As I reflect on more than 15 years of work in ministry, it’s not the challenges and frustrations that I remember; it is the people who have invested in me and the relationships I have been blessed to form.
The Apostle Paul hints at the importance of relationships in the Christian life when he writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), and “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9). There is, of course, much we can learn and imitate from St. Paul. I’d like to focus on one aspect that has made the biggest difference in my own life and ministry, and it has everything to do with relationships.
I have been blessed to have many “Pauls” in my life. After my initial conversion into the Protestant faith, which was “radical” in every sense of the word, there were men and women who took me under their wing, who invested in me and provided me with a witness of holiness. As God’s path led me into the Catholic Church, once again he provided mentors to help me embrace the fullness of faith. I had four people in my life who made all the difference. I would argue that every person desiring to follow Christ as a disciple needs these four people in his or her life, too.
The Importance of Relational Ministry
Before I tell you about these four kinds of people, though, I must say this: effective ministry is relational. St. Paul offers a beautiful example of what this can look like in the relationships he built throughout his life as a Christian. After the conversion of Saul (Paul) through the faithful intercession of Ananias (Acts 9:1–19a), “For several days [Saul] was with the disciples at Damascus” (19b). From the moment of his conversion, Paul recognized the need to spend time building relationships. Most of his time prior to his conversion was spent persecuting the Church. This was even the initial purpose of his trip to Damascus. So, he needed to spend time fostering these initial relationships in order to build and deepen trust with those he previously sought to kill. We read in Acts 9:25 that “his disciples” came to trust him so much that they were even willing to put their lives at risk on his behalf. If you have served the Church for any length of time, you know that building trust, with the aim of forming disciples, takes serious investment in people and relationships.
It is Paul’s example we must follow and prioritize in this work and, going beyond our work, in our day-to-day encounters with others.