Friday, August 19, 2005

Do pure motives preclude networking?

A friend challenged me about my views on networking, “Can you pursue placement through networking, as you suggest, with true integrity?” Good question-- and it brings up a significant issue that a candidate-pastor must address: does a placement effort done with pure motives mean that networking is not an option?

Anyone who has heard of “networking” will understand this critique. In the business world, networking is often motivated out of a self-serving, “close the deal” attitude: business professionals network because, frankly, their work requires them to do so. Contracts, sales, mergers, promotions, and new jobs depend on who you know-- so smart professionals make it their business to add as many people as possible to their network. This view of networking, regardless of effectiveness, pushes against the edge of ethical and social propriety, and sometimes crosses it boldly. Not all business professionals do this, but there certainly are some who do.

(Incidentally, this problem is acknowledged outside of the sphere of the Church, as well: Lance Ulanoff, columnist for PC Magazine, recently posted an editorial entitled, “Six Degrees of Who Cares?” for that magazine which makes a similar critique to my friend's.)

So the critique stands as this: can we, in good conscience, engage in a practice known for being a vehicle to use others for personal gain, simply because it is an effective means of finding placement? Or does the demand on Christians to do what is right-- not simply what works-- sufficient grounds to abandon the practice of networking as a instrument for placement?

One of my professors wisely reminds us of a key idea to understanding this paradox: “The abuse of something does not negate its proper use.” Just because people abuse the Internet (for pornography, online affairs, soliciting inappropriate or illegal activity, etc.) does not mean that the Internet is all bad. The fact that many abuse alcohol use does not mean that no one should drink alcoholic beverages. Someone could use a baseball bat to hurt another person, but baseball bats would still have a valuable function in the game of baseball. This is the core truth in a common argument against gun legislation; as someone once said, “Light-sabers don't kill Jedi; Jedi kill Jedi.”

If there is indeed a proper use for something (and there are things that, I believe, have no proper use), that usefulness should not be overlooked because of other uses. Networking, then, should not be discarded simply because it has become a tool for some business professionals to manipulate or politick their way to greater success.

On the contrary, I would argue that networking is biblical, and that a networking model for placement is how God intends for pastors to find a call. One of the main themes of Scripture is the idea that God's people are a community. The New Testament uses several metaphors to describe the Church: the family of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. Jesus used other metaphors: the Vine and the branches, the Shepherd and His sheep. What is common to all of these metaphors? A relational nature, not just between the members and Christ but one to another, as well.

We exist in a community for a purpose, which is to collectively seek God's glory. How does this happen? Unless your view of your faith is very narrow-- so that worship, a life of faith, and bringing glory to God are reserved for the particular geographic, temporal, actual context of Sunday worship-- then a collective effort means that what you do day-to-day is not only your concern, but the concern of everyone else in the Church as well. This is why accountability is so crucial.

This is also why networking is so essential to pastoral placement. No one in the church is isolated from the rest of the Body-- not even pastors! They/we must rely on one another, and we must bear one another's burdens, for the support our ministries need. And never was this more important than in the placement process.

At its best, then, networking is a contemporary term for an ancient idea: that we need each other for our own effectiveness and success. If I am to find the call God has for me, I am dependent on His Church to lead me to it. I'm not using the Church for my own benefit-- God is using the Church for her own benefit.


MTG said...

Do we not as Christians 'network' for many things? Why not pastoral placements too?

Hey if I know of a PCA group looking I will certainly at least referthem to your blog..... :)

Russell Smith said...

Great thoughts -- I might add that networking does not necessarily mean "self-serving" --

A part of "networking" that pastors regularly do is in helping their parishoners develop their gifts and skills by connecting them to appropriate mentors/coaches/helpers. An essential part of networking is connecting two people who can help each other.

Networking can also be a vehicle for showing care and concern for other people. When someone in our congregation is in crisis, we activate our internal "network" to rouse assistance.

At its core, networking is about relationships -- fostering and cultivating relationships at many levels.


mithun said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

In Vehicle Networking