A Task Too Big for Loners (Pt. 3): Decentralized Collaboration

In this series, Justin Long equips you with ideas for building apostolic networks—what some may call pioneer missionary startups, or swarms. This will be your “band of believers” who will make a difference in the world.

To reach the whole of a people (or all the people in a place), we know we need a movement that scales to the size of the population. In order to start such a movement, a community of workers is needed–the type of people who, like John Knox, cry “Give me Scotland, or I die!”

But it is not enough to cry out your passion before the Lord. Abraham was told he would be a blessing, but he was also told to “get up and go” to the Promised Land and make it his own.

In the last three articles, we’ve talked about how such a vision is too big for any single individual, or a team, or even a single organization. Some things can be done by a small team of people to make disciples of a small group of people: this is the core of small groups and local churches. Some kinds of things can be done by a small team of people to bring a single message to a large audience: this is the core of broadcasting and mass evangelism.

But the kind of movement thinking we’re talking about concerns itself with a small but adequate core of people who mobilize and train a larger number of disciples, who in turn make disciples, who in turn make disciples. This is a “harvest force”—and it will likely span organizations, churches, denominations, and even generations.

Tweet this: Discipling all peoples is an ongoing collaborative work that requires “the whole church to bring the whole gospel to the whole world”—working together. @justindlong @vergenations

Broadly, collaboration can take three forms:

All Together Now

This involves people with the same company, working on the same project, at the same time, in the same place. This is the kind of collaboration that happens around the manufacture of a car, for example, or in a laboratory. It’s probably one of the easiest forms of collaboration to empower, as it is usually driven by a for-profit administrative structure.

Time-shifted Teams.

This involves people who, from their own place and time, work together as teams with others in other locations and other time zones. For example, a news broadcaster like CNN or Al Jazeera has multiple teams working in multiple time zones, often to produce one story. When one time zone “goes to bed” another team in another time zone picks up the news coverage, and carries it forward so that an issue is being covered “around the clock.” In order to do this, everyone involved in the project has to have a common set of rules (for how the project is handled) and access to the same data (so that further information on a story doesn’t get lost). A regionally or globally accessible data set and cross-culture corporate values are required.

Decentralized Collaboration

The third form of collaboration is decentralized collaboration. This kind of collaboration involves multiple individuals, many volunteers, representing varied interests, who are able to work on different aspects of the same project because they agree together on a common vision and set of values which they all find important, and willingly submit themselves to each other for accountability and self-policing.

Broadcasting a gospel program or conducting a mass evangelism campaign requires centralized collaboration or time-shifted teams. But by its very nature, a multi-organization, multi-generational movement to evangelize and (preferably) disciple every one in a place requires a more ‘open’ effort.

Decentralized collaboration focuses on getting many people—often in different organizations and different places, who have parallel but not precisely identical visions—to work together toward a specific goal, usually without any single person having to be told what to do by someone else.

Decentralized collaboration requires you to inspire people with vision, persuade them to adopt certain values or guidelines about how the vision will achieve, instruct them on specific, simple, teachable actions, and then once again inspire them to act. Doing this this requires us to first build community relationships for inspiration, teaching, accountability and encouragement (which is why the previous discussion on community is so important to get down before stepping into collaborative action).

Let’s look at three examples of this kind of collaboration.

Wikipedia is a classic example from the technology world. Some people write. Other people edit. Still others do grammar cleanup, or link editing, or the addition of topics, or fact-checking. Some people are passionate about one particular article; others, about many articles in one area. Most of the work is done by a small core, but thousands upon thousands of people have contributed at least one edit—cleaning up one small typographical error, for example. Can it be messy at times? Yes, anbd Wikipedia has had to develop systems for handling the mess, and any mistake can be easily ‘rolled back’ and corrected.

Wycliffe is an example from the mission agency world. The “Wycliffe family” is made of a huge assortment of various organizations—sending entities, translators, national translation organizations, and the like. Getting all of these groups to collaborate together on one project can certainly be messy. It’s made easier by having a set of values everyone agrees on.

Most major political campaigns are examples from the secular world. I have been familiar with those in America. Besides the main political organization for a presidential campaign, for example, there are thousands of smaller groups—State organizations, political action committees, lobbying groups, networks, local activists and volunteers and more. All of these groups have to work together around a common goal.

Photo Credit: Oscar Nilsson [CC0] via unsplash.com