Strong loving relationships key to healthy discipling churches

Even as you receive this column, “Valentines Day” is occurring or has just occurred. This time of year sets many to thinking about caring for someone other than himself or herself and that is always a healthy stream of thought. Rather than post a list of things a guy can do to demonstrate that he loves his bride, I reflected on principles I’ve learned from influential church leaders and their healthy marriages. Perhaps you could do the same.

There does appear to be connection between positive, healthy marriages and healthy churches that demonstrate depth of character. The connection is amazing. So I set about to find someone who has addressed this issue.

Allow me to post some excerpts on this subject from David Ferguson, president of Intimate Life Ministries. He wrote:

“Decades of mobility, fragmented families, illegitimacy, individual isolation and countless other factors have weakened our ‘skill’ to love. Marriages and families, once supported, instructed and encouraged by extended families and close friends, are now often left to fend for themselves. An educational system that exalts performance ahead of character development and relational skills, feeds tension and unwarranted competitiveness at the expense of relationships. Countless relational breakdowns along with economic pressures to survive, stay even or ‘get ahead’ have brought long work hours, two wage earners and single- parent homes all of which result in less availability and opportunity to ‘nurture’ relationships.

“The ‘skills’ to love one another pre-suppose our need for one another! Only in a relational environment of mutual ‘need’ can we experience patience, gentleness and kindness (Gal. 5:23); only as biblical truth is experienced out of mutual need can comfort, confession and compassion be learned.

“For several decades the church has painfully misunderstood man’s need, claiming that we only need God, and in so doing, love has grown cold.

• “Love grows cold when we exalt self-reliance, as if it is maturity. Love grows cold when we, like the Laodicean church declare, ‘we do not need a thing’ (Rev. 3:17).

• “Love grows cold when we say to each other, ‘I don’t need you’ (1 Cor. 12:21).

• “Love grows cold when it is not safe to be vulnerable with our needs and weakness, forgetting that when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10).

“Healthy churches for the 21st century will require healthy leaders with healthy marriages and families who are ‘imparting their very lives’ to one another and then to others as an essential ingredient of loving and sharing the gospel (1 Thess. 2:8).

“The family is God’s idea. It is where we are to first experience love and the ‘give and receive’ of relationships that influence how we respond to God and to others. From the First Great Commandment to love both God and others, family is our first set of ‘others’ outside of ourselves.

“Families must be brought together at church to experience a ‘restoration in how to love’ as a biblical truth is experienced together. Mature, loving couples and families become involved in mentoring singles, single parents and others. In most every area of church ministry and church activity, less time must be spent in church ‘learning’ and more time experiencing truth.

“As truth is experienced, freedom will be enjoyed; as intimacy is developed, loneliness will be removed; and as the will and skill to love are rekindled, the love of many will burn bright.

“The bright hope gleaming in the darkness of a hurting generation is found in the person of Jesus Christ and His message of love and forgiveness. Christ is the answer. We believe that wholeheartedly. We preach it and teach it with conviction and passion. But does the hurting world find our message relevant? Does what we offer meet the needs of people? Or have the unchurched dismissed Christianity as a possible solution to their troubled lives?”

Those are great questions that church leaders must answer to impact the 21st century. However, we must keep in mind that the sustainable health of a church is not as much measured in numbers and noses as it is determined by the depth of character found in its leadership.

That depth is developed on the anvil of relationships, especially our marriages and families. This relational depth cannot be found in a seminar or conference or large group setting. Yet it is what the world is desperately hungry to experience.

Start up close. Use this season to give thanks to God for those within your most intimate circle of relationship. Take the opportunity to verbalize with eye contact how much you love and care for your spouse and your family. Start there and “wash the feet” of those closest to you and see what God wills to do to release you to even greater things in His kingdom.