By Jennifer Johnson
I’m really excited about the 2015 International Conference on Missions. One reason is the president, Jim Tune, asked me to speak. My first sermon was to 1,800 Indian teenagers in a building that could seat 600, the second was for a group of jaded New Yorkers, and now my third will be to a convention hall of a few thousand. I like to focus on easy audiences.
But I’m especially looking forward to the convention after talking to Tim Cole at the Virginia Evangelizing Fellowship and learning more about both the church planting emphasis at next year’s conference and the practical steps ICOM, VEF, five other church planting organizations, and dozens of churches are taking to make seven new churches become a reality.
For 10 years, I’ve been writing about what our churches and parachurches are doing, and collaboration is a consistent theme. Of course there are great examples of individual ministries doing good work, but often the stories come from two or more groups working together: Central India Christian Mission and Pioneer Bible Translators developing the first-ever translation of the New Testament into Bundeli; the mergers among our schools like Johnson University and Florida Christian College; The 25 Group and its focus on “crowdsourcing generosity” by inviting donors to fund mission projects together for $25 a month.
One of the paradoxes of our movement is that we are both fiercely independent and persistently relational. Our theology avoids formal organization while our pragmatism, entrepreneurialism, and bias for action keep pulling us toward collaboration. Our ability to live in the middle of this tension—to identify needs, brainstorm solutions, and work together to implement them—is one of our great strengths.
It’s also something that honors God. I have always found the word fellowship irritating, but pastor and author Chuck Warnock points out the word comes from the idea of people literally on a ship together. This group would be “dependent upon each other for a safe and harmonious passage,” he writes; “They were ‘fellow-shippers’ committed to making a journey together.” I still dislike the word as a cliché, but I can get behind it as a philosophy of ministry.
Jesus didn’t say go into all the world on your own and make disciples. He didn’t say go out and reach the lost by yourself. He just said, “Get ’er done.” When we work together, we often do that more quickly and more effectively.
There are plenty of things we could do better, as a group of churches and as individual believers, and I spill a lot of ink making sure you all know exactly what I think they are. But occasionally even I can be positive, so this month I’m saying folks, we do this well. I’m glad to be part of a fellowship (see what I did there?) that intentionally shares the mission of sharing Jesus. I’m excited to see it come together at next year’s ICOM. And I’d be happy if you wanted to also share your best illustrations for my sermon.