Building on the foundation of two earlier articles, let’s now address the direction and diversity of collaboration. The first article was Compete or Collaborate: The Dilemmas for Christian Ministries, and the second was Critical Understanding About Collaboration for Christian Ministries.
Vertical or horizontal? Harmony or Diversity? How is collaboration best understood and practiced among Christian ministries?
The Direction of Collaboration
Is collaboration vertical or horizontal? Collaborating with different dimensions or levels of denomination is vertical collaboration. Collaborating with people within your same dimension is horizontal collaboration.
In vertical collaboration, as an example, a regional denominational organization or Christian ministry collaborates with a national or international organization in areas of mutual strategic initiatives. The best ones are multi-directional in that the regional entity adds value and learning to the national or international entity, and the regional entity is equally impacted by its partner in collaboration.
One-way efforts are not collaboration, but one entity allowing another entity to do their thing in a new place. Value must be added to each ministry. New learning must occur in all venues. Vertical collaboration often is challenged to produce this added value and new learning for all entities.
Vertical collaboration, if it is not careful, can express a parent-to-child transactional relationship where one Christian ministry sees themselves as superior—the parent—to the other ministry—the child.
Horizontal collaboration is where Christian ministries serving from similar perspectives chose to collaborate to increase the capacity of each to serve with greater effectiveness. Typically there will not be a hierarchy or supervision issue involved in the ongoing relationship between the collaborators. It is substantially equal partners coming together to create a new synergy of efforts.
The best collaboration will be between three or more ministries working around prophetic goals. In a transactional relationship each is an adult so the possibility of a mature relationship is real.
The Diversity of Collaboration
Is collaboration about harmony or diversity? Collaborating with people within a certain affinity group with shared characteristics is harmony collaboration—even harmonious. Collaborating outside a certain affinity group emphasizes diversity, opens up new learning, and stretches perspectives and actions. New learnings are more likely to happen through diversity collaboration.
Easy, quick collaboration often occurs between ministries who are in harmony with one another. These work well as long as leadership egos do not get in the way. They also can be myopic and devoid of new learnings. They simply reinforce existing learnings and create a closed culture that can even become elitist.
They can involve the biblical mantra of the Pharisees saying, “Thank you Lord that I am not like them” when referencing ministries outside their affinity group.
At the same time, they can be a very good starting point for a culture of collaboration. However, maturing ministries will move beyond these collaborations in search of new prophetic insights that look more holistically at collaboration opportunities.
Diversity collaboration among Christian ministries is tougher. It takes longer to initiate, but when successful it is stronger, creates new learning, and often results in more prophetic action.
One risk in diversity collaboration is the tendency to cut short the process of building community as a foundation for collaboration, wanting something to happen quicker, and compromising or conforming. When the goal is collaboration, but it is cut short and compromises are made, or conforming to one position is the result, then group think emerges.
Unfortunately this is what can happen in some ecumenical efforts where denominational organizations compromise their core values and conviction to enjoy the warm feelings of shallow unity. It is really all right to have interdenominational relationships around higher ground initiatives, rather than ecumenical relationships of compromise and conforming.
More cultural and core value understandings must be addressed in diversity collaboration. Theological, missiological, and ecclesiological issues must be addressed. Christian ministries engaged in diversity collaboration must get over the tendency to say, “Those are not our kind of Christians”. Without the ability or maturity to do this they need to stick with harmony collaboration.
Using a baseball analogy as I am writing this the first week of a major league baseball season, in the long-term harmony collaboration at its best is a ground-rule double. Diversity collaboration has the potential to be a homerun—even a grand slam homerun.
When you seek to collaborate with others, in what direction do you collaborate? With what diversity or harmony do you collaborate? What best enhances the mission, purpose, and vision of your Christian ministry?