We are far less effective when we go it alone
Having just come off a teaching assignment at Claremont School of Theology, I am basking in the joy of being back in the classroom interacting with the students. Almost every year I tell myself that I really don’t have time to do this kind of classroom teaching, and after the experience I come away with a profound gratitude of taking the time for the experience.
The students are always eager and open to the learning experience, and when the light bulbs go off like illuminating markers in their faces, I am reminded of why I am called to this role, and lament the fact that I cannot do it more often. Needless to say, I think I know what I want to do in retirement, and teaching at any level awaits me in the future.
The great challenge is to make the material come alive for the students, and I use a lot of case studies, especially when teaching theology and ethics. In the “Personal and Social Ethics” course that I taught, I was especially reminded of an important truth in ministry: We are far less effective when we go it alone in the ministry, and the community of believers always enhances us.
Time and again, in reacting to individual case studies, a student would blurt out a reactionary statement, only to have the rest of the class question and make self-correcting comments that would enhance the perception. When the entire class had a chance to reflect and comment the final conclusion would always be stronger and wiser through the group’s contributions. All of us were struck by the collective wisdom of the entire class, rising above individual solutions.
Notice how dramatically different this is from our church practice of sending individual clergy alone to local churches. Instead of leveraging the collective strengths and wisdom of the community, we resort to a solo practitioner model, where one must sink or swim on their own. As the class clearly recognized, as they go back to their church appointments alone, they must find a way to connect with each other and other clergy in order to provide a stronger ministry.
Jesus himself realized the limitation of going it alone. When he sends out the Disciples to carry on the actual ministry that he started, most of the Gospel texts commend that they go out “two-by-two,” and not alone. In fact, traveling alone in the time of Jesus would be seen as a foolish and strange thing to do. You would always travel in groups, and especially with one’s kin (family) in ancient times. Anyone traveling alone would be seen as strange and peculiar.
As we think of new models of ministry, we have to find ways to walk together. Solo clergy need to empower the entire laity of their charge to carry out the work of ministry, and continue to work with other clergy in a synergy of community. The work of ministry is just too hard to go it alone. We need each other!
How can all of us navigate the difficult roads of ministry together? I look to all of you for possible solutions, and please let me know when you come up with encouraging models of collaboration.
Be the Hope Together,