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Pursuing the clock or the lost? – Pt 2

by on September 3, 2010

Last post I raised the problem of how to do a relational approach to mission when we’re too busy for meaningful relationships. I’ve been thinking, and I’ve got a few suggestions I’d like to float:

Stop trying to save the world. Leave that to Jesus. Focus your energies on one Christian Community. Might sound obvious, but I’ve noticed that the more keen people are, the thinner they tend to spread themselves. They get lots done, they get a reputation for being busy in ministry – but gradually become relationally ineffective. Nobody feels loved by them.

Ideally, join a missional church and give it 90+% of your ministry energies.

Have less programs at church. Do unscripted activities with your people. My wife was once involved with a Christian women’s organisation which drove her crazy because all the meetings were almost fully scripted. Sit and hear talk. Question time. Form circles, share on a set topic. Run over-time. Brief supper, everyone feeling rushed. Home!

What’s missing there, of course, is wasted time. Just time to hang. Time when nobody’s in a hurry to go anywhere. Chewing the fat. That’s how relationships happen.

But aren’t almost all our church gatherings similarly scripted and efficient? We try to achieve so much! Maybe we need to have less goals at church, if we’re to become less goal-focussed? (Don’t get me started on ministry targets…)

Don’t let your diary get full. Keep empty slots in your day, and your week, so you can respond to people when you hear from or see them. There’s a big relational difference between saying, sure, we’ll slot you in next month on the sixteenth, and saying, yes, I’d love to have a beer tonight, where will we meet?

Learn not to run late to things generally. My friends will laugh at this one, coming from me. But if you can learn this, it means you can afford to stop and chat for five miutes on your way somewhere, and still be there in that +/- 5 mins window that is usually ok. If you’re already running late, you can’t stop. ‘Hello’ in passing doesn’t mean much, but a five minute impromptu chat says ‘you matter to me.’

Be willing to let go of friendships when you (or they) move on. This is a tough one. There will always be people you want to keep in touch with, precious people whom you love. Try to let most of them go. If they are Christian, they will be there in the new creation – you can make up for lost time then. Maybe hang on to some of the ones who are lonely or needy in some other way – the others can manage ok without you. Even with these ones,  don’t be ashamed to have just an occasional catch up: that’s enough to maintain the link.

A large back-catalogue of friendships weighs down your present, creating stress, guilt and over-busyness which make you less willing to make friends and get involved where you are now. If you’re a popular person you will struggle more with this, because people won’t want to let go of you.

If you find this too hard to face, then how about going for once a year group get-togethers. In one afternoon you can reconnect with a whole crowd from your past life, and part knowing that you’ll meet again the following year. This is a limiting strategy for your past, which clears out your relational present, allowing you to connect meaningfully and wholeheartedly with the people you are with now.

Impose on yourself the discipline of relational mission. Only invite someone to move closer to Christian things if you are also inviting them to move closer to you. Too often our evangelism is casual and not accompanied by loving friendship. If you want a person to hear about Jesus, make sure they also know that you want to hear about them. If you’re inviting someone into the Christian community (church), you are their link there, and the main relational experience they will have of church. However you treat them, that’s how they will see Jesus treating them. If you don’t want to get close, neither does Jesus. At least, that’s how they’ll see it.

If you go door to door, stop thinking of it as cold-turkey evangelism. Think of it as visiting. The difference? In cold turkey you try to offer people a message. Usually the turkey stays cold. When you visit, you offer people yourself.

Well, those are my crazy ideas. What do you think? Other suggestions?

From → General

  1. Sophie permalink

    Thanks for the post! Very relevant to us at the moment. I love starting with a clean slate here where we don’t have a massive list of people we’re trying to keep in contact with. What you said in your post about keeping up with people from the past (or rather, not feeling the need to) was quite freeing, as that’s kind of how we feel – we really want to focus on people here – and so it was nice to hear you say that and know that yes, we will be able to spend all of eternity with Christians we love but can’t see as much as we’d like now!

    I guess the hard part is the need to keep praying for people – Paul managed to do it somehow! I find that if I don’t keep prayer lists I just forget. Although I’m not doing too well with the prayer lists at the moment! Any thoughts or suggestions on that?

    • “we really want to focus on people here…’

      Go for it, guys, that’s what Jesus would do. Glad if I’ve helped you feel ‘permitted’.

      I’ve been thinking over your very important question on prayer, and my thoughts expanded a bit, so I’m doing a separate post on it. Soon!

  2. Keith permalink

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, brother. I agree. I must confess I did chuckle when I read the point on not running late;-)

  3. Magnus permalink

    Sounds fantastic jonathan, and I think it is very important for other Christian to understand if people are late for reasons of stopping and building relationships with passer by’s etc. that that is encouraged and people are patient with that.


    very excited about this all

  4. I can see you’ve had some experience of these difficulties!

  5. Lisa H permalink

    Interesting and challenging post!

    I do think that depth as well as breadth is important, that for our own growth we keep a healthy number of long term relationships where we consciously try to be discipled and to disciple others. Likewise in the prayer area I think depth should be a consideration – if keeping up an enormous list means you don’t have time/energy to really wrestle with God over a few people, maybe it’s better to leave some of your list with God at some point?

    A final thought is that sometimes I think our evangelical busyness can be driven by guilt or fear of being thought not to pull our weight, and we can unthinkingly impose the same burden on others. I have seen people assume spiritual decline when there aren’t enough helpers at the kid’s club. I just think we can’t automatically equate visible service with godliness – a healthy, growing church full of members enthusiastically making their lives a living sacrifice might not be easily recognisable as such from the activities roster.

    Part of freeing ourselves up might be to refrain from judging brothers and sisters who are apparently doing less, attend less, or are less vocal about their faith. Perhaps they are quiet and humble meditators on the Word, perhaps they’re leaving early to go home and wrestle in prayer, or conserving energy so that they can say yes to people they’re building relationships with. Everyone has a different balance that is sustainable for them, and a different amount of energy for relationships – so let the head (extrovert) not judge the foot (introvert)! Again, for some (e.g. parents of non-angelic children, the sick, the grieving, carers of elderly parents, the eccentric and socially inept, etc) I think that half-hour chat is their widow’s mite and greatly esteemed by God. He knows who the spiritual giants are and they might not be who we think.

    I know balance and prioritising wouldn’t be so confusing if my communion with God were more constant. Maybe trying to live up to some outward standard of service or comparing others to ourselves can sometimes function as an attempt to justify ourselves and sidestep a more spiritual kind of accountability to God: to joyfully live and breathe for Him in every single thing we do, whether working or resting. To be of one mind with Him. To get to know others better not because we ought, but simply because we love them a ridiculous amount. They can probably tell the difference. May God help me learn this.

    • I just think we can’t automatically equate visible service with godliness

      Agreed! Perhaps if we knew each other a bit, we would have more insights into what faithfulness looks like for the others whose lives are different to ours? The one-size-fits-all discipleship model allows and maybe reflects a culture where we keep a safe distance from each other’s hearts.

      that half-hour chat is their widow’s mite and greatly esteemed by God.

      afraid I didn’t get this. could you disambiguate?

      Maybe we… sidestep a more spiritual kind of accountability to God.

      Agreed! From what follows, I think you’re talking about a relational accountability, where connection and care is the main game. That’s going to have outward expression, not just be a heart matter – but I think you’re right to identify the roster as a big obstacle here. It’s not that outward service is unimportant, just a question of which sort of outward service really matters.

      • Lisa H permalink

        >that half-hour chat is their widow’s mite and greatly esteemed by God.

        >>afraid I didn’t get this. could you disambiguate?

        Oh dear! I didn’t know I was ambiguous!

        Mark 12:4 3Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

        I just thought that for some people half an hour could be them giving all they have that day in terms of time and energy to God’s service. And maybe sometimes only He notices.

        > “From what follows, I think you’re talking about a relational accountability, where connection and care is the main game. That’s going to have outward expression, not just be a heart matter – but I think you’re right to identify the roster as a big obstacle here. It’s not that outward service is unimportant, just a question of which sort of outward service really matters.”

        Sort of. My perspective is that I don’t really think it can be rightly called service to God when it doesn’t flow from love for Him and for others, and that’s what we’re accountable for. Neither do I think that ‘relational accountability’ can be separated from our motives and our relationship with God. So I guess when I said spiritual accountability I was trying to talk about being accountable for the spirit in which we serve, whether it’s relationship-building or doing the church accounts.

        If really getting to know others (or doing the accounts) isn’t something we desire, if we spend that time just because of a sense that we ought, if it feels like a burden and in no sense a joy then I think something’s gone a bit wrong in how we’re relating to God. If we are of one mind with Him we ourselves will love them and want to be there, rather than just telling ourselves that God loves them and wants us there. On the other hand, if we need to rest and recharge sometimes, our love can still be constant and will irresistibly bring us back.

        I was thinking that sometimes we talk like we’re giving part to God until we are exhausted and then taking part for ourselves. The bar is higher: God looks at the heart and wants us to sincerely live out the prayer, ‘Your kingdom come’ every moment we live. But He also knows our limitations and our individual capacities. Sometimes maybe that same spirit can lead us to going somewhere quiet by ourselves and praying or resting or getting on top of the washing, but we can still be dedicating ourselves to His purpose without ceasing. Constant talking and socialising isn’t something everyone can sustain, but as long as we keep that mindset (heartset?) we stay in communion with Him and know that we serve Him in all that we do.

        It follows of course that we naturally want to take our next opportunity to connect with others as we are able – but my point was we can then be free then from guilt about anything we aren’t able to do or how we compare with others. We don’t need to prove anything to ourselves or others if we have been walking with Him all along, repenting of our sins and holding nothing back.

        Well, I hope this made my thoughts more and not less clear!

  6. Lisa H permalink

    p.s. I am all for people assuming I’ve been busy evangelising every time I run late! Brilliant!

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