This is an article from the May-June 2006 issue: Profiles in Partnership

A Survey of Kingdom Collaboration

A Survey of Kingdom Collaboration

What’s the Challenge?

It’s said that all cultures have both idealized and realized values. These values represent the way things ought to be and the way they really are. The distance between what we dream about, hope for, and expect – and the way things really are can create tension, disappointment, sometimes disillusionment, and, occasionally rebellion.

Near the top of the list of Christian idealized values is the vision Jesus gives His followers in John 17:21-23 – “That they may all be one as you and I are one, so that the world may know that you have sent me....” Psalm 133 suggests that God’s power and refreshment are found as His people live and work in unity.

Historical Context and Previous Models

Field missionaries are as aware as those at home of the distance between the idealized values of the John 17:21 principle and the realized, day-to-day world. However, over the decades a number of ingredients in the field have opened hearts and minds there to cooperation as an alternative to Western paradigms of individualism. These ingredients have included distance from home constituencies (read: difficulty for sponsors to look over your shoulder); an awareness of limited resources in the face of overwhelming need; a sense of a lack of effectiveness, if not failure; intense isolation; and often an acute awareness of Satanic opposition.

Following the second World War projects like ACROSS in the Southern Sudan, HEED Bangladesh, and the UMN (United Mission to Nepal) broke new ground, showing that God’s people could work together – often with significant, sometimes remarkable outcomes.

In the resource countries, entities such as the IFMA (Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, the EFMA (Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies) in the U.S., the Evangelical Missionary Alliance in the U.K., and the India Missions Association have demonstrated that sending agencies can find real value in shared information, best practices, and encouragement by linking together while retaining their individual identities. (The India Missions Association is now the world’s largest association of mission agencies, with over 200 Indian mission agencies as members.)

From its roots in a 1966 Billy Graham Congress in Berlin and the historic 1974 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Lausanne Movement linked individuals rather than organizations. Its power was the core call of evangelism expressed in a twin commitment to holism (the Lausanne Covenant) and the awareness of unreached peoples (Ralph Winter’s singular contribution to the 1974 Lausanne Congress). The Lausanne Movement provided a safe haven for many individuals who shared these commitments but found little, if any, resonance in their own denominational or organizational structures. What was emerging as a powerful trend – the shift of power from the center to the edges – was being realized in the world community committed to mission and evangelism.

The 1970s also witnessed the birth of Intercristo, a missions cooperative linking individuals with listings of field opportunities. Despite early criticism for its pioneering use of computers, Intercristo went on to link thousands of Christian agencies listing their personnel needs with tens of thousands of individuals receiving personalized reports of opportunities calling for their specific skills, experience, and interests. Intercristo continues today and has been widely copied by other initiatives.

The Seminal Year of 1986

In June 1986, 14 individuals representing eight ministries met in the Maestranza Hotel in Malaga, Spain to consider one question: “If we want to see real breakthroughs for Christ among the 60 million Muslims in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, is there anything that we could do better together than if we continue to work separately?” At the end of nearly four days these leaders had identified nearly 20 things vital to church-planting efforts that could only be done together. Yet, like most others, this group had never taken one initiative together. So what should be the priority? After more rounds of prayer and consensus-building, they decided to focus on one key action point. In praise of what God had done in their midst, the group spontaneously broke into song!

By 2002 the number of language groups in which similar partnerships had developed grew to over 90, stretching from West Africa to Northeast, South, and Southeast Asia. Some of the smaller partnerships included 10-15 ministries, while larger ones frequently had 25 or more.

From Micro To Macro – The Field Partnership Model Gains Momentum

As the number of language-specific or people group-specific partnerships grew, annual consultations sprang up in various regions to link leaders of the partnerships in these regions. As the next level of collaboration, these regional consultations not only provided opportunity for people from within the region to meet and focus on specific people groups, they also were a natural forum for those from outside the region who had interests inside the region. This dual opportunity helped local churches, specialized and technical ministries, prayer groups, and many others to connect face-to-face with those working at the field level.

Over the years more than a dozen of these annual consultations emerged, from French-speaking West Africa across to Southeast Asia. Most are still active today.

Why Effective?

Reviewing this history of frontier missions cooperation, several qualities suggest why the movement grew and has shown durability.

  • Work together always started at the field level, among those dealing with day-to-day realities. Often the home offices only learned about the partnerships after collaboration was well underway. Home offices are usually too far from day-to-day field realities, too close to their funding constituencies, and too accustomed to focusing on structures before addressing vision and priority outcomes.
  • Partnerships and the subsequent regional consultations were based on an “open architecture” model. Any individual or agency clearly committed to taking Christ to the specific people group was welcome. While the partnerships developed their own criteria for involvement, leadership roles, etc., they clearly have been inclusive rather than exclusive.
  • The partnerships have always been driven by a big vision – usually to see a nationally-led church-planting movement in the unreached people group. However, participants understood you must start with limited, achievable, high-value objectives. Results and progress are needed early in the process, building hope, providing encouragement, and confirming that the effort to work together is worthwhile.
  • Participation has always been international. Increasingly, since the mid-1980s these partnerships and regional consultations have reflected the growing commitment of the global church to frontier missions. If you were to attend any of these partnership-related meetings today, you would likely find Americans in the minority. The global church is more fully engaged every day. What extraordinary good news!

More Power To The Edges

A natural by-product of all these developments was the rise of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement in the early 1990s. With a focus on common vision and practical outcomes rather than organizational structure, AD2000 personified the heightened profile of missions cooperation.

Not surprisingly, the AD2000 Movement was always rooted more deeply in the non-Western church than the Western. The North American and European church and missions communities were slower to sense the shifting of the “center of gravity” of the global missions movement. Non-Westerners, on the other hand, welcomed the vision, access to participation, and voice they were given in the AD2000 Movement.

Functional Collaboration Becomes a Significant Factor

The structural trends of collaboration today continue to follow the patterns developed in the 1980s and 1990s. Cooperative efforts have naturally coalesced around major criteria: linguistic (specific language groups), geographic (countries or regions), and functional (specialized issues that cut across linguistic and geographical boundaries).

The language-specific partnerships have been just that – partnerships, or diverse groups focused on a common issue. But the regional consultations have looked more like networks – diverse groups sharing resources/information in order to do their own work more effectively. (See sidebar, “Do We Have to Choose?”)

Significantly adding to the mix of cooperative efforts have been the networks around specialized roles. AERDO connects the Christian relief and development agencies. The World By Radio links broadcasters. COSIM brings together ministries committed to support of national leaders in developing nations. The Refugee Highway helps coordinate the efforts of field and resource country personnel working with refugees and migrants. The Forum of Bible Agencies helps translators, publishers, and distribution personnel share information and coordinate efforts. The International Orality Network brings people together who are committed to the 2.5 billion oral communicators in the world. It’s estimated that there are some 25-30 of these regional or international functional networks.

New Strategic Networks In The Field

As the global church has increasingly taken ownership of the Great Commission, simultaneously the partnership/network movement has gained traction around the world.

COMIBAM has become the rallying point for the Ibero-American world of missions. The network encourages and links missionary training, mobilization, national missionary initiatives, resource development, and partnership training in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds. COMIBAM expects over 2,000 to attend their November congress in Granada, Spain!

MANI (Movement for African National Initiatives) has emerged in Africa as the galvanizing network for unreached peoples, national evangelism and transformation, and prayer networks. At their continental consultation in Nairobi in February, approximately 500 leaders from 50 African countries gathered to assess the state of evangelization in Africa. Sixteen work-groups addressed topics such as women’s issues, Islam, oral communication of the Gospel, media ministry, and mobilizing, sending, and caring for African missionaries.

Other regional networks focused on the unreached include SEALINK in Southeast Asia and AWEMA in the Middle East.

On a global scale, in March of this year Ethnê ’06 brought together 350 leaders (from about 50 countries) focused on unreached peoples. The majority of the participants in these working meetings were non-Westerners, echoing the experience of the AD2000 & Beyond Movement. Hosted this year by SEALINK and the Southeast Asian community, future meetings will be coordinated and hosted by other regions of the world.

Blurring Of The Lines: “Field” And “Resource” Countries.

Increasingly non-Western countries are setting ambitious goals for their contribution to the unfinished task. Korea is now second in number of missionaries sent. The Nigerian Evangelical Missions Association, with over 100 indigenous mission agencies, has set a goal of 50,000 Nigerian missionaries focused on unreached peoples by 2025. The Philippine Missions Association has set goals for 5,000+ new missionaries in the next ten years. Christian populations from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq already have many lay missionaries in every country of the Arabian Peninsula. Latin American churches and mission agencies have sent hundreds of missionaries, particularly to the Muslim world.

These non-Western missionaries now heavily populate virtually every frontier mission partnership and network in the world.

2005 saw the dream of many key leaders come true with the inaugural meeting in Amsterdam of the Global Network of Mission Structures (GNMS). Thirty-one leaders from 13 countries met to examine how a network of mission agencies/structures might more fully empower frontier ministry. An executive board was formed; incorporation has been completed; a working office in Malaysia was designated; and a web site established.

And, all throughout recent history, the World Evangelical Alliance’s Missions Commission has played an active role in linking the growing diversity of the global Church and its commitment to frontier missions.

New Networks In The Resource Countries

In the West, a growing trend has been for local churches to connect around their common interests in language groups or countries. In North America alone, over 70 networks of churches are now focused on specific people groups or countries.

Other networks address similar but larger, more complex challenges. For example, China Challenge and Impact Indonesia provide annual working meetings for a wide range of individuals and agencies committed to unreached people in those regions.

These resource networks provide the best of all worlds. People from resource countries can connect with each other – and, on the field, with those cooperating there. Field personnel can not only link through their field partnerships, but they have networks in the resource countries with whom they can communicate.

Where Are The Resources/Who Has The Information?

A resource web site for the global frontier partnership/network movement, provides access information for many of the networks and other groups mentioned in this article. The site also has a deep reservoir of other materials (most downloadable) such as articles, case histories, principles, a complete bibliography, plus collaboration stories from around the world.

Two organizations are committed full-time to helping God’s people work together to reach the unreached. Former Interdev field personnel now make up Interdev Partnership Associates and provide partnership/networking resources. VisionSynergy focuses on partnership educational and resource materials plus helping coach strategic networks focused on unreached peoples.

Working with several other unreached people organizations, visionSynergy is currently compiling a comprehensive list of geographical and functional frontier mission networks. This “connectivity” project should be accessible by late April or early May. Around the world the number of men and women specifically committed to Kingdom partnership and network development is estimated at well over 2,000.

What Of The Future?

  • Next-generation frontier mission networks and partnerships must acknowledge the realities of the global workforce for world evangelization and be intentional about providing a “level playing field” to connect Western and non-Western players.
  • Faced with global migration on an unprecedented scale and the nature of the global Church’s involvement, networks must find ways to link those around the world committed to specific people groups. For instance, more Mongolians live outside the country than inside. Thousands of Mongolian students are in universities worldwide – with a particular concentration in central/eastern Europe and Russia. While both resource and in-country networks exist – no network ties together everyone committed to Mongolians wherever they may be. A similar challenge exists for virtually every other major unreached people group.
  • The global Church’s relief and development agencies need a truly functional network that facilitates comprehensive coordination in times of national or international disaster. Events of the last two decades demonstrate the potential such coordination could have in increasing effectiveness and credibility for the Gospel by being in place before disaster strikes.

The global missions community is radically more connected than it was 50 years ago. Sociological trends, globalization, the rapidly growing global Church, prayer, and the sovereign work of the Lord of the Harvest have all played a part. No matter what your role in the frontier mission movement, these remarkable trends can only be good news.


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