Relationship was one word that resonated at a seminar on collaboration in mission which was organised by AsiaCMS recently. And that truly captured the spirit of a presentation by Rev Canon Mark Oxbrow, the International Director of Faith2Share, UK.
He said lasting success in collaborative missions hinged on putting the focus on building relationships of trust. “There is no reason why a big church couldn’t work with a small agency. But it’s going to be a challenge in relationship because they (the big church) could easily swamp you,” he told AsiaCMS in an interview.
“In a similar way, AsiaCMS is relatively powerful in relation to a church in Bangladesh, Myanmar or Cambodia. In the end, it is a case of getting to know each other and each other’s strengths, and building those relationships so that you can trust each other,” Mark said.
He cautioned that no matter how well-intentioned, the resources poured in by the bigger partner in the collaboration should not tilt the relationship along the way.
Asked about the opportunities for AsiaCMS, he said it depends on how the agency reaches out to churches and collaborates in conducting training programmes that are a mutual fit.
“There are also other mission agencies in Asia looking to see what your particular giftings are, but at the moment I see your gifting is very much around training and mobilisation,” he added.
Mark had earlier presented a paper entitled “Collaboration in Mission: Opportunities & Obstacles” at the AsiaCMS seminar held in conjunction with the 7th Lausanne International Researchers’ Conference in Kuala Lumpur.
In his paper, Mark shared the story of how a collaborative mission in Indonesia between a Scandinavian church and its Jakarta counterpart failed because their relationship was not properly managed.
Both pastors initially got on very well, established a trusting relationship and drew up clear plans which would enable them to send joint teams into the designated area.
But eventually, the money and other resources of the Scandinavian church overwhelmed the small church in Jakarta.
“What began as a trusting relationship between two pastors and their teams has quickly degenerated into a painful relationship between givers and receivers. What the Scandinavians failed to see was that their relationship was more important to the collaboration than the wealth of resources they could access,” Mark said.
Mark said it was important for those involved to understand well the collaborative nature of the mission of the Triune God.
“Collaboration is an inherent, non-negotiable, eternal characteristic of Christian mission,” he said.
According to him, there is a real challenge for some of the growing mega-churches around the world that function both as local church, denomination and mission agency.
“Not only do they need to monitor closely the levels of collaboration within the church structures but they also need to acknowledge their need of other churches and agencies, which will often be much smaller and easily swamped by the power and resources of a mega-church,” he added.
He also outlined 10 simple principles for collaboration:
- Mission is never mine or ours but always God’s;
- To be in mission alone is to deny and damage the reconciling mission of God;
- Collaboration requires trust, often risky trust;
- Relationships not programmes are the key – waste time together!
- Cross-cultural relationships are challenging but rewarding;
- Prayer is a main task in collaboration, not an optional extra;
- Place value on the specific contribution of each;
- Value what you learn together from failure;
- Collaboration multiplies resources; and
- Welcome others despite the challenge of reshaping collaboration.