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Friday, November 17, 2006

Relationalism

I hate buzzwords. One that is widely used in ministry is "relational." What does that mean? I've heard people that do surveys and questionnaires describe their ministries as "relational." Does a brief encounter on the street count as a relationship? Why does everyone feel the need to talk about relationships, even if they don't (or can't) build and maintain any?

Our team has a relational approach to ministry. We really think that God can use authentic relationships to build the kingdom here in Western Europe. We focus on our relationships with God, one another, and with nationals. Through these friendships, we can show the good news that we consistently share with the people that God brings to us. For us, relationships are the context for discipleship.

Our relational approach isn't some attempt at relevance, or us trying to makes Jesus cool. For us, real relationships are what's been lacking in our own spiritual journeys. We're tired of shallow ("How are you? Fine, thanks. You?") interactions that gloss over our struggles and only end up making us feel more isolated. We're relational because it's what we need. We know the power of the Gospel through our relationships with God. We know the Truth of scripture through our relationship to it. We know love through truly loving relationships.

Of course, some object to the idea of "relational ministry." It's too limiting, some say. Others contest that efforts toward building relationships with non-seekers would be better spent on those people who are "closer" to salvation. The problem with only building relationships with people who we see moving closer to faith is that the relationship is then conditional and motivated by results. It's like the car salesman who's your best friend until he realizes you aren't really going to buy a car today.

Another reason people are skeptical about relational church planting is that we don't have any great models of the transition from "friendships" to "churches." So you've got a group (or a couple of groups) of friends. How do you lead those people to faith, and how can they then learn to be a body of believers?

I'll let you know how it works out for us.

By the way, our team's favorite passage of scripture that talks about relationships is Romans, chapter 12. On the subject of love, Paul writes: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." v.15

4 comments:

cafeaddict said...

stepchild, since you no longer have any dissenters on your blog, i am going to play the devil's advocate althougth i TOTALLY agree with you...

relational evangelism will never accomplish the task. it is too slow. god didn't call us to make friends, he called us to make disciples. do you honestly think that every person jesus encountered was his best friend? he taught people sometimes for a day, sometimes for a minute and then moved on. he sensed those who were spiritually receptive and targeted them. he didn't waste time with the rich young ruler. he gave him a choice and when the money loving guy chose his riches, jesus chose another subject.

all you postmodern people say that everything is about relationships. you site jesus as your example, yet when i examine the evangelism techniques of jesus, they reflect the "street evangelism" approach more than your "i just don't want to take a chance and offend someone" approach.

i get tired of hearing you guys say that it isn't right to get into relationship with someone just to share the gospel with them, as if doing that were underhanded. well, i will have you know, that the most loving thing we can do is share the gospel with people. so the more people i meet with the objective of sharing the gospel, the more loving i am. how can it be a bad thing that i want as many people as possible to be in heaven with me?

we have so little time and our task is so enormous. we need to be telling people about jesus not going to the movies with them. relational evangelism in my opinion is a cope out. we don't want to do the hard stuff so we justify our disobedience with the fluffy relational excuse.

what say you stepchild?

Paul Burleson said...

Stepchild,

I couldn't agree more. While we all recognize that there are levels in relationships, casual, intimate, to name a couple, the building of relationships is not to get something from them [though we do] but to be something to them. Just being someone real is a start. Jesus WAS that to everyone at every level although He was more intimate with Peter than He was the Rich Young Ruler.

Making disciples is more the long term kind than the sharing the gospel kind. I like your emphasis on the former without putting down the latter at all. At least it seems to me that's what you're doing.

Also, your prayed for with regularity. God's Grace to you.

Paul B.

Publius said...

Stepchild, I echo your frustration. Buzzwords are annoying because they quickly take on connotations we never intended. The first comment above illustrates this well, tongue-in-cheek as it was. 'Relational' has about as much precision of meaning as 'missional,' 'emerging' or 'relevant.'

But then, we don't know what other word to use, which is why you had to use 'relational' in the rest of your post.

I think maybe being relational isn't so much what we say, it's how we say it. Relational evangelism can, indeed should be challenging, even confrontational at times. But we do it in relationship, meaning that we speak as to a friend, someone we still plan on seeing and speaking to next week. Shouting "You're all going to hell!" from a street corner is easy if you know you'll never see those people again. It's harder when it's your neighbor across the hall, or the guy you play soccer with. Being in relationship means we speak in a way that allows for, even preserves our relationship. It does not mean that we avoid doing anything that might give offense.

Watchman said...

I'm just glad to be at a place in life where I don't have to worry about my "approach" anymore. I can let the CoffeeAdicts of the world be who he/she is and let him/her share the Summary of the Story with as many people as possible. I wish I were more like people like that, but in my 19 years of ministry I never found that to work to the desired effect. I can get on a plane now without guilt finally.