Developing Relationships is a Waste of Time (by Tyler Johnston)
As I reflect upon leaving my post as lead pastor in my present church context, I’ve come to this conclusion.
Developing relationships with people is a waste of time…PERIOD!
Relationships are inefficient. Time is a scarce commodity. We only have so many minutes in the course of day to actually be productive. There’s nothing worse than having your well planned day derailed by an unscheduled encounter with a living, breathing human being. Okay, there is something worse. How about when your scheduled appointment bleeds past the one hour you’ve allotted in your schedule for enfleshed encounters. There’s little worse than a schedule gone to seed especially in our “efficiency” crazed culture.
Relationships are inefficient; however we’ve been created for relationship in the image of a relational God. We long for relationship because this reflects His imprint on our souls DNA. Jesus became one of us through incarnation, an incredibly inefficient act. He set up the church to continue His incarnation through the hands and feet of its constituency. Again, incredibly inefficient. But God chose relationship over efficiency. He could have executed the plan so much better than those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. He chose us as jars of clay to carry his message- fragile jars of clay. We drop the ball and waste so much time in our best intended plans to help establish the kingdom of God here on earth. We busy ourselves to the point of burn out and for what… The things in life that matter the least. The things in life that we can’t take with us. Our greatest legacy is the lives we touch, not the things we accumulate or build.
The inefficiency of relationship is bad news for those leading from the play book of our corporate coaches.
As we ramp up our commitments to efficiency models and feedback loops, we inadvertently may be be sacrificing something very sacred on the altars of efficiency, for relationships are often the sacrificial lamb. Efficiency involves controlling and categorizing outcomes to produce repeatable, streamlined results. Unfortunately, it’s hard to streamline meaningful relationships because life is anything but predictable nor are people. If you read Jesus in the New Testament, he dealt with people as individuals. He was constantly being interpreted by individuals in the crowd, yet he made time for those interruptions. Often, it is in the interruptions that heaven has the opportunity to come and touch earth.
Some suggest that bigger is better, but the bigger the context, one is simply not able to pour into people’s lives in the same way; hence the proliferation of programs and assembly line Christianity. Perhaps we should ask questions as they pertain to scale. Is big ever too big? Does scale compromise relationship? Is there a better way than creating massive, discipleship assembly lines and then struggling to adequately care for and disciple effectively (or at all) those in our midst.? I think it’s time to re-think big and “more is better,” for there is almost no proof anywhere in church history where under the guidance of “more;” the church has become a better version of itself. We all know that power corrupted the church during the time of Constantine. In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll suggests that the mass influx of people into the church during the great revivals actually undermined the churches ability to disciple and obliterated the rich tradition of the life of the mind of the church during the 19th and 20th century. In the 21st century, I wonder if the inception of the mega-church with all of its inadvertent commitments to consumerism, materialism, hyper-individualism, and celebrity will be cataloged and remembered by historians with similar effect.
The Gospel is inherently relational and incarnational. Remove relationship from the Gospel and you are left with a religious ideology or Chicken Soup for the Soul. God designed the church for community and relationship. Together, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Efficiency doesn’t produce followers of Jesus. The fertile ground of discipleship is plowed through mundane encounters, the sideways conversations following movies, dinners, and game nights together. We earn the right to be heard and speak into each others lives. Followers of Jesus are developed and nurtured through ongoing, intentional relationships fostered over an extended period of time.
Developing relationships with people is a colossal time waster when leading out of efficiency paradigms; yet friendship, relationship, discipleship are all impossible without involving time “well wasted.” Let’s tear down the altars and shrines to efficiency and in this reclaimed sacred space pursue and develop relationship with those God brings into our circles of influence.
Tyler Johnston is a lead pastor at the The Meeting House in Ontario, Canada but is resigning to pursue his doctorate and love of writing. He writes about the church, culture and spirituality on his blog, www.saptapper.com.