Relationships

Bird at the Thinklings had a great post about the importance of relationships the other day. It really hit home for me for reasons I'll make clear in a post that's brewing.

More on that later, but I wanted to comment a bit on the importance of relationships. I think that relationships aren't just nice to have or even invaluable, they are one of the fundamentals that I've begun to write about. Not who we have but who we are to others.

Jesus' ministry was all about relationships, giving to others. The things we tend think church is about - Sunday services, a building - weren't even a part of Jesus' ministry. He came here to give to us, to mentor us, to disciple us and we ought to follow his example of selflessness and outward focus.

So to me, to put it bluntly, I think any life as a Christian that isn't relationship driven is a lie. That's part of the definition of Christianity. You can't say "I follow Jesus." but not be relationship driven because that is what Jesus was.

Jared in the comments at Thinklings laments on what Christians that live an isolated Christian life are missing. Yes, they are missing the benefits of such relationships to their own life as well as the joy of being able to make a difference in someone else's life. I think that they've actually missed the whole point and found something else, not Christianity.

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Doug: so that I can comment intelligently on this topic, can you define what you mean by
a "relationship driven" life, and conversely, by an "isolated Christian life"? And provide some sort of an example for each lifestyle? The phrases are a bit vague and when I've seen them used in the past--particularly "relationship driven," they have been used to promote a specific type of discipleship ministry. But I want to know what you mean by these phrases.

Why the security code? Are you getting spam comments?

I've had a couple of offers to enlarge parts of my anatomy or offer me pills to, ahem, make it perform better. The code proves your a person, not a comment spam-bot. Look up the 'scode' plug in at mt-plugins.org if you want it. With the extra security, I can stop requiring email ddresses, too, not that it helped much.

No time now, but I will come back later and elaborate on what I'm refering to here. You're right, I was too vague.

Ok, I've got some time now; I'll try to clarify my comments.

I am probably quite familiar with the type of 'discipleship ministry' you refer to. My church is part of what was the International Churches of Christ. What we were known for in some part was our discipling. Every person in the church was given a discipleship partner. After being a Christian for a while, you were probably given someone, or several, people to disciple as well. The goal was laudable – spiritual maturity and growth for everyone. No one would be without someone to help him or her grow. It was comforting knowing you had someone who was there to help you out and that you could go to him or her with anything at anytime and it was his or her role to be there for you. Some unfortunate teachings on authority and obedience accompanied this structure, however, and some abuses of it came along as well. In hindsight, this was probably inevitable and predictable. In this past year to year and a half, this 'discipling tree' as we called has been dismantled and is no more. Some congregations have maintained modified versions of it where folks pick their own disciplers, but my congregation has thrown the structure out.

So it is out of this background that I come to this post. I look back and see the amazing blessings that I have gotten from the different discipling relationships over the years. My marriage, my parenting, my confidence, my evangelism – nearly every aspect of my character has been influenced by these men, their words and their example. I cannot imagine living without them. I frankly haven't figured out how best to get them outside of the old structure. One of the downsides of such a clearly defined and implemented structure is that it does not teach people how to think for themselves and be discerning.

So what is this 'relationship driven' life style that I'm taking about? Well, it's not really quantifiable. You cannot count your good friends or those you've influenced and tell if you've got it. It's an attitude or a focus. It's the outward concern about others. Jesus' life was focused completely on others. The man had no house to live in! He paid attention to the people, listened to their needs and concerns and genuinely cared for them. He came down out of paradise to live in this dusty hole to be with us, experience what we experience and taste our humanity so he could be our savior. Not only the sacrificial lamb that we desperately needed, but also our friend.

As I tried to say in the original post, it's more about how you look at and treat others than about how many mentors you have. In other words, how much you give not how much you receive. I referred to Jared's comments at Thinklings. He mentioned how some 'Christians' prefer to live isolated. I assume that they may or may not go to church, perhaps have deeply held beliefs about God but they don't want to be around people. They see their faith as between themselves and God and no one else. On the surface, I believe that is true. However, the entire New Testament is about relationships, Jesus' final command (Matthew 28:18-20) was about teaching people, the second most important thing He said we could do was to love each other and He said we would be known to be His by our love. How can we have a 'private' Christianity and be known for our love? How can we be Christians and not practice the second most important command to love one another? How can we claim the name of Christ and not have people we go to (or at least long for and seek them) for council and advice? How can claim Christ and not be involved with others' lives? A life that is not focused on others, and by that focus, full of Godly relationships, seems to be contrary to what Jesus and Christianity is about.

Thanks for the trackback. Though your post clearly outshines mine. :-)

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this post. Life has been a little complicated lately ;)

BUT: about relationship-driven ministry. I used to date a girl who attended the Boston CoC, and I had some personal run-ins with their discipleship police when visiting her there, so I'm familiar with the abuses. But as I mentioned in my previous comment, I'm also familiar with the tremendously impacting relationships that can arise in such a structure. I think, when everything is weighed together, the rigid structures are probably better than nothing at all. Particularly for our highly segmented, isolationist society.

I for one am probably what Jared would consider an isolated Christian. I have no friends whatsoever--just my work colleagues, with whom I rarely have a significant conversation. Since I don't yet attend a church, I have no church friends with which to interact, but then again I don't really miss that because typical American church friendships aren't really significant.

Part of my isolationism has been intentional: I make choices that enable me to get home at a decent time each day, so I can participate in the lives of my family. This means not developing any deep relationships with other men for the past three years. But the tradeoff has been a good one, I think. At the end of it all, I would rather know my sons and wife well than some other person. I would rather influence their paths in life, including paths of faith, than influence others'.

So this is my question to you: do your relationships with your wife and daughter count for anything in this equation your guilt is working out in your mind? In my book, and I would like to think in God's, these are the most important relationships you can forge. And one of the most significant abuses of authoritative discipleship programs is their ability to always make you feel like you're not doing enough--preventing you from realizing that you may be doing exactly what God desires you to do.



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  • Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this post. Life has been a little complicated lately ;) BUT: about relationship-driven ministry. I used to date a girl who attended the Boston CoC, and I had some personal ru...

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  • Ok, I've got some time now; I'll try to clarify my comments. I am probably quite familiar with the type of 'discipleship ministry' you refer to. My church is part of what was the International Churches of Christ. What...

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