A Ministry of Interest

I try to make one-on-one meetings a regular part of my work. They’re a thing I’ve learned about through exposure to the broad-based community organizing philosophy of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and have practiced mostly as part of formal IAF-style “listening campaigns” in churches.

I want one-on-ones to be a kind of default mode for my ministry work.

The practical benefits of regularly conducting one-on-ones in your community are explained in organizing parlance clearly enough. You learn a lot about what your people are experiencing and what they care about, and you can begin to see common threads, which can foster stronger relationships within your community around shared concerns. It’s kind of how you drag the lake bed.

I’ve heard the ministerial impact of this organizing strategy articulated through the lens of listening, typically with reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s line from Life Together about the first responsibility we owe a fellow member of the Christian community being to listen to her. But I think I’m finding a more primary ministry benefit to doing lots of one-on-ones than listening, and that is interest.

Before we can listen to a person we have to take an interest in them. That feels more and more to me like a primary ministerial action in a context in which most people, most of the time, are leaving one another alone. A one-on-one communicates interest in another person as a person. It’s not an interview. It’s not a survey. It is a public human connection that affirms the value of an individual apart from what they know or can give.

To be interested in a person as a person and not as a source of information, and to express interest in a one-on-one meeting, is ministry.

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