There are two words that loom large on my horizon right now, playing a big part in Interfaithfulness. Those words are collaboration and synergy.

I see collaboration as two or more entities operating in their areas of strength, working together on projects or goals to which they are mutually committed. To put it in more vernacular terms, collaboration happens when people decide that the project they are working on is more important than proving or disproving who is King of the Hill.

In the religious world I’ve seen a lot of King of the Hill-ism, even when conducted in a clandestine manner. Perhaps it’s due to living in a culture where people assume it is better to be the boss than a worker, and better to be in charge than to have anyone tell you what to do. But the result is that  to avoid being beta dog, another handy metaphor, the default approach is to seek to be alpha dog, or to avoid situations where one cannot be head honcho.

It’s a pretty pathetic way to run the Kingdom of God, isn’t it? After all, the real Head Honcho said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  Doesn’t sound much like playing King of the Hill does it? I didn’t think so.

Well, being one another’s servants is a far reach for most of us, and a lot of people talk about it, while very few do it. So let’s set our sights a little lower, because we will surely get more done if we do: let’s set our sights on collaboration and synergy.

As I said, collaboration is two or more entities operating in their areas of strength, working together on projects or goals to which they are mutually committed. I really like this approach. Let me tell you some reasons why, because just maybe you might encourage someone you know to do some collaborating instead of worrying who is alpha, who is beta, and who’s King of the Hill.  Here are some of the reasons I like it.

  1. Collaborating people or institutions function in their areas of strength. That means there are no weaknesses to hide, no excuses to be made, no judgments to be feared. You are there to bring your best game with you.
  2. Collaborating people or institutions have respect for each other because each values the strengths the others bring to the table. I think this is a whole lot better than feeling threatened about the strengths of others and self-conscious about our own weaknesses.
  3. Collaborating people or institutions work together on projects or goals without renegotiating their relative position in the Messianic Jewish food chain.  There is no jockeying for power here because everybody gets to go back to his or her own hill and be king there when the project or goal is accomplished. This is not redefining a messy reality: it is going around it for the sake of something more important than proving who’s number one, or than avoiding being considered number four five or six in the chain of command.
  4. Collaborating people or institutions have identified projects or goals exterior to themselves, which projects and goals are important enough for them to lay aside the armor they normally wear in the political arena of their religious culture.

A term closely related to collaboration is synergy. You might say that collaboration is the motor and synergy is the power that drives that motor, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. All of this besides solving problems together and transforming our world. As I said at the beginning of this post, both synergy and collaboration are a big deal at Interfaithfulness. In Managing Cultural Differences, Philip R. Harris and Robert T. Moran make some observations which I adapt below, applying them to collaborative synergy.

  1. Working together in collaborative synergy capitalizes on people’s differences.  It is the different things that each brings to the table that makes synergy exciting. Variety outranks conformity.
  2. Working together in collaborative synergy involves adapting and learning, joint action creating an integrated solution. This collaborative synergy is non-hierarchical. There are no head honchos and underlings, no alpha and beta dogs.
  3. When people or institutions work together in collaborative synergy nothing is lost—no one loses anything, because the synergy is empowered by difference, not sameness. People’s differences are valued and preserved.
  4. Working together in collaborative synergy values difference as long as the differing entities share an area of common concern or a problem to be solved.

All of this is my attempt to create an alternative to my rather cynical view of religious politics, a view I believe to be entirely true. Here is how I define politics in and around the Messianic Jewish world:  “The accumulation and protection of power [money, influence, status] reserving this for oneself and one’s cronies, and denying it to those deemed one’s competition or opposites.”  In other words, it is a zero sum game in which the goal is to get more out of the pot than the next guy.

I know I sound very unspiritual in claiming that this is the way things are often done. But that’s my observation. And besides, you don’t have to agree. But will you agree with this?  Isn’t it time we did more collaborating? Here atInterfaithfulness we are looking for opportunities to do just that with institutions and people on matters of common concern. If you want to collaborate with us on projects of goals of mutual concern, get in touch.

So I have a couple of questions for all of you reading this:

  1. How would the Messianic Jewish world be positively affected by cultivating a culture of collaborative synergy?
  2. Can you envision representatives, congregations, and institutions of the Christian world, and the Messianic Jewish world working in collaborative synergy with representatives, congregations, and institutions of the Jewish world?

In my formative years as a Jewish believer in Yeshua, I was taught that this was a danger to be avoided, that the representatives of the Jewish world would only seek to seduce us away from our Yeshua faith, and that in any dialogical context, we should make sure that WE are the teachers rather than the ones being taught.

I reject that form of reasoning now and it will take later blogs to explain why.

But meanwhile, what do you think?