Youth Pastor Panel: Why Networking Is Important
Networking is a common concept in the business world. It’s all about who you know, right? But sometimes in ministry we get the misconception of the church down the street as competition, when honestly they should be someone we can learn from and grow with. As ministry leaders our goal is to bring people to Christ and to love on them.
It's a common goal for all of us, so why not do it together? That's what networking is about - working together, sharing ideas, colloborating, praying for, and encouraging each other. We wanted to dive in a just a bit deeper to see what other leaders in youth ministry are doing to help each other out. Check out what they had to say!
1. How would you define networking for pastors?
BRIAN (President and Founder of youthmark.com): I would define a network as a gathering of pastors and leaders for the purpose of refuge, prayer, accountability, encouragement and sharpening of one another. Secondary purposes for networking certainly include: common events, information about ministry opportunities and advertisements, devotions and topical conversations.
CHRISTOPHER (Youth for Christ Director and blogger at christopherschmitz.blogspot.com): Networking is largely defined as interaction, but I think it is critically important, especially in regards to ministry and Christianity to look at it through the lens of relationship. Networking is building and utilizing it in a way with specific intent and purpose, but it is relational nonetheless. People use Facebook for both personal and business reasons and maybe have different groups to compartmentalize them by function and purpose, but no networking exists if the relationship is dead by non-interaction or cessation of relationship.
DAVE (Youth Pastor and a blogger at davelibbon.com): Networking for pastors can be a sharp double-edged sword if we’re honest about it. There have been times I’ve sat in gatherings solely to compare what I was or was not doing or somehow gage if I was being successful or not (most often this ended in me feeling a failure that I wasn’t succeeding or prideful that my ministry was better in some aspect). My human sinfulness and success idolatry are redeemed by Christ, I feel a healthy definition of networking is reminding myself and others that we are 1) not in this alone and 2) that the gospel is bigger then just what God’s doing at the church I attend.
TODD (Associate Pastor and blogger at asowerslife.net): Networking for pastors is a social and professional interaction between pastors for the purpose of relationship, accountability, equipping and mentoring, and advice.
DAN (Director of Youth and Young adults and blogger at emergingyouth.wordpress.com): In my experience, networking is a strategic collaboration of ministry colleagues for both friendship, support, and partnerships. Networking could function as a pastor support group in which pastors from various churches in a particular locale meeting regularity to discuss personal and pastoral issues they cannot share within their own congregation. Additionally, networking could serve as a platform for churches to work together towards a special goal or project with a community. Personally, I have benefited from networking across a wide range of ministry professions and geographic areas. This has lead to enriching conversations and travel opportunities where I have both spiritually and professionally learned a great deal from others.
2. How often do you meet with other pastors in your community?
BRIAN: One of the networks I meet with gets together at a local coffee shop on a weekly basis. This network consists of six or seven youth leaders (both full time and part time) and para church leaders. This group is very centered around prayer and refuge and we do a lot of “group” things together like camps and retreats.
The second group that I lead serves a much larger area. We meet once a month for lunch at a pizza place and any given month we have anywhere up to ten youth leaders. This meeting has more of a “group discussion” feel. I’ll bring up a youth ministry or church related topic and this will be an iron-sharpens-iron type setting. Community is still key, but much harder to build with just a monthly meeting (when any given month other meetings may take precedence on the one time we are meeting).
In about 20 years of networking I have done everything from Frisbee Golf Tournaments to taking network-wide mission trips with the other youth ministries. Some of my best friendships have been formed because of these settings!
CHRISTOPHER: I personally meet with other pastors as often as possible. I probably get to it about every two weeks. If it were possible I would meet twice a week: more, smaller meetings would be better than longer meetings very infrequently.
DAVE: Our network meets on a monthly basis.
TODD: I strive to meet with other pastors in my community outside of my church, a multi-pastor church, at least once a month. I find that even though we work together and some of the pastors in my church are my supervisors there is still a sense of networking there as well.
DAN: I am part of an intention development group for pastors instituted by Fuller Theological Seminary called "Micah Group". We meet once a month for five hours. Additionally, I have an online network of youth ministry colleagues through various social media platforms such as my blog, Facebook and Twitter who I connect with on a weekly basis.
3. Can you tell us about a time when you felt lonely in ministry?
BRIAN: I have spent the majority of my ministry career in the Seattle area and networking was always a part of that history. From the first week on the job (and getting an invite to a youth pastor breakfast) to this coming week where one of my networks continues to meet weekly. However, there was a 19-month season of ministry when we moved to Phoenix where I wasn't part of anything. I attempted to start a local youth pastor network, but it seemed I hit the town around the same time that much transition was taking place. Every attempt to start something was met with resistance. My networking efforts moved to phone calls with old friends.
This was also the time where I most needed that type of network since it was a tough season to go through. I was in a new place, a new church, and dealing with things I hadn't experienced in a church setting before. Lonely is certainly the best way for me to describe that season!
CHRISTOPHER: There is a specific calling that God places upon the lives of ministers. Perhaps the loneliest times in my life are when everything is overshadowed by that purpose unfulfilled. I can remember being in transition, and it being the loneliest time in my life. My senior pastor had left and his replacement brought his own staff from his previous church. I was thrust into that gulf between ministry positions—that period of searching and the feeling of uselessness— despite volunteering in ministry elsewhere, which resulted in a deep-seated feeling of alienation and resulting loneliness. It’s a kind of loneliness that only other pastors can relate to.
DAVE: My loneliest time in ministry was my first two years. I was young, single, and had these grandiose ideas about how the church should operate.
TODD: I can't pinpoint a specific time, but ministry is a very lonely vocation and that is why networking is so needed. Additionally, I would add that it is good to nurture relationships with others outside of your own church and outside of the ministry profession.
DAN: I felt alone in ministry on a number of occasions. Ironically one time occurred early in my career, following a national youth workers conference. When I returned home and realize just how isolated I was from youth pastors and support systems, I felt alone. Fortunately that spurred me to create my own regional network which began a wonderful blessing. I also felt alone more recently when I transitioned away from my church of 10 years into a new church in a new country. I literally had no one to meet up with to share my thoughts and emotions and I knew of very few individuals who had gone through a similar type of transition. There are far less international youth workers than "American" youth workers out there!
4. Have you ever felt low on ideas? How has networking helped unlock more ideas?
BRIAN: Every now and then, I'd bring a different discussion topic or question so that there is never a shortage of new ideas. Whether we are discussing parental relationships, crowd breakers or evangelism strategies we are working on, we are consistently giving voice and ear to new ideas.
Doing this has introduced me to so many great idea creators as well. It was through a local network that I first heard about Dare 2 Share Ministries, which has turned out to be one of the organizations I most trust in the national youth ministry scene. To date, every single church in my two most local networks, have since attended the D2S events.
Because of the partnerships we’ve developed it's not each other that we’ve learned from, but we’ve put ourselves in situations with each other’s students as well. Sharing camps, mission trips, and other events has given us opportunity to learn from those we are shepherding as well.
CHRISTOPHER: Everyone feels low on ideas at times. I often do, even though I’ve got years of backlogs and prewritten sermons and notes and resources. Just like talking through a problem with another person helps provide cathartic relief and insight into a situation, talking with another youth worker sparks up ideas. I was at a youth astors conference once when ND Assemblies of God District Youth Director Twyla Kunz stated, “Steal these illustrations! Make them your own and nobody will ever know that you didn’t come up with this.” Obviously we give credit where it is due, but when you hear a great message somewhere else and you know it may make an impact take it and use it! It’s for the Kingdom’s glory. So, don’t steal, but don’t feel compelled to be all original all the time: you could burn yourself out otherwise.
DAVE: I can’t say that I have. I feel pretty creative over all. I will say that working alongside other pastors allows my own creative gears to flow smoother. For example one might talk about a teaching series that communicated well to his students. I fully realize that his church culture is different then my own but I might use an illustration he shared in a different context. One church started giving out some informational cards to new students who showed up. This challenged my team and I to look at how we communicate to new students.
TODD: Networking helps to unlock ideas as those in your circle share what is happening in their ministry and assist you in your ministry struggles. I find that when I'm doing this, ideas tend to flow very easily.
DAN: Yes! Every year around the end of summer into beginning of the new school year, I feel low on ideas. Networking has been the best ways to receive inspiration as well as ideas about helpful resources such as curriculum, confirmation, retreats, and games. Particularly within my own regional network it helps to learn about what other youth workers in similar contexts to me are doing and finding successful. Let's be honest, certain ministry ideas that may work in one part of the country may not work as well somewhere else. I have discovered this is especially true from country to country!
5. What are some key questions you use to start a new relationship with other pastors?
BRIAN: My strategy with new youth pastors is to go out of my way to invite them to meet up one-on-one, before inviting them to the larger group. My personal strategy is a welcome phone call or e-mail with an invite to grab a coffee or a lunch. At that setting I’ll let them know about the local gathering. Because the networks I am a part of are not denominationally or agenda driven, the one-on-one setting gives me the opportunity to introduce the new youth pastors to our “refuge-driven” setting. We truly want to be a resource and encouragement to one another.
Specific questions I use to start new relationships:
- Want to grab coffee?
- Want to grab lunch?
- Want to grab breakfast?
- What do you enjoy doing outside of ministry? Want to meet and do that?
Seriously, my goal is friendship and then eventually we may find out that partnership in ministry is a result!
CHRISTOPHER: I like to find out what other pastors enjoy in their spare time. Everyone needs hobbies and everyone enjoys sharing about their own. The ministry will almost always find things we can relate on, but sharing things like hobbies will build a personal network rather than a professional one. I don’t remember many of my past coworkers, but I remember friends from decades ago.
DAVE: Please don’t start off with “How big, how many students, the size of their ministry” questions. This only communicates that you are there to compare. I’d want to know their story. How they came to faith? What season of life their family is in? What their church culture is like? What are they reading? How long have they been at that church? Then I’d listen as an act of love. I find that when I talk to leaders so many times I feel that I’m not even listening to them because I’m in such a hurry to tell them something next.
- What brought you to this place at this time?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- How can I best serve and support you personally?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What is one great ministry moment you experienced in the past year?
It's All About Relationships
From these answers it seems like networking in ministry is just that, relationships. And it's not just for the students but for us as well! We can’t thank these pastors enough for sharing their time and giving us a glimpse into their experiences and providing some really fantastic advice about networking in ministry. Now it’s time for you to go out, develop relationships, and network with fellow pastors and people in ministry!
Special thanks to:
- Brian Aaby - Seattle based seasoned youth pastor and Founder and President of Youthmark, an organization that provides services, experiences and resources to serve those in Student Ministries.
- Christopher Schmitz - Director for the Redwood Falls Youth For Christ and Author of The Kakos Realm: Grinden Proselyte, read more about what Christopher is up to on his blog, Holy Schmitz!
- Dave Libbon - This Pittsburgh native loves to minister to teens (which is great since he's the Youth Pastor at St. Andrews Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC). Oh and he likes coffee a lot. Read more about what Dave is up to on his blog, Simul lustis et Peccator.
- Todd Vick - Associate Pastor for Youth Ministries at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Fort Smith, AR. Read more about what Todd is up to on his blog, A Sower’s Life.
- Dan Haugh - This Northeast native is currently living it up in France as the Director of Youth and Young Adults at The American Church in Paris. Read more about Dan's ministry on his blog: Emerging Youth.