For starters, let's go back and refresh what a "network" is (according to my survey, and as far as this writing is concerned). A network is not:
- An unhealthy idea, common in the business world, in which every relationship is viewed from the perspective of personal gain.
- A somewhat “professional” approach to relationships, in which some relationships are seen as beneficial beyond the normal extent of friendship and acquaintance.
In contrast, a network is:
- At least-- a natural process of relating to others, sometimes benefiting from them and sometimes being of benefit to them.
- Optimally-- a sense of community in which everyone serves one another toward the common benefit of all.
So, at least we're looking at relationships where we hope we might benefit and be a benefit. And here's the plain truth about networks: as Jesus said in Luke 6:38, the measure you give is the measure you get. (Okay, that text doesn't mean exactly what I mean here, but the principle is still found in that sermon.) In other words, if you want to enjoy the benefit of a healthy network, first you must have a healthy network-- and to get one, you must have been of benefit to others.
To do that, you can't simply call up strangers-- or practical strangers, the folks who have been in your address book since your freshman year of college but who you haven't talked to since sophomore year-- and expect them to put out. Instead, the benefit you are able to ask of your network is directly proportional to the amount of relational energy you have spent in building it.
Think of it like an endowment. When a school or other organization has an endowment, there is a substantial stash of capital put away in an investment, and the interest from that investment pays for whatever is endowed. A network is like this, too: you need to have enough relational capital with the folks in your network that you can "live off the interest," so to speak. (Incidentally, ministry is like that too.)
So the first lesson about building and maintaining a healthy network is this: how much have you invested in building the relationships you will tap during the placement process?
If you're following me, you've probably realized that you should have started a while ago-- years, even. That's true, and if you're just about to launch into your candidacy process there is probably very little you can do about it. In my next post, I'll talk about who is already in your network; there may be some surprises that you haven't thought of. (Most guys I counsel about this quickly discover that their existing network is much bigger than they knew.)