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Creating Open Space Through Collaboration

Bo Stern

I remember the first time someone nudged me toward the idea of writing a book.  In spite of the fact that I already wanted to write, and even had about a million book ideas and prototype chapters stashed away in my computer, the suggestion filled me with fear. Heart racing, eye twitching (my classic fight or flight response is the eye twitch which is exactly as awesome as it sounds), I stuttered out, “I…I don’t think I could.  I can’t imagine ever showing anyone my work.”

Lacking the necessary bravery to reveal my work to the world, those chapters languished in their pass-protected prisons until the fresh ideas became old news and my passion for them died.

Years later, when my life took a sudden and unexpected turn toward the tragic, I discovered a new, weird brand of bravery, wherein other, bigger concerns had eclipsed the fear of feedback.  I found myself ready to take the risk and open my words and up to the watching world. I partnered with an unapologetically truth-telling editor who did not go easy on me.  She wasn’t mean, but she was very, very direct.  She edited with an eye toward the audience, understanding how easily even a brilliant message can grow muddy and messy beneath the ego of the author. She loved my book too much to spare my feelings and it was the best experience of my writing life.

No matter how you slice it, collaboration is hard. It’s hard to open up ideas to other voices and opinions.  It’s hard to check egos at the door and commit to live in truth-telling, heart-pounding  community.  I’m still not fond of feedback, but I’m learning that I’m not smart or strong enough to create anything of value without it.  All creation is a grand work of Trinitarian collaboration. Procreation is depends upon it. The human race itself would be extinguished without it. And yet, for so many centuries preachers and teachers have largely disregarded it, choosing to build sermons behind closed doors, away from the critical collaboration necessary to clarify and crystalize that message into something sharp and effective.  Many reasons exist as to why.  Some fear feedback, some are reluctant to share the credit, some feel their education or intellect eliminates their need for it and many would welcome it, but lack the time or organizational structure required to prioritize it.

My favorite thing about being a part of the teaching team at Westside Church is the system we have created to foster a culture of collaboration. It has been difficult and time-consuming to find a way that works for us.  The process has taken many twists and turns along the way, but the result is a powerful team spirit and an environment where honest collaboration is central to nearly everything we do. Our service content is stronger than it’s ever been as evidenced by remarkable growth in several key metrics, and our relationships are stronger as well as we learn to trust one another in authentic community.