When decision-making seems murky

November 24th, 2020
This article is featured in the Acting Missionally issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

When leaders are faced with decisions, the path forward is often murky and unclear. Competing visions and reactions can cloud the leader’s vision for a way forward. The alternative to the murkiness is a filter that enables collaboration and usually yields a better plan of action and a strategy. 

It’s difficult nowadays to find consensus. We live in a polarized society. However, people seem to respect solutions from a transparent, consistent process for making decisions. When you have a team making decisions with an approach that they follow with shared values and shared commitments, people are more likely to respect the diligence of the process. A mission filter can be a crucial part of this process, clearing the fog that happens in conversation. It’s like a field goal kicker who measures his steps in his approach to the ball and lines up the place where he will receive the ball so that he can go forward and kick it through the uprights. 

Peter L. Steinke, author of A Door Set Open, explains, “We are living in a new context where old certainties are disappearing, old institutions are less dependable, old assumptions are questionable, and old neighborhoods are less cohesive. Of course, the dislocation touches the church.”

The mission filter amplifies abilities and clarifies murky steps in the decision-making process by validating the leader’s decisions, providing direction and rooting us in our God-given identities.

The mission filter validates the leader’s decisions. Even confident, experienced leaders struggle with the decisions they make, especially during a crisis like COVID-19. External circumstances are fluid during these times. When a leader makes a decision, he or she needs validation and affirmation that the right choice was made. Although they are important, the leader should not be codependent on the outcomes or the action steps or even feedback that is given. The mission filter provides the clear answer to the leader’s question, “Did I do the right thing?” 

The mission filter provides direction. At the heart, all mission is incarnational. Michael Riddell said it best when he says, “Participating in the mission of God means leaving our place of security, to travel to the place where others are. This is the heartbeat of the incarnation … Mission is always in the direction of the other, and away from ourselves.” A decision is a moment in time while a direction is a pathway. The direction tells us where we are going but may or may not tell us how we’ll get there. So, how does the mission filter create a pathway? An effective mission filter inspires a journey. It challenges us to move in a certain direction. 

The mission filter roots us in our God-given identity for unprecedented times. A mission filter establishes a new identity, which is a prerequisite for impacting transformation of the world. You cannot transform the world without first, being transformed by God with a new, God-given identity in Christ. The mission filter expresses and reflects this identity in Christ and passes the test to contribute to the overarching mission. Dallas Willard says, “That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.”

During the beginnings of the COVID-19 crisis, someone approached me with a puzzling statement: “This crisis is killing the mission of the church.” I quickly shot back, “No it isn’t. The mission is still before us and still ours to own and to do.” 

The pandemic has scattered some of us to our homes in fear. In our longing for “normal,” it can become easy to neglect the mission of making disciples. Are we overlooking the transformative power of God at work in our neighborhoods and in our world? Some of us are clinging to the vaccinations of baptism and church membership while our neighbors are struggling to find their significance and purpose in this upside-down world. The mission is still the same. The mission filter is the same as before COVID-19. How will we — the COVID-fearing, COVID-facing, COVID-adjusting disciples of Christ — make disciples in these tumultuous times? How can we see God’s transformative power at work?

This article is adapted from a forthcoming book, The Mission Filter by Barry E. Winders; Copyright © 2020 Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher. 

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