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(Part 11) Rooted in Collaboration

Several years into helping lead the first foster care ministry, it became abundantly evident that we needed much more help. We had grown at breakneck speed and had built one of the largest full-scale foster care and adoption ministries in that corner of Florida. It appeared to be a great success for everyone in the church and the community, but in all reality, I was drowning.

Years into the process, we discovered another large church, probably a year and a half ahead of us, that was an hour away. My mind was blown! They served one of the counties we did and offered their families all the same resources. We were convinced we were the only church doing ministry at this level in Northeast Florida. They would have been a fantastic guide to offer direction and wisdom for our ministry.

Why focus on collaboration?

I recently tuned in to a news broadcast where the gentleman being interviewed emphasized the adage, "Competition is a rising tide that lifts all boats." While this holds in a capitalistic society, it is important to note that God's economy looks much different from what our current culture dictates.

Our competition with other organizations that care for vulnerable children does not always glorify God.

God's word tells us in Romans 5:5-6

"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

God's word reminds us about the significance of having relationships and helping each other out. Ministry is about sharing and embodying the Gospel so others can find and cultivate a relationship with Jesus. It means daily setting aside our ministry names and non-profit logos to lift the only name that truly matters.

We serve a God of loaves and fishes. As his followers, we subscribe daily to the belief that the God who created the universe can provide more than enough resources, volunteers, and financial support for all our ministries to sustain.

In the book, Rooting for Rivals, authors Peter Greer and Chris Horst tell us, "The Kingdom is where we submit our efforts to God's reigning authority and become co-laborers in a shared mission to bring heaven to earth." What a powerful reminder to build this ministry on a foundation deeply rooted in collaboration.

Who is already at work?

Jason Weber's book, More than Enough urges those who begin launching a foster care ministry to consider that "Your very presence in community may be raising the anxiety levels of your brothers and sisters in Christ. You do not have the option of seeing that as their problem. There is too much work to do, and you need each other to do it well."

Before developing a comprehensive ministry action plan, it is crucial to thoroughly evaluate and understand the existing foster care initiatives within your community. Take the time to gather insights and recommendations from the experts within your congregation who possess valuable knowledge and experience in this field. Their input will provide valuable guidance and ensure that your action plan aligns with your community's specific needs and challenges.

By engaging with your congregation's and community's expertise, you can foster a collaborative and impactful approach to serving and supporting foster care initiatives in your area.

Finding out who is already at work in your community can be done by contacting:

1. Local Foster Care Bridge Organizations

(Bridge organizations connect your local agencies and churches. They will be an excellent resource for connecting and sharing the work already occurring in your community through local churches and non-profits.)

2. National non-profits serving vulnerable children

3. Local non-profits serving vulnerable children

4. Foster care licensing agencies

(Some foster care licensing agencies have faith initiatives. This will be a fantastic resource for connecting with other churches supporting your local child welfare system.)

5. Churches with Family Advocacy Ministries

When we started meeting with prospective leaders of the current church I am helping lead, we met with a very passionate foster mama. One of the first questions she asked in the meeting was if I was familiar with another foster care ministry in town. She shared about all the incredible work they were doing in the community and her desire to implement the same or similar model.

I was familiar with the other ministry because I had helped build it for several years. It had grown to a sustainable place, and that church's pastor gave me the blessing to leave that ministry to equip other churches to join in local efforts to support our local child welfare system.

Every church has its own mission and heart to serve the local community. The model that works for one church may not work for another. Additionally, there is no need to replicate another ministry in your community fully. Identify the work surrounding your church and find new ways to engage and serve your child welfare system or help other churches by doing this important work together.

When I engage with new churches interested in getting involved with our foster care system, I often express it like this: Rather than having five churches in our community serving our child welfare system in twenty different ways, what I truly need is a hundred churches serving in a few ways that align their hearts and actions with the specific needs of their surroundings.

Tony Morgan writes it this way in his book, Seven Warning Signs Your Church Has Ministry Silos,

“How do we eliminate unhealthy competition? We have to get everyone focused on the same win.”

What is the “win” in your community that would make a powerful impact on families? This could be anything from a local foster closet, creating an educational program for parents in the system, or creating mentorship programs. The endless possibilities will be determined by researching your community’s specific needs and aligning with the church's mission.

Even better, how could you do this work in collaboration with local churches and state agencies?

Your Posture Matters

Embarking on a ministry journey with humility and a spirit of collaboration sets the stage for cultivating trust with local churches and non-profit organizations. We aim not to outshine others but to join forces and work together harmoniously. Together, we can demonstrate our shared commitment to discipling and meeting the needs of our community by:

· Learning from others who have been at work in your community.

· Being open-handed with your resources and plans.

· Celebrating the successes of other church ministries.

· Collaborating and working together to meet the needs of your community.

We serve an amazing God who can do extraordinary things through ordinary people. When we join forces, the possibilities are endless, and our collective impact is greater than one church alone.

When dealing with the immense challenges of serving and caring for vulnerable children and their families, it is important to remember that each church, non-profit organization, and state agency has a unique role in this effort. We all have our own strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, so let us work together to leverage the best that each of us brings to the table.

I am convinced beyond doubt that this is not merely the work of a church but rather the awe-inspiring work of THE Church. Imagine if we envision ourselves as a part of one body. By working collaboratively, we will continue to see transformation and life change in those around us. Together we can create a movement of churches that are united in our mission and vision.

We may have different perspectives, but we all have one goal: to love God and love others. Let us be unified in this mission and work together to fulfill it with excellence. I wholeheartedly believe that revival will sweep through as we wholeheartedly live out the radical love of Jesus together. It's through our collective devotion and passionate pursuit that transformation takes place.

Putting Collaboration in Practice

It is important to understand that collaboration amongst organizations that work in the area of vulnerable children hasn't always been a virtue we have held highly. In fact, many saw collaboration as a compromise or even mission drift. If you find that other organizations don't have the same heart for working together in your community, pray fervently! I believe the winds of change are coming!

It may only take one person to start having conversations about how we can do this work better and together. That could be exactly why you have been called to this role.

Ultimately, collaboration is a culture that requires devotion and time to cultivate. Consider these four areas as you begin to sow the seeds of unity in your community.

Encourage Open Discussion

In many areas of the country, the Church and State will not have similar values regarding caring for vulnerable children. It may seem like a lost cause to try and bridge the gap between faith-based organizations and government entities. However, there is still plenty of room for progress!

Start by encouraging open discussions about both sides' challenges in caring for children. This will help all sides better understand each other's strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives.

Acknowledging our local agencies and the expertise they bring to the table is a great first step in understanding each other better. No one understands the challenges and dynamics our local families face.

Foster Relationships & Mutual Respect

As you work across cultural barriers, fostering relationships with local agencies and organizations is important. It will take mutual respect to make this level of collaboration successful. We must start by recognizing and appreciating each organization's unique gifts. Additionally, we can value different approaches that we may use to work towards collective goals. We may come from diverse backgrounds, but we are all striving to make an impact in our communities.

As we build relationships, it gives opportunities to share fresh ideas and new ways to problem solve. Collaboration doesn't just benefit the vulnerable children we serve; it also benefits each organization involved. Investing in each other's success is key to promoting growth and sustainability for all parties involved.

Relationships take time and trust. We must listen actively and communicate with empathy. As relationships strengthen, so do our successes.

Set Collective Goals

It's crucial to set goals that we're all working towards as a team. When we share one vision, it brings us closer together. We can count on each other's strengths to accomplish a shared purpose.

What might collective goals look like in your community? It's best to start by consulting with the experts in your area to identify the most pressing needs.

In many communities, collective goals could look like:

  • Retaining foster families

  • Recruiting foster families willing to accept teens and large sibling groups

  • Identifying and supporting at-risk families

  • Recruiting churches

  • Engaging businesses and civic organizations to create awareness and support

  • Building the foundation for a more trauma-aware community

These are just some of the collective goals that could be set to support each other's visions in your community, but the opportunities are endless.

Celebrate the Wins

The best part about having collective goals is undoubtedly celebrating those wins with each other. Instead of working to achieve organizational goals in competition with one another, we come together and share in each other's successes. It helps us broaden our visions to better align with the mission God has set before us. Coming together to celebrate the wins in our communities shows that we care about each other's successes and are invested in creating a strong community.

We can choose to see each other's victories as our own and, by doing so, extend God's love beyond what any one individual organization could do on its own. We must never forget that even small wins matter! Take the time to recognize each other's successes, and together you will create a stronger community with even greater potential to serve. Every win is a step closer to achieving your collective goals and fulfilling your vision of success in your community.

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