Editor’s note: This was originally published on a blog by our friends, ChinaSource, on July 5, 2017.
Whether it’s outreach to Chinese studying abroad or equipping a new generation of Chinese Christians to serve cross-culturally, some tasks are simply too big for any one organization, no matter how well-run or well-resourced they may be. These efforts require a network of likeminded groups, all working from their respective strengths in pursuit of a common goal. Here Kärin Butler Primuth, CEO of visionSynergy, discusses the characteristics of high-impact networks.
1. Why, and when, are networks needed?
Networks are needed when organizations go after a God-sized goal that is larger than any one of them, but which aligns with the purpose of each one. It’s the purpose that keeps them moving in the same direction, working together toward that shared goal. What’s especially important is that the purpose is clear and compelling. It must be clear so each agency or person knows what they can contribute and potentially gain by participating. It must be compelling so people are motivated to invest their limited time and will keep investing in the face of challenges or limited progress.
2. Who makes the network happen?
Networks are all about the people in them. Ideally these should be the ones who are the most influential, most interested, and most involved in whatever sphere the network is working. But they know they cannot do it by themselves. The network provides a place to share information and explore potential collaboration. It facilitates their secure communication. The way people work together is vital to the success of any network.
To achieve this requires leaders who are competent, called, and committed to the shared goals, able to cross theological divides, and build consensus among people who may be very different. The qualities desired in network leadership are not the same as organizational leadership. Network leaders appreciate and creatively build on the gifts and vision of others rather than trying to control the process. They focus on what unites, rather than what divides, and work to build a culture of trust where all voices are heard and valued.
3. How do you get from vision to reality in a network?
The process transforms vision into action, generating activity by setting clear, limited goals that are achievable. It develops structures for planning and decision making, providing clear opportunities for involvement. It takes time to evaluate what’s happening and, finally, to celebrate progress. Each of these steps is necessary for the development of a healthy and effective network which, when empowered by God’s Spirit, can achieve far more than any individual or organization can accomplish on their own.
The network leader is one of the fastest-emerging and most critical leadership roles in ministry and mission today. Networks — not agencies — are now shaping highly important mission and ministry strategies. Networks and their consultations are fast becoming the main gathering points for Christian leaders from around the the city to around the world. In them, Christians connect, share information and resources, establish standards, and collaborate with one another for greater impact.
We must understand the distinctive role of the network leader who leads these relatively new forms of organizing. This role sometimes goes by other terms — network facilitator, system leader, association or alliance leader, network coordinator — but this article will use the broad term of network leader.
Networks are not institutions
“Networks are not institutions, they cannot be expected to do what institutions do,” says A.K. Bernard. Nor can networks be led as if they were organizations or institutions. In fact, networks and partnerships operate so differently from traditional organizations that they can easily fail if traditional leadership strategies are used. These differences drive the need for a different kind of collaborative leader with unique skills and ways of working.
Many ministry leaders newly assuming collaborative leadership roles discover they are ill-equipped to lead a complex network. They have never had training or experience facilitating a large set of organizations as it develops commonly-shared goals resulting in significant action. Additionally, many have not received mentoring, coaching or advising from experienced network leaders.
Recognizing the Gap
Today’s increased demand for networks has uncovered a deep gap in training, mentoring and coaching for people who want to develop enduring and effective mission networks. These differences demand a different kind of collaborative leader with specialized skills for “the network way of working,” as the Network Leadership Training Academy terms it.
Perhaps it is not obvious to traditional leaders that interorganizational leadership calls for a new set of skills and approaches. An organizational leader, we often assume, ought to easily transition to leading a network of organizations. But the reality is often very disconcerting as they realize that interorganizational leadership calls for a different set of skills and approaches. “Many organizations are finding it challenging to adopt a network approach to leadership, and leadership programs are not supporting organizational leaders to develop those skill sets,” says network analyst Claire Reinelt.
Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from a cover story by visionSynergy CEO, Kären Butler Primuth, in Mission Frontiers magazine, Mar-Apr 2017 issue. The issue includes many other powerful articles on collaboration!
God is now uniting the worldwide Church like never before to reach the unreached.
Over the past several decades, an increasingly interconnected and globalized world has given rise to hundreds of networks in every field of mission. Through these networks, ministries around the world are meeting, sharing information and resources, and collectively working together to respond to some of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our day. These mission networks are now playing a vital role in shaping Great Commission strategies and the future of the world mission movement.
Networks in Every Field of Mission
The landscape of mission networks today is staggering. There are hundreds of networks around the world covering a wide variety of mission fields at global, regional, national, and local levels. Each network draws together dozens if not hundreds of individuals and organizations around common areas of interest – whether that is a focus on particular geographic areas, people groups, mission strategies, or other issues.
The resource website Linking Global Voices currently tracks more than 500 different networks around the world. And many of these networks have sub-networks within them!
The Lausanne Movement, as one example, is organized around 12 geographic networks and an array of 37 separate global issue networks – from the Buddhist World to Business As Mission, from Diasporas to Disability Concerns, from Leadership Development to Least Evangelized Peoples.
Some mission networks function primarily for information sharing, while others are highly participatory, with members contributing resources toward collaborative projects and commonly-defined goals. A growing number of churches, ministries, and mission organizations see their participation in networks as essential to making informed decisions and fulfilling their own calling.
Four Positive Trends
There may still be thousands of mission groups and hundreds of thousands of local churches around the world who continue to go it alone in their ministry fields. Nevertheless, the good news is that collaboration is gradually becoming the default approach to ministry – from international mission agencies working together among the unreached to local churches working together in their communities.
There are four positive trends that point to a tectonic shift toward collaborative networks in the global mission community.
1. Increasing awareness of networks
There is a growing awareness of and openness to networks and partnerships among churches, ministries, and mission organizations around the world.
2. Donors investing directly in partnerships
The mission funding community is shifting more of their kingdom investments toward projects initiated by networks and partnerships. Many major donors now explicitly ask grantees how they are working in partnership with others to accomplish the goals of their project proposals.
3. Inter-network cooperation
Many networks share common operational challenges. Increasingly, representatives of multiple networks are coming together to share knowledge and address issues particular to multilateral mission networks such as information security and regionalization.
4. Collaboration-friendly organizations
There are thousands of churches and mission organizations which participate in networks around the world. The same individuals or organizations are often involved in multiple networks. The growing number of these collaboration-friendly organizations is a tremendous sign that the mission community is shifting to a new future.
As you explore and engage more deeply in mission networks, I am sure you will become convinced as I am that Christians are called to work together and that partnership is the single best strategy for addressing the most pressing needs in the world today. Collaboration is the key that reduces the duplication of our efforts, maximizes the impact of our ministries, and strengthens the credibility of our witness for Christ.
To read the full article, go to: http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/how-networks-are-shaping-the-future-of-world-mission
- By Vision Synergy
Over the last year, we’ve focused our creative efforts on building and facilitating an online community of collaborative leaders. You are invited to join at Synergy Commons! We will continue to share thought-leadership articles on that site instead of this blog. And, even better, we engage and feature other practitioners of partnerships and networks from across the world.
If you’re interested in our latest projects, events, and news, be sure to follow us on Twitter. We retweet our staff, some ministry and resource partners, and share announcements about new visionSynergy resources and activities.
We pray 2016 was a great year for you and your organization. Together we can do more than apart!
Mission China 2030 | Hong Kong
The face of world mission is about to change dramatically!
This September, Kärin Primuth (CEO, visionSynergy), Brent Fulton (President, ChinaSource), and David Hackett (Senior Advisor, visionSynergy) were invited to speak in Hong Kong at Mission China 2030 – the biggest Chinese missionary-sending initiative in history.
Having spent four years in China, Kärin expressed what a remarkable experience it was for her to join with hundreds of Chinese who came together to consider God’s call to mobilize thousands of missionaries from China over the next fifteen years.
Mission China 2030
More than 900 house church pastors and leaders from China gathered around the challenge of planting thousands of churches in China, reaching the hundreds of Chinese minority people groups, and mobilizing at least 20,000 Chinese missionaries by the year 2030.
Partnership is the key
One of my team members recently highlighted a passage of Scripture that brought together – in one text – two very different topics that have been on my mind lately.
The first topic is women in leadership of Christian ministry. And the the second topic is overcoming Satan in spiritual victory.
I know it sounds odd that these two themes would end up side by side in the same text of the Bible, yet there they are – in Romans chapter 16.
And the theme that ties it all together is partnership.
Networks and partnerships are the future of world mission.
Nothing significant will happen among the unreached without greater collaboration among Christian leaders, churches, and mission organizations.
I recently learned about an unusual mathematician who can teach us a lot about the value of collaboration.
His name is Paul Erdős (1913-1996).
- By Vision Synergy
The Tree of Life (TOL) partnership training has recently been translated into the Amharic language of Ethiopia and is now available for free download.
With the Amharic translation, TOL is now available in 8 languages: English, Amharic, French, Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, Odia, and Nepali.
Tree of Life was originally developed several years ago in partnership with Scriptures in Use and the Bridges Training Network South Asia. At the time, there was little partnership training material that would be appropriate for use among the grassroots oral culture churches in the villages of North India and Nepal.
TOL was developed to provide a Biblical foundation for partnership and practical principles that leaders of local village churches could apply as they worked together in evangelism and church planting, economic development, community and social development, and social justice projects. The TOL training format was designed to be easily replicated by participants in their home villages.
In the past five years, nearly 3,000 leaders have participated in TOL trainings in South Asia. Today, hundreds of oral Bible churches are working together to transform their communities through partnership.
After demonstrated success in South Asia, the Tree of Life training and partnership development program is now expanding to Africa.
- By Vision Synergy
The Pocket Guide to Partnership is now available for download in Spanish, Ukrainian, and four additional languages.
The Pocket Guide is a 2-page summary drawn out of nearly 30 years of field experience around the world.
The Guide outlines the 3 main stages and 15 key principles in the development of effective missional partnerships.
Use the step-by-step process summary to reflect on where you are in your own collaborative initiative – and what pitfalls you might want to avoid!
Use the principles summary as a diagnostic tool to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your own initiative relative to the fifteen factors most essential for partnership success.
The island was sinking.
Most of my team were separated from each other, trapped, surrounded by rising water.
Our diver was equipped to get to the exit point, but our helicopter was down, so there was little chance the rest of our team would make it.
The good news?
It was only a game.