My background is in business, then many years in international broadcasting, and the last 40+ years helping God’s people work together in ministry partnerships. Over the years it is clear that there are a range of factors and motives that compel a focus on collaboration if there is going to be effective ministry. Whether it is partnerships, strategic alliances, networks or other forms of working together, here are some of the key factors that force us to take collaboration seriously:
The “Why” of Partnership: Key Motivating Factors
The Biblical Mandate and Models
- God who dwells in relationships outside of time created men and women to live in open, trusting relationships. (Genesis, Job, Daniel, Ephesians, etc.) We were designed after God’s own character to live and work together.
- Sin destroyed trust and the God-designed relational order. (Genesis)
- Jesus came to restore, by His death and resurrection, the pre-sin relationship of trust and transparency with God, ourselves, others, the created order, and with eternity. (John 10:10, etc.)
- Jesus gave the world one test regarding His own credibility — the visible relationship between believers (John 17:23).
- Passages such as Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 provide one model of partnership — all parts working effectively with each other.
- Repeated NT passages, particularly the Pauline epistles, provide models of partnership between the early disciples and the emerging young church of the first century. (Ephesians, Philippians, etc.)
- See other articles on this resource website that specifically deal with the Biblical rationale for Kingdom collaboration.
The Interconnected, Globalized Church
- The Church of the global south and east is now the majority church. Old models of partnership rooted in colonial days are passé, and new forms of collaboration at the field level have become essential.
- Regional evangelism conslutations now take place regularly with as high as over 500 in attendance. Often non-western nationals are not only the majority in attendance but frequently in key leadership roles.
- The sheer number of networks, partnerships, and similar forms of collaboration is stunning. To sample the remarkable range, visit the website, linkingglobalvoices.com .
- In the last six years, the largest Islamic ministry network has gone from eight Western ministries to over 100 ministries, with 75+% of them now from ‘developing’ nations.
The Technology, Communications, and Transportation Revolution
- Satellite technology and the internet revolutionized communications.
- International air travel now offers the lowest ‘cost per mile’ opportunities in history – further fueling personal connections.
- Early video communications platforms such as “Go To Meeting,” have been superseded by, initially, Skype, and more recently “Zoom.”
- The number of ‘zoom meetings’ per day globally continues to rise and is now well past 300 million per day.
- The business models for communications companies have been turned upside down so the most wisely-used platforms are free! Making wide-ranging communications option available to anyone with access to the internet.
- Social media has brought personalization and localization to communications previously inconceiveable.
- These factors ave fueled the interconnectedness of the world and sharply increased our capacity for collaboration
The Demand of Stewardship
- Effective deployment (if not leverage) of personal and organizational Kingdom assets has always been a criteria for stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30).
- In business, productive managers carefully monitor asset management ratios, the key to analyzing how effectively and efficiently the business is managing its assets to produce desired outcomes.
- The well-known ROI, or ‘return on investment’ evaluation, calls for careful monitoring of investment vs. return — a critical stewardship evaluation. Duplication of effort, waste, and ‘reinventing the wheel,’ all marks of individualistic, go-it-alone strategies, erase hope of significant ROI.
- Among the classic benefits of partnerships and networks is that dupolication is reduced, initiatives can be mounted at lower cost per agency, and evaluation is more readily available.
Proof of Concept: Kingdom Collaboration Works — Validating the Biblical Mandate
- 1986: after 1900 years – the 130 ‘gateway’ language groups 2+ million had no believers & no churches
- 2006: Over three dozen of those languages had 5-200,000+ believers and churches led by nationals
- What do these breakthrough languages have in common? Each language group has had an intentional, inter-agency evangelism partnership focused together on evangelism and church planting.
- Consider: No significant evangelism, church-planting breakthrough has occurred where there has been no intentional collaboration!
The North American foundation that has invested most heavily in collaboration among non-profits is the Phoenix-based Lodestar Foundation. Their very substantial annual prize ($250,000) for innovation and excellence in collaboration has fired interest around the world. Lois Savage, President of The Lodestar Foundation recently commented on what the Foundation has learned since instituting their annual award competition:
“First, I think the response to (our annual) prize shows there is more of this going on than we realize.
Second, collaboration is not easy—it takes time, utilizes already scarce resources, needs leadership, and requires resolving numerous challenges.
Third, while the business world has voluminous scholarship on mergers and other restructuring models, there is no counterpart body of knowledge in the nonprofit sector, so models, blueprints, and guidance are extremely limited.
Fourth, there is no secure network or marketplace (no “dating service”) where nonprofits can meet prospective partners or otherwise discuss collaboration issues with each other. Finally, almost no funding is available to assist nonprofits in facilitating the collaboration process.“
The “How” of Partnership: Key Principles
As I have worked with dozens of partnerships and collaborative initiatives in 40+ countries, certain principles appear and again and again as vital to success as God’s people work together. Most of my experience has been bringing multiple ministries together (churches, mission agencies, other Christian ministries) focused on some key evangelism initiative. Based on these years of experience, here is my list of the key principles to make for effective ministry partnerships. Take these principles seriously, put them into practice and your chances of success are high. Ignore them and you will likely fail!
Prayer must the basis for all effective collaboration. Satan wants to destroy believers’ unity and their effectiveness. Have others pray for your collaborative initiative and make prayer a central feature of everything the initiative undertakes. Then, here are eight proven principles that make all the difference. Follow them closely and succeed. Ignore them and you are likely to fail.
- Effective collaboration (EC) is about a highly motivating, commonly owned vision that A) Is clearly a God priority not just a personal objective B) Is beyond the capacity of any individual or even an organization C) Adds value to each player’s own vision/purpose.
- Effective collaboration (EC) breaks the big vision into limited, achievable objectives that can be evaluated, clearly assigned, reported on, and celebrated. Working together we must be able to see at least small successes early. Structure or how to organize must always follows the primary issue: What is the vision? Form alwaysfollows function.
- Effective collaboration (EC) is built on trusting relationships. Leadership must be very intentional about processes that will facilitate the building of these trusting relationships. There must be trust in the vision; the players; and the collaborative process.
- Effective collaboration (EC) needs a committed facilitator. This is not a “Director.” This is a person with a passion for the big vision as well as collaboration as the best means to realize that vision. They will be servant of all yet prophetic in their vision. If organizations are involved, each must have a “champion” for the joint initiative.
- 5. Effective collaboration (EC) is a process not an event and takes time and patience. Doing the research, getting to know the key players, and building consensus before calling people together is like the foundation for an important building. There are no good shortcuts.
- Effective collaboration (EC) is made up of players with clear identities and vision. When each knows what they do well their contribution will be effective and satisfying.
- Effective collaboration (EC) is aware of and meets expectations of key constituencies. These are usually the people we seek to serve; those active in the partnership or alliance; the administration of any participating organization; and those who pray, give, and provide essential resources.
- Effective collaboration (EC) focuses on what the players have in common; effectively evaluating progress; communicating consistently, and celebrating progress with all the players.
- Effective collaboration (EC) is always built on and sustained by prayer. Active prayer within the partnership and those outside the partnership committed to consistent prayer.
- Effective collaboration (EC) celebrates progress. Evaluation and consistent communication both within and to those outside the partnership acknowledges the power of encouragement as partners celebrate progress given by God.