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Joining hands: the importance of mutuality in mission

I’m a hand holder.

I love holding hands with my husband when we’re out and about. And here’s why: it’s kind of inconvenient.

Let me explain. In my single years I moved fast in the world, was efficient, cracked on with stuff, traveled light. You can do that if you’re on your own. Think of nipping through the crowds in a busy city centre at the weekend; you’re on a mission, just heading to one shop to get one thing before heading home.

When I met my husband and we started holding hands I still tried to move around in the world the same way. It didn’t work so well. I’d try (and occasionally still do) to lead him through closing gaps between people that I could just dash through but he would get stuck or bump into them – awkward.

Hand holding is weird! Inconvenient! It slows you down, forces you to navigate obstacles differently, and takes up more space in the world. And it’s a small but beautiful sign of the change in life that comes with partnership.

Joining hands gives us an image of the vital importance of mutuality in mission.

Rather than adopting a goal-oriented, super-efficient, ‘fix-it’ approach to mission – our real challenge is to build real, deep, give-and-receive relationships with the people of our communities. In recent years a lot of what passes for mission has kept us very busy but has risked remaining relationally at a surface level. But we need relationships that slow us down, inconvenience us and make us take up more space in the world together.

As we take time to really get to know people in a community context, we will often find ourselves surprised by the people around us. We may discover that lots of amazing stuff is already going on in our community; that we can learn so much from others; that God speaks through people we would never expect. And fundamentally we discover that mutual and reciprocal relationships are actually better than one way giver-to-receiver relationships. We can come to acknowledge and embrace our own need for others – as well as theirs for ours – as part of participating in a community.

I see these insights arising in lots of different places right now, and among people from different Christian traditions too. In the conversations about whether charity really helps people in the long term; in the increasing use of asset-based community development and other models which take a strengths-based approach to our communities. This is an exciting development in our mission, bringing the potential not just for immediate needs to be met but for whole lives to be changed, including ours!

Dr Anna Ruddick works with the Livability helping churches across the UK connect more deeply with their local community. She is passionate about doing this by seeing first the gifts and skills of both churches and communities.

Further reading

Read more about mutuality in mission in ‘A Nazareth Manifesto’ by Sam Wells, 2015.

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