The family ministry world was taken by storm recently with the publication of Collaborate: Family+Church. Through savvy social media marketing and the participation of thirty-five ministry practitioners led by Michael Chanley of Southeast Christian Church, Collaborate has managed to capture the imaginations of a wide variety of people.
Just to set the minds of the everso curious individuals and organizations who care about such things at ease, I purchased this book with my own personal funds. As always, the views I share are my own.
The number and caliber of people assembled for this project is impressive. It must have been a massive undertaking. That is a primary component in the book’s appeal. Here we see a wide variety of practitioners from various walks of life sharing their insights and experiences in one focused medium. Some are very well-known and previously published. Others are known primarly through social media, or are just now being introduced nationally. I appreciate that this opportunity was afforded to colleagues who might not otherwise have been given such exposure.
I also am encouraged by the pervasive passionate and encouraging attitudes of the writers. Many are currently in the trenches of local church work. They understand the challenges and opportunities. They have important insights to pass along.
The difficulty of reviewing a book of this type is that there is not one cohesive thesis which represents each of the thirty-five chapters. Instead, there are separate theses for each article. Other reviewers have begun to interact with the respective chapters in individual blog posts. I do not have that kind of time. Therefore, I will attempt to interact with what I see as some key strengths and important weaknesses with the book as a whole. At times I will refer to specific chapters to illustrate my points.
I recognize that real human beings wrote each chapter. I understand the level of commitment that this entails, and the personal investment each writer surely made. My aim in interacting with strengths and weaknesses is neither to puff up, nor deflate. Rather, it is to honor the important messages each is attempting to convey, and the effective ministries which are represented by their writings.
Now I will post my perception concerning several strengths and weaknesses in alternating order.
Thirty-five diverse people took time to collaborate on a book together for the benefit of the local church. I think that deserves a standing ovation.
A few of the chapters were characterized by poor grammar and awkward phrasing. This included some unnecessary repetition of words or phrases and possibly some typos. I got the impression that the articles may have been lifted from the writers’ blogs and sent for publication as chapters. Knowing how easy it is for me to hit publish on this blog even when a post is not correctly edited, I wonder if the same might have been true for those chapters. Having said that, the content itself was very helpful. Yet, the apparent lack of editing made for difficult reading.
Brilliant practical ideas. Where do I begin? I think each writer brought something important to the conversation. Obviously these are thinking practitioners.
As near as I can tell each of the writers is either a full-time church worker in a larger church or full-time in a parachurch organization. I wish there had been a stronger representation of writers in a smaller church context. If there was, it was not clear to me.
The emphasis on parental responsibility and partnering with parents. Chapter 14 is particularly strong in this regard.
Although many examples were given concerning how churches are partnering with parents, I do not perceive most of those examples as genuine tangible partnerships in the sense of mutual accountability. Chapter 14, however, goes a long way in providing help. That said, the book would have been greatly enhanced with the inclusion of Karl Bastian’s (www.kidology.org) insights on mutually negotiated partnerships. Also, why was Larry Fowler not included in this conversation?
In most of the chapters, the right tone was set in terms of conversational prose. It was not too folksy, but neither was it sterile.
Chapter 22 was off-putting as it seemed accusatory toward churches who have not yet done the necessary work to decorate attractively or provide signage for their children’s areas. The point is well-taken, but delivered rather harshly. I think he could have made the point in far more diplomatic language. The author writes, “If you are at a church like this, you are telling everyone who walks in the door that you don’t care about his or her kids” (p. 119). Another way to frame the statement might be, “If you are at a church like this, what message do you think this sends to parents who enter your facility? Is this the message you want to send? If not, then please do read on.”
Some of the chapters grab your heart and don’t let go. I appreciate the vulnerability shown by these authors. Chapters 9 and 32 are prime examples.
Lack of specific bibliographic citation concerning research. Some of the authors referred to the research of Lifeway and Barna, for example. But they did not provide specific references so that readers may check their data. This is an important weakness which should be avoided in future collaborative publications.
I appreciate that women (I counted 8) were included in this conversation. I think there could have been far more. For example, Allyson Evans, Christine Yount Jones, and so many others would have had excellent contributions.
I wonder if some of the authors are self-aware of the implications of their philosophical assumptions. After all, ideas translate to action. Chapter three is a good example. The writer has many excellent insights, and I concur with many of her practical action steps, but I do wonder about some of her assumptions. She writes,
Let’s make two or three assumptions. Let’s assume our children’s parents regularly attend church. Granted, you’ll have children who attend without their parents, but that is a chapter for another book. Let’s also assume that these parents love their children. Finally let’s assume that these parents want their children to become adults who are Christ-followers. If these assumptions are true, then let’s look at how children’s ministry can partner with parents.
That is a chapter for another book? Why not a chapter in this book? Indeed, I am approaching missional outreach in my neighborhood with this thought in mind, to reach parents and their children with the gospel, rather than simply to reach children, and then only partner with highly intentional parents. I suppose I understand her line of thinking, but I have a huge philosophical difference with it.
As an example of the consequence of this thinking, she writes,
Build a Backyard Bible Club. The main goal of Backyard Bible Clubs is to help church members see the influence they can and should have outside the walls of the church building.
I think backyard Bible clubs are a great idea. I have even thought about doing them in my city. But the emphasis would not simply be to show church members what kind of influence they can have. Rather, it would be primarily to show the neighbors we love and care for them and desire to benefit them.
I conclude with one last observation of a strength. Collaborate is a great conversation-starter. As you have seen, I do not agree with everything that was written, although there is much I do agree with and that challenges me to grow. Collaborate is a smorgasboard of ideas, creativity, passion, and collaboration. I highly recommend it. Off you go. Go buy your own copy. I am keeping mine so I can refer back to it.