Friday, February 28, 2014

The Risk Management And Mission Conflict

"Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness...These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  ‘Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.  As you enter the home, give it your greeting.  If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."  (Matthew 10:1-23)

Now, let's project this calling of 12 ministry recruits into a 2014 western world context and imagine completing a risk assessment of their first mission assignment.  Chances are this scenario would be assessed as a high risk activity with a high probability of failure, exposing inexperienced and unqualified people to an unsafe work environment.  Any responsible manager today would either cancel the mission or recommend a list of control measures to mitigate the known risks.  Either way, the process of risk management would have the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness of the mission!

This is the climate that the church finds itself ministering in today where governance, compliance and risk management have an enormous influence and impact on the way mission is done.  No one will argue with the principle of creating and maintaining a safe ministry environment, however, the very nature of our mission and ministry to a lost and broken world is that it will take us way outside our comfort zone into unknown and, at times, unsafe situations.  My fear for the church, which is being swamped by legislative requirements and the constant threat of litigation, is that it is becoming distracted from its primary purpose and is risk managing itself out of mission!  

In a culture of risk management there is a fine line between being responsible and restrictive, proactive and protective, faith fueled and fear driven.  This line is easily crossed the moment our primary motivation for risk management becomes more about protecting the service than those we serve, money than mission, reputation than reformation.  In this increasingly complex world of risk management, sometimes the strategies we employ to manage risk exposes a huge gulf between our aspirational values and actual values by the way we implement control measures into our mission activities.

Here are some examples of how I have seen this manifested through my observations from within my context and through conversations with people from a similar context to mine:
  1. The threat of aggressive clients prompts the installation of dividing screens between staff and the people seeking assistance in welfare centres. While providing protection, it diminishes the value of human dignity.
  2. The insecurity of home visits to asylum seekers and refugees leads to a policy that prohibits staff from taking off their shoes when entering people's homes.  While addressing health and safety concerns, it violates the value of cultural sensitivity.
  3. The fear of losing public donations or government funding restricts the ability to take a public stand on issues of social justice or morality.  While maintaining a public image, it compromises biblical values of truth and justice.
  4. The concern about establishing a mission initiative in a 'dangerous' neighbourhood inhibits outreach to the most disadvantaged people in the community.  While trying to minimise perceived risks, it discourages the value of incarnational ministry.
  5. The belief that mission is driven by money requires mission and ministry proposals to be fully funded before being granted approval.  While good financial management, it weakens the value of faith.
These examples are representative of an emerging reality that could be seen in any church or organisation that is struggling with the same tension between risk management and mission.  

Another dimension to navigating risk in the context of mission is the "cost of discipleship", which includes the act of self-denial and the reality of persecution, and "faith", which is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see".  This is foreign to the language and principles of risk management.  Translated into my context of The Salvation Army, whose mission is centred on "others" that includes "the last, the lost and the least" you can see the unavoidable conflict that risk management encounters with disciples of Jesus Christ who are engaged in faith inspired mission.

So, do we throw all caution to the wind and use mission and faith as a justification to disregard risk management obligations?  Absolutely not!  

The church has a biblical and legal mandate to practice good stewardship, which includes the way we manage people, property and finances.  What I do propose, however, is that any risk management process includes an assessment of the risk to mission, through a lens of faith, to ensure the strategies that are considered to reduce risk do not violate core values, compromise effective mission or cause us to step out of obedience where the Spirit is leading.  

We are at more risk of losing the very thing we are trying to protect if we allow a culture of risk management to diminish the cutting edge, faith fueled, Spirit led mission that characterised the early church and inspires generations of church leaders to fearlessly "go and make disciples of all nations." 

Published in April/May 2014 edition of JAC:  Journal of Aggressive Christianity


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