3 Critical Elements to Building Collaborative Ministries

‘Collaborative’ is a particularly popular descriptor that excites ministry leaders today. Like its cousins ‘missional’ and ‘incarnational,’ it attempts to capture a unique temperament of the ministry enterprise. Namely, the desire to seek partnership in mission and values through the contribution of a number of uniquely different voices.

But what are we saying and what are we doing in our efforts to build ‘collaborative’ ministries? How do we know when we are being collaborative and how do we discern when we aren’t or shouldn’t be?

Shared Purpose

First, collaboration begins with identifying a shared purpose. There are many different motivating influences in our ministries, such as:

  • Self-interest – where ‘I/we’ want this to go and what ‘I/we’ want to get out of it.
  • Tradition – where ‘we’ have been and how that past story and DNA determines where we ought to go.
  • Emotion/Affection – what ‘feels’ right, what excites our community, what breaks our hearts, etc.
  • Shared purpose – what are the values that form our mission and who shares those same values and that same mission.

Collaboration begins with a commitment to work with those who have a shared purpose, defined by both shared values and shared mission. This is a both/and, not an either/or.

Consider what happens when you collaborate with ministry partners who share your values but not our mission. Initially, you may sense a lot of personal affinities with the group’s leadership. Eventually, however, you will experience frustration as your work will constantly diverges into different directions.

Conversely, if we begin to collaborate with partners who share our mission but not our values, we will experience conflict on the level of leadership and process. The ends cannot justify the means, when the means embody radically different values. Compromising on either of these will compromise not only impair the collaborative effort, but your ministry’s identity and credibility.

However, when we discover an alignment in both values and mission, we discover a worthwhile prospective ministry partner and should explore collaborative opportunities.

Shared Process

Second, collaboration should be defined and designed through a shared process. Once we discover a potential partner with an alignment of values and mission, the next question is “what are we working on together?”

If you don’t have an answer to this question, that’s ok, it just means you’re not yet collaborating. You’re prayerfully exploring possibilities.

Define: Determine together the goals of your collaboration, detail the resources each group is willing to invest in the work and set expectations for the future. Is this partnership a one-and-done relationship for the purpose of one defined event or ministry effort? Or is this more open-ended, with the possibility of future collaboration and a deepening relationship?

Design: Determine together how you will communicate with one another, who will be the primary voices in the communication process and ultimately how decisions will be made. Adler, Heckscher, and Prusak call this “participative centralization.” Participative because it welcomes and values everyone’s contribution to the process and centralized because ultimately the ideas and input need to be coordinated in a way that keeps the project on track and moves the project forward. (See “Building a Collaborative Enterprise”, in Harvard Business Review July-August 2011, by Paul Adler, Charles Hecksche, Laurence Prusak)

Defining and designing the shared process of collaboration at first may feel forced and counter to the spirit of mutuality that birthed the relationship in the first place. But as with any healthy relationship expectations need to be clearly defined and work flow needs to be clearly designed. Defining and designing will ensure that neither group dominates the process, while at the same time ensuring that someone is making decisions and the work is moving forward in a way that everyone supports.

Shared Practice

Finally, shared practice is another way of saying that everyone shows up, makes a meaningful contribution and honors their commitment through the process from beginning to end. Shared practice is characterized by sincerity and charity.

Everyone remembers the group project experience from high school or college, in which more than 80% of the work was completed by less than 20% of the group. Shared practice does not mean that everyone invests equally, but it does mean that everyone invests meaningfully. Partners can vary radically in terms of the size and scale of their staff, ministry network and resources.

In most cases, there should not be an expectation that partners contribute equal parts to the process, unless that is clearly articulated during the ‘define and design’ conversation. A meaningful contribution means that each participant recognizes the importance of the shared goal, values the investment of the others and willingly contributes time, energy and resources to the shared project.

The Most Excellent Way

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul offers what has become for the church the dominant metaphor for our being – the Body.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

This body does not just work towards whatever end it chooses. As Paul writes in v. 31, And yet I will show you the most excellent way. The most excellent way, we discover in 1 Corinthians 13, is the way of Love. Love is the beginning and end of every collaborative ministry. Love is the invitation and the manifestation of partnering with others in our shared purpose.

To be a loving ministry, we must practice love internally as we show love externally. Collaboration forces us to look beyond our self-interests, our emotional responses and the limitations of our tradition to explore new expressions of loving ministry with others who share our values and mission to love the world.

When we discover these prospective ministry partners, we are challenged to define the relationship, design our processes for working effectively together and dive-in with sincerity and charity into our shared ministry.

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Welford Orrock
Welford Orrock is the Coordinator of the Kairos Initiative where he helps equip and encourage young adults through connected, vibrant collegiate and young adult ministries that are Developing Leaders, Building Community and Moving Missionally.
Welford Orrock

1 Comment

  1. Katie Wilson Aug 5, 2015 Reply

    Hi: I’m Katie I was introduced to your organization through Rob Schneider. I am looking for an organization that can and will connect with the Native American people. I have a calling for the Native People’s. I have reached out to several organizations with little luck, in talking with Rob he highly recommend me to reach out to you. I understand that you are a church planting organization, to which I am interested in finding out if we could be a match to reach out and connect with the Native People’s to share the gospel of peace that comes through faith and knowledge of Christ Jesus.

    I have been praying and asking God to open a door to the Native People’s in the lower 48 states. I have been and worked with the Crow people in 2013-14. in Montana.

    Please feel free to contact me @ colouristic2010@gmail.com. I currently attend First Baptist Church of Woodbridge, Va.

    Thank you
    God bless
    Katie Wilson

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