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Relationships Without Systems


For centuries we have managed human relationships by systems, meetings at a set time and place and activities meant to provide fellowship, and we’re always surprised when those systems fall short. How is Jesus encouraging you into growing relationships that thrive outside of such systems?

I had one encouragement recently. I just led by second (and hopefully last) tour of Israel and watched 34 strangers from all over the world gather for two weeks together and watched for the second time as real community just grew among these people. I was the only one that knew some of these people before we came together. Within a few moments, people were already connecting as we searched for luggage, found our way to the bus, and drove off through the countryside.

No one pressured anyone to be “a community.” We didn’t do any relationship-building exercises, we were just together in a strange land getting acquainted. Within days we became a tightly-knit family and parted two weeks later with tears in our eyes since we know we will not be together again in this age with the same people. But that doesn’t take away from what happened and the relationships we’ll continue to share going forward. I’m convinced that I took people somewhere and tried to “build community”, it would be awkward and artificial. Community happened while we were together.

Chapter 12 offers us a way of thinking about loving and caring for others “without creating permanent systems or commitments to replace that relationship.” How are you learning to see and experience friendships without having to formalize it into a system?


I’m still learning how this works by just trusting God to lead me into the relationships He is nudging me into. When he puts someone on my heart I just drop a text or make a call to see if they’d like to get together for a coffee or lunch. Sometimes this comes together and other times it doesn’t but when it doesn’t I just figure that this isn’t something that is supposed to happen right now, without taking it personal or thinking that I missed something. Also, I have a group of friends, some of which I pastored, over 10 years ago, that are getting together with my wife and I in a book club to read He Loves Me. We share a meal sometimes and just discuss a chapter or two. We don’t meet every week due to schedules. It’s hard for some of them to not want to turn it into a bible study (because that’s all they/we have known) but I stated from the onset that we were not going in that direction and this would stay conversational. Sometimes I struggle with leaving the open spaces when we are discussing the content because I have been so trained to “lead” things. Still I’m refusing to do it so that I am not seen as the expert, only another fellow traveler. I am presently transitioning out of the IC after about 30 years of pastoring (the last 10 bi-vocationally). This really is new ground for me and I percieve that it may even have another dynamic after I have fully disconnected with the local church I have been serving at as an assistant pastor for the past 10 years. Mostly I’m feeling optimistic but it’s a little different for my wife who is on a similar journey but who admits she’s struggling with letting go of the institutional model. No rush though.


Thanks for sharing your story. That helps this morning. We are transitioning from horror stories (most of the 35 years in the ministry, and most of that pastoring) to Different, and we aren’t certain what Different will look like just yet. Still trying to adjust to the thought that it’s okay. Kinda’ yo-yo-ing. At the moment, I’m fighting the feeling that we’ll spend the rest of our lives merely existing. Need things to even out a little. Still praying for a job for Hubby, too. Glad things are working better for you. ~Beth


One of the things I have been doing is to simply be nice to people, treat others with kindness and engage in kind conversations at times. I like to say a few kind words to people without feeling the need to push religious ideology on them…

Unfortunately I’m in a rural area with a small population, I’m shy (which greatly works against me), and most of the population in my area is overly religious Christians, that don’t like anything that rocks the boat, or disturbs their religious status quo.

I’m also learning that sharing these things with the typical religious Christian crowd is nearly a waste of time and it only starts arguments, and leads to bad attitudes and hard feelings between people. So, I’m leaving the religious people behind and seeking to have conversations with other people.

Some of my friends are the guys I work with, and I simply try to be nice to them and treat them with human dignity and kindness (which a lot of people in my area fail to do since these guys are poor, and from the rough side of town). Most of these guys notice that I act different, and treat them like they are human beings, instead of talking down to them.


Hi Jay,

I can really appreciate your struggle to refuse to let the discussion turn into a typical Bible study, and the effort to keep it away from being a typical weekly meeting where some people feel a religious obligation to attend.

I agree it’s good to take your time and learn about God’s love. Let it sink in… and let it soak in, so you can all relax in God’s love… :slight_smile:


Ditto! I’m finding the people out of church are nicer. They even believe the best about us when the church people don’t. It’s wild. One lady even told us we were wasting our time praying for “those people.” We used to think the town was hardened. But it’s the church!! Really turned the tables on us.


Hi Beth. Thank you for sharing your challenges with me. I can only imagine what kinds of horror stories accompany your story but be encouraged that the pain really does diminish over time. As I mentioned, my wife and I are kind of in that “yo-yo” stage right now too. I also understand your concern of fading away into mere existence, but I’m finding as God has little by little removed the unhealthy and unnecessary connection of finding significance from what I’ve done for most of my life (pastoring) he has then opened up even greater doorways to live in His life and share it with others. I never thought this could happen but at this stage I really don’t care if I ever speak publically again or lead worship (I’m a musician and worship leader as well). That really is a miracle for me. My experience was that the unbearable stress that came from striving within a system that seemed to force me to continue to perform for my ability to keep the bills paid, both at home and the fellowship, lead me into a secret addiction to alcohol. It first started as a glass of wine to be able to sleep at night and then into a few at dinner and then just enough 6oz. bottles spread out during the day to keep the edge off. I was soon addicted and the places that lead me to were scary as I look back. Because the denomination I pastored in was “tea-totaling” I had to hide this all the time. Finally it all unraveled when I couldn’t handle the stress and I resigned. Thankfully, God opened a door for employment very soon after but the addiction continued on for another 6-7 years until I sought help. Strangely (or maybe not) it was AA that helped me to more clearly face myself and the things going on inside of me. There was no shame to be found there because I was with a group of people who admitted to life’s struggles and could be openly honest and even at times raw about the pain they were working through. After about a year and 1/2 of AA I then began to once again reconnect back to those in the body of Christ, even though I continued to attend church services on a weekly basis during this time, I still was not connected. What I’m finding now is that I really wasn’t “connected” in the 1st place to anyone in the fellowship I was either leading or later attending with and am now serving in an assisting role. This was all due to a lot of unresolved shame that God so lovingly has lead me out of as I have better understood Father’s love towards me and the need to no longer perform for him or anyone else. I completely understand the angst that so much wants to consume us in this season of transition away from vocational ministry, because I had it too. I will pray for you my friend! I great adventure awaits us both!


Yeah, Beth… It’s funny how we learn about Gods love, only to begin to realize that a lot of things seem to get turned around, or actually we had it all backwards. :slight_smile:

I seriously and humbly thank God that he is revealing these things to us.


Hi Jay,

You said a mouth full… Thanks for keeping it real, and being open, and honest… It takes a lot of courage for people to do that these days. There is a lot here to learn from. I appreciate you saying these things, and showing your struggles. :slight_smile:


I woke up yesterday scared out of my senses. God must really have it in for me. Torment. Had to talk myself through all that and get a grip. Think it’s hardest now because we are stuck, down to the wire, and haven’t found the way out, yet. Lord, forgive me, and help my unbelief. . . . . . . I’m glad I don’t have safe access to alcohol; it would be an awful temptation. Sometimes my husband jokes about walking out in front of the big truck when he’s out for his miles. I don’t think he would, but it scares me on the really bad days. Otherwise sound people can do some crazy things when they hurt bad enough, especially the very responsible ones. . . . . . . System or not, I still can’t get my head wrapped around the way people can un-love you so fast. Of course, they have a special set of rules for conduct toward pastors and their families. We are expendable, so they are off the hook, busy looking for the next target to welcome to their church to uphold their expectations. [I know that doesn’t _look_ forgiving on the page here, but we do forgive them and do pray for their awakening. Only a move of the Holy Spirit could untangle this web. I just don’t think that real forgiveness means that we pretend things that are still wrong should be neglected. And I’d better get out of that squirrel cage right now.] After we get away from here, I think it will be easier to quit trying to make sense of it all. . . . . . . Angst. Yes. . . . . . . . I’m encouraged by new adventure you and your wife have taken. It can really happen!!
Thanks! ~Beth


Thank you for your honesty Beth. This really does sound excruciating for both you and your husband. Being truthful and expressing the pain and disappointment is so crucial to this part of the journey. (Not that I’m an expert in any way, I feel like I’ve only just stepped onto the path) Nevertheless I too remember such days of despair when it took all the energy that I had to just put one foot in front of the other and at times it felt like I could smell the hot, sulphorus breath of hell looking to take advantage of my vulnerability. I remember one Sunday where I contacted the eldership of the church and said I can’t make it this morning because I am really not well. (They had absolutely no idea how "not really well"I truly was). I took a long walk down a railroad track and just wept and wept with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I too felt stuck with a young family and a mortgage and bills to pay. Some way or another God helped me at that moment but I was barely holding on. There were still some darker days to come as I met the alcohol addiction head on and sought the help needed to free me from the self medication. These days are painful and I feel for you both. I have found that it is so good and necessary to share our pain and fears in times like this. It gets it out of the dark places and into a light where you can more clearly see where we are hurting and honestly present it before God. I too felt the shame of being stuck like this, feeling like I should have more faith. After all, I was the pastor and if this stuff is real, why doesn’t it seem to be working for me now. There really are no platitudes that can be offered at times like this that relieves the pain or helps us pass through it. In fact, I just hated it when others tried to offer them to me. To me it seems that you are on the right track by leaning into Father and pouring out the pain you’re experiencing. He’s not disappointed in you. I believe his heart goes out to you in the same way our’s would, if any of our kids were feeling harassed by either hell’s attempts to discourage them or by others around them stuck in religion’s game. They really have no clue of the pain they are inflicting. At any rate, as a new found friend and brother I will continue to pray for you and your husband. Don’t give up hope, there really is light on the other side and as Wayne and Brad have said so many times, there is a much wider space that He is leading you into.


By the way and just a side note that speaks to the topic at hand, I think we’ve just had some community going on here in these past few posts. Looks like it found us!!!


It looks like guys named Jay think alike. My wife read your post to me last night. With the exception of your reference to having coffee, (tea drinker) I could have written your post. We are new, but enjoying this ride after being a pastor in an institutional church for 30 years. We are grateful for the relationships God has brought into our lives through the unlikely gathering of some people we have come to really love and do life beside. We have been praying that God would allow us to be able to make the break financially from the congregation we now serve. Through a really cool set of circumstances we may realize our dream sooner than later. Love the dialogue and hope to stay a little closer to the conversation.


Wow! I found all the postings under this “Relationships without Systems” title a compelling read. Some real stuff going on here, full of the struggles and tough things going on with your lives and I am so touched by the openness and honesty I see here, it has the “fragrance of Father” as Wayne mentions within the chapter or at least that is how I see it. It’s almost as if I can see Jesus building his church right here.
Have I lost the plot, I don’t think so, always open to correction but it has similarities to what is transpiring around me. Albeit I have been away from the IC for quite some time, mostly licking the wounds from an abusive cult and then recovering from a 4-5 year shot at getting overly involved in a local church here. Interestingly when I left all the so called friends I had there stopped all forms of communication. The daily phone calls stopped. The invites to meals and just general outings stopped.
I was invited by a chap I work with to help him with a group of people who had left the church they where in, I did go for a little while but they where just moving rapidly into another system with a set way to have their Sunday worship as they called it. I’m not knocking that but I soon realised that I was there to add to numbers and it wasn’t long before the “Leader” was trying to get me to financially support him. Bad move with me after my cult experience. It was another group and my yuck meter was red lining from the pressure.

Some of the sayings that I can see I’m in a similar place,

Jay when you say,

I’m still learning how this works by just trusting God to lead me into the relationships He is nudging me into.


One of the things I have been doing is to simply be nice to people, treat others with kindness and engage in kind conversations at times. I like to say a few kind words to people without feeling the need to push religious ideology on them…

I have simply been trying to treat others the way I would want to be treated. That’s where I feel that most of my learning is going on. I can’t say I’m good at even doing that, possible fearing that I may be hurt again. I have been praying a lot as things come up. I notice I am edging towards desiring my noisy neighbours demise, I ask God to help me change and be more loving in the world.
Something I have been finding very helpful is how Jesus managed to not hate the people who despised him and treated him with unfairness and wanted nothing more than to kill him. It’s as I ponder that and mull it over I have had some interesting things happen. I was asleep the other day, I work nights, but awoke to Lord is my Shepherd running through my thoughts. I felt to get up and read Psalm 23 as there is something in there I need to see. "Though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me."
I have a NIV and Message parallel bible that I read and my eyes fell on verse 4 in the Message,
"Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure."
The lights came on, that’s it Jesus walks along with me, I can lean on Him when it’s tough, learn from him when I need to. He’s never going to leave me.
Phew! no he doesn’t bring hard things, nor does He stop them (always) I’m sure He does sometimes to give me the break but what is unending is He is walking next to me as we go through the dark valleys.
Now find me a system where you can learn that. I have read it before I have had it preached at me before but that is real. It felt as if I had broken through a wall.

Ian near Heathrow UK


Thanks, Ian. And Jay and Jay.


Personally I have struggled to find relationships outside of the IC system. Like so many speak of when I finally came to the end of my tether and left the IC communication with those who chose to remain in the system stopped. I can’t say it was abrupt, but over time as my’friends’ realised I was no longer in the church, they stopped relating to me.
To be honest this has been one of themost difficult things of being out of the IC, but the pressures of the system far outweigh the pull of relationships, so I am not returning.
But the issue remains for me - how do I develop good Godly relationships without the crutch of the system? I am encouraged by the posts I see here, but have to say I feel no closer to finding that mythical group of like minded folks to live and grow with.
I expect the reason for that is I am looking for some sort of idealised thing that cannot exist this side of heaven.
I will take on board the appraoches mentioned here and am already using opportunities at work and play to speak into the lives of others I know, but many of these people are more needy than I and I feel that there is no quid pro quo, and I am left drained with nobody feeding my heart.
Forgive me for sounding so negative, but when it comes to spiritual relationships I find myself pretty much alone.

Pete from Peterborough UK


I hear that! Some days it feels like a real mind game. I know the relationships in the IC were very shallow. But I still get frustrated with it. People who have left don’t seem to be anxious to get together again. Maybe they’re afraid the get-togethers might turn into another church and they don’t want to risk it. Maybe they are enjoying their freedom too much. But then I run into some who are sneaking back in for the services – something they are used to, associated with good memories, I guess. I don’t know. And it still hurts that people inside reject us and prefer the company of the pot-stirrers who still keep things wound up. I don’t know what’s Christian about any of it.

There just seems to be something in us that says the parts of the body need to be assembled. I would like genuine fellowship with other believers. Paul wrote about strengthening one another’s faith. Several people I correspond with have blessed me tremendously through this insanity by simply reminding me of the truth of God’s Word. I can read it all by myself, but it sounds really good coming out of somebody else’s mouth, too.

When we get settled someplace we can call home, I’m going to work on inviting people for supper. Not a meeting, just supper.

Don’t apologize for saying what you think. You aren’t negative. You want a good thing. That’s okay, Pete. ~Beth


Hi Jay,

I think you are right… there is some community going on here… I love it…


Do any of you ex-pastors in the community have any brilliant flashes about what former pastors can do to earn a living? He can’t do the kinds of things he did when he was young or in school and seminary. We did all the things to prepare for ministry that we were supposed to do in our generation. So much for transferable skills. Our denomination did nothing about retirement. You just gritted your teeth and held on tight and hoped you’d get to the end before some church kicked you to the curb, but we were faithful. That’s the way it was supposed to work. We are kinda’ caught in all the transitions “out there” the past few years. You know? We are hitting brick walls in every direction. Any ideas?


Hi Beth,

I’m not an ex-pastor (although I have led music), but I just went on the internet and looked up the term “expastor jobs” and got a lot of sites showing those sorts of things… It’s worth a check to get a good idea on where to start.

I have heard a few people say that ex-pastors do good in sales or working in stores.

If you need any more help, just ask, and I can send you a private message from within this discussion forum.