With a vision to connect with a generation that hates to be preached at, we knew we had to invest in relationships before hosting events or services. As frustrating as that has been for an impatient person like myself, this experience has taught me how integral relationships are to evangelism. So here are three stories I want to share with you.
Billy is a foodie with shoulderlength hair and a broad Scouse accent who is unable to work after falling down a lift shaft while working for the Health and Safety Executive (yes, that actually happened). Billy’s a really upfront guy – we know about his Jewish family, the fact his aunt keeps introducing him to potential wives, we know he lives in constant pain and we’ve met the lady he fancies because he brought her in for a cinnamon bun last week.
Last Monday Billy suddenly stopped talking, paused and asked, “Why are you a Christian?” It had taken him eight months surrounded by Christians to ask this. We talked, he listened. He’s still not interested in God, but I believe God is in this friendship as we love, serve and continue to talk to him about faith.
I remember when I first met Matt, a tall, shy 21-year-old sat across the table at his Barista Evangelist interview. He quickly became the resident coffee geek at StoryHouse. I don’t think Matt initially believed a career in the coffee industry could be something God was calling him into but we encouraged him to explore this, connecting him with our roasters and giving him more barista responsibilities. This week we said goodbye to Matt as he heads off to Croatia for six months to help with a Christian project where he will work with coffee roasters and learn more about the industry. As much as we want him to stay, we know God has bigger plans for him.
Last night, wrestling over an awkward relationship between two members of our group, I realised how true Christian fellowship is way harder than I thought. Although neither intended to hurt the other, Louise and Cath were both upset. Louise, who’d grown up in church, went silent. Cath, a new Christian, wanted to talk, declaring if all Christians resolve conflict by staying quiet and pretending nothing’s happened, then she doesn’t belong here.
Her words deeply challenged me as I realised that creating an attractive Christ-like community will not just happen naturally. If we want a community of deep relationships, we need to have some awkward conversations.
Living in a culture where genuine authenticity is both craved and feared, a true expression of Christian community has the potential to speak powerfully into the superficiality we often hide behind. I’ve been reminded once again how this command to love one another can be deeply uncomfortable. From waiting for a relationship to develop, and letting go when it’s time for someone you’ve invested in to move on, to the discomfort of resolving conflict.
But without vulnerability and honesty our Christian communities will remain inadequate illustrations of God’s design for relationships. With it, however, we can become profoundly attractive communities offering the depth of connection that this world thirsts for.
Lizzie Lowrie is a local mission leader in Liverpool and runs a coffee shop and micro bakery called StoryHouse @storyhousecommunity