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Tending to relationships

April 18, 2013
By Verity A. Jones

I recently reconnected with a friend whom I first met while she was in seminary. As a younger person who is bright, talented, energetic, and willing to speak up to older church leaders, my friend was tapped for leadership on our denomination’s general (national) board. She served faithfully for seven years, helping to shape some of the most important organizational and identity transformations in our church’s history.

I asked her how it feels to no longer serve the church in that capacity. She said the one thing that surprised her was that no one offered an official “thank you” when she finished her final term. She just stopped going to meetings. No note, no email, no call to say, “Thanks for everything you’ve done these past seven years.”

As the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence and the ongoing director of the New Media Project, I think more and more about the intersection of pastoral ministry and new media. My friend’s experience led to the following: From one side of the intersection (pastoral ministry), I could write about the importance of tending to relationships:

One cannot overstate how strongly the biblical testimony calls us to care for our fellow human beings, both those in our community and in the world. Jesus says it just about as bluntly as he can, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).  Paul calls the people of God to “bear one another’s burdens” so that we might “fulfill the laws of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). He takes it further in 1 Corinthians 12 saying, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” “You are the body of Christ,” Paul explains, and what is the purpose of the body of Christ but to enact and carry forth the good news of Jesus Christ for the benefit of the world (Matthew 28:16-20).

Likewise, one cannot overstate how much of the biblical testimony is rooted in relationship—relationship between God and God’s people, and relationships among God’s people and with the world. For how can we bear one another’s burdens or share the good news if we are not first in relationship with each other and with God. How would we know the other’s burdens if we do not know the other? How do we share God’s love if we do not know God’s love. And how do we know that love, if not through the love of neighbors, family, strangers, and self that give flesh to the promises in scripture? The very heart of God is constituted by relationship among the three modes of God’s being.

Relationships matter, and excellent ministry should demonstrate attentiveness to relationships.

Saying “thank you” seems like one of the most basic and easiest ways to attend to relationships. Saying “thank you” is not simply good etiquette. It is good because it conveys awareness and attentiveness to another person’s life and their contributions to your life and the life of the community. Saying “thank you” acknowledges that you know and recognize the other as worthy of love and care.

Of course, I suspect we have all failed to say “thank you” at all the right moments. We have so much to thank others for, we are going to miss out on a few. We can set up systems to minimize the number we miss, like tasking a nominating committee to say “thank you” to outgoing members of an elected body as they identify new members for election. But that will fail sometimes, as well; we are human. More important than a system, therefore, is our general habits of attentiveness to those in our communities.

From the other side of the intersection of pastoral ministry and new media (yes, I am coming back to new media) I could write about the importance of tending to relationships in community. Oh wait, that’s what I wrote on the first side …

Perhaps this is not surprising to those who have been thinking theologically about new media with us for a while now. Social media give us new tools to tend to the social relationships that have been at the heart of Christian thought and practice for millennia. Social media do not have to replace face-to-face relationships, but rather the New Media Project has recorded numerous instances in which social media enhance and complement face-to-face relationships. In the “best practices” series of blogs last year (three months beginning February 3, 2013) we described “Using social media to listen,” noticing church friends through Facebook birthday wishes, and the invoking the gifts of the Spirit through social media.

Next week we start a new series on celebration and social media. In the meantime, I’m going to say “thank you” to several people who have made a difference in my community.

Verity A. Jones is the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, and project director of the New Media Project which is now part of this new Center.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.


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