This is Article 4 in a series I wrote with Ed Stetzer.
Question 3: In what areas is greater collaboration most critical in order to see the fulfillment of the Great Commission?
Christians have been told since the inception of the church they are to be unified. By our unity, according to our Savior and King, the world may believe that God sent Jesus (John 17:21).
Let us be clear up front, unity isn’t attending church together. Unity isn’t twitter shaming other believers for their social media post. Unity isn’t you do your thing, I’ll do mine. Unity begins with the understanding of our mission, and it then moves to believing that our mission isn’t ultimately about us but about Jesus. As we focus on Jesus and his mission for us, we identify the roles and responsibilities that together builds up the body to accomplish the mission.
An element of deep or thick unity is collaboration. The Apostle Paul called it partnership. Collaboration is simply the act of working with someone to produce or create something.
It does seem that deep unity—gospel partnership and collaboration—has waned in the West. This statement isn’t meant to say that gospel partnership and collaboration doesn’t exist, but that in general it has waned.
Realistically, we don’t believe the church—in its current state—in the West is positioned in a healthy place to engage and reach a rapidly changing, secularly progressing culture. However, we believe for this is to change deep unity, gospel partnership and collaboration, must be a part of the church’s strategy moving forward.
So, what does this look like? Based upon our listening call a couple of months ago, here are three key areas and ways that are most critical in gospel partnership and collaboration.
In the first article of this series, we addressed gaps that the church needed to close in order to accelerate the Great Commission in North America. One of the present gaps in North American churches is generational. One of the best ways to close this gap lies in generational collaboration.
If you don’t know by now, but every generation is different. Each generation has their songs, shows, and cultural environments that shape their generational cohort. For instance, Boomers were shaped by the civil rights movement, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War. This generation heard the famous line uttered by President Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” GenZ, on the other hand, has been raised on technology. In fact, this generation doesn’t know what a dial tone is, nor can they imagine a world without internet. It is widely known that GenZ is not only the most connected generation, digitally speaking, but also the generation with higher rates of anxiety and depression.
According to Pew Research, beginning with the Silent Generation (Traditionals), each generational cohort has less people identify as Christians and less people attend religious services.
The church, particularly in North America, has struggled to reach Millennials, and the struggle now continues with GenZ. The answer to reaching both Millennials and GenZ doesn’t lie within GenX or Boomers, it lies in mobilizing each generation to reach their peers. But to do so will require collaboration.
If we want to see the church get younger, collaboration must happen. And the first step to collaboration is elevation. Once you see that the other has something valuable to offer the team, you elevate them by inviting them to the table. Churches, denominations, networks, ministries, and organizations are in desperate need of having every generation at the table solving the issue of the Great Commission.
The North American demographic landscape has significantly changed over the last few decades, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “blacks, Asians, Hispanics and other racial minorities will make up a majority of the population by the year 2050.”
As missiologists, we believe God has been on mission to bless all the families of the earth since the call of Abraham (Genesis 12). We also believe that in Jesus God is creating one people from all peoples. When it comes to shifting demographics in U.S., there seems to be a move of God where the nations are coming to us. We understand that many people have various views about such a shift—and the implications of that shift. Nevertheless, for the church, there is a missiological implication that we must embrace.
Churches, denominations, networks, ministries and organizations will need to embrace and employ a more multi-ethnic strategy for mission and ministry. While the last sentence was an easy sentence to write, we understand the complexity to multi-ethnic mission and ministry. Within the realm of multi-ethnicity there is multi-languages, multi-cultures, multi-races, multi-tribes, etc. Each layer of multi-ethnicity adds a layer of complexity. Thus, the U.S. has and will continue to become a cross-cultural mission field.
To reach a shifting demographic, collaboration is essential. Again, true collaboration invites all people to the table. Multi-ethnic collaboration will not only aid the church and the various extensions of the church in reaching a diverse demographic, but it will also reflect the presence and power of Jesus to unify a diverse people for his glory and renown. This kind of unity in diversity is the example that a divided country like the U.S. desperately needs to see.
Multi-Field (or Cross-Disciplinary) Collaboration
Humans tend to cluster in homogenous groups. Homogeneity doesn’t just happen around race or culture, but it also happens around fields of study or disciplines. In other words, birds of a feather flock together. Thus, academics tend to fly with other academics; scientists tend to fly with other scientists; politicians tend to fly with other politicians; etc.
The same tends to happen in Christian circles. Pastors tend to fly with other pastors and church leaders (practitioners); academics tend to fly with other academics; and denominational leaders tend to fly with their own denomination. In short, hasn’t seemed to be a lot of cross-pollination of spheres and disciplines in the church.
To become more effective at reaching our cities and communities in North America, churches, non-profits, academic institutions, and denominational and network organizations must become better at cross-disciplinary collaboration.
I’m aware of a few examples of cross-disciplinary collaboration.
First, the listening call in which this series of articles were birthed is good example. That call contained professors, practitioners, leaders of non-profits, pastors, and business leaders. They all brought their unique perspectives in answering the questions that the Lausanne Movement laid before us. Second, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center is another example of multi-field collaboration. We seek to be a hub that brings Christian leaders from the church, ministries and organizations, denominations and networks, and academic institutions together for greater gospel impact. Third, EveryCampus is a collaborative initiative seeking to mobilize prayer and gospel communities on every college campus in the U.S. Last, City Gospel Movements led by the Palau Association is another example of an organization reaching across denominations, networks, fields, and churches to see a gospel movement among North American cities.
Our prayer is to see more collaboration across churches, denominations and networks, and ministries and organizations in hopes that we might see greater gospel engagement and impact in North America.
In closing, a huge component to engaging in mission is partnering with others in collaboration. This mission of God for His church is simply too big to accomplish on our own.