Have you ever heard of a “truncated icosahedron”? If not don’t worry—you’re not alone. I’m informed it’s a “bitruncated order-5 dodecahedral nonprismatic solid.” Well, that doesn’t help much either …
But let’s try and make it more understandable. Imagine a sphere covered in dots that are evenly spread out. Now, draw lines between each dot in all directions, creating a honeycomb-like pattern (think of a soccer ball's patchwork). This lattice structure is strong because every point is well-connected to the others.
We cannot consider ourselves a full part of the robust and beautiful "honeycomb" global church unless we are also receiving, welcoming, learning, and being blessed by others.
Not only is this a fascinating geometrical shape, but it's also a beautiful visual representation of how the global church can function today. Christians and churches can be connected through friendship across geographical, linguistic, and cultural boundaries, much like the dots on the sphere. The beauty and strength of this worldwide community lies in its interdependency. The relationships are mutual, the connections multidirectional, and the encouragement, support, teaching, prayer, and pastoral counsel flow from everywhere to everywhere!
Although we in the West have been accustomed to giving, going, training, and blessing others for the past couple of centuries, we cannot consider ourselves a full part of the robust and beautiful "honeycomb" global church unless we are also receiving, welcoming, learning, and being blessed by others. As the apostle Paul explains, each part of Christ’s body is in need of the others: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:21, 27). That is true within a local congregation and also on a global level—we need one another!
But what does this beautiful reciprocity look like in practice today? How can Western churches receive and benefit from the blessings and teachings of their sisters and brothers from other parts of God's global church? Although entire books could be written on the subject, here are a few suggestions to set us on the right path.
To truly foster global relationships, Western churches need to embrace a humble posture.
1. Examine Our Attitudes
To truly foster global relationships, Western churches need to embrace a humble posture. We must recognize that we’re not the top stone of a pyramid from which everything flows down, but rather, we’re just one part of a honeycomb-shaped lattice and, as such, codependent on others for our spiritual and theological well-being. Unfortunately, this can be difficult for some Western Christians to accept. Our culture tends to promote individualism and self-sufficiency, making it easy for us to believe that we can do it alone. Sometimes, this attitude stems from a misplaced sensitivity toward others in the global church (“I don’t want to burden you”), while other times the motivations can be more troubling (“I’m better than you”). Regardless of the cause, we need to identify, confess, and repent of any prideful or condescending attitudes we have toward those who come from different contexts and cultures. Only then can we move forward and foster genuine mutuality in our global relationships.
Reading books or listening to online sermons by believers in the global church can broaden our understanding of God's work in the world and deepen our faith in him.
2. Expand Our Horizons
It is good and right to be rooted in your local church family, and being led and fed by those who know and love us personally is a profound privilege. But we should also strive to open ourselves up to new perspectives from faithful Christ-followers outside our immediate reference points. Reading books or listening to online sermons by African believers on church growth and mission, Chinese believers on Christian endurance and zeal, South Asian believers on faithfulness amidst pluralism, and Latin American believers on gospel engagement in the public sphere can broaden our understanding of God's work in the world and deepen our faith in him.
3. Extend Our Partnerships
Many of us belong to churches that already send and support mission partners cross-culturally, but we can extend those partnerships by involving national Christian leaders from our mission partners' host settings. We can invite these friends to preach on Zoom, write for the church newsletter, chat with small groups, or even visit in person. Churches that extend their partnerships in this way often speak of the tremendous gift it is to learn from faithful gospel partners from different contexts. It’s important to make it clear from the start that we want to learn from their ministry and gospel perspectives, rather than exclusively the other way round.
There are times when the most significant act of service we can offer is to allow ourselves to be served by others.
4. Exclude Our Desires
Christian believers should love to help and serve others. That’s a Spirit-driven longing, and it should never be diminished or devalued. However, there are times when the most significant act of service we can offer is to allow ourselves to be served by others, for doing so embraces and expresses codependence, vulnerability, and trust. For instance, instead of going on a short-term mission trip with the sole purpose of doing something useful for them, we can adopt a culture of “learning” from our host partners. By genuinely listening to and learning from national believers, understanding their concerns and perspectives, praying for them, and subsequently sharing what we’ve learned once we’re back in our home setting, we can experience transformative benefits for everyone involved—the visiting team, the host partner(s), and the sending church. This is a truly blessed partnership! In Uganda, I have witnessed this approach succeed when staff and students from a theological seminary in the U.K. visited the Bible college where I work. They spent much of their time sitting in lectures, Bible studies, and seminars led by Ugandan staff and students. Everyone involved benefited significantly from this exchange, with many participants commenting on how beneficial it was to travel far to sit, listen, and learn.
As Western churches, we now have a unique opportunity to learn and be blessed by our national partners worldwide. To do this, we must examine our attitudes, expand our horizons, extend our partnerships, and even exclude our desires. It may well be that the term “truncated icosahedron” is an unnecessary mathematical mouthful, but that which the shape represents—mutuality, interdependency, reciprocity, friendship, and partnership from everywhere to everywhere—speaks to the beautiful and joyful opportunities that we have today to receive, learn, and be blessed by our gospel partners across the world.
Chris Howles is from the U.K. but has served as Head of Theology at Uganda Martyrs Seminary Namugongo since 2011. He has a doctorate in intercultural studies and is founder of the mission resources website From Every Nation. He is married to Ros, and they have three children, all of whom are either in or approaching their teenage years!