Why We Say ‘Living Relationship’ And Not ‘Personal Relationship’

If you have been to Good Shepherd for more than five minutes, you have heard the church’s mission statement:

Inviting All People Into A Living Relationship With Jesus Christ.

Thanks to our friend Will Mancini, we chose every word in that sentence with great care, as each one conveys something essential about our church.

And several times over the past few weeks, I have tried to articulate why we chose “living relationship with Jesus Christ” rather than “personal relationship” with him.

After all, the phrase “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a hallmark of modern American evangelicalism.  I’ve even seen it used as a litmus test:  “Do you have a personal relationship with Christ?”

Well, here are a few reasons why we consciously avoided personal and were so grateful to land on living:

1.  A personal relationship with a living Savior IS in fact where faith begins.  We do believe that each one of us — either through a gradual process or decisive encounter — will come to that individual realization:  I am the problem but Jesus is the answer.

2.  Yet while faith begins personally, it can never remain there.  If all we want from our connection to Jesus is a “personal relationship,” that quickly devolves into a private relationship:  me, Jesus, and the TV set.  That sort of private religion has no place in New Testament faith.

3.  Speaking of the New Testament, the people in the early church could not conceive of anything like a “personal” or “private” relationship with Christ.  They lived before the Enlightenment, before the rise of the individual, and so could not imagine their own lives apart from their community.  So their faith in Christ was not merely a personal affair; it was lived out in the messy beauty of Christian community.

4.  All that is a way of saying that the corporate faith of the earliest Christians was a living thing — growing, surging, struggling, changing.  That’s how we envision faith at Good Shepherd in the 21st Century:  never static, but always moving to maturity.

5.  We hope and pray that a living relationship is the opposite of dead religion.  We’ve all had enough of that and have decided not to participate, thank you very much.

6.  Finally, what word better describes Jesus himself than “living”?  According to Revelation 1:18 he is “the living one.”

So in the grand scheme of things, we’re inviting all people into a living relationship with a living Savior.  Amen.