Tailoring Ministry to the Individual

In this day of megachurches and churches spread across multiple campuses, is it really possible or even practical to care about the individual? Yet ministry is based on the model of a shepherd  willing to leave a flock of ninety-nine sheep in an open field while searching for one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

In Chapter 4 of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I share a philosophy of ministry based on a sensitivity to the needs of individuals that requires we avoid assumptions while remaining pragmatic.

The basics of this philosophy:

  1. Show people respect. Ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions. Trying to force a person into a certain ministry mold may not help a person although our intentions may be admirable. A widower may prefer joining the men’s ministry on a fishing trip to taking a class that requires him to discuss his grief in a small group. Let people select the ministry resources best suited to their needs and respect their choice.
  2. Do not project your needs onto someone else. What ministered to you in a particular circumstance in your life may not minister to your friend. Listen to what your friend is communicating to you instead of planning ministry based on your own preferences. For example, not all new mothers feel depressed after childbirth, so ministry in a mom’s group should validate different responses to a similar life event.
  3. Beware false assumptions. Not all childless young couples feel called to work in the children’s ministry in your church, no matter how badly you desire to staff the nursery and toddler room. Perhaps a woman with a career in finance would rather serve on a church committee that allows her to bless the church with her professionals skills instead of a more traditional role in a woman’s ministry. Simply asking people about their passions and interests can prevent misplaced and disheartened volunteers. The church will prosper when people find fulfilling ministry roles.

Large or small, a church can be sensitive to the needs of individuals while still meeting the goals of the group as a whole. Whether in your church life or in your friendships, what approaches do you take to tailor your response to the needs of the individual?

Thinking about Faith

Some things become so much a part of our lives that we do not need to stop and actively think about them. When I ice skate, I no longer think about every little movement needed to maintain balance. I can safely plan next week’s schedule in my mind while gliding along.

digital illustration neurons

Of course, a person first learning to skate or returning to the ice after an injury might need to concentrate fully on the activity.

If your faith has been a part of your life since childhood, stopping to think about it may feel as unnatural as a hockey player hesitating to think about each movement on the ice while chasing down the puck. Faith becomes part of the fabric of your soul, influences your friendships, and guides your decisions. Dissecting it for analysis seems strange.

However, for those times when life events have shaken your faith to its core, thinking carefully about your faith may bring healing. Here are some thoughts on faith:

1. Faith is reasonable but not based solely on reason.

Genuine faith is more than wishful thinking with no basis in facts. If not, a person could have strong, hopeful emotions in just about anything and call it faith. Faith that pigs can fly will not send them soaring over the weathervane on the barn roof. Thus, reason plays a role in faith, and Christianity is rooted in historical events.

At times, faith in God’s provision calls a person to attempt to accomplish more than seems likely on reason alone. However, all lofty goals must be grounded in prayer and planning, with reason serving as an anchor that stabilizes and protects a person from drifting into dangerous waters.

2. Faith is based on relationship, not only ideas.

Knowledge without trust is meaningless for salvation, and facts without relationship falls short of meaningful faith. A well-known verse explains this concept succinctly:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Belief in God is not just a line in a creed, but the basis for a relationship. Like all relationships, your faith in God may grow stronger with your investment of time or weaken through neglect. When you feel your faith faltering, you do not need to collect data to bolster your belief in an idea as much as you need to take actions to nurture a relationship. God is not pleased when He is ignored through a person’s season of doubts. The rewards of love, peace and joy come to those who actively pursue Him.

What role has thinking played in your faith?