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Relational Ministry is not a Strategy

Relational Ministry is not a Strategy April 2, 2013

In the history of thought the one person who plumbed the depths of relationship was Martin Buber in his famous I and Thou. That book deserves to be read again and again by pastors and leaders in order to comprehend both our relation to God and our relation to others. Few ministry books have plumbed that kind of book, but we are in a new day… a day when more might turn to relational ministries.

What is a relational ministry?

Relational ministry is about persons and about personhood. “We have deeply wanted our ministry to be relational, but not for the sake of persons, for the sake of ministry, for the sake of bringing success to our initiatives… So when we speak of ‘relational,’ we usually mean it as another strategy” (17). So Andrew Root in his excellent new book, The Relational Pastor: Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves.

The idea that relationships are not a strategy is potent; and the sad commentary proceeds to say that often relationships are seen as a strategy, a means to accomplish great things — except love and relationship are not what is really wanted. We want to appear relational so people will like what we have to offer. It’s the difference between wanting a good marriage and loving the person you married.

Or as Andrew Root says it, “It becomes about using a relationship to get them to become loyal to the idea of Jesus, as opposed to encountering the person of Jesus” (18). Root proposes — and will develop — a distinction between an individual and personhood.  He “sees relationship with others as the very ontological structure of our humanity” (18). We are our relationships.

He wants to claim that relationships are an “end” in ministry. I agree but I’d say that love or, better yet, the person is the end rather than the relationship, but I suspect we are saying the same thing.

Individualism has no place for empathy; personhood does. “It sucks to be you!” is individualism. When we become empathic toward someone we leave individualism and enter personhood. Instead of saying “It sucks to be you” we say “I’m sorry.”

“To have our person embraced is to find our person bound to others and therefore transformed in and through the relationship” (21).

Root explores a proposed history of ministry:

In the hunter-gatherer framework the minister is the cosmic storyteller.

In the agricultural framework the minister is the manager and mediator of divine things.

In the steam and coal transition — industrial revolution — the minister perpetuated and protected a way of life. The pastor is a moral exemplar.

In the electric and managed oil transition — the second industrial revolution — the minister is involved in programmed intervention. The pastor becomes an entrepreneurial, entertaining, and a self-help therapeutician. The model of ministry here is influence.

Are we in a new day? Are we entering into a new day of relational ministries? He proposes the new pastor will be the “convener of empathic encounter of personhood” (44).

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