There’s something missing from many of our efforts and church strategies. We understand the great commission; and we believe in the great commandment; but we have forgotten Jesus’ challenge of the great collaboration in John 17 that we are to do the mission “Together!”
Throughout 2021, Exponential will continue the mobilization conversation as we focus on the critical importance of collaboration—working together for kingdom multiplication in the pursuit of the mission of Christ. Here, Dave Ferguson, who leads Exponential’s annual conference, unpacks the ‘why’ of the Great Collaboration. This is not a church growth idea. This is mind-blowing theological truth that’s older than time itself!
God Himself is Better Together.
Seems like an odd statement, but this is a simple, yet crucial theological truth. It explains why the Great Collaboration is so important. It also explains why we are better together. Let me say it again so that it sinks in: God Himself is better together.
Most of what I’m about to share with you has come from people smarter than me who influenced my understanding of a relational God. Make sure you’re fully caffeinated—you may need it. But read every word and if necessary, read it slowly. This will give you the theological foundation for the Great Collaboration and also further explain why we are better together.
Ready. Take a breath. Here we go…
God Exists in Togetherness
At the very start of Scripture—literally the first verse of Genesis—we’re told that the God who created us and in whose image we are created has existed in togetherness from the beginning of time. And that this same God who has always existed in togetherness invites us to do life together with Him. To understand better, let’s go back to the very beginning…
We see the “togetherness” in the first three verses of Genesis:
Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning was God …
Genesis was originally written in Hebrew, and the word used for God is
Elohim, a grammatically plural noun. Why is it plural?
Genesis 1:2 – …the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters …
In the next verse, Scripture tells us that the Spirit of Elohim is hovering over the face of the waters. So Elohim also has a Spirit.
Genesis 1:3 – And God said …
Then in verse 3, Elohim speaks and that Elohim has words.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, God creates. And everything that God, the Spirit of God and the Word of God create is “good.” It’s all good!
And then God reveals more of Himself to us…
Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness …”
That may sound weird to us, but like I told you, the “us” and “our” fit because the word Elohim is plural. But Elohim doesn’t mean “Gods” because the verb tenses and adjectives that refer to Elohim are all singular, referring to one being.
Genesis 1 isn’t the only place in Scripture where we see this; we also find it in John 1:1: In the beginning (sound familiar?) was the Word…” Remember that in Genesis 1 God speaks and in John 1 we learn, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
This Word is not an it; the Word in these scriptures is a He. He was with God in the beginning, through Him all things were made, without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all people … Then a few verses later: … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … This Word that was with God and was God from the beginning becomes a human being, dwells among us and took on the name of Jesus.
God has existed from the beginning as one and yet three. Before you get stuck on how it doesn’t add up, please get what these scriptures are telling us about God: Though God is one, He has always existed in togetherness; and it was in togetherness that He created a perfect world.
While we absolutely need to understand our triune God, we also need to understand how God related in togetherness. For this key understanding, let’s go back to the Gospel of John, beginning with 16:14, which tells us that the Spirit glorifies the Son. A few verses later, John 17:4 says the Son glorifies the Father. And in the next verse, John tells us the Father glorifies the Son and that this glorifying has been going on for all eternity.
To “glorify” something or someone means to praise, enjoy, to direct attention to them, and most of all to delight in them. To glorify someone, you must serve or defer to him or her. So from all eternity, before the beginning, the Father, Son and Spirit have been glorifying each other. They have this un-self-centered relationship in which they revolve around each other. None makes the others revolve around himself. Instead, each person in the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That gives us a beautiful picture: God existing in a community of persons who know and love each other. Throughout all eternity, their relationship is this dynamic, pulsating, dance of joy and love. God in togetherness.
Some of the earliest Christ-followers had a word for this dance, perichoresis. It comes from the same Greek word that gives us the word “choreography.” Perichoresis means to dance or flow around each other. Imagine a beautiful dance of endless, creative, self-giving love where the other dancers are drawing the attention away from themselves toward the other. Can you see it? The trinity explains why we believe that “God is love.” (I John 4:8).
This is so, so important! Because when God says, …let us make man in our own image in Genesis 1, He tells us that we are to be a reflection, an image of who He is. Just as the God of the universe is a dance of love, our lives are also meant to join in the dance of self-giving love.
Dancing Together With God
Several years ago, I had the privilege of attending a spiritual retreat led by author Brennan Manning. He was a brilliant writer and speaker. The retreat was very simple, but life changing. Manning would speak, and then asked us to go off by ourselves and journal about what we were experiencing with God. After being on our own, we came back and sat in groups to share our experiences.
He told a story from one summer retreat in Iowa City. A nun was one of the participants and when it was time for her to share in her group what she’d experienced, she said, “I got nothing. I’m not hearing anything. I’m not feeling anything. I must be doing something wrong.” Manning had a way of comforting people. He quickly assured her, “No, no, no, it’s ok, it’s just different for you, it’ll come.” They went through the whole weekend. Each time when it was her turn to share, she’d say, “I got nothing.”
Then the last day he spoke and everybody went off to journal. But this time, Christine got something.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she shared. “It was like a dream. I was asking God to show me and help me understand what I’m missing; and suddenly it was like I was transported into this huge dance hall. It was like a ballroom, and everybody was dressed very elegantly. All around me, everyone was dancing, beautiful dances, perfectly, nobody missing a single step. I went over and stood against the wall. I stood there through a couple of songs all by myself. Then this gentleman came up to me. I don’t know if he’d been there all along, but he had on this striking black tux with a red flower. He came up to me, extended his hand and said, ‘Can we dance?’ I told him, ‘I’m not very good,’ and he said, ‘It’s ok. I’ll lead the way.’
“Next, he took me by the hand out on the dance floor and we began to dance. And I’ve never danced like that. We spun. We dipped. It was amazing. As we danced, everyone else stopped dancing and just formed a big circle around us. When the song ended, everyone applauded just for us. And the man looked at me and said, ‘Thank you for having this dance with me.’ As he looked into my eyes, I knew it was Jesus. Again he said, ‘Thank you for this dance.’ And then added, ‘Let me tell you one more thing.’ He bent down and whispered in my ear, ‘Christine, I’m wild about you.’”
Christine concluded, “I know it sounds odd, but it’s true. He said to me, ‘I’m wild about you,’ and I know I will never be the same again.”
I love that story! I hope you took away from the theological deep dive and Manning’s story that God is extending His hand to you, asking you to do life together with Him.
This post is based on the book, Together: The Great Collaboration, by Dave Ferguson. To download your copy, visit: exponential.org/ebooks Together: Pursuing the Great Collaboration is Exponential’s 2021 theme. To learn more, visit: exponential.org/events
Want to go deeper into this conversation? Attend an Exponential 2021 Regional Conference in a city near you this fall. Learn more here.
And, join thousands of leaders for inspiration, encouragement and equipping at Exponential 2022 in Orlando, FL. The conference brings together over 100 speakers, 150 workshops, 10 pre-conference intensives, and 75+ networks and denominations. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring your team together to gain the tools you need to move your church forward. For information about bringing your team to the global conference, click here.