by Jon Hirst, CEO and President, Global Mapping International
There are moments when reality paints a disappointing picture. You had imagined your ministry or church painting bold and beautiful brush strokes across the canvas for all to see.
Instead you find yourself with a collection of empty paint tubes, dirty brushes, and little Kingdom impact to show for all the work and sacrifice. For some leaders, this moment of a ministry’s closure destroys the future they had imagined. For others, their faith is dashed as failure falsely challenges their spiritual value.
The fear of failure holds such great sway over ministry leaders that we will go to great lengths to avoid it. How many ministry leaders have pushed their staff to continue beyond God’s blessing or begged for gifts to continue work they know is unsustainable? Instead of recognizing when an ending is the next and right step, we hold onto one last hope.
I’ve walked through all the emotions above and more. I am the president and CEO of a missionary research organization–Global Mapping International (GMI). GMI has provided research and mapping to help missions make Spirit-led decisions since 1984. We were part of supporting leaders as they sought God and utilized information for Kingdom impact. But today GMI is in the process of closing.
There was no sinful downfall, financial mismanagement, or lack of vision. Instead, our work was needed more than ever. But for many reasons (some of which you can read in this Christianity Today article), GMI was unable to raise the infrastructure money that would have allowed us to stay relevant and increase our usefulness to the mission community.
As we wrestled with the reality of our situation, we had a hard choice to make. Would we paint our ending transparently or push others to delay what it seemed clear that God was bringing to a close? In this moment it would have been easy to push back and strive to carry on. But it was clear. God was asking us to end well. Through a process of discernment, GMI made the decision to close. We realized that the sacred trust we held with our partners, donors, and staff required us to acknowledge that it was time to end.
As you can imagine, I was full of anxiety about how our stakeholders would respond to our announcement. Would they understand; would they feel we had been wise stewards; and would they work with us to end well? What I realized through this process was that painting a truthful and sincere picture of God’s leading to close enhanced the trust our stakeholders had in us and allowed us to accomplish three things:
Fund a God-honoring Ending: With clear communication about why GMI was closing and how we were managing our funds to steward our knowledge, ministry, and people, we saw our donors and partners step up. People asked us to deliver final services (and even paid us more than we asked), gave towards our Legacy Fund, and helped encourage others to give towards GMI’s transition. From the minute we made the hard decision, God provided in miraculous ways. God surpassed all our expectations!
Continue Important Ministries: We decided to sell some ministry products to partners through acquisitions and then grant the rest of the ministries to other organizations. Both the acquisitions and the grants turned into amazing opportunities to transform our “ending” into a “sending” as other ministries stepped up and grasped a vision for how to continue GMI’s important work. This only happened because they trusted us to help them be successful. There was great sacrifice and trust from each partner as they stepped out of their comfort zone to take on new ministries.
Speak into Our Community: We were given multiple opportunities to speak to our key stakeholders about what we had learned through the process of closing GMI. Because we had significant trust built up as a result of our process, they were ready to hear from us and learn. We spoke to groups of CEO’s, public radio, Christianity Today, webinar audiences and global partners. Each time we were given a chance to share what we had learned.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 145:18 “The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.” We felt that closeness in a powerful way because we decided to accept and live into the reality that was before us as an organization. And that truth has led to blessings and encouragements too numerous to recount in this short time. I’m not saying the last months have been easy, but they have been blessed.
I pray that God would give you the courage to recognize if and when the painting you are working on is finished. And if you come to that juncture, I pray God will be honored by your final strokes and proudly display your work – His masterpiece – for all in His Kingdom to see.
Jon Hirst is the President & CEO of GMI (Global Mapping International). Jon has a background in product design and development, strategic innovation, publishing, and leadership. Jon is author of "The Calling of the Knowledge Steward", co-author (with Marlene Legaspi-Munar) of "Our Anchor in a World Adrift", co-author (with Mindy Hirst and Paul Hiebert) of "Through the River: Understanding Your Assumptions about Truth" and co-editor (with Jim Reapsome) of "Innovation in Mission". He invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn for further discussions.