In Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything authors Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams write, “stability is dead. The idea that you can invent a business that will never be disrupted by technology is over.” Tapscott and Williams welcome us into an age of globalization, an age of disruption, an age of flux and fluidity, an age driven by an accelerating growth of technology, an age that is creating global platforms, global access points and global citizens.
We live in an age of globalization. This reality really needs no introduction. And in the age of globalization stability is dead.
This is as true for denominations as it is for churches, ministries and corporations.
This week I will be leading a group of students from East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) to the annual gathering of the Baptist General Convention of Texas as part of an ongoing effort to instill a vision of collaborative partnership. While teaching at ETBU I consistently challenge our students to seek to develop the skills necessary to live, listen and lead as global leaders. If it is true that we are living in an age of globalization it is essential our educational models and denominational platforms continue to adapt accordingly. An age of globalization demands globalized denominations.
Towards this end three broad principles are applicable.
First, in an age of globalization denominations must pursue open structures and mass collaboration.
In the twenty-first century, to return to Tapscott and Williams, “we must collaborate or perish – across borders, cultures, disciplines, and firms, and increasingly with masses of people at one time.” This is an age of participation. Millions of individuals connect with each other on Facebook; post pictures on Instagram; record and upload movies on YouTube; and tweet their vote for their favorite singing contestants. Participation is driven by individuals who anticipate that they will be able to contribute their voice, their perspective, their talents and their passion. Individuals are not only looking to talk to the many, they are looking to connect with the many in order to foster partnerships that identify issues, solve problems and contribute towards a better society.
In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman notes, “while the dynamic force in Globalization 1.0 was countries globalizing and the dynamic force in Globalization 2.0 was companies globalizing, the dynamic force in Globalization 3.0 – the force that gives it its unique character – is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally.” The same might be said of churches.
What would it mean for a denomination to be based on an open structure? An open structure might imply at least the following:
Ongoing Transparency and Information Exchange. In an age when companies, churches and denominations have lost the ability to command absolute loyalty, one currency remains: trust. The denominations that will be transformative in an age of globalization will be those that foster a sense of trust between the participants and the denomination and between the participants themselves. This will require new levels of transparency and all the more so as denominations look to sell, lease or otherwise relocate traditional headquarters.
Very Low Barriers to Participation. Individuals should be empowered to freely join in the conversation and freely contribute towards the fulfillment of common goals and objectives. A low barrier of participation is different than low accountability. A low barrier to participation allows early engagement in the design process. As a simplistic example, perhaps denominations could use crowd sourcing models to determine break-out sessions and speakers for annual meetings. An open structure is built around a model actively encouraging participation and interaction by as many individuals as possible. This will inevitably cause a shift away from a model of centralized hierarchy to one that is more fluid and more genuinely shares control. Every denomination must ask how to make their organization more of a platform for participation and innovation development?
Second, in an age of globalization denominations must lead through networks that are at all times local, regional and global.
Several years ago in an edition of Foreign Affairs, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, “In the twenty-first century, corporations, civic organizations, and government agencies will increasingly operate by collecting the best ideas from around the globe. In such an environment, it is critical not only to stimulate domestic innovation but also to foster networks that can produce collaborative innovations across the globe.” She continues, “In this century, global power will increasingly be defined by connections – who is connected to whom and for what purposes.”
Leadership in a globalized context requires the building and activation of networks and the reframing of needs, talents, ministry and opportunities into one that simultaneously embraces the local, regional and global.
This is all the more pressing given the increasingly urban reality of polyglots and multiculturalism. Mass immigration is altering our communities and heightening the interconnectivity of the world. A recent blog I wrote, for example, highlighted how a group of Eritrean refugee churches in Texas tendered a request that eventually lead to human rights documentation being submitted to multiple governments around the world and formal representation by a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner working on behalf of the Baptist World Alliance at the recent Universal Periodic Review of Eritrea by the United Nations in Geneva. In an age of global networks fostering connections among and between ethnic churches must be seen as a denominational priority.
Denominations should also look to increasingly share information, resources and personnel. This will likely result in more decentralized organizations and an increase in individual specialists who are employed and shared by several organizations. One helpful model is the work of the North American Baptist Fellowship’s Disaster Relief Network. Additional pan-denominational networks are needed. Among Baptists perhaps no new network is needed as is the establishment of an international religious freedom network.
Third, in an age of globalization denominations must live prophetically.
Denominations must view prophetic witness, especially in areas of social justice, as critical. In this age of globalization denominations must ask again what it means to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.