The Church in America Might start Looking More and More Like this:

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been offering some reflections on what faithful collaboration looks like in ministry. I offered two charts two help gauge healthy collaboration as well as a reminder to question some of the assumptions we typically have in our systems. Jennifer provided an incredibly insightful reminder to “keep discovering the green growing edge” of collaboration, Mark insisted that collaboration be prioritized, not tabled for later, and Adam rooted it all for us theologically and beautifully in the ministry of Christ.

These reflections have all been connected to the new way we’re now headlining the Macedonian Ministry Foundation’s cohort program, called The Ministry Collaborative. But perhaps more importantly, these reflections are in fact based on what we see happening across the country, via qualitative and quantitative evaluation, as well as anecdotally through our staff’s constant on-the-ground contact with pastors, congregations, and other key entities from across the church in America.

We are increasingly convinced that faithful, disciplined, collaboration will be a key and indispensable value for sustainable ministry in the 21st century. This collaboration will be localized, decentralized, theologically diverse, and wonderfully messy. It will not simply look like ministries partnering with ministries, but ministry collaborating with local business, the arts, the independent sector, and more. Mark and I just spent the better part of a week in Seattle where we saw a variety of fruitful partnerships and collaborate networks, some resulting in innovative church plants that started with denominational support and are now running businesses, others emerging organically at the grassroots level, emphasizing local neighborhood ministry. The examples this week have parallels in countless other locations we visit, and yet they all retain a unique local expression. In many ways, this substantiates and reflects what Tim Shapiro, Kara Faris, and others have said, that ministries are finding that their local rootedness, tapping into a human desire for existential and communal rootedness, is a powerful instrument for ministry. We might describe this emerging ministry expression in terms of a localized, collaborative ecclesiology.

One chief concern we have as we travel the country is that ministries who don’t place a premium on localized, collaborative, decentralized, and broadly networked ministry will increasingly face an uphill battle because they are finding themselves locked in the same questions and conversations. This is how ministry leaders and their organizations get stuck, by not looking “up and out” at what’s happening out in the world, taking some cues from what God is doing “out there,” welcoming generative disruption, taking risks or broadening the scope of experimentation for ministry in the community. What is the Spirit doing? Where? With whom? How will we attend to it?

Localized collaborative ecclesiology is in some ways nothing new; it’s largely renewal by way of recovery. Similar to how the apostle Paul wrote letters to cities and communities, I would love to see ministries and their diverse networks to be addressed similarly, in terms of location – to the church(es) in Atlanta, or Seattle, or Dallas, or wherever. This doesn’t mean that many of our denominational and other connectional structures have to be outright dismissed; but it does mean thinking of them as part of broader, complex, dynamic networks that are fundamentally rooted in a place.  I’m deeply drawn to this type of messy ecclesial unity. With all the immense challenges, complexity, and obstacles, what a thrilling time to be in ministry.

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