A Relational Gospel

As we continue to reflect on The Navigators Vision Statement, let’s consider what it means for the gospel to be “flowing freely through relational networks.”
The spots that formed on the wall in the downstairs bathroom bothered me, but not enough to search out the cause. That all changed when I saw water dripping from the light switch. I’m not much of a handyman, but even I knew that was not good. The next eight weeks involved plumbers, contractors, and our insurance company. The culprit? A small drywall screw had been driven into a pipe in the wall. That little hole messed with the flow of the water and did some real damage.
At The Navigators, we believe that the Good News will flow freely through networks of relationships; in fact, we count on it! Unfortunately, our relational networks are damaged and broken. Families, neighborhoods, communities, and the nations are all fragmented in very destructive ways. We live in a dismembered culture with people running in a lot of different directions. We need to slow down and start connecting ourselves locally as much as we can. This might take some deep listening to our lives, and learning to see our neighborhoods as a place to practice Christ’s teaching to love our neighbors.
The gospel demands that we seek to repair the damage in these relational networks. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, after all. If we simply share the message of the gospel without paying attention to how people are connected—or more often to how they are not connected—the gospel cannot flow freely in the way our vision describes. We must always remember that the gospel is relational. As the Word became flesh (human), we must also learn to be truly human as relational beings.
I strongly believe that we must give focused effort to weaving a fabric of love and care in our neighborhoods. We ourselves are transformed through our relationships with the people we love. We need to learn to become skilled at growing a culture of love in our communities. People crave a sense of being special, to know that someone would desire to be with them. To love our neighbors, we need to spend time with them and know what makes them special. Relationships are paramount. Relationships are the conduit through which and from which the gospel flows.
The act of connecting and rebuilding relational networks will fall to us. This is a gospel issue. If you live in a neighborhood where no one speaks to one another, what can you do to turn that around? If everyone drives into their garages and doesn’t interact with their neighbors, what could you do differently? When you disciple people, do you help them think about the gospel entering their entire families, communities, and other friendship networks relationally?
Repairing the damage caused by our broken pipe was a long process. Huge drying fans were installed, walls and ceilings had to be replaced and the floor refinished. Yet the repair of that pipe and the damage caused by the water was essential to the functioning of our home and to our own wellbeing.
Similarly, we’re grateful to God that He’s repairing the brokenness in our own lives. What’s more, by His grace He has given us a special role to be there to come alongside others in the midst of their brokenness:
All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, MSG).
God has left us as ministers of reconciliation in this broken world. What an awesome responsibility and privilege, wouldn’t you agree?
For your consideration:

  • Think of questions you could ask a neighbor to get to know him or her better. You could ask about his hometown, what she likes about her job, his favorite hobbies.
  • Continue to look for ways to give that person “a sense of being special,” and to communicate that you enjoy his or her company.
  • Brainstorm several group activities that might help your neighbors get to know one another: a walk or bike ride, a concert or play, a book group or community meeting. Be sure it is one that allows time for talking either before, during, or afterward. Then reach out to a few neighbors and set a date to continue the conversation.

Al Engler is the director of Nav Neighbors. To contact him or learn more about his ministry, click here.

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of articles unpacking the Navigator vision. The series begins with Unpacking Our Vision: An Introduction and continues with "From Our Neighborhoods to the Nations."