It is no secret that ministry is about relationships; the foundation of which is our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of the reconciliation of our souls to Him that we are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). We are called to help others become reconciled to Christ; that is ministry.
“We are called to help others become reconciled to Christ; that is ministry.”
Reconciliation doesn’t end at the decision to accept Christ as Saviour. That decision becomes the beginning of a life-long process of reconciling all things under the Lordship of Christ. This we call discipleship. It is learning what we called to be, obeying His voice to walk in His ways and then leaning on the Holy Spirit to empower than transformation. It is a process that we cannot and ought not to walk alone.
Acts 2:42-47 describes a community of people walking the journey of discipleship together. In those six verses, the word “together” is mentioned three times. It intimates that these early believers were not only on a new individual journey, but they were also on a journey ‘together’. That requires relationship.
Relationship is required in all elements of the process of evangelism and discipleship. Stats indicate that in even in mass, crusade-style evangelism, relationship is still essential. Most ‘seekers’ attend crusades because they are brought by someone they know or trust enough to accept the invitation. That often requires us to have a deeper rather than a superficial relationship with our neighbours and friends. That takes intentionality.
After these individuals come to faith, they, like the early-church-believers, need someone to walk with them. While organizations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association strategically connect new converts with churches, it befits the church to have a plan to integrate new believers into the process of discipleship.
Divide & Conquer
We need intentional relationship in both evangelism and discipleship. Yet we all can’t have relationship with everyone. As it relates to pastoral ministry, no pastor can foster or maintain a deep relationship with all members of her/his congregation as well as with those who are seeking faith.
“We need intentional relationship in both evangelism and discipleship. Yet we all can’t have relationship with everyone.”
Moses discovered that he couldn’t judge everyone for whom he felt responsible. His father-in-law, Jethro, saw his beloved son-in-law ‘burning out’ from exhaustion. He confronted Moses on the grounds that what he was doing was not healthy. Jethro recommended that Moses delegate the responsibility to leaders over regions and families: Divide and conquer. It worked. Moses didn’t destroy his health, others felt empowered, leaders were developed, and no one walked alone (See Exodus 18). Pastor Moses wasn’t the only leader.
Churches that look beyond the pastor to build intentional relationship with seekers as well as with new and established believers have discovered the power of small groups. The group becomes a place for people to become known. The word is shared and discussed, needs are expressed in a welcoming environment, and relationships go deeper. Members of the group feel greater ease to invite their friends and acquaintances to the small group.
I would suggest that there is great power in small groups. Deeper friendships are more likely to be born, seekers might even belong before they believe, and Christians get to live out their faith with one another in front of the inquiring eyes of the seeker. This is relational ministry as opposed to simply being lost in a congregational sea where it is easier to hide or be hidden.
Expressions of Community
Small groups take on various shapes today. They can be the various Bible study groups within the local church. They can be an Alpha ministry where those at the table become the small group. They can be the Life’s Healing Choices group where people process their ‘issues’ in a safe environment. This is only a sample of possible small group scenarios.
I have seen the power of small groups both in my church and in prison chaplaincy. Both environments seek to develop disciples in an atmosphere of deeper relationship.
Flowing from both contexts I would suggest some of the following benefits of deeper relational ministry emerge:
1. Leaders are born or developed – Those who take on small group leadership experience the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to provide a level of pastoral care to those within their group. Needs are shared, and leaders provide follow up by way of prayer, coffee meetings, and other supports. Leaders discover the fulfillment that comes from caring for a congregation within a congregation.
2. Leaders and participants learn how to develop healthy boundaries – Small group discussions are ‘directed’ rather than free-flowing. Follow-up boundaries are learned so that no one monopolizes the energy and attention of the group. Leaders and participants learn how to do community together without relational breakdown. Even when challenges emerge, the group might seek the counsel of the pastor and others as to how to resolve the relational conflict.
3. New relationships emerge – Small group participants connect with one another outside of and in addition to the regular group gatherings. Friendships form, some of which might not have otherwise developed naturally. It’s a beautiful thing to see!
4. The Word can be internalized – Not to take anything from the preached Word, but in an atmosphere where participants can ask questions of the Word, the possibility for Scriptures to be internalized increases. Various perspectives on the Scriptures are processed and hopefully internalized.
5. Christianity becomes less about church buildings and more about relationships – There is no substitute for people feeling that they are a part of a community. I belong here. I am wanted and valued. I know, and I am known. In relationship, I am more likely to be held accountable, to ask questions, to seek advice and to have others pray for me. It helps make faith in Christ increasingly personal. It can be argued that people are looking for community.
I presently pastor a church that truly attempts to build a community within a community. We don’t always get it right and it is far from perfect, but I have seen first-hand the benefits of us trying to love and connect with people, especially with people who might not have otherwise engaged the church. People are lonely. They need relationship. Maybe we are the relationship that helps them to find relationship with Christ. If so, I believe we have indeed helped to carry out His Great Commission.
Gary Andrews is Lead Pastor at Cornerstone Ministry Centre in St. John’s, and Pentecostal Chaplain at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.