Pianos Aren’t in the Bible

by Angie Washington on December 12, 2012

You can find verses about stringed instruments. There’s stuff about joyful noises and music. But you go ahead and try to find mention of a piano in your bible. Not gonna happen, my friend.

Water purification systems aren’t in the bible either. Neither are AIDS prevention programs. Not a mention of slave trafficking awareness. You’re not going to see tent meeting crusades either. Other unmentioned activities: youth sports outreaches, bible smuggling, university campus bible studies, business as missions, and orphanages.

These are strategies developed towards a desired end. Is it okay that none of these things are strictly ‘biblical’? Must everything we do as missionaries be found bound in the bible? As providers of humanitarian aid must their be a touch of divinity mixed in with our humanity?

On his blog Seth Godin says,

“Non-profit failure is too rare, which means that non-profit innovation is too rare as well. Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don’t.”

Read the whole article here: ‘Non-profits have a charter to be innovators‘.

Then come back and chat about it. You can add your thoughts in the comments  below.

We are a strategic bunch of people. We push limits. We challenge. But do we fail enough?

Is “failure” actually a sign of effective ministry? How have you failed in your work in the last 3 months?

To further the discussion on the tension between validity and innovation:

  • As a missionary do you find yourself running tally marks on a mental spreadsheet to make sure your existence counts? How effective is this mentality?
  • As a humanitarian relief worker do you justify the dollars sustaining you by logging as many “wins” as you can? What would you do differently without performance pressure nagging you?
  • Where do we derive our validity as we work in our different fields?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie

photo credit: Ariana Terrence


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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
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  • Don’t you think you have to define what you mean by effective ministry, first?

    My definition might be different than yours which quite probably is different than how our partners/investors /supporters define effective ministry and that will certainly impact how “risky” one is willing, or even able, to be.

    We presently work with a group for whom good stewardship is an important priority… as it should be. My husband and I are inclined, however, to allow much less restricted access to our home, ministry tools, making them available to our indigenous colleagues and allowing them to increasingly assume responsibility for the ministry as we work ourselves out of a job to an extent that discomforts our colleagues. But that entails risk because that places some very expensive ministry tools in the hands of some who might be less careful with them. Both priorities are valid and that creates tension.

    For our colleagues, damage and destruction of those tools would be failure… For us, not allowing our national colleagues access and the possibility that from their perspective, they’ll figure out innovative ways to use those tools, ways that we’d never dream of and that have more cultural integrity than we could could ever concoct ourselves – to us, that equates a much greater failure.

    And as I type that out, it seems that for some, to risk and fail is the danger. For others to not try something new and innovative is what equals failure.

    Thanks for initiating such a thought provoking conversation, Angie.

    • Wow, Richelle– love this real life example from the field of “effective ministry”. Such a good point– so often I wonder if our definitions are just off, by Kingdom-standards, and that it taints our entire perception of how “well” we are “doing ministry.”

      Thanks, Angie– love your posts, as always!

      • Aw, you are welcome, my friend.

      • Laura, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I wish it were easier to simply live up to the Kingdom standard and let the rest fall where it may. It’s hard to draw that line between pleasing God and pleasing men, because as much as we say we shouldn’t be men-pleasers, a certain amount of it is necessary for survival.

    • Yes, I do think a definition of effective ministry is in order.

      Yesterday I gathered at a friend’s house. She had invited a few of us for coffee, sausage egg bake, and a mug exchange. We are a mish-mash missionary mamas working for a variety of organizations. I brought up what I had wrote here to get a face-to-face talk going. Our hostess shared that their field director drives her mad with ROI’s. She explained that he harps on the Return of Investment to calculate the effectiveness of their efforts by comparing monetary donations to whatever it is that he expects them to accomplish. She said it makes her blood boil every time he brings that up because she feels stifled and frustrated that she has to put a dollar amount on everything they do. Their family has been on the field for nearly a decade.

      You sum it up very nicely when you say, “For some, to risk and fail is the danger. For others to not try something new and innovative is what equals failure.” As a side note, do your colleagues read these posts? Ha! I am sure it is fine either way. Like you say: provoking conversation.

      Thanks for the comment, Richelle.

      • snort… don’t know if my colleagues read this, but we have discussed it face to face and i think while we may not agree, we do respect the other’s point of view… i think! 🙂

  • Amanda

    Back in May 2012 we felt the Lord prompting us to buy a local business he opened all the doors necessary and we stepped out in faith. Now only a mere 7 months later we are planning a move to Ethiopia. Of course when we bought the business we thought it was because the Lord wanted us to be more involved in our community and wanted us to use it as a tool to be a light in our own neighborhood. So then we he prompted us to step out in faith again to move to Ethiopia we couldn’t quite understand why he would have had us buy that business only to leave it so soon. Now I am starting to see that so many of the lessons we are learning in owning our own business seems to be some important things we will also need to know/learn in ministry. Thanks for this awesome fresh perspective today that God revealed through this article!

    • Wow, what a ride you are on Amanda! One of our writers, Levi Benkert, and his family are in Ethiopia. Do you know him? You should find him on facebook. Beautiful ministry. Always good to have allies when embarking on a new adventure.

      I am glad to know that this article brought you some fresh perspective on what God is doing in your lives. Peace to you!

      • Amanda

        I don’t know him yet! But we do follow along with their ministry on FB what God is doing through them is amazing! 🙂

  • Shannon Kelley

    oh I have been feeling this tension as of late as we fail repeatedly here if you were to look at it through the “measure the NGO” goggles of feeding people, or how many students we have sponsored, and the like. We don’t do any of that. We just live right now. We build relationships. And we feel the tension when we are looked at weird by other missionaries who have their spreadsheets and data that they spout as proof they are doing something. I haven’t figured it out in my head about who is right and wrong-or maybe the answer is in the gray- but man, do I know that there are days I’m thankful to fail. Wrote this just a couple weeks ago…http://www.shannon-kelley.com/blog/2012/11/failure/

    • Shannon, what a beautiful story! Thanks for the link. I really appreciated the retelling of the way God spoke to you through the hardships as a social worker to your reality now in Haiti. Simply lovely.

      This part especially grabbed me: “I love these people. They are hard people who saw more of life than
      they ever needed to. There will be failures and probably only a small
      percentage of change that we can see some days. Today I’m making the
      same decision I did years ago. To not pay attention to failure.
      Because love is all that really matters.”

      Some might have looked at Jesus and thought He was “just living”. They wanted Him to build the long awaited empire. They wanted Him to rise up and overthrow Rome. But He had a different way. He told people to keep the miracle hush hush. He repulsed large crowds when He spoke of true love through sacrifice. He kept a close band of brothers when He could have had a Justin Bieber-esque type following if He had just listened to whispers of the snake on the pinnacle.

      Keep doing what you are doing. Love people. Maybe it’s not about right and wrong. I am glad you are at a point that failure is okay. Dare I say that gives me hope?

      Thanks for chiming in here. I feel like we just had a very encouraging chat that spanned time and space yet hit the heart where it matters.

    • Can I just echo Angie, Shannon–

      Keep doing what you are doing. Love people. Maybe it’s not about right and wrong. I am glad you are at a point that failure is okay. Dare I say that gives me hope?

      Me, too.


    • Shannon, I totally get you. We are in the phase of building relationships (which I hope never ends) and laying groundwork, and I absolutely feel that tension. I don’t know if I imagine some of it or it’s real–from other missionaries, from nationals, from supporters, from ourselves–but I hate the measuring stick for pass/fail. Seth’s article was great, and your blog post was an encouragement.

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