A close examination of the ministry of Jesus quickly shows the value of relationship when hoping to teach and guide others. The Apostles before having a close relationship with Jesus were in many cases very different from who they were a few years later. Simon the Zealot believing in love and peace? Matthew the tax collector supporting generosity? Of course, Judas shows that even Jesus cannot get through to some people. For the vast majority though, by Jesus taking the time to build relationships, he was able to help those people become who God created them to be.
While we are certainly not Jesus, building strong relationships with those to whom we minister gives us more opportunities to teach and mentor them. While some are wise enough to except great advice from anyone, most people are more receptive to listening to people with whom they have a strong emotional bond.
The book The Relationship Economy by John DiJulius was written about customer service relationships. He points out several skills that build relationships. With a little tweaking and changing (sorry Mr. DeJulius!), they can be adapted to apply to ministry as well.
- Having integrity. Integrity is more than just being honest. It is being your true self – regardless of whom may be watching. Those who minister to others are rarely impactful for long if they lead a double life. It may take some people longer than others to realize you are not who you pretend to be…but eventually they will find out. As soon as they do, any credibility you may have had is gone.
- Caring about the lives of others. Every person has a story. That story has shaped not only who they are, but also their faith journey. Being curious about each story not only shows them you care, but also gives you information that helps you understand why their faith is in its current condition and how you can help make their faith stronger.
- Being an active listener. People will listen better to people who listen to them. Why would anyone want to listen to someone who prefers lecturing over listening? When we don’t listen well to those to whom we are ministering, we also miss out on important information they have, but we need to be effective. Often we fail, because we weren’t helping with their actual needs. It may be quicker to assume we know what someone needs in ministry, but in the long run guessing wrong wastes time, money and energy.
- Being empathetic rather than sympathetic. We may not intend it to be that way, but sympathy can appear to be a bit condescending. Sympathy has an undertone of pitying others for not being quite as ”together” as we are. After all, that’s why they need our help, right? Empathy, on the other hand, understands that your struggles could also be mine. Empathy is there to work side by side with someone to tackle life’s tough problems.
- Loving everyone with agape love. Agape love is modeled after God’s love for us. It doesn’t play favorites. It looks like the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Judas proves not everyone responds to agape love, but most people will.
Since we are not Jesus, our relationship skills will never be perfect. With God’s help, however, we can improve our relational skills. When are relationships are stronger, we have a better chance of making the impact on others we hope our ministry will have.