Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. The most common analogy used to describe the Church is the idea of Family. In fact it should rightly be called a reality not an analogy. We were taught by Jesus to use the language of brother and sister, with God as our only true Father once we have been born of the Spirit into this eternal family. This is what Jesus died to provide for us – a way to the Father and into His family.
Sadly, I have experienced too many times when the project of city-reaching has actually damaged this sense of family. In the early 90’s when I was just beginning to walk with others in Toronto in what was for me a wonderful new dynamic of unity, it wasn’t too long before I witnessed how a “stadium event” could actually set back relationships instead of further them. (Fortunately I have also seen how the big events when done properly can build stronger bonds among leaders and congregations.) Do we realize when we attempt huge initiatives to try to bring more people into the kingdom that we are actually in the process of inviting them into a family? And if in the process of driving to accomplish the goal of the big event we actually offend and hurt members of the family we have lost before we started.
The experienced reader will automatically realize that often it is the money that becomes the flashpoint. I have heard too many stories of false promises, mishandled funds or a few people left holding the empty bag over the years. Even if all the funds were raised, there can still be lingering bitterness if in the planning and execution of a project, attitudes and actions of arrogance, manipulation, and control were the means to the end.
I learned this on a weekly basis in the last half of the 1990’s. It was my privilege to chair a leaders’ fellowship that met weekly every Wednesday morning for over 5 years. Called “The Ontario Renewal Network” we averaged 50-75 leaders and sometimes rose to 300 people in attendance when we had a special event or speaker. Naturally this became the meeting in Toronto where everyone wanted to advertise their event or ministry. It appeared to be the easiest place to get the word out to pastors and key leaders. Except that our mandate was Relationships!
Every meeting had the same emphasis. We gathered to worship the Lord, to meet in His presence, and by virtue of that holy convocation, we grew closer to one another. Every Wednesday we ended with time to pray for one another and then head out for lunch to build deeper relationships if time permitted.
So … if someone showed up or even called ahead asking to make an announcement we had a simple answer. No. But, yes you are invited to come and seek the Lord with us. And we said, “we guarantee you will find new relationships which will be a blessing to your ministry down the road. We do allow regulars to put out a brochure on the back table. But we ask you not to do that until you are in a relationship with all of us.” It worked.
As I said, we met over 250 times over 5 years, and actually during those years I often attended two other weekly local pastors groups in Toronto, one downtown and one in the West End. I consider those leaders still today my best friends. Because we logged so many hours together. In the process I learned that the quality of relationships is determined by the quantity of time you put into them. Just like in any family. Quality time is a result of a certain minimum amount of quantity of time. There are no shortcuts to relationships. Love and trust take an investment of time.
So back to my earlier point. If you are in a rush to quickly accomplish an event in your city, please be very aware that you could be putting the unity of the Body back by years, if you are not careful to prioritize the importance of relationships. “But won’t that take a longer time?”, you might ask. “Yes!”
I can walk into a city-wide group or a city pastors’ fellowship and in just a few minutes discern the quality of their gathering. I look for the love. It might show up in the friendly humour, or in the hugs, or in the way they speak honourably to one another. It’s such a beautiful thing when you see it. And you can just feel the Father smiling over his children, ready to “command the blessing”.