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The 18th Camel

  • By Vision Synergy

The 18th Camel

visionsynergy is an unusual type of ministry. We serve as coaches, consultants, and catalysts for missional networks. Much of our time is spent advising, equipping, and supporting other Christian leaders who are working together in various collaborative initiatives to advance the mission of Jesus around the world.

People sometimes ask, “What is the value of having an outside advisor like visionSynergy? Collaboration isn’t rocket science. Can’t groups figure these things out on their own?”

Yes, of course people can collaborate without guidance from an outside advisor. At the same time, we have found that groups often find themselves in “the desert of creativity“ – going around in circles without a clear sense of how to navigate through the inevitable challenges of working in partnership with others.

Having gained all their experience and training within individualistic organizations, leaders sometimes struggle to figure out how to facilitate large-scale collaboration across organizational boundaries.

The reality is that people are not born knowing how to tie their own shoes, much less how to lead networks and partnerships to work together effectively. Collaborative leadership requires a different set of skills than most of us acquire in the normal course of our experience.

This is where an outside advisor can provide perspective – a path through the desert of creativity to the wide blue ocean of collaboration.

There’s a story that illustrates how we as advisors help the groups we serve.

It is a story about a camel.


Once upon a time, there was man who had 17 camels. When the man died, he wanted the 17 camels to be divided among his 3 children.

To the oldest child, he wanted to leave one half (1/2) of the camels. To the middle child, he wanted to leave one third (1/3) of the camels. And to the youngest child, he wanted to leave one ninth (1/9) of the camels.

The three siblings realized they had a problem.

17 camels cannot be divided by 2, or by 3, or by 9.

They began to argue amongst themselves.

Finally, they decided to ask an old wise woman for help. The wise woman listened to their situation. Then she brought her own camel and added it to the herd of 17 camels.

The three siblings looked at the wise woman’s camel. It was an old and very ugly camel. None of them wanted that camel.

“Now try again,” the old woman said.

The oldest child took one half (1/2) of the 18 camels – 9 camels.

The middle child took one third (1/3) of the 18 camels – 6 camels.

The youngest child took one ninth (1/9) of the 18 camels – 2 camels.

9 camels + 6 camels + 2 camels = 17 camels!

One camel was left – the old and very ugly camel that belonged to the wise woman. They gave the camel back to the wise woman and thanked her.


As you can see from the story, 17 camels cannot be easily divided by 2, or 3, or 9. The three siblings could have solved their own problem, but it would have required each one to be generous to the others.


  • The oldest sibling should get 1/2 of the camels. But 17 camels divided by 2 is 8 and 1/2 of a camel. So, they could decide to round up and give the oldest sibling NINE camels!

  • The middle sibling should get 1/3 of the camels. But 17 camels divided by 3 is 5 and 2/3rds of a camel. So, they could decide to round up and give the middle sibling SIX camels!

  • The youngest sibling should get 1/9 of the camels. But 17 camels divided by 9 is 1 and 8/9ths of a camel. So, they could decide to round up and give the youngest sibling TWO camels!

  • 9 camels + 6 camels + 2 camels = 17 camels!

If the siblings had been generous to each other – each rounding up to the next camel – they could have worked out their problem easily.

By adding the 18th camel, the old wise woman simply made it easier for them to find their own solution.

In our role as advisors, visionSynergy is like that old woman. We don’t have much to offer except one very ugly camel. But we have seen time and time again that the 18th camel is all it takes.