While I don’t leap or land in all the same places with Andrew Root, there are a number of things he writes about in The Relational Pastor that confirms some of my own experience and emboldens me with some hope for what is possible with the Church. I’ve been thinking about the disconnect between relationships and instrumentalization for some time, at least as far back as this post from last August. There’s also this post from over a year ago. So it’s no surprise that I felt some affirmation when I read this:
While we in the church frequently discuss the importance of relationships for our ministry, we have often failed to recognize that relationships, or something called relational ministry, is dependent on persons. It is dependent on personhood, on seeing those in our churches and communities as persons, not as consumers of programs, not as “giving units” or volunteers, nor as rational calculators that decided they and their families can get the most out of their involvement at this church over another. And we have done this too often. We have deeply wanted our ministry to be relational, but not for the sake of persons, for the sake of ministry… In other words, we’ve wanted people to feel relationally connected so that they might come to what we are offering or believe what we are preaching or teaching.
So when we speak of “relational,” we usually mean it as another strategy, another buzzword to get people to do what we want them to do… The point of our ministry isn’t the relationship between persons, but how the relationship wins us influence.
Ouch. On some level, of course, this is a very cynical view. And yet in a culture of instrumentalization (a culture we have all contributed to), it’s an ever-present danger and too-often reality. And while not everybody feels burned by it (because we will often take a sense of belonging at a low price). It’s also good to keep in mind that many people walk through the doors of the church as part of a family unit, with spouse and kids flanking them, protecting them, promising a sense of safety that others of us don’t quite have. That safety can go a long way in feeling like you belong because you bring a strong sense of it with you.
What, then, would Root suggest is a good way forward? And how do we step in the direction while tripping over all of the wires we’ve put in place to maintain “programs, units, and rational calculators”?
You can purchase The Relational Pastor here.