Effective ministry starts with being relational. That’s why the United Methodist Communications (UMCom) Relationship Team is dedicated to connecting people. The team serves as ambassadors who connect with the U.S. and Central Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
“Nothing happens outside of a relationship," says the Rev. Gary Henderson, who leads the team. "As we do web ministry, marketing, training … none of that happens outside of relationships. And when you connect with people, you can connect them to where they will best be served and will best serve. We may have the best product, the best message, the best thing, but unless we are connected relationally, it makes communication really difficult.
"One of the quotes I use the most is, 'Where there is no communication, there is no community,' and that's what my team seeks to do - create community in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ," adds Henderson.
Connecting and being relational takes work in understanding the culture and the way people and communities interact with each other. A good example of this is the work that UMCom is doing in countries in Africa. "You don't just show up and say, 'let's get some work done.' Africa is a more protocol-sensitive environment than the United States,” said Henderson. “So you show up to meet the right people, being sensitive to protocol."
In any culture, one thing Henderson says is key is listening. Listening is key to understanding, and understanding is key to being able to learn how to minister effectively.
"From a listening place, we are able to learn, have authentic conversations and find out what is happening in that geographical area. From that, we are able to better understand the climate culturally and the needs. Understanding gleaned from listening leads our team to connect to the possibilities we may be able to offer."
Sometimes a visit to a specific area doesn't result in immediate action. "Asia is a good example," recalls Henderson. "I showed up to Asia just to listen. Then from that listening, I reported back to the team in the United States, and we were able to find out what we could offer and how best to go about helping this area."
But showing up is essential in itself.
"A large part of this is a 'ministry of presence,' being present makes a big difference around the globe. Being present says 'you matter,'” said Henderson, who has traveled to more than 100 countries. “Sometimes we spend more time traveling to a destination than we spend there, but it all says 'you matter.' When someone from our team visits these places across the globe, it makes a huge difference because it makes these conferences feel seen - and they are."
A member of the General Commission on Communication from the Philippines Central Conference, Reiner Puno echoes that viewpoint. "As a member of the board of UMCom, I am exposed to the general church and, at the same time, part of the central conference,” said Puno. “I clearly see the importance of the connectional church and the dynamics between our general church, all the way to my own local church. I truly appreciate the connectionalism of our church structure. And as I am also part of UMC institutions in the Philippines, I appreciate how our Central Conference institutions connect with the general agencies of the UMC."
Listening, understanding, and building relationships all have one thing in common: PEOPLE. And that, Henderson says, is the best part of his job, to see the people connecting to the work The United Methodist Church does.
"I really am a people person," Henderson says. "I love the interaction with the people, and learning from people. I enjoy the cultural variety; it's just amazing. I've never met a stranger – from a different culture or a different country – I just feel at home. To see the connection to the people and the impact of the communications ministry we do, firsthand in any language, and how it often is transformational in people's lives is wonderful."
*Aaron Crisler is a senior public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications.
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