The longer I do ministry, the more I am convinced that nothing truly impactful and life-changing happens outside of the context of relationships. The bond that I have with the guys with whom I've done ministry and the ability I have gained to ask probing questions and receive honest answers is solely based on my relationship with those students.
Today after church I was talking with a student. He just wanted to see how things were because I hadn't seen him in a while. He just finished his sophomore year, so he's two years removed from being in my ministry.
Kind of randomly toward the end of our conversation he mentioned the fall retreat that I did in 2004. We took 3 vehicles on the trip, and I was in charge of driving the van filled with the luggage. There was only one other seat in the van, and for a large part of the trip, this student occupied that seat. I can't remember what we talked about, he probably can't either, but he mentioned that car ride.
Creating that memory with him and whatever we talked about at during those few hours I'm sure had more of an impact on his life than all of the messages that he listened to me give. There was no structure, just conversations about his life, my life, and any advice I could give him.
I don't think we should ditch all programming, but I do feel that the vast majority of ministry needs to be focused on free-form small groups where students and adults can interact in a casual atmosphere, can ask probing questions, and receive honest responses, input, and advice. The more I think about it, that's exactly how Jesus ran his ministry. Sure he had his big programs that impacted people, but I bet he relished the times he spent with his disciples around the fire at night. I wish I could have been there. JM