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Relationship-based Ministry

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     In the movie “Jerry Maguire”, Tom Cruise plays the title character, who is a slick and successful sports agent. As the movie begins, Jerry is having a crisis of conscience, having just been chastised by the son of an injured hockey player for caring so little about the young boy’s father. This leads to a “dark night of the soul,” during which Jerry writes a mission statement about his desire to revolutionize the sports industry, advocating that his agency focus on deeper relationships with fewer clients. He calls on fellow agents to stop measuring success by the number of clients and the size of the contracts they obtain for them. The conclusion of Jerry’s statement put it this way: “The secret to this job is personal relationships.” The mission statement promptly gets Jerry fired.

     It is sad to say that the same kind of misguided evaluation can be found in the ministries of churches. It is very easy to fall into the trap of measuring the success of your church by how many people attend your worship service, or how big your annual budget is, or how many programs you run. It is easy in this materialistic culture to forget that the Biblical definition of the church is that we are redeemed sinners who love our God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and who love one another with the love of Christ. The secret to the work of the church is personal relationships.

     The push to be bigger and to offer more programs and ministries can sometimes work against the very relationships that are the essence of church life. We need to really know one another, but “bigness” tends to create distance and anonymity. We need to spend time together, bear one another’s burdens, rejoice together, weep together, pray for one another, work together, encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and worship together. There are no shortcuts to real relationships, and real ministry flows out of real relationships.

     The Elders strive to measure the success of our church by the quality of our relationships with one another. This is one reason that our small group Bible studies are central to our mission. We are committed to improving our existing small groups, training new leadership, establishing new groups, and seeking to have everyone in our church family connected with a group.

     As we’ve said on other occasions, this relationship emphasis also changes the way that we think about outreach and evangelism. When someone asks me, “What is the primary outreach strategy of Oakwood?”, I answer, “Making relationships!” Our main method of evangelism is to equip the saints for the ministry, so that they can share themselves and Christ with their neighbors, family members, co-workers, and friends.

     A related effort by the elders involves narrowing our ministry focus in every area. As we look across the board at the different ministries that are overseen by the leadership of the church, our desire is to see us invest ourselves deeply in the ministries to which we are committed, and avoid spreading ourselves and our resources out too thinly.

     In our mercy ministry, it means getting deeply involved with a few local ministries to help the widows, orphans, and aliens within our reach. In our foreign missions ministry, it means increasingly focusing our personal involvement and money on a specific region of the world and seeking to develop meaningful relationships with the missionaries and nationals in that region. Whether we initiate a ministry or partner with another ministry in local or foreign outreach, we must do more than write a few checks and distribute a few prayer letters. We need to form real, in-depth relationships with the people we are helping and be willing to get involved in their messy lives, while opening up our own messy lives to them.

     We’re still exploring the implications of Gospel-centered, relationship-based ministry, and we invite you to explore along with us. There is one thing about which we are certain: “The secret to this job is personal relationships.”

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

God in the Whirlwind

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     One winter day my family and I were homeward bound on the interstate when we were suddenly assaulted by what they call a “snow squall.” Pavement that had only moments earlier been clear and dry was suddenly snow covered and slippery. The road crews were obviously just as surprised as we were by the suddenness and severity of the storm, because the roads had not been salted at all. I slowed down to a crawl, and “felt” my way along the highway, insecure about the grip of my tires and the exact location of the edges of the road.

     This would be a more interesting and exciting story if I could go on to describe a spectacular accident (or near-accident), but I’m thankful to report that the Lord protected us and brought us through the storm with no incidents. But I live a very sheltered life, and this was one of those rare times that I’ve felt such a fear and lack of control over my situation.

     I was reminded of that snow squall a few days later as I read the great encounter between our sovereign God and Job the suffering saint in chapters 38 through 42 of the book of Job. Job had lost his possessions, his family, and his health, and, after some strong affirmations of faith, he begins to question God’s justice and goodness because of his prolonged suffering.

     After extended silence, finally God appears to Job – from the midst of a “whirlwind!”  The Hebrew word means, literally, “storm,” “tempest,” or “hurricane.” I must have read that passage hundreds of times, but I was struck for the first time by the significance of God appearing to Job in the midst of a tornado. It tells us that God is always present in the midst of the “storms” that we face in His wise providence.

     Like Job, we want to know the reasons and purposes for the storms that we face – we demand explanations. But God didn’t answer any of Job’s questions or challenges from the whirlwind. He simply reminded Job that He is the one, true, sovereign God who created all things and who rules over all things at all times. We are sinners and we are in no position to demand justice, good health, peace, or prosperity from God.

     But what we couldn’t demand the Lord has made available to us as a gift, through the cross of Jesus Christ. When Jesus’ disciples were about to be drowned by the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus stood with them in the midst of the storm and said, “Peace! Be still!” He is our peace in the midst of the storm, and one day He will come again to end all the chaos and suffering.

     So, until then, we face the storms of life by faith, content to know that God is in the midst of the whirlwind, and that He has a purpose for our circumstances, even though our perspective is far too small to comprehend His reasons. As Psalm 46 reminds us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble… ‘Be still and know that I am God’…The Lord of Hosts is with us…”

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

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