I sit in coffee shops a lot. Sometimes in meetings. Sometimes writing and creating and strategizing. Occasionally, I’m simply answering emails, all by myself. In those alone times, I don’t eavesdrop, but it’s impossible not to hear the conversations around me. If I had to boil down what I hear to one statement, it would be this:
So many of us are talking about the same thing.
People in each town are dreaming and strategizing and actually doing stuff, and most of us don’t realize who else is dreaming and strategizing and actually doing the same thing we are doing right here in the same town. Unfortunately, I also notice that people seem afraid to work together. Even as they dream, strategize, and actually do stuff.
But why? May I suggest five reasons, none of which, by the way, are any good.
TERRIBLE REASON No.1: INSECURITY
Are we more concerned about “who I am” and “what I do” and how both are perceived than we are concerned about “who we are” and “what we can do” and how much we can achieve together? If we realize and can remember that we live from an identity not for an identity, then we will be secure enough to work together without regard for perception or who else we get identified with. I would suggest that insecurity is the number one reason leaders don’t empower others. It is also the number one reason why leaders and organizations strive alone rather than recognizing that we need each other to make our city “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
I remember when we started cultivating for togetherness in the city where I lived in Central Florida. It took me two years of coffees and lunches and vulnerable conversations to even convince seven leaders to come together to envision what coming together could actually accomplish. Each of us hoped for tangible, noticeable change in our city. We all had to open our hands up, securely, in order to even take a first step together. And we all had to intentionally select two or three things, among all that we each did, to actually do together collaboratively. We chose two efforts to focus on together, disregarding our insecurities in hopes of a more secure city. More on that as we progress.
TERRIBLE REASON No. 2: FEAR
Are we so worried about what might happen that we are missing out on what could happen? If we wait to be unafraid, I am afraid we will be nothing more together than we are when we let fear isolate us. We must take courage to do what is right even in the midst of fear. Nothing will be accomplished absent of fear, but rather forsaking the fear that’s present. CS Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger — will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful — until it became risky” (The Screwtape Letters, pages 148-149).
Is our fear hindering us from faithfully loving our city? What are we afraid of? What would be lost if we worked together? Is what could be gained in working together worth risking what might be lost? What if we are actually losing by not working together?
I remember what we gained when we forsook our fears and risked working together in Central Florida. We gained strength in our local churches as they were driven by a purpose much bigger than their own survival. Local businesses saw blessings in the form of a profit much more significant than their normal bottom line. Students and teachers in our schools saw the community they cared for caring for them. Our government leaders grew more confident as they worried less about approval ratings and more about approval given to the outcast, overlooked, and ignored. Those government leaders were absolutely sold when two years later they reported to us, unsolicited, certain crime rate percentages that had decreased. They credited it to what we were all doing together, to how we were forsaking our fear and loving our city.
TERRIBLE REASON No.3: ARROGANCE
Are we blind to how our rhetoric and our strategies expose our arrogance? Churches have slogans like “real relationships,” suggesting other churches aren’t authentic. Businesses market their philanthropy without realizing how self-serving that kind of marketing is. Governments boast about needed programs and expend energy fighting partisan battles trying to get them approved, rather than uniting leaders around a cause that is bigger than our political distinctions. We too often avoid working together because we are self-obsessed and convinced that our way is better and our effort is the only one that will work.
I remember the first time our togetherness was tested in Central Florida. An outcome was emerging, and it was good. Whose name would be on it? We committed together not to place each of our names on it, but rather to come together under one name with one love for our one city. We didn’t do it thinking it would turn heads, but it did. The community noticed our togetherness, and more people were inspired to join us, in spite of our insecurities, forsaking our fears, confessing our arrogance.
The purpose of Love is the only cause that will unite an otherwise selfish, self-absorbed and arrogant people to love their city together.
TERRIBLE REASON No.4: IGNORANCE
Are we simply unaware? Possibly. I think it’s equally likely that we are very aware of needs around us, but we don’t know how to handle them. We haven’t yet envisioned the power of secure collaboration.
Back in Central Florida, something had to wreck us; to tear down our ignorance and compel us toward working together. I realize that not everyone reading this are followers of Jesus, but what wrecked us was the prayer He prayed the night before He died on the cross, specifically the part of his prayer found in John 17:18-26 (in the New Testament of the Bible). Churches all over the world pray our own prayers with fervor and commitment and longing, but I wonder if we have given that same fervor and commitment and longing to becoming, together, an answer to the prayer Jesus prayed that night before He was crucified?
Are we simply unaware of the prayer Jesus prayed? He prayed that we would be one, maturing toward oneness, so that the world would know they are loved like the Father loved His Son. This is what we are ignorant of, how Jesus prayed for us to work together so that His work could come alive among us, so that “on earth as it is in Heaven” could come. Who would not want that for their city?
TERRIBLE REASON No. 5: DISREGARD
Do we know the need, and do we actually recognize how effective our togetherness could be for our city, but still blatantly disregard working together? “It’s too much work,” we think. “It’s not gonna make enough of a difference to justify what would be required,” we say. “I am just gonna do my thing,” we assert. And we disregard what could be.
Rather than going back to Central Florida for this one, I’d like to point to another world entirely: the fictional world we see in the movie “Black Panther.” Therein we see a group of determined, powerful people setting out to use their resources to face brokenness and inequality head on. One could argue that even mining a miracle mineral and creating the technology and educational opportunities this mineral would enable is nowhere near enough to aid the brokenness of our world and change the deficits that exist in our cities. I would suggest that argument misses the point of the movie. What if the point of the movie isn’t about some mineral we have yet to find or are hoarding? What if the point of the movie is about a mindset that moves us beyond self-preservationist hoarding into a reality where we share with all who have need as though we are family together?
Isn’t that what is actually going to change our cities? Being family and treating others like family? And yet we disregard what could be, existing complacently and often apathetically in our silos. This kind of isolation is at the least hateful and at the most evil. We live in an age in which social interaction, literally and virtually, no longer affords such disregard. Our cities are waiting for us to move beyond our self-centered approaches..
May we process through what hinders us and work together toward city transformation.