My ebook The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities was recently released by Patheos Press, and in it, I argue that open conversation is essential for the health and flourishing of church communities and the places they inhabit.
Over the past week and the current week, I will be running a 10-part series that I am calling “Becoming Conversational” in which I offer suggestions for how churches might enrich the conversational life of their church communities. (Some of these ideas have been adapted from my earlier ebook, Growing Deeper in Our Church Communities, which is available for free download here.
#8) Build relationships with other churches, locally and around the globe.
One of the exciting things about the way God has chosen to reconcile creation through the church is that God gathers people in a place in ways that will bear a unique witness to the people and powers of that place. This understanding of God’s mission means that churches will, and should, look different, even ones that are in close proximity. This diversity means that there is good and important work to do in carefully listening to and reflection on what God is doing in other places. Relationships with other churches are an important grassroots means toward the unity and cooperation of God’s people as a singular whole.
We should begin in our neighborhoods by finding ways to connect and collaborate with other churches in our neighborhoods. Often pastors will have pastoral groups in which they can connect with other local pastors, but there can be great benefits to bringing whole congregations together to worship and serve in relevant ways. Find creative and unifying ways of continuing conversations with these churches over time.
In the twentieth century, as colonialism cracked and crumbled, the idea of global missions rightfully came under close scrutiny. It seems that churches would be in a much healthier place if our missions strategy was simply to build meaningful friendships with churches in other places (that are different than our own) around the globe. Wendell Berry, has observed in a recent poem that by the light of imagination, we see:
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.
We do best it seems to enter into the deeper struggles of humanity, struggles of poverty and injustice not by immersing ourselves in these struggles in the abstract sense, but by being friends with churches in places where these struggles are intense. We can start by building real relationships with the missionaries around the world that your church supports. Send people to visit them and see firsthand the work that they are doing. Find ways that the church community can regularly encourage and participate in the work of these missionaries and their local church communities. Naturally, some people in the congregation will keep closer relationships and those that do should share with the whole church what is going on with missionaries and their churches. Here at Englewood Christian Church, we recently sent a family to visit and encourage some of our missionary friends who are working with a Thai church in Bangkok. You can find an account of their visit here.
Our hope for the broader unity among Christ’s people lies in developing friendships and conversations between churches, locally and in other places. One church cannot and should not try to connect with every church around the globe, but we always should be open to the ways in which God is leading us to connect and deepen relationships with other churches.
Tomorrow: #9 Have a Regular Meal Together.
Previous Post: #7 Connect Church Members who live in Close Proximity.