The fourth and final core value of Vintage Church is to make authentic disciples who flourish relationally. Thriving relationships are important for us as a body of believers because while they are an overflow of living missionally, they are deeper and more distinctive. As Christians, we are called to cultivate genuine relationships with fellow Christians within the Church, and some of the ways we do that are by meeting together in corporate worship, sharing meals, discussing scripture, and sharing Gospel truth with one another in order to create an atmosphere of believers growing alongside other believers, However, we are also called to build relationships with those outside Vintage Church who are within our individual spheres of influence. Some practical ways we can do that are by being genuine people, being attentive listeners, and finding ways to serve one another.
One of the most cited criticisms of Christians in general, especially by unbelievers, is that they are “fake.” Unfortunately, this is often a valid critique, especially in the so-called “Bible belt,” where church folk are usually expected to offer a warm smile and act like everything is fine and dandy, regardless of whether or not it actually is. Or worse, we keep our struggles hidden from even those close to us, afraid that exposing any shortcoming will be perceived as a weakness or make us look like a bad Christian. At Vintage, we have no interest in your “Sunday face.” The truth is, we are a church of broken people who simply have found hope and restoration in Christ. We are not called to pretend that we have it all together when we don’t. When someone asks how you are doing, giving a Christian cliché response like “Blessed” or “Better than I deserve” might often be quite opposite of how you actually feel, and it doesn’t do your unbelieving friends any good to be dishonest. People can spot a fake a mile away, and nobody wants to have a relationship with someone who pretends like his or her life is perfect.
The first step to cultivating genuine relationships is being the same authentic person all the time, whether you are in a worship service, your workplace, your home, Target, the library, Shipley Donuts, or the ballfield. Be real...people want to know the real you, and they’ll be much more likely to listen to what you have to say when they get to know the real you.
In addition to being a genuine person, if you want to develop good relationships, you must be a good listener. Any marriage counselor would tell you this, but the value of listening cannot be understated. One of the problems I often run into when someone comes to me with a problem or concern is that I am always thinking about how I will respond instead of taking the time to pay close attention to what I’m hearing first. That is a sign of sinful pride, because it says to the person speaking that I care more about what I want to say than what they are saying. If someone opens up to you about something personal, it is a slap in the face to halfway pay attention and then immediately ramble off some Christianese jargon without taking the time to really understand what the person is telling you. Instead, stop whatever you are doing, look the person in the eye, take a few moments to think about your response. Attentive listening deepens relationships better than the best advice.
Lastly, healthy relationships are developed when we have an attitude of service toward those around us. This is not our natural disposition. Most people, myself included, spend the majority of their time figuring out how they can make time for everything they need to get done. How often do we think about making time to serve those around us? Of course, Christians know the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The problem is, most of us are really good at loving ourselves, and really bad at loving others with even a fraction of the energy we expend on ourselves. This is not a call to a religious obligation that we check off by simply doing regular service projects, as valuable as those can be. Serving others should be a daily, ordinary characteristic of Christ-followers. If we see the world through the lens of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to the many needs we encounter every day. Loving service is the mark of the true believer. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).
Cultivating authentic relationships takes work, but it is paramount for Christians if we are to fulfill the Great Commission call to make disciples. We know based on the promise of Jesus that the Gospel that we are called to proclaim will be faced with rejection. May we be committed to living our lives in a way that the world will not reject us because of ungodly attitudes or behavior, but will instead embrace us as genuine people who both speak of the relentless love of God and showcase it through love for each other.