Relationships and ministry purpose; how do they work together? The Bible clearly establishes the priority of relationships in our lives. It also reveals the importance of sharing a common purpose. Without purpose, relationships get bogged down in selfishness. Conversely, when purpose is the only focus of our being together, the agenda rules without regard for people.
I have had several people with whom I had very little relationship ask me to become involved with some visionary plan that they had been working on. On one of these occasions I asked to get to know the person first. Her response was incredulous. “I don’t understand what that is about, but whatever makes you happy.” I tried to explain the priority of relationship over agenda, but she could not hear what I was saying. So I decided to simply honor her by listening to her vision.
After a while, as I was making a few suggestions and comments, she relaxed and eventually came to the issue of trust. She said that she did not know whom to trust with her vision. I saw my opportunity, and said to her, “Now maybe you can see why I insist that relationship must take priority over purpose because it is foundational to purpose. What hope do you have for the vision coming to reality without trustworthy people who share your values? If you do not really know with whom you are working, how can you trust them to walk it out with you in integrity?”
I am actually shocked by how few people recognize the foundational work of relationship. A lasting relationship facilitates bearing witness to the character of a person. It is vital to establish relationship before beginning on a project together.
The word of God exhorts us to know those who labor among us. There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is the priority of relationships in the Bible. The whole purpose of the Gospel is the restoration of people who have been wounded and have wounded others through sin. Sin is always relational. Righteousness essentially means healthy relationships. God makes relationship the priority. The greatest commandments are about loving God and loving people. Therefore it stands to reason that any purpose originated in God will have in its agenda the healing of, or at least the proper operation of, righteous relationships.
I am not unaware of the power of a common vision. I know that it can bring strong unity. But I do not believe that unity based on vision alone is sufficient. Ultimately, for Kingdom purposes, we must be more deeply tied together.
Frankly, in some instances, vision can be a hindrance to unity. Some people are so filled with their vision that people are not seen as unique and special, but simply another body to help them accomplish their agenda. When the vision becomes the driving force, abuse is inevitable.
Relationship must become the priority in any enterprise because it establishes the inherent worth of each individual apart form the context of the common goal. It is not wrong to be task oriented. One of my best friends is very task oriented, and yet he has learned the value and importance of building relationships. It isn’t his natural gift, but he won’t do anything without going the relationship venue first.
God is also highly task oriented. And yet He prioritizes relationships. If this were not the case, then why would God pursue “friends and sons” and not just servants? Because God is after so much more than getting the job done. Righteous relationships are part of His agenda. He is raising sons, not just servants, who carry His heart and passion for things done in righteousness.
Relationship Without Purpose – Now the Flip Side!
“Relationships” has become a catchword. A church in a city that I visit has captured the popularity of that word by placing it on a highway billboard: “Its all about relationships!” I remembered thinking when I first saw it, Now that church has caught what the Spirit is saying in a good way. Five years later the billboard reads exactly the same. Is it any less true five years down the road? Of course not. But, has the Spirit added more definition?
I know some groups who have not broken any new ground in five years. Their fellowship is self-centered and lifeless. What’s missing? How about Godly purpose? The old adage that there is a ditch on both sides of the road is certainly true of the relationship issue. Agenda without relationships leads to the wrong use of people, and relationship without purpose leads to selfishness and narrowness.
If God remains the center of the gathering, relationships will constantly be in need of adjustment as the Lord adds new priorities and people to the fellowship. God will cause the fellowship to focus on what is needful in the moment or in the season. There may be seasons of deep fellowship and interpersonal relationships and then there will be times when the Spirit is stirring the body to reach out or to embrace some fresh mission or enterprise.
For example, the law of Israel said that a newly married couple needed to spend the first year getting to know each other. But then, with the advent of children, obviously the marriage relationship must make room for the purpose of raising a family. Romance must take a back seat to the needs of the children. So also in a church setting, the mature must adjust their passion for fellowship with one another to meet the needs of the new or younger believers. As the scriptures say, “Those who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak.”
Every significant relationship is designed by God to move beyond itself. If it doesn’t, it gets sick. This is why God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. The love that they shared was meant to be shared in a larger circle. Furthermore, God gave them a commission to accomplish together. They were healthy because they were naked and not ashamed (relationship), and because they were commanded to fill the earth and subdue it (purpose).
People who do not want to allow the relationship to move towards a common purpose are basically selfish or insecure. They become territorial and possessive, and ultimately the intention of God gets set aside. When one insists that things stay the same, stagnation eventually sets in.
God is love. That means that God is continually expressing Himself in deep and meaningful ways to His creation. It also means that His agendas are always filled with benefits for others. Everything that resists the spread of His love is what must ultimately be judged. For, the ultimate purpose of God is to spread His love to all creation, and then to come and dwell in the midst of a people who have been redeemed, healed and sanctified by that same love.
Pursuing Relationship Over Vision
Has God given you a great vision and commission to fulfill? Do not make the mistake of thinking you will be able to fulfill it if you can just find the right people. I have found that often I must lay aside my vision if I really want to be a part of what God is doing, even if that vision is God-given.
The Lord places His people where He wants them. If I try to hand pick the right people to fulfill the vision, I become agenda oriented and begin to lose sight of the relationships that God wants me to develop.
It is so interesting how God builds a team. Consider how Jesus brought together His disciples. What an unlikely crew. Repeatedly we read where Jesus was forced to address wrong motives and attitudes among His disciples as they related to Him, to one another and to the world. But, after a season, He sent them out two by two. God brings the most unlikely people together and turns them into a force for His kingdom. Mark 3:14 reads, “Then he appointed twelve that they might be with him (relationship) and that He might send them out to preach…” (purpose).
God is building His house. We must allow Him to set us in order with one another. Then, we must be patient and wait for His timing. We must build the relationships THAT He sets at our hand. This is our current stewardship to take care of the people with whom He has joined us. We will earn the authority to actually oversee and accomplish the vision that He has put in our heart as we walk these things out in integrity.