What Can We Learn From the Collaborator?

Part 2 in a series on life-changing habits

Sometimes God teaches us to swim by gently leading us into shallow waters and then edging us out toward the deeper end of the pool. At other times, He invites us to jump into the deep end.

In my experience, learning to swim in the deep end of the pool teaches me both dependence and interdependence: dependence on God for everything, and interdependence with others to accomplish what I cannot accomplish alone. I served as a worship pastor for nearly 20 fulfilling years, but it all started with a call to dive into the deep end.

Lessons in collaboration

When I was young, I was trained as a classical vocalist in a choir and played the euphonium (think miniature tuba) in a symphonic band. Music was a central part of my life, and worship music was typically represented by a piano on one side of the stage, an organ on the other, a choir and a hymnal in hand.

As a 20-something, my pastor recognized my heart for worship and began investing in me as a leader. Consequently, I had the privilege of being called to serve as the worship leader at the church my wife and I had called home. I’ll never forget the fear that gripped me when, as a young worship pastor who had very little experience working with a band, I stood on the stage to launch a rehearsal with bass and electric guitar players, a pianist, keyboardist, a vocal team of six, and our pastor (yes, the one who had hired me) sitting behind the drum kit looking at me for direction.

I needed to develop a collaborative culture in which team members, in relationship with one another, could freely integrate their gifts into the whole.

I learned to swim in the deep end of worship leadership and began to learn what became a key lesson for me. I discovered that I did not need to be an expert in every instrument in the band to be a successful leader. Rather, I needed to develop a collaborative culture in which team members, in relationship with one another, could freely integrate their gifts into the whole.

My experience as a worship leader taught me that I was an orchestrator. God gave me eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart that longs for the beauty of what can be created through the collaboration of gifted people. In the realm of music, it’s the melding of tones, pitches and lyrics that God created to engage the heart. In the world of missions, where I now serve with ReachGlobal Africa, it’s the uniting of a multiplicity of diverse people to accomplish what we cannot do as individuals. This is the beauty of the body of Christ that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13.

Embracing the Collaborator

Both truth and lies exist within every culture of the world. The cultures who thrive and best glorify God are those that align themselves with His character.

One of the lies that permeates my culture as an American is that of rugged individualism. Individualism, or the belief that we can do it all on our own, seems to be in the very air we breathe. When we believe this lie, we minimize our dependence on God and neglect to embrace the essence of His triune nature. We also fail to recognize how He has designed us to accomplish His purposes in collaboration with others.

God is collaborative in His very core. In perfect community, each person of the Trinity plays a unique role in the makeup of who God is and how He relates with humankind. The Father is the initiator who sent the Son. He loves the Son and gave Him works to be accomplished. He also loves the world and thus initiated His great plan of salvation through the Son and the Spirit (John 3, 6). Jesus never worked independently of the Father but always in collaboration with Him, humbling Himself even to the point of death on the cross for the Father’s glory and our salvation (Philippians 2). In the same way, the Spirit plays a role as the helper, guide, counselor, indweller, intercessor and seal (John 15, 16; Romans 8; Ephesians 1).

Unfortunately, a culture of independence often casts a monochromatic shadow over the beautiful kaleidoscope of the collaborative work of the Trinity. We best reflect the nature of our Creator when we, as His Body, learn to accomplish His purposes in collaboration with one another.

Collaboration applied

Within ReachGlobal, we define collaborative work as being “committed to working interdependently, sharing our diverse skills, gifts, knowledge, and experience to achieve our common purpose.”

Collaboration bears fruit through the relationships God has given and our commitment to work in concert with others.

There are two important ingredients in this definition that help to define collaboration: “working interdependently” and “to achieve our common purpose.” Beyond the sharing of ideas and resources (networking), collaborative work requires both relationships and a common purpose. Collaboration bears fruit through the relationships God has given and our commitment to work in concert with others, using our unique contributions toward the accomplishment of our shared purposes.

In the ReachGlobal Africa division, we seek to embrace this truth and develop a habit of collaboration that continually impacts our thoughts and actions. Let me share one example of how this is being fleshed out.

Gil is a missionary in Tanzania who started a Bible school for African pastors and leaders. He and his teammates have developed a two-year curriculum that is adapted and contextualized for the Tanzanian culture and is applicable in many other parts of Africa.

Recognizing the value of what Gil and his team has developed, Merle, a member of our leadership team, saw a potential collaborative opportunity with SPEAR, an African ministry with whom we share a healthy relationship and common purposes that have formed a basis for partnering together in ministry. SPEAR’s objective is to equip rural pastors in Kenya with much needed biblical training and has a network of more than 1,500 pastors with whom they are working.

Merle, in conjunction with SPEAR, invited Gil to travel with him from Tanzania to Kenya to meet with the leaders of SPEAR and present the biblical training to them. SPEAR recognized this training as a core tool to equip the rural pastors in their network. In 2019, Gil will be traveling to Kenya one week out of each month to train SPEAR leaders in teaching this curriculum. These teachers will in turn train the entire SPEAR network of pastors.

As a leader, I am overjoyed when I consider the potential fruit that God will bring out of our vision to work interdependently in collaboration with our teams and partners in Africa. Gil’s collaboration with SPEAR bears the potential for 1,500 rural pastors in Kenya to be equipped with solid, contextualized biblical training. Gil and his team have the training, and SPEAR has the relationship with rural pastors. Together, in the context of a healthy relationship and a common purpose, we are accomplishing things that we could never accomplish alone.

Collaboration between churches

Collaboration can take many forms. As I’ve considered our efforts in developing a habit of collaboration in the ReachGlobal Africa division, I’ve also thought about our EFCA churches. The following questions may help you, as a church leader or member, assess the habit of collaboration in your church family.

  • What would it look like for your church to think more collaboratively?
  • How might God use the gifts of your church and its leaders in combination with the gifts of other churches and leaders to bring transformation to your community? (Read some ideas from Bob Osborne on how churches can practically share with one another.)
  • Are leaders in your church encouraged to see the bigger picture of what God is doing beyond their ministry? Do they have permission to think outside of their own boxes?
  • How are you creating leadership environments where leaders are given time and encouraged to invest into collaborative work that will strengthen the greater Body?

As a leader, I believe that one of the greatest gifts that I can give those whom I’ve been called to serve is a culture in which they can thrive. The habits that we are seeking to develop within the ReachGlobal Africa division of story, collaboration and rest are intended to foster this culture. As leaders, we desire to help people within the division see who they are and all that they do as a part of God’s story, motivated to use their gifts collaboratively in His Body.

In the next and final article, we’ll look at God as the “Originator of Rest” and consider the potential impact of the development of a habit of rest. In the meantime, think outside of your ministry box and consider ways to collaborate with others to accomplish something that you could never accomplish alone.

For the first part in this series, read “What Can We Learn From the Storyteller?

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