It was John R. Mott who shared the following observation some six decades ago.
“The larger evangelism which we long to see will result inevitably from a large
unity. On the authority of Christ Himself, real unity is an absolute essential to the
realization of the highest evangelistic objective. He prayed – think of it – our Lord in His
high-priestly prayer prayed that we all might be one, not as an end in itself, but ‘that the
world might believe … The clock has struck, the hour has come when in this vital matter
of evangelization all who acknowledge the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ should pool not
only knowledge and experience but personalities, funds, plans in the making and
measures for the triumphant conduct of the work itself.” (Larger Evangelism, page 13)
In a real sense, Dr. Mott ’s statement is a description of what the Mission America
Coalition has become in our generation. It was in early December of 1994 that some 165
U.S. Christian leaders met together in Lisle, Illinois, for a consultation on evangelism.
Cosponsored by the U.S. Lausanne Committee and the Billy Graham Center, the
consultation was used of God to give birth to one of the most remarkable coalitions in the
history of the American Church – the Mission America Coalition.
The “gestation ” period for this coalition began in the early 1990 ’s following
Lausanne II – a conference on world evangelization hosted by the Lausanne Committee
for World Evangelization. Members of the U.S. Lausanne Committee returned from that
gathering in July of 1989 posing the question, “What is God calling us to do in regards to
cooperative evangelism in the United States during the last decade of the 20th Century? ”
The Committee met together on several occasions to pray and to seek the
guidance of the Holy Spirit in response to that important question. As a result, several
“exploratory meetings ” of Christian leaders were held throughout the nation climaxing in
a Prayer Summit in Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 1993. Some 350 Christian
leaders from various denominations and ministries gathered together with no formal
program or assigned speakers. They fasted, prayed and sought the Lord and His guidance
concerning the spiritual needs of the Church and the nation. From that significant prayer
meeting flowed the birth of the Mission America Coalition in December of 1994.
During the past seven years, all of us involved in the Mission America Coalition
have learned a great deal about spiritual unity and cooperation and partnerships and
ministry networks and collaboration. However, most of what we have learned has not
come from formal study or from past experience. Instead, we have been learning as we
have been advancing together under the leadership of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the
Holy Spirit. Within this process, we have found ourselves experiencing the words of a
Chinese proverb that states, “We are building the road as we are walking on it. ”
That is exactly what we have been doing. We have proceeded literally on our
knees in a sincere attempt to follow our leader – Jesus Christ – step by step. Early in this
adventure, we determined that we would not attempt to build this coalition in the normal
”American Way. ” Instead, we have sought to do it in what we are calling the “Jesus
Way. ” We believe that He is building this coalition. We have been experiencing the
principle that the Psalmist declared, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor
in vain (Ps. 127:1). ” We believe that the Mission America Coalition is of God’s doing,
and we give Him the glory!
It has been only in
recent days have we have discovered a model or matrix that
seems to describe what we have been learning about collaboration in the mission our
Lord has entrusted to us. Therefore, in presenting this first paper at this Evangelism
Roundtable, I have been asked to take just a few moments to introduce this matrix to you
which was first published in 1994 by the National Collaboration Network of the
Community Based Collaboration-Wellness Multiplied.
You will find a copy of this model as Appendix A of this paper. As you will
see, there are five basic steps in the process that lead to collaboration. This model
suggests that we must begin at the level of networking. Networks provide wonderful
opportunities for dialoging and reaching common understandings. One of their most
helpful functions is to provide a clearinghouse for the sharing of information.
The next level is that of cooperation or alliances. These kinds of relationships can
provide some mutual accountability, the coordination of ministry and the limiting or
reducing of competition and duplication.
The third level provides for a deeper partnership that results in a coalition – the
fourth level -- that includes shared leadership along with common and prioritized
communications. Only when a coalition is formed and becomes operational can the
participants move on to the fifth level of true collaboration. This collaboration includes a
high trust level of leadership and other partners, ideas and decisions that are equally
shared and highly developed communication.
Needless to say, not all relationships between ministries ever reach the
collaboration level. There is a very legitimate place for networks and alliances and
partnerships that never become an actual coalition or ever become involved in functional
collaboration. Cooperation and partnerships on any level of ministry are important for
the advancement of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I have said, in many ways this five-step model summarizes what we have
experienced in the Mission America Coalition for the past seven years. In truth, we have
been discovering the five-steps of the matrix without being aware or following the model.
Instead, we have had the wonderful experience of being led by the Spirit through the
At the same time, let me hasten to make clear that we have not “arrived ” at the
fifth step or phase of collaboration with every partner that is involved in the Mission
America Coalition. Many partners are still very much “in process. ” For example, there
are MAC partners that are still at the network level. And there are other potential
partners and present partners who are still exploring how they “fit ” within the
partnership. Still others move in and out of the coalition according to their involvement
in special initiatives such as the current “911 Remembrance ” initiative.
The good news is that there is a “core group ” that is growing steadily comprised
of partners who are actually reaching step five and are becoming involved in effective
collaboration. The building of the coalition and the facilitating of collaborative
evangelism has been an exciting adventure. We are very encouraged and blessed by what has taken place. And we see great potential for the future.
As we have
experienced the growth of the coalition, we have encountered some
challenges along the way. Networking, partnering and cooperating are not natural
activities for the American Church. Collaboration in evangelism ministries requires
initiative, resolve and commitment. And it also requires a large dose of humility and
submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and of mutual submission to one another.
I confess that in my ministry with the MAC, I have tended to focus on victories
rather than challenges. Although we have faced some very difficult challenges during the
past seven years, our Lord has given victory after victory. Our modus operandi has been
to thank God for those victories and then to move on as we seek to follow Him.
Therefore, it is rather difficult for me to step back and focus upon the challenges we have
experienced. However it is a good discipline to do so. This prayerful investigation has
caused me to overflow with thanksgiving to God for how He has led us and provided for
As I have reflected upon the challenges we have faced in the building of this
coalition for strategic collaborative evangelism, I believe that the following nine
categories represent the major challenges we have encountered.
Many pastors and
other Christian leaders seem to be significantly ignorant
concerning the Biblical teaching regarding spiritual unity. Others seem to be simply
neglecting or ignoring this important subject.
It is important for all us who are involved in leadership roles in the Church to be
aware that the Scriptures share a great deal about the importance of spiritual unity.
Although other presenters in this Evangelism Roundtable will give more attention to this
important subject, I would remind all of us that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave a
high priority to spiritual unity. For example, in His “high-priestly prayer, ” Jesus prayed
specifically that we would become “one ” even as the Father and the Son are one. And He
continued His prayer by praying that we would be brought to “complete unity ” so that the
world would know that the Father has sent His Son (John 17:20-23).
The Apostle Paul also addressed this important subject with great conviction in
his letter to the Church in Ephesus. As you will remember, He urged the followers of
Jesus to make every effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit. ” His basic assumption
was that spiritual unity in the Church should be the norm. It should be expected
(Ephesians 4:3). He assumed that we who follow Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit
should be inclined to spiritual unity. For, he stated, there is ONE Body and ONE Spirit
and ONE Lord and ONE faith and ONE baptism and ONE GOD and Father “who is over
all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV). ”
As we have said, many Christian leaders are either ignorant of this teaching or are
simply neglecting it. As a result, in some of the Church, there seems to be a growing
movement towards independence and individualism. This is another of the major
challenges we have been facing in collaborative evangelism.
One of the
manifestations of sin is that of separation from God and from one
another. One of the marvelous provisions of our Lord Jesus Christ is to bring us back in
close fellowship with God and with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The
concept of the Church as the Body of Christ most clearly communicates the importance
of every member living in vital dependence upon the Head, Jesus Christ, and living in a
vital relationship of interdependence with one another.
One of the expressions of sin is for an individual to desire to “do our own thing ”
or “go our own way ” and not to “need anyone ” or to be accountable to anyone but
ourselves. ” Unfortunately, this is a natural tendency that often creeps into the lives of
Christians and even into the Church.
Partnerships and collaboration do not seem to be high priorities for many
Christian leaders and many local churches. I believe that the “independent church
movement ” is an expression of this challenge as it continues to expand very rapidly
across our nation. In the Biblical sense, the term “independent church ” is an oxymoron.
As we have said, our Lord has designed His Church to be dependent upon Him and
interdependent upon the larger Church.
However, the challenge of an independent spirit is not merely a problem within
local churches. It often affects denominations and Christian organizations who tend to
merely go their own way or do their own thing without any regard for other members of
the Body. In fact, one of the challenges we face within the MA Coalition is when
ministry networks focus only upon themselves and their ministries without seeing any
value relating to the larger coalition of potential partners who could share and even
strengthen the effectiveness of their ministries.
Closely related is
the challenge of independence is one of the greatest challenges
being faced by the Christian community in the United States. It is the challenge of “turf ”
and/or “control. ” This challenge seems to be experienced both internally and externally.
For example, the “internal ” question of “who is in control ” in a local church is an area of
major conflict and division in many churches across the nation.
In addition, there is the issue of what we may call the “external ” control factor.
This is a large area of concern for those of us involved in collaborative evangelism. Often
pastors and churches look at their communities as “t heir turf ” that they control. Many
seem to have little or no concern for collaborating in evangelism with other churches in
their community. Quite to the contrary, they tend to frequently look at other churches as
competitors, as inferior or even as irrelevant.
However, churches are not the only entities that struggle with control or turf
issues. Many Christian organizations suffer from the same mentality. They often see
themselves as carrying on the only ministry that is truly significant. If they subscribe to
any concept of partnering, it is usually an attempt to recruit others to help them achieve
their goals. They have little or no concept of what true collaboration is about and seem to
have virtually no interest in doing so.
that is closely related to individualism and turf/control is that
of churches and/or ministries that focus upon building “personal kingdoms ” rather than
the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Most “personal kingdom builder ” leaders are highly gifted, visionary, entrepreneurs who are focused and literally consumed with what they are doing. Again, these are leaders who have ignored or not understood the Biblical concept of the Body of Christ and how the Lord of the Church has designed His Body to function with dependence upon Him and interdependence with the other members of the Body. For the most part, they have little or no involvement with the other pastors of their community and feel no responsibility to serve them or to minister with them. I believe that most who are guilty of personal kingdom building are not aware of the sin they are committing.
A short time ago I was invited to have lunch with a well-known pastor of one of
the largest mega-churches in the United States. Much to my surprise, he literally wept
through most of the luncheon. I was deeply moved as he shared his heart with me.
Although he had been used of God to build one of the most “successful ” churches in the
nation, he had recently come to recognize some of the great social and spiritual needs of
his community that were not being met by his church or any other.
He kept saying, “There are hundreds of thousands of souls in our community that
are on their way to hell, and we haven’t realized it.” He went on to say that he had come
to realize that his church could not do it alone. They needed to band with other churches
to reach out to their community with the love and grace of Jesus Christ so that every
person would have the opportunity of being touched with the love and grace of Jesus
In short, he had been building a church with the heart of a CEO building a large
and successful company. But now, God was breaking his heart. He had come to look at
the church and community with the heart of a pastor who was moved with compassion by
the needs of those around him. He was now interested in being used by the Lord to build
the Kingdom of God!
Our nation and
communities have been deeply divided over the years by racial
and cultural divisions. Someone has said that the most segregated period of time during
the week is on Sunday morning when people of the nation gather for religious services.
We have found this issue to be a major challenge in building a coalition. Many
ethnic denominations or churches have been so deeply wounded that they have turned
inward and have become self-sufficient. Others are angry and do not want to be a part of
a “white man’s ” coalition. In contrast, many Caucasian and traditional churches have not
taken major steps towards repentance of racial sins and have not sought forgiveness and
Class-consciousness can also be a problem. For example, those who are involved
in a “high church ” often look down at those who are a part of churches they consider to
be “lower class. ” Also, the matters of music, worship styles and order often relate to
Without a doubt, the key to authentic spiritual unity is the presence and ministry
of the Holy Spirit. How ironic then is the fact that no doctrine of the Christian faith
seems to be separating the Church in our culture more than the doctrine of the Holy
Although we can be encouraged by the significant progress being made in the
American Church in these areas, there are still great divides between many traditional
evangelicals, classic Pentecostals, Charismatics and, most recently, the “New Apostolic
Another major area of division in many church and denominational circles is that
of the role of women in the Church. This can constitute a major barrier to collaborative
During the past seven years, the Mission America Coalition has given birth or has
related to over 70 ministry networks across the nation. Dr. Cornell (Corkie) Haan has
been used of Christ in a most remarkable way to help facilitate many of these networks
Over the past six years, Corkie has observed many obstacles that challenge the
forming of effective ministry networks. Without exception, he has discovered that the
most common, consistent obstacle is that of broken and/or fractured relationships that
require reconciliation and the restoration of right relationships before any kind of
collaboration in ministry can take place.
Dr. Haan has used a rather earthy illustration to describe that which he has
observed to take place over and over again. He states that ministry leaders coming
together for the first time tend to act very much like two or more dogs getting acquainted
for the first time. They follow the procedure of “sniffing, growling and checking. ” Only
then are they prepared to move ahead together.
Our city/community team leaders have identified another challenge we face in
collaboration in evangelism. It is the fact that most collaborative evangelism takes place
around a short-term program or a special event such as a Billy Graham Crusade. It is
certainly not “bad ” that such collaborative evangelism events take place. Quite to the
contrary, they are often used wonderfully by our Lord to advance His Kingdom.
Christians and Churches are often strengthened and there is usually a significant spiritual
harvest that takes place of new believers coming to follow Jesus Christ with many of
them incorporated into local churches.
However, the “sad ” factor is that often when special events or programs are
ended, the spirit of collaboration quickly fades and churches are soon once again doing
“t heir own thing ” rather than being engaged in continued ministries of collaborative
evangelism. Throughout recent history, Evangelicalism has too often had the sense of the
“immediate ” rather than what Eugene Peterson has called, “a long obedience in the same
9. The Challenge
Perhaps the most difficult challenge to collaborative evangelism is what we may
call separationalism. This is segment of the church that does not believe in cooperative
or collaborative evangelism. They separate themselves from any and all Christians and
churches that do not agree with them on the minutest detail of doctrine. These churches
are usually evangelical in their core theology but so overemphasize secondary issues that
they separate themselves from other evangelicals.
However, as Paul Larsen, the former president of the Evangelical Covenant
Church, has observed, there is also another level of separatism in the American Church.
Historically, we have an expression of separatism when Evangelicals have left a church
or denomination when no hope for reform seems possible, i.e. separation from liberals.
However, there has developed a “second degree ” form of separatism that is the separation from evangelicals who are viewed as those who have not separated from liberals.
This tends to exclude committed Evangelicals who have sensed the calling of God
to remain in liberal denominations. We often refer to this phenomenon as “guilt by
association. ” This can be a very serious form of separation within the Evangelical
Indeed, there are some serious challenges to the mission of collaborative evangelism. However, I believe that there are factors involved that can overcome any and all challenges. For example, I believe that collaborative evangelism is God’s idea and not ours. He has a deep desire for His servants to dwell together in spiritual unity and to collaborate together in the fulfilling of the Great Commission that He has given to His Church. It is His Church and His mission and His commandment.
Over the past years, we have seen our Lord provide resolution of conflicts,
reconciliation of divisions and motivation of the Holy Spirit to unite and labor together.
The path is not easy. Our enemy opposes every step.
Coalitions – even Christian coalitions – are fragile at best. Effective coalitions are
dynamic, always in process. Whenever they do take place they are marvelous
expressions of the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Spirit.
Only our Lord Himself can bring such coalitions together.
To collaborate in evangelistic ministries is not natural or easy for any of us. But
is can be done! It is being done! It must be done! Thanks be to God who gives the
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
“Make every effort to effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of
peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you
were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is over all
and through all and in all.” -- Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV
The National Network for Collaboration has identified five levels of relationships moving from Network, the lowest level, to Collaboration, the highest level.
· Dialog and common
· Clearinghouse for information
· Create base of support
· Loose/flexible link
· Roles loosely defined
· Low key leadership
· Minimal decision making
· Informal communications
· Match needs and
· Limit duplication of services
· Ensure tasks are done
· Central body of people as communication hub
· Roles somewhat defined
· Links are advisory
· Group leverages/raises money
· Facilitative leaders
· Complex decision making
· Formal communications within the central group
· Share resources
to address common issues
· Merge resource base to create something new
· Central body of people consists of decision makers
· Roles defined
· Links formalized
· Group develops new resources and joint budget
· Autonomous leadership but focus on issue
· Group decision making in central and subgroups
· Communication is frequent and clear
· Share ideas and
be willing to pull resources from existing systems
· Develop commitment for a minimum of three years
· All members involved in decision making
· Roles and time defined
· Links formal with written agreement
· Group develops new resources and joint budget
· Shared leadership
· Decision making formal with all members
· Communication is common and prioritized
· Accomplish shared
vision and impact benchmarks
· Build interdependent system to address issues and opportunities
· Consensus used in shared decision making
· Roles, time and evaluation formalized
· Links are formal and written in work assignments
· Leadership high, trust level high, productivity high
· Ideas and decisions equally shared
· Highly developed communication
National Collaboration Network, Framework Model, Community Based Collaboration - Wellness Multiplied 1994.
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