This article, written by Mark Matlock, was sent to me by our PBA Student Ministry Network leader, Paul Eaker. Although it talks primarily from the perspective of youth ministry, I think that it is the unfortunate reality in alot of the realms of the church. Collaboration is important in Kingdom work, whether staff working with staff, Christians working with their communities, churches working with other churches, etc. So, why then does it often seem like a daunting task to get THE church to collaborate? Why isn’t it happening more often then it currently is? I encourage you to read this article and consider what challenge is brought to the surface for you personally, as a church, or as a community in thinking of collaboration. Then, I invite you to process through all that is brought to the surface, stay in the tension for as long as the process may take, and then allow yourself to grow into a better collaborator for the Kingdom.
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YS Conversations: Collaboration Killers
Our first experience with collaboration usually comes in the form of a school project. We quickly learn how difficult collaboration can be. My typical experience involved the group coming together, accomplishing little, then leaving it up to one (fear of performance failure-oriented) person to finish the project. Quickly we come to believe that no collaboration is better than collaborating poorly.
The notion that Christians should be prone to collaborate seems theologically obvious and imperative, and yet we struggle to see good examples not only with youth ministers from other denominations in our communities, but within our denominations, as well as within our churches. Similar to the group science project, collaboration sounds better than it actually is to do.
I’ve come to learn that I cannot change how others collaborate or whether they are willing to do so, but I can alter my attitude toward and skills in collaborating. When the collaborator is ready, opportunities to collaborate appear.
Here are some of the killers of collaboration that may help you as you seek to live into a deeper kingdom way of living.
1. Not My Idea: Some people can’t collaborate if an idea wasn’t their own. To be honest, I struggle with this greatly. I’ve been described by others as a primary ideator. I am motivated to initiate new ideas. I think many of us in youth ministry tend to be oriented this way. Primary ideators, though, have a shadow side. They find it hard to get excited about ideas that didn’t originate with them. I’ve seen ideas kicked around in a group of youth ministers, but when consensus lands, primary ideators tend to walk away angry if their idea wasn’t chosen. If you get to choose a group to collaborate with, be selective in the type of people you invite to the table. Primary ideators are fine; just be careful you don’t have too many. They can be especially beneficial if you need to gather many ideas for a project that will be carried out by others. If you are a primary ideator, recognize this about yourself, and figure out how you can be the most useful in the collaboration process.
2. Not in My Control: Collaboration requires an amazing amount of self-confidence because it requires releasing control of many elements of a project. That’s dicey. Releasing control of a project will mean the project doesn’t meet your standards. Your collaborative group could create something that embarrasses you; but the upside is that more ownership of the project means greater diversity of opinions and ideas, which often results in the reduction of risk and better results. I also think God does something amazing when we allow ourselves to release control in order to work together.
For the past decade, we have lived in an era of the pastorpreneuer. With the increase in church planting, blogging and other forms of social media, everyone has a personal brand to leverage. We’ve seen a greater interest as ministers in reading books about business, adopting best practices in strategy, marketing and branding. Best practices are tools of the wise, but this type of entrepreneurism also means we begin to build only ministries that are within our control to build. The nature of those who have done the boldest of things has been to dream beyond what is only possible for humanity to accomplish. Releasing control in the collaborative process, particularly when seeking the guidance, direction and action of the Holy Spirit can lead us to places we never dreamed.
3. Not with My Competition: There is always a fear that those we collaborate with could steal an idea or somehow leverage our work against us to their advantage. I see this in youth ministry often. There is a fear that if we work with the church down the street, we might lose students to that group. One of the greatest examples of collaboration I have witnessed was among a group of youth pastors in Florida. They started noticing that students in their groups were moving fluidly in and out of different youth ministries. So they decided to work together, thinking of all the teens in their area as their students. The result was a greater number of teens involved in ministry than had been in their individual ministries, and spreading the workload allowed for more intentional ministry and investment in relationships. They also engaged area schools as a unified group, which greatly increased their ability to collaborate with and engage students in school.
It’s important that we don’t have a theology of competition within the kingdom. This is my personal reflection that has guided me well:
God does not call us to competition, but to obedience and collaboration. If we are concerned about the competition, maybe we first need to examine whether we are currently in obedience to what God has asked of us.
Any time I feel concern about what others in ministry are doing and begin comparing myself to them, I stop and ask, “Lord, am I doing all I know You have for me to do?” Almost always, I’m not; more likely, I’m trying to do it on my own.
It’s my hope that we youth workers will be able to continue to forge new collaborative relationships. With that in mind…let’s collaborate!