|By John Wood|
|As senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Waco, I mentored from one to six Baylor University ministerial students each quarter. I constantly emphasized meaningful ministry is based on personal relationships. If a pastor or staff member cannot establish and maintain meaningful personal relationships, he/she cannot experience effective ministry.|
The average tenure of Baptist ministers is relatively brief. The reason for these short pastorates is often because the pastor is unable to establish and maintain meaningful personal relationships.
Patricia and I had a very effective ministry for six years in a county-seat town of around 8,500 residents in Western Kentucky. The city business district was built around the city square, and our church was only a block away. We received our mail at the local post office just off the city square. Almost every day, I would visit with residents as they came to get their mail. Then, I would walk around the square and enter every business. I visited each business, even though the proprietor might not be affiliated with our congregation. I became friends with every shop owner, whether they were Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Jewish or whatever.
Then, I would go to the local drugstore, where groups of men would gather each morning to discuss current events and political ideology. I would walk up to their table—uninvited—and request that they not argue over who was going to pay for my drink that morning. These visits expanded my friendships and personal relationships far beyond our Baptist congregation. I often was granted opportunities of ministry because of these relationships.
There was only one hospital in the city, and I visited patients almost every day. I always tried to base my ministry on the precept that people will forget what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Patricia and I always have considered our parsonage or home as a means of ministry. We made every effort to have various meetings in our home as an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with as many members of our congregation as possible.
A pastor can develop meaningful personal relationships with members of his congregation by being sensitive to the most significant events in members' lives. I always made a special effort to minister to families and individuals at special times—birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, promotions, obtaining driver's license, marriage, divorces, illness and death.
I tried to be with the family during every birth. I wrote a personal letter to each newborn on the very day of their birth. I have had people tell me my letter remained in their children's book for the past many years. People never forget how you made them feel.
Meaningful personal relationships are the source of lasting memories and tremendous joy and satisfaction. They also are the basis for a pastor's effective ministry to a congregation for an extended time.
As I have grown older and my personal visits with friends have become more limited, I have tried to keep in touch with them by e-mail, letter and telephone calls. Each year, I dread to remember the number of my dear friends who have gone on to heaven. With each remembrance, I make a renewed commitment to stay close to dear friends who still are within my reach.
Oh, the joy of being a servant of Christ, representing him to every person I meet. Thanks to the Lord for the meaningful relationships given me over the years.
--John Wood is a retired pastor living in Waco, Texas.