I had the joy of meeting American pastors today. We had a great time together and it was really exciting to be able to discuss how we might be able to serve one another. No immediate plans came out of meeting but I went away encouraged.
Here are three reasons why I love meeting potential gospel partners, even if we don’t actually end up partnering at all.
I can meet some godly, gospel-hearted blokes
It is simply encouraging to me to be able to talk to guys who love the Lord, want to see the church built and wish to reach out to the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ. Inevitably when I meet people who want to talk gospel partnership, these are the sort of people I meet. They encourage me with stories about what they are doing in their area and they, in turn, appear to be excited about what is going on in ours. It is great to be with people who love to see the Lord working and who take delight in telling you about his work through their ministries too.
I am taken out of the normal routine
They say a change is as good as a holiday. I’m not sure anyone actually believes that but a change is certainly a helpful way to appreciate the normal routine. One of the reasons conferences are good for us is because they take us out of the usual routine, which can quickly develop, sermon prep, visits and the standard evangelistic programme we run week by week. They cause us to stop and take stock.
In the same way, meeting potential gospel partners takes me out of my normal routine. I have to stop what I usually do, break up my standard day and do something different. What is more, it causes me to assess the entire situation and work of the church. If I am going to explain why anyone should partner with us, I have to sit down and really think about what it is about us that should lead to partnership as opposed to anywhere else. This is a good thing as it causes us to consider whether what we are doing is really valuable or not. If it is, then we can be encouraged to press on. If it is not, then we can be encouraged to consider how to make it something more valuable. In either case, meeting people from outside is a good way to break from standard routines and seriously take stock.
I am freshly enthused in the work
In case you couldn’t tell, as Ian Dury would have snarled, I find networking and PR very difficult indeed (see here for why). Ultimately, I’m not very good at it. I also find it draining having to put on one’s game face and sound very crass and rude by speaking about one’s work and church at great length with the kind of enthusiasm usually saved for job interviews. In the enduring words of Steve Jobs when asked if the iPhone should include a stylus, ‘yuck’.
Whilst this process feels to me a little like pulling teeth, I tend to come away with fresh enthusiasm for the work the Lord has given me to do. Just as standing in an open air is not the sort of ‘fun’ anyone would have without genuinely believing the gospel they are there to share, networking is not the sort of ‘fun’ I would have unless I genuinely cared about the health of my church. What is more, telling people about the various outreach activities and the unbelievable response of people to the gospel in an area nobody will countenance coming to (most deprived town in England… blah, blah, blah… 12 baptisms in 3 years with four more coming up… yada, yada, yada) gives me fresh optimism and steely determination to press on in the work.
The fact is that what is going on at Oldham Bethel Church is inherently exciting and the fruit of that labour is regular and ongoing. It may seem like I am rattling off the statistics of demographics and deprivation for the 500th time; or, I have listed the evangelistic output and approach to discipleship ad nauseam; or, I have given the highlights of those who came to faith and now press on with the Lord over and over again. But the simple act of doing so gives me a reminder that there is much going on and the Lord is clearly at work. What is more, when people are surprised by such things, it is a reminder that what has to some degree become the norm for us is genuinely and objectively exciting.