Theology of Collaboration

I've been very excited about the development of a collaborative network forming in Cleveland among Christian ministries. The group that I help to lead is called "Collaborate for a Greater Cleveland." Our last meeting featured Chuck Warnock speaking on a theology of collaboration. Chuck recently wrote an article in Leadership Journal entitled, "Learn to Partner," detailing how he and his small church were able to make significant Kingdom advances for the good of his community through partnering with others in his community.

This past week, he spoke to us at Cleveland's City Mission about a theology of collaboration. At his blog, Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, Chuck gives this outline on collaboration:

1. Self-limitation. You can call this giving up control, recognizing the equality of others, or partnering. Whatever you call it, the incarnation of Christ is the theological example, and Philippians 2:5-11 is the biblical basis. The point is that genuine collaboration does not occur if the parties are not perceived to be equal participants.
2. Values “otherness.” Pat Keifert’s excellent book, Welcoming The Stranger, points out that we must recognize the “otherness” of God in order to find intimacy with God. The same is true in our hospitality to others — we open ourselves to them and their differences, valuing “otherness” as part of the collaborative process.
3. Recognizes that which unites us. Doctrines divide the world Christian community. And, that’s the purpose of doctrine — to express the convictions that make Methodists different from Baptists, and Baptists different from Pentecostals. But, practices (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for children) can unite us. We can collaborate on practices without sacrificing our doctrinal distinctives.
4. Commits to becoming companions on a journey. The word “fellowship” has its origins in the concept that those on board the same sailing ship were dependent upon each other for a safe and harmonious passage — they were “fellow-shippers” committed to making a journey together. Collaboration of specific projects or ministries calls us to “travel” together on a journey toward our mutual destination.
5. Re-unifies God’s creation. When we collaborate with others in a common cause — particularly if we partner with businesses, governments, civic groups, or other communities that are not thought of as faith communities — we are re-uniting the sacred/secular divide that emerged from the Enlightenment. We begin to see all good as God’s good, whether it credits faith in God or not. So, churches can work with businesses to establish a food pantry, or homeless shelter, or childcare center because these are practices that God encourages.

In the emerging church, we need to figure out ways to partner with other ministries and other institutions in our communities for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God. We need to learn how to leverage our strengths and do a better job of mission. The past century saw too much infighting and jockeying for position among Christian ministries and churches that should have been collaborating to reach their community with the good news of Jesus Christ.

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chuck@goodthoughts.net said...

Hi, Bob, thanks for posting this on collaboration. I'd love to hear from your readers about their experiences in collaborating with others in transforming their communities. Look forward to reading more on vanguard church!
-- Chuck

Fred said...

Collaboration is one of those things that we'd like to see happen, but far too often, churches are too tightly committed to their own "turf" to make it really happen.

In my town, pastors get together to "pray for the city." We leave feeling that we are "united" and that we've done our bit. But when it comes down to the truth, we have accomplished nothing.

Just another well-intentioned little prayer meeting. No kingdom advancement.


joe said...

we all too often think our collaborations have to be these huge always and forever things. it is important to collaborate and work with each other to advance the kingdom. start small, like praying together and venture out little by little. i guess i am too much of an optimist at times too.

Jim Henry said...

I'm with Fred.

Chuck, I suppose that in a small town like yours such a thing is possible. But in our city in California, cooperation and partnership seems impossible. There is simply no trust.