A Book Study about Collaborative Ministry
by Lynda Wolf
The recent book study about collaborative ministry marks the beginning of a new stage in the life of St. Peter’s Parish as we work together to support the reign of Christ in the world, in the parish and in each of our lives. The resource text for this study was the book, Collaboration: Uniting our Gifts in Ministry by Loughlan Sofield and Carroll Juliano.
What is Collaborative Ministry?
Ministry is the responsibility and privilege of everyone who has been baptized into the church. According to the authors, collaborative ministry involves each of us identifying our own gifts while recognizing the gifts of others and then using this combination of gifts to achieve God’s mission for the church and the world. Failure to develop a more collaborative ministry results in the mere survival of a church rather than the development of its resources for ministry. At the same time, the authors point out that collaborative ministry is far from a tidy process but can be messy, difficult and even painful. However, they emphasize that collaborative ministry is necessary if we as a church are to live out our witness and common baptismal vocation.
The goal of collaborative ministry is the same as that of Jesus – to extend the reign of God.
Collaborative ministry is tied to the concepts of worship, giftedness, ministry and mission. In a conversation with our Pastor of Parish Caring Ministries the Reverend Canon Mary Holmen, she explained that the word “ministry” comes from a Latin word meaning small or least, as opposed to “magister” meaning large or great. Mary said this meaning fits with Jesus’ self-identification as the one who came not be served but to serve. In other words, ministry means service. The goal of collaborative ministry is that we serve together as a community, joining our combined gifts to fulfil God’s purpose in the world. In the process of developing and living collaborative ministry, we come to understand that we are all united in the body of Christ.
Baptism and the Universal Call to Ministry
In our study, our Rector the Reverend Canon Donna Joy spoke of collaborative ministry being based on the idea of a universal call to ministry (service) through our baptism. Through the Sacrament of Baptism all disciples are called to participate in the ongoing work of Jesus. Ministry is therefore the responsibility and privilege of everyone who has been baptized into the church. The Holy spirit pours out a variety of gifts upon the baptized so that we can each assume different ministries. Collaborative ministry requires that we acknowledge, explore and use our own gifts in combination with the gifts of others who have shared this baptism. Quoting Donna, “All ministries within the body of Christ at St. Peter’s are understood as interdependent, and must be explored, acknowledged, and put to use along with the gifts of others”.
Theological Foundations of Collaborative Ministry
Sofield and Juliano suggest that collaborative ministry is a theological concept that is based an understanding of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as the Trinity. When we reflected on the nature of the Trinity as illustrated by Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity we were led to understand God as the great collaborator, creating the universe and all that is in it in a unity of spirit with Christ and the Holy Spirit. As God collaborated in the act of creation, so God expects us to collaborate in serving Christ’s purpose in the world.
Obstacles to Collaborative Ministry
The obstacles to collaborative ministry are a product of our humanness. These obstacles include the low self-esteem of individuals that finds expression in competitiveness, an emphasis on perfection, criticism of others, compensatory behaviors and even depression. A major obstacle is our lack of willingness to acknowledge our own gifts as well as those of others.
Conflict and Collaborative Ministry
The authors of the text stated that conflict, which is inevitable in a collaborative setting, is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. Although conflict is messy and painful, it is also a sign of the vitality that exists within a community. However, collaboration is only possible when conflict is recognized, confronted and managed. One of the outcomes of our adoption of collaborative ministry might be the development of a team of people trained in the skills to manage conflict effectively. Successful conflict management can result in our becoming less fearful of conflict and more able to work with others whose views are different from ours. This could in turn result in our becoming more energized as community and therefore more capable of achieving our goals of ministry.
Spirituality and Collaborative Ministry
Ministry is the embodiment and expression of our spirituality. Spirituality is one’s relationship with God as this affects all parts of our lives. Spirituality affects our relationships with others and with the environment. To participate in collaborative ministry, one must reflect on the elements of spirituality that prepare each of us for God’s work. The authors of the text remind us that there is more than one model of spirituality for ministry. The elements of spirituality for collaborative ministry include forgiveness, compassion and rejection of perfectionism. They also include the understanding that failure is a normal part of our human experience and that we should not become discouraged when we do not at first meet some objective of our joint ministry.
The Role of the Leader in Collaborative Ministry.
Although collaborative ministry is a shared ministry involving all members of the congregation there remains the need for effective leadership. However, the role of the leader is different than that expected of leaders in former models of Christian ministry. The role of the leader in collaborative ministry is reflective of the role of Christ with his disciples. Jesus sent the disciples out before they were completely prepared for their ministry but upon their return, led them to reflect on what they had experienced. The leader, following the example of Jesus, does not require perfection from him/herself or others but instills a vision of mission and ministry that leads to reflection and growth in this ministry. While perfection is not the goal, careful discernment of gifts for ministry does ideally lead people to identify and use the gifts, true gifts, that they have been given – all for the glory of God in worship, ministry, and mission. Sofield and Juliano outline the qualities of the leader as follows: to be able to create a climate of safety and to encourage interaction; to keep the group on task and directed to the agreed purpose; to be able to intervene when group dynamics interfere with the achievement of the goal and to lead in a process of evaluation of the actions taken.
The parish of St. Peters is undertaking a new model of ministry called collaborative ministry. The goal of collaborative ministry is the same as Jesus’ goal – to extend the reign of God. This model of ministry is built on the example of the Holy Trinity working collaboratively in creation and on the vows taken by each Christian at their baptism. The concepts of this model of ministry not only apply to our pastors in their role as leaders but to each of us as a member of this community. The result of collaborative ministry can be an invigorated church discovering and fulfilling God’s mission in the world.