Future Proofing OMF

This article discusses the lessons learnt from the discontinuation of OMF Southern Africa and the transition period when the team worked hard to let the old OMF Southern Africa model die. The lessons were profoundly important in the development of New Horizons (NH) as OMF’s means to engage workers from non-traditional sending countries. The discussion includes reflections on OMF as an organization and the possible impact of New Horizons on wider OMF structures.

Raised in the Philippines where his parents worked cross-culturally, Jon Fuller returned to the Philippines in 1988 with his wife Marilyn. After serving in church planting roles there for more than a decade, the Fullers moved to Canada in 2000 where Jon served as the Director of Personnel for OMF Canada. In 2005 the Fuller family returned to Asia where Jon served as the International Director for Mobilization at the OMF International Headquarters in Singapore. Jon has travelled extensively, including trips to Latin America, and Africa, exploring OMF’s commitment to be a global community of East Asian specialists. The Fullers returned to Canada in mid-2013 to take up the position of National Director for OMF Canada. Jon is the author of Cross Currents, published in 2005 by OMF Literature in the Philippines.

Future Proofing OMF

Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No.1 (January-April 2017): 13-22

As Shenk puts it, missions are today in search of mission; agencies and institutions that once did pioneering work at the cutting edges of the Christian mission have too often been left facing in the wrong direction as the battle has moved on. In this situation they face a stark choice: either they engage in a radical re-formation, repositioning themselves to respond to the quite new challenges of the twenty-first century, or they are doomed to rapid and rather sad decline and extinction.[1]


David Smith (and Wilbert Shenk before him) are only some of the voices arguing that the western missionary movement is facing a time of change. Globalization, the shifting center of Christianity, Christendom’s demise in the West, changing patterns of church/mission engagement and other factors, while not necessarily negative, are powerful disruptive forces for the western missionary movement.

OMF Canada is one specific community in that movement, part of the larger OMF International community that celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015. Being part of something well established does not make the organization immune to disruptive forces. A rich legacy can also make it harder to adjust to rapidly changing environments. “Future proofing” an organization requires a commitment to adaptive learning where leadership is able to “recognize this new reality but also intentionally develop coping mechanisms and skill-sets that will help ensure that they don’t ‘miss the future’.”[2] OMF has to choose whether to engage with these disruptive forces as a threat, or as an opportunity for reflection and perhaps renewal.

Learning in Southern Africa

I took up the role of International Director for Mobilization (IDM) at OMF’s International Headquarters (IHQ) in August 2005 and began to learn as much as I could about the eighteen “homesides” for which I was responsible. I was a young, passionate, and idealistic leader excited to tackle this new role. In late 2005 the OMF Southern Africa (ZA) Council contacted me to say that they had decided to “close down” their operations after more than sixty years. On Saturday, 4 March 2006, the OMF ZA Council met with the six office staff members and two representatives of the field members to discuss the future of OMF ZA. I attended as an observer representing IHQ, and so was the one person in the room without a vote. The discussion was intense and at times emotional but ended with a unanimous decision to “discontinue” the homeside operations. This consensus included the agreement of the office staff, who were effectively terminating their employment.

I have distinct memories of the discussions, and particularly of the emotional terrain over which we travelled. At the beginning of the day, the OMF ZA community was torn between frustration, anger, and grief, with grief increasing as the decision to “discontinue” became increasingly clear. However, with that clarity came a slow lightening of mood. The prospect of a decision, any decision, brought the uncertainty to an end. A “discontinuation” also brought to an end ten years of heroic, but in the end largely futile, effort to save OMF ZA. With the decision made, I sensed that many of those in the room were experiencing a new degree of freedom as they looked to their own future which might or might not include an on-going investment in OMF.

In distinct contrast, while I had begun the day as an observer seeking to support this community in its time of crisis, by the end of the day I found myself feeling an intense weight of responsibility. The mandate given to “OMF International” essentially landed on my shoulders as the sole representative of that body and as the International Director responsible for OMF’s engagement with Africa. This involved, not just the call for a process of evaluation and exploration, but also the responsibility for the “administrative structure” that was needed to care for retirees and existing members.

Emotionally, the day was a journey into darkness and doubt for me. As we drove away from the meeting, I found myself weeping. When one of my companions expressed concern, I pointed out that they as South Africans, had just handed the future of OMF in Southern Africa to a white, male, middle-aged Canadian who lived in Singapore.

In Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, Quinn comments on the importance of courage in leadership, quoting one of his respondents. “Real leadership is about moving forward in faith, and it requires both head and heart…. Each of us has unique gifts; we are as different as snowflakes, but to realize and use these gifts, we have to use our courage and move forward with a commitment to true service.”[3] That day of discussion with the OMF ZA leadership stands out for me as a day of great courage, not least because the leadership’s “commitment to true service” was to choose to die. In Quinn’s words, “It [entering the fundamental state of leadership] means being so focused on achieving the desired outcome that we are always willing to accept that it may be necessary for us to go in order for the outcome to emerge. This means we are truly focused on the collective good.”[4] The ZA leadership had truly “walked naked into the land of uncertainty.”[5] I had the great privileged to join them on this journey.

The Plenary Counsel captured this courageous decision in a statement which began, “With great sadness, but believing it to be God’s clear direction, we propose that the current OMF (Southern Africa) operation be discontinued.”[6] It is important to note that the decision was intentionally described as a “discontinuation” rather than “closing down”. This reflected the entire group’s conviction that the church in Africa still had a role to play amongst East Asians, and their hope that OMF would be part of that involvement. The commitment to the mission hadn’t changed, but OMF ZA was no longer deemed to be effective in accomplishing that mission.

The statement gives the reason for the discontinuation as OMF Southern Africa no longer being able to “adequately serve God’s purposes in Africa today.” Although the statement includes a strong commitment to reaching East Asia’s peoples, the core reasons for discontinuation related to the center’s lack of relevance and effectiveness in the African context. OMF has taken pride for many years in its commitment to language and culture training in its field ministries; too often this concern for effective cross-cultural ministry has not been applied as rigorously in the “homeside” context.

Finally, the statement gave a mandate to OMF International to “evaluate and explore” God’s future purposes for OMF in Africa “without the constraints of the existing structures.” This paragraph was carefully worded to express a hope for the future and to ensure that someone was responsible to take that effort forward. However, it also reflects the strong feeling that the “existing structures” had become part of the problem. Eldon Porter described this challenge well in his influential article “What Does the Future of the Traditional Mission Agency Look Like.”[7]

There is a growing realization that an agency’s primary value-add for the local church is shifting away from the services offered through the sending office, toward the services offered on the field or ministry context. Historically, each agency has managed its own sending functions (mobilization, promotion, screening, selection, training, the financial services of receipting donations and transferring funds to the field, church and donor relations, and member care).

These services consume upwards of ninety percent of an agency’s administrative dollar and large numbers of personnel. Maintaining these structures is the financial challenge many agencies are facing. It isn’t that these services are no longer needed, but rather that many of these services can be done by the local church, outsourced, or done in partnership with other agencies at a significantly lower cost. The day when an agency needed a large sending office building and the related office staff is a thing of the past.[8]

This dependence on outmoded and unsustainable structures, was a significant factor in the decision to discontinue the OMF ZA operations. The decision was not just economic, but also reflected a deep concern for leader care. As one Council member put it, “We can’t afford to destroy another leader’s health by asking them to continue like this.”

In hindsight, my unexpected role in Southern Africa turned out to be a precious gift for me as a developing leader. OMF Southern Africa became my “skunk works”, a place where I could experiment with new methods and models of partnership and mobilization.[9]

There was nothing particularly advanced or secret about the work around OMF ZA between 2006 and 2013, but I was given a high degree of autonomy and the opportunity to experiment and try new methods in that context. In part, this was simply because Southern Africa was far away, and “off the radar” for most of our leaders based in East Asia. There was also a degree of sympathy for me having to deal with a difficult situation. The most common question I faced in the early years, was why we continued to be involved at all. It was easy (and partly true) to joke that I loved visiting South Africa, thereby deflecting the question in order to continue staying under the radar. In fact, my engagement with Southern Africa provided a safe “workshop” in which to explore questions about sustainability, meaningful partnerships, and critical contextualization.

I am grateful for the support I received from Dr. Patrick Fung, OMF’s General Director and my director supervisor. I made sure that he was aware of the on-going work being done (or not done in the early years), and he was largely supportive of the evaluation and exploration. Organizationally, I looked to him to protect this “skunk works” and give me time, both to learn valuable lessons and also to bring OMF ZA to a point of either renewal or healthy closure.

In the first three years after the “discontinuation”, we worked hard to let the old OMF Southern Africa model die. This was painful, particularly for the existing faithful donor and praying constituency, the OMF retirees, and the twenty or so current South African field members. The office building was closed and a small office set up in the home of one staff member who continued to manage basic administration half-time, replacing the six full-time personnel that had been working in the office. An accountant volunteered to manage the books, working with the administrator and with some support from the international systems.

Instead of “the office” sending out prayer letters, members had to do so themselves or find a volunteer who would handle it. The bi-monthly prayer newsletter was discontinued, until a volunteer came forward to put something together and send it out electronically, without postage costs. Instead of someone from the office meeting members at the airport when they arrived home, helping to arrange housing, and setting up deputation meetings, the members had to do these things themselves with the help of their sending churches. This transition was difficult, but it also resulted in greater involvement from sending churches, more responsibility being taken by the members themselves, and reduced expectations of the organization from both sides. Many of the younger missionaries had already moved in this direction, with strong sending church partnerships. When OMF ZA began slowly to send new missionaries again, this model became the norm.

In Managing Transitions, William Bridges describes the three stages of every transition: (1) Ending, Losing, Letting Go; (2) The Neutral Zone; and (3) The New Beginning. “Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.”[10] This is certainly true of OMF ZA between 2006 and 2013 when the community went through a very significant transition. In the early years of that transition, it was important to communicate the new reality, while at the same time acknowledging the losses, particularly for long-term members of the OMF ZA community, whether they were donors, prayer supporters, or members. This was a huge challenge, particularly for someone like me who was relatively new to the community and based in Singapore, geographically distant from virtually all of those involved. Looking back, much more could have been done to ease the transition at that first stage.

As the transition moved into “The Neutral Zone”, it was important to resist the temptation to “make something happen.” In the early years, there was no shortage of suggestions for new initiatives, opportunities that I found difficult to resist as someone passionate about mobilization. However, in the day-long meeting that led to the “discontinuation”, the group had spoken a number of times of the need to let OMF ZA die, so that something new could grow. We honored that discussion by committing to wait for at least three years before taking any initiatives in mobilization, while choosing to see this as useful time in the context of the evaluation and exploration mandate. “The neutral zone is not the wasted time of meaningless waiting and confusion that it sometimes seems to be. It is a time when reorientation and re-definition must take place, and people need to understand that. It is the winter during which the spring’s new growth is taking shape under the earth.”[11] In March 2013 OMF Southern Africa was reconstituted reflecting this new model.

The lessons learned in Southern Africa were profoundly important as OMF began to engage with mission movements in South America, which brings us to the story of New Horizons.

What is “New Horizons”?

“New Horizons” is an atypical OMF “center” facilitating partnerships in contexts where OMF does not have a traditional sending center. It is a helpful lens through which to consider the possibility of organizational change because, while it serves the mission of OMF, it uses quite different methods, reflecting a context without pre-existing OMF models.

“Centers” in OMF are organizational units, which collectively make up the Fellowship, supported by the International Center, an organization-wide service center based in Singapore. Centers are traditionally divided into “Homesides” or “sending” centers, and “Fields” or “receiving” centers (although “receiving” doesn’t really capture the function of a Field accurately). Historically, the “fields” are where missionaries work, and therefore are traditionally located in East Asia, although there is now one global field, “Diaspora Returnee Ministries,” that focuses on East Asians outside of their historic, geographical context. These “field” centers have been served for many years by eighteen OMF “homesides”, nine in East Asia and nine in the “West”, including North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Resources including missionaries, finances, and prayer have come from the homesides to support field ministries. Centers have a director, staff, and physical infrastructure, and are almost all legally registered in their national context. They are supported by donors, who give to the center directly, or who give to specific missionaries sent out through the center and from whose donations the center takes a service fee. This structure is common to many mission agencies that trace their roots back to the nineteenth century, and reflects a Christendom model of missions in which the agencies’ role was primarily to facilitate the movement of resources from the Christian west to the pagan “rest”.

Christendom’s division of the world and its peoples into two great blocs – here a culture shaped by the Gospel; there a realm of ignorance and darkness (a categorization that continues to inform the Western mind in various secularised reworkings) – has increasingly seemed to be implausible and unbelievable…. These questions become increasingly urgent in the light of the findings of Wilbert Shenk that the study of the missionary movement since the 1920s leaves the impression that ‘an ageing movement, increasingly unable to adapt to the times’ has found its basic structures and assumptions rendered irrelevant and that with the end of the modern period in world history has also come the end of modern missions.[12]

The center structure and the tensions related to it in today’s world form the backdrop for the development of New Horizons.

The first New Horizons team meeting in South Africa, May 2013.

The Origins of New Horizons

New Horizons does not represent OMF’s first engagement with countries where OMF does not have a sending office. OMF connections in Latin America go back to the mid-1990s when Alex Smith and Jim Morris spoke at a missions conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Over the next few years, a number of couples were sent to OMF Thailand through Avante, an indigenous Brazilian mission agency. OMF US was also involved in discussions with Latin American mission leaders at various times in the 1990s and early 2000s. OMF centers in Europe have routinely sought to facilitate the mission interest of individual applicants from nearby nations, wherever that was possible. In Asia, the Mekong center (minority peoples in and around north Thailand) has had an Indian couple working with their team for many years, partially supported by Singaporean churches. However, New Horizons is unique as the first organization-wide structure formed specifically to facilitate these kinds of engagements.

In 2007 two of OMF’s International Directors visited Brazil to meet with an existing partner church and indigenous agency and explore further partnership possibilities. Over the next few years, a number of OMF leaders joined COMIBAM (the Latin American mission movement network) meetings, met with key Latin American leaders, and joined conferences in South America. OMF had already been involved with Latin America for about twenty years, but primarily within the existing structures and policies, although with some creative solutions even then. In face-to-face meetings with Latin American leaders, and with international leaders who had more experience than OMF in Latin America, we were able to review and evaluate our approach to the “global south” or “majority world”.

OMF International relates closely to majority world mission movements in the East Asian context including Korea and the Philippines but has arguably been slow to connect with similar movements in other parts of the majority world, including Africa and Latin America. However, this was changing in the early 2000s, driven by our growing awareness of these global movements, and the increasing numbers of Latin American, African, and Eastern Europeans showing up in East Asia. The internet also stimulated increased awareness of mission interest from the majority world, as traditional OMF centers received growing numbers of inquiries about mission from countries like Nigeria and Pakistan. Many of these were uninformed inquiries or genuine requests for paid employment, but not all could be so easily dismissed. OMF leaders began to ask how we could respond to credible requests from contexts where we had no organizational presence. In some cases, a nearby OMF center could reply and develop the relationship. This model worked relatively well in Europe where distances are not great. In other cases, it was possible to refer the credible inquirer to a partner agency. However, these solutions all had limitations. The question arose if OMF should be establishing additional “homeside” centers in some of these new locations.

The rise of the majority world church and related mission movements has been identified by Porter as one of two key factors along with globalization, which is driving change for mission agencies.[13] This is not simply because agencies need to retool to take advantage of a new recruitment stream from the majority world missionary movement, but because these missionaries are coming from churches with experiences of God and his mission which the western mission movement both needs and finds challenging. In The New Shape of World Christianity, Mark Noll argues persuasively for careful reflection on the complexity and diversity of the global church.

In a word, today’s Christian situation is marked by multiplicity because of how deeply the Christian message, fully indigenized in the local languages, has become part of local cultures. The new shape of world Christianity offers a mosaic of many, many varieties of local belief and practice. Immigration, the modern media, global trade and the ease of contemporary travel have stirred this mixture. In many places it is possible to find traces – or more – of American influence. But the multiplicity goes far beyond what any one influence can explain, except the adaptability of the Christian faith itself.[14]

Eddie Arthur sees this as both an opportunity and a danger.

The different experiences of the Church in the West and elsewhere have led to a change in the profile of Christians around the world…. Evangelical mission agencies that were founded to take the gospel to Asia and Africa now live in a context where there is often a higher proportion of Christians on the “mission fields” than in the traditional sending countries. There is a growing disparity between the worldview of the growing world church and that of the mission sending churches. The southern churches tend to be spiritually vibrant, expecting God to intervene in situations, where their northern counterparts would look for rational, scientific causes and solutions.[15]

The impact of the global church’s perspectives, experiences, and worldview is being increasingly felt through the expansion of global mission movements. Noll acknowledges that

the growing reality of missionary service defined as Christian believers going from everyone to everywhere … by early in the twenty-first century, the rising reality on the missionary horizon was the presence of non-Western missionaries increasingly active in all regions of the world.[16]

This was certainly true for East Asia, where OMF is focused. Although the organization’s initial and appropriate response was a desire to see more Latin American and African missionaries join OMF to help us reach East Asia’s peoples, our interaction with Latin American and African mission movements seasoned that motivation with a growing awareness of the ways in which God will use these movements to enrich OMF’s understanding and practice of mission.

One very practical implication of this recognition was the decision not to open traditional OMF homesides in contexts like Latin American and Africa, but instead to invest in partnerships with existing indigenous mission movements. This was a significant strategic decision which went against the common practices of many of the other international agencies. However, the decision was deeply influenced by the voices of Latin American leaders with whom we met. Both from the platform and in private meetings, these leaders told stories of the struggle to partner well with international agencies that set up organizational units in their contexts. One leader shared the story of the elephant and the ant trying to dance together. He said, “No matter how well intentioned the elephant, the ant almost always ends up being stepped on.” Others spoke passionately about struggling with policies, structures, and processes which were presented as “international” but felt very western to the Latin American.

The Latin American mission leaders’ desire for truly mutual partnership was also reflected in our interactions with African leaders. At the Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI) meeting in 2006, the president of the World Evangelical Alliance in Africa expressed his openness to partnership with OMF. He came from an ethnically Chinese church in Mauritius that had been planted by a former CIM missionary from Australia, and was particularly interested in OMF’s help to respond to the influx of Chinese to Africa. However, in expressing his welcome he gently, but quite firmly, asked that we collaborate with existing African communities, cooperating on new initiatives, and avoiding parachuting in resources or selling western methodologies. His invitation was, “Come live with us so that we can learn together.”

These experiences led us to avoid setting up “OMF Brazil” or “OMF East Africa”. Instead, we committed ourselves to building relationships with existing African and Latin American mission movements, looking for partners who shared our values and whose vision and mission overlapped with us sufficiently that we could effectively work together towards OMF’s vision and mission. In many ways, it would have been much easier to just set up an OMF organizational unit. It would have been faster and more “efficient” perhaps, measured in terms of immediate strategic outcomes, but doing so would have reduced our ability to learn and grow through partnerships. It would also have been costlier in the long-run as the cost of maintaining traditional OMF structures in a new context began to add up. Eventually, resources and personnel from the local context would have been necessary, potentially removing those resources from the indigenous mission movements—the elephant unintentionally stepping on the ant. We were told stories of key “national” leaders being drawn away from indigenous movements, attracted by the higher salaries, more resources, greater opportunities for advancement, or higher prestige that are available through “international” agencies.

Instead of replicating OMF sending centers in these new contexts, New Horizons developed as an atypical OMF center. From within OMF, it had the appearance of a traditional “homeside” with an Executive Director, Candidate Coordinator, Finance Manager, and a physical location at the International Headquarters in Singapore. Rather than being connected with a particular national context, it was identified as focusing “beyond established OMF communities.” Like any OMF center, over time Vision and Mission statements were developed that helped to explain New Horizons in familiar OMF terms.

Both the Vision and Mission Statements were intentionally designed to address concerns about vision/mission “creep”, by articulating a continued commitment to East Asia’s peoples. However, the Mission statement also articulates the distinctive of New Horizons as being focused beyond the traditional OMF organizational context.

Practically speaking, this meant that a new worker coming to a traditional OMF field in East Asia through New Horizons from a partner indigenous mission movement in Chile would appear within the OMF International Personnel System (IPS) complete with the expected forms and through the expected processes. This was important in order to reduce the change stress between NH and the wider organization. However, the Chilean partner agency would not be required to engage directly with OMF’s internal systems, which most found very difficult, using the English language being just the first of the challenges. Instead, the New Horizons team worked to:

  1. understand the partner agency’s existing processes;
  2. provide translation (organizationally and in some cases linguistically as well) into OMF compliant forms and processes;
  3. and identify gaps between the two partners and address those (e.g., High Altitude medical form required by an OMF Field but not by the Chilean partner agency).

In all of this, the New Horizons team worked to develop the relationship between the partner agency and the “field” team, with the goal that in time much of this translation work might no longer be necessary. Building trust was an essential priority, first by listening and understanding each other and then by developing ways to accommodate. In many ways, New Horizons functioned as a door through which OMF ministry teams and indigenous mission agencies could connect. New Horizons work was to make the respective sides of the door appear familiar enough to each party to encourage engagement, while at the same time managing the relationships every time the door was used in one way or another. This applied not just to personnel but the flow of finances and of mobilization information.

Some Reflections on OMF as an Organization

In order to understand the development of New Horizons, particularly with respect to the change process, it would be helpful to reflect on OMF as an organization. We briefly discussed the structure of OMF at the beginning of this paper, but now need to take a more analytical view.

I was introduced to Ichak Adizes’s life cycles of an organization during a series of Organizational Leaders Workshop training sessions run by OMF between 2007 and 2009. Adizes developed a theory of organizational lifecycles that explains “why organizations grow, age, and die, and what to do about it. [The theory] describes and analyzes the usual path organizations take as they grow and the optimal path they should take to avoid the typical problems of growing and aging.”[17] I have used Adizes’ model in both the agency and church contexts and found it a helpful tool in clarifying understanding of the challenge for those communities. Graphically, the life cycle can be illustrated as in Figure 1.

OMF is a complex organization and it is difficult to position it accurately on the lifecycle as one entity. At any given time, there are parts of the organization in many of the lifecycle stages. However, as we worked through the changes involved in the development of New Horizons, it was with the feeling that OMF as a corporate entity was displaying some of the characteristics of Aristocracy. Between 2010 and 2015, the organization went through a major strategic review and subsequent restructuring that has brought the promise of renewal to many aspects of the organization. Through engagement with the majority world church and mission movements, New Horizons seemed to be one possible source of renewal and return to the vitality of a “Prime” organization. However, to achieve that it needed space to develop and grow, something not natural to many organizations in Aristocracy where new ideas and entrepreneurial effort are often limited. Aristocractic organizations have strong systems and procedures but do not find change easy. They are wise and experienced, but not nimble. Without a renewed vision and entrepreneurial energy, they can easily slide into Recrimination and Bureaucracy.

John Kotter comments on this reality in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World.

Virtually all successful organizations on earth go through a very similar life cycle. They begin with a network-like structure, sort of like a solar system with a sun, planets, moons and even satellites. Founders are at the center. Others are at various nodes working on different initiatives. Action is opportunity seeking and risk taking, all guided by a vision that people buy into. Energized individuals move quickly and with agility.

Over time, a successful organization evolves through a series of stages… into an enterprise that is structured as a hierarchy and is driven by well-known managerial processes: planning, budgeting, job defining, staffing, measuring, problem solving. With a well-structured hierarchy and with managerial processes that are driven with skill, this more mature organization can produce incredibly reliable and efficient results on a weekly, quarterly, and annual basis.”[18]

Building on this, Kotter goes on to propose a “dual operating systems” model, in which established organizations renew the capacity for growth through a networking structure with some of the characteristics of a new start-up, but running parallel and loosely interconnected to the hierarchical system.

The hierarchy part of the dual operating system differs from almost every other hierarchy today in one very important way. Much of the work ordinarily assigned to it that demands innovation, agility, difficult change, and big strategic initiatives executed quickly… has been shifted over to the network part. That leaves the hierarchy less encumbered and better able to perform what it is designed for: doing today’s job well, making incremental changes to further improve efficiency, and handling those strategic initiatives that help a company deal with predictable adjustments.[19]

Kotter argues persuasively that the very strengths of the hierarchical structure become limitations for effective innovation in a rapidly changing world, but he is careful to recognize the value of the hierarchical structure and the importance of maintaining its vitality. Organizations that discard or devalue these structures and processes will simply find themselves rebuilding them in the future around the next round of innovation. Ellen Livingood makes the same point in her Catalyst training program with the illustration of the city developing a magnetic levitation train system, while maintaining the existing public rail system.[20] The maglev system is a critical new innovation but it cannot immediately replace the existing public transportation infrastructure and probably never will replace it completely.

In many ways, New Horizons has become a “maglev” possibility for OMF, exploring a new way of engaging with mission partners that builds on, but doesn’t replicate, the existing system. While it is tempting to suggest that New Horizons was intentionally designed by organizational leadership as a parallel network structure, it’s probably more accurate to say that leadership responded to a need and opportunity and then built the network organically. In all of this God’s hand was clearly evident, particularly in the provision of key personnel at critical moments:

  • Koyuki from Japan whose vision of an “enlarged tent” led her to accept a personnel role;
  • Jim who came out of retirement to manage New Horizons finances from South Africa;
  • Guido who built partnerships across the capitals of Europe;
  • and many others.

Leadership was a key factor in the early development of New Horizons. Kotter makes the point

that the organization’s top management plays a crucial role in starting and maintaining the network. The … executive committee must launch it, explicitly bless it, support it, and ensure that it and the hierarchy stay aligned. The hierarchy’s leadership team must serve as role models for their subordinates in interacting with the network. I have found that none of this requires much C-suite time. But these actions by senior executives clearly signal that the network is not in any way a rogue operation. It is not an informal organization. It is not just a small engagement exercise which makes those who participate feel good.[21]

In the early days of the development of New Horizons, it was very important to keep OMF’s senior leadership team well informed about developments in Africa and Latin America. Travel costs were significant to engage effectively in what were still largely new continents for OMF, and these decisions were scrutinized carefully. However, the senior leadership team was supportive of the new initiative, including, and perhaps most crucially, OMF’s General Director.

Although the senior leadership were engaged with the New Horizons developments, many other leaders did not see it as particularly relevant to their areas of ministry, in part because it involved distant contexts with little prospect of immediate resources being made available. It was important to identify key stakeholders and pay attention to their influence on the new initiative. Work was done on this in 2007 using Lewin’s Force Field analysis, based on training given at an OMF Organizational Leaders Workshop.[22] Kurt Lewin’s tool is widely used to identify stakeholders and their direction and degree of influence in a change process.[23] Lewin’s analysis tool allowed OMF leadership to identify and address concerns that arose within the OMF community, as well as to maximize supportive factors for the change process. Figure 3 and Figure 4 illustrate how the supportive and restraining factors and stakeholders were envisioned fairly early in the change process. These evaluations obviously changed as time went on.

Perhaps the most serious challenge to the New Horizons initiative was rather more ambiguous but had the potential to derail the whole change process. As New Horizons became more established and the stories of OMF leaders’ engagement in Latin America and Africa began to circulate, questions began to be asked about whether New Horizons was going beyond the Fellowship’s focus on East Asians. Part of this was a natural reaction by those for whom OMF’s focus was wrongly understood as being geographically “East Asia”, rather than “East Asians”. Some therefore struggled to understand why OMF would do anything in Africa or Latin America. The growth of the “diaspora” movement in OMF helped to address this misconception as the Fellowship became more intentional about focusing on East Asians wherever they were as long as there was a strategic need. Some OMF stakeholders could see the value of engaging with mission movements in Latin America or Africa if they resulted in new personnel for their ministry, but raised concerns about the cost, time, and effort involved given the potential limited return. This was a valid concern, which the New Horizons team needed to consider from the perspective of available resources and sustainability, but it reflected a truncated grasp of the value of engaging with these church and mission movements in order to learn from that conversation. It also reflected a Christendom missiology that only saw East Asia as a mission field and everywhere else only as a potential source of resources for our work in that field.

Recognizing that the surfacing of these concerns represented both a challenge and an opportunity, New Horizons was brought to the International Executive Council (IEC)—the highest management body of the Fellowship at the time—for their review and approval as a formal organizational entity. The presentation responded to the concerns about OMF’s East Asian focus by articulating three key, but easily overlooked, truths about East Asia’s peoples today:

  • East Asia’s peoples are no longer only in East Asia.
  • East Asia’s church has a growing vision for the whole world.
  • The global church has a growing interest in reaching East Asians.[24]

In 2012, the IEC agreed to the formal establishment of “New Horizons” as a non-traditional sending center that would be responsible for sending partnerships with communities beyond the reasonable reach of our existing centers.


The discontinuation of OMF Southern Africa and the formation of New Horizons illustrate the significant challenges facing OMF as it engages with both the traditional western mission movements, and the growing majority world mission movements. The implications of these challenges for the Fellowship are being worked out on a daily basis by our leaders in conversations, prayer, and dreams about the future. Let me close this paper with an “endvisioning” exercise, expressing what OMF Canada might look like ten years from now. I share this, not as a prediction of the future but to stimulate the reader’s own reflections on how to envision OMF responding to the challenges of the coming years. The ultimate “future proofing” strategy is a passionate commitment to walk in obedience to the One who knows the future, but listening to God does not preclude engaging with what is happening in the world around us. OMF leaders must be like the men of Issachar who “understood the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32). John Stott called this the challenge of “double listening”. Let me close with his prophetic challenge given more than twenty years ago.

[Double listening] is the faculty of listening to two voices at the same time, the voice of God through Scriptures and the voice of men and women around us. These voices will often contradict one another, but our purpose in listening to them both is to discover how they relate to each other. Double listening is indispensable to Christian discipleship and to Christian mission.[25]

OMF Canada in 2027: Endvisioning Exercise

The dining room was buzzing with conversation in at least three languages (English, Mandarin, and Cree) that I could pick out. I waved to Joe and Sarah who had just returned from their first term in a large Asian city. They were staying in the Guest Home for a few days to sort out the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, before heading up to North Bay where they would spend their Home Assignment. They were chatting away in Mandarin with Hong and Dai who were in Toronto on a visa run. Joe and Sarah had brought some gifts from Dai’s family. Hong and Joe were comparing notes on life in the Canadian “north”, with stories from the northern community where Hong and Dai were working with a Canadian mission team. I was very grateful for the partnership with these mission agencies, and with local churches in Winnipeg and Vancouver where we had placed East Asian missionaries reaching out to the First Nations urban poor.

I remembered why I’d come upstairs, but before I could find George, Jane caught my eye. She was anxious to remind me that I’d agreed to speak at the “Engaging East Asia” three-day weekend coming up. I assured her that I was looking forward to being with the fifteen who had signed up for the long weekend of interaction and activities focused on East Asian culture, worldview, spirituality, and of course food. Jane was excited that twelve of the fifteen had already completed their on-line training modules, and after the Engaging course, would be ready for their interviews. Three couples were planning to join OMF as members, while the other nine were professionals headed to jobs in East Asia. Jane felt that at least half of those were committed to long-term mission engagement, and would be great additions to our teams in Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The “Marketplace Coordinators” in those countries had done a great job of extending a welcome to these professionals as they considered work and mission. I would be having lunch on Monday with pastors from six of the group’s churches, who would also be joining us for interviews.

As I headed off to find George, Jane called out that they were expecting thirty-five inquirers on the “drop in” night of the Engage course and looked forward to good interaction between those attending the course and the inquirers interested in finding out more about East Asia. Hong and Dai were going to share their experiences as missionaries from East Asia serving in Canada.

Jane grinned, and added that two of the “inquirers” were a mother and daughter who were working on a school project on Christianity in Japan. The mother had searched the internet on the topic and OMF’s website had been one of the top search returns. She’d been amazed at the helpful information available, and at the quick response when she’d sent an inquiry to the website. They were attending the “drop in” night to meet with two couples who were headed to Japan long term with OMF.

I finally found George in the kitchen where he was helping his wife Mabel with the last of the dishes. I hated to disturb them, but needed to check with George if they had room the following week for four mission agency leaders to stay overnight. The mission agency leaders were getting together to review plans for our Thai joint mobilization event. Reflecting back to 2017 when OMF had eighty unused visas for Thailand, I was enormously encouraged that all of those visas were in use. It had taken a lot of trust and hard work to replicate the church planting partnerships we had on the field, through church mobilization partnerships here in Canada. However, today we had over fifty Canadian missionaries (including professionals) serving in Thailand through OMF visas, sent by six or seven different agencies and church associations.

George checked his datagit, flicking through the pages with a series of quick blinks. I was still getting used to the new neural interface, but very glad to be free of keyboards. Having found his calendar, George assured me that there was room for the agency leaders, although he took the opportunity to remind me that we were close to full capacity with managing the flow of Canadians heading out to East Asia and East Asians coming to Canada. I smiled as I walked away, grateful for George and Mabel’s ability to cater to the needs of such a diverse community. Breakfasts were interesting with corn flakes and noodles served side by side.

My datagit tickled the interface behind my ear and I managed to blink correctly and accept the call. It was Mark calling to confirm that he had just picked up Bishop Ho Meng from the airport and was taking him straight to a meeting with a group of East Asian church leaders. Bishop Ho Meng was getting quite elderly, but still enjoyed meeting with Canadian pastors and educators. We were always glad to have him in Canada to speak on behalf of the East Asian church. Canadians wanted to hear from East Asian leaders directly, and rightly so. Thinking back to my last Asian visit, I rejoiced at how the OMF field and homeside teams were pretty well integrated. The majority of them were led by Asian leaders, although anyone could lead the teams, depending on their experience and gifting.

I hung up the datagit with a flick of my chin, and headed back downstairs to the office. Although OMF Canada now had nearly two hundred affiliates (sixty-five members and close to one hundred and twenty professionals), the office suite was surprisingly small. I settled into my chair amongst the set of hot desks in the office, and thought back ten years.

I was extremely grateful for the small but gifted team of finance, administration, and personnel leaders who worked with our partners to ensure that we had world-class services, tailored to the needs of our personnel, and scalable as our numbers fluctuated. These partnerships had allowed us to focus our energy on partnering with the Canadian church to engage with East Asia’s peoples both in Canada and around the world, including those who had come to serve as missionaries in Canada.

[1] Wilbert R. Shenk, Changing Frontiers of Mission (New York: Orbis, 1999), Kindle edition.

David Smith, Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003).

[2] Keith Coats, “Future-Proof Your Organisation: 4 Things Leaders Need to Know about Tomorrow.” Tomorrow Trends (15 August 2012). http://www.tomorrowtodayglobal.com/2012/08/15/future-proof-your-organisation-4-things-leaders-need-to-know-about-tomorrow-2/ (accessed 4 April 2017).

[3] Robert Quinn, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 17.

[4] Quinn, Building the Bridge, 81.

[5] Quinn, Building the Bridge, 153.

[6]The Future of OMF Southern Africa, 4 March 2006.

[7] Eldon Porter, “What Does the Future of the Traditional Mission Agency Look Like?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly (April 2014), https://emqonline.com/node/2947 (accessed 3 April 2017).

[8] Porter, Future of Mission Agency.

[9] “The designation ‘skunk works’ or ‘skunkworks’ is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects.” From “Skunk Works”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_Works (accessed 3 April 2017).

[10] William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, 3rd rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey, 2010), 5.

[11] Bridges, Managing Transitions, 49.

[12] David Smith, Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003), 3–5.

[13] Porter, Future of Mission Agency.

[14] Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Influence Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 27.

[15] Eddie Arthur, “The Future of Mission Agencies.” In The Future of Mission. Singapore: Global Connections (2016), 3.

[16] Noll, The New Shape, 92.

[17] Ichak Adizes, Managing Corporate Lifecycles: How Organizations Grow, Age, and Die (Santa Barbara, CA: Adizes Institute Publishing, 2004), Kindle edition, Loc 144.

[18] John P. Kotter, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), 5–6.

[19] Kotter, Accelerate, 21.

[20] Ellen Livingood, Your Focus on the World (Newtown, PA: Catalyst Services Inc., 2009), 31.

[21] Kotter, Accelerate, 21–22.

[22] OMF Organizational Leaders Workshop: Session Two, 2007.

[23] Peter Barron, “Force Field Analysis Free Step By Step Guide to Kurt Lewin Force Field Analysis,” http://www.change-management-consultant.com/force-field-analysis.html (accessed 2 January 2017).

[24] “New Horizons Proposal to IEC,” 4 March 2012.

[25] John Stott, The Contemporary Christian:  An Urgent Plea for Double Listening. (Leicester: IVP, 1992), 29.

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