“The one great advantage you have as a new church pastor is that you are forced to start small. Nothing is imposed on you. Determine that you will know every person, their names and whatever of their lives they are willing to let you in on. Be in their homes. Invite them into your home in small groups for an evening or lunch. The killing frost in too much new church development is forming programs that will attract people or serve their perceived ‘needs,’ getting them ‘involved.’ The overriding need they have is worship and that is the one thing that is lowest on their ‘needs’ list. Insist on it: keep it simple – learn to know every last one of them relationally. And call them to worship – and not entertainment worship, but a community at worship. Americans these days are not used to being treated that way, personally and apart from promotional come-ons. Religious entrepreneurism has infected church planting all over the country. When it is successful numerically (and if you are a good salesman and smile a lot it probably will be) you will end up with a non-church.”

I recently ran across this quote from Eugene Peterson on J.R. Briggs’ web site. The context is new church plants/communities (and I think being willing to enter one another’s “caves” is what being a true church community is about), but it got me to thinking. I recently told a friend that “I know you like to withdraw into your cave. I’m just saying make room for me to keep you company.” Not that I have any special insight, I just know what I’m like when I’m in a “cavey” mood. Most people want to be pursued. We want to be cared for enough, matter enough, for someone to come after us. And sometimes we need space. On our end, we need to do a good job of communicating what we want. On the end of those we are in community with, we need to go after folks.

We often talk about relationships and being in community, but have little understanding of what that means and entails. Too many “guys” act like, well, guys . We’re prone to “give people space” when problems arise and then act stunned when situations are misread or misunderstood. We rarely take the time to evaluate if our approach is a healthy way to deal with situations. (Right now would again NOT be the time for someone to try to convince me women shouldn’t be leaders or wouldn’t make better shepherds). Maybe, in shepherding people, giving people space leaves gaps in relationships, or may leave people feeling isolated or alone.

This isn’t solely a “guy” thing: most people are relationally lazy. It’s easy to hang out with someone but it takes work to get to know someone. It’s easy to enjoy someone’s company during good times and harder to walk through the mess of their lives. I know many pastors get used to people coming to them when they have problems, so they get into a posture of not having to seek people out. Just like I know it’s easy for some leadership teams to go “well, so and so has kept in touch, so my base is covered.” No, it doesn’t: neglecting relationships doesn’t cover for you. Giving people space gives them room to hide. Most times, the hiding isn’t even some deep, dark sin but rather just people being afraid and broken and thus secretive, slow to trust. Requiring shepherds to walk with them for a while before they become willing to share and open up.

It comes down to the basic tools of “doing” relationships. A part of dealing with people as grown ups, mature men and women, means that we have to take risks. That part of being willing to “lay down my life for my brother” means that they might yell at us, they might be mad at us, but we take those chances so that we can hear from them in relationship. That’s why it’s so important to walk alongside folks and pour oneself into their lives. That, in over communication, we will fail on the side of love by letting the caver tell us when they need space.