When we talk about collaboration in the church, we usually are thinking about how to find partners outside our own congregation to help us address a broader issue. We may want to talk with other congregations about how to address racism in the church. Or we may want to partner with other non-profits, government agencies, and the business community to tackle caring for the homeless.
We don’t as often think about how important collaboration can be within a congregation’s own life or within the life of a judicatory. Taking a collaborative approach on problems to which no one has a clear response can release the gifts of God’s people in creative and energizing ways.
Not too long ago, I hosted a webinar on this theme with two colleagues: Sarah Anderson, an associate to the bishop of the New England Synod of the ELCA, and Michelle Snyder, one of my PneuMatrix colleagues.
Sarah told us about the Forward Leadership Community initiative she leads. She gathers a team of the church’s pastor and three lay leaders from a cluster of congregations. She leads them through a year-long engagement that helps them explore the adaptive challenges their churches face and learn from one another what options they might have for engaging them.
Michelle talked about how working with collaboratives takes the pressure off her to have all the answers, allows her to be more present to conversations as they take place, and affirms that all the wisdom the group needs is already in the room.
I explained how collaboratives have been at the heart of Pneumatrix/Center for Healthy Churches work from the very beginning. We pull together a cluster of 8-10 church teams within a single judicatory to work through Tod Bolsinger’s Canoeing the Mountains. We encourage peer-to-peer conversations about where we are on the journey Tod describes and how the Spirit is inviting us to change. One other feature of our work is that we ask the judicatory to recruit apprentices to work with
Here are some of the takeaways that were generated during our conversation. Taking a collaborative approach to issues:
- invites a wider array of voices, perspectives, and spiritual gifts into the conversation
- gives us an opportunity to share any anxiety or shame we feel and then let it go
- allows us to learn from others’ experience (as Michelle said, “I take no shame in stealing good ideas.”)
- when done over videoconferences, it allows us to connect congregations from across the country to work on the same issue
- gives the team the opportunity to take what they’ve learned back to the congregation as a whole and invite others in the church to join the conversation
- creates a context in which we can be open with genuine humility to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our work (I will often say, “Whatever the Spirit is saying to the Church today, it is bubbling up from below in the voices of many people.”)
The next time you’re facing an issue you’re not sure how to address, gather some folks together, invite them to be open to the Holy Spirit as you explore options together, and be prepared for creative possibilities to begin to flow.
If you would like to know more about how to help facilitate a conversation about collaboration, the fine team of Advisors at Pneumatrix/Center for Healthy Churches would be glad to help. For more information about our services, please contact us.
Listen to the webinar series here to hear the whole conversation.