Monday, September 08, 2008

Maintaining and growing your network, part 1

Now that you've begun to build your network of relationships, how do you maintain them? How do you grow them?

There are two angles, or approaches, I want to cover about that: I'll call them the organic and the technological approaches. In this post, I'll cover the organic approach, and I'll discuss the technological approach in another post.

There are entire books written about how to build friendships, how to develop relationships, how to grow your "network" in an organic way. Frankly, some of them are awful: they are the reason why some in the church have the negative opinion of "networking" that they do.

But many of them are incredibly useful, and it would be a mistake to try to re-create here the great work of others. (I'll make some recommendations below.)

That said, I'll list a few principles that are crucial in relationship development. (It is much more helpful to think in terms of principles instead of methods.)
  • Be genuine. You're setting out to build real relationships with real people; by definition, a relationship is a commitment. If you're not truly interested in building the relationships you are pursuing, stop now. (For that matter, you might seriously reconsider your calling to the ministry.)
  • Be available. When opportunities present themselves for connecting with friends-- new and old-- then you need to be flexible enough to accept them, at least with regular frequency. You don't have to forsake your family life or passing your classes to do it, but you ought to be willing to turn aside from writing the perfect paper or polishing your sermon to acknowledge and relate to a friend or family member.
  • Be a listener. Sure, you want them to get to know you-- how else will they really be a friend to you, or have any sense of stake in your life and ministry? But to build a real relationship you must listen. This doesn't mean solving their problems, offering great advice, or giving an ideal book recommendation. (Well, sometimes it might mean one of those.) It means knowing who they are, the details of their life, and what their struggles and delights are.
  • Be pro-active. Sometimes you need to seek them out and be their friend. Whether its a phone call, a note or card in the mail, an e-mail, or lunch or a cup of coffee together, some of the relationship needs to come from you. Don't be one of those friends who never initiates.
  • Be attentive. Remember their birthdays. Include them on your Christmas card list. Be aware enough of major life changes to note them. And if you know about something significant-- like that their dog died, their mother is sick, they are looking for a new job, or there is a problem in their church community-- then check in with them about it occasionally.

All of this is exactly what you'll be doing with the people you'll minister to in your pastoral ministry. This is the life you will live as a pastor. If you learn the skill of relationships that these principles speak to, you will be far better prepared for ministry.

And really: isn't this simply "making friends 101"? You've done this before! Don't treat it like it is something you don't have any idea how to do, like evangelism or something.

Here are some suggestions for getting a better grip on building relationships:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a classic on this subject, and despite the corny title is really a good tool.
The Relationship Cure by John Gottman deals with strengthening relationships of all sorts, and is a fantastic resource for this subject, as well as for the counseling you will do in ministry.
The Manager Tools podcast and website is a resource I have mentioned before; they have some good podcasts on developing your "professional" network. I especially appreciated their thoughts on "Building a Network" and "Secrets of a Great Handshake."

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