Relationships Precede Everything


"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you ___________." The fact that we can fill in the blank testifies to the power of relationships. Relationships precede everything.

God Values Relationships

Relationships are important because God is a relational being. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect harmony. This is the message of the Bible. Examining the Word of God we also discover:

We were created — in God’s image — for relationships.

God never planned for Lone Ranger living. People are hard-wired from creation for relationships with others (Genesis 2:18) and with God (Genesis 3:8).

The fall of humankind broke our relationship with God and others.

Despite the fact that God made us to know him, our rebellion against God broke that relationship (Genesis 3:1-10). It brought us under God's judgement, led to broken relationships with others (Genesis 3:11-12), and even brought on the intrapersonal conflicts we all experience (Genesis 3:10).

Christ redeems our relationships.

Christ came to redeem us. When we put our faith in him, he restores our relationship with God (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). He also redeems our relational capabilities. Since we are both “in Christ” and “in community” (1 Corinthians 12:1-12), we can and must do the hard work of relationships.

Christ is renewing our relationship with God and with people.

The gospel message is that Christians have the privilege, freedom, power, and responsibility to pursue our relationship with God and with people (Colossians 3:12-13). When we do relationships God’s way we discover:

  • We get better -- “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 ESV
  • We go farther -- "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
  • We enjoy life more -- “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” Psalm 133:1

The Scriptures teach us that relationships are vitally important. History illustrates this truth again and again.

The Power of Relationships

Woodrow Wilson won the presidential election of 1912, but he may have never sat in the Oval Office were it not for a key relationship. Earlier in his political career his wife, Ellen Wilson, recognized the importance of establishing a relationship with William Jennings Bryan, a dominant force in democratic politics.

Once, when Wilson was out of town, Ellen discovered that Bryan was coming to town for a nonpolitical talk. After telegraphing her husband to return, Ellen arranged for Bryan to come to dinner with the family. The two men, who had not been particularly close, developed a mutual admiration. Later, it would be Bryan whose last minute endorsement of Wilson at the Democratic convention created the momentum shift that brought the party nomination to Wilson.

"Two or three years later, Ellen reportedly told a friend,[T]hat dinner put Mr. Wilson in the White House.” [1]

The power of relationships was evident again in Wilson’s re-election bid in 1916.  Wilson’s opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, had let fester a sour relationship with California Governor Hiram Johnson.

“Worst of all—in the most notorious incident of the campaign—the nominee and the governor spent several hours on the same day in the same hotel in Long Beach without seeing each other. When he learned of the fiasco, Hughes immediately apologized, but the damage was done. Stories about his “snub” of the governor raced around the state, and Johnson declined all requests for a meeting. The governor won the senate primary and dutifully endorsed the Republican ticket. Hughes later believed that the incident cost him the state—and the election. [2]

Hughes lost California by only 3,806 votes out of nearly 1 million cast (less than four tenths of a percentage point).[3] What might have happened had he worked a little harder to nurture the relationship with Johnson?

Wise leaders don't wait for relationships to falter before focusing on them. They are proactive about giving time and attention to people.

How Leaders Maximize Relationships

Here are five ways leaders maximize relationships:

1. They prioritize some relationships over others.

Jesus ministered to the masses, had 120 disciples, sent out 72, walked with 12, kept 3 as his inner circle, and probably had 1 as his closest friend. He loved them all, but he didn’t spend the same amount of time with all of them.

Leaders can’t be everyone’s best friend. Increased time and responsibilities make this an impossibility. And while leaders serve, the nature of their service puts them in a place of organizational oversight. This changes relational dynamics—even within the leadership team.

There will be people who want you, but won’t get you and there will be people who are not necessarily your “best friend” who will get you more than others. The inability to come to grips with this truth will leave you fatigued and ineffective as you try to give attention to everyone who “wants a piece of you.”  At work, leaders must prioritize relationships as it relates to accomplishing the mission.

Question: What relationships should be getting your priority time? Are they?

2. They NYFO.

Kathyrn Minshew, founder of The Daily Muse, a job search and career development company says:

“When new entrepreneurs ask me for advice, I sometimes tell them to NYFO — Network Your Face Off. Nearly everything I've accomplished in the past two years, from speaking on CNN to watching my company cross 1.7 million users in less than a year, can be directly traced back to connections I've made and help I've received from a network that is vast, diverse, and active.

Networks are powerful, and when done right leave you surrounded by a core of individuals who are all rooting for your success and happy to help you. The building blocks of a great network aren't purpose-driven meetings — they're casual encounters, agenda-less coffee catch-ups, and even favors for people who don't seem to be in any position to help you right now. Build your network that way, and when you present your acquaintances with a problem they realize they can solve for you — they'll be right there with an offer to help.[4]

Question: How can you build your network this week?

3. They nurture relationships.

Paula Davis-Laack, a lawyer turned psychology and life coach, notes:

“Successful leaders not only build networks, but they also nurture the connections they make. They make time for their clients and colleagues. They make time for people they mentor. They make time for their personal relationships. It takes a great deal of energy to keep connections thriving, but successful people are willing to put in the time and the effort. I’m reminded of a quote by Robert Martin that illustrates this point: “Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.”[5]

A great way to nurture relationships is through a “No-Agenda Lunch.” There is only one ground rule for this meeting — don’t talk shop. Take the opportunity to hear the other person’s story, as well as their interests, hopes and dreams.  This in itself is powerful.

Question:  What relationship needs some nurturing?

4. They don’t allow conflict to go underground.

When it comes to conflict, many people treat it like the proverbial Sleeping Tiger. They let it lie. “Why should I go toe-to-toe over a contentious issue?” they reason. “I might be mauled.” But leaders know they must deal with conflict. They must wake the tiger, endure the roar, and contend with heated emotions. It may feel like you’ve just been mauled, but relationships are too important to let conflict go underground.

The Bible makes it clear in Matthew 5:21-26 and in Matthew 18:15 that it is the believer’s job to always take the initiative when it comes to restoring and reconciling. This is hard work and it is worth it. Unity is too dear to God’s heart and disunity is too destructive to your team to let conflict simmer. Deal with it.

Question: Is there reconciling work you need to do?

5. They know that people follow relationships.

Two years ago, a pastor on our staff started a new church. We were and are fully behind his efforts. The new church plant was fairly near our church. Consequently, a number of people followed him to the new church. This didn’t surprise me. In fact, I think it was a good sign. Our staff member had invested in our church for years. It was a sign of his great leadership that people wanted to help in the new venture. People follow relationships.

Question: What are the implications---both positive and negative---for your leadership?

20-Year Friends

Good leaders know that you don't get a 20-year friendship overnight, you get a 20-year friendship over 20 years. Unhurried time, honest conversations, loving confrontations, shared experiences, and mutual forgiveness are the brick and mortar of great relationships. We build life-long friendships on these relationships. God also uses them to forge collaborative partnerships and move great ideas forward. 

Life with God . . . life with others . . . even our leadership . . . it all rests on relationships. Relationships precede everything.


[1] John Milton Cooper, Jr. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography. New York: Vintage Books. 2009, page 142.

[2] Woodrow Wilson: A Biography. Page 348.

[3] Woodrow Wilson: A Biography. Page 358 

[4] "Never Say No to Networking" by Kathryn Minshew. October 18, 2012. Accessed November 20, 2012.  

[5] "7 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently," Published on June 7, 2012 by Paula Davis-Laack, J.D., M.A.P.P. in Pressure Proof. August 23, 2012