Asking “why should you collaborate” is a lot like asking “why don’t you sew your own pants?” Sewing my own pants costs more time, money, and headache, and results in pants that look terrible and make me a source of ridicule. On top of this, it is a declaration that I am opting out of the economy of our world.
Most pastors don’t think twice about buying pants at the store, while simultaneously working in a self-reliant silo in ministry. Ego may be partly to blame, but this is largely because of a lack of vision.
Galatians 2:14 makes unity a gospel issue and John 17:23 ties it clearly to the effective witness of the church. As biblical people, we are compelled by our theology to collaborate. But there is another reason for collaboration; to say it bluntly, it’s stupid to sew your own pants.
What if instead of just having a well-developed theology of unity, it was also integrated into your philosophy of ministry?
No single pastor or single congregation has what it takes to meet the tangible and spiritual needs of their community. If you believe that God cares about people who are hungry, sick, uneducated, or imprisoned, then it becomes painfully obvious that we must figure out how to tap into all of the time and talent available to every Christian. We need the whole body working together if we are going to evangelize a city, much less disciple one.
For us, a healthy goal for collaboration is what we have come to call “triple-win projects”. The first “win” is the advancement of our mission. The second is the advancement of the mission of the other group. The third “win” is the clear advancement of God’s kingdom in Buffalo, meeting the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors.
So, how do we ensure that our collaboration is healthy? For us this has looked like building six things in common:
- discovering common vision and passion
- identifying common problems and projects
- building common experiences by spending time together, eating, playing, praying, and working so that we develop a shared history
- sharing resources
- sharing control
- sharing credit
As we attempt to build relationships across denominational, ethnic, and organizational lines, it is very helpful to clarify just how we are sharing these things in common. Read more on the six points of unity here.
It is also helpful to recognize that all relationships take work and involve suffering. A value for collaboration will include tolerance for some degree of misalignment between partners.
Sometimes collaboration in ministry does end up being more costly and less effective than going it alone. You could buy pants that fall apart or cost too much or even discover that the clerk sold your credit information. The lesson here shouldn’t be to avoid collaboration, but rather that not all collaboration is equal. It shouldn’t send us back to our private sewing machines. Instead, we must find appropriate ways to collaborate with partners that we can trust to work together for mutual success and the kingdom’s advancement.
So how do we figure out who to collaborate with? Our church mostly collaborates with those who are within our the geographic area we are focusing on. For others, this might not be driven by geography but some other factor.
Here are a few of the ways that we have collaborated to good effect:
- -We rehabbed an abandoned house with a non-profit that has become a location for ministry and improved the block.
- -We worked with a Christian Community Health Center to create a spiritual care program that provides better care for their patients while opening doors for us to meet and pray for our neighbors
- -We partnered with several congregations and organizations to create a paid internship program that serves the interests of multiple organizations and individuals while being completely self-financed
- -We share a ministry position that employs one person at multiple organizations so that the individual has full-time work and the organizations can save costs
As a church, we have found collaboration to be so important to who we are and how we do mission that we have written it into our strategic plan and our core values. When we strategize we do so with the assumption that our partners are a key resource. Sometimes we even strategize at the same table as our partners!
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Steve and Tamy Schenk moved to Buffalo, NY from Northern California in 2006 to plant the Buffalo Vineyard Church. They live and minister on the Westside of Buffalo, an extremely diverse, historically poor, but rapidly changing neighborhood. Steve is heavily involved in networking and partnership with the larger Body of Christ in the city.