Relationships. In the church world, we like to focus a whole lot on relationships. We have things like relational evangelism. We have connect groups and link teams where we try to connect people with similar interest, or of the same age and have them do things to grow their relationships together to make a stronger, closer-nit body of Christ within our church.
There’s even study by one ministry organization, and probably more than them, that says that young people are more likely to stay in the church after graduation dependent on having more adult relationships within the church. Who knows, there could be more studies showing these things.
I think because of studies like this, and a few more reasons, we like to focus a lot on relationships between people in the church. We like it when more people know more people within the walls of our church. We like it when there’s more people in our church commenting and engaging on our social media posts. And nothing is wrong with that, as long as it has its right place and priority.
The problem (and many problems) come when our focus gets misplaced, and priorities get rearranged from where they should be.
For the Christian, and in the church, there’s two types of relationships. There’s horizontal and vertical relationships. You have the horizontal that goes from person to person, and the vertical that goes from person to God. It makes a nice display of a cross. And when you look at it that way, you see one is much bigger (much longer), and that one is more important. If you think about the importance of the cross to the Christian and the church – it’s the focal point of everything. Without the vertical beam, there can be no horizontal. It’s just a board laying on the ground. But with that vertical piece of wood, you can then connect the horizontal piece. And the same is true when dealing with our relationships.
When you change the importance of those two, it looks weird. When you remove the vertical relationships, the horizontal relationships are built solely on natural things. When the horizontal gets bigger and longer – and more focus is put on it than the vertical, it just looks weird. Not only does it look weird, it changes the balance of everything, and it just doesn’t work.
For many years now, the church has put a big focus on growing relationships between the members of their church. In a way, it has turned the church into another social gathering. Many churches are not much more than the Red Hat Society, the Lion’s Club, Kawana‘s, or anything else like that. It’s the Rotary club with some God mixed in. And it doesn’t work.
Don’t misunderstand me, the social aspect of church, and the body of Christ is needed, as long as it has its proper place and priority. Which many churches do not have.
Many of us have this belief that the more relationships that people have inside the church, the more they’ll be connected to the church, the stronger they will be, the more they’ll attend church and be “lifers.” That’s specifically what one study from a ministry organization said. The more relationships with adults that kids have, the more that they’re going to stay in church.
There may be some truth in that, but by itself – that is not true. Relationships with people are good. They help. When there is a time of need, it’s great to have someone that you can call and pray with, that you can get advice from, to make food for you when you can’t. It’s nice to have someone to hang out with and do something that you like. Jesus did send the disciples out two by two.
But it’s not the most important thing.
When we focus on this aspect and remove other things out of their proper place of priority – things happen. Not good things.
We have this belief that these relationships connect people to the church. They don’t. These relationships connect people to your church. As long as they are going to your church, all is good. But the moment that they leave your church, the majority of these relationships fall apart.
Over the course of my life, I have been a member of five different churches, including my current church. And I can say without exception, every relationship that I have had with people within those churches has fallen apart to some degree when I stopped attending that church. One church I could credit with the distance between the church (Tennessee to Oklahoma). The same has happened when others have left the church and I stayed.
When you create these relationships within your church, they are exactly that – relationships within that specific church. In many instances, these relationships do not carry over to a different church. People get offended, get upset, lose touch, or something else happens where the relationship does not survive because, for the most part, it was based on being a member of that church – not being a Christian.
Now there are definitely relationships that can and do extend past the church walls when people leave, but it’s more common for them to dissolve after time.
And although these relationships are important and have their place, they are not the most important.
We have to understand the most important relationship that we can cultivate is not between the members of our church, or the body of Christ, but between an individual person and God Himself. When times get tough, and things get hard, you can call upon someone else in the church to pray with you. However, those individuals do not have the power, ability, or strength to enable you to go through or accomplish whatever it is that is happening in your life. That ability only comes from God. You can’t always call upon someone to help you, but you can always call on God.
If you look at Aaron right after the children of Israel left Egypt, it was not his relationship with Moses that kept him strong in the Lord. He wasn’t strong in the Lord. When the pressure from his peers – those who were church members – came upon him, he could not rely on his relationship with Moses. His relationship with Moses did nothing to help him fight off the temptation to turn his back on God. His relationship with Moses actually did nothing for him when the pressures of life, and the pressures of others around him came to him. The reason that he gave into these pressures was because of his lack of relationship with God. He was not dedicated nor consecrated to God.
When Peter stood outside of the High Priest’s house when Jesus was on trial, and people accused him of knowing Jesus, he didn’t stand up and say, “of course I know Jesus.”
He didn’t stand there and acknowledge his relationship with Jesus based on the disciples being around him or not being around him. He couldn’t call them for help and prayer. He denied Jesus because of his lack of dedication and consecration to God. In fact, if the rest of the disciples were there, it’s still probable that Peter would have denied Him. After all, they all ran when Jesus was arrested. None of those relationships helped.
We like to think that it wouldn’t have happened. We like to think he would have stood strong and declared his allegiance to Jesus in front of everyone. We see these great moments in movies where they all stand up one by one and think that might have happened. We think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bowing down and being thrown in the fiery furnace. But the disciples weren’t those three. Mark 14:50 says, “Then they all forsook Him and fled.” If Peter ran when confronted while standing with the other disciples, then there’s no way just a few minutes later he was going to boldly stand against the confrontation. And Jesus tells us why in Luke 22.
He ran (as well did the others) due to his lack of intimate, deep relationship with God. Yes, He had a close relationship with the disciples. He had a relationship with Jesus. He had a close relationship with Jesus, but it wasn’t close enough, deep enough – for him to stand before certain death. It would be later in his life, but not at this moment. Deep, connecting relationships don’t happen just because you spend time with people. Look at how much time we spend with the people in our church, yet we don’t know half of them. Having a successful marriage doesn’t happen just because you sit on the couch and watch the same TV show. Just because Peter traveled with Jesus for three years, that didn’t mean he had the ability to stand against the pressures of the devil.
That ability and power comes through prayer, which is exactly why Jesus was trying to get the disciples to pray with Him in the garden.
Jesus was not able to endure the cross and the scourging because of His relationship with his disciples – his fellow church members. He was able to endure it because of His relationship with the Father and because of the anointing that He got in prayer. He got it in the garden. That’s where He got the power and the ability – in that relationship and in that time.
The most important relationship that we can focus on in the church is not among church members, but between individuals and God. It’s okay to have social gatherings, as long as they are secondary to our relationship with God.
A good thermostat for this is to see how many people are attending your social gatherings compared to how many people are attending your prayer meetings. Are they more interested in a social club or being more acquainted to the Father? Do you have more times of getting together to take photos, ride bikes, eat food, talk about sports, or do a Bible study and talk about God?
We may think that the more relationships that people have in the church will keep them connected to the church, but that’s not true. Eventually people are going to have to step out of the church and deal with the problems of the world. And if they are not established and have a strong faith and relationship with God, those relationships with others aren’t going to help too much. I’ve seen people who had plenty of relationships in church drop out and deny God because times got hard and their relationship with God was nowhere near where it should have been. But they did have plenty of friends in the church. The parable of the sower backs this up.
If a person’s relationship with God is only found on Sundays and Wednesdays, and there is no fruit of that relationship in their life, it’s not much of a relationship. When they get pressed by the enemy, they’re going to be like Peter and walk away from the truth.
It’s amazing how many church leaders want to put so much focus on relationships with other people. Then you find out one of the reasons for this is to keep people connected to their faith and to the church. But if you look at this idea from what Jesus taught – they don’t agree. They’re two completely different ideas. Some church leaders say to focus on the relationships with other people. Jesus told us to focus on our relationship with God.
Relationships with people are important. Don’t misunderstand me. They can lead to times of being able to speak the truth into lives, helping people grow, etc. They can be a source of strength in good times and bad. But they have their proper place, just like everything else. Don’t get those relationships out of their proper place, or things just won’t work. Keep a person’s (your a person by the way) relationship with God first, and all those relationships with people will work out a whole lot better.