Israel’s Moshe Arens writing for Haaretz challenged the “unilateral withdrawal syndrome” relating it to some of Israel’s military men turned politicians.
He wrote - it may be typical of the military mindset: Get it over with! Finish the job! Do something! Do anything! Actually, on some occasion, it may be the correct strategy. It usually comes under the heading of “Cut your losses”.
But often it may be the wrong way to go.
Arens went on: Two of our illustrious military leaders seem to have been afflicted by this syndrome. One was Ariel Sharon, who peremptorily decided on the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif and the forceful uprooting of 8000 Israeli citizens from their homes, in the expectation that that move would ease Israel’s defense problems and advance the peace process.
The other, Arens said is the present Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who has a long record of espousing unilateral withdrawals in the expectation that therein lay the solution to our problems, or else that that was the way to evade an oncoming Tsunami which he thought he saw approaching on the horizon.
As an avid watcher of Israel and all things middle east, I was fascinated with this analysis as it has a parallel analytical application to Christian ministry and missions throughout the world.
Whatever else one might comment on the Israel situation and the “withdrawal policies”, the process of “unilateral withdrawal syndrome” outcomes have not as yet, borne fruit as expected. These are the distasteful facts.
The question therefore, in relation to all things Christian (ministry and missions), is whether it is ever expedient - to shut up shop or relocate.
There are two variants, the first relates specifically to a change of geography, the second relates to various forms of persecution.
The geographical issue is more to do with good socio-logic and financial management wherein a Christian community (local church) has done their research and it’s pretty obvious that they need to relocate to a more suitable location. This has everything to do with church growth, car parking, development, the suburban sprawl, and infrastructure issues.
Many churches have made such far reaching decisions and have relocated. Their original site was once ideal for a host of reasons, and now, for another lot of considerations, it was time to expand the horizons of faith. Often the pain is reduced by gaining a sizable amount of money from the sale of the original site and once relocated and settled, one wondered what the fuss was all about.
But there is a second issue relating to “unilateral withdrawal syndrome” and that specifically is that of being challenged within the sphere of “spiritual warfare”.
In recent decades the term “spiritual warfare” has gone out of vogue within the lingua franca of Christian dialogue,
I ask you, when was the last time the reader, read a book on “spiritual warfare”. I wonders why this philosophy of Christian thinking and doctrine so surreptitiously crept out the back door of preaching and bible study.
Missions are confronted with “spiritual warfare” issues day in and day out, and the perennial question, particularly in some parts of the world where religious militancy is on the rampage, and life and limb is at threat, is whether “unilateral withdrawal syndrome” is a valid response and the better part of valor?
Each and every Mission faces such questions when confronted with such realities and it is never the place of religious prim-ma-donas to verbalize judgment in nice, safe and secure offices watching it all happen on Sky News.
Missions are invariably “out there”
But it is the same reasoning when Missions of past millennia have believed it to be God’s Call to move into new areas, that had not as yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see that the Apostle Paul continually ventured into such territories and there were those occasions when he and his friends withdrew.
The likes of Williams Carey (India) and Hudson Taylor (China) to name just two of thousands upon thousands of missionaries who stood their ground regardless, where “unilateral withdrawal syndrome” wasn’t even in their spiritual warfare vocabulary.
These same issues occurs in our every day ministries. From 1982-2000 (18 years) I established the Sports and Leisure Ministry - placing chaplains in professional sport. This Calling was that of negotiating with the Sport organisation extolling the value of having a Christian chaplain. Often a door would be closed initially, but I never considered “unilateral withdrawal syndrome” as a valid option. Sometimes it took several meetings, sometimes several months before a chaplaincy agreement was reached.
There is a place in Missions and Churches for “doggedness” and being referred to as a “pest, a trouble maker” as was Elijah, and moreover it is often the greatest of all compliments, especially after having won them over.
Many church plants today face the same situation. Crossways in Melbourne encourages families within their congregation to church plant in their suburban streets.
In a quite separate instance, two couples, one from NSW another from Brisbane (two sisters) uprooted their families and moved into a Melbourne suburb, planting a church from those streets. “Unilateral withdrawal syndrome” wasn’t in their spiritual vocabulary.
Christians seek discernment over such issues, being bathed in prayer whereupon thoughtful decisions are made upon analysis of their peculiar situations and always in faith. It is marvelous to behold!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg. In September 2020 Summer Moore presented her commission portrait of Dr Mark Tronson holding the Gutenberg plaque. The above photo is the upper part from this portrait.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html