Real Relationship

By Jim Putman

Teamwork is so important for God’s team, the church, but relationship is what makes the journey worth taking. We were designed for relationship with God and with others on the team. As we worked with other churches, we discovered the lack of relationship between staff members/leaders on God’s team was causing the team to fall short of the God-given goals they were trying to attain, but it was also leaving these men and women empty and powerless—lonely.

We found many reasons why relationship had either never started or abruptly ended along the way. For some they were too busy. Many of the pastors actually believed that relationship with God was all they needed. Somehow they had lost the idea that relationship with God and man sums up the entire Bible. God made it clear in the garden that relationship with him was not enough. He said it is not good for man to be alone, even though man wasn’t really alone—he had God. God designed us to need people. Yes, sin separated us from God, but it also caused separation between man and man.

Jesus came to reinstate relationship with himself and then gave us the ability to be in relationship with others. First John 1:7 tells us if we walk in the light then we will have fellowship with others. The fruit of the Spirit is about acquiring the ability to love and be loved by others. Jesus clearly showed that all of the law and prophets are summed up in relationship. Relationship is what Christianity is all about. Without it we fail in our mission as a church and we are left empty as individuals.

Relationship—The Key to Success

Let me say it another way. No matter what we do right as people, the church will not work as it should if God does not empower and guide us to success. Jesus gives us some important qualifiers to his participation on the team. We must walk humbly with our God, doing his will for his glory, and we must love his other children and work with them as a team. This is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 3 and Acts 2:47. Both passages make it clear God is who makes the church grow. Other passages also give us insight concerning success.

Matthew 12:25 says a “house divided against itself cannot stand” (New American Standard Bible). Jesus also tells us that when you know your brother has something against you, you must go and make it right, and then come back and give your sacrifice before he will accept it (Matthew 5:23, 24). When there is strife between brothers, God won’t accept a sacrifice, let alone bless the church. How can we expect to win or go anywhere if God isn’t blessing us?

What Is at Stake?

Many things are at stake in the battle to be in relationship. First, we live in a world that knows it is in need of love. We were created with a need to be in relationship with God and with other people. God’s plan is to draw the world to himself through the greatest love act the world has ever seen. His team has the job of delivering the same message through acts of love to a world badly in need of them. As pastors we have often preached the message with our mouths, but not with our hearts and actions.

As disciples, our job is not only to transfer information about the definition of love, but also to model love in our actions. People need living models of what love looks like. The world uses the same word (love) but defines it differently and gives us broken models. We must show the world the kind of love that works.

Our staff and leadership positions come with a responsibility to model relationship so our emerging disciples can see it. They will produce what they see. Creating a culture takes more than just coming up with a new, pithy language upon which we all can agree. It is not just coming up with a strategy that seems biblical. To create a culture, we must be living models of what it looks like to love. Staying in relationships is hard work; it is a spiritual battle we face. We are fighting to connect people to God, and we are in a war to keep our team together.

If Christian leaders—who are supposedly committed to Jesus and to his ways and empowered by the Holy Spirit—cannot stay in relationships, what hope do our new believers have? What reason would the world have for wanting to come with us anywhere? If all we offer are broken relationships, seasoned with a little guilt, why would they want what we have?

God’s Leaders Need Encouragement

Encouragement is another reason relationships are necessary for God’s leaders. We are in a spiritual fight.

Last year was perhaps the hardest of my ministry career. I hit a wall. The church had grown again, and we were getting ready to do another building campaign. I had preached five times a weekend for 50 of the 52 weeks. (Yes, I know it was stupid.) Then one of our elders, a very close friend, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were also in the spotlight in our area and under attack from the enemy who was using some very unkind people disguised as Christians. My oldest son was struggling, as was my wife, and I did not know what to do.

I had worked too hard for too many hours, and I was burnt out. I started to question my calling. I started to struggle with my faith. I became a negative person, and it was affecting my whole life. Even hunting—something I normally loved to do—sounded tiring.

If it had not been for some close relationships in my life, I would not have made it through those very dark months. Not only was my wife a rock and my parents supportive, the ministry staff and elders stepped up as real friends to help me get through. They noticed the changes and began to talk with me about how I was feeling. They prayed for me. Instead of judging me, they stepped in to help me with my children.

They didn’t expect me to be perfect. They let me vent my frustration with God. They also told me the truth, though it wasn’t always easy to hear. I had real friends who walked with me through the “valley of the shadow of death.” I’m not sure where I’d be had it not been for those relationships.

In the first churches where I served, I had been alone for the most part. Oh, I had a few friends, but these churches did not provide relational environments. Most people did their own thing, never sharing difficulties, doubts, or fears. I remember wishing I could have friends like the apostle Paul, as he went about on his travels.

Oh, to be on a team with people in ministry the same way I have been on a team in sports—a team where people understand each other and look past each other’s faults. People I could trust with my life and my wife. Now I finally have that in the church. Man, it feels good!

Alone and Afraid

One of the things that bothers me when dealing with other churches is I often see in them the same thing I saw in the churches where I worked before I came to Real Life. I see staff who are alone, trying their best, but not trusting those they work with enough to open up; senior pastors who think they must be perfect, the answer man, always joyful, and always filled with faith; and people in the church who expect the pastor to be more than human. Pastors are often expected to be people who have already arrived instead of fellow travelers. Many times the congregation does not feel that way, but somehow the pastor believes they do.

These fears cause people to live in the dark. Satan loves the dark because he can play with our minds there. How many pastors have been caught with secret addictions because they never sought help for fear people would find out? How many join pastors’ prayer groups and ministerial associations because they believe that only another senior pastor can understand them? I love working with other pastors and churches, and we ought to work and pray together, but we should also have people on our teams with whom we are honest. We should have friendships—real friendships.

God expects his coaches to create a culture of teamwork and relationship. We must create a culture in our church where it is OK not to be OK. How sad to be in a church where we put on our happy faces and tell everyone we are fine when we aren’t. We live in a world that does not know how to have real relationships; we need to show the world it’s OK to struggle, ask for prayer, and be sad.

Working For What We Need

Relationships are hard work. Whether in a marriage, a parent-child relationship, a work environment, or in church, it is hard work. In some ways it might be easier to be alone. Many have taken that path. I believe God is fighting a spiritual war over relationship, and if he is, then the Christian soldier must fight as well.

Leaders, we must lead our people to what they need, not what the culture dictates they have. Oh yes, people are busy—too busy. We schedule around our business instead of confronting it. We must lead our people to what they need, not to what they want.

One hundred committed, balanced disciples will do more damage to the devil than 10,000 stressed-out, alone, tired, empty churchgoers. The world needs the gospel and that includes relationship. People need it like they need water. Let’s do what it takes to lead them to it.

Jim Putman is founding senior pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho.

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