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I am finishing up my fourth and final term on the Vermilion City Council in Vermilion, Ohio. As I have prayed through the decision on whether to run for a fifth term, I have reflected on what has happened over the past eight years.

One of the memories that came to mind occurred during my first year. It reinforced what God has been speaking to me about ministry and how I spend my time.

During my first year on the City Council, I was asked to go out after the meeting for drinks and appetizers. There were eight of us. I later found out it was an honor to even be asked. I was the only woman and the youngest by at least 10 years.

As we were sitting around the table, talking about the meeting, sports and life in general, the mayor at the time looked at me and asked, “How does Jesus fit into City Council and government?”

I won’t share my answer—that would be the subject of another article. The point is that the ensuing conversation, and subsequent requests for prayer and opinions on difficulties they faced in the past eight years, would not have happened if I had not taken the time to go out after meetings and build relationships with them.

My first pastor in ministry always said to me, “Longevity is key to fruitful ministry.” I believe that wholeheartedly, but I would add that longevity gives time to build relationships, to walk and live alongside people, and to get into their lives. So, in reality, the saying should be, “Longevity and building relationships are keys to fruitful ministry.”

God has been clearly speaking that to me in the past few months. In fact, I have been clearing my plate of things so that I can spend more time with people. As shepherds, we need to know where the people are to be able to pastor them and help them move toward where God is leading them.

The conversations I have had with teens while we have reclined on rafts on Lake Erie as we floated to shore; or the talks I have had around a campfire in my backyard with the young adults of our church; or the times spent just hanging with people at my house or during a baseball game—all have been much more deep and meaningful than a five-minute conversation on a Sunday morning could be.

In Bible college, a professor of mine said we must master the ministry of just hanging out. That always drove this results-oriented, time-conscious girl crazy. But 15 years later, I recognize that he was right.

Success in life is not about the titles, money or the prestige we gain; it’s about the deep, meaningful relationships we have.

By: Heidi Strickler, assisting minister at Harbourtown Community (Vermilion Foursquare Church) in Vermilion, Ohio

assisting minister at Harbourtown Community (Vermilion Foursquare Church) in Vermilion, Ohio