Rooting for Rivals
Bible translation would seem like a likely place for generosity and openhanded collaboration. Getting all of Scripture into every language is a clear goal shared by the global church. But like every sector, it’s also a place of fragmentation.
One foundation executive in Tennessee recently shared how one year, three different agencies approached him for funding to translate the Bible into the same language for the same people group. Literally, the impact was going to be a third of what it could have been if each organization focused on a different language.
For those of us involved in church and nonprofit leadership, we know that this type of redundancy is all too common. But a new example of generous kingdom partnership is emerging.
Mart Green, founder of Mardel Christian & Education and chairman of the Hobby Lobby board, was one of the first to clearly articulate a broader vision for the Bible translation movement. Committed to helping more people access the Bible, Green reasoned that organizations and unreached populations alike would be better served by a digital Bible library, accessible to all.
He brought together three translation agencies and several philanthropists to mobilize this vision. The library launched in 2010 and now encompasses more than 1,100 Scripture portions and versions.
Meanwhile, Todd Peterson, chairman emeritus and interim CEO at the time of Seed Company (a Wycliffe Bible Translators affiliate), was focused on the organization’s mission to see all languages have Scripture by 2025. To do so, he was beginning to communicate to supporters not simply the needs of Seed Company but rather the greater needs of the remaining Bible-less people groups.
Captivated by the larger vision, donors gave more generously than Seed Company had ever seen before. The organization invited other translation agencies to collaborate on how best to invite donors to give to ensure every tribe and nation would get Scripture into their heart language in our lifetime. They contended givers might allocate greater funds to an overall area of interest rather than a specific organization.
It was a radical idea, as collaborative fundraising usually experiences strong headwinds and donor events are not typically the place to find organizations praising their “competitors.” But with an attitude of abundance and an unwavering focus on the kingdom, Seed Company viewed these other organizations as allies. They invited others in, and those invited came.
“When we consider nonprofit collaboration, we envision outrageous generosity as leaders collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.”
In 2017, ten Bible translation agencies, involved in more than 90 percent of global translation work, banded together to drive visitors to a single website called illumiNations. Upon visiting the site, supporters can see Bible translation progress across the globe and be matched to translation projects based on interest rather than organization. This collaboration enables the Bible to be translated with better quality, efficiency and affordability.
Bible translators initially predicted that they would begin translation into the last language by 2150, but by working collaboratively, illumiNations believes they will have translated the New Testament for 99.9 percent of the world’s population by 2033. Through translation partnership, they plan to reach their goal 117 years ahead of schedule.
117 years faster.
Working together across organizational boundaries can feel complex and messy and laborious. But it can be powerful.
In this beautiful example of rooting for “rivals,” Peterson and other Bible translators who once competed for market share have allied against their common enemy of Bible poverty. In joining together, they have chosen to say, “Thy kingdom come” instead of “my kingdom come.”
United in Christ, we are all invited to dramatically expand our definition of “us.” We’re called to look beyond the four walls of our nonprofit to catch a glimpse of a bigger and bolder vision of the kingdom of God and to reaffirm a higher allegiance than the logo adorning our business cards. Our organizations are small players in a much more significant story.
When we consider nonprofit collaboration, we envision outrageous generosity as leaders collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda. We envision exponential impact as leaders actively seek to advance God’s kingdom, above their own organizations. We envision a world of abundance as leaders freely share their resources, time, and influence with others.
In meeting with generous and openhanded leaders, we found they had a countercultural response to two key questions:
1. Do we live in a world of abundance or scarcity?
No matter our organization’s size, it’s easy to feel as if we don’t have enough. There is always more work to do and bigger dreams to pursue.
If there was any place you would expect a scarcity mindset, it would be in fundraising. In a literal sense, if another organization receives a donation, doesn’t that mean that there is less for you?
When we lead from a posture of scarcity, we fight for a bigger piece of the pie. We see others as competition, feeling challenged and threatened by the success of our rivals.
But what if we changed the discussion from a slightly bigger piece of the pie to baking a lot more pies? According to the 2016 Giving USA report, the average American household gives 2 percent of their net income to charitable causes. Fiercely competing over 2 percent isn’t our only—nor our best—option. People won’t give more because we argue why our organization deserves a greater share than our peers. We believe people will give more as we show how our world will improve if they give 3 or 4 or 10 percent. Instead of arguing amongst ourselves for the tiniest sliver, let’s join together for increased generosity that will open the floodgates of compassion, justice, and grace.
2. Is our focus on our clan or the kingdom?
Too often, our focus rarely extends beyond our organizational boundaries. But we believe there is an opportunity not just to build a small clan but to participate in building the kingdom of God.
Jim Tyson, pastor of City Church York, exhibits this kingdom-first perspective. Rather than pouring limited resources and capacity into church-branded programs, Tyson’s gaze is outward. Living and serving in York, Pennsylvania, he is active in one of the most violent cities in the state.
“From my perspective,” shared Tyson, “I don’t need to create some new organization or committee to address the needs of our city. We just need to find the people who are already doing great work and join them!”
Tyson’s approach is to identify who is already doing good work, forge creative partnerships, and then determine how he and his congregation can join their efforts. This includes local schools, children and youth services, neighboring churches, government organizations, police officers, and anyone working to bring hope to the city.
The unity of the body of Christ, the countercultural nature of God’s kingdom, and the abundance of our Creator provide a theological foundation for rooting for our rivals.
Do we believe in a world of scarcity or abundance? Is our focus on our clan or the kingdom? These questions are hallmarks of generous, openhanded leaders. They change the way we look at the world and directly impact the way we serve.
In the curious, upside-down way of the kingdom of God, God converts our competing into rooting and our rivals into allies. Rooting for our rivals is an invitation to view organizations not as grand murals but as pieces of a mosaic created by and for our Master Artist.
Intentional collaboration empowers the Body of Christ to participate in more significant initiatives with far greater impact.
When we consider coming alongside others, we can go beyond just fighting extreme poverty to thinking about ending extreme poverty. Beyond rescuing young girls and boys from human trafficking to putting traffickers out of business. Beyond translating parts of the Bible into a few more languages to translating the entire Bible into every language.
In that light, rooting for rivals doesn’t feel all that crazy. Hundreds of years from now, our descendants will likely not know our names, nor those of our organizations. But if we successfully embrace the unity Jesus taught, our descendants will remember what the church did together. They will remember that this generation continued the work of bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and setting the oppressed free. They will remember that the gospel was translated into every language, racial injustice was confronted, and extreme poverty was eradicated.
If our descendants talk about us, they will talk about the miraculous ways God worked in and through the church to bring hope, truth, and joy to our world.
We can imagine no greater success.
Peter Greer is the president and CEO of HOPE International, a global Christ-centered microenterprise development organization serving throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Chris Horst is the vice president of development at HOPE International, where he employs his passion for advancing initiatives at the intersection of faith and work. Peter and Chris have co-authored Mission Drift (Bethany House, 2015), Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing (AEI Press, 2014), and their newest book Rooting for Rivals (Bethany House, July 2018).