A Simple Strategy to Building Relationships
Have you ever considered Jesus’ chosen method of outreach?
With unlimited resources, He could have created an out-of-this world outreach experience unlike anything we could humanly imagine. He could have out-crystaled the Crystal Cathedral. He could have out-preached Charles Spurgeon. He could have out-produced any megachurch lightshow. He could have out-architected Saint Peter’s Basilica. But Jesus’ method of outreach was ordinary relationship.
Jesus entered the world in a familiar form—that of a newborn baby. Upon beginning public ministry, Jesus began to display His divinity through His teaching and miracles. Even then, He traveled by foot with a small number of disciples and met the ordinary needs of everyday folk. In short, we could say that His outreach example is nothing more than building relationships. These relationships were the means by which He would reach the world!
Relationships matter. They are important to Jesus. They should also be important to us. As 21st century humans, you and I are disciples of a culture that sells gimmicks and shortcuts. Relationships have no shortcuts. It must be incarnational. It takes flesh-and-blood. It takes time and effort.
Here are 7 attainable strategies to building relationships:
- Practice Availability
I recently learned this from two college students. I needed help moving a piano. It seemed impossible to coordinate schedules for help. In a ditch effort, I contacted someone that I had never met. The phone number came from someone I sat next to on an airplane flight (a story for another time). A text message later, the young college football player stated that he was available… and his roommate too! Next thing we knew, they were at our house helping us move our piano. They were available and willing.
I wonder how many relationships we miss out on simply because we are “too busy.” Too bus to talk with the person next to us in the restaurant, in line at the grocery store, or passing us on the sidewalk.
Availability means having margin in our lives or just being ok with adjusting our schedule. Some of the busiest people that I know, have a way of being available. They live in the moment. Their plans take second place to the needs of their neighbor.
Availability takes practice. It’s a mental shift. It means leaving margin in the calendar or creating space when someone needs us. It is the first step to relationship.
- Frequent Watering Holes
What is a watering hole? Hunters know. Safari guides know. It’s a place where animals gather to have their most basic need fulfilled. It’s a place that gathers animals of all sizes, interests, and backgrounds.
Humans function around watering holes too. These are places like coffee shops, sports venues, and parks. Consider where these are in your community. Write them down. Most importantly, look for ways to consistently spend time in those places. Be there at the same time each week. Next thing you know, you will be rubbing shoulders and building relationships simply because you chose to be regularly present where people live in community.
- Listen Actively (and genuinely)
You all know someone that won’t stop talking. I expect that you also know someone that won’t start talking. The need for both people is the same: someone to listen. Would you be that person?
Active listening is regularly spoken of as a relationship tool. Unfortunately, it is rarely practiced. Simply ask questions, listen to the response, and genuinely care. This is Jesus’ example. This is the loving thing to do.
- Be Hospitable
What comes to mind when you think of hospitality? Is it hosting a meal? Is it welcoming friends or family to stay in your home? Maybe it is Dr. Suess’ book, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.
Hospitality is a way of life. It’s radical. It’s sacrificial. It’s counter-cultural. It’s Biblical.
For more on the topic, I highly encourage the book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.
- Embrace Messiness
Have you noticed? Relationships are messy. People are messy. And messes are inconvenient.
Having three children under the age of 5, I speak from experience. Spilled milk. Dirty diapers. Stained dress clothes. (The list could go on)
Just like a parent with children, expect relationships to be messy. Embrace it. Enter willingly into the mess. Remember that God graciously stepped down into your mess to live, suffer, and die for you—and your neighbor!
- Exemplify Grace and Truth
Do you tend toward grace or truth? John uses these two words in tandem in John 1 verses 14 and 17. “Grace and truth,” he says, “came through Jesus Christ.”
People of grace are pleasant to be around. They are compassionate, caring, and popular. They also risk being soft and wishy-washy.
People of truth are stalwart advocates of what is good and just. They are articulate. They also risk being proud, brash, and unforgiving.
In your relationships and life, seek to hold both in balance. Love without compromise. Have compassion without cowardice. Forgive knowing that the wrath of God was satisfied through Christ’s substitutionary atonement.
- Pray Intentionally
While listed last, prayer comes first! Jesus taught and exemplified prayer. He taught His disciples to pray for their enemies. On the cross, He did the same!
Pray for your friend and enemy alike! Pray for your future friend.
Be intentional. One way is to write the names of people on index cards. When you have a time of prayer, take out these cards and pray for the individuals by name. As you pray, at least two things will happen. First, you will be reminded that God loves (even died for) this person. Second, your love for that person will grow. God will bring to mind ways that you might be able to exemplify God’s love. Maybe it is as simple as a text message to say that you are thinking of them.
I get it, relationships are messy, but they are worth it. Look back through the above list. Pick one to focus on this week. Then pray that God would lead you to love your neighbor well!
Finally, remember that it is God who works in you (Ephesians 2:13). His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. By some mystery, he calls us to join in kingdom work. He gets all the glory.
– Matthew Pillman
The Lutheran Church PLanter
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