I’ve heard many pastors draw a distinction between their personal relationship with God and the ministry work they engage in. Some consider it wise to focus on their own personal relationship as a foundation for their ministry. On the one hand, I get what they are saying. Trying to engage in kingdom work without a strong personal relationship with the King is difficult to say the least.
But I think this can go wrong in a couple of significant ways. First, it can tend to reduce the personal relationship with God to a means for some other purpose. As in, ‘I have to work on my personal relationship with God, so I can do ____________.’ No matter who you are, your relationship with God is not a means to some other end – your relationship with God is the chief end of your entire existence.
Second, this kind of thinking can hide from pastors that the work we do is only ever relationship building work. We can get sidetracked with sermon writing, event planning, building maintenance, finance management, and even community organizing. All of these things can facilitate our primary work of drawing people closer to God and each other but each of these things can also hinder that primary work. Relationships are always the main thing. And if we’re not careful to keep the main thing the main thing, we can start thinking these things are in competition with each other.
Since God’s work on earth is nothing other than having intimate relationship with all people, there is no competition here. It’s not that we must have a relationship with God in order to do kingdom work. It’s that having a relationship with God is kingdom work, the only kind there is. Whatever ministry we have, the point of it can only be to care for people and facilitate them deepening their relationship with the Father who already loves them deeply and completely and strengthening their relationships with each other. “Love God and love neighbor” aren’t just the two greatest commandments, they are the mandate, the prime directive, that should shape everything we do, especially everything we call ministry.