The Relationship’s the Thing

Just let me state for the record: we’re giving love in a family dose.

Like almost everybody else, we are planning to travel in the next 24 hours to gather with family.  While I’m semi-freaking out about the weather and the thought of my kids traveling through icy rain/snow, I trust that we will eventually arrive safely and enjoy a meal that most of the world would consider a once-in-a-lifetime feast.

But more than the turkey and the sweet potatoes and the pie, relationships rule.  I consider myself unspeakably fortunate that there is family we want to see.

I have spent a week of vacation every summer with my siblings, their spouses, and our children for the past 23 years.  Some people find it surprising that we would want to vacation together, but we have a really good relationship.

Monday’s post on Racism, Sexism, & Ageism sparked some excellent comments that I want to reiterate  here.  Specifically, the comments on Facebook about relationships hit home.

My church job is the ecclesiastical equivalent of working for The Man.  I serve in a middle judicatory denominational office of the institutional church, staffing the commission that prepares people for professional ministry and the commission that oversees church-pastor relationships.  As one wise colleague shared in a recent FB comment:  “Discernment based on mentoring and relationships is almost non-existent, which is why I think (the Commission on Preparation for Ministry) has a hard time being adaptable. Therefore,the overly institutionalized process will inevitably be racist, sexist and ageist. Institutionalized processes can be more equitable, but can’t happen without some serious training and discernment.”


I remember worshiping on a baptism Sunday with Cedar Ridge Community Church when Brian McLaren was the pastor, years ago.  All those who came forward for baptism brought with them their spiritual mentor.  Some of the mentors were parents or grandparents.  Some were teachers or friends.  It was so inspiring to see the fruits of spiritual mentoring up close and personal.  The candidates for baptism were then baptized by their mentors.  I distinctly remember thinking, “This is not how Presbyterians do it.  But I wish we did.”

Most of us in the institutional church are weak in the mentoring department. Either our spiritual development is overly personalized and we see no need in growing spiritually within a community or we fail to take opportunities to notice the opportunities for mentoring others in our community.

HH has a clear memory of someone mentioning to him in the fourth grade that he had gifts for ministry.  He held that comment close to his heart through his teenage years and well into seminary.  And I totally treasure those years I worked with MP whom I trusted to the point of his being able to tell me when I was kind of an idiot and yet I didn’t take it personally.

The problem with shepherding seminarians, pastors, and congregations in the institutional church is that we are attempting to do the shepherding via corporate processes rather than relationships.  Each of our seminarians have a Commission for Preparation for Ministry liaison, but their relationships tend to be transactional (“You send me signed forms and I will help you move along through the process.“)  Each of our congregations have a Commission on Ministry liaison, but those relationships are nominal and only kick in when there’s a crisis or transition.

How great it would be if all liaisons had close relationships with all advisees. But the truth is that we are to busy to have deep, abiding institutional relationships. So what is the answer?

  • Collegial relationships within our institutions take time but we all make time for things we deem important – like connecting with people beyond our own interests.
  • Spiritual friendships and  mentor relationships don’t just happen.  They require intentionality.

And in the meantime, institutions are also necessary to bring order in a more formal way.  Institutions set rituals that – in a perfect world – bring us closer together.  Of course, because of corporate sin, institutions are invariably sexist, racists, ageist, and most other -ists too.  But I’ve come to appreciate the good that institutions offer.

This week – and every week – it’s easier to bake a pie than it is to become a family of faith.  But relationships are the key to becoming what we were created to be.

May your relationships flourish this Thanksgiving.

Note:  Sister Sledge is on my baking soundtrack.

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