Competition, Co-operation and Collaboration

When I first started working with a church organisation as a young adult I was totally naive. I had some misplaced notion that because it was a church it would be different to working in a ‘non-Christian organisations’; that people would seek to work in the spirit of one accord and worldly attitudes such as selfish ambition and bitter jealousy would find no home amongst those called by Christ’s name…

How wrong could I be!

Since that time, I’ve worked with diverse leaders, teams, networks and organisations all over Europe. Although there are some examples of people who choose to lay down their own agenda for the sake of the bigger picture, sadly, the spirit of competitiveness rather than co-operation and collaboration is all too pervasive…

Last year I spent a few days with some leaders at a retreat centre in Huddersfield, we spent time together and discussed how we might collaborate. One day we sensed to journey to a nearby town called Rochdale and found ourselves at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.  

TheRochdale Principles formed the basis of what has since blossomed into the global co-operative movement, this document outlines 7 tenets written by the Rochdale Pioneers back in 1844

I’ve been thinking about this whole area of collaboration and co-operation as the spirit of competition is, sadly, often more prevalent. So, inspired by the Rochdale Principles of co-operation,  I’ve outline 7 Principles of Co-operation that might be useful today for those seeking to explore co-operation and collaboration over and above above competition… 


1. Let Your Yes be Yes and Your No Be No!

Out of fear of letting people down, people often say ‘yes‘ to something, where they actually want to say ‘no‘. This can cause all sorts of problems down the line! The person who heard you say ‘yes‘ takes that as an answer and expects that commitment to be honoured. Another thing that can happen is that someone might agree to something, but then when things become more difficult than first expected, or other opportunities come up or things get busy they back out of what they originally agreed to. For the person who said yes where they really meant no, or, perhaps even,  ‘I will do it as long as it doesn’t cost me anything’; backing out of their commitment to them is; ‘no biggie as other things have just come up, that’s life’– But for the person who was relying on their promise, for them it represents a complete break of trust. Perhaps that’s why Jesus makes such a point of saying;

Let your yes be yes and your no be know…anything else is from the evil one’

A sign of the last days is that people will completely break trust, break oaths and break their promises brazenly and with no remorse…

A sign that God’s kingdom principles are advancing is when people keep their promises even when it hurts…

2. Look out for the Interests of Others (not only your own interests) 

If you are leader, naturally you will be captured by an all consuming vision you feel compelled to both pursue and call others to. You will probably live, eat, sleep that vision and when meeting others, perhaps that’s all you talk about or have time for…

However, when co-operating with others it’s important to take time to listen, to really listen to the heart of others, to find their passion, to listen and ask questions to find out about their interests and what makes them tick.

If you are looking to co-operate with another leader there will be the vision that they have (or has them) and there will be the vision you have. Time must be given to listening to their vision and understanding what makes them tick (their values) before spouting off your own vision. Collaboration goes a step beyond co-operation and requires a common purpose that goes beyond either parties personal self-interest. (Or ‘your’ vision). It must become ‘our’ vision.

3. Keep Selfish Ambition and Bitter Jealousy/envy at bay

One of the reasons people choose not to work together for the common good is that under the surface there lurks two serious and deceitful attitudes of the heart. James, the brother of Jesus, refers to them as Selfish Ambition and Bitter Jealousy. It can be tempting to try to cover up these harmful attitudes with boasting and lying, but there is no hiding the truth. The truth is, that jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom at all- in fact, such things are earthly, unspiritual and demonic. James tells us that wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind

Paul, the apostle says this, ‘You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling amongst you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?’

The ancient proverb has this to say, ‘Anger is cruel, and wrath is like a flood, but jealousy is even more dangerous’

It was jealousy that caused the leaders of Israel to try to trap Jesus and, ultimately, it was jealousy that led them to murder him.

We must check our motives. It’s impossible to work effectively with others. If we secretly harbour these underlying deadly attitudes. 
4. Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.’

The apostle Paul exhorts us to ‘Let Love be your highest goal’. But, of course, love is not a feeling, it is an active practice that represents itself through practicing patience with difficult people and in challenging situations, loving kindness in response to the selfishness of others, humility whilst others boast of their achievements and willingness to yield when others demand their own way…

As we model these active practices of love, we may inspire a change in others who are currently not co-operating in these ways. But, even if that change does not take place, by acting in this way, you will have indeed ‘let love be your highest goal’, even if it is not their highest value (they may be operating out of selfish ambition or bitter envy). However, by continually practicing these things you will grow in a virtue [LOVE] that will last for eternity…we may repel those who don’t share this value but eventually will actually attract those who do

5. Forgive 490 Times, But Don’t Count

When working with others we will continually be let down by those who don’t share our values. Out of fear or not counting the cost, people will say yes when they really mean no. They will put their personal interests ahead of the joint/common interest. They may not be genuine in their desire to collaborate and secretly harbour selfish ambition (instead of common purpose) and bitter jealousy (they’re actually envious of you).

So what do you do in the face of all this?

Give up attempting to collaborate with others? Have a self-pity party and lick your wounds in a corner? Harbour anger and nurse a grudge against those who don’t share your values? 

No…we forgive…

We follow the pattern of Jesus who as he looked around at those who crucified him, mocked him, spat at him, divided his belongings between themselves as his body was broken on the cross said;

‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’

And to spare ourselves of any self-righteousness as we utter those words, we go on to actively ‘Pray for our enemies’ and ‘Do good to those who spitefully use you’

6. Confront When Necessary, Agree to Move Forward

All productive teams and true partnerships go through the 4 Season Team Cycle of; 

FORMING (when the team first comes together, the idea is shared and the vision forms) 

STORMING (a period when things all seem to go wrong, the vision costs us, relationships are strained and there is a real possibility that the team might not make it through to the next stage)

NORMING (this occurs as the team manage to navigate the choppy waters of the storm and through the process come to a deeper understanding of how to work together effectively)

PERFORMING (if the team stick to the vision, work together wholeheartedly for the common purpose and maintain healthy loving relationships, the team will enter a fruitful season)

For teams and partnerships to become successful, navigating the STORMING season is critical

Jesus offers us valuable instruction to help us in this regard in Matthew 18:15-20.  When there is a problem (and there will be), go privately and directly to the person and point out the offence. If you do that and the other person listens and responds well, you will be able to move forward in agreement and Jesus promises us that ‘anything you agree on regarding God’s will, will be done!’

But it’s impossible to move forward with others without any common agreement! ‘How can two walk together unless they are in agreement?’

7. One Heart, One Mind, One Purpose

The biblical Book of Philippians furnishes us with a beautiful picture and template for co-operation and collaboration.  Most of the points mentioned in this article are outlined in some way or other in this letter written from the apostle Paul and addressed to his beloved partners in the gospel- the Church in Philippi.

Paul encourages them to make him truly happy by ‘agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose

When humanity united in their rebellion against God, symbolised in their building of the Tower of Babel, God said because of their unity, ‘nothing can stop them carrying out their purposes’. If such a statement applies to God’s enemies who actively unite to wilfully build in opposition to His ways, how much more does spiritual energy flow to those who build in one accord- with one heart, mind and purpose?

‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!’



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Patti Moys August 24, 2017 at 6:49 pm

Great article Peter. Our heart entirely. Amen and Amen!


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