Roy poses an interesting question about networking. How much of the time we spend networking is actually useful, and how much of it is done just for the sake of it?
I've asked myself this question before, as have a number of my friends who have 'proper jobs'. I was having this conversation just the other day with a friend of mine who is a music producer - all he does is 'listen to CDs all day'.
How useful is networking? Does it 'build the kingdom' as Roy asks? To what extent do youth workers create work for themselves to justify their existence? I think their might be occasions when youth workers/church workers take advantage of the situation, and meet for endless cups of coffee, but there are times when networking is useful, if not essential. Here are some thoughts:
We are called to be the Body of Christ. If different churches are to be the Body of Christ, they might actually need to communicate with one another. This might mean spending time with one another.
On a practical level, the young people I work with do not live their entire lives in the local geographical community which may, or may not, form the parish. In the consumeristic society in which we find ourselves living and working, young people go to different events at different churches, as they journey through different experiences in their lives. It can be helpful to talk with other adults with whom these young peoeple are building relationships.
Youth workers need peer support. Let's face it - we're a funny lot. People don't entirely know what we do. Partly because we all do different things, partly because we're a relatively new phenomenon, and partly because it can be hard to tangibly demonstrate what we do. Postive, healthy relationships are not the most quantifiable outcome. But we need people to talk to, to be with. We need people to accompany us, just as we accompany young people. We need people who will listen to us, who will understand us, who can appreciate the struggles we go through in relating to the monster that is 'church'.
Sometimes we need people outside of our immediate work context to bounce ideas off, to inspire us, to challenge us, to dream dreams with.
All these points, I believe, are justifiable. Yes there are times when coffee will be drunk, and these things are not discussed. But just as in relationships with young people, sometimes the important thing is just being, being there, being together, listening, talking, sharing.
Yes there are times when it might appear that nothing constructive is being done, but equally I know that there are lots of times, outside of 'set hours' when my mind is devoted to thinking, praying, worrying about my youth work, and about the young people I work with. I have no problem with the amount of time I spend going for coffee, networking, being with other youth workers. I believe I'm self-disciplined enough to not take advantage of the situation.
But then, I suppose, just like all vicars, youth workers only do any work on Sundays ;o)