By Erin R. Robertson our contest winner and U of A journalism student

“A priest, a lawyer and a banker all walk into a bar…”

And so the gag begins.

Although they are often combined in such jokes, the roles of a loan officer and a minister, at first blush, could not be more contrasting. One crunches numbers in a business environment, while the other studies theology and devotes spare time to community service.

Yet, both careers are connected by the simple and invaluable maintenance of interpersonal relationships.

“[Relationships are] absolutely crucial,” Kevin Robertson, senior vice president of the First National Bank of Green Forest, said. “All banks are the same – every bank has the same kind of services and offers the same sorts of things, and the only difference in banks is your ability to establish and maintain a relationship with a customer.”

In his 29 years in banking, Robertson has seen many changes in technology and economic tactics, but nothing has remained as integral to his business as his client relations.

“We had a period of time…up until a couple of years ago where it was pretty easy to be a banker: everything worked, it was prosperous, about everything that everybody tried made money, and then that stopped and it was just the opposite. Nothing worked, everybody was in trouble, nobody wanted to borrow money, a lot of people couldn’t repay the money they borrowed,” Robertson reminisced. “But we didn’t have any control over that, so part of the challenge of being involved in the operation and management of a bank is making sure a bank is positioned for those inevitable times…when things aren’t going to be as prosperous.”

That includes taking care of clients and fostering trust, traits especially crucial in times of financial struggle.

“I enjoy working with people and helping people achieve success and being able to give them help in difficult times,” Robertson said of the rewards of his job. “It’s always good to see people that are able to benefit from financial assistance and take a business and make it successful, or take a farm and make it successful, or be able to get out of a crisis – it’s very rewarding.”

Mike Armstrong, pastor of the Rockhouse church and director of campus ministries for Christ on Campus at the University of Arkansas, echoed Robertson’s sentiments.

“There are the personal compensations, the spiritual blessings, the sense of reward that comes from being involved in the lives of people,” Armstrong said of the benefits to his job.

Among his many responsibilities, Armstrong highlighted simple duties in relationship building as some of the most important.

“A lot of [what I do] is just investing in the lives of students. There’s some teaching involved, but a lot of it is just life-on-life mentoring, talking, helping students to think about their lives, their goals, their careers, the direction their future is and how God is involved in those things.”

In many ways, the job of a pastor directly mirrors that of a banker: as a consultant, confessor and advisor. Although many details between the two careers are absent, the core motivation behind what Armstrong and Robertson do is straightforward – care about people.

It is the very least we all can do, all jokes aside.