Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How to Avoid Train Wrecks in Networking

Nine years ago, I attended a conference for Youth Ministry Network Coordinators (people who help churches connect and work together) sponsored by the National Network of Youth Ministries (www.youthworkers.net). One of the key things we learned was this: an effective network of youth pastors carefully balances strategy and relationships - like the two rails of a train track, they keep a network moving smoothly. You can't run a train without two rails and you can't lead a network of youth pastors without strong relationships and purposeful strategy.

I've seen this principle play out many times over the years since then. Sometimes you have a group of youth pastors who are all business - they want to get something done. I'm all for that, but without the trust and camaraderie that relationships provide, heavy-strategy networks seems to only last as long as whatever event or project they are doing and they leave people feeling drained, not refreshed.

I've also seen networks of youth pastors who were all about connecting and not much else. Those groups are a lot of fun, but I believe that they are missing out on so much that God could do through them. A relationship-only network becomes a little too me-focused (Am I getting something out of this? If not, I'm outta here). The strategy element keeps the relationships purposeful and missional.

One group of youth pastors we work with plans two events a year - the events are strategic and exciting (a school year kick off event attended by 700+ kids, and a baccalaureate service for graduating seniors). But the events really just provide an excuse for the guys to get together and hang out - and they have a GREAT time together. No notes are taken, no minutes, no agendas handed out. We just work on our projects as we can fit between joking around.

Another group of youth pastors we work with has several big events which they do together throughout the year, but all of that was born out of friendships and sharing the same passion for teenagers. That group of youth leaders also throws baby showers for each other, has dinners together, and constantly keep in touch via facebook and twitter. They make their work a lot of fun.

The two rails of relationship and strategy (or maybe they're more like the two ends of a balance pole carried by a tightrope walker) exist in a sort of tension, but carefully balancing these things makes working together work well.

1 comment:

Nick Arnold said...

Any suggestions on how to maintain that balance? And how do you evaluate whether or not the balance is appropriate? (or, how do you know whether or not the network is unbalanced in either direction?)

This almost begs the question, do ministry networks need some sort of command structure? I know this is outside the scope of this post, but I figured I'd ask. :)

The NNYM offers a hierarchy with the intent of supporting the local church networks. Hopefully, we can look to our regional coordinators to offer wisdom when a network leans too far one way or the other.