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« Your Vision: Entrapment or Liberation? | Main | Historic General Conference 2013 »

The Hard Work but Wonderful Rewards of Building Relationships

This title is long enough to make the attendant article unnecessary, but just in case someone needs help connecting the dots, I’m going to flesh it out.  So, do we really need another article on one of the most overused words in the English language?  Affirmative…desperately.  Yes, we are all in some sort of relationship, many of us in more than one; we know how to tell good ones from bad ones; we know a lot about abusive and dysfunctional relationships; and, we know how to end relationships—although that one may need some more work.

Too many people, however, think relationships just are…kind of like air, water, sun and wind.  You either have them or you don’t.  If you do, you’re lucky, if you don’t, well, too bad.  Uninformed people think that relationships just happen.  You wake up one morning and, voila!  You walk right into a beautiful, fulfilling relationship!  And, you know what?  These people are right about one hundredth of one tenth of one percent of the time!  For the rest of the nearly one hundred percent of us, good relationships are the outcome of months, years and decades of hard, relentless, indefatigable work.  This is the problem.  It’s also the solution. 

Before we go any further, be advised that I am not talking about romantic relationships.  I’m really focusing on the relationship a person has with God, the relationships people have with other church members, and the relationship that maturing children and youth need to form with the church.  It is a HUGE mistake to think that these things just happen or that they will take care of themselves.  Let me be bold: if you are not intentionally investing time, energy and resources into your relationships, they will fall apart and die!  Critical point:  Relationships must be valued for themselves alone—not for what you get out of them, not for personal knowledge, not for financial gain, not for stepping stone or piggyback benefits and not for entertainment.  Relationships, in and of themselves, are the essential ingredients to a rich and fulfilling life.  

Children and Young People

Let’s start with your kids and the church.  I’ve observed two types of parenting habits over the years.  The first is those parents who see to it that their children and young people get involved in church activities.  They bring them to Sunday School and/or youth services, they sacrifice to pay their way to youth rallies, camps and national meetings like Youth Congress, and they encourage them to participate in choirs, dramas and fund raisers.  Much of this is over the kid’s protests and resistance.  The second type of parent never forces anything to happen.  “Johnny doesn’t like Sunday School.  Suzy doesn’t like the youth leader.  If I make them get involved, they will end up resenting the church…and me!  I’m just going to pray for them and let them make up their own mind.”  

Can you guess the outcome?  The kids that were involved formed relationships in the church with other kids, teachers, musicians and leaders that became the foundation for their spiritual lives.  Those on the fringe formed relationships at school, in the neighborhood or with other unchurched friends.  After turning eighteen, they seldom came to church at all.  Why?  Didn’t they learn anything?  Didn’t they like to sing?  Did they have conflicts with church kids?  Wrong questions.  They didn’t have the opportunity to build solid relationships with people in the church.  Here is my contention.  The Sunday School lessons, the youth rally sermons, the choir songs, as important as they are—were not nearly as important as the relationships formed through all these activities!  

Relationship with Mature Adults

What about the adults?  It’s pretty much the same story.  Those people who make every effort to come to church services regularly, who come early or stay late to fellowship with other saints, and who insist on getting involved in church ministries, activities and events enjoy strong and compelling relationships with many people in the church.  The non-participants, the ones who skip tons of church, the ones who are always too busy with their own lives or their own families, or who forge ties with co-workers or other unchurched people rather than with those in the congregation isolate themselves and gradually fade away from the church.  You know the type.  They are the people about whom you say, “Whatever happened to so-and-so?”  It is even as the Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7-12).  

I’ve heard all the excuses.  “I don’t like the people.  That brother intimidates me.  That sister makes me mad. That family embarrasses me.  I don’t have time.  I was hurt once by a false friend and I’m not going to let it happen again.  I don’t need to be involved.  I’m doing okay by myself.  They don’t need me.  They can get along without me.  I would just get in the way.  I don’t have anything in common with them.  I don’t like to get too close to anyone.  I’m a very private person.  People just mooch off of me and try to take advantage.  I don’t like to over-commit myself.  I like my freedom to come and go.”  On and on it goes.  The amazing thing, however, is that when this kind of person gets into trouble and needs someone to help, he or she is the first one to criticize the people in the church for not being there for them! 

It is absolutely necessary to realize that the church is a living body in which each member is integrated and interactive with each other member.  Unless one has this concept of how the church is built and how it functions, it is impossible to do the will of God!  We are not like a doctor’s clientele who have a relationship with the doctor but not with any of his or her other patients; we are not like a college class in which each student is independent from other students and interacts only with the teacher.  The church is different.  The church moves as one.  It self-regulates, it ministers to itself and it engages in corporate functions.  From these relationships, each member gains significance, strength and support for his or her life.  In fact, our relationship to God is PROVEN by our relationship to each other!  “Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you.” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12). 

I could also cite Jesus’ teaching on the vine and branches, or His high-priestly prayer in John seventeen or Paul’s exposition on the church in 1 Corinthians twelve, but you get the point.  The point is that every member of the church has a divine obligation to get connected to the church as a body and seriously cultivate a meaningful relationship with other members.  It means to intentionally and routinely set aside quality time to make it happen; it means to permit impositions on yourself by others when it doesn’t seem convenient; it means to tap into your resources to minister, support, lift up, strengthen and encourage others in the body.  

Relationship with God

Your relationship to God must be established using the same guidelines as building a relationship with people.  Consider prayer time as deep, intimate conversations with God.  Think of reading the Bible as poring over important letters from God.  Make attendance at church like going to someone’s house for fellowship for an evening.  Give finances to God like you were investing in your son or daughter for an intense, personal need that they had no other way to meet.  On an even deeper level, think of the vows of a wedding ceremony as they apply to your relationship to God—faithfulness, care, exclusive ownership, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish—until death do us part.   A relationship with God built on this kind of foundation will be lasting and rewarding. 

The bottom line is that the care and maintenance of every relationship needs to be front and center in your life.  Obviously, there are limitations and no one is implying that you should be a doormat.  But neither should anyone withdraw to an unapproachable and aloof position and assume that wonderful, vibrant relationships are the sole obligation of everyone else except themselves.  If you want strong, meaningful relationships, go out and build them!  They are made, not born. 



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Reader Comments (1)

awesome, wish i had info years ago. I most assuredly would have intentionally went about building. its my guess that if you are bashful 2 take small step 2 get started. then an amazing thing will happen, u will do it without thinking, just like breathing. howard

January 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterhoward zimmerman

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