Organizational Effectiveness and Mustard Seed Missiology

mustard seedTo measure organizational effectiveness, one default mode for Christian non-profit leaders is looking to books like From Good to Great. Personally, I will be forever grateful for the paradigm of management guru Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

We live in an age where Christian organizations are under increased donor pressure to show immediate, visible results. But with that comes the following temptation of results-based management: The assumption that deep long-term change in the world is always under human control.

For the “faith” of faith-based organizations to be meaningful requires thinking missiologically about effectiveness. The following account of Hong Kong scholar Kim-Kwong Chan is illustrative. Chan writes about the fate of Christianity in China after foreign missionaries were dismissed by the Communists who came to power in the 1950s. In the following two decades and especially during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, with missionaries gone and churches and seminaries crushed, it was thought that Christianity would die out. Instead, after Mao died and China began to open to the world, there were many more Christians in China than before the Communists took power. In a 1998 lecture Chan said:

“This experience challenges the most fundamental tension in missiology: mission of God or mission of man [sic], power of God or strength of man? Perhaps the Gospel parables of the mustard seed or the yeast can inspire new thinking in missions. The seemingly smallest and weakest can grow into the largest. The power of powerlessness is a paradox, yet a Biblical reality illustrated by the theology of the cross.”

To add another angle to this, Xi Lian, professor of World Christianity at Duke Divinity School, tells me that the early fruits of many missions pioneers did not look impressive at all. Robert Morrison and his colleagues had only baptized about ten people over 25 years in China by the time he died in 1834. And Matteo Ricci said in his time that he was in China not to reap a harvest, not even to plant seeds, but only to prepare the ground. Comments Xi, “These pioneers would look pretty bad if we view them the same way as we look at the quarterly earnings of a company today.”

The Gospel parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, and stories like the growth of Christianity in China. What kind of paradoxical, missiologically-shaped “theory of change” do they suggest, which integrates human weakness and the power of God?

To return to Drucker, the key question may still be doing the right things – with the question for faith-based organizations being: How do we know what those “right things” are, and how are we dedicated to them regardless of whether or not immediate visible results come?

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