Collaborating in Humility

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I recently wrote a blog post about leaning into humility during these uncertain, rapidly changing times. I wrote it because so many of the ministry leaders I have been working with lately are looking for definitive answers on how to move forward with programming plans when there aren’t many firm answers to offer. 

Truthfully, often the caller is looking for me to confirm their opinion in order to go back to a ministry leader or pastor with more or stronger ammunition for a particular strategy they are promoting, only to receive a “Maybe, but have you also thought about . . . ” response from me. I know that this is frustrating, but let’s be honest: these are frustrating times where the grey areas far outweigh the well defined ones. 

So, I believe that we are all being called to practice deep, intentional humility because more than ever we don’t know what we don’t know.

One concrete way to practice humility is to intentionally participate in collaborative relationships or projects. Too often congregations and individual ministry leaders are trying to be lone rangers, trying to navigate uncharted territory on their own. I understand that there is a great deal of control and some perceived efficiencies when working solo, but more often than not when we work alone we can also become our own capacity bottlenecks or barriers to our own success. 

Collaboration opens up the possibility of seeing something in a new way or learning from a collaborator’s unique approach. More important, collaboration can be a doorway to hopefulness when individuals or congregations find themselves stuck. But it takes a humble heart to seek these new perspectives.

Perhaps think of these collaborative projects as training grounds in humility. Collaboration is generative, requiring us to be open and vulnerable with each other while at the same time offering us opportunities to practice both of these virtues. One of the anthems from recent projects in which I have been able to participate is the rallying cry of “High Trust, Low Ego.”

Ideally, collaborations take place between groups or congregations who are very different from each other. Too often, individuals or congregations reach out to people they perceive will be just like them, more likely to agree with predetermined assessments or strategies. This is called confirmation bias, the natural tendency to search for, interpret,or lean toward information that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. 

This bias might make us feel validated, but it can leave us stuck in unhelpful patterns. Collaborating with those who might approach the issue in a new or different way can help us experience things with a fresh perspective, challenging us to be creative and open to a variety of solutions to a problem. 

For example, here are some questions to consider:

  • What would it look like for your congregation to partner with a congregation in your neighbourhood to tackle a local challenge like food insecurity? How might the shared understanding of the situation or the expanded networking opportunities help both congregations to make a more significant contribution toward creating food security?

  • How might you be a sister supporter to a congregation serving a particular inner city neighbourhood in order to learn about new ways to minister to the underserved in your own context? 

  • If this seems like a stretch, where might collaboration happen within your own congregational ministries? How might a joint effort between 3 or 4 ministries teach the congregation about the values of collaboration and then spur them to step out of their comfort zone to collaborate outside the church walls? 

Maybe even thinking about what collaboration might look like seems daunting. How will we talk about or dream about difficult things with people we don’t know well? One resource that might help your congregation or group get started is Colossian Forum, a ministry where groups can practice hopeful conversations even about difficult topics.

For me, humble, teachable hearts and collaborative efforts usher in hope because together they create a place for hopeful action to begin to shape a new horizon of possibility, which author Andy Crouch names in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. When we listen deeply and share freely, new things begin to happen. We learn to rise to the challenge as well as pick each other up when we fail together. Hope is always more tangible when it’s experienced by fellow believers working together. 

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I love the vulnerability this post highlights.  As a church leader, I want to have the answers. And yet, humility invites an environment of inquiry, creativity and wondering. The questions you include here are very good especially looking within our own congregation to see where we might bridge efforts in ministry so that we can gain some muscle memory for collaboration into our communities. 

It was very tempting, in this time of COVID, to make decisions unilaterally because the process is simpler and we had trouble getting meetings together.  However, messy and time-consuming as collaboration can be, in the long run it encourages participation and thus ownership of decisions by more people.  It is important that we take the time to listen to each other.  Thank you for addressing this concern.