Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, 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.”¹
In Relationship or In the Right?
Wow! How many times have we sacrificed being “in relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won the argument, but lost a friend or damaged a heart?
Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 revolves around the stewardship of his relationships. He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another. In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them how to be in a relationship with one another.
This should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian. Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love. Love is impossible outside of relationships. Relationships are central to God’s kingdom, the new creation. From my perspective, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another.
In our work of developing leaders, we have learned that improving relationships and sharing the stories of those relationships are indicators of courageous leadership. We are learning:
- Nothing takes the place of being a Jesus follower. Being in a relationship with God and with one another, in and through Jesus, is central to our witness and to our leadership. Relationships are key to Jesus followers and are taken seriously by courageous leaders.
- The Word of God, the scripture, bears fruit, not when it is comprehended, but then it is lived. The fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) found in Galatians 5:22-23 is proven in and through relationships. Knowing about Jesus; his life, teaching, and message, is part of being a student of Jesus. But following Jesus, becoming like him, growing in grace and sharing that grace, requires not only thought but a transformation of heart, soul, mind and strength. No one has ever become more like Jesus by saying, “If I just think hard enough about Jesus, I’ll become more like Jesus.” When relationships are healthy, our lives, our work environment, and our congregations become healthier.
- Developing healthy relationships is hard work. Because it is hard work, it is hard to identify quantifiable behaviors (relational ministry), so we end up focusing on what we can count (membership, attendance, finances, etc.). When relationships are healthy, there are stories to back up the relationships. Relationships, not numbers, show if growth is biblical, healthy, and truly fruitful.
Evidence of Spiritual Fruit
So, maybe it is time to declare a moratorium on statistics in the church. What if the one thing we reported on was the answer to this question: “What is the evidence that spiritual fruit being produced in my church? Give us the stories, not more statistics.
When we are focused more on being right than upon relationships, our disciple-making conversations are reduced to what we do not have in the church. It is at that point we begin to protect what we have and yearn for the “good ole days” when we had children, youth, young families, people involved in church activities, and money for ministry.
It’s Not a Scarcity Problem
It is difficult when the focus is on shrinking resources and lack of people who want to engage in the mission. But the disciple-making challenge is not a scarcity problem. More money and more people will not fix it. If we go back to the “good ole days” and project forward, we don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a disciple-making problem.
The disciple-making challenge is not focused upon getting more people into the church building, although we all would welcome more people. The disciple-making challenge is focused on leading and assisting people in becoming Jesus followers. And that begins with relationships.
It’s a Relationship Problem
We don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a relationship problem. We are convinced that when God’s love is lived out in our relationships: reaching out and receiving new people in God’s love, offering God’s love in Jesus, practicing God’s love in relationships, and engaging our communities in God’s love, our greatest focus will not be upon “do we have enough money or people,” but will be upon “are we breaking God’s heart?”
There is no quick fix program for our disciple-making challenge. We can’t expect to fix it overnight. But we can start today. Ready to get started?
We invite you to begin the experiment introduced at the end of LeaderCast Episode 050 and Episode 051 of LeaderCast. No time to listen? Download the Sqaure Sqaud experiment here. Whatever you do, take a step toward building new relationships with people in your community.
Tim Bias and Sara Thomas
- Story adapted from Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, by Leonard Sweet. Chapter 7, Loving the ‘One Anothers’: When Being Right Is Just Plain Wrong, page 91.