There are many films about teachers that turn around the lives of their students in dramatic ways. Often, the successful teacher is the exception in an institution that is highly disciplinarian or formal. Or maybe the students are from a lower socio-economic demographic and are not expected to achieve. And yet there is an exceptional teacher who transforms their lives.
You might think of films such as Good Bye Mr Chips, To Sir With Love, The Blackboard Jungle, Good Will Hunting, The Dead Poets’ Society, Mr Holland’s Opus, Remember the Titans, Dangerous Minds, even The Miracle Worker about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.
What, generally, is the key for that teacher? Relationships. Treating the students with respect that they perhaps haven’t experienced before. Or believing in them and their abilities. Or caring about what is going on in their lives outside the classroom.
One website says: In a recent meta-analysis of more than 100 studies (Marzano, 2003b), we found that the quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management. In fact, our meta-analysis indicates that on average, teachers who had high-quality relationships with their students had 31 percent fewer discipline problems, rule violations, and related problems over a year’s time than did teachers who did not have high-quality relationships with their students.
When we were in Gore we had a major building programme and we engaged a building consultant from Christchurch, called Gilbert Reid. Gilbert was amazingly relational. He would befriend everyone, chat to them, encourage them and sometimes pray with them. He had all sorts of friends in the building industry and so knew where to turn for the best expertise or the best deal. On his first visit to Gore he said he wanted to make contact with the council. He didn’t have any particular agenda, just wanted to start building a relationship. As it happened, he discovered that we had a short window available to us in the transition from one district plan to another such that if we got our plans in, we would not have to go through a resource management process. It probably saved us tens of thousands of dollars and considerable frustration. We found out only because Gilbert just wanted to build relationships.
One of the keys to a successful career these days is networking. People go to conferences not only for the presentations but to meet others and swap contact details. It is all about relationships. It is often said that it is not what you know but who you know. We might not think that is fair. It might mean that jobs go to those not so well qualified but who have contacts, but the reality is that it is about relationships. Think of the effort businesses put into hospitality, meals, drinks, corporate boxes.
Maybe none of that should surprise us because that is what the Bible says too. The Bible puts huge priority on relationships. I hardly need to spell that out, it is so obvious. Jesus summed up the whole of the Bible in two commands: love God with all of your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. The whole of the Bible is about two relationships – love of God; love of others.
Key passages in the Bible are all about relationships. Ps 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd” is about a relationship. The Lord’s Prayer is prayed to our Father. The Ten Commandments are all about relationships. The first four are about our relationship with God. The second six are about our relationships with others. The story of the Good Samaritan is about relationships.
The parable in Luke 16 is one of the most difficult to understand. It appears that Jesus is commending a man for his dishonesty. It appears that he is self-serving – he uses his master’s wealth to feather his own nest – and yet he is the hero of the story. That seems inconsistent with everything else Jesus taught
And yet, if we look at the story, the master does not commend the manager for his dishonesty but for his craftiness. In fact, Jesus says that the people of the world are more shrewd in their dealing with their own kind than are the people of light. Business people know how to foster relationships. Maybe for the wrong reasons. Maybe for self-serving reasons like the manager in the parable. But nevertheless they know how to be smart while Christians are often less savvy and don’t put that same effort into relationships.
The man was to look after his master’s business but he was accused of wasting his master’s possessions – so the master calls him to give account. There was going to be an audit and the manager knew that he was going to be found wanting. In fact, he knew that he was going to get the sack, so he planned ahead.
He called in those who owed the master. The master apparently didn’t know how much was owing so the manager told the debtors to write down a reduced amount.
There are two ways of looking at this story. One is that the manager was dishonest. The master will lose out but the manager will have made a lot of people happy. In that way, although he has diddled his master, he will have made lots of friends who, he calculates, will look after him when he has been fired.
The second way is to assume that the manager simply foregoes his own commission. In other words, the master receives back everything he is owed. The manager will not get his pay but, as with the previous interpretation, he will have made a lot of friends who will feel indebted to him.
Either way, the point is that he has built relationships that will repay the generosity when he is in trouble later. His skills as a manager will not secure his future but having invested in relationships will.
The parable is difficult but Jesus told us what He was trying to teach through it: “Use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
Use your possessions to gain friends. Relationships are more important than possessions so use your possessions to gain relationships.
How might we do that? Generosity. Hospitality. Caring for the poor. Helping someone who is in financial grief. Investing in your own training and development so that you can treat people better. Making interest-free or low interest loans. There are all sorts of ways of using possessions to make friends.
But Jesus says, “Use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, they will welcome you into eternal dwellings.”
Relationships give a return in this life. If we build relationships, we benefit in this life. But Jesus has a much higher goal than that. He is looking for that investment of our resources that will mean there are people in heaven who will welcome us.
How can we do that? Get involved in your church’s mission so that people are saved as a result of your investment. Invest in other Christian organisations that are making disciples.
In commending the manager’s shrewdness, Jesus is saying, “Invest your resources in the future. Think ahead. And invest your resources in people. Build relationships. But more, invest your resources in mission. The future you are to invest in is eternity and the people you are to invest in are those who will welcome you into heaven.”
Again, this shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible tells us that relationships are key to mission.
Our relationships with each other are a key to mission.
John13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. One of the most powerful ways we can witness to the fact that we are Christians is by loving one another.
John 17:20-21 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed not only for the apostles but for all who would believe in Him through their message. In other words, He prayed for us that night. His pray was for our unity and again He said that the world would believe that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God, when the church is united.
Relationships are the key because even non-Christians know that division is not of God. Even non-Christians know that God expects unity and harmony. If a church is divided, then people conclude that God is not really there; or that the people there are not really allowing God to work in their lives. But where they see love, people conclude that God is present.
I think one of the real strengths of this church is its warmth. We have felt very warmly welcomed and have appreciated people’s friendship and interest. We had friends from Gore here last week who commented afterwards that people are so friendly. This church does that well and it is a strength.
On the other hand, I know there is some concern about the fact that we have two services and I am conscious that there might be some undercurrents of criticism between the two. So, what does God want of us? That we invest in relationships. I don’t think that having two services is the problem. We need to have different doorways into the church and the services appeal to different people. It is sometimes said that the more hooks you have in the water, the more fish you will catch.
What I think does matter is the relationship between the two. Unity is not about everybody doing the same thing or liking the same thing. It is about having the same goal and loving each other. It is about speaking positively about the other, rather than grumbling. It is about praying for each other.
So, how can you invest in the relationships within the church? How can you use your resources so that the unity of this church will be a strong witness? It doesn’t apply only between the services. It applies to the people within our own service. Certainly, it means talking positively about each other. Criticism immediately undermines any good witness we might have. It might mean having people in your home for a meal. It might mean praying for each other. It might mean helping in a time of need. Whatever, Jesus says “Do it. Be smart. Be as smart as those in the world. Use your resources to build relationships.”
But there are also our relationships with those outside the church.
Colossians 4:2-6 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
“Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.
Surveys have shown that by far most of the people who come to faith in Jesus do so because of a friend or family member. Those numbers far outstrip the influence of ministers and evangelistic programmes and everything else. It is about relationships – just like Jesus said. It is relationships that make the difference, therefore be wise. Be smart like those outside the church. They know the value of relationships. Think ahead. Invest your resources in relationships. That will be the best investment you can make.