Saturday, September 29, 2007

Who's in your network?

When it comes to candidacy, the best thing you have going for your is the relationships you have with others. The church is inherently relational-- after all, it really isn't good for man to be alone-- and those relationships form the framework for how God brings many things to pass: friendships for accountability, introductions of future spouses, and career connections.

Never is this more present-- or important-- than in the placement of pastors in ministry. Chances are, you met your best friend, a key discipleship leader in your life, and your spouse (if you're married) through the relationships you have with others in the church. Why wouldn't you expect to meet your future congregation or ministry in the same way?

The first part, then, of seeing this happen is recognizing who is in this network of relational connections. To sum it up, these are the people in your world, in your pool of relationships, who do and will see themselves as "stakeholders" in your life and/or ministry: they have a personal stake in whether you succeed or fail, burn out or thrive. So, who is in your network?

This question was asked directly of me by a guy who had taken the class that I teach a portion of at Covenant Seminary. He stated that, for reasons I won't go into (but that make sense), he had not connected with a church in our denomination for the six years prior to coming to seminary-- thus, he feared his network would be severely lacking as he began his candidacy. "Who," he asked, "is in my network?"

In answer to the question, I'd like to point out that he had a reasonable concern: a substantial contribution to your network is made from your previous church(es), in the form of pastors you knew there, well-connected elders and deacons, and simply having lay-people who knew you and can speak to whether you will be effective in ministry. The first question I usually encourage others to ask, then, is: "Who knew you in your last church that you have maintained some sort of relationship with?"

Since in this case that question did not apply, I encouraged him to dig deeper: how about other churches he had been affiliated with? Maybe he was involved in a campus ministry in college; is there anyone he still keeps in touch with from there?

Having examined your personal history, now turn to the more recent past and present. After all, you've been in seminary for several years; surely you have met new friends and acquaintances who are now in ministry. You know many professors, and some better than others. And, of course, you have been attending a local church while in seminary (and hopefully you've been active in ministry there, as well). All of these represent parts of your network.

And don't forget-- or underestimate-- your family. These will be the biggest stakeholders of all, in some ways. Depending on your background, you may not feel that these relationships are directly helpful for ministry candidacy-- but you would be wrong. You should never assume that any relationship will not be potentially the very contact you need to be in touch with the church God is calling you into.

Then, realize that the members of your network don't include merely the relationships that you have and maintain, but all of their relationships as well. In fact, this is how your network will work with you to help you find placement. We'll talk about this in another post.

Next time, I'll talk about how to maintain your existing network, or begin to build a network if you haven't already been working at it (though it is unlikely that any adult will be starting from scratch).

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