This paper looks at how OMF needs to be innovative, not to survive, and not for innovation’s sake, but for the sake of the lost, for the sake of God’s glory. It considers recent examples of innovation and creativity seen within our ministries.
Andrew Goodman is from the UK and married to Shona, with whom he has worked amongst the Shan/Tai people for twenty-three years. The Shan/Tai mainly live in North Thailand, Southwest China, and Myanmar. Andrew has been involved in field leadership for several years.
A Call to Innovate—Our Vision Demands It
Mission Round Table Vol. 16 No. 1 (Jan-Apr 2021): 22-23
It was my first term, and I was at the Manorom Hospital Guest house in Central Thailand waiting for Shona to give birth to our son David. A retired South African missionary who had a reputation for expressing his forthright opinions said, “The problem with OMF is that they don’t win enough souls!” I was slightly taken aback by his remark, but it sowed a seed of concern.
How much is a life worth?
In the Indigenous Biblical Church Movement (IBCM) trainings done in the Mekong Field, one of the modules taught is called the “gap analysis”. It poses the question: “How many people in the people group you are focusing on will hear the gospel today?” This raises the question, “Do numbers matter?” In the Steven Spielberg movie Schindler’s List, the question, “What is a life worth to you?” is posed by the concentration camp commandant to Schindler. The womanizing war profiteer becomes determined to save as many Jewish people from the gas chambers as possible. At the end of the film, Schindler is distraught by the thought that if only he had sold his car or his gold lapel pin, more people, whose lives had become so valuable to him, could have been saved.
This reminds me of the passage in Mountain Rain that records the conviction J. O. Fraser felt when he read the following words in a booklet he picked up at a time he was wrestling with a sense of priorities over how he should spend his life:
If our Master returned today to find millions of people unevangelized, and looked, as of course He would look, to us for an explanation, I cannot imagine what explanation we should have to give.
Of one thing I am certain—that most of the excuses we are accustomed to make with such good conscience now, we shall be wholly ashamed of then.
At some of our IBCM trainings over the past few years, we have had an optional evening session during which participants spend time in prayer seeking the Lord and more of the presence of his Spirit in our lives and ministry. At one of these meetings, a Tai brother, who is a key worker with us and an experienced church planter, became overwhelmed by the sense of the lostness of his own people group. He was completely “undone” and the tears flowed as he pleaded for God’s empowering and interceded on behalf of the Tai. As I witnessed my brother’s response to the lost, I, too, became convicted of the need to be wholeheartedly consecrated to the vision that God has given us and to be willing to do whatever is needed in pursuit of God’s call.
During the 150th anniversary celebrations of OMF, I listened to John Piper preach a sermon on the life of James Hudson Taylor. Piper describes the vision of OMF International as being “absolutely audacious.” With an audacious, God-given vision, we need to be innovative, not to survive, and not for innovation’s sake, but for the sake of the lost, for the sake of God’s glory.
I believe that the mandate to innovate has been given to OMF members and has come to us over the years through our international leadership. Three recent initiatives have sought to foster a context wherein we feel free to step out in faith. “The Task Unfinished” is a recommitment to the least reached and unengaged peoples of East Asia. “The Reimagine Project” provides OMF with a way to rethink how to do mission, stemming from a desire to see the Fellowship become “fit for God’s purpose” at this time in history. And “Beyond Borders” gives us an opportunity to respond to the reality that peoples migrate so that we are being led by the Lord to focus our vision for the peoples of East Asia beyond the confines of East Asia.
There are so many examples of times when I have seen innovation and creativity operating within our ministries:
- “Jonathan training”—an applied program that casts vision and equips cross-cultural workers to be involved in Church Multiplication Movements—encourages participants to seize the mandate to partner with other organisations in the pursuit of a shared vision. This has led to the proliferation of partnerships—informal and formal—across the ministries we are involved with.
- Strategy plans developed from the perspective that we should not ask “What can I do?” but “What needs to be done?” have helped order priorities.
- Drug rehab ministry and AIDS Care ministries have developed and had the freedom to respond to the local situations faced by our teams. This could be described as an integrated or integral approach, but perhaps such labels are unnecessary. What is important is that we are faithful to our vision and willing to flex our structures and ways of doing ministry in the pursuit of that vision.
- Discussions with local partners have led some to develop redemptive analogies and bring local idiom and poetry into the communication of the gospel.
- Missional Businesses and Social Enterprise initiatives have all been birthed as workers have sought to bring creativity to the context. Sometimes, an initiative is birthed and develops a vision of its own. That is why we need to evaluate all of our activities in the light of our vision. That need not be done in a narrow sense as there needs to be breadth and latitude in the range of activities. However, there is not necessarily anything wrong if an initiative comes from within our midst but leaves or outgrows the organisation at some point.
- Initiatives have been started in some of our hardest contexts, springing from a vision to engage Unengaged Unreached People Groups. They have become some of the best examples of partnerships involving expat missionaries, national church groupings, and near-culture Christians that have become embryonic indigenous mission movements to take the gospel to the least reached.
- Workers have been placed in challenging locations as a direct outworking of values and commitments, such as being willing to take risks or being willing to step forward when well-developed structures are not in place.
- Media strategies, radio, and social media have all been utilised to engage people. Some of these creative approaches have had our oldest members at the vanguard.
- The COVID-19 crisis has concentrated minds and forced us to try new things. Sermons and teaching typically limited to having audiences of fifty or a hundred have been watched by thousands.
If you have ever felt inhibited by organisational structure or sensed that you don’t have permission to try new things, don’t let yourself become negative or cynical. There are many examples of innovation and creativity being expressed across the fellowship. If, in your local centre, you feel that is not the case, you can point to examples in our history, in both the recent and distant past, and then feel free to “challenge the process” and innovate.
In partnership with others, some ministries have seen generational discipleship and church growth amongst several people groups leading to thousands of new believers. Let us press on in faith with little interest in which organisation, strategy, or missiological flavour gets the credit, but rather with a passionate concern that God gets all the glory.
 Eileen Crossman, Mountain Rain (Sevenoaks: OMF, 1982), 3–4. Emphasis original.
 John Piper, “The Ministry of Hudson Taylor as Life in Christ,” Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors, YouTube video, 1:12:16, posted by Desiring God, 8 February 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFC8zsKVvPc.