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Authentic Relationships: The Relational Priority

By Brandon Lemons

We are in a series of articles on Friedens’ tagline, which is “Deep roots. Authentic relationships.” After four articles on Friedens’ deep roots historically and theologically, we are turning to the tagline’s second half.

“Deep roots” mainly looks at Friedens’ past (which continues to influence us today), and “authentic relationships” highlights a key aspect of our present and future. I plan to spend two weeks expanding on what “authentic relationships” is about, starting in this article with why we have such a high priority on relationships.

Friedens’ focus on relationships is based on how we believe God is calling us to go about ministry. In ministry jargon, we have a highly relational “philosophy of ministry.”

God, in His very nature, is relational: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit eternally exist as one God in three persons, which is known as the Trinity. God’s trinitarian nature means He has forever been in relationship with Himself, with the members of the Trinity enjoying and loving one another for longer than we can fathom. When God created humanity in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), He designed us to be relational beings who thrive best when we are in healthy relationships with Him and with people around us. Simply put, we were designed to be relational.

One of Friedens’ core values is “discipleship through relationships.” We believe the primary God-ordained method of making disciples of Jesus is by Christians investing relationally in the spiritual growth of the people around them.

Our ultimate example for relational ministry is Jesus. Listen to what He did when He wanted to make disciples: “Jesus…called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve…that they might be with Him and that He might send them out” (Mark 3:13-14). Jesus’ method of making disciples was not merely to preach to crowds. Instead, He invited people into close relationship with Himself, where they would: share life together; see how He lived and hear how He talked; receive personalized instruction, training, encouragement, and accountability; and ask questions and receive His feedback. If you study Jesus’ ministry in the Bible, you will see He gave much more time and attention to His twelve disciples than He gave to crowds. Why? Because He was investing in those who would carry on His mission, and He knew that the most effective form of discipleship is relational.

Discipleship through relationships is based on the understanding that “the Gospel flows best over the bridge of relationships” (this is a phrase we use often at Friedens). Whether it’s a matter of a non-Christian coming to understand the Gospel for the first time, or a Christian growing spiritually by applying the Gospel to their life, the most effective and sustained spiritual growth happens in the context of Gospel-centered relationships. Jesus knew this; just look at the priority he placed on investing in His twelve disciples. Paul knew this; just look at the young people (like Timothy) into whom he invested his life. Or look at the relationship Paul had with the Christians in Thessalonica, to whom he wrote: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). His hope was that they would “become imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). This focus on “imitation” points to a primary reason why relationships are so vital in disciple-making: in Gospel-centered relationships, we see the Gospel and biblical values modeled in real life, not merely taught in sermons or discussed in Bible studies. We tend to become like those we are around; as the saying goes, “more is caught than taught.” Relationships help move biblical truths from head-knowledge to life-transformation.

It is easy for churches to neglect the priority of relational ministry. Programs (including worship services) and curriculum frequently take center-stage in a church’s disciple-making efforts. It’s not that these are ineffective as disciple-making tools; Friedens employs a number of programs that are designed to help people grow as followers of Jesus. Yet we also emphasize that people investing relationally in other people’s spiritual growth is vital if we want to make disciples of Jesus who follow Him long-term.

This priority on relational ministry is one of the key reasons we emphasize relationships in our tagline.


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