Joining the strands

Monday, 18 August, 2014

Phil Potter reflects on the strands of partnership.

"A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped"
(Ecclesiastes 4.12, The Message)

I recently made a rope swing for my young grandsons in our garden. Having heard that one of them had fallen from a very thin and dodgy one not too long previously, I was careful to find a strong 'three-stranded' rope that was guaranteed for grandfather use as well!

The principle of 'better together' is of course a simple one, so it's rather sad that the Christian Church has often had a history of making heavy weather of all things ecumenical. That is why when Archbishop Justin says that he believes Fresh Expressions to be one of the most exciting ecumenical initiatives around today, I am determined that we should do everything we can to justify such an accolade, and to make sure that we don't end up snapping or falling from the rope.

It is interesting that, as well as the biblical imperative for partnership, the secular world is also increasingly emphasizing the importance of partnership in our globalised 21st century society. In his book The Wide Lens - A New Strategy for Innovation, Ron Adner shows how some of the most innovative developments of this century have only come to fruition through a major focus on partnership and collaboration between major players. He tells the story of Apple for instance; explaining that whilst other mobile phone companies were simply trying to design better phones, Apple were collaborating with the makers and retailers of music to design a truly innovative iPhone that could do far 'smarter' things. Similarly, Amazon cornered the e-reader market by partnering with authors, publishers and retailers to create a revolutionary product in the Kindle. Many other companies meanwhile are still embracing mediocrity or failure, simply because their focus is very narrow and centred solely on what they themselves can produce.

On a personal level, my own journey into pioneering and innovating in mission has illustrated both the biblical and the latest business insights (though I lay far more trust in the former!). In planning major pioneer projects, I learned the importance of partnering as widely and freely as possibly. So when planning to plant a fresh expression of church into a town centre, there was collaboration and partnership in many directions. We began by asking what the surrounding local churches could themselves bring to the vision, then we found a larger resource church (outside the area) that could provide a significantly sized team. Human resources were then added from the central Church Growth Team, finances negotiated creatively with the Diocesan finance department, and a pioneer minister added to the mix. The missional partnership continued as the plant created formal partnerships with the local school, the college, the town centre management - and finally a shopping arcade where the church community was to be housed.

Whatever else Fresh Expressions is, it is first and foremost a partnership of pioneer networks, of denominations, streams and agencies which together are committed to planting and multiplying new forms of church in a mixed economy of Church. Our challenge is to keep that focus clear, to keep innovating how partnership works across a growing movement, and to keep our hearts open to genuine partnership and collaboration on a very wide scale. In that spirit, I commend this month not only our latest video sharing the Church of England Missioners' stories from various dioceses but also the video sharing the latest developments in pioneer training at CMS. I hope you will continue to help us to become increasingly effective partners in the gospel in the days ahead.

Phil Potter

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