- Our youth groups take mission trips to faraway places where they serve for a week or so, take lots of photos with the needy children, and then go home. This is a good experience for our own youth in terms of getting them out of their comfort zones, but imagine what it’s like to be one of those “needy children” who see groups come and go. They are loved and left over and over and over again.
- Our congregations are generous and quick to help when disaster strikes. There’s a tornado over here and we send water bottles. There’s a fire over there and we send health kits. There’s a refugee family moving into the neighborhood and we provide linens. We move from crisis to crisis because it’s more interesting that way. It’s sexy to be among the first responders, jumping in to help like Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t do that. He wasn’t a fixer. He was about offering Long Term Relationships.
One of the many things I love about my denomination is that we do not do hit and run ministry:
- The PCUSA has been a ministry presence in Syria long before Aleppo was in the news. Our history with Syria is over 100 years old and it continues today without much self-congratulations.
- While most churches have long left the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina (2005) the PCUSA is still present because there is still work to do.
- South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011 and the PCUSA was there at the difficult beginning and is still there today.
There are countless examples of this.
When we have long term relationships with our ministry partners they become – indeed – partners. We are not serving “the needy.” We are joining together in mission as equals. We are not merely there for the dramatic early days of a crisis. We are there long after, when the hardest recovery work is necessary.
Our long term relationships allow for honest conversations (“What we really need is a hospital even though you want to build us a barn.”)
God calls us into a long term relationship with each other and with God. While many of us offer God a come-and-go connection, God is the One who remains steady. Some of us even ghost our Maker for years and decades, but we are the ones who miss out. Our spiritual lives become empty. But God seems to pursue us still – if we are paying attention.
Many (many) people out there come and go in and out of our congregations. Some dip their toes into spiritual community and maybe they stick around for a while or maybe they don’t. Some of us think of ourselves as being in relationship with a church even if we haven’t connected with that church for years. Sometimes our relationship with a spiritual community is based solely in our relationship with the pastor.
I’m advocating for long term relationships here. It’s easy to come and go. It’s so easy to step away when we are disappointed (“Church people are just like secular people!“) and when we catch a glimpse of church administrivia and conflict. But that’s the real stuff. Ask any long-time married couple.
God invites us to a long term relationship that begins with baptism, perhaps, or with childhood musings about the meaning of life. And God is with us at the end when we breathe our last breath. The stuff in the middle is the truly fulfilling part. I don’t want to miss that, even though sometimes it feels easier to hit and run.