PARTNER ALLIANCES - THE OXYGEN OF THE PIONEER
By Mal Fletcher
'I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece. This has all been pioneer work, bringing the Message only into those places where Jesus was not yet known and worshipped.' (Romans 15:19 - The Message)
When the apostle Paul penned his letter to the Romans, he was writing, for a change, to a church he had not planted. Despite the fact that he was not the pioneer in this case, he still recognised that he could make a valuable contribution. His involvement was not based simply on whether he had been there first.
The true innovator does not insist on being first at everything. The pioneer spirit is not the same as an independent spirit. Some people want to start everything from scratch, every time. They refuse to invest their creativity in something unless they will have the kudos of being first. Great pathfinders, however, don't just start things; they keep them alive - and, sometimes, revive them.
Because a lot of the pioneer's calling is to build on what others have achieved, pioneers are always on the lookout for strategic relationships. They want to network with other creative thinkers. They know they need to form alliances with like-minded innovators.
Alliances are more than friendships or acquaintances, or even networks. They are much more strategic and deliberate.
Alliances are partnerships that are formed for a clearly defined purpose. At the centre of every alliance there is a core belief and value system, and a clear goal. Sometimes, alliances are formed between people groups that have nothing else in common aside from that central goal. Often, an alliance will only last as long as it takes to get a certain job done.
During the Second World War, Winston Churchill made an alliance with Joseph Stalin. Churchill had very little in common with Stalin. Their values were vastly different, as history shows. Yet, for the sake of the overall goal - the defeat of Hitler - Churchill was willing to put aside person feelings. Other alliances, such as that with Franklin Roosevelt, were much more comfortable for Churchill, but this one too was necessary to the cause.
At every step along the way, pioneers of an idea must be willing to share ownership of the idea with others. They must allow outside input without compromising the central goals. None of us, whether we are leading churches, ministries, commissions all businesses can possibly achieve huge goals by working on their own. We need each other - and the wider community needs us to work together.
Abraham and Isaac made alliances, or treaties, with pagan kings. These kings did not share their faith in God, but the treaties were made for the common good. The alliances prevented the breakout of hostilities between Abraham's people and those of surrounding nations. Under the protection of those treaties, Abraham and Isaac were free to get on with their covenant business under God.
Sadly, in the Christian world, we have not always been comfortable developing alliances with other Christians - much less with secular powers. However, we will need to work together if we are to reverse the tide of post-modern thinking and place Christian truth back on the social agenda. On a global scale, local churches will need to work together with Kingdom-minded missions.
International outreach and mission organisations are often more mobile and, if they have proven credibility over years of experience, they are often well connected in the regions they are targeting. Local churches, under strong and effective leadership, often have a much stronger resource base, both in terms of finance and people. Alliances between the two can impact nations.
At the local level, new churches will need to learn to work together with older churches. Established churches will need to make room for younger churches in their district. Each has unique strengths to offer the other. Each has needs the other can meet.
New churches are strong in vision and can-do mentality. Their leaders and people have a passion for change and for contemporary forms of expression. Because they are less entrenched in tradition, their people tend to be more easily motivated and mobilised for new projects. Having fewer layers of leadership and less constitutional process to work through also means that decision-making tends to be quicker for new churches than for their more established counterparts.
Older churches, on the other hand, possess more established networks with other church groups. They will also tend to be better known in the community as a whole, especially if they have an evangelical history. They often have better financial reserves and deeper pockets, too. And taking longer to reach decisions can sometimes mean that older churches are less easily distracted once a process of change gets started.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a new and an old church can both benefit by forming a strategic alliance. Of course, each will learn to accommodate the different decision-making processes of the other.
This is one of the perennial challenges facing a pioneer leader: enlisting the support of established systems, without becoming entangled in bureaucratic red tape and time wasting.
By nature, pioneers are divergent thinkers. They want to challenge the established view, to explore new ways of doing things, to attempt the new and adventurous. Large or long-standing organisations, on the other hand, often tend to be more convergent in their approach to questions and problems. They want to get to an answer as quickly as possible, within a more narrowly defined set of parameters.
As the leader of a mobile international mission, I recognize that, in comparison to some large organisations or churches, our decision-making happens quickly and with the involvement of relatively few people - though the strategic planning process takes much longer.
Over the years, though, we've been able by God's grace to build alliances with some of Europe's most influential local churches, including some relatively old ones. This has sometimes required of us a willingness to make space, to leave time for a slower pace of change. When each of us have made room for the other, the synergy has been wonderful. We have seen results that would never have come without these alliances.
Global and local organisations can benefit from alliances, as can local churches of different kinds. Churches and missions can function side-by-side; church plants can co-exist with entrenched congregations. The kingdom of God is not an either/or proposition.
If they can agree on what the preferred future of their city or region looks like - at least in a few areas - new and old, mobile and static organisations can work together to produce some exciting results. Together, they can meet strength-to-weakness and bring about real change.
Copyright, Mal Fletcher, 2002. (Extracted from "The Pioneer Spirit", by Mal Fletcher.)