Here’s a hard truth for us as ministers: sometimes a conversation is not good enough. In an age of relational ministry, sometimes we think that this approach means that all we have to do is talk to our people about the weather or sports or how school is going. If we complete a good round of small talk, then we have done our relational duty and have gotten our folks on the path of spiritual growth. Because the goals of relational ministry can be difficult to define, we often settle for much less than the best.
There are certainly some very positive aspects of being relational in ministry. I would be much less effective if I only spoke at my students rather than with my students. I value the opportunities to demonstrate concern for my students by asking them about their lives. In fact, I frequently mention to our volunteers that some of the most important ministry times are those times before and after an event. Demonstrating our concern and interest in people’s lives is definitely a calling for ministers, but sometimes it is not enough.
As you read through the Bible, it does not take long to see that those who were specifically tasked with doing God’s work often had to speak difficult truths, say unpopular things, and confront in uncomfortable ways. We also see that we are asked to speak truth in love to people. As ministers, we are called to do these same things today. When we fail to do these things, we are essentially giving our stamp of approval to the way that students are living their lives, even when it does not honor God. We must be willing to put light onto the areas where they can grow so that they can advance in the journey of their faith.
Here are a couple of examples of what this might look like. We had a student who was in a very unhealthy romantic relationship, and it was obvious that this student was heading down a destructive path. With all of the love and concern I could muster, I simply let the student know that I was concerned and that I would love for the student to spend some time considering where the path that she was taking was leading. Another student we work with has had a difficult time with the issue of cheating. While it was uncomfortable, we pointed out that this was not something that would help the student in life or in the student’s faith. In both of these cases we did not seek to condemn or to shame, but we wanted to simply do our part in sharing truth with the student so that they might be able to make the right decision.
Speaking truth is difficult, but it is our calling. Sometimes a conversation is not good enough. Sometime God has called us to do more than that. However, if this is going to work, we had better be sure that we have established a relationship with the student through a heart of ministry and a God-given desire to see the student become all that he or she can become. It may be that the truth you speak will change the course of their lives. What an honor.