28 May 2013

Catalytic Converters

The trend in development work is an emphasis on asset based community development (ABCD for short).  The principles of this type of approach to ministry is to enter a community first to discover and help them discover what assets exist in the community which can be (and should be) used to address the needs the community itself identifies as important.  Not only is it important for people to be empowered to utilize their own gifts, it is equally important that they be given a voice in determining what needs they have.  Honestly, this is sometimes hard to do.  After all, coming from an "advanced Western civilization," most missionaries intuitively know what is in the best interests of their new community.  Even if they have only been there for a short period of time, missionaries sometimes show an uncanny ability to understand what the other culture needs in order to function in an acceptable way.  (Yes, that is tongue-in-cheek!)

In their book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom use the example of Julie Andrew's characters Mary Poppins and Maria (from The Sound of Music).  Mary is a catalyst.  A catalyst is something or someone essential for and subsequent to a process. That is, as Mary entered the dysfunctional family her presence changed the dynamic of the family such that the needs of the children could be met by the resources of the parents (once the parents took notice of their children and were aided by several entertaining songs).  Local needs, local resources plus a catalyst and the family is converted and Mary Poppins takes flight on to another calling.

Maria, on the other hand, does not demonstrate the catalytic role.  After being sent (we could also say "called" since we are talking about missionaries), Maria becomes an indispensable component for the health of the family.  It is Maria who takes the local assets and transforms them (the drapes into play clothes); it is Maria's connections at the convent that enable the salvation of the family; without Maria, the children can't even sing!  Maria must remain in her role or else all the good work comes to an end.

It doesn't take much to see how this metaphor for leadership can apply to missional engagement.  Yes, there is danger, like with all metaphors, of pushing it too far.  But the point is made:  catalytic missionaries are more faithful to the gifting of how God has been active in a local setting by supplying assets and giving voice to locals who identify their own contextual needs than missionaries who make themselves an essential component in order for conversion to take place.

Could this principle also apply to the local church?  Most certainly.  Though unlike Marry Poppins, your church should stay involved in the life of the community.  Imagine your role as catalytic converters in your community . . . at least until you fly away. (Yes, that's an allusion to the "taking up" of the church!)