It is increasingly common for Resonate missionaries to engage in networking and collaborative ministry. Some missionaries even have a position title of “Transformational Network Coordinator”, making relational networking the focus of their entire ministry.
Unfortunately, “networking” is a nebulous term and it sometimes sounds like jargon from the business world used to disguise the fact that there isn’t much real ministry going on. But this is not the case! My favorite way to share what this networking ministry is all about is to use an analogy from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. When churches send out Resonate missionaries to church plant or teach, they are sending out Gimlis, Legolases, and Aragorns. These people did the fighting and many memorable deeds in the great war against Sauron. But when churches send out missionaries to network, they are sending out Gandalfs.
Who was Gandalf? If you don’t know, you should stop reading this article right now and read The Lord of the Rings. You won’t regret it! But for those who need a reminder, Gandalf was a wizard in Middle Earth, the world that Tolkien created. Gandalf was a powerful fighter to be sure, but that wasn’t his main role in the story. Most importantly, Gandalf was the one who brought together the divided peoples of Middle Earth, so that together they could fight against Sauron and his evil orcs. He was a diplomat, an advisor, a consultant, and a master organizer.
One of Gandalf’s memorable lines is, “I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure.” He managed to convince a bunch of proud dwarves to take along a hobbit on their journey to face the dragon, Smaug. That was Gandalf. He didn’t go off on his own to try to solve the world’s problems. Rather, he brought others together through encouragement to tackle those problems.
For example, he brought together an elf and a dwarf, whose races had long hated each other, and two men with competing claims to rule the nation of Gondor, all into the same fellowship. He involved people like small hobbits who the world thought could contribute nothing. Through his listening, prompting, and connecting, he guided people to overcome their fears, pride, and selfishness—and work together for the common good.
This is what Resonate missionaries do when they are “networking.” In the work of God’s Kingdom, there is much to be done. But important ministry and transformation is rarely accomplished by isolated individuals and churches. So we find ways to connect, seek unity, and pursue initiatives together.
For whatever reason, God seems to have given Resonate missionaries special expertise, discernment, and personality in this area. They are humble, eager to listen to others, yet they also have much experience and wisdom to share. They bring out the best in other people and help people discover and nurture their gifts. They become archivers of knowledge as they learn about so many people and organizations, and they draw on this knowledge to connect people to the exact partners and resources that they need. And they help ministry leaders form networks to meet regularly and find new ways of working together to seek transformation of neighborhoods and cities.
According to Resonate missionary Mike Ribbens, it was Joel Huyser who pioneered this new role in the organization:
For Resonate, the birthplace of transformational networking arose at a moment of crisis when hurricane Mitch struck Nicaragua, back in 1998. Lasting collaborative relationships and partnerships formed into what became known as the Nehemiah Center. Joel was my mentor. He told me it all began in friendship. The fertile ground of being friends in Christ is both the means and end of networking. God is building bridges so people from sometimes very different places find each other and begin a journey together of experiencing how the gospel of Jesus renews all things, our hearts included.
You may call them Gandalfs, or you may call them Barnabases. This is a backstage type of ministry. It focuses on relationships and building trust. Since Frodo trusted Gandalf, he decided to trust Aragorn. Since the Apostles trusted Barnabas, they were willing to trust Paul when Barnabas vouched for him (Acts 9:26-30). Frodo and Sam destroyed the ring, Aragorn won battles and became king, but it was Gandalf who equipped each of them, and Gandalf who gave them the courage to even try. Paul wrote most of the New Testament, but it was Barnabas who invited Paul to begin ministry (Acts 11:25-26).
Thinking of churches sending out missionaries to be Gandalfs or Barnabases moves my heart with joy and excitement. These missionaries may not receive the applause for churches being planted and leaders being trained, but they have a crucial part to play in these mission endeavors.
It’s important to hear directly from some of the missionaries who have been involved in networking as a ministry. Gil Suh was one of the founding members of Mission Kampuchea 2021, a network for the gospel movement in Cambodia. He says:
“I saw there was lack of connection and collaboration among mission agencies, denominations, and church leaders (largely due to lack of trust). I played a role of gathering the mission leaders, both expats and nationals, and helping them to deepen trusting relationships and share their resources for missions. I was uniquely able to build bridges between Korean missionaries and other foreign and national mission leaders.
I love creating a hospitable space and/or setting up a welcoming table where people with different backgrounds come together for a common vision and interests. I am delighted to see strangers opening up to each other and sharing stories. Understanding, appreciation, and trust for each other are strengthened. That's a foundation for mission engagement together.”
My colleague in East Africa, Sheth Otieno Oguok, is a Transformational Network Coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. He hosts youth forums to discuss pressing issues in the city (for example road safety and advocacy for bicyclists) and befriends refugees, giving trauma counseling, and encouraging new leaders. He also organizes prayer walks through the city with other church leaders. Sheth says:
“I am involved in connecting individuals, churches, and organizations to work together for Nairobi's social and spiritual transformation. Most organizations think of a competitive advantage rather than a collaborative advantage. We acknowledge that no single organization has everything they need to transform a city; in networking and collaboration, the different groups share resources and tap into the various gifts. At the moment, we have seven organizations and nine churches that work together under the Urban Deacons Network to respond to slum challenges.”
I have been able to get a taste of this networking myself over the last two years in Uganda where I am a missionary. I realized that there are many Bible colleges here, but most of them are really small and struggling and they have serious competition with one another. I wondered what could be accomplished if they worked together.
Therefore, I started a network of almost 20 Bible colleges and training institutions from my region of North-Eastern Uganda. We meet three times a year to share information and creative ideas for improving our Bible colleges and training programs, and are looking for ways to work together more intentionally. Though there are challenges of consistency, it has given me great joy to see these principals, bishops, and teachers coming together from diverse denominations.
What will the long-term impacts be from these networks? We are yet to see all that God might do. Recording and quantifying the changes that result from relational networking ministry can be difficult. Gil Suh explains:
“Supporters often want to see their support resulting in tangible and countable numbers: how many graduates, how many churches planted, how many new believers baptized, etc. Like wanting to count the trees...but networking ministry is more like preparing and nurturing the environment where a forest can grow. Results are often slow in coming and need to be measured qualitatively for long-term impact.”
I encourage the Christian Reformed Church to pray for, send out, and support more missionaries involved in transformational networking. This will result in ministry leaders being encouraged and equipped, and hopefully result in broader church planting movements in various communities, cities and countries. These networkers don’t get a lot of fanfare, but their work is crucial.
Let us send out more Gandalfs and Barnabases!