I have made no secret of my dislike for networking and that whole aspect of life in the ministry. I have mentioned it here, here, here and here. I find the whole thing extremely unpleasant, upsetting and (often) unseemly.
I am much happier meeting one to one. I’ll gladly meet with most people and chew the fat. But even then, many are only interested in meeting up if you can do something for them (or someone is sizing you up as a ‘helpful’ contact). If you prove not to be anybody useful to them or connected enough to be valuable, you can expect to be ghosted.
I’ve had folk meet with me and then, fairly soon after, refuse to even reply to messages. I can only surmise I was either so offensively horrible that they never wanted to speak to me again or I wasn’t useful enough for them to bother with me. I feel I would remember the former. Truth be told, if the shoe was on the other foot, I would probably reply but mention it as the main reason why I wasn’t too keen to pursue any sort of relationship. If the person apologised about it, I’d be happy enough to wipe the slate clean, start over and give it another bash.
But, in truth, neither seems to be a terribly Christian approach to relationship. The fact is, some people are difficult. We can all be difficult. Some people are more awkward to be around than others, some people drain our energy, some people descend into themselves and their problems when we meet them, the list of potential reasons for people being difficult goes on and on.
But as Christians – especially as pastors – are we not to bear with one another? If somebody descends into their problems when we meet – not least if they are genuinely experiencing a hard time – is that not precisely the kind of time we ought to reach out to them and seek to walk with them? Yes, we are pastors to our congregations, but who pastors the pastors? If we all just say, ‘sorry mate, I just don’t have time or energy for this’ (either directly and literally, or just by ghosting people) what does that say about our view of that person, our concern about the wellbeing of their gospel ministry and – perhaps most pointed of all – our supposedly pastoral heart?
Such is bad enough, if understandable from time to time, but what about the other reason? What does it say about us if we are only prepared to cultivate relationships with people who can give us something? Whether it is people who might fund our ministry, or give us a leg up in the Christian world, or offer us a platform, or make us a name, or who will fawn at us and make us feel good about ourselves? What does it say about us if we always prioritise such relationships over others looking to reach out?
That sort of attitude essentially says the small guys can struggle on because they can’t do anything for me. The only no-mark ministers we would bother with on such an attitude are those who, if we support them, will find a way of making it redound to our glory. Otherwise, we will support those who will make us their de facto mentor, which is a nice boost to our ego. But we won’t show any interest in the guys who aren’t well connected, who can’t do anything for us but who simply want a friend with no particular strings attached. They take up too much time, they won’t serve our glory in any way, they will simply take and – from our perspective – give little in return.
Pastors, we should do better. If you don’t have any friends in ministry who you see even semi-regularly, who can do nothing for you and aren’t looking to stroke your ego (even though they’re not going out of their way to knock it either), it bears asking why not? Is it because you’ve only cultivated friendships and relationships with those who can help you, who can serve you or your ministry in some way?
I am grateful Christ does not treat us this way. We can give absolutely nothing to him and yet he gives relentlessly of himself to us. Pastor, as you point your church to Christ and encourage them to grow in his likeness (I presume you do that, right?), are you prepared to do the same? Are you prepared to give of yourself, even to those who can do absolutely nothing for you or your ministry? If not, maybe you should be asking yourself some fairly hard questions about being in the ministry at all.