Ministry isn’t easy. This, of course, is no shock to those of us who are involved in church ministry (either vocationally or as a layman) on a weekly, and probably daily basis.
It’s quite trying at times because it has multiple dimensions, three in particular:
1) There is an administrative aspect.
This requires keeping up with organizing events and functions, and keeping up with a lot of paperwork like receipts. It’s tedious, and perhaps my least favorite aspect of ministry.
2) There is a teaching aspect.
I teach on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s on a weekly basis. By nature, I like study and learning theology, philosophy and how those subjects intersect with our daily lives.
I like preparing messages and delivering them. In other words, I like to share. I absorb, internalize, and share.
For those who have a teaching aspect to their ministries, whether it is as a senior pastor, student pastor, or Sunday School teacher, this may be our favorite aspect. It is mine. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and preaching. Laboring in the study and teaching of the Word is a great honor and privilege, and one I do not take lightly.
3) There is a relational aspect.
This is to say that ministry, and in general the Christian life, is largely relational. We don’t live and minister in isolation.
We have families that we are to set an example for, particularly men. We have coworkers and therein a mission field at our jobs. We live in communities that have sports programs, and we develop relationships with those students and parents involved.
Our outreach efforts are to make the gospel known to people in our community, as well as to create and improve ties and social good. When we serve Christ, we serve others. We serve to and for others, and in order to do so we must interact with them.
The administrative part may be the most tedious, and the least favorite for many of us, but the relational part is the dirtiest.
What do I mean by that?
I mean to say that people are dirty. Not in a body-odor sort and dirty clothes sort of way, but in that people are complicated and really just messed up.
Drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, pornography, gambling, poverty, lying, stealing, murdering, and grudge-holding all plague the human condition.
There are no cookie-cutter templates for dealing with people.
Each individual has their own personality, struggles, successes, and positive/negative family and friend influences. One drug addict may respond to help in an accepting and positive way; wanting to be clean and making something of their life. Another may feel like, by offering them help, that you are judging them, and they may feel like their addiction isn’t as bad as you think it is.
Despite however complicated ministry is, particularly the relational aspect of ministry, no one can deny the importance of relationships.
The Four Rs Of Ministry
This gets to the heart of this post: relationships are important, and there are four relationships, the “four R’s,” that we need to always be thinking about as we live and minister:
1. Our Relationship to God
We cannot live properly, much less minister well, if our relationship to God is hindered in some way.
We must ask:
- Are we dependent on and trusting God?
- How is our prayer life?
- Are we praying in accordance to God’s will?
- Are we constantly repenting and confessing our sin to the Lord?
- Are we in Scripture?
- Are we reading and studying God’s Word, not only for teaching and preaching, but for our own spiritual health?
- Am I worshiping God?
- Am I in fellowship with the saints who edify me, with whom I serve others, and with whom I worship the triune God of Scripture with?
- Am I growing in truth, love and grace?
These questions, though we could ask many more, are important because they reveal our heart and our relationship to God. If we have a proper relationship with God, meaning that we are confessing our sin and following Christ’s example, we will be people who love and lovingly rebuke; people who forgive and extend mercy and still expect others to conform to the image of Christ and grow in holiness.
If we have a healthy “vertical” relationship (our relationship to God), then we can have healthy “horizontal” relationships (our relationship to others).
We more effectively minister to those around us when we our relationship with the Lord is rock solid.
2. Other People’s Relationship to God
In our teaching and in serving others, our primary concern should be others’ relationship to God.
- Are they believers?
- If not, they need to hear the gospel over and over. They need prayer.
- If so, then how is their walk with the Lord? Are they growing in grace and love? Are they in the Word? Are they serving the church and their community?
We must be concerned with others’ relationship to God.
This was Paul’s heart. He desperately wanted the Christians, to whom he wrote several letters, to have proper doctrine and how that theology influences their lives in light of gospel truths.
3. Our Relationship to Others
The first two kinds of relationships, relationships with God, are the most fundamental and obvious types.
Those relationships are our main focus as gospel-centered ministers. People need to have a relationship with Christ, and a right/saving one.
However, in focusing, rightly, on relationship to Christ, we have a tendency to forgo how those “vertical” relationships impact our “horizontal”; so we will talk more in depth about these last two kinds of relationships.
Our relationship to God influences how we relate to others, as mentioned earlier, and it is in these relationships with others that our theology is lived out. This third “R” is your personal relationship to others.
People, especially millennials, want authenticity, particularly in their relationships. This goes for both private and corporate relationships.
We need to live loving and gracious towards others. We need to be invested in others — freely offering our time, advice, and emotion.
I’ve heard it said:
“People may not remember what you say, but they will definitely remember how you treat them.”
I think there is some truth in that.
Do the students and adults to whom I teach and preach remember what I said four or five weeks ago? What about four or five months ago? I don’t know. I definitely hope so; sometimes I will hear them repeat something I’ve said or ask me about a particular point I made from Scripture.
But I do know that they remember how I treat them; they tell me.
They recall how I was there when they cried or dealt with losing a loved one. They value that I will take time and just sit down and talk with them — no appointments necessary nor any strings attached. People value genuine concern and encouragement.
Building relationships allows for someone to speak more powerfully into a life.
For example, I’ve got a family member who is addicted to drugs. This person is not a believer, and has frequently expressed their depression and hopelessness. Being that I have loved this person, talked repeatedly with this person, and shown my willingness to help with their drug addiction, I am more able, knowing their struggle and circumstances, to present the gospel effectively.
So I think “depression,” and “hope,” and I share the good news of Christ and how there is joy in a relationship with Christ and hope for freedom in the power of the cross.
Now to avoid a misunderstanding of what I’ve just stated:
(Misunderstanding #1): merely loving another person is not a sufficient evangelistic strategy. Yes, love people so they will know you are a follow of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Cultivate a loving community where you minister because Christ first loved you. Love is an important trait in the Christian life, but our love, on its own, is not the same thing as a clear articulation of the gospel. We must deal with people’s objections and doubts. Love for another allows for the gospel to be shared on a far more personal level, but it alone isn’t the gospel
(Misunderstanding #2): This also ties into another issue: open-air preaching. What I’m not saying is that evangelism can or should only be done with people you know. If possible, always share the gospel with friend and/or stranger alike. I do think there is some value to preaching in the open air to strangers, so please don’t see my statements on relationships as devaluing the practice of open-air preaching.
4. Other People’s Relationship to Others
Fourth and finally, our ministries must consider how people relate to others, Christians and non-Christians.
This is the relationship between the people you interact with and the others they interact with; not you (that was the last point).
We need to teach and model what it is to engage others who they have a lot in common with, and those who they share almost nothing in common with.
This ties into the last point in that our relationships, as leaders, to others set an example for people to model. Also, we need to show them how to engage with others.
Parents need to know how to relate to their children, and vice-verse. People of a higher socioeconomic class need to love and fellowship with people of a lower socioeconomic class. Christians need to know how to engage unbelieving coworkers, and what it means to be a witness in a secular workplace.
Most of the time your people spend the majority of time with family, coworkers, neighbors, other sports parents/shared hobby enthusiasts, and not with you. You cannot hold their hand, as it were, though there are some times you want to help someone through a difficulty or a conversation in a friendship.
A lot of my students are beginning to date, and it would be easier if I was around to see what their boyfriend-girlfriend interactions are like, and how to deal with each dating difficulty in a Christ-centered way, but I can’t.
I can pray for them. I can teach them the Word and what Scripture has to say about human relationships and intimacy. I can even give them real-life examples of “how to,” but the truth is most of what goes on in their relationships happen when I’m not around, which is on Wednesday nights, Sunday’s, youth activities, and sporting events… In other words, most of the time.
Encourage people to make friends outside of their usual cliques.
They’ll be surprised at how having a diverse group of friends (introverts, extroverts, rich, poor, athletes, scholars bowl participants, young, old) will shape their character.
They will be able to love better, more freely; they will grow in being able to share their faith and will be able to see how the gospel is literally applicable to people of all backgrounds.
Always Keep Relationships In Mind
No one is too broken or too “good” for the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and by keeping your people’s relationships with others in mind when preparing to teach (as well as your interactions with them), you can incorporate ways they can be more gospel-centered in order to better enhance those relationships.
Perhaps some strategies for how to be more gospel-centered in our friendships can be specified in another article.
These are the four “R’s;” The four relationships we as Christians and as leaders need to always keep in mind in our ministries. We cannot afford to undermine how important each relationship is and how one relationship affects all others.
Let’s be more intentional in developing authentic, gospel-centered relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in reaching a lost and dying world.