Coffee, African Tea, or Fanta?

My husband teases me regularly about the number of times I meet friends for coffee. I frequent all three Panera Cafes on my side of town, rarely with any agenda other than conversation over a cup of coffee or tea. There’s usually no project in the works, no motive other than encouraging one another and building relationships.

Last summer I traveled to Rwanda to visit our sister parish and meet the pastor, a joyful man named David. As we chatted over a shared meal, he was clear that he wanted us to come again–as many as would come and as often as we could–simply to spend time with the people of his parish. No work project, no teaching agenda. Just fellowship…the only intention being to build the relationship between the people of his parsh and the people of mine. He was puzzled at my suggestion that it would be easier to get people to come if they had a project to work on.

I recently returned from another trip to Rwanda. I was blessed to spend two days with our sister parish with no agenda ???????????????????????????????other than strengthening our relationship. Just being together was encouragement that transcended the language barrier. We conversed over a cup of African tea or a bottle of Fanta, each working to understand the other. We ate together, laughed together, worshipped together. And the body of Christ between two continents was strengthened through this together-ness.

As I’ve been inviting others to visit our sister parish in Rwanda next year, I’m often met with the response, “But what would I do?”  I admit that, in the beginning, I asked this same question. But now I find myself wondering why we think we must have an agenda when we go to another culture, even though it is perfectly acceptable in our everyday life here to meet a friend for no other purpose than deepening our relationship through conversation? Why does naming a specific project or task to be accomplished validate the trip and justify a request for prayer and financial support? Is it not enough to simply be together, encouraging one another as we share in the love of Christ that binds us into one body?

I think it is. And I’m really looking forward to the next conversation with my Rwandan friends. I’ll have the African tea, please!

Maintaining the Tension

I recently had my first opportunity to work directly with one of our ministry teams. I led a two-part meeting designed to foster community and encourage collaboration while revisiting the goals and objectives for our ministry to children. Each meeting was scheduled for three hours on a Saturday morning, one month apart. The first session focused on “what” and the second on “how.”

I felt really good after the first meeting. It went well and everyone seemed to embrace the process (Results-based Conversation facilitation method, which encourages collaborative processing and employs exercises that unleash creativity). I asked if they wanted to use the RbC process for the second meeting and all agreed that it was a useful tool.

During the second meeting, I chose to lead the participants through an exercise designed with three objectives: help us re-engage the momentum from our first meeting, think creatively about those we serve, and build the team. After we debriefed the exercise,  I suggested that the team select two objectives for which they would develop action plans. They divided into two groups, with each participant selecting the objective he/she wanted to work on. One group completed their action plan; the other did not.

The next day, one of the participants came to offer me feedback. She said that someone had expressed disappointment that at the conclusion of the meeting there still was not a clearly defined action plan. She talked about how full everyone’s calendar is, the sacrifice the meetings required, and that perhaps I could have better utilized the time by eliminating the exercises.

tensionI have been sewing for years. Early on I learned the importance of maintaining the proper bobbin tension on my sewing machine. If the tension is too tight, the thread will break. If the tension is too loose, the thread forms loops on the underside of my fabric. In either case, the seam won’t hold. My first machine was an inexpensive one; I was continually adjusting the tension. When I purchased a better quality machine, the tension was factory calibrated and I’ve rarely had to make adjustments.

Unfortunately–unlike my sewing machine–ministry teams don’t come with factory-calibrated tension between getting the job done and building relationships. For the ministry leader, discovering how to maintain this balance can be challenging. A healthy team is made up of a mix of people–some who have a “get it done” mentality and others who prefer time to get acquainted and learn how to work together. The trick is figuring out how to balance the two in such a way that the get-it-done folks feel something has been accomplished, and the get-to-know-you folks feel they are developing relationships while engaging in team ministry.

Have I perfected maintaining this tension? Obviously not! But these two things I know:

  1. Each team is unique; the dynamics will vary from one team to another and from one task to another.
  2. It’s counter-productive to sacrifice team-building for the sake of getting the task done, no matter the sense of urgency. Everyone is busy; everyone’s calendar is full. But if we don’t take time to build relationships, the team won’t know how to work collaboratively and ministry will be compromised.

What are some techniques you find useful in maintaining the tension between accomplishing tasks and building relationships?