Christianity is a collaborative faith.
In a letter to churches in Corinth, the apostle Paul confronted several congregations that were arguing with each other.
The thrust of his message was that no two churches were alike and each one served a purpose in the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, he wrote, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
Fortunately for us – 2,000 years removed from Paul’s situation – collaboration is still highly valued in our society.
Businesses, organizations and individuals that value collaboration succeed. We have sent men to the moon and rovers to Mars all because of the cooperation of thousands of individuals.
Nonprofit and governmental agencies that promote teamwork are able to combat social ills that have long plagued society.
Churches that cooperate in the public sector not only fulfill part of Jesus’ Great Commission, but also thrive in a marketplace in which the lines between secular and sacred often blur.
Rockdale County, Georgia, where the congregation I pastor is located, enjoys a great deal of collaboration on multiple levels.
The Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families, for instance, hosts a free networking lunch monthly for nonprofits in the area.
I’ve attended several of these lunches, and I’ve met so many different leaders, laborers and clergy who also cherish the value of partnering together to resolve some local issues that need tackling.
Without this network, our congregation would have to go it alone; and, for a church as small as ours, this would mean not being able to reach out as effectively as we hope.
For far too many Christians and churches, however, collaboration still brings with it a sense of fear and anxiety.
Some churches believe that they cannot collaborate with organizations that do not share their exact political or theological beliefs.
They would rather “reinvent the wheel” than partner with another organization that is already making a difference in the local community.
Such churches feel that in order to collaborate they must compromise their convictions. This approach brings with it more issues than one might initially guess.
First, a church that refuses to collaborate assumes that it has all of the answers and knows exactly what a community needs. This is not always the case.
Sometimes, Christians can be so brazen about their theology that it actually works against the impact their church can make in the community. It may also exacerbate needs rather than resolve them.
In other situations, a church that assumes it has all the answers can sometimes fail to ask the right questions.
Where social economic justice is concerned, this can mean the difference between a church enabling dysfunction instead of empowering a community to become economically sustainable.
Failing to assess needs can lead to dependence rather than interdependence or, better, synergy that uses all of the creative gifts that can benefit an entire spiritual ecosystem.
Differences of opinion within Christ’s church are not new. Paul’s admonishment to churches in his own era suggests that divisions and squabbles will always pervade church and society.
Yet, we must be passionate about reaching out, communicating what we have to offer, and seeing ourselves not as lone rangers in a threatening prairie of dry spiritual barrenness, but part of a much larger body of Christ working within a vibrant oasis of plenty in which God’s spirit is already present.
We must be ever mindful of our neighbors and the partnerships we share, for we have more in common than we know, and collaboration enhances our ability to advance the common good.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Florida.