“Love, Pray, Relate and Create” appeared on the power-point screen, words that would become my mantra for mission and ministry. I was listening to Dave Male speak, at the time he was a lecturer at a theological college, Ridley Hall, in Cambridge, he has now gone on to be involved in selecting and training pioneer ministers for the Church of England.
I was on a course called “The Arrow Course” which was established by one of Billy Graham’s Associates Leighton Ford following the tragic death of his son. Leighton wanted to do something in memory of his son that would of fruitful significance to the Kingdom of God, and so he began a course that invests in young leaders to enable them to flourish and thrive in what God has called them to do.
As an imaginative activist I am tempted sometimes to rush to the last ‘create’ stage without allowing God to do the work in my heart to love those I am working amongst, love has always come first. Love was the motivating force that birthed the creation of the world, and it was because God SO loved the world that he came and dwelled amongst us. I believe that one of the reasons we do not see all we long to see in our church communities is because of a deficiency of love both our love of God and our love of one another. “Help me love your people here” was a prayer I prayed regularly, and at times it felt like an impossible task (and I’m sure I was difficult to love at times too).
Yet the best way to grow and deepen your love for people and places is to pray for them regularly, somehow when we pray God softens and moulds our hearts.
I remember when I was about 19, and I had been exploring the gift of tongues, I had an argument with my former flat mate (who could be difficult to love at time, and no doubt he would say the same about me!) and I was walking along Eastbourne beach to clear my head, I was furious at him. Something within me said “try praying” but it didn’t work, I was too angry, so I tried praying in tongues and suddenly I literally felt all my anger and frustration disappear, and a feeling of love and grace wash over me and I was able to go back and restore the friendship with my flatmate.
This has not always been my experience, sometimes it has been much tougher than this, but it really illustrated to me how when we pray God can touch and change our hearts.
Prayer has got to be at the heart of mission, as someone once said: “it is not the Church that has the Mission of God, but rather it is the missionary God who has a Church” we are participating in God’s mission, and therefore tuning into hear what God is saying is imperitive, it would be like trying to navigate through an unfamiliar city with your SatNav off, ignoring the road signs and your map book shut.
I once heard a sermon talking about the sign of the cross being about restoration between the divine and humanity (the vertical) and transformation of the relationships between one another, the vertical. In my first ever sermon in Kingswood (on Trinity Sunday) entitled “relationships matter” I spoke of how the cross restored the broken friendship between us and God and called us to forgive and receive forgiveness from one another, but went onto say that relationships matter because God is Trinity and in a perfect relationship of love, and invites us to join him in that community of love. Having just finished a curacy at Bemerton in Salisbury where the famous Poet George Herbert had ministered () I quoted his poem “Love bade me welcome”.
This is relationships both within the church and within the community, the danger is when we value one at the detriment of the other, indeed I believe love is like a magnet that attracts and draws people together often from very different places.
Often it is the deficit of love and fragility of relationships that cause our churches to struggle, I was asked at an interview what I wanted to “do” –and I tried to say that was the wrong question- it is about forming those deep, durable relationships of love that seek God together and do what he says; relationships are at the core of our DNA of what it means to be community. Jesus himself says “by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you love one another”.
It is on the foundation of loving, prayerful relationships that healthy communities that truly reflect Christ are formed and created, what we do stems from who we are together, often we can become a cosy club but love is always wanting to be shared, just as couples in love want to share their love by having children, so Agape Love (the Greek word for Christian Love) is always yearning to be shared beyond the confines of the community, requiring us to constantly re-create as we reach out partnering with the Agape God in his work of making us all “new creations (where) the old has gone and the new has come”.
What will it take to see our nation transformed for Christ, Christians who are prepared to “Love, Pray, Relate and Create”.