I could see it coming.  14 years ago, when we moved to Grand Rapids and our oldest daughter started 7th grade, the complaints began.  “Mom, why do we always have to work in teams in Grand Rapids? It seems as if we never get to do any projects on our own.  I especially hate it when the teacher picks our teams.  I always get put in a group where no one wants to do cooperate.  I end up doing all the work, yet my grade is dependent on what the entire team accomplishes.  It’s not fair!”

14 years later, my children are still working in teams in college, graduate school and in the teaching profession.  They don’t complain as much now because they understand the importance of collaboration.  Did you know that Walmart, the biggest retail company in the world, doesn’t make a single thing?  What makes them successful is an incredibly efficient supply chain based on extensive collaboration. 

Did you know that UPS does much more than deliver packages?  That pair of Nikes you ordered may have been packed and shipped by a UPS employee at a UPS warehouse.  When your computer breaks down and the UPS person picks it up at your door and returns it a few days later fixed, the person who fixed it may also work for UPS.  This unique collaboration is based on trust.

Think about collaboration between eBay sellers, UPS, PayPal and eBay buyers.  I want to sell my old wooden golf driver.  You want to buy it.  I email you a PayPal invoice with your name and mailing address.  I print out a UPS mailing label from eBay.  UPS provides a tracking number which means that you can trace where the golf club is and when you will get it.   

According to Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat; A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, one of the most important forces shaping our global economy today is collaboration.  All of us are smarter than any of us, for no one organization has all the information and expertise required to be successful. 

Businesses and organizations, including the church, need to move away from a vertical structure to developing new habits and processes for horizontal collaboration.  The United Methodist Church, in particular, must learn how to collaborate with businesses, non-profits, social service agencies, civic organizations, sports teams, other denominations and even other United Methodist churches (yes, that’s right!), in order to make disciples for the transformation of the world.  We, of all denominations, should know that we are much stronger connectionally than we are individually. 

Over the past 2 years, the Council of Bishops articulated seven “vision pathways” to guide the church in living out its mission.  In response, the Connectional Table, a 60 member group responsible for coordinating the mission, ministries and resources of the United Methodist Church, proposed four goals for our denomination.  These four proposals will be further developed and presented to the 2008 General Conference.  Interestingly, each goal can be achieved only through extensive collaboration.

  • Goal 1: Leadership development, with particular focus on leading the United Methodist way of discipleship.  This proposal would ask each of the 13 churchwide agencies to address the leadership crisis in the church through commitments of time, money and staff.  They will also collaborate with annual conferences, districts and local churches to recruit, train and support leaders.
  • Goal 2: Congregational development and new church starts.  This proposal would reinvent evangelism to accomplish the church’s mission to make disciples to transform the world.  A national strategy team will collaborate with the general agencies of the church, annual conferences, local churches and a network of congregational developers.  The immediate goals are the training of 1,000 church “planters” and the organization of 650 new congregations between 2009 and 2012. 
  • Goal 3: Ministry with the poor, with particular attention to caring for and protecting children.  Notice the goal is not to minister to the poor but partner and collaborate with the poor.   
  • Goal 4: Implement global health initiatives by confronting the diseases of poverty, including HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.  The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Communications, and the Division on Ministries with Young People at the Board of Discipleship are already teaming with the United Nations Foundation, the Millennium Promise, the Measles Initiative, Sports Illustrated magazine and NBA Cares to promote Nothing But Nets, a campaign to eradicate malaria. 

Walmart, UPS and eBay don’t have to be the only organizations taking us into the future.  The United Methodist Church can also lead the way!!  The opportunities to collaborate with each other, share resources and do ministry together are endless.  All we need is a little imagination, trust, creativity, horizontal thinking, adaptability, flexibility, communication, openness, big picture thinking, sharing, and a large dose of faith, hope and love.

With whom is your church going to collaborate this year? 

Blessings, Laurie

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