Building Intentional Relationships
by Rev. Olaf Baumann
There is no way to actually measure the good vibes with which love based relationships fill a church. However, everybody who walks through the door feels their presence or absence almost immediately.
The Sunday Metric
To this very day, the main metric to define a congregation’s viability is Sunday worship attendance. That is of course problematic; because this simple measurement does not account for the impact a congregation’s ministry has on the lives of its members, or on the life of the community it serves. Some very small churches, measured by Sunday attendance, can have a huge impact, and some mega-churches only increase the amount of available parking space in their neighborhoods.
There are many different factors that influence the kind of impact a congregation has.
One of them is worship style. If there is a stage, a screen, a band, a lot of light effects and huge quantities of dry ice fog, unchurched people might connect fairly easily with the message. On the other hand, a highly liturgical church with ancient chants, and pipe organ music, that focuses on traditional symbolic actions can feel a little foreign to people who are new to the church.
The same is true for a congregation’s theology. Some theologies are easy to understand in their black-and-white approach to the idiosyncrasies of life. Usually they work in fair weather conditions, when it’s only “the others” who find themselves on the business end of reality. Other theologies manage the miracle to foster a deep faith in our increasingly secular world. This kind of faith can profoundly sustain people when the going gets tough and they face the bitter days of life. I think I do not need to emphasize that I think Lutheran theology qualifies for the latter statement.
But of all considerations of what makes a congregation truly vibrant and alive, the relationships that theology, worship style, and community life build are the most important. As we believe that building relationships amongst congregational members is at the core of the renewal of our church, this issue deserves special attention.
We believe that God is active in our world. God informs our lives through the Scriptures and through the richness of our Lutheran tradition. Part of God’s plan is, that he puts people in our path. Sometimes these people are very much like us; sometimes they are unlike us. Sometimes these people are exactly the ones we would choose as friends; sometimes they are exactly the ones we wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. And most of the time the people God puts in our path come in every nuance between the aforementioned two extreme poles. But whoever they are and however we feel about them, God has put them in our path by guiding their steps through our doors.
Now they are our Christian sisters and brothers and we have to treat them accordingly. That does not mean that out of the blue and by divine decree we are now best friends forever. But it means that, whether we like them or not, we engage them with the genuine goodwill that we are called to bestow on all of God’s people. Liking them or not is only a secondary consideration.
We try to get to know them. We are interested in their stories, and we are committed to seeing and hearing them. Sometimes that leads to incredible friendships; sometimes it only leads to amicable but more distant relationships within our church community. The important point is, that we are active in pursuing relationships, and do not wait until they fall from heaven.
Engaging each other with genuine goodwill resolves a lot of issues that otherwise get swept under the rug. There they fester and possibly poison the atmosphere of our community.
Building intentional relationships that are based on the understanding of God’s call to live together in harmony is profoundly countercultural. Our society puts a lot of emphasis on emotion, on whether you like or dislike a thing or a person. The emphasis on raw emotion is replaced by our common call to live as sisters and brothers in Christian community. This creates an atmosphere of love within our community that attracts people.
The practice of Agape, Greek for love, enables us to live together despite our differences. We celebrate being church together for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the world. It unites us behind a cause that is greater than ourselves, and that is exactly what many people seek in their lives. Promoting the gospel and the Lutheran emphasis on grace and love is the message that many people seek to hear and it is the message we should seek to tell.
And last but not least, engaging each other with love and goodwill is interesting, fun and good for soul and heart. Life is much easier when lived in peace. God bless you all.
Church is fun!
Newsletter July 2016