EIRO is a Greek verb that means "to join." We are in this work to create and support partnerships that join churches with one another and their neighbors so that our city can reflect the Kingdom of God. This is a post about that very important work of joining - about collaborative initiatives that work.
Most of the pastors I know, whether as a friend or colleague, value the ideal of ecumenical collaboration. The Body of Christ unified for God's mission in our world - who wouldn't love that! Belief in partnership, though, is a much easier sell than the practice of partnership, especially the practice of building and sustaining healthy, effective partnerships.
Why is that?
To answer that, I want to focus on the positive. Below are three reflections on how partnerships work. I phrase each in a question you can use to evaluate the partnership you are thinking about building or the one you feel is not going as you'd hoped. Just to be fun and preacher-like, I'll even put a word that starts with "p" in each one. You're welcome.
1. Is this a partnership?
I know. I know. Obvious, right? Hear me out. The partnerships that I have seen work are partnerships from beginning to end. This means that the idea, strategy, implementation, execution, and evaluation are all collaborative. Contrastingly, if this is my idea, dreamed up by my church, and I only later invite other churches to participate as the base of volunteer support, it is not really a partnership.
Partnership requires a relationship where ideas, struggles, possibilities, etc. are shared so that a vision can be birthed together. If the beginning vision belongs to the group, then the work will more likely belong to the group. Whether this refers to churches working with each other or a church working with a neighborhood, the same rule applies. If it starts as my thing, it will remain my thing. A collaborative effort should not begin with, "Oh, man, I have a great idea, how do I get others on board?!" Instead it should be, "How do I get on board with others so that some really great relationships and ideas can happen?" Which leads to the next question...
2. Are you patient with the process?
At lunch with a pastor friend of mine last week we were talking about the challenging (and slow) work of local churches partnering with their neighborhood. He said to me:
That is a posture that does not come easily for me. I like to see myself as "visionary leader." I like to have these great ideas, and I get really anxious to implement them. I want to move at the speed of strategic planning. David's comment means, rightfully, that true collaboration is a process, and it is slow. We build relationships. We establish trust. We wait patiently for the right time to work alongside others. Even though I might get my vision, plan, program, project, etc. done much faster on my own, it won't be collaborative, which means it will not be sustainable. What I love about David's statement is the fact that I know him and his church enough to know that they have the long view. They aren't thinking in months, they are thinking in years. And not one or two years. More like a decade or more. You do not discover a lot of anxiety or hurriedness in David. He knows that success only comes when all parties are at the table communing and listening and learning.
I have to ask myself, "Am I building visions and projects, or am I building relationships and trust?" My grand plan to help that neighborhood down the street or meet the need of those kids at that school or to unite churches in worship, etc. is just that, my grand plan, unless I am willing to move at the speed of relationship and trust.
3. Do you have the right preposition?
Dr. Mary Nelson writes about the different kinds of churches one finds in neighborhoods. There is the church that is only IN their neighborhood. It is by physical address alone that they are connected to that place. On the other hand, there are churches that want to be FOR the community in which they live. So, the do service projects, outreach events, food and school supply give-aways, etc. This, she says, is also not healthy. All the ideas, resources, and initiatives are dreamed up and executed by the church for the community. This is not the makings of an authentic relationship. The ideal she seeks is churches that aim to be WITH their neighbors. With a posture of humility, hospitality, and patience, they build relationships, share meals, listen, and learn from their neighbors about how they can together seek the good of all.
All three of these questions have a lot to do with that "p" word I just used: posture. In the work EIRO is doing in this community, I have to ask regularly, are we coming with a posture of listening, receiving, and welcoming. Is the voice and ideas and visions of our neighbors and/or colleagues just as important to us as our own. Is it more important to execute our plan or to discover the dreams of someone else? The poor neighborhood I want to help or the churches I want to bring together don't need a "visionary leader" with lots of plans and resources. The need someone with an incarnational posture to sit at the table, share a meal, and discover a fresh vision that can only be birthed in communion with one another.
To wrap this up, I am going to offer you an equation, with p's of course, to simplify what it means to have a healthy collaboration with your community or with other churches.
Posture + Pace = Partnership
This formula cuts both ways. An unhealthy posture and pace will create an unsustainable partnership just as certainly as a healthy posture and pace will create a generative partnership.
There are many (MANY!) other things to be said on this topic (i.e. the importance of leadership, communication, transparency, accountability, etc.), but in my limited experience, these three things have been the most foundational pieces for building authentic partnerships that work.