Silos are those tall, round structures that you see on road trips through the Midwest. Each large grain farm will have one or more of them to protect the grain from the elements and store it until the market is right for selling.

In the course of doing church work, joint church ventures, community service, and, yes, just in living life, I have discovered that our world is frustratingly fractured, fragmented, tribalized, divided into market shares, segmented, splintered, and isolated.  The word that I heard just a few weeks ago is siloing.

In the political world, democrats and republicans feel compelled to oppose each other and shut each other out of important discussions. They increase their power through stereotyping and vilifying those of the opposing party and spouting a prescribed party line. Fear and a hunger for power drive the political system that fuels our government.

I have a lot of experience in the church world, both as a pastor and as an organizer of multi-church, community ventures. Churches tend to be little kingdoms with their own folk ways; their own leadership, their own people who do this or that for the church, and their own distinctives (which are always exaggerated). Co-operation is literally a bad word in some church circles where their history is built upon what they perceive to be a correct set of beliefs that sets them apart from the pack. Sometimes they will only co-operate with churches they perceive to be closely aligned with this set of beliefs.

The Sharefest movement has gotten some churches to come out of their silos for once-a year-projects, but that momentum is hard to maintain. It seems it usually comes  down to some sort of fear; the fear of working with another Christian who may not be as correct on the doctrines as we are, the fear of losing members, the fear of appearing small, the fear of being under someone else’s leadership.

Siloing happens in government and nonprofit agencies, too. One would think that these people who have given their life to helping the disenfranchised would be the most willing of all people to work together. Yet, each agency has programs and funding that they feel compelled to protect. There seems to be a tendency to check to see which way the wind of mass approval is blowing in determining direction, rather than leading for the sake of the people they are serving.

The people in this various professions are most often good-hearted individuals who want to serve; that’s why they chose their vocation.  But it seems that something gets muddled along the way and serving often takes a back seat to protecting their position and their turf. At the core of siloing, we find fear of some sort of loss, pride in what we are doing in isolation, and control that needs to retained.

It can be different. In my neck of the woods, while we still have plenty of siloing to go around, we are also reaping the benefits of some risk taking pioneers who forged a vision of cooperation. Hence, we have collation of community leaders that seeks to actively improve the quality of life and address social concerns. We have a partnership of social service providers that is developing a common software and database. We have a former high school campus that has been turned into a social service mall.

Honest observation has a way of making enemies and I have made some of my own. Unfortunately, the discussion usually stops short with responses like, He is just angry and negative. Too often that is just a thinly veiled attempt to divert attention from their own responsibilities. The real point is, we can do better.  We can be creative, collaborative, risk-takers who care more about the people that we supposedly serve than our own interests.

Please allow me a little metaphor. The silos are deteriorating, the grain is rotting, and people are going hungry!

What are your thoughts or experiences in working together and coming out of the silo?

This post was originally published February 11,2010.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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