Business first or relationships first?

Written by on January 4, 2011

As the New Year begins I find myself returning to certain thoughts that have lingered with me over the past year. Jesus’ personal way with others has dominated much of my wonderings. His way of life always offers an alternative to our culture’s dominant ways of relating. Jesus lived out his mission by forming and developing a learning community of disciples. He had many other options available to him, but he chose to live out his purposes by being with his followers, life upon life. What does this mean for us today? Developing others in Jesus’ name…

…amidst our relentlessly impersonal culture, requires that we intentionally prioritize nurturing a culture of meaningful relationships over the many other tasks of our church community. Somewhere near the beginning of 2010 I began to ponder a quote from Thomas Ashbrook’s book Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth (Jossey-Bass, 2009). Ashbrook points out the need for a leadership that truly encourages and supports the spiritual maturity of its church community. I have been thinking about its implications for the community of which I am a part. Consider Ashbrook’s words:

There are two dimensions of our community life that must become intentional, as a minimum. First, we need to instill a “climate” of openness, vulnerability, and journey. It is inadvertently possible to imply that “real” Christians should have attained some level of knowledge, church practice, giving, and so on. However, if we are to become encouraged to embrace our spiritual growth, we need to understand that everyone is in process; we have times that feel like growth and times that feel like backsliding. Such a climate requires transparency from leadership; this imparts not only permission to admit we are still in process but real joy in change and growth. Second, if we are to provide an authentically transforming community, we need to be intentional about helping people establish meaningful relationships. We are not apt to share our deepest struggles with people we know casually, or seek help from mentors who seem to have it all together. The way we gather on Sunday mornings and conduct small groups, classes and committees can either put business first or relationships first. We need to be intentional about the latter.

Question for Reflection & Conversation: • What does a “relationships first” sort of approach mean for your church context and set of responsibilities?

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