By Julie Rose, Ministry Specialist

As a ministry specialist with The Evangelical Catholic, I serve ministries remotely by coaching and training an on-the-ground Point Person who in turn trains people in that community to be disciple-makers. Coaching, training, mentoring, and praying—all online.

I never thought my skill set of ministering remotely would be something I’d one day have to coach every Point Person I work with to do. And yet here we are.

By now this method of ministering and mentoring comes more easily to me, but as I’ve been reflecting on what our Point People need to know, I’ve had visceral memories of my first couple months on the job. Setting up dozens of calls each week, working with competing schedules, troubleshooting various technology challenges, learning on the spot how to adjust in-person content to online. The list goes on.

I made a lot of mistakes (and you will too), but I’m hoping these four principles (game-changers for me!) will help you manage the learning curve.

1. Prep for each meeting and keep notes.

You’ll feel more confident and make the best use of everyone’s time if you take a few moments to prepare beforehand. There’s nothing like having to search through your notes or the guide you’re using to make you feel flustered and inattentive. Keep notes so you can pray for the person with more specificity, and so that you can follow up with what they shared during your next meeting.

Consider the following tips for preparing:

  • Email and/or text the person you’re meeting with a reminder of what time, what video service to meet you on (link if necessary), and what to bring.
  • Have your Bible physically with you on the call to model.
  • If you’re sharing images or texts to read together, have them pulled up as separate tabs so you’re ready to share your screen with them.

2. Leave a buffer of 30 minutes between each call.

In my first few months ministering remotely, there were days I’d cram 7 calls into 8 hours. I don’t recommend it! Not only did I have less of myself left to give to endoftheday appointments, but I was late to every call except the first one. My lack of planning did not convey my love and care. Out of respect for those you’re meeting with, build in a buffer so you’re not cutting people off early or showing up late.

While this is good practice for anyone with multiple meetings in a day, it is essential for virtual calls. Consider these factors:

  • You need time to break, to write call notes, and to collect yourself. 
  • Calls will go long. Pastoral care is unpredictable and may require more time than you budgeted. 
  • Imagine if one call were to go late, and the next person joins your call while you’re in the middle of a deep prayer with someone else! (Been there! Sigh…)

3. If this feels like hard work, it is. 

Sometimes the struggle and exhaustion of an activity indicates that it’s going wrong. But if you’re making yourself available to your leaders, being vulnerable, praying with and for them, listening with care to their issues and anxieties . . . it should be exhausting!

Even in person, multiple one-on-ones in a day can be draining. Mentorship takes active facilitation of the conversation to drive it deeper. Motivating change in others is not a spectator sport. 

The added layer of technology costs you even more. Extended screen time can strain the eyes and headphones the ears. Online ministry sometimes requires you to amplify your body language and state more of your communication verbally so that the subtle clues of in-person empathy are not lost in the cloud.  

These costs make it even more vital to build in breaks so you can get up, stretch, drink some water, give your eyes a break. 

Despite the limitations of online ministry, the blessing of human connection, spiritual support, and prayer together make it thoroughly worth the cost! Because . . .

4. It WORKS.

They asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

Just as the disciples on the road were caught off guard by the words spoken to them by this stranger (who they would later come to realize was Jesus), I find the same kind of awe shared between myself and whoever I’m walking with in discipleship online

We pray together; we study and dig in; we laugh and cry; and our hearts burn within us at what Jesus accomplishes as we walk this road together, with Jesus. After a while, we don’t even notice the computer or the space between us.