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Why networking is overrated

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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There’s an old cliché that, in life, it’s not what you know but who you know that will determine your success. Networking is often considered to be one of the most important factors in most professions, and people often go out of their way to prioritize developing relationships with potentially helpful people over cultivating other parts of their professional and personal lives. As Adam Grant writes for the New York Times, however, that’s not usually how the world actually works.

Grant points out that, while “networking can help you accomplish great things . . . . Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.” He goes on to argue that a far more sustainable and successful strategy is to focus first on making sure that we have something of value to add to a company, relationship, or other venture before we attempt to sell others on why they should partner with us. As he concludes, “Building a powerful network doesn’t require you to be an expert at networking. It just requires you to be an expert at something.”

As an introvert who started to sweat a bit just thinking about the prospect of going around a room handing out business cards, this is good news. As a Christian, though, I’m more convicted than encouraged.

You see, it’s often far easier to do the spiritual equivalent of networking rather than consistently focus on what we can do to add real value to the world around us. On most days, I would much rather share theological insights with people or offer advice on how they can live better before going on with my day than actually prioritize what I can do to improve their lives.

That’s not to say that such advice is without its value, as one of our primary tasks as Christians is to make disciples by teaching them to obey everything that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:20). The example of Jesus, however, is that such teaching is often far more powerful when it’s accompanied first by acts of love and selflessness. The Lord’s instructions regarding helping people to grow in their relationship with him presumes that they have already become disciples, but that’s far more likely to happen if they’ve first experienced his love through their interactions with us.

Hurricane Harvey and the massive destruction it has wrought in South Texas offers an excellent opportunity to earn the right to share Christ’s message with those who so desperately need to hear it. Each of us, however, has the same opportunity to do that with our neighbors, coworkers, or even just the stranger standing next to us in line at the grocery store on any given day.

Jesus built his church through a network of relationships with people from all walks of life. Those networks started, though, because the people involved looked at how he lived and decided that they could trust what he said.

Will people say the same of you today?