The following is an excerpt from What Great Ministry Leaders Get Right, by pastors Jimmy Dodd and Renaut van der Riet. Here, the authors write about why networking and gathering is critical for churches.
Far too many pastors are jealous of the church around the corner. To be jealous means that you have more of my idol than I do. At times, jealousy morphs into its evil twin, envy. To be envious means that I not only want what you have (jealousy), but I want you not to have what you have. I want to have it all, and I want you to lose it all. Do pastors really condescend to such paltry thoughts? In a word, yes.
Here’s what should be true. We should recognize and remember that we are part of a much larger story than our little church’s. Our way is not the only way. It is a privilege to participate with other churches to see our cities redeemed by the gospel—together—because we can never do it alone. It takes all types of churches to reach all kinds of people. We need to drop all the pettiness we carry against each other and be sure that we are not confusing preferences or convictions for matters core to gospel simplicity and eternity.
The Need for an Ecosystem
In Scripture, God describes His church as a body, each one of us holding a unique and essential role. Consider the view of the church similar to that of an ecosystem. Multiple churches, all looking different, play an equal part in God’s redemptive story. If you remove any one part, the entire system suffers.
This metaphor became clear to me one afternoon while sitting on a swing bench in my backyard. In the back of my house, I have giant oak trees that stand tall and wide and provide shade and beautiful leaves for me and the ground below. Then, scattered throughout the yard are bushes and shrubs. Finally, I have hundreds and hundreds of little grasses and wildflowers. There are just a few oak trees, a fair amount of bushes and shrubs, and hundreds of wild flowers and grasses. Can you imagine if there were hundreds of oaks? It would be terrible. The landscape would disappear, and nothing else would grow under all that shade. On the other hand, if there were no oaks, the sun would quickly wither the grass and flowers. The flowers are fragile, but yet in their number they are strong and beautiful. This is nature, and this is the church.
Whether it’s an edgy church or a serious church, a big church or a small one, a creative church or a cerebral one, each plays a critical part in God’s grand story. Some are great at connecting the unchurched, while others are great at developing those who already believe. Now of course, we should all be engaging the unchurched and equipping the churched, but some do one better than the other.
We know there are certainly churches that aren’t preaching the gospel. A church preaching a false gospel is not just a different expression of the church; it is no church at all. When the truths being taught are issues of eternity, not just convictions or preferences, then those churches are not part of the ecosystem. They are like a foreign animal that is introduced to the ecosystem and eventually destroys it. As we discussed in chapter 3, all gospel churches hold the same essentials tightly in the left hand.
Those examples notwithstanding, we must remember that we are not in competition with one another. Each church may hold a slightly different theology or methodology, but ultimately that’s part of what makes the whole church varied, multifaceted, and able to meet anyone and everyone where they are. Not any one church can do that. When you remove any one of us, there’s a gap in the system, and that creates a problem.
So, if we are the wildflower and find ourselves thinking or assuming things about the oak tree that may or may not be true, how do we begin to remedy that? If we are the oak tree and assume reasons why the church down the road is still under two hundred attendees, how do we begin to change our perceptions and become a help to them or learn a thing or two from them? Enter networking and gathering…
The more you rub shoulders with other churches, the more your negative assumptions about other churches diminish. Before we planted Mosaic Church, I came from a large attractional/seeker background. Through that experience, I came to suspect that large, attractional churches were unhealthy. In fact, in a somewhat dysfunctional way, I really didn’t want our church to grow large because that meant we’d have to be unhealthy. In our first few encounters in the journey of planting Mosaic, however, I found the churches that were most helpful, kind, and open-handed with everything they had were some of the large, attractional churches in our local community. As I got to know those pastors and those churches, many assumptions I had made through observation in other contexts were diminished. God overcame my dysfunction of wanting a small church and grew our church to become very large. We now hold the privilege of affording that same open-handedness and kindness to others. There are many other examples where I’ve learned a great deal from churches that differ from us in their methodology, and in each instance, I feel like we are better for knowing them….
When we are open to seek out advice from other ministry leaders, a beautiful space is created. It creates a deep sense of appreciation and unity for what God is showing others in our ministry ecosystem. It cultivates creativity and gets everyone thinking of new ways to carry out our shared mission. We gain thoughtful perspectives we hadn’t considered. And we get to see ways God is developing each of us. Networking and gathering is a critical competency because it keeps us in church, keeps us humble, and keeps our souls.