Monday, March 19, 2007

Regular follow-up as an essential part of the process

I follow up with my active candidacy opportunities by telephone or e-mail about every three weeks.

The goal in this process is to build a relationship with the church I will eventually serve. My efficacy in placement is and will be measured in direct correlation to how the relationship I build with each opportunity plays out: either one or both of us will figure out it isn't working out, or we'll grow committed to each other. If I'm going about this with anything other than my relationships to each church and her members in view, I'm approaching it the wrong way.

Thus, I have to do the work of building a relationship with each church. I don't want to become a pest, presumptuous, or over-eager, but I want and need those relationships to grow and thrive, just like I would when I make new friends (because, after all, that is what I'm doing). I can't assume that they will know me from the paperwork I've sent them (because they won't), and I dare not assume that I will understand the circumstances, or know the people, of the church I'm considering from the profiles they sent me (because I won't).

So when I make first contact with a new opportunity, I generally plan to follow up with them in about three weeks; it may be a little more or a little less, depending on what I learn about the contact person (if weekends are better, for example, or if they tell me that Thursdays are usually not good). And I tell them that I'll be following up.

I prefer for as much communication as possible to be done by telephone; as useful as e-mail is, it doesn't have the personal quality that is needed for truly building these relationships. Some have told me that they prefer e-mail, and I'm careful to respect that, but if they are willing then I will follow up by phone.

When I make these calls, I ask them about themselves. Do they have family? How long have they been in that area and/or in that church? Do they work-- and what do they do? I also ask about the search: how is it going? How long have they been at it? Is the search team holding up? Are there some specific ways that I can be praying for them?

Of course, I ask questions about where they are in the process and what information, if any, they can give me about my status. I ask this if it is necessary, but it usually isn't-- most of the time they will offer this unasked. But I don't make the whole conversation about this, and I don't let it become all about this. Those questions won't matter once the search is through, and if that is all that our relationship is founded upon then I'll be starting from scratch when my ministry there begins.

I try to keep each phone call to about 15 minutes or so, though I always make sure I can spare 20-30 if they want to talk. Sometimes it is as brief as five minutes.

As the process continues with each church, I let where we are in the process and what I've learned from prior conversations determine how often I should continue following up. If I learn that their search team is meeting weekly, I may continue following up every three weeks, or even bump it up to two at some points. If they meet less often, I might slow it down to once a month or so. If the search process hits a snag, I may leave them alone for six weeks-- or, if the relationship is there, I may start contacting them more often to check on how they are weathering the difficulties and how I can pray for them. And late in the process, I might check in weekly or even a couple of times a week.

Following up not only keeps me informed about my candidacy efforts, but it also allows key spade work to be done in forming relationships with those whom I will eventually be shepherding. By the way, my research has demonstrated with a high degree of certainty that it will also highly increase my chances of moving through the process more smoothly, and to a more advanced level; which is a nice side-effect, I think.

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