated dimensions. To illustrate this, let’s put them both into a two-dimensional diagram with the cultural continuum on the vertical axis and the spiritual continuum on the horizontal axis (as shown below). This allows us to discuss some practical implications. Here is my attempt at that—with the caveat that these are extremely broad generalizations.


  1. The Global North has a cultural style and worldview that is somewhere in Quadrant I. Our “rugged individualism” hinders us from living in dependence on God’s Spirit day-by-day—while our industrial/technology heritage enhances our ability to control outcomes and accomplish more through a “task-oriented” approach to life and problem solving. I‘ll label the typical starting position on the chart for the Global North as “N1.”
  2. The Global South has much more of a relational cultural style and worldview. They experience more vulnerability and embrace flexibility due to circumstances and situations over which they have little or no control. Therefore, their relational approach to life and problem solving puts them in the lower half of the chart. However, Global South people can also tend toward independence from God, though probably differently and not to the same extent as those of us in the Global North. I’ll label this starting point in Quadrant III for the Global South as “S1.”
  3. The Global North has a need to learn greater dependence on God’s Spirit as opposed to using self or secular management approaches to determining Truth. Therefore, in general, it has a need of moving rightwards on the chart. It also has a need to be much more sensitive to relationships and not always so intensely goal- and task-oriented. So it also could use moving downward on the chart as well. However, the Global North has a huge and rich heritage of learning how to get things done, so I think it would be wrong for it to totally give up its understanding of strategic planning, etc., and demand that it live only in a Quadrant IV worldview. I suggest a good ending point for the Global North would be the lower part of Quadrant II—“N2.”
  4. The Global South also has need of learning greater dependence on God’s Spirit as a primary guiding force. It, too, can use movement to the right on the chart. It could also benefit greatly from learning something about the Global North’s experience in management practices and goal orientation. Therefore some upward movement is also appropriate. Its ending point could then be in the upper part of Quadrant IV—“S2.”

My conclusion is that the new positions of N2 and S2 now describe a position for truly healthy cross-cultural partnerships. By both being sensitive to God’s Spirit (the same Spirit for each!) and both bringing to the table the value of their heritage cultural styles, (task- and relationship-orientation, respectively), there is the potential for new synergy that can produce greater effectiveness. It is from this position of N2 that I would hope Partners International is interacting and working together with its ministry partners from the Global South who, in turn, have learned from our partnership, how to end up at S2.

My hope is that by combining both the cultural and spiritual dimensions of the sailboat/powerboat metaphor in this manner, we can clarify our dialog and extract a richer understanding from it—to configure our global partnerships for even greater impact for God’s Kingdom.

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Jon Lewis is President/CEO of Partners International, Spokane, Washington  /
Werner Mischke is Executive VP of Mission ONE, Scottsdale, Arizona  /