Partnership with a spouse, … service of a harsh boss, … sharing toys with a sibling … . We all know how difficult these things can be!
In United Bible Societies, we have often talked about ‘partnership’ and ‘service’ – between Bible Societies, and between UBS and a wide range of other organisations and churches. And increasingly, we’re using the term ‘sharing’ – sharing of ‘time, talents and treasure’.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a UBS Global Bible Translation meeting in Turkey, an academic conference at a University in Belgium, an SIL Consultant Training Workshop in Kenya, an evangelical theological education conference at a seminary, and an Old Testament translation workshop hosted by a national Bible translation organisation near my home in Jos, northern Nigeria. These have involved a bewildering array of academic, professional and church partners.
And just as, over the years, I’ve made strong friendships and gained deep appreciation for others’ ways of working, values and corporate cultures, I’ve also gained stereotypes and prejudices. Of course the same is true of their attitudes towards me and UBS, and I’m naturally concerned for the reputation of my own organisation! And the challenge to us all to think well of each other is increasing, as many new organisations spring up.
Relationships reveal who we really are. An early Christian teacher once wrote, “If I live alone, whose feet do I wash? If I live alone, compared with whom am I the least?” Isolation breeds narcissism; it’s only in relationship with others, as we consider them better than ourselves, that the sanctifying work of God’s Holy Spirit in us – individually and corporately – is revealed to the honour, not of me or or my organisation, but of Jesus himself, the Head of the Church. In the face of all the pressure to ‘boast’ to attract new donors, can Christian organisations choose to take the lowest place, and serve other organisations? Can I myself do it, deliberately … daily … ?
I think we can, and I can … until we hit conflict! Sometimes partners organisations break agreements or abuse our trust, and then, feeling offended, we’re all too ready to throw off the shackles of partnership and ‘divorce’ them. But God hates divorce. Smith Wigglesworth once wrote, “‘Be filled with the Spirit’ means to be soaked with the Spirit, so soaked that every thread in the fabric of your life will have received the requisite hue of the Spirit. Then when you are misused and squeezed to the wall, all that will ooze out of you will be the Jesus nature.” Now that’s a corporate culture for us to aspire to, and a life for me personally to long for!
Most of the time, though, it’s just about ‘blending in’ with others – like the chamaeleon that my children have just found – to be what Juan Carlos Ortiz called ‘mashed-potato Christians’, who sacrifice their distinctives for the sake of the body. I’m passionate about Bible translators using Hebrew and Greek source texts, … but have just been asked by a partner to check a translation that was made from English and to train a Consultant who knows no Hebrew! I’m committed to promoting local translation teams’ freedom from control by donor organisations, … but have just been asked by a partner to promote technologies which effectively control them! And I’m personally committed to simple living, … and have just been given extravagant hotel accommodation!
Strong values, even if they come very directly from the Spirit’s work in us, may often have to be sacrificed for the higher value of unity. As my former supervisor, Krijn van der Jagt, once insisted to an international group of UBS Translation Consultants, “we must focus on our similarities, not our differences!”
In the end, we maintain unity to preserve joy. Even our Lord himself endured the cross ‘for the joy set before him’! Serving, being gracious in conflict, and blending in are all ways in which we ensure that the joy we have in serving our King isn’t marred by tensions with our brothers and sisters. Then our business meetings, skype conversations, training workshops and translation consultations will all be a genuine pleasure.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:22-23)