Up front, I confess that I approach this post from the perspective of a pastor in ministry who seeks to shepherd and love his people well. However, I truly believe that if the average church member would seek to live out these principles, they would find deeper relationships and have a much richer sense of purpose.
So, I want to share 10 practical ways to show love to God’s people while growing in community with God’s people.
1. Visit them in the hospital.
Don’t just drop in, say “hey,” and pray, but actually spend the time to ask good questions and listen to them. Ask them about their relationship with Jesus. Don’t view it as an inconvenience, but a privilege to be a physical representation of Christ to the hurting. Use the visit as an opportunity to encourage them to live faithfully for Jesus.
2. Hang out with them.
We can spend so much energy ministering to people that we forget to just spend time with people. About every 2 months, I’ll schedule time after a monthly meeting to go and hang out at Buffalo Wild Wings with some men. These times are usually late and don’t interfere with family time. I’ll invite all the men in the church who want to come. During that time, I’ll talk about life issues with them and hang out with them. It’s amazing the camaraderie that is built and the ministry that does happen, despite that not being the major focus.
I’ll also invite people to come to my children’s ball games and cheer them on. These aren’t times of ministry per se. These are times where they are joining with me to encourage and love my family. I’m focused on the game, not them, but I invite them into our lives.
3. Invite them to your house.
Frank Barker, who used to be the Senior Pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham AL, mentored me for four months while I was in Bible college. In one of our meetings, he encouraged me to do as much ministry in my home as possible and not in the church building. I’m glad I listened. Over the years, we’ve found people much more open and relaxed, we’ve experienced deep relationships, and our children have been able to watch my wife and I invest in others in meaningful ways.
4. Say “I’m sorry, I can’t” occasionally.
This point will sound odd, but one of the ways you can show love to the people with whom you have community is by maintaining healthy boundaries. Keep family priorities in place and don’t over pack your schedule. Most people will respect you and cherish the time they have with you, deepening the relationship.
5. Share your failures with them.
Letting the people in the church know that you are human is a great way model humility and develop a strong mutually loving relationship. So many people set those in ministry on a pedestal and think that God can’t use them because they are not as godly as the pastor. Being honest about your struggles, weaknesses, and failures allows people to see that it is all about God not you. It allows people the privilege of praying for you. It allows people the privilege of holding you accountable and a greater level of community is created, a community that is reciprocal and not unilateral.
6. Pray for them and let them know.
Pray for your people by name and specific situations. As you do pray for them, call them, send them an email, or text and let them know. Pray for them on voicemail if they don’t answer or email them a prayer. When people know that you are thinking about them personally and they are not just a number on the role, it is truly encouraging to them and they sense the genuineness and love you are extending to them.
7. Pray with them.
Don’t just pray for them, but actually take the time to pray with them. Have them pray for you on occasion. When someone shares a request, stop right there and pray together. When people ask how they can pray for you, share it with them and ask them if they would be willing to pray for you right then.
8. Cry with them.
Being with people in the time of crisis is a precious privilege. So often, pastors and church leaders feel that they have to have all the right answers. We don’t. Just showing up speaks volumes. You don’t have to say the right thing necessarily, but you do need to share in their pain. Hurt when your brothers and sisters are hurting. Feel their pain and cry with them as they seek the Lord’s guidance through the valley of the shadow of death.
9. Plan their funeral.
When the time is drawing near, meet with people and talk to them about death and their relationship with Jesus. Talk to them about their funeral, but don’t just talk to the person who is dying. Take time out of your schedule even after the person has died, but before the funeral, to meet with the family. Ask them to share stories about their loved one. Share some of your own stories. Listen to them, share God’s word with them, and pray for them. It will warm your heart and theirs.
10. Cast a vision that’s about God and not them.
Challenge them to live for God’s glory and not their own comfort. Don’t share a me-centered gospel, but show them that being a child of God is a call to surrender all that we are so that we can share in all that he is. Encourage them to throw off sin and pursue God’s call in their life no matter what the cost. While the message will be uncomfortable and unpopular to some, you will find a deep familial love with those who allow you to speak such truth into their lives.