“I have sent him [Tychicus] to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts…they will tell you everything that has taken place here…[Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus] have been a comfort to me.“ – Colossians 4:7-11
There is something truly biblical, and empirically verifiable, about the benefit of “face” time with partners in the gospel.
Skype helps with this, it provides quasi-face time with others, but it is still no substitute for true presence – for a real face-to-face conversation. Tomorrow I will be on a Skype call to Albania, and I am looking forward to it and hope it is an encouragement to both of us. But it is no replacement for, as the Albanians say, “having a coffee.” Some things are just better said, or asked, or heard in person.
But true encouragement doesn’t come merely from presence, but what I might call “intentional” presence. Encouraging face time is when we share the gospel with one another as we tell our stories, we pray for one another in our struggles and hopes, and we ask the important questions of each other. This is why I am grateful to God for the time I was blessed to spend with old and new friends at the Radstock Round Table last week, as well as during our week in the Balkans.
But it was even better than that – because it’s even better when that time being present together is focused on the gospel mission. If we are going to share together in the work of the gospel at some point we have to get to the who, how, what, and when of proclaiming Christ and planting churches. This is what I experienced at the Radstock Round Table. It was about real gospel partnership – making real plans with real people to proclaim a very real gospel.
There are discussions our church needs to have about how and what we do next, and since we haven’t yet had time to start those discussions I would be speaking out of turn to blab about them on the internet; but I can say this – there are real possibilities for us to consider that weren’t real possibilities two weeks ago. And it is quite possible that our plans for 2013, and for every year after that, will be deeply affected by the time I got to spend with partners in the gospel.
This is why I’m grateful to my family and to our church for the time they let me get away to England for this year’s Radstock Round Table. Was it worth the extra two days at the end of a trip, after having already been gone for over a week? Was it worth the expense of travel, lodging, and food? Was it worth the time that was taken away from other important work that has to be done? Yes – because productive, encouraging face time with gospel partners is valuable. If we aren’t willing to believe this, then I don’t think we’ll ever actually have gospel partnerships.
Note: Recently I spent two weeks traveling Europe – a little over a week in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia; a day in Greece (just for fun); and two days in London. This article was originally written to reflect on my experiences at the Radstock Round Table held in London, but I realized that for me the whole experience – from Albania to Kosovo, Macedonia, and the UK – was really one whole that I couldn’t separate into pieces. So while this mostly represents my experience at the Radstock Round Table, it also reflects the whole experience of meeting with pastors and church leaders in the Balkans as well. I hope to write another post soon focusing on my thoughts and experiences in the Balkans in particular.