In the world of education, we are very oriented to thinking about classroom settings and tests at the end to see if people have in their head the facts and the explanations of the particular subject that’s being studied. But network education says that there’s something about building a relationship with the conversation that is going on in a particular area -- through the avenues of the people who are in the conversation, the books that are in the conversation, programs that are part of the conversation. So if you’re asking a question about theology, for example, it’s one thing to take a class and memorize definitions and the basic topics of systematic theology, but it’s another thing to meet a theologian, and to have a relationship with a couple of them and to ask them how they feel about different subjects and how a particular subject affects the way they think about the way the church might be or the way that we might care for broken people. Now you’re making a network connection with a person who’s thinking dynamically as a person, using all their years of training, and you being in the conversation with them means that you are becoming part of the network. And so network education is to enter into those conversations that don’t have conclusions, but they do have connections that help us to move forward, and to have partners in thinking about the situations that will come up for us.
The same thing is true with books, to know that there are books that are important to read -- even if you don't read the whole thing -- to have the books, or to know where they are, to know the table of contents, to know who the important books speak about as mentors. If we can think of a book as something not just to be read, digested, and then to move on, but rather that we need to develop a network relationship with each book that’s important and see what that book is networked with, that in that process our learning is not something that we’re thinking about getting done with, but rather that we’re continuing to build a web structure. That is really what makes the internet work, too; the reason we can learn so much on the internet is because things are networked together. So we can think of engaging in network education as becoming part of the web. But it’s not just that it’s all sitting there; you intentionally engage specific parts of the web. It’s like you’ve set up favorites so that you have the capacity to get the people, the places, the books, the journals – you have gathered all of those things that are related so that you have quick access. You’ve built a sense of what’s trustworthy, what’s not, and where there are questions to be played out. At the end of a period of time, when you have all of your “favorites” in place, one would say that you’ve been networked in to an understanding of a particular subject, not just from one perspective, but in all of its implications in ways that allow for an ongoing conversation. The illustration of coming to a party where conversation is going on, and you listen for awhile and you begin to get a sense of where people have their positions and you reach a point where you start in the conversation, you start responding because you’ve heard enough, or another way of saying that is you’ve been networked in, so now you have something to say, and as you engage in the conversation and carry on something that’s intelligent, there comes a point when you recognize that you need to leave that conversation at least for awhile, but you’re able to be in that conversation now.
And so my sense is that network education is to walk through all of the issues that we want to train people for in theological thinking and in ministry, to be networked in so they have the capacity to come back, to both build and come back to and live within those conversations that make them the unique person with the unique skills and gifts to be able to accomplish things and to create the connections that create communities that make a difference and bring information where information is needed, and bring in people with expertise where that’s needed, and to see that that is the culminating fruit of bringing network education into a livingness in life, a livingness in our ministry contexts, a connectedness in our families, that is a living out of the conversation.