Posts Tagged ‘movement networks’

God has always encouraged collaboration!

MustardSeed_1Just think about the plurality of the Creator himself: “Let us make man in our own image” (Genesis 1:26), or his opinion of the first male of creation: It’s not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

Noah was the only righteous person, but his whole family gets to build the ark; Abram is called, but for what?  To be “a great nation” Gen. 12:2), which required Sarah and Isaac and a whole history of descendents. Jacob is renamed Israel but needed twelve sons to become the Israel that left Egypt as God’s people. And God sent His only Son who immediately gathered twelve close disciples and told them to go into all the world.  The twelve, empowered by the Holy Spirit, immediately became three thousand who turned the world upside down.

All of human history is God’s collaborative working to bring the nations to the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2).

In contrast, one of the most frightening and condemning verses in all of Holy Scripture is the description of Israel during the time of the judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

What keeps God’s churches from being more collaborative?

  • An over-zealous understanding of congregational autonomy! I just addressed that topic specifically, so I’ll not repeat myself. Here’s the link to the previous posting “Is Your Church Too Autonomous?”
  • Fear of slipping into a hierarchy?  If we could ever really understand that “all authority” has been given to Jesus as head of the church, then we could see that God assumed that His Church on earth could function quite satisfactorily without usurping the authority of Christ or competing with Jesus for the throne.  The fear of hierarchy is legitimate to the extent that we men seem to consistently grab power and authority, but the fear of sin should not cause us to bury our talent and fail to multiply what God has given us.
  • We American Christians live in a time and culture that has exalted individualism and a Christian libertarianism. Notice the individualism in the most common words of every evangelical preacher: “Accept Jesus as your personal Savior!”  Notice the tendency towards independent churches, which I wrote about in “Are We Satisfied With Denominationalism?”

Does this not seem like a tendency towards everyone doing what is right in their own eyes?


So what would a different spirit of fellowship, cooperation, and collaboration look like?

OK, this is what I have been writing about for the last month. That’s why I keep referring back to other posts. Those earlier posts were the groundwork for this final brief set of conclusions and suggestions.  Go back and read the post “Movement Networks—A Challenge For Churches.”

  • If we could think as a fellowship, we might start addressing the bigger questions about going into the whole world—instead of each small gathering just addressing what a single congregation can do.
  • If we could cooperate in true unity, then Christians could become known for the love we have for each other and for others, instead of being known to be factious and exclusive.
  • If we could collaborate as brothers and sisters of the same family, we might be able to use ALL of the spiritual gifts that God has given to His people collectively.
  • If we could work together with mutual respect instead of the need to control, we could begin to address what God has prepared in advance for us to do.
  • If we could truly pray that God will forgive us—as we forgive others—then we would not break nor avoid fellowship with other Christians just because we do not agree. We would understand that God has forgiven us for what He knows are our failings and He has continued to walk with us; can we not only forgive others their failings, but love them and walk with them as well?

Movements do not start large; they start with a tiny mustard seed. But Jesus said that mustard seeds grow into the largest garden plant with huge branches for all the birds of the air (Mark 4:30-32).

  • If you will find another Christian to do something bigger than you could do by yourself, then you are too a mustard seed.
  • If you will lead your congregation to collaborate with one other congregation to do something bigger than you can do by yourself, then the mustard seed has grown!
  • If you will call churches together and challenge them to love each other enough to work together with a vision for the world, then birds will start looking for the branches!!

What can you do?   No, that’s the wrong question!!

What can we do? 

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NetworksI’m sitting with a small stack of fascinating articles on my desk that revolve around a phenomenon called movement networks.

These articles are all talking about ways of collaborating in order to accomplish goals that are greater than any one organization could ever accomplish on its own.  In fact, sometimes the objectives are so large that they require a movement, not just certain actions in order to successfully accomplish them.

When I think of tasks so large that no one entity can begin to accomplish it, I naturally go immediately to the task of going into all the world with the gospel. 

When I was a boy, I was so proud of our church which sent a missionary to Africa and one to Brazil at the same time.  I don’t know what was happening in the other 170 countries though?

Then as a college student, I joined a ministry to go to the Northeast U.S. We worked in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and other heavily populated states, but the 20 of us really didn’t make a very big dent.

I’ve since worked with lots of churches that were very proud of sponsoring their missionaries fully—or not at all!  They were seriously trying to do missions well, and it was these churches that were held up as the model for others.

But I keep looking around and I don’t see us making a very big dent in the task God gave us!  We have to do something differently unless we want to continue getting the same results.

I wonder if movement networking might be something to try.  The studies say a movement is this:

Movement “a collection of persons or groups who come together around a common concern.  Typically their mission is to bring about some type of societal change relative to their concern.”

Movements, they say, are characterized by

  • collective intentional action,
  • continuity of sustained action,
  •  outsider status,
  • scope and scale, and
  • formation of collective identity.

(Zemsky and Mann, “Building Organizations in a Movement Moment,” Social Policy: Organizing for Social and Economic Justice, vol. 28, no. 3, 2008).

It’s the collective nature, the networking, which really fascinates me.  It’s about different groups of people working together.  Could it ever be about different groups of churches and ministries and other organizations working together on behalf of the salvation of the world?

According to these studies, we would need to look for the following characteristics in movement networks:

  • They are multi-organizational, therefore diverse, with all partners desiring to reach shared and mutually beneficial goals.
  • Trust and accountability are achieved through personal relationships, not through creating a single organizational hierarchy.
  • Partners agree on how to communicate and what constitutes progress toward goals.
  • Shared resources from all partners are committed for reaching the shared goals.

Well, this just sounds like a lot of academic ivory tower language unless we could turn it into something concrete.  Here’s my attempt at extrapolating some concrete ideas out of this:

  1. In October 2014, the Global Missions Conference is being held in Memphis for churches of Christ.  What could happen if this conference were the launching point for a fellowship wide conversation on how to go to all the world?
  2. What if there were regional meetings for every American church that cares about missions, every ministry like LST, Great Cities, MRN, and as many foreign Christian church leaders as possible, along with foundations, trusts, and others with resources, and all those wanting to do missions were sitting in the same room talking about what it would take to go to all the world?
  3. What if even some of these found each other to be ready and willing partners and began collaborating?

Please note, I’m not talking about creating a super-organization or any kind of hierarchy of either talent or resources.  But I am suggesting that we ought to be searching for like-minded partners rather than all of us trying to do it alone.

  • Do you think any of us could ever agree on mutually beneficial goals for these partnerships?
  • Do you think we could ever trust each other and be accountable to each other without having to decide who is in control?
  • Do you think we could share resources? Or the holy grail: donor lists?

Is there really only one question keeping us from fulfilling the Great Commission?  Is the only question one of whether we can love each other enough to work with each other?  Whether we can subordinate our own congregational/institutional egos enough to give God all the glory?

Well, I’m willing to talk about it with you—if you will talk about it with me!  Can we just start there?

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