Movement Aim #3: Development of CO Networks

What is a Network and Why Should the CO Movement Seek to Organize This Way?

“Getting the We in Me”

We naturally think in terms of self. It’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. You and I are autonomous individuals, so we naturally think about ourselves first. But, when we believe the gospel as individuals, we immediately become included in a “we” reality called the Church of Jesus Christ.

This new “we” reality is both vertical and horizontal. Vertically, this is true in our union with Christ. We are now IN Him as individuals, united to Him by faith. Mysteriously, however, so are the other individuals in history who have done the same. Because we have been united to Christ, we are also eternally united to one another. This covenant bond is what constitutes the existence of the Body of Christ, namely the historical Church of Jesus Christ, the very people of God.

In the Church, we see a kaleidoscope of diverse ethnicities, personalities, abilities and giftings. When the Light of Christ illumines the Church, a spectrum of brilliant colors shines forth, glorifying God throughout the earth.

What is the big implication here? It means our individual beauty is not lost but rather found in its interconnectedness with others who belong to Christ. To that interconnected solidarity, a powerful promise has been given in which not even hell can prevail upon! What it means practically is that we’re better together than we are separate by design and by the call of God Himself in redemption. Take a minute to take that in. To say it succinctly, in Christ we become truly self-aware. This gospel outlines our theological vision for our self-understanding in the context of our church, campuses, cities and world.

One of the first verses of Scripture I ever memorized around this notion of understanding myself within the context of other Christ-followers is found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 which says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Solomon goes on to say in v. 12, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” There are 2 things that are striking to me here as it pertains to getting the “we in me”. First, the impact-per-labor that one on their own produces is incomparable to the exponential impact of that same labor, which done in the context of another produces. What that means is that I can put forth the same effort doing the same job, but when done with another, both the individual and corporate return on investment of time and energy is intensified. My efforts are enhanced by the presence of another. Second, I’m stronger individually when found in the context of another.  This is life changing! If I fall down in life and actually make it back up, the energy and time it took for me to get back to that original station has now significantly mitigated my ability to continue. I’m three times worse off for being alone! This is the person to be pitied! But a cord of three strands is not easily broken. If one falls or breaks, the others can double their efforts around the one and literally rehabilitate them back to strength having lost little to no ground.

This teaching is so obvious, yet we have such a rugged self-reliance that it desires to reject the idea that we are individually better in the context of close proximity to others. Why? Maybe we want to be noticed? Perhaps we need to stand out because we want our identity to be formed around a falsely perceived autonomy? I think we want atonement with autonomy. This is a perverted gospel. This isn’t what Jesus is building. This perspective has a way of turning brothers and sisters into competitors, and ministry into medaling platforms to see who gets the gold, silver or bronze! Love is about unity, and unity is about a divine and mysterious oneness in Christ.

By now you’re probably asking, “What does this have to do with Campus Outreach? I thought this was an article on Networks?!”

There was a time in Campus Outreach folklore that we saw ourselves as autonomous cowboys and cowgirls who rode into the wild, wild frontiers of the college campuses where heroes were born in courageous acts of bold gospel presentations in the dorms. Where staff slept in their cars and walked on the waters of nasty campus ponds to share the gospel with lost students who came to Christ at the mere sight of them! This wasn’t for the faint of heart, or those weak-kneed souls who shrunk back in fear unable to turn their car ignitions off, only to make another run to Wal-Mart instead of heading into the dorm! Ridiculous right!? Yes! Of course! Yet we love to tell it this way! In the desire to have individuals respond to Christ and individuals take individual responsibility for the Great Commission, we tended to tell some version of the story this way without thinking much about it. The truth is that we always were, and are, and will be successful when our paradigm of life and ministry is built around a biblical concept of together.

Around 2004, there was a tectonic shift in our global perspective at the Regional Director level.

We saw that God is building a unified movement, where the region’s self-perceptions as autonomous, self-sufficient entities needed a humble re-envisioning. The unspoken, but old mindset said basically, “Once a region was constituted under the authority of a local church, it was on its own to survive the throws of life and ministry with little to no help from the broader movement.” Through much dialogue around our own broken need for one another, we humbly acknowledged with our churches that in order for this ministry to flourish for the next 40 years, we were going to have see ourselves not just as Pioneers but as Partners. The sobering truth is that we needed to lock arms and become the cord not easily broken.

This seminal reorganization of ourselves led to what today we call Networks. The truth is we were already helping multiply one another’s impact. We were already seeking to pick one another up. And we needed to codify the concept of “Network” in order to not only enhance, but to unleash the ministry in coming decades. This means we are seeking one another’s flourishing in this calling. We want the Networks to enhance our regional submission to the local churches, not supplant them. We want the Networks to enhance the health of our staff team members. We want the Networks to help us build more laborers on the campuses in a difficult season where evangelism and discipleship is tough. We want the Networks to help each region grow in diversity at the campus ministry level, on our teams, and in our churches. We want the Networks praying for the nations and laboring as a Network to think about unreached people groups together. The idea of the Network is simply human flourishing at the ground level in places that matter.

The gospel creates mission and mission creates multiplication. Multiplication creates movement, and movement creates momentum for more gospel mission! The concept of the Network is both fuel and focus. As organic life in a movement unfolds, needs and opportunities arise in which we are better equipped to face and capitalize on together. The Network mindset increases connections and opportunities. It increases positive influence when someone’s leading out in an area, as well as increasing confidence when one isn’t! It draws satisfaction in helping others and seeing everyone thrive! It seeks advice and help in times of need, while offering it times of abundance. Regional Networks are critical because no one’s perfect, and everyone’s different! This same dynamic has been noted in church planting. According to Dr. Ed Stetzer’s research, “the likelihood of church survivability increases by 135% when the church planter meets at least monthly with a group of church planting peers.” (Stetzer, Viral Churches, 108.)

Today, there are more diverse campus leadership teams and staff teams in Campus Outreach than ever. And with a self-perception at a regional level, that we are better as a region inside a Network of regions, we can hope for more quantitative expansion and qualitatively healthier ministries in the coming 40 years! To Christ be the glory in His Church!

Joe Naramore
East Coast Network