Relationally Wise Pastoral Care

by | Aug 24, 2015

One of the greatest blessings of my recent time in South Africa was seeing how quickly people were applying relational wisdom to vital life issues, such as social injustice, racism, family disintegration, church leadership and evangelism.

KyleI was especially impressed by the insights of Kyle Johnston, a young pastor who leads the counseling ministry at Jubilee Community Church. He completed Approved RW Presenter training in July and has already taught relational wisdom in several settings in his community.

Kyle also wrote an excellent article applying RW to a key area of pastoral ministry. This article, entitled Relationally Wise Pastoral Care by Kyle Johnston, originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website, which has given me permission to share it with you.

Although Kyle speaks primarily to pastors and counselors, his insights can be applied by any Christian who wants to develop stronger relational skills and offer helpful advice to others.

Growing Relationally

Do you want to build stronger relationships? Become a more valued influence in the lives of those you love and shepherd? Be able to navigate the uncomfortable tensions and inevitable conflicts that often occur in pastoral care? In short, would you like to become more skillful in your relationships?

If you’re like me, the answer is a clear and unambiguous “Yes!” But while I know I need more godly skill (wisdom) in all my relationships, it’s often quite hard to translate that desire into real-life relational skills. How do I actually become a wiser counselor, a wiser pastor, and a wiser friend?

Pursuing Relational Wisdom

Of course, at the big-picture level, we know that growth in wisdom is vitally connected to knowing and applying God’s Word. But even as we do that, it can be hard identifying which biblical principle to apply in which situation. And it can be even harder to regularly evaluate whether I am actually growing in relational wisdom.

This is why I am grateful for Ken Sande’s “Relational Wisdom 360” material. Ken has reflected on many years of conflict resolution, counseling, and pastoral leadership, and produced a simple yet profound relationship paradigm.

The big idea of RW360 is fairly simple:

The Bible shows us that relationships have three dimensions—how to know and love God, how to know and engage ourselves, and how to know and love others.

FINAL_main_points_margin3Simply put, the Bible teaches us to be God-aware, self-aware, and others-aware. When I am aware of all three relational dimensions, I am more likely to think and behave in a relationally wise manner. Thus, Ken Sande defines Relational Wisdom as:

“Your ability to discern emotions, interests and abilities in yourself and others, to interpret them in the light of God’s Word, and to use this insight to manage your responses and relationships successfully.

Applying RW360 to Pastoral Care

But how might one start applying this to a pastoral care situation?

Let’s imagine a church member calls you in a panic: he’s just lost his job, and he is worried about his finances, as well as his family finding out. As he goes into detail, you find yourself also becoming anxious for him! Knowing that a personal conversation will be more effective, you schedule to meet with him that evening. He is anxious and fearful, and you find yourself sharing in his worry. How might the RW360 paradigm be helpful?

Revisit the three dimensions of relationship: self, others, and God. In preparation for your evening meeting, you could prayerfully work through each dimension.

Firstly, be self-aware: how am I thinking, feeling and behaving? This slows me down, and helps me recognize some of my own anxieties and fears. It also helps me see how I might be behaving, based on those fears. Am I tempted to do or say something rash? This enables me to evaluate my heart, and what might be potentially displacing Christ at the center of my heart.

Secondly, be other-aware: how is this church member feeling and behaving? What might be going on in his heart? What might the implications of this retrenchment be for family dynamics and his family’s financial situation? This step helps me to compassionately explore and empathize with the struggles of others. I am then better able to wisely serve and counsel, because I have more deeply understood the thoughts and experiences of others.

Thirdly, be God-aware: how does God’s truth and grace connect to this situation? What might He be up to in this, and how does knowing Him bring help and hope? This final step helps me turn my gaze to God and His Word. I seek Him in prayer, and resolve to glorify Him in the midst of a difficult situation.

Of course, these relational skills reinforce one another—so the better we relate to God, the better we will relate to ourselves, and the better we will relate to others. So relational wisdom is a set of connected skills that continually reinforce one another, helping me to love God and neighbor.

Ken Sande calls this the “SOG Plan”—a simple acrostic that we can use to help us become more Self-aware, Other-aware, and God-aware in any given situation. It helps me to slow down, and thoughtfully process what might be happening in each of the relational dimensions (it helps me do a “relational 360″). It helps me with perspective, because I am able to consider which biblical passages might apply in each dimension. It also helps me with humility, because it helps me to see how often I get in the way of fruitful ministry opportunities. And so, ultimately, it helps me to approach the situation with greater wisdom, so that I can counsel and serve with far greater thoughtfulness and skill.  

Using the SOG Plan in Everyday Life and Ministry

Can I encourage you to start using the SOG plan today? Perhaps you can apply it to a friendship at work, with a counselee, or even with a member of your family. It’s really simple: in any given situation, or even in preparation for a counseling session, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Self-aware: How am I thinking, feeling and acting?
  • Other-aware: How are others thinking and feeling? How am I affecting them?
  • God-aware: What is God up to? How does His truth and grace bring help and hope?

I can personally testify that if you start practicing this simple plan in the ordinary interactions of life, you can improve your ability to know and follow God, to read and discipline yourself, and to understand and serve other people. Of course, the RW360 material is far more detailed than this, so please do explore that further. But in the meantime, start using the SOG plan as you seek to pursue relationally wise pastoral care and counseling.

The leadership team at Kyle’s church shares his passion for relationships and has already launched a six week preaching series on relational wisdom. They are also encouraging their entire congregation to complete our free online 102 RW Personal Study Course.

This church’s enthusiasm for gospel-based relationships is an inspiration to me, and I look forward to seeing how they weave RW into the many ministries they’ve developed to address the spiritual, social, and economic issues in one of the most respected and influential countries in Africa.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Why is it important to remember that relationships are always “three-dimensional” (God, self, others)? What happens when we fail to address any one of these dimensions?
  • Which of these dimensions do you think about most naturally: God-awareness, self-awareness, other-awareness? Which one do you most easily forget to think about? How does that failure impact your relationships?
  • Think of a person who models all three dimensions of relational wisdom. Think of one specific way that you could imitate that person’s relational skills.
  • If you’d like to see the leadership team in your church or ministry develop better relational skills, please feel free to pass Kyle’s article on to them.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

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