Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Connections

The "Holidays" are a time when many folks endeavor to make connections.  Either with old friends, family or just the "hometown" crowd that they only see once a year when everyone is back in town.  It is fun to make connections, to hear about what folks are doing and even maybe meet some new people they brought along.  The key though, it seems, is some sort of shared experience that brings us together in the first place and breaks the ice.

Last night I had a fun opportunity to get together with a group of guys who played football at Harvard and now live in the DFW area.  I was invited by a guy who was a couple years younger than me and is a lawyer in Dallas.  So I made the trek over to Dallas (a long way for us living here in Fort Worth) to see who might be there and who I might meet.  It was a big group, probably about 25 guys, and I quickly realized I knew none of them except my teammate who had invited me.

Luckily, I quickly found my connection and sat down and met many of the guys around us and wound up having a fun evening making new connections.  As I left, I had 2 major thoughts...

1) I don't hang around with just guys that much these days, it was a fascinating thing to be in a room with 25 other guys, most of whom are tremendously successful in their business lives.  There is just a different energy in a room when you get that many alpha males together around good food and drink.  

2) These guys know how to talk to people, make a connection and find a shared experience.  Although I had never met most of them, we had the one point of contact in that we played football, most of us for the same coach and at the same school.  But we didn't just stay there, from that point of contact new contacts and experiences were shared and by the end of the evening, you would have thought this was a group of old friends.

In his book "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell talks about three types of people who are essential for any epidemic/movement to gain traction and grow.  You need Connectors (people who link the world), Mavens (the information folks, early adapters) and Salesman (the persuaders who get others on board).

Of these the connectors (my belief) may be of the greatest value.  These are the folks that live in multiple worlds, who have tentacles (for lack of a good term) in a lot of different places and can reach into those places for experiences and contacts who might be able to help each other succeed and grow.

I think one of the great challenges for pastoral leadership is that it is so easy to get stuck into only one box and forget to make those connections.  We may be a Maven, with lots of information and knowledge and ability to solve problems creatively.  Or we might be a Salesman (in the church we might call them evangelists) who can bring a person in, sit them down, make the case of our product and why it is important in their life and "close the deal" as it were.

But if we don't have connectors, how are the Mavens and Salesmen ever going to reach anyone?  That is one of my biggest concerns in our church today, especially as so many of my pastoral brothers and sisters continue to draw more and more lines of who is in and who is out.   Who are encouraging their communities to become wholly self-involved entities, with little cooperation with other communities.  They do this under the guise of faithfulness to the Scriptures and our statements of faith, but so often I think it is more about holding fast to traditions and cultural ways of thinking and fear of engagement with the world.

Will our congregations, with the hope of keeping "pure" doctrine and teaching break down connections with other congregations, traditions, institutions, resources in our communities?  Some traditions (like the Amish) have chosen to do this, to keep separate from the world for the sake of purity, only engaging very loosely with the world.  It works for them, but rarely do I think it leads to growing, thriving and relevant communities, especially if you choose to be a community living not as an enclave but fully in the world.

This is risky business, we need connections but those connections will change us.  Yet we proclaim a God who made a connection with us in Emmanuel:God with Us.  It was risky for God to connect with us, to get down into the mud and grime or our lives, and it required God to be willing to sacrifice God's own self on the cross.  Yet this willingness was and is essential for our salvation.

Are we as a church willing to do the same?  Will we be connectors?  Or will we simply retreat into our "Holy" enclaves?  I for one resolve that my congregation will not.

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