Looking for Mic-Drop Methods in Missions

by Craig Thompson on October 24, 2016

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I don’t much trust stories that end with “And they all lived happily ever after.” That’s because experience has taught me that princes often turn out to be less than charming and fairy-tale princesses turn out to be, well, only in fairy tales. Of course, we don’t hear “happily ever after” a lot any more, not because we no longer hope for happy endings, but because our vocabulary has changed. Now, we’re more apt to end our stories with something more modern, more definitive, more in your face . . . something more like a mic drop. You know, that’s where you extend your arm and let your live microphone fall to the floor. It’s an exclamation mark with attitude. It’s the walk-off home run of speech making and story telling. It’s “Game over.” It’s “‘Nuf said.” It’s . . . “Boom!”

When it comes to mission work, are you looking for a method that will produce a mic-drop moment? Are you in search of a fool-proof plan that is the perfect answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” Are you hoping for a newsletter story that emphatically tells how you’ve unlocked the secret to soul-winning?

I don’t much trust those stories either.

And that’s because when it comes to mission strategies, after the boom of the microphone hitting the floor, you can expect some kind of a bounce and a clatter and a roll. Those are simply the sounds of real life.

If you’ve been in missions for any time at all, you’ve seen an array of new models for planting churches, presenting the gospel cross culturally, meeting physical needs, engaging people groups, and the like. Some are tweaks to what’s been done before, some are overhauls, some are complete changes of priorities. Some are touted as the new way, some as the purely biblical way, some as the best way, some as the only way.

You and your group may be on the cutting edge of the next big thing, or you may feel as if you’re playing catch up, always late to the party (or conference workshop, as it were). And what about you individually? Did you welcome the last big thing with open arms, or did it leave you saying, “Here we go again”?

In the field of marketing, there’s a lot of talk about the difference between trends and fads. Simply put, trends last, fads don’t. Trends are fads that have staying power. Fads are trends that fizzle out. The trouble is, it’s hard to predict which is which. It’s only in hindsight that we can know for sure. The field of missions isn’t marketing—though following marketing models has become something of a trend lately. (Or is it a fad?) But we, too, want to be able to discern between what will make a long-term impact and what will turn out to be a flavor of the day.

I remember sitting in a meeting several years ago, discussing with coworkers the direction we wanted to go in. Our main topic was a popular book that was making waves in the waters of church planting. I asked if what the book was presenting was a fad. The consensus was no, but with an air of (possibly too much) contrariness, I answered my own question with a yes; I thought it would indeed be a fad. It wasn’t because I thought the principles in the book would be short lived—I actually believed in what it was saying, and still do. It’s because I thought that if we weren’t careful, we, as part of the larger missionary community, would make it into a fad. We’d soon be moving on to a new book and a new method, with a catchy new title and new acronym. We’d soon be chasing something that we hoped would bring quicker and better results.

And that brings me back to that mic-drop thing.

If you are expecting to find the ultimate, never-fail, one-size-fits-all strategy, you are bound to be disappointed.

All of our efforts will not end with us dropping the microphone and walking dramatically away. So we need to be ready when the mic rattles into a heating vent and our feet get tangled in the cord. (Shouldn’t we be using cordless mics by now?) But all is not lost. Of course, all is not lost. That’s just the nature of ministry. When that happens, we shouldn’t throw up our hands in defeat because our version is messier than the case studies we’ve read. There are so many factors at play when it comes to effective ministry: prayer and God’s response to it, our own strengths and weaknesses, political situations, the uniqueness of our target cultures and the individual people in them. It’s simply too much to expect one plan to have all the answers.

Now I may sound as if I’m against change, saying stick with what you’re doing, no matter what. But that’s not my message. If what you’re doing isn’t right and true for you where you are, then you should change course. But if it is right and true, then don’t jump to something else just because the results haven’t matched your expectations. Keep moving forward as best you can, prayerfully evaluating and adjusting as you go.

If I could stretch this metaphor further, I think that we’re misusing the microphone if we just use it to announce our victories before we walk off the stage. Instead, we should pass the mic around. We need to share honestly and openly with each other about the full range of our experiences, our ministry successes and failures. There’s much to be learned from both. If we only report the highs without the lows, the two steps forward without the one or two or three steps back, then we contribute to other’s discouragement, and we miss opportunities to get the input and help that is so necessary.

We need to hear from the researchers and strategists and from the people who are putting ideas into practice. We need to listen to the fresh perspectives of new workers as well as the viewpoints of those with years of experience on the ground. Wisdom comes from many sources.

And, oh yeah, we need to listen to the nationals around us, with whom we’re sharing life day to day. Their viewpoints are invaluable as we shape and reshape our methods. They are the ones who might take the mic with unsteady hands and speak in soft, unscripted voices. But we need to hear their truths. They are where the plans come alive, in ways that can be messy and complicated and unpredictable . . . and glorious. Such is life. Such is ministry.

[photo: “Mic,” by Robert Bejil, used under a Creative Commons license]

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About Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.
  • Thank you for this! I really appreciate your distinctions between trends and fads, and we daily experience the messiness of ministry! Just recently I was pushed into a particular ministry because of need, availability, and experience. But it isn’t my idea or what I thought I wanted to do. Bug our national team told me it is the ‘most important ministry’ I can do; your last paragraph was encouraging to hear and convicting to my attitude!

    • Craig Thompson

      Thanks, Jennifer. That last paragraph is something I could have done more of when I was serving overseas. Glad you’re able to do it now.

  • Steve Colby

    Yes!! “If you are expecting to find the ultimate, never-fail, one-size-fits-all strategy, you are bound to be disappointed.” Very helpful and very true! Thanks Craig for your insight and the great metaphor of the mic-drop. Ah, it would be so much easier if we could just bottle it and sell it. But where would the faith-stretching challenge be in that?.

    • Craig Thompson

      Thanks, Steve, for adding to the conversation. (If you ever do bottle it up, please send me a review sample – for free – and I’ll write about it here.)

  • “The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a farmer plants a mustard seed in a field. Although
    it is the smallest of all seeds, it grows larger than any garden plant and becomes a tree. Birds even come and nest on its branches.” (Matt 13:31-32)
    Isn’t a fad pretty much the opposite of a mustard seed in that it starts out big then shrinks? Thank you for this article. It’s a reminder to me that I need to stay with Jesus’ understanding of his Kingdom and how it grows.

    • Craig Thompson

      I appreciate your comment, Ed. Jesus has much better metaphors than I do. Thank -you- for the reminder.

      • My purpose was to reinforce, nor replace. Jesus used the metaphor of his day, you are using a metaphor from our day. Good for you.

        • Craig Thompson

          That’s exactly how I took your comment. Thanks for the affirmation.

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