Relationship or meeting?

It is almost funny how my comfortable world can be shaken at the most unexpected times. Last week, while visiting with a pastor in Washington, D.C., he made the following observation:

“You Mennonites are good at getting together and having meetings and you tend to think that having a meeting equals building a relationship. Simply put, this isn’t true.  As a black pastor, I have been part of the Mennonite church for over 20 years.  I am tired of going to meetings.  Don’t get me wrong, you people run good meetings,” he said, then continued.

“I wish folks would take the time to get to know me.”

Here I was, visiting with him, asking questions—so I could be better prepared for a meeting.

This pastor, elder and bishop had lovingly and gently rebuked me.

Is it possible that we use meetings and consultations as substitutes for building healthy, trusting relationships?

Meetings allow us to be professional.   They provide a stage to strut our stuff.  Meetings allow us to connect without getting too personal.  If the church was a business, this would be appropriate.

The church isn’t a business.

The church is that place where a new family is being birthed – the family of God.   Families are not defined by well-ordered professional relationships.  Families, when they work well, are messy and wonderful, intimate and accepting.  They are safe places where warts and bad habits are tolerated, and sometimes even celebrated.  Once you’re a part of a family you’re in, no matter what.

Maybe it is time to have fewer meetings and more family reunions – family of God reunions.  We might not get much business accomplished, but we might start looking and acting like a family.


As I reflect on the last 15 years of urban ministry with DOOR, a primary learning comes to mind: Do not do ministry alone – ever.

Someday I will write a book. I will name the book, “Words I Wish I Had Never Heard.” The first chapter will be named “The Fallacy of Independence.” In my early 20s, I became convinced of the importance of the word- Independence. To be successful, I needed to think independently. I thought that living this way would free me to do ministry, but somewhere along the way this word, this idea, became a prison.

I am slowly discovering freedom from the need to independent. Collaboration and partnership are much better guides. I would even go so far as to suggest that collaboration, partnership and mutuality allow for health, creativity and innovation in ministry.

Prior to my time at DOOR, I worked as a youth minister and I spent much of my time trying to figure out how I could develop a more exciting ministry that would attract youth to my program – notice the personal pronouns! When I moved, form the suburbs to the city one of the first things I noticed was how people, churches and agencies worked together. Issues like homelessness, hunger, poverty and teen pregnancy are simply too overwhelming for any one person, church or organization to handle on their own (I would also guess that these are overwhelming issues for the suburbs as well). For me, the city had a way of forcing diverse people and groups to come together. On Denver’s west side the liberal, conservative, Catholic and Pentecostal pastor’s meet regularly to plan combined events that work on shared concerns like gang violence or hunger.

At DOOR, “partnership” has become the method of operation. We collaborate with other organizations and institutions because we believe that we have much to learn from others and the combination of DOOR with our partners creates a better experience for participants. Service and learning is best accomplished through collaboration. Listening to and learning from various voices serves only to enhance one’s understanding of God and God’s call. We believe in hearing God's call within community at both the individual level as well as our organizational level.

Attempting to do ministry alone is quite simply - unhealthy.