The value of relationship


I posted this on my personal blog a couple of weeks ago (and am posting it on CatE today). In reposting it here I realize I might be 'preaching to the choir' somewhat, since some of you are already exploring different ways of 'doing church' that are more relational than what I've been used to.

I value relationships, period. This is specifically about why I think Christians should value them

John Armstrong recently wrote about the value of relationship. In the entry before that he shares a choice which to me implicitly highlights the importance of relationship. He mentions taking time to write to one prisoner even though the question arose in his mind: "Why am I doing this when there are so many more important things to be done today that could reach hundreds more people?"

I think a follower of Jesus who chooses to spend time on/with one person is on safe ground because Jesus often did that, according to the gospels. I might be wrong but I think Jesus made that choice because when you do something one-on-one for/with a person you are entering into some sort of relationship with them. He evidently believed that adds value which can't be added any other way.

According to the Bible Paul wrote a number of letters to groups of people far away. Mass communication from an almost-stranger you have no personal contact with is not very relational. If Paul had been content with this I would conclude he didn’t value relationships very highly. However, he wasn’t at all content. He longed to visit the people he wrote to. When I read everything in Paul’s letters (not just the parts about how to be a good Christian) Paul comes across to me as very relational. Which surprised me at first, but maybe it shouldn’t have, because maybe that was one reason why Jesus chose him to be so influential in the early church.

The conservative evangelical Christian church bases their belief system around “a personal relationship with Jesus”. This would seem to imply that they understand the value of relationship. However, I don’t think they do because they so often embrace methods which are not relational. Huge churches and Christian radio and TV (and non-interactive use of the Internet) undermine the relational context in which all ‘church’ used to happen. I think there is a huge cost to that which the church has not fully understood.

The content of their message is “Nothing is as important as your relationship with Jesus” while the method implies “Relationship with other people is not important”. I find this mixed message profoundly disturbing. Biblically speaking, it is a mixed message because the Bible doesn’t support a separation between relationship with God and relationships with other people. According to the gospels Jesus said “love God” and “love your neighbor” are “like”. In 1 John, the author wrote that someone who hates his brother cannot love God. Throughout the Old Testament loving God is inextricably linked with being kind to people in need.

One particularly bad idea, I think, is the recent trend towards satellite church service which show part or all of the service from the original location on a big video screen. When I first heard about this it felt wrong to me and now I understand why. It’s so anti-relationship to prefer a person on a screen to someone you can actually talk to. I see why church attenders might prefer a more proficient speaker on a screen to a less proficient one in person. My guess is that these are the people who’d never talk to the speaker even if he or she were there in person. What mystifies me is why church leaderships cater to this, in effect implying ‘relationship with the speaker has no value, so he (or she) may as well just be a face on a screen’. What happened to the Biblical concept of people sharing their lives with one another?

As I think about why I left church, the lack of relational value it had for me was a primary reason. There were little to no relational opportunities afforded me by a worship service. Except the possibility of improving my relationship with God/Jesus. But a few years ago I decided the only doable way for me to pursue that relationship is indirectly (through the way I live my life and my relationships with other people). Attending a service offered so few indirect opportunities that that decision meant it wasn’t worth my while going anymore.

I would like to see the church return to methods which are more inherently relational, thereby restoring the emphasis on relationship which I find in the Bible from beginning to end.