Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why "Relational Ministry" is Keeping People from Jesus

"Relational Ministry" is very popular in youth ministry and evangelism circles. The philosophy goes like this: to lead people to Jesus, we need to be friends with them; if we are not friends with them, we have no right to share Jesus with them because we need to "earn the right" to be heard. Is this belief biblical? Clearly, it is not. Jesus Christ has not only given us the right, but has commanded us to share the gospel with unbelievers: "He [Jesus] said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Doing "relational ministry" might be direct rebellion against Jesus' command. And why is "relational ministry" so attractive? Because there is no persecution, there is no loss of friendship, there is no uncomfortability, there is no risk, in short: there is no cost. Does this mean that we are not to be relational with people. Clearly not. In talking about proclaiming the gospel, in obedience to Jesus Christ's command, the apostle Paul says this: "Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:4-6). And Peter says this: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Clearly we are to preach, proclaim, and answer, but this is to be done with grace, tact, love, gentleness, and respect.
Another false implication in "relational ministry" is that our relationships are what save people, and that you do not even really need to say anything, because Jesus will be seen in you, and they will ask what is different in your life and as a result will become a Christian. However, the Scriptures present another picture: "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Many people will not ask you why your life is different. Often they will just think you are just a nice person. They need to hear the message because it is the only way that faith is produced, and salvation is by faith alone.


Anonymous said...

This is what Arthur Washnik had to say, but had trouble posting it because of technical difficulties:

I read your bit about relational youth ministry and I can appreciate your worries. However, I think your off in the way you say there is no cost attached to relational youth ministry. I think relational youth ministry forces us to actually care about people. To enter into their worlds. It's INCARNATIONAL rather than just relational. I think that is why such a thing was even created in the first place. Because too many Christians are hit and run evangelists. They never return to take responsibility for the messes they make during their "evangelism" I think that while there is always a place for boldness, and proclamation of the word, we have to be sensitive to the culture we live in. Not over sensitive of course like the stuff your talking about! There is a time to be quiet and exemplify the love of Christ. I find something like that in 1 Peter 3:1-2. This verse speaks of the relation between a husband and wife, but the same can sort of be appled to any relationship, and especially the society we as a church are in relationship with. If the preaching of the word is not doing anything to change them, exemplify the love of Christ so that "they may be won without a word by the Behaviour..." (verse 1) This would imply relationship building. Caring, loving, and all the rest. And that does carry a cost. I'm not saying this is all the church has to do, but only that there is a place for it.

Relational youth ministry is not about pretending not to be a Christian, it is about being a Christian boldly in a real way without sounding like a cliche or a televangelist which unfortunately is the first thing that pops into peoples minds when you start talking about Jesus. It's also to avoid sounding like a four spiritual laws robot which many people believe will get their friends saved. Believeing that if you just preach the word boldly enough you'll get people saved is making the same mistake as believing that if you just enter into relationship with someone they will be saved. I think love is the most inportant factor.

I think Relational youth ministry has also surfaced because there is a call to use wisdom in how we share the message of Christ with the unchurched, and if proclaiming the gospel to someone you barely know is for sure going to get them thinking you're a looney, maybe we have to show them that we have something genuine. I don't think that's anti-biblical or goes against the commandments of Christ. I also can't see how any of the verses you quoted actually go against relational evangelism when understood incarnationally, which I believe is how it's meant to be understood. I think relational ministry can be twisted and used to sort of excuse ourselves from bolding living out and proclaiming Christ, but like I said earlier I really believe that is misunderstanding the whole point behind it, and the need for it in our churches. I think the need for it is to bring people back to evangelism that involves meeting sinners where they are at like Jesus does by going to eat at the tax collector's home. That also seems pretty relational. I mean He was known for eating and drinking with sinners! I think in some instances evangelism has to be relational. It simply wouldn't be evangelism if it wasn't. Oh and I don't ever remember relational ministry implying that it is our relationships that save people. I think you are being a little hard on it. I'm glad you took a strong stand though because it will get people thinking and evaluating what they are doing. Bless you brother. Thanks for getting me thinking today.

Nick Hill said...


I am going to respond to some of the things you said:

"relational youth ministry forces us to actually care about people."

Is this opposed to those who proclaim Christ, even though they do not have a relationship with the person? I really believe that the Apostle Paul loved the people that he proclaimed the gospel to even though he did not know them or have a friendship with them.

"too many Christians are hit and run evangelists. They never return to take responsibility for the messes they make during their 'evangelism.'"

I have never met any of these hit and run evangelists. I hardly know any one who actually shares the gospel with strangers, and those who do love them dearly. It is never wrong to share the message of the cross. We should never measure "success" by response, but rather by the humility, love, and faithfulness of the messenger.

I am a firm believer in Incarnational ministry too! Imitating Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is the way to fruitful ministry. The ministry of Jesus included proclamation, teaching, study of the Word, praying privately, intercessory prayer, counselling, mentoring, rebuking, visitation, hospitality, and so on. I think we would be wise to imitate all aspects of His ministry (There is a good book on this called "Jesus Driven Ministry" by Ajith Fernando). Thanks for your response and for helping me think more clearly,


Nick Hill said...

To everyone in general,

I want to make sure that we do not misunderstand each other. One thing I will take back that I wrote. As pointed out by Arthur, I overstated my point that their is "no cost" to relational ministry/evangelism. This is clearly wrong. Caring for the poor, the hurting, the lonely, counselling, paying for meals, time, and financial costs are all real costs. What I was trying to emphasize was the type of evangelism that avoids sharing because of the cost involved,


Shane Sowden said...

Dude!!! Where did all the comments go. There used to be like 10 comments here. Some good stuff too! Don't you think deleting a lot of the comments takes away from the conversations on this blog???

Nick Hill said...

Sorry Shane. The people's comments were in an email to me that I then posted on here for everyone's perusal. However, they wanted the comments deleted. I am disappointed to, but I had to listen to their request. Thanks for your understanding,


Shane Sowden said...

That's cool. Too bad though. Their emails were very thought provoking.