It is as true in ministry as it is anywhere else. When it comes to getting hired, it is often not “what you know” but “who you know.” And really, this makes sense. When looking for a new minister, churches want to find someone who they can trust is a minister of truth and good character. And what better way to ensure that than to rely on another ministry leader who can vouch for those traits?
Still, this truth can prove frustrating for ministers who are just getting started that do not have years of experience and do not yet know many ministry leaders. Networking is important for ministers just starting out.
I used to feel uncomfortable about the idea of networking in relation to ministry. To me, it seemed manipulative and insincere. It felt like getting to know people just to get something out of them, which certainly isn’t Christ-like. However, I believe that if we reframe the way we think about networking, we can both honor God an achieve ministry goals.
I believe that it is helpful to think of networking in ministry as the building of relationships. And I believe that we must be honest about our intentions from the outset. Do I think we should ask ministry leaders “can I get to know you so that I can get a job?” No. Of course not.
Instead, maybe we can ask something more along the lines of “I am just getting started in ministry. Would you mind mentoring me and serving as a reference for future ministry positions?” This way, we are not just looking for connections but connection with a person who can not only help us find a ministry placement, but help us to grow in our faith and leadership abilities.
The concept of mentorship is Scriptural. Just look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul refers to Timothy as “[his] true son in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:12) Paul also writes,
“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
The point of ministry relationships is not to get job references. The point is to have another leader who believes in your calling and who can pour into your life. The outgrowth of this is that your mentor will be able to speak to others regarding your calling and your gifts. They are not simply a networking opportunity, but a person who can help you become the best minister you can be.
Networking in the ministry world requires a lot of work. It is more than attending an event just to have dinner with “big names” in ministry. It is being vulnerable with a person you admire and respect and allowing them to instruct you in Scriptures and in matters of the faith. It is being open to constructive criticism and exhortation. It will require time and energy. One must allow their mentor intimately into their ministry and struggles and successes.
Having a mentor is not only good for networking. It is also essential for the spiritual and mental health of a minister. Anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time can speak to the total exhaustion and burnout that ministers risk. A minister must have a group of other leaders who understand their unique struggles and successes who can encourage them, pray for them, and guide them when things get rough. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 reads,
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
So where can a young minister just looking to get started find such mentors? My advice is to start where you are. Begin with the church you attend. Meet with the pastor or youth pastor or children’s minister and ask them if they will be your mentor. Ask them if they know any other ministers in your area that you can meet with and speak with. Schedule a coffee date with some of them. Open up your hearts to who God has already put in your life. There will always be someone. God is faithful to provide.
Another place to find mentors can be your seminary. Professors and fellow classmates often have significant ministry experience. These people are great to have rooting for you because they know you not just at your “Sunday-best” but know who you become when the stresses of life and work close in. They are often some of the best friends you will ever have. Make friends in seminary. I cannot stress this enough. Seminary is not just a place to get educated and earn a degree, but to create a support system. I wish that I had invested more in relationships while I was in seminary.
In any career, networking is vital. God has plans, but He also asks us to act in faith according to those plans. May we move along in this area with wisdom and in faith and truth.