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Butler, P. (2022, August 30). Communications Among International Christian Leaders. Kingdom Resource. https://kingdom-resource.org/2022/08/30/communications-among-international-christian-leaders/
Global Kingdom Intellectual Capital – Worth Saving?
It was a steamy, late nineteenth century day and noise on the docks in Bombay was deafening. Shouts of stevedores mixing with the cry of local vendors and the screech of overburdened block and tackle. Two British missionaries, bound for home after years on the field, met that blistering afternoon moments after boarding the ship. Over the next two weeks at sea they discovered a number of things: though they knew each other by name, they had never met in person; though working in sharply different cultures, one in the south and the other in the northwest of the country, and there were major areas of common experience. As they shared their experiences, there was encouragement, exchange of information and experience, and a commitment by both, on their return to India, to experiment with what they had learned in those welcome conversations. Once on the docks in Southampton, they parted ways, never to meet again.
Each of these men vowed he would share his insights with others and encourage his missionary friends, as a matter of practice, to share their experiences more intentionally and frequently. The truth is that what they had shared in experience and understanding was largely lost; to the wider missions community and the Church in the U.K. In modern parlance, there was no means to share the hard-won intellectual and experiential capital (which in this case could be taken to include objective data, cultural, emotional, and spiritual dimensions) born out of living in highly complex, strategic circumstances.
The More Things Are Different, The More They Are the Same
Despite the ubiquitous internet, CNN, shorter missionary terms, ease of transportation and communication, to the reasonably informed observer, there is some question as to whether circumstances have changed all that much in 150 years.
Superficially they no doubt have. Reports can be filed electronically; missionaries travel more frequently at lower cost per mile traveled, and prayer support for distant circumstances can be marshaled virtually overnight. But the ‘standing gap’ of information among international Christian leaders; is it really much different today than in those circumstances reflected in the lives of the two missionaries on the Bombay docks?
What This Article Is and Isn’t
In this article no attempt is made to examine the specific communications skills or routine practices of international Christian ministry leadership. How a leader handles email, social media, deals with communications technologies, prioritizes his or her communications with colleagues; or how he/she handles communications with the Board of Trustees or donors has been covered by other writers.
In contrast, this is an effort to raise awareness and questions regarding the current international context and practices of communication between international Christian leaders: Then, to ask whether creative, intentional efforts at more effective communications might not yield near term as well as eternal dividends?
It is interesting to note that in preparation for this article, an informal questionnaire regarding communications practices was sent to seventeen international leaders – roughly evenly divided among Westerners and non-Westerners. They are all individuals I’ve known personally for many years. The outbound email communication was marked ‘priority’ with the well-known red exclamation point attached. A response was received from seven (41%) and the first to respond was the leader of the largest of all the international agencies. The reader may draw his/her own conclusions from this modest exercise.
The responses to the questionnaire, complimenting a lifetime of mixing with Christian leaders around the world, suggests that consistent, intentional meeting and communicating with other leaders in similar areas of responsibility is, at best, occasional. Anecdotal connections seem to be the order of the day.
Parallels: Secular and Sacred
Having come up in the world of business and commercially-oriented international communications, the writer is acutely aware of how critical effective communication is among leaders. Personal and company fortunes can rise and fall literally overnight. Effective communications is critical for a leader in these circumstances, within their company or direct area responsibility, of course. But wider industry, real time information is needed as well.
Recent international circumstances related to Covid-19 has accelerated the use of virtual communications. Platforms such as Zoom and Skype **, widely used before Covid-19 pandemic, have been catapulted to the status of being a daily norm – shaping everything from administrative and accountability processes to stockholder or funder relations.
One response to this essential need in the leaders’ lives are the links where face to face relationships can be built, information exchanged, and alliances formed. To this end a wide variety of associations, networks, and specifically orchestrated forums exist.
At the highest level, the United Nations, and regional expressions like ASEAN provide a political forum. G7 and the World Economic Forum (read Davos, etc., etc.) are high level platforms where leaders can discuss global and regional economic issues. In the business and scientific sectors, literally thousands of specialized associations and networks provide intersections where like-minded leaders can meet; some primarily serving technical and professional people, others, primarily senior leadership. (Google currently lists twenty-six trade associations just in the field of polymers. Another site lists seventy-six associations and societies that only deal with setting technical standards!)** The world of education has similar entities – points at which like-minded leadership can connect.
The problem these days is if you’re a brain surgeon, it is no longer good enough to just be part of the American Medical Association. You will need to be a member of The Neurological Society of America which, in turn, is part of the 130 member World Federation of Neurological Societies https://www.wfns.org/ . In thousands of other professional and business sectors it is the same. It is a big, complicated world today– filled with innovation, competition, and changes that affect you – especially if you are a leader in your field. And the pace of change is accelerating.
The major international consulting firms like McKinsey, Deloitte, and the Boston Consulting Group provide a proven model. Let’s say, I’m in the McKinsey office in Manila and a client indicates they have an opportunity to buy a jute manufacturing and distributing company and needs our counsel. With no one in my office within the jute industry, I can put the word out to my colleagues in 130 offices worldwide. Overnight I can have valuable, highly credible input for my client.
What kind of platform could provide a counter part for the international Christian leadership community?
There are specialized Christian counterparts. In the evangelical sector, the World Evangelical Alliance brings together 129 national alliances, organized in 7 regions. Nationally, groups like the India Missions Association link national missionary agencies – reportedly now with a membership of over 200. Missio-Nexus links mission agencies as well as churches in North America. The United Bible Societies operate in 240 counties, and a remarkable range of over 600 existing networks can be found at www.linkingglobalvoices.com .
The World Council of Churches reports membership in 110 countries and territories reflecting mainline denominations including 350 member churches among the Orthodox Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed communities.
There are, of course, a wide range of more specialized communities. One only has to look at the Anabaptist (1), Reformed (2), or Pentecostal sectors to see these expressions each providing a place where their respective leadership can meet.
Specialized geographic and functionally focused networks and regular meetings in the global Christian community serve much the same purpose as they do in the secular world: ACCORD links 60+ Christian relief and development agencies (https://accordnetwork.org/ ). And, the Forum of Bible Agencies International connects agencies translating, producing, or distribution of Scripture, in print, digital, or video formats ( www.forum-intl.org ) ., and The Refugee Highway, linked to the WEA, links agencies addressing the world’s 70+ million refugees (www.refugeehighway.net ). In the U.S. groups like the Christian Management Association, National Religious Broadcasters, Association of, Association for Biblical Higher Education and a range of other entities link communications, educational institutions, and the wide-ranging medical disciplines.
Internationally, probably the most ubiquitous are the connections in the world of sports and athletics. There is not a sector of professional sport, globally, that does have some form of organized Christian witness. From auto racing to world cup soccer – every sport has a connected community of leaders who pro-actively connect their Christian witness and service to these highly-visible, highly paid athletes. On the amateur front there is constant communication between Christian sports initiatives in fifty-one countries. Training, “youth games,” and personal coaching comes from a global team that is c99%volunteer . (https://youthworldgames.com /)
Regional annual meetings or networks are increasingly connecting practitioners and specialists internationally. COICOM (communications) and COMIBAM (missions) serve Latin America, and MANI (Movement For African National Initiatives) serving all the sub-Saharan African countries are examples. Many more exist and space obviously limits a comprehensive list. The greater Middle East has seen annual consultations develop for North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Central Middle East. Often drawing several hundred participants, these consultations have, functionally, become a primary platform for communications and cooperation among leaders**.
A unique and fruitful collaborative effort was launched in 1992 between a group of international Christian broadcasters and the BBC’s audience research department. Working collectively, this initiative brought common vocabulary and credible data to a field long dogged with ambiguity. The new, common platform made inter-agency leadership communication never before possible. **
The largest, consistent “footprint” of convening and connecting leaders has been the Lausanne Movement. Founded as a vision of Billy Graham in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Movement has sponsored hundreds of regional, international, and specialized working meetings. The Lausanne event, Cape Town 2010, brought four thousand leaders together from 198 countries. Organized into 12 regions and 30+ “issue networks,” through publishing, digital channels, and multiple specialized meetings each year, the Lausanne Movement provides the single greatest range of options for leaders to connect. Their quarterly Global Analysis reaches over 22,00 in over 200 countries and territories. In an exceptional research effort, the Lausanne Movement learned that 74% of the recipients are in “senior management” in their organizations.**
A question is, taking a closer look, how many of these networks or events engaged the real leaders – the decision makers? How many denominational, mission, or other essential Christian CEOs or ministry execs are present? And, if and when they are present, is there any encouragement, structure in these consultations, or motivation for them to meet and share around the problems unique to their leadership role? Anecdotal evidence (registration lists, personal attendance at many of these events, etc.) suggest they are largely populated by operational people or specialists with interest in the region or topic. Valuable yet often not those who make or serious influence policy.
The face-to-face options secular networks and associations provide are augmented by a blinding array of eNewsletters, electronic audio and video conferences, and other electronic/internet empowered means for sharing, educating, or planning. The numbers of commercial companies providing similar services for these specialized sectors grows daily. Want to be kept abreast of developments in global nuclear chemistry? There are firms that will provide the service. In the secular world, connecting and informing business leaders is big business!
Motivation and Standards
There is a historic, Biblical, justifiable sense of responsibility and accountability in the Christian leadership community – to God, to the donor, to their own team, the Board of Trustees, and, in some cases, in the U.S. to the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability** (a rare ‘standards’ agency in the Christian sector). Motivation born out of Kingdom obedience, vision, or calling can and does drive leadership to examine their performance and that of their organization. Our view of the Great Commission, the nature of evangelism, and God’s plan for redemption drives much of this. Our constituencies’ views on these subjects often drive the perceived standards of performance and communications about that performance. Rarely is it “industry” standards or “market forces” that drive Christian leaders to talk with one another.
In science, business, and education, reputations, professional longevity, competitive market position, stockholder satisfaction, and personal income are regularly at stake. It is a harsh, unforgiving world. The monthly and annual bottom lines never go away and motivation is frequently highly personal. Accreditation, certification, and membership in professional societies are de riguer. But, even in this highly competitive climate, the accounts of leaders communicating with and helping other leaders fill textbooks, make up case histories, and are the grist of articles in monthly business journals.
On standards of performance, the pace of the Christian sector seems considerably more leisurely than business. The demands made by dozens if not hundreds of market or industry analysts talking and writing about your company, your industry, and where you stand – winner or loser – are just not there. There is no pressure like “stockholder return on equity.” Or trying to explain why your stock is down when your profits are up. There is no evangelical ministry ranking equivalent to Forbes or Business Week ranking a university’s MBA program or where your hospital stands in America’s Top 100. In business, science, and education, you have to know what is going on within your industry – ready at a moment’s notice to compare and defend your performance with that of others. To do this, you need to be talking. and listening, to others in the industry. The constant pressure for profits and the associated issues never go away.
Timelines and Vocabularies
Which raises an interesting, less often discussed aspect of assumptions and standards that, in turn, motivates communication between leaders. What is the “horizon” or time-line by which you must accomplish your goals? There is often discussion if not debate on the short-term demand for profits in American business vs. the longer-term perspective of the Japanese. Not a week goes by but what some leader takes over a troubled company and pundits predict how much time “the market” will give him or her to turn the company around. All the while, of course, the market will use those ever-present industry standards to judge the leader’s performance.
On the Christian front, debate erupts when movements like AD2000 and Beyond (and others) suggest specific dates; sponsor and share analytical data on the unfinished task to motivate and inform high levels of engagement and performance in world evangelization. Specificity often prompts controversy. God’s people working to some objective standards of performance by itself is inadequate. Those objectives must always be accompanied by a timeline. The timelines themselves create further motivation for dialogue and discussion among leaders. In the secular world, without specificity you’re dead.
If in business stockholders motivate performance and industry standards allow leaders to judge their performance, it is a standard vocabulary about those matters that makes communications possible among the leaders.
When comparing secular and Christian leadership, one quickly finds that a big part of the problem Christian leaders face is that they lack the highly developed vocabularies found in business, science, technology, and education. There are general and very specific business terms, reference points for each industry. Each specialization has its own additional, more technical language. Leaders in each sector are to be conversant in both the general and the specialized language. That is what allows them to communicate both within their own enterprise – and across the industry and with the investors and analysts. That is what allows them to lead, then meet and communicate with other leaders. It allows them to compare how well they’re doing or not doing. It makes the analysts’ reports meaningful.
Yet, what are the comparables in Christian ministry? In a local church, the number of members, size of staff, and budget are most often quoted. In missions, it may be the number of missionaries, countries in which you are operating, and, maybe, your budget. In both cases, once you get past those numbers, the conversation between leaders suddenly goes “soft” – no standard vocabulary powers the conversation. Complicating the problem further is that, internationally, today’s truly global church meets in the field – east, west, north, and south. Southern and eastern leaders are crying to be heard. They want to contribute meaningfully to the discussion about the direction and mission of the Church. But often, here, the lack of common vocabulary dealing with assumptions, performance standards, and historical contexts are even more diverse making effective communication among leaders even more difficult.
Where Do We Go, What Do We Do?
So, what do we do about the Bombay dock syndrome? How do we capture the richness of the “intellectual capital” God is giving His global church each day? Then, how do we share it, learn from it, and do better because of more effective sharing among leaders? What will it take?
- More and different kinds of meetings?
- More essential information passing through varied, alternative communications channels?
- Once we assume faithfulness, who will candidly explore the question of relevant, appropriate performance standards and “metrics” that empower comparison, evaluation, and communication?
- Who will work on the vocabulary we need?
- Is there a forum where these issues could be explored and new directions charted?
- Who sees this as a priority and will take the initiative?
Is it possible that the WEA and/or Lausanne Movement could provide a neutral, high-value service similar to the international consulting companies? The ability to make ministry enquiry focused on specific topic and/or geographical area? In effect a secure, password protected, international “bulletin board” facilitating at least minimal connectivity among leaders?
What happens today in ministry among the Muslim communities of Afghanistan likely has high relevance and learning potential for those working 4-5,000 miles west in Islamic West Africa. What is being learned in efforts to “re-evangelize Europe” has high relevance to America’s secular cities. What God’s people are doing in the slums of Manila could be very important to those working to hold up The Light in the favelas of Rio.
The ability to share information about God’s work across these boundaries is no longer a question of communications capacity. The internet has forever put an end to that excuse. It really is not a question of money. The vast discretionary money held back by Christians and their declining giving percentages in the West make that clear. No. It is a question of will – and leadership: leaders committed to strengthening the way we communicate and work with other leaders for change. As that occurs, the Kingdom will advance with greater energy and effectiveness.