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THE KINGDOM NET: NETWORKING FOR PASTORS

Institutions Can Network Too

When Christian organizations fail to network with each other, they miss out on some of the most powerful benefits the Kingdom net has to offer.

BY JOSEPH CASTLEBERRY

People connecting to people weaves the net God uses to fish the world and populate the Kingdom. But institutions can practice Kingdom networking, too.

Churches, small groups, schools and colleges, businesses, service clubs, and many other kinds of institutions come together because they have the power to multiply human effort and yield a final result greater than the sum of its parts.

I sometimes say that the only thing worse than organized religion is disorganized religion. When people try to serve God independently rather than as part of a community, their contribution will always yield less benefit than it could have had. Networking for the sake of God’s kingdom expresses the very essence of organized religion. People in our time commonly say, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

But they would speak the truth more accurately by saying, “Christianity requires people in vibrant relationship with God to form permanent relationships with each other for living out the kingdom of God.”

Christianity goes beyond “just Jesus and me” to embrace Jesus in the form of His body — the Church, as it expresses itself in Christian organizations united to do Jesus’ work in the world.

Working the Kingdom net involves our personal efforts, as well as our institutional cooperation. I recently enjoyed a remarkable networking moment when the school I lead, Northwest University, came together with North Central University to do a Kingdom work. But the work we did together in 2014 depended on something we did together in 1942, at the beginning of World War II.

In April 1941, a young Japanese-American woman named Yeiko Ogata gave her heart to Jesus in Helena, Montana, at First Assembly of God under the pastoral leadership of the late Eugene Born, a member of Northwest Bible Institute’s first graduating class in 1937. The Ogata family enjoyed great favor with their neighbors in Montana, and according to the FBI file compiled at the beginning of the war, they were “loyal citizens, smarter than the average people.” All of Yeiko Ogata’s brothers and sisters would go on to higher education and economic success, and Yeiko Ogata left for college in Seattle in the fall after she came to Christ.

After a quarter at Seattle Pacific College, Ogata transferred to Northwest Bible Institute to pursue a Pentecostal formation that would enable her to serve Christ to the fullest. She transferred to Northwest just a month after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war. The city of Seattle had long held people of Asian background in contempt, and its zoning code did not permit her to live in the neighborhood of the college because of her race. But Northwest warmly accepted her and violated the race codes of the day by giving her a room with other students. Her academic records at Northwest clearly reveal her strong intelligence and zeal, as she completed two quarters of study simultaneously with top grades. Although she only studied at Northwest for one quarter, her picture appears three times in the 1942 yearbook, presented affectionately and with pride.

Soon after Ogata began her studies, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order that mandated the internment in concentration camps of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast. Although Ogata was a natural citizen of the United States, born in Montana, she faced grim prospects if she stayed in Seattle. The deadline for leaving Seattle was April 1, and on March 30 she withdrew from school and took a train home to Helena. With a terse note, “withdrew March 30, Japanese Internment Order,” the official records at Northwest fall silent as to her fate.

Seventy-two years later, Devin Cabinilla, a Filipino-American student, discovered Ogata while doing research on the remarkable experiences of Asian-American students at Northwest during the years when they faced official racism in Seattle. Curious about the mystery of her life after leaving Northwest, he painstakingly followed a trail of crumbs that would turn her up in Minneapolis in the fall of 1942. Her brother Dye Ogata, still living in his 90s, vaguely remembered she had studied at a Bible institute in Minneapolis.

Cabinilla came to me with his research and pointed out that the State of California had passed a law in 2011 requiring California universities to find Japanese-American students whose studies had been disrupted by Roosevelt’s executive order and award them the degrees they had pursued. He asked if we could do the same for Yeiko Ogata, and I agreed that we should award her a posthumous bachelor of arts degree. But we would need to get permission from the board of directors.

With time running out, we worked together feverishly to discover the rest of Ogata’s story and take her case to the board. Suspecting that she might have transferred from Northwest to our sister school, North Central, I called President Gordon Anderson and asked him to check their records. Three days later, during our board meeting, he got word back to me that Ogata had indeed transferred her credits to North Central and had finished her three-year diploma on time in 1944.

Our historical research showed that Norweigan immigrant Henry Ness, the founding president of Northwest, had participated in the founding of North Central University along with his friend Frank Lindquist, a fellow Scandinavian and the founding president of North Central. We concluded that Ness must have contacted Lindquist to secure a place for Ogata to continue her studies. Two Pentecostal colleges had collaborated to create a safety net for a vulnerable young woman who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him.

Seventy-two years later, the same two colleges networked to fulfill all righteousness by honoring Ogata and her family with an honorary degree. Yeiko Ogata was the only member of her family who followed Jesus, but her testimony rang out to her family once again as her alma mater honored her faith three-quarters of a century later.

According to sociological theory, religious movements start institutions — churches, colleges, and the like — because institutions have great power to preserve and extend the cause that drives their movement. When institutions work together, the effect can be even greater. North Central University, founded in 1930, played an important role in the founding of Northwest University in 1934 when friends helped each other extend the work of God. The same benefit accrues every time leaders connect their institutions to magnify their cause.

Networking goes far beyond personal relationship building. Pastors who do not connect their churches with other churches and institutions miss out on a great opportunity to enhance their work. Some may fear that cooperating with other churches will expose them to the danger of losing their people, but such a fear-based isolation represents the polar opposite of faith and will always stunt the health and growth of an organization.

Consider the following ways of networking with other churches:

When Christian organizations fail to network with each other, they miss out on some of the most powerful benefits the Kingdom net has to offer. Everyone knows they need friends to help them maximize their lives, but organizations need partners, too. Enlightened leaders learn to link them up.

JOSEPH CASTLEBERRY, president, Northwest University, Kirkland, Washington. For more on this topic, see The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus (My Healthy Church, 2013).

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