Conference Delegates

Group posing for Picture

Group posing for Picture (including Jim)

Stan and Nelson

Stan and Nelson

John Kryder

John Kryder

Jim and

Jim and Wayne

Those present at the Lancaster conference:

John Kryder – retired family physician who has supported the World Mission Associates since the 1970s.

Wayne Burgess – physician working with ‘the Mission Society’.

Stan Nussbaum – AVM board member and missiologist working with Global Mapping International.

Jim Harries – AVM board member, missionary in Africa.

Sid Frey – Does development work for Global Disciples.

Sara Costalas – works with World Mission Associates.

Glenn Schwartz – Director of World Mission Associates, that works on mission-dependency concerns.

Verna Schwartz – Assists in the work of World Mission Associates.

Darrell Hostetter – Works in human resources for the Eastern Mennonite Missions.

Nelson Martin – works with Dove Christian Fellowship (DOVE being Declaring Our Victory Emmanuel).

Lindsey Newton – young adult leader in Manor Church, Lancaster.


Positioning the “Vulnerable Mission” Strategy
in Mission Thinking and Practice

Stan Nussbaum

Keynote speech for AVM Conference, Colorado Springs, Jan. 16, 2009

Main questions to be addressed

  • How does Vulnerable Mission (VM) fit into the big picture of mission today?
  • How does it compare and contrast with what people have been saying for a long time, especially in the areas of contextualization and dependence?
  • Why is this the right time for a new articulation of the principles?


VM principles are mission strategy principles, and all strategies are evaluated according to how well they serve a given goal. In AVM we are not saying much yet about the goal of mission since we think we agree with the mainstream on that. However, we also think VM principles are a much better route to the goal than the standard alternatives are, which makes us wonder if the mainstream really believes in the mission goal they talk about.

Four paradigms of mission from the West in the past century

1. Classic, top-down mission–Resources and control from the West to the rest; converts become Western. Well-known problems of dependence, weak leadership, and little vision for mission.

2. Contextualization in mission—What is brought from the West is adapted to the local context (usually by the outsiders).

3. Partnership in mission—Insiders make the decisions about mission goals and methods; outsiders assist with human and financial resources (combines the best of # 1 and 2? Reverts in practice to # 1?)

4. Vulnerable mission—Outsiders use VM principles in order to create space for genuine contextualization of themselves and their strategies as well as genuine partnerships at a deep level (best of # 2 and 3).

Premise 1:

The dominant practice of mission by Westerners is widely divorced from the theoretical study of it. Strategic principles that are routinely accepted in academic circles and among mission executives are routinely ignored at the congregational, individual, and field levels where many decisions are made and carried out.

Examples: The Swaziland fiasco. The cultural default settings of North Americans in Latin America.

Corollary 1A: AVM is an Alliance which wants to see changes in practice, not just refinements in theory.

Corollary 1B: We will be particularly interested in getting the VM message out to the people who spend millions of dollars with good mission intentions but who never read academic studies of mission, and also in assisting the mission executives who are already trying to get their field workers up to speed with VM or similar principles.

Premise 2:

The gap between theory and practice is particularly acute at the two points which are the focus of AVM—language and money.

Examples: My mission board resolution on language learning. Many short-term mission trips. P.E.A.C.E. plan for Rwanda?

Corollary 2A: The opposites of “vulnerable” mission are “insulated” mission (language is the major insulator) and “controlling” mission (money is the major mechanism).

Premise 3:

When VM principles are presented, the short-term difficulties of VM principles are much more obvious to most people than the long-term disasters they would prevent.

Example: melt-down of the Bible college industry in Central Asia.

Corollary 3A: The literature on the issue of dependence is basically an attempt to help people deal with the long-term disasters once they are recognized. That overlaps with the AVM agenda but we focus more on preventing problems in new relationships than in undoing problems in old ones.

Premise 4:

The emphasis on partnership in mission can fit with VM principles but it is more commonly seen as a method of bypassing the need for them.

Example: The COSIM (Council on Support of Indigenous Ministries) network

Corollary 4A: Instead of de-emphasizing money, many on both the sending and the receiving end regard the transfer of money as a key essential element of the partnership, perhaps even the reason for it. Their questions are all about how to channel the money, not whether the local people might do their mission better without it.

Premise 5:

Social and physical accessibility may be a third key aspect of vulnerability, though we aren’t yet sure whether ranking “accessibility” as a third key component with language and money clarifies or confuses the overall picture of VM. (This is vulnerability of the person as opposed to vulnerability of the strategy.)

Corollary 5A: The busier a mission worker feels, the less accessible and vulnerable he/she will be considered by the local people.

Corollary 5B: Much of what Bonk about the “righteous rich” relates to their accessibility as people. They do not wall themselves and their resources off from the poor.

Premise 6:

There are some huge success stories with VM principles but they have two common traits which are not emphases of VM as we are talking about it so far: 1) the VM principles are used out of necessity by people from poor countries not voluntarily by people from wealthy countries, and 2) signs and wonders are involved.

Examples: Indigenous churches in China and Africa.

Corollary 6A: Many of the people we present VM to will assume that it is an inappropriate strategy for people from wealthy countries because they have biblical obligations to share their wealth with the poor.

Corollary 6B: Besides developing our theories of what ought to work, we need to keep studying and reporting what is actually working around the world for people who do VM by necessity.

Part 3: Mission goals and strategies

Bringing spiritual change

Starting mission movements

Discharging our responsibility to give

Spiritual change is salvation, reorientation of life, reconciliation, liberation, transformation—people entering individually and as one body into the arriving reign of Jesus the Messiah.

Movements contrast with “projects” and/or “organizations.”

“Rich” senders and missionaries discharging their biblical obligations to share.


Comments on the Presentation by Dr. Stan Nussbaum

By Glenn Schwartz

Vulnerable Mission Conference

Lancaster, Pennsylvania – January 30, 2009

1. I first went to Africa 48 years ago – by boat – where I served as a missionary. I learned two African languages. While in Africa, I moved into the local frame of reference, and then ended up paying the price for that. If you want to know more about that, read my book (When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement) . At that time African people told me that I can either be popular with them, or popular with the missionaries, but that I could not be popular with both at the same time.

2. The short-term mission movement is built on assumptions about their own methods and effectiveness. Participants in the movement are quick say that ‘we do not have time to learn language.’ In this and other ways the short-term missions movement has rationalised their own effectiveness.

3. Referring to Dr. Nussbaum’s four paradigms, my observation is that ‘partnership’ in practice usually means that there is a one-way flow of resources. In reality this would be better termed as ‘sponsorship’.

4. Many mission executives say they believe in the indigenous principle. However, many of them do not practice it. Also, in the last several decades there has been a drift amongst missiologists toward partnership and away from true self-supporting principles. Many of them are leaving Roland Allen and Donald McGavran behind in their thinking, despite the fact that McGavran promoted ‘infinitely reproducible principles’.

5. The P.E.A.C.E. plan organized by the Saddleback Church from California was created to promote purpose driven churches around the world. It was originally designed to send 300,000 short-term missionaries to help churches become purpose drive. Included in the instruction for those short-termers is a module on ‘dependency’. That is, when people go onto the website and looking for a short-term opportunity, they must learn about issues of ‘dependency’ as part of their preparation.

6. I have observed that missionaries who operate on vulnerable mission principles will not be excited by the prospect of a large group of short-termers visiting their work. Whereas those missionaries who are ’doing things’ which the local people should be doing for themselves are more likely to welcome the outsiders. For ‘vulnerable missionaries’ a large group of short-termers may be a waste of time or contrary to the goals they are seeking to reach.

7. Regarding the use of the English language, I believe that it is not the only determining factor on whether vulnerable mission can be done appropriately. Far more important than what language is used is the demeanor of the person using it. For example, a compassionate person can speak in English and encourage others. By the same token, I have known missionaries who learned the local language well enough to despise the people they are trying to reach in their own language. I heartily endorse learning local language reflected in the fact that I used to preach every Sunday in the Tonga language of Zambia.

8. Regarding the starting of new movements – I am being asked to hold a lot of dependency seminars in places like Kampala and Zambia where the emphasis is how to move from a state of dependency to missionary outreach by African churches. Overcoming unhealthy dependency is not an end in itself, but a means to move toward missions.

9. Dr. Nussbaum mentioned the felt needs on the part of many westerners to ‘give’. He indicated that it drives much of ‘partnership’ thinking. I have also identified that as leading to a ‘donor driven missiology’.

10. I endorse the work that Dr. Harries and his colleagues are doing in promoting vulnerable mission. I have tried in my own ministry over the years to live by those same principles and consider it a privilege to be a part of this conference. With the growing interest in and awareness of the problems caused by unhealthy dependency there is a lot of work to be done by proponents of vulnerable mission. I welcome their help in responding to the requests from church and mission leaders to work on these issues.