Friday, February 12, 2010

How to Survive Church Relationships

Pastors Blake Cromwell and Kenny Burchard

Unless you live in a cave, you’re probably involved in relationships with other people. It’s a natural part of our human experience. My observation as a pastor is that it is also one of the most difficult parts of our lives. As I look around our world, I notice that behind most problems and struggles that people are facing, there is a relationship problem at the core. In fact, I would go as far as saying that most of our problems can probably be traced to either a breakdown in our relationship with God, or with another person. I recently spoke to our congregation about this, and offered a few observations, and some biblical prescriptions for relationship problems. Read on and see if you can “relate.”

Relationship problems are not a new thing, whether outside of the church, or inside. In fact, the New Testament writer, James, confronted some serious relationship issues in his letter. It was James who wrote, “my brethren, as believers in our glorious Lord, don’t show favoritism.” That little command opens our eyes to one of the biggest relationship problems that we all face—Discrimination! I know we think we’re getting better as human beings when it comes to discrimination. But it’s still a disease that either infects us, or affects us in one way or another. I’ve noticed it in Christians and non-Christians alike. We all want to be accepted just the way we are, but we’re not as good at accepting others who are not like us.

It seems to me that discrimination shows itself in four main ways. First, we judge by appearance, second by ancestry (or race), third by age, and fourth, we accept or discriminate based on achievements. We judge by appearance when we unfairly distance ourselves from people who wear certain styles of clothing, or color their hair, or who have a certain type of body shape or size. We spread the poison of racism by failing to accept men and women who are made in the image of God, just because they have a different ethnicity and culture than ours. We rob ourselves of the possibility of having great relationships with those younger or older than us when we fail to value either their youthful vigor, or their aged wisdom and experience. And finally, we put ourselves on a pedestal, and put others down based what they have, or have not attained in life, whether it be money, fame, education, or power. The poor despise the rich, when we all know that they’re just the outer crust held together buy a bunch of dough. And the rich despise the poor, many of whom are trying to fight their way out of poverty. James says, “My brothers, these things should not be.” I agree with him.

On a very practical note, these relationship killers can be overcome, and our relationships can change for the better if we will embrace 3 core values in all of our relationships. First, accept everyone. Be careful! You might be rejecting someone based on appearance, race, age, or achievements that could really be a blessing to you. Give them a chance! Get past the outer appearance, and into the substance of who people really are. Accepting is not the same as condoning evil and sin. Jesus loved everyone, but he certainly spoke up when he saw something wrong, and so should we. But let’s be mature enough to see that style, race, age, and status have very little to do with sin and evil. I’ve been the biggest proponent of this in our own church. I tell my congregation, “I want to see bikers sitting next to bankers.” Guess what, you can come and see that very thing next Sunday! And these guys love each other and accept each other. The second core value is, appreciate everyone. Nothing feels worse than trying to make a meaningful contribution, and then being unappreciated or even despised. I see parents shushing their kids, who have good things to say, just because of the fact that they are young. I see teens write off the older generation because they don’t appreciate the wisdom and experience of their elders. This is a tragedy. Those who are married know I’m right when I say that a little appreciation goes a long way. But failure to appreciate over and over can cost you your relationship! The third core value is, affirm everyone. When was the last time you bit your tongue when your teenager said something weird, and instead found something good to say about them? That affirmation will become like cement that strengthens your relationships. People need to know that we can see the good things about them, and not just the things that bother us. Husbands, when was the last time you told your wife “you’re beautiful,” or wives to your husbands “thanks for working so hard?” Affirmation is the wind in the sails of our relationships.
I encourage you to let God show you where you’ve contributed to the problem of stressed out relationships, and make a commitment to become part of the solution and not the problem. Your marriage, your family, your church, your workplace, and our world will be a better place for it.

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