At the moment cybermissions tends to be done by a few visionary organizations and individuals with some cross-pollination through online forums. There is much re-inventing of the wheel and struggling with finances and to some extent with technology. There are also a lot of websites build and abandoned by those who tried and failed. There is a need for more nurturing structures, for validation, encouragement and sharing of ideas, technologies and resources.
At the moment there is networking through groups such as the Internet Evangelism Coalition, IEC Global Forum, ICCM, ICTA-AU, MAF-XC , AC4 and Cybermissions.Org. People are gradually coming in contact and sharing ideas and opinions, and that is good. However these groups (while they are very valuable) do not construct strategic plans, make agreements or share resources. For that to happen true partnerships are needed.
Partnerships are relatively permanent structures that have a focus in a mutually agreed group task or objective. They often have a partnership agreement and a loose committee of some sort. The individual agencies agree to pursue the partnership objectives and yet each defines the amount that they are willing to contribute towards the process. (The principles of partnership exploration, formation and operation can be found at http://www.interdev.org)
I foresee four kinds of partnerships that will arise to address these needs:
Each of these four kinds of partnerships has a quite different dynamic suited for their different objectives. National partnerships might have an annual conference as the main partnership dynamic and emerge with a national strategic plan and set of standards. UPG cybermission partnerships might seldom meet face to face but would share knowledge, translation facilities and perhaps organize a joint short-term missions trip to the area. City-wide partnerships could meet bi-monthly and have pizza. Technology based partnership might be focussed around a SlashDot/SourceForge like forum that brings code snippets and comments together in an asynchronous fashion. And each of these types of partnerships are needed if we are to do the task effectively, its not either/or but all four!
Firstly a partnership may already exist. A few times I have gone to form a partnership to find that there was one already operating! If there is one and its functional – then join in and help. Do a thorough Internet search and ask around a bit before deciding to start a cybermissions partnership.
Secondly don’t try and start with “everyone”. Let people hang around the edges for a while as they check you out and ask questions. Some may never join - that’s Ok too. Just move with the movers.
Thirdly – focus on the things, which unite, such as Jesus, the Great Commission, the vision, the need, and the technology and not on things that divide such as pet doctrines and personal opinions.
Fourthly decide on your limits of inclusion (for the partnership) before you start and stick to them. My personal limits of inclusion are “bible-believing, born-again Trinitarian Christians”. Anywhere along that spectrum for evangelical to Pentecostal is fine with me but I don’t want to work with skeptical liberals or with people that are not born-again. For me that is being unequally yoked and when I have tried it – it has never worked.
Fifthly, decide on the type of partnership you wish to form and its crystal clear purpose. People find it hard to join a vague notion. And partnership for partnership sake nearly always fails.
Sixthly – read the material InterDev has developed on partnership formation (www.Interdev.org) and learn as much as you can about them.
Seventhly – pray without ceasing for blessing, unity, discernment and wisdom.
This inevitable leads to another question – how can we motivate people to get involved?
Unless we form focussed, task-oriented cybermissions partnerships we will all die from caffeine poisoning and pizza overdoses in front of our PC’s and Macs. Cybermissions is tough exhausting work and there has to be a smart way to spread the load, to avoid duplication and to use our various giftings. Partnership is the obvious answer but the Devil will fight tooth and nail to stop such partnerships forming and to render them ineffective. We need to come to the Lord of the Harvest in prayer and ask for laborers – and especially for co-laborers who can work together, in unity to do the work of God.