Making relationships matter. How can we counter the aspects of our culture that make people second? How can we sustain value to our relationships?
In ministry context functional relationships can be expressed as follows, “My ‘job’ is to grow this small group (church, ministry, etc…) and I am relating to you with that goal in mind.” Part of this ‘job’ notion includes relating to a leader or boss as the one I report to or am accountable to. Often in church context this functional relationship takes the shape similar to a parent and child. But there is a tension between function and relationship as we relate to one another. Often the functional and organizational roles have priority over the relational or spiritual aspects.
Jack and Judith Balswick in their book “The Family”** present a “theology of relationships” that includes the notion of nurturing reciprocity. Nurturing reciprocity is defined as the ever evolving nonlinear stages: “covenant, grace, empowering, and intimacy.” When nurturing reciprocity is applied as rubric it can help us to understand aspects of relationship independent of function.
A simple story illustrates the problem. I was once a core lay leader in a church with a large pastoral staff. The church was organized so that lay leaders were assigned a support pastor based on geography. This was great because it meant that I had someone assigned to care about me and they had a stake in my ministry as a small group leader. We met weekly, we ate meals together, I could call anytime. After several months the church grew and organizational assignments changed and a different pastor was assigned to support.
But what of that former pastor? I never shared another meal or phone call. He moved on to his new assignment. It turned out my relationship with him was purely functional.
I am forced to ask the question of why relationship? Meaning what is the goal and can I become more sensitive to the tension between function and relationship?
Clearly function and relationship need not be mutually exclusive but in our culture we tend to emphasize the functional. When the functional purpose dies then the relationship dies. This message communicated devalues the person and breaks community.
**Balswick, Jack O.; Balswick, Judith K. 2007. The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.