People are suspicious by nature – at least that’s what I’ve observed in over 30 years of collaborating, as president of the National Network of Youth Ministries.
The potential for unity is often threatened if others look, sound, act or think differently than we do. Sometimes our hesitations to work together are from a healthy caution about diluting our energies or focus. But sometimes it’s because we are so partial to our way of doing things that we quietly question if anyone else’s way of doing things is as valid as ours.
I remember hearing one person’s response to criticism: “Well, maybe our way of doing it wrong is better than their way of not doing it!” Of course, it was in jest – but maybe not so much!
We know that unity is very important to Jesus (John 17:21). Then doesn't it make sense that disunity would be a priority for Satan? Often we play into the enemy’s hand by allowing difficulties, differences, stereotypes or insecurities to hold us back from oneness with others in God’s family.
Early, in collaborating at the local level, I remember the skepticism expressed about how difficult it would be to get some denominations or ministries involved. Some small churches were intimidated by the involvement of a big church in town. Some bigger churches didn’t have time or recognize the need to collaborate. Our sensitivities about ethnicity, gender, age, worship style, social issues – the list is endless – can all work against our hopes to find common ground for cooperation.
Mutual Trust. We faced this reality as we prepared to host Atlanta 96 – a joint event held in the Georgia Dome uniting a record number of youth workers from 36 denominations and youth organizations. At the outset, we asked a group of leaders representing several groups, “What will it take for diverse ministries to get behind such an effort – to consider bringing all their staff and to conduct their annual trainings together?”
I'll never forget the unanimous response of these leaders: “Mutual Trust!”
If there is a “secret sauce” for the networking recipe, mutual trust is undoubtedly the main ingredient. But it isn’t as simple as calling for more trust. Partnership is a process, progressing from low to increasingly higher intensity as the risks and relationships grow.
Networking is multidimensional – starting with connection, growing into cooperation, eventually enabling coordination and finally stepping up to collaboration. With the addition of each strand, the “partnering cord” strengthens (Eccl. 4:12). Consider this diagram, which has helped many to better understand the partnering process.
If you take your time, and resist the temptation of jumping levels, you'll find that you will build the trust you need to see more lasting unity in your ministries. [See Chapter 5 in my book Better Together. You can order it at a discount on the Resources Tab.]