The Importance of Relational Christian Ministry
The Challenges of Youth Ministry
I am a Youth Minister--I work with hundreds of kids at my parish in an attempt to bring them closer to God. When you realize how many challenges teens of today face from society, their family, peers, and their bodies, you may also begin to realize that bringing Christ to such individuals is not always easy. I am often reminded that Time is my biggest adversary. In the minds of even the most dedicated christian teens, Church is not the biggest time commitment. I am constantly reminded that I compete daily with such activities as Speech, Music, Drama, and a whole swath of sports, not to mention job, family, and studying commitments. It is extremely difficult to plan anything that is accessible to a large of amount of people. Out of approximately 250 youth in my program, I see maybe 15 of them on a regular basis. That means I regularly interact with only about 6% of my Youth--seemingly not a very good track record, right?
While I am ardently trying to build up numbers in my youth group, I think it almost more important to focus on the Spiritual Development of those youth who do take time to live out their Christian lives. Quality over quantity, right? This provokes the question, how is my limited time best used? In an average week, I see my "regulars" for about 4 hours total. One hour of that is devoted to Wednesday night Catechesis, in which my volunteer teachers do the bulk of "handing on the faith". This leaves me with roughly 3 hours a week of interaction with my youth to try to mold them into the young Christians they are called to be. There are many facets to this "molding", among them are prayer, learning, fellowship, and scripture; but perhaps the most important element is engaging in what's called "relational ministry".
What is Relational Ministry?
Relational Ministry is fundamentally based on the nature of God himself, which is a mutually giving relationship between persons. For the sake of this article, we shall define relationship in the narrow sense of "a connectedness, especially emotionally, between two persons". Hence, the primary focus of this ministry is to provide "emotional connectedness", and since humans are intrinsically both emotional and relational, this ministerial technique should produce fruit in other areas of ministry as well. I have found this to be the case in my short time ministering with these youth--they trust and respect me, think me fun, listen to me, and even tell me things they wouldn't tell their parents. Therefore, my influence with them allows me to lead by example, give them advice about life, and lead them in critically examining and challenging their worldviews.
Following, I have outlined the 5 elements of Relational Ministry, as well as 5 effects.
The Five Elements of Relational Ministry
These 5 elements are what I see as making a successful relational ministry:
5) Active Listening--In today's society it is extremely hard to be a true active listener. But if you want those to whom you minister to feel valued and appreciated, then this must be the first step you take. When people realize that you care and make an effort to listen to them, making an emotional connection with them will become ten times easier. Most people just want to be listened to. To actively listen: make eye contact, don't interrupt, and don't be formulating your response in your head while the other person is talking. The focus should be completely on the person you're listening to, not your response to them.
4) Withholding Judgment--One of the biggest turn-offs of religion, especially for teens, is that people feel they are being judged. In order to build a real emotional connection one must withhold judgment. This does not mean that you have to condone immoral action, or even support it, but you must not let the negative actions of those in your ministery affect how you see them as a person. It is o.k. to tell them (and many times you should) that you disagree with actions that they take, but you must ALWAYS love them and show them that such actions do not affect that love. Likewise, affirm good decisions they make--praise is always more effective then punishment.
3) Kind but Firm Discipline--Bad discipline can ruin a good time for anyone, and not only do teens especially need discipline, they secretly want and thrive on it. Unless otherwise necessary, it is helpful to discipline in private while providing explanations concerning why what the student did was wrong, as well as explaining the desired punishment. Discipline should never be humiliation, should encourage mutual respect, and should always be done with love and in the best interest of the student. Note: sometimes even adults need discipline or chastisement.
2) Servant Leadership-- The best leaders lead by example and by service. If you want to form your youth or any other population into authentic Christian leaders, or help live authentic Christian lives, you must exemplify service. Nothing defines Christian living more than love and service, and nothing teaches better than action (positive or negative). If your people love and admire you, they will imitate you. Therefore, those to whom you minister should be able to recognize in you everything that you want them to be--humble, loving, a servant, respectful, prayerful, virtuous, etc. The biggest idea here is LEAD BY EXAMPLE!
1) Be Fun--Fun people are irresistible to be around. Whether you're with your youth, family, friends, coworkers, the sick, or the marginalized of any form, try to have fun. Even if you yourself are not the source of the fun, when people see that you are able to have fun they are more likely to open up to you, trust you, and make that emotional connection. You may not think yourself the "fun" person, but it's really just an attitude of being open to new experience and being able to show your positive emotions in public. Give it a try, it will make a world of difference!
The Five Effects of Relational Ministry
If done right, relational ministry should bear some of the following fruits in yourself and others:
1) Authority--If your ministry is successful you should start building authority with other people. Authority is merely influence and ability to motivate based off of respect and love. If you build relationships, people will respect you, and thus should be willing to follow your example.
2) Community--Another mark of a successful relational ministry is that it fosters a sense of community. The people become united in cause, identity, purpose, etc. This perpetuates a deeper emotional connection, gives greater authority to each community member, and begins to mold members according to the greater values of the community. We have all probably felt the benefits of community.
3) Respect--A fruit of successful ministry is that others will respect you. If you listen to them, serve them, and have fun with them, it is obvious they will respect you and thus follow your (hopefully) good Christian example.
4) Trust--This is another obvious one, much like trust. Successful relationships are built on trust, and thus will grow in trust.
5) Development--The goal of relational ministry, and any ministry for that matter, is spiritual growth and development, both for others and for yourself. Relationships necessitate learning and growth, and thus a successful one should spiritually teach both you and the other. This is both the goal and the primary fruit of a successful ministry.
Perhaps, in a sense, all ministry is relational--and, though this formula speaks to ministering to specific populations, ministry should be practiced to each and every person we meet every day. It is a challenge, I know, but one that Christ calls us to practice with reckless abandon. I pray that these 5 elements, especially, will be a great help to all those who want to cultivate better relationships in all facets of life.
© 2010 R D Langr