American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Lisa Harris-Lee speaks at an Aligned Action Netowork gathering at Linfield College on May 17, 2017.

Coming to life: ABHMS’ collaborative strategy for pursuing 21st-century mission

By the Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee

In February 2017, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) launched a strategy that serves as the framework for pursuing 21st-century mission throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. While the strategy is not revolutionary — historic evidence exists of American Baptists ministering in this manner — it is a significant evolution in ABHMS’ role as an agency of God called to cultivate national mission.

The strategy involves the formation and support of “Aligned Action Networks” from coast to coast, with the purpose of strengthening existing partnerships and exploring new ones in nine geographically informed networks to expand mission impact.

ABHMS serves as coordinator for the networks, locating gathering venues; providing the platform for virtual connection; facilitating conversations among network participants; and working with network partners to sustain connection, maintain initiatives’ momentum and develop, support and complete next steps to strengthen individuals, congregations and communities.

The need and desire to cultivate leaders, equip disciples, and heal and transform communities, as articulated in ABHMS’ mission, are common themes across campuses, congregation and communities. Less common are creative and strategic collaborations about the resources and responses that will most effectively advance the changes that all want to see.

Alignment, by definition, is the “agreement or cooperation within parts of a system that are held together by a visible or invisible force.” ABHMS Aligned Action Networks are being formed as the collaboration among people, partners, organizations and institutions that bring together vision, experience and resources to do something meaningful that none of the participants could accomplish alone. Through coordinated “aligned actions,” network participants become witnesses to and beneficiaries of efficiency, inspiration, creativity and efficacy.

The intention of ABHMS networks can be illustrated via threads being woven together, puzzle pieces being assembled or a sports team assuming formation on a field. Imagine people representing various sectors of health care, education, law enforcement, church, philanthropy, generations, ideologies, economic incomes and ethnicities sitting around one table to offer God-given resources and address challenges and opportunities within a community in a God-inspired manner. Would this not be a fulfillment of the Lord’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven?

“If developed well, these networks will outlive the tenure of any ABHMS staff person. Networks will become the way ABHMS becomes known for being in mission with others,” says ABHMS Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray.

Fifty-eight individuals from six northwest states gathered with ABHMS staff members around tables to explore the possibilities of collaboration during the first network gathering in May 2017 at Linfield College, McMinnville, Ore.

“Refreshing!” is how at least one participant described the event.

A team was formed from among participants to develop the important next steps of growing and communicating within and beyond the network, convening smaller groups and developing initiatives connected to leadership, discipleship and healing communities. Throughout the development of this and future networks will be the ongoing work of building trust, nurturing transparency, maintaining humility and commitment to follow through.

ABHMS will invite leaders throughout the United States and Puerto Rico to participate in these network gatherings — most of which will be virtual, with a few face-to-face gatherings like the one in McMinnville. The intent is not for uniformity, in which all look and think alike about everything — the autonomy of Baptist life would never allow it! However, within our autonomy, we recognize God’s call to work together, reason together and bring our best together, as we fulfill the love commandment and the witness commission.

The Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee is American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiatives.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.