Most everybody talks about relational ministry. Yet relationships are so easy to miss because our agendas call for more important things.
I’m embarrassed that I don’t know the names of some of the people in our little church. That creates an awkwardness that inhibits any attempt to go further. Think of the people in your congregation, your Sunday school class, people you see regularly, whose names you don’t know. It’s one reason why the church can seem so impersonal.
Consider the visitor-or is she a regular attendee you’ve simply never met? Do you introduce yourself? I never will forget the time I introduced myself to a woman at church. I asked if she was visiting and she informed me that she was a charter member. That sort of response can be a big inhibitor to saying, “Hi, my name is _____.” But if you don’t the visitor might leave saying, “I attended that church and no one spoke to me.”
And knowing a person’s name is just the beginning.
A Session or Deacon’s meeting might start with a conversation about what’s happening in everyone’s life and a time of prayer for each other. It could take a half hour or more, and it could be the most important thing you do. It will help everyone come together for the business at hand. It could surface some significant information, and it will add a little more glue to the bond that solidifies each one’s commitment to the others.
A Sunday school class ought to be about more than increased understanding of a biblical text. To be effective it must rub that passage against our lives. One way to do that is to help people talk to each other about ways they think the Spirit might want them to respond. A class could break into groups of three to five for exercises that help them get to know each other better, know the Bible better, and listen to God apply the Word to their hearts. Variations on this theme work in almost any age group. For instance, take an egg timer to a children’s class and let everyone have one minute. While the sand falls each one in turn can talk about the most fun he ever had, his favorite toy or best friend, or describe his mother or father. As the teacher, don’t forget to take your turn, too.
Many of us live in metropolitan areas where most everybody is from some place else. Often relatives live a considerable distance away, and neighbors seldom know each other. Houses are empty during the day and closed up during the evening. Many times I’ve heard neighbors say, “People will be out when it’s warmer.” But summer comes and, “People will be out when it gets cooler.” The reality is people don’t come out much at all. Relationships in the neighborhood, at the office, or at school are important. But if they don’t extend beyond the confines of that environment they have limited value. And the same is true of relationships at church. Hopefully, the believer will have friendships with some that extend beyond the confines of a church program.
Those relationships are necessary for us to not simply survive, but thrive in this Christian pilgrimage.