What are your impressions of this concept?
Mine were: utilitarian; exhausting; intimidating; selfish; even sleazy.
Networking brings to mind men (yes, men) in three piece suits with firm handshakes, cocktail in hand, scanning my nametag (or age/gender/hair color) and looking past me for a more important person in the room.
A year and a half ago, that all changed. A year and a half ago, I undertook the journey of starting a new faith community. And whether I liked it or not, felt sleazy or not, networking suddenly became my job.
How could this be? I’m an introvert, after all. Worried I’m not important enough for people to take time with: I was brand new to Arlington, had no people or building for this new church (barely a name and a bare-bones website to try and seem legitimate). I couldn’t be of use to anyone. Could I? Would people take the time to meet with me?
I have a ministry coach and his advice was this: make a list of everyone you know and invite them to coffee/tea and hear their story. Then ask: who else you do you think I should know? Could you connect me?
So I did. And you know what? People said yes. To me, to time apart, to telling their story. Whole worlds and communities and individuals have opened up to me and fundamentally reshaped my understanding of this community in which I live and work and pastor:
I’ve sipped tea with county board members, eaten lunch in the county jail with an inmate, joined an entrepreneur group for women, and toured a safe house for women and children who have experienced domestic violence. I’ve sorted fresh produce at the food assistance center, enjoyed tea with students studying public policy, young adults asking big questions about faith, and connected with friends from High School in Texas. I know the recidivism rate for inmates coming out of the county jail, the office vacancy rate along the metro corridor, and the percentage of students who are food insecure. I’ve heard Ted-style talks by innovators in the area, met local business owners, and learned about arts advocacy in the region.
And somewhere along the way, we started to build a faith community. My intention with each interaction is NOT to find the person who will join the church, be part of the leadership team, lead the small group. My intention has been to be curious--hear people’s stories, learn about the community from the community, and form good old fashioned human connection. And yet, we now have people, leaders, and small groups for this new church.
Really, it’s a page out of Jesus’ handbook: meet a diverse range of people where they are, listen deeply to their stories, and begin to connect around what leads to life.
Networking for me is now a spiritual discipline--I’m amazed by the great diversity with which God creates us and how human connection leads to the movement of the Spirit with joy, creativity, and mutual participation in the common good.
For the vast majority of people, networking isn’t paid work. But my hope for me and for you wherever life takes us is to let connecting with others and hearing their stories become a discipline. To make a quota per week/month/quarter to ask someone to coffee and hear their story. Show up and be vulnerable. Release outcomes and let the Spirit do her thing.
Rev. Kate Hurst Floyd