Saturday, September 05, 2009

The risk of building relationships

links One of the challenges I am increasingly taking very seriously in my role as CEO is that of find ways of building significant relational links between 1) the persecuted Christians and our constituency, 2) within members of our constituency base, 3) between ministries who work with the persecuted and even 4) between the persecuted Christians themselves. We want to create conduits through which relationships, communications, expertise and resources can flow from one to another.  We are still taking baby steps in this process but I think we are making progress.  But it has to be deliberate if it is to happen.  And larger steps will take place only if we create an environment where such multilevel communication can take place.

Take for example last Thursday.  In an attempt to build some community within our Twitter readers, I decided to send out a message that encouraged a response and promised one on our part.  I sent out the messageComplete this sentence. The persecution of Christians is.... (your reply will be RT).

Most Twitter users are looking to be “retweeted” (RT), so I knew that this would probably strike a chord with some.  I also knew that having made a promise to retweet, I also was taking the risk of having to forward on messages that I might not agree with.  However, I decided that trying to building relational links was worth the risk.

I was delighted by the response.  We received back such responses as:

  • The persecution of Christians is the rage of the dragon who knows his time is short.
  • The persecution of Christians is happening today. Not to others but to us who are part of the Body of Christ.
  • The persecution of Christians in America is over-exaggerated by those in the church
  • The persecution of Christians is a gift from God. May we praise Him for all His gifts. Acts 5:41
  • The persecution of Christians is a blessing from God. Matt 5:11
  • The persecution of Christians is.... pain that should inspire of the entire Body of Christ. (Romans 12)
  • The persecution of Christians is expected. We're no greater than the Master
  • the persecution of Christians is a driving force for the gospel.
  • The persecution of Christians is promised by Jesus.
  • The persecution of Christians is terrible & we should remember to pray for our brothers & sisters in Christ
  • The persecution of Christians is partaking in the sufferings of Christ. Seemingly foolish to man, but wisdom to God.
  • The persecution of Christians is an abomination...
  • The persecution of Christians is too often ignored by the free church

Not one of the answers is complete in itself and none of them were entirely wrong. Persecution is a multi-faceted topic and the varied responses revealed that.  It was exciting to witness as the responses came on.  It gave me an opportunity to interact with some over what persecution is from a biblical perspective (click here) which I probably would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. And our Twitter followers were able to reach out and teach each other.  I am increasingly convinced that the topic of persecution cannot be one that is best left with the the experts.  It for everyone to understand and experience.  We need to initiate opportunities for ongoing, meaningful discussions that arise from exercises like that on Thursday.

Relationship building is risky. People tend take ownership of ministries they value. That can be uncomfortable at times. Discernment, commitment to core values and a clearly defined mission become vital to keep from being high jacked by personal agendas. It is time-consuming. It is far easier just to put out an advertisement or a fundraising letter and try to build support for your ministry that way. It’s even possible to use social media tools like Twitter in this way, shouting out your message to the dark, blowing your own horn.  There are a lot of people who use Facebook and Twitter that way. It’s much harder to use it to develop relational links between your organization and your constituency.

However, as I mentioned in my blog yesterday, I easily tire of reading or listening to someone (or some group) that can only promote their own programs or agendas. I suspect many people are.  We are becoming immune to being viewed primarily as a living ATM machine whose only value is to pray and give.

We want to find ways of building relational links between members of the persecuted church within countries and from country to country; providing opportunities for believers to share their stories, their struggles and failures, their successes and common experiences.  They can help meet each other’s needs, both materially and spiritually.

When it comes to serving the persecuted church, I am convinced that the competition that is often found between ministries that work with the persecuted is disastrous, destructive and grievous to the Holy Spirit.  It only hurts the persecuted.  It also builds a competitive spirit within persecuted Christians who quickly learn that every group wants to have the “inside track” on reports and pictures. Every group wants the “scoop” and wants to be able to take credit for helping.  Leaders within the church soon learn that the key to funding is to let each group think that they are the only ones who are helping and that without their help, the persecuted would surely be destitute. In some countries, persecution has become quite profitable for certain well-placed, English speaking brokers who know how to make and sustain contacts with groups in the West.

It is only as ministry groups like The Voice of the Martyrs start communicating and building relationships with each other that this destructive competitiveness will be overcome. It’s one of the reasons we are members of the Religious Liberty Partnership.

The kind of relational links that I mention in this blog will be only built taking small steps over a period of time, developing trust and showing that we are willing to take the risk of building relationships.  There will be setbacks, mistakes made, territorial attitudes rising up when someone feels slighted.  But, are we prepared to value the cause of serving the persecuted as more important than our own organization?

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Michelle said...

Good post! I loved your idea of everyone tweeting what they thought persecution was and I didn't send a tweet because it would be re-tweeted either, I just thought it was a cool idea!

I couldn't say in 140 characters what I think persecution is, so I just put one of the things and what was on my mind and it IS really interesting how all the different tweets go together.

This was a great idea and I hope you do something like this again.....

Glenn Penner said...

Oh yes, I fully intend to do it again. It seems like a great way to utilize Twitter in a way more than just shouting out hoping someone is listening

Anonymous said...


Enjoyed reading your post about ministries working together. . . the same thing could be said of denominations. As I was reading, I was kind of expecting you to mention some step VOM was taking with Open Doors or International Chistian Concern or Barnabus Fund or. . . any number of good CHristain ministries working with the persecuted. Hopefully your good words will lead to good actions in the future.

Glenn Penner said...

As you will notice from our reports, we do share reports already from a number of these organizations and others and we gladly give them credit.

As for joint projects, this is one of the goals of the Religious Liberty Partmership, of which we are a founding mission and actively involved in. ICC and Open Doors are also members. Through this, there have been some joint projects in India for example, where ministries have worked together in bringing assistance to Orissa last year. I could cite other examples but some we cannot for security reasons.

So, the good actions are taking place and we would like to see more and are actively working for it. As I say in this blog, such partnerships are not easy and not without risks. Sadly, some well known ministries will not openly cooperate with others or insist on exclusivity from their partners.

VOM Canada is, I believe, is a leader in this cooperative effort, as many in our field could affirm. Please pray for us as we try to build these bridges. These are far more than words. These are values to us and are being practiced. Few of our ministries worldwide are done exclusively by our own staff and contacts and mostly done in partnership with others

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your good answer. If the divisions between ministries that you mentioned is a concern and a burden on your heart, then my prayer is that the Lord will provide opportunities & that your efforts to connect and work with others will bear fruit.

Anonymous said...

PS. . . at the end of the 1st paragraph of your response, you probably meant to write 'them' instead of 'me'

Glenn Penner said...

Thanks for picking that up. Yup, I meant "them" and fixed it. A rather significant goof up ;)

Ingrid said...

I am encouraged by this direction. It all boils down to being a 'family'.
We have been created to have a relationship with our Lord and with each other in love. Families are strengthened when we create and maintain those relational links, the same would be within the body of Christ. Yes, it has to be intentional and yes it is risky because we are all to some degree vulnerable, but we don't mature and give our Lord an opportunity to mold and use us if we are not exposed. I am not a 'Tweeter' but look forward to other opportunities to build and strengthen those links, especially within the Persecuted members of our body.