5 Practices of Relational Leaders

In a few days it will be a year since we entered the COVID pandemic mode of living. During that period of time, you have made significant shifts in just about every area of your life.  Whether it be working from home, home schooling your children, not gathering in public spaces, or leading through Zoom, YouTube, or other forms of social media, you have given yourself to be the leader God created you to be. 

It has not been easy. 

You have taken risks, been vulnerable, and courageous as you have faced each day and situation. I am grateful for your faithfulness.

Understanding Our Relationships

One of the shifts, which will turn out to be a good shift, is our understanding of relationships. Before the pandemic, we spent a lot of time and energy on being right or having the right beliefs, or living the right kind of lives. These aspects are important, but one good effect emerging from the pandemic is relationships are more important than being right. 

I know that sounds simple and naïve, but what have you missed the most over the past year? I might be projecting here but being in the presence of other human beings has risen to the top of the list for me. The pandemic has shown us, again, that Jesus did not come to teach us “right” theology but came to redeem our relationships with God and one another. He saved the world by teaching twelve partners how to be in a relationship with each other, how to get along together and to belong to one another. 

Surveys show that relationships are rated as the greatest source of happiness. In a study conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres, adults when asked to rate five aspects of their lives (relationships, health, personal fulfillment, financial status, and leisure activity), relationship to others and oneself was ranked as the number one ingredient in a quality life. 

Are you surprised?

Relationships in a Pandemic & Post-Pandemic Culture

Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love and love is impossible outside of relationships. I know some of you will disagree, which is okay, but even the Holy Spirit was not a gift to individuals.  The Holy Spirit is a gift to the body of Christ. Let’s face it, whether you like it or not, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another. And when that dynamic is missing from our lives, we are not who God created us to be.

Think of it in relation to the church. When the church gathers, a relationship with God, in and through Jesus, is possible that is present in no other arena of life.  In other words, you can’t have a relationship with God outside of a relationship with people. But it’s not “Where the church is, there is Jesus.”  It is just the opposite, “Where Jesus is, there is the church.” If God is present and in touch with us when we are in community, whether on Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, or the sanctuary, what does that look like?  Maybe another way of asking the question is, “What do dynamic, growing relationships look like in a post-pandemic culture?”

Will You Be Right or Be in Relationship?

Leonard Sweet tells the story of Tom Wiles. While Tom was chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, he purchased a new pickup truck.  While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door.  The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck exterior. A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?” 

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.” 

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.  After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor.  Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship.  Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.” 

The Scripture on Relationships

Let’s look at the scriptures.  From the perspective of Matthew, the first followers of Jesus were to teach others to obey everything Jesus had taught them (Matthew 28:20) with the assurance that Jesus would be with them. The question is “What had they been taught?”  

From Matthew’s perspective, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God or how to live a holy or righteous life.  For Matthew, at the heart of holy or righteous living was relationship. The words “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” is what Matthew wants us to know about living in relationship with all the people around us. Being in relationship with God and with one another is what it means to be a Jesus follower.  Being in relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care is the foundation of effective leadership.

5 Practices of Relational Leaders

Let’s think of it this way. 

Effective leadership is rooted in:  

1. Healthy relationships

Whether with family, friends, strangers, or enemies, you have been taught to be proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because loving others is who we are as Jesus followers.

2. Self-respect

Having respect for yourself means loving your neighbor as you have been loved. It means being a person of your word.  It means that you are integrated into your living, that what you are living on the outside in your relationships grows from the convictions of your inner life.

3. Seeking first the kingdom of God

Keeping God’s design of loving your neighbor in all that you do. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, being self-aware and keeping all aspects of life in a healthy perspective, even your relationships.

4. Caring for others in such a way that you are caring for Jesus himself

You are growing to the point that caring for others becomes so natural that you don’t even know that you are caring for Jesus.  You lead with care, not to become good, but because you are good.

5. Being proactive in forgiveness

Relationships are so important; your leadership is about investing your life in the people around you to the point that broken relationships are restored and become productive.

Develop Relationships

The instruction is “to obey” the things you have been taught. In other words, it is easy to talk about effective leadership, but it is not easy to develop the relationships needed to be an effective and courageous leader. There are times that you are vulnerable and times you “bite your tongue.” There are times you speak out and there are times you stop and listen. There are times you step out in faith with those you are leading and there are times you step out in faith alone trusting the One who created and called you to leadership. In the end, you become who God created you to be as you practice your faith. 

Last week, you were asked to consider developing healthy, unique relationships with people entrusted to your care as well as the people God sends to you. You were asked to answer one of several questions regarding who was responsible for you becoming a Christian. You were asked to write out your answer and send it to me. 

Your Next Step

Here is what I want you to do this week: Think of one person with whom you have had difficulty loving, forgiving, or sustaining a healthy relationship. 

  • Give God thanks for that person in your life.
  • Confess your need for a relationship with God and for a healthy relationship with that person.
  • Place that person, and the situations and circumstances in which you interact with that person into God’s hands.
  •  Ask God to heal your woundedness and to use you as an instrument of peace and love. 

There is no need to send me your situation or your prayers, but I would like to know that you have actively begun to restore broken relationships that stand in the way of you being the leader God needs at the point in time. 

Praying Together

O God, thank you for the opportunity to live and work at this time in history. I confess that I do not know what to do. But I do know I need you and I need the people you have given me to love and to serve. I place my relationships, the church, and the people around me into your hands. I pray that you will use me as an instrument of your peace and love. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Next week we start our conversations on self-awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together. 

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