Reflecting on a reflective consultation

The consultations that we run as an Alliance can be frustrating to some. Those people who like to leave gatherings with a list of things to implement can be disappointed. The purpose of these events is not to set the objectives of individual organisations, but to listen to God and one another as we seek to define a larger context for ourselves.

I’m not sure it’s a perfect analogy, but I keep turning to sporting metaphors. Imagine players and a coach turning up for a game of football, only to find no pitch marked out and no idea what kind of game they are supposed to be playing. Through these consultations, we are trying to create some broad objectives and to mark out a rough pitch, before inviting the teams (or the Organisations) to take the broad framework to apply to their context. It may be that a game of American Football breaks out in one place, Soccer in another, and Rugby Football in another, that’s OK as long as the principles are applied and the teams playing have agreed upon what’s happening.

The point is, the Organisations take the broader principles and then ask what it means in their context.

The analogy is messy. I could have talked about us making up the rules, but rules aren’t what a consultation is about. Rules are another level of detail that comes further on.

As I said, some people struggle with these kinds of events, they like a nice defined list of objectives, but I love them. It’s the opportunity to really dig into an issue and hear perspectives from all parts of the world. Just to give you an example, at this last consultation, there were representatives from, Switzerland, Romania, Brazil, Hong Kong, Norway, Canada, US, Kenya, Cameroon, New Zealand, France, Slovakia, Singapore and Colombia. 

Some personal notes

As much as I loved the consultation, this was the toughest trip I’ve made yet. Sophie, my youngest daughter had been ill for a while, but it got worse just as I left. She had a visit to the hospital on my second night away and is now being treated for a chest infection. I don’t like being a flight away from home when my kids are ill.

On the second day, I picked up an eye infection. The middle morning of the consultation I spent at the doctor’s surgery getting treated. By the morning of the final day the infection was clearing up, only for that evening the second eye beginning to show the same symptoms.

Having said all that, it was wonderful to be prayed for by so many friends and supporters and to know the peace that God gives when things are beyond your control.

Mission and the church

When God called his followers to tell others about the good news that Jesus is for this world, he didn’t create global mission agencies, instead, he called his church to the task. Mission agencies, like the Wycliffe Global Alliance that I work for, haven’t replaced the church in this role (or at least we shouldn’t have), but we have found that at this point in history, for some tasks (like Bible translation) agencies such as the Alliance appear to be the most effective way of achieving some things.

However, the call to the church hasn’t disappeared or been replaced by the agencies. So, we as an Alliance face a challenge, to consider how we work as an expression of the church’s missional calling.

What does that look like isn’t an easy question to answer. While the Church is global, there are many different churches. Some international, some local, with a variety of structures and a variety of attitudes to mission all mixed in. Should we be listening to all of them? How? What happens when they disagree?

This week I’m in Germany taking part in a Consultation on Ecclesiology – a conversation about the place of the church in the way the Alliance works. I hope we will get into some of these questions and begin to think about the kind of attitudes we should have to the church and consider how we should be making space for the church to speak into the Bible translation movements.

If that sounds a bit dry and technical, maybe I’ll be able to write more later in the week that illustrates what this is all about.

2017 Global Bible translation statistics

Every year the Wycliffe Global Alliance publishes an update to the Bible translation statistics. It’s great to be able to compare one year against another and see that there has been progress. 670 languages with complete Bibles (636 in 2016), 1,521 with New Testaments or more (1,442 in 2016), 3,312 languages with some scripture (3,223 in 2016).

It all sounds pretty impressive until you reflect on the fact that there are almost 7,000 languages in use around the world today. The gap between 670 languages with complete Bibles and every language that needs a translation having one is still significant. In fact, our research suggests that there’s a need for translation projects to begin in 1,636 languages.

There’s a lot more data in the full statistics and more information about what these numbers really mean in the FAQs. However, numbers aren’t just numbers, they represent language communities and these communities are made up of people. Individuals like you and I, trying to work out how to make their way through life the best they can. It’s fine to talk about the 1,636 languages that need Bible translation to begin, but just remember that behind that number are individuals who could well be missing out on knowing the fullness of God’s love for them because of the barrier of language.

Foundation stories

Organisations often get hung up on trying to craft mission statements that are brief and memorable, but nearly every organisation – especially in the world of Christian mission – has a foundation story that’s worth recounting from time-to-time.

That of the Wycliffe Global Alliance is tied to the story of Cameron Townsend, who went to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles and share the gospel.

Townsend soon became aware of a large gap in the missions efforts in the beautiful country of Guatemala: Sixty percent of Guatemalans were indigenous, yet mission efforts were focused solely on reaching the Spanish-speaking population, the Ladinos. Townsend became convinced that reaching the Cakchiquel people required speaking their language. He also soon realized that for them to truly understand the Scriptures, they would need to have God’s Word in Cakchiquel, so that they could read it for themselves.

[Read the full article on wycliffe.net or see below]

Townsend’s awakening to the needs of the Cakchiquel people occurred 100 years ago, this month. Since then, organisations associated with the Wycliffe Global Alliance have been involved in the translation of Bibles and New Testaments in more than 900 languages.

Still, today, Bible translation is needed. Of the nearly 7,000 languages in use around the world today, fewer than 700 have access to the complete Bible.

Very soon we will be publishing the latest update to the Bible translation statistics. The numbers of complete Bibles available will increase but there’s still more to do if everyone is going to have access to a Bible in the language that they understand the best.

What Cameron Townsend began 100 years ago is still going strong around the world. The way translation work is undertaken has changed a lot over the years, and we are still learning and improving, but the desire for all people to have the Bible in a language that speaks to their heart so that they can understand the good news of Jesus, remains a core motivation.

 


The full article I quoted above will eventually disappear from the Alliance website, so I’ve obtained permission to post a copy below:

100 Years Later, 100 Organizations Strong: Following the Footsteps of God

One hun­dred years ago, in Oc­to­ber 1917, Cameron Townsend, a col­lege stu­dent from Cal­i­for­nia, stepped off a steamship onto the streets of San José, Guatemala. Townsend had ac­cepted a friend’s chal­lenge to take a year off from col­lege to do mis­sion­ary ser­vice. He vol­un­teered as a trav­el­ing sales­man, sell­ing Span­ish Bibles in the in­te­rior of Guatemala, and shar­ing the gospel with peo­ple he met along the way. Townsend had planned to re­turn to the US at the end of his com­mit­ment, to fin­ish his ed­u­ca­tion and be­come a pas­tor. How­ever, God was call­ing him to a work that would have a much greater King­dom im­pact. For it was in Guatemala that Townsend met Fran­cisco Díaz, a com­mit­ted Cakchiquel Chris­t­ian who be­came the cat­a­lyst to ig­nite an in­no­v­a­tive new move­ment in mis­sions that would even­tu­ally spread around the globe: the trans­la­tion of God’s Word into peo­ples’ heart languages.

Francisco Díaz & his wife Francisco Díaz, who helped start the global Bible translation movement, poses with his wife

Fran­cisco Díaz, who served along­side Cameron Townsend sell­ing Span­ish Bibles, quickly be­came a close friend and men­tor to the pas­sion­ate young worker from the North. To­gether they spent hours walk­ing the trails from town to town, farm to farm, sell­ing Bibles and shar­ing God’s good news – and see­ing lives changed. Díaz trans­lated for Cakchiquel peo­ple they met along the way, and Townsend was im­pressed with his abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate bib­li­cal truths to other Cakchiquels. Through his re­la­tion­ship with this quiet Chris­t­ian man, Townsend soon be­came aware of a large gap in the mis­sions ef­forts in the beau­ti­ful coun­try of Guatemala: Sixty per­cent of Guatemalans were in­dige­nous, yet mis­sion ef­forts were fo­cused solely on reach­ing the Span­ish-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion, the Ladi­nos. Townsend be­came con­vinced that reach­ing the Cakchiquel peo­ple re­quired speak­ing their lan­guage. He also soon re­al­ized that for them to truly un­der­stand the Scrip­tures, they would need to have God’s Word in Cakchiquel, so that they could read it for themselves.

Cam & Elvira Townsend Cameron and Elvira Townsend learned Cakchiquel to work with Díaz in Bible translation

A part­ner­ship was born. Díaz, with Townsend’s help, set out to start a Cakchiquel-lan­guage school, and Townsend, by then newly mar­ried, be­gan with his wife to learn the Cakchiquel lan­guage in earnest. Soon they be­gan work to­gether with Díaz to trans­late the Bible into Cakchiquel. It was not easy, es­pe­cially when ob­sta­cles were thrown in their way. Townsend’s mis­sion or­ga­ni­za­tion was not ready to adopt this new way of work­ing. Then, trag­i­cally, Díaz con­tracted malaria and died, leav­ing Townsend with­out a trans­la­tion part­ner. But Fran­cisco Díaz’s his­toric legacy had been firmly es­tab­lished by God: the birth of a Bible trans­la­tion min­istry that would even­tu­ally reach around the world.

To­day – a hun­dred years af­ter Townsend set foot on Guatemalan soil and learned from Díaz that not all peo­ple had ac­cess to hear­ing about God in their own lan­guge – about 100 or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world that make up the Wycliffe Global Al­liance are in­volved in Scrip­ture trans­la­tion, or in sup­port of the Bible trans­la­tion move­ment. The seed of this vi­sion be­gan with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween these two men, who came from two dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and spoke two dif­fer­ent lan­guages, but whose hearts and foot­steps met in one mis­sion – that the mes­sage of the gospel, and the truths of God’s writ­ten rev­e­la­tion, be­come avail­able to peo­ple in the lan­guage that they un­der­stand best.

Townsends and Cakchiquel children The Townsends with Cakquikel school children

Please cel­e­brate with us the 100th an­niver­sary of a young 21-year-old cross-cul­tural worker fol­low­ing the foot­steps of God as he en­tered Guatemala. And for the 35-year-old Cakchiquel man who walked the trails along­side him, and taught him so much, as they shared the gospel and Bibles in vil­lages through­out Guatemala and in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Praise God for all that he has done to build a net­work of peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world to ac­com­plish the trans­la­tion of his Word into thou­sands of lan­guages. Pray for the steps taken each day by peo­ple in about 100 Bible trans­la­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions world­wide that make up the Wycliffe Global Al­liance. They are com­mit­ted to com­ing along­side lan­guage com­mu­ni­ties that are trans­lat­ing God’s Word into the lan­guages that speak to their hearts.

There is much work left to be done. What steps will you take to be part of God’s mis­sion to reach all peo­ples who need to learn of God’s love through his Word?

Reflections on global leadership in community: Millennials

It was on my flight out to the global leadership gathering in Germany, that I began to reflect on the challenge of involving future generations with mission. The Business Life magazine from BA, contained the following quote,

‘One of the best ways to be equipped for the future is to give more responsibility to younger employees, says Brent Hoberman, who recently took part in the Evening Standard’s Young Progress makers event aimed at addressing some of the challenges the new generation is facing. Hoberman believes the speed of technological change is the greatest of these: “The young need the right skills to cope with the future. In the new economy, creativity will be crucial.” And young Londoners have an advantage, he says: simply by living in a city that is so multicultural, they will be likely to be receptive to different ideas.’

Of course, this issue of the magazine was all about London, so clearly they were talking up the city. But, there is something about growing up in a multicultural, multi-racial, technologically advanced metropolis that has an impact on the way a generation will approach life.

For mission organisations, we face a challenge of how to work with this new generation – even how to hand leadership over to them. We aren’t, yet, doing it very well.

I’m not, technically, a millennial, but I do identify with most experiences of the early millennials. This article, Why millennials are leaving the church, by Rachel Held Evans, could have been written about me.

Reflections on global missional leadership in community: personal thoughts

The room that was buzzing with discussion from all corners of the world is now empty. Last week was both excellent, and hard work. Excellent to be involved in that network, and to intentionally listen to different groups and points-of-view, knowing that at the core, our desire was to see God glorified and his mission advanced in each of our contexts. Hard work, in that it’s sometimes difficult to listen to and accept points-of-view that challenge your preconceived ideas.

Having said all that, the hard work really starts now. Sitting in a room, where you’ve gathered for the purpose of discussing global missional leadership in community, it’s easy to see everything as possible. Leaving that environment and going back to the daily routine (whatever that may be) and not losing all the good thoughts from the week is where the real challenge begins.

How do I take the discussions of last week, develop some personal outcomes and bring them to bear in the areas where I have some influence?

Some things I’ve been thinking about in relation to leadership:

Intentionality: It’s easy for me to think I’m in leadership by accident and just rely on personal attributes and experience to see me through. But, I as I find myself entering a new season of life and a new role with new responsibilities, it’s important that I rethink the context of my work and what I need to lead well in this new context. I need to be intentional in equipping myself to lead.

I can also make a choice to lead when the situation arises, or be intentional about my leadership. It’s very easy to wait for the ‘right time’, whatever that may look like, but I’m starting to see that I can have some influence over enabling the time to be right.

Millennials: Almost all involved in this consultation acknowledged that there is a challenge in enabling millennials (Gen Y) join mission within our organisations. It’s not that we aren’t open to the next generation, it’s just that our systems and structures are so often formed around the boomer generation that those born in the 80s or later don’t feel that they fully fit with us.

Globalisation, nationalism and polycentrism: Influence and leadership now comes from all over the place. There are Christian centres of influence outside of Europe and North America that should and can lead in a global environment. How do I take on a posture of learning and openness with my brothers and sisters from other countries and still contextualise for my own context?

Change and opportunity: We are all dealing with change. In the car travelling to the airport today, my colleagues were talking about how the pace of change in the last 25 years is equivalent to the pace of change over the previous 200 years. There’s a leadership challenge in there. How do we lead in an environment of continual change? As digital technology continues to advance, travel becomes easier, but maybe political and ideological challenges have a significant impact on our world, how do we lead within this?

There’s more to think through with all of this, and other things I’ve not yet mentioned. I’ll try to develop my thoughts in the days to come, but I’m now at the airport getting ready to fly home. It’s time to go and find my gate and get back to my family.

Global leadership in community final day

It’s too early to properly reflect on this week’s conversations. We have covered a lot on the subject of leadership in community, and really have only just scratched the surface. There are more discussions to have and further to go, but we’ve started.

Below are just a couple of quotes and the questions from today. I’ll follow up with some proper reflections at some point over the weekend.

Integration of discussion

Our prayer time together was a living expression of what it means to be leaders in community. We belong to one another because we are the body of Christ.

We have discussed multiple, complex concepts – leadership, the mission of God, community. These aren’t easy topics.

Questions

Who are the communities that I interact with as a leader?
What insights did I gain from our conversations this week that either confirms or challenges my understanding of myself as a leader, or myself as a leader-in-community?
Considering the previous question, what are the most important two or three things I would need to, or wish to change in my approach to leadership?
What will I need to do to make this change?
How do we expand this conversation within and beyond the Alliance – deeper and broader?

Global realities to leading in community, some thoughts

The photo for this piece comes from our trip to Marburg on Wednesday. It’s a town about an hour from where we are, where Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli discussed the symbolism of the elements in the Lord’s Supper. The following is from Wikipedia:

The Marburg Colloquy was a meeting at Marburg Castle, Marburg, Hesse, Germany which attempted to solve a disputation between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli over the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. It took place between 1 October and 4 October 1529. The leading Protestant reformers of the time attended at the behest of Philipp I of Hessen. Philipp’s primary motivation for this conference was political; he wished to unite the Protestant states in political alliance, and to this end, religious harmony was an important consideration.

I assume the painting in the photograph is Luther and Zwingli in the midst of their discussion.

Back to the leading in community discussion…

Wednesday 15th March

How do any of the global realities discussed, shape your understanding about yourself as a leader with the Alliance?

  • Power and authority
  • Globalisation vs nationalism
  • Polycentrism
  • Funding challenges
  • Changing technology and information overload
  • Corruption
  • Secularism
  • Millennial rising
  • Rising fundamentalism
  • Keeping up with constant change

What opportunities and challenges do you face that these global realities hold for collective leadership within the Alliance?

How could we as leaders better understand and work with these realities in order to provide more effective leadership within our local and global contexts?

Thursday 16th March

Much of our focus is on the leader – the charismatic, servant, inspirational leader. Yet, we know, no one leader is able to tackle the challenges of our world today. So we want to move away from that, and learn what it means to be a leader in community.

The place of Friendship in the Mission of God (Kirk J Franklin and Cornelius J.P. Niemandt)

‘A missiology of friendship as well as community in the missio Dei creates a greater openness to others by walking and serving humbly as friends with Christ and each other. The theme of friendship in God’s mission draws inspiration from Jesus’ willingness to give his life for his friends. Knowing the crucified Christ intimately through participating in community and friendship provides an essential foundation for mission. Valuing friendship as a core value demonstrates Christ’s love that overcomes the issues of inequality and racism. A missiological understanding of friendship and community deepens the value of partnering in mission. This helps create a third space – friendship in mission – which helps overcome the gap between the West’s new colonialism and its power and resources, and the global South and East, who live without the power and influence of financial resources.’

Exploration of what this concept means: Leading in community.

The Alliance, Principles of community, came out of a discussion in Ghana in 2012 and were recently affirmed in a consultation on community in December 2016.

  • We are created for community and called to community (creation and calling).
  • We are God’s people, called to consistently and lovingly relate and behave according to the instruction of his word and the example of Christ (identity-who we are together).
  • Living and serving in community glorifies God and provides a tangible example of the Gospel in action. We reflect the image of God through intentionally modelling authentic community (how we live together).
  • A community that glorifies God attracts people to God and his mission (what we do together).

Our questions

Again, lots of our thoughts came out of table group discussions, and it doesn’t really seem to work to note down the outcomes here without more context. I’ll give you the questions and maybe draw some conclusions at some point over the weekend. Tomorrow morning is our final session, so we are about to wrap this up… at least, do as much wrapping up as is possible in a conversation of this nature.

In what ways do these principles reflect your personal leadership practice within your immediate work community?

In what ways do these principles affect the community mentioned above?

Given the Alliance’s Principles on Community and our discussions up to this point, why would we consider the concept of leading-in-community to be important?

What does it mean to lead in community: locally and globally?

Given our learning of what it means to lead in community, what would be some unique characteristics of this kind of leadership?

How would this growing understanding of leading in community change practice within the Alliance, as well as within your local context?

Towards global missional leadership

It was a pleasure, yesterday, to receive a copy of Kirk Franklin’s book – Towards global missional leadership.

Published by Regnum in Oxford, based largely on Franklin’s PhD thesis A paradigm for global missional leadership: the journey of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, the book is designed to be a more accessible means to thoughts about leadership in the global context.

Yet, while I’ve read the whole of the PhD thesis, I’ve not yet read the book – and I can’t really see there being enough spare time for me to dig into it this week. So, I’ll steal my description of what to expect and why to get the book, from the Forward, written by Dr Paul Bendor-Samuel, Executive Director at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

This book does not describe an elegant new theory of leadership dreamed up and designed in an academic laboratory. It describes the fruit of countless conversations, consultations and commitments to listening and learning in many different contexts. It’s authentic.

Bendor-Samuel continues to note that this book ‘is relevant’, by saying,

There is an urgent need for the development of global missional leaders who are able to make sense of our times, and are capable of understanding and leading locally.

And then closes by commenting on why Regnum International is publishing the book,

While we delight to serve the academic community, our mission is to enable the global church to better engage in God’s mission in its very diverse contexts. To do this we seek to bring practitioners and academics together. This book launches a new Regnum Practitioner series. Our desire is that this series will bridge the gap that sometimes exists between, on the one hand, Christian leaders and mission practitioners and, on the other, Christian researchers. Where better to start than with a fresh look at what is required of leadership in mission and the church?

So, those are the highlights of why to read the book, now I just have to find out if this really present a ‘fresh look at what is required of leadership in mission and the church’, and it may take a few days to get into it. I’ll no doubt share my reflections as I go.

The book is available through Amazon as a digital download, or to pre-order from Regnum through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies website.

 

Talking about global realities

The second day of this consultation on global leadership in community, we started the conversation about global realities – what’s happening in the world today that has an impact on our leadership.

Before I get into some of the questions and thoughts that came up during the day, I should first mention something about the way these consultations work. A good proportion of our work is conducted through conversations in groups around tables, and then by feeding back to the wider group.

Where it is appropriate, I’ve captured the group feedback and shared it here. But, this is by no means the total of our conversations. I’ve not noted here some of the excellent rabbit trails of thought, or single quotes that work well in the context of our discussions but that probably lose meaning when presented in out of context.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you taking the questions from here and running your own consultation in church or with your leadership colleagues. If you’d like some pointers to get you started I’d be happy to put you in touch with those gifted in this area.

And now, on to today…

We spoke about paying attention to the signs of the times.

In the introduction to the day, six issues were introduced that we have to deal with:

  • power and authority
  • Globalisation vs nationalism (deglobalisation)
  • polycentrism
  • funding challenges
  • changing technologies
  • Information overload

Then we thought some more about the issue of power and authority.

In the ethics of Bible translation who makes the decisions? What gets translated, when, for whom, what language?

In, Discourses of Power by Barry Hindess:

  • The capacity to act is a part of being a human being. We possess a certain power to do things.
  • From an ethical point-of-view comes the question, who has the right to act?
  • Then there’s the concept, when many people or groups are involved, who has the presumed right to act? Because of assumed power (nationality, background, status) they have the right to work.

In, The Academy of the Poor, by Gerald West:

The need to listen to…

  • people from the communities
  • people from organisations

Speaking for…

Often there’s a tendency to speak on behalf of others. As though those communities don’t have a voice. Does our presumed right to act mean that we speak for others, rather than speaking with others?

We can only move beyond ‘speaking for’ and ‘listening to’ if we are willing to enter into a ‘speaking with’… (32)

This is what Jesus did in joining us to ‘live with’ us.

Developing our own list

We moved on to create our own list of issues, by answering the following:

  • In light of the issues, what other global realities also affect you as a leader?
  • How does one or more of these realities affect you a leader, as well as the context in which you provide leadership?

This gave us the following as issues:

  • A new generation is coming
  • Transition from industrial to information age
  • millennials
  • religious fundamentalism
  • Need to plan, but slowed down by previous systems
  • multiple allegiances to movements
  • Secularism
  • Understanding of mission in a postmodern world
  • Decolonisation
  • Rise of pre-Christian cultural beliefs
  • Human migrations and brain drain
  • Colonial ideology
  • Corruption – the church’s role
  • Keep up with constant change
  • Global fundraising
  • Cultural expressions of power
  • Cyber-security
  • Online addictions

We then discussed the areas that have the most impact on us in the Alliance.

We are on an outing for some of tomorrow, so there may not be time to update you on progress. Thanks for those of you who are praying for me while I’m here.