All of the strategies for staying together in ministry are pretty simple; none of them is easy.

Perhaps the most challenging strategy of all is:

7. pain

Pain is an inevitable part of any human relationship. From time to time our rough edges rub up against other peoples’ rough edges and we hurt. Pain is just part of the territory of traveling through life with other people.  Pain is the road along which human relationships travel. No pain; no people.

We let each other down. We are never wholly honest. We fail to communicate clearly; we do not hear precisely what others are saying. We respond too quickly and fail to live by our own highest values. We are frequently like ships passing in the night without navigation lights in the midst of an unpredictable storm.

There is no such thing as a human relationship that does not at times need to navigate painful turbulent waters.

If our relationships run aground every time we encounter pain, our communities will not last long; we will end up alone.

The good news is that pain does not need to destroy us or break human relationships. In the midst of pain there is always hope and light. This is the Gospel. When Jesus was denied, betrayed, forsaken, abused, and subjected to the worst possible violence, the love and light of his life prevailed even in the midst of pain.

We need the pain of relating in order to experience the refining presence of love at work most deeply in our lives. Without the pain of other people, we condemn ourselves to perpetual immaturity. The pain of relating is the school of discipleship in which we become more like Jesus.

8. respect

We choose to respect the experience of every person in our midst. My experience of life is not your experience. I am not able to experience life exactly as it has unfolded for you. I do not see all the factors that have come together to make you the person you have become. I seldom truly understand my own life; I certainly cannot account for all the winding paths that have brought you to the place in life you find yourself today.

As long as you are not causing obvious harm, I choose to honour your fundamental authentic life experience and respect your desire to grow more fully into the person God has created you to be. I cannot entirely share, your experience, therefore I am ill-qualified to sit in judgment on you or to demand you change, your deepest inner sense of who you truly are.

For the most part over the past thirty years, I have found that people are doing the best they can. People desire to be open to the work of love in their lives. They want to grow; they long to find peace, to be strong, and to live in the light and truth they have experienced.

I do not have the right to demand that you change. I trust that God is at work in your life, moving you to become more fully the person you were created to be. This trust makes it possible for us to continue to journey together.

  1. expectations

Expectations are one of the great destroyers of human relationship. Beyond the expectation that you will seek to do no harm, I have no right to expect or demand that you be different than you are. When I approach you with my expectations, which are often thinly veiled demands to fulfill my own needs, I place an intolerable burden on our relationship. You were not put into this world to measure up to my requirements of who or what you should be.

Communities that survive are places in which there is space for each person to be. When I approach you with my expectations, I create a stifling little room in which it is impossible for you to open and express your true nature in our relationship.

Our demands, expectations, predetermined visions of how life should be, all inhibit our participation in the natural flow of life as it is unfolding. When life can flow freely among us, there is a dynamism in our relationships that makes staying together, not only possible, but life-giving for everyone. Expectations cause relationships to stagnate; everyone is locked in and bound when our expectations are held too firmly.

You were put into this world to live in tune with your true self. We only discover our truest deepest self when we are in relationships where we are encouraged to explore, to try new things, to test the boundaries, and to open to new possibilities beyond the expectations others may try to impose upon us.

In order to thrive, relationships require freedom to breathe.