Author: Jim Thomas
I had an idea for a book. It would describe the practical steps and stumbles of a church that developed partnerships with three churches from other cultures. They would be stories from my personal experience, so the churches would be in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (mine), Kenya, South Africa, and inner city Durham, a community neighboring ours. I would tell the stories of how we came into each other’s lives, how we decided to commit to long-term relationships, and how we had navigated difficulties along the way. I would not hide our church’s failures. I would also describe the relationships we had pursued that had come to nothing. We are not proud of them, but there are lessons to be learned in what we did wrong.
I wanted to write this book as a practical follow-up to Philip Jenkins’ book, The Next Christendom. In that book, Jenkins shows how the majority of Christians is now in the global south. If the churches of developed countries that started many of the churches in the global south are now in the minority, they may need to learn some new relationship skills with the majority. Forgive this paternalistic metaphor, but it is like parents learning to relate to their grown children as adults. Parents that learn to do so enjoy healthier and more rewarding relationships with their adult children.
Most books addressing the new global reality, describe the trend in their own way or spell out the implications for a theology driven by non-Western perspectives. What is missing, however, is practical advice to churches on how to be in relationship with each other across hemispheres; how to live together in the new global reality. That’s a book I could write. I have led my church through those practical steps and writing is part of my profession.
As one does to shop around a book idea, I wrote a proposal that included an overview, a table of contents, and a sample chapter. A few publishers expressed interest. One came very close to signing a deal. But in the end, none of them came through. Sales would be too low. There wasn’t enough demand to make it profitable.
This is not a surprising message. Most book proposals come to this end. For me, though, this signaled something more fundamental than rejection of a book idea. Publishers’ livelihoods depend on reading trends in the world and among readers. They had determined that few people or churches were interested in developing egalitarian, mutual, long-lasting, cross-cultural relationships. They were saying, in essence, that few churches want to move into the next Christendom.
The reasons could be many. Some churches might not be thinking about the world outside of their congregation or community. Others might think about the rest of the world, but only as people to save either spiritually or physically. Their perspective may not leave room for being in relationship with and learning from Christians from other cultures. The churches wanting that kind of relationship and looking for guidance are apparently few in number. Or at least too few to be lucrative to a book publisher.
They aren’t missing altogether though. After all, the Lausanne Congress designated partnership development as one of its specialty topic areas. That must mean there is a groundswell of interest and enough churches and individuals for conversations. Furthermore, some of you are more experienced in developing partnerships than I am. But how do we increase the number who want to take part in this conversation, or even just to listen in?
Perhaps a good place to start is to reflect on how we came to want the relationships we are in. Is your church in a relationship with a church of another culture? Are you serving and learning from each other? If you will, please add a comment to this blog and describe the relationship and how it came about.