six conversations about missionary care in New Zealand – five

I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 years reflecting on member care, particularly thinking about what it is.  For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six foundation principles that we need to discuss, understand better and apply to the formation of the profession. My previous posts have considered what it means to be developing professionalism, being proactive, being locally grounded and globally informed and being holistic.  In today’s post I want to start thinking and talking about the interdisciplinary nature of membercare.

I have mentioned before that Membercare is somewhat ambiguous and hard to define. That is part of the reason why I have had to put so much thought into figuring out what it is and prompted this journey to explore the foundations of membercare.  I think for a long time I wanted membercare to be something – just to be counselling, or just to be social work, or just to be Human Resources but actually the fact that it none of these and yet contains elements of all of these is part of what makes it what it is.  The diversity of people and backgrounds that have joined membercare have been a source of strength and breadth.  In membercare, we have missionaries, social workers, counsellors, spiritual directors, human resource professionals, trainers, psychologists, coaches, pastors and I am sure some others that I have overlooked.  This gives membercare a resource of different perspectives, theories, backgrounds and approaches that we can draw on and that enrich and grow our work.

Membercare is growing both in the number of practitioners and in organisation’s awareness of its importance.  Its growth allows three threats to the interdisciplinary nature of membercare to arise.

Threat One:  Factions

As we grow in numbers across membercare, we of course get larger numbers of people in each different discipline that contributes to membercare. When we are few in number then we are forced to mix and mingle with those from different backgrounds. But the desire to gather with like-minded people is always strong, so as numbers increase there is a temptation to gather with those from our discipline. In this way it is easy for factions to form as we reinforce in our interactions with each other the shared perspective that we have. Certain approaches, concerns and focuses can become common within a discipline, sometimes a new way of looking at things from outside the discipline is necessary for growth to occur.  I am currently preparing for some training on resilience and I am fascinated at the different paths that have been taken to consider resilience.  Some writers come to resilience work through the lens of positive psychology exploring what makes us stronger, fills our tank and helps us to flourish. They take the view that putting those things in place helps us cope better when the hard stuff occurs.  The other approach is from the counsellors and trauma professionals who come at it through the lens of what helps people recover post-trauma.  Both approaches are interesting and useful and they both add to our understanding of growing flourishing workers.

Threat Two:  Professionalism

As membercare matures as a profession we can establish our own way of doing things, our own research and theories and are able to offer our own training. These are all great things that have long term benefits for mission workers, and we should be aspiring to reach this stage. But it could mean that as we train people in membercare itself we loose some of the diversity that we have had in the past.  Ensuring that we still draw on the diversity of experience that has been part of membercare,  will ensure that we don’t become insular, and give us a confidence to explore further.  I have noticed that the default setting for missionary carers  is to try and be counsellors (but often doing it poorly).   By establishing membercare with a defined identify in its own right we remove the temptation to simply try and be counsellors, that is often caused by its ambiguity.

Threat Three: Reductionism.

Tapping the richness of the diverse disciplines isn’t easy and I have observed that another threat that we face is that of reductionism.  We may know that our discipline has something great to contribute to membercare, and we want to share it.  However bringing the information to a diverse range of people who lack the foundational understanding that we have can be a challenge.  Often we end up reducing our information down to the easiest form.  So instead of bringing people from other foundational understanding on a learning journey with us, we reduced our knowledge to its simplest possible form to present to others.  We then fall into a situation where instead of each profession being able to contribute the best, most up to date, evidence based information, we end up with the most accessible dumbed down version of what our profession has to offer.  Instead of enriching membercare knowledge we end up with a lowest common denominator level of simplistic knowledge.

Discussions where we can interact and engage with different ideas, and combine and discuss knowledge, are an essential tool for building our identity as an interdisciplinary profession.  Through this tool we can be a melting pot of the best of many professions to help us provide the best possible care for mission workers.

Next time I post lets talk about membercare that is centred in kingdom values and is Holy Spirit led.

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