Several years ago, I found myself sitting in a gay bar, playing bingo with drag queens, shooting pool with gay men, and conversing with people I never thought I would ever have a conversation with. It was – initially – a very awkward experience. I don’t enjoy hanging out in bars and I had never been to a gay bar before. I was doing an “Immersion Night” with an organization called Emmaus Ministries – a mission company that reaches out to male prostitutes in the homosexual nightlife of the city of Chicago. The rules were simple: my group was spending the night going gay bar hopping. We were not allowed to talk about God or our faith and our goal was to “learn” from the people that we met. At first, I had no idea how I had gotten roped into this exercise and I was extremely uncomfortable. In one bar, I struck up a conversation with a construction worker from the suburbs. It was during the conversation that I realized what the evening was supposed to teach me. I learned, “If I don’t first understand the people that I am ministering to, I can never hope to reach them with the Gospel.” I learned that, “every person has a cross in their life, and the first step in helping someone accept Christ’s love in their life is helping them to carry their cross.” Emmaus ministries was very wise in setting up these exercises for those interested in joining their ministry. They wanted all of their missionaries to understand that Christ did spent less time judging sinners and more time walking alongside of them, loving them back to health. The purpose of this exercise was to teach missionaries to see every person for who they are – a son or daughter of God.
I work in youth ministry and coach youth ministry leaders around the world. I coach them in practices of engaging young people into the faith. One common thread that I see in Ineffective youth ministry approaches with teens is that the leaders in the ministry have an attitude of, “I am here to teach you.” Too often, parish catechesis involves a person standing in front of an audience, providing instruction in the faith. There is far too much talking at people and far too little talking with people.
An effective youth minister spends time with teenagers because the attitude is, “I want to learn from you and be with you.” What is it that has most influenced your faith? Was it a book or educational program in the faith? Or was it a person? Are there people in your life who have inspired you as you have grown closer to Jesus Christ? Chances are, it was a person. People are won most easily to Christ through relationships.
See the reality is, God Himself modeled relational ministry when He became flesh and walked among us. The apostles did not learn from Him simply because of His sermon on the mount. They learned from His daily example – the way that He prayed, the way that he interacted with difficult people, the way that he woke up and his routine. In the same way, this is the best way to share the Gospel with others – to grow in relationships with others and to let the way that you live your life be an example to them.
So what is one way that you can grow the Kingdom of God? Build a relationship with someone – a relationship that is focused on loving and knowing the person, rather than simply trying to share the message.