Developing A Strategy for Missions: A Book Review

Review of John Mark Terry and J.D. Payne, Developing A Strategy For Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Introduction, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013.

When I was in Seminary, one of my professors began “Pastoral Duties” class by saying, “The church should celebrate Columbus Day – He set out not knowing where he was going, when he arrived he didn’t know where he was, and he did it with someone else’s money – that’s what we often do in the church.” Historians may want to nitpick with elements of that statement but the professor made his point that strategic planning is important. John Mark Terry and J. D. Payne have provided missionaries a helpful resource for developing strategy for missions. As they point out in the introduction (viii), this is the first comprehensive book on mission strategy since Dayton and Fraser’s book, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, 1980, revised 1990 [which they quote from no less than 24 times].

The first chapter seeks to define strategy, particularly mission strategy. Their working definition is, “Mission strategy is the overall process describing what we believe the Lord would have us accomplish to make disciples of all nations.” (p.5) Chapter 2 gives an overview of the process of crafting a strategy. Chapter 3 answers contemporary objections to missionary strategy.

The authors present a biblical foundation for strategic planning in chapter 4: “Developing strategy is based on a theology that advocates that kingdom citizens are to be good stewards of all that has been entrusted into their care to reach the nations for Christ.” (37) Chapter 5 discusses a number of missiological principles related to strategy concluding that “Wise strategists allow principles related to need, receptivity, evangelism, social networks, contextualization, reproducibility, and local leadership to guide their strategy planning.” (53) Chapter 6 gives a brief review of Paul’s missionary strategy largely following David Hesselgrave’s “Pauline cycle”.

In keeping with the subtitle, the authors shift to historical strategies in chapters 7-15. The chapter headings are: 7- Missions Strategy in the Early Church, 8- Roman Catholic Strategy, 9- Pioneer Protestant Strategies, 10- Faith Missions Strategy, 11- Mission Strategies on the American Frontier, 12- The Indigenous Mission Strategy, 13- The Church Growth Movement, 14- Frontier Strategies, and 15- Contextualization Strategies. These chapters are a helpful review but anyone familiar with the history of missions will not find anything new.

Chapter 16 transitions to the third element in the subtitle, “cultural”. Under the heading “Understanding Cultural Research,” the chapter gives lists of questions to understand the demographic, cultural and spiritual context of the people group. “Such research is designed to provide the strategist with an understanding of the people that includes what they believe, how they think and communicate, and how they live life.” (148) Once one has a basic understanding of cultural research, one can develop a people-group profile, the subject of chapter 17. In this process the authors emphasize that missionaries, “… need to learn to discern the worldview of the people group they are serving so that they can be sure that the people truly do understand the gospel message.” (162) “Developing a Communication Strategy” (ch.18) is brief and general. Chapters 19 and 20 focus on “Discerning Receptivity” and “Discerning Need” respectively. They mention some tools such as the Engel Scale in working through the discerning process.

Strategy begins with “Visioning for the Future” (chapter 21). The authors state, “In essence obtaining a vision involves (1) prayer and fasting; (2) understanding the context; (3) understanding the team; and (4) being aware of the resources available for the task.” (194). There is a bit of fuzziness to this chapter, and for sure, visioning is an art more than science. I appreciate the continued emphasis on prayer in the process. Visioning is followed by “Forming a Team” (chapter 22) and “Assessing the Resources” (chapter 23). The authors list the eight “Barnabas Factors” for team members from J.D. Payne’s book, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members (2008): Walks with the Lord, Maintains an outstanding character, Serves in the local church, Remains faithful to the call, Shares the gospel regularly, Raises up leaders, Encourages with speech and actions, and Responds appropriately to conflict.

Chapter 24, “Setting Goals” gives some helpful guidelines in aligning goals of various sizes to the vision to be achieved: “Goals are to be not an end in themselves but rather accomplishments on the journey toward the achievement of the vision.” (236) Following the discussion on goals the authors move to “Choosing Appropriate Methods” (chapter 25). They “define methods as action steps, or the means to accomplish a task” (237). They apply the biblical, historical, and missiological principles outlined earlier in the book to the process of choosing methods.

The last two chapters remind us that the whole purpose of strategy is to actually do something. Chapter 26 “Execution” and chapter 27 “Evaluation” put shoes on the strategy. The specifics of evaluation is very brief but it is clear that evaluation is “a means to monitor the progress and focus of the team according to its purpose and vision” (256).

Overall the book is a helpful discussion of Developing a Strategy for Missions. In my opinion, less space could have been given to the historical review, and more detail and tools for actually developing a strategy would have greatly improved the book. It stresses the importance of strategy but then, anyone picking up this book already knows that. The authors state in the preface, “Throughout this work we periodically draw attention to the importance of understanding and working with majority world churches on strategy development” (ix). This comes out in some of the sidebars but is not a dominant theme. There is not even a subject heading “majority world” in the index. The reader will find helpful suggestions for developing strategy for missions but this does not replace Dayton and Fraser, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, (1990 rev).

Gary Ridley
SEND U Missiologist

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