Publication:Pastoral Letter,February 2017
Dear Friend in Christ:
Many years ago, my father said, “Too often we are reactionary. We wait to see what the enemy does and then react to it. Instead, we should act upon what the Lord says, then let the enemy react.” At the time he said that, I was reacting and isolating from the culture.
Perhaps, what I believe the Lord is now saying to me is not for everyone. Nevertheless, I think that He has said to me, “Collaborate, don’t isolate.”
Let me say what I think this does not mean: it doesn’t mean compromise the Word of God, compromise your spiritual principles, or become “political” in working with others. What I think it does mean: I cannot do the mission alone; I must be led to those of like mind who are willing to risk all in order to accomplish God’s will; I must engage.
Is this a Biblical message? Yes! First Thessalonians 3:2, First Corinthians 3:9, and Second Corinthians 6:1 all speak of “co-laboring together with God.” “Co-laboring” is very close to the word “collaborating.” Collaborating is simply working with others to accomplish a purpose. It means sharing insights, strategies, and resources to accomplish that purpose. At the heart of both words is “labor”. Collaborating or co-laboring is work, not just conversation, ideas or fellowship; it is action. New Testament fellowship was about the mission, not just the meeting. That is why a lot of collaboration goes on outside the meeting and even outside the Church. The Apostles collaborated and engaged the world.
Let’s face it, much of the Church is either isolated from the culture or compromised by the culture. Much of the collaboration within the Church is only about the Church, not about our mission in the world, here and abroad. Of course mission movements are a definite exception as well as some local churches. What isolates us? Habit, routine, fear, our differences with the world, culture, and each other. Most isolation seems to stem from our mentality, fear, or mere passivity. Isolation robs us of valuable resources and opportunities.
When the apostle James said, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only,” he was addressing an obvious problem (see James 1:22). There were too many “Believers” listening passively. Jesus often warned of being careful in how we listen. Listening without action is futility and disobedience.
Luke 8:1-18 gives the parable of the sower. Bear in mind that “sowing” is an action taken by the farmer who wants results. In the parable, Jesus warns us to be careful how we hear. Hearing without action leads to becoming unable to hear and to non-productivity. Have passivity and inaction led to spiritual deafness? In many cases I think so.
The apostles who heard and witnessed Jesus’ acts eventually became doers, as did most of the early Church. They literally gave their lives as did all who lived by true faith (see Hebrews 11). Faith is for action, not merely for creeds. Hebrews 11 catalogues the acts of faith done by our forefathers.
Doers want to get the job done, more than they want the credit. To get it done, they need help – collaboration. Two writers have contributed to my current thinking: Rex Miller and Phil Knight. Rex has written several books including The Millennium Matrix and Humanizing the Education Machine; he is a “futurist”. At the heart of his philosophy is collaborating with others who want to solve a problem. Phil Knight is the founder of Nike Shoe and Apparel Company, and wrote Shoe Dog, the story of the company. He too is a doer who collaborated to become a great success.
Both of these writers, along with numerous other examples, tell us that the key to success no longer lies in isolation; it lies in collaborating with likeminded, mutually committed individuals where every involved person contributes.
Rex Miller talks about gathering leaders who see the problem and seek solutions together from “outside the box.” Phil Knight talks about doing retreats with his key people, where they honestly deal with the problems, solutions, and each other.
My question is, do most Christians have such a context of collaboration? I think not. Do we need that? Absolutely! That is if we want to accomplish our mutual “co-mission.” We must collaborate with God and each other; we cannot do it alone.
My most productive years have been the result of collaboration. Some of my fellow collaborators have been people like Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, Don Basham, Ern Baxter, Ken Sumrall, and others whom I have served as pastor or fellow leader. Collaboration occurred in our fellowship, special retreats, and over meals. It happened in collaborative spaces where we could share, question, and envision our goals.
Change Your Space
Rex Miller got involved in office space design. He changed it from isolated spaces to common collaborative spaces. The CEO and the person “on the ground” could meet along with others in more common collaborative spaces, common areas. He said, “Change your space; change your culture.” Most successful companies have made that adjustment, including Amazon and Microsoft.
Meanwhile, churches still meet in rooms with the pulpit up front, and the “hearers” seated in rows, little or no collaboration except on how to grow the group or presenting some lesson. Our space has not changed since the Reformation and changed little since Constantine. We often listen but do not collaborate on how to activate the “doers.”
Once, the buildings in which churches met were homes; good collaborating spaces. Then, we moved indoors to long narrow spaces—a poor space for collaboration. Gradually, the space became wider and shorter, then semi-circled theaters. Will our space change again and facilitate collaboration?
In the early 1970s, I spoke nine times in what was one of America’s fastest growing churches. They met in a circular theater they had purchased, and it could hold approximately 3500 people. Three services were conducted each Sunday morning to a near full house. I learned there again that each space created its own dynamic, its own culture, or its own lack of dynamic. Real relationships require a useful space; a place to gather, exchange ideas, and act.
God is a covenant God (see Deuteronomy 7:9). Covenant implies several important issues: more than one person, mutual commitment and support, shared life, whatever is needed, and faithfulness to the purpose. God has also intended that we be a covenant people. So, collaboration should be easy, right? No, it never is, but it is necessary to get the job done and become “doers.”
God’s covenant works in life, not simply in meetings. He never leaves or forsakes (see Matthew 28:18-20). Collaboration is a way of life for God and for doers. They find those of like-mind and purpose and WORK together. They may meet in church, in homes, in coffee shops, or at work, but they are on the same page doing the same mission.
Every believer should know God in that way, and know someone else in that way. Family should be that way. In Genesis 2:18, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So, God gave Adam a covenant companion. The “not good to be alone” part extends well beyond marriage. We need each other. Isolation and loneliness is the devil’s work. We are better together and can be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth by working together (see Genesis 1:28).
But as we discover, marriage is not easy nor is collaboration. Isolation looks easier but is futile long-term. We cannot do as much alone; we cannot multiply. So we must learn to collaborate as Jesus, the apostles, early Church, and many outside the Church are doing.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that “two are better than one and a threefold chord is not easily broken.” While working together is important, I must also say that it is important with whom we collaborate, because we live with them and become like them (see Proverbs 13:20).
Tips on Collaboration
Recognize and respect those with whom you labor. If God put you together,make it work; adjust.
- Learn to listen. The greatest respect that we can give is to listen carefully and pay attention to what is said.
- Make sure that when you do speak, it is to contribute to the overall purpose or conversation; stay on topic and be aware. Don’t dominate in lengthy discourse or attitude.
- Learn to synthesize and harmonize the diversity. Diversity is good, but marginalizing others or disharmony is not good.
- Keep the understanding that the others are on your side in reaching the goal and accomplishing the mission; that enables you to contribute. Have a testimony.
- Keep your own reservoir as full as you can by reading, talking to others beyond your group, and staying informed.
- Pray a lot! Pray for the other team members, for the mission, and those who lead or facilitate. Listen to the Holy Spirit, the Guide that Jesus sent to lead us.
I am from Alabama and our state is known for sports, especially football. Coach Nick Saban at the University of Alabama is dedicated to “process.” He believes in recruiting the right players, but they must “buy in” to the process … or they don’t play. He focuses on each player improving in practice and in the game. They work together … collaborate. Christians could learn a lot from team sports.
Find your teammates, find your mission, find your space, and prayerfully find success in accomplishing the will of God. Championships are costly; there are mistakes, injuries, confrontations, and real labor. But any champion will tell you, “It is worth the cost!” Ask the Clemson football team this year!
Thanks so much for standing with CSM in your prayers and giving. Please continue to remember us this month. And, mark your calendar for the May 9-11 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference focusing this year on “Living Cells” featuring Larry Kreider and Dr. Michael Peters. We’d love to see you there! May the Lord bless you and yours this month and always!
Scripture References: 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1; James 1:22; Luke 8:1-18; Hebrews 11; Deuteronomy 7:9; Matthew 28:18-20; Genesis 2:18; Genesis 1:28; Ecclesiastes 4L9-12; Proverbs 13:20