The Spirit of Collaboration

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With this week’s upcoming release of the movie Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce has been getting a lot of attention lately. I am not so sure he would be that happy about that. This English statesman who helped abolish the slave trade in Britain wrote at length about the dangers of loving worldly praise and applause. “It tends,” Wilberforce wrote, “to exalt and aggrandize ourselves . . . to assume credit and merit for our own qualities. . . . instead of ascribing all honor and glory where they are due.”

Perhaps it was this clear understanding that enabled Wilberforce to do something that not many Christians succeed in doing well: effectively collaborating to bring a biblical worldview to bear on culture. Wilberforce was not a glory hog. He was not looking to be the Man of the Year. His eye was set fiercely on a better prize, a heavenly one. And so to bring about the end of the great evil of the slave trade, he eagerly collaborated with like-minded Christians in a way that truly demonstrated the beauty of the body of Christ working together—First Corinthians 12 style.

I find it fascinating how God orchestrated such a marvelous symphony of talents to end the slave trade in Britain. Hannah More, a gifted playwright and poet, offered her writing skills and her great popularity with the people. Josiah Wedgewood applied his talent for creating beautiful pottery to make an anti-slavery brooch that soon became all the rage in England. John Newton and William Cowper wrote hymns and poems. And then there were others of the Clapham Circle, among them a former ambassador, a publisher, two Anglican priests, and a parliamentarian, who all lent their particular skills to the cause.

The Clapham Circle—or Clapham Saints, as they were called by their detractors—lived in the village of Clapham, four miles from London. They embodied the Acts 2:42 lifestyle, meeting together for prayer, sharing meals together, living in community. Wilberforce and Henry Thorton began the Clapham Circle with intentionality. According to Wilberforce biographer, Kevin Belmonte, “Years later [Wilberforce] would insist that this network of support had been indispensable in enabling him to serve effectively in politics. Others might dismiss such a seemingly trivial notion, but Wilberforce knew that his friendships were one of the most important parts of his life.”

Sometimes we glimpse this spirit of collaboration today, with Christians joining together to help in Katrina’s aftermath, or the forty-some organizations that work together with Prison Fellowship to take the Gospel into every prison in America through Operation Starting Line.

But what if we saw this kind of collaborative spirit become the norm? What if Christians cultivated Clapham-style communities in our towns and cities? What if we embraced the spirit of Clapham in our spheres of influence? What kind of societal giants could we topple if we locked arms with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ with no concern for credit or recognition?

It’s worth dreaming about. And while Wilberforce would not have wanted personal praise for this kind of community that he and Thorton created, I think he would be eager to see the Clapham Circle inspire Christians of our day to even greater works of God-honoring collaboration.

The movie, which opens this week, beautifully portrays what can happen when we do pull together.

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From BreakPoint®, February 21, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries