Book review – Developing a strategy for missions

John Mark Terry & J D Payne Developing a Strategy for Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Introduction, Baker Academic 2013 (Encountering Mission Series)

I was prompted to read this book after a coming across a blog post that tries to identify key missiology books that inform our thinking. ABWE blog

I enjoyed reading the book and I’m pleased to have done so but it is a mixed bag. It is a very western (US) book that predominantly interacts with western mission movement authors and thinkers. More worryingly, it shows no evidence of being aware of or concerned by this limitation. While the authors might note that it was published 8 years ago and things have moved on in this time, the fact remains that as an up to date guide for developing a strategy for missions it is inadequate (some might put this more strongly!).

As a description of the currents and thinking that shape western mission movements it is more helpful. Along with other books in the ‘Encountering Mission’ series the chapters are laid out with sidebars containing extracts from other writers, examples, case studies or stories along with questions for reflection and discussion.

The book isn’t in sections, but the chapters track through four main themes. The early chapters consider what a ‘mission strategy’ might be, some objections to one and some of the biblical and missiological principles for developing one. It takes Matthew 28 as something of a guide star but recognises that strategic planning is both an art and a science, requiring an understanding of the past as well as a desired future, a willingness to steward what God has given us as well a commitment to following God’s purposes. “Mission strategy is the overall process describing what we believe the Lord would have us accomplish to make disciples of all nations” (p5).

The central chapters consider missions strategy in history, from the Apostle Paul, through the early church, Roman Catholic and early Protestant missions. They then go on to look at the more recent development of Faith Missions, strategies on the American Frontier, indigenous mission, the Church Growth Movement, Frontier and Contextualisation Strategies. It is here that the book is perhaps most useful as an introduction to these various ideas. An understanding of these things helps to provide an insight into why different missions think and act in different ways.

The next collection of chapters considers issues such as contextualisation, cultural research, people-group profiles, receptivity, need and communications. Many of these things are used as tools today. Again, the brief overview might be an introduction to these ideas and some of the questions they pose. The book covers a wide range of ideas, inevitably a bit superficially (so there’s plenty to argue with if you want to) but that is inevitable in a book that seeks to be an introduction and which aims to be practical.

The final chapters look at forming a team, considering resources, setting goals, methods, execution and evaluation. The practical aspects of delivering a strategy. As with the earlier chapters much of this is taken from management ideas from recent decades, but here it feels most dated. (ideas such as scum master, iterative project management and agility are mostly late 2010s).

So, if you want a book to help you understand the Western Mission Movement this is worthwhile. If you want to think about missions strategy in that context, then this is a useful primer. However, before you actually consider developing strategy you need to listen to a wider range of voices.

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