by Joe Davis, Director of Ministry Operations, Alabama Rural Ministry
If we’re serious about practicing Jesus’ mission as mission with, our relationships with those we serve have to be at the center of all our ministry efforts. And not just any relationships, but real friendships. Developing these friendships is often harder than it seems, especially when serving with middle and high school students. Why?
Many reasons could be at play, but a fundamental reason is our desire for accomplishment that comes from seeing tangible, material results. If we’re not careful, this desire can replace friendship as the primary focus of our mission.
Middle and high school students are eager to serve and are full of energy to invest in others. They get excited about the possibility of building a new wheelchair ramp for a family, or reading, playing, and singing with children. As students encounter the struggle of families and kids living in poverty, they desperately want to make a difference. Seeing the possibilities of home repair or kids ministry come to fruition as they serve over the course of a week can fulfill students’ ache to help in some way. They want to say goodbye knowing—and seeing—that they’ve accomplished something.
This isn’t a bad thing!
But this desire for accomplishment can lead us astray if we allow it to dictate the way we serve. Our desire for accomplishment can cause us to work faster and prioritize efficiency. If we let this desire lead us, we’ll find ourselves spending more and more time “doing work” rather than taking breaks to build our friendships. Creating relationships takes time and is never “efficient,” especially when relationships are being made across boundaries of class, race, age, and culture. What’s more: if we let our desire for accomplishment run unchecked, we put ourselves at risk of believing that God’s mission depends on our efforts alone. This subtly moves us from “mission with” to “mission to” as we put ourselves in the place of God.
At Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM), we do everything we can to support our teams so they are empowered to complete critical home repairs for families and tangibly extend Christ’s love with kids. We want to accomplish visible results too! But we have to keep this desire in tension with Jesus’ call to be in loving relationships with those we serve. Sometimes we have to be OK with accomplishing a little less in tangible results so we have time to invest in getting to know others on a deeper level.
A helpful tool we use to do prioritize relational ministry is the BLESS acrostic. It goes like this:
- Begin in prayer. We always begin the day (and end it!) in prayer with those we serve. We acknowledge that this is God’s work in all of our lives and thank God for His love and grace that sustains us.
- Listen. We get to know each other as we serve. This may mean intentionally stepping away from the work at hand to sit down and talk with the family we’re serving. It may mean taking an extra few minutes with a child at day camp. We come with open hearts and listening ears ready to hear someone else’s story.
- Eat together. There’s something special about sharing the table with others. In our home repair ministry, we always invite our teams to make extra lunches so they can ask the family they’re serving to join them. Sometimes our families even cook lunch for teams!
- Serve. This part is easy since we’re all about service. But, it’s important to remember that service is only one dimension. Without the other parts, our service becomes “mission to” instead of “mission with.” All service can and should be relational.
- Share your story. As we listen and get to know others, we have the opportunity to tell our own story. We all have a story to tell of God’s work in our lives. God uses our stories to encourage and inspire others—and sometimes to invite them into a new relationship with God. Sharing our story completes the relational dynamic that we’re striving for as we go out in mission.
“Mission with” is all about sharing in the BLESSing of God’s love together.
What are your thoughts on the BLESS approach? How might it help your students be on mission with those you serve? We’d love to hear your thoughts on social media or by emailing us at info [at] arm-al.org.