Every Christian needs these 4 skills: effective prayer, truth application, listening, and wise patience. Which skills can you help others learn? In which do you need help. Guest writer Matt Mitchell, a pastor and author of Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue (CLC Publications, 2013), also blogs at “Hot Orthodoxy.” This article first appeared at Biblical Counseling Coalition and is used here with permission.
I posed this question to our adult Sunday School class: “What are the personal ministry skills that every single Christ-follower should have?” After a lengthy and involved discussion, we agreed upon four overarching answers:
1. Be Able to Pray with and for Someone
Prayer was the first skill that our class identified. “If you are going to minister to someone, you have to be willing to pray for them!” Praying for someone is hard work; it takes dedication and demonstrates real love.
As their teacher, I agreed with the class about the priority of prayer, but I wanted to stress that each Christ-follower should be able to pray with someone, not just for someone. Many of my classmates agreed with me, but a number of them grew silent. Praying out-loud with someone else is a different skill than just praying on your own. There are a few occasions in the Bible where prayer is silent and offered internally (e.g., Neh. 1:4), but most of the prayers in the Bible are publicly offered (see the Psalms).
For the last decade at our church we have been encouraging each other to offer what we call “The 10 Second Prayers” (10SP). These are “catch-as-catch-can” prayers, offered over the back of a pew or in the foyer—one last thing you do before you say goodbye to someone. Ten Second Prayers are not limited to ten seconds, but the idea is to simply and briefly connect two people with their Lord.
Perhaps you’ve been talking about a health issue, a relational problem, or even just the weather. Why not top it off by asking if you can quickly pray for that person before leaving?
How many times have you said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then not done it?
The 10SP is doing it right now. In our growing experience, it means a lot to people to be prayed for like this. This genuine prayer can be powerful and effective (cf. James 5:16). If each Christ-follower in your church practiced the 10SP, a lot of personal ministry would be done, as it should be, by the joints and ligaments of the church (Ephesians 4:16).
2. Be Able to Get Truth from Your Bible and Apply It to Life
Our adult Sunday School class knows that the answers are in the Bible. So, if Christ-followers are going to minister to others, they have to develop the skills to find answers to their questions and others’ questions.
Over the last several years, we have offered intensive one-week classes on personal Bible study during our Family Bible Week event in the summer. I have been teaching a basic OIA (Observation, Interpretation, Application) process, with an emphasis each year on a different genre. So far, we have covered gospels, parables, epistles, psalms, proverbs, narratives, and prophetic books.
As we talked about ministry skills in this adult class, lights began to come on for people. They were beginning to see why I have stressed personal OIA Bible study with an emphasis on “A”: not just applying the Bible to their own lives, but seeing how it applies to someone else to whom they are ministering.
For example, Psalm 88 might express how we feel when we are at the “lowest of the low.” Hopefully, we don’t need that one very often, but it is there for us when we do. What if you are walking with someone through a deep depression or a valley of relational sorrow? Could you offer Psalm 88?
My class wanted to stress that if you’re going to help someone else, you need to have experienced help yourself. It’s important to understand the change process as it is found in Scripture. Not only do we find a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” in the Bible, but we find a grand story of redemption that we became a part of as the Spirit ministers in our lives.
We need to train each other to understand and to make the redemption story their own.
3. Be Able to Ask Loving Questions and Listen with Discernment
Listening was a skill that came up several times in our discussion. It is the most basic of relational skills–everyone can do it, though not everyone is good at it. Listening is the first step to involvement in someone’s life. We can all tell when someone is not listening!
Listening is active, not passive. Listening builds trust. It requires humility. It involves self-discipline (it’s much easier to talk!). When done well, listening builds a relationship.
Part of listening well is asking clarifying questions. Our class decided that some questions were better than others. Questions motivated by love are the best. Sometimes those questions will be harder to ask, because they may be confrontational or feel intrusive to the other person. But a loving person will ask them anyway.
The flip-side of loving questions is loving openness. My class was adamant that being authentic and real, open about your own faults, was required. I agreed and stressed that we should become personally skilled at confession and forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are basic building blocks of Christian relationships, but this is a lost art that the church needs to recover.
One key listening skill that I’ve learned from counselors is to reflect back what I hear someone saying and to make sure to include the emotion that I hear in the person’s voice. For example, don’t just parrot back, “You had a bad day. Your boss was unreasonable.” Include the emotion: “Sounds like a rough day. I’ll bet you were feeling trampled upon!” You normally get immediate feedback that the person feels heard.
We also need to learn to listen with discernment, open to the possibility of having been told a lie. If so, the person needs to be challenged in a loving manner.
4. Be Able to Be Patient in the Right Ways at the Right Times
This may not be a skill as much as an attitude, but our class was agreed that it is essential. We must develop patience–it is the first descriptor of love in action in 1 Corinthians 13:4! Change normally takes time. God has been patient with us, so we need to pass it on.
And yet, we can’t just be content to let people wallow in their sin. Writing about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Paul Miller says, “Jesus loves her just the way she is, yet he refused to leave her the way she is” (Love Walked Among Us, p. 188). Being “patient” with someone who is hurting themselves or others is not helpful.
Frankly, I don’t know how to equip my people to be patient in the right ways and at the right times. I try to model it. I talk about it. I confess when I fail at it. But, like most avenues of wisdom, it’s easier to recognize than it is to teach. May the Spirit work it into us!
Join the Conversation
What skills would you add to our class’s list? What do you think are the personal ministry skills that every single Christ-follower should have?
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