I’m currently reading, among other books, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi’s. It’s a book about networking. Or, as Ferazzi may prefer, it’s a book about building relationships. Reading this title got me thinking: What does a distinct Christian outlook on networking look like? How does your Christian faith govern the way you build relationships with others?
I love gleaning practical insights from personal development books, but I also recognize that not all the material can be trusted, and we must be thinking Christianly about every subject — including networking.
Below you’ll find some thoughts on networking from a Christian perspective.
Christian Reflections on Networking
In no particular order.
1. Serve without expecting anything in return.
The biggest difference that distinguishes a Christian perspective on networking from a secular one is that Christians are called to serve others without expecting anything in return.
True greatness is about service, not achievement (Matthew 20:26). Serving others without expecting anything in return doesn’t mean you respond to every person, but it does mean that, when you do, you do it out of a heart to serve, not to receive a tangible benefit.
Several years ago, my wife and I went to a different state to attend a worship service in hopes of connecting with a widely recognized movement and pastor to see about doing ministry with his associated family of churches. After the service, pastor so-and-so gave us around 20 minutes of his time, and asked, “How can I serve you?” That question sticks with me to this day. God had other plans with respect to my ministry future, but this pastor taught me to lean in with asking how to serve when building relationships.
Ask people, “How can I serve you?”
2. Never separate God’s sovereignty from human responsibility.
God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send that email, only that you shouldn’t freak out if nobody replies.
Depending on which theological circle you run in, you may have a tendency to overemphasize either God’s control or your effort in the realm of making connections. But God’s sovereignty never mitigates personal responsibility. You should pray, attend conferences, make connections, send emails, and try to get lunch and coffee appointments. You have a part to play. On the other hand, you should rest easy at night, knowing that the results of your efforts are in God’s hand, and even unresponsiveness is ordained by God. We need to trust God’s sovereignty, but also work hard to make connections.
3. Understand why you didn’t get a response.
Our egos are slighted when we don’t get a reply. This is especially true if you admire the person you reach out to. I understand. I am not immune to these feelings of being overlooked. But before resentment creeps in, consider there are several reasons why you didn’t get a reply:
(A) The person or organization didn’t get your inquiry.
(B) The person or organization means well, but they are incompetent at administration, and therefore constantly forget to respond.
(C) The person or organization is going through some personal things in real life and they don’t have the emotional capacity to say anything.
(D) The person or organization is inundated with hundreds of requests like yours and they must prioritize their time.
(E) The person or organization was burned in the past by someone who has a similar request and now they have trust issues. Someone else ruined it for you.
And so on.
Yes, it’s true that sometimes people don’t reply because the answer is “no” and they don’t know how to put it nicely. But life is too short to dwell on a lack of replies. It takes wisdom and discernment to know whether or not you should keep banging on that door or just move on, but we cannot allow our rejection issues to get in the way.
4. How you come across matters.
I wish it didn’t. I wish we could just state requests, facts, objections, and data irrespective of word choice and tonality and non-verbal communication. But this desire is out of touch with how humans are wired. Despite having good intentions, if you are not tactful and winsome as you seek to build relationships with those you don’t know, you will come across as off-putting. Nervousness and awkwardness are fine as long as you are genuine. You don’t have to be polished, just authentic. Being pushy may get you in the door at first, but people grow weary of overbearing people. Coming across as abrasive will usually get you ignored.
Don’t be fake or obnoxious. Don’t be a back-slapping mooch. The people of God have the Holy Spirit living in them, and they can sniff it out when you’re in it for yourself, even if they never tell you.
5. Be bold.
I understand reaching out creates fear, but you absolutely must learn to live (or overcome) this fear and reach out to people. Our union with Christ must transform our hearts to the degree that we are free to reach out without fear of anything. When God works in our lives this way, we are bolder in reaching out, and more connections are made. At some point, you have to send that email, approach that editor, send that text.
6. Learn from others.
Recently, I met a brother in Christ for whom “networking” is one of his top strength finders. Someone else said we should connect. We did. We hit it off, and he introduced me to another well-connected Christian leader.
I learned two things (1) Don’t hog resources. You can’t share all your connections, but if you trust someone, introduce them to others. (2) Bring other people along as much as people, especially during meals.
7. Be realistic.
Tim Keller is probably not available for coffee. You can email me because there are not thousands of people desiring to do so, but you probably need to know someone to land in John’s Piper’s inbox. Enthusiastic about reaching out? Good. But be realistic. Start small. Be faithful with friends, family, those in your church, and reach out to the big-wigs only when you have established a faithful track record of providing value in your current relationships.
8. If you have a platform, serve others even more.
It’s admirable when well-known Christian authors write one of his or her books for a small Christian publisher. Of course, he or she should not do this every time. Advance money and publisher reputation matters. But the broader principle is that the big guys should bless the little guys every once in a while. Every time a popular Christian (on social media or email) has responded to me, it’s been a big blessing to me. On my site, I allow for guest posts in part because I want to give writers an opportunity to bless others. If God has blessed you with reach, consider how you can wisely use it to serve the rest of us.
9. Seize your opportunities.
OK, you did it. You landed in someone’s inbox. You got a coffee set up. You are meeting with an editor at a conference. Now what? This is where you provide value, and this is the result of the unseen hard work you did in obscurity.
The point of making connections is not to boost your self-esteem because you now know pastor such-and-such but to leverage social capital to see how your work can provide value. So the question becomes: What in the world do you have to show for your persistent attempt at networking? A book? Podcast? Business idea? As you network in public, work hard in private to create good content that you want to share. Don’t embarrass yourself and waste the other person’s time with nothing to show for your six emails. And if that person does give you the time of day, let them drive the conversation.
10. Don’t become a careless name-dropper.
It’s extremely unappealing to me when Christians flippantly name-drop. Yes, if you meet your favorite author and you want to post on social media or tell friends, by all means, do it. I’m talking about situations where people carelessly mention well-known names in a group to make it seem like they are in with those people. This is the fruit of deep insecurity. A spirit of over-familiarity can become a problem if you start to land connections.
These are just some incomplete and imperfect thoughts on networking from a Christian perspective. Good things happen when like-minded Christians serve one another, so I encourage you to reach out to more people in an effort to serve.