I’m 64 years old, I’ve been in full-time ministry for nearly 27 years and you’d think I would remember important things I’ve learned along the way. But sometimes, especially in the wake of the Covid years, I have things to RE-learn. One of them is simply the importance of shared experiences. It’s come up several times recently. These things tend to occur in bunches–almost like God is repeating himself over and over until he has my attention.
After a couple years of not being able to have groups of people in our home, Anne and I have reinstituted the practice. The first time was an informal night of burgers and conversation with all the volunteer musicians who lead our congregation in worship, plus spouses. It felt right after the long absence of such gatherings–relationships deepened, friendships started, acquaintances made. The following Sunday felt a bit more like a family gathering.
The next reminders came when I scheduled three short hikes in nearby regional parks with different people. Even just a one hour walk on a trail, with some fresh air, a few animals, the wide-open sky and a bit of a view…felt far more significant than sitting in my office, or even a coffeeshop. Conversation ranged, important topics made their way to the forefront, backstories were filled in. Again, when I saw these people at church…it was different. We had shared something significant. Conversation, yes, but more than that–an experience. Our feet had walked up the same hills, our eyes had seen the same beauties and we’d even prayed together in broad daylight in the parking lot before parting.
Our small church happens to have a sizable contingent of people for whom the InterVarsity ministry was very important in their coming to faith in Jesus, or going deeper, or both. This includes IV staff people, current college students, junior college faculty members on an IV prayer team and people now in their 40’s or 50’s with strong IV background. Last week, Anne and I hosted 16 or 17 of these folks for an evening together. A simple soup and bread meal, with an agenda that was essentially: tell your stories. How did Jesus use your InterVarsity experience to draw you closer? It was fun, funny, personal, sometimes even profound. There was time for everyone to share, for questions to be asked or connections made. The same themes kept surfacing: scripture, mentoring and being mentored, community life, servanthood and leadership. Once again, when we saw each other at church later in the week, something was different. We knew things. We knew how to laugh and tease or check in on a concern.
I know. Not rocket science, right? This is simply relational ministry. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder, a re-learning of something I’ve learned many times before. Get out of the office. Hike, host, take walks, go to ballgames, visit people at their workplaces, show up at graduations and concerts and memorial services. Shared experience is not to be underestimated. It’s powerful. Maybe it’s why Jesus traipsed all over Galilee with the disciples without a schedule or reserved accommodations, available to whatever happened. Maybe it’s why Jesus felt compelled to take the disciples off to a quiet place to get some rest together. Maybe it’s why Jesus took James and John and Peter hiking up the mountain (of Transfiguration). By the time Jesus headed to Jerusalem for the last time, his followers had 3 solid years of shared experience with him. Teaching, yes. Conversation, yes. And many stories of doing life together. The significance of that for the disciples, and now for us, the Church, cannot be overstated. At one level, this is incarnation–the Word became flesh and shared life with human beings. Now it’s our turn.
Peace of Christ,
Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.