Building on a previous article entitled Compete or Collaborate: The Dilemma for Christian Ministries, I want to delve into the direction and diversity of collaboration among Christian ministries. But to do this I must first lay out some critical understandings about collaboration.
I write this as I am preparing to go to the annual gathering of the North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF) of the Baptist World Alliance where more than 30 Baptist organizations connect. NABF talks about collaborative efforts, missional engagement, and network emphases. Even though only one category uses the word “collaborative”, they are all about collaboration.
Collaboration is also one of two objectives of NABF. Supporting the world organization and the various regions of the world—of which they are six organized regions—works reasonably well as one of the objectives. It is the collaborate objective that is tricky. Competing and conforming is so much easier.
Not the Motown musical group. I am talking about the Supreme Court of the United States.
I recently had the opportunity to view an episode of the now classic television series called West Wing about the presidency of Jed Bartlett. The episode was The Supremes. It had to do with appointing two persons to fill vacancies among the nine justices.
In the interview process the president’s staff was trying to find moderate candidates who could get confirmed by Congress. No one was really excited about this as these candidates lacked leading edge, prophetic convictions. They did not have a deep dimension of ideology that they would espouse in their written opinions.
In terms of this article the candidates were more weak compromisers and conformers than strong collaborators.
At some point it was discovered it might actually be possible to nominate a liberal candidate and a conservative candidate of deep conviction who knew the law, had deep convictions, could debate one another with mutual respect, and even liked one another in the midst of their differing perspectives. This is what happened.
The result was to strengthen the Supreme Court with outstanding justices who would uphold the rule of law and the constitution with strong conviction. At the same time they could collaborate with one another, debate one another as colleagues, and not compromise their convictions. They could potentially come up with collaborative rulings that created a new synergy.
With this in mind let’s look at three critical understandings about collaboration.
Critical Understandings about Collaboration
First, collaboration in a Christian ministry context does not involve compromise or the discovery of common ground. This is the folly of government legislative processes, and labor vs. management negotiations.
Collaboration seeks higher ground that is greater than the sum of the parts and uses the strengths of collaborators to develop new, innovative ways of Christian ministry action.
Compromise often settles into a common ground that is lower or less stable than the starting point for any of the collaborators. Collaboration at its best seeks to build a new synergy of efforts that is higher or more substantial than the starting point for any of the collaborators.
Collaboration is a wise process built on a solid foundation.
Second, collaboration in a Christian ministry context does not involve conforming to one another or emulating what someone else is doing. This is the path of least resistance that develops a short-term fix for Christian ministries without having to deal with deeper solutions around vision, passion, the unique gifting of each ministry, and the hidden creativity and innovation present within each ministry. It may be a beginning point of transition, but it is not the ending or fulfillment point.
Within each Christian ministry is a unique gifting of God that must be brought to the surface and expressed. Each Christian ministry has a unique purpose, core values, and vision to express within God’s world. Collaboration can happen with other Christian ministries who share a common overall mission in God’s world, and where a synergy of multiple efforts will increase the capacity of each to serve with success, significance, and surrender.
Third, the best collaboration efforts involve three or more Christian ministries or dimensions of various ministries. The power of three is synergistic. Two collaborating ministries generally focus dialogue on issues of, “Shall we do it your way or our way?” When three or more ministries collaborate a new synergy and culture has to be developed. Therefore, creativity, innovation, and the possibilities of new learnings and the invention of new depths of ministry are much greater.
With these critical understandings in mind in the next article let’s address the direction and diversity of collaboration.