God never did anything alone.
As practitioner, not a theologian, unpacking the intricacies of Trinitarian fellowship and collaboration is beyond the reach of my little brain and the scope of this article. Simply put, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were always up to something together. “The Son can do nothing by himself” Jesus declared, “he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
I’m an entrepreneur. I love to birth and build things. Over the course of my career I have rarely worked in a position with a job description that I haven’t crafted for myself, on a vision that hasn’t been birthed in my heart. My entrepreneurship can and has been a blessing to me and to the people around me, but I have learned over the years that a spirit of entrepreneurship needs to be married to a spirit of collaboration in order to bear the fruit that God desires. Yes, God wants us to build. But more importantly, He wants us to build together.
In the North American church and ministry context, we know how to build. We receive vision and direction from the Lord – are given a ministry or idea to steward and develop. In our desire to guard and protect the stewardship He has entrusted to us, we hold it close to our heart like a football quarterback on a surprise run to the end zone, protecting it and evading possible opponents. Those who come in our path are categorized as possible tools to strengthen that which we are building, or possible threats to the vision. And all of this feels very responsible and holy to us because we are, after all, trying to do only what we see the Father doing. Collaboration, in our eyes, means gathering enough people around us as we build, placing each one as a brick in the edifice we are constructing.
These mindsets and methodologies would likely have Jesus shaking his head in perplexity. He was raised in a tribal, community based culture, far removed from the raging individualism of our North American experience.
So how do we move towards what I believe to be a more Biblical, and what I know to be a way more enjoyable and exciting way of partnering with God and one another?
Let’s start with vision. Ministry often begins in a moment of inspiration – an epiphany where our eyes are opened in some way to where God is at work around us. Here is where the problems can begin, unless we are aware that we don’t see the whole picture. At best, we are like someone standing in the middle of a room, trying to verbally describe what is in our line of sight. We can see the room – well, some of it. But even if we had highly developed peripheral vision, we would be unable to describe every view and vantage point of our surroundings. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:9, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part,”. Receiving vision and direction from the Lord is one thing. Contextualizing what we receive in light of the larger community and the bigger picture is a secondary and I believe critical step that many of us miss.
Here is a fictitious example. George, in his morning quiet time, reads Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Somehow it is highlighted to his heart and he begins to receive a flow of inspiration and ideas about ministering to the homeless in his community. He goes to his pastor, asks if the church can begin a ministry to the homeless. He begins to recruit people to his vision and wrestle in committee meetings for a slice of the church home missions budget. When other new ministries birth at the church, George feels protective and vaguely resentful that the church resources are being spread so thin, especially when he can’t get enough volunteers as it is. And he can’t understand why the church down the street won’t let him share from their pulpit about his ministry.
Sound familiar? It does to me. I see it all the time. Has George heard from the Lord? Likely. Is he responsibly developing and stewarding that which he has been entrusted with? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
How do we move away from individualistic mindsets and methodologies and move towards community and collaboration? In subsequent sections, I will share my thoughts, based on my experience (mostly my mistakes) over the last ten years of serving and building collaboration in the prayer movement.