Ministry as Relationship
By Pastor Stephen Patten
There is one word I want to expunge from our theological vocabulary - service, and one I would like to see replace it - relationship.
My greatest insight this past year concerns the importance of relationship as ministry, especially in new church development and revitalization in an urban setting. This is what I have concluded: Ministry is relationship, and relationship is ministry. Not rocket science, and neither is this a huge discovery, right? Yet, I wonder if this is really where our hearts and minds are when the church engages in the "work of the church"? Relationship involves the risk and vulnerability of seeing others and allowing oneself to be seen. This single notion alone has helped me to frame the ministry we are committed to at urbanmission. Relationship is what builds and sustains ministry, and is how success should be gauged in ministry. This insight comes from having spent this past year opening myself to a community that is, in many ways, different from me. I have struggled to create a space where relationship can happen and thrive, and the result has been personally rewarding. Relationship has bound community with church leadership, lay leadership, and other ministry partners, to the point where lines between these entities become blurred. These relationships, having grown over time, become the real success and sustainable factor in our ministry.
Ministry as relationship has also helped me to re-imagine community building as more than just brokering partnerships and serving a community. Community building is about intentionally cultivating relationship at multiple levels. I am convinced that a call to 'serve others' may be a misdirected emphasis placed on the gospel. Rather than serve, we are called to journey side by side with others. We are called to grow, cook, eat, pray and share table fellowship with a community, not merely feed them. We are not called to provide services and locate resources, we are called to be a relational resource ouselves. We are called to journey with, live on the same block, shop at the same markets, and ride the same public transportation. We are called to mourn the same loss, enter the same schools, bare the same burdens, and struggle with the same tensions. Community building is more than serving a community, speaking for a community, or fighting a community's battles. Community building is 'being' community, being in community with, dismantling any separating identities, becoming one. The only way to understand this happening is to understand that community building must come from within the community itself, wanting more than to be served, but determined to muster up its own salvation. This demands a different notion of church planting and ministry development. This demands a whole new way of defining the role of church in an urban setting. This demands that a religious leader rethink their role in the community.
Ministry as relationship, also works to redefine the structure of church leadership. Church leadership focused on kin-dom building, is better done in relationship with others, where power is decentralized. Working in relational leadership teams that are both connected and each their own appendage, provides a catalyst for greater creativity. By myself I am limited in my perspective, but with a team I am strengthened and challenged continuously. The interactive relationship with my pastoral team, ministry leaders, community partners and immediate community allows for greater empowerment and support, while creating a much deeper shared vision.
Ministry as relationship is slow, intentional, deliberate, compassionate, and selfless. It is 'us' work. It demands patience and demands that we open ourselves to others over and over again. Relationship is risky. The image that keeps appearing in connection with this is the image of the communion table. This table becomes the centerpiece to any practical theology. Literally, community can be built around a single dinner table where food is shared in a loving act of radical hospitality. The energy generated from simply gathering around a weekly dinner table is enough to unite a community. Not only is a whole ministry born, but a whole congregation! Whether weekly communion or weekly dinner, both are deeply sacred, both are deeply church, and both embody ministry as relationship.
Pastor Stephen Patten
From the Mountain is a 'cyber sanctuary' where sermons and other musings are posted for the general consumption of a larger community. Feel free to reflect on them as you wish. You are welcome to leave comments below with thoughts, insights, and/or questions.