Church is a Collaborative Project


By Joe LaGuardia

Christianity is a collaborative faith.

In a letter to churches in Corinth, the apostle Paul confronted several congregations that were arguing with each other.  No two churches were alike and each one served a purpose in the Body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, he wrote, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Fortunately for us — 2000 years removed from Paul’s situation — collaboration is still highly valued in our society.  Businesses, organizations, and individuals that value collaboration succeed.  We have sent men to the moon and rovers to Mars all because of the cooperation of thousands of individuals.

Non-profit and governmental agencies that promote teamwork are able to combat social ills that have long plagued society.  Churches that cooperate in the public sector not only fulfill part of Jesus’ Great Commission, but thrive in a marketplace in which the lines between secular and sacred often blur.

Rockdale County enjoys a great deal of collaboration on multiple levels.  The Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families, for instance, hosts a free networking lunch monthly for non-profits in the area.

I’ve attended several of these lunches, and I’ve met so many different leaders, laborers, and clergy who also cherish the value of partnering together to resolve some local issues that need tackling.

Without this network, we would have to go it alone; and, for a church as small as Trinity Baptist, going it alone means not being able to reach out as effectively as we hope.

For far too many Christians and churches, however, collaboration still brings with it a sense of fear and anxiety.  Some churches believe that they cannot collaborate with organizations that do not share their exact political or theological beliefs.  They would rather “reinvent the wheel” than partner with another organization that is already making a difference in the local community.

Such churches feel that in order to collaborate they must compromise their convictions.

This approach brings with it more issues than one might initially guess. For one, a church that refuses to collaborate assumes that it has all of the answers and knows exactly what a community needs.  This is not always the case.

Sometimes, Christians can be so brazen about their theology that it actually works against the impact their church can make in the community.  It may also exacerbate needs rather than resolve them.

In other situations, a church that assumes it has “all the answers” can sometimes fail to ask the right questions.  Where social economic justice is concerned, this can mean the difference between a church enabling dysfunction instead of empowering a community to become economically sustainable.

Failing to assess needs can lead to dependence rather than interdependence or, better, synergy that utilizes all of the creative gifts that can benefit an entire spiritual ecosystem.

Such differences of opinion within Christ’s Church is not new.  Paul’s admonishment to churches in his own era prove that divisions and squabbles will always pervade church and society.

Yet, we must be passionate about reaching out, communicating what we have to offer, and seeing ourselves not as lone rangers in a threatening prairie of dry spiritual barrenness, but part of a much larger Body of Christ working within a vibrant oasis of plenty in which God’s Spirit is already present.

May we be ever mindful of our neighbors and the partnerships we share, for we have more in common than we know.

Next week, we will continue this conversation about collaboration as it relates to racial reconciliation in our community.

St. Patrick, forgiveness, encourages interfaith work

irish church

By Joe LaGuardia

The life and ministry of St. Patrick teaches us about being a hospitable Christian presence in a diverse culture.

The mention of St. Patrick reminds people of green derbies, four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, and Guinness pints.  The real story of St. Patrick is more captivating.

St. Patrick was a young boy when Celtic raiders looted his village and stole him away to Ireland.  They forced him to be a sheep herder until he escaped.

At home, safe and sound, he couldn’t shake loose thoughts of his captors.  He heard God’s call to return to Ireland and preach the gospel to his enemies.

His enemies, the Celts, were a people steeped in mystic, primeval religions.  Theirs was a violent, harsh way of life, though rich in spiritual depth and mythic lore.  St. Patrick was able to use their mythologies to explain the truth of the Gospel.

Over the past ten weeks, Trinity Baptist Church has been hosting a world religions seminar on Wednesday nights.  We’ve learned about most of the major faiths, and had guest speakers from both Judaism and Islam.

One of the things we’ve learned is that we need to be a Christian presence in the midst of a diverse world; more than that, we need to build bridges with people of other faiths to promote peace and understanding.

Only peacemaking and understanding will provide a sustainable battle front against religious, radical fundamentalism, one of the greatest enemies of our time.

We cannot allow fundamentalism win the battle of the hearts and minds of people around the world.

As a part of our seminar, we heard from an advocate and speaker on Islam associated with the Atlantic Institute.  He and I work together on a Baptist-Muslim Dialogue task force of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.

The speaker set the record straight on Islam, the Qu’ran, and the relationship between our faiths.  He also explained how moderate Muslims are working hard and building coalitions to combat the radical fundamentalism we see on the news.

“The use of violence to do harm to others is a sin,” he said.  “The use of nuclear bombs or any bomb is a sin.”

“Jihad says that we may defend ourselves against invaders and that our greatest struggles are within us, but Jihad does not condone the taking of innocent lives.”

The Muslim speaker explained further that every Muslim wants to be a martyr, but martyrs are only those who give their lives for the sake of others.

“A mother who dies during childbirth is a martyr.  A man who dies saving a drowning boy is a martyr.  A young man with bombs strapped to his chest and blows up a bus is not a martyr.”

This conversation brought to my mind the message of St. Patrick and the need to build bridges with people of other faiths.

It brought to mind St. Patrick’s willingness to be a martyr for his own faith as he risked losing his life for the sake of the Gospel: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for another” (John 15:13).

But St. Patrick didn’t retaliate with violence; rather, he started with forgiveness.  Only when he forgave his captors did God use him as a vessel for healing in Ireland.

We also need to forgive and build collaborate relationships for the sake of bridge-building.  We need to forgive others for the harm they’ve done us; we also need to ask for forgiveness for how we have treated others, including people of other faiths.

We need to work across the aisle, across the altar, and across the great divides that separate a secular world.  Then we, too, will chart a new path of peace for people of all faiths.

On Wednesday, March 18, we will feature Dr. Loyd Allen, professor of church history from the McAfee School of Theology, at our final world religions seminar at 6:45 PM.  He will discuss Celtic Christianity in honor of St. Patrick’s day.

We hope you will join us and hear more about St. Patrick’s story and the interfaith work we are doing in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and as a local church.