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5 Words Every Christian Organization Must Learn, Part I

September 8, 2015
ymca old logo

YMCA original logo, 1844.


YMCA logo today.

“ … the most fundamental tension in missiology [is]: mission of God or mission of man, power of God or strength of man?” Rev. Dr. Chan Kim-Kwong, Hong Kong Christian Council

“The church is not an NGO.”   Pope Francis

One place of growing concern for me in the last two years is keeping “faith” in so-called “faith-based organizations.”**

To state the problem concisely, with reference to the logos here, how did the YMCA become the “Y”?  Given that faith-based organizations have become the de facto new bearers of Christian mission in the 21st century, the challenge is of immense importance.

Take the following two operational methods and language used by Christian organizations I have worked with:  strategic planning via “SWOT” analysis (“strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats”), and “Logical Framework Approach” used for evaluating international development projects (with accompanying categories “outcomes, activities, outputs, inputs”).  Even the term “faith-based organization” is inadequate for a Christian organization to describe itself.  Faith in who?  In what?  And whose faith?  Doesn’t a Christian understanding of mission begin with the faith of Christ?

The point is not that such methodologies are inherently flawed.  (In fact, I have learned to be exceedingly grateful for organizations which understand that excellence must be taken seriously not only in vision and relationship, but in management and administration.)  For the faith-based organization, however, such methods are insufficient, and must be brought into both synthesis and in tension with theologically-shaped methods and language.  As Chan Kim-Kwong drives at in the quote above, what does it mean for faith-based organizations to make institutional judgements determined by convictions about the power of God and the faith of Christ, and not by faith in and the power of humanitarianism?

I propose this hypothesis:   To be faithful and effective in their peculiar vocation as participation in the mystery of the mission and action of God, Christian organizations require methodologies which are grounded in theological language and categories.

What different terms might we experiment with?

In my next post I will propose five critical categories to bring into the laboratory to seek a fresh model for how faith-based organizations think and operate with a Christian imagination.

** This was the focus of my doctoral research.

Dr. Chris Rice is Senior Fellow for Northeast Asia at Duke Divinity School, U.S., and Northeast Asia Representative for the Mennonite Central Committee. Chris and his wife live in Chuncheon, South Korea.

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