June 8, 2014

Relational ministry - what does that look like?

The Relational Pastor, part 15 (conclusion)

For other posts in this series, click a number: 12345678, 910111213, 14.

This post concludes our exploration of Andrew Root's book, The Relational Pastor: Sharing in Christ by sharing ourselves. Last time we looked at our part in the ongoing place sharing ministry of Jesus, the ultimate place sharer. Because of who Jesus is (God and man in one person through the incarnation and hypostatic union) he is, in his own person, in relationship with us -- a union so deep that he can refer to his people (the church) as his own body (the body of Christ). We see this in Acts 9 where Jesus confronts Saul (later renamed Paul) on the road to Damascus, accusing Saul of persecuting him when, in actuality, Paul was persecuting Jesus' followers. Root comments:
To persecute [the] church is to persecute Jesus himself. There is a sharing of persons. The persons of the church are in Christ and so much so that to persecute them is to persecute Jesus himself (p166).
It is with this encounter in mind that Paul came to understand Christian ministry theologically and practically as a type of sharing. Because we share in Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, we are called to share in his ministry--a ministry that fundamentally is relational/personal because Jesus, in his person, is the place sharer and because human beings, as persons, are their relationships. Root continues:
The point of ministry...for Paul is to share in the life of God by sharing in Christ, and this happens by being in union with our neighbor, by sharing our neighbor's place. Evangelism as well as day-to-day ministry in the church is the call to share the place of others as the pathway into sharing in the life of God (p168).
But what does place sharing that constitutes Christian ministry look like? Root says that he is asked that question quite frequently; and no wonder, for this relational/personal conception of ministry is quite different than the influence strategy ministry so often practiced by churches in our day. However, Root resists giving specific illustrations of relational ministry precisely because it defies any one-size-fits-all conceptions. However, at the end of his book he does give some examples, cautioning the reader to use these to spark their creative imagination, rather than as models to emulate.

Corporate prayer

In chapter 13, Root offers a primary example of participating in Jesus' place sharing ministry--the ministry of corporate prayer. It is in prayer together as the body of Christ that we are given a remarkable and powerful means to share in the ongoing ministry of Jesus. And note that it is corporate prayer--the body of Christ praying together. So often, we focus on personal prayer related to personal needs. Taken to an extreme, such prayer becomes...
...a cosmic wish list or metaphysical magic that we think forces God to meet our individual interest. Then prayer functions to get what we want (like the popular book The Prayer of Jabez) (p170).
In contrast, in corporate prayer, we share in each other's lives as......we share in God's ("Our Father," we say, using the relational name, "who are in heaven" [Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2]). "Prayer is sharing in the place where God is present; it brings heaven and earth together.... Prayer is the concrete way (the concrete practice) that moves persons into sharing in each other's lives as they share in God's own" (p171).

As we pray together, we open our hearts and minds to Jesus who, through the Spirit, opens his heart, will and ways to us. In prayer we begin to discern more clearly both who Jesus is and what he, the place-sharer, is doing. And so prayer is a gateway, if you will, into authentic place sharing ministry. Sadly, we so often don't want to do the most important, and often the most difficult part of ministry, which is "the hard work of imagination, of thinking and discerning as the core of pastoral ministry" (p172); a work accomplished largely in prayer together.

Because relational ministry is about facilitating place sharing activity, prayer is an essential component for it is in prayer together that we share in the other person. It is in this respect that Root refers to corporate prayer as "indwelling." He writes, "To pray with another is to receive the gift of the other, the gift of shared indwelling.... Prayer then becomes the heart, the core activity of facilitating personal encounters" (pp174, 175).

A pastors job, then, is largely one of teaching people "to form the community around praying with and for each other" (p177). By doing so, the disposition (the mind) of the community becomes one of gratitude. That being so...
The pastor should measure the church not primarily by membership or giving [noses and nickles!]]...but by the level of gratitude. For the higher the level of gratitude, the higher the level of appreciation, the more persons [will share] in each other's lives (p179).   
But what about outreach? If members of a congregation are huddling in prayer behind closed doors  for one another, what  becomes of evangelism? Root comments:
Prayer is a language and action that gives us eyes to see a new reality, the fuller reality of the hypostatic union, of the sharing of God in persons, of the sharing of personhood of God (p180).
In prayer together as believers, we begin to experience more fully the reality that Jesus is sharing the lives of all people--both within and outside the church walls. In prayer we begin to discern more clearly the Spirit's call to join in what Jesus is doing "out there." The pastors job is to help the members of his/her congregation begin to pray "beyond the walls of the church" (p181). And that prayer, by its very nature moves the people of God to action--to be "for" those they pray for by being "with" them in time and space.

Sharing in others' lives (indwelling their story) 

And so through prayer together the people of God discern the heart and activity of Jesus, and in a spirit of gratitude they reach outside the walls of the church to join Jesus in what he is doing "out there," sharing in the lives of non-believers. Prayer, of course, continues, for prayer opens "space" for true sharing. 

What we join Jesus in sharing in, is the story of other persons. To do that we go to them, not primarily to convey information but to listen to their stories. This leads to true place sharing, which is to indwell the "story" of the other. "We indwell each other by feeling each other" (p189). And the essential skill for this feeling/indwelling is empathy, which is acquired through prayer and in time spent with other persons (ideally, in prayer with them). Such encounters then give us opportunity to evangelize, which means telling our story as it relates to the story of Jesus. 

Here pastors can be of great help by modeling story-telling and otherwise teaching members to tell their stories. This can be done by using a narrative (story-telling) style of praying. "Narrative praying prays specifically; it prays for persons in their relationships (p191). This then leads naturally (supernaturally, really) to evangelism, for... 
...evangelism...happens through shared story. We confess the faith and share it with other persons not by sharing the gospel as [mere] data or information...but [by] telling our story. How we were once lost but now found. How we once did not know we had union with God, but now we share in it.We tell our story by giving testimony to how we are now sharing in the life of God by sharing with these people (p194).
Also pastors can model story-telling in their preaching and counseling. As they do the relationality that is fundamental to authentic Christian ministry comes forth, including an accurate pointing to Jesus, the place sharer. To be effective in this relational minsitry, a pastor's most important attribute is emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as EQ)--being a person who is "in touch" with others--who cares deeply and knows how to effectively express that caring. "The pastors primary job will be to feel the emotions of the community...so that the pastor might intervene or encourage relationships to flow" (p210).
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And so with these thoughts on the nature of relational ministry, we end this series of posts. I hope you've benefited. I know I have. Once again, I urge you to purchase the book and read it for yourself.

-Ted Johnston

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