This post falls into the category of practical theology. How do I prepare for, and carry out, an informational meeting with someone I want to learn from? I did this a lot with others in the early the days of planting: local pastors, fellow church planters, non-profit directors, city council members and pretty much anyone who would meet with me. You can read more about what that looked like here. More recently, others have requested to meet or talk with me (typically concerning church planting). I don't have a lot to offer, but I'm more than willing to give away any help I can. I love to connect with guys that are sensing a call to plant or are already fully immersed in the storm. One of the things I've noticed, however, is that many don't come prepared to get the most out of our time. What follows are some of the things I've learned from my own mistakes, and the mistakes of others, along the way.
#1 Learn what you can in advance.
If you're going to be meeting, or having a phone call, with someone whom you want to learn from it is important to learn what you can in advance about the person and what they are doing. Do they have a blog? Twitter account? What does their church or organization do? What is the current status of their church or organization? What impact are they making? What are their particular strengths that you want to learn more about? What are they doing that you don't understand and could get clarification on? Come prepared.
#2 Prepare at least five good questions.You want to avoid the awkward situation of sitting down and being asked, "So, how can I help you?" or "What are some of the questions you have?", and you don't have anything prepared. At worst, it is disrespectful; and at best, it is lazy. Even if you come up with questions to ask on the spot, it will be obvious to the person you are meeting with that you are not prepared. Ask yourself: What does this person know or do well that I need to learn more about? What strengths or experiences does this person have that I could gain wisdom from? How could they help me take my next step? For some ideas regarding the types of questions to ask go here.
#3 Take notes during the meeting.
In a recent meeting, that served as the trigger for this post, I gave a guy at least five book recommendations, names of potential folks he should connect with, some additional things to think about, and a few websites to visit - and he didn't write any of it down. He wasn't taking notes. None. It felt like I was throwing $100 bills at the guy and he was just letting them fall to the floor. Take notes. Even if you feel like you're not learning anything, take notes. You never know what you'll learn from someone or how the Spirit will use a conversation as a bridge to other insights. Take notes.
#4 Assume the posture of a learner.
You likely didn't set-up the meeting with this individual because you wanted to dazzle them with your vast experience and expanse of knowledge. You probably set it up to learn, so assume that posture during the meeting. Try to squeeze every ounce of wisdom you can out of it. Love the other person by listening well. Ask clarifying questions. Assume they know something that you don't, yet need to know. Approach the time as a clean slate, ready to learn.
#5 Follow up with a thank you.
Lastly, but importantly, be sure to follow-up with some form of a "thank you" - email, note, etc. This isn't just a formality. The relationship itself is much more valuable than any information you happened to gain from your meeting. You never know how God may use that relationship in the future. You never know how or when your paths may cross again. You never know who that person may know that you should know. It is always wise to follow-up.