Partners in Christian Mission
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The Right Tools - Renata Carmichael

Hammer. Camera. Iron. Arbotech. Scissors. Sledgehammer. Key. Saw. Needle. Knife. Computer. Screwdriver. All of these things are tools. Tools are things that do jobs.

Think about the tools I listed. Now, which one of those tools is the right one? Which is the best?

The answer, of course, is that you need more information to make that decision. The Arbotech is not always the right tool. In fact, though it is one of my favourite tools, it is only the right one in a quite limited number of circumstances. The Arbotech is effectively an angle-grinder bit with chainsaw teeth. It is very good for shaping wood, for large scale rough carving. It is not very good for much else.

Similarly, there are many tools for outreach and evangelism. There are many methods suggested for how to go about communicating Jesus. Sometimes, people like to push one approach as being the right one or the best one, without thinking there's any need to get additional information before making that claim.

This, I feel, is like picking one of the tools from my list above and stating that it is the "right" tool regardless of what job you are doing. Let's pick the camera - it takes pictures of the world around us and instantly preserves those moments for ever, which it pretty impressive. But it won't work to cut paper, or to mend damaged clothing. It will work to drive a nail, but it's not very efficient and you'll need a new camera for the next nail.

This doesn't make the camera a bad tool, just not the right one for that job. A tool that is good for one job isn't necessarily good for a different job. Sometimes it might not work at all, or it might be very inefficient. The backyard barbeque can be a great tool for deepening relationships with people. All you need is some sausages or steak, a loaf of bread and some sauce. Anyone can do it. But, if the person you're trying to connect with happens to be a vegan who only eats raw food, this is not an effective approach. The barbecue is not a bad tool, it's just not the right one for that job.

Sometimes the wrong tool will achieve your goal, but not as well and efficiently as the right tool would have. A hammer would work much better for driving a nail than a camera does.

Sometimes the wrong tool can be used, but risks some bad consequences. You can open a door with a sledgehammer. A key would be easier, more efficient, and allows the option of closing the door again, but the sledgehammer technically achieves the goal of opening it. You can tighten or loosen a screw with a knife. Many people do it successfully, and some try it and end up in hospital because a knife really isn't the right tool for that job.

Likewise, when churches try to force a tool to do a job it really isn't right for, like an outreach program that doesn't suit the local community, there are a few things that can happen. They might achieve what they were aiming for, with rather more effort than the "right" approach for that community would have taken. They might just not achieve anything because the method was completely unsuitable for the job. Or they might break things, things in most ministry contexts being people.

When we publish articles about methods and tools for outreach, we aren't doing that to say they are the "right" or "correct" one. It's not to say that you have to do whatever we've just written about, or that if you are doing something different you are wrong. We write to show you what some people have found works in their context. We write to show you new tools that you might like to use if they are useful for the job you are doing.

I suggest thinking of publications, bookshops, and blogs, as a kind of spiritual hardware store. They are full of tools for you to look at, evaluate and explore. But you're objective when you're at a hardware store isn't to buy the newest, shiniest, most popular tool. You're objective is to find the one that'll do the job you have waiting when you get home.

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