Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

tandem oneOk so enough Vanilla Ice.

Collaboration. Partnership.

Familiar words that we hear often. Concepts that we believe in and value. A reality we experience? Despite much noise how much do we see it worked out on the ground? Between different organisations? Or churches?

Here in Ireland, in areas with lots of churches or very few churches it is usually a suprise to find them working together.

But it’s not just about churches. In the area where I live there are lots of organisations and local government bodies providing services that are so badly needed. It’s not right that for many boys growing up in parts of inner city Dublin, their best hope of making money is dealing drugs. There are huge issues with education, crime and employment in our local area. Imagine if we all began to tackle them together or at least co-ordinate as we tackle different pieces of the puzzle.

It is beginning to happen.

Local businesses and multinational corporations based on one street are working together to plant flowers, repaint derelicit buildings, add art and lobby the council. My local church is joining in. If we live out a theology of the Body (Romans 12), then we shouldn’t be coming late to the party – surely we should be the ones sparking regeneration?

What are the shifts we need to make if we are to practice collaboration?

Plan for the long haul

We live in an instant world. Bringing change, renewal, development, Kingdom building is a long term process. Yet sometimes we run out of patience. We opt to go it alone because it’s quicker, and may seem easier. Deep seated renewal on this island won’t happen overnight. It requires the hard work of relationship building. Of listening. Of understanding each other and getting really clear on what we mean, on our expectations, on what will be involved. Of getting it wrong and trying again. Of patience. Of extending trust and earning trust. All of which takes time.

In 1998 I met families in Tanzania who couldn’t afford what was a tiny sum of money to me to send their children to primary school. At that time a coalition of charities, churches, individuals and governments came together to cancel debt – firstly through Jubilee 2000 and then Make Poverty History. Today children in Tanzania recieve free primary education. It took time and it needed collaboration. One charity alone couldn’t have done it.

Be prepared to give up power and control

Collaboration requires shared goals. For the sake of those we serve. Not one agenda beating the other into submission. Collaboration requires sacrificing our ego and brand at the altar of service. It means not holding so tightly to our brand that we torpedo our purpose. Despite how deep down we want our name to be the one in shining lights. All for the sake of those who need our help, our skills, who need us to walk alongside them. Do they need to know it was X organisation or Y not Z church? Or do they need to simply know Jesus was at the centre?

We follow a Messiah who in giving up His power defeated the earthly and heavenly powers. This is a daily challenge for me when I feel the need to prove myself or what my organisation is doing. I and we need to learn more to be led by the One who gives away and gives up His power.

Learn to do conflict well

Maybe an oxymoron in our part of the world.

Collaboration requires clarity, focus and a commitment to shared goals that truly benefit those we seek to serve. This isn’t easy. It’s hard enough in a marriage and that’s just two people. Bringing together organisations and churches with differing values and priorities is even harder. We need to learn to put the hard work in and bear the discomfort in order to learn to do constructive conflict well and learn how to deal with destructive conflict healthily when it emerges.

If we are to partner for the long haul, to pursue clarity and seek the interests of those we serve ahead of our own conflict is inevitable.

The good news is our family business is reconciliation. It’s time to relearn that family business. And when those around us see how we love each other….

I want to practice collaboration. I want to see long term deep rooted change because we collaborate instead of compete.

What are the obstacles we need to overcome?

What steps can we take together along that journey this week?

A previous version of this article originally appeared on www.askwhatnow.org

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