“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything,
but only God who gives the growth.”
(1 Corinthians 3:6–7 ESV)

The Bible teaches that when it comes to spiritual fruit, “God gives the growth.” But with our modern management orientation in Christian ministry, we often think we can control outcomes. This is understandable because of the secular environment in which we live in the west; but is it biblical?

In early September I attended a small gathering of mission leaders for a “Sailboat Retreat” during which we compared the powerboat mindset with the sailboat mindset—and what it could mean for Christian mission ministry. One of the things we discussed is that money is very often a controlling force in ministry. As a result, fundraising is what often shapes ministry. This can be quite unhealthy, an example of “the tail wagging the dog.”

In keeping with the sailboat theme of “catching the wind of God”—one of the things we considered in our sailboat retreat is this idea: Instead of having money as the single greatest catalyst for ministry, what if that catalyst was simply listening—listening to God and listening to people?

To make this contrast clear, take a look at two “formulas” for ministry. With the “powerboat” formula for Christian mission, the catalyst is money:

Money drives ministry for results

Money drives ministry for results

  • Money drives the process; no funding = no ministry = no results.
  • Money comes first; listening is sometimes optional and comes last.
  • Primary emphasis on fundraising and methods to raise money.
  • Western nations have more funds, therefore wealthy nations tend to control ministry.
  • Implies reliance on expensive structures, technology, “missions machinery.”
  • Money makes “mission” go fast.
  • Tremendous pressure on people for results—measurement of outcomes—in order to maintain funding. This shapes ministry strategy and reporting protocol.

With the “sailboat” formula for Christian mission, things are very different. The variables are the same, but the priorities are different. The catalyst is listening—to God and people.

Listening shapes ministry for faithfulness

Listening shapes ministry for faithfulness

  • Listening replaces money as the catalyst for global missions.
  • Listening comes first; money is sometimes optional and in balance with other priorities.
  • Primary emphasis on—listening to God—catching the wind of the Holy Spirit.
  • Implies a quantum leap by Christian mission leaders in the west relative to listening to Christian mission leaders in the global south—while at the same time adopting more of a servant role rather than a leadership role in missions.
  • Ministry can go forward without excessive reliance on funding.
  • Sometimes fast, sometimes slow; it depends on the wind of God.
  • Results are up to God, and can greatly exceed the plans of people, or not. Either one is okay, because God is in control. What is required is that God’s people be found faithful.

Obviously, there are generalizations involved in making formulas and it would be easy to critique specific pieces of the formulas above. Nevertheless, the point of this is to imagine: What would be different in your cross-cultural partnership, if you put listening ahead of funding? What if listening to God and to people was by far the most important, the most catalytic practice, in your cross-cultural partnership ministry—or any ministry, for that matter?

NOTE: This post is excerpted from a “A report on Catching the Wind of God—A Sailing Retreat: Contrasting the Powerboat and Sailboat mindset for leadership,” collated and edited by Alex Araujo and Werner Mischke. You may download a copy of this report by clicking here.

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