One great myth about collaboration is that it is easy. Another is you’re already doing it. In fact it is challenging but when done well it is a rewarding sign of a healthy, growing community. Not since the early church has there been such momentum for collaboration as the Spirit is activating in our time.
As we in the Wellington Archdiocese move slowly but steadily into pastoral areas with pastoral area teams, collaboration is the way the archdiocese has chosen to move forward.
In his address on the spirituality of collaborative ministry, Archbishop John Dew quoted Novo Millennium Ineunte:
we cannot have a spiritually of communion unless we are able to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a gift for me’! A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to ‘make room’ for our brothers and sisters,’ bearing each other’s burdens and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.
How does collaboration work?
It requires all of us to learn to honour the different ways people see, feel and act, and to blend those differences together in an environment of safety, respect and prayerful openness. When true collaboration is achieved, the gifts it brings include lively dialogue, genuine caring, group wisdom born of prayerful discernment and a sense of the presence of God.
Firstly there needs to be a deep respect for the gifts of each person, and honouring of those gifts. The rich biblical concept of gift is clear in the writings of St Paul: collaboration is enhanced when the gifts of the entire people of God are identified and released in ministry and service in order to foster or extend the reign of God.
Secondly, there needs to be a commitment to the ideals of shared power, shared leadership, and mutuality, sensitively avoiding any expressions of patriarchy, of paternalism. Power dynamics and domination are explicitly shunned when we seek to collaborate. Power is shared, not confined to one person. There is designated leadership, but it is one that enables, encourages, facilitates, and guides.
Thirdly, there is an environment of safety for all where everyone is committed to a way of being together that does not dismiss or demean anyone’s ideas, rush to judgment or disrespect another person in any way. Although conflict is inevitable in a collaborative setting there needs to be a desire to resolve it.
Fourthly, prayer is to be at the heart of collaboration. While any action may be good, it is not ministry unless it is an expression and an overflow of one’s relationship with God.
Fifthly, there is a strongly held sense of shared commitment and common mission and purpose. Members have a shared vision and that mission is to the forefront of all activities.
Sixthly, there is a genuine care for each other. This is expressed through prayer, support and respectful challenge. There is a consistency of behaviour, a following through of commitments, an affirmation and acceptance of each other, avoidance of judging each other, avoiding stereotypes and being trustworthy and honest.
Seventhly, there are opportunities to reflect and evaluate. This results in trust, growth and quality service.
Eighthly, all parties need to be open. No one person holds all the truth or has all the talents. Being open to learning new skills, perspectives and insights from each other will lead to good relationships.
Ninthly, it is important to celebrate together. Teams work better when they have fun experiences.
So, collaboration is hard but worth the effort. It is worth pursuing not just because of the benefits involved and for those whose lives are touched by their ministry, but because it is more God’s style—more respectful, more holistic, more loving, and more alive with the action of the Spirit.
Sources: Loughlan Sofield, Carroll Juliano, Kathy Hasty.