The social and relational skills learned in preschool are often forgotten in our staff, committee or personal relationships at church. Those developmental life skills such as sharing, cooperation, conflict resolution, respect, compromise, interdependence, patience, kindness and empathy are easily ignored when we are trying to guard our territory.
Not always expecting to get your way, not being a bully, not resolving conflict with kind words, not being tolerant of the needs of others and not seeing things from another’s point of view are often set aside in order to protect our own preferences and perceived rights.
The egocentric world of preschoolers that evolved into healthy relationships can spontaneously resurface when the focus, vision or practices of a congregation start to move in new directions. Instead of adjusting our actions according to the needs of the congregation and in response to those early-learned relational skills, we often revert back to an attempt to get our own way without considering the cost or consequences. The community relationship which should model that we’re all in this together actually means we’re all in this together as long as I am in it more.
Congregations that are intentionally collaborative, by contrast, are not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. They consider and leverage the creative abilities and resources of all in the planning, preparation and implementation. They are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit, so they understand sacrifice and humility. The default of a collaborative congregation is always trust in the combined input of the whole.
In the book by Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems, Gray defines collaboration as “a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.” In other words, take turns, play fair and share.
Congregational collaboration is nothing new. Churches just need to be reminded of what they once learned. When they do it gives new meaning to the scripture, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).