Watching the Father: The Importance of Knowledge Stewardship

“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.’” – John 5:19

It sounds so simple—Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing. We long for such simplicity, for such assurance and conviction that the things we do are right simply because we have seen the Father and follow his lead. No debate, no mincing over doctrine or dogma, no theological posturing, competing hermeneutics, or contorted exegesis to fit agendas. No argument.

We just act on what we see. Pure and simple.

But how do we see what the Father is doing? Is it a shimmer in the air, deft fingerprints glimpsed for an instant, a fleeting glow lingering on objects around us? While perceiving the Father’s movements was natural for Jesus, we find ourselves wrestling with the world, the flesh, and the devil—all of which prey upon our weaknesses and find footholds within our souls to distort, deceive, and even defile what we perceive.

Yet the Father is faithful to show himself to his people as we respond to his love and walk in the obedience of faith. He reveals himself through: interaction with his word, the intimacy of prayer, worship, committed community, and the counsel of the Holy Spirit.

Doing What We Know
If we have eyes to see, the Father also reveals himself as he works in, through, and around his people as the gospel is communicated to new cultural contexts. He has done this throughout history, extending even to today. God’s ability to draw the human heart into his kingdom is unchanging from age to age, culture to culture. Therefore, another way we discern what the Father is doing is to be deeply committed students of the patterns of fruitfulness between God and his people through history and across today’s harvest fields.

Many field workers learn valuable lessons at the edges of the kingdom as they watch, listen, and follow the Father's lead. As they take the time to reflect upon their experiences, they develop knowledge of the Father and his ways, learning to partner with him to effectively sow, nurture, reap, and harvest.

This kind of knowing results from apprehending and experiencing reality, not encountering intellectual information about some abstract principle or idea. It is not the possession of information, but rather the way we live out with natural consistency and integrity what we know and believe. Biblically, to know the Father in this way is not an abstract and impersonal activity, but is direct partnership with him in his saving actions in the world today.

Simply, we do what we know.

Through twenty-five years of living and working in the Muslim world, Frontiers members have accumulated practical knowledge enabling them to better partner with the Father and bear fruit. In our fields, the “fruit” that lasts are healthy, growing communities of Muslim-background followers of Jesus who retain a witness among the larger Muslim community and are a source of blessing to society around them.

Despite this rich, hard-earned pool of knowledge, we realized that in actuality we do not know what we know. The Frontiers community as a whole has not gleaned and benefited from the lessons learned by its many individual members. In effect, this condemns our members to continually re-invent the same wheels, fall into the same traps, and repeat the same mistakes over and over. Instead of building upon foundations of experience, we find ourselves relearning and relaying the foundations again and again.

Partnering with the Father
We should be good stewards of not only time, money, and people, but also of the knowledge the Father teaches us. To address this, Frontiers recently started a “Knowledge Stewardship” initiative. Its mission is to identify, capture, and distill our field workers’ experience and cross-pollinate this in ways that equip our field teams to become more effective in their calling.

To see knowledge effectively transferred across the Frontiers community, we studied principles of knowledge management used in corporations and service organizations.1 Over the last few years we have begun assembling tools that allow our teams to tap into the corporate wisdom inside and outside Frontiers as it relates to church planting.

Some of these tools and techniques include:

  • Fruitful Practice benchmark. In August 2005, a consultation of fourteen leaders in Frontiers, representing 133 years of cumulative field experience and forty-four planted churches, met to identify key “Fruitful Practices”2 for church planting among Muslim peoples. We are developing a regular process to review and refine these Fruitful Practices with our field teams.

  • Team self-assessment tools. We then developed this list into three inventories—Team Life, CP (Church Planting) Ministry, and MBB (Muslim Background Believer) Community—to help Frontiers teams evaluate their work against this benchmark study and identify where teams might make use of their strengths or seek training and upgrading where they were challenged.
  • Fruitful practices from the wider mission community. In March 2007, the Knowledge Stewardship team helped facilitate a Fruitful Practices consultation for more than three hundred church planters from twenty mission agencies working with Muslims. The recent book, Seed to Fruit,3 by Dr. Dudley Woodberry is the first presentation of the results of this event. We have started a project to collect case studies illustrating Fruitful Practices and present them in narrative form.
  • Accountability tools. We recently worked with our field directors to develop electronic forms that integrate Fruitful Practices as indicators of effectiveness in our work. These forms will be used in our regular reporting cycles and will provide an ongoing stream of data to help us identify important patterns and trends in ministry. In turn, this analysis will enable us to refine our Fruitful Practices list and better equip our field teams.
  • Cross-pollinating from field to field. Drawing from the concept of “Communities of Practice”4 (networks of practitioners who share a passion for something they know how to do and who interact regularly in a somewhat structured forum to learn how to do it better), we established “Equipping Groups.” Equipping Groups allow field practitioners (from both inside and outside the Frontiers community) to network to distill the best from their specialized experience into training that will equip teams to be more effective in their calling. Equipping Groups have addressed language acquisition, the mentoring of women, evangelizing Muslims within a context of folk Islam, inner healing and deliverance, member care, orality and storying, strategic prayer, and spiritual formation.

    Equipping Groups have shown themselves to be a significant influence in Frontiers to equip field teams in their area of expertise. Our next step is to develop Equipping Groups even further into genuine Communities of Practice. We will work with these natural networks to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, problem solving, coordination and synergy, collaboration on resources and tools, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps, investigating and pioneering new approaches, and linking with outside resources.

  • Web-based interactive environment. We developed an internal Frontiers website modeled after the popular Wikipedia as a place for our members to meet and share ideas in a safe environment. It contains evolving discussions on important field issues, updated information on training opportunities, key resources and links, information on the Frontiers community, book reviews, articles, interviews, podcasts, and much more.
  • Teaching teams to become reflective. In the next year we hope to develop a simple tool for field teams that integrates principles of After Action Reviews,5 allowing them to more intentionally learn from their experiences and share the best of what they learn.

Accumulated knowledge becomes inherent in any organization that takes the gospel to the unreached, and the sharing of this knowledge is natural to some extent. Often, the sharing is ad-hoc, partial, and/or trapped in papers or library systems rarely accessed by field practitioners. Our primary contribution in Knowledge Stewardship is to create an ethos or lifestyle of knowledge transfer among our people. We want to help our workers become intentional and give structure to knowledge transfer in a way that integrates with the natural relational networks and processes of field practitioners.

How is knowledge currently shared in your agency? Is it getting to those who need it in ways that make them more effective in ministry? Can similar principles of knowledge management be applied to more intentionally know what you know as a community? Could a network of knowledge management efforts between agencies leaven the whole community of field practitioners to be more effective communicators of the gospel?

Frontiers is made up of many “doers”—practitioners focused on the establishment of redeemed communities within Muslim peoples. Our desire in Knowledge Stewardship is to integrate an ethos of reflection into the fabric of our community so that we can better partner with what the Father is doing among us and be more effective in our apostolic calling.

As we watch the Father, and share from the practical knowledge we gain, we become better stewards of his work and ambassadors for his kingdom.

Endnotes

1. Suggested reading for principles of knowledge management: Dixon, Nancy. 2000. Common Knowledge. Watertown, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Business School Press.

2. “Best Practices” has been defined as the most efficient and effective way of accomplishing a task, based upon repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people. In Frontiers, we have adapted the principle to practices that are consistency and strongly associated with catalyzing the “fruit” of communities of Muslim-background believers.

3. 2008. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey.

4. Suggested reading for communities of practice: Wenger, E. 1999. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

5. The After Action Review (AAR) is a simple, well-tested debriefing process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better. Suggested reading: Townsend, Patrick and Joan Gebhardt. 2007. How Organizations Learn. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: ASQ Quality Press.


Eric Adams (pseudonym) and his wife pioneered a church-planting effort in South Asia for many years among a Muslim unreached people. Adams is presently a member of the Frontiers Knowledge Stewardship team and lives with his family in England.