Collaboration, a path to a Healthy Church

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Message’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form] It’s time to look at the beginning of the “how.”  How will Metokos guide your church to being a revitalized place? The answer is, by reminding you of what it means to collaborate.

In her stash of English-teacher books, my wife has an old book by S.I. Hiyakawa entitled Choose the Right Word.  Organized sort of like a dictionary, the book gives “distinctions between synonyms concisely explained, with examples for more than 6000 commonly used words.”  I mention this book because of its role of raising awareness of word distinctions.  It does not contain every word in the English language – and alas, I cannot point to it to help us with our examination of the precise meaning of collaborate.  So, let’s build our own mental picture.

Collaboration has two sides. In WWII, collaborators were traitors who worked for and served the occupying Nazis.  That would be a negative image, right?  But on the other side, America has historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence that are the result of the collaborative work of many men.  Within our church we have the Westminster Standards written by a collaborative council that began with 121 members, with 19 others added over 10 years to produce a confession of faith and two catechisms.

Okay, but how do people envision collaboration today – in the here and now of the 21st century?  For many people in your church, collaboration sounds like just another buzzword from work that they heard when management presented them with the latest and greatest in the never-ending mishmash of management culture and workshops for reinvention – again.  People seem to hear or see the prefix – CO – and think it begins a whole set of synonyms – cooperation, coordination, collaboration – all meaning teamwork.   Metokos wants folks to go beyond the CO and see the root word.  People who LABOR, or WORK, together PUT THINGS IN ORDER and OPERATE, or DO THINGS, or MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.  Am I splitting hairs?  Well, maybe, but the goal here is to think with precision about the task to get your church where God wants it to be.

Simply put, for Metokos, collaboration means working together as co-laborers to complete a common assigned mission. The role of Metokos is to act out the verb-ness of the Greek word and “come alongside” your church to help you all collaborate.

Theories and schools of thought on the process of collaboration are like an ocean which can drown you.  Tap your search engine and the waves will come at you.  I like some of the TED talks on the topic, but for context, note the date and the place.  Remember, we can overthink “How to” and never get around to actually starting to collaborate to achieve that common goal.

If your organizational culture is going to foster collaboration there must be an attitude of trust, a commitment to open communication, and a sense by all the members of the organization (your church) that they have value, not only within the organization, but also within any shared work sub-group.  So you see, first and foremost, collaboration is an attitude; then it is followed by the fact that it is a process.  How do we make choices, plans, and goals – then, how do we accomplish it all through resources and people?

Collaboration is one of many ways, as Bilbo Baggins would say, to journey there and back again.

It is a process leadership tool – not the only process leadership tool there is. I use the phrase “leadership tool” because there needs to be 100% support from organizational leadership in order for collaboration to take root in an organization – in our context, a church – as a process to get things done. If leadership withholds trust and communication from its collaboration group/team, any efforts underway will fail. This attitude of trust and open communication must begin at the top of leadership as the leaders give a mission to others, and encourage them to accomplish that mission. An investment in training in the collaborative process can reduce learning curves and exhibit support for the people named to the group/team to accomplish a mission. Senior leaders also must be willing to provide coaching for their collaboration team members – either by themselves or other people who have collaborative experience.

Time limits are another feature of collaboration to undertake and accomplish a mission. Once the group/team selection is complete, the organization leadership gives the group its commission to accomplish its mission and the group goes to work.  When the mission is accomplished, the group disbands.

So, complete agreement/endorsement by leadership; coaching; time limits are all part of the collaboration process.  What should the group/team in the process look like?  To accomplish a common task or mission, the group/team needs to be diverse.  The diversity is not simply diversity for diversity’s sake – the diversity takes it cue from the church membership, the community where the church is physically located, and the target ministry community.  Remember those 3Es of Don MacNair’s – economics, education, and ethnicity. The aim of diversity in the collaboration team/group is to get the most complete solution or action plan, or the most comprehensive identification of needed resources or training.

For some church members – and leaders – diversity for the collaborative team might be something new.  Having women, people of different ethnicities, or people without a college degree will be a new thing. Often churches will look for people who are successful by worldly standards:  well-off economically, educated, in a leadership position at work, for example. That coaching mentioned earlier needs to come to play in this diverse environment as the group/team members seek to understand their roles and functions, as well as the goals for this diverse group/team. I will say it again, without training and coaching any team will fail. Any measure of success requires an investment from the leadership.

Often church members can bring collaborative team/group experience from their place of work. A church seeking to assemble a collaborative group/team should draw from that resource. Both leaders and group members need to be ready for people with this experience to have little time for indecisiveness.  Indecisiveness is often code for “we are not serious about change, openness or the collaborative process that brings other people into the change process in our church/organization.”

Age can be a real boon to the element of diversity. One church had a female high school student on the revitalization team. She suggested the idea of the church sponsoring community bonfires with hot dogs and marshmallows after home football games. The aim of her suggestion was to attract people from the community where the common narrative was, “There is nothing to do in our town.” The church invested in her idea and they got to know their neighbors in a new way – neighbors they would not have met without those community bonfires. The church grew because the community began to see the church as a welcoming group in a small town with a “nothing to do” narrative. What community narrative can your church rewrite through a collaborative process?

A healthy church, a revitalized church, uses all the resources God has brought together. Often leadership feels – or at least gives off the vibe – “we can do it all.” They don’t encourage or develop for use all the resources God has brought together in the local church. Collaboration is a leadership tool that brings people together – people who often are overlooked by leadership because they are not part of a leadership team already.  The training of leaders teaches them how to look for others with leadership potential. Leadership potential is good, of course, but for the revitalization of a church, the first need is for co-laborers, collaborators. As you look toward revitalization be sure to see both the forest and the trees together in the people already around you.

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