Each relationship we are part of has its own unique quality. Some people we click with, some we grate against, and some we barely notice. Relationships often unfold haphazardly, without much thought or guidance. Whether we know it or not, however, we make choices that determine how we experience and interact with each other. Often our choices reinforce rather than alleviate the separation and distrust we experience with someone. The loving way of relating in “right relationship” brings life and fulfillment to each person involved.

Popular culture talks about love in the romantic sense. The Judeo-Christian tradition, however, commands us to live out love in all of our relationships. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Our charge is to love. An old song by Stephen Stills featured the recurring line, “Love the one you’re with.” Though the songwriter intended a different meaning, the line provides a fitting admonition for members of faith communities. “Love your neighbor” directs us to love whomever we are with, whether we like them or not.

The question from the Gospel of Luke in the Christian scriptures, “Who is my neighbor?” expresses a natural desire. Let me find someone I can naturally love and I will claim that person as my neighbor. The truth is that God gives us each person we encounter as a neighbor. Our neighbor is the person begging money outside the grocery store, the telemarketer who calls at dinner, and the person at the committee meeting who drives us crazy.

We struggle to find words to define how we love other people. Love is the subject of countless books and songs. It is clear that love is central to the faith we practice. We know love is more than a feeling, but when it comes down to exactly how to love someone, the water gets murky. Though commanded to love, the specific directions on how to do it are less than clear.

Six Essential Questions and Choices

We find six choices crucial for every relational interaction. These choices provide the groundwork for the relationship to be a loving relationship. These six choices make it possible for us to relate in loving ways and move toward fulfilling and life-giving relationships:

  1. What do I want my relationship with this person to be like?
  2. What attitudes and values do I want to honor as I’m with this person?
  3. What must I let go of in order to turn towards this person?
  4. What is the goodness in this person that I will see and trust?
  5. How will I acknowledge to the person the holy goodness that I see in her or him?
  6. What will I dare to ask of this person?

Discipline yourself to answer these questions as you prepare to be with people. These choices can enhance already good relationships and improve difficult ones. Practice making these choices with a variety of people. Over time, this process will become habit, done with unconscious competency. These six practices will strengthen all of your relationships and increasingly connect you in deep ways with others.

Excerpted from Practicing Right Relationship: Skills for Deepening Purpose, Finding Fulfillment, and Increasing Effectiveness in Your Congregation, copyright © 2005 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce, go toour permissions form.

Featured Resources

AL283_SMBecoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement by Paul Moots

Paul Moots offers a welcome vision for the ministry of encouragement. Based on his study of the book of Acts, Moots has identified five incidents from the ministry of Barnabas that provide a starting point to explore encouragement and how it can work in a congregation. Moots examines five components of this ministry: partnership, hospitality, courage, reconciliation, and authenticity. Barnabas and his ministry of encouragement offer a focus for the vital, messy, and exhilarating work required of faith communities.

AL260_SM Redeveloping the Congregation: A How-to for Lasting Change by Mary K. Sellon, Daniel P. Smith, and Gail F. Grossman

The three authors of this book build on an eight-step framework for lasting change developed by John P. Kotter, noted former professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business School. Each chapter in this book comprises three sections: mentor, companion, and coach. The mentor section discusses principles and concepts to be addressed in each of the eight steps; the companion section gives readers a sense of what leading change is actually like for a congregational leader; and the coach section provides specific ways for leaders to develop the unique change processes that will be effective in their congregation.