Relational Poverty

When I was a youth pastor, I’d take annual foreign mission trips with my students. And leading up to the trip we’d have training and prep to do. Of the many talks we would have, one in particular was about the difference between relative poverty and absolute poverty.

One shows a poverty existing only in comparison to what you possess/own.
The other is a state of poverty in which a person/people have no capability to live.

And sure enough, while on the trip, I’d have one-on-one conversations with students who were struggling seeing people who had food, shelter, and family BUT didn’t possess what (in their American mindset) was anything suitable for their personal standard for living. They’d see children playing and families singing but couldn’t wrap their minds around how they could possess that type of heart without the “possessions” that make us Americans comfortable.

I miss those trips with students.
I miss de-briefing with them.
I miss hearing how much they learned about what really matters in the Kingdom of God.
I miss seeing them begin to engage in their worlds because their faith deepened from leaving for a week, unplugging from the world they knew, and plugging into community and mission.

But there’s another type of poverty that I see growing. I’ll call it, “relational poverty.” we live in a day and age of loneliness and isolation. We live in a time of having thousands of social media friends and followers but nobody to have a conversation with. We’ve replace handshakes and hugs with “likes” and “favorites.” One on end, someone feels like they’ve reached out because they clicked a button on a status. On the other end, a person searches for something else to post in order to get their next stimulating fix from social media attention.

We don’t have an absence of connection; we have an absence of contact.

We live in an age of relational poverty. We know a lot of people. But we don’t really know them” and/or nobody really knows us.

This has been something I’ve pondered over the past month in our series on faith here at Kfirst called “The 13th Floor.” We’ve been exploring what faith is and how to operate in it. And as I’m going over a number of study-notes I see a small bullet point I typed out a few months ago that caught my eye:

“Faith grows best in community.”

What does this have to do with relational poverty? Everything.

From the beginning of time, we were created to be in community/relationship with others and with God. And the results of the “original sin” was to attack those relationships (blame each other and God) and to isolate (hide) ourselves. No wonder why God said “it is not good for man to be alone.” I believe this was more than a statement about marriage but a state of our being. We were created to be in and operate in relationship with others.

And I truly believe that’s where faith grows best.

It’s no wonder that one of the greatest attacks to faith in Christ in an age of over-connection is to impoverish us of relationships. We can’t find unity of faith in denominations because we live in constant criticism of others. We can’t celebrate faith because we envy what someone else has been blessed with. We have immature faith because we do not seek out the mentorship (spiritual fathers and mothers) of those who’ve gone before us. We can’t develop faith though dialogue because we haven’t learned how to disagree “agreeably” on surface issues and live in agreement on the foundational things of Jesus. We can’t pass on faith  because we’re too busy attacking/despising another generation instead of celebrating what makes the other distinct so that we can learn from each other.

I believe in being a person of prayer. I believe in being in the Scriptures daily. I believe in living a life of worship. Those are necessary for nourishing the soul. But without relationships, I would truly question how can faith actually exist and grow.

Why do I still believe in the Church? Because my faith isn’t in the Church but in Jesus. And because my faith is in Jesus, it allows me to navigate relationships without the expectations in people who I should have in Christ alone. He is the “author” of my faith (Hebrews 12:1), and He “perfects” grows it. And I believe that faith growth happens best in community.

And it’s in the community of Church that my faith is challenged and deepened by interacting with people of various backgrounds and generations. It’s in those relationships I can celebrate what God is doing in others to give me challenge and hope for my own faith. I find my faith grown as I sit with others in dialogue and civil conversation. I find my faith strengthened when I see people of a variety of color, nationality, background, and economics come together under the name of Jesus.

Would you take a huge step of faith this week? Make a relational initiation of contact with someone. Sit for coffee or a meal with someone you don’t normally connect with. Find someone of a younger generation to learn from. Find a peer to sit with an encourage. Call up someone of an older generation and inquire of their story. Seek out someone of a difference race to listen and learn.

Get in community. Watch the level of relational poverty diminish and faith rise in His Church.

 

Love you all. Praying for you.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

My Friend Leon: 3 Ways You can Get Community in Your Life

Last Sunday, I was doing an introduction for a friend who was bringing the message at Kfirst. Jp Dorsey brought an outstanding word to our congregation that I have been chewing on ever since the weekend. If you were not able to join us, check it out here.

In my intro for Jp, there was a statement that I shared that far too many pastors believe. It was brought up all too often when in bible college and throughout my first position:

Ministry is a lonely place. 

Quite often, I revisit that statement to revise it to say, “Ministry can be a lonely place.” Even though there’s some aspect of truth to the original saying, it comes off to ministers as a “sentence” to be imprisoned by instead of a warning of the danger of isolation.

And when I think about these 21 years of ministry, I recognize, first, I am here because of Jesus. For, apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). And to him, “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17).

But I also see that I am still here because of community. I believe I’m still in pastoral ministry, not because of a resolve I posses, but because of the men and women who refused to allow me to do this ministry thing alone.  I’m here because of those who stood by me in my pain, put up with my drama, showed patience with my frustrations, challenged me in my thinking, encouraged me in my worst days, offered a place to explore creativity, gave me wisdom through decisions, and offered me a place to find my smile and to laugh.

And Leon Beaudin has been one of those people.

I may be from the Metro Detroit area, but Midland became “home.” I was hired as the Youth Pastor of CCC in 2002, but inside, I was broken and hurting; confused and frustrated. Midland for most is simply a nice city to live. For me, it was a city of refuge. Why? I found a renewed passion for Jesus, my calling, and the mission of the Church. God brought people along side of me. And Leon was a huge part of that.

My friend is bringing an era of 30 years of ministry at CCC to a close. And my heart is not to just honor him but to challenge others to find community like what I found in Leon.

Share a cup.
I miss hearing those immortal words down the office hallway, “Hey Youth Boy, do you want some coffee?” Really, this is how it all began. He shared a cup of coffee. I can’t say I was a huge coffee drinker in that day, but I was willing to connect to the dude who sat at the organ. There is such depth to an uncomplicated action like an invitation like that. Coffee may not seem like much, but for someone who was starving for relational connections, it meant everything. A meeting at the coffeepot (even though it was Folgers) opened my heart to one of my most valued friends.

Give a couch.
I remembered the first time I walked in his office and just plopped on his couch as if it was a therapy session (which it probably was). His reply was hilarious. “You do realize you’re not the first youth pastor to lay on that couch trying to figure things out?”

But I caught something in that statement (other than the fact that us Youth Pastors have lots of issues to work through). Not only was he approachable, but he was available. I’ve know those who were approachable but never available. Then there are others who are available, but not approachable. My friend Leon was both. I don’t think he’ll ever fully grasp how much value he poured into me through those 7 years especially when the first contact came about Kalamazoo. I cannot imagine what that journey would have looked like without his wisdom and perspective.

Open up a table.
His invitation to eat, whether it was a restaurant or his home, was a place to find my smile. Leon understood the value of laughter and joy. The table was a place to share stories and memories. I remember when he picked up my…er…his bulldog Baxter. Leon invited my family over for dinner so that Baxter could get used to children.

My son Ethan and Baxter

The atmosphere did more than make us crave having our own pet, it breathed joy into our souls. I’m convinced that most of our pastors don’t necessarily need counsel as much as we need to laugh. And if we can recapture our joy, perhaps we can re-envision healthier ministry.

In Luke 19, Jesus approached a very socially lonely man.  Zacchaeus felt like an outsider to the people around him (for good reason). He really had nobody around him willing to give him the time of day. He knew of God. He also knew that his vocation made him to be very much an outsider to everyone. Jesus’ simple action of stopping, noticing, and offering time opened up Zacchaeus’ heart to be impacted by the Kingdom of God.

To every person reading this, I honor my friend, and in doing do, honor the One he represents. As scripture says, “Give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). And it behoves me to not just tell you about the blessing he’s been to me but to challenge you in two ways:

  • Put your faith in Jesus and not people.
    • People are human and prone to mistakes. When we seek in people what we should be seeking in God, we place demands upon them they are not equipped to provide.
  • Be a friend. Be community for others.
    • It’s not done for the “thanks” you get but for the glory God receives. Your initiating connection and authentic friendship can bridge a gap over someone’s pain and into their heart.
  • Find a friend. Get community in your life. 
    • There is initiative on your part to reach back and/or ask people. Be in position to engage with others. Be willing to risk some relationship knowing that it may or may not work out. I’ve had those that we didn’t quite “connect.” That’s fine. Just don’t stop trying.

Leon, apart from all of the jokes and jabs we’ve thrown each other over the past 17 years, there lies a depth of love and appreciation for you in the Barringer’s hearts. You’re an amazing man of God and Jesus shines amazingly through you.

Love you bro. And there’s aways a cup of coffee waiting for you in Kalamazoo.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…