I wanted to address something that is very important to me. Networking. Call it what you want, I call it survival. After many moons of student ministry, the things that I treasure most apart from my savior, my wife and kids, and my XBOX is my networking relationships with other Youth Pastors on the frontlines of student ministry.
There is a funny illustration that one of my good friends used while he was talking to one of my former students. I am sure he ripped off the story, but it went something like this. “A reporter was at a small paper and wanted to impress his friend by telling him that he had gotten an interview with the town mayor. His friend Bob was happy for him and said, “hey, when you see the mayor, tell him Bob said Hi.” The reporter was obviously disheartened when he found out that his friend already knew the mayor. Sometime later, after the reporter had moved up in the world of reporting…got an interview with the president. He phoned his friend Bob and let him know what he was up to. Bob was excited for his friend and said, “hey, when you see the President, tell him Bob said Hi.” The reporter was disheartened once again. Finally the reporter reached the zenith of his career and landed an interview with the Pope. He quickly dialed his friend Bob to let him know what he was doing in the hopes of impressing Bob. Bob was very excited for him. When the reporter got to the Vatican there was a large crowd gathered as the Pope was coming out to greet the people. The reporter was floored when he looked up and saw Bob coming out with the Pope. He looked at the guy next to him and asked, “hey, who is that guy with the Pope?” The man replied, “I don’t know who the pope is, but that guy next to the guy with the funny hat is Bob!” A funny story. My friend was telling my former student that I was Bob…referring to the fact that he thought I “knew” everybody. I was flattered, but I would like to think that it is because I genuinely try to connect with those that I have blessed to run into during this fun ride called life.
Networking with others is essential in this thing we do called student ministry. We cannot think that we have it all figured out. We don’t. We don’t always have the best ideas. The moment I realized that I can learn much from colleagues, mentors, and friends…that is when I began to figure it out. Here are some tips for expanding your network and by default, expanding your influence and the influence others have on your life and ministry.
· Be humble. Be the first to pick up the flag of another individual with great talents and ideas and wave it high. This is the same if they are youth pastors in other towns or even in your own community. If they feel you are genuinely interested in them and their success, it makes it easier to work together and squashes any “turf” issues from the beginning.
· Stay connected. Don’t let the only time you call/text/message that person to be when you are “pimping” your own stuff or events. Get to know their families, let them know that you are accessible and available to swap ideas.
· Pray for them and their ministry. Rejoice in their victories and encourage them in their “bumps” in ministry. I know I appreciate it when a friend that really “gets” what I am doing shows his/her support. Sometimes this is a thankless job and to know that others have an idea what we are going through really helps.
· Be Real. At the end of the day, we have all had a tenth grader we have invested in for months or years decide to just check out and try their hand at the world, throwing to the wind everything you feel they have learned in your ministry. It is a tough job. So be transparent in your dealings with others and they will feel more comfortable networking with you.
· Be sensitive for God’s timing. I can’t tell you how many times I have met a fellow youth pastor and it has been just what we both needed at the time. God has a way of bringing the right people together to swap ideas and encourage one another to further His kingdom. So keep your eyes open for “resources” that He puts in our paths.
· Don’t be discouraged if you don’t “click” right away. Sometimes the closest friends in ministry may start rocky. My best friend in ministry, Scott Quimby, told me that he didn’t like me very much when we first met. I am not sure why, maybe it was because he is an only child, but our differences have helped our friendship strengthen over time. Sometimes youth pastors are hesitant to engage with other ministries. Maybe you or the other have been “burned” by some 6 month flame-out and they are licking their wounds.
· Pick up the phone. Call around and see who is working with students in your area. Have lunch and share passions for students. Don’t worry if they are in a different denomination. The majority of us have the common ground of Jesus Christ. So start there first. Find out why they do what they do and then see the first recommendation above. Don’t wait for others to call you. Make that first step out in faith and see what God has planned.
· Use these connections to share your concerns and/or “vent.” We often have to be careful sometimes in ministry by being perceived as “complaining” by members of our own churches. I get advice and bounce ideas about situations with my colleagues without getting into a gossip session. It helps a ton and I am a better youth pastor because of it.
· Share resources. I have many friends that are in churches that may not have the budget that I have. We have all been there, trying to stretch a budget. So give freely when you are blessed. Loan books, share props, large ticket items, and resources. Don’t be afraid to ask either. Take interest in their ministries and I have found they will take interest in yours. Recently, I have had several conversations with guys/gals that have struggled with tragedies in their ministries. This is a great time to share resources, experiences, and wisdom that battle scars from years of ministry leave us with. It is a blessing in the end, it doesn’t seem like it when you are going through a church split, firing, or the wisdom we gain from laboring through the loss of a student’s life in your community and ministry. We all have “I will never do that again” moments and if that wisdom helps someone else from making the same mistake, then that is a win-win situation.
· One final thought for now. Go to conventions and conferences. Even ones you may not necessarily want to. These are great places to network with like-minded people. The network of youth pastors that I have now have been my shoulders to lean on during my ministry time. Some of them have grown into wonderful mentors that can speak wisdom into my life and ministry. Give them the freedom to do just that, have a few people that you can rely on to speak the truth into your life…even if it hurts sometimes. We all need our card pulled sometimes and it is much easier coming from someone that you have a close relationship with and not just someone taking pop-shots at you from the peanut gallery. Networks of friends help you make it through the peanut gallery days.