When meeting new people and talking about our family of churches, I am often asked, “Are you all some sort of a network.” I usually say, “We have some characteristics that may seem like a network, but the heart of who we are is a family.” I usually add, “God’s nature is family, and His plan is a family plan.”
We are not trying to build networks of ministers and churches that we hope feels like a family, but a family of leaders and churches that can seem like a network.
Unfortunately, much of our contemporary ideas of “Ministry” or “Networks” is connected to facilitating organizations, meetings, programs, and events, designed to impress and promote the advancement of a gifted individual, church, or group. God’s family design, on the other hand, entails spiritual mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters seeking to build God’s family to advance His Kingdom (Ephesians 3:10-15, Mk 10:29-30, 1 Cor 4:15, 1 Tim 3:4-5, Titus 2:1-8).
Networking Kills God’s Design for Authentic Family Relationships
The downside of networks and networking is that they can work against God’s design of family. First-year College students are lectured about networking on their first day of class. Young professionals race to another boring party so they can be seen and shake hands with someone who might be able to help them land that great job/deal or help them get ahead just like the business books and podcasts have instructed. Our online world provides easily accessible networks like LinkedIn, which provides professional networking, career development, and employment opportunities.
This type of networking tends to use people and relationships for personal or business advancement/success. In the church world, networking can also be about connecting with and using people or organizations for personal ministry or church success.
This can be more about empire-building than Kingdom advancement. Why? Because this mentality is in contrast to what Jesus taught us as His way to leadership, life, and greatness, “If you want to be great, be a servant” (Luke 22:25-27, Matthew 20:25-28). The summation of Jesus’ teachings about how to walk together is that we lay down our lives for the good of others instead of using others for our advancement. This is the “mind” or “attitude of Jesus,” which Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:1-18. It is how He has called leaders and churches to walk together to advance His Kingdom.
How a Networking Mentality Kills God’s Design of Family
A Network will foster a user mentality for personal benefit instead of servants for kingdom benefit.
Jesus highlighted false leadership (Gentile) as lording over people for personal benefit and contrasted it with His calling to, “servant leadership” (Luke 22:24-27). God’s family/kingdom mentality towards others is not about what benefit they are to me but how I can serve them. It isn’t about what I can get out of the relationship but what I can put into it.
In the majority of Jesus’ calls to follow Him in the gospels (over 30 times) the majority begin with “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up His cross daily, and follow me, for whoever wants to find life (personal benefit) will lose it, but if you lose your life for My sake, you will find My life” (Luke 9:23-26, 14:26-27, 17:33, Matthew 10:38-39, 16:22-25, Mark 8:34-35, etc.).
Networking can promote a relational life in which you can be as anonymous as you want.
God shows us in His word that we are to “walk in the light having fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:5-10). This type of authentic life together tends to challenge and drive out hidden darkness that may be in us while at the same time encouraging us to walk closer with God and embrace His ways (Hebrews 3:11-19, 10:21-28, 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 etc). This will never produce spiritual maturity/health.
In family you can’t be as anonymous as you want. It is more real/intimate. You have to face the real you and the real others, not the projected image on social media or at meet and greets. God uses our walking together in authentic relationships with other imperfect people to provoke our imperfections so we can “put them to death by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13, Galatians 5 etc.).
A Network mentality fosters consumerism.
Our desire for association based on “what I get out of it” produces a consumeristic love, not God’s covenantal love. You are always open to a better deal. In an authentic family you become part of creating the family life not just consuming it. It necessitates a servant mentality that Jesus prizes for us.
Networking fosters a bigger is better mentality.
People become about numbers that promote impersonal experiences rather than real people made in the image of God. In the online world, the number of followers, hits, and sales determine what success is. More is better. Research shows that humans can’t maintain more than 150 somewhat meaningful relationships.
In the networking world, we are drawn to “successful” people who will promote our advancement while Jesus’ Kingdom teaching instructs is to notice and serve “the least of these, My brethren” (Matthew 25:31-45).
James also instructs us not to notice and give preferential treatment to those who are “successful” that will help our advancement or self-fulfillment. We are to notice and draw close to the poor and marginalized, who will do little for our personal fulfillment. (James 2:1-10)
A Network mentality fosters participation with the group according to your convenience.
When you are part of a network you can come and go as you want or need. In some you pay dues therefore you can utilize it according to your current needs/desires. In business networks you connect from work, an independent location, or online. You often don’t have to be physically present all the time to participate. In family, your physical proximity is essential for face-to-face interactions, not only when you get personal benefit from it but because your family needs it.
Our Salt & Light/Coast 2 Coast Family Values
I love our four-core family values that directly work against a networking mentality.
Here are two of them.
Family: Family is the nature of God. This relational life is therefore expressed in both natural and spiritual family, in local church and across a wider family of churches. Fatherhood and motherhood is key to fostering family, with an atmosphere of belonging, love, fun, security, vision, encouragement, care and training.
Servant-leaders: We aim to equip every Christian to be a servant-leader, in the home, church community, and at work. Anointed servant leadership is vital in the body of Christ and helps all to grow to full maturity and fulfill their God-given destiny. Leaders must be servant-leaders! A key practice for us is to understand and receive the spiritual authority of anointed servant-leaders, allowing us to live under its blessing.
Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Adoption” who joins us and reminds us we are God’s family (Romans 8:14-17, Galatians 4:5-7). Let’s do everything we can to embrace Jesus’ call to follow Him together as His family, but locally and translocally.