By: Paul Anderson
My wife and I watched a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was one of the few Lutheran pastors who saw through the optimistic vision of the rising Third Reich. The Church had been humiliated after World War I, and now it was gaining a new acceptance with the state. The vision of unity fogged their eyes to the corrupt values they adopted. Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested as a conspirator, and even though Berlin was crushed by the Allied Army, he was ordered to be hanged.
I was stirred by the blindness of religious people and reflected on whether such deception could happen again. In fact, it will, and of much greater proportion with the antichrist, and for the same reason. A glorious vision of world peace, promised and accomplished, complete with signs and wonders, will cause a believing world to overlook demonic values. So we must understand that…
VALUES PRECEDE VISION
Vision gives direction; values give stability. Vision answers the question of where; values answer the question of how. Vision drives the mission, while values give motivation for the mission. Vision without values leads to abuse, as in the case of Hitler. Values without vision leads to passivity. Some organizations are great at the process, but they are unable to deliver the product. They have good values; they just don’t get anything done. Others focus so much on the product that they abuse the process. For them, the end justifies the means. What they don’t realize is that the means become the end. They forget Paul’s words that is almost too obvious to state, “A man reaps what he sows.” If you sow discord while focusing intently on the vision and expect unity, you are just as deceived as if you sowed potatoes expecting to harvest corn.
The importance of vision rose on the radar screen in the eighties, urging churches to adopt a vision statement. It came as a corrective to church work that lacked a sense of mission. But another word must be joined to vision, and that is values. Vision flows out of, not into, values. You must know who you are and what you value in order to establish an appropriate vision, just as ministry grows out of relationship, not vice versa. Lyle Schaller said that “the most important single element of any corporate, congregational, or denominational culture…is the value system.”
Values don’t change, vision does. Values are non-negotiable; they are deal breakers. Vision without values can lead to deception. Values without vision means no leading. We have tended to emphasize vision over values, functions over relationships, what we do before what we are. If someone asks you about your church, you probably say something about the programs, the preaching, the worship life. More important is the level of unity or the health of relationships, but they are less likely to appear on the screen. Leaders are sometimes chosen because of their skills (how they function) rather than their character (who they are): “Jerry is not real mature, but he’s great with finances.” When the focus is on function, expediency overtakes integrity.
Vision is often overrated, while values are underplayed. Vision is the gift of healing; value is the fruit of love. The pastor needs a teacher for the Junior High program starting in three days and calls Harvey: “I know you hate kids, but we’re desperate.” Is he running the program or is it running him? He is willing to compromise values for the product. His product just became the skewed values. That is what he planted, and there is no way to reap anything else.
The definition of the church that I grew up hearing is a functional one: it is where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Jesus gives us a relational definition: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” The Bible puts far more emphasis on relationships than on functions. Where relationships are divinely ordered, functions flow properly. To have a passion to get things done but not a passion for relationships eventually means that less gets done. Not surprising, then, that when Paul lists standards for leadership in the church, twelve of the fourteen (maybe thirteen) relate to values rather than skills. Which is easier, teaching accounting principles to a new bookkeeper or teaching a defensive person not to take up an offense?
The function or purpose of an organization is important to have in view, but only when people drive them and are not driven by them. A father who neglects his kids to accomplish his goals is being driven, and values are being compromised. Getting a bigger vision will cause his values to decrease even more. At some point you or I will be praying for his children who have suffered neglect at the expense of a father who flew with one wing—and the plane crashed!
Let’s see how important relational Christianity really is and whether it exists in your church and mine.
THE CHURCH IS MODELED AFTER THE HOME
The home is the first institution created by God. The Church is the first institution of the new creation. The home is built on relationships, not on functions. Who we are precedes what we do. Love drew Karen and me together, and love brought children into our family. We didn’t have children to get jobs done (although I told them we had them because the grass was getting long and the dishes were piling up). Our children had functions (jobs, work, school, hobbies) that grew out of our relationships. Our kids cleaned out the garage rather than the neighbor kids because they were Andersons, not Petersons.
The Church is sometimes compared to a family. God is our Father, Jesus is our Brother, and the Church is called the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Father God has a big family, in heaven and on earth (3:15). The Church was crafted to operate as a relational paradigm rather than a functional one. That means that relationships drive the functions, not vice versa. What we do grows out of who we are. The organism leads the organization. The skeleton supports the body, and when it shows, it’s broken.
When relationships are primary in the Church,
People are more important than programs
The process is as important than the product
Everyone gets a piece of the pie (just like in the family)
People are positioned where they are gifted to function, not simply to meet a need in the organization
People are appreciated regardless of their position or function
Transparency and vulnerability are valued in a climate of grace
Tensions and failures become opportunities to prove the strength of our relationships
When functions (what we do) supersede relationships,
People are secondary to the vision or the program
Getting the job done can appear more important than care for individuals
Values (those things most important to us) can be compromised for the vision
The process is less important than the product (the objective), and therefore…
The end justifies the means; but then
The means become the end
Communism had a theoretically valid goal, but the means to that end were corrupt, and the means they used to achieve the desired end became the end. This will always happen.
Here are some principles from Scripture to support the importance of relational Christianity:
Ministry disconnected from relationships is meaningless. Paul lists several ministries, especially important to the charismatic Corinthians: speaking in tongues, using the gift of prophecy to unlock mysteries (such as Daniel did), or using the gift of faith to move mountains (such as George Mueller did). Then he said that they are of no value without love, the kind love that is not rude, self-seeking or easily angered. I would have said “less value;” Paul said “no value.” And Jesus similarly said to people who claimed a ministry of prophecy, deliverance, and miracle working but disconnected it from relationship, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22,23).
Worship disconnected from relationship is out of order. Jesus said to people bringing their offerings with the knowledge of a broken relationship, “Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24). We are a family. To worship in Spirit and in truth is to worship in unity. Corporate worship is out of order where disunity exists. Jesus said to the Pharisees, strong on giving token gifts to God but weak on loving relationships, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice‘” (Matthew 9:13). In other words, God does not find pleasure in what we give Him if what we offer to others does not come from a loving heart. A skewed horizontal invalidates the vertical. And John wrote that “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:20,21). If we want to know God’s presence, it comes more through relationship than through worship. “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12,16). If you want to upgrade your worship, strengthen your relationships. If you want to know the presence of Christ, walk in love and unity.
The Great Commandment must precede the Great Commission. The Great Commandment speaks to our relationships, with God and with one another. It calls us to the value of love. The Great Commission spells out our vision, and is validated only if it grows out of love for God and others. The fruit of the Spirit is the supernatural character of Jesus. The gifts of the Spirit are the supernatural ministry of Jesus. Values undergird vision because character precedes charisma. We fly with two wings—the fruit and the gifts.
Our relationships convince the world of our message, not our worship or our doctrine. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35). Our doctrine, in fact, has often convinced the world that we are uncaring, because we have used theology to prove that we are right and our brother, our family member, is wrong. Division slanders the household of God, discrediting our message. Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
This is because the Trinity operates in a relational paradigm. The Trinity is a “blessed community,” a fellowship of love. Before the earth was created, the Father, Son, and Spirit were together, enjoying the company of one another. God is not a doctrine; He is a person—in relationship. Unity, such as is found in the Trinity, can only be accomplished where relationships are primary and functions secondary. Some church bodies stress the importance of their doctrine to the exclusion of healthy relationships. Their doctrine becomes a wall to exclude them from other people. Consider this equation: good theology + bad relationships = bad theology. Paul said that our character adorns our doctrine (Titus 2:10).
The New Testament makes sense as a relational paradigm, especially from a micro-church outlook. For example: a) The Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal and as celebrated by Jesus and described by Paul doesn’t make sense in a traditional church model, but it makes good sense in a small group context. b) Discipline such as Jesus describes in Matthew 18 assumes relational Christianity. And the resolution of conflict such as Paul exhorts the Philippians with regard to Euodia and Syntyche requires close personal relationships. c) The gifts of the Spirit cannot function well in a large group setting. The earliest picture of New Testament worship (I Corinthians 14) assumes a close-knit setting in which all are able to share a gift. Prophecy, for example, does not function well in a normal church setting. Spiritual gifts are pastored best in a small group. d) Jesus spoke of two or three gathered together in His name. He could have said 200—300, but He didn’t. Bigger is not always better—because of relationships. (One good way to get bigger is to get smaller!)
Some consider the writings of a mature John as the pinnacle of the New Testament, if the Word of God has pinnacles. His epistles are all about relationships, and yet they are all about truth at the same time. Apparently, the two cannot be separated. But we have tended to separate them in the church. You cannot have good theology with bad relationships. The Pharisees were dangerous because they were so close to the truth. They just didn’t put the truth into practice in the way they treated people. Were they good theologians? No, they were self-deceived.
So what would a relational paradigm look like in a church?
1. Business meetings include personal sharing. The organization does not bury the organism.
2. Relationships impact everything the church does, including its outreach. One church began its seminar on Mormon doctrine by people naming friends they had in the Mormon Church, so they were picturing real people, not just condemning heretics. I wrote an article on “What’s Good About The New Age Movement?” as a call to connect positively with New Agers in order to bring them the good news. (I was paid for the article but told it would not be printed because it would be misunderstood).
3. The people most able to value relationships without a bottom line are the mentally impaired. Churches that value relationships will see these people as heroes because of their example.
4. We meet people on their turf, not on ours. We go to them, as Jesus did, rather than expecting them to come to us. Jesus was “full of grace and truth,” but what rubbed off on people who came in contact with Him was grace upon grace. Relational churches will convince people that holiness does not mean separation from sinners but from sin.
5. We will care for our “customers,” but we will also care for our family. I am familiar with a missionary organization that has been highly fruitful in ministry but less successful in caring for its team. One of the most successful Fortune 500 companies changed the rules typical in business by saying, “Our employees are more important than our customers.” It didn’t hurt the business at all—and it sure spoke volumes to its team. May the people of God do the same, because we are a family, and we want to grow that family!
6. Healthy structures support relationships. Larry Christenson introduced the principle of unanimity on the church council where he was pastor. It was a structural means by which the Lordship of Christ was expressed through the relationships. The members knew that they came together to ascertain the will of the Lord, not to push their agenda. They listened to one another out of reverence for Christ, and the unity that followed was a beautiful testimony to the work of the Spirit among them.
Some ways to help a church become a relational paradigm:
• Reward people who take risks. Don’t treat innovators as mavericks. Unity is far from uniformity. People willing to step out of the box are gifts to the body of Christ if they are emotionally healthy and people of faith.
• Let everyone dream. It empowers people to pursue their destiny. Empowered leadership centers on the leader. Empowering leadership focuses on the whole body.
• Be intolerant of spiritual abuse in any manner. Shut it down, no matter where it comes from.
• Don’t be threatened by disagreement. Let people talk freely. Disagreement is not the same as discord. Division is harmful, but disagreement is productive when relationships are non-negotiable.
• The importance of healthy relationships must be modeled at the leadership level. People must see that the leaders like one another, that they enjoy being together, that they laugh a lot, that they are vulnerable, and that they are human! Where conflict leads to greater unity, it proves to the family that values are not tossed out in the face of tension. On the contrary, they are honored, making the community a safe place not just to survive but to thrive!