Saturday, March 22, 2008

Relationships

At the risk of stating the obvious, God uses relationships to build people. This is clear from Jesus' ministry (time spent w/ his disciples), Acts 2:42-47 (the word "together" is used repeatedly to describe their fellowship), and all of scripture. God didn't need to make it so. How could have made us to be lone rangers, but he didn't. Ecclesiastes 4:12 explains "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

I recall Chuck Swindoll sharing a story about a Marine Corps buddy of his who found more sincere relationships in a bar than in the church (http://tatumweb.com/blog/2007/07/22/church-bar/#comment-67001), and frankly I can relate. When I came to faith in college through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I belonged to strong fellowship and it made all the difference. In the 12 years since then, the depth of my relationships have been on a steady decline, for a number of reasons (most of which are my fault).

I'm convinced that church structures must foster healthy relationships, between believers, and reaching out to non-believers. These relationships must be God-honoring and real. Why is it so important that church structures support relationships? For some people, relationships come natural - they don't need structure. For others, either relationships do not come natural or they're just choked out by business. We must strive to ensure that nobody "falls through the cracks", neither visitors, nor regular attenders. BTW, I believe that small groups for all are great way to do this.

As Mother Teresa said "The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved." God forbid people feel the way Rich Mullins did in his song Elijah "There's people been friendly, but they'd never be your friends. Sometimes this has bent me to the ground."

A desire to serve the living God is the reason that I must be a part of a church. But the times that I've experienced sincere love (and there have many) are what makes me want to belong to a church.

7 comments:

Terry said...

agreed that relationships are what being the church is all about. Question is how do we make those and how do we make them stick with the different stages in life we are all in? There's got to be a way to do it.

I have a huge extended family - 41 1st cousins. Because my dad was in the air force we only saw them once a year for about two weeks. Only a handful of them are ones that I ever spent anytime with. Most of them are simply strangers that share dna. Church becomes (and should be) family.
Again backgrounds play into this. As career air force the present is all I ever concentrated on as far as friendships -- when we left a base and the church we served in those close friends become Christmas card friends and we catch up with our annual christmas cards. But because we are believers when we ever meet again we immediately return to that bond we had years before.

So how do we begin to kindle the relationships we need to here in the present? How do you de-conflict schedules between family; ministry; work; etc?

I guess in our wired society we are essentially relating with each other here in a blog. Or by being deliberate in the venues we see each other at whether a church service or sporing event or wherever.

Greg said...

I think we need to intentional in building relationships w/ a small group of people, as Jesus was. The broader aquaintances that we have w/in the church are important, but having a few people that you can go deep w/ is vital.

As I think back, I had a small group of guys I spent lots of time w/ on campus, and we had a small group of young married couples that we spent time w/ when we first came to CBC. But the key, as Terry said, is building those relationships at different stages of life.

This is particularly hard at a church where so many people are constantly coming and going. We need to acknowledge that the big players in our life will at some point leave, as be deliberate about bringing others into our lives to meet those needs.

I think the church can foster this by trying to ensure that deliberate small groups are available for everyone, no matter what their schedules/committments. We need something more than casual social gatherings.

The format need not be the same for all small groups. Maybe the ABF meets the needs for some, while in-home small groups meet the needs for others, and groups like Mommy and Me or CHAT serve others. But we should strive to ensure that there's a place for everyone who wants to go deeper, and encourage all to participate.

Greg said...

P.S., I was thinking of other small groups we already have - the groups of elders, and the group of deacons. The point is that there are probably alot more formal and informal small groups already out there than I can think of right now.

Chad said...

I've also come from a military family, and have had the same experience as Terry. I can almost always pick right up with my Christian friends, but with my non-Christian friends it is harder to pick up where we left off after not seeing each other in so long.

I definitely think that relationships are key in the church, and that small groups play a large role in those. However, the success of a certain small group is hard to gauge against the success of another small group.
Here are some scenarios:

- One small group seems to be very successful, and different families have close bonds. However, those families had good friendships before the small group was created and it helped with the success of this group.

- Another small group is successful because all of the families have similarly aged kids who go to the same school. But one family, even though they have kids of the same age, feels left out because the kids go to a different school.

- One family has a hard time connecting to groups, and has switched around to different small groups a couple of times. This family doesn't fit into any kind of demographic that is similar to any other small group, and has cultural differences that makes it hard for them to connect. In this scenario, all of the other families in the groups have tight bonds, and don't think that anything is particularly wrong with their group, and take it for granted that the reason the one family doesn't fit in is because they are not very relational.

As you can see, no matter how sophisticated we make our small group grouping system, there will always be flaws. No matter how much planning we put into it, things might not be perfect, and will most likely not be. Even Moses who was as close to God as many of us would long to be, led his people, but they turned away as soon as he went up Sinai for 40 days. Things won't work unless the body is fervent after God, and everyone is intentional about their relationships and how they love others in a Godly manner. Prayer is key, not just by the elders, but by everyone in the small groups. Small group leaders need to know the importance of prayer and being intentional about loving others, but so do the group members.

I'm not sure if creating small groups based on a demographic is more beneficial or not. Maybe you guys have some ideas. It could foster close relationship, but it could also encourage isolation from the larger body.

Rich Tatum said...

Thanks for the link love and for carrying the thought further!

Regards,

Rich
BlogRodent

Terry said...

springboarding off of Greg's and Chad's comments I think we all agree we need smaller groups to pour into each other's lives to find fulfillment - which is why God created us in the first place to have a close relationship with him and with each other. God told us that we needed human companionship as well as a relationship with him -- ie the creation of Eve so that man was not alone. Remember man already had God. When Jesus came he had more than his twelve disciples -- remember he sent out 70 to preach and heal. He didn't have the same kind of human relationship with all those -- he had the twelve and then an even more personally intimate relationship with just 3 of those guys.

So the groups will be different based on the attraction that brings the group together. We need to find a way to facilitate the different groups and the "why" of the group. We need to be intentional about encouraging those groups but understand we can only have a small number of those intense personal relationships.

Even a church the size of Immanuel has limited participation in small groups -- check their web site on the number of groups offered and compare that to the size of the congregation -- over 4000 I think.

So not everyone will plug in; instead we need to provide the means for the groups to be created and encouraged.

Greg said...

I agree w/ Chad and Terry that small groups are not a panacea. Many will not participate, and not all small groups are equally effective.
But if our goal is unity (as Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-26) and building each other up, then small groups are key. Anonymity is a dangerous thing for a believer - our enemy loves to devour sheep that are standing alone.
Anything the church can do to foster small groups is time and energy well spent!