Relational Church- Mark Burlinson

Recently the leader of a network of churches asked me "what does a church look like when it is founded completely on the Father's love?" As I considered my answers to this question I realized how different the church looks when agape love is the foundation. The reason for this is that God's love is primarily expressed in the Kingdom of God; the Church is the community of the citizens of the Kingdom, not just a gathering of disciples in a locality. The Kingdom creates the Church, local churches are facets of Kingdom Community, and because God is love, the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Love. So what does an agape church look like?

Firstly there will be a strong sense of community, where every person knows they are part of the family, and is valued for who they are, not what they do. This creates true unity (see John 17:21). In this context there is clear, open leadership committed to serving more than they are served. Each person knows their identity in God, and their destiny in God, and is committed to living from that place of security and significance, rather than from a need to be needed or a desire to find security or significance in human relationships. Authority is given to leadership, not demanded by them. Orphan hearts are being displaced by sonship.

Secondly, the leadership models healthy relationships. This means that not only is there a leadership where men and women contribute their personal gifting, but also the leadership demonstrates the universal need for personal healing by seeking prayer ministry routinely and sharing their stories transparently with the rest of the church. In this church, masks are conspicuous by their rarity, and negative thinking is displaced by truth (see John 8:31-32). Additionally, the leadership guard against losing perspective by seeking life-giving relationships outside their own fellowship as well as healthy relationships within.

Thirdly, the nurturing heart of God is expressed by a welcoming paradigm that resembles a healthy family; you are always embraced and fed, whatever mess you have come from, and whatever your part in creating that mess. Love is expressed tenderly, with a motherly heart, without being easily swayed or manipulated. In this context harvest is plentiful, because those far from God are freely welcomed home.

Fourthly (although these characteristics are in no hierarchy), honor is freely and specifically given to those who differ from us. In such a church there is no criticism of other churches in town, or former members who have moved on to other fellowships. Instead there is a heart to give and receive outside the four walls as well as inside. The leadership have genuine relationship with other pastors and leaders in the area, and former attendees are spoken of with love and understanding. This is just one facet of a heart that values The Church, the Bride of Christ, above the church, the fellowship of those like us who worship together in one building.

Fifth, the church is actively and effectively redemptive, bringing healing to the broken and hope to the hopeless, gathering the scattered and meeting the felt needs of the community. This will look different in every case, but each church founded on love will be working out the promise of John 3:16 where followers of Jesus are promised that they will not perish (Greek: appollumi - to come unraveled, be scattered, and thus wasted through broken-ness).

Finally, intimacy is the hallmark of this church. Intimacy with God, but not simply a personalized, mystical intimacy. Rather the intimacy that Jesus described when he said "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel." This is the foundation of the supernatural, enabling every believer to do what Jesus did without striving. When we know Him it becomes natural to "do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5). The church founded on agape is a restful river of supernatural power.

The church I have described is a composite of many churches, and in a sense such a church does not exist; there are no perfect churches. Yet this church does exist, in the heart of God; it is the church that He is preparing as the Bride for His Son. Many churches are beginning to embrace these principles and allowing God to transform them into churches founded on agape love.

Here at Shiloh Place we have the privilege of living out many of these principles day by day, and also sharing them with the pastors and leaders we serve. It is an honor and a joy, which is made possible by the support of many receiving this letter. You are playing a part in the growth of the Agape Reformation, and we thank you. Think how much joy this brings to the heart of God; when His children value His love above any other thing and give themselves to help others experience love too.

It is often true that members of churches embrace this shift to agape more easily than leaders of churches, so our mission is an important one. Leaders are hungry for life-giving paradigms that will effectively position them to help others, but so often they find themselves focused more on the needs of their people than on the source of the answers for those needs. Our passion to help these leaders is the foundation for all we do: whether encounters around the country, schools here at Shiloh Place, resources shipped worldwide, or personal prayer ministry. All these are ways we reach out to leaders in the Body of Christ. Please pray with us for leaders to continue to find God's love through these expressions of agape. Check the website at www.shilohplace.org for details, news and the upcoming itinerary.

In Father's embrace,

Mark Burlinson.