Steps to Research and Resolve the Mysteries in Your Ministry
GMI Research Services, 2007, 196 pp., ISBN 1-4243-4295-2
Stan Nussbaum is staff missiologist for Global Mapping International. He has provided a practical working manual for missionaries to conduct field research. Among other things, such research may be conducted to investigate the effectiveness, the apparent lack of success, or the potential for a method of ministry. It is a rigorous but practical research approach that can be used at a simple level, a more comprehensive level, or in preparation for a dissertation. You can use it on your own, in a workshop, with a coach, or with a supervisor in an academic setting. It is full of useful worksheets. The outstanding feature is a consistent and practical dependence upon God's direction through prayer. It pushes you to pray at every stage.
"This book…attempts to describe research methods that are aimed at a Christian goal (knowing the will of God), based on a Christian approach (interlaced with prayer) and done in a Christian style (humble, servant-hearted)." (Preface)
The Steps of the Breakthrough Process:
1. "Pray constantly.
2. Frame your issue.
3. Grab for all the help you can get.
4. Design your field research strategy.
5. Get R.E.A.L. about your plans.
6. Use great questions.
7. Listen for all you are worth.
8. Draw solid conclusions.
9. Take inspired action.
10. Enjoy watching God's breakthrough." (1)
Step 1: Pray Constantly
"We accept that our struggle is not a struggle between a lily-white, spiritually mature 'me' and a dastardly enemy who deserves to be ground to powder for opposing such a good person as I am. It is a struggle between a 'me' who is in the process of being transformed to Christ-likeness and a miscalculating enemy who does not realize that his evil plans are being hijacked by God so they promote my transformation. As soon as those plans have served the me-transforming purpose God has in mind, the enemy will be thrown away like the wrapper to a candy bar." "So the first of many right prayers for people who need a breakthrough is, 'Lord, takes these troubles away, but not before I [we] learn whatever I am supposed to learn from them.'" (9)
"…the main aim of this book is to help you improve your skill at listening to God and the people around you." (10)
"The right thing to pray seems obvious: 'Lord, show us what to do.'" "The danger is that it is so easy for us to pray that prayer while we are still ignoring something else he has been telling us, or wanting to tell us, for a long time." "Expect him to say nothing to clear up your mystery until you act like you are hearing the other things he has already made very clear to you." (Ps. 66:18) (10)
"What research does is this. It helps us distinguish between the parts of our situation that we are to bear as our cross and the parts that we are to overcome through new insights that God grants." (11)
"In one sense, prayer is like the pilings driven deep into the ground before the concrete is poured for the first floor of a skyscraper." (12)
"Prayer and research are not substitutes for each other." (14)
The textbook recommended for use with this manual is Viggo Sogaard, Research in Church and Mission (Pasadena; William Carey Library, 1996). (15)
Step 2: Frame Your Issue
"Seeking your breakthrough from God is more an art than a science." "Every one of the ten steps is really an art and you are like a student in an art class." (17)
Throughout the steps, Nussbaum contrasts this research method with that of Boma, an African, who is trying to find out why he is having ongoing bad fortune. It makes a long-term illustration of how people may move from a concern to a practical question to an analytical question, to possible explanations, and appropriate actions. The way we do this search may put us into a position for a breakthrough or make it almost certain we will not get one. (18)
With regard to your concern, the issue you are investigating, be clear about three possible doors:
● your offense,
● your enemies,
● your situation.
Be clear about the distinction or you may spend a lot of time knocking on the wrong door. (22)
Universities consider only the third door. An explanation behind door 1 or 2 is not acceptable. However, if the real answer is behind door 1 or 2, you will never discover it by asking only questions framed for door 3. (23)
A biblical worldview takes all three doors seriously. Causes behind Door 1 are dealt with by God's mercy. Causes behind Door 2 are dealt with by God's power. Causes behind Door 3 are dealt with by God's wisdom." (23) "Unlike secular researchers, you are going to check quickly behind Doors 1 and 2 before you start your Door 3 approach." (23) The manual is designed for Door 3 concerns. (24)
"God is putting a burden or opportunity on your heart, and the only reason he does that is to get you into position to work with him. He is not in the business of piling burdens on people that they can do nothing about. We may do that ourselves or other people may do it to us, but God does not work that way." (25)
A practical question is about what you should do or decide. "A good practical question for your Breakthrough project is one that focuses on one aspect of your ministry that seems to be the root of many other problems or the door to many other possibilities." (26)
"Your analytical question is the most important question you will write in the entire Breakthrough process, the central research question that will guide and shape the whole project." "Your analytical question must be a question you can answer by going out and doing research." (28)
"There is an iron law of research--if you do not look for it in the right place, you will not find it." (28)
"Your hypotheses are your possible answers to your analytical question. A good hypothesis is one that carries your research forward." (29)
"Very often it is only toward the end of a research project that researchers realize, 'Oh, what I should have been focusing on all along was . . .'" "It is encouraging because now they know where to look." (30)
"The greatest temptation for all new researchers is probably the temptation to become distracted by interesting issues that are related to their main topic, but are not essential for researching it." The lion that hunts the whole heard catches no zebras. (34-35)
Step 3: Grab for All the Help You Can Get
The research process is something God can use to help shape you into a different person. Look for helpers who are interested in you, not only in your project. (38)
"The two main reasons for your library research are to get insight into your own project at the beginning and to avoid making an arrogant fool of yourself when you present your findings at the end." (43)
Step 4: Design Your Field Research Strategy
A research is design is a multi-part strategy to test all the hypotheses. A formal research strategy consists of 5 parts:
1. Your concern
2. The practical question, prayer, and the analytical question and hypothesis
3. Field Research
4. Finding report
5. So-what document and follow through. (50)
The ten steps of Breakthrough Research (p. 1) are all essential. Like links in a chain, if any one breaks you are in the river. Which is the weakest link for you? Be very careful not to stumble over it?
"You want to know what is in people's heads and hearts, thing that have never been written in a book anywhere and cannot be found on any web site. The only way to find out those things is to get out of the library and into the field." (53)
Three of the most common methods of field research are interview, focus group and survey.
"For interviews, the researcher prepares a set of questions and asks them to one person at a time. For our purposes, an interview will last from 10 to 30 minutes. Most or all of the questions are open-ended rather than forcing the respondent to choose from set answers."
"A focus group is simply a group of people whom you talk with all at once instead of one at a time. For our purposes, a focus group may range from six to ten people and may last from 60 to 90 minutes." "…you present an issue for the group to discuss and you lead the discussion, using a few prepared questions to make sure the group touches on all the things you really want to know." (53)
"Surveys are done with a set of prepared questions that have set choices for answers." (54)
"A very common way of classifying all types and methods of field research is 'quantitative' (numeric) and 'qualitative" (non-numeric)." (55)
Step 5: Get R.E.A.L. about Your Plans
Recognize your assumptions and biases
Estimate your time and schedule
Leave distractions alone
"…force yourself to keep looking for hidden assumptions." (62) "Almost nothing is harder than digging deep enough to discover your own assumptions and biases." (63)
"Keeping an active 'research ideas for prayer' file is a key mark of the difference between the 'old you' and the 'new you.' Listening to God includes listening to ideas for research topics that he puts into your head." (71)
Step 6: Use Great Questions
"Your whole research project depends on the quality of your field questions, and the highest quality version of a question is almost never the first version you write down." (75)
● Practical question - "Relates to the practical concern that is causing you to the research in the first place. Leads to a solution."
● Analytical question - "A general question that, if answered by research, will point you toward possible answers to your practical question. Leads to identification of a cause or explanation."
● Field question - "Questions you actually ask to your respondents during your field research. These questions work together to produce an answer to your analytical question." (76)
Five Criteria for Field Questions: They must
1. Provide crucial information.
2. Be clear to the respondent. This is your greatest challenge.
3. Be penetrating. "You want meaty, clever, insightful field questions, not superficial ones." (77)
4. Be unbiased.
5. Be non-threatening. (76-78)
Six types of field questions:
1. Ordinary, basic questions
2. Multiple choice or yes-no questions
3. Scaled agree/disagree questions
4. Personal story questions
5. "Suppose" questions
6. Background questions (80-81)
Identifying your cluster of field questions is your biggest and most difficult issue. (82)
"Good questions are never written, they are always rewritten." (87) "Nothing prevents breakthroughs as effectively as poor questions." (87)
"Research is listening and listening is very hard work. Most of habitually only half listen. Breakthrough training is very largely training in how to listen, how to pay attention, how to see what is really there, how to sense what it means. So get out there and LISTEN!!" (89)
Step 7: Listen for All You Are Worth
The focus group is a qualitative method. Survey is a quantitative method. Interview may include both.
"Your first listening challenge is getting people to talk to you." (91) "You have to be patient, let them sense that there is no danger, and then they will relax. You will see what the impatient researcher never gets to see." (92)
Step 8: Draw Solid Conclusions
"Valid conclusions can be fabulously useful guides toward a breakthrough. Invalid conclusions are worse than no conclusions at all…." "Tiz better tew know nuthin' than tew know what ain't so." (Kin Hubbard) (197)
"As a researcher, you have to realize that research findings that deal with practical ministry issues can embarrass people and disrupt programs. Naturally, you do not want to draw misleading conclusions. If that happens, you will cause unnecessary embarrassment. Wrong conclusions may even lead you to recommend things that interfere with the way God wants things to go!" (108)
Breakthrough may refer to significant insights that happen during the research process. The other is breakthrough impact which happens when you begin to act on your insights. (109)
"DANGER: A researcher's job is not to prove his/her hypothesis was right. Of course, there is a strong and natural temptation to try to do this and be able to say, 'I told you so!' But the true measure of a good researcher is not the accuracy of the original hypothesis. It is rather the insight into the situation that he/she gained while exploring how true or false that hypothesis was." (110)
Making sense of your field notes is a tricky matter. The big challenge is discovering your breakthrough insights in the pile. Do as the sculptor, just chisel out everything that isn't the statue. "Often it is a particular comment or phrase used by a respondent that pinpoints the breakthrough and expresses it powerfully." But beware of your biases! (111-12)
Unlike your student papers, the Breakthrough report is no place for bluffing how much you know. It is going to have effects in the real world.
"1. See everything that is in your data and findings.
2. Don't see anything that is not there." (113)
Conclusions and recommendations are different. "A conclusion is something you draw from your data. A recommendation is a connection you make between your conclusion and your situation." "Unlike your conclusions, your recommendations do not come directly from your findings. They depend on your general knowledge of the situation and what has already been tried, your ability to imagine realistic alternatives, and the way the Spirit leads you." (115)
You can recommend action or further research. "Recommendations require creativity and courage. This crucial step of making recommendations is the prophetic part of your research. Prophets are those who with god's help 'see' what others cannot yet see or do not yet realize." (116)
"DANGER: As you make your recommendations, keep your central question, your findings and your conclusions in view. If you sound off about your recommendations without reference to your findings, you are merely stating your opinion." (116)
Your Project Report will include a title page, introduction, methods, findings, conclusions, recommendations and appendices. (118)
Decide on your three or four 'pillars,' the main findings on which your conclusion will rest. Arrange the rest of your findings around these. (123)
Cover the following questions in your conclusions and recommendations:
● "What is the answer to your central question?
● What do you think the findings mean, when you put them all together?
● If your conclusions are correct, what should people do about them?
● Who needs to act? How will they be motivated to act?" (124)
"Aim to produce a report that is not merely persuasive but riveting. Spice up your presentation with a proverb, a story, a diagram, or even a cartoon." (124)
Step 9: Take Inspired Action
"The whole Breakthrough process is intended to increase your impact in your ministry situation. Jesus did not send the Church into the world to research the world but to 'make disciples,' …" (127)
Put your information in a short, easy to read "So-What" Document. "Just select one main recommendation from the report and develop it in a way that connects it powerfully with the hearts and minds of the people you want your research to serve." (29) "You do not have to try to transform them completely with one short So-What Document. Just try to get them to take a good first step in the right direction." "These are small steps but they are not trivial. Once people take the first step, you can help them take the next one, but you do not have to explain everything at the beginning. Relax." (134)
"No follow-through, no breakthrough." A list of steps is provided. (135)
Step 10: Enjoy Watching God's Breakthrough
Take time to rejoice and savor the victory and praise God for it. (141-42)
If you don't get a breakthrough, ask the questions on p. 145.
"Becoming a different person is the real challenge in the Breakthrough process. If you 'succeed' in your research process but fail to become a different person in the process, you have failed the Lord. His grace and power are aimed at transforming you, helping you grow into a different person during your research." (146-47)
"All through this process I have been hammering the importance of listening to God. The reason is obvious--leaders who listen to God are better leaders than those who are too busy, too self-confident, too fearful or too corrupt to seek his wisdom and sense his leading. Listening carefully to God is the biggest single difference between a good leader and a poor one. Becoming highly skilled at listening to God can save leaders from the effects of their deficiencies in many other areas. Being weak in this area can doom their leadership even if they have many natural leadership strengths." (147)
"Besides becoming better at listening to God, the other main area for you to change is in your skill at listening to other people." (147)
"Many leaders assume that leading is basically a matter of telling other people what to do. That is leadership as talking. I am teaching leadership as listening. As the Sesotho proverb puts it, 'A chief is a chief by the people' (that is, 'by listening to the people'). After you listen long enough and well enough, you are in a position to talk." (147)
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