Breaking Old Habits: Mission Leaders Advocate Change, Adaptability

By Suanne Camfield | Freelance writer, Chicago | February 8 2013

Youth workers are known for shaking things up and taking creative approaches to old challenges. So why do so many youth workers follow the same-old-same-old approach when it comes to mission activities and trips?

The chief culprit is habit, captured in the question, "The way we did things last year seemed to work OK, so why change things this year?"

Another culprit is convenience. Change is hard; even leaders who publicly champion change admit same-old-same-old is easier. When you simply repeat what you've done in the past, there are no structures to overhaul, no late-running meetings to coordinate, no relational landmines to navigate, no administrative nightmares to address.

Three mission advocates we talked to argue the right changes are worth the challenge, especially when they improve effectiveness of kingdom work.

Mission as Movement: Adaptability

Steve Addison is a church-planting strategist who has spent a lifetime studying movements that have ignited and renewed the Christian faith. In his book Movements that Change the World, Addison identifies five characteristics that make the difference between a flash-in-the-pan burst of ministry passion and a dynamic missionary movement that transcends cultures, countries and generations.

One of those key characteristics is adaptive methods. What happens when movements are willing to risk change for the sake of their mission?

"Movements that drift away from their core beliefs are always at risk, but so are movements that regard the way they currently function as sacred," Addison says. "That means we need to be very clear about our unchanging message and mission and clearly distinguish them from our continually changing methods. We are responsible to remain true to the gospel and continually evaluate the fruitfulness and effectiveness of our methods. If we don't, self-preservation will become our mission."

When self-preservation becomes a group's mission, Addison argues, it's time to raise the red flag and evaluate what adjustments—or upheavals—might need to occur. "The most effective movements are prepared to change everything about themselves except their core beliefs. Unencumbered by tradition, movements feel free to experiment with new forms and strategies," says Addison.

An example of the successful use of adaptive methods is found in the case of James Naismith, who invented basketball in the late 1800s. Naismith was passionate about mission intersecting with sport. He became convinced he could minister more effectively on a gym floor than in a pulpit, so he took a job as an instructor at a local YMCA. His vision was to create an indoor activity that students could enjoy during the winter months.

After attempts at various versions of football, soccer and lacrosse—with no success—Naismith finally decided to adapt his method by drawing from all three sports, using a ball that could be easily handled, play that involved running and passing with no tackling and a goal at each end of the floor. Hence the game of basketball not only was born but has been used for decades as common ground to introduce people to Christ throughout the world.

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