Bottom Up versus Top Down Mission…and the impact on tithing/financial worship for missions
Missional has been deemed a term to be used in the church-mission scene, and has unfortunately been, by some critics of the emerging church, been lumped in with those who may or may not wear that label. I’ll leave the emerging church conversation for another day and today attempt to rescue missional…
Missional – posture, action and lives of individuals collectively as God’s people lived intentionally postured and acting for mission. In other words to a) reach people with the hope of Christ and b) work to see the Kingdom break into our present world/community/lives of those around us. In the simplest of terms, get out of bed, not for the American Dream, but to see God’s name made renown – to see souls saved, to see the holistic health of the Kingdom heal the hurts of the society. Pragmatically, it is a posture that intentionally attempts to bring the holistic Gospel, not just the reductionist gospel of God in truth, information, but the behavior, the attitude, the grace, the sacrificial lifestyle, choices, values, desires, dreams, time management to see lives changed.
Why did I just do a diatribe on this? Because there are two approaches to mission: Top-Down and Bottom-Up. Neither is wrong, both are vital, both have impact. I write because we tend to lean almost exclusively if not exclusively on top-down. Why? Simple:
1. The need is huge and overwhelming
2. The world/society/lives are a mess and it is mind boggling to consider descending into it
3. We want to make our efforts effective and make the most impact (ROI: return on investment).
4. Is seems most logical in scale. Note “seems”.
Again, while top-down is vital and needed, and has its role (MILLIOS OF TONS OF FOOD in the months post-earthquake Haiti), it is very limited in bringing about real change in lives, in seeing the Kingdom expanded.
Example: While I hugely respect some of the integrous leaders who have done crusades (Graham, Palau, Lorrie), the record for crusades isn’t as good as it seems. The estimated response is 10%, only a portion of which are not Christians. Of those who do respond and “become” Christians, only 10% of those are in the church 10 years later. So, that is 1/2%?
You see, to bring about change – change in world view, change in heart, change in Kingdom, change in how life is lived, making Kingdom followers, not just converts, or adherents, it takes relationship – being known, knowing, serving, shared life – being there in the tough and good times, shared endeavors, and daily life. It’s also known as Incarnation.
When we look at the Bible, you’ll see God telling us a lot of things… The Word. BUT you’ll see His people culminating in Jesus, incarnating God and real transformation of character, heart, virtue, even holistic healthy thinking (truth) occurs best in relationship… hence the push for small groups – not just sermons. When some one earns the right to invade your life, say hard things, is known and trusted, they get a deeper access to one’s life and voila….
I hear , and understand the desire of donors to mission wanting their contribution to be well stewarded and given where it will make impact. At couple of thoughts….
1. People are often motivated by top-down & see incarnational ministry as less glamorous (it is so), less effective (it’s the effective method of choice) and therefore not the best option.
2. People want to steward their fiscal giving, and therefore are looking for ROI… but possibly the ROI isn’t immediately apparent. Hudson Taylor spent himself starting mission in China. He started what led hundreds of millions of Chinese into the Kingdom. He would not pass muster today.
3. We use business rationale in our mission decisions and only give a gentle nod to actually hearing and seeking what God wants to do, have position one to do, etc. Maybe the relational web we have has something to do with whom God calls us to support… maybe we should commit and walk with them and not drop them with the next sexy
4. We might need to look a the future impact, not just the flash numbers “today”.
5. Surely God calls many to support the huge NGO’s, but not for the reasons we’ve stated. Be good stewards, yes, but listen and see whom God is calling and stand with them, leave the pragmatics of impact to Him.
Why? Real impact that changes society takes time, real change happens at the grass eye level – where lives are lived in relationship. This is missional. It’s not the perfect solution delivered as a commodity, but it’s what changes neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and countries.