Ew, yuck, I'm using the "M" word ... ministry. That means I'm about to write something I think is really cutting edge and important...
Our Pastor shares some of his publications with his staff members. One publication of his I read regularly is called, REV! It's geared toward Pastors ... you know, REV!erened ones. Anyways there are usually a couple of good articles in every issue; some that I even tear out and place in my ever-expanding "resources" file.
When I'm reading this and other publications, my husband often is required to indulge me. I get so tickled when I read about something that either I have experienced myself or that our church is already doing. In fact, I often call out to my husband excitedly, "We are so on target ... listen to this..."
Today I was reading an article about the role "relationship" plays in positioning your church in the lives of current and future members as a "third place" in their lives -- a place where conversation and community happen. Here's a quote from the articles author, Mark Waltz:
"As I consider some of my most meaningful relationships, I recognize a common factor. They all began with casual hang time, time that allowed us just to get acquainted. There was not agenda. No planning. No teaching. Just being."
I read that quote and called out to my spouse, "Doesn't this sound exactly like what we are doing at Turning Point?" (That's the homeless shelter where our church members hang out for lunch on Wednesdays and play Bingo once a month.) "Mmmmm-hmmmmm" he answered in his usual, humoring fashion. I smiled to myself, thinking, we're so clever!
The author describes three "spaces" in the human interaction continuum that are necessary for meaningful ministry to happen: public space, social space and personal space. He points out the huge error so many churches make in creating and promoting programs/activities that try to get people to make the colossal jump from public space to personal space. The results are stifling. The small group or women's ministry or prayer meeting that is seeking to promote spiritual growth through mutual, personal sharing can literally die on the vine because people aren't ready to move from sitting in front of each other in the pews (public space) to disclosing their financial problems in a small group (personal space).
We keep leaving a step out -- the step of nurturing social space.
Social space lays the foundation for personal interaction. The kind of relaxed, agenda-free conversation (small talk) that occurs in a social space setting facilitates deeper sharing in a personal setting.
Case in point: Mike is one of the residents at the homeless shelter. He's one of the guys I see on Wednesdays at lunch. He is often at the guard gate when I walk in. I make small talk with him: "How's it going? What have you been doing? How long are you working the gate today?" etc. If we sit near one another at lunch, I can expand the small talk a little more ... What'd ya do this weekend? You gonna play Bingo next Monday? I sure was glad to see you in church last Sunday! This social interaction makes sharing deeply more likely when the surroundings change to a personal setting, like Sunday School. That must be why when Mike walked into Sunday School for the first time today, he was reasonably comfortable talking about how he has experienced God speaking to him in his life. (Let's face it, you're not going to share that with a total stranger!)
So what am I driving at? Only that ministry happens more often than we think, in ways we might not ever imagine. We don't have to whip out our Bibles, call people to prayer or "bleed scripture," as another article suggested, every time we are together. Just hanging out, no agendas whatsoever, can provide the building blocks for some powerful relationships that expand our understanding of God and increase our ability to love one another.