Engineering Design as it Applies to Missions (???)


I learned a rule as a Mechanical Design Engineer. Back then I mostly worked on military projects (particularly submarine radar systems). However, occasionally I would work on commercial projects… particularly integrated bridge systems for commercial shipping. Engineering Triad

Each has very different philosophies. I worked at a company which operated with both philosophies, but it was difficult. Most don’t do this. If they do have both military work and commercial work, they keep their divisions well separated.

The reason? It is difficult for people to work under two very different paradigms. Military projects (even ruggedized and “COTS” or commercial off-the-shelf) works on a paradigm of high quality. One must meet rigorous standards and quality controls. If it drifts into a different area it would high quality and quick. But in commercial work, the focus is on cheap (or inexpensive if you want a nicer term). Sometimes it will drift into cheap and high quality, or cheap and quick.

An engineer has a challenging time drifting from one paradigm to another because mental tools one uses for one paradigm become useless or detrimental when one shifts to a new paradigm.

The rule we used was this:

A.  A design can be Quick and it can be High Quality, but then it will be EXPENSIVE.

B.  A design can be Quick and Cheap, but then it will be LOW QUALITY.

C.  A design can be High Quality and Cheap, but then it will TAKE TIME.

How does this apply to Missions. Not sure, but consider the following:

A.  Quick and High Quality Missions. Big events like major medical outreaches are like this. They are EXPENSIVE. You can’t do a quick and high quality mission event without spending a lot of money, or expending a lot of man-hours. In reality, I don’t think Quick, High Quality Missions are very realistic in most cases. Most groups can’t make a quick mission event work that is high quality. But perhaps big organizations can (particularly in emergency disaster relief)… but it costs.

B.  Quick and Cheap. Generally, with these mission events, you get what you pay for. Except in emergency situations, quick is typically a bad idea in missions anyway (even if it is extremely popular… in part because of the popularity of STM work, and partly because churches often get bored of anything that takes longer than a weekend). Quick and cheap may be good to “open the door” for something else. Inviting a friend out to coffee and talk about his spiritual and relational life is quick and cheap… but there better be some follow-on ministry if there is a positive response… and such a ministry should NOT be quick.

C.  High Quality and Cheap.  In my mind, this is the best ministry. Throwing money at a problem is rarely the best solution… though you would never get that impression watching “Christian” programming. High Quality and Cheap takes time.  It is a slow process like caring for fruit trees. Good fruit will come, but it takes patience and quality care.

One reason I like Community Health Education (also called CHE or Community Health Evangelism) or Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is that it does exactly that… provide High Quality ministry inexpensively… taking a long-term view of ministry. I know some like to use scare tactics for quick ministry work, but quick ministries tend to be wasteful (in resources) and/or low quality in results.

High Quality and Cheap usually focuses on training. The reason is that the goal is towards empowerment and reproducibility. We are involved in chaplain and pastoral care work for that very reason. It is a slow process of healing people, families, groups, and communities. It is not particularly expensive but focuses on slow development and empowerment. 

There are many ministries out there. Many of them are great… but for me, the slow process of high quality, inexpensive developmental ministry is the one where most of the focus should be placed. Anyway, that is the paradigm I would prefer to focus on. As I said before, it is difficult to switch back and forth in paradigms in Design and in Missions.

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