WHY SHOULD I JOIN A NETWORK?
WHY SHOULD I JOIN A NETWORK?
We are discussing the value of networks for church planters and pastors. Obviously, there are many successful pastors who are independent, and have done well in ministry without being part of a larger group. Yet for some, a network can be both life giving and lifesaving.
We are not discussing denominational affiliation here, although some networks seem to function in a similar way. Denominations usually have theological credentialing, with doctrinal and moral accountability for its members. There is a connectionism that holds its members together with history, doctrine, and government. All of these can be wonderful, but they do not necessarily share the passion and energy of mission, vision, and personal relationships that networks can give pastors.
When pastors and churches are part of a network with no other denominational standards, no set doctrine, no church discipline, it is usually the charisma of church planters and preachers that drive things. Sometimes there is no restraint, except within themselves, and this has had a mixed record for holiness and faithfulness in the church at large.
Denominations can sometimes rest on their standards, or rules, and assume that since they have them written down, and have had their members take vows concerning them, that their members are following them. The record of that being true is mixed as well.
I have been a network leader for about 20 years. For the first ten it was informal, and for the last ten it has been for an organized and incorporated ministry. Some of this came about because of church plants or church planters springing up from our particular congregation and model of ministry. Our community of pastors wanted to stay connected, and it was a larger group than our original denominational relationships.
We had certain commitments that were common to us, and though our congregations were all on what you might call a “sliding spectrum” of those commitments we all wanted to pursue them. We were what you might call an “affiliated network” rather than one that financed or launched new churches with financial benefits and obligations.
Part of the value of being in our network is the sense that there are common values, and best practices. We want to learn immediate and reproducible lessons from others. We want others to help us think if those lessons
can work on our particular terrain or battlefield. We want to share our victories, battles, and even failures with others who understand the nature of our common fight and will not despise us for being less than them.
FINANCIALLY OBLIGATED NETWORKS:
There are advantages to being in a formal and financially obligated network. One is that when networks give money they have more influence in having members show up for training, conferences, and supporting network wide strategy. It is usually easier for them to maintain staff and networking services from which network members receive support. One of the drawbacks to a financial obligation is just that, if the obligation is not met, on either side, then the connection might end.
One of the benefits of being in any kind of network is the role of “Bishop.” I use the term in the biblical sense of overseer, but not as an ecclesiastical boss for placement or hiring, nor for doctrinal or moral censure. This role or function of Bishop is one that I find to be sought after by younger pastors for their own guidance and emotional and spiritual support. They are known by other names, such as coach, mentor, spiritual advisor, and even supervisor.
One of the primary benefits of having a Bishop in your life is to simply have someone show up, speak up, or shore up your soul on a given day. Presbyterians think all pastors and elders are bishops, but the common Presbyterian pastor does not have someone who takes on the responsibility of either seeking them out to care for their soul, or even being available just to answer questions and pray for them. The bishop ministry to which I am referring in a network is usually warmly welcomed, and not suspected of trying to control one’s life or ministry day.
Since I am in a cross-cultural network, with several African American pastors, I am often greeted by being called, “Bishop!” I take this as a great compliment, and do not take it that anyone is placing himself in subordination to me. I do not ask people to kiss my ring, bow in the street, or buy me purple shirts. I do take the title seriously, and even as a statement that this role is needed and appreciated.
I am a retired Army Chaplain. I went from 1stLT to a full Colonel. I loved being a “unit chaplain” because they were like my parish, my own congregation. I was sought after, and sought the work, because I was “pastoral” to soldiers. I cared for their souls and their lives. As I was promoted, I was expected to support the organization of how subordinate Chaplains did their work, and to help them do that work. Sometimes it could move me out of a pastoring relationship.
MOVE TO THE FRONT:
The one thing that was true, both for me and others, was that when a supervisory Chaplain sought me out to simply find out how I was doing, and to pray for me, I was delighted and felt supported. When, as a ranking Chaplain, I went forward, looking for Chaplains in the field doing their work, I could see how much my visits meant to them. Reports, inspections, and other kinds of administrative requirements gave me little joy, but sitting in a tent, on the back of pick-up, around a kerosene heater in the desert and being told I was important by a visiting supervisory Chaplain made me feel blessed.
It is always the people on the front lines who are important, we exist for them, not them for us. As organizations seek to become more efficient they tend to require those in the field to “come back to headquarters” and make a report. Those who are doing the hands on work love it when their supervisors show up, look around, and see the good stuff that is going on, not to catch them in some lie, but to love on them, compliment, and even endorse with their presence that this front-line pastor is connected to bigger things.
There are no perfect networks. Individuals fail, sometimes personal chemistry might not work, there can be miscommunication; calls for help might not be heard or understood in time. Affiliated networks are harder because without money to brook up the influence people may feel no need to stay in touch and communicate need. Relational networks always need relational investment to work well.
Pastors can be totally immersed in their own ministry. It becomes all important, and there can even be a feeling of resentment that other pastors, denominational and network leaders have no clue about what “God is really doing,” right here and right now. It feels unique but is quite common. Of course, God is at work, that is what he does, and he is doing his work in a lot of places through lots of people, none of whom are expendable.
It is helpful for pastors to realize and experience that they are part of a larger whole, but not simply for organizational or administrative purposes. They need shared passion, shared excitement, shared testimony, and others who will help them carry their burden of sin struggle, family pressures and guilt, the emotional and spiritual blows of growing saints and failing sinners, and internal conflict and criticism within their own ministry. It takes humility to be yoked with others, but it is so helpful to carry and pull a heavy load. I am convinced that mutually supporting relationships in a formal network can extend the life, and deepen the quality, of a pastor’s ministry.
By Randy Nabors,
The New City Network.