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

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.