Can Christians Work Together?
One of the influences being felt in world resulting from the worldwide impact of the internet is the value of collaboration.
Any natural tendency of people to want to work together was tabled by the rise of industrialism and the capitalistic spirit. The first entrepreneurs to wrest wealth and power from royalty reveled in their accomplishments—often blind to the contributions of the thousands who made their success possible.
Entitlement was to become a character trait of the common person. We remember the land barons and the great inventors. We forget the slaves, lab assistants and assembly line workers who made their ideas profitable. In the Church these unsung workforce was the legions of stay-at-home moms and grandmoms that provided the labor to run schools, programs, choirs, and mission efforts.
The quest of this era was to attain personal wealth, power and status. Collaboration was risky. Someone might get the best of us or steal our ideas—or our free labor workforce.
The result: We all wore vests and held our cards close.
The world is still a bit like this. But a lot of smart people are starting to see that collaboration allows the doors of success to open for more people.
Working together makes more things possible and makes everyone look good!
Church structure facilitates collaboration on big projects only—things like publishing and large-scale charitable work.
Cookie cutter ministries result—the same model of worship and mission replicated over and over.
Educators have learned that people learn more effectively when they collaborate.
Our congregation was just as guilty. Our few attempts to collaborate were failures.
Collaboration requires communication. This is not a strength of most churches—on any level.
Our congregation encouraged the creation of a neighborhood consortium of churches in East Falls. We left the leadership to pastors. For decades, the consortium resulted in little except round-robin midweek Lenten services—something that lessened the pastors workload.
The tendency of all congregations is to look first at their own survival needs. Collaboration might cost both members and offerings. It meant working at communication.
I can recall very few efforts at inter-church collaboration in my life as a church volunteer.
Occasional attempts to share space always ended in strife. One group sharing our church went behind our back to our denomination and suggested they have first dibs on our property (which wasn't for sale). Their offer? One dollar.
Our attempt to merge with another congregation was foiled by our regional body who wanted to make sure that in the event of failure, remaining assets of both congregations went their way.
When I was a teen, three Lutheran churches in our township tried to join youth groups. It seemed to be working well until one church announced it was taking its ball and going home. One defection killed the whole idea.
On the other hand—
Back in the 1970s, all the churches in our rural township (Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Brethren, and Mennonite) pooled resources to produce an original passion play that attracted busloads of people. Those who took part look back at the several years working on this community project as a highlight of their faith journey.
Collaboration is possible!
The internet opens doors for churches willing to risk collaboration.
The business world has noticed. Today's entrepreneurs look for reciprocal partners or influencers to cooperate in marketing ideas and products. Today's job descriptions emphasize the need to work in teams.
It may be time for the Church to take notice, too. But how?
There are roadblocks.
1. Collaborating with other congregations is not in any job description. Who will initiate?
2. Denominations tend to be self-focused. They are not likely to reward congregations for working outside their box. Where's the incentive?
3. The economics need to be worked out. How will projects be funded? How will any benefits be allocated?
4. Authority disputes might result. Who will be in charge?
5. Collaboration calls for a sense of equality. Will smaller churches be the laborers while larger churches get the press and credit?
6. How will collaborative projects be chosen?
The answers aren’t easy. The failure to find answers means congregations will continue ministry in relative isolation, working in ways young people never learned, and reaching a limited audience with minimal success.
What might be possible if we cracked this nut?
Do you have any answers on how to overcome?