Mike Redshaw reflects on the importance of building relationships as a permission-giver.
My credentials are clear – I have a great passion for fresh expressions of church, I'm involved in the mission shaped ministry course and FEAST (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Team), but often I struggle to give the time I would like as I'm caught up in Superintendency of the Trent and Dove Methodist Circuit.
I was recently involved in a discussion about 'permission-givers', those folk in different denominations who can either block or encourage a fresh expression. In many ways, I have become such a permission-giver and it is hard and frustrating to adjust to the role, because my heart wants to be in the fresh expression – exploring, enabling and encouraging as opposed to simply watching others do it and commending them accordingly.
Superintendency involves so much administration, supervision and dissemination of information that it saps your energy and creativity. However I received a 'friendly wake-up call' in that recent discussion to quit moaning and make the time to 'get on with it'; so I am looking at the possibility of a mission shaped intro course in this area and exploring the possibility of a learning network amongst some fresh expressions that have already begun.
In looking at all of these opportunities, it makes me realise – again – that relationships are so important. The deeper a relationship is, the more that people begin to feel comfortable, becoming increasingly able to share things of real significance.
All the more incredible then that, as Christians, we can simply expect people to walk into our churches – and still we don't attempt to establish any real relationship with them at all. The success of discipleship courses such as Alpha and Essence has been built not on the teaching alone but on the friendships built up over the meal, the discussion and the fellowship.
As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I become more and more convinced that evangelism is not going to achieve real success unless there is a relationship involved. The old-fashioned Billy Graham rallies began in relationship as Billy would urge his followers to invite family and friends, people they could relate to, and then he would expect an on-going relationship after conversion. Why? Because evangelism isn't just about numbers, a 'bums on seats mentality'. No, it's about building a community as Jesus first intended. He walked for three years with the same people. Even though he must have been frustrated and disappointed in them at times, he stood by them and gradually began to change them until the time was right for the final disclosure of the Holy Spirit.
Much of the current fresh expressions movement is about relationships. These may be relationships built in cafés or Messy Churches or wherever; people coming together, learning together and sharing the Lord Jesus with one another. The trouble is that relationships require a lot of patience, tolerance and understanding on the part of the Christians who are encouraging others – and, often, from others in their dealings with us!
So what is the key? For me, the only thing that really forges relationships to a Godly level is when the love of Jesus is present. Jesus may not have liked the lifestyles of people, he may have condemned the sin but he NEVER rejected people. We too must not be judgemental rejectionists, but need to be people of love and find ways of building relationships with people so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Do we need to be building any bridges with those we are in relationship with in order to show that love? I think that's a challenge for us all.