During my presentation at The City Mission workshop in Cleveland on Thursday, I mentioned the need to develop a theology of collaboration.  Collaboration is hot right now, and you can see evidence of folks working together in such diverse examples as wikipedia, chaos and systems theory, and barcamp.  Collaboration has the following characteristics:

  1. Self-limitation.  You can call this giving up control, recognizing the equality of others, or partnering.  Whatever you call it, the incarnation of Christ is the theological example, and Philippians 2:5-11 is the biblical basis.  The point is that genuine collaboration does not occur if the parties are not perceived to be equal participants.
  2. Values “otherness.”  Pat Keifert’s excellent book, Welcoming The Stranger, points out that we must recognize the “otherness” of God in order to find intimacy with God.  The same is true in our hospitality to others — we open ourselves to them and their differences, valuing “otherness” as part of the collaborative process.
  3. Recognizes that which unites us.  Doctrines divide the world Christian community.  And, that’s the purpose of doctrine — to express the convictions that make Methodists different from Baptists, and Baptists different from Pentecostals.  But, practices (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for children) can unite us.  We can collaborate on practices without sacrificing our doctrinal distinctives.
  4. Commits to becoming companions on a journey.  The word “fellowship” has its origins in the concept that those on board the same sailing ship were dependent upon each other for a safe and harmonious passage — they were “fellow-shippers” committed to making a journey together.  Collaboration of specific projects or ministries calls us to “travel” together on a journey toward our mutual destination.
  5. Re-unifies the God’s creation.  When we collaborate with others in a common cause — particularly if we partner with businesses, governments, civic groups, or other communities that are not thought of as faith communities — we are re-uniting the sacred/secular divide that emerged from the Enlightenment.  We begin to see all good as God’s good, whether it credits faith in God or not.  So, churches can work with businesses to establish a food pantry, or homeless shelter, or childcare center because these are practices that God encourages. 

More and more, congregations are working with others, leveraging resources and manpower, to accomplish with others what they could not accomplish alone.  More on the biblical basis of this “theology of collaboration” tomorrow.  What do you think?  Are you or your church collaborating with others, particularly outside the church, in common practices or projects?  Let me know, as I believe this is a new wave sweeping our world.