5 Ways To Improve Cooperation

“We don’t do this.” Those were the words that one of my two nurses said as she walked away from another failed attempt to draw blood. While I was thankful for her transparency, it caught me a little off guard. After all, it sure looked like they “did that.” They were dressed for the part. They were talking me through the process. They made me think they not only could, but should be the ones doing this. It wasn’t until after numerous failed attempts that they told me—what I was beginning to wonder—that they didn’t really understand what they were doing. If they just would have told me at the beginning that they weren’t qualified, we could’ve waited for someone who was—avoiding the shedding of unnecessary blood. Appearances can be deceiving.

As I sat in that room bleeding all over the place, I couldn’t help but think about some recent events in Southern Baptist life. In the Southern Baptist Convention we appear to love cooperation. It’s in our mission and statement, which reads, that we intend “To cooperate with each other…” “for the propagation of the gospel…” We have the “Cooperative Program.” So on the surface the SBC seems to totally “get” cooperation. But appearances can be deceiving. Everybody seems to like the idea of cooperation in general, but the actual task of cooperation doesn’t seem quite as popular. So I thought a few comments on the nature of cooperation might help us as a convention avoid spilling unnecessary blood.

  1. Christian Cooperation Flourishes When We Expect Different Perspectives – In order for cooperation to flourish amongst Christians, we must expect the presence of different perspectives. If you are offended or angered by the winsome voicing of views different than your own, you aren’t for cooperation, you’re for compliance. You’re not for unity, you’re for uniformity. If we really are going to be about cooperation, we can’t be shocked when someone disagrees with us or questions our perspective.
  1. Christian Cooperation Flourishes When We Represent Others Fairly – When people voice their different perspectives, inevitably, responses follow. It is critical to the life of cooperation that those summarizing other people’s views do so accurately. There is a major difference between representing others in a way that furthers our purpose vs. representing others accurately. We all, of course, have a tendency to hear and judge wrongly. We have a tendency to pick out a small thing that connects with a pre-conceived, negative narrative, and project the whole thing on someone in a way that is inaccurate and wrong. That’s one of the reasons why cooperation can be so difficult. We may disagree, but let’s at least understand our disagreement accurately.
  1. Christian Cooperation Flourishes When We Keep The Focus On Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Not Good Guys And Bad Guys – Cooperation flourishes when we keep the discussion on whether an idea is good or bad. This means the articulating of and challenging of ideas should be expected. Just because someone has a bad idea doesn’t mean they’re a bad guy. Just because someone has a good idea doesn’t mean they’re a good guy either. That’s not the point. Cooperation flourishes when we focus on the ideas, the truths, that unite us.
  1. Christian Cooperation Flourishes When We Avoid The “All For Us Or All Against Us” paradigm – We all like to have people completely “for us.” It is hard for us to understand that just because someone disagrees with us, doesn’t mean they’re against us. It means there against that one idea. Sadly, there can be a tendency for people to mistake disagreement with personal attack. Their responses indicate a “you are either for us or against us” view of cooperation. This view either divides people into “fanboys” or “haters.” That makes sense on twitter, but not in the kingdom. Let’s get over our insecurities, get rid of this paradigm, and foster healthy conversations where cooperation can flourish.
  1. Cooperation Flourishes When We Forgive People For Wrongs – “The tone was wrong.” “The timing was wrong.” “It’s not what you said, it’s what you didn’t say.” These are a few of the seemingly endless ways that people are accused of “wronging” someone else. We will all be guilty sometime of something, whether we’d like to face that fact or not. This means that we need to be prepared to be forgiving people. As Christians who have been forgiven so much, this shouldn’t be a problem. But it often is. That means we can’t just assume that we will be forgiving, we’ll have to fight to be forgiving. If we do so we can avoid the scandalous, cross-belittling error of holding grudges against one another throughout our ministry. If we are going to see genuine and kingdom-advancing cooperation take place, we’ll have to learn to forgive one another.

I think Southern Baptists are in a great place. But we haven’t arrived. Perhaps this post might stir some thinking that will help us more faithfully cooperate for the advancement of the gospel.

Jed Coppenger is on the Leadership Council of B21 and is the Lead Pastor at Redemption City Church in Franklin, TN.