Not So Fast...

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“How are you doing?” “Busy,” we reply over our shoulder as we rush to our next appointment, without even acknowledging that we have failed to honestly reveal the state of our soul for the sake of our crowded schedule.

We often carry that same sense of hurriedness into our drive for mission. We so desperately want to see our church pews fill up with people who need to know Jesus that we scramble to approve our newest idea for outreach, in hopes that by next Sunday we’ll see results. Our drive to hurry is part of our ingrained behavior, especially in a culture with a “strong work ethic.”

But I was recently reminded at the Classis Grand Rapids South Pastor’s Prayer retreat that our God is not a God who works speedily. As 2 Peter 3 says, “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." (8b-9) Maybe we need to resurrect a theology of slowness when it comes to our missional practices, in order to become more like God’s character.

Henry Nouwen encourages us to counteract the hurry-up behaviors by adopting a “ministry of presence” instead. What if this year, in 2018, your congregation learned to practice this missional behavior in your community?

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them. (Gracias!: A Latin American Journal 147-148)

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Thanks for this post! I am wrestling with these very thoughts. While I care for our daughter with special needs, I keep thinking I need to get a part time job and do something valuable - make money, make a difference. But my thoughts about this have begun to change during this holiday season.

Our daughter with special needs, Mary Addison, sees EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, as a friend to be hailed and said "Hello!" to. She will hug and kiss them if they get close enough. Some people are kind enough to say "Hello!" back, but most just look at her, then look at me and uncomfortably walk on by - not knowing what to do. However, during the Christmas holidays things changed. As I wheeled her through the malls and busy streets, she hailed everyone with a big "Merry Christmas!" Instead of awkward glances, most everyone felt comfortable and knew to say "Merry Christmas!" back. It was wonderful connecting to all kinds of folks - young and old, gay and straight, black and white, even Jew and Muslim - hailing, high-fiving, hugging. It was a time of great joy, loads of smiles, lots of love and it felt like it was exactly what we were all created to do - connect in love, in Christ. It felt more valuable and important than any job. 

Admin

Mary, your comment has touched me this morning. Thank you for sharing about your daughter, Mary Addison. I can just tell that Jesus shines right through her so clearly. I wish I could meet her (and you!). 

Participant

Thanks for this story, Mary!

I think we can all learn a lot from children about not letting inhibitions get in the way of simply being present with the community around us.  I'm sure your daughter's greetings brought joy to the lives of those she passed- oh, that we could say the same for each of us!

Great thoughts Amy, on your article about God’s timetable.  Several years ago, God led a group of people called Community of Celebration to our depressed and crime ridden area, with the express purpose of being a “ministry of presence”.  I appreciate their model of living in community and not trying to change the world, but changing a row of run down houses and lives as God leads them. 

I could also relate to the street presence in “Gracias”, as I feel called to build relationships.  One of my favorite pastimes and ministry opportunities is to porch sit and we have a great community to learn the art.  It is such a blessing to share stories and love and care for each other.

One word of caution, a lesson I learned the hard way.  God led me to meet a woman, her street name was “k-k”.  I porch sat with her again a week later and through several heartbreaking situations we grew to be good friends.    She told me about some health issues and I was talking with her about her relationship with God.   She let me know she believed in God, but did not want to stop having fun.  I continued being there and tried not to be too forward.  Then she disappeared and I could not find her, she did resurface one time and God allowed me to visit with her one last time, before she passed. 

Experience has taught me to build relationships, keep showing up, being present and now, not waiting too long to let the Holy Spirit help me present the Good News of Jesus Christ in a winsome way.  I love to share this with mission teams from around the country, so they can be better prepared to be present in their own community.  If ministry of presence and relational porch sitting midst the least and lost is something you are blessed to do or if you want to learn, it would be great to have you join us for a week or weekend.  

Participant

Scott,

Thanks for taking the time to share about this ministry opportunity with this audience.  I've heard of other organized initiatives to be a 'ministry of presence' in a particular neighborhood, like Move In, but this is my first time hearing about the Community of Celebration.

You make a good point- that being present isn't just about being present in our neighborhoods with the human beings there---it is also about recognizing God's presence in that place.  And, as we have one ear to our neighbor, we have one ear to the Holy Spirit and the nudgings we are given.  May we learn to hear that voice, and to discern it from our own, so that we do take advantage of the moments we are given to share God's truth of the gospel!