Church is Built on Relationships

Church is Built on Relationships

Relationships matter in life. The quality of your relationships will always determine the quality of your life. It’s a simple and timeless truth. The pandemic was so difficult because relationships were cut off. We were told to stay apart. Christianity is based on the opposite of “social distancing.” Jesus had issues with many aspects of organized religion, but he was a master of cultivating relationships.

My friend Rubel Shelly, who has taught and preached at Woodmont, wrote a great book years ago titled I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian…and I Liked Him Better Then. In the book, Rubel talks about the fundamental difference between the INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH and the RELATIONAL CHURCH. This is a fascinating comparison. Here is what he says:

Institutional Church – Church is about getting our needs met through persons and programs
Relational Church – Church is about relating to God and others in authentic unselfishness

Institutional Church – Scripture is a law book that is to be studied for its rules and formulas
Relational Church – Scripture is the narrative of God’s patient and redemptive love for humans

Institutional Church – Salvation is helping people get ready to go to heaven when they die
Relational Church – Salvation is divine rescue from an empty, vain, wasted life right now

Institutional Church – Salvation is about people doing the right things
Relational Church – Salvation is the unmerited gift of God’s grace

Institutional Church – Stresses the distinction between being “in” and “out”
Relational Church – Sees us as pilgrims in search of God and is far less inclined to be judgmental

Institutional Church – Known for being exclusive
Relational Church – Known for being inclusive

Institutional Church – Emphasizes being right
Relational Church – Confesses its inadequacy

Institutional Church – Being a “faithful church” requires avoiding people who are in error
Relational Church – We “grow together” to accept, hold accountable, and purify one another

Institutional Church – Church exists for “people like us” and makes others feel uncomfortable
Relational Church – Church is for reconciling diverse people and groups

Institutional Church – Often heard: “Church must pay more attention to my needs!”
Relational Church – Often heard: “Church is a community where we learn to be unselfish”

Institutional Church – Challenges insiders to help frame the institution’s life and function for the benefit of the few
Relational Church – Functions as a loving community willing to support and nurture all who seek God with sincere hearts

Institutional Church – External symbols and coded vocabulary are very important to identity
Relational Church – External symbols and coded vocabulary are avoided whenever possible

Institutional Church – Worship is a defined, limited series of actions – sometimes marked off by a closing prayer before secular things
Relational Church – Worship is a way of life that envisions all its activities under God’s will – with all things made sacred by the Spirit

Institutional Church – “Missions” is the church’s task of taking the gospel out to foreign cultures
Relational Church – “Missions” is infiltration of the church’s neighboring community

As we prepare for the end of summer and fall kickoff, I hope and pray that Woodmont will continue to make every effort to be a relational church that follows the Greatest and Second Commandments of Christ. Shelly makes it very clear that there are different ways to “be the church.” Some are healthy. Some are not. Some are vibrant. Some are not. Life is about relationships. We must first be passionate about our relationship with God and passionate about our relationships with other people. Civility, respect, honesty, and compassion are ways that we build bridges and make friendships in life. We are having a special series Wednesday evenings in September on “Faith & Civility in the Public Square.” The Golden Rule has always been a timeless mission statement for all of us to live by.


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