Networking that doesn’t feel icky

The last semester of seminary was an anxious time for me. Every day I felt more unemployable as my classmates were appointed or called to their post-graduation churches. Meanwhile, I went on interview after interview, breaking the top two or three several times before hearing the “no” that every minister in a search process dreads.

A big factor in my failed searches was that I didn’t know a lot of people. I was a name on a page, with too little experience to make search teams want to find out more about me. One reason for my small network was that I simply had not met a lot of people. I had only recently found my way to the progressive Baptist world, which was where I wanted to serve, yet as a Candler student most of my friends and professors were United Methodist. But there was also the side of me that rejected networking as I understood it: schmoozing and getting ahead based on the connections I had, not the work I had done or the skills I possessed.

In time I realized that “networking” is one of those words that needs to be re-claimed, like evangelism. Good, healthy networking is not about ladder-climbing. It’s about showing interest in other people and their work. It’s about learning from and sharing wisdom with others. It’s about, in short, understanding our interdependence and strengthening relationships such that both parties can more fully inhabit their personhood and their call.

Putting on a Murphy Brown suit and making it rain business cards won’t accomplish those ends. But in his WorkLife podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently offered up ways to network that do build genuine bonds:

Build your skills. As you learn, you not only increase your range and expertise, you meet people in the areas where those skills are needed, some of whom are regularly contacted by organizations looking for those talents. So in the world of ministry, seek out parachurch trainings about how to be a head of staff or mediate conflict or navigate the interim time between settled pastors. Attend continuing education events offered by seminaries. Get coached. Go to denominational gatherings that offer practical workshops.

Give help. Want to learn how to do something new and show your willingness to be a team player? Offer to pitch in. Take on a project at the middle judicatory level. Mentor a new minister. Offer your expertise in a consultant-type role. Lead a retreat. Tread with intentionality, though, making sure you aren’t just accumulating tasks that no one else wants or that others expect women to do.

Ask for advice. Not everyone loves to be asked for help. That can, at times, feel like a burden. But who doesn’t like to be asked for their wisdom? Contact someone who is doing something you’d like to do and ask a few brief questions about how that person got there. If you want to serve a big-steeple church, reach out to a large-church pastor you admire. The same goes if you’re feeling called to be a CPE supervisor, judicatory or denominational leader, or any other role. The veteran will feel recognized for work well done, and you will gain knowledge and plant your name in that person’s memory.

The key in all of these types of network is to be sincere in your interactions. Truly be interested, and you will likely be amazed at the doors that will open for you.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.

A celebration of my preaching box upon its retirement

I have yet to find a pulpit or lectern designed for someone who is 4’10.”

This wasn’t really an issue until my senior year of high school. As a condition of graduation, all seniors had to give a talk to the entire student body. It was likely that my audience would only be able to see my teased hair over the big wooden podium. I thought, Hey, now I won’t have to see any bored or disgruntled faces!  On the other hand, I’d be putting in a whole lot of work for nothing. No one’s gonna listen to a floating coiffure.

My dad came up with a solution. He asked someone at the family business to build a box for me. This person found some wood scraps and carpet leftovers and whipped them up into a platform.

 

I used the box for my senior talk, then put it in storage for a long time. When I received my first call to a church, though, I dusted it off and carted it to Winston-Salem. It has traveled with me ever since. I often leave the box in the car when I supply preach for the first time at a church, until I see if I need it. (I can dream, right?) My host usually greets me, sizes me up, and says, “We have a platform we can get from the choir room…” I listen politely and then inform my host that I have my own box, a faithful companion for lo, these 23 years.

The box is not much to look at. The carpet is that industrial kind you find in offices. It’s been fraying at the edges for a while. It kinda stinks after having my feet on it so often.

But.

The box is practically indestructible. I have never doubted its ability to hold me those six inches off the ground. It is the perfect size – not too big to carry, but wide and deep enough so that I have only almost fallen off of it once. The carpet pieces protect against any distracting shoe noises. At some point along the way I inscribed a couple of Bible verses on the inside of it that give me some extra juice when it’s time to preach.

Not only that, but I imagine Robby, a long-ago employee in a now-defunct business, searching through the warehouse for just the right materials, lining up the wood, driving a million nails into it to make the box as sturdy as it is, and cutting the carpet scraps just so. A lot of care went into giving me a good foundation. The box represents all the encouragement and guidance I’ve been given through the years, which bear me up when the ministry gets rough.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a collapsible stool on the random row at Aldi – the one that has the short-term specials on any number of home/personal care/school items. The stool is much lighter than my box. It has rubber on the top and the bottom to keep it – and me – from skidding. It won’t trap foot stench. It folds up flat. It can live in my trunk for, you know, any random preach-ins or height-boosting needs. I realized then it was time to retire my preaching box.

The box still lives under my desk, so anytime I’m coaching or writing, it’s holding my feet up so they don’t go to sleep. It’s living into its purpose in a new way. I can’t imagine ever getting rid of it. (I’ve had it for over half my life, for goodness’ sake.) It will still be a trusty companion. It just won’t travel anymore.

And so, for all the miles it has gone, for all the ways it has held me up, and for its continued support, I give thanks to my preaching box. Well done, good and faithful servant.

It is not good for ministers to be alone

As I thought recently about the clients I currently have the privilege of coaching, it occurred to me that most of them are solo pastors. Some have very part-time administrative staff, facilities managers, or directors of specialized ministries, but by and large their offices are echo chambers during the week.

Now, let me be clear that I found it very helpful to have a coach when I served as an associate pastor. Multi-minister staff dynamics can get pretty gnarly, and it helps to have an outsider to process them with. But I want to give a special shout out to my solo pastor clients who are refusing to Lone Ranger it and are instead proactively seeking a conversation partner and an encourager. Isolation ramps up the potential for all kinds of personal and vocational snags, and seeking out a colleague is an important piece of health and effectiveness. Thank you for modeling the power of relationship for other solo pastors and for the people in your care.