Collaboration -- Gift and Trust

by Rev. Amy Odgren

We're a results-oriented kind of people. We want action and we want it now. We want results and we want them to be favorable in our mind's eye. We want to know the plan and how we're going to get there. Our time and energy are precious and we don't want to waste any of it. After six months of intentional conversation with leadership from both First Lutheran and Our Savior's, after an extensive Ministry Review conducted four months ago which brought about the Common Purpose Relationship Task Force, after five worship services joining these two faith communities in the core practice of who we are as people of God, and after the past two weeks of participating with Our Savior's in CONNECTIONS and Sunday School, I couldn't agree more with some of the thoughts that are written about collaboration. Teams need to form trust which then leads to collaboration.

As I was driving home from the very first CONNECTIONS evening, I felt exhausted but satisfied. And then it hit me…we use the term "collaboration" extensively as we explain how these two congregations are working together. And look at the root words in this term… "co" (together, with, next to, alongside) and "labor" (work, toil, sweat, struggle, to birth and bring about new life). What we're striving for in working cooperatively with Our Savior's is indeed collaboration; we are co-laboring - and it is hard work. But collaboration isn't co-laboring unless trust is present and is the foundation of our actions.

It seems to me that trust with partners is developed over time through a series of successes and ministry opportunities. When things go well, people want to work together again and we become more open to new imagination. But one success doesn't lead to instant trust. In the business world, in order for constant success, project expectations, internal processes, and the scope of the projects need to be clear, organized, and well managed. Some business collaborations have been compared to "starting a mini company" with a myriad of team members and players. So how do we even begin to keep large groups of people on the same page to create these successes - these opportunities?

We are two faith communities co-laboring. We're not starting a mini company - we're trying to be faithful, together, to the mission that God has put in front of all of us. The lived experience within the past short months has taught us that collaboration is complex and difficult. Co-laboring requires commitment, patience, trust, humor, and hard work. From the effort is born a community of love, life and truth that witnesses to God's presence among us. What would it be like if we all stopped for a moment and asked ourselves, "How is what we're doing in working with another congregation within our own fold - another ELCA Lutheran congregation - a witness to God's presence among us?" "Can we work with others who share a common purpose to be a community of love, life and truth?" "Do we trust that God works through this relationship for God's purpose in the world?" "Do we stand in awe or in the way of what God's transformational power might be?"

As people of God, we are all called to be Christ's agents of transformation in the world, serving in different ways and means according to one's gifts and inclinations. To me, collaboration is about trusting that the partner or co-laborer has unique God given gifts just as we do, and as gifts are identified and released, the union of all the gifts in ministry can work for the sake of mission.

The essence of collaborative ministry is gift. Collaboration is never an end in itself; it is a vehicle for ministry. The goal of collaborative ministry is always the mission of Jesus Christ. Gift - Ministry - Mission. Right now, we're discovering those things which God has gifted uniquely to both Our Savior's and First Lutheran. No doubt, we have all been blessed in ways that are remarkable. And as we discover the gifts that we can bring together, we are unfolding a new future that is certain to be stronger together than either one of us can be on our own.

For many years, these congregations simply co-existed. We didn't have much that brought us together. We knew that we had a common history - common purpose and mission - similar membership - but we existed separately from each other - independently from one another with no mutual expectations or accountability. But through the co-laboring process, we are increasingly aware that individuals and programs do not exist in isolation. This dynamic is a movement toward interdependence and the desire to collaborate, rather than compete, seems to go against the grain in most of our memories of what churches have been over the course of our lives.

This is a new day. God is certainly stirring something in our presence and we all seem to be aware of a page turning. We may not know at this juncture how the end product will look, but I hope that we can all see the movement and notice God's hand in the midst of this co-laboring. This is hard labor - this is exciting labor - this is hopeful labor. Collaboration occurs when all the different gifts we have been given are freely joined together in ministry for the common purpose of furthering the mission of Jesus Christ. We're on an incredible journey and it is a privilege to be on it with you. -AO