SIM – strengthened through diversity? An examination of the origins and effects of cultural diversity within a multi-national Christian mission agency 1975-2015
Douglas, Alexandra Kate
Through a historical analysis of the mission theology and practice of SIM, an evangelical mission organisation that was originally dominated by North Americans but is now increasingly multi-national, this thesis seeks to understand where the organisation’s vision and commitment to diversity originated and how it has adapted to accommodate its stated goal: ‘strengthened through diversity’. Focusing on 1975- 2015, this research explores the experience of one ‘faith mission’ in the context of the growth of Christianity as a global religion and the developing mission vision of churches in countries which previously only received missionaries. It asks how SIM has adapted to embrace diversity, a process of change not previously addressed through academic research. Through archival research and interviews with past and present SIM leaders and serving missionaries, this thesis illuminates the challenges of cultural diversity SIM has faced. It reflects on the role of individuals in SIM’s history who have worked out the lessons of their own mission experience during a later period of leadership at international level. Relating SIM’s experience to other evangelical mission organisations, this thesis suggests that SIM’s story is indicative of wider trends, and that it was at the forefront of organisations seeking to encourage cultural diversity. This study employs a primarily historical methodology, but also makes use where appropriate of anthropological perspectives and of concepts from management science in order to offer some theoretical exploration of issues faced by SIM in the outworking of everyday multiculturalism. After setting SIM in the context of conservative evangelical missions in the 20th century and wider debates taking place amongst mission thinkers, the thesis traces the origins of diversity in SIM and the process of internationalisation, demonstrating the way in which the emphasis on strength through diversity recaptured something of the original vision of SIM’s founders. It then explores the ways in which diversity has been defined within SIM, recognising different understandings, the primary emphasis on cultural diversity, and the limitations to diversity. The following three chapters explore the effects of increased cultural diversity in SIM through examination of the changing shape of mission-church relations as the organisation broadened its approach to a new model for mission which supported missionaries from new sending nations; the governance and structural changes implemented to move from a shareholder to stakeholder model of governance, and give voice to an increasingly diverse mission workforce; and an exploration of the challenges and benefits of multicultural teams, highlighting the complex layers and nuances of culture and ethnicity. Two case studies of leaders - one Singaporean and one Nigerian - who made significant contributions to the organisation illuminate different contexts and attitudes towards the process of change in SIM as it intentionally pursued its aim of strength through diversity. The thesis concludes with wider reflections on the significance of the cultural diversification of SIM, and the potential applications of SIM’s experience for other similar organisations.