Another foundation: Relationships.
If you can think you can do anything missional without forming relationships you are wrong! Before doing the #Write31Days series I had begun a post entitled ‘ A year of Making Friends’ based on my experience in one of our mission projects.
So, a bit of background here, I am the Mission Pastor for The Point Church in Sussex, UK, which means I oversee our missional outreach. I am also an Ordinand, currently in my final year of training, to be a Vicar in the Church of England. This means in June next year I will be ordained and off to pastures new (well to a different church anyway!). Which also means that for the last 3 years I have known that at some point in the future we would be moving. I didn’t want to be too swayed by that, after all it would be easy to do exactly what I was writing about the other day when God told the exiles to put down roots and make a home. I could have been so focussed on the future that I missed the here and now.
So, anyway, after a year of running a community cafe with a team of people from 4 churches, I began to reflect and look back on all that God has done. It was in conversation with one of the cafe regulars that she realised I would be moving on. And her reaction was ‘no, we’ve only just got to know you!’ And she was right. After a year I am only just beginning to get to know people. To be allowed into people’s lives, for them to share things on confidence, and yes, to make friends! Hence my post title ‘a year of making friends’.
With anything ‘out there’ we have to make relationships. We cannot expect to parachute in and ‘do mission’ and expect results. The results of doing that will be suspicion, alienation and annoyance generally. Yes you can put on a great event and people will enjoy it but don’t then expect them to suddenly warm to you talking about Jesus, they won’t. In one of our outreach projects there is a great deal of suspicion from some people, even though we’ve got people living in the area (and have been for a number of years) and now have been actively involved there for nearly 2 years. They can’t understand that we really do just want to love them and bless them! They are used to a culture where people do things for themselves and often with an ulterior motive. That is beginning to change thankfully as we continue to work in the community, showing our commitment to them and the area and by just loving them, but it is a long process. Recent mission search suggests that on average it takes 3-5 years to form strong enough relationships in an area to begin to plant a church. Of course that can vary and in some places projects start with a church plant, but it should certainly make you think.
Think about you, if you met someone new, how long would it take for you to open up to them to tell them about your personal thoughts? How long before you would feel comfortable discussing any difficult issues with them, if at all? So just imagine then what it might take for someone to open up and talk about God, to even be open to thinking about it?
Building relationships not only shows that we want to get to know people, that we want to love people, but it often allows us an opening to share our faith. For someone like me who likes to get on and get stuff done I have learned this, sometimes through gritted teeth! But I have learned that truly getting to know people is far more valuable than chucking time and money at one off events…