Skip to content
Home » Our Enabling Global Society

Our Enabling Global Society

Summary: The Navigator way of relating internationally, which we called the enabling Global Society, flowed from what we learned during the 1980s about how to best advance our ministries. This involved moving away from top-down delegating and moving toward releasing our leaders around the world to work as they saw best. We did this while retaining a strong interdependence around our Aim. Consequently, our partnering countries had more liberty to engage creatively with the nations. By the turn of the century, we were sustaining the concept but describing ourselves more warmly and persuasively as a Worldwide Partnership.

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy,
because it is by faith you stand firm.
2 Corinthians 1:23-2


Historical Context of “Society”
A New Organizational Architecture in the 1980s
The Navigators As a Global Society
International Effort to Clarify Our Global Society
Architecture of Relationships, Subsidiarity, Linkage Leaders
A Model to Declare God’s Glory, 1988
Implementation: “The Way Ahead”
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Global Society
From Global Society to Worldwide Partnership

Historical Context of “Society”

In general, the concept of a voluntary society has shaped evangelical missions during the last two centuries. Although Catholic orders had long functioned as societies, William Carey’s tract of 1792 introduced the concept of our obligation “to use means for the conversion of the heathens.” The heart of his proposal is worth quoting:

Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers, and private persons were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, etc., etc. This society must consist of persons whose hearts are in the work, men of serious religion, and possessing a spirit of perseverance; there must be a determination not to admit any person who is not of the description, or to retain him longer than he answers to it.1

The similarities in this statement to our community as Navigators are remarkable.

Andrew Walls, in his essay on Missionary Societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church,2 describes a society as “a common means for people who start from different bases but have a common aim.” He points out that “it was the voluntary society which first made the laymen (except a few who held office or special position in the state) of real significance above parish or congregational level.” Thus, in reaching for the term “society,” we are the inheritors of a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit of God.3

A New Organizational Architecture in the 1980s

Three weighty developments characterized the Navigator experience during the second half of the 1980s, from a worldwide perspective:

  • Fleshing out the architecture of our Global Society
  • Transitioning the presidency from Lorne Sanny to Jerry White
  • Designing and launching the Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry

Though they interface with each other, this article explores the emergence of our Global Society.

What need was this concept attempting to meet? The primary need was to release increasing creative and cultural diversity without losing our rich unity around God’s calling. Or, in the simplest of terms, to become more enabling.4

Momentum toward a new way of functioning had been building for several years. Sanny had offered a definition of a society5 when presenting our strategic global imperatives6 to our international leadership conference as early as 1980. Then, in 1982, the Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministry argued that we had the form of a specialized society (2 Timothy 4:9-12), whereas a local church took the form of a broad, structured fellowship (Acts 2:44-46).7

Increased Decentralization

As the maturity of our leaders grew, in many countries, the “center” (Sanny and his small staff in our international HQ) found that fewer decisions were working their way up to his desk. This was welcome, freeing him to travel and teach more, but it paradoxically suggested that the opportunities to decentralize were shrinking. Take, for example, the staff Representatives who were the organizational engine of our ministry. In the years since Sanny became president, his responsibility with new Representatives had been increasingly delegated. At first, he selected them himself, after training at Glen Eyrie. Then, progressively, he cut back to selecting them in situ, then to establishing criteria for selecting them, then to approving their selection, then to sending a form letter to confirm their selection. Now even his customary letter was no longer part of the process.

By the early 1980s, decentralization had almost run its course. Very few decisions were required of Sanny in an average week! Yet, there was still a widespread sense that the center was “pulling the strings.” Why? Partly because the act of decentralizing contains within itself the mindset that permissions are being granted by a central unit that entrusts the local parts with responsibility. On occasion, this seemed patronizing. Authority was being delegated, grace was being extended, from the “higher” to the “lower” levels. Thus, one could say that the center was being prompted to move from deciding to delegating to releasing.

As I sought to support Lorne Sanny, I found that there was not much left to delegate from the center. Everything was contextual, and everything seemed to be local. There was a majority for almost nothing! So many things were already decided within each of our countries.

Another spur to this unease was that quite a few of those who had participated in our seminal international leadership conference in 1980 felt that the center had pushed too hard for universal imperatives.8 A third but by no means trivial factor was our awakening to contextualization. A fourth was the increase in the nationalities of our staff: from twenty-nine in 1975 to thirty-three a decade later.9 The cultural mix was fermenting.

It would be wrong to assume that the center was passively retreating when pushed by these and similar forces. Two examples of deliberate international contraction initiated by those at the center:

  • Our global policies were reduced from 490 text lines in 1974 to 298 text lines in 1984, a reduction of almost 40 percent10 during the decade.
  • A similar trend occurred with personnel. Comparing the international headquarters (IHQ) in 1974-1975 with IHQ nine years later.11 (See linked document below.)

Table 1: Personnel Trends at IHQ, 1974-197

The impetus to reduce and streamline those matters which had hitherto required a standard solution was widely felt. However, it was not an attractive prospect to merely to become looser and less connected. That would lead either to entropy or to anarchy! After all, we knew that we were a specialized society with a specific calling. Was it not true that spiritual maturity consisted of interdependence, not independence?

Let’s trace the formal evolution of the concept of a Global Society. By International Navigator Council 2 in December 1982,12 our thinking had crystallized to the point where we wrote global objective 6 as: “to continue to develop, unify, and strengthen the INC as an enabling global team in order to have a Global Society with flexibility, diversity, and accountability.” No doubt, this rather clunky sentence was assembled by a committee!

However, 1983 was a transitional year. We recognized that we were too large and scattered to be a single closely-knit team,13 while distributed around the world.

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that we were feeling our way forward internationally from a dominant triad of strategy, hierarchy, and policies to a “softer” triad of vision, values, and relationships. The contrast, of course, was not absolute, but it does serve to summarize trends proceeding at various speeds.

We should note that the Global Society project, which reached conceptual maturity in 1988 and was expected to take another five or ten years to percolate throughout The Navigators, sought to enable our international relationships. Indeed, a key insight was that our countries would have various ways of organizing themselves, depending on cultural factors and stages of ministry. One size would assuredly not fit all. Thus, there is another way of posing the question: How could we best enable and connect our increasing array of diverse (albeit with a shared vision) national ministries?

Development of Ethno-Religious Blocs

The design of our large ethno-religious blocs14 in 1981, closely followed by the first round of bloc strategies during 1982, which were developed locally, reduced the impression that planning was still being directed from the center. It was not. Yet, perhaps especially due to Sanny’s deep desire for clarity, the language describing the roles of our senior international committees still conveyed a quest for global planning parameters. For example, the new International Executive Team (IET) was “to engage in strategic global planning, for approval by the president.” Furthermore, the new and broader INC was mandated “to review and advise upon our strategic global planning.” Specified within this remit were global imperatives and global objectives.

It would be wrong to conclude from the heaviness of the above that we had not progressed much from the directive stance of “A Strategy for the 70s” some ten years earlier. Nevertheless, we needed more flexibility as our diversity continued to increase.

Some of our international leaders were still searching for “handles” that, though not numerical, would nevertheless keep us on track. So, between 1981 and 1985 there was discussion about several overlapping constructs: international projects; global objectives; action steps; global prayer targets; crucial success factors; and crucial global issues. This is not as complex as it sounds. There was an evolution, best understood as a final attempt to engage in productive global planning. There were two underlying beliefs.

  • Issues have to do with solving problems, whereas objectives have to do with pursuing opportunities.
  • Planning momentum will be lost if action steps proliferate, but planning will never gain momentum if there are no such steps.

Sanny had sought at the international leadership conference in 1980 to push through some global objectives, but God stopped us at the stage of imperatives. After the birth of the blocs and their geographic priorities during 1981, we returned in the following year to drafting some objectives. However, there was still restlessness. In what sense would it be fruitful to try to move beyond the imperatives? How could we best simplify and integrate our planning?

The minutes of INC 3 in 1984 rather drily recorded: “We discussed the interplay of imperatives, issues, and objectives” after the Lord had led us, in a time of prayer, to discard the hunt for some agreed action steps. As the mood was still restless, five concerns surfaced from among the men (no women) at the council.15

  • Our objectives tended to look inwards, and we were using up too much energy on sustaining ourselves.
  • It is hard for some regional directors to integrate global objectives into bloc and country and regional strategies.
  • We have too many objectives, and some of them do not seem to relate to the needs of the regional directors.
  • It is frustrating to retrace our steps through the process that we followed in 1982.
  • We should begin to resolve issues, not merely discuss and prioritize them.

Consequently, Sanny summarily declared that the quest for viable global objectives would be dropped. Though the majority view was that the imperatives from 1980 should be retained, they gradually lessen in significance. Meanwhile, the crucial success factors that we had drafted at INC 2 at the end of 1982 were folded into an extended list of these imperatives.16

The Navigators As a Global Society

It may be helpful to summarize what might be called the pre-history17 of our Global Society. During 1982, this phrase began to replace “global team” when we described The Navigators worldwide. No commitment was made to the phrase at that early date. However, it seemed convenient and our interest in the concept underlying it grew through the years.

As noted, the intent of the change from team to society included a recognition that we were too large and diverse to be a single closely knit team around the world and it was intended to signal support of a move away from “organization” as the unifying principle that would help us to relate internationally. Also, the definition of society had within it the vital word “voluntary.” We progressed.

  • At INC 1, in December 1981, the idea that The Navigators should be construed as a society or a community of societies was mentioned by Gert Doornenbal and Donald McGilchrist.
  • FOM 2, in April 1982, affirmed that we “take the form of a specialized society” and gave this definition of a society from Webster’s Dictionary: “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; an enduring and cooperating group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationship through interaction with one another.”
  • By INC 2, in December 1982, thinking had crystalized to the point where we drafted global objective 6 as “to continue to develop, unify, and strengthen the INC as an enabling global team in order to have a Global Society with flexibility, diversity, and accountability.”
  • At INC 3, in January 1984, the Global Society was perceived as the most important issue facing us. Expectations and fears were surfaced.

One may say that a clearing of the decks took place during INC 3 in January 1984. There simply were too many diverse ministry contexts to let us fashion a universal strategic statement of how best to pursue our Aim.18 The what survived, as in our Aim, but the how would henceforth have to depend partly on the specific challenges of each segment of the harvest.19 Also, our good experience with the dozen regionally tuned bloc strategies was an influence legitimizing more contextual approaches.

A year later, at INC 4 in January 1985, we devoted three days to exploring how we might become an enabling Global Society.

In summarizing this for our staff, Sanny began by reminding them of God’s sacrifice to the end that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). He then described us as:

. . . a society of persons God has called to labor together to multiply the preachers of that message to all nations. Because of man’s need, God’s provision and Christ’s command, we are concerned about being a truly enabling global society. There are strong reminders of our need for diversity in this increasingly complex world. . . . At the same time, there is strong unity around the person of Jesus, the Bible, the Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministry (FOM), the sharing of resources and our accountability to God and to each other. These ties bind us in loyalty and commitment strong enough to encourage a variety of methods to reach our goal.20

This council decided to cease the central collection and analysis of numbers of disciple-makers. Because raising up disciple-makers was at the heart of our Aim, this was a profound step of faith, a richly symbolic decentralization. Henceforth, globally, we would be unable to calibrate our ministry progress,21 except anecdotally and descriptively. Here was a practical embracing of “our accountability to God and to each other” that softened a hierarchical accounting based on a defined standard. Local progress reviews would be more prominent.

The pressure to “lengthen the cords” was rising. Could we perceive a new paradigm that did not merely continue the process of delegating? New concepts were needed, internationally. Also, fresh voices.22

We had entered INC 4 in January 1985 with eight imperatives and nine global projects, each of which was keyed to a particular imperative and for each of which a sponsor and a brief expectation was attached. These projects, with sponsors, were:

  1. Global Society: Donald McGilchrist, in consultation with Lorne Sanny (imperative 9
  2. Missions and Missionaries: Marvin Smith and Terry Taylor (imperative 5)
  3. Leaders of Staff: Jerry White with Josh Turner (imperative 4)
  4. The Nations: Donald McGilchrist (imperatives 3 and 5)
  5. Women’s Ministry: White, with Turner (imperative 6)
  6. International Consultation and Conference 1986: Jerry White (imperative 9
  7. Contextualization: Jim Petersen (imperative 10)
  8. Commitment to External Sending: Alan Andrews (imperatives 5 and 9)
  9. Preparing Potential Staff: unassigned (imperative 3)

Projects 2, 4, 7, 8 addressed the needs of the nations, with project 7 eventually drawing us toward what became the Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry process. Project 6 was dropped because of the press of so many other initiatives. Project 5 is explored in the article on “Men and Women Partnering.” Project 3 was activated toward the end of the 1990s.23

We had invited Dr. Ralph Winter to participate in INC 4 in 1985, being mindful of his international experience and published work on the history of sodalities such as The Navigators. During this council, Jerry White led us in exploring the reasons24 why the development of our Global Society was pressing in upon us. These included:

  • Ambiguity as to the role and authority of international leaders
  • Fear of organizational impediments to contextualization
  • Desired freedom for the ministry of the Spirit

Our conversations throughout the Nav community continued to probe how best to sustain unity and diversity. Some would emphasize the former, others the latter. Were these two concepts inevitably in tension? Sanny continued to link rather than to contrast them. He commented to our staff that “just as unity and diversity characterize our ministry, so form and freedom must be the theme of our society.”25

The council had the benefit of fifty-four responses from our leaders of staff to a survey26 on general aspects of our Global Society. These were quite positive. Typical comments highlighted the importance of relationships based on trust, sharing of resources, interdependence, and the need to face outward into the harvest. The overall tone was hopeful and developmental, coupled with warnings about the undesirability of central control.

It seems appropriate to comment on the paradox wrapped up in the phrase “global society.”

  1. The term global in English has overtones of triumphalism, of taking on the whole world. But any triumph is the triumph of the Son. It is not our triumph, and never the triumph of our social or structural systems. “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth” (Psalm 96:13).
  2. The term society in English suggests vulnerability. It conveys a voluntary and fraternal grouping, a community of brothers and sisters who have chosen to be together and who, equally, could choose to separate again.27 With a society, there are no guarantees. It is a venture of faith.

A society is a community with a special interest or vision. It will rise and fall with the attraction of that vision. Neither structure nor policies nor hierarchy will hold it together. It opens for us the potential of mission out of weakness, the paradox of the cross.28

Thus, we are global because the field is the world,29 yet we are only a society because we do not seek to be dominant or to lord it over one another.

From this council forward, it was understood if not always stated that we were seeking to become an enabling Global Society. The program of work on which we were entering would not be helpful unless it enabled Navigators to be more effective and collaborative in pursuit of our Aim.

Lorne Sanny’s Difficult Period

In 1985, the Sanny family went through a hard year. In April, his son-in-law Toby Cotter fell while teaching others how to rappel and underwent five surgeries leading to months of rehabilitation. In May, Sanny’s father tragically took his own life at the age of 91.30 Sanny’s profound trust in God was evidenced as he ended his letter to his staff with Acts14:22, which says, “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying, ‘we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’”

In December, Lorne made a historic announcement31 to our staff:

On June 18, 1986, I will have served as general director of The Navigators for thirty years. Lucy and I feel that is long enough. It is time for a change.

I have consulted both the International Executive Team and the (US) board of directors. They concur that now is a good time to put into action the process for selecting the next general director . . .

. . . It is not my intention to retire. Both the executive team and the US board have accepted my proposal that I continue to serve as chairman of that board while I carry out various ministries in helping fulfill our God-given calling.

I am grateful for the privilege of initiating and guiding the selection process without a cloud of some kind hanging over us. It is my prayer that God will so lead all of us that we will be of one mind in the selection, and there will be a smooth transition.

The previous month, Lorne had fittingly taught the full FOM to the Leadership Development Institute at Glen Eyrie. He commented that “it is gratifying to me to have recorded on film and in print the consensus of our entire staff worldwide as to the essence of the Navigator ministry.”32

Seeing Diversity As an Asset

In December 1986, the IET refined its functions33 to more accurately reflect the IET’s posture as we approached the changes anticipated in a Global Society.

  • To be interactive, united, and tenacious on the few essentials
  • To be stewards of our Aim and stimulators of movement
  • To fan the flames internationally
  • To be catalysts
  • To foster community in our international relationships

Then, at our forum for established countries in West Germany, in January 1987, the forty-one participants, including seventeen country leaders, had a fruitful discussion on how best to relate internationally as a Global Society. There was strong agreement that in each country our work should have a distinct national identity and national roots. With national roots comes the freedom to be autonomous or even go a separate way. But no one expressed any desire for this. On the contrary, there was a strong expression of interdependence.34 The forum illustrated that our diversity could be an asset instead of a threat. It tested our unity and strengthened it. We recognized the need to care for one another’s souls, and to serve one another with skills and resources.

Following the forum, our sixth international Navigator council met, also in West Germany. Flowing from the theme of Romans 12:10, which says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor,” participants probed complex issues, without defensiveness or party spirit. This council was briefed by Gert Doornenbal on the history of our ministries in Europe; by Paul Stanley on the studies that he had been pursuing on leadership; by Jim Petersen and Stacy Rinehart on the need for a major review of the Fundamentals of The Navigator Ministry (FOM).

International Effort to Clarify Our Global Society

As 1987 progressed, staff in every part of the Navigator world met35 in their contexts in order to clarify and supply their preliminary thoughts to the task force on our Global Society that Jerry White called together in November 1987. The presenting issue was “how to be a more enabling Global Society or how to relate to one another internationally, with maturity and effectiveness.”36

The task force had twenty-four participants of eleven nationalities with a blend of backgrounds. There was a marked weighting to Europeans (seven) compared to the global South: Africans (one), Asians (two), Latin Americans (two).37 This mix reflected the past more than the future and was probably also influenced by European fluency in our traditional style of conceptual analysis.

The task force began carefully and prayerfully, with reflection on the lessons and blessings of our history. Clearly, God had chosen ordinary people through the years, fallible and very human, who sought to look to God for His wisdom. The grace of God had been deeply evident throughout our collective journey.

Jerry identified six dynamics through which we would need to work as a task force. These were our starting point, for exploration.

  1. Commitments
  2. Purposes
  3. Values
  4. Needs
  5. Participation
  6. Inter-relatedness

One way of coherently expressing these dynamics was to say: “We are committed to God and to one another for particular purposes and we share common values in our approach to worldwide needs which invite the participation of all of us in a web of biblical inter-relatedness.

Lessons from our history that impressed the task force included:

  • We recognize the limitations of human wisdom.
  • Godly foundations had been laid.
  • God calls ordinary people, such as Daws.
  • Do not be too confident in the flesh.
  • We are very human and fallible.
  • God uses negative situations, such as WWII.
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit.

Blessings that similarly resonated were:

  • The grace of God is abundant, sometimes despite ourselves.
  • Our ancestors in Christ walked with God.
  • We gained a feeling of security from reflecting on our history.
  • We have shown a willingness to die in order to bring forth fruit.
  • We have a vision for the world, which is a continuing theme.
  • American leaders have voluntarily chosen to be servants.

The task force sought a fruitful balance between philosophical and pragmatic streams, which in their variety nicely illustrated the challenge of finding an enabling way forward. Discussion swung from “family linkages” to “paradigms” and back again.

Recognizing that generic syntheses can diffuse energy, the task force agreed to:

  • Draw meaning from specific contexts and stories
  • Organize from need, not convenience or efficiency
  • Solicit input from the perimeters
  • Follow relevant influence more than positional authority
  • Foster a servant orientation, around mutual giving and receiving

The task force was able to crystallize some characteristics that they wanted to experience in our society:

  • Responsive to countries and their diversity38
  • Flexible as regards people and circumstances
  • Simple yet pluriform, structurally
  • Influence-oriented rather than control-oriented
  • Composed of gifted servants
  • Based on communication, rather than representation
  • Facilitating our calling to the nations

Each of these aspects had practical implications. For example, “based on communication, rather than representation” implied that our international gatherings need no longer be restricted to those at the apex of our structural hierarchies if, as would often happen, it would be more fruitful and energizing to bring together those with the most experience and the most need to interact.

Architecture of Relationships, Subsidiarity, Linkage Leaders

In aspiring to such arrangements, three relatively new ideas surfaced.

Relational Architecture

First, in light of our desire to be flexible and pluriform, what was emerging was not so much a structure as an architecture. That is to say, a certain way of thinking that could in future be expressed in particular structures that would doubtless evolve according to changing circumstances. Indeed, it was said that the Global Society would be an architecture of relationships.

From a theological perspective, the relationships among the three persons of our triune God and His commitment to draw us into His circle of love was instructive. The Trinity reveals harmony and purpose, in community: unmixed, uncompetitive, yet undivided. We wanted to function as an interdependent partnership, linked together internationally and belonging to one another.39


Second, we recognized that our quest to flourish in the grassroots, where the lost are engaged, pulled us toward the practice known as “subsidiarity.” This rather daunting term had been expressed in the social teaching of the Catholic Church for more than a century and, further back, animated the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Subsidiarity is not at all the same as delegation or empowerment.40 Most often seen politically in a federation, it is the reverse of empowerment. It assumes that power, or as we would say influence, already lies in the grassroots. It recognizes that our field leaders normally do not have to seek permission to minister in new ways. For many Navigators, this represented a paradigm shift. It would have to take root gradually.41

This is important enough to say in another42 way:

All managers are tempted to steal their subordinates’ decisions. Subsidiarity requires, instead, that they enable those subordinates, by training, advice and support, to make those decisions better. . . . Subsidiarity, therefore, is the reverse of empowerment. It is not the center giving away or delegating power. Instead, power is assumed to lie at the lowest point in the organization . . .

The task force was attracted to the principle of subsidiarity: namely, a commitment to keep decisions as local and as close to the grassroots as would be prudent, thus freeing up initiative and creativity.

Linkage Leaders

Third, prompted by an insightful presentation from Gert Doornenbal, we welcomed the new concept of linkage leaders.43 These would differ from our traditional middle managers. They would interpret our countries to the center and the center to the countries, acting more as a ligament (Ephesians 4:16) than as a muscle. Such leaders should focus on connecting gifts and contributions for greater synergy.

Gert’s exploration of “linking” and how it would carry us forward into what he called the stage of integration was perceptive, but perhaps not sufficiently absorbed. As Gert pointed out, we needed to refine our understandings of authority, responsibility, accountability—internationally. An early test of our new arrangements surfaced in the work of a task force on financing supranational operations44 the conclusions of which, after much debate, were not accepted by a later international council.

We desired connectional principles such as the apostle Paul described. “From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).45

The Task Force had already proposed (characteristic 5) that our society should be “composed of gifted servants.” Some debate lingered as to who should comprise our society. Clearly, there was no membership fee! Should we focus on countries of ministry or on individual stakeholders?46 Because relationships were paramount, we agreed in 1999 that the society should comprise the men and women who partner together in pursuit of our vision. The International Team expressed their conclusion that the “networks of relationships” in our society should include “people who participate, rather than holding membership . . . a centered rather than a bounded set.”47

The big legacy words for that period were trusting, releasing, coaching. Also modeling, which is what we now call the alongsider model of leadership. . . . The focus was the lost in the nations. Also, the conviction that the key to the lost in the nations is what happens locally (Mike Treneer, September 2011 interview).

Some of those on the task force observed that what we were privileged to design resembled a federation. After all, if one returns to the simple statement that The Navigators were becoming “a voluntary association with a common purpose,” one can at once see a federal impulse. However, this term was little used by us in subsequent years, probably because “federal” has governmental associations for our American leaders that are not always positive!

Therefore, we had three fertile concepts: we were developing an architecture which should be shaped by subsidiarity and linked by a connectional rather than a directional form of leadership. Our prior commitment was that we should become an enabling Global Society. How best to accomplish this? After all, an architectural design is rather pliable and decisions are usually taken in the grassroots, which is rather anarchic.

As previously noted, we were in fact moving progressively from the triad of strategy-policy-hierarchy to the triad of vision-values-relationships, though the contrast should not be too starkly drawn.

A Model to Declare God’s Glory, 1988

Our INC 7 assembled in January 1988, under the rubric of Ephesians 4:2-3, which says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The council was to consider the recommendations of the task force and to adopt proposals for enhancing our society, internationally.

Jerry opened the discussion by describing the spirit of the task force. Our rationale was not to be more comfortable or better organized, but to declare God’s glory. At a deep level, our desire was to be as effectively involved as we could be. Absent, significantly, was any reference to global planning. The new purpose of the council captured much of the spirit of our emerging society:

To strengthen our international unity of spirit and direction by providing an opportunity to be exposed to and communicate regarding the global ministry of The Navigators and to better know, understand and help one another in forwarding the ministry that God has given to us.

After a season of prayer, we envisioned several models of how our society could be illustrated.

The council then moved through the recommendations from the task force.48 Twelve issues were identified as not yet fully resolved. As discussion proceeded, the IET synthesis of what they had drawn from the recommendations and their own analysis of needs was introduced, under the title “Statements Leading Toward an International Structural Model.” This identified seven desired characteristics and seven needs to be facilitated and enabled within our Global Society. Visually, this was drawn as a flexible architecture facing outward into engagement with the lost among the 440 major nations.49

The proposed model flowed out of reflection on the recommendations of the task force. It is therefore driven by much of the material in those recommendations, such as the seven primary characteristics. To repeat, these are:

  1. Responsive to countries and their diversity
  2. Flexible with people and circumstances
  3. Simple yet pluriform, structurally
  4. Influence-oriented, rather than control-oriented
  5. Composed of gifted individuals who are servants
  6. Based on communication, rather than representation
  7. In line with our calling to the nations

The model also flowed out of the challenge of changing needs and opportunities around the world. We must be responsive to our contexts, initiating appropriate new forms and solutions.

In particular, the council agreed that our model should facilitate and be seen to reflect responses to the following desirables:

  1. To stimulate the free flow of relevant information in all directions
  2. To be pluriform, having structures and relationships that take advantage of the unique needs and opportunities in various contexts
  3. To be flexible, so that we can respond to rapidly changing needs and opportunities
  4. To be organized so that initiatives arise at the perimeters where we engage with the lost
  5. To ensure relevant strategic influence and initiatives for our international leaders
  6. To mobilize and apply resources strategically, accomplishing our mission to the nations.
  7. To function as an interdependent partnership, linked together internationally and belonging to one another, under Christ’s headship and in pursuit of our Calling.

The council continued to work through the proposals before them. The discussion was long and significant, but it allowed us to better understand one another’s perspectives and find common ground. We wanted the pace of change to be deliberate, not to dismantle things before the value in their functions could be captured elsewhere.

Implementation: “The Way Ahead”

A question remained. How was this to be accomplished? The council carefully assembled a road map of decisions and assignments which came to be known as “The Way Ahead.”50

This comprised more than twenty elements, an eclectic mix of financial and structural and conceptual needs that would supply the basis for our international evolution during the next few years. This included:

  • The nature of influence in leadership
  • Some minimal international procedures
  • The launch of resource exchanges
  • The Scriptural Roots of the Navigator Ministry
  • Residual authorities, responsibilities, accountabilities

The Global Society was a huge change from centralized leadership, decision-making, and reporting. Suddenly there was a breath of fresh air which gave more freedom and initiative to individual countries. There was confusion at the same time. When you come out of an environment that is more planned and where accountability is held so strongly into suddenly having such freedom, you wonder what it means and what the limits are” (Alan Ch’ng, August 2012 interview).

It is easy enough to be a community of practice; what we reached for was to become a community of (shared) meaning.

Lorne Sanny’s Reflections

Two months later, having been briefed on the discussion at the council, Lorne wrote to himself51 a reflection on some disappointments and apprehensions about the tension between autonomy and accountability. The former without the latter would “lead to the disintegration of The Navigators as a vital Global Society.” The precipitating factor for Lorne was what he had picked up as “the spirit of the council.” He illustrated what he saw as the problem in the following paragraph:

Does each country have the right to write its own Navigator history? Let’s say the answer is yes (though I think there should be some limitations on this). Does it then have the responsibility to do so? Answer, yes. Then does it have an accountability to anyone for the history it has written? If so, to whom? Then if the answer comes back ‘to itself,’ it is an internal matter. Then you have just begun dismantling The Navigators as a viable Global Society with each established country going its own way.

His concerns were prefaced by a brief review of our history to support his experience that, in every era, the seeds of disintegration had been present, revealed in part by attitudes toward leadership.

This memo showed that Lorne’s internal struggle was not new.52 He cites how leadership was variously resisted in every decade of The Navigators and acknowledged that the pattern was for “resistance to be led by a vocal few who claimed to represent the many.”

My own experience of the task force and the council was different. Though we were “lengthening the cords” and choosing to “walk by faith, not by sight,” there was a consensus conviction that this would free up and accelerate our grass roots ministries. However, Lorne’s concerns should be remembered as we moved through the 1990s.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Global Society

Five years later, in 1993, the International Team chose to review the development of our Society. After recalling the factors that had led us into becoming a Society, we identified what we saw as the emerging strengths and weaknesses of this new paradigm.53 Thus:


  • Operating out of gifts, not position
  • Freedom to be vulnerable, transparent
  • An “attitude” resulting in relationships
  • Shared leadership
  • Less American, culturally heterogeneous
  • More responsive to opportunities
  • More humble and open, collectively
  • Tends to surface and develop new leaders


  • Uncertainty as to who is responsible for what
  • Need more helpful and responsive connections
  • Dominance of the native speakers of English
  • Complex, especially to newcomers
  • Inadequate resourcing of our “insiders”

Several weaknesses listed above, such as the dominance of English speakers and the inadequate resourcing of insiders, reflected the realities of our evolution rather than flaws in the design of our society.

Nevertheless, our modus operandi was a novel way of functioning that other organizations found hard to grasp. Were we not losing control? Who had authority over what? Our response was that we were exercising faith and leading through relationships, fortified by a shared vision. Clearly, mutual trust had increased.

The following week, after the team had met, our full international council gathered. Some of the more insightful comments include:

  • By serving one another in love, we create freedom to minister
  • The SRM process has modeled our societal values
  • We are operating more as a kingdom culture
  • We serve our countries, rather than lord it over them
  • Women are not yet our true partners54

Gradually, the attitudes and aspirations embraced by our society continued to spread. As always, we were careful not to present this as a template for individual countries. It was a powerful design for relating internationally. We affirmed the statement that, internationally, our enabling Global Society is a voluntary association of individuals united in pursuit of a common purpose.55

The greatest authority you can have is that which people you lead voluntarily give to you because they trust you. It’s not out of positional leadership, but out of personal leadership. We used it carefully, because we served them (Paul Stanley, September 2012 interview).

The next careful review of the progress of our society took place in 1997 as part of an overall consideration of our roles as international leaders and the international bodies that we required in order to make effective progress with our mission. Some felt that the classic statement of the concepts and characteristics of our society was somewhat too “soft” and lacked a biblical recognition of authority, though it did open us up and free our relationships.

We analyzed recent examples, good and bad, of the outworking of our society. These included Norway, Great Britain, Vietnam, Central Europe, Africa, Asia, Crescent Venture, Latin America, and church/secularized. The discussion on Norway was the most extensive. In each of these cases, after outlining the history together, we asked three questions:

  • What contributions did the society bring?
  • What limitations in the society were revealed?
  • What practical adjustments do we need to make?

We agreed that our society was working well in most circumstances. However, when we neglect a country, problems can fester. In times of crisis, we often lack any agreed procedure or recognized line of authority. Criteria for action are absent. Therefore, we must reduce the level of ambiguity, without formalizing positional authority. What must work for us is spiritual and relational authority.

Furthermore, we must learn how to draw strength and mutual encouragement from having more than one stream of ministry in a country:56 not only operate but cooperate. When structure does not facilitate a vision, the structure will usually prevail. Nevertheless, structures are important: the visible carries the invisible.

Among the points made in discussion was that we are a society of many cultures trying to become a multicultural society.57

This links to an issue that continued below the surface. Our international arrangements caused some leaders in the global South to sense a lingering, subtle racism. As late as 2006, this was courageously made explicit by Badu S, our then Asia director. He approached it by saying:

From around 1997, some in the International Team were regional leaders and some were country leaders. There were private questions about why. It seemed as though some countries were ‘promoted’ to report to the international president directly either because they were Western or were hard to manage. But we did not dare to bring those questions to the table openly.

Later in the day, after extensive discussion on how to best organize ourselves and lead internationally, Mike Treneer invited us to express our feelings about “the current inequities that appear to be rooted in racial issues. There are persistent and deep feelings about this, especially in Asia.”

Alan Ch’ng confirmed that there were deep feelings in Asia. He recalled the years in which Australia and New Zealand were reporting directly to the president, the perception being that this was so because they were Anglos. Alan Andrews confirmed this concern, from his time as Asia director. He recalled that it came up every year. Even in 2005, when he was meeting with our elders in Asia, it came up again. And it keeps coming up with the Koreans.

Badu advocated more sensitivity, for the sake of peace. The issue can be spiritual, but it materializes in our arrangements. Bernie Dodd recalled that, even in Africa, there was a sense that the Anglophones dominated.

Mutua Mahiaini added that it was very affirming that we had felt the freedom to discuss this openly. Mike Treneer concluded that, because it would be a shame to make changes and end up with another set of problems, he and the IET would work on this. It would need prayer and the touch of God.58

It seemed right to illustrate how much work would still need to be done, moving forward from 1997, in bringing us closer to the fullness of a multicultural society. Now, however, I return to the work of our International Team when they met in December 1997.

We summarized the contributions and limitations of our society, as we currently saw them.59 The three most urgent limitations, which we would need to address during the coming year, were:

  • Vision/aims/focus are blurred: Our basis for unity is unclear.
  • Lack of accountability at many levels: Relationships are good, but not enough; we have a bias towards niceness more than clarity.
  • The IET and the IT are not functioning as an integrated team: We need to carry the burden of leadership together.

The discussion continued. Paul Stanley led us in examining the functions of an international leader, and Jerry White launched a discussion on our International Bodies and Functions.

From Global Society to Worldwide Partnership

At the turn of the century, our descriptive phrase shifted gradually from Global Society to Worldwide Partnership. Remember that one of the needs identified in 1993 was for more helpful and responsive connections, and that our society was a voluntary association of individuals. This encouraged some countries to move toward independence and made leading very hard. So, the resonance of the word “partnership” supplied some protection against excessive autonomy.

In 2002, the birth of The Core cemented our shared international commitments. It is an excellent expression of our Worldwide Partnership.60

Since then, the emotional and spiritual advantages of speaking of our Worldwide Partnership have become very clear. It is an accurate portrayal of the desired extent and relational depths of our movement.

I end by choosing one of many descriptions of the ongoing value of such partnership, taken from a recent newsletter61 from Jack and Karen Benjamin, as he leads our Global Enterprise Network.

Worldwide Partnership is more than a catchy phrase. It has grown out of decades of The
Navigators wrestling with such questions as: How can we collaborate together fruitfully as a global movement to advance the Gospel of Jesus and His kingdom around the world amidst such tremendous diversity? How do we work through issues of trust, language, and cultural barriers? How do we bring resolution when we encounter conflicting ways of seeing and doing things? As a movement we have determined that true partnership is the most effective way to respond to these challenges.

While far from easy to forge, authentic partnership is powerful, fruit-bearing, and worth the extra effort to make it work. In Philippians 1:3-5, Paul writes, ‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .’

The word for partnership (koinonia) means fellowship, communion, joint participation, and often suggests closeness or intimacy. Where there is true partnership one often finds a kind of bonding and resiliency like the three-fold cord that cannot easily be broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Effective partnerships reflect a high degree of trust and low control, which are an important byproduct of shared vision and values. Such partnerships pave the way for collaborations which are strong in communication and impact while almost always life-giving. Healthy marriages and dynamic business partnerships are good examples because, among other things, they are powerful and enduring. On the other hand, failed partnerships can cause relational damage, financial loss, and inter-generational upheaval. That is why one should think long and hard before entering into a partnership and still harder before breaking one.

This past semester we have seen the power of the Worldwide Partnership in action. Last
February when we traveled through Africa and Egypt, we felt a kindred spirit with our Sub-Saharan African and Egyptian brothers and sisters, many of whom we met for the first time. While we may have helped bring resources to their efforts, they in turn brought deep spiritual refreshment and challenge to our lives through their sacrificial spirit for the cause of Christ. This was partnership in action and it moved us deeply.

I saw a similar dynamic at play when traveling in Indonesia in March and witnessing the power of collaboration between American missional business practitioners and local Indonesians as they worked together strategically to expand their kingdom impact in that region of the world.

To God be the Glory.

By Donald McGilchrist
8180 words

See also articles on:
Global Planning: 1976 –
The Nations
The Scriptural Roots of our Ministry
Cross-Cultural Missions
Stages of Ministry
Ethos and Values
Several Ministries in One Country
The Approach to The Core


  1. Pages 82-83 of Carey’s Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, published in Leicester, 1792.
  2. See chapter 18 of The Missionary Movement in Christian History, Orbis. 1996.
  3. Dr. Ralph Winter unwrapped the distinctions between what are technically called modalities and sodalities in his article on “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission,” William Carey, 1974.
  4. The inclusion of “enabling” was vital, though often omitted for brevity. In April 1984, Sanny reviewed for the IET how each development of our structure since 1970 had been designed to meet a felt need. Now, the need was to free us up for the enhanced productivity that the times demanded.
  5. The word “society” had, for us, a long history, though it was never prominent. In 1966, for example, the overseas directors debated whether The Navigators was an organization, a society, a fellowship, or a movement. The consensus at that time was that we were “a hard-hitting organization that stimulates a movement.”
  6. “Strategic” was understood as that which “significantly affects our point of focus,” namely our Aim. Sanny’s gloss on this in November 1981 was that working strategically “is accomplished not by making tomorrow’s decisions today, but by making today’s decisions in the light of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” He added, helpfully in view of our history, that “a strategic plan is more than a forecast; it is a commitment to action.”
  7. FOM 2, p. 13, in a section arguing that we differed from local churches in intent, function, and form.
  8. The ILC accepted, not always enthusiastically, seven strategic global imperatives (later eight) which did not set targets. However, each imperative addressed an essential aspect, if we were to continue to serve God in pursuit of our Aim.
  9. Worldwide staff census, June 1975 and September 1985. Non-Americans accounted for 28 percent in 1975 and 34 percent in 1985.
  10. See introduction to the December 1976 global policies for 1974, which “recognizes that the matters upon which we require global uniformity are rather limited.” However, note that local policies (national, regional, divisional) continued to ramify, albeit simplified.
  11. Source: Worldwide staff census June 75 and April 1984. The separation of IHQ into American and worldwide HQs reduced those counted within it from 152 in May 1974! Source: Historical series at December 1977 and June 1987.
  12. The International Navigator Council (INC) first met in December 1981. Participants increased from fifteen at INC 1 to twenty-seven at INC 5 in February 1986.
  13. “Team” was usually understood as a group of people who need one another for a shared objective. When the International Leadership Team formed in April 1975, they also spoke of The Navigators as needing to be a global team, though this concept was not fleshed out.
  14. See article on “Global Planning 1976 -.”
  15. INC 3, minute 6.7.
  16. Extended to ten imperatives at the end of INC 3, subsequently reduced by the IET to eight.
  17. See “History of the Phrase and Concept,” March 1997, McGilchrist.
  18. See proposals on integrating some terms and concepts, McGilchrist, January 4, 1984.
  19. One evidence of this recognition is that, in our imperative on the women’s ministry, the quest for “a strategy” was altered to “strategies” during 1984. One size would not fit all.
  20. “Dear Staff” letter of February 22, 1985.
  21. An annual staff count by nationality and country continued. However, we had long recognized that our aim was not to multiply staff!
  22. Participants in the council, starting in 1981, increased annually: 15, 20, 22, 22, 34. The 1986 council, for the first time, had women as full participants (Ashker, Stannard, Turner).
  23. Our task force on leading internationally began in May 1997, led at first by Ross Rains and later by Jerry White.
  24. INC 4, GS session 2; summary of groups.
  25. “Dear Staff” letter of April 29, 1985.
  26. INC 4, January 1985, summary of responses to GS survey.
  27. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1976) defines a society as “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends . . . an enduring and cooperating group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationship through interaction with one another.”
  28. During this period, this was an increasing theme among missiologists. See for example, The Vulnerability of Mission by David Bosch  (1991) and the study by our own Al Bussard on “Tension in Mission.”
  29. Cf. John Stott’s assertion that “We must be global Christians, with a global mission, because our God is a global God,” The Contemporary Christian, p. 335.
  30. “Dear Staff” letter of June 17, 1985.
  31. “Dear Staff” letter, December 5, 1985.
  32. Ibid, February 3, 1986.
  33. Ibid, December 15, 1986. Jerry White had become general director in June 1986.
  34. Ibid, December 20, 1987.
  35. A survey was also distributed to our staff and yielded fifty-four responses, summarized for the task force.
  36. Taken from the task force summary report of January 1988.
  37. Europeans: Rinus Baljeu, James Broad, Gert Doornenbal, Horst Guenzel, Alan Sims, as well as Donald McGilchrist and Mike Treneer based outside Europe. The task force average age was 46. In addition, 44 percent were Americans and 64 percent were ministering outside the USA.
  38. Gert Doornenbal commented that, “We have diversified uniformity rather than securing unity in diversity.” We agreed that, biblically, we must “preserve unity,” not make it. See Ephesians 4:3.
  39. The emphasis on relationality was widely accepted, though trinitarian moorings were not often explicit. However, McGilchrist emphasized this model in papers such as “The Teamwork of the Trinity.”
  40. The OED defines subsidiarity as: “The idea that a central authority should perform only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.”
  41. Subsidiarity. See December 2007 summary by McGilchrist with examples from the European Union (1992), the Catholic Church (1891 to 1931) and the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution (1791). See also “Subsidiarity As a Political Norm” in Political Theory and Christian Vision, by Jonathan Chaplin, ed. Chaplin & Marshall, 1994, p. 85. “. . . subsidiarity derives from the Latin subsidium, meaning help or aid . . . not a secondary one, but an indispensable auxiliary one.”
  42. Charles Handy, Beyond Certainty: The Changing Worlds of Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 1996, p. 41-42.
  43. Paper of December 20, 1988, co-authored by Paul Ronka. Their thesis was that such “linking pins” should represent a function rather than a position. We had arrived at an “integrating stage” in which we were moving “from a complex organization with relatively simple tasks to a relatively simple organization with more complex tasks that would require mature leadership and an emphasis on group processes.” The term “linking pin” was borrowed from Dr. Rensis Likert. An early foreshadowing of the concept surfaced in our third world evaluation conference.
  44. Remit from “The Way Ahead,” item 13. Shared by McGilchrist, with Andrews, Ray Hoo, Ronka, Bob V. Notice Sanny’s concerns later in this article.
  45. Ligament: “That which connects one bone with another or supports an organ.” New Webster’s Dictionary, 1993.
  46. As mentioned earlier, Sanny had called us “a society of persons” in February 1985.
  47. See document C of the May 1999 International Team in which Charles Mellis’s phrase “a company of the committed” is also borrowed.
  48. See section 4 of agenda documents for the January 1988 council, including a choice of three models that attempted to present what was intended visually. Incidentally, there was no attempt to work in “sevens,” the frequency of this number being merely coincidental.
  49. For this use of nations, see article on “The Nations.”
  50. “The Way Ahead” was dated March 1, 1988 and assigned sponsors to guide the work on each element. (See S14 of IC 1, 1989.)
  51. Memo of March 28, 1988 on “The Navigator Global Society and Autonomy/Accountability.” This memo did not surface until 2015.
  52. Nor was it unique. In the 2015 Eramus Lecture, for example, Ross Douthat tells how two parties developed in Roman Catholicism after Vatican II: those who adhered to what the council’s texts actually said and those who took flight in concert with they regarded as “the spirit of the council.” Source: “The Crisis of Conservative Catholicism” in the October 2015 issue of First Things, p. 22.
  53. Both the team and the council met on Langkawi Island, Malaysia, in February 1993. The council, on this occasion, had twenty-five participants of twelve nationalities.
  54. See article on “Men and Women Partnering.”
  55. Appendix B from the February 1993 international council.
  56. This issue was much eased by the concept of “Four Quadrants” introduced by Mike Treneer at the May 1999 meeting of our International Team.
  57. December 1997 IT notes, appendix C.
  58. Based on notes of our April 2006 regional leaders meeting, p. 25 and 30-32.
  59. Appendices B and C from May 1996 International Team.
  60. By the turn of the century, the concepts guiding our Global Society had become well established, so we began to speak of ourselves as a Worldwide Partnership. This had the added benefit that partnership (koinonia) is a rich New Testament term. If we look at the IET’s quarterly newsletter, Worldwide, we find the usage Global Society in September 2001. Worldwide Partnership is used in May 2003, which, not coincidentally, was the first issue featuring the new IET Logo.
  61. Letter of June 23, 2017.
Copy link