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What Online Collaboration is NOT

It’s been well documented by myself (HERE and HERE) and others (HERE and HERE) that collaborating with others has forever altered the way I work as a Children’s Pastor.   These silly things we call emails, blogs, twitters, and even facebook to a degree (and it pains me to say that last one) has opened a world to me that I never knew existed.   To live life and to do ministry without the connections I’ve made with people from all different walks of life and areas of the world, would be a lonely existence.   That’s not to discount the greatness of those I live my life with on a daily basis here on the dusty South Plains of Lubbock, but the addition of these ‘online relationships’ if you will as made every relationship just a little bit healthier.

Because this has been well documented in my life over the past year I get asked often how it’s done.   I’m asked by those on staff at my church, by those DM’s on twitter(you know who you are), and even occasionally over lunch with a friendly neighborhood pastor.   What’s my answer for how to start those meaningful collaborative relationships?

First, let’s start with what Collaboration is and what it is NOT.   Collaboration by definition is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.”   Collaboration is NOT getting together to compare and contrast differences between ministries, churches, and individuals.   Those things will all eventually become part of the discussion, but until they do it’s important that when “bouncing ideas off someone” or asking for “honest opinions” that we work to fulfill the definition of collaboration.

Are we working together to produce or create something?

When approaching someone to seek guidance on how they use the same curriculum you use, or how they manage check-in, or how they support their volunteers…it is important to NOT go right to the defensive questions.   What are the defensive questions?   So glad you asked…

Numbers: Here are some of my favorite number questions, “How big is your church?”   “So, how many kids are you running?”, or my favorite, “How many services to you guys do?” These are decent questions, but they don’t address the idea of working together.   They are asked simply to size up someone.   The beauty of collaboration, remember…working to produce or create something…isn’t based on how closely alike you are; but instead on what you could possibly create together.

Sympathy: It’s great to find a sympathetic ear to our troubles, but if we’re not careful we can begin to tread into dangerous areas. First, it’s a HUGE turnoff to try and meet up with someone and find out that their life basically sucks and their church leadership is unappreciative of their work.   Secondly, it’s simply not life-giving.   We’re called to serve God, but we are also called to serve God through our Senior Pastor’s vision.   To remember that can keep you out of a world of hurt.

Theology: The beauty of Children’s and Youth ministries is that Theology can sometimes take a back seat to the bigger issues of connecting families to the church (and back to each other.)   Let sleeping dogs lay, and leave the theology for further along in your relationship.   It’s valuable to eventually find those laying the same theological groundwork you wish to lay, but it’s not vital to producing and creating something.

It’s great to find someone working in the same demographic, or to find someone working with as many kids as you are; but nobody is going to be exactly like you so learn to find those who aren’t.   The real beauty of collaboration is that you are working with others.   Learn to be unselfish with your ideas, creativity, and vision.   Let others experience what God’s put inside you, and learn to listen to what he’s doing for others.

To see this TALK given in a much longer format, watch the video HERE!

Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.


  1. Sam · May 28, 2009

    Good post my friend. Appreciate your friendship. I am still laughing about our gchat last night. To to rich.

  2. Kendra Golden · May 29, 2009

    My favorite part of the Orange conference was meeting other people who are passionate about what I’m passionate about. Bouncing ideas off if others who are like-minded but dont’ live with the same limiting assumptions is so valuable. I think we all are trying to create something together just with a different set of kids and families.

    Sometimes I tend to let my conversations end up more like interviews where I ask all the questions mining for useful nuggets in their responses! I have recently changed a few time management habits to invest more time with online collaboration so I’m glad you’re out there. (Even though Lubbock doesn’t really sound all that far away. :))

    Kendra Golden ´s last blog post..Psalm 66, part 2

  3. Anthony Prince · May 30, 2009

    These were great words to hear in person.
    I’ve passed them along since then… there’s some great wisdom here!

    Anthony Prince ´s last blog post..Thank You, Come Again!