Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weaving a Relational Net: Strategies, Barriers

Some good friends of mine are exploring possibilities to be part of ministry efforts in a certain country. Another family I know plan to move to the same part of the world to lead a ministry to orphans in that region. I want to encourage them, I want to help, and I’ve tried to send resources and ideas their way. But I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a wall, and I’m trying to figure out why.

Neither family has been involved much in “missions” – this world I know so much about. Both families sparkle when I affirm what their interests and efforts. Their bright eyes begin to glaze over, though, as I talk about how they can learn more, connect with others, and tap into the tremendous relational networks that exist in the world of Christian ministry. Am I being too pushy? Answering questions they haven’t asked yet? Maybe, if I stop and think it through, I can figure out what it is that’s holding them back from wanting to know more.

On one level, it makes little sense. If you were launching out into the unknown, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to learn from those who had gone before and to meet those travelling the same trail?

On the other hand, anyone just getting started with something big and impossible can reach saturation very quickly. Any more “you should talk to [this person], you should read [that book], you should go to [a certain event]” may come across as critique and burden instead of encouragement and assistance. Perhaps it’s that word “should,” spoken or implied. A slight adjustment in my approach to making these suggestions might make a significant difference. I love being a resource-connector, but could use some polish on my people skills, I know!

I’ve felt myself on the other side of such conversations often enough, including recently as I’ve begun talking to various friends about the disbanding of our ministry and what the implications might be for me. “[Our organization] could really use someone like you,” said one good friend. “When’s the right time for [my ministry] to extend the gold-plated invitation?” asked another.

It’s great to know so many people care about me and value me. Really encouraging. Gives me hope. But sometimes overwhelming; a bit of a burden, really, at times. Something in me wants to run. It’s similar to my response to matchmaking efforts. I’m certainly not opposed to finding the love of my life – or a great job/team – but it seems best to receive each suggestion with caution. Cultivating a peaceful and content heart is the harder, better thing.

Various friends have encouraged me to really be deliberate in this season of ministry/career reassessment: to be open to all the options, to really do my research, not to just follow the path of least resistance or do what is expected of me. It’s good advice. I might be tempted to keep my blinders on, to make a quick or safe decision when a more thoughtful, intentional approach would be better – even if the end result is the same. It’s a chance to “reaffirm” my calling.

On the other hand, there is a time to gently shut the door to input and options and just rest and be still, listen to one’s heart. Other things can wait.

But back to my friends exploring compassion ministries. One of the families, when they came to me for advice, were asking questions I could not answer – they wanted to know more about the people and cultures of a specific region of a certain country, and I came up with nothing. So what I gave them was more of a strategy for finding what they would need, a way of thinking.

Learning, listening, networking, and collaboration are all really more about attitude and approach than anything else, aren’t they? I encouraged my friend to contact a wide variety of people involved in related work – others who have set up orphanages, others who have worked in various parts of that country and region (locals and expatriates); government, education, and religious leaders, etc. To approach everyone as if they have something to teach you, you know? I didn’t make a list of people she should talk to; I didn’t offer introductions. I just made a list of questions she should ask. Questions like these:

- What are some of the things you think we need to do or learn about to prepare for this kind of work?

- What kinds of things that have made you effective in this kind of work?

- What suggestions do you give people who are just getting started?

- What do you wish you had known when you began?

- What are some of the common mistakes you see people making?

- That’s really interesting. Can you tell us more about that?

- What do you think we should do first?

- Who else should we be talking to?

Isn’t it amazing how seldom we ask those kinds of questions, listen carefully to the answers, and really hold onto what we hear? I need to listen to my own advice!

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