Fact: If I had business cards (stay-at-home parents don’t tend to carry them), I’d still have nearly a whole box full.
I’ve never been good at networking. Even when I had a job where I had business cards, I never had to order more. Part of it is just my quiet, introverted personality. When I was in ministry, I always enjoyed going to the ministers’ convention that our denomination holds every year. But I also feel awkward at them. I seldom had lunch meetings set up with someone who would be good to be seen with. I often end up waiting to see who else doesn’t have plans, which is fine with me. I do need to learn to set up meetings with people who could help me when I need it. But I’m not a networker.
I must quickly admit, though, that I do have well over 500 “friends” on Facebook. I have friends from high school, college, seminary, all seven of the churches I’ve ever attended, plus I worked at a Bible camp for five years, so I have friends from staff, youth camps, family camps and volunteers. My extended family alone is probably nearing 100 people. So, I’m clearly not opposed to networking—and I can do it to some extent.
But a part of me exists that, no matter how extroverted I force myself to become, will never get into networking. I guess, in some way, it seems like a sin to me. Let me explain before you right me off as some legalistic, sin-focused, Bible-thumper (there may be times where I am, but that’s another article).
A lot of the networking I see taking place—whether in the church or without—is for personal gain. We seek out people who can be helpful to us in whatever way. Sometimes we need legitimate help; often we just want to get ahead in life.
Let me say right off that networking isn’t necessarily bad. It is almost impossible to get into decent jobs anymore without doing a bit of networking. My wife has been looking for a job in her field (hydrogeology) for a while. Her main course of action in an economy that has produced very few jobs is to do informational interviews with companies. She has tried to set up one informational meeting at a company each month. She also joined the local chapter of the Association of Women in Geosciences (and has served on the board). She is constantly looking for opportunities to network and find a job. And she needs to do this—it is her main recourse of action in finding employment.
There is a fine line, however, between putting your name/face out there for the sake of finding a job and using people for your own gain. People become objects, tools for our use when we view them that way. We neglect to see the divine in them—the image of God in which they were created. They become objects instead of subjects.
Jan Bros, pastor of Abbey Way Covenant Church in Minneapolis, once said in a sermon, “The way we are with people is the way we are with God, and the way we are with God is the way we are with people.” We can view our relationships with others as resources or as blessings—something for us to invest in because of the joy we can give others. We can do the same with God, as well. Sometimes we have a tendency to “use” God—especially in prayer. “God, I need …” or “God, if you just help me get out of this situation, I promise I’ll …”
Jesus once told the crowd around Him to never take the best seat at the banquet table. You never know when someone with a higher status than you will arrive, and you will be asked to find another seat. Rather than face embarrassment, Jesus told the people to sit at the lowest place. The dinner host may give you a better seat.
Networking can be a wonderful ministry. It can help us connect people in need with people who have resources to share. It can help the lonely make connections. It can, in the proper hands, advance God’s Kingdom. We can use it to help those in lower places and to rally others to causes of justice.
I have a friend who is great at networking. He connects people to jobs he knows are open. He helps get resources to people who are in need. He recently wrote a children’s book about the need of clean water in the world; the proceeds go toward organizations that build wells and such. And, of course, he networks to get the book out there in order to get clean water to kids around the world. He is a master networker—and he uses it for doing good.
Too often, though, we use it for personal gain. We like to drop names. We like to know people in high places. We like to know people with money.
During Lent, I took a break from Facebook (for the most part—there were times I needed it to send a message to someone because I didn’t have their email or phone number). I find I can spend a lot of time on the site if I let myself. It’s been good for connecting with others. I’m not one who would make a lot of phone calls, but I can easily write a quick post on someone’s wall and see how they’re doing and what’s going on in their life.
But staying off of Facebook for a time has also shown me I like to be connected to people because I like to be liked. The hardest part of refraining from Facebook was not getting the constant email notifications when someone posted on my wall or responded to a post I made. Those emails make me happy. They let me know people like me. Or at least they like what I say. But like most of networking, those emails can be an ego boost.
In many ways, networking at its worst becomes a lot like lust. We no longer see people as beings created in God’s image, but we view them as objects—resources.
As we network, we must try to not view people as a means to an end. Maybe my business card just needs to read, “How may I serve you?”