“Youth are leaving our churches, and we don’t know what to do about it.” These words are too often spoken by pastors who faithfully minister in churches across this nation. “How do we stay relevant to our culture when the culture constantly changes?” is usually the next question.
While Christianity Today has done a good job debunking the commonly held opinion that most pastors are discouraged and ready to quit, many, including myself, are perplexed by these issues. In moments of lucidity, however, I think the answer must include a vigorous effort by churches to form deep relationships with those not yet in the faith. Relationships are key, and mentoring is all about relationships.
Contemporary efforts by the church to hit the ever-moving target of cultural relevancy include five strategies. Here they are:
- Prioritize Needs – service and social ministry (food pantries, etc.)
- Preach positive, subject-based messages on “relevant subjects”
- Professionalism – keep programs positive, professional, and attractive
- Participation – make it easy to connect on demand and online – convenience matters
- Production – produce programs with bumper videos, media posts, graphics for each series, countdowns, sermon starters and outlines to engage a tech-driven culture
None of these efforts are bad. They just do not seem to be leading to a church that resembles the one in Acts where many were being saved, healed, and transformed. What is missing? A vigorous effort by churches to form deep relationship with those not yet in the faith is missing.
In Acts 6 the early church prioritized relationships. They served the Hellenistic (Greek) widows with whom they had relationships. They chose Hellenistic leaders to oversee these widows because these leaders had a relationship with them. The Apostles delegated this ministry so they could spend their time in prayer and preaching, prioritizing spiritual relationship. Why? They ministered this way because relationship with God and with people was at the core of who they were and how they defined Christianity.
Jesus agreed with the early church when he summed up the gospel as relationship: loving God and loving others. His ministry was all about relationships: friendships with three, with twelve, with outcasts, at parties, at suppers and at weddings. When he came upon a Samaritan woman at a well, he could have ignored her like the other Jews; instead, he initiated a relationship with her. Mentors, take note and be encouraged as Jesus models mentoring for this hurting woman. Here is his approach:
- Inconvenienced – He’s tired and resting by a well but still chooses to invest.
- Initiate — He breaks taboos and talks to this “second-class” Samaritan, ignoring all stereotypes held by Jews and by Samaritans alike.
- Interested – He is interested in her well-being and approaches her vulnerably asking for some water. He knows she is broken and rejected by multiple divorces, so he tenderly offers her living water.
- Insistent – He patiently redirects the conversation when asked about places of worship. He keeps bringing her to the heart level to share her pain and rejection.
- Invite – Finally, he invites her into deep relationship with the Spirit and the Father.
Jesus ministered this way because relationship with the Father and with people is at the core of who he is. We pastors may be confused about “doing” church in the 21st century, but Jesus certainly is not. He built his ministry one trusting relationship at a time and asks us to do the same through discipleship.
Mentoring is relational. It is at the core of discipleship. It is a major part of the solution for recapturing the health of the 21st century church.
 John 4:23